Of all the man-made shows seen from Anna Maria Island, the most awesome is the launch of a space shuttle. Over the past ten years, there have been quite a few, and it’s surprising how much they vary. Perhaps it has to do with the position of the sun at the time. This week I arose to watch the last ever shuttle launch to take place in darkness. The program will end soon, and the remaining daytime launches probably will not be visible. It was 6:21, and the angle of the sun, not yet risen, made for a spectacular effect.
As I stood barefoot in the dark on the second-floor deck, facing east, I suddenly noticed an orange fireball right over the distant trees. It rose slowly and eventually I saw a tail on it. Then the cloudy contrail became apparent, and it zigzagged quite sharply, I assume because of the upper-level breeze. The thick trail was dark on the bottom and lighter higher up.
The shuttle became nothing but a small bright spot and it eventually started to look as if it were losing altitude. I worried for a moment and then remembered that the laws of perspective would predict this apparent descending path, from my position, as the distance became great and it headed around the curve of the earth. The most amazing visual development at that point was a huge, curved contrail behind the speck that was the shuttle. It must have been lit by the very early rays of the sun. This is my unscientific description and understanding of what I saw.
In years living on Anna Maria Island, we have marveled at all the things seen from the deck. From manatees and dolphins swimming by, to herons and ospreys raising their chicks in high nests around us, to skimmers flying with their lower bills slicing the glassy evening water, to kingfishers diving, the array of natural sights is breath taking. We’ve also watched a huge raccoon climb a tall coconut palm beside our deck, and disappear into the dense clusters of coconuts at various stages of growth.
In addition to the entertainment of the natural world, we have from time to time followed the antics of boaters who are unfamiliar with their boats and/or with the channels and shallows of the adjacent bay. We’ve seen fleets of commercial fishermen swarm our usually quiet waters to catch mullet for their roe. On special holidays, we’ve been able to step out onto the deck and see fireworks displays in several directions: off to the east in Bradenton, to the northwest over the Sandbar Restaurant, or to the northeast over the Anna Maria City Pier.
But a highlight and soon to end displays are the space shuttle launches. My camera could not do it justice. But it was spectacular.