My wife and I come to Florida for a few weeks each winter. There are many reasons we do so besides the warmer weather. Magnificent sunrises and sunsets enrich our lives.
The sunrises come to us. Our rented condo is on the beach facing the Atlantic Ocean. I only have to walk from the bedroom to the front windows to enjoy dawn’s show. Sometimes I stand in awe at the glorious beauty before me.
Sunset is a different story. An hour or so before the time for sunset, I check the western sky. If it looks favorable, we delay supper, and my wife and I head to one of several locations for picturesque photos.
Depending on where we go, we’ll head out 15 minutes to half an hour before dusk to be ready for nature’s glory to unfold. The image below was taken near a marina on Egans Creek in Fernandina Beach. I was fortunate that these fishermen called it a day at the sunset’s peak.
I found this when I checked the potential for a lovely sunrise at 6:30 this morning. With sunrise still 45 minutes away, these clouds should have been turning all shades of pink, orange, and red at this stage.
Instead, the low clouds set a foreboding mood, as if denying the sun its daily duty. Then I noticed the crescent moon in the photo’s upper right-hand corner. And the phrase, “By dawn’s early light,” came to mind.
For citizens of the United States, those words should mean something. They are in the opening line of our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The lyrics come from a poem, “In Defence of Fort McHenry,” written on September 14, 1814, by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812.
I wondered how this sky compared to the one that inspired Key’s patriotic poem. Unlike the scene Key painted, thankfully, no bombs were bursting in the air here in Fernandina Beach, Florida, this morning.
But the mood of this photo, with the splinter of a waning January moon peeking between the clouds, also inspired me. I hope it does the same for you.
I’ve never been a beach kind of guy. I prefer the fields, hills, and forests. When we winter in Fernandina Beach, Florida, on Amelia Island, I head to Egans Creek Greenway for peace of mind. That’s a bit ironic since our rented condo is on the beach facing the Atlantic Ocean.
I enjoy watching dolphins swim by and the many birds of prey, shorebirds, and other avian species plying the ocean waters. I also delight in the lovely sunrises, though they have been few and far between this year. I’m not complaining. We’ve had plenty of clear blue skies and above-average temperatures in the two weeks we have been here.
The warmth and fair weather have allowed me to spend enjoyable hours on the Egans Creek Greenway. The Greenway is a preserved wildlife area sandwiched between two busy east-west roadways, including the northernmost section of Florida’s noted A1A Coastal Highway. It’s my sacred place, though it is hardly quiet.
Egans Creek Greenway is a place to discover all of nature’s wonders. Visitors can find alligators, Ospreys, butterflies, river otters, and much more in, on, and among the waters, marshes, and greenery. Opened at the turn of the millennium in 2000, the Greenway is an undeveloped park for conservation and passive recreational use.
Egans Creek runs north through the far northeastern section of this barrier island. Housing developments and commercial buildings like hotels constantly push at the edges, even though the area is designated a preserve. The Greenway is managed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which has its headquarters adjacent at the north end of the marsh.
The Greenway consists of over 300 acres of protected lands, which include slivers of marine woodlands, wetland bushes, and a sizeable briny marsh. Trails for walking, running, biking, and birding wind throughout the Greenway. Maps are available at the Greenway’s entrances, and benches are dotted along the grass-covered paths.
In the dozen years we have been coming here, I have found the Greenway my place to relax, explore, and rest. Its location forces me to focus on what is right in front of me and always watch for surprises. Last year a Northern Harrier swooped low across the marsh. Roseate Spoonbills make rare appearances.
I especially enjoy the creativity it affords me if I only take the time to see it. The stark contrasts of crimson buds of red maple trees against the shiny green leaves of Live Oaks create a festive feel. Or the orange and black of a lone Monarch butterfly settling on a barren stalk keeps me mentally alert and spiritually alive.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
An added enjoyment is meeting new people on the Greenway. Some stop to talk or inquire about what I am seeing. Others just run or bike right on by. Rowdy teenagers occasionally pitch a stick at a sunbathing alligator or spook birds with their boisterous talk.
Nevertheless, these experiences allow me to tune out the human-induced noises that permeate our lives. In the case of the Greenway, commercial jetliners approaching Jacksonville International Airport 30 minutes away buzz overhead. So do smaller planes taking off and landing from the local airport two miles southeast of the Greenway. And then there are the military helicopters flying up and down the beach from Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville.
