Beach Kid

Miami Beach in 2008

I'm a beach kid, and always have been. I was born and raised on the north Florida coast and still call Jacksonville home.

The beach is where I find my balance. My life over the last decade has been hectic, and the Atlantic Coast has offered me calm from the storm.

Most days of the year, the north Florida shore is pretty quiet - small waves roll in over our shark-teeth laden beaches. But the end of summer brings added stress. Not only is it the beginning of football season - we take football seriously in the Sunshine State - it's the heart of hurricane season.

This time of year is always full of nostalgia as well. Hurricanes - as terrible as they are - tend to bring out the best in people. Communities come together, families make plans, friends reconnect.

Some of my most vivid memories are from hurricanes.

I remember running on the beach during Hurricane Bertha as hard as I could, barely moving in the tropical storm winds. I remember my dad hammering plywood over the windows and trying to help as the dog paced nervously.

I remember fleeing Hurricane Floyd in the middle of the night with my dad, brother, dog and cat (mom was a local news anchor and had to stay at the station) to my grandparent's house in northeast Georgia. We spent four carefree days on a lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My mom was the first back in our neighborhood and I remember how faraway and strange her voice sounded as she described the small amount of damage, stress and relief heavy in her throat.

I remember my senior year of high school when four hurricanes hit Florida in six weeks. We had a week off of school and spent it surfing, mudding (as in driving trucks in mud) and having hurricane parties by candlelight. 

This time of year also makes me nostalgic for the places that have made Jacksonville home.

The North Beach access of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (Guana, for short) is one of my favorite places on Earth. Guana is 10 miles of untouched oceanfront that I imagine looks very similar today to what Ponce de Leon found when he first landed in Florida back in 1513. If I ever need a few moments to myself - to smell the salt air and feel the wind my hair - Guana is where I go.

My dad got me interested in infrared photography when he made a series of really dreamy images on old IR film. Being a child of the digital age, I quickly converted an old Nikon D300 and started making images myself. This is one of my favorites, infrared or otherwise. This, to me, looks like home.

The north beach access at the Guana Reserve.

The Jacksonville Beach Pier has always been the icon of summer fun for me. I never spent much time there as a kid, but the idea of it always captivated me. The place is constantly crawling with surfers, fishermen and lifeguards. It's like Baywatch, but without the super models.

Last summer on a warm August night, the moon rose as the sun set over Jacksonville Beach. I took a Nikon D810 with a 200mm f/2 lens and a Manfrotto tripod to the Jacksonville Beach Pier to capture the rare event.

The moon rise over the Jacksonville Beach Pier.

Last October Hurricane Matthew came through and took off the last 350 feet of the Jacksonville Beach Pier and vastly changed the makeup of the beach; the tall dunes at Guana still stand but have eroded significantly. The Pier is still being rebuilt.

Still, in my lifetime, Jacksonville has been lucky. We've faced a lot of threats from different storms but have never endured a direct hit. We get the process without the devastation.

Hurricane Harvey reminded all of us what a bad storm can do. And Hurricane Irma - one of the largest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic - is quickly approaching the south Florida coast. 

Watching Irma make her way north and west over the Caribbean has left me with conflicted emotions. On one hand I fear for my neighbors in south Florida. On the other I feel incredibly lucky for the distinctly happy memories from the storms of the past, the people I shared them with and the places that made them special.  

I'm traveling to a wedding in Vermont today and am wondering what Guana and the Pier will look like when I return; if they'll still be there at all.

Home, and the places that make it such, change as time does. In Florida, we have natural disasters to remind us of that.

I've spent most of the last two days on the phone with friends and family. We're making plans and seeing who needs help.

At the end of the day it's not the places that make a city home, but the people. As long as they're okay, home will always be there.