A Weekend at Fort George Inlet

One thing Floridian does not like is being cut off from our great body of water. Hell, even hurricanes don’t stop us from going to the beach. If anything, we embrace the strong winds, which bring on stronger waves to surf. Can you imagine what the Pandemic has done? There were many people upset when the beaches were forced to close to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus. I know the feeling all too well. When the park and recreation department closed the parking to the east side of the Fort George Inlet, I thought I would have to forge a letter to the Mayor. Fort George has always been a favorite. Not being able to visit hurt, but I suppose I could understand the reason.

A few months ago, it reopened. Everyone flocked to the Inlet for more fishing, swimming, and Jet Ski fun. This past weekend, I decided to revisit it for the first time since it reopened. Not much has changed, but a few things I noticed seemed different, as if the atmosphere had altered.

At low tide, a little sand island is exposed.

Low visitation

In the middle of the day on a Sunday, it was surprising to see that hardly anyone was there. Usually, I’m the late one who has to ride around to find a parking space. Nope, I was right upfront. Even after an hour of being there, hardly anyone came. I assume because the area was closed for so long to the public, it forced people to find a new favorite place to be. And now, as we go into another wave of the Pandemic, another close will drive even the most loyal away. It’s not a massive concern because Fort George plays a vital part in boating around Northside Jacksonville, so one can always count on someone to be there.

Erased all the graffiti. 😦

Graffiti Erased

I am so glad that I took pictures of the last graffiti I came across when I visited Fort George. Now when you walk through, all of it has been painted over. It makes the underbelly of the highway look bare and boring. The attractive miniature artworks gave character to the hideout. Now, it’s business as usual. No need to fear. Concrete pillars are natural canvases that will always attract the artistic and creative.

Two needlefish out of about ten shown here. They’re aggressive at feeding time.

Behold the Needlefish

As many times as I have visited Fort George Inlet, every time I go, I seem to discover something new. Last time, I found oysters spitting water at low tide. This time I studied a school of long, skinny blue-ish fish that were leaping out of the water at impressive speeds to catch low-flying bugs. On closer observation, they had long noses like spears. They skid across the top of the water so fast if you were to blink, you’d miss them. After curious research, I learned these little devils are dangerous to human life because of their speed. Several fatalities have been caused by being at the wrong place at the wrong time, caught between a Needlefish hunting prey.

Overgrowth of the grass. It never use to look like this.
Weeds are flowers too.

Overgrowth of Grass and Trash

Of course, there’s the primary issue of a closed area used for entertainment. Daredevils trespass and have their fun despite the warnings. They leave behind trash that gets entangled in the unkempt grass, making the place look almost undesirable.

Despite the changed atmosphere, the view is still a wonder. Watching massive foreign cargo ships come in to dock at Jacksonville’s most exclusive port is exciting enough. Seagulls squawk as they glide on the high winds above the highway. Jet skis race past in competition. The tide exposes the salt marsh, and people in high boots drag nets behind them to catch whatever they can get. Families barbecue on the beach. Couples and friends kayak together in the calmer waters. In the distance, across the Inlet, dogs, and kids run too and from the shore taunting the crashing waves.

The Inlet is a place of beauty, peace, and wonder. No pandemic could ever keep us loyal Floridians away.

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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Big Red at Holland Harbor

Being Floridian, my body never needed to adjust to twenty-degree weather. I knew the moment I pressed my fingers against my sprinter van’s window; I’d probably regret getting out. When I looked out across the beach of Holland State Park, at the medium-sized, bright red lighthouse floating above still seaglass teal water, I told myself to Hell with it. I snatched up my Nikon camera, my backpack, and my thick gloves and jumped out of the van. There would be no telling when I would ever get another chance for this, so I took it.

As a delivery driver, I continuously fail to remember how much weight I’ve put on. The realization doesn’t hit me until I either have to hike some inclined nature trail or trudge across beach sand. Nothing, I mean nothing, tells you to start dieting like a walk across beach sand. The closer I got to that cherry red hunk of wood, metal, glass, and beauty, the more I cared less about my wheezing and dragging feet. Also, as a delivery driver, I was usually only in a location for one day. It was rare that I would return to that location again within the week or month. I got to see New York City twice. Both times were four months a part.

