To travel throughout the Florida Keys, an arc of islands drifting effortlessly off the southernmost tip of Florida’s mainland, you must drive across 43 bridges.

Some extend mere feet; one is an astonishing seven miles long. All stretch between small islands of vastly diverse character, and all boast the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.

Yet even after you navigate the 43rd span, there’s one more bridge to cross. It’s a bridge from one culture to another. The Keys combine the features of a welcoming American small town with those of a Caribbean destination rich in manana mindset and irreverent humor.

I crossed the last bridge in 1977, and since then have spent happy years learning about the Keys’ seafaring past and living their freewheeling present. As a thirty-year resident with an enduring passion for the area, I have a true insider’s perspective about the place.

I also have a wide knowledge of things that only a long-time resident would know. Like the secret ingredient in America’s tastiest Reuben sandwich (fresh-caught Keys lobster — really). Like which gravestone in the picturesque Key West cemetery bears the inscription “I told you I was sick.” Like where you can dive into an underwater music festival, paint with a dolphin, feed flashing tarpon or be greeted by a canine concierge.

Those might be small things — but they’re part of the indefinable Florida Keys magic that burrows its way into the bones and the blood, turning casual visitors into long-term residents.

Here in the Keys, the setting sun merits a nightly celebration. Treasure hunting is a legitimate (and respected) occupation. And if you ride your bike down a quiet street at dusk, you’ll catch a scent of nighttime blooms and saltwater that can’t be found anywhere else on earth.

That’s the atmosphere I hope to communicate in this blog. Here you’ll find insights into the Florida Keys’ places and personality, characters and camaraderie, history and heart.

There’s a Keys legend that says once visitors get sand in their shoes, they’ll come back to the islands again and again. Become a reader of this blog, and chances are you’ll sense the Keys’ offbeat, magical appeal — and you too will feel the grit and promise of sand in your shoes.