Defensive Design

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

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

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Moat and drawbridge

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

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

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

Zoe liked the cannon.

Zoe showing her approval of the cannon.

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

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There were flocks of cedar waxwings on the trail.

We dodged a flock of cedar waxwings on the trail.

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

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

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

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

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

Carved granite steps.

Carved granite steps from below.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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