By Pat Foster-Turley
This was a week I didn’t have a column in mind. My mind was burdened with so much sad news it seemed hard to fit anything else in. I visited one friend in hospice, nearing the end, while other friends were attending a memorial service for another of our cohort who had recently passed. And, to top it off, I received news from Thailand that my close Thai friend from grad school, who I visited in Thailand many times since, had died tragically in a bizarre accident. My Facebook feed is full of photos of Sompoad’s ceremonial cremation and Thai letters of condolences. I am now in the “years of mortality,” and it’s getting tough.
These are the times I seek solace in nature, and here on Amelia Island, there is always nature nearby. One spot I like to visit is Crane Island Park, a trail and boardwalk across the marsh on the perimeter of the Crane Island development. Happily, access to this natural area was preserved with public access for those of us not wealthy enough to own homes there.
Along with the healing power of nature, I also have friends to share it with, and this helps, too. My recent trip to Crane Island was in the company of two friends from Ireland, ever eager to see Florida nature when they visit. This short hike was full of wonderful sights that distracted me from my black thoughts.
First off, we walked to the boardwalk that heads out into the Intracoastal Waterway, looking for the bald eagles that nest near there each year. I was a bit worried about all the new homes that have sprung up this year, wondering if the eagle pair would seek new digs. But they didn’t! And there they were, one perched proudly on a bare pine branch and the other poking its head above the nest. Although the birds were at a distance, it was still an inspiring sight.
We three lingered a bit at the far end of the boardwalk, looking at the Shave Bridge and a passing sailboat. It was low tide, and the shore was mucky, revealing holes of small invertebrates that live in the mud. Some areas of the marsh grasses were matted down. Was this the resting place for an alligator or maybe even a deer? Who knows? It was fun to contemplate.
When we were walking back along the boardwalk to the small patch of remaining woods, one friend was quick to notice not one but two anoles on the path. Anoles are small lizards that are regular inhabitants of our woods and gardens. In the past, only green anoles lived in our area, but over the years, the chunkier, more “prehistoric-looking” brown Cuban anoles have moved north to join them. The anoles we saw on the path were the native green anoles, but one was brown and the other green. What’s up with this? Well, it turns out that green anoles can change color from brown to green depending on their substrate and state of mind, giving them the local name of chameleon. Both were on the brown boardwalk, but it looks like one turned green in the excitement of the other one chasing it. What fun.
We doubled back through the parking area and onto a comfortable bench to relax, overlooking a saltwater pond. This pond always attracts wading birds of all descriptions, and this time was no exception. We happily watched the group of wading birds feeding in front of us: white ibis, snowy egrets, little blue herons, great egrets, and even a tricolored heron made up the mix. We did our best not to disturb them, and that worked for a while, but eventually, they flew off in a group to the distant shore, where they started feeding again. Beautiful.
Further along, on the boardwalk over another section of the marsh, we could look down into the clear water to watch schools of both large and small fish. I always look for blue crabs from this vantage point and didn’t spot any this time, but it is always fun to look.
During this whole time, I was immersed in the present, on a walk with friends, with lots to talk about. My gloomy thoughts were temporarily forgotten, replaced at last with the sights and sounds of nature and the companionship of friends. And for this, I am thankful.
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]