Lake Michigan Beachlife

Beach love ignited here, early in life.

I went from being a sunset girl, to a sunrise one.  Not that I often witness an actual sunrise … but life on an eastern coast is different than life on a western one.

A few scenes from a west coast beach life, swimming in fresh water and watching sunsets, these past few days.

Lake Michigan, my first love.  You were so warm and lovely this year!  77 degrees?  Who knew?  Last year you were 58 degrees, but I went in you, didn’t I?  I had to, just for bragging rights, but this year, oh your waters were so delicious. I spent three wonderful days swimming, being enveloped by your cool, fresh water, bobbing in your waves, swimming under water at the sandy bottom.  
See you next summer.

Sea Turtle Nest Number One Hatched!

The very next evening after my last post I decided to wander to the beach to check on Nest #1.  I rode my bike this time to save my newly pedicured toes (never mind what the beauty magazines say: beach sand does not exfoliate; it only exacerbates rough heels and erodes one’s orange and shiny toenail polish). Having  indulged in the occasional pedi that very day, I thought I’d just take the bike rather than trudge through the sand, however pleasant a twilight-to-dusk beach walk really is.  I knew that said nest was just north of the 19th Street beach access in Atlantic Beach,  a short walk from where I’d park my bike.  The evening sky was still light,  hued in aquamarine with a half-moon overhead.  People were still out, dog walking and enjoying the sea breeze, an everyday summer evening at the beach.  Imagine their surprise to find about one hundred little sea turtles, shells still dusted with beach sand like confectioner’s sugar, fanned out a bit but each making their way, sure and steady, to the call the of tide.
When I realized what was happening and saw the handful of people at the ocean’s edge, I decided to hell with the pedicure and kicked off my flip flops and ran over to where the action was.  I got there just in time to watch the final straggler waddle her last four minutes before she was swallowed up by the sea and hopefully, swam out of harm’s way and into a good, long life of a loggerhead sea turtle.
Afterward, we stood around, excited, marveling at this feat of nature, talking with someone who was there and knew a bit about sea turtles.  I was on the phone with my sister in California who missed seeing this elusive event by a mere day.  I was picking up bits and pieces of the questions and answers and this is what I learned:
a) As of that night there were 39 nests identified in our area (for up-to-date information on nests and hatchings and all things sea turtles please refer to Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol or their Facebook Page as my information is anecdotal only, and based upon what I see and observe on the public beaches around me.
b) Only one in every one thousand live sea turtle hatched will live to maturity; the rest are claimed by predators or otherwise die.
c) This nest was not expected to hatch quite so soon.
d) This nest hatched earlier in the evening than they normally do.
e) A local woman said she’s been walking these beaches for twenty years and this is the very first time she’s seen a sea turtle hatching.
f) This is my third observation in eleven years of beach life that I’ve witnessed baby sea turtles flip-flopping their way to the sea.
g) As mandated by the State, volunteers must wait a full three days following a hatching before they return to the nest site, disassemble the netting and sift through the sand, counting the shells and ascertaining the number of live births as well as those eggs that did not hatch. These statistics are reported to the State so an accurate account of annual sea turtle activity is kept.
h) Trained volunteers wear latex gloves in case they have to handle a sea turtle for some reason, and also while sifting the sand and counting the remains of a hatched nest.
People are euphoric after seeing a sea turtle hatch and toddle to the ocean.  It’s one of life’s little thrills that elicits a smile to even the crabbiest of people.  I know.  I’m one of them.

Sea Turtles Are Coming…

… any time soon now.

I can’t say exactly when because I don’t know.  But I have been to the beach often these nights-before-dusk, softly padding past several nests on my way to Nest #1 and #2.  Both are nearby, so I figure it’s worth it to pay them a nightly visit right about now.  Their time is drawing near. 

