The Beautiful Boy’s Birthday

Honoring a young person who died, on the first birthday since he’s been gone, is one of those landmark times that only  the parent of a lost child can really understand.  To those of us who were close to him, his death is still so recent, and hearing or saying the words is somewhat unfathomable.  We stumble over phrases like Peter’s funeral because … really?  His funeral?  It doesn’t feel right to be saying that. But of course we do, because it did happen,  and because we won’t ever forget him. We carry on talking about him so no one feels timid about saying his name or bringing up something that they remember of him.    If people avoid ever speaking of a loved one gone tragically, I don’t think it makes it any easier on the mom or dad or sister; they miss him every day whether we bring him up or not.   True, there are times we’re hesitant, we tread gingerly, because we don’t want to be the one to  bring on the tears (although sometimes the tears are cathartic) when they are  with us and are, for the moment, thinking of something else and perhaps, even smiling.  So we’re careful.  But let’s not be too careful, for we wouldn’t ever want them to think that their beautiful boy is receding from our present world, or our thoughts.

It’s just plain hard, no matter how you look at it.

And so today is Pete’s birthday.  Today he would have been nineteen.

He was obviously  a great friend to so many – his friends are posting almost every day, still, to his Facebook page.  Telling of dreams they’ve had of him, sharing their memories, or aching with missing him.  After four months gone, that says a lot to me about the person he was.

I now think of him as like a fish, squirming, so inherently slippery, and in a flash, he slipped through our fingers despite trying to hold him, to keep him safe; he just wriggled through as a fish will do.  Like a flash, too, he swam away.  It’s what’s so stunningly unbelievable about it all.

There has been comfort in many ways, through the grace of God; as his aunt, I am thankful for those gifts.  I believe.

I believe he’s in Heaven, his soul no longer mortal like ours; his understanding like nothing we can comprehend due to the constraint of our humanity.   One day it will be our turn, and I believe that he, and the other souls I loved – my mother, my father-in-law, my grandparents, and even the sister I never knew – will meet us, and that will be something new. It won’t be like meeting as humans, with human relationships. Because we still live here, on earth, our  minds yearn for that full understanding but our faith tells us it’s a mystery.  Yet there is so much evidence of this, for those who pray quietly, with faith and trust, and who are still, and open enough to listen for it, to hear it. Yes, I yearn for more, for complete understanding, although I know that will come in the fullness of time.

Does it make the missing of him any easier?  Well, we miss him all the time; his parents and sister – they experience the loss on a deep and visceral level that a faraway aunt can’t possibly comprehend except through the spiritual gift of empathy.  But it’s not the same as actually having the breadth of their experience, and so I pray for them daily, and remember Pete daily.  On his birthday, and other special occasion days that matter deeply to us as living mortal beings, we want to remember him even more vigorously.  I can’t be at the special Mass in his honor with his family, so I will be there with my thoughts and prayers.  I can’t be at the pizza lunch his parents have planned for the family and his friends: which I think is just a wonderful way to remember him, for he was loved by so many.  And then they will visit him privately.  For this December 11 is Pete’s day, and I know that nineteen no longer means to him what it does to us, because he’s a soul that’s moved beyond needing years…while those of us still here, do.

Until the day comes, when we, too,  no longer need our years, we  try to be open to what God has in store for us. Whichever way that goes, and whether we like it or not, our free will remains.  How will we respond to the unexpected and painful things that happen to us, things that we might not understand? Or things that leave us deeply angry or wounded?   For me, it’s ever-changing.  I’m trying to be refined by the process.  Being that we’re all part of the Body of Christ whether on earth or in Heaven, I now have another soul to whom I can connect and relate, because he’s my nephew.  Gone too soon, but there for us all.

I have to say this, because I am still human and so this is my context, “Happy birthday, Peter.  Give my mom a kiss for me, and one for yourself too. Help us, help your friends – so many of us are on journeys that need God’s help.  Perhaps on your birthday there’ll be a little extra grace for us all, and most especially, your mom, dad, and sister.  You are missed so much.”

