Friday, March 6, 2009

Cedar Key -- Love at First Sight!

In 2003, I drove to Florida during the winter. I hadn’t visited Florida for 20 years and I had planned the trip as a one-shot, final vacation in that state because the deserts of the southwest had greater appeal to me. But those lovely weeks in Florida’s warmth revised my thinking and I have since wintered in Florida for five of the last seven years. I guess that makes me a snowbird. During these visits, I've driven much of Florida's immense land mass (it’s 22nd in land size and 3rd in square miles of water) from coast to coast and all the way down to America’s farthest southern point, Key West.

I mostly shun the largest cities, preferring the back roads and smaller burgs. I've hiked, camped, and paddled in two of Florida’s three national forests and visited all three of her national parks and numerous state parks. I've paddled two dozen Florida's rivers, snorkeled in several of her 700+ natural springs, and biked a couple dozen of her wonderful bike trails -- paved and unpaved. The last two years, Ellen has joined my explorations, and together we've experienced dozens of towns, inland and on both coasts, and had numerous enjoyable experiences, but in all those places, no one locale had overwhelmingly captured our affection.

The seacoast towns are the most alluring to us, but some seem downright dingy and too many others are overly froufrou -- expensive and touristy, evidently aiming to be tony and chic rather than real. Such places are often cute to behold but leave us cold, so we either drive through and keep going, or sometimes spend the night, walk around a bit, and then resume our explorations down the road, remembering them as places we’ve been to but won’t return to.

Not so with Cedar Key (photo above), a series of islands hugging the mainland and named for its once-abundant Eastern Red Cedar trees. It is halfway down Florida's Nature Coast (the Gulf coast area around the bend of the Panhandle and down several hundred miles), rugged land so named because its remoteness hinders development, thereby allowing Nature to predominate as it has over the eons. Few roads track its course and public lands are rife -- mainly natural springs, state parks, state forests, and wildlife refuges -- guaranteeing that much of the land will remain natural.

As we drove into Cedar Key, its magic immediately struck us. Only one road enters the town, a town that encompasses several small islands called keys. The closest major highway is 21 miles away and the nearest large town in 28 miles away. Astronomers revel in Cedar Key’s lack of light pollution. Other than clam aquaculture, fishing, and tourism, there is no industry. Its population is about 900, many of them multi-generational families. A hundred years ago, the Faber Pencil Company and the Eagle Pencil Company used its cedar wood for their pencils, but they are long gone. A century ago, the Florida Railroad ended its run here, but it is long gone. In 1867, John Muir ended his 1000 mile walk to the Gulf here and raved about the community. And we, too, seem to have ended our quest here, at the park on the Gulf shore...

We arrived in 2009 to participate in an Adventures in Florida kayak program, and the Park Place rental condos served as our home base. Arriving early, we walked the one block Gulf shore downtown, and the history and sea breezes invaded our souls. As the week progressed and we kayaked and hiked the nearby islands, paddled the meandering backwater estuaries and bayous, visited the museum and the ancient shell mound and a clam farm, and drove through neighboring towns, our affection grew, and by the seventh day, we had a realtor take us through the condo units that were for sale in our building.

One condo really impressed us. It is on the top floor, occupying the third and fourth floors, with a total of 800 square feet. It has a full kitchen with dinette area, a full refrigerator/freezer, cooktop, microwave, toaster oven, cookware, cutlery, etc. as seen in the photo below (Note: all these photos are "before" shots. See the more recent post for photos after the renovations.)

The spacious loft bedroom is above the kitchen and overlooks the comfortable living room. It includes built-in drawers and storage, a counter, night stands and lamps, a closet, a television, and clerestory windows along the full back wall. Even the wall hangings and knick-knacks were included though we added many more in decorating it.

The living area (seen from the loft above) has a ceiling fan, sofa couch for guests, lamps, two arm chairs, wall hangings, bookcase, cable TV with DVD/VCR, and stereo system. The wall of glass bathes the room in natural light and allows the Gulf views to tantalize you. Wireless Internet is also provided in the unit.

The full bathroom by the kitchen is completely stocked and decorated and daily maid service changes the linens for rental guests. The large window on the upper rear wall keeps the bathroom well lit all day.

The covered balcony has a table with chairs, lounge chairs, and views of the city park, beach, and beyond that, the Gulf of Mexico extending to the horizon.

The sunrises occur to your left as you look from the balcony, and the sunsets to your right, but a one block stroll to Dock Street’s new fishing pier, replete with dozens of pelicans, offers the best sunset views -- every night! Or you could dine at one of several oceanside restaurants at dusk and watch the sunset from your table.

The plan is to occupy the unit ourselves during several winter weeks to help defray the costs, with breaks to allow the unit to be rented as we travel to other adventures around Florida. The rest of the year will be to generate income from rentals as we live at home or travel elsewhere.

So are we officially “snowbirds” now? Snowbird is often defined as a retiree who maintains a second home in a warmer climate, so I suppose we are. At any rate, I’ve always liked the Canadian singer Anne Murray and am not afraid to heed the advice she proclaimed in her hit song, “Snowbird”:

"Spread your tiny wings and fly away
And take the snow back with you
Where it came from on that day.
So, little Snowbird, take me with you when you go
To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow..."

May we for many years be able to “go to that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow....”