The Blue Angels Arrive in Jacksonville Beach

I made it to the oceanfront in Jacksonville Beach this afternoon in time for the Blue Angels’ practice show despite various “roadblocks” that could have derailed my plans at the last minute.
The weather was perfect. The vendors were in the final stages of setting up for tomorrow and Sunday’s big show days. Lots of spectators were out for today’s performance; everyone was in a great mood.
I was happy with the pictures I got, so I’ll leave you with those. Nothing can compare with seeing them perform those precision maneuvers practically in front of your eyes or just overhead.

I’ll be back tomorrow with just a few more shots, and video clips. The ambiance at the Sea and Sky Spectacular is…well, spectacular! Our beaches really know how to bring it.

They’re Here!

It was about noon today when I heard the first of Angels’ jets zoom overhead. Then there were several, zig-zagging the sky over the beach.
My plan is to be on Jacksonville Beach during the afternoon tomorrow for their practice runs. The forecast promises lovely weather; November is a great month here. If you like 75 degrees and sunny with low humidity.
I’ll bring my camera and hope for the best. This should be tricky, but fun to see what shots I can get.
The oceanfront is set up with tents and booths for local vendors, creating a fair-like atmosphere. I love the whole ambiance of the event, too. It’s a wonderful event for the whole family.
The Blue Angels show just makes most people feel excited, happy, patriotic and inspired. Think of the kids whose dreams will be stoked, eyes to the sky, mouths agape at the skill of these pilots, our Navy. We are a naval town and proud of our military.

They’re Coming!

File:Blue Angels on Delta Formation.jpg
The first weekend in November in odd-numbered years, means but one thing to me: The Blue Angels are coming to the beach!
It was 2001, just after 9/11, when I experienced my first Blue Angels Sea and Sky Spectacular, and it was amazing.
For several days preceding the Saturday/Sunday airshows, the jets would arrive in thrillingly loud and fast passes overtop of the school and neighborhood, up and down the beach. Practicing their tricks. Sending observers into ecstasies. Well, speaking for myself, anyway.
I was peering into the skies by this afternoon, listening for the thunder that announces their approach. Nothing. I thought that by Wednesday, I’d have at least seen a few stray jets.
On Friday the practice show is scheduled. I’ll be there, camera ready. I will do my best to capture something, but I have no idea if I’ll succeed. The formal air show will be held on Saturday only this year; one performance at 9:30 am and another at 3:00 pm. Venue: Jacksonville Beach. On the beach. It’s just the coolest thing ever!
Surely, though, I’ll see some Angels practicing tomorrow?

A Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Here is another picture of a hawksbill sea turtle like that one I saw, that I cadged from a National Geographic website.

The turtle I swam with at Chica Rocks was more vibrant than this picture depicts. His shell was stunningly pretty. I thought, “Now that’s tortoise shell,” when I saw him. His spots were of a lovely, chocolate brown, on a creamy yellow background. I’m sure it was a juvenile sea turtle as he was not as large as the mature turtles are described: up to three feet long and possibly weighing 300 pounds.
While it was nice to be free from having a camera on my wrist, it really would have been lovely to have captured photos of all the marine life I saw, up close and personal. You can bet I would have snapped photos of the shark! And I know I would’ve gotten some wonderful pictures of the turtle; and all of it. Still, having the camera would have made for a different snorkeling experience. Without it, I was free to just be…to swim about and fully enjoy the underwater experience. Jeannie + camera makes for a different dynamic. I wouldn’t have been able to stop taking photos; the impulse to simply photograph everything would have overtaken me. If you think I’m kidding let me tell you that I shot over 300 pictures of the school’s beach cross country race the other day. I was so enamored of what I saw on both snorkeling dives that I would have kept that camera whirring the entire time. So it was liberating, honestly, to just snorkel…but at the same time I can imagine the thrilling images I’d have been loading for you now. Well, thrilling for me, anyway.
I’m glad I snorkeled sans camera. As rhapsodic as I am about the experience, it’s likely that my pictures (except for possibly the shark) couldn’t convey the mood and would have been, to you, just someone else’s fish pictures.

