While vacationers, retirees, and other non-working types take leisurely walks down the long St. Simons beach, on the other side of the Glynn marshes, the people of Brunswick are making wood pulp and transporting cars.
St. Simons is a barrier island, sitting at the edge of a vast marshland mosaic—an estuary of grasses, tidal rivers, and the intracoastal waterway–between it and the mainland port of Brunswick, Georgia. It’s apparent to anyone with a nose or eyes that Brunswick is a wood pulp town, because its pulp mills can be seen for miles rising from the marsh shores, emitting a distinctive sulfur odor that finds its way to the islands when the wind is right.
What is less apparent to the casual visitor is that Brunswick is one of the country’s busiest ports for the importing and exporting of cars. As you drive along the road from St. Simons to the interstate, you can glimpse between the trees enormous parking lots, heavily guarded, with acres upon acres, as far as you can see, of identical, shiny new cars.
Then, if you are here long enough, you will see the astoundingly large ships that carry the cars. Called “ro-ros” because the vehicles roll on and roll off the ships on their own wheels (as opposed to “lo-los” (lift-on, lift-off)), the ships follow the channel markers out from Brunswick, making a sharp turn close to neighboring Jekyll Island and then approach St. Simons announcing their passage with long, low fog-horn-like blasts that we can hear in our cottage.
This one, the Auriga Leader, transports Toyotas from Japan and is partially solar powered. A beast trailing gulls.
I have been reading some first-hand narratives of the area’s history and was morbidly fascinated by an account of a 1972 collision of a ship with the drawbridge over the Brunswick River, which caused a portion of the bridge to collapse, plummeting cars, trucks, and people into the deep and strong tidal currents below, and resulting in ten deaths.
A new bridge was built in 2003, named, as was the previous bridge, for Sidney Lanier, a 19th century lawyer, writer, poet, and consumptive who wrote the “Marshes of Glynn,” a romantic poem extolling the beauty and mystery of the marshes and this coastal region. I love his description of the moss-enshrouded live oaks, “Beautiful glooms, soft dusks in the noon-day fire.”
His namesake bridge can be seen from many parts of St. Simons and is a beauty. It’s completely accessible to walkers, joggers, and bike riders.
When I ventured onto it by foot, these new-looking shoes were sitting neatly on the guardrail heading onto the bridge as if someone had put them there before going to bed.
I admit it, I thought, “Did someone take their shoes off before heading up the bridge for a jump?” Not such a crazy question because, if ever there was a bridge designed for suicide, it’s this one. It’s enormously high (almost 500 feet) above a deep channel with strong currents, and has the lowest rail I’ve ever seen on a bridge of this height. The rail–just a concrete ledge really–only came to my mid-thigh, and I’m not tall. I felt as if I tipped in high breeze, I would go right off the edge. Fortunately, no suicides that day. I have no clue what the shoes were doing there nor why the bridge has such low rails.
Maybe the low rails make for a nice view for the tourists driving over.
Downtown Brunswick feels like it is on its own precipice, teetering between economic stability and a down slide into decay. It has a distinctive 1880s city hall, gingerbread houses, and beautifully laid out, shaded streets.
But, in contrast with some other southern towns we have visited, such as Asheville and Wilmington, Brunswick feels as if it’s struggling to maintain a viable downtown. A block from the refurbished Ritz theatre, ferns are growing out of the side of a building for sale, where the awnings are gone, and only the skeletal supports remain.
Out on St. Simons, it’s still wintery,
but the trees are starting to bloom and flocks of robins are noisily out and about.