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We vacation in the land of gators and moss, and encounter two creatures
by Dan Brawner Columnist · July 13th, 2017

After seven years without a vacation, I finally realized the perfect occasion to take time off was never going to come, so I just dropped everything and went. I didn't carefully plan what would be the most fun or the best value. I didn't care.

To be fair, there was some planning involved. But my wife, Laura, did all that. Maps, food, reservations - all useful stuff, I guess. But my goal was to be absent from home and work. If we had to ride camels to Nebraska and sleep in dumpsters, I'd be good with that.

We drove down to St. George's Island, a beautiful barrier island off the gulf coast of Florida with pristine beaches of sand as white and fine as cake sugar ... and no phone or Internet service. Perfect.

I had never been to the "deep South," and it wasn't until we stayed in a Hampton Inn in Birmingham, Alabama, that I knew I wasn't in Iowa anymore. Breakfast included what looked like scrambled eggs, but were fortified with chunks of sausage of dubious origin, possibly harvested from along the local highway and salty enough to turn your tongue into a dill pickle. There were "hushpuppies," (tasty cornmeal confections not made from puppies at all), and excellent strong coffee, labeled "robust" (meaning "weaponized").

I was disappointed I didn't see alligators when we visited the St. George Island State Park. There was a sign at the campgrounds showing a photo of a grinning gator, reading, "Caution: alligators have been known to attack humans." A few yards away, another sign read, "Caution: Children Playing."

Near the end of our stay, I was staring at the rise and fall of the waves near our beach house when I noticed a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins playing some 30 yards off shore. I suppose to native Floridians, this is as common a sight as deer in a cornfield to Iowans. But I was eager to get a closer look, so I grabbed a paddle board and caught up to them as they were swimming away. Suddenly, they stopped, and so did I. There were five of them and they circled in place for a minute. Then two of the dolphins turned and headed straight for me, their triangular dorsal fins slicing the waves like sharks. When they reached my little boat, they abruptly ducked under it, smoothly as synchronized swimmers. Except that one of them actually bumped the board. As agile as they were, this could not have been accidental. It was clearly done on, um, porpoise.

I didn't know how frisky these guys might become, and I didn't relish the prospect of being flipped off my board and having to swim for shore. So I turned around and paddled for land. Then, right behind me, I heard a loud "POOSH!" as they exhaled from their blow holes.

After a few yards, my escorts broke off and rejoined their pod. I knew right then that I had achieved vacation success. I had lived on shrimp and scallops for a week, walked along a real ocean beach and made contact with creatures from another world.

Now, I was ready to go back home to Iowa.
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