Springing Forward

Lonesome guard tower on south Jax Beach

Lonesome guard tower on south Jax Beach

I get grumpy about the annual switch to Daylight Savings Time. Every spring we change the clocks and the daylight that has been increasing each morning since the Winter Solstice suddenly disappears again, moved instead to the end of the day. It feels like just as we were making progress toward those long summer days that begin early and stay late, somebody hit rewind and we have to replay the last month.

The upside, of course, is that our evenings have suddenly expanded, jumping ahead of the trend that Mother Nature was already setting, providing extra daylight for those evening beach walks I’ve been missing since the days got short last fall. You might think that would counter my grumpiness at losing an hour last weekend. But no. I will remain grumpy about that for at least a week, as a matter of principle.

What does counter grumpiness, and just about anything else I ever need countered, is a walk along one of our local beaches or the sudden arrival of Spring weather. Yesterday featured both!

As late as last Friday the beach looked and felt rather winter-like, or at least Northern Florida winter-like. Last Friday offered an abundance of sunshine and blue sky, but highs were struggling to find the 60s, hampered by a fierce wind out of the north. Still, as my feet reached the sand I saw a hint that Spring was imminent. Those familiar, red-orange lifeguard towers were back on Jax Beach. Uninhabited towers kept watch over a largely empty surf and barren beach, but the fact that they were out of storage promised change.

Two days later those towers contained lifeguards, the waves entertained surfers, and the sand soothed families and couples eager to soak in the sun without needing a jacket. Goodbye, grumpiness. Hello, Spring!

If Spring hasn’t reached your particular shore, here’s a peek at ours to tide you over.

Springing forward at Jax Beach

Springing forward at Jax Beach

Skimming Creativity

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Over the last year and a half, I’ve learned how to walk along the beach without disturbing the gulls that gather in bunches up and down the coast. At first they flew whenever I got near them, but after awhile I discovered that if I approach quietly at a steady pace, and avoid making eye contact, most of the gulls (Ring Billed, Common, Laughing, or Herring) tend to walk toward or away from the water just enough to clear a path for me through the middle of the flock.

They might complain. The Laughing Gulls almost always do! But only the most skittish gulls take flight, frequently joined by the terns, and they usually fly only a few feet before dropping back down into the sand as I pass them by.

Black Skimmers are a different story. They visit our beach only a few months each winter and they fly as soon as I get anywhere near them, permitting me to accumulate numerous blurry photos that feature their tail feathers.

Last Friday as I walked north along the shore I repeatedly approached a flock of Black Skimmers. Before that day, I hadn’t seen more than four or five together, but this time over two dozen were gathered at the water’s edge. When I came within 10 feet of them they took flight as a group, first out over the water and then arcing back to the sand a little farther up the shore. When I caught up to them again, they took flight once more out over the surf and back to the sand a little farther ahead. This pattern was repeated a couple more times until the Black Skimmers dropped back into the sand with a similar size group of Sanderlings and a handful of Laughing Gulls.

As I approached this mixed flock, the Laughing Gulls squawked a bit and sidestepped into the water, the Sanderlings chattered and trotted farther inland, and the Black Skimmers once again took flight all together but this time they flew the opposite direction. Once out over the surf, the Skimmers turned south and flew behind me. For a moment I thought they’d figured out that I wouldn’t disturb them any more if they let me get past them and then dropped back down with the gulls and the Sanderlings.

But that wasn’t their plan. Instead they circled behind me on the right, flew up alongside me on the left, and then on up ahead, landing beside the water once more about 20 yards in front of me. We resumed our previous pattern with the Skimmers flying on down the coast each time I approached and remaining just out of reach, until I arrived at the walkover where my car was parked and left the beach. As I got into the car and headed home I wondered how many times we would need to do that same dance before the Skimmers got used to me like the gulls and terns have, and simply moved off to one side, complaining, as I passed by.

