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.
My wife and I are fortunate to spend part of the winter months in northeast Florida. Our rented condo on the Atlantic Ocean affords many opportunities for photographic moments. It’s up to me to be on the lookout for them.
In this instance, I spotted a lone sailboat in the silvery reflection of the mid-morning sunshine. The waters seemed to shiver below a cerulean sky, creating a black-and-white, wave-like appearance to a nearly calm ocean.
As bright as the shimmering reflection was, I could still capture the sailboat on its silvery plate.
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.
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.
What a difference just a few days make. A friend told me that the colors on Shenandoah Mountain were exceptional. A man I could trust, I took his comments to heart.
Viewing the colorful leaves of autumn is a long-standing tradition for me. Of course, living most of my life in Ohio’s Amish country spoiled me. I was surrounded by brilliant colors nearly every fall without having to leave home.
I needed to satisfy that desire to participate in autumn’s color fest. The Saturday morning after my excursion on Skyline Drive, I headed west on US 33. It’s not just the main route west out of Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is the only roadway west that traverses the Allegheny Mountains into West Virginia.
The drive to the summit of Shenandoah Mountain takes about half an hour from my home. I headed out mid-morning, and as I reached where the road runs parallel to Dry River, the main waterway of Shenandoah Mountain, I changed my course. It was evident that the afternoon light would better illuminate the beauty of the leaves.
Not wanting to waste my attempt, I turned into a locally popular park, Riven Rock. In the summer, families go there to cool down from the heat and humidity by playing in the clear, placid waters of the braided stream. Here the morning sun proved me correct. Only the southernmost leaves were highlighted while I stood in the shade on the eastern bank. I decided to try again in the afternoon.
Before venturing out again, however, my wife and I attended a high school marching band concert at nearby Bridgewater College in the town from which it derives its name. We watched our second grandson and his bandmates perform a great show. So did some of the sugar maples on campus.
Our grandson after the performance, the marching band, and sugar maples.
I headed out again just after 3 p.m. I planned to drive to the top of Shenandoah Mountain, where there is a parking lot for a trailhead. On the way up the twisting road, I noted places where I could pull off to photograph nature’s glory. And I could see that the higher I went, the richer the colors. I was pumped.
Vehicles nearly filled the small parking lot. I wasn’t surprised. It was a great day for hiking and enjoying nature’s beauty in the George Washington National Forest. The trailhead leads from the parking area to the only remaining fire tower on Shenandoah Ridge. The hike up to High Knob Fire Tower is popular. The crowded parking lot said plenty of hikers were on the trail.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
I took a few photos at the top of the mountain and returned to my car to capture the beauty. Going down showed me just how right my friend had been. The trees along the two-lane winding road were gorgeous.
Nature was in her glory, and so was I. I stopped in the few safe places I had spotted. The afternoon sun bathed the crimsons, golds, yellows, and reds. I tread carefully along the narrow, curvy roadway as cars and trucks whizzed by.
I rejoiced in my good fortune. The colors were incredible. The leaves that the afternoon sun backlit also caught my attention. I happily snapped away.
After only a few stops going a fourth of the way down the mountain, the colors drastically faded. Just as meeting people on Skyline Drive energized me, knowing that I had reached my goal of capturing the turning of the leaves filled my spirits.
Fall is my favorite time of year, and these experiences are why.
I was hoping to see the Blue Ridge Mountains painted in shades of red, yellow, and orange in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. What I discovered were only splashes of brilliance here and there.
Most of the mountain forests were dull in color. I was a bit early.
Of course, I wasn’t alone in my quest. Others were out and about, cruising the roadway for the same reason. I spotted vehicles from several states and even a Canadian province at the various overlooks where I stopped.
The day was bright and beautiful. The park’s early afternoon temperatures were in the 60s and high 50s. The bright sunshine warmed lower elevations in the Shenandoah Valley 10 degrees higher.
The excellent weather and a good report from a morning doctor’s appointment put me in an exceedingly good mood. The people I met wherever I stopped only increased my joy. Everyone seemed to be in a jovial mood.
Folks were snapping selfies with the coloring trees as their background. I took time out from my photography with offers to take portraits of couples, families, and a woman with her dog. Of course, engaging conversations ensued as they thanked me.
It didn’t matter what state of origin or type of vehicle they drove—Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia, or Ontario; camper van, motorcycle, Mercedes, or clunker. Everyone seemed to be on the same emotional page. That connectivity made the day and the scenery even prettier than they already were.
The first family I came across was from the deep south. They were on their way to Williamsburg and wanted their two boys, 17 and eight, to experience at least a little of the storied national park.
I asked the younger one if he knew he was walking on the Appalachian Trail. Indeed, he did. I told him he could go back to his second-grade class and report that he had hiked the AT and see if they knew what that was. He just giggled.
