Defensive Design

IMG_7999I had no idea that a military fort could be so beautiful. On our last full day on the Georgia coast, we decided to take a drive north from Skidaway to Tybee Island. We had no specific destinations on Tybee, we just wanted to check it out. Tybee is Savannah’s beach, with a partially funky, partially upscale, southern beach town feel. It has a starkly handsome lighthouse, set off by the red roofs below.

IMG_7918As we were on the stretch of road leaving Tybee, we decided to stop at Fort Pulaski, a National Park Service Monument on the Savannah River’s Cockspur Island. A good decision.


Moat and drawbridge

Surprisingly, the Park Service allowed dogs everywhere but in the visitor center, so Zoe got to tour the fort also.

You can just see George and Zoe at the edge of the moat.

You can just see George and Zoe between the trees at the moat’s edge.  She wanted to go swimming.

Zoe liked the cannon.

Zoe showing her approval of the cannon.

We walked a trail down to the river bank and then tackled the fort itself.


There were flocks of cedar waxwings on the trail.

We dodged a flock of cedar waxwings on the trail.

Resurrection ferns.  They are epiphytes like the Spanish moss and live, appear to die, and then live again.

Resurrection ferns. They are epiphytes like the Spanish moss and live on the live oaks.  They turn brown and look dead under cold and drought conditions and then, a few days later, become green again.

The fort’s history alone made it an interesting visit.IMG_8045

IMG_8013Fort Pulaski was part of James Madison’s plan to fortify the coast after the war of 1812. It took decades to build and stood even longer after its completion without being fully armed or manned.  As a result, when South Carolina seceded from the Union in late 1860, Georgia’s governor easily seized the fort, and turned it over to the Confederate States in January 1861.  After Lincoln blockaded the South, Union forces worked their way down the South Carolina coast and moved in on Georgia, eventually establishing troops on Tybee for a siege of Fort Pulaski.  In April 1862, when the Confederates refused to surrender the fort, the Union bombarded it with armament that included new rifled cannons, Parrott guns, which sent bullet-shaped shells spinning out of the cannon, giving greater range and penetration than the standard smooth-bore cannon and round cannon balls used at the time.  The new guns made short work of what had been considered Pulaski’s impenetrable walls and the Confederates surrendered 30 hours later.IMG_7971

IMG_7966IMG_8033After the surrender, General David Hunter, commander of the Fort’s Union forces, issued an emancipation proclamation for the slaves of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina (too early for Lincoln–he quickly rescinded it).  The hundreds of slaves who reached the fort were freed and it became a southern terminus in the Underground Railroad.

Carved granite steps.

Carved granite steps from below.

History aside, what I found so compelling about the fort was its sheer beauty of design. It may not have been impregnable, but it was stunning for the eyes.  The man responsible, General Simon Bernard, was a French engineer and former aide-de-camp of Napoleon.

The vaulted ceilings and arches gave it a church-like feel.  The dimensions, the symmetry, and the colors were pleasing, almost soothing.  Beautiful form for a brutal function.IMG_8026_edited-1


Toward the end of the war, Fort Pulaski housed Confederate political and military prisoners, some of whom died there.  It’s now supposed to be haunted.IMG_7993


IMG_7758It feels good to be traveling again.  We headed north from St. Simons back to Athens, Georgia, where our son and daughter-in-law live.  We picked up our generator and some other things we had stashed there, ate like kings (or pigs, depending on your point-of-view), and then turned around and headed back to the Georgia coast.  This time, our destination was Skidaway Island State Park, just southeast of Savannah.


Skidaway takes reservations, but not for specific sites, just the category of site—full-hookups or water and electric only.  There were no full-hookup reservations available when we made ours, but we arrived early and snagged a full-hook up site that had just opened up.  I believe we had the best site in the park.  Enormous, level, relatively private–it was one of our favorite campsites of the trip.


Although Skidaway is an island, the state park is in the coastal forest bordering the marsh and there is no beach.  Most of the campground sites are large, overhung by live oaks, bordered by palmettos, and alive with birds.  IMG_7826It has a series of trails, from a half-mile to three miles, which made for lovely daily exercise.  IMG_7742IMG_7786IMG_7771Lots of birds, not too many people, campfires at night, a full moon rising through the trees—as I said, it felt good to be in our little trailer world again.

