Reddie Point Preserve, a Simple Relaxation

Often, living in a big city, nature has to be compromised and created. In other words, nature trails are paved, and paths are forced to their destination. Their use is designed for a specific group of people. Despite the history of Reddie Point Park, it is clear that this park is intended explicitly for fishers, runners, and retirees with pet dogs. Quite a simple relaxation.

Welcome to Reddie Point Park

My favorite part would be the lake at the entrance of the park. The water is still. It looks like glass, reflecting the trees and the sky. If you walk down the bank, the water is so clear you can see the entirety of the thriving ecosystem beneath the surface. I only wish I had a canoe to float out to the lake center to see the depths. God knows what I’d discover.

Lake with water like glass.

A small trail from the parking lot leads you to a tabby-stone-filled shoreline of the St. John’s River. Across the river is a large plant, and in further distance, one can spot massive cranes designed to load containers onto cargo ships.

The shoreline is filled with tabby stones.
A factory or plant across the St. John’s River.

While visiting, I spotted a group of people with binoculars studying the surrounding trees. I had never seen a birding group before. It was interesting to see this form of hobby come to life. I’m sure the birds put on their best performance because the “oooos” and “ahhhhs” were laughable.

The long pier that extends out over the St. John’s River is the best place to go if you want to witness the bending river. Unfortunately, if you aren’t there when the park opens, you’ll have to deal with the abundance of fishermen overtaking the pier.

The fishing pier becomes overcrowded as the day go on.

Reddie Point Park is a 102-acre nature park located behind a group of subdivisions. The most significant part about this park is that it rests where the St. John River bends. You can spot this clear from the long pier. On a positive aspect, the park is relaxing, family-friendly, and offers a gorgeous, inviting river view. Negatively, the park provides nothing for true hikers and nature buffs like me. The hiking trails are too easy and only showcase the exact nature you find in your backyard. The pier is overcrowded with fishers from the time the park opens until it closes. Would I recommend this park? To lovers, dog owners, families, and fishers, yes. Other than that, you’d be highly disappointed for adventurous excitement.

The Disappointment of Polished Historical Ruins

In my imagination, when I think of historical ruins, I think of a fascinating testimony in the time of an event that took place. It’s fun to put the ruins back together in your mind and imagine the people who inhabited the ruins. This was the case when I visited Fort Clinch. I imagined the Confederate army scrambling around, preparing for the Union soldiers to go to war against each other. At the Dungeness ruins on Cumberland Island, I’d imagine the Carnegie family living their best lives on an exotic island. At the textile mill ruins at Sweetwater State Park in Atlanta, Georgia, I can see the workers toiling night and day to meet the growing demands of the industry. I realized something about these ruins. The atmosphere and surroundings of these helped sell the story of the past. Ruins are designed to tell their own stories. It is a disappointment when they are tampered with with modern technology to appear ruined. The polished upgrade ruins the story. I have seen two recent examples of this: The Castillo de San Marco fort in St. Augustine, Florida, and the Horton House in Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Dungeness Ruins

The Castillo de San Marco fort looks fantastic on the outside. It has that old-world look with the greyish rough high walls, the cannons peering over the top edge of the fort, the American flag waving proudly in the breeze. You would think at any moment, one would hear the sound of cannon fire, and the battle would be on, but that isn’t the case on the inside. The first time I went inside the fort, I was disappointed that it looked like some theme park at Disney. The worst of it was the installation of modern bathrooms and food venues in the fort’s rooms. They used the fort as a prop to use capitalism to make money off of its historical importance. I’ve been to forts in the southern part of this country. I’ve never seen anything like this. They stole the natural beauty of a historical landmark and turned it into a carnival.

Castillo de San Marco fort. Library of Congress Archives.

I recently went to Jekyll Island, Georgia, for my birthday weekend. (YAY!) Like always, I pre-plan my trips down to the restaurants I’m going to dine within. Using Trip Advisor, I planned to visit the Horton House and its pond on the island after spending some much-needed time on the beach. I couldn’t wait to see it because it was a historical ruin with a story to tell. Now, granted, Jekyll Island is infamous for tourism and caters to the rich and powerful. I will admit, never being rich a day in my life made me feel uncomfortable to be in that atmosphere. The perfect example, everyone on the beach had the $90 4-wheel carts. I, of course, had the $30 “homeless cart” that you see most people riding the bus used to carry groceries. I didn’t care too much. In my mind, it was a different method with the same results. It still bothered me, as if I was reminded of the reality of my upbringing and livelihood.

