Friday, February 29, 2008

St. Marys - The Seduction of Serenity

“I have found peace here,” is the oft-quoted reply when newcomers are asked why they moved to St. Marys. There is an indefinable “softening of the edges” that seems to permeate life in St. Marys. To live in St. Marys is to come face to face with serenity on so many levels. St. Marys’ enviable location just across the river from Florida puts it in an aquatic embrace surrounded by marshes, rivers, creeks, the Intracoastal Waterway; and just across Cumberland Island, the waters of the great Atlantic. Native Americans believed that for every day you spend around water, a day is added to your life. Could it be the water that is the source of St. Marys’ serenity?

Put yourself in this picture: The day is almost over. You take a lazy stroll down to the waterfront park and settle into an old-fashioned wooden swing hung beneath a rose-covered arbor. Before you, a setting sun casts a million points of gold onto the surface of a tranquil river. Dolphins dance in the distance. Seagulls soar and laugh in flight, their gracefulness mesmerizing, leaving you yearning for wings of your own. Is it the sunsets that hold the secret to St. Marys’ serenity?

On an early morning walk through St. Marys’ Downtown Historic District, you catch the tranquilizing scent of gardenia and marvel at the fragile blossoms peeking through a pristine white picket fence. Stately magnolias and moss-covered live oaks canopy St. Marys’ fertile yards, and parks and streetscapes. In the distance you hear the baritone echo of the Cumberland Queen as she sets sail for another day of adventure on Cumberland Island. You stop for a moment, close your eyes, and listen to the lulling birdsongs—more distinct calls than you’ve ever experienced at one time. You lean across another picket fence and trace the Braille marker of a Victorian home, replete with splendor that so defines the Southern landscape. Is it this—the feast of the senses—that gives us the spellbinding sense of serenity?

Or could it be the people? You’ve noticed the warmth in the voices of the merchants who happily open their stores to you—browsing perfectly acceptable. You’re stricken by the respect and politeness of the waiter at the little café on the corner, whose singular mission in life seems to be to make you happy. You immerse yourself in the friendly greetings and kindness of strangers you encounter on the streets, rich with the wisdom of the area and passionate in their eagerness to share. There is quietude about the town that bespeaks calm. Tranquility. Serenity.

You have found peace here in this little town of St. Marys, Georgia. Perhaps for a day. Perhaps for a lifetime.

“We arrived at St. Marys at the hush of eventide. It struck me as such an exquisite blow that I could not find a word. In whose brain was born so glorious concept of community? What streetways! What nobility of space! What simple grandeur and what a peace lay over all!” Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Margorie Kinnan Rawlings after her visit to St. Marys sometime before 1931.