A special place

"If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, it is a special place where I spend my afternoon."

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Nice Addition to the Island

Take a walk down to the third most beautiful beach in the country!
    It's sometimes called the best kept secret on the Forgotten Coast. On the east end of St. George Island, lies the Dr. Julian G. Bruce, state park.  The identity of Dr. Julian Bruce, also proved to be a well kept secret. He's not famous, in the sense, that you can Google his name. and get any information about him. But, look in the Franklin Co, Florida archives. and you'll find he was very involved, and highly respected, by the Apalachicola community, and surrounding area. Dr. Bruce was a dentist in Apalachicola for 50 years. In those 50 years, he was also active in the Apalachicola Masonic Lodge. He was a commissioner for Franklin County, seven of which he served as the chairman. He was a Second Lieutenant in the armed forces during WWI, and was a charter member of the W.R Marks post of the American Legion, two of which he was the post commander. Definitely, Dr Bruce was deserving of  the state park's recognition.
   Another part of the park's history, is the story of the famous pirate, William Augustus Bowles. But, before he became a pirate, Bowles was also a soldier, an indian, a comedian, an actor, and an artist. He was born in Maryland in 1763. He enlisted in the British Army at the beginning of the American Revolution, at the age of only 13. At the age of 15, he was sent to fight off the Spanish at Pensacola. It was here that he defected from the Army, and found refuge with the Creek/Seminole Indians.  

   He married the chief's daughter, Mary Perryman, and gained prominence within the Creek tribe.  When the Spanish naval forces began attacking British forts all along the Gulf Coast, he convinced the Creek, to join forces with the British in Pensacola,  But, when Spanish ships fired on it, the fortress fell, and the survivors, including Bowles, were captured. He managed to escape, along with his Creek allies. It was then, in 1783. that he formed the imaginary "State of Muscogee" This was to be his empire among the Creeks and Seminoles. 
William Augustus Bowles
   From there, he went to New York, joined a band of comedians, sailed to the Bahamas, and did some comedy, acting, and portrait painting. But, with Bowles' hate for the Spanish, the governor of the islands felt his real talents, were going to waist. So, he gave him a small group of "pirate" ships, and along with his "navy" of misfits, which included white prisoners, runaway slaves, and a few Seminoles, Bowles sailed back to the Gulf and took aim on the Spanish shipping vessels that had taken over. His pirating skills served him well, in that, he sank a large part of the Spanish fleet. Hence, the order for his capture was put out. 
  In 1792, Bowles was captured, and taken to Madrid Spain, to be imprisoned. But, five years later, while being transported, Bowles once again,escaped, and declared his hostility towards both Spain, and the United States. He acquired a schooner from England, which was called, "The Fox." and once again, he came back to pirate the Gulf. This is where the state park comes in.  In September, of 1799, "The Fox" went aground, and eventually sank off the coast, at the east end of St. George Island, at what is now called Fox Point. The wreck has never been recovered, and there's a plaque, just inside the park, telling a condensed version, of the story of William Augustus Bowles.
   In 1803, with a sizable reward offered, Bowles was betrayed by his fellow Creeks, and was captured once again. After just a few years in a Cuban dungeon, Bowles refused to eat, and died. Thus ended his wild, and varied career. He was only 42.
   The Dr. Julian Bruce state park, is approximately 9 miles long, and consumes about 2000 acres, on the east end of St. George Island. The land for the park was acquisitioned in 1963, and with the completion of the Bryant G. Patton Bridge, across the Apalachicola Bay, in 1965, tourism to the island increased, and the park's facilities were completed in 1980.  
In the early 1900's, slash pines were tapped for the resin, for making turpentine.