My birthday getaway in Jekyll Island, GA
My wop-sided beach tent and my $30 cart to hold my stuff.

Anyway, after enjoying private time on the beach, I decided to ride over to the Horton House ruins for pictures and notes. Like the Castillo de San Marco fort, I was disappointed at the ruins of the Horton House. It looked as if they built it yesterday. It appeared as if someone came up with the idea to place some ruins on the island to give the tourist a little taste of history. Other tourists there took pictures in front of it as if it were some background filter for Snapchat. At first, I just stared at the tiny, so-called ruins and wondered if its story was even real. I wasn’t able to go to Horton’s Pond because it was blocked off. I eventually snapped my few images of the Horton house and left in my misery. The Horton House was my primary focus. It was the reason I chose Jekyll Island for my birthday getaway, just to be disappointed that they polished the ruin so that it could fit into the prestigious reputation of the island.

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Inside the Horton House

Ruins, to me, are a metaphor for living life, that one day we are in our prime, and eventually, we age and die, but our story lives on for others to know long after we are gone. I can understand preserving the ruins because, finally, nature will wipe them clean from our grasps, but it is wrong to polish them and mold them for the satisfaction of reputation and capitalism. These ruins are supposed to tell their own story, and we should allow them to do just that.

The Deserted Old Spanish Trail

Time and time again, I’ve made the long straight journey from Jacksonville to McClenny. The only accurate scenic view is a river. Besides that, its trees, car shops, corporate stores, and trailer homes. Beaver Street, also known as US-90, was once called the Old Spanish Trail. It runs well over 1600 miles, hitting most of the major cities in the Southern States like Interstate 10. Along US-90 between Jacksonville and McClenney, I kept driving past a building built in Spanish style called “The Old Spanish Trail.”

There was more to the area than you could see from the street. Most of that white parking lot area is now covered over with trees and overgrowth.

Every time I drove past it, it drew me in, as it begged me to explore. This past Saturday, I finally felt it was time. I had nothing else to do. Why not? I packed my camera, notebook, and Gatorade and was off.

The parking lot stretches another quarter mile back, but you can’t see it.

When I arrived, I noticed that the fence was kicked down. At first glance of the building made me realize that vandals wanted to have their way with the place. They did not disappoint. It was vandalized so severely, the outside staircase that led to doors on the top floor was completely gone. Nature did what it did best when there was no one there to tend to the weeds, bushes, and other overgrowths. I drove through the broken fence across broken slabs of pavement littered with grass and weeds.

At the back of the building, it looked like a haunted house. There was trash all over the ground. The railings rusted to the core. Windows left open. Surprisingly, the windows weren’t boarded up like most of the others. The doors had been kicked down. It was pitch dark inside, but with the help of whatever sunlight that breached the windows, it was evident that someone had a field day with the internal structure. The ceiling was falling apart. It appears the stairs were collapsing too. No way in hell I was brave enough inside. My hearing had never been sharper listening for even the tiniest sound of movement. I even had my knife on me just in case something came running out of the doors.

Ransacked and vandalized.
There use to be stairs here.

Inspecting the rest of the building, it was clear that it was unique in its time. It wasn’t designed like any of the buildings surrounding it. There were archways that you only ever see on old castles and fancy homes. The cascading stairwell on the west side of the building would have made perfect scenery for a wedding. According to some research through google, the Old Spanish Trail served as many things in its prime. Including a grocery store, a haunted house, and a speakeasy. The final owners of the building were forced to abandon it due to costs for it to be made up to modern-day building codes. Now, The Old Spanish Trail’s remaining purpose is to sneak into the imagination of those who drive or walk past it. If anyone is lucky, they’ll be able to tell the tale of the little boy who supposedly haunts the building only seen by three of the previous owners.

Graffiti at its best.

For more on that story and the history of the Old Spanish Trail, check out the Time’s Union article, “Call Box: Spooky tales, colorful past in Jacksonville building.”

