Monday, April 20, 2009

Family Visit

Fort Frederika National Historic Site, GA

Living history volunteers at Fort Frederika (along with Mom and Dad Ausema)

Mike's parents visited us over the last several days. We had a great time touring around Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and Cumberland Island. One of the highlights was a night-time visit to Fort Frederika National Historic Site (managed by the National Park Service) on Saint Simons Island. Normally the park closes at 5:00 p.m., but there was a special event on Saturday night. We experienced the community of Frederika (which existed a few hundred years ago and now exists only as ruins), by visiting the sites of old taverns. After a walk through the community, we settled in at a replica of a tavern and spent the evening with the (living history volunteers) Spanish and British troops, drinking ale (ginger) and beer (root) and singing rowdy songs. It was quite a fun and unusual evening!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Overnight in Okefenokee

Can anyone identify this snake for me? It was small, only a foot long or so.

Look over to the right of Mike's shoulder at the big gator!

It looks so calm, but the wind seemed to blow against us about 90% of the time.

Mike has wanted to canoe through the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge for years, so he was really excited when I managed to get a camping reservation at the last minute. Apparently March and April are the most popular months to canoe camp, due to the pleasant temperatures and fewer mosquitos. I called just two weeks ago, and luckily there were a couple of sites still available for this prime weekend. So we borrowed a canoe from FLETC, tied it to the roof of our car, and drove about an hour to Okefenokee. When we arrived to pick up our permit, it was nowhere to be found. Apparently there's a lack of communication between the refuge staff and the concessionaire (as there tends to be at all federal sites), but FORTUNATELY the concessionaire lady went the extra mile and managed to snag us a permit for the site we had reserved.

Now, I grew up in natural places, where wild animals like moose, wolves, and foxes roam free. However, I've never, ever lived in a place where alligators are the top of the food chain. The thought of being in the water with these huge reptilian beasts was terrifying and very intimidating for me. Luckily Mike has lots of experience canoeing with alligators from his time in the Everglades, and his confidence was enough to get me into the canoe. The refuge is nicely managed, balancing multiple uses. There are aquatic trails for motor boats and some separate trails for canoes and kayaks. So we paddled through the murky water, and my heart was in my throat for the first hour or so. Every once in a while, we'd either see an alligator sunning itself on the side of the canal or we'd hear a huge "splash!" where one had submerged itself. The canals aren't very wide, so we ended up pretty CLOSE to the gators. Mike was in the stern, steering us, and sometimes I ended up way too close for my comfort. Check out the photos and videos to see alligators in their natural habitat.

After paddling about 7-8 miles, we arrived at Monkey Lake and pulled the canoe up to a little boardwalk, which led to our home, sweet home. The wooden platform, called a "chickee", was the perfect place to spend a night! We were a little bit elevated, so I felt confident that the gators wouldn't climb up to join us in the darkness. Our tent was sheltered from the sun, and we lounged around in the shade for a few hours. At sunset, we set off in the canoe to explore a lake a little further away. As we returned to our campsite, a huge gator laid claim to the lake. It submerged itself completely to allow our passage overhead, but we later heard it splashing around in the darkness. We laid in the tent for about an hour, being lulled to sleep by the sounds: crickets and frogs chirping, alligators splashing, small rodents running through the underbrush, a barred owl hooting overhead, and the distant calls of sandhill cranes.

After a wonderful night's sleep, we returned through the maze of canoe trails to the main marina. Now I have more of an appreciation for alligators, although you couldn't pay me enough to get into that murky water and go for a swim with them! (You might wonder why I would even think such a thought, but Mike said for just $50 he'd swim 10 yards...CRAZY!)

Okefenokee--Definitely worth a visit or two!


Mike and I drove about an hour north last weekend to explore Savannah and nearby Fort Pulaski National Historic Site (managed by the National Park Service). Savannah at first was overwhelming, due to lots of traffic and misleading signage. So we drove straight through to the fort, where we spent about four hours attending the guided tour, watching living history volunteers fire the muskets (see photo), hiking out to an old lighthouse (in the photo, Mike is trying to block out the development on the island behind the lighthouse), and just wandering around. We enjoyed the fort way more than we expected. From there, we drove back into Savannah, where we parked in a parking garage and set off on foot to explore the town. First, we made our way to the waterfront, where they happened to be celebrating "First Saturday", so all the local venders and artisans had little booths and food samples set up to be enjoyed by the many passers-by. Then we wandered among the old houses and through the many parks, where weddings were taking place, families were playing, and spring was in the air. It was a very pleasant visit.


Mike and I visited downtown Brunswick at sunset for a "First Friday" event, where all the local businesses stay open into the evening hours and offer refreshments as a way to entice folks to get out and mingle and explore their town. We had a great time wandering around. The downtown area of Brunswick is quaint and quiet and full of tall trees and beautiful azalea bushes. There are lots of historic homes with little parks interspersed throughout the neighborhoods. We watched the sun set over the little marina.