Big Red at Holland Harbor

Being Floridian, my body never needed to adjust to twenty-degree weather. I knew the moment I pressed my fingers against my sprinter van’s window; I’d probably regret getting out. When I looked out across the beach of Holland State Park, at the medium-sized, bright red lighthouse floating above still seaglass teal water, I told myself to Hell with it. I snatched up my Nikon camera, my backpack, and my thick gloves and jumped out of the van. There would be no telling when I would ever get another chance for this, so I took it.

As a delivery driver, I continuously fail to remember how much weight I’ve put on. The realization doesn’t hit me until I either have to hike some inclined nature trail or trudge across beach sand. Nothing, I mean nothing, tells you to start dieting like a walk across beach sand. The closer I got to that cherry red hunk of wood, metal, glass, and beauty, the more I cared less about my wheezing and dragging feet. Also, as a delivery driver, I was usually only in a location for one day. It was rare that I would return to that location again within the week or month. I got to see New York City twice. Both times were four months a part.

After struggling across the beach sand, I thankfully made it to concrete pavement. I couldn’t take my eyes off “Big Red,” the unfortunate nickname they gave to the Holland Harbor Lighthouse. According to research, painting this particular lighthouse red was a requirement due to its location on the harbor’s right side. Regardless, if you couldn’t see the lighthouse’s bright light at night, you’d have no problems seeing it in the day. You’d have to be color blind to miss it, seeing as how no other buildings behind or beside it along the coast are painted red.

Two light posts at the end of the water breakers
Water breakers

I had to rush my adventure visiting the light. I felt the feeling in my fingers disappearing. By the time I had reached the pavement, my fingers were hurting so bad from the cold, they felt numb. My thick gloves prevented me from using my zoom and pressing the shutter button. I was forced to take all of my photos barehanded. Thankfully I brought my beach towel along with me (only God knows why), so I could maybe sit on the beach and enjoy the view. Nope! I reassigned it to keeping my hands warm. Unfortunately, you can’t run from Mother Nature. My fingers continued to burn inside the gloves wrapped in the towel.

I had never heard of water breakers before I studied the Holland Harbor Light. They’re essential for multiple reasons, including slowing down coastal erosion, and prevent waves from battering the lighthouse in rough weather. Most water breakers are built with large boulders, but these breakers, but these breakers are built with slabs of concrete and significant boulders to hold them in place. Mother Nature has been working her magic on it as well. As you head out to the end of the breaker, you’ll notice that two of the slabs have shifted so far that you only have about one or two feet of connected concrete to cross over.

Out on the breakers, the view was could have been nothing short of a fairytale. As a Floridian, I adore great bodies of water. I grew up around every type of body of water (sea, ocean, river, swamp, gulf, etc.) Lake Michigan was a sight to see, the water’s slow swells imitated breathing as the water rose and receded through the boulders. The color of the water itself made it appear as an ocean-sized sheet of seaglass. The coast packed of brown beach sand and tall sea oats nearly hiding the gorgeous vacation beach homes behind them.

Tug boat pushing platform out to sea.

I stood on the breaker, sinking into peace and reflection when a large horn sounds off. I nearly jumped out of my skin and into the freezing water. I turned around to see a red tugboat making his way out of the harbor, pushing some sort of platform in front of him. I watched the precision driving as the tugboat made its way out to open sea. I love tugboats. At this point, my frozen fingers became too much to bear. I gathered up a few more shots of Big Red and Lake Michigan and power walked back to my sprinter van. Other cars pulled into the parking lot. Groups of people hopping out in all smiles loving the frosty air. I could’t wait to crank up my heat on the highest setting before I became Frosty the Snowman.

I may never get a chance to return to Big Red, but if traveling has taught me anything, when you’re in perfect position to explore something, I don’t care if Big Foot is sitting outside the window, take the chance and capture your memories. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Cumberland Island’s Hike to Paradise

My friend had just bought the newest Canon EOS Rebel camera on the market in hopes to vamp up a new interest in professional photography. She asked me to go to Cumberland Island with her so I could show her all the cool spots to take photos. Since I’ve already been to the island twice before, I’d say I was the perfect guide for her. We got up early and made it to the dock in time for the ferry ride. From the moment my friend and I stepped off the forty-five-minute ferry onto the uncivilized, wild shores of Cumberland Island, the clock was on, and paradise was only a two-hour hike away.

