I was fortunate to catch an amazing sunset the first evening of the New Year. Having a couple of boats motor by at its peak nicely improved the composition. The roosting brown pelicans provided character to the natural beauty.
The photo was taken at an old marina on the Amelia River, Fernandina Beach, Florida.
“Capturing 2020’s first sunset” is my Photo of the Week.
Travel and people. That’s an intriguing combination of which my wife and I never tire.
People are as interesting, unique, and varied as the places we visit. The two are intrinsically intertwined, humanity and landscape, a finely woven rainbow tapestry incarnate.
Neva and I enjoy chance encounters with others as we explore and uncover new locales, cultures, and tradition. Most folks we meet are friendly, courteous, and respectful, transcending race, religion, sect, gender, or avocation.
That proved true again during our latest snowbird experiences this winter. From the time we left home at December’s end until we arrived back in the Shenandoah Valley, we visited fascinating places and met kind earthly citizens wherever we went.
I couldn’t begin to list all the memorable interactions. A sampling of the kindness and hospitality shown to us will have to suffice.
We connected with Rich and Pauline, friends from Holmes County, Ohio as they visited other acquaintances on Amelia Island, Florida. Neva and I reaped the benefits of hospitality from both couples. A beautiful pair of painted buntings visited the backyard feeders of Tim and June, who retired to Fernandina Beach a few years ago.
We found gregarious guides, helpful rangers, and friendly visitors on a junket to south Florida at the end of our stay on Amelia. People offered to take our photo at landmarks. They gave us suggestions on eateries preferred by locals.
The guide on our Everglades boat tour rattled off scores of fish species that inhabit the waters in and around the national park he so adores. He did the same for the many types of beautiful birds we encountered, too.
Fellow tour-goers we met were equally congenial. We kept running into a recently retired couple from Muncie, Indiana. Their interests in exploring Biscayne and Everglades National Parks mirrored ours. We shared conversations and leisurely walks together.
A ranger at an Everglades visitors’ center was most helpful in highlighting the best birding spots for us. We weren’t disappointed at all as we followed his suggestions.
At one location, we ran into a former college basketball coach from Newark, Ohio who knew Hiland Hawks basketball well. He couldn’t believe it when we told him our son and daughter graduated from Hiland.
At another stop, a young couple on a boardwalk in the Everglades told me about a hawk they had seen. I watched it stalk, kill, and consume its marshy meal.
In Key West, our tour guide of the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum steered us to the perfect nearby restaurant. We took a leisurely lunch outdoors, enjoying our food in the luxurious Florida sunshine.
The Sunshine State couldn’t claim dibs on friendliness, however. The guides at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina made our visit there most pleasurable. Like us, they were retired educators.
A lady from Michigan who climbed the 167 steps of the Hunting Island Lighthouse chatted away like a long lost friend. Together we watched from atop the lighthouse as dolphins plied the ocean waters for breakfast.
Nor will I forget the affable shuttle bus driver who returned us to our van from the airport. She remembered us right away though she had met hundreds of other travelers in the six days between transporting us.
I learned a lot on our winter trip, and we met many nice people. After all, humans are designed to be relational.
That relationship involves responsible interaction through stewardship, mutual respect, and affirming connectivity. Neva and I were grateful to be in the graces of folks who not only believed that, but lived it, too.
The polar vortex has had its way with most of us in the U.S. again this winter. Once it sank south and east out of the Canadian Arctic area, record cold temperatures and wind chills were set all across the northern states and some far into the south.
My wife and I watched the TV news in sympathy with those freezing in the frigidness of blinding blizzards and well below zero wind chills. We even had freeze warnings in northeast Florida, where we have spent parts of the last few winters.
Thanks to the Arctic air, it was cold there, too, in relative terms of course. Amelia Island is as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. So when massive cold fronts spawned by the polar vortex invade the eastern U.S., we often feel the effects, too.
With an ocean breeze and air temperatures in the 30s, the beach is no place to be either. Neither is the middle of a blizzard. We watched with dismay as TV reports showed the severity of weather conditions from several different stricken areas. Unfortunately, several people died from exposure to the dangerous cold.
I always liked the winter, and mainly snow. But the blizzards of 1977 and 1978 taught me that winter’s punishing harshness better be respected. Staying warm is always paramount.
That’s a primary reason for becoming a snowbird. I’ve said it before. The older I get, the colder I get. Other senior citizens that we met in Florida concurred. It is a natural consequence of the aging process.
Living in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley isn’t quite far enough south to avoid winter’s icy blasts. So we continued our snowbird trips after moving from northeast Ohio.
We enjoyed a month’s stay at a rented condo on Amelia Island and then headed to the far south of Florida. We visited the Florida Keys for the first time for a few days and soaked up perfectly warm weather.