The "hurty" cup
    The park is home to the oldest stand of slash pines, found on any barrier island. In the late 1800's, early 1900's, the resin used to make turpentine was harvested from these trees by "slashing" them and making what looks like a cat face on the tree. Clay vessels called, "hurty" cups were used, and pieces of these pots can be found around the park, and washed up along the shore of the bay.
The sand dunes can sometimes resemble a Currier and Ives snow scene

The dunes, in the park, are a protected area.
     Being a barrier island, St. George serves as a protector for the mainland, and takes the blunt of severe storms, and hurricanes. Because of this, the historic dunes are ever changing. In July of 2005, hurricane Dennis came through, and destroyed most of the facilities, and equipment in the park, but it has since been restored. (Hurricane Wilma hit the island, in October, that same year.)

The beauty of the beaches speak for themselves.
    Forbes, and "Mr. Beach" have voted the pristine beaches of the park, into the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the country. The past two years, the park's beaches have been ranked, third. And in 2012, Sports Illustrated, photographed their swimsuit addition here.

Coming to the end of the island.
     There's also a campground in the park, with miles of walking trails, where you'll find some of the "cat faced" trees, along with eagle, and osprey nests.
    But one of the most beautiful parts of the park, is at the very end of the island.  The dirt road, you have to take there, can get a little bumpy. But, it's so worth it. Words can't describe the beauty of this little  piece of paradise.

Most of the time, at the farthest point, the water is crystal clear, making it easy to view the different types of sea life.

                                               A well kept secret, of the island, indeed! 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

What a bunch of crap!

  Apalachicola Bay is considered one of the least polluted bays in the U.S. And it's true, there's no factories, or big industries, around the bay, but the amount of trash that  ends up on the shores of St. George Island, and surrounding islands, and coastlines, is staggering.

They're never too young to learn the importance of keeping the coastline clean

 Last weekend was the International Coastal Clean-Up. This is a world wide effort, sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy, to clean up the waterways and shores of our earth. The things that are found, and the amount of trash that is collected, is unimaginable. Just in Franklin County alone, which includes St. George, over 12 tons of trash was collected!
Doug just moved here from Kentucky, with his family, and was anxious to be a part of keeping the islands clean
   This is the third year for me, coordinating the volunteers, that go over to Little St. George. This small, uninhabited island, was once part of the main island. until dredging created a cut, Bob Sykes Cut, to shorten the route of the shrimp boats, going out to the Gulf of Mexico.  This small uninhabited  island is only accesible by boat, and this year it took 3 boats, to take everyone over there. 
This group of volunteers made Little St. George, a little cleaner
 The volunteers ranged in age from 4 years old, to 71 years young.  In about 3 hours, covering about 3 miles of coastline on the west end of the "little" island, we filled 54 bags with everything from cigarette butts, to old, broken lawn chairs. One of the larger items that was found was an inflatable raft, that hadn't held air in quite awhile!

   Pieces of plastic, and styrofoam, are usual items on the shore. But, the biggest enemy, by far, is still the plastic bottle. In all, we collected well over 300 of them! Most of them were water, juice, and soda bottles. But, include bleach, oil, and even shampoo bottles, and the numbers are mind boggling.
   It gives you a good feeling to accomplish something like this, and feel like you've made a difference. But it's sad to think, only a small dent was made, and there'll be plenty more to pick up tomorrow. Unfortunately, when you live on an island, trash washing up on the shores, is a never ending battle.
   People need to understand, the smallest piece of trash that's thrown out on an island, or left on the beach, (cigarette butts are the worst of the small trash!) will eventually end up in the water. Whether the wind blows it, or the storms, hurricanes, surges, and high tides, carry it, it will always find a way. Not only does it mess up the eco system, but it can be deadly to the creatures in the gulf, and the bay, that have made it their home. 
   I'm proud to be a part of this yearly effort, and hopefully, it brings awareness to the people that visit, and they'll make that daily effort, to pick up a piece of trash if they see it. The beauty of St. George Island, and the health of Apalachicola Bay, is in our hands. 


