EMILY JAMES: Guest essay ... Manatee frolic provides beachgoers with warm moment

Emily Jones drew this impression of her manatee experience.

Emily Jones drew this impression of her manatee experience.

About every morning I go to Lowdermilk Park and swim out to a buoy about 200 feet out in the water and back again (and when I say swim, don’t picture the Olympics).

Anyway, I was out there, and all of a sudden this huge manatee surfaces right beside me, which certainly gave me a scare, to say the least — as you know they’re 1,000 pounds and 12 feet long. I tell myself, they only eat seaweed; you’re OK. It goes underwater and comes up again right by me, so I tentatively reach over and touch it. It stayed there. I gave it a quick little back rub. It stayed there. I gave it a two-handed back rub, and it must have really enjoyed it.

I spent the next half hour or so, just goofing off with my new-found friend, way out in the water. It was so special that I decided I just had to share the experience with others, so I started slowly swimming toward shore; and sure enough, here came my new pal, swimming right with me. I called to a man on shore who swam out to meet us; but after seeing how large it was, he commented, “It might think I’m seaweed” and kept his distance.

I finally got to waist deep water, and I still couldn’t convince anyone else to come “share the love.” The beach was fairly deserted that morning, but another couple did come over slightly. But again, it is very intimidating to see something that large, especially in such shallow water.

As they came a little closer, I guess the manatee was feeling a little closed in and it gradually headed off and continued its journey up the coast, probably to a freshwater river for the rest of the summer.

Afterwards, I spoke to the three people, who couldn’t believe what they had just seen.

Interestingly enough, they were all from Miami and had come to Naples to swim because they much prefer our beach.

The one man, Javier, said he even bought a small house here just so he would come often. The other couple just mostly stood there with their mouths open, so I didn’t get their details.

Because I’m an artist, when I emailed my friends and family the first thing they asked was if I was going to paint my experience, and although I did make this quick sketch, I think I’ll just remember the special day.

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