Lightner Museum, A Collection of Underrated Busts

In St. Augustine at the Lightner Museum, the art collections are breathtaking. From the oil paintings, a part of the Daywood Collection, to the complex, beautifully cut glass vases, bowls, and bottles. Every floor of the museum is a world of its own. As tourists and visitors strolled around the rooms, they admired everything except the statues and busts. People walked past them as if they were invisible. Whereas for me, these sculpted pieces of brilliance swallowed the majority of my phone’s photo storage space. How could one not stop and admire the imaginative detail of these busts and statues?

I suppose the popularity of art theft and every Tom, Dick, and Harry owning a statuary business. Each one is stocked with replicas of the infamous European statues. I purchased a replica bust of Michelangelo’s David, two Venus de Milo statues, and two Greek Goddess busts from multiple statuaries right here in my city. To make matters worst, you can order a replica from anywhere in the world by simply opening your Amazon Prime account. Now you can have all the greats right in your home, why bother to visit the museum.

I understand that nowadays, that busts are made out of plastic, concrete, and alabaster. Like most productions today, objects are made by the hundreds per hour as they run through machines. Wouldn’t this fact alone make the ones seen in museums that much more valuable? Could you imagine how difficult it was for sculptors like Donatello, Michelangelo, and Gian Lorenzo to sculpt entire bodies and details using only simple hand-held tools? They were the machines! I try to keep this in mind whenever I visit a museum and I run across a bust or statue in the collection. It doesn’t matter how many statues I have at my home, standing before an original will alway leave me in a state of awe.

In my opinion, I believe the Museum should find a way to make the statues and busts more appealing. It’s not fair that they’re overlooked like another home decor item at a store. Perhaps a small room dedicated to them just like the Porcelain and Glass floor. All art should be admired regardless of the medium, subject matter, and purpose of creation.

I finally got my favorite statue of all time. It’s a replica of course, but it’s mine.

Cold Hike at Magnolia Mound Plantation

Magnolia Mound Plantation is a well-preserved historical landmark that harbors an eerie silence as you transcend into another century. Unlike other plantations I’ve visited, this particular adventure down history’s memory lane left me feeling low. Perhaps with everything happening in the country regarding racial division, seeing a plantation only reminded me of how far (and not so far) we’ve come. 

I love the hike across the wide-open spaces as you tour one home to another. The French architecture made the homes appear romantic ad inviting. I imagined myself opening large French doors to a gorgeous two-story house with a wrap-around porch. I am floating on cloud imagination until I gaze at the slave cabin and realize the reality behind this plantation’s beauty. The crooked, uncut wood boards used as doors struggled to operate o their hinges. There are no fancy locks. Inside was an old school locking system where a board is placed in two hooks to keep the doors from swinging open. Inside the cabin is nothing more than a studio apartment. The bed mattress looked stuffed with toilet tissue. It caved heavily in the center. I could only imagine the back issues resulting from such a bed. Iside the homeowner’s home, the mattress is high and fluffy, resting on a proper frame for support. The rooms where separated. No issues with soot and ash from a fireplace. The two buildings symbolized the inequality of races during those times. It reminds a tourist of the same economic and racial divide of today.

Don’t get me wrong, the plantation is a dream. The landscape is nicely kept, the grass a bright and healthy shade of green. The vegetable garden is filled fence post to fence post with fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The garden is my favorite. I am always fascinated by Mother Nature and watching mere seeds grow into fruitful products. The plantation provided a very decent lesson in history, but that cold, eerie silence remains. The moment your mind dives into reflection, silence takes over. The reality of what was and what is coming to light. 

I am grateful to visit these plantations. As an African-American, I think it’s essential that we visit them. In my opinion, by not visiting these historical landmarks, we turn a blind and ignorant eye to all our ancestors went through. It doesn’t matter whether the tourist is black or white. What happened at the plantation and in most of the South did happen. African-American and other slave descendants owe it to our ancestors to visit these places and gain first-hand knowledge and experience what slaves endured. Caucasian-Americans or slave owner descendants should visit to understand and be rid of ignorance. 

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The Trails of Kingsley Plantation

The near three-mile, pot-hole filled, low-land, flood-threatened dirt road entrance to the Kingsley Plantation is only the beginning trail among other trails which recounts the story of slavery and freedom. The trails at Kingsley Plantation offers more than your typical southern slavery tale. It provides the opportunity to let your imagination drift back into a critical time in history, even if it means hallucinating a bit. 

