Just Birds (Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans, part 2)

IMG_6221This is a second part of the post “Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans,” but it’s just birds. If you don’t like bird photos, you will be yawning big time on this one.

For me, St. Simons meant birds.  They were everywhere—on the beach, in the marsh, in our neighborhood, and in the village.  IMG_6026They fluttered, called, preened, sang, strutted, fished, hammered, and, at times seemed to pose.  IMG_5412Many nights, we were kept awake by two owls calling back and forth from the dense live oaks in the neighborhood (go to sleep, already!!).

Every morning, the tentative bits of bird song signaled that—although it was still dark—the sun was about to rise.  All day long, their calls accompanied us—the cardinals’ rhythmic chip and liquid song, the doves’ oo-oo, IMG_6478the sparrows’ chatter, and the ospreys’ skreeee—eek, causing the marsh birds to scatter—flying up, circling around, and settling back down.    IMG_6705

The trees and bushes were heavy with berries—especially the red cedar—and attracted a wide variety of birds, fussing and gorging, but elusive to catch on film.IMG_6676IMG_6671

The shore birds were more stolid, hunkered down against the cold or pecking at critters in the sand and waves.  IMG_5369IMG_5378IMG_7497They only became skittish if I got close, so we played a cat and mouse game where I would learn how close I could approach before they took off and moved another ten feet down the beach.

The salt inlet at the end of the beach was a feeding mecca for a variety of birds scooping up the little minnows and larger mullet.   IMG_7531 IMG_7539This elegant beauty (I assume it’s a tern or gull, but don’t know what kind … I’ll call it the blackdot cheeky terngull) did a beautiful fluttering hover and dive, over and over again.  IMG_7521IMG_7508IMG_7501During our last week on the island, this oystercatcher couple appeared on the rocks.  One sported multiple bands, the other none.  The banded one must be older or stupider, or both.  IMG_7651IMG_7567

On St. Simons, a quiet road runs along the marsh, so it’s easy to get close to the birds without having to worry about being attacked by snakes, gators, or bugs.    IMG_6311IMG_7576IMG_6757IMG_7583IMG_7694IMG_7682

Just birds–but such a variety–interesting, noisy, colorful, entertaining, awkward, graceful, and beautiful.

Look carefully to see the fish this osprey is holding in his talons.

Look carefully to see the fish this osprey is holding in his talons.

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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.

 

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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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

 

Last Weekend of the Year

IMG_4559George’s shoulder is healing nicely, his throat is better, and we are just starting to explore the area around St. Simons.  On Friday, the sun finally emerged after an extended period of cold, wet weather.  As is often the case here, airplane contrails made for interesting sky designs that evening.

20141225_16302520141225_164507And for some nice puddle reflections.

20141225_164430On Saturday, we ventured off island to Darien, a small town on the mainland across from St. Simons. It has a beautiful river and marsh setting, a fleet of shrimpers, and Skippers Fish Camp, where we lunched on local shrimp, crabcakes, and collards and Q (that would be barbequed pulled pork for the uninitiated) that we ate outside while soaking up the sun and watching the river.

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Darien was founded by Scottish Highlanders in the 1700’s and lies in McIntosh County, named for one of those early settlers.   The shell-based tabby foundations of the old river warehouses are still standing.
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McIntosh County achieved notoriety through Melissa Fay Greene’s 1991 book “Praying For Sheetrock”–one of the best book titles ever (you’ll have to read it to find out what the title means). The book is a fascinating account of the complicated racial and political dynamics in this small rural county during the 1970s and 80s, with a largely black population and a larger-than-life white sheriff.

IMG_4294I have no idea how the county has progressed since, although, aside from shrimping, it looks pretty economically depressed. There does appear to be a dependable revenue source in speeding tickets, however. In our brief visit, the most notable thing was the number of police cars pulling people over. The local police cars were tricked out with video-game-like pulsating sequences of blue lights on the tops, bottoms, and sides. They were pretty freaky, actually, and I would hate to have one light up behind me while driving down a dark highway. In any case, I recommend obeying the speed limit if you are driving through southern Georgia on I-95.

IMG_4296On Sunday the hordes descended on the St. Simons beach. It’s relatively quiet here in December and most days on my beach walks I only encounter a handful of people. But on this weekend, the last of the year and the hump between the holidays, the island was full of vacationers. They tailgated, clogged the restaurants, and headed to the beach. I sound like a local.

What struck me on Sunday was that the island was overflowing with life–lots of people for sure, and birds in exotic variety,

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IMG_4321IMG_4160IMG_4446banana blossoms and trees packed with fruit,

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IMG_4640surfing and paddleboarding,

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Pausing to watch the surfing

Pausing to watch the surfing

and, of course, dogs.

