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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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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Athens — Georgia not Greece

Face jug

Face jug

We have been hunkered down in the cold in Athens, Georgia for the past few weeks.  I did not intend to spend much time in cold weather on this trip and packed light when it came to long pants and warm coats.  So, I was under dressed for the cold spell (into the teens some nights) and spent more time in the trailer than I would have liked.  George just continued to wear shorts, except for one particularly cold night.  He’s tougher than I am.

Stuck inside

Stuck inside

We have been in Athens to visit our son and daughter-in-law and to catch up on routine medical visits.  The simple procedure of having your teeth cleaned becomes a lot more complicated when you are traveling.  Finding a reputable dentist who takes traveling patients, scheduling an appointment on short notice, and trying to just get a cleaning rather than the full blown “new” patient treatment is a challenge.  But, thanks to our daughter-in-law, we succeeded.

Trees in the dentist's parking lot

Trees in the dentist’s parking lot on a cold and windy day

The leaves have been at their peak.

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Our old neighborhood, Avondale Estates–several inches of crunchy leaves to shuffle through.

We visited our old neighborhoods from our time living in Georgia in the 1990s.  And we went to one of our favorite places–the DeKalb Farmers’ Market.   It is a misleading name because it is not a mere farmers’ market, but a cavernous warehouse-like expanse filled with every edible product–animal, mineral, vegetable–that you could possibly want or imagine.  We hit it on a Saturday and it was absolutely packed with people from most corners of the world, seeking the food they like to eat.  And they probably found it.  If you like food and are ever in the vicinity of Decatur, Georgia, check it out.  I was dying to take pictures, but they were prohibited.      

My favorite sign in the area.  We passed it everyday near our campground.

This was not a sign for the farmers’ market, I just liked it.

One of my favorite things in Athens was the yoga.  I am new to yoga, having resisted anything to do with it for decades because it seemed too touchy-feely for me.   But, in an attempt to lessen my insomnia and to find another way to keep in shape on this trip, I took classes for a few months before we left Anchorage.  I usually avoid exercise classes and gyms—I like to exercise on my own.  But surprise—I loved it.  This was the first time on this trip that we have been in one place long enough for me to have the time to go to yoga classes.  I researched online and found a wonderful (donations only?!) yoga studio not far from the campground.  The people there were extraordinarily warm and welcoming.

Let it Be Yoga in Watkinsville

Let it Be Yoga in Watkinsville

Artwork inside the studio

Artwork with yoga

Athens itself is one of my favorite college towns.  The University of Georgia’s North campus runs right into the downtown, which is full of lovely old buildings and a wide variety of shops, bars, and businesses.

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North Campus

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North campus quadrangle

North campus quadrangle

In the 1970s and 80s, Athens was a musical petri dish, giving birth to groups such as REM and the B-52s.  I’m not sure how much music is generated there now, but the restaurants are thriving.  Hugh Acheson—the black browed chef with the caustic wit who often serves as a judge on Top Chef—has two restaurants in town.  We had a pretty amazing meal at his restaurant, the 5&10.

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Downtown

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GA-3520141121_150321Our campground was full of Georgia football fans on the weekends with home games, but now is about half empty and everyone is cocooned inside their RVs.

A statue of UGA, the Georgia mascot, at the campground entrance

A statue of Uga, the Georgia mascot, at the campground entrance. Football is serious business here.

The countryside near Athens is rolling hills with woods, creeks, and pastures bordered by wide-branched hardwoods.  We drove to the Watson Mill State Park on a rare warm day.  It was almost deserted.

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Watkins Mill covered bridge

Watson Mill covered bridge

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Now we are getting ready for our first Thanksgiving in over ten years with both of our children and their families.  Sweet.

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Happy Thanksgiving.             GA-126