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Carl Wernicke: Gulf Coast Culture Comes In Different Forms


Having lived almost all of my life in Northwest Florida, I can’t really speak to how it is to live in other places. But the variety of lifescapes offered by this area must be hard to beat.

That is underscored by our recent move from rural Garcon Point to urbanized Pensacola Beach. The culture shock could hardly be overstated.

Currently, my wife and I plan to eventually build on the edge of downtown Pensacola to take advantage of what has become a remarkably vibrant city center. Being able to walk or ride a bike to the farmer’s market, restaurants, small but quality grocery stores, the waterfront, the library or YMCA, is something I want to experience.

On Garcon Point we could see a neighbor’s house only in the deepest winter, when the leaves had fallen from the trees. In the summer, we could pretend we were 50 miles from anywhere, with bird song instead of traffic noise as the dominant sound. We mostly heard regular traffic noise only in the winter, when the leaves had dropped and a north wind brought the rumble of I-10. Sure, the thud of bombs on the Eglin AFB range and the drone of Navy helicopter training over East Bay reminded us of the modern world, but a mockingbird serenade from atop the tall oak above the rooftop was more likely to mark our day.

On Pensacola Beach, our home sits just off the main drag and the bicycle path; we hear people talking, laughing or bickering as they walk or pedal past the house. The sound of traffic is constant, and already on weekends cars back up for hours in late afternoon as traffic queues up to exit the beach. We like to sit on our rooftop deck, margaritas in hand, and wave to the suckers inching past.

Meanwhile, we are surrounded by vacation rentals, and I have noticed that beach vacations seem to require people to shout and carry on late into the night.

But as urbanized as the core of the beach is, there is much more to it.

We quickly found a number of dewberry patches, so we didn’t miss the spring berry crop. I set up the feeder in our back yard, and the birds find it within hours. We have enjoyed watching the local birds as well as colorful migrants like the rose crested grosbeak and the indigo bunting stop by for sustenance on their long journeys.

My wife has populated our back deck with flowers and vegetables in containers and pots. While it is only a small facsimile of our Garcon Point garden, it provides some of the fresh produce we have been accustomed to. And we quickly found a beach resident whose farm outside Gulf Breeze provides fresh, pastured eggs.

We catch crabs in traps set in Santa Rosa Sound, and I have been eyeing the mullet that pass in schools underneath a neighbor’s dock, ready to try out the cast net.

And it seems as if every day I run into another longtime acquaintance who lives on the beach, another reward for living in my hometown.

Pensacola Beach is certainly different than Garcon Point, just as downtown Pensacola is unlike either of those places. I plan to celebrate all the differences as long as I can.