By Pat-Foster Turley, Ph.D.
May 5, 2022
Looks like this is my last new column here for a while until the new editor of the Fernandina Observer takes charge. And, I hope this happens soon! Meanwhile, here’s another quirky option if you are looking for a day trip from Fernandina—the Southern Forest World in Waycross, Georgia.
Bucko and I often take road trips in our area, and ahead of time I scope out ideas for interesting places to see along the way. One of my favorite sources is the website for Roadside America: https://www.roadsideamerica.com/. By now we have visited most of the quirky places in south Georgia and north Florida described on this site but we had yet to see “Stuckie” the mummified dog that is stuck in the hollow bore of a tree. We just had to fill in this blank.
Southern Forest World is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about the pine forests and timber industry of south Georgia. Bertha Dixon greeted us at the door and you can’t find a more friendly local than her to tour you around the various exhibits. Of course, we wanted to see Stuckie first and she happily obliged. I’ll spare you close-up shots of this poor dog, but the circumstances around his discovery and preservation are interesting for sure. Stuckie (named by entrants in a name-the-mummified-dog contest) was a hound dog, with the remnants of a collar, who presumably chased a squirrel or raccoon inside a hollow tree and got stuck there forever, probably in the 1960s. When this chestnut oak was logged and cut into sections in 1980, startled forest workers looked inside one of the logs, and there he was, a petrified dog. Stuckie has been a star attraction at Southern Forest World ever since. It was determined that the “chimney effect” of the hollow tree combined with the tannin produced by the tree, deterred insects and speeded up a mummification process instead. Poor Stuckie. But now he “lives on” forever.
After we spent our time learning more about Stuckie, Bertha happily toured us around the rest of the museum. I was suffering from an injured knee from a recent fall, and hobbled around painfully to see the place. Bertha quizzed me about my injury and before long I was ensconced in the restroom applying some of her expensive doTerra Deep Blue Rub on my knee, something Bertha was convinced would make it all better.
And then Bertha toured us around the rest of the museum. One exhibit showed the rings inside a tree, marking historical events that happened over the years that the tree was living, starting around 1583 when Raleigh made an expedition to Virginia and ending in 1969 when Armstrong walked on the moon and the tree was logged. Other exhibits detailed the process of making turpentine then and now; on the various products that depend on trees; large chain saws; a “talking tree;” a large hollow cypress tree that a handful of people can go inside without getting stuck; a picnic area and playground; interactive children activity areas and lots more.
The lessons from Bertha at Southern Forest World followed us as we drove on. When I had remarked to Bertha about the beautiful light green new growth on the tops of the pine trees we had passed by, she told me this. In this region right around Easter time the new growth sprouts in “candles” on the treetops and locals start looking for the crosses. Some pine trees have just a single sprout on top with a crossbeam of two branches. They say that the trees know when Easter is coming and they celebrate too and our visit was a few days from Easter. Whatever your belief, it made an interesting “treasure hunt” as we drove along roads bordered by pine trees to try to spot as many crosses as possible. Thanks to Bertha I will never look at pine trees the same way again.
Right next door to Southern Forest World is another museum, the Okefenokee Heritage Center, which is also full of exhibits but this time focusing on the people and cultures of the Okefenokee Area. We didn’t have time to see this museum ourselves but maybe next time. I’m sure it won’t be as gee-whiz as Stuckie, but you never know!
Pat Foster-Turley, PhD is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]hoo.com