Long weekend was study in contrasts

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 8/9/19

I love contrasts, and in this I’m in good company because don’t we all?

Contrasts — black and white, peace and war, negative and positive, salt and pepper, fire and ice, good and bad, yin …

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Long weekend was study in contrasts

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Posted

I love contrasts, and in this I’m in good company because don’t we all?

Contrasts — black and white, peace and war, negative and positive, salt and pepper, fire and ice, good and bad, yin and yang — abound around us.

Contrast is also essential; it’s what makes and keeps life interesting, saving us from the predictable, the homogeneous, the boring, the routine.

Opposites attract, they say.

As the French put it: Vive la difference.

Contrast was front and center over the past weekend, which I made a long one by skipping town Wednesday afternoon for adventures in Florida, though I wasn’t thinking about that as we motored south at sunset on I-95, our car pointed toward the Sunshine State. I was just trying to avoid a collision.

But a theme of contrasts began to emerge.

After spending Wednesday night in Savannah, we crossed the Georgia/Florida line early Thursday morning, dark rain clouds on the facing horizon to the south, bright sun at our rear to the north. But this was Florida weather, apt to turn on a dime; by the time we arrived at our first destination — Blue Spring State Park, near Orange City — we’d passed through the brief thunderstorm and emerged from it beneath sunny skies.

Arriving at the state park for the first leg of our Florida experience, we submerged our travel-tired bodies into the soothing 73-degree water at the spring, which feeds into the wildlife-rich St. Johns River.

In the crystal-clear waters of Blue Spring, we swam among manatees (the park is a refuge for the vulnerable marine mammals, one of which I saw bore the yellow scars of an encounter with a propeller), saw carp and gar and alligators. And though the state park is a popular destination for tourists like myself and, on this day, the parking lot was packed, the sultry setting remained quiet and peaceful. We spent the afternoon swimming and walking through the park and, from the boardwalk that spans a portion of the spring and river, safely observed the wildlife. It was perfect.

Our plans for Day Two were much different: my first-ever visit to the Most Magical Place on Earth. My wife, raised near Orlando, knows Florida well and is a seasoned Disney World visitor. Prior to last Thursday, I’d only heard the hype.

We spent the day walking the Disney grounds, first at Epcot, then at the Magic Kingdom. We rode rides; hopped aboard the monorail; saw the impressive animatronic creations the theme park is famous for, including the famed Pirates of the Caribbean attraction; visited a couple of the many gift shops but parted with no cash there, deeming $27.99 too much to pay for a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. Naturally, we took a selfie with Cinderella’s Castle as a backdrop.

I’m relieved to check the perennially-popular Disney World off my bucket list, but admittedly I’m maybe too old for the thrills Disney offers. It didn’t impress me much. As for real magic, I’d rate the natural beauty of Blue Springs — from which 102 million gallons of fresh water serenely flow daily — much higher than the ever-present commercialism of Disney.

Contrast.

From Disney, which opened 47 years ago, we traveled northward again for Day Three in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the country.

St. Augustine is a place rich in history and pleasing Spanish colonial architecture. Like Disney, there are plenty of opportunities to buy souvenirs and t-shirts, but if you ignore all that there are quiet, simple pleasures to be had, too, like standing at the site in downtown St. Augustine where Frederick Douglas addressed a crowd of about 200 on April 7, 1889, speaking about the continuing struggle of African-Americans to achieve civil rights.

We woke up Sunday morning to a blazing St. Augustine sun and after a day of retracing our path north on I-95 on our return home, we fell asleep, tired from all our activity and driving, underneath the temperate North Carolina moon.

The contrast — in weather and location — was like night and day.

While away, we’d not once turned on a television and had barely checked our smartphones. Social media could wait for that Cinderella Castle selfie. We’d spent our time south largely sheltered from the news, save for what we picked up from hotel lobby televisions, which was mostly Orlando’s Channel 9 covering local stuff, particularly back-to-school news.

Once back home and back in the loop, we learned that while we were visiting the Most Magical Place on Earth and its surroundings, there’d been some very real, very un-magical events occurring, particularly two more mass shootings of unsuspecting, innocent victims, this time in Texas and Ohio.

It’s not the kind of news any of us want to hear. And though we all love, and need, contrast, this news was more proof, though we’ve had enough, of the contrasting existence of good and evil.

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