Fly Navy
21 February 2024 | 10:51 pm

The one upside to getting kicked out of Fort Pickens for a storm that never hit, was meeting the pilot.

The bus, wherever it goes, is conspicuous. It is especially conspicuous in the middle of an otherwise empty parking lot. Next to the parking lot was a collection of condos, and several people came over, curious about the bus. One, who was walking two dogs, stopped to let the kids pet them.

We got to talking and mentioned that we were headed to the recently re-opened Navy Air Museum, and he said, "oh, a couple of my old planes are in there." Say what? It turned out that had he been a Navy pilot and flight instructor at NAS Pensacola for many years.

Elliott is currently fascinated by war, as I think most young boys are at some point, but he's especially fascinated by planes, which is why we were headed back to the Navy Air Museum. Knowing that he was talking to someone who had actually flown the planes he has models of was almost too much for him.

Later the pilot brought out some of his old flight logs for Elliott to look at, and then, when we were leaving to go back to Fort Pickens, he gave Elliott a pair of his Navy wings. It will be some years I imagine before the significance of that sinks in, but I put them in a safe place in the mean time.

We went to the Navy Air Museum once before, but the kids were young enough that they don't have many memories of it. We tried to go back last year, but the base has been closed to the public since the shooting in 2019. This winter the museum finally re-opened to the public. After a couple of days back at Fort Pickens we had to leave for 24 hours (you can't stay on federal land for more than 14 consecutive nights), so we went over to Big Lagoon State Park, which is just down the road from the Navy Air Museum.

Like most men my age, I wanted to be a naval aviator. After Top Gun came out, who didn't? I went so far as to apply to the Naval Academy. I even met with my congressman to get his endorsement (required as part of the application process). I was pretty sure I'd be accepted, but unfortunately, junior year in high school, when I was doing all this, it became apparent that I wasn't going to be able to hide my less than perfect vision.

I ended up with glasses and my dream of flying for the Navy went away as soon as I put them on. I couldn't think of anything else I wanted to do in the Navy, so I dropped my application to the Naval Academy and moved on to other things. But I never lost my awe for flying, or my love of naval aviation history.

The Navy Air Museum has an immense collection of planes spread across three huge buildings, with a few outside as well. It's the best collection of navy planes I've ever seen, and to have someone we knew tell use where his planes were made it that much more fun.

At this point I think I sound like a broken record, but what makes the Navy museum great is what makes any museum great: letting people actually touch things. The Navy Air Museum has plenty of cockpits to climb in, fuselages to crawl through, and even a presidential helicopter where you can sit down inside.

There's some good historical information too, including a few of my favorite museum displays, the diorama.

A cruise in the navy, a liberal education photographed by luxagraf
I posted a picture of this last time we were here, I still love it.
navy shower photographed by luxagraf
We take Navy showers in the bus. I need to look into the water bucket brigade thing.

The dioramas, and more broadly, history according to the Navy, would lead you to think there was nothing so exciting as war. My first thought was that that's ridiculous, but the more I walked around the museum, the more I wondered if maybe the Navy is right.

While some people would like to deny it, there is a part of human beings that seems genetically hardwired to enjoy fighting. Every culture I'm aware of has produced a warrior element dedicated to fighting. And yes, many people in those warrior elements like it. I understand that feeling. I feel it in JuiJitsu. It's satisfying to submit someone, I imagine the satisfaction is even greater the higher the stakes get.

world war i flyers camp. photographed by luxagraf
Back when war was still civilized.

The kids were drawn to the dioramas because they gave a glimpse of life as it used to be, from wooden huts of the world wars, to a Vietnam era berth on an aircraft carrier. I'd be lying if I said those glimpses of life didn't look appealing. I'm sure sitting around drinking wine in a wooden hut in France, circa 1917 was fun when nothing else was happening. The part where people came and dropped bombs on you, killed your friends, possibly killed you, that's the part left out of the diorama. But what if that part only served to make those moments of peacefulness more valuable? What if you need struggle to appreciate the lack of struggle?

What if when we're looking back at earlier times and finding them more appealing than our own, we aren't looking at history through rose-colored glasses? What if what appeals to us isn't the so-called simpler times, but the opposite, harder times? What if hard is good, struggle is good, and that's why the past is so appealing?

