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Tybee Marsh

Tybee Marsh

Getting out of town was the transition I needed into retirement, again. I’d been out for five years, accepted a job again for almost two – and now I’m “really” retiring, at least from earning a living. There are many things I want to devote time to.  But it’s always been hard for me to separate from my last job because of the effort I devote to it. It’s always consumed me, occupying most of my thoughts and energy. I’ve never been one who could do a 9-6 and consider work finished; it’s always come home with me. Leaving the area was the physical and emotional separation I knew had to be done.

BusSo we dug our motor home out of hibernation, Mr. Bus “he’s” called, and got him ready for a relatively short jaunt to Tybee Island, off the coast of Savannah, the charming historic southern town about 7-1/2 hours from home.

Tybeemarsh3Tybee has the wildness I love – vegetation is rampant and most of the island is uninhabited by people, but lush with marshland and meandering rivers throughout. And, of course, the Atlantic Ocean kisses the shores. Here zoning prohibits high-rise anything – hotels, apartment buildings, condo developments, retail establishments. Three stories high are all that’s allowed and it’s that low-density commercialism that makes the island so attractive. Homes are eclectic ranging from small ramshackle dwellings to modern and expensive abodes overlooking the ocean or the marshes and lived in by residents of equal diversity.

TybeePaintedHouse1

 

TybeePaintedHouse2

TybeePaintedHouse7

TybeePorch        On morning walks with my vivacious Bella dog we discover secret “private” gardens that we explore (sshhh) and meet colorful people who live in happy, bright houses eager to swap backgrounds. As one older hippy tells me, many Tybee residents are retired professors and artists – or as he puts it

misfits who move to the island of misfits.” My kind of place!

We wander past Nancy’s house, a modest cottage in need of some TLC with impressive gardens. Tall plants of every kind populate containers peppered throughout her side yard of maybe half an acre. In the back are two greenhouses where she’s busy potting new plants. She’s been working on her yard for years, she tells me, as she names each plant she points out. Some are dripping with flowers while others tower overhead with large leaves – all plants shaded by enormous live oaks throughout. As we tour the garden she apologizes for sweating, explaining that her “prissy” sister-in-law would be mortified by the way she looks.  She loves kissing Bella and announces that her 19-year-old cat had just died, and, though the island is crawling with cats, she went to the shelter to find a new one to adopt. She invites us back later for an iced tea.

TybeePaintedHouse6Later, we wave to an older woman sitting in her moo moo sipping a beverage on the front porch of her charming purple house perched in the middle of an island of grass separating two roads. I explain to her that her house is our landmark for getting on the correct path to the campground. She’s used to that since many people driving by know her, evidently, well known home.

It is on our regular jaunt on a path through the park where we meet Jim, a man of 86 who lives in the nursing home around the corner. He was tooling through the park on his motorized scooter as he does everyday. One leg is amputated at the knee, the other leg is swollen and bruised, a byproduct of circulation problems he tells me. The twinkle in his eye tells of his joy for living – even in a nursing home. I’m curious about that life. I tell him that my father also lives in a nursing home – a beautiful, well appointed one that he hates.   He says that enjoying life was a conscious decision he made a few years ago after caring for his infirmed wife for a long time. When she died and his health declined he knew he needed to move somewhere that could take care of him. So he chose this facility on Tybee which is not as nice as my father’s yet he says it’s fine.

He moved in “with a chip on his northern shoulder” until he had an epiphany lying in bed one morning. He decided he didn’t want to be angry anymore, dissatisfied anymore, instead he wanted to enjoy the rest of his life.

 

So he decided to. And that’s when his life changed. He’s the president of his “block” and on the residents’ advocacy committee and friendly with his aides and nurses. He loves them and they love him. He talks to other disgruntled residents about how easy it is to change one’s attitude and then life can become joyful again. It requires accepting this stage of life and choosing to make the most of it. And voila, life changes. He says many residents ignore him. I wish Jim could talk to my father; maybe my father would ignore him too. I guess sometimes people don’t know how to change their attitudes.

BusDrivingTomorrow morning we head for home after a week here on Tybee. We’ve looked at houses here, for fun, to see if there’s something we would fall in love with. I have. So far, my husband hasn’t. He tells me it’s just a fantasy for me, that I’d be bored here after a while. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s not. I know I’d love to be friends with the eclectic people I’ve met.

On to more retirement living ….