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Aside from the dogs, this photo looks like a scene from the Walking Dead 

He was thirsty after his first day at the beach

He was thirsty after his first day at the beach

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This bad boy with a clueless owner was chasing a cormorant

This bad boy (with a clueless owner) was chasing a cormorant

and got pretty close

and got pretty close.

The cormorant took off

The cormorant took off

with the dog in frenzied pursuit

with the dog in frenzied pursuit

It’s been a good year for us. Retirement is sweet. We’re looking forward to next year.

Happy New Year to all of you.

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A Sodden Solstice or Daughters of the Cold War

20141221_102247A year ago, I took the picture below on a midday walk along Cook Inlet in Anchorage on winter solstice.  As you can see, it was a dark, dreary day.

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This year, I took the picture below on a mid-morning winter solstice walk considerably farther south and east, along the Atlantic coast on St. Simons, Georgia.  As you can see, it was a dark, dreary day.  The palm tree is an improvement, though.

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We have been staying close to home (our little rental cottage) this past week as George recovers from rotator cuff surgery.  He had the surgery on December 15 and it seems to have gone very well.  The only glitch in the recovery so far has been a raging sore throat ulcer from the anesthesia tube.  George has his first follow-up on the shoulder tomorrow and we will know more then about recovery time.

While he has been healing, the weather has been unseasonably cold, with low clouds, intermittent drizzle or steady rain, and a biting wind.  Zoe loves it–she’s a cold weather dog–and I enjoy my beach walks in all weather, but photo opportunities have been few and far between.

Because all of my recent photos were variations on gray gloom, I will try to make this post vaguely informative on the topics of vegetable, animal, mineral, and the truly bizarre.  First, vegetable–even in the gray gloom, the vegetation here is startling.  If you fall asleep for too long, you may be in danger of waking up with plant tendrils creeping across your body.  The Spanish moss seems to take on a life of its own, draping everything from live oaks to orange trees.  It is an epiphyte—drawing its sustenance from the air—not the trees it inhabits.  Still, it really knows how to move in on a host.  It is gruesome and gorgeous at the same time.

The moss is taking over these citrus trees.

The moss is taking over these citrus trees.

Left unchecked, the ivy also runs rampant, covering and ultimately breaking down everything in its path.

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On the animal side, this may be the doggiest place we have visited so far.  These beautiful golden retrievers were waiting for their owner with the top down in a mini-Cooper convertible in the grocery store parking lot, in full Santa regalia.

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They appeared to feel that the costumes were undignified and below their proper status.  I agree.

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The beach is a dog playground.  If you don’t like dogs, you are out of luck.  This dog tribute was below a holiday-decorated driftwood tree on the beach.

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In a jarring contrast with the dog-love atmosphere, the sidewalk drainage grates are potential dog leg crackers.  The grates have enormous openings, just perfect for a dog’s leg to go straight in—first it’s a gotcha, then try to move and it’s a crunch.

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So far, Zoe has carefully walked around them, but I hope she will not be distracted by the multitude of roaming cats and accidentally step in.

The central dog message board in the Village

The central dog message board in the Village

On the mineral front, St. Simons has a building material called tabby that is a combination of sea shells, lime, water, and sand.  The tabby concept was brought to this coast from North Africa by early Spanish settlers and used extensively in early building by the colonists.  Tabby is still used here, although it’s “phony” tabby, being shells mixed with cement, not the more labor intensive lime and sand.  But, phony or not, tabby is a beautiful thing.  I cannot resist a wall embedded with shells.  Nice.

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An outside wall of a Village restaurant

Finally, the truly bizarre.  Everywhere we walk or ride on St. Simons, historical markers punctuate the path.  This area has always been a coastal crossroads and the people here are proud of its history, with groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and Daughters of the Confederacy promoting local tidbits of historical knowledge.

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But “Daughters of the Cold War” seem to be conspicuously missing.  And there should be chapter here because one of the most intriguing historical events in the area is missing a marker.  Perhaps because it’s not exactly a tourist draw.  It’s the “Tybee bomb,” an unexploded Mark 15 nuclear bomb lying somewhere in the offshore sediment just doing … whatever unexploded nuclear bombs do rolling around in the muck at the bottom of the ocean floor.

In 1958, during a military training exercise a bomber and fighter plane collided above Tybee Island, outside of Savannah.  The bomber was damaged but still able to fly and jettisoned the bomb before landing.  Despite several searches, the bomb has never been found.  Whether or not it poses a real threat (probably by slow leakage of radiation) is a matter of debate.  But it is something to think about when gazing offshore toward the north.  I wonder where it is and what it is up to.  Let’s hope it stays intact.

There's a bomb out there somewhere.

There’s a nuclear bomb rolling around out there somewhere.

The days are getting longer!

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Happy holidays, Mele Kalikimaka, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad, Joyous Kwanzaa, and have a good Festivus.  Enjoy.