Updated: Jan 4
During my birthday getaway to St. Simons Island, I learned that there are “Tree Spirit” carvings in several trees around the island.
The local legend is that the images immortalize the countless sailors who lost their lives at sea aboard ships that were once made from St. Simons Island oak. Most of the expressions are sorrowful but they also seem to reflect the very soul of that particular tree. An artist by the name of Keith Jennings started creating these works of art in the 1980s. There are currently 20 commissioned Tree Spirits on the island.
Finding each of the Tree Spirits was a treasure hunt in itself. Seven of them are in public areas so I focused on finding those. We started by finding general descriptions of where each Tree Spirit was located and then it became a hunt between drooping moss, low limbs, and the stubs of long-gone branches.
Below are the seven Tree Spirits that I was able to locate in my 2-day treasure hunt:
Cora the Mermaid
Cora the Mermaid. Photo taken by Ronda Wright.
This Tree Spirit actually has a story. The legend is that a part human, part fish mermaid by the name of Cora has lived in the Golden Isles for centuries. She is the protector of the islands’ loggerhead turtles. The story is that when baby loggerheads hatch from their eggs, Cora hums a song that summons them to the water and on their journey.
(By the way, if you have a chance, please visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island to see rehabilitation services in action to protect sea turtles and their environment.) Cora the Mermaid is located in the Golden Isles Welcome Center parking lot.
Near Mallery Park Baseball Field
Tree Spirit near basketball courts. Photo taken by Ronda Wright.
This is actually my favorite tree spirit because it reminds me of ET. (Any 80’s babies out there?) It’s located at the edge of Mallery Park near the parking area for the baseball diamond.
If you walk towards the basketball court, you will see a small grove of trees behind the basketball goal furthest away from the street. This tree spirit looks like it has a full mane of luxurious hair is located on one of the very first trees past the court.
In Redfern Village
The peeking Tree Spirit. Photo taken by Ronda Wright.
Redfern Village is a small shopping area directly off Frederica Road. This tree spirit peaks out at you from behind his hiding place deep within the tree. You definitely have to be on your tip-toes to see this one! It’s located across the street from Gnat’s Landing Restaurant.
This sorrow of this spirit won’t even allow him to raise his head. Photo taken by Ronda Wright.
This tree spirit holds a lot of sorrow on its face…almost like it’s in shame and cannot stand to look up. This one is located directly in front of the retirement community called Magnolia Manor. It’s in the very first parking lot as soon as you turn into the community.
In Front of Anderson Fine Art Gallery
Decay has started to erode the face of this Tree Spirit. Photo taken by Ronda Wright.
The tree spirit located directly in front of Anderson Fine Art Gallery is starting to lose part of its face. Decay is taking over and it actually plays out in a way that makes the spirits’ half-removed face seem even more defeated, while you walk away feeling sad for him.
In Gascoigne Bluff Park
Have fun finding this one! Photo taken by Ronda Wright.
This tree spirit proved the hardest to find on my miniature treasure hunt. After driving to the end of Arthur J. Moore drive, you should park near the picnic area. There is a small dirt trail that’s just west of a disc golf target. It was raining by the time we found this guy and it seemed like the mood from the rain was showing all over his face!
It was a blast doing this miniature treasure hunt and understanding the lore behind these art pieces on the island. The next time that you are visiting someplace new, remember to learn more about the local scene and try to understand what makes that place special and unique. What story are the locals telling? And in the case of St. Simons, what stories are the trees whispering?
Hey, I'm Ronda Wright 👋🏽
I’m the founder of The Wright Getaway. I love all things travel and helping other people experience the world.
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