Last Weekend of the Year

IMG_4559George’s shoulder is healing nicely, his throat is better, and we are just starting to explore the area around St. Simons.  On Friday, the sun finally emerged after an extended period of cold, wet weather.  As is often the case here, airplane contrails made for interesting sky designs that evening.

20141225_16302520141225_164507And for some nice puddle reflections.

20141225_164430On Saturday, we ventured off island to Darien, a small town on the mainland across from St. Simons. It has a beautiful river and marsh setting, a fleet of shrimpers, and Skippers Fish Camp, where we lunched on local shrimp, crabcakes, and collards and Q (that would be barbequed pulled pork for the uninitiated) that we ate outside while soaking up the sun and watching the river.

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Darien was founded by Scottish Highlanders in the 1700’s and lies in McIntosh County, named for one of those early settlers.   The shell-based tabby foundations of the old river warehouses are still standing.
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McIntosh County achieved notoriety through Melissa Fay Greene’s 1991 book “Praying For Sheetrock”–one of the best book titles ever (you’ll have to read it to find out what the title means). The book is a fascinating account of the complicated racial and political dynamics in this small rural county during the 1970s and 80s, with a largely black population and a larger-than-life white sheriff.

IMG_4294I have no idea how the county has progressed since, although, aside from shrimping, it looks pretty economically depressed. There does appear to be a dependable revenue source in speeding tickets, however. In our brief visit, the most notable thing was the number of police cars pulling people over. The local police cars were tricked out with video-game-like pulsating sequences of blue lights on the tops, bottoms, and sides. They were pretty freaky, actually, and I would hate to have one light up behind me while driving down a dark highway. In any case, I recommend obeying the speed limit if you are driving through southern Georgia on I-95.

IMG_4296On Sunday the hordes descended on the St. Simons beach. It’s relatively quiet here in December and most days on my beach walks I only encounter a handful of people. But on this weekend, the last of the year and the hump between the holidays, the island was full of vacationers. They tailgated, clogged the restaurants, and headed to the beach. I sound like a local.

What struck me on Sunday was that the island was overflowing with life–lots of people for sure, and birds in exotic variety,

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IMG_4321IMG_4160IMG_4446banana blossoms and trees packed with fruit,

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IMG_4640surfing and paddleboarding,

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Pausing to watch the surfing

Pausing to watch the surfing

and, of course, dogs.

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Aside from the dogs, this photo looks like a scene from the Walking Dead 

He was thirsty after his first day at the beach

He was thirsty after his first day at the beach

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This bad boy with a clueless owner was chasing a cormorant

This bad boy (with a clueless owner) was chasing a cormorant

and got pretty close

and got pretty close.

The cormorant took off

The cormorant took off

with the dog in frenzied pursuit

with the dog in frenzied pursuit

It’s been a good year for us. Retirement is sweet. We’re looking forward to next year.

Happy New Year to all of you.

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A Sodden Solstice or Daughters of the Cold War

20141221_102247A year ago, I took the picture below on a midday walk along Cook Inlet in Anchorage on winter solstice.  As you can see, it was a dark, dreary day.

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This year, I took the picture below on a mid-morning winter solstice walk considerably farther south and east, along the Atlantic coast on St. Simons, Georgia.  As you can see, it was a dark, dreary day.  The palm tree is an improvement, though.

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We have been staying close to home (our little rental cottage) this past week as George recovers from rotator cuff surgery.  He had the surgery on December 15 and it seems to have gone very well.  The only glitch in the recovery so far has been a raging sore throat ulcer from the anesthesia tube.  George has his first follow-up on the shoulder tomorrow and we will know more then about recovery time.

While he has been healing, the weather has been unseasonably cold, with low clouds, intermittent drizzle or steady rain, and a biting wind.  Zoe loves it–she’s a cold weather dog–and I enjoy my beach walks in all weather, but photo opportunities have been few and far between.

Because all of my recent photos were variations on gray gloom, I will try to make this post vaguely informative on the topics of vegetable, animal, mineral, and the truly bizarre.  First, vegetable–even in the gray gloom, the vegetation here is startling.  If you fall asleep for too long, you may be in danger of waking up with plant tendrils creeping across your body.  The Spanish moss seems to take on a life of its own, draping everything from live oaks to orange trees.  It is an epiphyte—drawing its sustenance from the air—not the trees it inhabits.  Still, it really knows how to move in on a host.  It is gruesome and gorgeous at the same time.