Macro Monday Around the Yard

She’s still hard at work with the macro lens.  It’s what draws her: if she has extra time, it’s on with the macro lens and outside she goes.  She’s drawn to nature and has learned, perhaps stupidly, as  she ought to have realized that nature moves, and therefore it’s harder to photograph.  She needs a low-to-the-ground tripod.

She also needs new venues.  How many times can she photograph that Agapanthus, anyway?  Well, she’s certainly documented its journey, from bud to seed, and after today, she probably won’t bore you with any more shots of that plant until it begins to grow next spring.

The Agapanthus, fading.

Her pretty Pumpkin, a Calico, has the loveliest coat.  She’s very difficult to photograph but she came up and stood right beside her when she was composing the shot: the acorn. She loves that Pumpkin “ruined” the shot!

Perfect example of why she needs a low-to-ground tripod.  Still, she loves this shot.

Redundant, she knows.

Redundancy, redux.  But the focal point is different!

A mushroom in her favorite color.  Including her nail polish. Ask anyone.

Had enough?  So has she, so now she’ll wash her hands of this post.  But if a certain photo catches your interest, she hopes you’ll click it to enlarge.  Macro photography is best appreciated in its largest rendition.

Scouting for better locations and more interesting subjects, this mediocre photographer isn’t giving up.  You’ll see. Some day.

The end.

Welcome New Beachlifer

She has recently moved to the area, and I was telling her about Jacksonville, and its diverse neighborhoods, while she gave me a lovely blow out in a new beaches salon.

She hasn’t had a chance to really explore the area yet, but feels certain she wants to settle near the beach. I’m all for that, of course, but think about it. Jacksonville. Don’t we have so many unique and diverse places within the vast city limits (and yes, the beaches aren’t officially part of the City but you know…) where people can find their culture, and their tribe, and settle in a place that speaks to their soul?

I think it’s pretty great, and if there wasn’t that part of me that needed to live at the coast, I can think of several other places I’d be happy to call home within Jacksonville.

But, she wants to live at the beach, so naturally, I talked up my little corner of the world. She hasn’t been out here yet. We’re fairly eclectic and diverse, in that we’re a community of all ages and inclinations; families; singles; couples. People  want to live here for many reasons but are pretty much united in their passion for the beach and a need to be close to it.

What I love about it here rather than where she currently lives is its community vibe; the towns with pedestrian shopping and community activities, and the fact that at nearly every single single block, people can quite easily access the beach. Here, one doesn’t have to join a beach club or have oceanfront property to enjoy the expanse of sand and sea and all its glory. Most of us can just walk on over to it, or ride our bikes. Live a bit too far for that and there’s still beach access with parking available up and down Third Street.

It’s ‘the beaches’ y’all. It’s for everyone. Let’s hope she gets some time to explore ‘the beaches’ soon. Where ever she decides to settle, this entire region is lovely, and I’ll give you this: it’s true that there are more sharks’ teeth to be found down in her neck of the woods. Around here, though, she’ll have an easier time getting onto the beach.

Just sayin’.

She gives good hair, too.

Dutton Island Preserve: A Video Welcome

Sea Oats and Serenity

A moment’s respite was just that: a moment.

It was a gorgeous, if unseasonably hot day, and I meant to have more time looking at beachlife through the lens and breathing in some fresh, sea air. Time is precious and I so wanted more of it, to do what I will, rather than adhering to a schedule. I yearned to meander with camera in hand, at the eye, practicing, always practicing, for the only way to pictures that move my soul, is through practice.

I love the iPhone, we all know that, but when it intrudes on the precious few minutes I have for photography or writing, I admit to feelings of resentment. Today, the closest I got to the beach was the sidewalk, the bordering berm of sea oats, nature’s barrier to storms and surge. We’ve passed another year without a hurricane beating us up; the dunes remain strong and beautiful. Lovely autumn, you came and went, and now we have Indian summer: the air conditioning is on again but nevertheless, I had a lovely beach respite on last Sunday afternoon, and I know autumn will be back, soon.

