Tag Archives: Amelia Island Florida

Blue Moon Eclipse

blue moon, eclipse, Amelia Island FL

Blue Moon Eclipse.

Sometimes the stars do line up for you. In this case, it was the moon and the sun. On the morning of January 31 precisely at sunrise, the first blue moon of 2018 began a total lunar eclipse. You can see the beginning of the eclipse at about 11 on the moon’s face. The moon sank below the horizon before the eclipse was total.

I was fortunate to be able to capture the extended but broken reflection of the moon in the Amelia River at Fernandina Beach, FL. Dawn’s first light illuminated the sailboat moored in the river.

“Blue Moon Eclipse” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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At this age, I appreciate every step I take

Main Beach Fernandina Beach FL, beach walking, beach bike

The beach where we walked.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Aging can be a pain.

By the time my wife and I had returned from our winter’s stay in northern Florida, we both had unintentionally joined the ranks of the walking wounded. It was as uncomfortable as it was annoying.

I love to walk. It’s one of the few times I can actually multitask. I can walk and talk, walk and listen, walk and learn, walk and think, walk and snap pictures. Walking is an easy exercise for young and old alike.

There’s only one catch. If you are physically ailing, walking isn’t so much fun. Towards the end of our two-month Florida stay, my wife and I both began having problems getting around.

In my wife’s case, walking has long been a chore for her. Arthritis in your feet tends to do that to you. Since Neva’s left foot was particularly touchy, our walks on the beach together were shorter and less frequent than in previous years.

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Soon, I began to feel discomfort, only in my right foot. I thought it was the hiking boots that I had brought along. They weren’t new, but I actually hadn’t worn them regularly until we got to the Sunshine State. I figured they would be useful to tromp around Egans Creek Greenway where I love to bird, hike, and take too many photos of birds, landscapes, people, alligators, and any other critters I encountered.

I also wore those clunkers on the beach when we first arrived. The weather was chilly and often foggy. The high-topped boots steadied me in the soft sand and kept my feet dry when the tide suddenly surged further onshore than anticipated. The longer I wore them, the more my right foot hurt. So I switched to my gym shoes, which seemed to lessen the pain.

That didn’t last long. The pain in my right foot increased substantially no matter what I wore. As we packed the van to return home, I noticeably limped.

When you live on an island that’s only 13 miles long and two miles wide, vehicular trips are usually of short duration and caused me no discomfort. As we headed north on the interstate, it didn’t take me long to realize just how much pain I was in. By the time we reached Charleston, South Carolina, my foot was numb and pain shot up my right leg.

Fortunately, an urgent care facility was just up the road from our hotel. When I described my symptoms, the kind physician’s assistant said, “You don’t have a foot problem. You have a pinched nerve in your back.” Lab tests affirmed the diagnosis.

evening on the beach

Smiling through the pain.

I had already made an appointment with my podiatrist in Virginia. Neva took that spot while I visited my family doctor. Neva had reason to complain. She had a hairline fracture in her foot and exited the doctor’s office with a walking boot. She had no recollection of when she might have incurred the injury.

My doctor prescribed muscle relaxers and sent me to physical therapists. For a month now, expert therapists have worked their magic, and my pain has subsided.

Neva got the all-clear after wearing the walking boot only three weeks. She still wears it if the pain returns. We’re just thankful she is finally finding some relief.

With the limp and pain eliminated, I’ve begun short walks to get back into shape. Given our age and these experiences, we more than appreciate every step we take.

shorebirds, beach

Worth the pain.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Why the beach has gone to the dogs

dogs on the beach, Fernandina Beach FL

Dogs on the beach.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Never mind the weather. The dogs must have their way. Rain, sunshine, fog or full on gales, owners walked their dogs on the Florida beach where we holed up for the winter.

Depending on the degree of training, sometimes it was hard to tell if the owner was walking the dog or the other way around. Most were on leashes, the dogs I mean. Taut, loose, stretched, harnessed, or sometimes no tether at all, the dogs were right at home on the beach.

