Unlike other coastal regions, where civilization crowds shoulder-to-shoulder along the shore, like lemmings amassing for their the mythical plunge into the sea, nature still rules along Florida's Big Bend area - a.k.a. the central Gulf coast. It’s a low, wet country where the "shore line" defies definition, ever-changing, shrinking and expanding, with the ebb and flow of tides. Driving west toward Cedar Key, you hardly notice the slow drop in elevation - only about a foot per mile as you approach the coast. Leaving the pine flat-woods and sandy, scrub ridges, you notice the roadside ditch has become wetter and is filled with a beautiful assortment of wetland plants. You'll also notice that the pine forest has given way to hardwood swamp, loaded with bays and red maples. Nearing the Gulf, a gust of warm air, heavily perfumed with sea-salt, tells you you're getting close. Another bend in the road and you're treated to one of the rarest of Florida offerings - a wide-open vista. The forest ends unnoticed as your gaze is drawn away to vast expanses of salt marsh, scattered islands and open water stretching to the horizon. The hundreds of little islands that line this watery coast, range in size from barren, half acre sand-spits to bonafide, mile-wide islands. For the curious explorer who's not in a hurry, the complex, species-rich communities that crowd these islands never get boring. And, if you lose track of time and suddenly find that you've run out of daylight (I'm speaking from experience here), that's not so bad either. As dusk settles and the the only sound you hear is the breeze, you look out to see the silhouettes of palms, wind-gnarled oaks, pines and mangroves cast against a smoldering sun. It's the stuff of dreams - a place where all the world is right. In 1867, naturalist John Muir described Cedar Key as being "surrounded by scores of other keys, many of them looking like a clump of palms, arranged like a tasteful bouquet, and placed in the sea to be kept fresh. Others have quite a sprinkling of oaks and junipers, beautifully united with vines. Still others consist of shells, with a few grasses and mangroves circled with a rim of rushes."