Butts on the Beach

Leafy Sea Dragon - Irene Diamente

Leafy Sea Dragon – Irene Diamente

Smokers think nothing of using our beaches as ashtrays. It is a larger and more dangerous problem that I thought. Enjoy my column, published today, in Florida Today.

Beach Easter

Leafy Sea Dragon - Irene Diamente

Leafy Sea Dragon – Irene Diamente

By Kathryn B. Creedy

A soft pink hibiscus flower lay in sharp contrast to the off-white sand as we walked toward the sparkling water early on Easter morning. It was, I thought, Florida’s answer to the Easter Lilies blooming in markets in the last few weeks.

Florida's Easter Lily - Alexis Creedy

Florida’s Easter Lily – Alexis Creedy

As I passed, flecks of sand sparkled off its trumpet-like petals, reflecting the bright, rising sun and twinkling like a diamond. The temperature was in the 70s with no humidity. A soft breeze came from the north.

“Another day in paradise,” I thought as we settled into our beach chairs that morning. Once again, I was amazed at our good fortune at living on this barrier island at the beach.

We began the day at our favorite restaurant – Sand on the Beach – where we celebrated Easter with breakfast. It had become tradition to bask on the soft warm sands of Melbourne Beach, Florida, next door and this time was no different.

It had been a busy morning at the restaurant and, waiting for a table, we sat beachside and watched a crab, its hard shell glinting in the sun as it scuttled along. Above us a huge flock of pelicans formed a broad V as they flew north. A few minutes later, five more passed overhead and my sister in law said what I had been thinking. They are teenagers intent on doing their own thing. We laughed.

A family appeared at the top of the boardwalk between restaurant and beach. The two little girls in their pastel finery began to descend, their silver shoes flashing reflected sunlight with each step. They carried Easter baskets and I suddenly noticed metallic Easter eggs peppering the sand in and around the nearby sand volleyball court.

“That brings a whole new meaning to the term Beach Bunny,” I said. The littlest girl, her blond hair bouncing in French braids down her back, spotted a shiny golden egg and did an ungainly run in the soft sand before her sister could snatch it. She turned, beaming like the sunlight surrounding her and held it in the air triumphantly.

After breakfast, as we settled into our beach chairs, I surveyed the beachgoers, noting empty groups of towels laid out creating colorful patterns on the light sand. Their owners were in the surf, skim boarding into the waves, or just walking in the gentle water. Umbrellas punctuated the beach with reds and blues and yellows, mirroring what I remembered of the colors on the inside of my children’s Easter baskets years ago. In the far distance, the surf rolled in, delivering a haze and obscuring a remote beach. At the same moment I felt a refreshing sprinkle cover me.

A tall, adolescent girl in a bright pink bikini practiced back flips with her mother. The girl was a younger version of her mother whose blond hair was tied in a ponytail and shimmered as it bounced as she spotted for each new flip. At first I thought the girl a gymnast but her long thin legs suggested more cheerleader than tiny gymnast.

Near the water, small children played tag with the surf before wading in to play. Nearby, their mother sat in a beach chair watching while helping her youngest who was beside her. The little girl’s peach bathing suit had a feathery bottom and, on the back were tiny wings. In her excited play, she fluttered like a fairy in the breeze.

Beach Fairy - Kathryn Creedy

Beach Fairy – Kathryn Creedy

I am always in the moment at the beach, acutely aware of my surroundings. Distractions find it hard to intrude. Pelicans, a crab, bright, sparkly water, warm sand, little children at play and a soft pink flower in the sand were the charm cast by the beach that morning. It was more than enough especially since my youngest texted me this morning to say that fresh snow had covered the trees at Ithaca College. She can’t wait until she graduates in May.

The Beat on the Beach – Family Fun at Nokomis

Creedy Girls Drums

Alexis, Kathryn & Brooks Creedy Sunsetting on Nokomis Beach

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Sunset on the Gulf Coast is usually spectacular during the high, wide and handsome days of a Florida winter. But this year, as the New Year dawned, my daughters and I experienced a unique sunset event that harkened back to primeval days when we joined a Drum Circle at Florida’s Nokomis Beach on the Gulf Coast.

Our hosts for the weekend mentioned a cool family event, which occurs each Wednesday and Saturday at sunset at their local beach. I had no idea what to expect when they said there were a lot of drummers on the beach but I was very intrigued.

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The Nokomis Drum Circle threw me back millennia. Despite the modern trappings surrounding me, I felt as if I were part of a pre-Colombian sun worshiping ceremony. January 3, 2015, was unique, however, with a simultaneous sunset and full moonrise as the drums beat a steady rhythm you could feel through the sand.

