Life brings change. Like most folks, initially, I resist. Come on, who wants to leave their comfort zone? But, as I begin to reflect on my drift through life, I know that throwing myself into discomfort and uncertainty forces me to grow. Slowly I let go of the present, inch forward with tentative ideas and eventually embrace a new path.
In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon landed in what he called “La Florida” and claimed the region and all its gold and treasures for the King and Queen of Spain. In 1565, the Spanish crown sent Pedro Menendez de Aviles to establish a colony. Menendez landed near what is now the Mission Nombre de Dios. He named the settlement “San Agustín,” having first sighted the coast on the feast day of Saint Augustine.
September 2015 marks the 450th anniversary of the city’s founding, making St. Augustine the oldest continually occupied European settlement in America. For anyone who considers Jamestown the epicenter of America’s beginnings, let’s get the record straight. “In 1607, when a small band of Englishmen founded Jamestown, St. Augustine had already existed for 42 years, ” states author J. Michael Francis in his commemorative book America’s First City.
Celebrate 450! is a free, five-day celebration set for September 4-8, 2015, a series of programs, festivals and exhibitions. Don’t miss the once in a lifetime event. In fact, the city is expecting a royal visit from the Spanish King sometime during the celebrations to strengthen and continue the bonds between Spain and St. Augustine.
More than 60 hours of free entertainment will be scattered over five stages throughout the historic district and include Grammy award winning headliners Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and Aaron Neville among others. Friday, Sept 4th will feature Aaron Neville at 8:30 on the Bayfront Main Stage; Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell will perform on the Bayfront stage at 9:30 pm on Saturday night, Sept 5.
A KidZone and Family Oasis will be located in the heart of the festival on the west side of the Plaza de la Constitution in front of the Government House. Activities will include face painting, history touch boxes and archeological sand digs, plus a dog station.
Even after the Street and Music Festival concludes, Celebrate 450! continues for another two days.
On Labor Day, Sept. 7, the community will continue the annual tradition of commemorating the city’s birthday with, of course, birthday cake and more entertainment. The ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. from the Plaza de la Constitution’s Gazebo with a reading of the official proclamation followed by the serving of birthday cake for all who attend. The ceremony will be preceded with a performance by The Driftwoods at noon and followed by two hours of music by Mid-Life Crisis until 5:00pm.
Tuesday, Sept. 8 is the actual day that St. Augustine marks the 450th anniversary of its founding by Don Pedro Menendez. The day’s events start with a reenactment of the landing of Menendez and the hundreds of settlers who accompanied him and founded the City of St. Augustine. The reenactment will be staged on the grounds of the Mission Nombre de Dios near the exact location of that original landing. The colorful event truly makes history come alive. Following the reenactment, a procession will travel down San Marco Avenue to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine for a commemorative Mass scheduled for 11 a.m.
To create these pedestrian friendly events, streets located near the event sites will be closed at various times throughout the festival. The area is bounded by, and traffic will be prohibited on, Orange Street, Cordova Street, King Street east of Cordova Street and Avenida Menendez. Satellite parking areas with shuttle buses will be available.
For up to the minute information visit www.StAugustine-450.com/Celebrate450.
Breaking News: While not able to visit St. Augustine during the anniversary festival, King Felipe VI of Spain will attend the U.S. Spain Council International Summit in St. Augustine September 18 – 20. The economic development summit is an event that engenders discussion among world leaders.
Before I moved to Florida, I would have expected a place named the Alligator Farm to be a tacky tourist trap. But, not so at the St. Augustine site which is official known as the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. It was founded in 1893 and is one of the oldest zoos in the country, and also accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
One of my earlier visits came in 2007 when I took my 4-year-old grandson and 2-year-old granddaughter. RJ, my grandson, wanted to have his photo taken with an alligator and we agreed. Don’t know if that experience turned him onto reptiles but he is now the proud owner of a leopard gecko named Percy and a walking encyclopedia on the creatures.
Since I now live in St. Augustine, I buy an annual membership to the Alligator Farm because I love to photograph the birds that return to nest. Seems the gators keep their predators away and birds flock here by the thousands between February and May. So do photographers from all around the world- that’s part of the fun.
But, RJ and Kyra were in town for Thanksgiving and they wanted to see the animals. We watched and listened as a zookeeper feed some of the biggest gators and then followed him down to the swamp where everyone got to throw large pellets of alligator food into the water. The area under the walkway churned with gator jaws and tails. It was pure mayhem. You might think it was frightening, but most of the people loved the show. The trainer threw in a pumpkin as an object for enrichment. Gators don’t usually get this kind of treat and many of them seemed intrigued, others totally ignored it. For a while the squash bobbed around like a greased watermelon, and then one gator took a big chomp and scurried away with it in his mouth. Eventually the pumpkin was shared by others.
We also observed a female Komodo dragon down a Cornish hen. Now, that’s something you don’t see everyday. She had a little trouble getting the whole thing in her jaw, but once she did, she swallowed it whole! Amazing critters.
We continued through the Land of the Crocodiles where all 23 species of crocodilians in the world are on display. Most of these animals were simply lazing in the sun or in the water.
We also saw some exotic birds and good old Maximo- a 1,250-pound saltwater croc. On the way out, RJ bid good-bye to the two albino alligators (one was the former little one he had held in 2007.) Indeed, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm is a wild and fun place. We’ll all return again.