Sam Burnham, Curator
Down in the low country the marsh, the river, and the ocean all meet up. It’s a thing of beauty. It makes for good pictures but a camera can’t really capture it. Along the Georgia Coast, various circumstances have protected such environments. Government designations as well as private owners declining the opportunity to overdevelop have ensured such natural beauty lives on.
Crooked River State Park in Camden County is one such location. Visitors have the option of cottages or camping and the permanent residents provide an excellent location to escape that hustle of modernity. The flora, fauna, and landscape provide a taste of what is found on Cumberland Island. Trails give hikers access to the maritime forest as well as breathtaking views along the riverbank. The boat ramp gives boaters access to fishing as well as another perspective on the landscape.
The river is wide here. The water is slow as it reaches the end of its journey to the sea. Some of it is more fatigued by such an odyssey and tarries along the bank forming a coastal marsh. This is where one might encounter one of Georgia’s leftover dinosaurs. The American alligator thrives in this environment. Even if you don’t see a gator, you’ll notice their slides or tracks. They’re never far away. Without obstruction, the view over the marsh seems endless and one wonders if there is really an ocean out there or if the marsh stretches to Morocco. This has to be seen in person to be appreciated. The vastness is lost in photos.
Back on solid ground expect an encounter with yet another dinosaur. This is the natural habitat of the gopher tortoise. These reptiles wander at will. Drive carefully as this is their home and you are their guest. They’ll oblige you with excellent photo opportunities if you give them their space. These creatures are quicker and more graceful than the fables suggest. Just don’t run them down trying to make them prove that.
These tortoises are threatened due to loss of habitat. This is problematic because these animals provide shelter for others. Gopher tortoise burrows can be up to 70 feet long and 20 feet deep. With such a burrow, other animals in the long leaf pine habitat take up residence in them as well. Various snakes, including the Eastern Indigo, as well as mammals, lizards, and insects take shelter from weather and fire in tortoise burrows. Scientists have even discovered insect species that have never been seen outside of a gopher tortoise burrow. Nicknamed “nature's landlord,” the gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species meaning that it provides more for its overall habitat than its population would warrant. This is a pivotal animal in the survival of the long leaf pine habitat.
These animals live about 90 years in the wild but don’t reach sexual maturity until around age 20 so they aren’t a sustainable food source. This isn’t good for them as they are reportedly quite tasty and were called “Hoover chickens” during the Great Depression, being used for meat where few other options existed.
All that to say, these animals were a highlight of the trip.
There is a lot to see in this park. Hiking, biking, boating, fishing, camping, they even have a miniature golf course. A stop here would be a great addition to any visit to the Georgia Coast.
Sam Burnham, Curator
“Souega” is a hashtag but it is also a state of mind. One of the most refreshing discoveries in that area is the pace of life. It doesn’t feel rushed there. It reminds me of the north Georgia of my childhood before Atlanta’s desire to be in a hurry infested the land. In the course of a week there was no horn blowing, no tailgating. The moss sways in a gentle breeze and everything seems old. It’s not a stale or dusty kind of old. It’s a well-seasoned, experienced, full flavor kind of old. It adds class, charm, and character to everything around it. You want to sit a spell and take it in.
That’s the natural pace of The South. This new trend toward haste and the rat race is a foreign, invasive species that is choking this land of its culture and charm. The country band Alabama did a sone on this that should serve as a warning:
I’m in a hurry to get things done
oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun
all I really gotta do is live and die
but I'm in a hurry and don’t know why
This is more than just a personal preference. This is a clinically proven health concern. All the haste and hurry contributes to stress, anxiety, and increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
For people of faith, there are constant warnings throughout the Book of Proverbs bidding readers to avoid haste, hurry, and an overactive appetite for materialism.
Down on the river I found a healthier pace. I found people living a better life. We should examine our own lives and see where adjustments should be made. We should take a breath and ask ourselves what the rush is all about. Are we really going anywhere or are we just driving ourselves into an early grave?
Change the pace. Sit on the porch for a spell. Go for a walk in town. Listen to music not just as background noise but to actively appreciate the art. Observe the birds and squirrels in the yard. Read a newspaper. Look for something, anything, positive and appreciate it. Say hi to a stranger. See what these sorts of things do for your personal well being. These are just a few ways to find our way back to a more Southern way of life.
Sam Burnham, Curator
St. Marys has more than its share of old homes. The city is filled with private homes that are identified by a sign out front announcing the family historically associated with the home as well as the year of construction, sometimes appropriated. There are large homes, small homes, and some in between.
We were fortunate to spend the week in such a place. The Captain Morse House was built in 1905 by a pilot captain. His job would have been to guide ships into the channel to safely reach the port. He also built a similar house across the river on Amelia Island.
Looking at his home in St. Marys, you can get a feel for who he might have been. The home is roomy with beautiful craftsmanship, particularly the staircase. He was obviously a successful man. But this is not a planter’s home; it’s a town home. The location is perfect for a pilot captain. With just a walk of a block and a half you’re on the waterfront.
Today the home offers visitors an excellent location for a getaway or vacation. Right next door is a great antique and vintage shop. Across the street is the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum. You’re about two blocks from the eateries on the waterfront, just a bit further to the waterfront park. The Cumberland Island Ferry is just a short walk as well. There is no major site in the historic district that isn’t within a 10-15 minute walk. More than once I sat on the back porch with a cool drink and enjoyed the live music from Fulfiod’s Fish House right next door.
There are four bedrooms, two are furnished with two twins each. The other two offer kings. So eight people can be accommodated and the fold out sofa in the living room could comfortably make room for a ninth. There is a full kitchen with a farmhouse sink. The washer and dryer are in the kitchen as well. The three full baths are enough to accommodate a large family.
The only negative worth mentioning is that someone saw fit to plop down a more modern building next door which hinders the view of the water from the upstairs porch. But that building houses the aforementioned antique store and Fulford’s Fish House, so it’s not a total loss.
I also think I’m a bit spoiled by our 30A vacation where the home came with complimentary bicycles. This would be a nice offer here but rentals are available from a local business.
This is is a great location for a family looking to enjoy the St. Marys area. Roomy, comfortable, classic, and convenient. The Captain Morse House is a great option for your visit. The home is currently listed for sale...which might interest you as well...
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire