Vacations serve to remind us there is a heaven and you don’t get there by works. There are three kinds of vacationers: beach goers, mountain goers, and scenery goers. Seen from another angle vacationers can be divided into two groups: crowd junkies and silence seekers. For example, there are scenery goers who fly across country to see the Grand Canyon. They stay on the south rim, the most accessible and most crowded vantage point from which to view the grandeur of God’s artistic talents. There is nothing like wide open spaces framed with camera toting, pudgy tourist trying to out talk each other. The other group of scenery seekers prefers the long drive around the canyon to the north rim where you can still find that special spot to be alone in the presence of God and His creation.
Likewise, mountain goers can be divided into the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg crowd and the Townsend or Bryson City group. The former cannot feast on the beauty of the Almighty’s handiwork without a chaser of funnel cakes, outlet stores, live entertainment, and bumper cars. The later prefers the crackle of a campfire, the tranquility of a quiet mountain stream, and the coziness of family and friends.
Furthermore, the beach goers crave either crowds or quiet. For the majority going to the beach means that favorite strip of sand crowded with people and bounded by the ocean on one side and grotesque high-rises on the other. Sprinkled among the time-share condominiums are gift shops, chain restaurants, and up-scale clothing stores. The silent minority hunger for the serenity of a beach where you can play in the waves, soak up some sun without feeling your daughters are being ogled, take quiet strolls in the moonlight, and search for sea turtles struggling to complete the cycle of life.
I am a mountain lover and Cheryl is a beach junkie; she craves a fix every year and requires one at least every two years. She came by her addiction naturally, having lived a most deluded life as a child. Her father was a disabled World War II veteran. His injuries, while debilitating, were neither apparent nor confining. When school let out for “summer vacation” each year Cheryl’s family took the descriptive mandate with all due seriousness. They vacationed until it was time to sharpen the number two’s in the fall. Mostly, they went to the beach returning home only for short visits to take care of business and resupply. Thus, for her, one of the core measuring sticks of life is marked by the number of days spent body surfing each year.
Currently, we live near the mountains so I can keep my cravings fed. Also, we share a tendency toward scene chasing and intersperse trips to out of the way places. One of our goals is to stay in a lodge in every National Park that has one. Most importantly for our marital tranquility at vacation time we share a disdain for touristy vacation spots and prefer places that encourage reflection and relaxation with limited amounts of development. Second most important for our thirty-five-plus years of interpersonal detent is our willingness to explore and compromise. This leads me to my deep appreciation for Saint George Island, a place to come back to.
Nestled in the center of “The Forgotten Coast” of Florida, St. George Island has become our most frequented vacation spot. During the last decade we have enjoyed four vacations here, a full week on every occasion. Each time we have rented a different house, having to increase the size to accommodate our growing family.
St. George is a barrier island that rests at the southernmost tip of the outcrop that bulges from the state’s panhandle into the Gulf of Mexico. The island is twenty eight miles long and two miles wide at the widest point. Most of the island is eight blocks wide or less. One main street runs lengthwise through most of the island. A paved bike path parallels that street through a large section of the “public” middle. The beach is typical of southern beaches, very nice and borderline excellent. At any time it is easy to find a location to set up an umbrella and chairs with unimpeded access to the waves.
The light house and the water tower vie for tallest structure. There are a few three story rental houses, mostly narrow buildings positioned like stacked row houses designed to allow hurricane winds to whip between them. Everything else on the island is one or two stories in height.
On the western end is the Plantation, a gated community comprised of “single family” houses, nicely spaced and each within easy walking distance of the beach. The center of the island has one motel, a couple of churches, several retail stores, and numerous single family houses. Except for a few older homes this more public section looks much like the Plantation next to it. Toward the eastern end there is a large, two-story condominium complex. Beyond that complex is a state park with camping, picnic areas, and a mosquito/gnat nursery.
On the flip side, Saint George is far from generic Americana. There is not a single chain restaurant on the island: no McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic, Applebee’s, O’Charlie’s, etc. The closest is a Burger King fifteen miles away in Apalachicola. All others are much further away. The closest Wal-mart is an hour and a half drive, sixty miles of two-lane roads. It’s even farther to find a movie theater. In short, Saint George is slap-dab in the middle of the Florida Coast as it used to be, the Florida of my childhood. It is a place for families to be together and rediscover how to enjoy the simple things of life: reading, body surfing, and sunburns.
I am thankful for Saint George Island and I pray the region remains “forgotten.”
There may be a reason I prefer the mountains over the beach – crabs. When I was very young we lived on Eighth Street in the Springfield section of Jacksonville, Florida. There was a movie theater a few blocks away. My cousin Terrell lived near us and Mom would on occasion allow Jimmy to go with Terrill to a Saturday matinee. On one Saturday my pleas and tears paid off and she made Jimmy take me along to see the cowboy flick he had asked to see. I was just three or four at the time and don’t recall if Shirley was sent as well.
Well, it wasn’t Hopalong Cassidy they wanted to see. Instead, they were intent on seeing a dramatized socio-political documentary on the dangers of the atomic age. That is, they carried a three/four year old to see a science fiction horror movie. The plot was about giant crabs that invade the shore. I don’t recall what happened to make them grow large; it was the early cold war era I assume the beasts were the byproduct of some nuclear mistake. What I do vividly remember is some poor sap squeezed in crab pinchers, raised high and screaming in terror. But the most horrifying scene was one of crabs ripping the roofs off of houses to get to the human delicacies inside. Many a night I lay in my bed wondering if the popping sounds of the house expanding and contracting were in fact giant crabs risen from the nearby ocean to devour me and my family. Yes, I prefer the mountains and Jimmy I’ll be forwarding my therapy bill.
Saint George Island, Florida
July 18, 2010