Between Rail & Bay
Most of my posts are about public places that anyone can go, but there are times when the beauty I find is on private land. Today, I am celebrating the land where my grandmother’s house stood, the land where I spent many happy vacations playing with cousins and siblings. This is private land, sited between the CSX Railroad and Escambia Bay, the site of my thesis. My post title is actually part of my thesis title, which may give an indication of how special this place is to me.
It is possible that I am a little biased, but I am inclined to believe that this is the most beautiful place in the world, even though the glorious Gulf of Mexico is just a few miles from here. Those buildings that you can see through the branches of the tree are at Pensacola Beach, which is a glory that you may explore any time you want to. I encourage you to do so, since the beaches of the Gulf are amazing, with deep blue-green water and fine white sand. As much as I love those beaches, though, to me they are not as beautiful as this little bit of land that I love, with its murky waters and brown beach. This is the land of my memories.
These early happy times spent wandering this beach and watching the trains go by have indelibly imprinted a love for trains of all kinds in my psyche. Yesterday, while I was down here, I saw a train go through with no fewer than five Union Pacific engines heading it. It was moving quickly and I was not in position to snap a shot before it was gone. This is pretty far from UP territory, so I was excited to see it. Today, the only train I saw was headed by CSX locomotives, which are exactly what you expect to see here. There is something thrilling about being only feet from a train, feeling the ground shake as it passes by, waving to the engineer. When I was a little kid, there would also be a caboose, but they have done away with them.
Years ago, in an effort to keep the beach from disappearing into the bay, rip rap was piled up along the edges of the grass. It’s not very pretty, and it has been found to be ineffective. It is now being moved out into the bay to create jetties, which do seem to be building up some of the sand. Oyster spats thrown out onto the jetties are encouraging oyster colonies to form as well, which should help keep the bay clean. At some point, someone will probably appreciate how easy it is to harvest the oysters to eat.
Hurricane Ivan cleared the houses off this land, but most of the large oak trees remained intact and continue to thrive. These are the oak trees that protected the houses, shading them from the sun and coloring the light that fell within. We had a swing that hung from a branch parallel to the shoreline, wide enough for two small kids.
The trees around the house fared well, but down the beach a bit, some of the trees that grow on the sand did not do as well. One large tree that was blown over remains where it fell, weathering in the sun. Although it is sad that such a beautiful tree fell, it remains a sublime gesture in the landscape with its huge root ball that has become marvelous tangle of silvered wood. The branches reach out across the beach, and have been used by many children as a perch to watch the bay.
Another tree that remains standing has never fully recovered, although it has not yet failed either. Its leaves are sparse, but still green. Many of its roots are exposed now, but remain firmly planted in the sand. With its sparse, windswept look, it could be the inspiration for abonsai tree.
Coming up the beach, it is hard to tell where one tree ends and the other begins. You can see bricks strewn across the sand, which are more than a century old. They came from a brick factory that exploded many years ago. The ones that have been mostly high and dry remain red, but the ones that have been submerged are coated in gray. At first I thought that might be remnants of the oil spill, but it seems that it is actually the clay from the bottom of the bay that they are coated with.
Cypress trees have very long and strong roots, with wood that is almost completely rot resistant. Several of them remain standing, although they appear completely lifeless. These are the trees that osprey prefer, since they have a good view of predators and prey from these bare trees.
The pelicans prefer the dock just up the beach, which is low to the water. Sometimes in the afternoon this dock will be literally covered with pelicans squawking and watching the water. They will take off almost straight out, with very little vertical lift, and skim over the water. When they spot a fish, they dive into the water with a noisy splash, and pop back up soon after.
The bird is beautiful here, but the morning sun sparkling on the water is what I really love. I remember waking up early in the morning to that sparkling light shining onto the porch, while the waves whispered on the sand.
Great blue herons have a similar flight pattern, and the way they draw their necks in while flying looks similar to a pelican, but their beaks are long and straight, without the pouch of the pelican, and they have much longer legs.
Across the road from the bay is a pond, where there were turtles piled up on top of each other. Apparently, turtles have very good hearing and really aren’t nearly as slow as they are purported to be. Three times I came across a turtle pile, and each time, before I could draw my camera, they jumped off into the water. So you will just have to take my word for it, there are turtles in this turtle pond. Above the pond, in the trees, I found this juvenile cardinal. I think they look very similar to a cedar waxwing, but this guy is grayer, and a little rougher looking.
Walking back up to my mother’s house, we spotted this guy in another tree. Both of these images are of the same guy; the bottom one shows his shape better, while the top shows the coloration. I feel like I should know what he is, but I am not sure. If you do know, feel free to leave the answer in the comments section.