Drummers were all ages and all abilities from master drummers to people with simple tambourines. The audience was already large when we arrived having set up hundreds of chairs that completed the circle. Near the dunes, sat 25 to 30 drummers, men, women, young and old. Opposite were the sea and the sinking sun under a clear blue sky.

In the middle of the circle was a white opaque ball, surrounded at its base with fairy lights and palm leaves. Dozens of dancers swayed to the beat in both modern interpretive styles and traditional belly dancing as they moved around the circle.

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Was this what Florida’s Indians did in the earliest days of this peninsula, I asked myself as I looked around. Dancers weaved in and out of the circle some with children in tow like modern-day pied pipers. Some of the dancers had crafted elaborate wing-like costumes and seemed to float, billowing in the gentle breeze, as they made their way around the circle looking like giant, colorful butterflies.

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This is so primitive, I thought, as primal as a heartbeat. But it drew me in with the magnetism that draws many of us to the sea. I later found out that the allusion to pagan rituals is no accident since the Nokomis Beach Drum Circle was founded as just that. While the word pagan comes with baggage typical of the unfamiliar, at its core, it is simply a reverence for the natural world and seeing a divine presence in that world. As an environmentalist and one who cleans the beach every day on my two-mile walk, I related to that. Even so, drum circles may not have anything to do with pagan worship but can just be a group of people spontaneously creating music on drums and other percussion instruments.

It turns out the 20-plus-year-old Nokomis Beach Drum Circle is far from unique. Indeed, there are many such circles in Florida both beachside and inland and they can be found at The Primal Connection or elsewhere around the world at the Drum Circle Network. The Nokomis circle is an informal affair, according to the unofficial liaison between the County and the group, Frank Alexander. All you have to do is show up with a percussion instrument. If you go he suggested getting there an hour and a half before sunset.

The audience sat contentedly tapping hands on legs or bare feet in the sugary white sand typical of many Gulf beaches. They dined al fresco from the picnic baskets filled with typical beach picnic fare along with such libations as wine, beer and soda. It is a casual affair with few rules and is clearly a tradition in this small community, one that continues to resonate with residents and visitors alike.

As the drummers reached one of many crescendos, the light visibly softened signaling that duskish time just before sunset. Necks craned to watch the sun sink in the Western sky as the beat climbed. Many left the circle to stand at water’s edge to watch it descend into the cool, calm blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

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The sky turned from blue to yellow to a fiery orange red. Then, inside the circle a single individual joined the dancers and faced west. He lifted a conch shell to his lips and blew a single long note to mark sunset. He repeated this to the south, east and north then returned to his place among the drummers. Nearby, a dancer posed at water’s edge, the sun, the sea and a sailboat marking her backdrop.

Slowly, a full moon appeared veiled in gossamer clouds as it ascended in the Eastern sky. Drummers had quickened their pace to the setting sun and were now beating a calmer percussion. In the center of the ring, the opaque ball changed colors to the many hues of blue, green and red, pink, orange and yellow. Little girls stood mesmerized by this central focal point designed to replace the bonfire, which lit the Drum Circle in its early days. They gingerly touched the ball quickly drawing back their tiny fingers, clearly expecting it to be hot. They then leaned over, their small hands becoming colorful shadows as the ball cast its changing glow.

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As the moon emerged from its cloudy veil, dancers donned lit hula hoops, which provided a colorful counterpoint to the gathering dark. The swirling hoops created patterned lights dancing out from the bodies swaying to the beat.

Revelers stay for hours through the night. As it darkened, however, we headed home. Walking down the beach, the sounds of the drums followed us as stars emerged from the inky black sky.

Beat on the Beach slideshow with soundtrack

285 Surfin’ and 20+ Skydiving Santas and a Partridge in a Palm Tree

Kathryn B. Creedy

By Kathryn B. Creedy (Photos by Brooks and Kathryn Creedy)

While Christmas on the beach may not have the warm, Currier & Ives coziness of our usual white Christmas in New England, the Christmas spirit on the Space Coast of Florida couldn’t have been better thanks to the Satellite Beach Boat Parade, the Space Coast LightFest and the sixth annual surfin’ and skydiving Santas.

We were a little worried about missing the winter in New England where we have spent Christmas with our family for decades. Even so, we were determined to capture the spirit of the season and, thankfully, it was not hard.

