Fond childhood memories stay with us through the years, and we sometimes catch ourselves yearning to live those simpler times all over. Places and faces set our minds on journeys down memory lane. So it was that I crested the first Bayway Bridge to Tierre Verde recently and suddenly stepped back to my childhood if only in my mind. My eyes surely glazed as I remembered the many family fishing and clamming trips to Tierre Verde as a child. I am blessed to be a Floridian and unlike my siblings born elsewhere, my childhood was entirely shaped by life on the Gulf Beaches and colored by the glorious blue-green waters that surround Pinellas County.
Tierre Verde then was sparse and only the Resort and yacht basin rose from the landscape as visitors cleared the old bridge known as the toll bridge. Across from the resort and Madonna Boulevard I could still see the expanse of empty field of long ago, colored only by the mix of crushed shell and brown-green overgrowth. Along the center of the field was an airstrip and small planes occasionally set down on the crushed shell and presumably brought visitors to the island. I recalled the orange windsock that would set straight assail pointing a young me toward the refreshing sea breeze. I would extend my arms and close my eyes to bask in the sun’s warmth, dreaming I had discovered an exotic land far away.
Some of my earliest catches were from the seawall of Tierre Verde and the excitement bred my lifelong passion for inshore fishing. I remember the slow days when my grandfather would remind me of the need for patience. “They call it fishing, not catching,” he would say, teaching a lesson that I would later realize translated to many things in life. But I remembered the first spotted sea trout I landed and the fierce fights with sheepshead that taxed every ounce of my childhood strength. I relived so many of those memorable moments as my journey of late continued beyond the bridge towards Ft. Desoto Park.
Pinellas County’s premier park with its historic fort prompted more reminiscence when I entered and as my eyes took in the spans of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the near distance. During my youth the sandy bottom of the shallow waters around Ft. Desoto provided a steady source for fresh clams and we would walk barefoot, feeling for the hard shells, then eagerly retrieving the mollusks and jumping in victory for our find. Once enough clams were gathered my grandfathers would divide the haul to produce some of the best chowder or linguini with clams (red and white). It was the early introduction to truly fresh seafood and cultivated my diverse appetite for seafood that remains strong today.
Life has taken me away from Pinellas and the Gulf beaches for periods of time, but I always feel the pull towards Tierre Verde and Ft. Desoto. My greatest memories of the wonderful islands of Pinellas County’s southernmost lands are made more special as I realize I passed my love to my children, who like me fish and paddle the waters of this special piece of Paradise!