River Trail

After stepping off of the ferry, we immediately started on the River Trail, which leads all the way down the shore. The trail is narrow with large spider webs stretched from one ancient tree to the next. Different species of vines took over the show. They draped and wrapped around anything that grew out of the ground. If it weren’t for the cloudless sky and the sun beaming through the trees, the thickness of the vines would have made the trail look like nighttime. We didn’t run into any snakes, but it is warned to keep an eye out. Our eyes danced around in our heads until they started spinning on their own. Through the trees, we caught glimpses of the river we recently sailed on, but it always looked different from the trail. The waves appeared calmer, and we didn’t have the view of the destructive coastal erosion creating an eyesore. Near the end of the trail, we finally reached an overlook, and my friend was able to finally put her new camera to use.

Museum Pit Stop

The museum of the island’s artifacts and treasures was stored in an old resident’s home. Artifacts locked in glass cases lined the walls with factual posters next to them detailing the life on the island. Near one of the exit doors was a rather odd step that everyone tripped over. I tried to warn my friend beforehand, but it was too late. I tripped over that same step the first time I visited. In a sense, it was a right of passage for her. She was officially a native on the island. After a few photographs of the old trinkets, we filled our water bottles and moved on.

The Ranger Road

This is by far the loneliness, most uninteresting part of the hike. The road was nicely cut and paved with sand. It was the road all the Ranger and work trucks used to get around the island with ease. The road was about a half mile long with nothing but trees as a company. My friends and I used this time to talk about anything we could come up with like work gossip, home drama, or dreams we had the previous night.

Dungeness Ruins

The Ranger Road led us straight through the stone gates of the Dungeness Ruins. A massive mansion owned by the Carnegie family. Most of the mansion had been swept away, but the stronger parts of the home stood tall. My friend couldn’t get enough photos of the red and grey brick home. No one is actually allowed to explore the ruins in depth, but it is safe to say we got more than our fill from the outside. We studied the old courtyard and the vine-covered walls along the outside of the mansion. We stood in the grand back yard that overlooked the river. The grounds were decorated with wild horses. They went about their day as they walked in packs grazing and traveling. There was a large old stone fountain dead in the center of the yard. It wasn’t hard to believe that Carnegie’s really lived the good life on this island. In fact, my friend said, “It must have been nice to have the entire island to yourself.” Our minds raced with excitement and wonder. As we carried on our hike, we got to see the stables where they once kept the horses, their vegetable garden and the slave quarters.

Carnegie Grave

My friend considers herself a little dark and Goth-like, so it made sense why she considered Carnegie’s graveyard “peaceful.” I found it creepy thank to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The more we stood over the ancient graves, and their half washed away tombstones, the more I felt like a hand would burst up through the dirt. A white stone fence with an old black iron fence for the entrance surrounded the small grave. An adjacent grave connected the two. The second smaller grave had four small tombstones; we assumed they were the graves of children or a dog.

The Boardwalk

The boardwalk was always my favorite part of the hike. The scenery of tall grass with streams linked to the river snaking through. In the distance, you could see the pearl white sails of sailboats floating by. Heron would tiptoe through the shallow water for something to snack on. Hawks circle above waiting for anything interesting to happen. My friend and I took a five-minute break to rest our feet before the hardest part of the trail would come. We took in the vast swampy area with gratefulness. Though climate change is affecting our world as a whole, it was nice to see nature thriving for another day.

The Dunes

The dunes were so awful on my first trip; I never made it to the beach. They were the only way to the beach unless you were camping and had your own access. The dunes were like a desert. The sand was piping hot from the sun beating down on it since sunrise.  They weren’t like normal dunes we’d get at the beach. No, you would need actual hiking sticks to get over them. I had on hiking boots with deep tread, which helped to climb the awful hills, but my friend had on basic tennis shoes. I could see her struggle, but she was determined to make it to the end, so she pushed on. It was a relief once we finally got over them.