The canines did more than walk, of course. Like their human masters, they liked to play. An older man heaved a bright orange tennis ball as far down the beach as he could several times. In anticipation, his hybrid-mix furry companion sprung and bounced in timing with each cock of her master’s arm. In seconds, the golden doodle returned, dropped the ball at the man’s feet and sat waiting for more. In each of our snowbird years, my wife and I observed similar scenes replicated scores of times.

dogs on the beach, Fernandina Beach FL

The game.

We love dogs. We both had dogs as pets growing up and from time to time during our marriage. Now we just travel too much to own a pet. Instead, we get our personal dog fix by hosting our granddog from time to time.

I fully understand, then, the desire, the human need to have a pet dog. People love dogs as long as they are friendly and not too rambunctious. Research has shown that dogs make excellent companions, especially for the elderly.

Folks regularly walked their canine companions on the beach morning, noon, and evening. They did so, of course, for exercise and to take care of the unpleasant necessaries. I should have invested years ago in the stock of companies that manufacture those little plastic cleanup bags.

Big dogs, little dogs, in-between dogs pulled their masters up and down the beach. Others walked along obediently at the same pace. Still, others ran freely, returning when called. Only on rare occasion did we witness any doggy misbehavior. When you’re on the beach, there’s plenty of opportunities for bird dogs to be bird dogs. The shorebirds just seem to tolerate and toy with them anyhow.

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A pleasant side effect of dog walking on the beach was the socialization that occurred. Dogs are naturally attracted to other dogs and more often than not the owners are just as cordial to each other.

Sometimes the humans got so involved they failed to notice the incoming tide. An astute pedigree might take advantage of this opportunity to remind its owner of the encroaching sea in hopes of a reward in the form of a treat. With that, the conversations ended, and all parties moved on, up and down the beach stepping in time to the soothing breakers.

On weekends and holidays, teenagers joined the parade. I can’t prove this, but I suspect that both pretty girls and handsome boys use their beloved dogs as bait to lure in some new friends. If true, who can blame them? The results are the same. Both the dogs and the teens get the attention they need and desire.

So did we. I can’t count how many times we stopped on the beach to admire a lovely dog, ask its name, breed, age, or whatever questions came to mind. I’m happy to report that so far during our snowbird stays that only their masters provided the answers.

dog under umbrella, Fernandina Beach FL

Smart dog.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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The older I get, the colder I get

main beach, Fernandina Beach FL

Beach walkers.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s a pretty simple formula when you think about it. The older I get, the colder I get. That’s how the math works for me.

The equation yields opposite results for my dear wife, whose thermostat seems to be heading in the other direction. Her female peers know what I mean.

All this is to say I can’t take the cold winter months anymore. My old bones shiver just writing that sentence, and I’m wearing a wool sweater. The goose bumps on my arms give testament to that fact, too.

While others wear shorts and t-shirts, I dress in pants, long-sleeved shirt, hat, and maybe even a jacket to stay warm. That’s how cold I get. Part of the chill is a side effect of some of my medication. I take it and dress accordingly, often in layers.

Being cold isn’t the only consequence of growing older in Ohio winters. My fingers swell, stiffen, and are continually cold. The skin on my fingers cracks in the damp, chilly weather. I realize those are minor problems given current world conditions. It’s still annoying.

grandkids sled riding

Good memories.

In my younger years, I enjoyed the cold, especially if it was accompanied by a decent snowfall. I’d join my brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, and sled ride for hours.

Once hunger and snow blindness set in, we’d head home to warm up with soup and hot chocolate. Our cheeks were rosy to the point of stinging, our noses red from the frosty air, our fingers tingling numb. We would change into dry clothes, and off we would go again, cascading down Winton Avenue as if we owned the road.