Keeping an eye on certain nests just ups your chances of being on hand to behold an actual hatching.  That’s exactly how I was lucky enough to be there when I saw one hatch about a year and a half ago.  I trudged to the beach nightly at dusk, gazing onto the nest from behind the orange netting, to ascertain any shift in the sand that might indicate ‘there’s turtles comin’ up’!
I was really hoping my sister would be here to witness a hatching but now she’s gone and the nest was still the last time I checked.   Each day that goes by now, my chances are greater and greater that one night soon, they will come.
Oh, it’s all about timing of course.  Once they break the surface of the sand, they’ve been at it,  digging their way up from deep in the sand where they’ve been gestating in peace for about two months,  for three or four days already.  Who wouldn’t be exhausted from that kind of effort?  In the blink of an eye, they waddle surely to the sea and off they go.   Probably straight into the mouths of waiting predators, some are lost at once.  But the females who do make it and grow to maturity?  They come back, to these very shores, and dig a nest of new baby sea turtles of their own.
We’re passionate about our sea turtles here.  We love seeing all those orange nets posted on the beach.  I love identifying a nest and watching it when its time grows near.  If I am vigilant, I can track the gestation time all by myself and know when to start hoping that this time, I’ll get lucky once again.  

It’s the only time I go to the beach without my camera.  Flash photography is prohibited as the light could confuse the turtles and alter their clear path to the sea.  No flashlights either; that’s why oceanfront homeowners are encouraged to snuff the lights during hatching season.  It seems they will follow the light as their path to the sea, so all precautions are taken so as not to impede their journey.
When I saw the nest hatch, those little babies seemed undeterred in their march to the sea and just like that – they were gone.

If you’re watching a nest yourself, please go with care.  

Savor the Moment

In the early years she spent so much time on the beach with her children.  They were young, time was ample, they played for hours and hours on the white sand under the hot sun.  Surf camps, boogie boards, catching minnows in pails, wallowing in tide pools.
She watched their delight from the comfort of her beach chair, slightly reclined, always a good novel in hand.  From beneath her visor, she’d watch them – in and out of the water, amusing themselves without needing her –  it was blissful for all of them.
Of course she took so many photos; some things don’t change.
But they did.
It was last summer when they started to balk at her beach suggestion.  They didn’t want to go as often as she did.  It was this summer when she noticed a whole new crop of children, with parents she didn’t even recognize, fanning out around her on the beach.  Where did they come from? she wondered. She looked up from her novel and saw these families, and something moved from deep inside her: that was her, but a few years ago.  Those times she so enjoyed – her children romping about her on a white sand beach in a place she lived, it wasn’t a vacation – and now… how did the years pass so soon? How abrupt it seems, to be sitting alone on this same beach; her children, not grown, but grown enough to be interested in other activities.
Not the beach.
She knows that these next few years will slip by even more quickly and she wants to grasp them and make them her children again; to be together, just her and them, without a friend(s) along to make it bearable more fun.
Not that she minds the friend(s) along.  But sometimes it’s nice when it’s just them again.  Rare, but nice.
Today was one of those rare days.
And she felt happy.  Soaked it in.  Swam with them and watched them play; just the three of them.  They still got game.
Life was good this afternoon.

Suwannee Springs Park Locks Guests Inside

Atlantic Beach, Fla. Three women with ten children between them were locked inside the Suwannee Springs Park near Live Oak, Fla. last Thursday evening.

They responded to the caretaker’s ‘twenty-minute warning’ when he wandered to the river’s edge and reminded all park guests of the 7:00pm closing time.

We spoke to one of them after the incident.

“We gathered up our things and proceeded to our vehicles,” said Jeanne Marie, who preferred not to give her last name.  “We were managing the kids and packing the cars with our gear.”

Jeanne Marie remembers hurrying, and the other women doing the same.  “We respected the closing time, like we would anywhere.  We were doing our best to pack things up, change from wet bathing suits, and drive out of there.”

The park caretaker, an unidentified man, ambled about the area, muttering.  One of the children from the group had gone into the temporary sanitary facilities to change into dry clothing.

