As I turn the perfect seashell over and over, studying the intricate patterns of design and color, I marvel at the miracle in my hands. Equally stunning is the fact that piles and piles of countless shells in various shapes and sizes cover the powder-white beach. Where did they come from?
I scan the crystal turquoise waters for some clue of their origin. A pelican skims the ocean just beyond the breaking waves so skillfully that the tips of his wings appear to tickle the water's surface. A glance down the beach reveals that I am, once again, alone in this marvelous paradise. That is, if you don't count the dozens of friendly sand pipers and sea gulls that have landed by the sea to rest. They are so unafraid of my presence that I begin to wonder if they've ever seen a human up close. As I ponder these and other matters, I begin to sense the real magic of this oasis called Palm Island Resort: My thoughts are far from everyday manmade stresses and worries. Every time I come here, I find that the incredible beauty of the creation around me causes my mind to focus on the truly important questions of life.
Palm Island Resort is located on the end of a Florida barrier island between Sarasota and Fort Myers. This is my fourth trip in six months, and I'm becoming addicted to the relaxing effects that the fresh ocean breezes and seclusion have on my brain. On this particular respite, I'm alone, staying in a charming condo that sits right on the beach. Normally I bring my 15-year-old daughter, who delights in the starry nights, the warm Gulf waters and the abundance of wildlife as much as I do. The last time we were here, we took a walk on the moonlit beach down to the point of the island and waded in the water as we rounded the tip to a dock on the bayside. We lay flat on our backs and gazed up into a canopy of a zillion stars scattered across the sky in a brilliant display of lights. We whispered softly about everything – and nothing. These are the moments a mother craves. When I am on Palm Island, every moment becomes a treasured memory.
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At night, as I drift into a peaceful sleep, the only sounds are the soothing, gentle crashes of the waves on the shore. There are no wild parties, no throngs of people, no garbage or litter often found on other beaches, no high rises and no cars. The only way to get around on this largely undiscovered slice of paradise is by golf cart. And the only access to the island is by boat or ferry – there are exactly zero bridges. You simply drive your car onto the ferry, make the short trip across a narrow strip of the Intracoastal Waterway, and deposit your car in the shell-paved parking lot where you're met by a friendly bellhop who takes you to an immaculate villa. The one-, two- and three-bedroom units are all privately owned. But, luckily for me, most of the owners enlist their vacation condos in a fantastic rental program that allows anyone to enjoy nirvana. Penny Hazen, who has the enviable job of selling bits of heaven, is as friendly and helpful as any realtor you'll ever meet. And the bell staff, night watchmen and the rest of the staff are unobtrusive but always seem to be handy when you need them.
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Of course, if I felt like doing more than pondering the origin of shells, I could play tennis on one of the 11 courts, enjoy world-class fishing, tour the estuary, rent a kayak or boat, go snorkeling, watch the dolphins or participate in one of the many other low-key resort activities. There is a wonderful seafood restaurant on the island, but I love to fix my own meals in the fully equipped kitchen and dine on my private deck overlooking the Gulf.
One of my favorite island pastimes is cruising in the golf cart to enjoy the amazing flowers and lush tropical vegetation that adorn the resort grounds. Swaying palm trees, pink and purple oleander, an array of bougainvillea and a seemingly endless palate of hibiscus line the walkways, paths and villas. I've also spent many relaxing hours in several of the five perfectly maintained swimming pools and spas. (My daughter and I sometimes sneak into the pool or spa late at night for more star-gazing and heartfelt chats.)
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One day, somehow, some way, I know I will be a grateful owner at Palm Island Resort. Until then, I'll remain a grateful visitor who escapes the craziness of life whenever possible to ponder the many marvels of God's creation.