Walking with the dolphins

Fernandina Beach FL, bottle-nosed dolphins
The walk begins.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love it when I can walk with the dolphins.

The time of the day is insignificant. I consider the stroll up or down the beach a blessed and rare privilege. The bottlenose dolphins don’t seem to mind at all. I doubt they are even aware of my presence. The closest ones surface and resurface just beyond the breakers.

If the relentless waves would soften their drumbeat upon the sand, I might even be able to hear the dolphins’ high-pitched squeaking and chatter as they undulate north or south, feeding, playing, the young ones occasionally showing off, jumping out of the water like flying fish. The rest of the pod continues with the business of foraging in the giving sea. The youngsters circle back, never far from mother’s side.

We watch for the dolphins from sunrise to sunset. With below average air and water temperatures this winter, the walks with the dolphins have been fewer than previous snowbird ventures. That only heightened my joy at each opportunity. Once I spot the dolphins, I hurry down the steps, across the wooden walkway to the gritty beach sand and begin my stroll.

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I walk fast trying my best to stick to the wetted sand where footfalls are firm but pliable. I have learned that my natural striding equals that of the dolphins’ cruising pace unless they change course or have their routine interrupted for some reason. I assure you, if they do, it’s not because of me. I watch them more than where I am going. They, however, don’t know I exist, which is my preference.

When I pass other beachgoers, perhaps walking their dogs or also just out for a morning or afternoon stroll on the beach, I ask, “Did you see the dolphins?” There are only two possible answers, whether verbal or nonverbal. A nod or “Yes” and I smile and keep walking. A “No” often followed by “Where?” and I point and wait until they, too, see the rhythmical appearing and disappearing fins, thank me, and walk on.

dolphins, Atlantic Ocean, Florida
Dolphins playing.
Dolphins are smart. They most often appear when the weather and water agree on calmness rather than a calamity. The dolphins slip through the water silently, hardly making a ripple. We seldom see them during a nor’easter, where the waves and wind collectively and relentlessly crash the shore.

I especially enjoy the walks at low tide when the ocean and the sky join forces to show all their true colors. Even on cloudy days, blues, pinks, purples, tans, greens, and frothy whites chase one another through the never-ending cycles of ebbing and flowing.

Overhead, Forester’s terns and squawking gulls trail the pods like kites on strings. The Forester’s hover and dive to the water’s surface, grabbing breakfast or brunch that have eluded the playful dolphins.

I inhale the sea spray and salty freshness simultaneously, joyfully, though I know my glasses will need a good cleaning once I return to our winter’s nest beyond the seashore dunes.

I stop to investigate a shell or take a photo with my cell phone of some artistic designs the sea and sky have jointly sculpted. I look up, and the dolphins are gone.

I retrace my footsteps, occasionally checking beyond the folding waters for any gray fins or reflective glints of the sun off wetted backs. Seeing none, I walk on, my heart and soul both warmed by the encounter that strengthened not only my muscles but my spirit, too.

That’s why I cherish each chance I get to walk with the dolphins.

natural art, sand, seashore
Seashore art.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Determination Exemplified

old man walking the beach, Main Beach Fernandina FL
Determination Exemplified.

When I saw this elderly man hobbling up the beach, I raced for my camera. Here was determination exemplified. He and his wife, who only used one cane and was far ahead of him, couldn’t be more dedicated. There are beach walkers and then there are beach walkers. The man’s strident effort certainly inspired me. I hope it does you as well.

“Determination Exemplified” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

What the Olympic athletes can teach us

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I love watching the Winter Olympics on television.

We wonder wide-eyed at the participants bouncing down the mogul runs, throwing in a couple of showy back-flip jumps before zipping across the finish line. I’m always amazed that the skiers and snowboarders have any teeth left as they broadly grin at the in-your-face TV cameras.

Gold medal by Charles Deluvio.
We gasp at the speed of the bobsledders, especially if there is a crash careening the sled and riders down the slippery slope like ragdolls. The same is true with the downhill skiers. Curling is much more my style.

We marvel at the ability of the athletes to overcome mistakes and carry on. Figure ice-skating is a prime example.

Most of the skating athletes are young. I won’t pretend to understand or know the various requirements or vocabulary of the sport. I just know it takes incredible skill and practice to even qualify. The pressure has to be enormous being in the bright lights of the arena, cameras rolling, coaches, family, friends, teammates, and the rest of the electronically tuned-in world watching.

