The Weekly Watch

Listen to Mother!
Why we can't learn?
Dune Gone Son of a Beach

We are attracted to the shore. Some say it hearkens back to the womb...our mother's heartbeat and sounds of amniotic fluid. One thing is for sure. We are loving our beaches to least here on the Gulf Coast. Last week we made it to the river delta. Join me as we continue our journey along Alabama's small strip of beaches and into the wilds of the Mississippi coast.

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Doesn't it always come back to empires? Why does Alabama have a coast at all? (3 min)


Coastlines have always been in a state of flux as Ocean levels rise and fall with the coming and going of ice ages. Nature is both constant and ever changing. Once the bay was far out into today's Gulf.


Off the coast is a 60,000 year old forest...remnants of an ancient ice age. (27 min) (7 min news story about the 27 min film)


Mobile Bay is shallow only averaging 10 feet deep. They dredge a 500 foot wide channel for large ships. Since my last visit a few years ago, there are so many new natural gas wells... the the bay seems crowded with them. The bay is swept clean regularly from the river drainage and is a relatively clean and productive fishery. Remember Forest Gump's shrimping operation?

Two world view...on the sand spit of Fort Morgan on the East tip of Mobile Bay.

Dune gone it! They have gone. Dozed down to build beachfront property.

Here is nearby Gulf Shores

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People curse the endangered species act, but thankfully that is what has saved a 5 mile stretch of natural beach where we prefer going. The Alabama Beach Mouse is responsible for the creation of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
A last vestige of the natural ecosystem in a an ever expanding recreational development and resource extraction. (1 min intro)
Take this 3 min walk through the maritime forest, across the pine scrub, past the brackish lake, through the dunes, and on to the beach across one of the last natural stretches of beach in Alabama
A better quality 3 min video with random shots.
5 min drone footage

A news story descibing why we choose why we choose go here (2 min)

What is so nice about Bon Secour...

There isn't much natural beach ecosystem remaining but here's one on the redneck riviera

Complete with a dune system...

Waves erode beaches and dunes along one area of the shoreline and the longshore current sweeps along the shore, depositing the sand elsewhere. The size and form of dunes found along the Atlantic Coast are highly variable and dependent upon many factors: strength and direction of prevailing winds, vegetation cover, nature of the backshore environment, and the rate at which sand is removed from the beach.
Plants hold the beach. Sand collects around plants, creating the characteristic patchwork of hillocks and swales. Beaches with wide, flat intertidal zones expose a large sand source for building dunes.
A dune system can be divided into three zones: (1) strandline and embryo dune zone, (2) primary dunes (also called foredunes or yellow dunes), and (3) secondary dunes (also called hind-dunes or grey dunes).

Here's an example of building a fore dune using fencing.

The hind dune is covered with salt pruned vegetation

The highest active dune system in the eastern United States is Jockey's Ridge, located near Nags Head on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This highly mobile dune, which changes in elevation as it moves, measures up to 33 m in height. Other large dunes on the Outer Banks reach 20 m in height (e.g., Jones Hill and Penny's Hill). Mount Ararat, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is about 30 m in height, whereas the highest dune elevations on Cumberland Island, Georgia, are 12 m.

Behind the dunes are forests (first Pines then Live Oak) and wetlands (both fresh and brackish water).

Behind the dunes are often fresh and brackish water wetlands.

Piney woods grade into he dune system too.

And at last behind the dune system are the lovely maritime forests of Live Oak draped in Spanish moss

Along ocean shorelines, sea-level rise is usually translated into a general landward retreat of the beach and dunes.  Environments nearest the ocean shoreline are likely to be destroyed as the dunes erode.    Sea-level rise models for wetlands show a landward shift.

An unexpected dinner guest, but they came with their own meal in hand (or talon)

At lo-res it is difficult to see Mercury to lower right of Venus

The dots on the horizon are natural gas rigs

So we'll leave the Fort Morgan and move on...

Well it is nearing the end of the trip and it is time to go over the ferry and through the woods with a quick stop. How about a quick look at Bellingrath Gardens? Walls of azaleas are in bloom...


