Bunnies will make you happy that you jogged
Ever since I can remember, I have always loved the outdoors. I can't tell you how many times I almost didn't go for my jog, and then in some moment during it, had a short experience of God's beauty all over again. The sun rising over the water's edge as a great song ques up in my headphones, or a tree so gigantic, that I wonder how I never knew it was always there; those things are so remarkable that you cannot help but be in the moment and be thankful.
Bradenton, Florida has always been the vacation spot for my siblings and I. Childhood stays at The Coconuts are fond memories of mine from back in the nineteen-nineties. Bi-annual (I suppose, based on my father's savings any given year as he owned and managed his Amoco stations around the Tampa Bay area) trips to the white paradise of Anna Maria Island for the summer. It wasn't until I moved my family of six here, in my late thirties, that I realized what a diverse cornucopia of habitats that this county offers a hobby runner. After getting off work from the county as an ambulance driver (my old co-workers will kill me for calling myself that... "We are EMT's and do more than just drive you to the hospital!") I would always head out to jog the local terrain around wherever I had been stationed for duty.
In Palmetto, there was a beautiful stretch of land that led out to Emerson Point, only a three mile jog from the fire station, but once you made it to the park, the trails you found yourself jogging rivaled the likes of the Amazon rain forest. The canopy was so thick sometimes only tiny shards of light made it through. Tree trunks were massive, and the roots grew so large you would have to leap over them as you traversed the trail. A golden starfish glistened up at you as you ran along some of the inlet shores, the cypress trees acting like armored guards to anyone daring to trample over the mangrove to capture one for themselves.
Robinson Preserve, located along the North Eastern Shore of Bradenton, reminded me of the Serengeti Plain as I put one foot in front of another for over eight miles of twisting trails. The saw grass and slight rolling hills hid from view the intricate pathways that wound through the habitat. One moment you found yourself crossing a wooden footbridge, and the next under the beating sun wondering if you would ever see civilization again.
Of course, the seaside offered up its island experience. The sandy beaches and quaint coastal village offered miles of jogging that never got old. Some days the beaches were busy with families vacationing in still remote parts of the shoreline, and other times crowds bustled in the weekend marketplace under canopies erected for select early mornings. A sunrise yoga class did their vinyasas as I strode by, leaving my split toed impressions along the shore. A cartwheel wouldn't have impressed them, but I may have tried.
Bradenton has never ceased to bring me fresh experiences in my jogging routine. Yet, after so many years, like anything that you have passion for, the gold gets more brass, and the tarnish builds.
Perico Bay a few times before. Just last year I took my two youngest children in the double-stroller and did the one-mile shell track. I remember trying to stop and point out plants and animals that my children had never seen, and then realizing that mosquitoes and sweat bees were alighting on them if we stopped too long, so I sprinted the last quarter-mile of the trail back to the car to get them safe inside.
Early this morning, and at the close of my workday, I decided to stop again at Perico Bay and do the mile-loop rather than drive the extra five miles to the shore and boy, was I glad I did! In only a year, the preserve had begun to flourish with wildlife and flora that wasn't there before. Where there once were cordoned off sections of habitat bearing signs, "restoration in progress," there was now lush greenery and sounds of small animals rustling through the thickets.
Before I cantered up to a decent jog I found myself slowing as not to scare the bunnies off of the trail who were munching on moist dandelion. It brought a smile to my face, right off the bat, as I began my morning jog, knowing that here at Perico there were those encouraging my memories of childhood adventure.
I wasn't a third of the way around the semi-familiar trail before I topped a wooden footbridge that opened out to the bay where egrets and ibis occupied the majority of the shoreline. Some took flight as I tried to silently pad my way across, one foot in front of the other.
When I had reached about halfway around the shell-trail, my focus was on the water. I could have forgotten that the business of the city lay just beyond the treeline. A thick film of moss had grown over the swamp where the center pond came close to the trail. Just as I was considering an alligator lurking beneath I spied a wooden sign that read, "This is an artificial pond. Constructed in an effort to revitalize and restore the beauty of natural Florida."
After our last hurricane, the park had decided to leave the downed trees where they settled at their odd angles. It was just enough that you would have to duck a bit as you jogged through but provided a canopy of privacy that the wildlife were finding refuge in.
Cheers to you Perico Bay! You made my day!
Just as I was nearing the end of the loop and the forest threatened to open out into the light of the urban park's entrance, another bunny sauntered out silently from the brush and convinced me to stop
as to not scare it off. It was just the thing I needed to consider getting my phone from the car and jogging another lap to take pictures for my daughters. What could be a better ending to a joyful exercise retreat than the seconds I sat there watching the bunny twitch its whiskers while my ears honed in on the buzzing sweat bees and mosquitoes who had begun to lite. Best get running!
I wish there were more endeavors like Perico Bay. I wish there were more efforts to preserve my own childhood backyard.
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Jay M Horne