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On my way across the Pinellas Bayway towards St. Pete Beach, I had spotted a sign for Fort De Soto, which is part of the Pinellas County Park system.  It’s been my experience that county parks can be a hit-or-miss proposition.  Where I live in Alachua County there is the glamorous Kanapaha Botanical Gardens and the plain Watermelon Pond. You never can tell, but half the fun is in the unknown.

After I left the beach, I drove back over the Pinellas Bayway and made a right turn towards Fort De Soto.  It was around three in the afternoon and the sun broke through the overcast sky.  I drove the five miles to the park, crossing a small bridge to get to the first of the five islands that comprise Fort De Soto.

The park has 1136 acres and seven miles of waterfront.  I saw the beginning of that waterfront when I made an immediate right turn into the boat ramp parking lot.  I’d hoped they had a public restroom and they did (in fact, they have 20 of these!).  There were eight other vehicles in the lot, but no people.  If we don’t count the seabirds, I had the place–and the bathroom–to myself.  The availability of clean public restrooms plus lack of park admission fees made me revisit an earlier idea I had for a guidebook.  Officially, I’d call this project “America’s Best Restrooms–A State-by-State Guide,” but secretly it would be known as “Where To Stop and Squat” or something equally childish.  The book would include sections for single women (park bathrooms can be iffy) and one for people with dogs (PetSmart); I’d rate the highway facilities of each state, with California (so far) being the worst and U. S. Route 287 from Wichita Falls to Dallas in Texas being the most difficult to access if one is heading south.

Inevitably, there’d be a small addendum about how and where to use the great outdoors.

I parked my car and immediately spotted a crane standing by the walkway to the bathroom.  As I was quickly learning, the birds of Pinellas County are among the friendliest I’ve encountered.  The crane stood still long enough for me to get a picture and then slowly moved away.  I’ve felt gypped by my camera’s lack of zoom capabilities in the past, but here was an opportunity to finally get a decent bird picture.  I always feel a bit silly with my small pocket camera, straining to catch a white flash of feather in an oak hammock when all around me people with seriously muscular equipment get the kind of pictures that win local photography contests and end up in glossy magazines.  I consider what I am doing now a primer in basic photography, even if most of the time I can’t see what’s on the screen.  There is quite a bit of guesswork involved.

I left the restroom and decided to walk out to one of the piers.   The Sunshine Skyway loomed in the distance, the water was bright blue with minimal chop, and the sun felt just right.  It was unimprovable.

Something that most people don’t know about Northern California is that the beaches are pretty much useless.  They get socked in by fog and they are chilly, even in July.  I lived there for 20 years and I went to the beach three times. The water is mostly used by surfers and the beach is a great place to watch confused tourists in skimpy beach attire huddled together against the wind.  There’s nothing like Fort De Soto in San Francisco.  There is Fort Mason, which is tucked under the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it’s gloomy and the waters around it are treacherous.  If San Francisco had weather and scenery like St. Pete, its pale and sun-starved residents might walk out of their offices and never return. 

I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”  I looked this up when I got home.  Of all the vehicles in the lot, the bird chose this one, making for a one-time-only photo op.  I took this picture from my car, lest I disturb the bird and cause it to fly away.

Finally, a decent crane picture.  Now, go ahead and tell me that this is not a crane at all but something else.

Thank goodness I am not going to humiliate myself by identifying this as a gull.

Or this.

The gull hopped down onto the pier, where two pelicans showed scant interest in my approach.

I moved closer and got this little warning from one of the birds.

Which then must have decided I was pretty innocuous, and regarded me with only marginal curiosity.

Its companion showed no interest in me at all and allowed me to get close enough for what I consider to be one of my best pictures ever.  I thanked the bird for the opportunity and was glad that the boat ramp was deserted, just in case someone overheard me and thought, “There’s one of those kooky bird ladies again.  Man, they really need to get laid.”

Fort DeSoto Park:  *****