Hello everyone. I hope y’all have had as good a week as I have. This week, I had a great time finishing out my visit to Georgia traveling to Jekyll Island, the Okefenokee Swamp and Cumberland Island National Seashore. From there, I crossed the border into Florida and have spent a wonderful few days in The Sunshine State, mostly just chilling out and hanging out with one of my best friends. I’m headed home to Washington D.C. for the holidays, and really looking forward to a few days off the road. It’s time to recharge my batteries, fill up on Christmas cookies and good cheer and catch up with my family and friends for a few days. I haven’t always been able to make it home for Christmas over the years, so I’m grateful to have that opportunity this year.
After we met last week, I spent Thursday on beautiful Jekyll Island, just south of Brunswick. One of my very good friends who I used to work with on St. Thomas, had lived and worked on Jekyll for a while, and gave me all kinds of great places to visit while I was there. I started with a walk out to somewhere she referred to as “bird pond”, although I don’t think it actually had a name. There were a ton of pretty birds there though, so I can see why she would call it that. The area I parked in to make the walk was beautiful as well, with amazing oak trees draped in Spanish moss. From there I made my way out to Driftwood Beach, stopping to see some cool old tabby ruins from some of the island’s earliest settlers on the way. Driftwood Beach was a beautiful beach on the north side of the island which was covered by massive dead trees and, obviously, driftwood. It was awesome and I had a wonderful walk up and down the beach, spotting tons of birds along the way.
From there, I traveled around the island and stopped at several of the other beaches along the way. I was especially taken with the story of the Wanderer, one of the last slave ships which came to America. Over 50 years after the importation of slaves was outlawed in the United States, the Wanderer landed on Jekyll Island carrying 400 slaves on November 28th, 1858. The story is remembered in a memorial park on the south end of the island.
Next I went for a nice long walk around the Historic District. This area surrounds the Jekyll Island Club, an exclusive club for the wealthy elite formed at the end of the 19th century. Many of the wealthiest members built their own massive mansions, which they humbly called their “cottages”. These cottages are beautiful buildings to wander around, and give you a good idea of the kind of money these people had if these were just their summer cottages. Today, they are part of the Jekyll Island Club Resort and Hotel which is open to the public. The best part of my walk around the Historic District though, was my visit to the Plantation Oak, a marvelous old giant and the oldest tree on the island at around 350 years old. I finished my visit to Jekyll with a wonderful dinner at the Driftwood Bistro. I sat at the bar and really enjoyed talking with the bartenders. I had some blackened shrimp as an appetizer and they were so good I had blackened shrimp and grits for my meal. Both were excellent, and this place was very reasonably priced. I would definitely recommend it.
Friday was a work day. It was supposed to rain all day, and while it wasn’t as bad as they predicted it would be, it was still pretty grim. That was okay because I had a podcast long overdue so it was good to sit down and finish it off. It is up an running and you can listen to it or download it HERE, or find it by searching “American Anthology” wherever you get your podcasts. This episode starts with the story of the song Georgia On My Mind and how it went from a jazz number written and recorded by an Indianan in New York to the legendary song it is today. It also tells the story of the Dahlonega Gold Rush in North Georgia which expedited the removal of the Cherokee from their ancestral lands down the Trail of Tears. You’ll hear the stories of two other native Georgians: Jackie Robinson and Doc Holliday in this episode as well. I also get into the tragic history of the carving at Stone Mountain, America’s largest Confederate memorial and give my own opinions on the issue. The music comes from Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Wesley Cook and fit in really well with the stories this month. I really like this episode, so if you have some time this week, give it a listen.
The weather cleared on Saturday and I headed out for an amazing afternoon kayaking in the Okefenokee Swamp. This is the largest blackwater swamp in the country and is a really awesome place to see. I rented a kayak for about three hours and headed out from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center on the east side of the park, down the canal and into the swamp itself. I saw tons of amazing birds, turtles and alligators, including a few really big ones. It was cool and sunny and absolutely perfect out for a paddle and I had one of the best days I’ve had in all of Georgia. With the exception of the one tour boat I saw and a plane or two overhead, it was also completely devoid of human noise out there, which was really amazing. I only wish I had gotten there earlier and spent more time kayaking around. I can imagine this place gets buggy and miserable in the summertime, but on a nice sunny day in early winter, it was amazing. To see more shots of Okefenokee, check out my full post HERE.