Creativity frequently eludes me much like those Black Skimmers. I’ll catch a glimpse of a new idea, a fresh connection, but as I approach it takes flight, wheeling out over the ocean of thoughts in my head, and sometimes circling back around me before landing just out of reach. I have to be careful not to make any sudden moves, loud noises, or eye contact, until the new idea and I have had a chance to feel each other out a bit, grow accustomed to each other, and convince ourselves that neither poses a threat. Only then can I get a good look, and maybe even snap a photo or two.

Have to Laugh

Did Laughing Gulls get their name from the sound of their calls? Or do they get their name from the fact that it’s hard not to laugh when we hear them?

Laughing Gulls, Hanna Beach

Laughing Gulls, Hanna Beach

I’ve cleared my business schedule this week so that I can focus on a self-imposed writing retreat, right here at home. The rules are no business-related writing. No conference calls or meetings. No client deadlines and no sales activities. Instead, I am spending the entire week focusing on a personal writing project, in hopes of pounding out a significant word count and bringing the end of this manuscript in sight.

To kick off my writing week properly, I spent an unusually warm Monday afternoon at Hanna Beach. As I walked I was already running phrases and paragraphs in my head, writing before the writing, which is a common practice for me. I had a good pace going and noticed that I was approaching a flock of gulls but didn’t pay much attention to what kinds had gathered. Instead I was watching a handful of pelicans diving repeatedly just offshore, when suddenly I found myself smiling and then laughing out loud.

The flock I had caught up with was mostly Laughing Gulls and they were separating left and right to create a path for me to walk through them. They were also complaining about it. Just as I made eye contact with one gull, he (she? it?) threw back his head and called Ha Ha Ha so loudly that the gulls near him stepped a little farther aside.

I had to laugh. I always have to laugh when I hear them calling.

Spring is coming and when it does, a group of Laughing Gulls will gather here at the apartment complex where we live and squabble with the crows about who gets to perch on top of the community center building and proclaim themselves King of the Complex. Each morning, with the sunrise, the squabbling will begin and I’ll wake up to the Ha Ha Ha of the Laughing Gulls. After experiencing that last spring, I know there will be many mornings when I’ll have to laugh with them, and isn’t that a great way to start the day?

Three generations of coastal interaction

Jax Beach winter days separate the tourists from the locals. Tourists enter the water without a wet suit. Locals do not.

IMG_7047On a warm winter day a couple of weeks ago, when the temps were high enough that the locals were only wearing light jackets during their beach visits, I watched an older man, his son, and his grandsons near the surf. The grandfather was a local, dressed in jeans, jacket, and hat, and wearing shoes. He stood a few feet back from where the water met the sand, smiling as he watched the others.

The son, barefoot with long shorts and a shirt but no jacket, was standing ankle-deep. He appeared to be straddling the line between comfortable and pained, looking back at the grandfather occasionally but mostly keeping his gaze focused on his sons.

The grandsons were nearly waist deep in the surf, jumping each time a wave crashed into them, apparently unfazed by the temperature of the water or the air. They were wearing jeans/shorts and t-shirts, all quite wet.

Having lived here a little over a year now I instantly knew–grandpa was a local, and son and grandsons were…

“Tourists,” my husband said, shaking his head and smiling. As we left the beach, grandpa, son, and grandsons, remained three generations of coastal interaction, from all in to just getting feet wet to opting for observation from dry land.

In this regard the coast has an awful lot in common with creativity, art, and writing. Some watch and enjoy the view, some dabble in the shallows along the edge, and some dive right in. Each has their place and purpose.

Which are you?

Bird Party

IMG_7017One of my favorite books when I was a little girl was Go, Dog. Go! I didn’t care about the girl dog with many hats constantly seeking approval or the fact that the dogs drove cars. What I loved about the book was the dog party, the idea that all kinds of dogs gathered together at the end to have a good time.

Walking along southern Jax Beach this past weekend I saw what I’m pretty sure was a bird party.

