Birds on shore in Sanibel Island

Judi Travel CaricatureAs I sit here hunkered down for the duration of Covid-19, I’m reading Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. It’s a fitting book for these stressful times. This is my third reading of Anne’s “meditations on youth and age; love and marriage; peace, solitude and contentment.” She wrote these meditations during a brief vacation on Captiva Island, inspired as she says “by the shells on the shore.”

A friend gave me this book 12 years ago after my husband passed. It was a time of great grief and I found solace in Anne’s musings. Her words remind me that I am strong and will survive this crisis like I did (and continue to do) in the days, months and years after losing my spouse.

A Gift from the Sea

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote “A Gift from the Sea” more than 60 years ago and it still has meaning today

Her words also remind me of the sunny days and mindful ways I experienced during my own sweet stay with my boyfriend L on Sanibel Island (which borders Captiva) in early February.

It was a little more than a month ago that we walked at the water’s edge. It was peaceful, calm and relaxing. Little did we know how much the world would be turned upside down in just a few short weeks.

Birds on shore in Sanibel Island

It is so serene and peaceful on Sanibel Island

Finding serenity on the beaches of Sanibel

I wish I could rewind the clock and return to those glorious days walking barefoot on the sandy beaches of Sanibel. The sun on my back was warm and comforting.

The Sanibel Island Beach Resort was a perfect spot for a first-time visit. It was centrally located with the beach just a few short steps from our room, a pool for swimming, and an outdoor bar for food and good cheer.

I was totally in the moment. So was L. There was no social distancing. We held hands as we strolled by the seashore. We twirled at the end of our walks. We counted our steps.  “Did we make 10,000?” L would say to me at the end of each day. Most days we did.

Judy on Sanibel Island

It was a few short weeks ago that I visited Sanibel Island

The shelling capital of the world

Sanibel and Captiva Islands are known for their shells. According to the Bailey-Mathews National Shell Museum located on Sanibel Island — which I visited and found quite interesting and which has a great gift shop — “the shell gifts you find washed ashore represent a very small fraction of the offshore populations hidden under the sand or among the corals, sponges and seaman forests.”

Going shelling is a pleasant pastime. There’s even a Shell Museum app for $1.99 to download to help you identify the shells you collect. However, I found it challenging spotting unique shells on Sanibel. Maybe I was trying too hard.

Anne writes that “these treasures should not be sought for or dug up.” Rather “the sea doesn’t reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience patience, is what the sea teaches us. Patience and faith.”

Sanibel Island shells

Sanibel Island is the shelling capital of the world

For now I must practice patience and keep the faith that the world will heal from this virus, that my family and friends will stay healthy, and that the Sanibel beach which is now closed will reopen in due time. And when I hopefully visit again, I will find as Anne says  “a rare shell from the ocean floor.”

An abundance of seafood

We didn’t think twice about where we would eat on the island since there were many great places to feast on fresh seafood. We ate delicious grilled octopus and grilled grouper at The Jac; dined on tasty fish stew at Sweet Melissa’s Cafe (from the James Beard Award winning Chef Melissa Talmage); and ordered two entrees including butter-topped scallops and a mixed seafood platter at Sanibel Fish HouseIt was all so good, so good, so good.

Fish Stew at Sweet Melissa's Cafe

Fish Stew at Sweet Melissa’s Cafe

Sadly, these indoor and outdoor dining rooms, and many others around the world, now sit empty with some open only for takeout. I pray that these food establishments will make it through these dark days. I promise to patronize my favorite small businesses when they reopen. In the meantime, I will do what I can to support my local restaurants in their efforts to provide on-the-go meals.

Walking the trails in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

“Be sure to visit J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge,” said Miriam, the representative from The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel Tourism team.

It was a cloudy morning when we walked the trails of “Ding” Darling. A Great Egret greeted us in the parking lot. It was so quiet and peaceful strolling down Wildlife Drive. There were no tram rides on Fridays — just the wildlife and a few humans.

Great Egret

A Great Egret greeted us at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

“Do you see any birds?” I asked L as we peered through tree branches up high and dark marshes below. “Nope, they all left town,” said L. Not being bird watchers, we weren’t sure what we we were searching for or where we would find the birdies. We had heard that there are over 245 species of birds on this refuge and wished some would come out to play.

We walked about 3500 steps and turned to head back to the car. Before calling off our hunt, we noticed a bridge to our right. We inched closer and there they were — several birds in the pond. A guide was sharing a telescope and encouraged us to take a peek. Ooh, ooh, ooh, it was amazing what the eye could see through that lens.

There sat two Roseate Spoonbills pretty in their perch. They were close to each other, no social distancing. So were the birds in the pond. So peaceful. So content. And so were L and I. We were in the moment, away from our busy everyday lives, appreciating the art of bird watching.

Roseate Spoonbill bird

Can you spot the Roseate Spoonbill in the tree? It’s hard to see without a telescope!

Anne captures similar mindful feelings in Gift from the Sea: “And it seemed to me, separated from my own species, that I was nearer to others: the shy willet, nesting in the ragged tide-wash behind me; the sandpiper, running in little unfrightened steps down the shining beach rim ahead of me; the slowly flapping pelicans over my head, coasting down wind, the gull, hunched up, grouchy, surveying the horizon. I felt a kind of impersonal kinship with them and a joy in that kinship. Beauty of earth and sea and air meant more to me. I was in harmony with it…”

Birds of Sanibel

“…birds are only the delicate indicators of the prognosis for human existence…” (A quote from J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge)

Sitting inside today on a rainy day makes me think back to that day at J.D.”Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge. Tomorrow when it’s sunny I’m going outside (appropriately social distanced) to appreciate the spring buds, the crocuses and the birds in those trees even if they are just New Jersey crows.

Cherishing simplicity and serenity

L and I were sad to leave Florida and the 80 degree temperatures. We were going to miss our walks on the beach, the shells, the seafood dinners, the birds. Despite seeing travelers wearing masks on the flight home, coronavirus and Covid-19 weren’t even words in our vocabulary that mid-February day. The virus would not impact life as we know it until March.

Anne says “Simplicity brings serenity.” Facing the coronavirus crisis alone and alongside each other, I think Anne’s prose rings true.

Sanibel Island beaches

Serenity on Sanibel Island

She contemplates: “I can only carry back my little channeled whelk. It will sit on my desk in Connecticut, to remind me of the ideal of a simplified life…To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say — is it necessary? — when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.

Simplification of outward life is not enough. It is merely the outside. But I am starting with the outside. I am looking at the outside of a shell, the outside of my life — the shell. The final answer is always inside. But the outside can give a clue, can help one to find the inside answer. One is free, like the hermit crab to change one’s shell.”

Sanibel Island shell

My one prized shell made it home intact and now sits on my desk

While I navigate through these difficult times I’m going to keep Anne’s words about simplicity in my mind and keep the shells I collected on those days in Sanibel nearby. Some of my shells were broken when I arrived home. Lucky for me my one prized shell stayed well preserved.

I wish you peace and love. And as always my dear readers, you have been an incredible support through all my ups and downs, and I can’t thank you enough. I know together we will make it through these extraordinary times.

Stay well. Stay safe.