"I'm sitting at a sidewalk cafe wearing shorts and a t-shirt!" I exclaim excitedly as I sit at a sidewalk cafe wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I nearly spill my iced tea during the process. From the permafrost of Alaska to the beaches of Savannah. From the Arctic Circle to the east coast of the southern USA. And all because 50 years ago my boyfriend learned to fly helicopters at a military base here, was fascinated with the area, and wanted to see what it looks like now.
I think it looks spectacular, even though the warmth of the scrambled eggs at breakfast mixes with the heat of the sun, and leads to an unexpected outbreak of sweat. Colorful houses abound in dark blue, pink, and yellow. Spanish moss hangs from ancient oaks like tinsel on a Christmas tree. The Blues Brothers would have freaked out. River boats traveling on a non-frozen river. Music, flowers, the sound of waves.
Our trip to Savannah, Georgia, is like a Polaroid snap of spring in the middle of the Rocky Mountains' long winter. Add to that a mile-long tunnel of trees, a bucket-list sailing trip, and the surreal deadwood beach of Jekyll Island. Pack your flip flops, here we go!
If I had suddenly gone colorblind for the last few months, I wouldn't have noticed, because in Wyoming—where my boyfriend lives—there has been snow since November and the prairie and vegetation are still brown. It's March now. And in Savannah, not only is it as lush and green as the jungle, but it’s also almost summer in feeling. Over 80F in the shade. Holy cow! In August I would want to be somewhere else as the temperature frequently tops 100.
But we are here now. In a city where every few blocks a small park appears with oaks, fountains, flowers, benches and hanging moss—the Spanish Moss that is so famous here. Twenty-two parks dot the Downtown Savannah area. Planned and created long before anyone knew the meaning of an "urban jungle."
Gnarled, massive, century-old oak trees tower into the blue sky above. People sit on lawns, read newspapers, eat ice cream. Only a month ago, we were in Alaska where the temperature hovered around minus 30F. I stand under blowing moss and am enchanted at how incredibly diverse our world can be at the same point in time.
Besides moss and trees, downtown Savannah is also home to the Victorian Quarter. The city was once very British--and it shows. Colorful houses with elegant porches, bay windows, playful iron railings, stone staircases covered with ivy, and ornate, majestic doors. I stuff my shoes in my backpack (oh my god, I haven't walked barefoot in so long!) and go on a wild photo safari. Every now and then my boyfriend waves his watch under my nose to remind me that it's dinner time now, so I don't just disappear forever down some street on a quest to take one last picture of a particularly nice house entranceway.
Somewhere I read that many houses here are "truly historic". Well, when these houses here were built, the French
Revolution had just ended in Europe. And more than 300 years before that, Luther had translated the Bible into German. But from an American point of view, 1800 is of course very
historic. I would love to live in one of the almost fairy-tale-like houses. But when I look at the prices posted in the windows of real estate offices on Main Street, I
remember that I don't own the van Gogh I would need to sell to afford one of the houses.
The next day we visit the Wormsloe Historic Site: a vast expanse of seemingly endless oak tree lined avenues, and the ruins of Noble Jones' colonial estate.
A deep peace hovers between the rustling treetops and the sandy paths on the ground. Butterflies dance amidst palm leaves, and old, fallen autumn leaves crackle beneath our feet. Speaking of old, the property was built in 1745. We are slowly approaching the Romans and Egyptians in time.
But much more impressive than the meager remains of the building, is the mile and a half oak tunnel that leads from the main road to the estate. Over 400 trees, now several centuries old, cover the path with a dense canopy of leaves. Like tentacles of an octopus, they intertwine, mysterious, beautiful, and just a bit eerie. I begin to think of the movie Pan's Labyrinth. I would love to laugh and scream at the same time and run down the entire avenue with my arms outstretched. Unfortunately, the road is completely open to cars and there is a lot of traffic.
By the way, the ruins of the former estate are made of "tabby"—a mixture of sand, water, ash, and shells. If I can't afford the Victorian mansion, I'll just build a house out of ashes and shells. Ha.
Savannah is undeniably by the sea. And where there is sea, there are ships. Sailing ships.
A sailboat trip was something my boyfriend and I both had on our Bucket Lists. And since I'm of the clear opinion that a Bucket List shouldn't be left to gather dust in a drawer until mummification, we go on a sailing trip!
Not by ourselves, of course, because we both know as much about sailing as we do about raising a basil plant (we had three and none of them are still alive). Fortunately, there's a captain and we hope very much that he is still alive at the end of the journey.
Even after only a few minutes, I know that sailing is really, really incredible! The water glistens, the wind blows, shoes are not necessary, and if you know how to set the rigging, you even get someplace. I try not to think about how I once bobbed along throwing up for two hours on the ferry ride to Helgoland on the North Sea of Germany.
Then the captain plays sea shanties from a Bluetooth speaker and the sun slowly sinks into the horizon. Sometimes my boyfriend and I switch places to shift our weight on the boat. Sailing is so much fun and it is so liberating. Just the boat, the water, the wind, and us.
Soon may the Wellerman come
To bring us sugar and tea and rum
One day, when the tonguing is done
We'll take our leave and go!
I hum along (worst catchy tune, I've been having fun all night).
Definitely need to figure out how to get a sailing license!
Sometimes "checking off" an item on the bucket list merely brings up a new item for the list.
That's the beauty of life, moving forward and changing with it instead of standing still with unfulfilled plans and dreams still dangling in your hand.
A little further south along the coast, a few islets lay in the Atlantic that are far more interesting than the big, touristy Tybee Beach near Savannah.
One of them is Jekyll Island. Not only are there puffy sandpipers here, but there is also a forest that's being eaten by the sea. For real! Kafka would have written a parable about it right away if he had seen it.
Decades of erosion have nibbled at the sand and trees along the coast, washing away the soil from their roots. As a result, a copse of huge, long dead tree trunks stand tall in the middle of the beach with bare roots and leafless branches. It almost looks like the result of a surreal forest fire where nothing was charred.
Some trees stand weathered in the waves as if waiting for an 18th century European painter to find them, others have fascinating bark that looks as if aliens carved mysterious letters into them. It's super warm and humid, and I crawl across the sand with my camera, sweating.
Unfortunately, the water is still too cold for a swim. Anyway, that's my conclusion after briefly doing "the flamingo" (with one leg in the water and quickly out again).
After the oak tunnel at Wormsloe Historic Site and the frozen trees in Alaska, Driftwood Beach is the third natural forest wonder I have now seen in a short time. A testament to how everything always changes. Seasons, decades—and people looking at things.