 

The Entrance Trail

Growing up in the modern world, I couldn’t be happier to be able to drive on paved streets. Though my Toyota Camry has hit some potholes in her day, it was nothing compared to the rugged road from Hell, otherwise known as the entrance to Kingsley Plantation. Unless you have a boat, there is only one way in and out of the plantation through the entrance trail. Previous rain makes the trail worst. My car bounced and jumped through hole after hole to the point where I had to reduce my speed to crawl mode. Tall trees and vines enclave the narrow road, so it appears darker than it actually is outside. I had to roll my windows u,p thanks to the drop in temperature due to constant shade and humidity. Along the way, the trail past several marshes. Because of the rain, the water levels are high and slowly inch across the path, nearly consuming it. As I approached water-filled holes, I either had to maneuver the car to drive on half trail half grass in order to escape the hole or I had to floor the gas pedal through water-filled holes to keep from getting stuck. The trail seemed like it would go on forever until you come to a split road, one going to the Kingsley Plantation. The other road going to the Ribault Club, a beautiful mansion often used for weddings. After another quarter of a mile, you come to some ruins of a tabby house off to the left and voila! You are at the Kingsley Plantation. It is very interesting that your first welcome through the gates of the plantation is a semi-circle row of slave quarters. 

 

The Garden Trail

The last time I visited Kingsley Plantation was in the summer. Usually, the sample garden displays planted crops. Crops that would have been sold when the plantation was operational. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I am visiting in the middle of winter, and there are no crops. I walked over to the enclosed garden, camera in hand, and there are only weeds that obviously haven’t been touched in weeks. The weeds were so high they were taller than the wooden fencing surrounding them. However, in one corner was a small orange tree and, in the other corner, two stalks of corn. I couldn’t tell at first with all the weeds covering the stalks. Back then, the plantation grew three primary cash crops: sea island cotton, indigo, and sugar cane. Off to the left side of the sample garden are three crates built like an ascending staircase. These boxes were used to produce dyes from the indigo plants they grew. The process was lengthy, and according to the info board next to the boxes, 100 pounds of plant material created only four ounces of dye, the total cost selling at forty bucks. On the right side of the sample garden are four white posts outlining the exact dimensions of a single acre, giving visitors an idea of the workload of working sixty acres that the slaves actually worked. 

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The Slave Owners Home

Slave owner homes are popular for being massive and luxurious. As seen in Hollywood films, the homes were often two-story,  painted bright white, with pillars, and wrap-around porches on both levels. Kingsley Plantation is big too, but not quite like Hollywood films. There is the main house where the owner and his family stayed, and then there’s the kitchen house where food was prepared. A walkway with lattice siding connects the main house and the kitchen house. Visitors are free to walk through the kitchen house, but certain areas, like upstairs, are off-limits either for safety reasons or for remodeling. I never went into either home on my last visit, so I thought I’d do so on this one. I grabbed onto the old metal doorknob and stepped into a small space. The floor is made of tabby (a mixture of oyster shells, rocks, and cement), the windows are small, and the room has been set up as a presentation. Big posters lined the walls detailing the story of the plantation, how it operated, how the slaves were treated before and after Spanish rule. I tried to visit the main house, but only those taking the exclusive tour, led by a Ranger, were invited. These tours often take place on the weekend. The most you can do is admire the structure of the home from the outside. The house was built next to the Fort George River. The large windows and the front porch facing the river was the intentional design to take advantage of the wind that came off the river. Summers in Florida are brutal, so the Kingsley family stayed cool by opening their windows and sitting on the porch. 

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The River Trail

The quiet Fort George River runs pass the Kingsley Plantation. The river was the easiest way to transport goods to and from the plantation. Today, the river is mostly used for watersports and fishing. You can stand on the shore and see how much as changed since the peak days of the plantation. When facing the river, to your right in the distance, you can see the scenic Florida A1A Highway. To the left, boats and jet skis snake through Clapboard Creek. The last time I visited the Kingsley Plantation, a wild peacock walked about the grounds. Every now and then he displayed his lovely feathers. This time he was there, but there are two guarded burrows in the ground for tortoises and other burrowing mammals. A second large building apart from the Slave owners owns houses modern restrooms and a gift store where you can buy trinkets, sign up for a tour, and see artifacts collected on the plantation grounds. 