Will we ever find our way back to the garden? There are individuals who seem to to know nature's tune...the divine symphony. I think Walter Anderson was such an individual. We're ending our trip in Ocean Springs Mississippi to see the work of Walter Anderson, one of our beloved artist.

Walter painted the Misissippi as a man with tributaries on his head.
IMG_2014.jpg an illustrated short story about Walter.

Look at some of his work here -


We were lucky to hear a discussion of the role of cats in his work by his daughter, Mary. I learned in part what attracts me to him. He gave Mary a two volume Funk and Wagnall edition of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend when she was a child which he told her contained everything she needed to know.

His son, John, describes his visual music. (9.5 min)

Lovely montage of Walter's work with Don McLean's “Starry Starry Night” (5 min)

This original song about Walter is by an Atlanta artist who spent her summers at camp on Lookout mountain. 5 min song


Time to head home....
We traveled south on the Alabama River system. Let's return home in the 1500's with Tristan de Luna who is given credit for establishing the oldest established European multi-year settlement in the United States in the heart of Pensacola.

Tristán de Luna is ordered to establish a Spanish settlement on the Gulf Coast and an overland trade route to what is now South Carolina. After his Pensacola landing, they were hit by a storm before they could unload the vessels. On the night of September 19, 1559, a hurricane (with storm surge) swept through and destroyed most of the ships and cargo: five ships, a galleon and a barkm, pushing one caravel and its cargo into a grove inland. With the colony in serious danger, most of the men traveled inland to the Alabama River to the village of Nanipacana which they had found abandoned
Historians believe that a series of epidemics nearly wiped out southeastern tribes in only decades. One of them—possibly a combination of pneumonic and bubonic plagues, or typhus— killed millions of Mesoamericans from 1545 to 1548. Colonists also transmitted the influenza virus to Native peoples. The virus became epidemic in the Caribbean and Mesoamerica in 1559, following its sweep across Europe two years earlier.

They headed up the Coosa River, which meanders through northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia, but when the Spanish entradas of Hernando de Soto, Tristan de Luna, and Juan Pardo first set foot in the region between 1539 and 1568, Coosa had a very different connotation. First, Coosa referred to the town of Coosa, which moved to several different locations over its existence. Secondly, the Chiefdom of Coosa was limited to the Coosawattee River Valley, which extended from southern Tennessee, through northwest Georgia, finally ending in northeast Alabama. When Spanish expeditions trampled through the region, they commonly referred to it as the Province of Coosa - an alliance of several chiefdoms from central Alabama to eastern Tennessee, all under the leadership of the Coosa cacique. The Coosa people possibly created the largest complex paramount chiefdom in sixteenth-century southeastern North America.


The structural makeup of a Mississippian chiefdom and its governing body in the1540s was more advanced than the Spanish gave credit. A chiefdom normally had anywhere from 100-1500 permanent residents living within its borders. The typical chiefdom had a town that served as the capitol, while several smaller, outlying towns paid tribute to a central cacique. At least one archaeological model illustrates that less complex chiefdoms consisted of a cluster of towns with a large capitol town normally containing several mounds. The cacique used his food surplus for supporting part-time artisans that made special goods for those who could afford them and for supporting the chiefdom's warriors. Coosa began as a simple chiefdom, incorporating a minority of towns and clans with minimum overall development and limited ranking caciques. By the time Hernando de Soto's expedition entered Coosa, it was definitely a complex paramount chiefdom, incorporating numerous social and kin groups that found their ways into the "political hegemony of a powerful paramount chief" as the results of military conquests. These "low-ranking" tributary chiefdoms and towns established political alliances to the paramount cacique through marriage and the placement of his relatives in authoritative positions over the conquered towns.