Sledding was at its best in an undeveloped section of a local cemetery. We felt charmed if we made it all the way downhill to the creek bank, dragging our feet in the snow like parachutes slowing a dragster.

Those days are long gone. I probably couldn’t even get on a sled. Now my wife and I spend the coldest parts of winter in northern Florida. It’s usually not always balmy there, but it’s not Ohio weather either.

Our hiatus from the northern cold affords us more benefits than warmer days. Neither my arthritis nor my bum right knee hurt as much thanks to the combination of the warmer weather and the many walks we take. The ocean was the front yard to our rented condo unit.

We walked south one day, north the next. Our preference was to stroll the compacted, moist sand at low tide. But walking in the softer sand at high tide worked, too. I felt warm either way. It was better than crunching snow.

Other times, I would head to nearby Egans Creek Greenway, an ecologically friendly nature preserve set in the middle of the island. The walk in the bright sunshine warmed my body and my spirit. Birds of prey, shorebirds, songbirds, marsh rabbits, river otters, white-tailed deer, assorted turtles, butterflies, and baby alligators all coexisted in the diverse habitat of salt marsh reeds, grasses, and shrubs, and the hardwoods, cedars, and pines of the tropical hammock.

I am grateful to be able to make these snowbird trips each winter. I don’t take that lightly at all. I know the time will come when that modus operandi, too, will end.

But until then, Neva and I will likely continue to seek shelter from winter’s harshness by heading south come next January. That’s a warming therapeutic algorithm sure to solve any chilling problem.

sunset, Amelia Island

Until next year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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The many benefits of a snowbird breakfast

dawn, shorebirds, Atlantic Ocean

Contentment.

By Bruce Stambaugh

During our winter’s stay in northeastern Florida, my wife and I often took our snowbird breakfast on the small porch of our condo that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. Even with the temperatures in the 50s, you can do that if you’re in Florida and the morning sun is brightly beaming, warming the chilly air.

We set the little glass-topped café table in the usual fashion. Cereal bowls, juice glasses, coffee mugs, and the necessary utensils, spoons, and binoculars fulfill our needs.

breakfast on the beach

Snowbird breakfast.

The beachfront setting offered a menu much greater than our simple fare of cereal and granola. Rolling waves, gliding dolphins, a multitude of shorebirds, and the ocean’s salty bouquet organically stimulated all of our senses.

The configuration of the porch itself enabled our outdoor dining. The condo is built like a bunker with walls of cement. You can hear but not see your neighbors since the walls protrude beyond the edge of the portico. The effect is one of being tucked into a cave entrance where only the sun welcomes you and the wind simply whistles on by.

The boxy porch with concrete walls and floor and glass sliding door behind served as an oven of sorts. The sun’s rays warmed us perfectly, compromising the cooler morning air. The little whiffs of steam rising from our coffee mugs proved the science of this hands-on experiment.

The glass-topped café table that bore our breakfast gave testament to our seaside setting. A thin coating of fine sand and sea salt covered the tiny table top.

Earlier the sun had made its usual predawn show of things, glowing orange the length of where the sea met the sky. A jagged but unbroken line of dark clouds, like a poorly constructed picket fence, identified the Gulf Stream’s boundary.

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As dawn neared, the sky washed away the hardy orange with pale pastels. The sun peeked above the watery horizon right on schedule. Seconds later, a blazing orange ball balanced on the ocean, then slowly rose and brightened.

Black skimmers and brown pelicans flew in standard formations inches above the water’s surface. The skimmers modeled their name with their levered lower bill by scooping small fish as the birds zoomed along. The pelicans flew in the single-file line for aerodynamics. Beyond them, a small pod of bottle-nosed dolphins foraged south to north, the sun glistening off their wetted backs and dorsal fins as they appeared and disappeared in purposeful rhythm.

