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.

 

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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Hurricane Fodder

NC Coast-110As far as I can recall, I have never spent any time visiting or thinking about Wilmington, North Carolina.  Yet, I must have thought about it at some point, because it was not at all what I expected.  For some reason, I had a vague vision of a slow-moving, sleepy place, evocative of an earlier era, dark and overhung with Spanish Moss.

Wilmington is anything but sleepy–it’s bright and buzzing with lots and lots of people.  It has the feeling of a town struggling to handle its burgeoning population—the same feeling we had in Kelowna, British Columbia and Bend, Oregon.  They all had similar clusters of every imaginable chain store and restaurant–newly built with the latest village-like architectural style–and nightmare-inducing traffic.  In Wilmington, except in the early morning, it was nearly impossible to take a left hand turn out of our campground.  We had to take a right and then turn around at the next convenient road.  Ridiculous.

I have never seen so many political signs in my life.  The Hickey guy had the most.  I was dreaming Hickey signs.

I have never seen so many political signs in my life. They were everywhere.  Hickey outdid everyone else on signage by a big margin.  I intend to follow up and see if he wins.  Just curious.

The area was too crowded for us, but provided a convenient stopover to our next destination and a place for some beach time with our grandkids before we left North Carolina.  Our first morning there, we woke to brilliant sunshine and the combined smell of ocean and paper mills.  Not necessarily a bad combination to me, because it reminded me of St. Simons in Georgia, one of our favorite getaways when we lived near Atlanta.  The paper mill smell is unique and unmistakable, almost as if you are baking something sweet and chemical-laden, with sulfur overtones.  It comes and goes, depending on the wind direction.

We arrived in Wilmington a few days before the grandchildren.  On our first day, we checked out dog-friendly Kure Beach, about half-an-hour drive south.  We maneuvered heavy traffic through streets that alternated between a tacky 1960s beach town feel and newer mostly upscale beach houses jammed together as closely as possible.  Kure Beach is at the end of a barrier island, with Cape Fear, a treacherous headland for ships and part of the Graveyard of the Atlantic, on an island just offshore.  The island peninsula includes an old civil war site, Fort Fisher, an aquarium, and a state recreational area with undeveloped beach.

Beach bums

Kure Beach bums

It was a weekday and the beach was uncrowded, except for the area allowing 4-wheel drive vehicles on the beach.  Big trucks bristling with fishing poles arrived steadily, staking out their territory for the day.  For some reason, there were no women fishing and it felt like a man-only zone when Zoe and I ventured into it.

The high testoterone area of the beach

The high testosterone area.

The non-vehicle part of the beach.

The non-vehicle part of the beach.  Zoe’s carrying a piece of driftwood in her mouth.

Zoe has become a total beach hound.

A total beach hound.

Pelican acrobatics

Pelican acrobatics

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We spent another morning in downtown Wilmington on the banks of the Cape Fear River.  It has a smallish downtown, wide, tree-lined streets with lovely old houses, and a riverside area with old warehouses now converted to shops and restaurants catering largely to tourists.

Beautiful brick warehouse

Beautiful brick warehouse

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Street after street of meticulously maintained old houses

The rooster weather vane seemed a bit  incongruous on this church steeple

There is a rooster weather vane on the church steeple.  It seemed a bit incongruous.

It was a chilly day and the river was a gorgeous deep blue and running fast.  We had lunch at The George restaurant, based on its name and dog-friendliness.  We sat on the outside deck with Zoe, watching the river and tourists on the boardwalk.  The food and service were nothing special, but the setting made it worthwhile.

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Our view from The George.  The USS Carolina, now a museum, is across the river

Our view from The George on the Cape Fear. The USS North Carolina is across the river.

The USS North Carolina was a WWII battleship in the Pacific fleet.

The USS North Carolina was a WWII battleship in the Pacific fleet.  It’s now a museum open for tours.

When the grandkids arrived, we headed to Wrightsville beach.  It also was dog-friendly, which doesn’t mean that dogs can run free—they must be on leash.  The dog laws apparently are strictly enforced with high fines.

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The beach at Wrightsville was beautiful and broad, with a long stretch of fine sand, a fishing pier, and what looked like some decent surf breaks.  But it amazed us that, in such a hurricane prone area, there was so much building right on the water, at sea level.  The area was absolutely packed with houses that looked like they would be devoured by a serious storm surge.  Flirting with disaster.

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Our middle munchkin ecstatically running in the waves.

One of our munchkins ecstatically running in the waves.

Another worked on a sand castle.

Another working on a sand castle.

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Superman and his sister

There was a beach photo session underway by the pier—something we’ve encountered before on the trip.  This one was a video of a teenager performing some awkward pop and lock-style dancing to the accompaniment of “Landslide.”  It did not look like it was going too well.

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Lifeguard Tower 6.  Only tiny dunes left and beach houses covered every square inch of available land in the area.

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After the kids and Zoe had their fill (well, almost) of the beach, we found our first restaurant of the trip that allowed dogs inside.  Tower 7 (named after the lifeguard tower on the beach behind) had two sides, one dog-friendly, one dog-free.  The food was surprisingly creative.  I had a grilled shrimp, bacon, and pineapple enchilada, a delicious combination that I intend to recreate in the RV.   We headed home full of food and sunshine.

Zoe loved lying on the cool tiles inside at Tower 7.  She's a restaurant pro now.

Zoe loved lying on the cool tiles inside at Tower 7. She’s a restaurant pro now.

This did not inspire confidence in the ability to keep the power going in a hurricane

Would you want your power to be dependent on this tangle in a hurricane?

Rusty wind bells

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NC Coast-113As an addendum to my last post, in which I noted that two ducks at our interstate campground appeared to watch the sunset every night, here a two photos taken after I wrote the post.  As you can see, most of the ducks were going about their business.  But in the second photo on the right you will see the duck couple I mentioned, sitting on their spot on the shore looking out toward the sunset.

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