IMG_7823The park has a small interpretative center with information on the area’s history—natural and otherwise.  As I walked through it, trying to quiet the thwack-thwack of my flip-flips so as not to interrupt the Ranger’s talk on poisonous snakes from the room next door, I heard her say, “Whatever you do, don’t walk the trails with sandals or flip-flops.”  No problem, I headed out on the trails fully shod, ankles sprayed with bug dope, so that no snakes or ticks would get near me. IMG_7883

The interpretative center had a birdfeeder out back.

The interpretative center had a bird feeder out back.

This cardinal kept attacking its reflection in the interpretative center's window

This cardinal kept attacking its reflection in the interpretative center’s window

We headed into Savannah one day, but it was too cold and windy to even get out of the car for more than a few minutes.  IMG_7836IMG_7840We parked and tried to walk around but didn’t get much past the parking lot with the hearse ghost tours.  Still, even a drive around Savannah is interesting.  Its historic district is a maze of beautiful old homes and shaded squares, with some grittiness interspersed and around the edges.  IMG_7869IMG_7863IMG_7876IMG_7868IMG_7877The river waterfront’s warehouses have been converted to restaurants and tourist shops.  It gave me the deja-vu-ish feeling that I have had in several gorgeous old waterfront towns that now have look alike tourist businesses–Lahaina, Provincetown, Savannah, Wilmington–as if I’ve been on these streets before, but with a slight shift in light, background, and smell.  They are becoming too much the same.

IMG_7845IMG_7854We did not have any expectations for Skidaway.  We changed our travel plans in Athens, deciding that we wanted to head back to the coast in hopes of warmer weather. So, we booked Skidaway at the last minute, knowing little about it.  It was a good decision.  Despite the one cold day, the weather was pretty nice.  And the campground, which seems like a serene, woodsy oasis, is only about fifteen minutes from Savannah. We loved it.IMG_7791IMG_7810IMG_7796


Just Birds (Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans, part 2)

IMG_6221This is a second part of the post “Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans,” but it’s just birds. If you don’t like bird photos, you will be yawning big time on this one.

For me, St. Simons meant birds.  They were everywhere—on the beach, in the marsh, in our neighborhood, and in the village.  IMG_6026They fluttered, called, preened, sang, strutted, fished, hammered, and, at times seemed to pose.  IMG_5412Many nights, we were kept awake by two owls calling back and forth from the dense live oaks in the neighborhood (go to sleep, already!!).

Every morning, the tentative bits of bird song signaled that—although it was still dark—the sun was about to rise.  All day long, their calls accompanied us—the cardinals’ rhythmic chip and liquid song, the doves’ oo-oo, IMG_6478the sparrows’ chatter, and the ospreys’ skreeee—eek, causing the marsh birds to scatter—flying up, circling around, and settling back down.    IMG_6705

The trees and bushes were heavy with berries—especially the red cedar—and attracted a wide variety of birds, fussing and gorging, but elusive to catch on film.IMG_6676IMG_6671

The shore birds were more stolid, hunkered down against the cold or pecking at critters in the sand and waves.  IMG_5369IMG_5378IMG_7497They only became skittish if I got close, so we played a cat and mouse game where I would learn how close I could approach before they took off and moved another ten feet down the beach.

The salt inlet at the end of the beach was a feeding mecca for a variety of birds scooping up the little minnows and larger mullet.   IMG_7531 IMG_7539This elegant beauty (I assume it’s a tern or gull, but don’t know what kind … I’ll call it the blackdot cheeky terngull) did a beautiful fluttering hover and dive, over and over again.  IMG_7521IMG_7508IMG_7501During our last week on the island, this oystercatcher couple appeared on the rocks.  One sported multiple bands, the other none.  The banded one must be older or stupider, or both.  IMG_7651IMG_7567

On St. Simons, a quiet road runs along the marsh, so it’s easy to get close to the birds without having to worry about being attacked by snakes, gators, or bugs.    IMG_6311IMG_7576IMG_6757IMG_7583IMG_7694IMG_7682

Just birds–but such a variety–interesting, noisy, colorful, entertaining, awkward, graceful, and beautiful.

Look carefully to see the fish this osprey is holding in his talons.

Look carefully to see the fish this osprey is holding in his talons.



Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans

IMG_7535We are on the road again and just getting back into the sweet rhythm of travel.  But it was not entirely easy to leave St. Simons.  Unwittingly, we put down a few root tendrils in our three month stay that had stubbornly taken hold.  It was a good interlude and we will be back.

