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.
My wife and I are on our winter vacation on Florida’s Amelia Island northeast of Jacksonville. We try to retreat here during winter’s coldest time. Though it’s not balmy here like southern Florida, we don’t have all that snow folks do up north right now.
There are a great many things to like about Amelia Island. The sunrises and sunsets top my list, closely followed by the wildlife, especially the many species of birds.
Our rented condo is right on Main Beach in Fernandina Beach. Unless it’s cloudy, sunrises are a daily treat. No two are alike.
We don’t have far to go for sunsets either. We drive to various spots along the Amelia River that afford marvelous views of the setting sun. Of course, not every evening offers up a golden sky, but we have seen many glorious sunsets in our several visits to this unique isle.
I enjoy photographing as many sunrises and sunsets as possible. I love sharing them with you all the more.
I’m a sunrise junkie. Spending most of my life in bucolic Holmes County, Ohio hooked me.
Sunsets can be gorgeous, too, but there is just something special about watching the blackness of night slowly transform into an explosion of shimmering radiance.
Sunrises usher in a new day, every day. No two are alike. Sunrises paint the horizon in majesty, no artificial coloring, chemicals, or preservatives added. Mornings can be brilliant, sometimes dull, and often obscured by clouds or our personal negligence. Nevertheless, sunrises persist.
Sunrises are free. They literally edify people, whether they realize it or not.
I’ll admit that I didn’t fully appreciate the power and gift of a peaceful, awe-inspiring sunrise. Living in pastoral Holmes County quickly instilled a resounding admiration for the daily occurrence. The rural settings east and west accounted for that.
Sunrises, however, enhanced those inspiring countryside scenes. I thrilled at watching a winter’s dawn filter through the little woods behind our Killbuck home. Yesterday’s snow morphed from white to pink to purple and back to fields of sparkling diamonds in a matter of minutes.
That silent, reverent beauty astounded me, readied me for the day ahead, and fortified me to proceed with whatever I encountered. Naturally, some days were better than others. If I remembered the sunrise, my burden often lightened enough to sustain me.
That existentialism increased along with my responsibilities when I became an administrator, and we moved to East Holmes. Our home was built on an Amish farm with incredible views east, north, and west. Spectacular sunrises made them more so.
I rose each day to arrive at school by 7 a.m. More often than not, a sunrise greeted me on my way. In the winter, the sun appeared as the young scholars arrived. The already rosy-cheeked faces became even more so.
Likely, I am romanticizing those long ago moments. No matter. Like the rising sun’s universal effect, the memories whitewash the darker times of anyone’s career that involves daily interacting with people of various ages, traditions, and beliefs. That doesn’t negate nor diminish the recollections.
For something so brief, sunrises serve as powerful reminders of what was, is, and can be. It’s up to the eye of the beholder to discern and employ the light’s soothing warmth with all those we encounter through justice, mercy, and humility. That’s the potential of a single sunrise.
I found it ironic then that all these ardent thoughts tumbled through my mind like crashing waves as dazzling daylight washed over the Atlantic Ocean. That’s the mysterious point of life’s cosmic magic, isn’t it?
At first, a hint of paleness divided the dark sky from the sea as billions of celestial jewels sparkled in the heavens above. Soon a thin orange line stretched clear across the distant horizon. Cottony clouds sprinkled high and low caught invisible rays and turned them into a surreal light show that out shown any Disney artificial production.
Black skimmers winged by, flying silhouettes scooping their fishy breakfast from the salt water surface. Forster’s terns hovered, dived, and plopped into the sea for theirs, briefly breaking the glassy waters.
Everything, the sand, the water, the sky turned some shade of purple, lavender, and then pink, orange, and red. I stood frozen and silent on the shore. Awed, I observed, appreciated, absorbed, and offered unspoken words of praise.
My school days have long since passed. Yet, another day was at hand. With each sunrise, I aspire to share the light with anyone anytime I can.
I stood on the beach bathed in the pale pre-dawn light. I had gone there to photograph the sunrise over the ocean.
