Until I got the assignment from Visit Florida to write about paddleboarding around Green Key it honestly never occurred to me to paddle out to them. When I realized that would be part of my assignment I literally squealed. Yes, like a pig. I was that happy.
The paddle itself was close to two miles, and it was like gliding over an aquarium. I live on the beach and get there on the regular, so you wouldn’t think that this would be anything new to me, but every time I get on the water I fall in love all over again.
Beneath the surface I saw stingrays that ranged in size from dinner plate to hula hoop in diameter, and fish were everywhere. The space between Green Key and Durney Key seemed little more than a mud flat, teeming with life.
The stilt houses, I found out, are really fish shacks, weekend retreats for people who live elsewhere during the week. This particular Saturday night a few of them had boats pulled alongside, and the kayak group at Durney Key (the island snuggled up in the middle of the houses) was alive with fiddler crabs, kayakers, campers and boaters.
Durney Key itself is a spoil island that, according to one local, no one wants to claim. Without the dubious benefit of government oversight, people are still allowed to bring their dogs and camp out without a permit. Fiddler crabs covered the west side of the beach as the tide went out, and broken trunks of trees stayed firmly rooted on the northwest side of the island.
The island isn’t a natural barrier island; it’s the “spoils” of dredging. The trees and birds and crabs don’t seem to mind; there was no shortage of things to see but I certainly could have done with fewer people.
In a way I hated that I was there working; I would have loved to have brought Calypso and a sleeping bag and spent the night. Instead I met locals familiar with the island and learned, among other things, why they don’t hate the airboaters (they may be loud but they can get into places other boats can’t to pick up litter) who drown out the sounds of paradise with their large engines.
I’d struggled more than the rest of our group heading out so my guide put me on a wider board on the way back. That, coupled with the wind at my back this time, made the return trip an easier paddle than the one out. The sun set over the stilt houses and the tide moved out. In places I was paddling over inches of water.
I dawdled on my way back, not because I was fighting my weak upper body or the wind but because I really didn’t want to paddle to end. I wanted to stay and meet the people who were in those stilt houses. I wanted to watch the stars come out over Durney Key. I wanted to wake up and walk along a deserted beach.
The last few hundred feet of the paddle there was no water and we ported the boards back to the road. By the time I made it to shore I could barely make out the dim outlines of the wood shacks perched on the black water.
No matter. I know they are there, and I will be back.