If you are driving north of Jacksonville along A1A, pull over when you see the small sign for Little Black Rock, not too far up ahead as you pass Big Talbot Island State Park. After you park, you will find a trail going into the North Florida jungle. Walk along this trail for about a mile, and as go, you will notice you can no longer hear the sounds of cars but instead the sounds of waves. Crest a sand dune and behold an almost always deserted beach filled with an amazing spectacle. On the other side of this dune is one of my favorite beaches and maybe my most memorable. After I left the Army, I used to surf up and down the Florida Atlantic Coast, but when I went to this beach, I left my board at home. A small barrier island protects the shore from the waves. Over that dune was a mystery I never tried to solve for fear the magic of my ignorance would be shattered. There are huge trees, my guess oaks, laying on their sides with the remains of their branches and roots laid bare to the sun. They are bleached white from the decades, possibly even centuries of exposure. How did they get there? I have no idea, but the power of my imagination has concocted many ideas. I doubt the gods fought a battle and these trees are the victims, but one can only imagine.
My friends and I use to come to this beach and climb and play among the trees as if we were kids again with little worries of the world. The trees were amazing, but for me they were not the best feature this beach had to offer. At the north end of the beach, there is a natural barrier. The ground becomes rocky. A black slick mud covers the ground. It is slowly hardening destined to become a permanent feature on the beach. Over the years, small cliffs have formed from this mud. They are not difficult to pass. They might be a deterrent to some, but the prize on the other side is worth the trouble. Beyond the cliffs is another part of the beach. Even more secluded is this perfect picture of a beach. It is smooth and crescent-shaped with the sea grape-covered dune and palm trees visible in the background. I would often go here and sit at the edge of the water. I would close my eyes and become one with my surroundings. I would hear the soft lapping of the waves and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I felt like I could sit here for an eternity, meditating, one with the universe. I had so many problems back then and didn’t know how to fix any of them. I may have been having a difficult go at the time, but this moment on the beach was my brief respite, which I so desperately needed. This was my therapy. It may also explain why many other times I would sit on my longboard beyond the break, close my eyes, and search for that oneness. It has been many years since I have taken that journey down the trail, across the trees, and over the cliffs, but the powerful memories of that beach still permeates my soul. Even now, I can go outside, feel the warmth of the sun on my face, and hearken back to those memories and that peace.
I don’t know how much time I have left on this Earth. It could be decades. It could be minutes. William Penn said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” When it is all over, do we want to look back and say, “I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much time on the things that didn’t matter and spent more on the ones that did?” You can’t go back in the past, but you can fix your present and make the most of the time you have left. There have been times I wish I could have gone back in time, but then… I probably would have never made it to that beach.