A Very Salt Life Weekend, Part Duex

(underwater photo of me (right) and my son (left) snapped by a fellow snorkeler whose picture I took en route to the reef with iPhone, and emailed to him on the spot. he returned the favor, here.)
I’ve been blogging ecstatically about my new favorite sport, snorkeling, recently. Because the springs are just easier to get to from Atlantic Beach, and the water is so crisp and clear, it’s been fun knowing that I can snorkel even if I’m not somewhere truly tropical. So when we took an impromptu long weekend to Islamorada recently, I immediately booked two snorkeling charters for myself. Oh, the euphoria of swimming over a gorgeous living reef, amongst fish of such magnificent colors and sizes! The coral! The spiny lobster, hiding between the rocks! Who am I kidding? Springs snorkeling and reef snorkeling are incomparable. Sure, I wear a mask, snorkel and fins in both bodies of water, but that is where the similarity ends. I stand by my springs, to be sure, but the salt life* is a call that runs deep within and not a day has passed since coming home that I haven’t ruminated about when I can return to those waters.
I left the camera behind, but what fun it would have been to have gotten some pictures of the fish I saw traveling along the reef. And then there was this stunning hawksbill sea turtle, that I swam along with for about ten minutes as he made his way around the Chica Rocks reef. This is a photo of a painting I took with permission of the artist that depicts the turtle I swam with:
I excitedly motioned to a nearby couple from our boat, to come and see this beautiful turtle. Noisily, they swam over and the boy-man of the couple boisterously tried to dive down, attempting to grab the turtle. I was appalled. The turtle appeared nonplussed and continued to move along the reef and I swam with him, away from this overeager snorkeler until I could no longer hear him underwater. Isn’t there an etiquette to the sport that frowns upon excessive noisiness and touching the coral and sea life aggressively? Or am I just getting fussier by the day?
Fortunately we were a small group of snorkelers and I was able to move away from them, and soon I was enjoying a solitary swim. So I was alone when I peered down and saw the long shark, about five to six feet, rooting around the reef in search of…friends? Food? Me? Oddly, I felt nothing beyond that first moment recognition: “oh my gosh, that’s a shark.”
I observed him for a few minutes, astounded that I really was seeing a shark. Not a small, nurse shark, like my son has caught on his fishing line, which was thrilling enough, but a big shark, out on the reef, and as long as a grown man is tall, slender rather than stocky. I was not afraid. The shark was not aware of me, and I could see that he was busy perusing the reef, and just didn’t feel that he’d regard me as a threat, or a potential meal. I admit that I didn’t purposefully swim along with him the way I’d done with the turtle, no. I gazed at him for a few minutes, but annoyingly my mask kept fogging, so I swam off and continued snorkeling until they called us back to the boat. The dive master told me that such a shark sighting wasn’t common; perhaps one in every 500 snorkelers will see a big one like that. Nurse sharks are far more common and sure enough, I saw one of those, too. I immediately recognized it as a nurse shark; it was about two feet long and relaxing on the reef’s sandy floor.
On the ride back to shore I felt so happy. The trip to the Keys was a last minute idea, and everyone got to pursue their passions during the four-day visit. Snorkeling is my call; to see such amazing things under the sea is completely thrilling, and the view was one that only a salty sea can offer.
*check out the local company I mentioned earlier whose cool designs I love. they originated here in our area and i’m very excited about their expansion; would love to be an official part of it, but in the meantime, go here and have a look at their apparel if you love the life as i do.

**due to Blogger issues, I’ve not been able to make ‘live links’; sorry.

Is There a Saint in Your Midst?

