Sleep came easy for me after an exhausting 186-mile trip through heavy south Florida traffic from Jonathan Dickenson State Park in Jupiter Flordia, to the Long Key State Park in the middle Florida Keys. Awakening to a new day came much easier as I knew that I would be waking up to a spectacular Long Key sunrise. I had anticipated this morning for many months. After stepping out of the frigid pop-up camper that we call home while camping, my glasses immediately fogged as I moved out into the thick humid air common to the tropics. Six months of planning and dreaming, I can tell you that I was not disappointed at what I experienced.
The brilliant color came quickly on the eastern horizon, at first it was pinks and light yellows rapidly changing to bright reds and oranges. The temperature quickly escalated from the mid 80’s as the Sun abruptly filled the eastern sky. I sat in my camp chair overwhelmed and marveled at the beauty playing out before me. Every second was different from the one before. I felt like a small part of a massive canvas that God was creating in real time. It was if I was especially privileged to be a part of this glorious event.
One of my favorite places on the planet is Long Key. It is located in the middle of the Florida Keys as U.S. Highway 1 makes a turn back to the west. At the beach in the state park, you are looking due south. I begin to ponder; I cannot help but think about how many people sat on this very stretch of beach to watch amazing sun rises over the centuries, each daybreak different from the one before. Looking over the straits of Florida, I feel small. I can’t help but think that people throughout the years were seeking solace and peace that drew me to this remarkable place.
In the keys, I feel connected to the land, sea, and sun. I cannot explain this, but this place has a unique appeal to me. I have often felt drawn to the lower latitudes. I love the heaviness and humidity. As weird as it sounds, I also like the sultry heat as it makes me feel very alive. I also love the beauty of the area and the incredible history of this hallowed string of islands that have attracted adventures and creatives for ages. Sitting in my camp chair and looking out over Hawk’s Channel, I could not help but think about the sailing ships common to these waters centuries ago. These sometimes treacherous waters caused many Mariners sleepless nights knowing that a simple mistake or missed sounding could quickly turn ugly as wooden hulls found unforgiving reefs.
Hour pass and I daydream about possible scenarios; I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this unique place I find my self-chasing the shade as the sun makes its arc high and directly above me. I can feel the burn on my exposed skin, but I am mesmerized, not wanting to take my eyes off the horizon. I don’t want to miss anything so I am drinking it all in as a gentle breeze starts blowing in from the south east. I see clouds stacking up to the south, so I check my phone and see that there is a storm working its way off the coast of Cuba. But here in this part of paradise, the sun shines brightly, and a Roseate Spoonbill works the beach searching for food as the tide gently recedes.
I find myself lost in thought as several brown Pelicans fly by in a precision military formation rising and falling on a thermal, jarring me back to reality. I feel as if I am where I am supposed to be at this particular time in my life. I realize how much I needed this time away to recharge my batteries. I now understand how much I needed to be in this place because of the soothing effect that it has on me. It is almost therapeutic; I would highly recommend a retreat like this to anyone who works in a vocation that requires giving so much of your life. After this day of doing relatively nothing, I begin feeling restored as the minute’s turn to hours, and the sun lazily makes its way across the sky.
I get up from my chair, stretch, and make my way into the tepid 85-degree water. The flats lay out before me for miles. Colorful bait fish surround me as I walk through the crystal clear water. Salinity is heavy in both the air and water. Sitting down in the water I find that I am very buoyant, this freedom brings a smile to my face. I find my self not wanting this fantastic day ever to end.
I begin to think about what I accomplished during the past six hours, and words fail to describe this beautiful day or the healing that rest brings. Now I laugh as I begin to tire from minimal activity. I make my way back to my chair and sit for a while in silence. There is something to be said for silence. On this glorious day, the quiet has given me time to reflect and recharge. I believe that reflection does an individual well and prepares him to face the challenges that life brings.
I want to encourage you as you read this. Hopefully, you can learn from this old gray headed guy. We all need to take a break occasionally. You should find a place that you love and make plans to go. I want to warn you though, as soon as you make plans to go, things will come up, certain activities or expectations that you think will require your immediate attention will present to keep you from going. When these tasks rear their ugly head, you need to push through and do whatever necessary to make sure nothing happens to prevent you from taking the trip. Then, after you have returned, take some time and journal about the time you’ve spent, and make sure to share it with your friends!
I love you all!