After struggling across the beach sand, I thankfully made it to concrete pavement. I couldn’t take my eyes off “Big Red,” the unfortunate nickname they gave to the Holland Harbor Lighthouse. According to research, painting this particular lighthouse red was a requirement due to its location on the harbor’s right side. Regardless, if you couldn’t see the lighthouse’s bright light at night, you’d have no problems seeing it in the day. You’d have to be color blind to miss it, seeing as how no other buildings behind or beside it along the coast are painted red.

Two light posts at the end of the water breakers
Water breakers

I had to rush my adventure visiting the light. I felt the feeling in my fingers disappearing. By the time I had reached the pavement, my fingers were hurting so bad from the cold, they felt numb. My thick gloves prevented me from using my zoom and pressing the shutter button. I was forced to take all of my photos barehanded. Thankfully I brought my beach towel along with me (only God knows why), so I could maybe sit on the beach and enjoy the view. Nope! I reassigned it to keeping my hands warm. Unfortunately, you can’t run from Mother Nature. My fingers continued to burn inside the gloves wrapped in the towel.

I had never heard of water breakers before I studied the Holland Harbor Light. They’re essential for multiple reasons, including slowing down coastal erosion, and prevent waves from battering the lighthouse in rough weather. Most water breakers are built with large boulders, but these breakers, but these breakers are built with slabs of concrete and significant boulders to hold them in place. Mother Nature has been working her magic on it as well. As you head out to the end of the breaker, you’ll notice that two of the slabs have shifted so far that you only have about one or two feet of connected concrete to cross over.

Out on the breakers, the view was could have been nothing short of a fairytale. As a Floridian, I adore great bodies of water. I grew up around every type of body of water (sea, ocean, river, swamp, gulf, etc.) Lake Michigan was a sight to see, the water’s slow swells imitated breathing as the water rose and receded through the boulders. The color of the water itself made it appear as an ocean-sized sheet of seaglass. The coast packed of brown beach sand and tall sea oats nearly hiding the gorgeous vacation beach homes behind them.

Tug boat pushing platform out to sea.

I stood on the breaker, sinking into peace and reflection when a large horn sounds off. I nearly jumped out of my skin and into the freezing water. I turned around to see a red tugboat making his way out of the harbor, pushing some sort of platform in front of him. I watched the precision driving as the tugboat made its way out to open sea. I love tugboats. At this point, my frozen fingers became too much to bear. I gathered up a few more shots of Big Red and Lake Michigan and power walked back to my sprinter van. Other cars pulled into the parking lot. Groups of people hopping out in all smiles loving the frosty air. I could’t wait to crank up my heat on the highest setting before I became Frosty the Snowman.

I may never get a chance to return to Big Red, but if traveling has taught me anything, when you’re in perfect position to explore something, I don’t care if Big Foot is sitting outside the window, take the chance and capture your memories. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.

St. John’s River: The Fish are Assholes

For the first time since I was sixteen, I have been able to enjoy unemployment. I don’t like to waste my days away, so I decided to visit all my favorite parks. One, in particular, is Baker Point Park in the fancy-schmancy Ortega area of Jacksonville. Usually, the park fills with squads of moms jogging with strollers to lose their baby fat. The park has become rather popular. If you don’t get there at the right time, the only twelve parking spaces they have been filled. Unfortunately, there is no room to park on the street or the curb unless you want to risk a ticket.

The worst visitors to the park are fishermen because they hold parking spaces for hours catching fish, or at least trying to.

I sat on the sea wall relaxing with my notebook in hand as two young fishermen pass by me to set up further down the seawall. I noticed fish jumping out of the water randomly. It was a refreshing sight to see fish compete to see who could jump the highest. The two fishermen set up camp and threw their hooks into the water.