Pick Your Hike

After the dunes came a choice between two trails to take to get to paradise. One of the trails had more dunes sand and a hike through a trail lined with hollow bushes and cacti on either side, or a boardwalk that cut through more thick vegetation. After the hike over the dunes, the answer was clear. My friend and I took the boardwalk. There wasn’t much to see on the boardwalk beside a great amount of more vines, trees, and bees.

More Dunes

After the boardwalk, there was one final climb over more sand dunes. The ground was flat this time, so we didn’t mind the difficult stroll. We looked out in the distance, and it seems sand, cacti, and prickly trees went on for miles. The sky had very little clouds in it, so we had no shade to help us. My friend’s back began to turn red as a lobster. We trekked on for a few minutes more until the wind blew filling our noses with the smell of salt and ocean. One push over a small dune and there it was, Paradise.

Paradise

We finally made it, two hours later. Paradise. The Atlantic Ocean never looked more majestic. Seagulls hovered overhead squawking and communicating about the newcomers on the beach loaded with “dinner.” My friend and I tossed aside our hiking gear, hopped out of our shoes and ran straight for the water. The water was colder than Alaska, but when your feet are aching and burning from the hike, you could care less. We laughed at our desperation for relief. We looked both ways down the lonely beach. Only a handful of people and not the usual crowdedness we usually get at the beach back at home. It was Heaven, our Heaven. We ate lunch and made up life stories for everyone who walked passed us. As more people began to flood the beach, we decided to head back. We made it to Paradise at long last, and now it was time to return home with our aching feet, our photos, and our memories.

 

The Great Patience

I seriously believe that the quote, “patience is a virtue,” came from someone studying animals in their natural habitat. I learned this lesson first hand on the beach in Cumberland Island. Imagine you taking the two-hour hike just to get to the empty, lonely beach. You have walked through forests riddled with mosquitos, dance around easily-spooked wild horses, trudged over high sand dunes and through an endless trail of fan palms.

I finally make it to the beach. I am excited because there isn’t a single soul there unlike the crowded beaches back in my hometown. There was the great Atlantic stretched out in front of me. No trash littering the shore. Not a cloud in the sky to interupt the sun’s rays. I can do whatever I want and have all the peace and silence I need. Well, until I whipped out a lunchable…

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I failed to remember the wonderous seabirds. The birds with a bottomless appetite for anything they can get their peckers on. It started with maybe two or three in the distance scanning the shore for food, but as soon as I whipped my ham and cheese snack from my backpack, it was like a radar went off. They started hopping closer to me but distant enough to take off if I came at them. I thought nothing of it. I peeled off the seal to dig in, and suddenly two or three sea birds became ten or twenty. They surveyed me with watchful eyes. I did the same.

They sat with the greatest of patience for a crumb despite their pressing hunger. I stayed on alert too scared to make any crazy moves in case they became impatient. I was ready for one of them to bellow out, “Get her!” and the entire flock would dive towards me and I’d go screaming for help, but no one would hear me hence the uninhabitable beach.

To satisfy my own nerves and to prevent mob attack, I threw a cracker as far away from me as I could get it. I scarfed down the rest of it as I watch thirty birds fight each other for a piece of the cracker.

One major lesson came from it all, never underestimate the patience of nature.

4Ocean Beach Clean Up

A year ago, maybe, I discovered an organization called 4Ocean whose biggest goal and purpose was to help remove trash from the ocean. I’ve always loved the ocean so I was all in. After I met Maddy, my best friend, a few months ago and found out she loved the organization too, we decided to participate in a beach clean up.

The day before Earth Day, 4Ocean hosted a beach clean up at Neptune Beach, Florida. We lived in Jacksonville which was only 51mins away so why not. It was my very first beach clean-up and I really wanted to be a part of it. Maddy was down for helping for the good cause so we set a date and went.

