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Amelia SanJon Gallery
Amelia Island Artists Workshop
Sandra Baker-Hinton
218A Ash Street., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
904-491-8040,  904-557-1195 cell
Amelia Island Artists Workshop (for workshop schedules)
My eldest son, Eric, called with an interesting invitation.  My sister, Susan, was spending a few days with me when he called.  He suggested I come watch the Shuttle Launch with him and stay at his condo just across the river from Cape Canaveral.  I considered it for a while thinking of all the reasons why I couldn't do it.  As you know, the chances of an actual launch were not that great.  I turned to my sister and said, well, Thelma (as in Thelma and Louise) would you like to take a road trip.  I thought, "I don't want to go all that way just to see a launch that doesn't happen", been there and done that once too many times already.  But it could become a Sea Turtle trip with the Launch thrown in as a possible bonus.
  And that worked out better then we dreamed.  Eric, Susan and I headed South from the condo about 9:00pm in the drizzling rain to hit the beach at Melbourne Beach and saw at least 6 Sea Turtles come in to lay, both Green and Loggerhead.  I saw one of the largest Loggerheads I had seen in the wild.  No photos were taken because it was too dark and using a flash on the beach with laying Sea Turtles would violate all the rules of turtledom.  But it was worth the whole trip just for that.  Next morning with a little more than an hour left before the launch with it still a "go", my son felt he could find a good view without getting caught in traffic.  That also turned out better then he thought by following a road around the marina area we found a dead end road with a relatively small number of people, ample parking, and some invited guests of the Army Corp of Engineers who ran the "lock" area where this was located.  It was still very iffy as to launch, but as the time drew closer, they opened up the wire gate in front of us and our spot turned out to be a perfect line's eye view of the launch site.  Only invited guests were allowed through the secure area in front.  Through the haze just to the right of the girl in the black shirt is the space shuttle launch site just 6 miles away.  Oh for a clear day, but you can't have perfection all the time. 
At 31 seconds to launch they call a "hold".  Still expecting it to not be a "go" I shoot the wildlife around me.  This snowy was eating barnacles along the railing of the lock.  Looking good, with its yellow feet.  A manatee was also wandering around inside the lock.  I asked the Army Corp of Engineers worker, who with a hand held bullhorn was keeping us abreast of the launch details, if the Manatee could get out and he said they open and close the gates of the lock several times a day and they come and go with that.  He also said they would be bringing in the boosters after retrieval right to this very spot the next day.
The countdown resumed and then, without the sound, the blast off started to happen.  The sound got to us after the shuttle was already out of sight, lost in the clouds and haze.
Even though still hazy, the incredible sight was visible and it was an amazing piece of history to witness.  Through the fire and vapors we start to see the shuttle rising up off the launch pad.  I remember getting Eric up as a toddler to make sure he witnessed the first steps onto the Moon via the television so the space program has always been a family interest.  Younger brother was not even a glimmer in his parents eye at that time.
No trouble viewing this now with only a set of power lines obstructing the view.
In only seconds Atlantis has cleared the power lines...
...upward climbing with a clear view of the rocket fuel tanks and the shuttle as it slowly revolved around.
Even through the haze it is impressive to see.
It finally is about to clear the haze and by cropping in tighter I can see some of the details of the launch although the Shuttle itself is much higher, and not quite as visible.
Only a short time and it is high enough to be approaching the cloud cover where the sky is not so hazy but would take away the view for good.  Thankfully the clouds had broken through thin enough to allow the launch.  The round dot is a blemish inside my camera lens so don't get excited that we have a UFO.
...and now it is the last full view glimpse we will have... into the clouds it goes, only briefly re-entering our visual contact for a second.
We are left with a large column of vapor trail and smoke and excitement at having seen it happen with our own two eyes.  I know that as my mom, who got to witness the previous one from the condo when she was down here, left in mid sight to say, "humph, I can see it better on the TV."  Of course you can, but its not the same as the real thing where you don't get reruns for a second look.  Our "UFO" is now in the lower left corner.  One day I will have to get someone to take that out, probably a grain of sand from the beach.
