A Festival of Firsts at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge

Gratitude abounds on any visit to St. Marks Wildlife Refuge but on the first Saturday in Festival Crowd St Marks 0214February, the Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors Festival is a celebration that is a refuge for all. The festival is one of many firsts that signal spring.

The afternoon is overcast but warm, almost balmy. Snow, ice, and road closures of the previous week are a mere matter of record. The joy and gratitude of being alive is in the music that is in the air. Hot Tamale is playing.

Hot Tamale 0214Every time I hear Adrian and Craig perform, the music of another century returns–folk, easy listening, country, rock and roll—all songs to which I still know almost all the words.

I sway to the nuance Hot Tamale brings to each cover for Craig and Adrian are also songwriters, sensitive to the music in words. Not surprisingly, their own music is layered in story. Sometimes, it is pure poetry.

The “natural stage” for Hot Tamale overlooks mini pools of clear water covering golden leaves and amber needles. That is also a festival first as pine and oak trees signal islands of spongy, black dirt tufted like frosting on a cake.

Here and there, boardwalks become bridges to provide passage to and from these “temporary Festival islands 0214 St Marksislands” that offer picnic table seating. Strangers share space, music, and a bit of themselves.

Adrian’s rendition of  “Somebody to Love” echoes Grace Slick and 1971, a year Adrian and I shared similarly, although completely unknown to each other and physically, thousands of miles apart.

In another century, Adrian first sang that song in a gymnasium somewhere on the East Coast, and I, in the Rocky Mountain West, was also singing Grace Slick in a building very like a gymnasium. It is entirely improbable that Adrian and I were singing the same song on the same day for the first time but it is not completely impossible.

The memory moment passes as Hot Tamale turns to calypso–“Day-O…D-a-a-y-O”–there is mention of “The Lion King” and Harry Belafonte but it is the movie that most seem to remember as occupied picnic tables sway in rhythmic response.

A young girl with sunshine blonde, kinky hair whispers to me she has not seen the movie. That is a first. I have never met anyone else who has not seen the movie. I do not ask her about Harry Belafonte. It is enough that we sing along as if we were born to it.

After the performance, Adrian comes over and we hug, saying how good it is to see one another. The young girl wonders whether Adrian and I are sisters, definitely a first. We smile at one another as Adrian responds, “we’re just good friends.”

And then we all talk for a while as friends, new and old, before leaving the picnic table, the makeshift island and the music. I drive on to the St. Marks Lighthouse on Apalachee Bay.

All along the roadside, cars pull over and stop, a wildlife event, as cameras of every size and shape point and shoot, lenses looking East as well as West.

Gator on Festival Day 0214

It is late afternoon now and the warm sun has diminished the clouds, an event welcomed by alligators. In less than three miles, I spot four gators but there are a lot more if the sea of cameras is to be believed.  Waterfowl, mostly cormorants, form a crowd away from the banks of basking gators.

I park near St. Marks River and walk to a point on the bay. It is high tide, a first for me in all the years I have walked the refuge so there is no balancing on old oyster beds. I am content to watch the bay waters lick the sanded shore.

Firsts at the Refuge are a constant whether one visits day by day, year by year, or month by month. The turn of time and tide, the changer and the changed.

High Tide St Marks 0214

When Ice Falls from the Sky in Florida

Snow on unit 012914It is the year it snowed, and the year is yet young–2014 has stuff to strut it seems—already, it impresses. Just the possibility of snow/sleet in Florida is not only newsworthy but requires action.

Whether there will be enough ice from the sky to roll into a snow figure or enough to lie down in to make the wings of an angel are serious considerations.

Snow is an interloper in a subtropical land but the curiosity of experiencing it outweighs its inconvenience.

City thoroughfares and interstates closed, some for over 24 hours, as did I-10 from the Florida border to Georgia and Alabama. Sand is one thing we have plenty of so we spread it about.

I did witness a few flurries that were not bouncing sleet balls of white, although I saw those as well. Decades of Rocky Mountain West wintering renders me a bit of an expert on frozen precipitation. I know my snow.

Whether it was sleet, snow or both, there was ice on trees, rooftops, and even on outside air conditioning/heater units. All are constructed, naturally or otherwise, to withstand hurricane-whipped rain but ice falling from the sky shocks. After all, it has been a quarter of a century since the White Christmas of 1989, and memory does not always serve.

Ice from the sky crossed a boundary because it could or because boundaries are meaningless when it comes to weather. Yet we believe we can predict the temperature and whether or not there will be precipitation.  Whatever we predict, the weather delivers what it has to deliver and moves on.

Watching ice fall from a Florida sky is like watching moments coming into physical existence, not lost in the flurry of a glass, snow orb but one by one, sleet balls bouncing, flakes floating, all completely present and content in their moment of existence, their lives.

Snow on roof 020214

I am reminded of my own moment that is my life. Do I receive each moment as it is given or am I too busy predicting weather that may or may not arrive?  Not opening the gift I am given is a lifelong trait. Perhaps that is why my life span is longer than ice that falls from the sky. I need lots of practice so I have more substance.

The wind cannot shake a mountain.
Neither praise nor blame moves the wise man.
He is like a lake,
Pure and tranquil.
~ Buddha: Dhammapada ~

When I am not the mountain, I am in a winter of discontent, allowing my mind to shake me. Rather than becoming a lake and absorbing all weathers, I am tempest-tossed, neither pure nor tranquil but frozen in flight.

Yet thaw I do, as nature, a force all its own, wends the way it is what with what it has. When I am who I am–unshaken—I am not limited by the weather of the world but open to the weather of its storms.