And for just a few moments late this afternoon, I gazed out at this

until the iPhone startled me from a reverie barely begun.

But I had a few moments outside and for that, I was glad.

The American Red Cross Station

It sits facing the water where Beach Boulevard meets the Atlantic Ocean. The iconic whitewashed building with its bright, true red Red Cross lettering has been there, in its current iteration, more or less since 1947. The Life Saving Corps are made up of paid staff, and volunteers who give their time to keep people in the water safe.

I had about a half hour to kill late this afternoon, and as always, I was drawn to the coast. I had only iPhone with me to document the moment. Pictures seem to either evoke a story, or enhance it; and  what beaches resident doesn’t love this building?  Even if all you’ve ever done is drive or walk past, there is something classic and reassuring about this station.  Surely it’s been photographed or painted thousands of times over its history, which is ninety-eight years old.  Yep.  In 2012, the American Red Cross Life Saving Corps will have been in existence here at the beach for one hundred years.

When I ambled around the front of the building this afternoon, the telephone camera pointed this way and that, an affable lieutenant offered me a tour.  Young and friendly, we chatted about the place, the paid and volunteer staff, and the last ocean rescue he personally was involved with (three years ago).  The orange-red lifeguard chairs were pulled from the beach; as it was after five o’clock they were readying to shut down for the day.

It was another gorgeous autumn afternoon, during the golden hour, when the dropping daylight sun made everything soft and golden, the sky so blue and the water so gentle.  Today might have been a ‘green flag’ day, though he said they rarely post the green (implying a ‘safety’ that one should never take for granted, this being the ocean and all).  Gentle waves broke at the shoreline.

I peered up at the guy in the watchtower.  He really was using binoculars to scan the water as far as he could see, for anything amiss.

I watched families use the complimentary hose to rid themselves as much as possible of the inevitable beach sand, before getting into their cars and go home. The station pulls out the hose, and a shallow plastic bucket so that people can rinse themselves, their feet, and shake the beach sand from their towels. It’s all very informal and backyard-like.  I liked that.

I saw two wide-tired wheelchairs, for beachlifers who need their wheelchairs on the beach.  Most disabled people in wheelchairs find it very difficult if not impossible to navigate the soft sand so the Red Cross offers a trade: your chair for theirs.  Just bring it back when you’re finished, take your chair (don’t forget to rinse off!) and be on your way.  So file that one away in case you or a friend who isn’t able-bodied longs for the beach.  Park somewhere near the American Red Cross Station, and chances are, you’ll be set (but if it was me, I’d call ahead).  I saw two such chairs.

Naturally they offer tours of the station which I declined because I didn’t have the time or my camera.  But I enjoyed chatting with the guy in charge and plan to come back soon for a real tour of this iconic station.

Macro Monday October 25

Challenging one’s self photographically is a challenge and sometimes, a frustration.  However, I’ll continue to show these macro photos because I’m committed to personally stretch myself creatively, to work on effectively composing and capturing the the things that catch my eye.  Not altogether pleased with this week’s offerings, I’m carrying on with Macro Mondays because I know that one of these weeks, someone will look, and see pure magic, even if that someone is only me. I’ve shot one or two of those utterly perfect photos in my nascent photographic career; my lens is certainly capable of doing so, and  therefore, as in most every endeavor, doesn’t practice make for perfect?  Every striving, I present this week’s images.

Caveat: if you like an image well enough, click on it to enlarge it so that it occupies your entire screen if possible. In macro photography, we’re honing in on the details, and the smaller images that fit within the blog’s format don’t do macro photography justice.  Even the mediocre ones are enhanced by a closer look!