A few early birds walked their dogs, jogged, searched for seashells, while lone fishermen drove their plastic pole stands into the soft, moist sand. Tiny sanderlings scampered out around them and then returned to where the low tide lapped at the shore. The little birds probed their pointy black bills into the sand like sewing machine needles as they sought their breakfasts, too.

The ocean was unusually calm. A million ripples played where waves usually rolled. Expectant young surfers bobbed on their boards waiting and watching for a wave to ride.

The sun, of course, continued on its expected ascent into the morning sky. Its rays transformed the mother-of-pearl sea into a field of dancing diamonds. The show was so dazzling, so luminous that you could hardly look at it for hurting your eyes. And yet, you could hardly turn away, the performance was so beautiful, so enthralling.

We basked in our cozy breakfast cubical. The cereal bowls and glasses were all empty. Our spirits, however, overflowed with wonder and joy.

Main Beach Fernandina Beach FL

Morning on the beach.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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River Sunset

sunset, Amelia River, Fernandina Beach FL

River Sunset.

Sunrises and sunsets captivate me. No two are ever the same. That’s why I often head to downtown Fernandina Beach, FL to photograph the sunset during our winter stay.

The river setting proves an excellent place to capture a sunset’s beauty both in the sky and in the reflection on the river. The near silhouettes of boats and docks also add to the framing and composition of the photo. Of course, the clouds play a significant role in defusing and deflecting the light, creating an array of brilliant colors.

“River Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Everyone needs an enjoyable day

sunrise, Atlantic Ocean

Sacred moment.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In my dreams, this is how I pictured retirement. Only, this particular day wasn’t a dream. It was a blissful reality. From sunup to sundown and beyond, the day had been uplifting in every way.

After considerable effort, the sun finally broke through the usual cloudbank that persists over the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf Stream. I embraced dawn’s golden glow that shimmered in the quiet sea from the horizon to the shore.

I photographed the sunrise, and after a simple breakfast, we said our goodbyes to friends who had been visiting for a few days. They needed to return to their new home in North Carolina to finish settling in.

fairbanks bed and breakfast, Fernandina Beach FL

The Fairbanks House.

Then it was off to tour Amelia Island’s historic lighthouse with friends from Millersburg, Ohio, Carl and Judy. Their daughter was a student in my wife’s very first kindergarten class. The couple had secured a condo one floor above us for a month.

We were more than happy to show them the island. They enjoyed similar perks of the barrier island. The Amelia Island Lighthouse was just one of them.

The guided tour was so full that another van had to be used to shuttle the visitors to the sheltered icon. The all white lighthouse with a black top stands nearly hidden on a bluff in a residential neighborhood three-quarters of a mile west of the ocean beyond the beach, beyond the towering sand dunes, and beyond Egans Creek Greenway.

At night, the nautical light flashes its salient signal above the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, across the dormant, brown reeds of the salt marsh, across the protected dunes at Ft. Clinch State Park, across rooftops of condominiums and beach houses, and finally the beach itself. The lighthouse beacon brings personal surety to seafarers relying on impersonal electronic guidance.

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After the lighthouse history lesson, we gawked up the monument’s spiraling granite steps and snapped a few photos. We headed for an early lunch at a local eatery that boasted offering the best burgers on the island. Their milkshakes are pretty good, too, especially when consumed amid congenial company while sitting outside in the warming winter sun. This was Florida after all.

We strolled the streets of this historic town with our friends, viewing its quaint cottages, stately mansions, and inviting bed and breakfasts. Wherever we walked, people were out working, raking dried leaves and fallen palm frawns, scraping peeling paint, patching roofs. When you live in a tropical climate, property repair is non-stop.

We relaxed in the laziness of the afternoon and took in the sunset down by the river in front of the bocce ball court. The pesky no-see-ums, gnat-sized insects that you can’t see but feel their fierce bites, couldn’t deter our enjoyment of the orange and gold, pink and blue living art exhibit.