The moss is taking over these citrus trees.

The moss is taking over these citrus trees.

Left unchecked, the ivy also runs rampant, covering and ultimately breaking down everything in its path.

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On the animal side, this may be the doggiest place we have visited so far.  These beautiful golden retrievers were waiting for their owner with the top down in a mini-Cooper convertible in the grocery store parking lot, in full Santa regalia.

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They appeared to feel that the costumes were undignified and below their proper status.  I agree.

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The beach is a dog playground.  If you don’t like dogs, you are out of luck.  This dog tribute was below a holiday-decorated driftwood tree on the beach.

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In a jarring contrast with the dog-love atmosphere, the sidewalk drainage grates are potential dog leg crackers.  The grates have enormous openings, just perfect for a dog’s leg to go straight in—first it’s a gotcha, then try to move and it’s a crunch.

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So far, Zoe has carefully walked around them, but I hope she will not be distracted by the multitude of roaming cats and accidentally step in.

The central dog message board in the Village

The central dog message board in the Village

On the mineral front, St. Simons has a building material called tabby that is a combination of sea shells, lime, water, and sand.  The tabby concept was brought to this coast from North Africa by early Spanish settlers and used extensively in early building by the colonists.  Tabby is still used here, although it’s “phony” tabby, being shells mixed with cement, not the more labor intensive lime and sand.  But, phony or not, tabby is a beautiful thing.  I cannot resist a wall embedded with shells.  Nice.

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An outside wall of a Village restaurant

Finally, the truly bizarre.  Everywhere we walk or ride on St. Simons, historical markers punctuate the path.  This area has always been a coastal crossroads and the people here are proud of its history, with groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and Daughters of the Confederacy promoting local tidbits of historical knowledge.

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But “Daughters of the Cold War” seem to be conspicuously missing.  And there should be chapter here because one of the most intriguing historical events in the area is missing a marker.  Perhaps because it’s not exactly a tourist draw.  It’s the “Tybee bomb,” an unexploded Mark 15 nuclear bomb lying somewhere in the offshore sediment just doing … whatever unexploded nuclear bombs do rolling around in the muck at the bottom of the ocean floor.

In 1958, during a military training exercise a bomber and fighter plane collided above Tybee Island, outside of Savannah.  The bomber was damaged but still able to fly and jettisoned the bomb before landing.  Despite several searches, the bomb has never been found.  Whether or not it poses a real threat (probably by slow leakage of radiation) is a matter of debate.  But it is something to think about when gazing offshore toward the north.  I wonder where it is and what it is up to.  Let’s hope it stays intact.

There's a bomb out there somewhere.

There’s a nuclear bomb rolling around out there somewhere.

The days are getting longer!

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Happy holidays, Mele Kalikimaka, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad, Joyous Kwanzaa, and have a good Festivus.  Enjoy.

 

To the Pier

20141204_125642After being on the road for seven months, we are reveling in the pleasures of being in a house again–the roominess, the dishwasher, the bathtub, the kitchen, and the ability to walk to town.  St. Simons is heaven for walkers and bike riders.  Several times a week, I walk to the north end of the beach and then back through neighborhoods or along the marsh.  It takes about two hours, with time for lingering.

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A walk in the other direction leads to the village, the lighthouse, and the pier.  They are only about a ten minute walk from our cottage, if we take a direct route.

At very low tide we can walk south on the beach to the village.  But there is a small point with rocks that become submerged when the tide rises that prevents access for much of the day.

20141204_120026Approaching the village from the beach, you can see the lighthouse, decorated for the holidays.

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We usually walk to the pier and the village on the inland route through a neighborhood of cottages.  The gardens are full of blooms this time of year.

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The village main street ends at the water and the pier.

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I am always drawn to the pier.

IMG_407020141211_150954One evening, I couldn’t stop watching the boat-tailed grackles, ordinary black birds transformed by the lowering sun into iridescent creatures. This one was off by himself, grooming and preening, with full head contortions.

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These three reminded of me of some preteen boys we saw fishing our first night on the pier, each trying to show the others up.  The bird in middle kept puffing his chest and spreading his tail.

IMG_4114IMG_4115Then the one on the left would give it a go, less successfully.

IMG_4135Then they would act as if they were all cool.  IMG_4132The one on the right did not do any puffing, but just gave an occasional squack, as if to tell the one in the middle to cut it out.

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This serene gull sat nearby.