The air was chilly, but unusually still for the seashore. The Atlantic shimmered, uncharacteristically placid. With the tide in, the waves rolled gracefully onto the shell-strewn shore.
I wasn’t the only human on the beach at 6:45 a.m. A few other brave souls were also out before sunup. A silhouette jogged in front of me. Another walked the water’s edge towards me in a hitched gate.
All the while, I snapped away, capturing the thin orange line that divided the dark violet sea from the turquoise sky. I wanted to digitally document the gradual, subtle color changes of the new day’s sun.
We few humans weren’t alone as the sky slowly brightened along the beach.
Groups of first year shorebird chicks scurried at water’s edge, probing and pecking for food. Careful not to get their tiny feet wet, they darted at the ebb and flow of the frothy wavelets.
Not far off shore, Northern Gannets fished for breakfast in their dramatic style. They circled with their long pointy white wings marked black as ink at the tips, and then plunged into the seawater. Satisfied, they again ascended and started the process all over again.
A little further out a pod of dolphins arched in and out of the water. Their fins revealed their foraging path.
A lone Willet snagged a snail from beneath the sand. Seeing an opportunity for a freebie meal, a Ring-billed Gull unsuccessfully chased after the skinny-legged bird. The Willet swallowed the morsel before the gull could steal the bacon.
Flocks of Black Skimmers winged just above the ocean surface, their lower beaks breaking the water in their feeding. They were out of sight in seconds.
By now, the lady with the gimp caught up to where I had stood for 20 minutes. Seeing that I had a camera, she berated me for standing pat, and beckoned me to where the water lapped at the firm sand. It was there that the best color reflected in the receding water and against the few clouds in the northeast sky.
As we admired the pastel radiance together, a whale broke the water. This unexpected find disappeared and our eyes searched until the first of many waterspouts blew high into the air.
The blow spouts drew my attention to a congregation of gulls circling above the whale like an avian tornado. They simplified our whale watching. Just follow the birds, and glimpse the whale. I later learned that it was a Humpback Whale, my first ever whale sighting.
Amid all this activity, I continued to snap picture after picture of the ever-changing sunrise. Just as the sun finally peaked above the horizon, yet one last gem sparkled.
I would have missed it if it hadn’t been for the older lady from New York. She pointed out the sun’s low-angled rays glistening in the crest of the waves as they broke upon the shore. They were golden jewels in an aqua crown.
I remembered seeing the effect in paintings and thought the artists had overdone it. Now I knew they hadn’t. In precious minutes, the bejeweled waves disappeared, replaced by white-capped cousins. The sun was ablaze, bathing the seashore with its warming light.
I had gone to the beach to take pictures of the sunrise. I left enriched with so much more.
With Labor Day upon us, autumn will be right around the corner. In fact, if you look closely, signs of fall are already evident.
Some of the indicators are obvious, others more subtle. Some are predictable with still others seemingly a bit premature.
The days, often the nicest of the summer, have a sly, natural flaw. Day by day, minutes of daylight are silently subtracted from the previous day’s total. By month’s end, daily darkness will outnumber daylight once again.
The sun itself is moving more towards the center of the horizons at sunrise and sunset. Those driving true east and west running roads have already begun to frequently use their sun visors. The fall fogs, too, have clouded crisp mornings, the consequence of cool nights following warm days.
In the fields, the harvesting has begun. My Amish neighbors have long since gathered up the standing army of oats shocks and wheeled them off wagon load after wagon load to the thrasher.
Now it’s the corn’s turn. The field corn seems to have taken on drought status, drying up almost overnight. Brown has overtaken green as the predominant color in the standing sea. Smart farmers have already begun to cut their supply of silage to replenish the silos.
In the woods and along highways, once glossy, emerald leaves have dulled and drooped. Some have already begun to drop without even changing color. Now and again a black walnut can be found standing stark naked, save for the cache of fall webworm nests it has involuntarily collected.
In the gardens, the picking of produce is a daily chore. Cucumbers, onions and tomatoes have hit their peek. Kitchens are cluttered with utensils for canning and freezing. The ripened fruits and vegetables that aren’t consumed at the dinner table find their way into jars and containers.
