ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Come Feb. 16, the roadway beach at Daytona International Speedway will be packed with people and noisy race cars going at top speed in the Daytona 500. That's just half of the beach party scene on north Florida's Atlantic coast and I'll take my half any day.
Forty miles north of Daytona Beach, the beach scene slows to a leisurely pace. You can drive on the beach here, too, and some people do but always very slowly on the hard-packed sand. But there are far more footprints than car tracks here and I am thankful to contribute mine and four dog paw prints.
Imagine if you can a beach six miles long and six highway widths wide and all in beautiful white sand. Not only has St. Augustine come to be the favored part of this Florida winter vacation, but the beach was a main reason for choosing north Florida over the more popular vacation retreats in south Florida.
On cold days Digby and I often have been all alone strolling on this glorious slice of nature, but now that the weather is warming there are more people.
Each day I select the shell that is appraised as the prettiest of the day and add it to a basket of beautiful beach memories.
It was great fun watching Digby on our first beach walk. He trotted up to the water, stopped suddenly, and looked back at me, as if to say, “This is sure no Posey Lake.” He learned quickly that as bad as Posey Lake water is, salt water is worse, and after one gulp he has never tried to drink it again.
He was equally mystified by the difference in fowl to chase. Seagulls escape in flight; the geese that he rounds up in the yard at home run fast into the water.
Little by little he has ventured into the Atlantic until now he waits for a wave and tries to beat it to shore. I hate the leash law that forbids his freedom. If ever we are caught, I will be fined $50 for letting him loose.
I am not the only person walking a dog. It's great exercise for both owner and pet and a sure way to get acquainted. Dog-less people like to pet Digby, and he of course has no objection.
Conversation with the beach walkers often leads to restau- rant talk, and we exchange names of our favorite places in the area. One day a New Jersey visitor stopped to talk to us and explained immediately that she is a dog lover and sits for neighbors' dogs back home.
The big beach here is the Crescent. A little further north, Butler Historic Beach is notable because it was part of the vast property of Frank Butler, a successful African-American businessman. At one time, it was the only beach that allowed African-Americans.
I hope the one or two walks I take each day is helping the old body, even though the slacks are not any looser. But such communing with nature is also good for the mind.
The beach is good medicine. As the waves touch the shore and an occasional sandpiper scurries into the shallow water to see if there's a treat for him, body and soul reach out into the depth of the blue water, seeking peace and contentment. This morning I thought, wouldn't it be fun to ride on the crest of a wave like the seagull is doing so gracefully without a care in the world?
Then I remembered: Today's new beach friend told me about a restaurant I want to try. Riding on the crest of a wave will have to wait.