They synchronize their routines with the music the skaters chose. Each performance requires certain moves and skills to positively impress the judges and meet the necessary requirements.

The athletes have practiced and practiced and practiced. And then it happens. On a tricky maneuver, spinning like a human top, the landing is slightly imperfect. The skater falls or at the very least touches the ice with a hand that subtracts precious points.

And still, they carry on as best they can with their routines, desperately trying to regain the rhythm and pace of their choreographed performance. The adrenaline must be pumping. Their minds must be racing, yet they continue, either flawlessly or as too often happens, with further miscues.

Skier by Nicolai Berntsen
No matter what country they represent, my heart goes out to them. All that time, effort, money, and travel, previous competing, sacrificing, just for this moment. In an instant, with a slight stumble or inability to fulfill the required maneuvers, their moments in the spotlights dim.

The cameras zoom in as the performance ends. No forced smiles or automatic hand waves to the appreciative crowds can conceal their emotions. They know they have missed their chance. The despair can’t be hidden.

There is only one thing for them to do. These amateur athletes have to act like professionals. They accept the flowers and gifts that are affectionately showered on them from the audience in anticipation of perfection regardless of the real results.

No doubt their coaches will school their understudies on their errors, encourage them, remind them that they can do it. The athletes get themselves ready for the next event and try again.

Whether they are in the running for a medal or not, the contestants keep on competing. It’s that simple. Their next performance can only be improved upon if they learn from their mistakes, practice, and try, try, try again. Some competitors, however, may have to wait another four years for that opportunity.

Teenagers win gold medals. Veteran Olympian medalists fail to qualify to stand on the coveted awards podium. It indeed is “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” to quote the late Jim McKay.

Failing is a part of life. It’s a way to learn, to improve, and to be a better person, to be resilient. It’s just one of the reasons I enjoy the Olympics as much as I do, especially curling.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Patriotic Repurposing

WV farm, antique tractor, American Flag
Patriotic Repurposing.

I spotted this scene while traveling along a West Virginia highway. I had to stop to get the photo. I loved all the textures, the various shades of red, and the lines in this shot. The farmer’s patriotism showed through by painting his version of the American flag on an old wooden pallet.

In honor of Presidents Day (Feb. 19), which combines Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12) and George Washington’s birthday (Feb. 22), “Patriotic Repurposing” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Alice always made me smile

By Bruce Stambaugh

Alice.
Alice always made me smile. Oh, she could be annoying. Even when I’d kindly caution her to keep her voice down, that didn’t stop Alice from being Alice. Nor did that stop me from liking her.

I got to know Alice at our little church in Millersburg, Ohio. I can’t even remember how long I’d had the privilege of being Alice’s friend. She was a friend to many, to whomever she met really. Alice just had that kind of outgoing, unabashed personality.

Nothing held Alice back. If she wanted something or wanted you to know something that she knew, she’d share, any place, any time. Tact and appropriateness of timing were never part of Alice’s arsenal. Ironically, consideration of others most certainly was. It’s what motivated her, drove her, caused her to fearlessly blurt out her innermost feelings with no compunction.

Alice could be a pill, even a pest. If she had your number, especially your phone number, Alice would find any old excuse to call you. Alice often rambled on and on if you would let her. That’s how much she loved you.

Alice attended church whenever possible. Other good folks went out of their way to provide transportation for her.

Alice loved Helen Steiner Rice poems. She’d read them aloud every chance she got in church, often in honor of someone’s birthday. Of course, Alice did so long after other announcements had already been made. Spitfire that she was, Alice didn’t need a microphone. She would just shout out her comments, prayer requests, and recitations as the spirit moved.

Alice could pull this off because everyone knew her situation. It wasn’t toleration mind you. It was admiration for her unequivocal love for others and her fierce desire to share whatever was on her mind. Nearly 99 percent of the time, her thoughts and concerns were for others, not herself.

Alice receiving communion.
As Alice did her readings or made her proclamations, knowing smiles radiated from all around the congregation. Every worship leader graciously acknowledged her comments and the service continued without a hitch.

In addition to poems, Alice loved a good joke and prank. Though often silly and uncomplicated, Alice laughed her wicked laugh as she told and retold the punch lines. Once when our infant granddaughter squeezed Alice’s index finger and wouldn’t let go, Alice was in heaven. She joyously reminded me of that incident whenever she could. That was Alice.

