Sunday, January 29, 2006
Home To St. Augustine
(scroll down for way too many photos)
Friday afternoon, after all the larval humans had boarded the yellow buses and left, I headed for St. Augustine. In case you haven't been paying attention, it's my home town. I have deep pre-USA roots there.
Serendipity and a good omen occured as I passed through Gainesville and approached the little town of Hawthorne. Paul, my very good buddy since 7th grade Spanish class, called me on the cell and we chatted all the way to Palatka. That made the ride slide by and it was good to catch up.
After breakfast, I split off, alone, for some reconnecting with the old home town. Returning to St. Augustine is always bittersweet due to the development changes that have occured along the beaches and out in the countryside. The one saving grace is that the core of the old city is tightly regulated to retain it's colonial charm, and even though buildings change ownership, downtown is still beautiful and familiar.
The first place I went was Riberia Street. It runs along the San Sebastion River where the shrimpboats once docked en masse. Now there are more yachts than shrimpboats, but it is still a street of shipyards and boat docks. South Riberia used to be a pretty rough part of town...I know, I worked at a packing house there during my teen years and I got quite an education. These days, it's more gentrified.
From Riberia street, I drove past my first apartment and down some of the tiny, narrow old streets until I got to the bayfront. They are replacing the old Bridge Of Lions with a new more efficient bridge. I was able to photograph the new bridge construction while stuck in traffic as the old drawbridge lifted up for some yacht.
The old draw eventually settled down with a bridge-wide shudder and I continued across to "The Island". Growing up on the poor side of the tracks, we always used to say that"God lives on The Island". I'm not sure God could afford to live there now. I was heading out A1A towards the beach, but with no real destination in mind when I spotted the Farmers Market sign at the old coquina quarry park. I whipped the Jeep around and pulled in.
Set under oaks and palms, on the site of the old Spanish quarries, a long row of farmers and artists were selling their wares. I hadn't walked very far when I came to a display of beautiful St. Augustine photographs. I looked at the name of the artist. Ken Barrett,Jr.
I looked up. He was staring directly at me. Recognition. Ken is an old friend from my Park Service days, and a fishing buddy. Neither of us had seen the other for ...oh...about 10 years or so. We had a good visit...catching up on lives that have produced new chapters. These days, Ken is an instructor at Flagler College and a most excellent photographer. Running in to him was another little dose of serendipity on this trip.
From the farmer's market, I headed downtown again, back over the bridge of lions to the Castillo de San Marcos. A stocky blonde ranger stood at the moat checking admission tickets.He let me in for free when I mentioned "I used to work here..."
I listened to the tourist chatting as I walked up the stairs to the gundeck. It was the same chatter I used to hear in the 1980's when I was a ranger here. Full of misconceptions about the "cruel" Spanish colonists. "Where's the dungeon and the torture racks? Ya, know Ethel, they walled a guy in one of these rooms..."
The truth behind the building is simple. It was a fortified warehouse and a safe place for the men, women, and children against constant English pirate (terrorists of their day) and official English military assaults.
The gundeck of the Castillo offers a beautiful view of the bay and ocean beyond. The bay was beautiful on this crisp winter day. The tide was out exposing the same sandbars where the sperm whales had come ashore so long ago. Today the bars were covered with birds, not whales.
When I came down, I headed across the street to the restored area. This is St. George Street, once the business heart of the city, but now completely historic or tourist oriented. The state has done a good job of restoring the Spanish colonial buildings and there is good history to be found here among the ubiquitous fudge and t-shirt shops. I walked along with the happy tourists until I came to the City Gates and an old cemetary filled with victims of yellow fever and malaria.
I was whistling past the old Hugenot cemetary when I noticed the time. It was almost clam chowder and fried shrimp o'clock. At Schooners, there were people who loved me and wanted to feed me seafood.
You really can go home again.
Posted by R.Powers at 11:06 AM