Sunday was another beautiful day, and it was a perfect opportunity to head out to Cumberland Island National Seashore. This amazing barrier island is about a 45 minute ferry ride from the mainland, but it feels like it’s a world away. Ancient oaks provide shade on wonderful walking paths around the island, or you can just walk on the beach. There is a fascinating old set of ruins on the south side of the island, the site of the manor house called Dungeness. First built by Nathanael Greene after the Revolution and then rebuilt by Thomas Carnegie, it was quite a place in its time. It was also the house where Henry Lee, Robert E. Lee’s father passed away. Abandoned in the twenties, the house burned pretty badly in the fifties, so just the shell remains today. South of Dungeness along the beach, I found some of Cumberland’s wild horses which was really cool to see. I also found a few shark’s teeth, which you are actually allowed to collect in this park (in most parks you aren’t allowed to remove anything, a policy which I respect and always adhere to). I headed across the beautiful salt marsh, and had a nice long walk up the beach and through the interior of the island. It was a great day for walking and I really enjoyed my visit there. The last time I was on Cumberland Island was almost 30 years ago when I went there on my 8th Grade class trip. It was an amazing trip, and being there brought back a lot of great memories about the kids I grew up with. Thanks to the National Park Service it hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years, which is a wonderful thing. You can read more about Cumberland Island and see all my photos from the trip HERE. Cumberland Island was my last stop in Georgia. Thirty minutes after I pulled away from the visitors center, I was in Florida. I tucked in for the night just north of Jacksonville.
I woke up Monday morning and headed up to the big Florida Visitors Center on I95 to pick up some information so I can plan my next month in Florida. The gentleman I spoke with there was very helpful, and pointed me in the direction of Fernandina Beach. He told me it was quaint and historic, and he was right about both. I arrived there late morning, and got some work done at the library before having a nice stroll around town. Of course I had to stop at the Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest continuously operated bar, which survived the depression by selling gasoline, ice cream, cigars and “medicinal wine”. It was actually a really nice place and I enjoyed a great conversation with a couple from New Orleans who lived outside of Philadelphia and had a son who went to Georgetown. We had so many places in common that it was like we were old friends. Leaving there, I wandered around town some more, marveling at how different the architecture was from Georgia which is just a few miles away. I headed down to the beach for the sunset and enjoyed a nice long walk with my feet in the sand. I looked for shells and sharks’ teeth and breathed in the wonderful salty air. That night I went for a few beers at the Locals Lounge, a great little bar in town which had an excellent happy hour. I also stopped by Hammerheads on the beach for a quick one before calling it a night.
On Tuesday, I made my way down the coast and enjoyed seeing some of the beaches and lagoons along the way. I stopped for a bit at the Kingsley Plantation on Timucuan National Preserve, to learn about plantation life in North Florida. It was definitely an interesting place to stop, although the road was not in the best of shape to get there.
I took a cursory glance at downtown Jacksonville before getting on the road to Orlando. My friend Peter, who is going to be watching my van over the holidays, invited me to come down a day early so we could hang out together before I flew out. I met Peter soon after I arrived in Japan in 2010 and we became really close over the two years I lived there. He lived in the next city up, and we spent a lot of time hanging out together over the years. We were often each other’s only outlet for some of the hard things that came into our lives during those years, and have remained close since then. If you’ve been following me for a while, you may remember a wedding I went to way back in March. That was Peter’s wedding. I arrived at his house after dark, and he had cooked me up a real feast for us. We ate and drank and stayed up late catching up and enjoying each other’s company as we always do.
The next morning, I headed off to see Disney’s Animal Kingdom with Peter and his wife Aya. We had a great day in the park and I really enjoyed seeing some of the animals they had there, riding the Everest roller coaster and seeing the incredible Lion King show. When we were all done with the park, we headed out to a great new Japanese Izakaya in Orlando to eat and drink and chat and have a good time. Our friend Hermon joined us with his wife and we talked and laughed and enjoyed our time. Then we headed home to relax and watch some Christmas movies.
Thursday morning I was up and on my way to the airport to catch my flight home for the holidays. I’m actually writing this now sitting in the airport. I’m sorry I didn’t get it done in time for my weekly newsletter, but that is bound to happen sometimes.
So I’m on my way home for the next 10 days. I will try and get some work done while I’m there, but my computer is headed into the shop to get cleaned up and tuned up so you probably won’t hear from me for a few days.
I do want to wish everyone a very happy holiday season. For all you Christmas celebrators out there, have a wonderful Christmas. For those of you who celebrate Kwanza, I hope this year is a great one for you. And if I don’t get back to y’all before, have a very Happy New Year. Thank you all for your love and support over the last year. It’s certainly been a heck of a run. We’ve had ups and downs, good times and tough times but I really appreciate you following along. Next year is going to be even bigger and better than this one was.
When I get back to Florida after Christmas, I’m headed south towards the Everglades and the Keys for some fun-filled Florida adventures. I don’t have a big plan right now, but hope to come up with one over the holiday season. I’ll be in Florida for 5-6 weeks and then I’m off to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras season and a month or so in Louisiana. It should be a great way to spend the winter and I’m really looking forward to it. I hope you’ll come along for the ride, there’s so much left to see and do out there.
Thanks again, have a wonderful week and until next time, thank you so much for being a part of this.