After a light supper, Neva and I completed the fulfilling day with a quiet evening together watching college basketball on television. She multi-tasks with jigsaw and crossword puzzles while I just enjoy the game.

You don’t have to be retired or be in some exotic locale to have similar experiences. Only look all around you. Examine the place where you are. Listen to the people you are with.

Work or play, engage in the activities at hand. Appreciate, absorb, inhale, touch, and improve your particular environment wherever you may be, whatever your life circumstances.

Why? Because. Every now and then, everyone needs a day like this day.

Amelia River FL, sunset

Nature’s art show.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Backlit Great Egret

great egret, Egans Creek Greenway FL

Backlit Great Egret.

I think I’ll just let this photo speak for itself.

“Backlit Great Egret” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Wandering my own secret garden

hooded mergansers, Egan's Creek Greenway

A lovely couple (Hooded Mergansers).

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.

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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.

Egan's Creek Greenway

Walking the Greenway.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Friends of friends become your friends, too

friends, birthday celebration

Friends Ruth, Don and Ken before Gail arrived for the surprise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I contemplated the circuitous route of just how I happened to be sitting beneath a party canopy in this Ontario, Canada couple’s backyard. It’s a long but enjoyable story.

It all started when my wife was 14-years-old. Of course, Neva wasn’t my wife then. We married young, but not that young.

Neva accompanied her youth group to a church conference in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1964. With hundreds of teenagers from around the U.S. and Canada attending, with the teens assigned to sleep in homes of local folks.

That’s where Neva met Ruth. Ruth’s family hosted Neva. Neva and Ruth connected right away, and they kept in touch. Seven years later, Ruth and her husband, Ken, attended our wedding in northeast Ohio.

They returned to Ontario. We set up shop here. We all began our careers and started families. We visited Ken and Ruth once when our daughter was just two. Now her youngest child is five. Time melts away, doesn’t it?

With the internet, texting, email, and online chatting science fiction, correspondence via regular mail diminished over time. Life got in the way of our long distance friendship.

About 20 years ago, that unexpectedly changed. Neva saw an advertisement for a tour. She called the toll-free number and guess who answered? Ruth.

friends meeting

Meeting place. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Their personal connection was restored. Ken and Ruth have visited us here in Holmes Co., and we’ve returned to their place in Kitchener. We even vacationed together once. Sometimes we meet in between.

When Ruth learned that Neva and I had become snowbirds to Florida’s Amelia Island, she mentioned that their across the street neighbors also wintered there. That’s where our life circle began to expand.

Ruth exchanged contact numbers with their neighbors and us, and the result was pure magic. In February 2014, we arranged to meet Don and Gail at a coffee shop in Fernandina Beach, the island’s only town.

Before the first sip of coffee, the four of us were yacking away as if we had been lifetime friends. Gail was born in England and still has that lovely disarming accent that is as genuine and gentle as she is. Don was from Bermuda and carries that notorious island swagger with him still, even though he’s been a Canadian now for years.

We chattered like teenagers at a soda shop. It didn’t take long to discover that both Don and I had been volunteer firefighters. As if that wasn’t enough to cement our friendship, photography and nature were also common hobbies.

Having been to Bermuda a couple of times ourselves, we knew many of the locales they mentioned. Don shared stories from his childhood until the present.

true friends

Gail and Neva. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Gail and Neva got along famously, too. While Don and I were off shooting too many photos, our wives were happy just to shop, browse thrift stores, or sit and share. They clicked like childhood friends.

A carpenter by trade, Don was intrigued to learn that the wood industry was king in our county. Over the next month, we would take day trips together, go out to eat, or just play dominoes. That pattern repeated last winter.

That brings me back to sitting under the canopy. We surprised both Don and Gail by crashing her surprise birthday party.

For that little coup, you can blame Ken and Ruth. That’s what lifelong friends do for one another. They help create other equally robust friendships.

That’s the thing about friendship circles. They enrich your life.

friends

Friends. © Don Brown 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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