Today is All Saints Day, and as I reflect on our priest’s homily theme this morning, I know we have a saint in our midst. For the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about how to tell him what I recognize and appreciate about him, and All Saints Day seems like an appropriate time to do it.
We aren’t to regard saints as perfect beings. Only Christ, and His Mother, were that. The saints of the Catholic Church were men and women who were (surprise!) just like us but strove to emulate Christ in their lives and actions and did so in extraordinary ways. The hundreds of saints whose life stories we know show a variety of lives and personalities, and different paths to their sanctification. We, all of us, are encouraged to be saintly, too. Why not?
Real saints don’t look for the glory, broadcast their good works or expect recognition: they do what they do because it’s right. Announcing one’s own good deeds undermines the act of doing good. An everyday saint just lives and works the life that they have, and within that context, in all their interactions, make choices of a giving heart.

I’m not talking about saints as in, “oh, my mother was a saint,” or as a way of describing a person’s pious behavior. I’m thinking of someone who just lives his faith everyday and makes choices that are congruent with his beliefs. The person I’m writing about has supported his causes in demonstrable ways; I admire this greatly. But it is his interaction with us that has been truly remarkable. Yet it’s been quiet; no one beyond us will ever understand the extent to which he helped us, and lately I’ve been mulling over what I can possibly say to express my gratitude. I’ve thanked him before, but at this point, a thank-you-note feels trite, a letter is apt to ramble on for far too long and try his patience, and a phone call wouldn’t create the permanent record, which is important for me to do.
In a time where the phrase I’ve got your back is likely to mean “as long as it’s in my best interest,” or, “i’ve got your back, and there’s a knife in it…” our friend has demonstrated a support that transcended what most people would be willing to give. And certainly, we didn’t expect the extent of the support he gave, nor would we have thought any less of him had he not done what did. Our relationship with him would have remained positive. But he extended himself for reasons I can speculate on that stem from his strong moral center. I’d like him to know that I never thought it was something he should do; no. But it was the act of doing, even while he did not have to, that makes me regard him with saintly qualities. See, no one will really know what he did for us, nor will we be able to reveal it. Oftentimes, donors and major supporters are feted and honored for their beneficence; but it is the private, quiet sort of support, the under-the-radar stuff, when you see the full measure of a person’s character.
We met him in his later years after he’d raised his children and had his important career both in public service and private industry. He and his good wife befriended us; we are their childrens’ age. We were ebullient together at the start of our relationship, and then the plans we’d made unravelled, to our mutual dismay and disappointment. We could have left it there, but then he stood up and stated that what had happened was wrong (we agreed) and that we needed to make it right. He was the captain, it was his ship, and he insisted we make the journey and further, make ourselves at home onboard. At the various ports-of-call he never said, “You know what, I’m tired of this. I only meant to cruise the islands, not the world; let’s call it a day, and here are your tickets home.” We wouldn’t have blamed him if he did because when a journey gets to be an interminable one, other things in one’s life change, too, and become more pressing. But he kept us on board, didn’t abandon the journey although I’m guessing he’d have liked to, and let us remain his guests. It really was unbelievable.
In the past few years we’d been shocked by the avarice of others, and what people will do to others in pursuit of their gain. You see, what our friend did for us was to show us that there are good people who are willing to go to extreme lengths too, on the side of what’s right.
The dishonest and untrustworthy are out there, and we’ve come up against plenty of them in the recent years. So it’s been an astounding display of generosity and support from our friend that not only helped us, but showed us how good people live. It is proof that some people do stand up for right and through their actions, they will not give over to wrong. The real takeaway here, for me, is that knowing that the phrase, “I’ve got your back,” has been restored. We were the little guy and he stood for us. He was steadfast and strong and his friendship repaired something that had been broken, which he probably doesn’t realize, because all of that is woven into our own tapestry, and he was only a part of it. But in the end, such an important part, for his role has given us the moral of the story.
I know all of this reads as quite vague and wordy, but the exercise of writing this, especially on All Saints Day, has been an important thing for me to do. Perhaps this will be my way of paying tribute to him? I am smiling inwardly at that thought of it, though, knowing how he’d scoff if I suggested that he read my blog.