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Carl Wernicke: Autumn On The Beach

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  Early one morning this week, coffee cup in hand, I walked down to Santa Rosa Sound from our home on Pensacola Beach and noticed something. For the first time since spring the morning breeze carried a chill, a hint of the coming fall rather than the warm breath of what has been a hot summer.

For locals, this means we can once again reclaim our beach. While Labor Day has been the traditional end of the summer tourism season, the last two weeks have been noticeably calmer on the beach, especially with so many schools starting early. I have found myself swimming in picture-perfect water on the world’s prettiest beach, wondering where all the people were.

Obviously, this is the time of year in which beach businesses reluctantly begin to hunker down for the long winter. Marketing efforts have extended the season, but every business here has a certain amount of hibernation built into its plan.

But for locals whose primary interest in the beach is enjoying it, this is the perfect time.

I’ve long thought that September is the best month on the beach, with all the advantages of summer and few of the drawbacks. The days remain long and the sun hot, but the brutal heat of midsummer is gone. The water is warm, but taking on a touch of coolness. And this year the shelling has been spectacular, a byproduct of beach renourishment, whose other pros and cons can always be debated

Yes, jellyfish can be a problem in late summer, but this year they have hardly been seen. And September can bring hurricanes. Ivan was a September storm; Opal came in October.

A warm October and even November can extend the swimming season, but we locals are finicky about water temperature, and soon enough it will require greater intestinal fortitude to take a dip.

Winter on the beach can be bleak; low temperatures and stiff north winds that scour the sand can send all but the bravest inside. But it also brings to the beach a welcome change of season.

Over many years I have done most of my exploring amid the dunes in the winter, when the low humidity and temperatures take dripping sweat and sunburn out of the equation. Cold fronts sweeping across Pensacola Pass and Fort Pickens signal bird migrations and the clear, cool days that sharpen the hues of sand and water.

It certainly turns my relationship with the sun around. Instead of seeking shade and looking for a breeze, I look for a wind-sheltered nook where the gentle warming of a winter sun makes sitting still a simple pleasure.

I remember years ago living in one of the old, classic, concrete block houses on the Gulf, a house long gone now. It had a rickety screened porch with a little brick stoop facing the water. The house blocked the north wind, and even on some of the coldest January days I could sit shirtless in this manmade cove and be warmed by the mid-day sun, if only for the briefest time. I could trace the passing days by how early the chill forced me back into my clothes.

So I am looking forward to winter. And soon enough, we will be seeing the signs of another spring, and looking forward  to welcoming back another summer.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.