Even the sounds of the season have changed. Only a few American Robins continue to sing, and most likely they are sophomores practicing for next year’s prom. Instead of gathering nesting materials and snagging worms and insects, parent birds lead their fledglings to watering holes for liquid refreshment and necessary bathing.
The volume and frequency of the cicada and katydid songs have lessoned considerably. Even the crickets have quieted down.
Butterflies of all sizes and colors squeeze whatever nutrients they can out of the fading cornflowers and black-eyed susans. The humming birds, too, seem to sense an urgency to store up extra energy for their upcoming southern vacation travel.
Squirrels are in their glory, cutting as many beechnuts, hickory nuts and walnuts as they can. Thrifty creatures that they are, they also bury future meals for harder times ahead. Only they can’t always remember where they put their stash.
Next spring, when the saplings begin to appear, we will learn just how forgetful the squirrels were. But between now and then, many pleasant days lay ahead, and probably some less than desirable ones, too.
There is yet one more indicator that fall is knocking on our door. Campaign signs have already begun to litter urban, suburban and rural roadsides. They are as prolific and unsightly as the ugly webbed homes of the worms.
The obnoxious yet gaudy campaign posters are a human-induced reminder of what nature is about to bring. Autumn will be here before we know it, and there is little we can do about it except to enjoy the ever-changing colorful show.
These are what I call August’s golden days. If I only referenced orangey sunrises and the hazy, citrus sunsets, that moniker would apply.
August is so much more than lovely solar appearances and disappearances. It is always full of golden moments that make golden memories.
I realize my reflections are provincial. In a world full of disease, disaster, dismay and hostilities, not all would share my august perspectives. However, I cannot deny what I have observed and experienced in this transitional month in Amish country.
In calling August golden, I mean to take the broadest definition possible. Everywhere you turn, deep, rich yellows and golds appear. August is golden, too, in that it is good, providing success and satisfaction as the harvesting begins.
August is usually a hot month in most of the northern hemisphere. Even the poor people in Moscow, Russia, where temperatures have seemed more like Dallas, Texas, have been especially suffering.
True to form, hot and humid have been the bywords in Ohio, too. Those who have had to work out in these blazing elements would argue for sizzling and sultry as better descriptors. But no matter how we describe the daily dog days of August, the benefits surely outweigh the negatives, no matter how muggy.
My Amish neighbor’s circle of friends purposefully gathers the air-dried, ripened oat shocks wagonload after wagonload. Their water thermos got a workout, too. With their cooperative efforts, the impressive stand of honey-colored sheaves had disappeared by day’s end.
I always find it a miracle that once the sea of grain is cut and shocked, a carpet of bright green immediately replaces it. The hardy clover thrives all the more once it has the ground to itself.
There are other kinds of gold in August, too. The Incredible sweet corn arrives almost simultaneously with the transparent apples. It’s husking, cutting, cooking and freezing corn one day, making tartly sweet applesauce the next.
The growth of the heirloom tomato plants my wife and son planted in late May is so
prolific, the plant runners get tied daily. Their yellow, red and green-striped fruit add to the festivities.
The noisy tan house wrens worked frantically to satisfy their last brood of the summer. Their hungry youngsters consumed an amazing amount of worms, caterpillars and insects.
When the little ones began to greet their parents at the entrance to their birthplace, it’s nearly time for them to fly. In our case, the babies were there before church, but not when we got home. The grandsons and I found them learning to forage and hide in the brush pile under the pines near the hammock where other golden moments were made.
Monarch and swallowtail butterflies joined the goodness of the month as they enjoyed the nectar of the milkweed and wild and domestic flowers. Both the black and yellow-billed cuckoo birds announced their arrivals as the tent caterpillars hatched.
The much publicized but often under performing Perseid meteor showers still managed to send enough bright streaks though the new moon sky to extend the month’s goldenness 24/7.
Next week the full moon will strut its stuff, casting a golden glow across landscapes, rural and urban alike. Ready or not, summer vacation has yielded to elongated yellow buses and excited, golden voices of children beginning a new school year.
All things considered, August is a positively golden time of year.
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