Capitalizing on nature’s beauty disturbing

By Clyde Davis

The place was northwest Florida; the time, one week ago today and the several days following Thanksgiving. I was there to provide escort service for my 8-year-old grandson, but took advantage of the coastal environment to do some long overdue snorkeling.

Florida as viewed through the eyes of an 8-year-old looks like this: It was big, and it had the coolest dang beach. I have never been able to view Florida through those eyes; when I was a kid the only people who went to Florida were rich people, old people, and more specifically, rich, old people. I was actually four times Jason’s age before I saw the golden shores of Florida.

All of which serves as a precursor to the heart of the experience, for me: The contrast between the natural Florida and commercial Florida.

Sign on the entrance to an area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which weaves in and out with the coastal route near Pensacola: Come Experience The Real Florida.

How true, and how irresistible to one whose love of the outdoors extends beyond the pseudosanctity of an air conditioned driver’s seat. By the way, air conditioning was scarcely necessary, as the daily average was a comfortable 70 degrees or so.

One must park and walk to the beach zone, which certainly gave more space to every individual. The farther I walked, the less crowded it became. After about a mile, I was the only person on the beach. The sole other occupant was a large blue heron, who looked at me comfortably, both aware that I was on his turf, and secure in the knowledge that he could fly away, should I become too familiar.

I simply pointed him toward the large school of pompanos with whom I had been snorkeling, believing it might be of interest to him. His diffidence to this probably arose more from confidence in his skill as an aquatic hunter, than any lack of desire to eat.

Contrast this with the exotic bird store that I stopped by on Saturday morning. Understand that I am not deriding those who keep parrots, parakeets, cockatoos, etc. I even had a pair of lovebirds, at one time, though only until they found a permanent home.

But I had to think — if I had a Macaw, or some other large bird, I could not feel comfortable giving him a cage less than the size of a room. Preferably, he would occupy a fenced and covered back yard. Long lived, highly intelligent, and large, it seems unreasonable to expect a bird like that to live out his life in a cage.

Contrast the National Seashore with Watercolor, which is the name of a

community. On Sunday a took a snorkeling road trip down the coast, meaning to stop at various beaches. I was excited at the thought of a town named Watercolor.

Disappointment of the year. A planned community, sketched out in carefully homogenous, androgynous condos, and tinted in shades of neutral pseudo-oceanic colors. Too preplanned, too antiseptic. Worst of all, no beach access for paupers and peons like me. You have to be a member of one of the gated community blocks to play in these waters. I think even the sharks have to show membership cards.

It will never fail to strike me odd that the factors that draw people to the shore, the mountains, or any other area of striking and natural beauty, those factors quickly become drawing cards for the commercialization, which compromises that beauty.

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a college instructor. He can be contacted at: