It’s been an exhausting year. Since wrapping up legislative session in March, we have been going a mile a minute towards the 2020 election. And now we’ve made it out on the other side and we’re still catching our breath. COVID-19 has been an unavoidable challenge, an ever-present weight on our shoulders, one hard to shake. But while we can’t escape this reality and our responsibility to our communities, I find solace in conserved natural places near my home in Tallahassee. When my soul feels depleted, I thirst for nature.
I woke at 3:30 a.m. I tossed, turned, and unresolved, sprang up. Today would be the day that we chase a St. Marks sunrise.
I bundled up for the 37-degree morning, stopped for some hot breakfast, and raced to the coastal refuge near Panacea, Florida. Down the long pine-lined road, the black night turned to slate gray, the bird songs began, and I could smell the fresh dew and salty marsh on the wind. My happy place is where the sea meets the land – a not-quite ground, not-quite water type of place – an undisputed border where the fresh water mixes with salt, where the grasses spring from muck, flowers make due in sandy soil, and birds feast on nature’s bounty.
We have arrived at the Refuge’s signature lighthouse. The colors are indescribable. There are words for them – periwinkle, electric pink, and neon orange – but the feelings they evoke are less cut and dry. I am bone-cold, but warmed by a day bursting forth; I am overwhelmed by the sensory, but focused on inward relief. I feel at peace.
In a moment, the sky changes. The black silhouettes of tall palms and clumps of pine trees stand in waiting for the impending majesty, as they have for years and years, and will do for many more. The blinding globe of life-giving light climbs up the horizon, illuminating tall branches and waving ‘hello’ to a round, waning moon.
To watch St. Marks wake up is to experience a figurative and emotional rebirth. To breathe that first breath of salty wind, to hear a swarm of beating wings above, to observe a heron hunting stealthily in the grass – all of that was worth the early wake-up.
We all deserve a refresh. We all deserve time to rejuvenate ourselves and reflect on the highs and lows of our unique 2020 experiences. Just as we share our joy and pain during trying times, we share the lands that beckon us, those healing places. I find inspiration in our public lands and I invite you to get outside and find what recuperates and reinvigorates you this holiday season.