Savannah, Alligators, and a New Chapter

Georgia on my Mind
Growing up in the military has given me a slightly schizophrenic perspective on my personal roots – when I’m in a lonely mood I feel homeless; when my mood is adventurous I feel that everywhere is my home. For the past several years I’ve been longing to find a place where I feel like I belong. Cue the theme song to Cheers.

I don’t remember how Savannah became the epitome of the South for me. I’ve never been there before, but I could imagine the warm and humid nights, the moss hanging off the trees, the city holding a languid magic all its own. It’s a city I’ve always wanted to see, so I stopped overnight on my way down to Florida.

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My first view of the city was merely rooftops as I passed it on the highway on my way to my hotel. But as soon as I checked in and got changed, I headed into the historic district. The grid of the city wasn’t difficult to navigate, but the streets were constantly interrupted in their flow by squares of green – some small, some large, some with statues and monuments, some with plain grass and a few benches. There was, indeed, moss hanging off every tree; the air was close and velvety; the people moved slowly and cheerfully through the late Sunday afternoon.

I started my meanderings at the City Market – a sort of pedestrian mall that reminded me of the 16th Street Mall in Denver and the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. Shops and restaurants opened right onto the street, benches full of people lining the walls listening to a band play outside Wild Wings Cafe. As the afternoon turned to evening I made my way to the waterfront, climbing down steep stairs to the brick road below. More shops and restaurants do incredible business in the cool breeze by the water and I stopped for dinner at Fiddler’s Crab House and Oyster Bar. A rain storm burst above me while I feasted on fried scallops and watched as the man at the table next to me used the leg of the giant crab he was eating to scratch his ear. After dinner I went to the bar downstairs where a local boy band was playing really great music and I danced with a helicopter pilot from Oklahoma.

The next morning, in the pouring rain, I headed back to the historic district. I had coffee at Gallery Espresso, a large coffee shop with well-used Oriental rugs, mismatched armchairs and sofas, and tables of all sizes. The rain lifted and the air grew warm as I took a walking tour with Savannah Dan. Savannah is a city of exposed brick, wrought iron, gardens and public squares, and incredible houses. I had lunch at Leopold’s and vowed to return to this city. From the moment I hit town I felt like I could belong to Savannah. It felt like home. It felt like me.

Alligators and Vanity
My grandma lives outside St. Augustine, which is the oldest continually occupied European-established city in America. It’s beautiful and so is my grandma’s community, where her backyard opens onto a large pond. The first morning after I arrived I woke early to the relentless drumming of the rain. The dark grey lake’s surface was dimpled with raindrops seemingly hurled out of the sky with incredible force. The houses on the other side of the pond were mere shapes of color, their features blurred and undistinguishable. In between periods of deafening rain, the morning was peaceful. The wet dawn wasn’t hurrying. Day would break in spite of itself.

And then I saw an alligator crawl out of the pond onto the grassy shore, its tail longer than its squat body, six feet in all. He crawled up next to a black crane that was looking for breakfast. The crane was unimpressed, but I was speechless. I’ve never seen an alligator that close. He only sat still for a few moments before whipping around and disappearing into the water, his scaly body cutting into the waves on all sides.

A few days later, as my grandma and I had cocktail hour in the sun room, we saw the beast crawl out of the pond again. He made his way out into the sunshine and pressed his body flat against the grass, carefully placing first his right hand out the side and then his left, ending by laying his head down. After a few moments of sunbathing, he stood and made his way around the corner of a house toward the road. A passing UPS truck must have startled him, because he came jogging back around the corner of the house and tried to slid down the hill toward the pond, like a five-year-old child playing on a partially dry slip-n-slide, not quite making it all the way to the end. He rose unembarrassed and finished the trip to the water’s edge.

I went for a jog in the mornings, my eyes scanning the sides of the road as I went, hoping all the critters would stay in their proper places. The only thing I saw was a solitary squirrel and four gigantic buzzards, just like the ones on The Jungle Book. It was hot and I hadn’t exercised in ages, but every time I wanted to walk I would see someone out walking their dog and my vanity would kick in, forcing me to jog past them briskly, in a desperate attempt to cover my wheezing and look properly athletic.

The Next Chapter
I’m now home and trying to play catch-up from eight days away. I’ve had news from Russia and unfortunately they don’t have a place for me at the school in Sochi. It’s disappointing to be sure, but I have a great back-up plan. I’ll be attending grad school this fall, earning an MA in English with a concentration of teaching writing and literature. This will prepare me to teach at the college level, and I’m very excited to be moving toward academia. The classes are in the late afternoon and evening, so now I’m looking for an office job to carry me through the next couple of years at school.

Washington, DC is such a great city, and I’m thrilled that I get a bit more time here. I’ve got big plans – places to go, things to do, people to see. The best is yet to come.

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