Come Home When the Streetlights Go On

We loved playing outside after dinner on school nights; we were told to come back when the streetlights came on. We had a great neighborhood; similar to this one, but a suburb of an urban area; not coastal, as I longed for in my dreams.  When I’m feeling down, I have to remind myself that some dreams do come true.  Look where I get to live: it’s the beach, y’all.   At least the grownups in the family appreciate it; someday the children will realize where they spent their childhood, and how fortunate they were to grow up in a community like the beaches.

How great it is to be able to go outside after dinner and walk to the beach, check out the  seascape, the deeper into autumn we progress.

Tonight I made my way to the 19th Street beach access. There was a breathtakingly saturated pink western sky but I simply wasn’t positioned to take advantage of it, so I turned my face eastward. I listened to some people playing acoustic guitars on the deck outside a modest oceanfront house.  I watched the moon in the still-blue sky.

I nodded to people come and go up and down the sandy path to the beach, some with their dogs.  I sat on the nice wooden bench that the 19th Street beach access offers, and stayed put until dusk became twilight and twilight became night.

Then, the streetlights came on and it was time to go home.

Atlantic Beach Mid-Week Market

Today I finally stopped at the Wednesday afternoon Mid-Week Farmer’s Market hosted by the city of Atlantic Beach on the lawn at the Adele Grage Center.  A smaller version of The Beaches Green Market in Jarboe Park on Saturdays, the Atlantic Beach Mid-Week Farmer’s Market is worth coming out for: fresh produce, local vendors, a playground right there for your kids, so you can let them run about while you chat up the merchants.  There was a folksy guitarist entertaining a small group of kids enthralled before her on a blanket and the music added just the right touch of bohemian ambiance that a small farmer’s market really ought to have, to complete the experience.

Honestly? It’s small enough that you can walk through in just a few minutes’ time, but oh my gosh, it’s just so lovely out that you’ll want to linger.

The produce is so colorful, the growers are passionate about their products.

A few minutes’ respite of outdoor weather might just stretch into a half hour or more and why not?  Life’s hectic enough, and if you’re lucky enough to pass by the Adele Grage Center every day and haven’t yet stopped to check it out, now’s a great time to do it.   If you’ve got the time to walk or ride over, booyah for you but however you can, a visit to the mid-week Market in Atlantic Beach is just another reason to love where you live, spend some time outdoors, and come home with something good to eat.

Held Wednesdays from 4-7pm; Adele Grage Center, 7th St. between Ocean and East Coast Boulevard; Atlantic Beach.

This Weekend at the Beach

It’s fine Fall weather; what we’ve all been waiting for, furthermore, it’s Friday.  It’s time do do a little exploring!

Sometimes we get so busy with our ordinary lives we don’t take the time to explore the lovely places close to home.  The ‘we’ I refer to would be me, so the other afternoon I took a detour on my way home, and stopped in at Dutton Island Park.

One of eleven parks maintained by the City of Atlantic Beach, Dutton Island Preserve is described by the city as a passive park, with walking trails, a canoe launch, picnic tables.  You can rent canoes and kayaks there (good to know, for those of us who don’t own ’em), but if all you want is a feeling of being away from home, this cooler autumn weather is the perfect time for walking in the woods, or going all the way to the edge of the island.  There, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the intracoastal waterway and a quiet dock to cast your line.

I’ve been there twice already this week: once during the afternoon, with the sunlight glinting through the tall trees in the woods,

and a second time at sunset, where the view was spectacular, and  the no-see-ums were swarming.  Well, it’s marshland, after all, and even if some small part of me was shrieking for pesticides, it was a picture perfect evening.  See?

I recorded a video that’s frankly unfit for public airing since the cameraman was laughing the entire time as I was a bit over the no-see-ums and was quite clear about that on the video.  I was just kidding about sending in pesticides too!  I love nature; I just don’t like bugs in my nose, hair, and lipgloss.

Still, I think we can agree that it was a chamber-of-commerce sort of sunset, wouldn’t you say?  I’m glad we were there to see it and I plan to take my out of town guests kayaking from Dutton Island, and explore the intracoastal waterway, a little bit of paradise, close to home.