Several kinds of gulls and terns, skimmers, and sanderlings often congregate together in large mixed flocks on winter days, when the beach isn’t heavily populated with people. Saturday’s above average warmth and abundant sunshine brought out a few extra bodies, but not enough to deter the birds and several flocks dotted the coastline, right where the water met the sand. But they were only half of the party.

The real action was happening just offshore, taking advantage of a calm surf. More than a dozen pelicans were taking turns circling above, diving into the sea, bobbing about for a bit  on the surface, and then taking off to restart the sequence. This is a common occurrence, of course, but on that day, the pelicans were diving and bobbing with large flocks of gulls and other birds, some diving occasionally as well but mostly floating in big groups that mirrored the ones on shore. In the sand and in the surf there was a lot of chatter, and the skies between were criss crossed with feathered friends winging from group to group, squawking their hellos and goodbyes or maybe spreading gossip. Whatever they were communicating it was evident that all those different kinds of birds gathered together in the sand, sea, and sky were having a good time.

Go, birds. Go!

The best day

About a week ago we had a string of days with unseasonably warm temperatures in the upper 70s and hovering at 80 which transformed our usually sparsely populated winter beach back into a spring beach, covered with bikini-clad college students and families with young kids.

That all changed last Thursday afternoon, as a front passed through dropping temps back into their normal winter range. But before the front arrived, we had one last May-like morning to walk along Jax Beach, which was dotted with a fair number of sunbathers and families, walkers, joggers, and fishermen all enjoying the last bit of extra warmth before winter weather returned.

IMG_6885As I followed the shoreline south, I noticed a young family ahead of me. The mother and father were talking and taking pictures of their young daughter who was running into the surf, squealing when the cool water crashed into her, running back toward her parents giggling, and then turning around and repeating the entire sequence over again.

She was on her fourth or fifth cycle when I came even with them, and just as I passed a wave crashed into the little girl, who appeared to be about four or five. Instead of squealing and running back, this time she turned around to face her parents, raised both arms in a “ta da” pose, and shrieked “This is the best day of my life!”

When I met back up with my husband toward the end of my walk, I told him about the little girl. Later that day I repeated the story to our adult son and daughter and posted it on my personal Facebook page, sharing it with as many friends and family as possible. And now I’m sharing it with you here, not only because it relates a delightful moment of one little girl’s joy, but because of what witnessing it has revealed to me.

My first thought upon hearing her proclamation was to be grateful that I get to walk on the beach almost every day. My second thought was to hope that at her age she was merely experiencing the best day she’d had so far, and that she would have many more to come as she made her way through her life. But then I came to what has stuck with me since that moment, the question of what makes any particular day a best day.

Best days, like beauty, are ultimately in the eye of the beholder, or the heart of the experiencer maybe. For me, the best days of my life don’t depend on temperature or latitude, although warm sunny beach days certainly don’t hurt. My best days are the ones I share at least part of with friends, family and loved ones, and, as most of those people know, the days I spend writing. Creating something seemingly from nothing, but of course built on inspiration and experience, whether it’s a few words or dozens of pages, makes a day great in my book.

What makes a day great for you?

Out there somewhere?

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 Are you out there Mary Lee?

Cue the Jaws theme music…

Local news has been excitedly giving shark play by play for the past week. Two female great white sharks tagged by Ocearch near Cape Cod last September have been pinging just east of Jacksonville. The smaller shark, 14 ft long Genie, has stayed well off shore, passing her time along the Gulf Stream. But the big girl, Mary Lee, who is 16 feet long and weighs more than 3000 pounds, has been hanging out much closer to shore, actually pinging within the surf late in the day on January 7th. That’s when Ocearch notified local police and Mary Lee became the topic of conversation around town, almost as if she were the first shark ever to visit our shore.

