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.

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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!

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Waters Shaking

IMG_7014We took a day trip yesterday to Okefenokee—a swamp with a percussive Native name roughly translated as “land of the trembling earth,” or “waters shaking.”  The swamp’s name refers to its peat bog, which is neither dry land, nor part of the water, but a sponge-like floating habitat, that squishes and quivers as you walk upon it.  Okefenokee is a vast expanse of protected land–a National Wildlife Refuge–on Georgia’s southern border, with a romantically gloomy cypress swamp at the western entrance and upland swamp islands on the eastern edge.

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We visited the western side years ago, so chose the eastern entrance for this trip.  Although the day was sunny and mild, the southern version of winter was hanging on, so it was very quiet, with few visitors, a skeleton staff, and little visible wildlife.  The quietness contributed to its stark beauty, though, with tall longleaf pine forests–burned over by wild fires or intentional burns that are necessary to maintain the pine ecosystem—very still except for birdsong and hammering woodpeckers.

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OF Feb-120The drive from St. Simons to the swamp took only a little over an hour, but brought us from the affluent coast to a sparsely populated inland area with pockets of heart-wrenching poverty.  The area’s housing consisted mostly of stark rows of rickety, weathered trailers that no one should have to live in.

The area used to be inhabited by hundreds of people logging the swamp’s old-growth cypress, with a system of railroad cars and waterways for transporting the logs and lumber out of the swamp, and by homesteaders, scratching out a living on the sandy flats.  At the swamp’s eastern gate, the Chesser family’s homestead cabin has been preserved as a museum.  It was like stepping into Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ book, The Yearling, although this area is farther north than her home place in Florida.

Walking through the pines to the homestead.

Walking through the pines to the homestead.

Robins singing their hearts out

Robins singing at the sky.  Time to find a mate.

The homestead’s yard was swept white sand, with no vegetation, to keep down the fire danger and discourage bugs, snakes, and other crawly and hopping creatures from coming into the house.

Chesser homestead cabin and yard.

Chesser homestead cabin and yard.

Chesser portrait photo on the wall--I love it.

Chesser portrait photos on the wall–I loved this one.

The homestead was nicely furnished with period pieces.

The homestead was fully furnished and felt pretty authentic.

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For natural aerial bug control, the homestead had gourd nests for martins, swooping birds that feed on mosquitoes and other flying insects.

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After the Chesser homestead, we walked a boardwalk that extends three-quarters of a mile out into the swamp.

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Seen from the tower

The burnt-over pines created a wonderfully eerie landscape, especially in the areas with standing water, which reflected back the stumps and contorted tree remains and had its own colorful water plants and algae.

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It's not easy to see where the water (and the reflection) begins.

It’s not easy to see where the water (and the reflection) begins.

Cypress knees

Cypress knees

The boardwalk ended at a viewing tower surrounded by tall moss-hung skeleton trees.  Dreamlike.IMG_6992

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We only dipped our toes into a tiny edge of the park.  Dogs are not allowed on the boardwalks or in boats on the water (they’re alligator bait–so tasty).  Next time, perhaps we will leave Zoe at home, take the plunge, rent a canoe, and really explore.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Taking the turn at Jekyll

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Out on St. Simons, it’s still wintery,

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but the trees are starting to bloom and flocks of robins are noisily out and about.

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A Day in Venice (Florida, not California, and certainly not Italy)

IMG_5563My grandparents discovered Venice, Florida in the 1950s.  It was a sleepy town on the Gulf coast, frequented by snowbirds, driving down from New England, the Midwest, and Canada for the winter months.  I visited there almost every winter when I was growing up in the 1960s, getting horrific sunburns that peeled for weeks, collecting black fossilized sharks’ teeth on the beach, and ogling the tattooed circus people around town.  Venice then was the winter home of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.  The Flying Wallendas and Gunther Gebel-Williams, the “lion tamer,” were local celebrities.

The sun and sharks’ teeth remain, but the circus is long gone.  Of course, Venice is much more developed and crowded now.

A 1959 view of Snake Island near the Venice jetty.

A 1959 view of Snake Island near the Venice jetty.

What is left of Snake Island today.

What is left of heavily-eroded Snake Island today.

But it retains some of its former charm.  It has a palm-lined downtown area, with 1920s architecture, full of shops, restaurants, and well-off retirees.  Even though I now am retired, I continue to view Venice as a place full of OLD people, just as I did when I was a child.  Everyone seems to be in some stage of old age, from the fit, tennis-outfitted newly-retired, to bent-over ancients holding up checkout lines as, with glacial slowness, their arthritic, shaking fingers pick out each penny and dime for exact payment.  Sightings of children are rare.

We headed to Venice this week for a quick visit with my 91-year-old mother, who has lived there for many years.  It was a six hour drive each way from St. Simons and we only had three days (between physical therapy sessions) for the trip.  We arrived to a sunset, with blue clouds massing over the Gulf, resembling a distant mountain range.

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The next day—our one full day there—was glorious and sunny, with a mild breeze.  My mother doesn’t venture too far afield these days, but every morning takes a leisurely walk down to the jetties, picking up litter as she goes.

The Venice jetty usually has power walkers, fishers, and a variety of birds.  This day was no different.

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That’s Nokomis on the north side of the inland waterway, with its own jetty

The most striking birds were the anhingas perched on the jetty rocks drying their wings.  They are amazing underwater swimmers, but their feathers become waterlogged, so they spend a great deal of time drying and grooming them.

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IMG_5557Their eyes develop bluish green rings in mating season, which must be in full swing given these colors.

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Neither people nor birds were catching many fish. Instead, the birds seemed to be taking advantage of the sun and wind for extensive grooming.

This pelican did a thorough grooming

This pelican went through huge grooming contortions

and then settled in

and then settled in.

Egret

Egret

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IMG_5626IMG_5613On the way home we watched this big pelican perched very high in an Australian pine. He looked like a pterodactyl.

IMG_5685Back at the house, we watched the birds in the yard and the ospreys nesting on a nearby channel marker.

Doves perched high in a palm

Doves perched high in a palm

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Osprey nest with the twin jetty in Nokomis in the distance

Osprey nest with the twin jetty in Nokomis in the distance

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We toured the yard and its flowers.

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And sat and watched the boats go by.

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Zoe napped in the shade

After dinner out, we returned to the tail end of another glowing sunset.

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It was followed by the appearance of the moon—just a sliver—and Venus, lingering over the marina.

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Oddities

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.

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

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

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Rare sunny day

IMG_5320Even the less colorful birds are a welcome sight.

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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.

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IMG_5236IMG_5263Amazing plumage.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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Zoe’s ready.

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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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