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Free Again

A juvenile Kemp's Ridley
    A rare occurrence happened on St. George Island not too long ago. A young female, Kemp's Ridley sea turtle, had the misfortune of being hooked in the neck, by a fisherman, off the beach, on the gulf side of the island. Lucky for the turtle, the fisherman had the good sense not to try to remove the hook himself and called the Department of Fish and Game to deal with it. Because of that, this story has a good ending!
Slowly, but surely, making it's way to the gulf

   The Kemp's Ridley sea turtle is very rare, and one of the most endangered of all sea turtles.  It's the smallest marine turtle in the world, with the adults averaging only about 100 lbs.
Let's get a closer look

   Their nesting habits are also unique, in that the females will arrive in wave, upon wave, on the beach, unlike other sea turtles that arrive one by one. This happening is called an "arriba", meaning arrival, in Spanish. And 95%  of all Kemp's Ridley nests, are found in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, mainly on a beach near Rancho Nuevo.  Scientists aren't sure what triggers this phenomenon.  It might be the offshore winds, the lunar cycle, or the release of pheromones, in the females. Some of these turtles are known to migrate up the gulf coast, but nests are rarely found, on St. George Island. This island is better known for the nesting of loggerhead, and the occasional green turtles, and leatherbacks, with up to 300 of them nesting here, every year.
"What are you looking at?"

   Kemp's Ridleys, will have two to three clutches, or groups of eggs, laying a total of about about 100, and it takes 50, to 60 days, for them to incubate. Females have been tracked, migrating along the gulf coast, going to and from their nesting areas in Mexico, foraging mainly on swimming crabs, and the occasional jellyfish, or mollusk, or fish.
A face only a mother could love!

   The main threat to these wonderful creatures is the incidental capture in fishing gear. Mainly shrimping trawls, longlines, or dredges. Egg collecting used to be a big issue, but with the nesting beaches being afforded protection in 1966, this is no longer a threat.
Free Again

    Like I said, the ending to this story is a good one. After a week of rehab, at the Gulf World Marine Lab, in Port St. Joe, just west of St. George Island, the female Kemp was released back into the Gulf, in an area of the island that's rarely fished. What a great thing to see.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sail On

 Martha Ward is the matriarch of The Ward's Seafood House, in Apalachicola. "Miss Martha" is a working shrimp boat. When she leaves the harbor, she'll be gone for a few days. 2015 hasn't been one of the best years for shrimping they've ever had.
   When you live on an island, boats are a part of your everyday life. And, St. George Island is no exception. Work boats, motor boats, row boats, sail boats, house boats, stranded boats, and sunken boats. Some of the barrier islands that surround St. George, require a boat to be able to get to them. If you were to live, on Dog Island, about 20 miles to the west, you'd either need a boat, or catch the ferry, that goes back and forth, a couple times a day. 
  You can drive across a bridge to St. George Island. And having a boat of your own, isn't a necessity. But, in one way or another, they're still going to be a part of your every day life. Whether it's just seeing them on the water, or waiting for them to come in with a load of Apalachicola oysters, boats are a part of everyday life, if you live on an island. 
When you see the shrimp boats leaving the harbor, it's a majestic sight. Be sure to watch for their return. Shrimp doesn't get much fresher than that! 

One of the most common boats, seen around St. George Island, is the oyster boat. The men and women that work on these boats are tireless. For most, it's the only income they have.
More and more people are starting to live on their boats. Not all of them as well equipped as this house boat. Some are happy to sit in the dock, and never leave.

Summertime fun, fast boats,come and go, from the canals, where many of them stay docked, during the off season.

Some boats get beached and forgotten, only to continue to be buried in the sand, with the continuing  rise and fall of the tide.

There's something about a quiet little sail, at sunset, that gives the soul, a feeling of peace.
This is a floating laboratory. Part of the aquatic research center in Panacea. It focuses on the health of the environment, and how it's effecting sea life.

Not all boats need a motor. Kayaks can take you on a lot of adventures. The creeks and rivers around the island, are beautiful, and fun to explore, in one of these. Or, take one across the bay, to another island.  Personally, the calmer the waters, the more enjoyable, it is! 

