Friday, July 3, 2015

Jekyll Island and 400 Year Old Oaks (Or: What I Did on My Summer Vacation)

I had a month off between the spring and summer semesters of grad school. (As I type this, I'm nearing the halfway point of the program!) So my husband I decided to take a little jaunt down to my favorite little island off the coast of south Georgia.

Jekyll Island is one of the Golden Islands of Georgia, a collection of four barrier islands off the coast of the port city of Brunswick.

It is, in many ways, a home away from home. I spent a lot of weekend summer days there as a kid, when we lived two hours west in Valdosta.

I digress. 

The shoreline of a beach, edged with tall trees.
Driftwood Beach
We stayed on the northern end of the island, in a resort next to the aptly named Driftwood Beach, which is the only portion of beach (at that resort) accessible at high tide.

And it is hauntingly lovely.

A tree graveyard.

Time and tide have eroded the soil on this part of the island, baring the gnarled roots of old oaks.

An oak tree, stripped of leaves and bark, laying on its side in the tide.
Gnarled oak in the tide
Battered by wind and rain and tides, eventually the trees topple over, revealing their amazingly intricate root systems and creating some really marvelous atmosphere.

This is the kind of beach I imagine is haunted by the memory of shipwrecks and drowned sailors.

The kind of beach on which pirates take sabbatical.

It's the kind of beach where you might nudge aside a loose piece of driftwood with your bare toe and reveal something inexplicably strange or beautiful.

Perhaps a tiny blue crab staring up at you with a peculiar cleverness about its face.

An oak tree laying on its side on the beach. The roots can be seen sticking out of the water.
Fallen oak on the beach
A doubloon crusted in a hundred years worth of sea mud.

A small white clam that, when opened, spills out more brine than it could conceivably hold, followed by a water logged letter, written in a copperplate hand and a language that doesn't exist.

Or maybe the shell of a moon snail, in all its rainbow finery, looped through a green chain of woven sea grasses.

There's a whole other world in the ocean. Under the ocean.

And the beach itself is a 'tween place. That's an "in between place" in faery lore. A place where you're in two worlds at once. The land and the water.

Who knows what might wash up?

An oak tree, with no leaves or bark, rising up from the water.
Old oak, still standing, amid the rising tide

I could wax poetic about the beach and the ocean for hours. But I won't.

We couldn't spend all day, every day playing in the water. (Well, I could, but....) So, eventually, we tore ourselves away from the tide to spend some time exploring the rest of the island, including the Historic District. 

At some point, I learned that this district is home to the island's oldest oak tree. An (at least) 350 year old majestic thing called The Plantation Oak.

On our second to last day on the island, we went searching for it. After an hour of wandering around, seeing a lot of large trees but none labeled the oldest on the island, we took a break at the island bookstore.

The bookstore is tucked inside what used to be the old infirmary. You enter through a very large and heavy wooden door that slams closed behind you if you're not careful.

There, my husband came across a book about Jekyll, with a mention of the great tree we were hunting. But even the book, with its pictures, was a little vague about the location.

Fortified by cool air and a more obvious place to look, we made our way back to Old Plantation Road. And after stubbornly canvasing the area for fifteen minutes, we found the tree.

(Astonishingly, there is only one sign for this great old tree and it's right near the trunk, tucked away in the thicket of sweeping branches.)

The Plantation Oak is between 350 and 400 years old and 112 feet high. It's trunk is massive and its limbs span the length of several cars put end-to-end. (They would be perfect for lounging. If it weren't for the bugs.)

Large oak with spanish moss and long limbs.

(Top) The Plantation Oak (Bottom)

The thick trunk and branches of an oak, layered with spanish moss.

And since I don't think such a beautiful tree is to be missed, I'll tell you where to find it.

The Plantation Tree is on Old Plantation Road in the Historic District. It's next to the Courtyard at Crane (also called Crane Cottage) in between the cottage and the old foundation of a swimming pool that is guarded by two stone lions.

I spent some minutes with the tree, taking pictures and just generally....communing. It's impressive to find something that old, especially on an island that is occasionally wracked by hurricanes (though I believe the last one to hit hard was in the late 1800s).

The rest of us could only hope for a similar longevity.

Anyway. The finding of the great tree marked the descending point for our beach trip. We spend the next day exploring a few of the nooks and crannies on St. Simon's island, before heading back to our room and then playing in the waves for one last evening.

The top portion of a moon snail shell, bleached white from the sun.
Moon Snail Shell
I brought back more shells than I needed, including a piece of a moon snail that I'd found tucked up against one of the large chunks of driftwood. (It was only on this trip that I learned what a moon snail was. I never expected to find a shell, even a piece of one.)

Also accompanying me home were a good sized whelk shell (found empty at low tide) which still has the scent of mud and sulfurous Georgia water clinging to it, and a smaller, more fragile whelk shell whose occupant had likely been pried out through an impressive hole in the exoskeleton.
A small whelk shell with a hole in the center.
Whelk Shell

And so my seaside adventures came to an end, for another year.  (Or possibly longer, as we may be on the other side of the country next summer and at least 16 hours from a coast).

On a related note, I have to confess.

I think I'm already planning my retirement location. (Not that I think I'll ever actually get to retire, the economy and world being what it is.)

But even if I spend my golden years working from home....I could think of no better place to do it than with the ocean and, maybe, the spectacular Driftwood Beach, just outside my door.

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