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.

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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

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Shrimper

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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.

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Zoe learned to handle the surf.

Zoe learned to handle the surf.

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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!

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Hunkered down

 

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