Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Big Pine Utopia

There are people who will tell you that heaven on earth is not to be found in Key West. Far from it, they say with a nudge and a wink. It's Big Pine Key in all it's bucolic glory that offers true contentment. Big Pine Key is called that because it is the largest island in the Lower Keys, some ten miles by three from tip to distant tip, spanning both sides of Highway One and it's downtown traffic light. Big Pine Key offers people miles of pine forests, stunted smallish pines it's true, but forests nonetheless. One can also find a home here with lots of land backing up to National Forest protected areas inhabited by the diminutive Key Deer ("small white deer" according to their critics, who are fed up with their gardens getting eaten). there are also lots of canals and mangroves lining the edges of this island: For the better known areas I have written essays on the tourist attractions at Blue Hole and the Watson Trail and their pine trees, and just recently I took the Bonneville to an open space I discovered. This time I chose to ride my bicycle around some backstreets that had come to my attention on one of my other visits...For some people this idyll is only available for part of the year. I was moved to guess this signpost indicated a snowbird from Michigan might be in residence.The street address of 29173 indicates the Post office puts this home in the lower portion of Mile Marker 29 on Highway One:I lived many years in California where the concept of "snow bird" was not really known though some people made a habit of hitting up Mexico for longer winter vacations as they close din on retirement years. However this East Coast and Midwestern habit of shuffling back and forth with the seasons seems weird to me. Especially as many Mid Western states boast summers more humid and less bearable than summers in the Keys, a time of year when water sports become comfortable in 82 degree waters....My boat is on it's trailer this time of year with 70 degree waters, which are too cold for swimming in my estimation. Yet, this is still where people want to be in winter and one can hardly blame them. This is January in the back streets of Big Pine Key:It was quite delightful cruising the streets in the dry crisp winter air on my bicycle and no surprise I wasn't alone. This guy whizzed by on his splendid recumbent, took a turn whizzed back and seemed to be having as much fun as I was, doing nothing much in particular, just enjoying a day off:Everyone has a boat on these canals though I'm not sure how much use they all get. At this particular seawall I saw a fine example of summer fun, a slide:Or how about a nice al fresco workshop where you could do your pottering around in the shade, safe from the weak winter sun?With all the bad news about home prices around the country you'd think that even here, in this slivers of land still attached to the US prices would be slumping. And so they are in a few spots, but mostly what seems to be happening is that houses for sale, and there are lots of them, aren't selling. Some foreclosures have reached the market and a very few homes are on offer for quite a bit less than we are used to seeing. However mostly people seem to be convinced they can sell their home sin paradise for the ridiculously high prices of years past. Some brave souls are still spending money to do up their homes, an encouraging thing to see:But bucolic Big Pine is a place where people like their space, they like the absence of busy city facilities and out here they are more than an hour by car from Key West, and probably forty minutes from Marathon in the other direction. This is off the beaten path:And to be happy out here one doesn't really need a McMansion, people have had their fish camps on Big Pine canals for decades,and some of them have survived the endless round of construction and change going on around them: It's a long, long way to Duval Street from here.