I suppose as a college student on her Thanksgiving holiday break I could be excused for wanting to sleep in a bit late today. Catch up on the “Z’s”, rest and all of that.
And, yet, I woke up just after 5:00 AM today and sure am thankful that I could not go back to sleep.
No Name Key was cool and quiet in the pre-dawn darkness. With a cup of coffee and my phone in hand I enjoyed the early morning from our back porch overlooking the mirror-like calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico as the sun’s first light edged above the horizon. And what a sunrise it was! Filled with bright red, orange and yellow pasted against the black, blue and purple of the eroding night sky above and water below. No matter the reason for waking so early, I am most certainly thankful to have witnessed today’s Thanksgiving sunrise.
And I am thankful for the peace and quiet here on No Name. There are many reasons to protect places like No Name, a Federal wildlife refuge, and to keep them different from the developed places that increasingly surround us and the quiet is one of them. The frequent silence here is incredible and as dawn broke, it was only interrupted by the sound of the breeze blowing through the palm, mahogany and mangrove tree leaves. Literally not one other sound but the breeze blowing through the trees for nearly an hour.
I am also thankful to have seen No Name’s nature vividly come alive right before my eyes as that sun crept even higher. The first sign of life was a Key Deer walking quietly along the peninsula that is part of our property. My view was her reflection in the still water through a window-like opening in the mangrove trees. No sooner than I saw her reflection I could see the rest of her family, a buck and a doe, farther up the peninsula where they had spent the night under a star filled sky. I sure am thankful that we have laws protecting animals such as the Key Deer and the places that they live in like No Name.
As those deer disappeared in the distance I began to hear the unmistakable sound of a bird’s claws walking on the porch’s metal roof above me. I’ve heard that “tip-tap” many times before and knew it was the turkey vulture that so often is perched there so as to keep watch over the land below and anything that might move along it that qualifies as prey. Not long after hearing his claw steps he was airborne right in front of me, swooping back and forth perhaps 20 feet away. It was an incredible sight, his flight one way and back the other, but also an equally incredible sound as each turn led to a deep audible “swooping” as his wings caught the air while turning in the opposite direction. To have dawn’s silence broken by the sound of his flight, much less to see it up close, was a humbling reminder of nature’s perfection.
And perfectly fitting for a Thanksgiving morning is what led that bird to so elegantly swing back and forth; his unmistakable hunt for food. As the sun light became brighter I could see that the turkey vulture had spied his morning meal: a dead raccoon floating at the water’s edge under the mangrove branches.
It was a remarkable sight, the type of thing one could never fully experience buried in our phone or computer-driven virtual worlds. And as that thought sank in, another turkey vulture joined the meal. And then another and another and another yet again. By then the birds had dragged their meal up the bank and onto land to enjoy their feast together in a circle of life display that was simply perfect on Thanksgiving.
And that’s when the American alligator showed up to begin its Thanksgiving.
No Name is filled with many magical creatures including the American crocodile and its “cousin” the American alligator. This one in particular is a juvenile, about 4 feet long, and lives under our mangroves on the peninsula. I see it virtually every day in the early morning light and just before dark as it patrols the waters next to our home in search of food. And this morning it found a bounty worthy, well, of Thanksgiving. The turkey vultures, as numerous as they now were, did not have a chance against the young gator as she crawled up the bank and pulled what was now her meal into the murky water as you can see in the video below.
So many things to be thankful for again this year, and that starts with our amazing natural environment. From the peace and lively nature that is No Name Key, from my family and me, to you and yours, here’s to hoping that your Thanksgiving is filled with friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving.