Why I Wake Early
by Mary Oliver
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety—
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light—
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
I’m trying to be more like Mary Oliver.
Waking early, well, I’m working on it.
Like today. Hello, morning.
I wanted to get out into the lagoon. Motivation enough to rise and shine early. OK, earlier than usual.
I’m on board The Sunshine Lady with Captain Nancy ~ Coastal Master Naturalist, certified marine mammal observer and wildlife monitor. Her mission, her passion, is to promote a healthy, sustainable environment for coastal and marine wildlife through research and education.
Nancy came to Florida. She got a captain’s license, bought a boat and started Sunshine Wildlife Eco-tours before most people knew what ecotourism was.
The Indian River Lagoon, the most diverse estuary in North America, is Captain Nancy’s life radius. And it’s my backyard. The estuary is home to more than 4,000 species of plants, birds, animals, and fish ~ bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, sting rays, otters and manatees. There are even oyster beds. “Each adult oyster bed cleans 50 gallons of water a day,” she explains, “which got me to wishing I hadn’t eaten a dozen raw oysters the previous night.” She also explains that the estuary is under assault from development, pesticide and fertilizer run-off, and dredging.
Don’t try to honeyfuggle Captain Nancy when it comes to the lagoon. This activist knows it inside and out. The once pristine estuary is under serious pressure from industry, agriculture and human negligence. But she knows it’s not too late to save it. “People don’t pollute because they don’t care, they pollute cause they don’t know better,” she says.
Nancy’s boat is designed so that it does not harm sea grass beds or the endangered manatees that make their home in the lagoon.
I barely noticed the coastal mansions that edge the lagoon. I was too caught up in Captain Nancy’s stories. She shares her opinions, experiences and observations on everything from run-off into the lagoon~ “I’m proud of Martin County for having more stringent fertilization restrictions than the state” ~ to boating ~ “Manatee Zones are blatantly disregarded” ~ and sea wall construction ~ “What are they thinking?”.
The 40-foot Sunshine Lady pontoon stops at Bird Island, one of the most diverse rookeries in the state. At least 14 bird species roost and nest here, including roseate spoonbills, ibis, herons and the American woodstork, one of the threatened/endangered species on the island.
While we cruise, Captain Nancy passes around manatee and pelican bones and talks about water quality issues. After trolling a small net, she empties her ‘catch’ into small scopes that magnify plankton and zooplankton and we examine what she calls the nursery of life.
“There were once 3,000 manatees in the estuary and now we’re not sure what the population is.” The water is only three feet deep in spots, making it impossible for them to avoid propellers. Posted signs tell boaters to restrict their speeds but not many slow down. You know we did.
Captain Nancy says there’s some good news for the Indian River Lagoon. Mangrove restoration projects are progressing and several counties passed stringent ordinances to restrict the use of fertilizers.
I think the best news is that Captain Nancy is steadfastly going the distance to defend the fragile balance of the lagoon. She’s the Indian River Lagoon’s Propagator of Good. Star of the lagoon, best preacher that ever was.