“That man kicked at the door with his foot,” the boy’s mother, another of the women involved in the event remembered, “He yelled menacingly at my son, frightening him.”

Jeanne Marie was not aware of this.  She recalls just hurrying everyone to get the car packed up in order to drive out by 7:00.

“He could see that we were in the process of leaving.  There was no doubt we were on our way out of the park within a few minutes,” she said.  She helped another friend toss things into the back of her mini-van, in an effort to comply with closing time.

It seems that their efforts were in vain.  When the first of their three car caravan reached the gate at 7:04pm, they were greeted by this:

“We were incredulous,” Jeanne Marie told us, “that man actually locked the gate with us inside the park.”

Unable to fathom such a thing, Jeanne Marie approached the gate to inspect it closer.
“It was locked all right, ” she recounted, “double padlocked, in fact.  That man purposefully locked three women with ten minor children inside a county park.  We are from the Jacksonville area, close to one hundred miles away. We were stunned that he would do such a thing.”

Gobsmacked, the women stood outside their cars, wondering what to do.  Moments later, a fourth vehicle, a truck, pulled up behind them.  Jeanne Marie spoke to the occupants, a young woman and her mother in bathing suits, with a small  child in the back seat.  Jeanne Marie explained their predicament.

“The woman told me she planned to drive through the woods, around the gate.  I was concerned about this, as there appeared to be no path, and plenty of trees and underbrush to impede the movement of our 2-wheel drive vehicles.”

The woman, a local person, had no time for such concerns.

“I ain’t waitin’ for no police to show up.  I’m takin’ my truck thru and this ain’t no 4-wheel drive, neither,” she told Jeanne Marie.  “Y’all can follow me through.”

Jeanne Marie remembers feeling uneasy about the plan as the woman proceeded to bust her way through the woods.  “At one point her truck got stuck, but she gunned it, burned some rubber, and did make it out to the road.”

Jeanne Marie was still unconvinced that her own citified mom-van would perform like a truck and was deeply concerned about taking the risk.  Another of the women in their party offered to go next, while the woman in the truck had gotten out and together the four of them tromped about the woods to identify some sort of pathway.

There was no pathway.

The ten children, in the meantime, thought it was a great adventure and helped themselves to snacks and drinks, the older ones proffering useless ideas of their own of how to break out of Suwannee Springs park.

One of the women in their group, driving a Nissan Sentra decided she would make a try for an escape through the woods.  She did not have the same success as the truck.  She got stuck about halfway through and there was no moving it from there.

The woman with the truck offered to push her truck into the car, in an effort to release it, but Jeanne Marie said no, and that is when she called 911.  The woman with the truck appeared to want to rough things up a bit.  “She told me it was a new truck and she wanted to push my friend’s car out of its stuck position.  She was pregnant, smoking and willing to get aggressive on our behalf.” Jeanne Marie declined her offer.

It appears the 911 operators were waiting for this call, as they seemed to know exactly what had happened. Jeanne Marie recalls they told her, “M’am, the park closed at 7:00pm.”

This was when she became angry, Jeanne Marie said, “I told them that the caretaker could plainly see that we were making every attempt to comply with closing time.  It’s not like we were ignoring him, still swimming in the river or lounging on the beach.  We were hastily packing our cars and herding children.  He could see that.  I told them that our first car reached the gate at 7:04pm and found it locked, and would they please send help.”

Jeanne Marie and the other women could not believe this had happened.  “Who does this?” they all wondered in disbelief.  Two of the women experienced the caretaker’s disagreeable tone of voice as they were packing up; he was blatantly hostile when he kicked the door to the ‘port-a-potty’ and yelled at an eleven-year-old-boy who was changing, inside.

While waiting for Suwannee County Sheriff’s deputy to arrive, the ten children became restless, accidentally stepped on fire ants, and were beginning to feel afraid as the night came upon them.  One of the members of their party needed to use the ladies’ room, so she called for privacy and squatted on the side of the road.

