We had such a wonderful day. I woke our daughter up at 5 a.m. to do some stargazing. No, it wasn’t the comet we were after. Just before sunrise this morning, you could see the crescent Moon and five planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – mostly in alignment from east to west across the dark sky.
I wish I had my giant telescope ready, because Venus was so bright and perfectly visible it was absurd. (We have a seven-foot tall, computerized Dobsonian telescope. It has a 16-inch aperture, so it’s a serious light bucket.) But I have been keeping the beast in the garage since we moved to Florida a couple years ago. Like everything that is exposed to the outdoors here, it is covered in a sandy dust. Thus I need to clean it off before we can use it, which is a project in itself. Four of these planets should be visible through August, however, so I still have time to get some telescope maintenance in. (I don’t usually worry about the telescope outside of the “winter” months, because storms are so reliable in this region in the spring and summer.)
St. Augustine has an excellent astronomy club with some passionate amateur astronomers and astrophotographers. We used to go out stargazing with them on a monthly basis, but they have started to meet further north now. Breaking down the beast to travel fills my Toyota Highlander completely, and that’s with the kid riding with the secondary mirror drum on her lap. That’s a little much for trucking down I-95 for any real distance. Although if my massive telescope ever caused an accident on the interstate, that would likely be the most intelligent “Florida Woman” story ever published.
Anyway, it was lovely to get outside in the calm of the wee small hours with a companion who was appropriately mesmerized by such a heavenly spectacle, listening to the ocean roaring in the distance and getting dive-bombed by bats.
After the sun crept up, we put on our bathing suits, slapped the tandem kayak on the car, and drove up the A1A to our new favorite beach (the inlet). We went swimming for a while and then pushed the kayak into the water to do some exploring.
This was also the first time our dog, Sherlock, a rough-coat Jack Russell terrier, had ever been kayaking. And, boy, did he love it. At first we thought he might be a little too rambunctious for the kayak, but eventually we figured out that he only wanted to ride in the front so he could see what was happening. He will ride politely sitting in the lap of whomever is in the front of the kayak. (His doggie life jacket is from Outward Hound, if anyone is wondering.)
The water in the inlet is mostly shallow (until you get past the line of sandbars, then you are quickly in a somewhat dangerous channel) and crystal clear. We kayaked until we reached one of the sandbars, parked the boat on top of the sand, and then walked through the water from one sandbar to another.
I can sort of understand why kayakers caution folks about going out that close to where the Intracoastal Waterway meets the open ocean. The water surrounding the furthest sandbars has a very peculiar motion that I am sure is exaggerated and perhaps even frightening at high tide. The water is hitting the sandbars from all directions, and it creates a washing machine or vortex-like effect around the islands. There are even some strange crater-like pits along the ocean floor there, which I told our daughter to stay away from. (We were all wearing life vests though, and could easily get back to shore if we had too.) One of the sandbars had sand that was not at all stable because of the volume of water being pushed into it from below, almost like quicksand. I can see where kayakers that venture too far could find themselves in a situation they did not want to be in, or being dragged into the open ocean by twisting currents. All of this makes it sound scarier than it actually was when we were out there, however. We’ve learned to avoid changing tides when we are out on a boat of any size (or when tides and wind are moving against each other… that makes for some rough water). The physics of it all is amazing.
(This warning about changing tides is especially true if you are navigating tidal rivers and marshes. It can be difficult to find your way back by memory because the tide comes in and the entire landscape changes. Things that you saw earlier are now underwater.)
I love waking up early and going on some adventure. By the time you make it home, you feel like you have accomplished something big and it’s not even noon yet. And so it was today. We were exhausted from the paddling and the already intense sun, but I decided to make a quiche. (No, it’s not burned. The secret to a quiche with incredible flavor is to paint the crust with Dijon mustard before filling it. Trust me, this is the best thing you will ever do in the kitchen.)
And our night-owl child was asleep by 7 p.m.