St. Simons was not new to us, but this extended visit gave us a new perspective.  I became almost addicted to the winter beach.  It changed–sometimes dramatically–from day to day and, on days when I did not walk its full length, I felt as if I was missing something.  Few ventured out on the bitter cold days, giving me miles of solitude with nothing but waves, sand, birds and sky–always different, with constantly shifting sands and tidal cuts.


When I wasn’t walking the beach I was bird-stalking–mostly along the marsh.  I am not a birder and have no life list.  But I love to watch and listen to birds and to try to capture them in photos.  St. Simons was a birdy feast.  I never knew what I was going to see from day to day, but felt I got to know some of the resident egrets, mergansers, and herons.

20141203_162428In fact, the birds were so varied and interesting that the second part of this post will be bird photos only, allowing those of you tired of the birds an easy bypass.  IMG_7650

The St. Simons’ people, both locals and visitors, were some of the friendliest I have ever encountered.  We enjoyed our quirky neighborhood–between the King and Prince and the Village–full of old houses, cats, and enough dogs to hold a neighborhood dog parade in their honor.

King and Prince Hotel--good beach access here even at high tide

King and Prince Hotel–good beach access here even at high tide

The Crab Trap, neighborhood restaurant for 40 years

The Crab Trap, neighborhood restaurant for 40 years

Shrimp boat seen from Village pier





Cats on a roof.

Dog parade

Dog parade passing by our front door

We made friends.  I came to know the 89-year-old woman living around the corner, her yard man, the oil company guy on the beach, the shell-collecter who hated the cold, the mail lady, fellow kayakers, three different couples from Maine, and a wide variety of people from yoga classes.  After months on the road, where interpersonal encounters are necessarily transitory, the people of St. Simons were an unexpected pleasure.

Spring was trying hard to rear its lovely head just as we were leaving.  The first blooms were zapped by a hard frost, but new blooms kept coming.  With the spring came more people.  Too many for us–we would not like the St. Simons’ summer crowds.IMG_6789

IMG_6810IMG_4484IMG_6929IMG_6782We were ready to leave and fortunately George’s shoulder healed quickly and well.  We lucked out on his surgeon, whose aggressive approach to rehab allowed George to be lifting some weights within six weeks of surgery.  He now is able to do most everything, has good range of motion, and little pain.  We are very glad that we took a break from travel to have the surgery.

That break also gave us a chance to think seriously about where we want to go from here. Originally, we had intended to be on the road for about a year, until May.  After deciding on surgery, and a three-month break for rehab, we continued to think that we would head out west afterwards and travel into the summer.  But, at some point in our down time, we decided instead to head up to Maine and buy a house this spring.  We want to have a place near some water with a little land to indulge in gardening, beekeeping, woodworking, and other long-on-hold interests.  We will take the trip out west whenever we feel like it because, after all, we are retired and can come and go as we please.


Zoe learned to handle the surf.

Zoe learned to handle the surf.


Car transport behemoth ship in the distance


Last beach walk--beautiful light.

Last beach walk–beautiful light.

We are working our way up the East Coast to arrive in Maine later in the spring.  We will continue to travel, but now with a new home base.


Kid Stuff

It looks like he's conducting the waves.

Before leaving St. Simons at the end of the month to continue our travels, we wanted to see our kids again.  Fortunately, the cottage we rented this month—one of the few available on short notice—is a large, rambling, old barn of a place, with several random additions.  Too big for George, me, and Zoe, but providing plenty of room for company.

Unfortunately, the weekend that my son, his wife, and her parents came down for a visit was by far the coldest that we have had here.  While Alaskan friends are bemoaning record high temperatures and lack of snow, the lovely arctic cold that they crave muscled its way down here with a whipping wind that made it too frigid to do anything outside.  We visited the lighthouse museum, drove around neighboring Jekyll Island, with its Gilded Age “cottages” (“they’re pretty … it’s freezing … let’s get back in the car”), and ate well.

Jekyll Island Club, a Gilded Age private winter retreat for the world's wealthiest, including the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Morgans

Jekyll Island Club, a Gilded Age private winter retreat for the world’s wealthiest, including the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Morgans

Patterns of live oaks seen from the lighthouse above.

Live oak branches seen from the lighthouse above.

Although the frigid temperatures abated a bit, it was still pretty nippy when our daughter arrived with our grandkids several days later.  Still, it was warmer than their home in North Carolina, where it was cold enough to snow, keeping school closed for days. Having been homebound all week, the kids had energy to burn and, despite the arctic-like conditions, were ecstatic to be on the beach.

IMG_7268IMG_7280The next day, we visited the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, a rehabilitation center for injured and ill sea turtles, and—most importantly for us—a warm indoor sanctuary from the cold.

