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Carlton Fletcher

“I was born of the sign of water, and it’s there that I feel my best. The albatross and the whale they are my brother.”

— Little River Band

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — I remember going to the beach as a kid, Fernandina Beach, in fact, the week before school started for my third-grade year. That would make me 8 at the time.

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After that beach trip, taken with friends of the family, there was a long drought before I made my way to salty water again. In fact, it was after I graduated high school, when I was around 20 and drove most weekends over to Georgia’s coastal islands: Jekyll and St. Simons.

Turns out, though, I was born to the water. (Aquarius, anyone?) And there’s not a whole lot I love doing more than walking on a beach, a sea breeze keeping everything cool, waves lapping at your feet as you look for shells, jellyfish, driftwood, a beached whale, gold doubloons or other treasure that might have washed up.

It’s been a while since I’ve walked on the white sands of the Gulf of Mexico, marveling at the clear waters that from on high look like emeralds and turquoises and always leave me dreaming of sunken treasure, pirates, sea creatures — and, unfortunately in the Gulf — an oil spill that devastated the region and altered the marine life forever.

When you go a long time between visits, you forget the wonders of the beach, the majesty of that huge, endless body of water that relentlessly endures, it’s never wavering tides bringing in and taking out as we silly humans splash about in our cluelessness, not really measuring the magnitude of this natural wonder beyond our own experiences. But when you see those waves rolling in, hear the thunder as they break near the shore, it all comes back to you in an instant.

People gripe about our city’s lack of ... well, everything. They complain that there’s “nothing to do here,” a complaint that’s been tempered somewhat of late by the reality of the worldwide pandemic that’s introduced us to the new reality that there’s really not a whole lot to do anywhere. But from Albany, we can take a 2 1/2-, three-hour drive and be in Atlanta and all it has to offer, or we can go the other way, drive the same distance and take in the wonders of the Gulf.

We were always taught that we’re the perfect distance away from the Gulf so we didn’t have to worry about hurricanes — Michael taught us different — but for the most part we are not subject to the treacheries that Mother Nature throws beach-dwellers’ way every so often — a lot more frequently now that we’ve altered our planet’s weather patterns. In fact, many people staring down the prospect of a hurricane in the communities along the Gulf make their way to Albany to get out of harm’s way. (Again, there’s the Michael factor, leaving some coastal citizens to opt for somewhere like Omaha as the new safe haven in the event of a storm.)

I look down on the waters of the Gulf, walk along it’s clean, white sands, stopping every now and again to pick up an interesting shell, and I am refreshed. I’m a country boy at heart, born to the land and of people who worked it for sustenance and livelihood. Nothing will ever extract that from the cells of my being.

But I am also a creature of the water, drawn to these shorelines that offer up their wonders as gifts to those willing to receive them. I receive them again, and I am reminded that with the inexorable passage of time, each visit is its treasure. So I will honor that treasure by storing it among the memories that are the elements that make a life worth living.

Email Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.

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