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My Birthday Island

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Find Your Park

A Miami native finds her park on a memorable Biscayne Bay birthday.

By Annie Farrell

The winter storm of 2011 pushed cold weather into Miami, but I wasn’t about to let a little chill stop me from turning 12 on an enchanted island.

My parents had promised a boat trip to Boca Chita Key in Biscayne National Park to celebrate my birthday. Our picnic supplies were already packed. Still optimistic, we wore bathing suits under our sweaters and jeans as we climbed into our 25-foot Contender with my little sister and three of my friends. For once, I didn’t complain about wearing my life jacket. It was another layer of warmth.

We puttered out of our Coconut Grove neighborhood’s channel but picked up speed once we hit Biscayne Bay. The temperature was in the mid 60-degree range, but with the wind whipping into our faces, it felt much colder.

I wouldn’t really feel cold or experience my first snow until a school trip took me to Boston four years later. Back then, though, for a girl born and raised in Miami, this was the coldest day of my life.

It takes about 30 minutes by boat to get from Coconut Groveto Boca Chita. That day, it seemed much longer as we huddled together from the chilly sea spray and relentless wind. Usually, I like to perch up front, looking out for pods of dolphin jumping in the bay orcormorants settled on channel markers spreading their wings to dry.However, that day, I took a seat behind my dad, the captain, where it was warmer and dry.

A mile off the coast of Miami, we counted the seven hand-built Stiltsville houses on our way across the bay. About 12 miles south of Cape Florida, we spotted Boca Chita’s coral rock tower and everybody cheered.

As my friends and I hiked through mangroves on the trail that circles the island, my dad fired up one of the picnic area’s grills and my mom threw on burgers for an early lunch. My mom threw lettuce, tomatoes, tortilla chips and salsa into a bag and shook it up. Instant taco salad. The seven of us sat around a picnic table savoring the warmth from our burgers.

Afterward, my friend Adriana and I decided to be brave and go snorkeling off the key; a Florida version of the “Polar Plunge.” We had to wear our flip flops to protect our feet from the sharp, broken shells on the small beach. We didn’t last long, running back on land to bundle up in towels.

By this time, the sun was setting. We packed up the boat to go back home, hurriedly throwing everything into the boat’s console.

As the sky turned shades of coral and salmon, I looked around – at the ocean, the Boca Chita “lighthouse,” the brave campers setting up their tents for the night (probably Northerners) – and I knew I would be back. I would come back to this park, my park, again with my family and friends because I knew it would wait for me. It would wait for me until my familiar Miami summer sun was back again. It’s funny because now when I think about that cold day and turning 12, all I feel is warmth.

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