The Manatee flips his tail in disinterest of skyward things, only interested in the green seagrass on the bottom.
But the line of Great Blues (there were three) along the rocks seemed to be watching and pondering the event.
Across the fence the masses of people who had come in especially to see the launch that morning were packed tight.  We had even seen some getting their spaces the night before.
While our exit road, only traveled by locals, was empty as we leisurely made our way to a dockside restaurant to grab lunch and give the crowds time to thin before we decided whether or not to just stay another night.
Eric needed to go back to Orlando but decided to hang around a while and wait on roads to clear before heading back.  Although he waited until after 3:30 it still took him a couple of hours to do the usually 45 minute drive back to his home.  On hearing that, Susan and I decided to stay over and try to totally avoid the mass exodus.
After a long nap and a pool visit I had one more place I wanted to go.  Just in time for the 4:30 departure of the cruise ships we headed to Jetty Park just down the beach from the condo.  My son had told me that he had been seeing young Sea Turtles hanging out along the jetty and I wanted to see.  I knew they would be Green Turtles because they are the ones known for hanging out around the beach area here.
They are one of the prettiest of the Sea Turtles with their smaller, beautifully patterned heads.  Interesting seeing these heads pop up briefly for a breath of air then back underneath to grab a bit of the green vegetation growing on the rocks.  Green Sea Turtles are vegetarians unlike their counterparts in the Loggerhead world who will eat both meat and vegetables.  Susan became my spotter as I waited to try to catch them with the camera in that brief time it took to inhale.  They were larger than dinner plate size some even as large as a turkey platter.
We could watch them swim down out of sight and after what seemed like a long time, they would head back up for several breaths of air then back down.  This one had several barnacles and moss growing on its back and was one of the larger ones.
The pattern on the head is just so pretty with dots above the eye which look like eyelashes.
On breaking the surface I began to notice the big bubble of exhaled air before they opened their mouth to take in more oxygen.  Lisa says this is largely a carbon dioxide bubble.
This is a "Dock Roach"; they are a Crustation not a bug.
One plant they have growing down there abundantly is the Sea Grapes which can be a ground cover, shrub or in this case an actual tree.  I brought home some seed to see if I can grow one for indoor use.  The leaf pattern and way they grow out of the stem is very different from most plants.
Some beautiful creatures wandering around at the condo and surrounding area, are these Peacocks.  Horrible things to have in your neighborhood even though they are intriguing to look at.  As my mom always said, pretty is as pretty does.  In that case these are not desirables.  First of all, at the crack of dawn we were awakened by what sounded like a cat with its tail caught in the door just outside our window.  WHAT IN THE WORLD???, was our reaction.
But what beautiful colors and patterns these fellows do have.  I'll take them in a painting rather then real life.  They are very destructive and can scratch the paint on your car by sitting on top, but also as one fellow who was on the local news the other night had his roof destroyed by them pecking holes in it.  Thanks but no thanks to having these wandering around my neighborhood.
As promised here is the painting that was accepted in the Florida Watercolor Society's Annual Exhibition.  It is called "Green Spaces" because it looked to me like a layout for a city landscape with small green park areas planned into the overall plan.  At least that is what I saw in it once it was finished.  When I am working on something like this I don't think of things like that only, how I want the colors and shapes to interact.  This painting was created with many layers of paint, initially nearly transparent, but then going toward opaque colors toward the end.

(Please take a moment to consider:
These photo-stories have always been offered completely free, to simply share the wonders of nature, and life on the Island. Thousands of hours have been poured into them and it has even become necessary to enlist the services of a paid email service to send out the large numbers who now receive them. So, with the current economic situation if you are able to make a small donation to help ensure the continuation of the stories it would be greatly appreciated.)

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