By Pat Foster-Turley
December 2, 2022
If you are looking for an interesting walk on Amelia Island beyond the offerings of Fort Clinch State Park, the Egan’s Creek Greenway or the beach, head out to Bosque Bello Cemetery. You don’t have to know anyone buried there or even be a history buff to enjoy the place. There’s a lot even for a nature lover like me.
On a recent day my friends Debby Jervis and Sue Simpson went to Bosque Bello to explore. We parked near the fairly new grave of our mutual friend Jean Taylor and left our offerings of flowers from my garden, a shell decorated by the Amelia Shells group, and a golf ball on a tee and said to her, “Hey Jean, come along with us for a walk,” in memory of the many times when she was here with us on the other side of the turf.
And then we three fanned out into the field of headstones.
“Look, over here, twins that died at birth.”
“Here’s someone who died in the Civil War.”
“Wow, this guy was born in 1776!”
“This tabby wall is amazing!”
“Look at this large dog statue,” and much, much more.
We quickly discovered that the Fernandina Beach Bosque Bello website (https://www.fbfl.us/276/Bosque-Bello-Cemetery) has biographies of some of the more famous historical residents at the cemetery and soon enough we got immersed in more details of some of their lives and accomplishments. There are layers and layers of history there, and thanks to Hal Belcher the old part of the cemetery has been mapped and recorded. A kiosk honoring Hal Belcher’s work, including a map of the old cemetery plots and a QR code for more information, is prominently displayed at a major intersection in Bosque Bello, where Hal’s remains are now entombed as well.
Bosque Bello means “beautiful woods,” and this was well-named when it was established by the Spanish in 1798—and happily the name still fits. Wandering through the tombstones, one encounters all sorts of heirloom plants, many growing in this fertile plot for a decades. Live giant cedar trees tower over some parts of the cemetery and those trees killed over the years by lightning and hurricanes display their artfully twisted old trunks. Old cycads spout curious blooms. Giant live oaks draped with their distinctive strands of Spanish moss (not moss, not Spanish, but that’s another story) provide ample shade even on the hottest of days. In fall the many hickory trees shed their hard “pignuts” which provide a banquet for squirrels that carry the nuts to hard walls in the cemetery to crack them open.
During the early days of COVID, Bucko and I often drove through Bosque Bello to pass the time, and to look for wildlife. At various times we’ve watched a family of red foxes, another family of pileated woodpeckers and even deer roaming through the grounds and no doubt a similar menagerie still calls this place home.
There is no perfect path to wander in the cemetery—it is all interesting. But at one point we three gals found a wooded path leading over to nearby Old Town and wandered through town to the river’s edge. Along a quiet Old Town street we were suddenly surprised by an over-enthusiastic Weimaraner dog jumping up to lick our faces and totally ignoring the nearby owner’s commands to return. Luckily we three were all “big dog people” and thought it was funny and not terrifying. A bit further along we started noticing familiar bird calls, and then were puzzled by a distinctive and unusual bell-like sound which we soon tied to someone’s pet African grey parrot calling for our attention from an enclosed porch.
At the water’s edge we three admired the Buddha-like carved head that someone had placed there, and we scoured the oyster shells on the bank for any “keepers.” Debby did find something unusual, a ballast stone from across the Atlantic encased in oyster shells, a keeper for sure.
By the time we got back to our cars parked near Jean’s grave we had been on a walk about for maybe two hours, but none of us thought of this as exercise. Instead we basked in the happiness of friendship, a beautiful day and a walk through history. What could be better than that?
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]