Sirens wail away, responding to the next emergency. Trucks, motorcycles, and cars hum along the adjacent streets. Train engine horns from tracks along the riverfront invade the Greenway’s peace and tranquility.
Despite those acoustic interferences, I still find the Greenway a respite, a private sanctuary in a very public place. I accept that I cannot change those annoyances. I can concentrate on solitude and enjoyment in whatever I find each time I walk the Greenway.
January’s Full Wolf Moon rose over the Atlantic Ocean about 15 minutes before sunset last evening, January 6, 2023. That made it rather difficult to find on the horizon. The moon easily blended with the pale pink background of the Belt of Venus.
I had my cameras ready, and my wife spotted it first. I aimed my 35 mm camera on the tripod and snapped away. I also used my point-and-shoot camera with a 1,725 mm lens when fully extended. I concentrated on holding it still enough to keep the photos from blurring. In addition, I took a few pictures with my iPhone.
The following photos show the sequence of the full moon rising. Please click on the images to enlarge them.
The photo above was my first shot once we spotted the moon. A large bird hovered over the ocean and appeared at about 11 o’clock on the moon’s face. The red object at the far right is a bouy that helps mark the channel into the St. Mary’s River that serves as the state line between northeast Florida and southeast Georgia.
The moon became more evident in just two minutes as it rose slightly above the ocean.
This photograph provides the view from our third-floor condo. Note the freighter on the horizon in the upper right-hand section of the photo.
Nine minutes later, the moon hung unmistakeably above the Atlantic.
With the sun now set, the full moon dominated the eastern sky.
Watching the moon rise over the ocean is always a treat. The unobstructed view gives viewers the opportunity to fully appreciate the spectacular sequence and beauty of another rising full moon.
Each winter, save 2021 due to the pandemic, my wife and I escape Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for warmer climes. We head to Amelia Island, Florida. If you are familiar with Florida’s geography, you know that Amelia Island is northeast of Jacksonville. It’s the northernmost barrier island in Florida. The St. Mary’s River separates Florida from Georgia, so it’s not consistently balmy like Miami or Naples.
We stay in a rented condo complex only yards away from the Atlantic Ocean. On days when the weather is nice, it’s a great location. When the weather turns less than desirable, it can be downright cold. Nevertheless, the island and surrounding areas offer plenty of outdoor amenities like birding, hiking, and photography for me to enjoy.
Since we face east, I relish the many beautiful sunrises. However, the results are often somewhat foggy if a cold front stalls offshore. When we arrived on New Year’s Day, the temperature hit 75, and the sky was mostly sunny. By morning, we were fogged in. Still, I took the photo above as our first Florida sunrise in 2023.
Yesterday, we had an ice storm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Schools and many businesses were closed, but for the most part, little harm was done. The power surged just once in our neighborhood.
The ice coated everything from the ground up with at least a quarter inch of ice. There was more ice in some places, while others received much less. The ice accumulation depended on elevation, air temperature, and the amount and types of precipitation in any given area.
One thing was sure at our location. The layer of ice created a crystal palace appearance to all it embraced. It was joyous to look out and see nature’s beauty enhanced all the more.
I was surprised to see so few birds at our many feeders placed strategically around our front and back yards. But by mid-day, they apparently got hungry enough or felt safe enough to venture out from the security of their perches to come to the feeders.
I was ready for them with my cameras. I captured a brilliant red male Northern Cardinal sitting on a branch of a frosted evergreen. But it was his female companion that stole the show.
The female Northern Cardinal perched on an ice-incrusted limb of a young tulip poplar tree we had planted earlier this year. The photograph embodied the whole of the day.
The encasement of the ice is clearly visible, while the thin ice pellets pepper the background. With its burnished tulip-like blossoms frozen in time, the dormant tree beautifully accented the Cardinal’s lovely muted red and olive coloration.
This female Northern Cardinal earned the title “The Ice Queen.”
When you have a big birthday, you celebrate it in a big way. At age 75, however, it’s best to do so gradually.
That’s not usually how I approach things. Given the circumstance, going slow and steady was the formula I needed and certainly enjoyed. Pacing myself proved to be the best alternative to enjoying each moment.
My oldest grandson gave us an early jump on my birthday. He was home from college for Thanksgiving, so we ate at a local restaurant on Thanksgiving eve. The family time around a chef-prepared meal allowed everyone to enjoy the evening together.
