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  • Katherine Dudley Hoehn

Defy Covid by Adventuring Close to Home

It is always an adventure when my brother visits, even when we do nothing out of the ordinary. Covid has kept me closer to home and a bit more tentative about commitments, in addition to finding fewer playmates for adventures. And somehow it had been more than five months since our last visit.

We were (and still are) tired of covid and the mask tattlers (who rat out those who forget to wear masks), the uncertainties, and the restrictions. This was a weekend free of worry, absent political rhetoric, and full of fun. And there is no reason you can't have fun AND be safe. By now we are all used to toting around masks in our pockets, purses and glove compartments. We wash our hands frequently and stay away if we don't feel safe.

Our fun started with dinner and drinks on the screened porch. Temperatures were cool and it was luscious to be outdoors. We consumed limes from the garden, fresh shrimp from Atlantic Seafood in Fernandina Beach, cheesy biscuits shaped like alligators and a lovely salad with local lettuces from Traders Hill Farm and tomatoes from the farm stand.

The good meal fired us up for kayaking the next morning. Despite the clouds and harsh wind, we had a good time paddling south from Kayak Amelia on Little Talbot Island. Our destination was Huguenot Park where Simpson Creek and the Fort George River meet the Atlantic, but we were kept away by strong high tides and heavy winds. Instead, we admired the birds and grasses (and even the little crabs who cling to the grasses) and sounds of silence (until the ignoramuses sped through on their jet skis with noise and heavy wake...but that soon passed) on Simpson Creek. The wind made paddling more difficult and we did not venture too far as the currents were against us for the return trip.

Little crab clinging to marsh grass

Cloudy, windy day on Simpson Creek

Out on the water, I saw my brother paused in the marsh grass, both hands opened and eyes focused on what I assumed was his cell phone. "What are you doing?" I called, fully expecting to admonish him for his lack of attentiveness to our beautiful surroundings. "Playing with a little crab," he answered. I laughed and enjoyed watching his simple pleasure, annoyed with myself that I assumed otherwise.

Red Snapper

After Kayaking, we drove to Safe Harbor Seafood in Mayport, which included a ferry ride across the St. Johns River, and enjoyed a big lunch (much deserved after the kayaking). Brother had a whole fried snapper and I enjoyed my favorite shrimp while we observed river life and the shrimp boats and recalled stories from our childhood.

Shrimp boats at Mayport

My brother has a grand sense of adventure. Rather than taking the ferry back across the river, we drove backroads and investigated Yellow Bluff Fort State Park along the St. Johns River (an earthen fort built by Confederate troops as a lookout for Union troops during the Civil War), the El Faro Memorial (October 1, 2015 this cargo ship and its 33 crew members disappeared on their weekly run delivering food and goods from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico), and the New Berlin Cemetery (dating from 1854 and nestled in the Yellow Bluff community).

El Faro Memorial

Under the Dames Point Bridge

Honoring the crew of El Faro

The El Faro Memorial’s individual memorials for each of the crew had been draped in ribbons for the 5th anniversary. We solemnly walked past them, reading the names and acknowledging the many mementos. Its location, under the Dames Point Bridge, seemed fitting and appropriately reverent. In addition to a number of feral cats lounging about, there were individuals paying respects and several people fishing from the docks.

New Berlin Cemetery

The New Berlin Cemetery is in need of some groundskeeping. Many of the headstones were covered in vines or lichens and the engravings were barely legible. In some places, markers were inaccessible and blocked by large bushes or trees in addition to vines.

I paused at graves and honored the deceased by reading their names aloud. In many cases, there were family members together in fenced areas and the engravings on the stones indicated some were fishermen or ships' crew or captains. Several were identified as “mother” and there were many infants including six week old Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, son of Florida Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward.

Signs of pilgrimage at New Berlin Cemetery

Inside one family area was a mound of oyster shells, some rather recently dropped. Seashells placed on or near a grave may be to show that someone made a pilgrimage there or that the person buried continues to be remembered. If that is the case, these family members had many visitors who remembered them with the remnants of their bivalve consumption.

Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, 1883

On the drive home, we saw roseate spoonbill, herons (great, little blue, big blue, and white), and a few ugly old wood storks. And everywhere, even out on the water in our kayaks, we saw butterflies, mostly Gulf Fritillary, that seemed to be feeding heavily and on the move south.

Roseate spoonbills and wood storks

It was energizing to have an unscheduled day, without roadmaps or electronic guidance, where we allowed ourselves to just be, eyes open wide and ready to experience what the world had to offer. I'm tired of being so busy getting from one place to another, or staying on a schedule, while agonizing about things that have been put on hold indefinitely. All of that swirl had helped me forget to enjoy the journey. This certainly was a day when every aspect of the trip was enjoyable, absent of responsibilities and worry about the uncertainties that have plagued us this year.

You don't have to go far for adventure. Open your eyes. Allow yourself to wander a bit and even get lost. Finding your way home is part of the fun.

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Oct 06, 2020

I really, really enjoyed your adventure and the contrast with our being quarantined. Our golf course spoonbills have migrated recently. We also have a bird we cannot identify often seen behind our house.

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