That’s also when I became addicted to the Ocearch tracking website. Imagine how thrilled I was to discover that when Mary Lee pinged closest, she was just off shore from where I typically access Jax Beach! If only I’d been walking then I might have seen…well nothing actually, because it was dark when she was that close.

I’ve seen a lot of interesting things in the water as I’ve walked the beaches here over the past year. I’ve seen dozens of dolphins, feeding and playing in the surf, and scaring uninformed people who can’t tell the difference between a dolphin fin and a shark fin. I’ve seen what must have been a good sized sea turtle but I was too far away and it was too dark to be sure. And one especially wonderful evening during high tide I watched a couple of manta rays feeding just a few feet away from where I and several other beach lovers were gathered at the water’s edge, oohing and ahhing and reassuring some idiots walking by that no, really, those were not sharks.

I know a lot of people have a strong fear of sharks, and I’m not interested in a close encounter with one myself, but they are not every unidentified swimming creature in the sea, or the only ones to avoid. Jellyfish, for example, can be very unpleasant, but there aren’t near as many movies about them and I don’t hear a lot of people pointing and yelling “jellyfish” when they see something in the water.

Sharks are clearly made out to be the bogeymen of the sea, but the sea is their natural habitat and they are doing what sharks were born to do–swim and eat. They are merely one more type of ocean and coastal life to observe, no different than the dolphins, sea turtles, pelicans, gulls and osprey.

There are plenty of sharks out there that we don’t see or hear about, many more than the two great whites that Ocearch recently named and tagged. Local surfers complain about a bull shark that frequents the area near and just south of the pier. We also have black tip sharks in these waters, but for the most part, this apparently isn’t a place where a lot of shark encounters occur. It may be a long time, and a lot of walks, before I get a glimpse of a shark in local waters.

That’s ok. I don’t mind waiting. They’re out there, somewhere, along with their untagged friends. The great thing about Mary Lee pinging near the Jax Beach shore is the reminder that just under the surface, just out of range of our everyday experience, is a world we cannot see without effort, risk, or technology.

Beneath those beautiful breakers there is a world of life that carries on without our observance or assistance. It is the same with creativity, be it any type of art, music, or creative writing. Behind those layers of paint, that sculpted curve in clay, that delicate note, and that well-turned phrase, is a combination of observation and imagination, born of the knowledge that things aren’t always as they seem, and the courage to explore and express what is found.

 

In with the new

Well it’s started. The great redesign project is underway here at thebeachwriter.com. We have a new front porch to welcome guests and provide directions to a couple of new destination pages…one for blog posts and another with a brief summary of, and contact information for, Janda Writing and Consulting. The foundation is complete. Now the much longer and slower phase of building can begin. That is going to stretch out over the coming months so, if you’re curious, you might want to stop by every so often and have a look around. I’ll post blog entries noting significant additions along the way but in between those there will be plenty of little tweaks and add ons.

For those of you who like hints and spoilers, in the coming year I’ll be adding business details, along with articles, guides, and webinars that provide more in-depth and detailed information on a variety of writing topics. My goal is to get this information out of my head and off of notes (both handwritten and electronic) and into a format that will benefit others. Personally, I’m hoping that clearing out some of the information I keep in my brain will free up storage space for other, non-writing but terribly important information, like what I am supposed to buy at the grocery store, or the names of people I’ve just met, or anything involving numbers.

For those of you who visit for my beach pics, rest assured there’ll be plenty for you to enjoy in the upcoming months as well. I have plans for a gallery or two, as well as continued posts and pics of what I see and think and feel when my feet are in the sand. In fact, as I continue to make adjustments to the layout of various pages, I’ll be adding more pics from my local beaches, especially Jax, Atlantic, Neptune, and Hanna Beaches. To kick the year off right, here’s one of Jax Beach taken January 1st.

Jax Beach, sunset, January 1, 2013

Jax Beach, sunset, January 1, 2013

I’d love your input. Please let me know what you think of the changes as they happen, and feel free to suggest topics you like to see discussed in the future, either by commenting below or contacting me directly.