 

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Our campground here in Stone Mountain was surprisingly empty for our final two days in Mr. Bus.  It’s divided into pods of sites and we were the only rig in our pod of maybe 20 sites.  We’re nestled in the woods of hilly Georgia, east of Atlanta and it feels good to be among the pine and hardwood trees again.  I’ve always loved the moodiness of the forest.  As much as I adore the ocean and its vast power, the woods and all its creatures are where I prefer living

Hiking here is good.  The Cherokee Trail traverses five miles around the bottom of Stone Mountain, an unusually barren dome of granite jutting up out of the trees toward the sky.  It reminds me of the Spielberg film, “Close Encounters,” primed for a giant UFO to land at the top.

I hadn’t realized how much I needed those solitary walks along the trails.  My initial intent was to ride my bike along that trail until I discovered I’d need a mountain bike and some really strong thighs for that plan.  So off on foot I went, rather slowly since sleep had evaded me for most of the night before.  The walk may have taken me longer but because of my pace all kinds of detail was exposed that normally goes unnoticed.  Sounds, tiny flowers and critters on land and water  went about their daily lives oblivious to my intrusion in their world.  I needed the solitude after weeks of going and going and going.

Jutting into the lake were a few dead trees in various stages of decay  that offered the perfect platform for eight water turtles to perch in the sun.  Toward the base of the trees, still on land, were the beginnings of mushrooms or some other sort of fungus marking a stage of metamorphosis into soil.  That process takes 10 years from tree to dirt.  Incredible isn’t it?  Poised on a nearby branch was a vivid red cardinal whose crest was taut and proud for reasons I don’t know.  But he was a beauty with his matching red beak.

chipmunk on log upper right

fungus on dead tree

I found myself relaxing into the mood of the land, soothing a sense of impatience I’d been feeling in the bustling, endlessly bright atmosphere of Florida tourist destinations – away from my dog and his endless scratching to relieve his incessant itching no matter how many possible solutions we offer to soothe his allergy ridden skin.  His discomfort has frayed my nerves and has been keeping me awake at night.  This walk in the woods has quieted my irritation and helpless feelings.  And it’s reminding me how infrequently I’ve been meditating and practicing yoga poses, both crucial activities for my peace of mind as almost daily rituals at home.  On the road I haven’t made time to include them with regularity.  The quiet of the woods is calling attention to that.

Crystal clear mountain water. Those rocks are underwater.

It was Rick’s idea to push our typical three-hour drive to closer to five so we could get to this public park and stay put for a couple of days, recharging our batteries before heading home to undertake the mundane chores of settling in again.  And I’m glad for that.  It’s being the ideal transition between the two worlds.

Tomorrow morning we leave for home and three hours later we’ll arrive.  I’ll start Pogo’s daily regimen of antihistamine and local honey, a winning combination last year.  Wish me luck.

See you at home …

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Florida sunset!

Florida sunset! (Photo credit: Odalaigh)

It’s hard to believe that 6 weeks has come and almost gone drawing our south-east bus trip to a close.  It’s felt long and momentary in its own paradoxical way.  Funny how hindsight has that affect on you.  On the one hand I feel like we’ve been gone forever, putting a hold on the scheduled routine of my life and its openings for spontaneity.  Yet now as I reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve done, it feels like just yesterday that we took off.  What an odd phenomenon.

It’s been a while since my last post though it’s not for lack of trying.  Twice I wrote pieces regarding my impressions about the snow birds who flock to Florida and the Disney utopian town of Celebration, and twice Word Press deleted the copy as I was trying to add pictures, moments later automatically saving the blank page as my draft.  It irritated me enough to bite my nose to spite my face, say f*** it and go on with my evening without an entry.  Now I’m “saving” along the way until they get that glitch (I assume it was “they”) resolved.  I’m not a terribly patient person by nature.  Can you tell?

Key West

Key West (Photo credit: GarySlinger)

We spent the bulk of our time in Florida – down the East coast and back up the Gulf side so I’ve had my fill of ocean and beach for now.  I admit to enjoying the Gulf side more because of its greater feeling of space and residential sensibility.  Plus there seems to be more than just palm trees to look at.  I did love exploring the Everglades which wasn’t a surprise since National Parks rank high on my list of must sees.