“I won’t out her, ” laughed Jeanne Marie, “but she clearly underestimated the slope of her chosen area.”  It seems her stream of urine flowed like Suwannee River, in front of her and across the entire road, instead of discreetly behind her and absorbed into the dirt, as she intended.

To kill time and keep the children from becoming afraid, Jeanne Marie made them line up for a photo to commemorate their predicament.

When the Suwannee  County Sheriff’s Deputy arrived with keys in hand, he was genial and blase about the incident, Jeanne Marie reported.  She, on the other hand, was incensed that a park official would actually lock guests inside, ostensibly to be stranded all night long.  “I hate to play the ‘women and children’ card because it’s just not right no matter how you look at it.  He had guests who were obviously making every attempt to comply with closing time.  He could see that.  He could also see that we were three women with ten children between us, and the chaos involved in wrangling the bunch into the vehicles.  He was there, witnessing the entire situation. I didn’t even notice the fourth car,  who were also two lone women with a child, until they pulled up behind us at the gate.”

“He obviously did it spitefully, ” Jeanne Marie stated.  “I’ve never heard of such a thing.  I mean, think about it.  If you’re shopping at Nordstrom and it’s 9:00pm, do they lock you inside the store all night long?  Or Wal-Mart, for that matter?”

Suwannee Springs Park is located in a remote area where cell phone reception is spotty.

Another curious part of the incident is that the park caretaker had slipped an orange notice under the windshield wiper of the truck, but made no attempt to give it any of the three women or place it onto their vehicles.  Jeanne Marie believes he did not do this because he could see they were within minutes of departing and were already loading their vehicles.

It was only after the truck made it out and the Nissan Sentra got stuck and they were waiting for the Sheriff and AAA to come that Jeanne Marie approached the truck, snatched the orange paper from the woman’s windshield wiper and read the notice herself, which only exacerbated her anger over the situation.

“If he’d at least given us the notices, it would have saved us from feeling lost and panicked, and my friend would not have taken her car into the woods in an effort to escape.  We could have simply called the number provided on the notice to ask for our release,”  she explained.  “I don’t know why the woman in the truck didn’t grab it and read it herself but she didn’t.  I only noticed it on her windshield after she’d made it through the woods and my friend was stuck.

Jeanne Marie finds it curious that the ranger did not provide them with any idea as to how to get out of the park.  She thinks that the woman in the truck was probably not at her vehicle like they were,  just before closing time.

“He knew we were complying, just a few minutes late,” Jeanne Marie told us. “He could have handed us the notice so we’d have known who to call to get out. I suspect he did not because he knew he was walking the fine line between a rigid 7:00pm closing time, and common courtesy.”

Jeanne Marie says they all had a great time at Suwannee Springs Park.  “Suwannee Spring is surrounded by an old stone structure and used to be quite a popular tourist destination back in the days of the Civil War. The kids had a great time jumping into the spring.  Me, I couldn’t take the odor, though.  It emits an intense sulphur smell.”

On the other side of the wall and over a hill is the Suwannee River.  The river was warm, with a sandy beach and bottom and made for great swimming, Jeanne Marie explained.

“It’s tannin-colored, so dark the kids called it ‘swimming in Coke’.

It’s a weird sensation, opening your eyes under water and seeing just black in front of you.  It was a great river for swimming; the kids swam back and forth, climbed rocks and swung from a rope swing. We had a good time there.”

“It was just so surprising to be locked inside like that.  I’ve never experienced such a blatantly unsympathetic person; locking us in was simply a hostile thing to do.  However I must say that the Suwannee County Sheriff’s deputies that we dealt with were very helpful and friendly.”

Jeanne Marie doubts they’ll visit Suwannee Springs Park again.

“We’ve been making day trips to various locations around Florida and have experienced some wonderful springs and rivers, ” she concluded, “I’ve recommended many sites to friends and groups because Florida has so many hidden jewels to experience. “

She won’t recommend this park to friends.

“Why risk it?” she mused.