Two days into 2011, we trekked south to the Florida keys with Megan and her boyfriend, Andy, to get Megan settled for her month-long internship at a dolphin facility.
At her college, January is independent study time, when students design their own projects. It can be anything allied with your major and/or your passions. One year, Megan went to Ecuador to volunteer at a wildlife center in the jungle. This year, it’s dolphins in the keys, at a facility where we all swam with dolphins when Megan was much younger.
We took two cars and Rob and I were ahead of Megan and Andy. There’s an exhilarating moment in this drive when you reach the end of the Florida turnpike, the road narrows to two lanes, and suddenly you’re on U.S. 1, which extends from Key West to Maine, and a sign announces that you’re entering the Florida Keys.
It’s called the Florida Keys Scenic Highway. It’s 106.5 miles long and takes about four hours to drive from one end to the other. The Keys are an archipelago of 1,700 islands that are connected by bridges. The longest one, the 7-mile bridge in the photo, is an engineering marvel. All along this highway, the Atlantic stretches out on one side of the road, the Gulf of Mexico stretches out on the other. The shades of blue and green are pure and clear, the air smells of salt and sand and sun, the sky looms from horizon to horizon. Magnificent, huge. The beauty blows your mind and heart wide open, you kick off your shoes, lower your windows, and the breeze blows through the car. Suddenly you know that anything is possible.
Everything in the Keys is measured by the mile markers. Mile marker 127.5 marks the end of the turnpike and its junction with U.S. and the scenic highway. Mile marker zero is Key West. So when people in the keys give you directions, they do so according to these markers. Megan, for instance, will be staying with the mother of a friend, who lives just past mile marker 88. So somewhere around mile marker 99, just as we’re approaching our favorite Cuban café where we intend to stop for the best coffee in the universe, I happen to glance to my right, on the Gulf side of the highway. And there, a pod of five dolphins surface, their bodies shimmering in the cool light.
“Rob,” I squeal. “Look! Dolphins, five of them.”
“I see them, I see them,” he says, craning his neck.
There’s no place on the highway to turn off, but Rob slows down and the dolphins remain visible for a few precious moments longer.
We have both been to the keys dozens of times over the years. Neither of us has ever seen a pod of dolphins during this drive. The synchronicity of it, the fact that we were down here because of Megan’s dolphin internship, struck us as a favorable sign for her month’s stay. I later realized that the five was also significant; Megan’s full name adds up to a five.
It turns out that the facility allows family and friends to visit the facility for a meet and greet with the 13 dolphins that live there. We plan on indulging at the end of the month. But Andy dropped by and Megan took this photo during his meet and greet:
Kissed by a dolphin. Way to go, Andy!