31 January 2024 | 3:14 pm

We sprinted across Florida, from St. Augustine to the far end of the panhandle in two quick drives. We stopped in the middle at the Tallahassee Car Museum, an odd little museum with a few campsites out front (not everything on Harvest Hosts is a farm).

The kids and I wandered around the museum for a while, checking out the cars and other antiques, but the extremely dry air was weird and uncomfortable. I understand the reasoning there, but it's a bit much to go from tropical Florida humidity to Arizona desert dry in the span of six feet.

The next day we were at Fort Pickens, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and one of my favorite, and least favorite, places in all our travels.

Fort Pickens is an oddball spot because the natural aspects, the beach and dunes, the crystal clear water, it's hard to really say anything bad about the place. Who can argue with this?

The problem with Fort Pickens is that it's the most mis-managed public park we've ever encountered. Everyone sees it, except the managers of course. From the park employees to people camping with us, everyone feels it, but we put up with it because of the location.

I think this year will be our last for a while though. I can deal with asshole camp hosts, rangers who do nothing but yell, but when the park shuts down at the hint of a storm, with no warning, no refund, and nowhere to go that just doesn't work. At Fort Pickens this has become commonplace, a thing that happens several times a year. In all the months we've spent in the Outer Banks -- which sees far more and far stronger storms -- we've seen the campgrounds shut down exactly once, when a category 3 hurricane hit. We even rode out a nor'ester that flooded the campground and it didn't close.

We were lucky at Fort Pickens this year because some locals told us the sheriff wouldn't care if we spent the night in a nearby state beach parking lot. That's where we waited out the oh-so-dangerous storm. That never showed. But I felt bad for the people who'd driven a thousand miles and now either had to spend $400 a night on a hotel room or just go home. Either way, your vacation is ruined.

I tend to take a philosophical view of these things, since the alternative is, well, there isn't an alternative I can see. We've reached the stage of civilizational collapse where you get what you get and there's nothing you can do about that. So I take the philosophical, or perhaps abstract view is a better way to put it.

To me Fort Pickens is a microcosm of the collapse of our national government. The distant park managers, ensconced in their posh homes in Atlanta, 350 miles away, attempt to decide what's best for the park, for the visitors, from a distance that makes it impossible for them to know what's actually happening. That's if their intentions are good. I am unconvinced they are. Much as we don't like to admit it, some leaders suck at leading. Some are just in it for the status and power.

Sound familiar? It's how you get this.

Stormy day on the beach at Fort Pickens photographed by luxagraf
As dark and stormy as it ever got. Note that the Florida State Beach we're standing on saw no need to close.

The storm was supposed to come in on Friday, but of course no one who makes decisions about these things works the weekend, so once the park was closed, it wasn't opening again until Monday at the earliest no matter the weather. Never mind that the storm never hit, and the sun never stopped shining. The TPS reports required to re-open weren't done until Monday. And then the park forgot to send out an email and tell everyone it was open. We only knew because we were sitting there watching the gate.

The sheriff I talked to (who was very nice about letting us stay in the parking lot for the weekend) had a few choice words for the feds, they were accurate, but I won't repeat them here. Just don't forget that we, my fellow taxpaying American, we own this place.

And it is a beautiful place.

This is why I call it a microcosm of the nation. America is a beautiful place, the land, the cultures, the people. Unfortunately we've let a very small, selfish, malignant minority take it over. And no, I am not a democrat, or a republican, a leftist or a rightist, I see no difference between these things. They're all the same. The solutions to the problem won't come from the people who created the problem.

Nor will it come from resistance. What you resist persists. The secret to robbing power from power is to ignore it. Governing is a hallucination of those in the government. Ignore it. Withdraw from it where you can. Buy less, trade more, work in the margins. Live in the margins

The current managerial class is out of ideas. Eventually their power will collapse, someone new will step in with some new answers and the process will repeat itself. As it has, for millennia.

In the mean time, I try to keep my children in mind. They're going to live further down this timeline than I am. It may get considerably rougher, it may not, who knows. All I know is that I want to hold their hands for as long as I can, and show them some beauty before more damage is done.

