Thursday, December 6, 2007

Enchanted and Wild Things

November 28-December 5, Cumberland Island, Georgia
Just north of the border with Florida lies Georgia’s largest sea island, Cumberland Island. Since 1972 its natural beauty has been protected as a National Seashore. Our friends, Claus and Rachael, caught up with us at an anchorage near the south end of the island.

Moss-laden live oaks canopy paths through the maritime forest or spread their boughs in gnarled corkscrews over a bright green profusion of palmettos. Thick vines swing from tall pines. The effect is magical, like a fantasyland movie set. As you emerge from the light-diffused forest, sun-drenched sand dunes strewn with driftwood buffer the trees and surrounding salt marsh. Beyond the dunes, sparkling seas roll and break on miles of nearly deserted wide beach.

This enchanted land of varied scenery is home to a variety of animals. Armadillos rustle through the underbrush. Wild turkeys peck at open lawns around “Dungeness,” the ruins of a mansion built by Thomas and Lucy Carnegie. White-tail deer, wild boar, raccoons, and wading birds proliferate. But it’s the wild horses people come to see, some 300 on the island. They graze in the open spaces or in the marshes at low tide and amble along the paths and roads.

As we captured close-up photos of a small, quiet herd of wild horses, a colt entered the group and challenged the herd’s stallion. The stallion dispatched four swift, sharp hind kicks into the side of the colt. Defeated, the colt trotted off by himself and the herd in another direction. We thought the incident was finished, but soon the colt raced toward me with the stallion in hot pursuit. The riled-up stallion galloped within a few feet of where I stood, frozen in place and praying hard!

Keith had his own frozen-in-place moment. When the tides drop and expose the edges of the salt marshes, oyster beds appear in abundance. Always ready to belly up to the oyster bar, Keith thought he would harvest a few fresh appetizers. With his first steps, the marsh muck sucked him in and held him fast. It took some effort to extricate his feet, and even more to retrieve his flip-flops. For now, we’ll have to buy our oysters.

Not so with fresh shrimp and trout. Each day we were there, fishermen plied the water around our boat, repeatedly tossing big round castnets into the water and hauling them up full of shrimp. We watched one of them for a while and took several pictures. Noticing our interest, he drove over to give us a good shot of his catch, 100 pounds of shrimp. We talked for a little while, and before he left for the day he came back with a bag of shrimp. In just a couple hours, dinner went from under the boat to on the table. And Keith hooked three trout to provide us a delicious breakfast and dinner.

On our way to the anchorage at Cumberland Island, we had passed Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. Ahead, a submarine motored up the channel and a guard boat zoomed toward us, lights flashing. Front and back, guards stood at the ready with machine guns. They politely asked us to go downwind of the channel and we obliged without a word of protest.
Our lives have held plenty of excitement lately. Not the least of it, today (December 5) is Keith’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Keith, and may you have a year of God's blessing, fair winds, and smooth sailing!

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