From babies.

From babies.

We arrived at the turtle hospital’s feeding time, with a presentation on all of the current turtle residents, most of whom were there for cold shock, boat propeller strikes, and fishing line entanglement.

to big boys.

to big boys.

Then we all happily wandered around the educational section, which was filled with interactive exhibits geared for kids (and adults) of all ages.  It was well worth the visit.

Next morning, the temperature eased, so we drove over to Fort King George on the mainland in Darien for a little history. The Fort, which sits on the Altamaha River marshes, has been reconstructed as an outdoor museum.  It originally was built in 1721, as the southernmost British outpost in the Americas. IMG_7360Its soldiers died like flies from malaria, dysentery, and lack of provisions.  Perhaps not surprisingly, they were described as a discontented, undisciplined, wild group of indolent alcoholics. Apparently, Fort King George was not a popular posting.

The blockhouse

The blockhouse, palisades, and moat.

But we loved it.  The Fort museum is a throwback to a time when kids were able to play and explore without constant paranoia over imagined dangers in every activity. After paying our entry fee at the museum store, the kids were able to choose wooden muskets or pistols to use while running around the Fort pretending they were soldiers.  And run around and pretend they did.

With musket and bucket, after surveying the marsh from the top of the block house.

With musket and bucket for musket balls, the kids could scope out the landscape for potential invaders from the top of the block house.

View from the blockhouse

Looking out the blockhouse window

Everyone–including kids and dogs—is allowed to wander, climb, and poke around in the buildings and grounds to their hearts’ content, without tour guides or restrictions.


Ladders to climb.

Guardhouses to explore.

Guardhouses to explore.

Patrolling the palisades (actually this was one restricted area--he wasn't supposed to be there).  Soon remedied.

Palisades to patrol.  Oops, he wasn’t supposed to be up there–one of the few restricted areas–soon remedied.

A small group of reenactors was living there for the weekend, not putting on a show, but just going about their daily activities.  It was a playground of history—just amazing.  The kids were in heaven.

They had just finished breakfast of bacon and eggs cooked on the hearth.

They had just finished breakfast of bacon and eggs cooked on the hearth.

Pumping the bellows at the blacksmith shed.

Pumping the bellows at the blacksmith shed.

Chain mail for the kids to touch and feel its weight and texture

Chain mail for the kids to touch and feel its weight and texture

The barracks,  You can just see George (with Zoe) at the end of the table.

The barracks. You can just see George (with Zoe) at the end of the table.

Zoe enjoyed it, too.  She was allowed in all the buildings, full of intriguing smells.  She thoroughly sniffed the food smells at the baking shed and then settled in by the chimney.   She can spot a kitchen with good food anywhere.

IMG_7380I loved all of the angles and textures.

IMG_7328IMG_7415IMG_7374IMG_7358We left tired and happy.  The bliss track continued the next morning, with some final–much warmer–time on the beach, where the waves churned up impressive foam.  IMG_7456IMG_7473IMG_7448IMG_7433

An Ear, A Rich Beach, Another Ear

IMG_6759On a brilliantly sunny Sunday morning, I took a guided kayak trip through the marshes of St. Simons.  I felt guilty because George couldn’t come too, but he is slowly ramping up his activities after shoulder surgery and was not yet ready for kayaking.  He thoughtfully bought me the trip for a Christmas present, even knowing that he would not be able to come along.  So, I took full advantage of his kindness, headed out without him, and had a wonderful time.  It’s off season here and there were only four of us—the guide, me, and a couple from the Eastern Shore of Virginia–all experienced kayakers.

We put our kayaks in at the East Beach Causeway over the marsh–a favorite perch for bluebirds on the overhead lines.


East Beach causeway

East Beach causeway

Our starting place.  No wilderness here, but a vibrant ecosystem, full of life and history.

Our starting place. No wilderness here, but a vibrant ecosystem, full of life and history.

We paddled through the estuaries, winding along black muddy banks of Spartina grass.  It was a bit disconcerting to be so low in the marsh and unable to see over the grasses.  Such a limited view makes you feel unexpectedly vulnerable.  There is marsh life going on all around you, but you cannot see anything but the bit of water in front and behind you and a patch of sky.

Instead of seeing this:


IMG_6926we saw this:

Lots of marsh grass, greening up as spring approaches.

Lots of marsh grass, greening up as spring approaches.