The Keys were also fun – it’s a great past-time to bike the streets all over Key West – and frankly, all of Florida due to the flat terrain, though it’s the hills and forests that I love so much about the northern southeast of the country (is that an oxymoron?  Northern Southeast?)  Anyway – I’m referring to Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

My greatest impression of Florida is that it’s loaded with seniors, especially snow birds this time of year.  License plates from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states flood the campgrounds where these older citizens live out the winter months.  One of the “RV resorts” in Venice was mostly a mobile home park which doubled as winter camp for its part-time residents.  And their calendars get filled with activities like bingo, shuffle board, pot luck suppers and dance, coffee and pastry get togethers while they toodle around the place on adult tricycles and golf carts.  It’s a sight for the un-itiated like me.  Our campground in the Everglades was the setting for a wedding between two snowbirds celebrating their second anniversary wintering there together.  The whole place was invited so I went too; it was a charming diversion while waiting for my laundry to finish drying!  Here’s a taste of the wedding.

the groom waiting for his bride to arrive by golf cart

here she is!

The Orlando area was a surprise, very much like Pigeon Forge in my neck of the woods with its bumper to bumper traffic and kitschy stores trumpeting all sorts of cheap trinkets for tourists.  The highlight for us was touring Celebration, Disney’s vision of a utopian residential village built around a town center.  When I read about its development years ago I pictured row after row of colorful pseudo cheerful houses with picket fences, each looking exactly like its neighbor.  Shame on me for not assuming they’d commission famed architects Michael Graves, Philip Johnson and Robert A.M. Stern among others to design key elements of this town.  It was charming and I can appreciate its appeal.

town center

residential street in Celebration

Lighthouse in Tybee Island, Georgia, USA.

Image via Wikipedia

But my favorite place wasn’t in Florida at all.  It was Tybee Island in Georgia, just 16 miles east of Savannah on a wild piece of land resplendent with the natural growth of the region.  I love its earthiness and understated homes and especially its zoning law of a maximum three-story structure.

Sea Oats on Tybee Island Beach.

Image via Wikipedia

That substantially limits hotels and keeps tourists at a minimum offering a lifestyle the residents can really enjoy.  I’ll definitely be going back, may even check real estate prices.

Right now we sit in our wooded campsite at Stone Mountain Campground, about three hours from home.  These two days will cap our winter adventure for the season.  Tomorrow I’ll hike and bike and we’ll celebrate our last bus dinner with hot dogs and baked beans!

I‘m looking forward to going home just as I look forward to going away.  I need  both in my life.  Both feed my soul.

See you at home.

How is your winter going?

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It was a beautiful bright day riding my bike through Key West, much like yesterday’s cycling trip.  The sky was a vivid blue and the wind was blowing gently masking the sun’s searing rays.  Once again I slathered the sun block on all exposed skin, wore a hat and continued my exploration of this small and tightly packed party island.

I love my bike trips, many of which are solitary experiences.  My husband doesn’t ride and my friends who do aren’t here. It’s just me, my bike, the scenery and my thoughts which flow unencumbered by conversation.  Sometimes so many ideas flow through my mind I need to stop and record them on my phone for evaluation at a later time.  Other times it’s meditative to ride at an even pace and coast when something grabs my attention for a closer look.

Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.
Alice Koller

I also find myself receptive to new people and while it’s usually true that strangers tend to keep to themselves, they’re unusually responsive to friendly repartee when I’m alone.  The art gallery manager from Michigan explained how he and his wife stopped for a day in Key West during a cruise and decided to move here.  That was in 2002. We talked for probably 15 minutes.

Fort Zachary Taylor

Image via Wikipedia

Somehow the idea of being alone became equated to loneliness and nothing could be farther from the truth.  Loneliness surfaces from a depressed state, one which rises from a sense of lack.  Being alone lacks nothing.  There is no void, just a contentedness for being where you are, doing what you’re doing and enjoying your own company.

Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.
Theologian Paul Tillich

In fact I do many things alone, always have.  I’ve never required a companion to see a movie, theater, shop, have a restaurant meal, attend an event, visit a city, take a vacation – you name it and I’ve done it alone.  I get together with friends when I want to see them and share experiences.  My husband comes along when he’s interested in doing the same thing at the same time, but in truth our interests are overlapping circles that share about 20 percent of the same space.

What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.
Ellen Burstyn

Mostly I’m a loner who also has friends.  I’ve never identified with people who deny themselves experiences if they can’t find a companion.  Frankly, I know a lot of people who have felt very lonely in the company of others, and that includes some married couples.