It wasn’t until half an hour later when I found the funniest thing happening. The fish continued to jump out of the water near the fishermen’s’ hooks. The two men would reel in their lines and toss them back out where they last spotted a fish jumping. I noticed how the fish start jumping in a different area a few inches away from the hook. This kept happening over and over for another half hour. I couldn’t stop laughing every time a fish would propel out of the water near the hook as if to laugh at the fishermen yelling, “Looking for me?” Eventually, the guys packed up and left.

It truly made my whole day to see how nature outsmarted man once again. Karma must have come around to the fish eventually because a small pod of dolphins enjoyed themselves tossing fish out of the water and catching them in the mouths before diving down to enjoy their meal.

Water Lilies: Bloom as Old as Time… Literally

When I took a picture of a massive cluster of water lilies, I didn’t realize at the time that I was looking at one of the oldest plants on planet earth. How silly I feel for just simply snapping a cute photo of it and walking away as if it meant nothing. I’ve seen my share of water lilies but never took the time to admire their actual existence.

According to hardwaterlilies.net, the website states,

Water lilies are one of the oldest aquatic plants on this earth. Early lilies were huge in size with fossils showing lily pads up to four feet wide. As these plants evolved over several thousands of years they morphed to the size we see today. Evidence of water lilies have been found in european pre-ice age cave drawings and these drawings show the early types to have been of the same basic form that exists among hardy species today.

FOSSILS! Seriously? I realize that roaches are as old as dinosaurs as well so I shouldn’t be surprised to be around something that has survived all the changes the Earth has been through, but lilies are so peaceful and quiet. They just grow and bloom and float on the surface of still waters. That is all they have ever done.

 

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Somewhere  in Tallahassee, Florida

 

With the way the world is changing again (and not for the better) with the crisis of Global Warming and animals going extinct at a rapid pace, we are at high risk of losing these ancient gems just as fast. It may seem so minimal now, like who would miss a water lily? But, once it’s gone, it’s gone, and a Google Image search will be the only way future generations will ever know the prehistoric water lily ever existed.

Flying Solo and Happy

A lot of animals in nature hunt, travel and live in packs, flocks, herds, or schools. Usually, this a wonder that is meant for your DSLR camera, but I think to see an independent animal is fantastic. It’s almost symbolic of true independence. You leave the nest, and the rest of your life is dependant on you and your choices. Freedom.

I didn’t realize this until I visited Mandarin Park (for the umpteenth time) and I sat on a bench and watched a large white bird (still unsure of the name) take his precious time strolling along the bank of the pond. Naturally, I couldn’t tell his emotions as he may not have any, but he appeared so content with life. Not a worry in the world. He gazed at the semi-clear water and moved on. How nice it must be? His only concern in his world is predators and hunters. Besides that, he had all the time in the world to be… just him.

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I followed him as he continued to go around the pond. He was very cautious of my presence, but he kept on. His twig-like legs tiptoed through the grass. Every now and then he bent his body over and shoved his long beak into the soil to peck at whatever he caught sight of to nibble on. I admired his grace, his lightness.

He was the wonder to me. I thought of him long after I had gotten home. He never meant to set that example or become the symbol of absolute freedom and independence. He simply lived and became everything I wanted. On the ride home, I couldn’t help but wonder how could I distance myself from the things that feel like shackles. I want less worry, fewer clusters, less confinement. I want freedom. His freedom.

Morning on Red Mountain

My trip to Atlanta about two months ago was all about adventure and wilderness. The very sight of the mountains makes me feel like I am soaring. Every day on my 4-day trip, I would wake up before dawn, gas up my car and fight Atlanta’s God awful morning traffic to get onto the roads I needed to reach the mountains in North Georgia.

 

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Day 3 Hiking

Usually, the night before I would research nearby State Parks with impressive views. I fell upon Red Mountain State Park one night. I glanced over the specs of the park, including things to do and see. After surveying the stunning photography, I was sold and couldn’t wait to put my Nikon to work.

The drive up wasn’t so bad (besides more traffic.) I knew I was getting close as the highway began to take a dip and the sides elevated upward. You literally had to lean forward against your windshield to see the top. I don’t have these kinds of wonders in flat-land Florida so you can imagine the look on my face seeing trees ascend upward toward the heavens.

