To celebrate the new year, the family and I cruised east to St. Simons Island, Georgia, which sits about an hour and a half south of Savannah. We first visited the area last year, mostly because a few of our good friends live over there, and we fell in love with the place.
Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia, established by the British in 1733, so there’s plenty of cool history – old forts and things like that. Founder of Methodism John Wesley spent two years between Savannah and St. Simons Island before his “awakening,” and you can see those landmarks. Of course, the Georgia coast is famous for being haunted, namely Savannah’s Sorrel-Weed house, speculated to be the most haunted residence in America.
My wife is a go-er and a do-er, and she always finds hidden gems. This trip, she booked us a tour on a genuine shrimp boat, The Lady Jane. The Lady Jane took us through an estuary that feeds into the ocean, trawling the estuary floor and bringing up nets of critters. One of the boat’s crew would empty the nets onto a sorting table, hold each animal up and detail its role in the complex estuary ecosystem.
See, the estuary is the ocean’s nursery. Young shrimp and fish grow up in the shallow, muddy waters, and when they mature, they make their way out into the Atlantic. As our guide told us, “We’re picking up next year’s shrimp.” Commercial trawling isn’t allowed in the estuary. Everything The Lady Jane picked up was put back.
Our guide showed us trout, toad fish, tongue fish, even a stingray. We learned how different types of fins lent themselves to fast or slow swimming, which types of fish were bottom feeders, and which could filter out microbial food from the water just by breathing.
The tide cycles through four times each day. It carries the nutrient-dense detritus of dead grass into the water, where fish and other tiny animals consume it, who are then consumed by slightly bigger ones, and so forth. The oysters grow on the banks between low tide and high tide lines, because if oysters are always submerged they become susceptible to a persistent, snail-like parasite that can drill through the oyster’s shell.
On one trawl, our guide squeezed a fish’s mouth open to reveal two tiny eyes looking back at us. This parasite hooks onto a fish’s mouth and eats the tongue. But it never lets go of the base of the tongue, so the fish can move the parasite around and effectively use it as a tongue.
It’s all so bizarre, so intricate, like some strange watch ticking hugely with each flux of tide. Every creature fits perfectly in its place, including the gang of sea gulls and pelicans that stalked The Lady Jane, lunging for thrown-back shrimp before the crustaceans even hit the water.
It’ll make you think about creation, divine order, and purpose. Tiny things are just as important as giant things, and in that way, it’s a great check on our sometimes over-inflated sense of self. Then again, it also helps you think about nothing at all. It is peaceful to float so near to the pulse of things, so close you can feel it and hear it and smell it.