17 January 2024 | 4:20 pm

From Edisto we worked our way south, stopping off a Hunting Island for a few dismal days in the cold and rain, camping in a site that was just a smidge above actual bog. We escaped that dreariness for the much more uplifting Fort McAllister, the first of a string of forts we wanted to check out on the Georgia and Florida coast.

This area is a bit different than the Low Country, it's still part the sea islands, a string of over a hundred barrier islands along this stretch of the Atlantic coast -- from the mouth of the Santee river, just south of Myrtle Beach, all the way down the coast of Georgia into Florida. But the land upstream is different, and so the coast is different as well.

We've spent quite a bit of time in the South Carolina barrier islands, but we never made it here to the Georgia coast until this year.

The Georgia coast lacks any of the maritime forests like you'll find in some sheltered spots in South Carolina, but makes up for my having quite a few more forts, which makes it a great place to explore early American history.

Fort McAllister is a civil war era fort, built by the Confederate army to defend Savannah against Union forces coming upriver to attack. There were three forts defending the river leading to Savannah, Fort McAllister was the first as you came up river.The interesting thing about the fighting here and at Fort Pulaski just up river (more on that in a second) was that this was where both armies tested their latest and greatest innovations in both naval armament and coastal defenses. Right here, war fighting around the world changed forever in 1865.

For most of the war the main enemies here were heat and disease, but toward the end the Union navy came, and it came with some of the first iron clad gunboats. No less than four ironclads with huge 15-inch cannons bombarded the fort for 5 hours... and did next to nothing. The earthenware walls absorbed them and men rushed out and shoveled the dirt back in place. The fort shelled the ironclads and also did little. The shells bounced off the ships, though that had to be incredibly loud to those inside.

Eventually the fort fell, but not because of the navy, because the army swung around south, bypassing Savannah to attack McAllister first. McAllister fell with very little fighting and the navy advanced to our next stop, Fort Pulaski, which I think of as The Last Fort.

Fort Pulaski was made of brick and withstood an incredible amount of shelling during the war. You can still see the pockmarks and shell scars on the walls of the fort.

Pulaski held up until it met the new rifled cannon. At that moment the day and age of the fort ended. The rifled shell was too accurate and too devastating. The commander of the fort quickly surrendered before the magazine was hit and everyone in the fort killed. The rest of the world took notice. Very few forts were built after the shelling of Fort Pulaski.

After Pulaski we moved south again, and it turned extremely cold for a few days, but we managed to find a nice day to explore Fort Frederica, a pre-revolutionary war fort on St. Simon's island. Frederica was the southern most outpost of the English colonies and responsible for holding off the Spanish, who controlled Florida at the time. It did its job under Oglethorpe, twice if I remember correctly, after which the Spanish gave up.

For the kids this one was definitely the highlight thanks to a room full of dress up clothes and games they could play. I was more intregued to see something I'd read about in William Bartram's journals. Bartram passed through in 1774 and it was already in ruins, which makes it kind of amazing that there's anything here at all, but you can still see the stone outlines of most of the buildings in the town.

After Fort Frederica we packed up and headed south, bound for a place that's been on our list for a long time, but we just never seemed to make it: St. Augustine, FL. St Augustine was built around the fort, Castillo de San Marcos, which has been restored and is now a national monument. Sidenote, did you know National Parks/Monuments no longer take cash? The government won't take the currency of the nation at the national monument, tells you everything you need to know about the future of that currency. Anyway, we paid. With a card. And walked around the fort, which was monolithic in way that showed its Spanish origins. Spain was a genius with stone in this era. You see it all over Mexico too. Massive stone churches, government offices, forts, everything was stone and hugely overbuilt. It looks overbuilt to this day. It's magnificent.

We really liked Castillo de San Marcos, unfortunately we made the mistake of venturing across the street to see what the town was like and things went downhill.

I was going to say, we're not really fans of tourist towns, where every experience is carefully curated and managed by someone, but, then, is anyone a fan of this? You might argue that since this exists all over the place, that people must like it, and perhaps this has some merit, but we've also reached the stage of civilizational decline where it doesn't really matter what we want, this (whatever this is) is what we're getting.

Whatever the case, we spent about 10 minutes wandering around St. Augustine and were ready to head back to the bus.

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