 

 

 

Out with the old

Reviewing, reflecting, analyzing and revising are familiar activities for writers and artists. Have we created what we intended? What changes could we make? Should we revise? And if so, what needs to be added or removed to transform what we’ve created into what we believe it can or should be?

Answering those questions may be easy or difficult, simple or complicated, but it’s always a personal, individual experience. Feedback from others is important, but unless we are writing or creating art for a particular client or customer, we make the final decision. Even so, we keep our audience in mind. What do our readers want? What do our customers and clients need?

Ideally, the finished product bridges the gap between what the writer/artist wants to give and want the reader/customer/client wants to receive.

As 2012 winds down I have been reviewing the past year of blogging as The Beach Writer. When I started, I wasn’t sure what I wanted the blog to be. I began writing and creating without a clear picture of what I wanted to produce. I spent most of the past year blogging in a fog as thick as the one blanketing Jax Beach a few weeks ago.

Gulls in fog

Jax Beach, December 8, 2012

I’m not saying I’m unhappy with what I’ve posted this past year. On the contrary, I’m pleased with my return to the realm of public writing after many years of keeping my words to myself. But each time I sat down to write a new entry, I was creating without a clear plan for how each entry would relate to the ones that came before or after, and that was ok for 2012. But for the new year I want to make some changes to align The Beach Writer blog with my longer term professional and personal writing goals.

Some of the changes I’ve planned will occur quickly. Others will build over time. First I’ll be redesigning this site to accommodate both The Beach Writer blog and my business, Janda Writing and Consulting. Those of you who’ve followed my writing and career over the years know that I’ve gone through periods when my personal and business writing lives have overlapped as well as times when they’ve been kept separate. That was ok when I was working for someone else, but it’s increasingly difficult when I answer only to myself and clients. Since there is only one of me, I believe my life will be simpler (although not necessarily easier) if I merge the two as much as possible.

What I won’t change is the blog itself. I’ll still post pictures, observations and opinions about the beach, writing, and the nature of creativity. All of you who stop by for a dose of that can rest assured that The Beach Writer will remain as is. But in addition to that, I’ll be providing more detailed information, tips, and advice for writers and clients.

I’m excited about these changes and I hope you will be too. I am looking forward to a bright 2013 filled with sun, sand, water, and words.

sun, sand, water

Sun, sand, water

Happy New Year!

Back to work

Well it’s been awhile, hasn’t it? More than a month, to be exact, since my last blog entry. Definitely a serious flouting of the rules of blogging!

And it was just what I needed.

I’ve had a very busy 2012, starting a business, trying to finish one manuscript and start another, blogging. Something had to give and so, toward the end of June, I decided to take a vacation from everything that I could and give myself a chance to recharge.

I couldn’t actually take a “real” vacation because I’m in the middle of long-term project with deadlines throughout this summer and fall. So for the past month I took a vacation from everything else. When I wasn’t working I did nothing at all. Nothing writing-wise that is. To be exact, I took a staycation, because I stayed right here at home, and even worked in my office, but just not on anything I wasn’t contractually obligated to create.

Obviously, I didn’t blog. But I also didn’t write a word on my nearly finished manuscript or the one I started at the end of May. No essays. No snippets. No notes. I journaled, but that’s it.

Typical vacation day, Jax Beach, FL

What did I do with my time instead? I read a lot. I walked the beach. I took a lot of photos. I spent extra time with family. I allowed my mind to wander wherever it wanted.

But most of all, I refused to feel guilty about not writing, which is a first for me.

The result has been fantastic. By focusing only on work  I was able to be extra productive in that area. By refusing to write anything else, I pushed all thoughts on other projects to the back of my mind where they were free to bounce around unattended and come up with new perspectives and combinations of their own.

That’s a wonderful thing, but as happens with all vacations or staycations, the time has come to get back to my regular writing life again.