This strange looking vessel is used to pound the posts in, when you're building a dock. It's the slowest boat on the bay, but one of the hardest workers. 

One of the most well known boats in the bay, is this fishing boat.  Thought to be a "grouper" boat, it was being pulled out to the gulf, about 6 years ago. It was to be sunk, to start a reef.  Unfortunately, it never made it to the gulf.  While being towed, it got hung up on a sandbar, out in the middle of Apalachicola Bay.  It's remained on that bar, tilting a little bit more every year. It can be seen, from the bridge, when you're driving over to St. George Island .

   No matter what kind of boat you prefer, being on the water gives you a feeling of freedom. Maybe that's  why the people of St. George Island spend as much time on their boats, as possible.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"Old Florida"

"Fill 'er Up"?
   I'm sure you've heard the term, "Old Florida". Places that show you how Florida used to be, before the condos and high rises took over. There's not many of these towns left. But, Eastpoint is one of those places, and it's right across the bridge from St. George Island.
The "Big Top"
 You're not going to find any malls, or movie theaters in Eastpoint. There's a post office, a bank, a mechanic, putt-putt golf, for your entertainment, and for your shopping needs, a Dollar General, and the Big Top grocery. And with a few more small local businesses, it's got pretty much everything you need.

For Sale
   Eastpoint takes up about 7 square miles, and has a population of about 2,400 people. (The 2010 census reported 2,337, but I suspect there's a few more people now). 

 There's a few restaurants that boast the local seafood. And, a couple, that hit hard times, and had to close their doors.
Freshest seafood in town

    Like St. George Island, Eastpoint has never been incorporated, so growth is slow. Most of the people here, make their living on the water. And with the recent troubles in the oyster industry, (see "Trouble on the Bay"), it's getting harder and harder, for people to make a living here. But, they'll never stop trying, because it's all they know. And being on the water, is what they love.

  This is "Old Florida". The way things used to be. People move at a slower pace, and they appreciate the simple, good things in life. Like a good day of fishing.
   When you drive through places like Eastpoint, Slow down, and take a close look. Don't get in a rush. There's not many towns like this left.  What I consider, the jewels of the south. 
An "Old Salt"
   Maybe you'll meet an "old salt", that'll be happy to tell you when the oyster boats are coming in, and ask you if you want to "sit a spell", and  share a beer with him.

Oystering the old fashioned way, is hard work. But, being on the water is what they love.

Living life at a slower pace

   Eastpoint is a place to be treasured for what it is. And we can only hope it won't change for awhile.     

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


The Big Picture
    With a recent turn of events, there's been a lot of time, to sit and reflect on how I came to live on St. George Island, the people of the island, and the beauty that surrounds it.
    And it made me think of reflections you can see, if you're kayaking on the Apalachicola River, or on any of the creeks that branch off of it.
 Sometimes, the waters are as calm as glass, and it can make you feel like you're the focal point of a painting. But it's when you explore the shoreline, that your imagination is set free!.  
A smile
     Reflections are different with every passing minute. The time of day, the calm of the waters, or the time of year, are all things that determine what you might see in a reflection. It's up to your imagination. Two people can look at the same reflection, and most of the time, they're going to see two totally different things.
   I have a friend from Vermont, who's a very talented artist. You might describe her work as being a little abstract. And she has ability to see things differently than anybody else. 
   We've been kayaking together, but, I never saw "The Swamp Queen" until she showed me the picture. As a matter of fact, there were a lot of things I wasn't seeing!  So, it was time to stop, and take a closer look. Really take time to reflect.
The "Swamp Queen"


The ripples in the water are a give away for which side's up.

A classic Grateful Dead poster. And more.
Some reflections are simpler than others.
I sat and looked at this reflection for a long time before I focused in on the "River Princess"

Such beauty in a simple reflection
At the end of the day, the beauty is twice as beautiful
You never know what might be looking out at you from deep inside a reflection. Use your imagination!

**I'd like to dedicate this post to Dorothy, my artist friend, who taught me to see things in a different way.