This tangle of young alligators wasn’t as menacing as it looked. After a long and cold winter in northern Florida, the pile of two-year-old babies was merely sunning themselves on the shore of a channel in Egans Creek Greenway in Fernandina Beach. Their watchful mother enjoyed the sun at the surface of the water not far away.
This group of youngsters was only a part of the dozen babies that I could find amid the thick underbrush that hid their nest. When they first emerged last winter, I counted 22 young. Clearly, several of the younger alligators fell prey to predators or perhaps were eaten by their mother, a fairly common trait.
As you can see, the alligators, each about two-feet long, appear to be more than capable of fending for themselves. As the weather warms, mom will chase them away so she can begin the reproductive cycle all over again.
I’m glad to be home from vacation. But I have to be honest. I miss Amelia Island, Florida and all the charm and variety it has to offer.
I miss waking early in the day to welcome the sun, or rain or fog, whatever weather greeted me. It often changed quickly from good to bad or bad to good, just like in Ohio.
I miss the rising sun painting with its broad brush, constantly rearranging the brilliant arrays of pinks, blues, oranges, yellows and reds on twilight’s canvas. I miss the sun’s shimmering, silver dance on its forever rolling sea stage.
Equally so, I miss the moon, full or half or quarter, glimmering its creamy, seductive light into our night lives. I miss being transfixed by its profound beauty.
I miss seeing the sun sink behind the trees beyond the Intercoastal Waterway. Unless the fog or rain clouds interfered, the alluring sunsets nearly took our breath away. Like the days began, each evening glow was emotionally evocative.
Side by side/
Sky on fire.
Morning and evening, I miss the dolphins slicing through the hoary sea, first one, then two, then three, then more, fins intermittently marking their gourmet gallop. Their appearing and disappearing mesmerized me.
I miss the slow walks on the beach with my wife. She hunted for seashells and shark’s teeth while I photographed birds, people, and patterns in the sand. Then I’d hustle to catch up.
I miss the delectable seafood meals Neva created. Locally caught, fresh shrimp sautéed in butter and olive oil, a little lemon and a dash of salt and pepper combined with locally made sweet potato pasta and flax seed rolls beat any pricy restaurant entree.
I miss the strolls through Egan’s Creek Greenway, a salt marsh wildlife preserve set aside for painters, birders, photographers, joggers, bikers, walkers and admirers of all things nature. The Greenway is home to alligators, snakes, river otters, rabbits, bobcats, deer, wading birds, shorebirds, birds of prey and songbirds.
I miss the drives and walks through well-maintained Ft. Clinch State Park, a marvelous blend of ecosystems and history. It was equally easy on the eyes and wallet. The 3,300 ft. fishing pier that paralleled the inlet to the Amelia River afforded panoramic views and a perfect perch for birding.
The welcome sign said it all.
Kelley’s Courtyard Cafe.
In Fernandina Beach, FL, trees take priority.
The Nassau Co. Courthouse at night.
The beach at Ft. Clinch State Park.
Fishing in Ft. Clinch State Park.
A trail in Ft. Clinch State Park.
Oystercatchers on a break wall off Ft. Clinch.
The Pippy Longstocking House in Old Town.
A Trident sub is escorted through the Amelia River off Ft. Clinch.
The beach near Ft. Clinch is a popular spot for finding seashells and shark’s teeth.
An artsy entrance to a gallery in Fernandina Beach.
Beautiful old homes are the hallmark of Fernandina Beach.
The fishing pier in Ft. Clinch State Park is a great place to see rare birds like this Northern Gannet.
The 3,300 ft. fishing pier at Ft. Clinch State Park is a good place to fish, walk, bird, and just enjoy the views.
I miss the charm of historic downtown Fernandina Beach, the only city on the island, and the nation’s oldest settlement. Founded three years before St. Augustine, the quaint town attracts customers from around the world.
I miss the eclectic mix of Amelia’s people. From tourists to shop owners to fishermen to photographers, everyone, I mean everyone, was friendly, like open books if you took the time to turn their pages.
I miss the quirkiness of the island that has seen the flags of eight different nations fly over its humble geography. Florida’s oldest continuously operating hotel and bar stand less than a block apart. Businesses boldly display the scores of football games when Georgia’s Bulldogs beat Florida’s Gators.
Those in the know like to say that Fernandina Beach is the East Coast’s western most port. In other words, drive straight north, you run into Cincinnati, Ohio.
Of course, I miss the warmer weather, too. However, warm is a relative word. Our Florida vacation ended the way it began, wearing winter coats. Still, we had it nice compared to what much of eastern North America experienced in our absence.
I like it so much that I could live there. But I won’t. As incredible as Amelia Island and its people are, I like it right here in Holmes County, Ohio even better.
I used to question the wisdom and practicality of vacationing twice in the same location.
Perhaps my personal wanderlust interfered with my empathy for the travel preferences of others. With so many places to visit locally, regionally, nationally and globally, I reasoned why would anyone want to return to the same place year after year?
Surely the urge to explore and discover had to be greater than the certainty of returning to the same destination at about the same time each year. I’m rethinking that opinion.
I am in a transitional period of my life, intentionally between full time employment and true retirement. I’m enjoying the freedom that comes with a flexible schedule.
I still like visiting new locales, seeing new topography, meeting new folks. I am also beginning to more fully appreciate the contentment of familiarity. I realized that fact recently while my wife and I bathed in the glow of another incredible sunset over the harbor at Fernandina Beach, Florida.
For someone who practically calls Lakeside, Ohio his summer home, it should have been obvious to me. I guess I considered our Lakeside stints more tradition than vacation. Silly me.
We had found Amelia Island almost by accident last year. It was an overnight stop on the way to our true vacation destination, Sarasota, Florida. We liked the island so well we spent two more days there on the way home. We were hooked.
We loved the island’s charm, its beautiful beaches, its commitment to wildlife habitat preservation, its rich history, and the diversity of activities it offered. We had only skimmed the surface last year. We needed to return to further explore this intriguing community.
Last year the weather, like most places in the country, was exceptionally warm for northern Florida in January. We walked the nearly vacant beaches in t-shirts and shorts. I birded the island’s preserve. We dined on locally caught seafood. We were in paradise instead of Ohio in January. It felt marvelous.
This year we returned to this magical destination for two weeks in order to dig deeper into the island’s many treasures. The weather couldn’t match that of 2012, but we had fun nevertheless. Cooler mornings warmed into pleasant days. Shorts and sandals were only appropriate a couple of days this time around.
We toured the local history museum, lunched outside at most restaurants, and collected perfect seashells of all sizes and colors. I hiked the paths through Fort Clinch State Park and Egans Creek Greenway enjoying the flora, fauna and breath-taking vistas and spring’s emerging pastels.
My epiphany came while I hustled around the boardwalks at Fernandina Beach’s harbor photographing yet another sunset. A patron sitting at a table of a dockside restaurant hailed me, wanting to know if this was my first time on the island.
When I innocently replied that it was not and then read the man’s surprised facial expression, it hit me. To him I must have looked like a child on Christmas morning as I dashed around trying to get different angles of the ever-changing colorful sky.
I had taken many, many sunset shots last year. Yet here I was plying for more. Lightning struck. I recognized why people did repeat vacations.
I was relaxed, happy, appreciative, satisfied, if not downright blissful. Amelia Island, Florida in January 2014? Why not? It could become our traditional winter vacation.