Every year at this time I venture out for a three day Florida Winter Camping Excursion. Just me and 10 or 12 or my closest friends. All guys because…you know…guys. We mostly sit around the campfire, ignore the weather and tell lies.
This year we encamped at Anastasia State Park, which has the added benefit of being just a short bike ride from St.Augustine. And so on a sunny but chilly Tuesday morning I embarked on a 12-plus mile meander through the neighborhoods and streets of the Old City.
And oh the things I saw! So much to reflect on.
Since it was the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day my first stop was the Dr. Robert B. Hayline Freedom Park. Which may be one of St. Augustine’s best kept secrets.
Because in order to get to it you have to navigate your way past yacht storage yards until you arrive at the place where the city keeps its garbage trucks. Then you continue on past the horse carriage stables to a nondescript entrance.
And on to an isolated point jutting out into the wetlands like an eagle’s beak.
It is only then that you reach this tiny 9-acre peninsula. Not surprisingly the views are stunning.
On the hilltop is a colorful tribute to St. Augustine’s African-American legacy.
And then there is the Let Freedom Ring Project. A semi-circle of large metal chimes facing a reflective bench upon which are granite carvings done by St. Augustine youths to commemorate the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality.
You can play music on the chimes if you are so talented.
You may be tempted to simply lose yourself in the park’s natural beauty. But by all means take the time to ponder where we have been and how far we all still have to go.
Not very far away I came across St. Augustine’s small but starkly beautiful National Cemetery.
In which are interred the remains of Major Dade and some of the other. 108 soldiers who were killed on Dec. 28, 1833 in an engagement with Seminole warriors.
I remember attending a funeral here back in the 1970s for a naval officer whose remains had been recovered in Vietnam and finally returned to this final resting place in American soil.
Not far beyond that I happened across a delightful little park with a bubbling fountain set amidst a riot of colors.
The park’s holiday decorations were hanging still, and in their reflections could be seen miniature worlds of the imagination.
I love this town. And despite having come here dozens of times over four decades, it seems like there is always something old/new. Or an entirely different perspective just around every corner.
Of course, all is not hospitality and brotherhood in the Old City. Don’t know who lurked behind this forbidding gate, but I suspect we would not…um…hit it off. But, hey, different strokes.
Oh, yeah. And toward the end of my 12-mile ramble I stopped for lunch at a favorite eatery, Mellow Mushroom. There to contemplate life, the universe and everything on a slowly warming afternoon.
There is everything old/new under the sun in St. Augustine. Can’t wait to see what I discover on my next Ancient City meander.
Because this is Ron’s Florida.