By Bruce Stambaugh
My guess is we all have at least one. You know. A place you can go to be alone with the world. You declare it as your personal retreat.
It could be your man cave or your sewing room. It could be a remote waterfall miles up a winding trail.
Your place of refuge might be a park bench or even a busy city street corner where hundreds of people pass by with no notice of you. Still, you’re at peace.
Others find solace sitting on the shore of a farm pond or pulling weeds in the family garden patch. It might be an art museum, or for that matter, even one particular painting that mesmerizes you.
I find my inspirational solitude in many venues. During the winter months, I recharge in a three-mile stretch of marshland called Egan’s Creek Greenway. The stream itself runs north through the middle of Amelia Island, Fla., where my wife and I migrate as snowbirds.
Though it’s a public domain, I claim Egan’s Creek Greenway as my private secret garden. The town’s parks and recreation department maintains this sacred place. Lots of folks, locals, tourists and snowbirds like myself, frequent this marvelous reserve.
Their intrusions don’t bother me at all. In fact, part of the joy is meeting new friends who enjoy the same open space delights. The Greenway is a multiple-use resource.
When I go there, I wear my hiking shoes. I also don my birding vest to squirrel water, snacks, binoculars, a note pad and birding checklist. I also drape a camera around my neck. It’s my way of documenting each and every visit. Get the picture?
Palm fronds are brown from frost or wind damage. Deciduous trees stand bare. Grayish Spanish moss dangles from limbs high and low. A variety of bird species devour the deep blue berries of the cedar trees and the ruby red ones on sparkleberry bushes.
Subtle hints of spring appear even in February. Silver and red maple buds sprout crimson against the live oaks’ perpetual green. The dormant marsh grass stalks show mint green at their bases.
Even in cooler temperatures, people run, jog, bike, walk and bird along the greenway’s well-worn paths that parallel creeks and channels, and crisscross the marsh. On weekends and holidays, the place is abuzz with activity, human and otherwise.
Still, I stroll this paradise in search of whatever finds me. I frequent the Greenway alone, and with my wife, with friends, with family, with strangers. I don’t mind sharing this beautiful secret.
Each trek there unfolds anew with different characters. The results are the same.
On any given day, I can hear Navy helicopters on test flights over the Atlantic. Train engine whistles echo from the town two miles away. None of this interferes with my enjoyment.
A river otter munches on plants in one of the rivulets. A red-shouldered hawk sits on a snag, its harsh call contrasting with its feathery beauty. Gangs of American robins madly chirp when disturbed by a bossy pileated woodpecker.
A plump rabbit and a skinny doe nibble grass only feet away. Alligators and painted turtles soak in the afternoon sun as neighbors.
Gray catbirds gobble the sparkleberries while cedar waxwings down their namesake’s fruit. Scores of yellow-rumped warblers dart in and out of the thickets, plucking insects. Eastern phoebes sit and bob their tails.
Me? I just smile inside and out, thankful for my secret, sacred sanctuary.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2016