Several years ago, I escorted Alice to Texas to visit her only living brother, whose health was failing. People thought I was crazy to take on that formidable task.

Though dependent on a wheelchair, Alice traveled with no problems. The further we got from Millersburg, the quieter she got. The return trip proved just the opposite.

Alice listened to my every instruction. Deep down, she and I both knew just how much this journey, paid for anonymously, meant to her. Witnessing Alice embrace her brother Floyd was one of my lifetime thrills.

Quixotic as she was, Alice married late in life on the most romantic day of the year, Valentines Day, Feb. 14, 1970. She and her husband Charlie lived right behind our church. In recent months, Alice was confined to a nursing home, substantially reducing her mobility. Alice recently died there at age 95.

Alice’s unbridled love for life was an excellent gift to us all. In her memory and in her honor, I hope that same devotion becomes an exemplary measure of living out our own lives.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Roots

designs in the sand, beach
Roots.

Sunny days or cloudy, high tide or low, the ever-changing elements of a walk on an oceanfront beach stir my senses and imagination. I try to keep a sharp eye out for the unusual. When I spotted these etchings in the sand, I saw a cross-section of roots reaching deep into fertile soil far below the floor of a magnificent forest.

In reality, these markings are nothing more than the tracings of pebbles and shells first being washed upon the shore and then just as quickly drawn back into the sea by its never-ending motion. They still looked like tree roots to me.

“Roots” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

The Beach Lady’s lasting legacy

American Beach, Amelia Island FL
American Beach today.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In the United States, February has been designated as Black History Month for many years now. Some schools, libraries, and other institutions give the theme only cursory attention while others plan meaningful and memorable events, including art shows, lectures, and dramas.

When my wife and I discovered Amelia Island’s American Beach on one of our Florida snowbird retreats, our interest piqued. We quickly learned a lot about decades of injustices, discrimination, and intolerance of blacks in our society.

Black History Month art
Art for Black History Month.
The American Beach Museum is a tidy, organized, and informative exhibition hall on Julia Street in a secluded historic district on the south end of this Atlantic Coast barrier island. The place may be tiny, but it is packed with facts, stories, relics, and photos that make your head spin trying to absorb it all. The volunteer guides are the most gracious people one would ever want to meet, and gladly help explain and amplify the historical information.

The short video featuring the Beach Lady, MaVynee Betsch, is the highlight of the tour. It makes you want to have been on that tour bus with her to hear her passionate stories of experiencing racism, discrimination, personal career success, her genuine love of nature, history, family, and the Creator who gave us the responsibility for caring for this marvelous earth.

In her case, the Beach Lady cut short a lucrative and professionally successful career as an opera singer in Europe to return to her beloved American Beach to ensure its preservation. She had her ups and downs in that endeavor. In the end, the Beach Lady’s efforts prevailed, even years after her death from cancer.

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For her persistence and persuasive hard work, MaVynee left her mark everywhere around American Beach. The beach itself is the most obvious result. Its sand dunes are some of the highest in the state. The beach’s sands are white and smooth, much desired by island developers. However, due much in part to the Beach Lady, the National Park Service now supervises the 80 some acres of the area.

American Beach was the only one on which blacks were permitted on Amelia Island. That segregation lasted until 1970. American Beach was founded in 1935 by the Afro American Insurance Co. president A. L. Lewis, the Beach Lady’s grandfather. American Beach provided a place for recreation and relaxation without humiliation during the Jim Crow era. It offered a place of hope in a time of despair for dark-skinned people.

Ironically, the original 100 by 100 ft. plots of land were always integrated. Some of the original buildings still exist, though they are not in the best condition. Evan’s Hall, a gathering place for music and dance, is one of them. Today some of the beachfront houses are worth millions of dollars.

American Beach, Amelia Island FL
Historical marker.
The museum holds photographs, artifacts, and displays of the legacy of the Beach Lady, including her seven-foot length of hair. Some thought her eccentric. Others knew better. Her devotion to family, nature, and her beloved beach remains for all to see today.

Each winter, we always make a point of visiting the museum and American Beach itself. We do so as a personal reminder of segregation in this country, of those who worked so diligently to overcome it and the sacrifices they made in doing so. MaVynee, the museum, and American Beach are testaments to what was, is, and yet needs to be done to indeed guarantee equality for all in this great country of ours.

Amelia Island FL
Volunteer guides at the American Beach Museum.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018