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The Slave Quarters Trail

When you enter the metal gates of the Kingsley Plantation, you are instantly greeted by a long semi-circle line of slave quarter ruins. From the small parking lot next to the plantation barn is a mulch trail that leads you directly to the beginning of the line of ruined homes. Each home designed from the tabby material. With the roofs missing and the walls nearly deteriorated down to the ground, you can see the interior dimensions of the rooms. It was common for slave quarters to be just as crowded at the slave ships the slaves sailed onto. The rooms were no bigger than a walk-in closet. With only two rooms per living quarter home, it isn’t hard to imagine the cramped lifestyle. Each “living room” area is furnished with a brick fireplace and chimney. Most of the walls in each quarter has three medium-sized holes used for ventilation. As you move down the trail studying each home, you get a greater sense of what lives were like for the slaves. The last time I visited the plantation, I found myself slightly hallucinating. I could hear singing and children laughing. I imagined seeing slaves walking around with huge containers filled with cotton and other vegetables. Naturally, when we think of slavery, we think of the beatings, slave auctions, and slaves running for the lives to freedom in the dead of night. Despite the constant turmoil, there were days that were less tragic than others. In their free time, slaves danced and ate together as one large family. Gazing at the slave quarters together as they are, built like a community filled with support and strength to make it to another day.

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The trails at Kingsley Plantation is an education in itself without textbooks or guided tours. The livelihood of this plantation was a part of a changing country. It would be decades before the actual change would come along, but every story leading to freedom is one worth telling. The Kingsley Plantation is one brick in a very long wall, but it helps to build the story that will forever be told in our American history. 

 

 

The Morris Ansbacher Map Room

The downtown Jacksonville Public Library is one of the gems of the River City. Every floor of the library has its little world. Anything you wish to research, discover, read, or find, you can find it at this library. Through the main entrance of the building, you will find a themed art display that changes every month. There is an entire room dedicated to teens. Teens can sit on cool bean bags and read teen fiction. If they wish to get on the computer, they can do that too. If you have little ones, there is an entire floor for them to find every child book you can think of plus games and other hands-on entertainment. If you’re a college student, you can rent out private rooms for studying. It is truly the bees knees.

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My favorite room is on the fourth and final floor. The Morris Ansbacher Map Room. Yes, it is precisely that a room of maps. Maps taken from different books and other sources, framed and displayed for all to see. Some of the maps are so large they take nearly a quarter of the wall. Some of the maps presented are basic and may have come from some sort of magazine, while others you could tell may have come from some private collection.

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I once had a small collection of maps I hung on every wall of my bedroom, but this takes it to another level. As of now, I’ve been collecting maps I find in books stores, magazines (National Geographic specifically), shift stores, and craft stores. Since stores like Michaels, Hobby Lobby, and Joann are always running 50% off deals on their frames, it won’t be long before I have my own collection.

 

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Antique Shops: Overpricing History

When I was younger, I was like most teens thinking that shopping in thrift stores was lame and for “poor folks.” My mother took me to my first one, and good God did I get hooked. I found things in there that I could never find on the shelves of stores in the mall. You can imagine what life became like for me when I visited my first antique shop. My first real antique shop was in North Georgia, headed to Talulah Gorge State Park. I spent nearly $100 in there. It was heaven on earth to be surrounded by artifacts of history. It didn’t take long for my love of antique shops to stop short. That pissed me off.

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On my second visit to North Georgia, I tried to find the same antique shop I had found the first time. The prices were high for the items in the store. You could imagine my surprise when I found out that the store was shut down. The new owner of the store had bought the old inventory and jacked the prices sky-high. So now, instead of paying seventy-five cents per vintage postcard, I was kicking out nearly three dollars for each. What the hell? That’s a 300% increase in price!

I paid attention to other antique shops I visited and noticed the same ridiculous pricing. I understand that because an item is no longer in production or hasn’t been in production for years, but to slap an outrageous price on an item assuming that someone will pay any price for it is terrible business. The worst part is, most of the inventory in these shops aren’t antiques. They’re just items that maybe didn’t sell well through a company, for example, a tall lamp pole covered in different seashells (the most hideous thing I’ve ever seen). And for the love of God, if I see one more massive collection of Coke Cola glass bottles…

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My visit today at a rather famous antique shop in North Florida nearly made me want to start a strike. The items were beyond overpriced. They wanted five dollars for vintage postcards, twenty dollars for supposed “Free-Trade African Seaglass” beaded necklaces, and $210 for a large wooden sailboat. Like, are you kidding me?