I started at the southern entrance to the park at Rock Fish Gap. Go north, and you will be in the park. Go south, and you travel the Blue Ridge Parkway. Either direction, it’s a beautiful, leisurely drive that soothes the soul and eases the mind. The 35 miles per hour speed limit contributes to that cause.
That’s what the woman with the dog was attempting to do. She drove southeast from Philadelphia towards Charlottesville for the parkway. When she realized Shenandoah National Park was so close, she changed gears and spent a night camping in Big Meadows, nearly in the center of the park.
As we chatted, she voluntarily confessed that she had turned left out of Big Meadows without realizing she was going in the wrong direction. Reality caught up to her when she arrived at the park’s northern entrance south of Front Royal, Virginia.
Undaunted, she merely turned around and headed south. She laughed at herself for trying to rely on GPS when there was little to no cell phone service in the park. She was happy to know she could get internet at Waynesboro, her destination for the night. The next day, she could begin her journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
A retired couple on a motorcycle was thrilled with the photo I took of them with crimson leaves of oaks, maples, and dogwood as the backdrop. They seemed most pleased, however, that I had included their bike in the photo.
Ironically, the colors dulled as I cruised north and to higher elevations. Only patches of sunlit staghorn sumac brightened the roadside.
I had stopped at most overlooks, snapped many photos, and talked so much that it took me three hours to drive the 40 miles to Swift Run Gap. No matter. It was an afternoon well spent and one I’ll remember for a long time.
On my way out of the old gym, I walked across the wooden floor and put my arm around Maren, where she had gathered with some of her volleyball teammates. Her seventh-grade team had just lost an ugly two games against a team they had beaten only two days prior. Maren’s eyes met mine, and her tears flowed. For once, I knew words weren’t necessary or even appropriate. I lovingly squeezed her shoulder and smiled through my eyes behind my Covid mask.
Before the match began, I sat with Maren’s brother, Davis. I showed him some photos I had taken the previous night as the marching band lined up to play the National Anthem before the Friday night football game. I also had a few I took during the band’s creative halftime show. I had Davis point out where he was in the formations so I knew where to look in the photos. Even with my camera’s long lens, it was hard for this old guy to recognize his grandson. All the tall band members looked similar to me in their striking blue and white uniforms. Giant feather plumes flowed from their headgear. In those few moments, Davis graciously explained the music program, the instrument he plays, and where he was positioned as the band changed formations.
Before I left, his father asked me to take care of their family dog in the evening while they drove to Richmond to watch our oldest grandson, Evan, pitch a scrimmage game at his university. Of course, I agreed but was called off with a text from Davis just as I was about to leave for their house. They were already on their way home from the game. Daryl told me in a text that Evan pitched one great inning and then struggled with his control in the second. I could relate.
The college grandkid.
My wife and daughter visited grandson Teddy in Rochester, NY, while I held down the homeplace. I had scheduled my third Covid booster before Carrie headed north to see her nephew for the first time. Of course, Neva volunteered to go, and I supported her decision since I didn’t want our daughter driving seven-plus hours by herself.
They kept me in touch with their visit by sending lovely photos via text messages of Teddy with various people. First came a shot of our friend Dick Beery holding Teddy and smiling in my place. I was envious but not jealous. Dick and Sandy had moved from Ohio to Rochester for the same reason we moved from the Buckeye state to Harrisonburg. They wanted to be close to their only granddaughter. They live a mile from our son and his lovely wife and enjoy hosting us when we visit Rochester. This time it was Carrie and Neva that enjoyed their hospitality.
Other photos filled my text thread over the next few hours. The first was one of Nathan carrying Teddy on his shoulders the way I used to hoist him. Nathan was smiling at the joy of lifting his son into this crazy world. Nathan once sarcastically asked me why people have children. Nathan’s broad smile showed that now he knew.
Teddy looked more astonished than pleased at four months in some of the shots. After that came precious photos of Carrie and Nathan with Teddy and one of just Carrie with Teddy basking in the morning sunlight. Soft sunrays kissed their faces, illuminating their already brilliant smiles. Photos of Teddy and Nana and a family photo ensued.
Though I longed to be there, my fatigue and the soreness in my left arm told me I had made the right decision to stay home. I had spent time with Davis and Maren. Plus, revisiting the photos in the texts, I realized I was as happy as if I had taken them myself.
I enjoyed my weekend with the grandchildren, in person and virtually.
While visiting the Marbry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia, I spotted this creature staring back at me. The knotty apparition in the weathered barn wood sure resembled the face of a real Barn Owl.
For comparison, here’s a photo of a real barn owl.
What do you think? Does it look like a Barn Owl to you or perhaps some other creature?
You must be logged in to post a comment.