Pat’s Wildways: Beach Days

By Pat Foster-Turley
Jean Taylor’s 80th birthday

It’s summertime again and time to head to the beach. But these days I head to the beach alone. In the good old days, I had a number of friends eager to go to the beach with me. After all, many of us moved here primarily for the beach. For years I could rustle up a handful of gal friends to hang out in the sun with me. A small number of these gals would actually go in the water. Some couldn’t swim, some were afraid of sharks and stinging jellyfish, and others hated saltwater on their skin. But it was fun nonetheless, hanging under our umbrellas, sharing snacks, talking about everything. One time we even celebrated Jean Taylor’s 80th birthday on the beach with eight gals in attendance.

I, for one, always went in the water and so did Jean. Many Sunday mornings Jean and I would hold hands to steady one another and walk through the pounding surf and uneven ground to get safely past the breakers where we would bob in the sea and discuss our lives, upsets and uplifting moments too. But things change. Jean got diagnosed with a blood cancer, untreatable, and gradually declined until she was no longer here. Throughout Jean’s last months and weeks and days, I’d still pick her up at her house and we would drive through Fort Clinch State Park to sit on a bench where we looked at the ocean. And when she could no longer walk to the bench I tried to find a parking spot up front at Main Beach and we would still enjoy the view. But she is gone, my other friends shun the beach, and my husband Bucko is not a “beach person.”

At the beach, I set my umbrella up near a lifeguard.

But I still am a beach person, although it gets more and more difficult as I age. Now I usually go alone, with my old beach umbrella, a chair, a cold drink and a book. It’s getting more difficult to walk through the sand and carry these accessories and then screw the big umbrella into the sand. And getting in the water, through the rough places with no hand to hold, is also getting more difficult. But still, I persevere, stationed right next to a lifeguard just in case.

I am not yet ready to give up on the beach. Before the Fourth of July crush of people, I set up my station on the beach and went in the water. The holes in the sand, invisible through the frothing surf, threatened to down me but once past this obstacle, I floated happily in the 81-degree water and the 92-degree air. Perfect. I watched a shrimp boat offshore in the hazy distance cleaning its nets. A bit closer to me a pelican dove clumsily into the water aiming for a fish. Near me, a man maybe in his 30s was working a standup paddleboard and of course, I talked to him—I talk to everyone. He said he was new at this and just learning. I saw him catch a wave all the way to shore standing up. And when he looked back at me I gave him a thumbs up and he laughed.

People of all ages, sizes and inclinations were enjoying the beach on a hot summer day.

Back on the beach behind me the junior lifeguard tent was set up and a flock of young people with orange shirts were in the water learning something or another. Near me, some children were enjoying digging in the sand and making sand castles while their parents watched from their blankets under their shade structure. As far as I could see, up and down the beach, people were enjoying the ocean and the beach. Lots of people were here even though it was only Wednesday and not yet the Fourth of July weekend. But Fernandina is always crowded these days and I’m grudgingly getting used to it. Even though Jean is no longer with me, I am far from alone here on the beach. People all around me are enjoying their vacation, and the good feelings are contagious.

I thought about going in the water again but now the waves looked bigger and the only people still there had paddleboards or surfboards. My own spot of shade had shrunk to a small circle as the sun reached its zenith. It was time for me to pack up my gear and head home. Just in time, it seems. Shortly thereafter my phone dinged with a message, “Two red flags were flying at the beach” – a do not enter sign, but I had already had my outing for the day. There is always tomorrow, always the beach. It’s one of the joys of living here, that I will keep doing as long as possible. And, these times, I will always think of Jean.

Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island.  She welcomes your nature questions and observations.  [email protected]

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Noble Member
11 months ago

Ms. Pat, I always enjoy your articles. You have a way of capturing the nostalgia of the quintessential beach trip. I’m so sorry your beach buddies have passed away, but I thank you for sharing your wonderful memories with us here. They live on because of that.

11 months ago

Ms. Pat, what an awesome article! There is nothing like spending time on the beach (and in the ocean). Thanks for sharing

Noble Member
11 months ago

Well done! A good reminder that a place we take for granted is a treasure.

Trusted Member
11 months ago

Beautiful sentiment. I too love frolicking in the ocean and relaxing on the beach. I’ll have to remember to offer assistance more often to someone who looks like they are reminiscing about their times in the ocean…