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

 

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.

 

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