As I cross over the Matlacha draw bridge into Pine Island, the mangroves fall away to reveal a gulf coast fishing village peopled with artists, fishermen, and locals enchanted with old Florida.
If Sanibel is the prom queen of gulf coast islands, think of Pine Island as her mangrove-encrusted tomboy little sister. Instead of beaches, walls of state-protected red mangroves surround and prop the 34-square mile island up on green water, preserving the calm, slow lifestyle of the 9,000 folks who call Pine Island home.
There’s nothing to see here. Nothing on Pine Island calls to mind other Florida coastal towns; those root-heavy trees protect, too, the island’s roots from developers and droves of tourists seeking New York, Ohio, or Michigan-ified Florida.
This is the Florida that our ancestors tried to bury in the muck of shopping malls, time-shares, and miniature golf courses. These are the people mocked by our Yankee heritage. Here is the land we forgot to love and then just forgot.
Nothing to see here, really. Instead of “cuisine,” folks serve platters of food, and you can get grits but not gourmet or pork in lieu of Pacific Rim. You can fish the World’s Most Fishingest Bridge but don’t even think about asking for sushi.
Here we now seek solace, the waters that calm the noise in our head and quench the thirst in our soul. Here is a dolorous souvenir of yesteryear’s Florida, a nugget of land we forgot to offer the highest bidder before the government hit the brakes on the dredge-and-sell dream.
Nothing to see here, not really. Go south and you’ll find Sanibel, Fort Myers, and Naples. You can take a boat west to Cabbage Key or head north to Sarasota and Venice. Go east to Palm Beach if you must, but Pine Island’s too far off the interstate to travel, especially since it foolishly lacks shopping malls, Holiday Inns, and putt-putt or other golf courses. Just a bunch of crusty fishermen and shopkeepers, not much else to see here.
Nothing to see here, nothing at all. Just the present the rest of us traded for the future, and the past we sold before we knew we had it. Green and red and aquamarine and silver explode around the island as the sunset lights the streets, palm groves, and trailers. Shrimp nets draped across the boats behind homes remind Islanders of their heritage and, hopefully, their future.
Nope, nothing to see here.