My birthday extravaganza continued. My dear wife secretly arranged an overnight stay in a neat bed and breakfast less than an hour away the next weekend.
On the way there, we drove southeast across country roads that wound through Civil War battlegrounds fought on land still farmed in rural Shenandoah Valley. To the east, the Blue Ridge Mountains rose majestically, guiding us onward. Farther to the west, the Allegheny Mountains marked the state line between Virginia and West Virginia. The ancient mountains east and west provide an innate sense of security.
We made sure we stopped at Milmont Greenhouses in Stuarts Draft. They always display colorful poinsettias and other lovely flowers for the holidays. We selected a few small pink and white poinsettias for our daughter and headed for our bed and breakfast. We met our gracious hostess, who showed us our spacious and comfy second-floor suite. We had a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
My wife also had scoped out the town’s eateries and made reservations at the top-rated spot. Since we had plenty of time, I suggested we take a short ride to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and hope for an inspiring sunset despite the mostly cloudy day.
There were a few west-facing overlooks not far from the park’s southern entrance. We found the second one more favorable than the first and kept watch there.
As often happens over the mountains, the clouds thickened as daylight waned. Still, we noticed a break in the clouds just above the farthest mountain range.
The wind picked up just as the sun briefly broke through. From the overlook, we saw first-hand how the Blue Ridge Mountains earned their folklore name. A series of blue ridges led right to the setting sun’s soft orange glow. I snapped a couple of shots before darkness overtook us.
More than satisfied, we headed south but soon had to stop for a doe and her yearling to cross in front of us. Their brown coats naturally blended in with the dormant roadside vegetation.
Despite the minor delay, we arrived at the downtown restaurant right on time. Our delicious meals and our friendly waitress, who knew how to care for her customers, made for a splendid outing.
When we arrived back at the bed and breakfast, our host’s husband entertained us with the history of the old brick mansion. He then cranked up the beautiful player piano with a few Christmas tunes. He talked a lot but said very little. I preferred the piano.
At this point, I must confess that spreading out my birthday celebration was advantageous to my health. For unknown reasons, my blood pressure had significantly risen in recent weeks. Following my doctor’s orders, I took things easy. It was all I could do anyhow. This day had been good for me, though. My evening blood pressure reading was the lowest it had been in weeks.
In the morning, our hosts provided a scrumptious meal of shirred eggs and bacon, and they even had gluten-free fruit-infused bread for me. It was an excellent way to start the new day.
We said goodbye and drove into town to the P. Buckley Moss gallery. Since Waynesboro was ringing in the holidays this particular Saturday, the famous artist greeted patrons for part of the day. We arrived shortly after the store opened and had a friendly chat with Ms. Moss. She even signed the Christmas tree ornament we purchased that she had painted. The artistry depicted a winter scene only a few miles from our home, the historic Silver Lake Mill.
We caught lunch just down the street, and it was time to head home. With the sun shining brightly through low broken clouds, I had to stop and take a few scenic photos. We spent the rest of the day watching football and basketball and enjoying the birds at the feeders.
I awoke much too early Sunday morning. I could tell I would have to take it easy on my birthday. My blood pressure had spiked again.
Many friends on social media expressed their best wishes for me on my big day while we attended church. I greatly appreciated all of their kind thoughts. They came from former students and teachers, friends and family, and people I have never met. That’s how social media is supposed to work.
After an uplifting worship service, we went to our daughter’s home, which is just up the hill from the church. We dropped off the poinsettias and popped two casseroles into the oven. I enjoyed some quiet time with our grand dog, Millie. We visited with our daughter and her family and then drove to a friend’s house for one of the small groups to which we belong. Neva had baked my favorite cake, an upside-down pineapple cake. I blew out the lone candle, and we enjoyed the carry-in food and genuine fellowship until mid-afternoon.
We wound down my big day quietly, watching more sports and fixer-upper TV shows. Just as we settled in for the night, our son sent a text that made my birthday complete. Our six-month-old grandson had his first solid bowel movement.
I couldn’t think of a better way to end my progressive 75th birthday celebration.
I was searching for a rare bird when the setting sun caught my attention. When I noticed how the last of the day’s sunrays illuminated the ragtag fringes of the cattail heads, I forgot the bird to capture this shot.
The golden tint of the sun on the lake highlighted the rich and varied browns of this late November scene. I didn’t see the bird, but this moment made the trip worth it.