Besides the GPS barking at me at where to go, I could tell I was close to Red Mountain by the constant winding road upward. About five miles before my actual destination, the scenic view of the Red Top Mountain Fishing Jetty forced me to pull over.

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I couldn’t have arrived at a more perfect time. The sun made its way above the mountain top and illuminated the entire Allatoona Creek and the Bethany Bridge. Sunrise is my favorite time of day because of the idea of a new day and new adventure. Sunrise in Red Mountain definitely provided me with the feel of a new adventure and the thrill of exploration.

After the view, I carried on into the mountain and discovered why it was called Red Mountain. Literally no matter where you looked, there were hues of reds and browns everywhere. The bark of the trees and the trillions of red fall leaves painted that entire mountain red. It was shocking and stunning at the same time.

I finally parked and was ready to get my hiking on. Unfortunately, nearly every hiking path was flooded from the previous month’s heavy rainfall. I was forced to leave and venture off to another State Park. At least the memory of the sun shining like pure gold over the mountain would forever remain with me.

 

Grass and Sweet Sunshine

During another long hike on Cumberland Island, my friend and I finally made it to the grand yard of the Dungeness ruins. This area was were the horses preferred to feed on the grass. We tried to get closer and closer to take full advantage of our camera’s zooms. They paid us no mind but we could tell they stayed on their P’s and Q’s about our whereabouts.

The Rangers on the island warn us about the horses. They are untamed on the island for decades and won’t understand our compassion for their sweet souls. We are advised to stay far away and use our zoom feature to get the images we want. They go so far as to give us an example of a woman who decided to walk up on a horse. Of course, the horse was startled and kicked her. She ended up being air-lifted off the island. No one knows what happened to her, but it was enough to drop complete understanding to the rest of us. Granted, we’d test our luck but we don’t get too crazy.

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There’s something amazing about watching a horse that’s never known the life of stables,  horse shows and riding crops being smacked against their bottoms. They appear so carefree and at peace. They graze with their ponies and they could care less what the world is like off the island. They are born, they live and die on the island. It’s amazing. You look at them and you couldn’t even fathom the peace and freedom they have in their lives. There are no predators waiting to hunt them. From an adult’s perspective, there are no bills to pay. Ha. Ha. Lucky them.

The best part about watching them is you get your own sense of peace and freedom. The happiness you get when you see them live so free. You almost wish you could see every horse be that way. In fact, when I see those ridiculous horse carriage rides tourist love so much in the city, it pisses me off. After you’ve seen what freedom looks like for a horse, it’s hard to imagine them any other way, in the grass and sweet sunshine.

Sweetwater Creek, My Paradise

I finally made it back to Atlanta. O, how I miss this motherland. All I could think about were the mountains and the rushing rivers. I couldn’t wait to be a part of Georgia’s natural beauty. I prematurely researched the parks I planned to visit and studied the photos with anticipation. I just couldn’t wait to get there.

The best part about the hotel that I stay at is the fact that the gorgeous Sweetwater Creek State Park is literally around the corner. I figured for a $5 entrance fee, I’d treat it like I do the parks back home. If I want to just spend an afternoon sunbathing before a great lake, I’d just hop in the car and go around the corner. If I’m up for a little strenuous hike, I’d pay to get into the other part of the park and take a stroll through the hidden hills of Georgia.

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Growing up in Florida, I’m used to flatlands, bridges, and streams. When I visit Georgia and see a hill, I jump around like a dog who knows they are headed to the park. What is it about elevated landscapes that seem to have me on such a high? What is it about the sight of a mountain that makes me feel like I’m flying? What is it about rushing rivers that create a surge of energy in me?

Sweetwater Creek is my getaway; my paradise. As I continue to explore other parks and their wonders, I will always come back to Sweetwater Creek because it is a treasure like no other. Well, at least until I really get to traveling around and see the beauty of my planet.

