San Rafael Valley, AZ ~~ Photo by Bill Haas

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Leaving Florida, I headed straight to Georgia's Sea Islands, also known as the Golden Isles. In my opinion, "Golden Isles" is the name given to these islands because they are enclaves where only the rich and famous can afford to live. They were originally simply referred to as the "barrier islands."

Of Georgia's barrier islands, Sapelo is the fourth largest. It differs from its neighboring sea islands in that all but a little over 400 acres belongs to the State of Georgia in partnership with three different wildlife and research entities. The other 434 acres is the privately-owned Gullah/Geechee (pronounced Gee-zee) community known as Hog Hammock, one of two original Gullah/Geechee communities still intact.
My original motivation for visiting Sapelo was to learn more about the Gullah/Geechee culture. The Gullahs are descendants of slaves who were captured in rice-producing regions of West and Central Africa, brought to Georgia's Sea Islands in the early 1800's and forced to work the plantations in the "low country" and islands of the Southern Atlantic coast.

In 2006, Congress established the GULLAH/GEECHEE CULTURAL HERITAGE CORRIDOR in a valiant effort to preserve this dying African-American culture and its unique language, folklore, religious beliefs and to protect its historical sites and artifacts. The corridor extends along the Atlantic coast from Wilmington, NC to Jacksonville, FL.

Geographic isolation and their strong sense of family and community were key factors in the survival of the Gullah/Geechee culture. Because of these influences, the Gullahs were able to establish communities and hold onto their traditions both during and after enslavement.

I was privileged to join the by-reservation-only group that boarded the ferry from the Visitor Center near Darien, GA, then five miles later, upon docking at Sapelo, to be met by a yellow school bus driven by Cornelia Walker Bailey, Sapelo's historian and life long resident of Hog Hammock, for an enlightening, narrated tour of the southern portion of the Island.
Welcome to Sapelo Island...
...and Hog Hammock
Tabby is a mixture of lime, sand, oyster shells and water. There is some disagreement among historians about who first introduced its use on Sapelo. Ms Bailey claims slaves stuffed tabby mixture between logs to eliminate wind and water from entering slave quarters. It eventually found other applications, such as this foundation. In its day, entire homes were built of tabby mixture. The key to its survival was keeping vegetation from invading.
200-year old Behavior Cemetery.
Sapelo's physical profile includes its Maritime Forest, Salt Marshes, Hammocks, Sand Dunes and of course, the Beach.
This Luna Moth (Green Moth) kept several of us transfixed and curious during one of our stops. I had never seen one before so of course I took at least a dozen photos. Just let me know if you want to see them all!!!!!
A dedicated group has taken up the crusade to educate and involve the islands' younger generations in an effort to preserve the language and legacies of the Gullah/Geechee culture. Their "SICARS" center is a humble yet modern meeting place. Its focus also includes building restoration, land use and policy reform and planning Sapelo's annual Cultural Day of traditional music, food, arts, tours and demonstrations, to be held this year on October 17.

A teachers' study group let me photograph their beach finds that included this Whelk egg case, also called a Mermaid's Necklace. Each one of those discs contained numerous baby Whelks.
Whelks are gastropods -- edible sea snails, and are apparently plentiful in these parts either as food or bait.
The "Trough" isn't really a bar in the usual sense. It does sell beer and mini mart stuff, but it's strictly standing room only -- as in stand in line to pay!
It was on the Trough's veranda, however, that I was charmed watching a determined youngster figure out how to straighten out his jackknifed ATV train!
The last private owner of Sapelo was R.J. Reynolds, tobacco magnate, and a visit to his mansion, now a Georgia State Park, was included in our tour.
Female Sago Palm
Male Sago Palm. You probably didn't need me to tell you which was which!
If the ashtray on this bathtub's ledge is any indication, it's no wonder that Mr. Reynolds died of emphysema!
The circus ballroom includes cartoon murals of people he supposedly didn't like -- wife number three, for instance!
Don't know who this guy portrayed -- a liar? a drunk? a busybody? All of the above? Certainly a curmudgeon in any case!
The entire mansion and grounds can be rented for parties, retreats, weddings, etc. Two-days and 16 adults minimum, all meals included, big bucks required!
Reynolds' barns have been converted to laboratories and living quarters for students and faculty at the University of Georgia's Marine Institute.
Time to return to the mainland dock. If you want to tour the north end of the island, a second reservation on a different day is required. I think it has to do with matching tour times with the ferry schedule, but it's only $10.00 -- truly a bargain.
I hope you will find some time to read her short poetic reminiscence, "I am Sapelo" by Cornelia Walker Bailey found at this address:

and a detailed article describing a visitor's experience at Sapelo. The author does a much better job than I ever could!