We began as the last of the sun left the sky at the staging area of the boat parade where Christmas lights outlined large and small watercraft otherwise lost to the dark waters of the Banana River. The parade finished on Mathers Bridge near our home in Indian Harbour Beach where the 700-foot long, low-level, swing bridge, opened and closed as the festive flotilla made their way to the end of Merritt Island.

A few nights later we attended the Lightfest, a 45-minute drive through an electric wonderland of nutcrackers, candy canes, snow-flake arches and, of course, Santa. We passed trains, motorcycles and airplanes, all sporting Santa as giant poinsettias slid by. Jumping frogs and stockings with presents formed other arches as we made our way around a lake dotted with the reflected lights of the displays on the other side.

And what to our wondering eyes should appear but eight tiny reindeer along with a giant dragon and a castle. Befitting our coastal Christmas theme were flamingos, alligators, crabs, lobsters, a lighthouse and sailboats.

But it was the Surfin’ Santas that really set the tone. They may have surfin’ Santa’s elsewhere in the world, but they would be hard pressed to beat the event at Cocoa Beach, FL, where 285 Santa surfers gathered on a bright and sunny Christmas Eve morning to ring in the season. About 20 Santas floated gracefully below an azure-blue sky dotted by clouds that would look at home as Santa’s white and fluffy beard.

Sponsored by SurfinSantas.org, the event raised funds for Grind for Life, a local cancer organization, and the Cocoa Beach Surf Museum. The organization was hoping to surpass the 210 Santas that surfed in 2013 and did so handily counting more than 300 either riding the waves or the wind in the sky.

The event began in 2009 when local Santa George Trosset, inspired by surfing Santas featured in a television commercial, gathered his family and dressed them in Santa suits for some yuletide fun in the sea. The following year, friends joined in for a total of 19 Surfin’ Santas, then 84 in 2011 and 159 in 2012. The small residential neighborhood was overwhelmed, forcing a move to a more central location in downtown Cocoa Beach with more space for the Surfin’ Santas and the crowds they gather.

With a backdrop of dozens of surfboards in all shapes and sizes, participants gathered on the sand, beachside of Coconuts restaurant at the Eastern terminus of the Minuteman Causeway. Drive any further and you’ll get wet. The occasional green Christmas trees and a single Frosty the Snowman costume peppered a sea of red suits. Hundreds of onlookers scrambled in and out of the Santa scrum to document the occasion which now grace the Twitter sphere at #SurfinSantas.

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My daughter, Brooks, and I pose behind the wall of surfboards

As they posed, the Santas, their collective entourages and the assembled merrymakers listened to a brief invocation and a tribute to recently deceased Champion Surfer Mike Tabeling, who, with Kelly Slater, were a treasured part of the Cocoa Beach scene. Santas continued to gather as local surf shop owner Balsa Bill played the ukulele, singing that Hawaiian beach-time Christmas favorite Mele Kalikimaka.

It was then time for the Surfin’ Santa official theme song performed by local singer/songwriter Anna Lusk who assisted in composing All About The Beach set to the tune of Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass.

“There is only one thing left to do,” intoned the announcer as the closing chords of the music wafted away on the wind. “Hit the surf.” A sea of red turned as one, heading for their boards. And off they went charging through the crowds lining the water. They emerged in all their Santa regalia and headed seaward, belly flopping on their boards as they crested the first wave. It took 10 minutes before the last Santa plunged into the cold, refreshing surf as others caught their waves to ride back toward the beach.

Back they came, suits, hats, beards plastered to their bodies. Smiles lit their faces as they turned and went out for another ride. One Santa smiled at the crowd gently patting his little round belly as he neared the beach. The surfers were backlit by the early morning winter sun as kite surfers joined them from further down the beach. The sun, the sea and the waves have never been more picturesque.

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The epitome of the Santa in Colbie Caillat’s Christmas in the Sand

Soon, organizers began clearing the beach as the de Havilland Twin Otter jump aircraft circled the sandy landing zone. All eyes looked skyward at the circling aircraft awaiting the first puff of a parachute to mark the start. Dressed in full Santa costumes, these high-flying wind surfers floated beneath their colorful canopies, wafting down through the clouds as they navigated their way between surf and crowds.

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Though we miss our family and friends up north deeply, it has been a great Christmas trading sledding for sand. Christmas in the sand has all the charms of its northern counterparts, just a little bit different. I reflected that most Christmas events are for kids. Not so for the Surfin’ Santas of Cocoa Beach. As I walked though the crowds and looked around me, it was clear the Surfin’ Santas gave the big kids in all of us the true joy, wonder and spirit of the season. Merry Christmas everyone! Surf’s up!