Solitude

Solitude (Photo credit: Lady-bug)

I don’t live in solitude but I seek its experience everyday.  Alone feels good, it percolates with a vibrancy that strengthens intuition. And intuition is the juice that powers wise decision-making. I always allow it to have pre-eminence over my mind because it speaks the truth.

Read below for many delicious thoughts about solitude.

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Everglades National Park, Florida

Everglades National Park, Florida (Photo credit: ajsadeh)

My favorite road visits are through National Parks, millions of acres of pristine wilderness stretching in all directions as far as the eye can see.  No honking horns, high-rise buildings or fast food franchises to jar you alert to human “progress.”  Just by standing still and breathing softly you can become tuned to the world of nature where tiny creatures scurry the ground usually invisible to our awareness.

The terrain at the different parks is as vast as the parks are large and I love being ensconced in the uniqueness of each one. Everglades National Park isn’t what I expected, but then my expectation was based on some fictional combination of alligators and swamps.  Yes, they’re both there but not in my Hollywood-esque

imaginative screenplay.  At least not the part I saw.  Had I taken a canoe ride through back country I might have experienced a different world.  But the one I saw on land bordering sloughs and sink holes and various grasslands and woods was rich with all sorts of species, including alligators.

Just along the Anhinga Trail in Royal Palm I counted 8 species of birds, including some rough-looking vultures, co-habitating in the slough with turtles, schools of fish and alligators of all sizes.  They were intermingled throughout a pond dotted with mangroves, willow reeds and something called Air Trees.  And the thriving ecosystem was abundant with babies of all kinds.  It amazed me that so many animals, some of whom were predators, could live in such harmony together.

there are baby egrets in this mangrove who were just fed by mom

There had to be dozens of visitors ambling along the boardwalk trail elevated a few feet above the slough’s water surface and yet everyone was whispering, allowing nature to do all the talking.  We all weaved our way through weeds, trees and grasses, as though this boardwalk grew here with everything else.  It was a glorious interaction with a thriving world just doing its own thing.

Another unworldly elevated boardwalk trail is the Pa-hay-okee Overlook across the “River of Grass” so aptly named for its paradoxical sensibility.  What looked like a meadow with tall reeds was

actually water with grass growing in it.  Had we stepped into it we would have sunk.  Here the dormant Cyprus Trees tower over its’ grassy neighbors creating a moody environment that inspires visitors to stop in our

tracks and just stare at the elements comprising such a picture.  There is some ground on which darts all kinds of creatures foresting for their food in this unique world.

There are a variety of trails inviting spectators to experience the 9 different ecosystems unique to the Everglades, which like other ecosystems around the world are starting to diminish.  Urban and suburban sprawl contribute to a change in water flow, endangering many species in this glorious spot on earth stretching 1.5 million acres of southern Florida.

It’s vital we continue to protect these earthly treasures.  They’re our precious heritage.

Which National Parks speak to you?

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Woods hold a secret

and whisper heartfelt whimsy

while I walk her path.

Trees line her walkway

while fallen needles cushion

steps that leave no trace.

 As winds blow  her leaves

 light teases through canopy

 creating shadows.

 There’s something about

 the smell of greens in nature

that beckons spirit.

It’s fresh yet musty

a paradox in action

the very nature of life.

It’s the woods alone

that breathe life into my soul

it’s my heart, my need.

Breathe deep, sit silent

as the secret whistles through

the sounds are revealed.


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I walk along the beach where the vast Atlantic ocean slaps the shoreline with cresting waves whose spent power trickles under my feet and tickles my toes with each step.  Ocean sovereignty untamed by humans ends at this boundary.  Perhaps that’s the magnetism that draws the land species to the edge of two worlds both vibrant with life, neither can subsist in the other.

I hear the ocean yell with roars louder than my thoughts.  Its domination drowns any quiet solitude simmering within.

It demands to be noticed,

to be admired,

to be respected,

to be awed.

And we land people yield to that force.

Why do you come? it booms in my ears, penetrating every cell in my body. You land people flock to my shores.  Stare at my waves for hours on end.  Walk along my borders where children dig into my sand and dogs romp through my swells.  Some of you try to ride me but never succeed in conquering me.  Some of you hunt my people to eat and become the occasional hunted for our sustenance. You explore my depths but can’t penetrate my soul.  You can’t live here but continually need to explore here.  You need me. You need us. You are me.  You are us.

We land people go to the ocean to be swept up beyond ourselves where thoughts don’t reside.  The roar is too loud for problems.  Too mighty for anything but complete submission.  Quietude comes later.

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