It was mid August. Long, hot, humid days ruled the week with the occasional thunderstorm that really rocked my world as I miss them immensely living in California. I was traveling all over the Southeast seeing friends and family and everything in between. I was back in the land of front porch culture – where everyone says hello, asks you how you’re doing, and waves when you part ways.
Experiencing geography and culture
I always focused on the cultural parts of growing up. Southern hospitality is a big deal in this part of the country. We’re a friendly bunch by nature and almost always willing to add one more to the party. Very shortly after moving to California, I remember hiking with a friend of mine who asked, “Why do you say hello to everybody we pass?” It was the cultural part of growing up. As Southerners, we open up by default.
Geography has always been a passion of mine. I would be the kid who would look down the road and always wonder where it would go. My favorite book was Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! I’d look down the road and wonder where it would take me, who I would meet, and what the story would be along the road. That connection is probably one of the strongest reasons I’m an avid motorcyclist (aside from the fact that motorcycles are hot). What I didn’t see at the time was how geography shaped my own childhood and how it plays a unique role for all of us as we grow up.
I am a product of suburbia. Turning 16 was a big rite of passage as it meant freedom on four wheels. We were an hour from the lake in the mountains and the beach was a six-hour trek down to the coast. Fireflies were a unique treat in June. As I got older the fall colors in the mountains were a beautiful sight. Winter was never pleasant. It was cold enough to be miserable but not cold enough for snow nor hilly enough to ski. Springtime always meant beautiful flowers – particularly the azaleas we’d fine on our annual trip down to the beach.
My sister lives in a very different geography than we did growing up. She lives out on the coast in southern Georgia. Coastal Georgia is a mix of beach, rivers, and a lot of marshes. Small towns dot the landscape with Savannah being the crown jewel. I got to spend a lot of time with my niece and nephew and see the geography as they do. I loved learning what they found special in their world. Their geography opens up different opportunities than I had as a kid. And it was great to explore those opportunities through their eyes.
Learning the marsh
The marsh is one of the biggest focal points of the area. Here in California we have marshes too – but the water by default is cold. There, the water is warm making the marsh an integral part of summertime activities. My nephew and I were playing soccer and we kicked the ball over the fence down into the marsh. He looked up at me with a directed look of “well don’t stand there – go get the ball!” I looked down into the marsh seeing deep mud, big weeds, and all sorts of bugs. As a put on my boots I was wondering if there were snakes or other fun creatures I’d have to contend with or if the mud would give way sinking me down to my waist. That first step was a pivotal one trusting the mud beneath me. As I got closer and closer to the soccer ball, the crickets got louder and louder. Weed after weed, step after step the stakes felt higher as I got further away from solid ground. I couldn’t get out fast enough. The marsh was so foreign to me.
Being a coastal area, tides are another key feature of the landscape. My niece and I went down to the dock on the creek near the community pool and we were planning to have the tide to pull us back to my sister’s house. I looked at the ladder going into the water seeing a big furry green plant covering each and every step down into the olive green water. Because California’s mountain lakes are so cold, there’s very little plant life in them. My niece laughed and basically said get over it and was just about to push me in. With that “encouragement” I jumped in and the two of us floated down the creek back to my sister’s place.
It was really fun spending that time with my niece. She’s growing up so fast and every time I come and hang out we talk about different things in her world and in mine. She asks great questions and we have fun adventures together. It hit me – this is one of the treasures of this geography. The tides allow a lazy Monday afternoon hanging out with family. Once we got back to my sister’s dock the next adventure began.
My sister has a two level dock on one of the smaller tributaries that lead to the ocean. The stationary part connects the dock back to the land and the moving part keeps the boats in the water. The difference between the stationary part and the moving part becomes the high dive that the kids love. We just happened to hit the dock right at low tide. This is the time the kids have the most fun jumping from the high dive into the water.
I guess the dock at high tide was about a 6 foot jump and at low tide it was likely twice that. The physicist in me knew that low tide meant a longer jump into less water. I weigh a little over twice what my niece does but she assured me “Uncle Dan, you won’t hit the bottom – I promise.” That first jump took me a good 30 seconds and I felt my heart in my Adam’s apple all the way down to the water. It was a true thrill I hadn’t experienced in a number of years – probably 20. Each time I jumped I got more comfortable with the thrill – but it never went away. It will definitely be fun again next summer!
My sister, the kids, and I all went out to dinner at their club one night as my brother-in-law had an evening commitment that night. I’ve never lived in a small town and it surprised me how well-connected my sister is in her community. We couldn’t pass a table that night or meet somebody she knew when we were out and about. In California there are so many people – it’s easy to be anonymous and sometimes anonymity can be isolating. But there – you are a part of a much tighter community. There’s value in both places – but the community and front porch culture really shines in this area.
My sister smiled and definitely gave me a tip for the evening: eat off the kid’s menu. I went for the adult salad but swung by the kid’s table and grabbed some macaroni and cheese and fried chicken. California does neither well so I took the opportunity for some real southern cooking. In these parts, macaroni and cheese is a vegetable. That’s how you know the mac & cheese will be good. If you find yourself in a part of the country were macaroni and cheese is a vegetable, stay for breakfast and order grits. You’ll be glad you did.
I’ve always enjoyed good sunrises and sunsets wherever I am. The Georgia coast was no exception. The late afternoon thunderstorms leave behind vibrant cloud color illuminated by the setting sun. The grasses in the marsh are enriched by the golden color of the sun. To me, sunsets are a reminder of the day well spent.
I’m always intrigued by the questions my niece and nephew ask. As we were heading out for story time, my nephew asked, “What do you know about Oregon?” My sister was in the room and I asked her if she remembered The Oregon Trail – one of the most famous computer games of our time. We continued the conversation talking about Portland, fog, cold, high deserts, snowy mountains, and lush forests. It was great to walk through some of my photos showing him the difference in the landscape and culture of Oregon.
It’s my hope for both of them that they never stop traveling, experiencing, and enjoying their world. Thank you for allowing me to experience yours.