We rafted our kayaks in a slow bend of water for a brief history lesson at Bloody Marsh, the site of a (not so bloody) skirmish between British troops on St. Simons and invading Spanish, during the War of Jenkins’ Ear in the 1740s.  Any war named after a body part has my attention.  The Ear war was part of an ongoing conflict between the British and the Spanish over territory and power in the Americas.  IMG_6850Britain had been given a contractual monopoly on the African slave trade in the Spanish Americas, but the Spanish believed that the British were using the contract to smuggle in trade goods, and started boarding ships and confiscating cargo (the British were engaged in their own piracy, too).  Jenkins, a British privateer, had his ear cut off by the Spanish as a warning—(“Send it back to your king, amigo, aaargghh!”).  The story goes that Jenkins brought the ear back to Parliament and its grisly presence whipped up sentiment for war against the Spanish.  The Battle of Bloody Marsh cemented Britain’s hold on the Georgia.

After the intriguing history lesson, we continued on, eventually hearing the crash of surf as we emerged to open water at Gould Inlet and headed toward the beaches.  Because we made good time, we were able to take a side trip across to the spit at the end of Sea Island–the rich beach.


Sea Island lies right next to St. Simons, but the whole island is gated and only accessible to residents and their guests (which presumably includes “the help”).  I have been informed several times since we have been on St. Simons that Sea Island is one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country.  For some reason, people seem proud of this fact, as if it is an attribute to live near the immensely rich and famous.

Dollars everywhere on the rich beach.

Even the sand dollars head in this direction.

So, the riff raff cannot get on Sea Island by car, but can sneak in by kayak.  Georgia’s beaches are public up to the high tide line, so we landed our kayaks on the spit and walked the beach.  IMG_4047Remarkably, because it was a gorgeous early spring day, with welcome sunshine after some significantly cold weather–we were the ONLY people on the beach.  Perhaps the very rich only need to know the beach is there—empty of hoi polloi—and don’t actually spend time on it themselves. IMG_4039

After exploring the beach a bit, we returned to our kayaks and paddled across the inlet to the somewhat less affluent world of St. Simons. IMG_4048

IMG_4051There the beach was full of people and one very fat pig, with a shell-like sow’s ear .IMG_4068

IMG_4065Next time, George comes too.


The Carport Across the Marshes

IMG_6450While 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.


Taking the turn at Jekyll

This one, the Auriga Leader, transports Toyotas from Japan and is partially solar powered.  A beast trailing gulls.


Right off the St. Simons beach

A ro-ro ramp on the stern.

A ro-ro ramp.

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.  IMG_6552The 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.  IMG_6536Fortunately, 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.


IMG_6563IMG_6564Downtown 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.

City Hall

City Hall



IMG_6624IMG_6650But, 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.




IMG_5288The theme of the week here on St. Simons is COLD.  We have had cold with rain, cold with drizzle, cold with a wee bit of sun, and cold with wind.  After more than twenty years of living in Alaska, you think I’d be used to it.  But the cold here is the raw, wet, kind that makes you feel as if you are wrapped in a freezing, wet towel.  And we don’t have a crackling wood stove or fireplace to warm our extremities, so my fingers and toes feel like permanent ice cubes.

The birds are hunkered down, with their feathers highly inflated.



IMG_5082Rental bikes are sitting idle, but the local BBQ is going strong, adding a wintry hardwood smoke aroma to the neighborhood.


The skies have been mostly a gun-metal gray, making color even more welcome than usual.



Rare sunny day

IMG_5320Even the less colorful birds are a welcome sight.


This merganser blends in with the reed, except for that big white target on its head.

This merganser blends in with the reeds, except for that big white target on its head.


IMG_5236IMG_5263Amazing plumage.


And a wood stork’s reflection.

IMG_5219The cold weather seems to bring out the cats–they are everywhere, both feral and house cats.  This cat brought my walk to a screeching halt because, at first, I could not believe my eyes.


It was the size of a small lynx, or a plump Brittany Spaniel.  I actually thought it was a dog at first, then concluded that it must be a lawn ornament.  But when I moved, its face followed me.  An enormous face with little foldy ears.  I don’t imagine its owners have to worry about rodents–it looked large enough hunt raccoons.  I have never seen a anything like it.  Does anyone know what it is?  A Scottish Fold maybe?  It was HUGE.


The gray weather seems to highlight oddities, such as fungus, bark, and fishing lines.


IMG_5115IMG_5186Not to mention tree faces and the backside of a local restaurant.


