Shades of Green

In the early 1950s, when Key Biscayne was first being developed, many Miami residents viewed the drive across Rickenbacker Causeway as an inconvenience.

“The island is so far from everything, and the drawbridge always seems to be open,” they complained.

Over the years, things changed. Visitors and Key residents alike have come to appreciate the beauty of the drive, often describing it as a scenic buffer of sorts between the mainland and the island. Drivers marvel at the soaring Miami skyline, the sparkling waters of Biscayne Bay, and the sailboats out for a day’s adventure.

Everyone experiences the drive differently. The highlight for Shayna Lopate, Truist Vice President and Branch Leader at the Key Biscayne Financial Center, is the lush vegetation at the entrance to the Key. As soon as she crosses the Bear Cut Bridge, the magic begins. She lets her eyes soften and observe all the shades of green.

“I play this little mental game and look for all the colors,” she says. “I’ll see yellow-green and white-green and silver-green and purple-green and lime-green. I see all the greens and feel my stress level plummet.”

As you round the bend onto the Key, you can see the spiky fronds of saw palmetto, the distinctive glossy round leaves of sea grape trees, and the gnarled and twisted trunks of buttonwood. The more you look, the more you see. There are tangled clusters of mangroves, round-topped sabal palms, shiny gumbo limbo trees, towering coconut palms – and on and on.

As the Atlantic Coast’s southernmost barrier island, Key Biscayne provides vital breeding grounds and habitat for migratory songbirds along the Eastern Flyway. While much of our island has been developed, important patches of maritime forest remain in Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Those areas are worth protecting.

If you are interested in learning more about the island’s coastal ecology and habitat, we have a great resource close by: the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, located in Crandon Park. The Center is open from 9 to 3 daily. Visitors are invited to stop by to view the exhibits or to speak with a staff naturalist.

You will be mesmerized by the creatures in the salt-water aquariums, and you can see an indoor mangrove display. Even better, sign up for one of the Center’s guided programs, such as the Family Seagrass Adventure. The Center also sponsors special events, such as the monthly Discover Biscayne Bay full moon boat cruises narrated by historian Cesar Becerra.

Jackie Kellogg, Program Coordinator at the Biscayne Nature Center, encourages Key residents to pay more attention to the land around us.

“Once you start noticing and identifying the plants that flourish on Key Biscayne, you open your eyes in a whole new way. You begin to think of the vegetation as more than just ‘weeds’ or ‘shrubs’ and notice the birds and pollinators that thrive on those plants, both inland and coastal. Oftentimes the more you learn, the more you care about becoming a good steward of our island and its fragile ecosystems.”

If you are seeking to incorporate more mindful practices into your day, one place to start is by looking out the window as you drive onto the Key and simply observing what you see. Let your eyes wander and take it all in.

Once we become more aware of our surroundings, we allow ourselves to take a break from our striving minds and live more fully in the present. You might be surprised to notice all the shades of green.

Thanks to Shayna Lopate for suggesting the topic for this week’s column. To suggest a topic for a future column, please contact Bill Durham at or 786-218-6332. We look forward to hearing from you.

To read last week's Lighter Side column, click here