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Until she had enough, and flew off.

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Wrens were flitting between the rocks at the foot of the pier and the huge live oaks in the park.

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20141211_151508The lighthouse is right next to the pier and, on a walk last night, this magnificent raptor was surveying his (or her?) domain from the lighthouse peak.  I only had my phone for photos, but you can see how beautiful he was perched up there.  It looked like an immature eagle–seemed a little large for an osprey–but I couldn’t determine what it was from the ground.  If any of you can tell from this photo, let me know.

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After I walked around the park and headed home as the sun started to go down and a chill was setting in, the bird was still there.

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I came back with the good camera, but he was gone.  The lighthouse’s faceted Fresnel lens, however, was making brilliant prisms of the setting sun.

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What an exquisite evening.

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Detour

20141201_171845A piece of lava led to a detour in our road trip.  Although we had no idea at the time, the detour originated a year-and-a-half ago on a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, when George and I took a short hike through a sun-scorched lava field to see some petroglyphs.  Old lava flows are tricky to navigate.  They are hard on the feet, with unpredictable, contorted shapes.  I sprained my ankle running through some old lava on Kauai a few years ago. 

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Trail to petroglyphs

This time it was George’s turn, when his foot caught an edge and he tripped and fell.  He broke his fall with his left arm and scraped his knee, but it seemed as if he had been lucky—no major injuries from the often razor-like lava edges.  We continued on to see the petroglyphs.

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Trust me, there are petroglyphs on these rocks

The first consequence of that fall hit us when we returned to the parking lot and realized that the rental car key was missing.  We had only one key and the rental car agency was on the other side of the island.  The key must have fallen out of George’s pocket when he tripped, so we retraced our steps and started searching.  We were soon joined by a sympathetic Japanese couple, who seemed delighted to stop and help.  After about ten minutes, when George and I had moved farther along the trail, we heard a commotion of exclamations behind us.  The Japanese couple found the key.  They were almost as excited as we were and I stunned the poor man, who spoke little English, by giving him a hug.  All was good—we thought.

But the second consequence of the fall was more subtle.  The next morning, George’s left shoulder hurt.  And it continued to hurt.  Likely some rotator cuff damage.  After we returned home, physical therapy and steroid injections improved things enough so that it appeared that he would not need surgery.  But during this trip, his shoulder continued to nag and he had it checked out again during our stay in Athens.  The MRI showed that he needs surgery for rotator cuff and tendon damage.  A dilemma—do we continue on the road and have surgery after we settle down or have it done now and stay in one place for a couple of months?  Not a choice really—sooner is better.

We lucked out and found a dog-friendly, affordable cottage to rent for two months on St. Simons Island on the Georgia coast.  We are putting our trailer into storage, George will have his surgery in the middle of December, and then we will have time to appreciate this amazing area while George recovers enough to hit the road again.  I will be able to appreciate it more than George, of course, because I won’t be in pain with my arm in a sling.  But this is good place to chill.

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Marshes of St. Simons

We used to come to St. Simons—a small island on Georgia’s short coastline—on long weekends when we lived near Atlanta, but I had forgotten just how lovely it is.  There’s a funky-ish little town with a pier and lighthouse, a gorgeous curved, dog-friendly beach, an old fort, and massive live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, so dense that they create dusk underneath in the middle of the day.

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Our little cottage is a five minute walk to the beach and a ten minute walk to town.  We won’t be driving much, except to explore.  We will be taking plenty of day trips, but there also is a lot to see on the island.  On our first evening here, I headed to the beach.  I emerged from a dense tree canopy to be met at the beach with a double rainbow, followed by a burning ball of orange sun dropping into the ocean at sunset.  Oh, yes.  I like it here.

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20141201_171440Some equally magical walks followed—one in brilliant sun, with birds diving and swooping on the offshore winds and one shrouded in a soft fog.    20141202_133255

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Dog photobomb--but he enhanced the shot.

Dog photobomb–but he enhanced the shot.

20141202_13593120141202_14000020141202_14253820141202_14240820141202_143704Having surgery while you are on the road is not easy.  In short order, we had to find a good surgeon, a place to stay, a place for the trailer, cancel our reservations, and readjust our plans.  It’s been a hectic scramble, but things seem to be working out nicely so far.  A twist, a turn, a trip, and here we are.

Heading into the foggy shore

Heading into the foggy shore

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Fishing for mullet with the tide

Fishing for mullet with the tide

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