Totem of the Beach Clan

Valentine's Beach Tree

TOTEM – an object representing an animal or plant
that serves as an emblem of a group of people,
such as a family or clan.

Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, and many other cultures around the world, carve these beautiful works of art. This colorful totem is in Alaska.

Ketchican Totem

Taiwan is the home of this complex masterpiece.

Formosa Aboriginal Totems

Closer to home, on a morning jog this past summer on July 4th, I discovered the “Totem of the Beach Clan.”

July 4th Beach Tree

To many, this may look like a collection of junk and debris tossed aside on the beach. However, after closer inspection, I maintain it represents a totem. The beaches on St. Simons Island are pristine, because locals and visitors go out of their way to keep them that way. But strangely, someone used this dead tree to make a statement with flotsam and jetsam.

Yes, there are mismatched flip-flops, and a few pairs of sunglasses, but there are also three American Flags, one of which is at half-mast. Obviously, this display is no accident.

Thinking that this was one of those wacky summer vacation stunts, I was surprised to find the the tree decorated for Christmas.

Beach Tree at Christmas

And yesterday (Valentine’s Day), I was pleased to see all the new holiday decorations. I’m anxious to see what happens on St. Patricks Day.

Heart on Beach Tree

So it appears that the totem is even more significant than I initially thought. It will take a bit more research to discover who’s responsible, and I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, welcome to the Lands of the Beach Clan.

Happy Trails,

Photo Credits:
2. Ketchikan Alaska Totem By Jeremy Keith via Wikimedia Commons
3. Formosa Aboriginal Totems By Bernard Gagnon  via Wikimedia Commons


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

27 thoughts

    1. I agree, and this is a really fun example. Some of the decorations were pretty wacky, and must have some special meaning to someone, but they were all colorful. One ornament was a piece of driftwood with shells glued on and a yellow plastic spaceman tethered upside down to the side. Quirky and funny.

    1. I suspect that this is a collective effort. I looked closely at some of the items, and there were names, dates, and other things that had to be personal. Also, their was a dog biscuit. Pretty fun.

    1. Thanks Dianne, great to hear from you. How are things up north? Are you still busy with work? Also, did you read that Maker’s Mark is watering its bourbon? Say it ain’t so. Maybe we can get together soon. We’ll be in touch.

    1. Thanks Amy, even though some of the decorations are a bit wacky, others seem very personal, and are obviously special to someone. It certainly makes an interesting stop on a cold beach walk.

  1. Funny; I think that it has been added to by different people. I mean, if you pass by, don’t you feel it calling you for a contribution to it – even if it is a piece of algae, a beach pebble or a shell.

    1. I’m sure that you’re right. In fact, as I jogged by, I saw someone make an addition to the tree. But, I’ve also seen the tree totally stripped of decoration, so someone obviously coordinates it. It’s certainly fun however it works.

    1. Thanks so much for the nice comment Louise. I’m not sure that the tree decorators see it as a totem, but it seems that way to me. And BTW, big congrats on publishing the book!

  2. Wonderful photos. Alaska is another on our list. When we begin to branch out more your blog is going to be a great source of information. Thanks! 🙂

    1. Thanks LuAnn. We visited Juneau and Sitka, and really enjoyed it. We got a cabin on an overnight ferry between the two places and it was wonderful. We were there for the salmon spawning and that was way cool. You’ll definitely enjoy it when you go.

      1. They certainly are. I’ll be on the lookout for totems in future travels.

        My brother took a picture of me standing next to one of the totem poles in AK…it was taller than me by a foot!

        Your blog is simply wonderful. I like exploring all the different categories you two have put up. I’m inspired to change my blog’s organization. Yours is effective.

      2. Thanks Jennifer. It’s nice to get some feedback on our blog theme. As you can imagine, it takes quite a lot of work to get it all pulled together. We’ve changed themes a few times, and have over 350 posts, so we had to go through all of them and fit them under the new arrangement. FYI, if you are going to change, do it sooner rather than later. The more posts you have, the bigger the task.

  3. I greatly enjoy your photos and words! This kind of beach art as an expression of creativity is to be found in many cultures. Also along the Mediterranean coasts. Thanks for contributing with the totems. Next time I see them on a Greek beach I will make this connection with worship, that you are suggesting here!

    1. Thanks Lisa, for visiting the blog and for the comment. I have spent some time on the Med, but haven’t seen what I would call totems. I will look forward to seeing them on your blog. Thanks again, James.

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