Sugar Sand and Fresh-Caught Bounty

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SEASIDE, FLORIDA — The flag in front of the tiny post office in this tourist community is at half-staff. Two days earlier, a student at Santa Fe High School, between Houston and Galveston, killed eight students and two staff members. Once again across this country our flags are lowered, thoughts and prayers offered. I have no answers. Apparently, nobody has a solution because the carnage continues. And the flags drop again to half staff.


Seaside is 24 miles east of Destin, where we are staying in a spacious beachside condo generously offered to us by a friend. Seaside is quaint, in a Disneyland way. Most of the pastel cottages are built to look old though they’re not. There is a lovely town square with a clamshell amphitheater in the lawn’s center, a fine locally owned bookstore, the usual high-dollar clothing stores, and converted Airstreams lined up to serve food along a sidewalk. The town is less than 40 years old, constructed on 80 acres the founder’s grandfather bought in the mid-1940s, when it was thick with live oaks and scrub-brush. The tiny post office is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

My Beautiful Mystery Companion, daughter Abbie and I spent a pleasant afternoon in Seaside, enjoying an outdoor lunch of fish tacos, perusing the shelves of Sundog Books, admiring the huge wall mural of Vincent Scully, an acclaimed architect, painted by noted muralist Gaia. Vincent Scully is not to be confused, as I did until Google saved me, with Vin Scully, the venerable sportscaster.


The bulk of our vacation was spent in Destin. This city, in the Florida panhandle, has a population of less than 14,000. That number swells four-fold during peak season. The main road, Hwy. 98, along the ocean, is being rebuilt, meaning traffic is even more horrendous than usual. One quickly learns to adapt to the rhythm of the road, with long waits at traffic signals and frequent U-turns to get to a restaurant on the other side. I spend a lot of time humming Jimmy Buffett songs, which helps. As he and Alan Jackson sing, “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere.” We just have to get to “somewhere.”

The famously white beach is popularly called sugar sand. It comes from silt washed down from the Appalachian Mountains, depositing thin quartz crystals along the shore via various rivers. This is true toe-sinking sand, the type that invites even confirmed shoe-shod clunks like me to go barefoot and dig toes deep into it.

We had been warned that the sun is relentless and to generously apply maximum strength sunscreen. I don’t have to be told twice, having suffered enough self-induced sunburns during the follies of youth, and being leery of skin cancer at this stage of life. The point was brought home when I missed a couple of spots on an arm and leg that turned strawberry red in short order. We spent most of our time outside beneath a beach umbrella, reading books and magazines, taking occasional quick dips into the cool, emerald green water. I haven’t sat still for that long outside of a library in a long time.

We spent every evening sampling the excellent seafood caught off the Florida panhandle, sitting outside every chance we could, watching fishing boats and pleasure craft glide into the harbor. The weather was lovely, a constant breeze wafting off the water, the light stunning as the sun sank below the horizon. The town is named after a New England sea captain named Leonard Destin, who began fishing along the gulf waters about 1835 and ended up settling in the area around 1850. He is credited with pioneering the fishing industry that is now called — by the chamber of commerce, naturally — the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”

We were the beneficiaries of those lucky fishing folks, downing grouper, snapper, crab and shrimp every evening. Many times, it had been caught earlier that day.

Now, that’s fresh.

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