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    y gal friends park our beach chairs right beside a lifeguard stand, just to have watchful eyes on us when we go for a swim. Bucko and I seek out quiet areas of the beach instead. No lifeguards, but less people and more wildlife to watch from our beach chairs. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/NEWS-LEADER

Time-to-hit-the-beach days are here again

It’s time for the beach! These days are too hot, buggy and muggy to do much walking, and it’s a shame to spend most days in summer enclosed in air conditioning. But, hey, it is the best time to immerse in the ocean. The air may be hot, but the water temperature is around 84 degrees now – basically the same temperature the Atlantic Recreation Center keeps their pool at. In other words, perfect!

In times past, I used to jump in the ocean a number of times during a summer week, sometimes with Bucko, sometimes with gal friends, and sometimes alone with a book. For a while there, I used to even jump in the ocean after a water aerobics session. I was already wet and had a towel, so no problem. But I have gotten older and less ambitious, and many of my friends have gotten older still. The longer we live here, the more things we have to do other than lie on the beach. There are lunches and movies and plays to go to, shopping trips, doctor’s appointments, watching Netflix, you name it. Somehow the beach in summer has receded into the background.

Well, I’m not ready to entirely give up swimming in the ocean just yet, and luckily my friends Rita and Jean are usually ready for a dip on Sunday mornings. We are all beyond the start of Medicare days, and none of us is all that strong a swimmer, but we all love the water.

We come to the beach loaded down with our beach chairs, umbrella, towels, drinks and snacks and find our place right next to a lifeguard stand, where we know we will be watched if we get into any trouble. As Sunday morning creeps towards noon, the lifeguard section of the beach starts filling up. Where once it was the three of us, now it’s family groups staking their own claims to the sand. That is part of the fun – watching the people near us.

But our real fun is the ocean. The hardest part for us is getting through the waves at the surf line, where often there are deep invisible furrows in the sand that can trip us up as we wade out past the breaking waves. There are three of us senior women, and if we hold hands we are fine –teamwork helps. Once in the calm water, we can relax, talk and dive under oncoming waves, giggling like little girls. Our inner child comes to life, and that’s a good thing.

Sometimes I am able to drag Bucko to the beach and it’s a different scene entirely, but it’s just as much fun for me. Bucko spent much of his working life around seawater, training killer whales, dolphins and sea lions, swimming with them, and sometimes even scrubbing their tank. He has absorbed enough sea salt to last his lifetime and sometimes it takes convincing to get him to the beach. But once there, he’s fine.

We know some places beyond the lifeguards with more privacy and where nature is undisturbed for the viewing. These days there are lots of sea turtle nests marked on the beach, and a recently chosen spot was in view of a handful of them and some fresh tracks too. On our beach chairs, in the shade of our umbrella, we watched dolphins swimming by, terns and ospreys diving to catch fish, and willets poking into the sand in search of their invertebrate prey. When we get hot, we walk out into the ocean to cool off and float a bit in the soothing water. Before we knew it, a few hours passed happily by for us both.

On these days at the beach we all remark on how lucky we are to live here. We’ve all traveled extensively and visited many beaches around the world, but none of us have found a place so accessible, so uncrowded in spots, and free of charge. All of us are hoping this doesn’t change beyond recognition as Amelia Island braces for a crop of tens of thousands of new residents moving in to the area, and more and more tourists being drawn in by hyperactive Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau advertisements and promotions.

There’s only so much we can do about the future of Amelia Island, but, at least for me, I’m glad I can still enjoy what we have now before it is gone forever.

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