I’ll admit it. Though I love the Southwest, I’ve been secretly starved for the East Coast, the ocean, green grass and humidity. So it is a special privilege to be spending this week in Fernandina Beach, Florida, Amelia Island, visiting my friend Pat and her sister Hannah. I’m amazed at the trees and spend time looking straight up. Towering live oaks, Palmettos, Southern Magnolias. Quite in contrast to Santa Fe’s piñons and junipers. Many of these arboreal giants are festooned with Spanish moss, the stuff of novels (think Gone with the Wind).
Fernandina is the major town of Amelia Island, the extreme northeastern part of Florida. It’s 13 and 1/2 miles long and roughly two miles wide.Population of the town is around 11,000, of the island, roughly 25,000.The island has been populated for 4,000 years and throughout its history has flown flags, consecutively, of France, Spain, England, Mexico and the United States Confederacy. Its stormy past contrasts greatly with its present day image as a resort and leisure destination.
The highlight of every day of my vacation is walking along the ocean with Hannah. There’s a lot to keep us busy and yet it is a soothing no-deadline, no quota kind of busy-ness. Collecting shells, admiring the soaring gulls, the swooping pelicans, observing the waves of sanderlings. The sanderlings,with their stiff legged strutting and pecking into the sand, ever searching for food, are the most fun to watch.
We remove our shoes and walk barefooted. The water is icy at first but the longer we stroll, the warmer it seems. In addition to the panorama of nature, there is plenty of people-watching to be done. The beach is open 24/7 and there are the day campers with lawn chairs and coolers, the swimmers who plunge into the incoming tide, the nappers and the fisher folk (who have rods lined up just above the water line). Like us, many folks are strolling. Occasional runners and bikers go by. A parasail passes far overhead, the pilot’s legs dangling into the air from the airborne one-seater. As we reluctantly go back to our car, five people riding beautiful chestnut horses clip-clop their way down to the beach.
Amelia Island has many other attractions. Centre Street, full of lovely Victorian architecture, has a wonderful book store, The Book Loft. By the way, they’ve agreed to host a December 2nd book-signing for my new guidebook Santa Fe on Foot-Exploring the City Different. There are beautiful 19th century mansions and everywhere. Fort Clinch, at the island’s north end,offers a fascinating look at the past. It is the beach, however, that takes me back to my past and keeps me coming back every day.
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Please share YOUR favorite beach experiences!