With high temperatures in the 70s and 80s, it didn’t take us long to sport a tan. We spent the handful of days we had on the go. We greeted the morning sun and filled each day with as much adventure as possible until well after dark.
However, we seldom checked off all the items on our wish list of places to visit. Spontaneity overruled preparation. We took advantage of surprises and vistas we came upon, stopped to enjoy and do some birding, and moved on to the next spot.
We especially enjoyed visiting Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Together they protect much of the delicate habitats of southern Florida, preserving a vast variety of wildlife, flora, fauna, and people, too.
I never thought I would ever venture out onto the open ocean waters in a pontoon boat. But we did in both beautiful parks. The combination of generous sunshine and the joy of adding new birds to my life list warmed me through and through.
However, it wasn’t until we returned home that I encountered genuine radiant warmth. The weather had nothing to do with that.
At Sunday dinner, we caught up on our oldest grandson’s basketball season. The middle grandchild chatted on about the books he read and his upcoming band concert, while the youngest seemed contented to merely enjoy her lunch. Our daughter and her husband filled in the happenings in their busy lives, too.
The Florida experiences warmed us physically. That warmth, however, paled in comparison to that of reconnecting with our family.
For the last few years, my wife and I have avoided winter’s harsh weather by escaping to our beloved Amelia Island, Florida. Amelia is a barrier island located as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. It’s not balmy, but it’s never snowed there either.
We rent a condo on a beach on the Atlantic Ocean. Ideally, that setting should be retreat enough for me. I guess I’m just too fickle for such pleasantries.
My favored place to commune on Amelia is Egans Creek Greenway. It’s an environmental paradise inside a paradise. Situated in the northeastern section of the 13-mile long island, Egans Creek meanders in multiple channels through a salt marsh wetland of grasses, reeds, and various plants and trees.
The greenway is a dedicated green space designed to protect the original environment for animals great and small. Part marsh, part maritime forest, part waterway, the greenway provides habitat for shorebirds, wading birds, birds of prey, songbirds, and mammals of all kinds.
Of course, it serves as a multi-purpose outdoor recreational gem for us humans as well. The greenway has dedicated paths for bikers, hikers, walkers, birders, and the just plain curious. Benches are placed every so often for people merely to rest and enjoy whatever comes along.
The nature preserve changes character with the tides. It’s brackish waters invite gorgeous birds, like herons, egrets, ibises, and roseate spoonbills.
As you might imagine for any marshland, reptiles thrive as well. On warm January days, I search for sunbathing alligators. Families of turtles and discreet but playful river otters also are fun to watch if you are fortunate to find them. I seldom see snakes.
In all the years we have been vacationing here, this year by far has been the most colorful on the greenway. The hues, however, were a curious mix of spring and fall.
Usually in dormancy for the winter, the greenway grasses showed green, delicate flowers bloomed, and leaf buds swelled pink. Others displayed brilliant yellow and red leaves of autumn. Vivid impressionistic landscapes displayed around every turn.
Going to seed.
Fall in winter.
Cedar waxwings trilled high in the trees, waiting on the light blue cedar berries to darken to ripeness. American robins chirped in the thickets, unable to hide their distinctive call. Eastern bluebirds decorated barren branches.
Grey catbirds and northern cardinals shuttled from one bush to another like hyperactive children. A phoebe flicked its tail on an elevated tree limb, took to the air, grabbed an insect, and returned to the same spot.
At high tide, a clapper rail came out of hiding in the reeds and swam across the creek only to disappear again. A stately osprey hovered silently overhead before snatching a dusky female hooded merganser off the surface of the water.
Thousands of yellow-rumped warblers chipped and darted from cedar to pine to maple and back again. In the shallow waters below, pure white great egrets with their sturdy yellow bills and stick-like, coal black legs waded in search for a fishy lunch.
A red-shouldered hawk perched on a snag in the middle of the marsh, unphased by the two-legged intruders that stood in awe snapping photos or zipping along on bicycles or walking their leashed dogs. With only predatory priorities, the buteo paid no heed.
Viewed altogether, the trees, the flowers, the bushes, the birds, the reptiles, and the bikers, even the dog walkers created living exhibits in an interactive art gallery. They painted the greenway an even lovelier retreat than I had expected.
Writing, birding and photography are a few of my many interests. When I can combine a couple of them into one fabulous moment, I am more than contented.
In the process of photographing a gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean in northern Florida, a willet wandered into the frame. I love when those unexpected opportunities arise. The shorebird was merely out on its morning breakfast stroll, probing the wetted sand for any tasty morsels along the seashore. For me, however, having the bird enter the scene right as the sun dawned provided a spot of perspective for the colorful seascape. I couldn’t have been happier.
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.
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.
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.
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.