Many of the historic buildings are still here, including many of the servants' quarters and other outbuildings, which now hold gift shops of various kinds.
It's a very pleasant place to stay. Traffic is minimal, the population is restricted, and there's a sense of uniqueness and history that makes Jekyll Island feel special. Of course, winters without shoveling snow and splitting firewood were inviting, too. But what really made my mother settle her mind about moving was when she mentioned it to their doctor at the time. "It will extend his life by fifteen years" was the assessment. The rest is, at least for us, history.
Of course, living in a place is not the same as visiting it. The limited population becomes a gossipy small town. The temperate winter weather morphs into baking hot summer afternoons featuring burned skin and sand everywhere. Even the arching shade of the live oaks harbors innumerable biting insects swarming in the humid air. My memories of my visits there soon become full of sweat, sunburn and the constant smell of the marshes.
And yet, and yet...all it takes is one quick January visit; a few sunny warm days; a couple of quiet strolls on the nearly empty beaches...
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...and I remember what there is to love about this place.
My parents live in a small neighborhood on the south end of the island, which is surprisingly isolated for a place that's only seven to ten miles long (depending on the tide). As with all barrier islands on this coast, the surf is slowly eating away at the north end, and filling it in on the south end. Much to the dismay of humans, the islands are slowly moving southward.
What this means on Jekyll is that the best beaches are also the least visited. So when my father and I went down for a late afternoon stroll, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
Even if the dunes are growing on this end, there is still an area being scooped out by the surf, so plenty of trees are being drowned, uprooted and turned into driftwood.
In the meantime, I am drawn by their stark beauty, by their attitude of implacable permanence in the face of an encroaching doom.
In other spots, the cycle is ready to begin anew. A dozen yards further on, tough, salt-resistant sea grasses have sprouted up to hold onto the sand and create another line of dunes.
Closer to the dunes, evidence we are not the only visitors today.
Back past the big tree...this next picture makes me think of Gandalf and Bilbo. (I wouldn't be surprised to discover some Hobbit blood in my distant parentage.)
Our long shadows presaged the sinking sun. Less spectacular than many sunsets here, it was still worth dragging our feet a little to stick around and watch.
I just wish I'd remembered to bring my actual camera, instead of depending on my cell phone. On the other hand, I sure am glad I had my cell phone!
The next day was a bit less inviting...cooler and very breezy. I still felt drawn to the quiet and isolation of the beach, so I made a couple more visits.
The tide was just a bit higher when I stopped at the south end.
I wanted a different perspective of the ocean, so I drove up the island a bit to get onto the Atlantic side. The South Dunes picnic area was full of that special dappled sunlight filtering through the twisted branches of the live oaks.
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The beach itself, however, was a different story! Listen to the wind trying to whip me and my camera down the shore. (You can click through to YouTube to see a better image.)
(It was too bright to see the screen, so pardon the jerkiness!)
In spite of the cold wind, it was kind of thrilling to feel the elements at their most...elemental. Still, Jekyll is not known as a surfer's paradise, so I'll leave you with a video I took down at the more protected St. Andrew's beach. This is more typical of the quiet surf around here. (The water is muddy brown because of the shallowness of the coast and the fertility of the marshes. You can learn more about Georgia's coastal waters here.)
Though I left the island after only a short visit, I took with me some of the calm of my escape from the traffic and crowds of Charlotte. I wasn't really expecting a vacation this time around, but it feels like that's just what I got.
Now, there was more to this visit than strolls on the beaches, but I'm leaving that for next time, when we'll explore a bit more about just how prescient that doctor was back in Ohio...