Kittie Howard

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Jekyll Island, Georgia

When my husband was in the Marine Corps, we had three tours at Camp LeJeune, the Corps' sprawling base near Jacksonville in southeastern North Carolina. Since he deployed often, I'd sometimes visit my family in Louisiana. The usual route was south to Atlanta, west to Montgomery, south to Mobile, and west to New Orleans. During one return trip to Camp LeJeune, I opted for a bit of variety and didn't cut north at Mobile.

Since the day was still young when I reached Pensacola, I decided to push onward, to Jacksonville, Florida. I quickly realized I'd traded the long haul between Mobile and Montgomery for an even longer haul -- the 460 miles to Jacksonville, Florida. Instead of doubling back, the sensible solution, I decided to push on as I never been east of Tallahassee, the state capital.

Umm, the answer turned out to be more pine trees, not exactly exciting, and since I didn't want to get caught up in Jacksonville's morning traffic, I cut north, to Brunswick, Georgia. It wasn't long before I saw a sign for a Holiday Inn, a good thing as the bright summer sky had turned into a purple-laced sky.

The exit led to a narrow two-lane road that cut through tall marsh grasses, not exactly a welcome sight, but another Holiday Inn sign encouraged me onward. Since my VW lacked air conditioning, I rolled down the passenger's window for more fresh air that humid summer night. More frogs serenaded me, a dubious touch beneath a pitch black sky and marsh grasses taller than my VW (well, okay, it was a Bug).

What seemed like a million miles later, I pulled into a one-pump gas station. The attendant assured me the Holiday Inn was "down the road a little bit." I translated that into about two miles, and, sure enough, a Holiday Inn appeared.

After the lady at the desk lectured me about not getting a room in Jacksonville, she handed me the key to what turned out to be a suite overlooking the marsh and waters beyond. Surprised at how the lady had upgraded my room, but too tired beyond a shower and crawling into bed, I wouldn't know about the view until morning, when I stretched to the sound of birds chirping.

I was on St. Simons Island. It was magnificent, gorgeous beyond words.

Fast forward to the return trip to Virginia my husband and I made from New Orleans a couple of weeks ago, and we're on Jekyll Island. Since developers had turned St. Simons Island into a hodgepodge of tourist traps through the years, we fled to Jekyll Island and what turned out to be one of our favorite stops during our trip home.

Jekyll Island is one of Georgia's four barrier islands. Its 5,700 acres include 4,000 acres of solid earth and approximately 1,000 acres of mostly tidal marshlands. Along the eastern shoreline are eight miles of wide, flat beaches. My header is a photograph I took on a bitterly cold, windy (50 MPH) day that will forever warm my memories of a pristine island.

Wealthy northern industrialists own Jekyll Island and used it as a secluded winter getaway until 1947, when the State of Georgia bought the island for use as a state park. Since 1971, state law has mandated 65% of the island's beaches, salt marshes and forests remain unspoiled. As a result, the island has 20 miles of hiking trails and some of the most majestic, moss-covered trees imaginable.

There's no McDonald's or shopping center on the small island. Nearby St. Simons Island provides whatever one needs. The 35% of the land that can be developed has been done so with strict regulation by its managers, the Georgia state legislature, that preserves/encourages the island's cash cow eco-tourism business. But more about this later.

Beyond the island's pristine vistas, Jekyll Island also a deep history that deserves further exploration in upcoming posts. In the meantime, some Polar Vortex brrrr! photos:

Water and marsh grasses -- from the car as we drove across the causeway to Jekyll Island from St. Simons Island.
Over-arching trees on Jekyll Island.

Spanish moss on trees.

One of the easier hiking trains.

I took this of pelicans on a restricted part of a beach with a zoom lens. One can't go everywhere as there are nesting areas.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

An Old Bull in Namibia

Late Friday night and 2,992 miles after we left for the holidays, my husband pulled into the driveway and turned off the car's ignition. Home! As fabulous as the trip was, it felt good, being home. We were also tired. . . very tired. Like for so many in the United States, the weather had challenged throughout the trip, but especially the sleeting rain in North Carolina that had followed us almost to our driveway.