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Maddy and I up early so we can make it to Neptune Beach on time. Image Source: Maddy Shade

According to our weather app, it said it was going to rain nearly all day, and boy did it. Everyone was out in the rain soaked but they stayed put to help clean up. Dedication at it’s finest.

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Our trash bags! Image source: Nikki Lee

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Everyone searching for trash as the rain beat down on us. Image source: Nikki Lee

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Got trash? Image Source: Nikki Lee

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Maddy playing around with our trash bags. Image Source: Nikki Lee

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On the way to the beach. Image Source: Maddy Shade

We managed to get free merchandise (woot!) and we got to be a part of an organization who saw a problem in the world and wanted to be a part of the solution.

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Free merch! Image Source: Nikki Lee

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Limited Edition 4Ocean Earth Day bracelet. Image Source: Maddy Shade

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Maddy got her shirt! Image source: Maddy Shade

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My ROWW and 4Ocean bracelet. Image source: Nikki Lee

Maddy and I definitely had a blast and can’t wait for the next major event!

If you want to be a part of the clean up and other events that 4Ocean hosts. Follow their Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram social media pages!

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Maddy admiring the ocean. 

 

 

Watch Them Fly

It has felt like forever since I’ve had a chance to just get in my car and drive far away from home and involve myself into something else. I figured since the high of today was going to be sixty-three degrees, many people weren’t going to be out much doing anything (Floridians, right?). I decided to take my fave scenic road, Heckschere Drive all the way up to Fernandina Beach.

Once I got to Fernandina, I figured I’d go ahead and go to the beach. I know I was going to freeze to death because I had on the wrong jacket. It was more of a sweater with a hoodie. Air could pass straight through it. Fernandina was fifty-four minutes North of Jacksonville and that made a hell of a difference in temperature. It was 63 in Jacksonville, 55 in Fernandina. I stood on the empty beach to get some shots of Sea Gulls taking advantage of the low tide.

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BIG TALBOT ISLAND: The Land of the Tree Graveyardr

Big Talbot Island State Park near Amelia Island is a sight to see with its silent coast line and calm waves crashing up on the beach. Off to the left, you can see Heckscher Drive driving into Amelia Island. On the other side of the water is Amelia Island State Park crowded with trucks and families camping out. Today, Big Talbot had little visitors and I practically had the beach to myself.

Despite the beauty of the quiet beach, the entire shoreline is plagued with fallen trees. Erosion is the biggest enemy to many beaches and other shores disturbed by the constant back and forth of water movement. By studying the beach of Big Talbot, it is clear to see that all these trees lying on the sand, were the victims of years of erosion. Today you can see the next line of trees getting ready to fall.

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Erosion is defined as, “erosion is the action of surface processes (such as water flow or wind) that remove soil, rock or dissolved material from one location on the Earth’s crust, then transport it away to another location. (Wikipedia)” By the look of Big Talbot, it appears that it has been eroding rather quickly for many years. Of course in Florida, we have to deal with hurricane season. All the extra rain and wind doesn’t help the situation. If you visit several beaches along the Atlantic coast, you’ll find that the local beach town or city has taken measure to protect against aggressive coastal erosions such as creating man-made dunes and planting a lot of sea oats grass.

It is unclear why Big Talbot doesn’t seem to have something in place to help the beach from eroding any further. Perhaps the erosion has worked in the favor of creating a beautiful deserted kind of atmosphere. It’s definitely the feel you get when you come out on the beach. Fallen trees, big and small, scattered on the coast in both directions. It looks like a graveyard for trees. The feel is dark, but the scenery is exotic.

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I walked about a half of a mile and the natural placement of the trees just makes you appreciate nature even more. It’s sad to see that these trees died unnecessarily to decades of erosion but they seem to serve a greater purpose while laid out on the coast. Here they bring awareness and tourism. Visitors will see the real life consequences of erosion and how it can affect the environment and the habitat of nearby animals. At the same time, the natural look makes a perfect setting for beach weddings, romantic walks, and a kind of jungle gym for children.

Besides the State Park entry fee, Big Talbot always welcomes any donations that could be helpful toward keeping the beach beautiful. For more information, visit their webpage North Florida Land Trust.