Click the link below for the slideshow of our Christmas in the Sand courtesy of Colbie Caillat. Her song is our new  Christmas theme song!

Christmas in the Sand

Daily Beach Walk Saves the Planet in My Corner of the World

Kathryn B. Creedy

As I mounted the top stair at the entrance to Canova Beach in Melbourne, FL, I surveyed the scene of beach goers, fisher folk and the blue green of the sea. I scanned sand and dunes momentarily before descending for my daily patrol armed with my little plastic shopping bag festooned with illustrations of flip flops.

I’ve been walking a mile-long stretch of Canova Beach for quite awhile now but it was not until earlier this year that I began to notice the amount of trash half buried in the dune line, fluttering in the sea oats and washing up with the tide.

I started out just wanting to do my power walk with a little beach combing along the way. As I began to know the beach, however, I looked forward to watching for turtle tracks marking the way to a newly laid nest and those that marked a mother returning to the sea, her job done. The beach always held some new sea treasure. In addition to the ever-changing shell scape, there are sea beans; bright blue man of war and moon jellies; a sea hare and even a tiny round brown and orange puffer fish that was breathing its last. In the surf, I’ve seen herons, ibis, plovers, sandpipers, royal terns and egrets along with sharks and dolphins trolling at the surf line. Further out, dive-bombing pelicans look for food.

In contrast, I also see the trash and the assorted flotsam and jetsam lining the tide, wrack (seaweed) and dune lines. A veteran viewer of nature documentaries, I thought of the plastic ending up in the bellies of the sea turtles, dolphins and assorted aquatic creatures that share our ocean. I recalled stories about the Great Pacific Gyre that captures the trash we’ve dumped into our oceanic planet and how, as it breaks up, it is too small to scoop. And, there, on my very own beach, were little blue plastic bits and Styrofoam pellets washing ashore.

“That’s where all this trash is coming from. It’s been dumped at sea or washes the beach trash into the ocean,” I thought. “I can’t call myself a true beachcomber if I don’t start caring for the beach and picking up the trash as well.”

Thousands walk the beach daily around the world, ignoring the trash as I did, thinking someone else will pick it up. Sadly, there is no one else except for the occasional springtime call for volunteers to clean the beach.

So began my daily beach patrol, clearing bottles, sandwich bags, soda cans, slushy cups, bottle caps and straws. There have also been numerous single flip flops and oh so many pairs of sun glasses that have been lost in the surf. There have been shoes, fishing lines with and without weights, discarded candy along with bits and pieces of chairs, umbrellas and tents. I’ve scooped up goggles, hair ties, shirts, shorts and barrettes along with chip bags, candy wrappers and untold numbers of plastic wrapping and shopping bags. The tide also washes in cleaning bottles, fish buckets well encrusted with sea life and a plastic mesh milk carton, similarly encrusted.

Yes, and there has been the occasional gross find in the form of used diapers (neatly wrapped up but left none the less), band aids, and even a sanitary pad. I even found a dog pile but I admit to drawing the line on picking up that one.

I was shocked by the amount of trash after weekends. I found an entire six-pack of empty beer bottles along with a few that were broken. The plastic parts from used fireworks also littered the sand. I see broken glass and discarded pop-tops as an invitation to a tetanus shot for some poor, unsuspecting beach goer.

After a weekend, my arms are literally overloaded by bottles, cans and assorted refuse by the time I climbed the stairs at the end of my walk to hoist it all into a garbage can. That was when I wished there were garbage cans placed every so often along the dune line.

On the brighter side, I have a growing collection of beach toys that I will, someday, give to children playing on the beach. I even found a tiny toy giraffe.

Lest you think Canova is a particularly dirty beach, you would be wrong. I see a huge trash buildup on every beach. Recently, there was even a discarded Christmas tree on Melbourne Beach in July!

While the rest of my fellow walkers are focusing on shells, I watch for the tell-tale colors and shapes that send me trudging up to the dune line to snag a bag or a bottle.

Canova is definitely a cleaner beach for my efforts, but I wonder. There are a lot of us walking the beach every day. What if we all brought along a little bag to pick up the trash? I can attest it is great exercise adding all that bending to our power walks.

Kathryn B. Creedy is a freelance writer living in Indian Harbour Beach, FL.

Keywords: beach, sand, trash, Indian Harbour Beach, Florida, Melbourne, Canova, turtles, jellies, Great Pacific Gyre, herons, pelicans, turtle eggs, shells, dauphins, royal terns.