Journaling from St. Augustine

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My morning companions leave their footprints in the wet sand at Anastasia Island.

Peter’s first trip into downtown St. Augustine was delayed by the raising of the local drawbridge. This turns out to be a metaphor for our time here in this city – the call to slow down, and wait with patience as the unexpected floats into and then out of your life, having grabbed your attention for the moment.

 

If this trip is going to really touch our hearts, we know we need to see everything, including a drawbridge, in a new light.

The beach. Anastasia Island has a total of four miles of undeveloped beach protected by dunes and separated from the campground by a parking lot of serious proportions. We rode our bikes on the beach the first day and into such a stiff headwind that my neck hurt for the next two days. This is not a beach for the faint of heart. I have spent each morning since then walking the beach at sunrise and experiencing the variety in the day’s first light as the shore birds and I scramble around, criss-crossing footprints in the sand, each of us preparing for the day.

Farmer’s Market. Every Saturday, this gathering of community happens at the Amphitheater on A1A just behind our campground. Always on the trail of local stuff, we went and purchased items from the Kenyans selling their fresh brewed coffee by the cup (amazing); a tie-dyed t-shirt from a woman who makes them in her garage; collards from a woman farmer; strawberries from a family of farmers who had the kids restocking the table; orange and grapefruits from a young woman who represented a third generation of small growers; amazing sourdough bread from a guy from Jacksonville; and some handmade olive hummus made with olives grown here. Richest find? The pick up band of locals doing bluegrass and folk music.

The 50th anniversary. We wanted to find a way to honor MLK Day and so looking at the local newspaper, I found a notice of an evening vesper service at one of the local Episcopal churches located in the historic black neighborhood of Lincolnville, which featured a Gospel choir. When we arrived at the little wood church, it was packed to the rafters with people. In an emotional start to the evening, the Gospel group, Blue Haven Gospel Singers, filled the room with their voices, their energy, their faith-filled spirit.   Their music was intermingled with readings from scripture and readings from sermons and writings from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and included some from his trip to St. Augustine in 1963 in an event that shaped the civil rights movement. Peter and I have have discovered that part of our pilgrimage will be visiting the “shrines”, as Phil Costineau calls any sacred place, connected to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. At several moments in the planning of this journey, we have been brought face-to-face with the 50-year anniversary of a number of events and so we have already revised our trip to include stops in Birmingham, Selma, and Hayneville, Alabama aware that other detours may yet develop.

The offering. When we were getting ready to leave Keene, we took a box of the Monadnock at the Millennium books that Church & Main had published in 1999. We packed up a couple of dozen with the intention of leaving them at the “shrines” – libraries or churches or museums along our journey – whenever we felt a particular calling to leave an offering of gratitude. On January 20, we dropped off our first copy with the rector at same Episcopal church where we attended vespers. It turns out that the rector knew about Jonathan Daniels, the young seminarian and civil rights activist from our home church of St. James Episcopal in Keene, NH who was killed 50 years ago, on August 20, 1965 in Hayneville, Alabama as he stepped in to protect a young black woman. The rector was pleased to have a copy of the book from Jonathan Daniels’ home town and so to all our friends in Keene, know that part of our community is now linked to this remarkable little church, St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, in St. Augustine.

Discovering an untold history. Peter had been reading about upcoming public events around the 450th anniversary, this year, of the founding of St. Augustine. There was reference to a talk about Fort Mose, the first community in this country made up of emancipated slaves, so we went out to find the Florida State Park that is located on the site of this historic fort. It turns out that in the 17th and 18th century, the Spanish in Florida would welcome runaway slaves – escapees from the mostly English plantations of the Carolinas and Georgia – as emancipated men if they converted to Catholicism. These freed people went on to serve and defend St. Augustine from invading British and colonial armies through the 18th century. When Florida was ceded to Britain in 1793, those living at Fort Mose were evacuated to Cuba. Who knew?

Henniker? Really? We walked around town today looking for a second-hand bookstore where we could purchase a copy of “Cross Creek”, a novel by Floridian Pulitzer-prize winner Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. On our second stop, we found it and the owner asked where we were from. When we said, “New Hampshire” she went on to say how she loved visiting Henniker, New Hampshire because there were several used bookstores there and she was interested in meeting the people who had actually read all those books.

A fish named trigger. We decided to find a local fish market and after asking around, Peter ended up in a tiny place north of town on A1A. The market was run by a father and son who took great pride in displaying their offering of fish – fresh and whole – right on ice. Peter’s take away (in addition to a fillet of a fish identified as “trigger fish” which he prepared by encrusting it in corn meal and then pan-searing in butter and olive oil) was you could ask them anything about fish, water temp, breeding habits and cooking options and end up in a lively and informative conversation – just stay away from politics.

Letting go. In our hasty packing back in Keene, we ended up with things that are not needed. We spent one day here unpacking and repacking the entire car. Along the way we discovered one full trash bag of things – from clothing to pillows – that we don’t need. In honor of our promise to each other that we will give away at least two items for every new item we acquire on this trip, we send them along with blessings to their next owners

Each of these events reminds us that in the synchronistic moments, we are discovering the treasures that make each day so memorable. It is seeing everything in the new light.

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6 thoughts on “Journaling from St. Augustine

  1. Deat Liz and Peter

    What a joy to read your historical posts. I see a book coming on!! So happy to hear your trip is so enlightening ! Safe travels
    Love Cheryl

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  2. We have visited St. Augustine several times, but never stayed in the campground. One of our trips was with ten year old, grandson Bradley who we thought would enjoy the fort. He was unimpressed, even with the shooting of the canon. I particularly like the narrow streets in the old town. They ooze of a past that I barely know about, but revel in the things I have learned on each visit. How come we were not taught that St. Augustine’s inhabitants were on North American soil long before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock….which they really didn’t.

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  3. Lovely and informative post, and you had a Vovo moment with the Henniker connection! Tell her about it next time you talk to her – she will get a kick out of it.

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