I love antiques with a passion because they tell the story of a time I never got to live through. Not only that, but they showcase the evolution of art and design. To be simply put, it’s history! These antique store clerks are the gatekeepers to new generations, discovering another time through these artifacts. It would only be fair if they priced each item by their value and not because they want to overprice because it sits merely inside of an antique shop.

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Visiting St. Marks Lighthouse

I have visited every lighthouse within don’t-need-a-hotel driving distance. So I’ve been lining up vacation plans so that I can stay overnight somewhere and visit more lighthouses. When I found out that Tallahassee, Florida had a lighthouse, I was too excited. It was only a two-hour drive from me, it was perfect for a day out.

Honestly, I thought Interstate 10 West had too many trees to count. That interstate had nothing on the backwoods of Tallahassee. I drove past more trees than I thought existed in Florida. Either way, once I got past all of them and FINALLY arrived, I was told by a ranger that the lighthouse lies in between the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the Flint Rock Wildlife Management Area. That explained the endless trees.

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So many trees…

From researching the lighthouse online, I figured, from a review on TripAdvisor.com, we would have to hike to the lighthouse. Bloody hell, Jacksonville was already eighty-nine degrees, Tallahassee was going to be at least ninety-two. I was determined to see this lighthouse, so I said to hell with it. I haven’t hiked since my trip to Atlanta months beforehand so I suppose it wouldn’t hurt. On arrival, I find out, there is a single road that I could take to drive straight up to it. Thank God.

Down the single road, I made many stops to get out and look at the projects of the “refuge.” It appeared that the only thing being preserved were fish and strange flowering weeds. Luckily, I got to see a couple of alligators, a bird that clucks like a chicken, and a scorpion.

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I finally got to the lighthouse, and it was perfect. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go inside and climb to the top due to damages. Looking at it from the outside sufficed. It was quiet and the view of the Apalachee Bay gave us a scenic view of the Gulf of Mexico. The area around the lighthouse was mostly surrounded by water so there wasn’t much else you could do besides sunbathing and swimming if you really wanted to.

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I was glad to check off another lighthouse from my listen. Despite how quick the visit was, I enjoyed visiting the landmark. It serves as another piece of important history in the making of our country. At one point St. Mark’s lighthouse meant the world to someone in an era. Just to be alive and able to be near it was all I would ever need to take back with me when I return home. Me buying a postcard from the visitor center on the way out didn’t hurt either.

 

 

Off the Shore of Fort Clinch

When I first visited Fort Clinch, it was mesmerizing to me. It was an actual Fort, not one of those fake amusement forts you go to for fun. Fort Clinch was the real deal. They had corridors, alleys, hallways, and tiny paths to follow throughout the Fort so that you could get a feel of what it was like to live like a soldier trying to protect your precious country. Once you have toured through the buildings, checking out the beds, the jail cell, and the Captain’s office, you are led out of the Fort and onto the beach.

As a Floridian, a beach is my crack. No matter how many times I’ve seen a beach when I stand before one I am amazed and filled with wonder about everything that goes on beneath all that water. I often hoped for the day I could see tons of shark fins coasting through the water. The Fort’s beach doesn’t have much activity because, without your own boat, you’d either have to pay to get into the Fort or you would have to walk all the way from the adjacent beach.

There were only a small group of people on the beach that day that I went. Everyone played with the dense foam created by the waves. We all climbed over the massive boulders lining the shore. I am sure they were put there as another defense mechanism for the fort. Kids ran around in search for the perfect seashell. I marveled at how the Fort looked from the beach.  Somehow it appeared bigger and taller. The Fort gave this dangerous illusion. It was as if it was saying, “Give it your best shot, but we will never fall!” The canon at the top pointed out at sea were ready to fire.

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I snapped my beach photos but always came back to that view of the Fort and the threat it imposed. The Fort itself might be old, but it was bold, powerful, and still ready to take down anything threatening its shores.