Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Wonderful Visit

Early to bed to early to rise, as the saying goes.  Last night I went to bed at 8 so it should be no surprise that I'm up at 4 this morning.  My body says it would like to keep laying in bed, but the mind is wide awake so might as well get up and write.  And there's lots to write about!

Big brother Mike and his wife Linda came down from north Georgia to visit this weekend.  Even though they have lived in GA for at least 20 years, this was their first visit to the swamp.  They came in late Saturday evening and after I got through working we went into Folkston for supper and to visit the Folkston Funnel.  It was a warm weekend night so there were a lot of folks, well 20 or so, waiting to see the trains.  And we were there less than 15 minutes when I heard the CSX radio's scratchy voice announce the northbound from St. Marys.  Within 5 minutes the Amtrak passenger train came steaming through in front of us, barely slowing down as he whooshed by our little town. 

When we returned to camp Linda went to their cabin and turned in early but Mike and I sat up late talking and looking at old family photos.  We got into a disagreement about how many siblings Granny Wade had so I was forced to call Madeline Ruth, our cousin in KY whose mother was the younger sister to our grandmother, to settle things.  I won that round and I'm not ashamed to admit it!  And the conversation with Madeline Ruth and Mike was a bonus!

Sunday morning we went to the refuge and spent most of the day there.  There was a large alligator lounging in the water behind the visitor's center maybe 20 feet from the edge of the covered porch.  While Mike and I were standing on the porch the gator decided he wanted to go lay in the sun so we watched him swim over to the other side of the canal and lumber up the bank to sun himself.
Later we went over to the fishing pier at Trader's Hill and talked with the fishermen on the St. Marys River for a bit.  It was getting late and we knew we needed picnic supplies for our trip to Cumberland Island the next day so we went to the Winn Dixie in Callahan.  On the way back we took the backroads through Saint George and Mike tried to help me with a difficult geocache near the Rowe Cutoff, but we just couldn't get it.  I think I need to go back with a ladder.  After we got back to camp we sat outside and talked for a while then Linda went off to bed and Mike and I talked for a while.  He's thinking of starting his own blog!  I think it would be great since he sees it as a place to preserve some of the old family stories before he forgets them.  As the oldest child he remembers things about our grandparents and others that I don't.  I'll let you know how that goes.

Monday morning we were up early for the drive to St. Marys where we caught the ferry to Cumberland Island.  Only 300 people a day are allowed to visit and with this being prime spring break season we were lucky that Linda was able to get us tickets at all.  The ride out through Crooked River and into the sound was about 45 minutes long and kind of cool.  Mike stood behind the pilot house enthralled with the pilot's GPS screen. 

Once we got to the island we did a walking tour with a guide who gave us the history of the island leading up to the ruins of the old Carnegie mansion.  There are wild horses all over the island and after the tour we stopped at a picnic table to have lunch while some of the horses grazed near us.  One was eating Spanish Moss but I think he and his buddy wanted to be a part of our picnic as they kept getting nearer and nearer.  They told us not to feed the horses and not to try to lure them close for pictures, but they didn't tell us how to get them to NOT join our picnic so we finished up and left. 

Next stop was the old cemetery where we learned that Lighthorse Harry Lee, father of Robert E. Lee was first buried when he died while visiting the island.  There is still a marker for him in the cemetery but he was moved to VA for final burial.  Just past the cemetery is a path to the boardwalk that crosses the salt marsh.  Fortunately there were some benches on the boardwalk and we were happy to make use of them.  By now we had walked about a mile and half since starting the tour and the rest was welcome.  And needed because now we had to cross the sand dunes to get to the beach.  The sand was sugary soft and each step was a sinking one.  It was probably only half a mile to the beach but it seemed like miles and miles and miles and.....  Then we heard the waves crashing and crossed one last dune and there it was! 

We rested here a while and then walked a mile up the beach to the next boardwalk that crossed over the dunes and back to the other side of the island where the ferry dock is located.  This mile passed more quickly because the surf had pounded the sand down hard and left a trail of lovely shells.  The park service allows you to take shells so we did pick up lots of pretty ones along the way.  It made the walk go by quickly and soon my shell bag was full and we were at the crossing.  I was tired but would like to have gone on further.  Mike was our fearless leader and he headed us down the boardwalk out of the sun and under the shade of a grove of live oak trees covered in Spanish Moss.  It was so much cooler there it was almost like air conditioning.  We stopped at some picnic tables to cool off and take advantage of some nearby restrooms.  I wish now I had taken a picture of the trees.  They were so unusual, or at least different from what we have back home.  But we were tired and just thinking about resting. 

After that it was a short walk to the dock and our final resting spot.  The park service building has a row of rocking chairs on a deck in the shade near the dock and that was like heaven after all the walking.  I was beginning to feel my calf muscles screaming at me and the sun on my back was starting to tingle.  We sat and visited with a nice family from Memphis who had 4 of the best behaved kids ever.  At one point I walked down onto the pier and took pictures of a submarine returning to the Kings Bay sub base.  I wasn't sure if he was returning or leaving until I asked Mike.  The base itself is well hidden behind some smaller islands and as big as that sub was, once he went back through that hidden channel you couldn't find him again.  I like to think it was the USS Tennessee but I never did see any markings so I can't swear to it, but it's my blog so I'm calling it the Tennessee!

The return ferry ride was uneventful.  I had hoped to see dolphins as I'm told they often escort the ferry but not this trip.  Once we got back to St. Marys and sorted our stuff out it was time to say goodbye.  I stopped to buy gas in town since it was much cheaper than in Folkston and I was on empty any way.  Then I traveled the 38 miles back to camp and put all my found shells in a hot water bath in the kitchen sink, walked Gus, and was in bed by 8. 

It was the best weekend I've had in years.  It was the first time in my life that I have walked a long, deserted beach looking for shells (no commercial buildings and very few private homes on this island) and not had to deal with crowds of beachgoers.  Many thanks to the best big brother ever!

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