But this morning, now rested and with the sun shining and birds chirping, it's a new beginning.

Or a sad ending, depending upon one's viewpoint.

Someone in the Dallas Safari Club had the highest bid, $350K ($350,000), to shoot a black rhino in Namibia. Please note I used the verb shoot because it will be a carefully managed canned hunt, meaning the animal can't run away.

My husband, the Marine who knows about weapons, is appalled (his word). As I've mentioned before, he's a man's man who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. Simply put, there's no whining at the poker table. Show up with your big boy/girl pants on or stay home.

Flying in a private jet to a far off country, wearing expensive hunting clothes, and pulling out a high-powered weapon to shoot (execute?) an old rhino in a defined space because his bee no longer buzzes is sick, the kind of sick that's perverted if one isn't ultra rich. It's the kind of rich that flips off school kids donating saved pennies to organizations that work to save the rhino. It's the kind of rich where Pro Life is morality for the masses but a Second Amendment right for the rich.

Of course, if Namibia had acted responsibly and not offered the permit for auction, much could have been prevented. Namibian officials could have put out an all-call for donations for aging rhinos to live out their years in viewing areas.

Think of the children who could've watched the rhinos on web cams, a real learning experience about what's good in life instead of kids wondering how an adult could impose a Death Panel on an old animal that symbolizes not only Nature's grandeur but the enormous work done by so many to save the rhino from extinction.

I'm disappointed in Namibia.

Not that long ago, when my husband and I lived in Macedonia, we flew to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, picked up our rental car, and drove across parts of the Namib Desert to Swakopmund, where we spent Christmas in a quaint, modest hotel that was so special we'd longed to return.

We'd also like to make that drive again. For some reason, Namibia is at a latitude that attracts meteorites. They're everywhere. Huge. Gigantic. Small. The quiet drive traverses attractive villages surrounded by golden desert dotted with meteorites in every shape imaginable.

Approximately 2.2 million people live in one of the least densely populated countries in the world. 319,000 sq. miles (825,000 sq. km). By all accounts, Namibia is a stable, multi-party parliamentary democracy, a middle income country that Bloomburg says is easier to do business in than South Africa.

In the 1990s, Namibia -- then known as South-West Africa -- split from the Union of South Africa (which had governed it since 1910). DeBeers, the South African diamond behemoth, sold 50% of its 100% ownership of its diamond mines there to the new government, thus forming Namdeb Diamond Corp. partnership.

During the drive my husband and I made, we saw signs that restricted access to certain areas, specifically the Pomona area, because of the enormity of the diamond mines there. Now, I want to be perfectly clear: This isn't a 'Blood Diamonds' set-up. But you're not going to walk along the Atlantic Ocean's beaches and pick up diamonds to take home as souvenirs. That's a fact!

Besides diamonds, Namibia enjoys an ever-expanding tourist trade (that's become too expensive for our wallets), a viable agricultural infrastructure, and mines significant quantities of gold, silver, uranium, and base metals that are sold on world markets.

Although Namibia, like other countries, has pockets of inequity, it is not a poverty-stricken, failed state like Somalia or suffers famine issues found in the Sahel (Kenya, Ethiopia, and elsewhere). There is no reason why a country blessed with Namibia's diamonds and precious metals, along with the enormous economic and business contributions/investments from the United States, Canada, Western Europe, South Africa and China, has to sacrifice a rhino to raise money to stave off poachers. No no no no. Cook the stats as you will, Namibia, but I smell a rat!

And weasels in Dallas. But let's be honest: In this era of the ultra rich, too many spoiled adults can't resist a $350K temptation, not when forgiveness is around every hallelujah corner. Shame on you Dallas Safari Club for showing the world you don't have bees that buzz in your little boy/girl pants, just money to toss around.

Question: Is your very active and influential PAC (Political Action Committee) going to release a video of the shot heard around the world?