Boarding the “Lady Cumberland” ferry, I wandered how in the hell I managed such a heavy bills bag for only three days of camping with me, myself, and I. Before boarding, two others and I were given a brief island orientation. I was excited. More excited than I had been over anything in a while. I got there early for God’s sake. I am never early. I had wanted to visit Cumberland Island for a while but my eagerness was fuled, like jet-fuled, after reading the book Untamed and the fascinating life of Carol Ruckdeschel - A real life character. A girl who hated the way the lace from her Sunday dress rubbed against her legs and would sneak out of church to feed the stray cats with the leftovers she had hidden there. Yes, tell me more.... An environmentalist, a naturalist, a biologist, a turtle expert, DOR (Dead on Road) culinary connoisseur, wild horse riding, whiskey drinking, gun shooting badass. In contrast, on the island you also had the remnants of extreme wealth and the superfluous lifestyles of the steel tycoon Carnegie family. Both extreme degrees of living at opposite ends of the spectrum and both existing like this vitruvian macrocosm, each seeming unable to exist without the other.
After orientation, I grabbed my bags and off I went. On the ferry, thinking both about the history of the island and my own feelings of being at home. Literally returning home to Georgia and where I grew up. A place that is so comfortable an familiar to me. Now having a different perception and deeper appreciation and coming back to explore it in a different way. Stepping onto Cumberland I was like a kid in a candy store. I grabbed my map and the only remaining cart with functioning wheels and headed off to my camp site. Zig-zagging through the palmettos, canopied oaks and hanging moss I was enchanted. My site offered a small foot trail that lead up the giant dunes to my own private patio. A view of the dunes and the ocean, my patio also later became a star gazing and solo 'My Morning Jacket' dance party platform. Another story for another day...
I set up my tent, threw my food in the raccoon proof food box, and off to the beach I went. I emerged from under the oak canopy and seventeen miles of beach stretched out in front of me. Not a single other soul in site. I walked leisurely for about fifteen minutes and realized that I still had on my shoes. What the hell? On the beach with shoes on? What’s wrong with me? Have I become and inlander? Gasp. I ditched my shoes and walked for a while collecting shells, taking photos, and breathing in the thick humid coastal air. Understanding more and more what all the fuss over this island was all about. Walking and thinking more about the now seemingly petty details and worries in my life. I found a sharks tooth and skipped, elated, back towards camp. Before returning to my site, I took my seashell bounty and a beer I had shoved in my pack, sat and dug my toes in the sand and watched the sun melt behind the dunes. Content and open to what a beautiful place I had come to, ready and looking forward to whatever other small adventures may come my way while visiting here. If I found a sharks tooth my first afternoon, imagine the possibilities!
Over the next few days I had the most surreal simple adventures. Barefoot bike rides, random trail photo shoots and conversations with visitor and island employees, self-reflection, more beach walks, sunsets, mansion tours, wild turkey and feral horse encounters...a wild island with a bizarre mix of industrial tycoon vs. wilderness, but still offering a happy peaceful solitude. Thank you Cumberland. I will be back.
"At our core, we hunger for something deeper. We long for contact with raw wilderness, where we can see our connection to the bigger picture. In wilderness, we find something far greater than ourselves.” Carol Ruckdeschel