It is 5:00 pm in a wind-swept St. Augustine. January is known to be an iffy time for northern Florida weather, but when my folks invited my family to sleep in the extra bedroom of a beachside condo they rented for the long weekend, the offer was too good to say no.
My three-year-old fidgeted with excitement as our departure approached. This vacation promised the blissful trifecta of his dad free from the grind of business to play and have fun, undivided attention from the grandparents, and perhaps best of all, the delight of rolling toy trucks in the dunes. But his happy dance turned to a betrayed shiver as blusters of coarse sand railroaded him in the cheeks.
“I no like the beach today,” a crestfallen little boy announced, and he chuffed back to the condo with a look of scorn plastered across his face.
Hmm. Our thoughts of frolicking in the sun turned to slush, and we considered our options as we scrounged through our duffel bags for anything with long sleeves. We made our way through the day with mini-trips to the fabulous downtown St. Augustine, a loop aboard the orange and green tourist trolley, and of course the obligatory grocery store run.
But four o’clock came, and we were nearly out of ideas. My mother sat on the sea foam green couch, leafing through a coupon book and my father noshed on the luxurious combination of plain potato chips and Trader Joe’s three buck shiraz.
I turned to TripAdvisor for some help. Several expensive-looking tourist traps — the ilk of mini-golf aboard a pirate ship — flooded the search results, none of which sounded remotely interesting to me nor a good fit for my toddler. Then, like a beacon in the dark, a listing for the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum appeared, with four and a half circles of approval to boot. Perfect. A moderately enthused five ambled toward the car.
The monumental structure that stands today has been guiding sailors into safe harbor since 1871. Though not St. Augustine’s first, the lighted tower is virtually unchanged from its original construction, and climbing its spiral cases of stairs evokes all sorts of mystery and imagination about its yesteryear lore.
The gales of wind are much more violent at the top than any we had experienced before at the beach. The setting sun casts thin, copper rays through the chilling air, illuminating the pocks and crannies of the lighthouse with a light that is both warm and cool at once. The scenery is vibrant and standoffish as only a beach vista in January can be.
As I furiously snap as many photos as I can, I am frustrated with myself and with my camera, knowing that both parties will fail to capture the magical scene. With one hand white-knuckling the red rail and the other looped thrice by a Nikon nylon strap, I do my best to bottle the aesthetic drama that is unfolding around me.
So I share the effort with you today, not claiming that anything here is a remarkable feat of photography, only wanting to let you taste the goodness of all I saw from that magnificent brick and steel perch 165 feet above the billowing sandstorm. I hope the images take you there, even if only for a moment.