Curing Depression One Travel at a Time

Depression is not a sub emotion of “sadness,” cured with happy thoughts, it is a ticking time bomb on your heart and mind that’s just waiting for the perfect moment to go off.

 

Throughout my childhood and grade school, I was the happiest person in the world. I had the best siblings anyone could ever have. We escaped a few dark moments in our past but we remained the happiest. Depression was the farthest thing from our wild spirits. In fact, my sister and I use to laugh at people who “claimed” they suffered from it. We were ignorant and thought it was just people being sad for attention, like emo kids. More than once we teased it was a “white” thing because living in a predominantly black neighbor hood and attending a mostly black school, we never really saw people suffering from any sort of depression. Everyone was happy, or so I thought.

In high school, I had the highest self-esteem. I loved who I was. I was an honor roll student. I was what people called a “red bone,” basically a light-skinned black girl. Boys went crazy over girls like this. I got more than my fair share of attention. Everything felt amazing in my life, I was cute, smart and ambitious. I couldn’t wait to graduate because I’d move into the next phase of my life just as cute, smart and ambitious, but more independent and grown up. What teen didn’t want that? It wasn’t until I got into college and for the first time I truly experienced the world, and adult situations that sent me into an endless spiral.

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Senior year of high school – 2008
In my freshman year of college, things started out great, but soon everything crashed at the same time. I struggled with my grades and eventually had to drop my dream of becoming a Physical Oceanographer. I then found out my first official boyfriend had cheated on me. The cherry on top came when I found out I had unknowingly contracted a STD (curable) from an ex boyfriend.

At first, I figured it was just a sadness over everything that had happened. My self-esteem was shot, I started to eat like a pig. Still I thought it was just some things I needed to get over with because I wasn’t one to get depressed, that was for other people. What I thought started out as sadness soon escalated to something else. I started to feel different, darker. I tried everything to get back to who I was. I missed her, the cute, smart, and ambitious girl I once was. I questioned why couldn’t I get over whatever was weighing on me. I felt too embarrassed to talk about it. I didn’t want to be a burden and I sure as hell didn’t want my family thinking I was suffering from a “white person” disease. I was changing in a way I couldn’t understand and soon realized I was dealing with the early signs of some form of depression.

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Throughout the next three years of my life, I decided to distance myself from everything I once wanted. I didn’t want to date anymore. I turned down every guy before he could ask for my number. I started going everywhere alone, movies, restaurant, shopping malls. I stopped wearing skirts because of my weight gain which now made me look like Shamu in a dress. There was no point in make up because I could still see the girl my own ex boyfriend didn’t want to be with. Learning about the STD made me feel gross and  disgusting. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be with anyone, so I created my own cage and lived in it.

Living in that cage set me on a self-destructing path. I felt useless in the world. I wasn’t smart enough to achieve my dream, and I wasn’t attractive enough to keep a guy around. It wasn’t until I started contemplating ways “out” when I realized that if I didn’t find a way to help myself, I’d end up making a very big mistake.

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I’ve always loved the outdoors, but thought nothing of it. I was an adventurer at heart. I loved creeping through the woods and exploring rivers, ditches, and abandoned buildings. One day, I visited a regular park that had a large nature trail. Walking through the trail alone brought a small ember of peace. It felt nice and I wanted more of it. I started researching nature trails all over the city and the state. With each hike came adventure, with each adventure brought more happiness and peace. A peace like I’ve never known.

I upgraded my hiking trails to visiting Florida and Georgia State Parks. Exploring the great outdoors was just what the doctor ordered. It gave me time to think about what I wanted out of my life, so I begin repairing myself, and it was the best decision I could ever make.

Today, I work two career paths as a travel blogger and scriptwriter.

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Every now and then I can feel the weight of those three years tearing into my new found happiness. When the weight of the world becomes too much, I plan a trip, whether it’s an overnight stay out of town or for a few hours away just for the day, I go. Returning to the hell I was in isn’t an option. I am happy again. It’s a slow crawl back to the cute, smart, ambitious girl I once was, but I see more and more pieces of her appear every time I look in the mirror.