IMG_5286IMG_4783If these buds are any indication, some warmer weather (and sun) should be coming soon and we will be able get out and explore without freezing our buns off.


Zoe’s ready.


Old Friends, Old Fort, Old House

IMG_4916Our days have fallen into a rhythm during our roadtrip time-out on St. Simons. We have leisurely mornings with coffee and the computer, followed by lots and lots of exercise, physical therapy for George’s shoulder, yoga for me, beach walks, town walks, exploring, good eats, reading, planning for our trip west, and thinking about our plans for when the trip ends.

IMG_4733The rhythm was happily interrupted by two unexpected visits with old friends, who by chance were in the area. One friend has lived in the Brazilian Amazon for decades and, aside from a brief visit thirty years ago, we had not seen each other in about forty years. She was visiting her parents in Florida and drove up here for an overnight visit. The other friend lives in Colorado and I had not seen her since eighth grade. Really. She was on St. Simons with family over the New Year and found time to meet up with me over coffee and lunch. It was oddly bizarre and quite wonderful to see them again. And it would not have happened if we had not taken this stop for George’s surgery. A little sweet side compensation.

Sydney Lanier Bridge

The weather has been all over the place. We had a severe storm and tornado watch that fizzled into nothing more than a brief rain that filled the gutters and then stopped. We’ve had fog again, and some gorgeous sun.

IMG_4685IMG_4965IMG_4712We took advantage of a sunny day to visit Fort Frederica a few miles up island.  We didn’t realize that it was dog friendly, but sure enough, Zoe was welcome.  We have been there before and continue to return because it is one of those places that–as George says–fires the imagination. There is not much there now, but it is easy–especially when you have time and no one is around–to visualize what it might have been like in its brief, vibrant existence. The Fort was established in 1736 as a British outpost laying claim to the area against the pesky Spanish.


Remains of Fort Frederica barracks

The battery

The battery

The settlement was headed by James Oglethorpe and was intended to be a new start for landless poor and those held in British debtors’ prisons, bringing the diverse and skilled artisans and farmers necessary to provide for the needs of the town and troops. Oglethorpe also welcomed religious reformers including John and Charles Wesley, founders of modern Methodism (on an interesting side note, Charles wrote over 6000 hymns including “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” (how he found the time to eat is a mystery)). Fort Frederica had cannons, bibles, and a vision.


Well … not surprisingly, things did not work out as expected. The Wesleys did not last long.  Charles hated Frederica and the settlers apparently didn’t care much for him either.  He left after a few months.  John left Georgia the next year after being haled into court for refusing communion to a woman who had spurned his courtship and married another man (he was perceived as vindictive–no surprise there). He quickly and quietly left the colony before the trial.

Frederica itself ceased to exist after the military regiment was disbanded in 1749 and a fire destroyed most of the remaining buildings about ten years later.IMG_4842

But, somehow, even though little is left of Frederica, when you walk among the old townsite, it is easy to envision it. The town was laid out on a grid that is still visible. The main street ended at the water and the foundations of the buildings remain. The park service has done a nice job in describing the buildings and their residents, with vivid details from first hand accounts.

Looking down Fort Frederica's main street to the battery on the marsh

Looking down Fort Frederica’s main street to the battery on the marsh

House foundations along the streets

House foundations along the streets

The Fort’s setting was strategic, but it’s also exquisitely beautiful, fronting miles of marshland.


The remains of the battery and Sidney Lanier Bridge in the haze

The foundation of the courthouse with an marshside view.

The foundation of the courthouse with a marsh side view.

Near the Fort is Frederica’s Christ Church, dating from the 1800’s, and its cemetery in which many of the islands’ early settlers are buried.


The cemetery was full of huge camellias draped with Spanish moss

The cemetery was full of huge camellias draped with Spanish moss

The church looks like something out of a fairy tale.

IMG_4860IMG_4881After our visit to the Fort yesterday, I took a walk along the marsh and unexpectedly witnessed an old yellow cottage that I had admired, with roof angles and a spacious front yard, being torn down. It was painful to watch. For all I know, the house was a termite-infested, rotting hulk of mold and deserved destruction. But it was so lovely, settled into its lot like it had grown there. St. Simons still retains many of its beach cottages, all different, many with beautiful design lines, others more on the practical or quirky side. Slowly, but surely, they are being torn down, to be replaced, mostly, by bloated ticks of houses, filling every bit of the lot and its view.


We are expecting a hard frost tonight, which brings out garbage bags, bedsheets and other interesting plant covers.



Hunkered down


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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