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By Leigh Cort

As the Cap'N Buddy pulled away from the mainland dock at the northern tip of St. Simons Island , Georgia, heading into the blazing sunlight that reflected in the Hampton River , we realized that the next few days on Little St. Simons Island would be a totally unique adventure.  The engine's whirr obliterated the hushed sounds of the morning, allowing only our eyes to focus on the multi-hued green and gold mid-summer marshlands and birds that escorted us on a 15 minute excursion through Mosquito Creek; ahead we spied the magic and privacy of The Lodge.  Although some of the island's historical benchmarks date in stages from 700 AD through Plantation Era of the 1800's, we felt as if we were the first people to ever feel the extreme splendor and quiet that surrounded us as we disembarked, walking along the natural oyster shell path to the Lodge's front steps.

We were prepared only for an unparalleled nature-weekend, sharing it with no more than perhaps 26 other guests.  What we weren't prepared for was the excellent care extended by every member of the staff...from our welcome at The Lodge's dock to each morning's activity options presented by one of the naturalists.  What unfolded were descriptions of and outdoor activities so rare that we hated to miss one moment exploring this amazingly remote, pristine barrier island.

The Lodge is comprised of 5 cottages surrounding the main Lodge, each guestroom offering the ultimate in privacy and comfort with forest or marsh views, outdoor decks and screened porches. The shared great rooms are ideal for chilly winter days sitting by an imposing fireplace or summer nights playing a game or sketching one of the 280 species of birds that live on the Island .

With no vehicles present except a truck and jeep for taking wildlife eco-excursions or to transport you to an oceanfront lunch when it might be too steamy to walk two miles through the winding sand pathways, bicycles became the transportation of choice most days.  Hiking and biking, kayaking, skiffing and horseback riding were the best and only way to drink in the beauty and seclusion of Little St. Simons Island; anything else would have seemed intrusive on the balance of nature.  One quickly became cognizant of hundreds of species of birds, fish and reptiles embracing the reality that sharing space on the island is a respectful and necessary lifestyle.

In 1915, when Philip Berolzheimer visited this 10,000-acre paradise island on behalf of Eagle Pencil Company (having purchased the Island sight unseen in order to harvest the cedar tress for  production), he became personally enchanted with its natural beauty.  Although the trees were too stressed from salt and wind to be used for the pencils, he himself purchased the island from the company to be used as a special retreat for his family and friends. His policy of preservation and conservation was the legendary tradition of hospitality that exists currently, quite evident as we were shown to our bedroom in the main Lodge.  We, along with whoever has stayed on the Island for nearly a century, felt that time stood still as we unpacked our small suitcase of shorts and sandals.  Our imagination was as lucid as the legacy of photos that we found on every wall and we became another page in the history of Little St. Simons Island.

Many travelers today research detailed facets of their vacation, including dining, menus, wine lists.  We didn't.  Our personal style is to let the vacation unfold and enjoy whatever happens.  A good thing too, since each meal was meticulously planned to include the bounty of the season... from freshly netted jumbo Georgia shrimp to crispy green snap peas and ripe summer berries. Chefs Augusto and Carlos, brothers from Peru , spend their days painstakingly preparing luscious healthy menus that are served family-style around long tables in the rustic dining room, with occasional outdoor feasts to tantalize the senses. 

Meal time is announced with the ringing of an old-fashioned big bell, heard anywhere around the Lodge compound.  I can't remember anyone arriving late, since the fun and pleasure of dining together kept conversation lively and is one of the highlights of the Lodge.  (However, if a romantic little table for two is something you prefer, your wish is their command...but you'll miss the camaraderie of the other guests!)

A few of my favorite menus were beef tenderloin with cremini and oyster mushroom demi glace, coconut rice with roasted fresh coconut and lime juice, a tall jumbo lump crab cake with roasted red pepper remoulade.  When was the last time I had a made-from-scratch pancake? the buttermilk pancakes stole my heart for breakfast along with fresh mango mousse at dinner.  Sadly we weren't staying a few extra days to enjoy scallop ceviche, warm biscuits with tasso gravy, maple seared duck over a warm spinach salad and their yummy chile lime bleucheese Caesar salad.

If I had to choose my favorite activity,  it would be a tie between fishing in the creeks catching rainbow trout ...and learning about the hatching of loggerhead turtles from one of the naturalists after dinner. It was so refreshing not to have TV's, laptop, cellphone or blaring music from someone's car on the highway.  We took to heart the chronicles of the Guale Indians who were drawn to the Island's oyster-laden rivers as early as 700 A.D. Found at the north end of the Island are the middens (mounds of shell remnants) they left behind, among the oldest historic sites and a testimonial to their importance as an early habitat.

Leaving Little St. Simons Island behind was a bittersweet affair, a blend of longing to return one day soon while pulling away from the dock in the Cap'n Buddy, the now familiar quiet of the marshlands and birds bidding us adieu. We knew that the island has remained unchanged for centuries but in only two days it changed us. The riches of this coastal wilderness will hopefully lure us back to share it with our children and their children, as  multi generations of families did during their years of running cotton and sugar plantations.  We buried a bounty of beautiful shells under a gargantuan live oak tree near a hidden dune for safekeeping and I'm sure it will be there some day when we return.

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Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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