Towns in Mississippian culture serving as boundaries to the chiefdom were often fortified with palisade walls, defensive towers, and defensive ditches. The capitol town contained the cacique's house, a temple or temples, and other important public buildings. Natives built most of these public buildings atop pyramid shaped, flat-topped, earthen mounds that took several years to construct. Primarily, these mounds elevated the elite class above the commoners and asserted the cacique's power over his surrounding chiefdom. Normally, a plaza, neighbored by or enclosed by the capitol's public buildings and residents' homes, supported recreational activities. According to the Soto reports, the elite inhabitants lived near the caciques dwelling on the edge of the plaza, while the lower classes dwelt near the outskirts of town.
He expects to find villages of the powerful Coosa people, which Hernando de Soto described 20 years earlier. Instead, he finds villages almost abandoned. An ailing slave left behind by de Soto had spread an epidemic that swept through Coosa towns.

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So I'm following the River system home today...headed upstream along the interstate highways following de Luna's journey. He was searching for food and survival, I'm content, buoyed by a nice stay on the beach, visits to gardens, nature preserves, and immersed in the delight of art. Getting out of our routine helps us to view the world with different eyes. Perhaps I gained some vision from the nature of the shore, inspiration from Walter's work, and the wisdom of this Mama and baby who took advantage of an osprey nesting platform.


I look forward to your insights and stories when I get home.

23 users have voted.


amazing. The pics are treasures, too. Thank you so much!

I have always lived in a coastal state. I can't imagine living in one that is landlocked. Although I am certain they have their charms, I'm just used to coastal states and being able to get to a beach fairly easily.

10 users have voted.
Lookout's picture


Just rolled in from MS with all their bayous and barrier islands. Somewhere in my memory is the idea that 90% of folks in the US live within 100 miles of a coast (including the Great Lakes). We are drawn to the shore in some primal way.

Thanks for dropping your namesake. When I was 19 an older friend asked me about Henry Wallace. I said "Who?" She asked, "What kind of education do the schools provide?"

4 users have voted.

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”


excludes people with ideas like those of Henry A. Wallace, even though he was VP to the most elected President in US history and one who makes every unbiased list of top ten US Presidents (despite and stringing along the NAACP so as not to lose the Southern vote for his party and unforgiveable internment). FDR was so sick during his last Presidential campaign that he died a bit over a month into his last term. So, party bosses insisted that FDR swap out Truman for Wallace because they did not want Wallace to become President. Supposedly, FDR fought that, but soon caved because he did not have the strength. Plus, there was the matter of World War II.

Wallace went on to become a billionaire when a billion was still a lot of money. However, I suspect--but only suspect--that he would rather have been President.

3 users have voted.

What a delightful trip you took me on this Sunday morning.

8 users have voted.
Lookout's picture

@TB mare

3 users have voted.

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

mhagle's picture

I have driven through Alabama several times as I now live in Texas and have family in South Carolina.

Sounds like a cool destination for a family adventure. Thank you!

5 users have voted.


"Make dirt, not war." eyo

Lookout's picture


In NE Alabama...near Chattanooga. Please let me know if you're coming through, and we can sight see and visit.

3 users have voted.

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

mhagle's picture


That would be fabulous!

1 user has voted.


"Make dirt, not war." eyo

mhagle's picture


York, SC. My kids have never net her, so that would be a nice trip.

So, maybe????

3 users have voted.


"Make dirt, not war." eyo

EyeRound's picture

Thank you, Lookout. I lived in Jefferson County and attended Junior High and High School there. Many years ago. Your photos and words have brought back so many memories from that time. We didn't get to the beach very often, I think only to Pensacola IIRC. I do have striking memories of the abundant azaleas and Bellingrath Gardens, as well as of live oaks hung with Spanish moss. But most of all, I remember the air in Alabama, deep, rich, warm air that envelops you like a feather bed. (That image makes more sense if you live in a cold climate!) Much later, after I had not lived in the South for a long time, I took the train from NYC to NOLA. As the train rumbled through southern AL several of us stood between the cars and, looking out over the scenery, I most of all just felt and saw the sleepy, comfort-inducing air, and I knew where we were.

7 users have voted.
Lookout's picture


There's good and bad everywhere. This state is so rich in natural resources, yet so lacking in many other respects. Learn how to look and see is part of the art of life.

If you missed last's weeks edition, it contained some interesting tidbits about Alabama too

Thanks again for your thoughts....

1 user has voted.

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”