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Published: October 29th 2013
After years of living in the same area, Karen and I finally made the jump and paid a visit to see Liz, Jamie and Coley at their place on Cumberland Island, Georgia. It seemed odd to us only having to drive 4 hours to pay a visit to a place that we had never seen before. We met Liz and Jamie in St. Mary's to catch the boat to the island. St. Mary's is a small town hybrid version of a historic Pensacola fused with Apalachicola. Red brick buildings. Little craft shops and the ubiquitous cafes. The town reeks of clove cigarettes, Birkenstocks and Vegan menus. An old hippy retirement spot if there ever was one.
It was just the four of us heading out aboard the Lucy R. Ferguson that afternoon. Coley and his friend Jesse were already at the house waiting for us. We shared the boat deck with boxes of produce and dry goods destined for Greyfield Inn, Cumberland's all-inclusive resort with rooms starting at $275/ nite. Meals and alcohol included. They also offer unlimited use of their bicycles though walking the sandy roads would seem less taxing than riding a bike. We helped the
crew unload the boat and threw our gear into the bed of Jamie and Liz's all-purpose, beat to hell and back pickup truck. Very few vehicles are permitted on Cumberland so just possessing one is pretty heady stuff in these parts.
Short history of Cumberland Island:
First the Indians came and they were doing pretty well until the Spanish missionaries showed up, so suddenly the Indians had something to do every Sunday morning then a pirate named Thomas Jingle arrived and scared everybody off towards St. Augustine where they opened year-round Christmas ornament stores because the Jingle thing stuck in their minds and then the British arrived on the island and built 2 forts at the north and south ends both of which have succumbed to entropy. The British won a battle against the Spanish by attacking the the famished Castilians while they were cooking their afternoon Paella (no fair!) and then the Redcoats scooped up the Paella and left the island uninhabited until some American colonialists showed up and built a house called Dungeness and introduced the island to slavery 'cause, hell, somebody had to pick cotton and harvest the live oaks for
Friday night dinner.
Ava' and Nakoa's greens.
ship building. Then the emancipation proclamation ended the plantations 'cause, hell, there ain't no white folk willing to work that hard so everything was quiet until the 1880's when the steely-eyed Carnegies showed up and bought most of the island (I'm most certain that the Indians were well compensated) so that the helicopter Mom of the 19th century; Lucy Carnegie, could build houses for all of her kids (Greyfield Inn is one of them) where she kept a close eye on her brood until her death in 1915 and then we had the Great Depression and all hell broke loose and the steel business wasn't panning out so the family skedaddled leaving the land but holding onto the deeds. Today the US park service owns most of the island with some of the Carnegie extended offspring still maintaining residences so now, if you want to stay on the island you can either stay at Greyfield, camp out in a tent or be lucky enough to know some of the Carnegies which is like, the best way because it won't cost you $275 a nite and you don't have to sleep with the mosquitoes plus you'll have a sweet assed pickup
truck to ride around in and Ava's produce for supper.
It was a two minute drive to the house. We cruised through a trio of tame, blue-hued feral horses. Huge live oaks dominate the landscape and the distant sounds of crashing surf make for a soothing sonic backdrop. The house is a stunner. Perfect beach place built by Jamie and Liz on the foundations of an old cottage right next to Greyfield. Wood beamed and floored. A wall of books and music. Bits and pieces of the island's history fill table tops and small cabinets. Arrowheads, Indian pipes, fossils, old wooden ship makings are sorted in baskets. It is thought that aboriginal peoples populated the island as long as 4,000 years ago so handling the arrowheads had my head humming with visions of hunters chasing down dinner. Coley showed me the difference between true arrowheads and spear points. Jamie is a veritable Wikipedia when it comes to Cumberland history and culture. Liz put together a great dinner using copious quantities of fresh produce from Ava's farm. It was all very, very good. We spent the evening in the big living room talking, laughing and listening
Great way to kill a Saturday afternoon.
to stuff like Van Morrison and Neil Young. It was a mellow night and I found myself ascending to happier and brighter altitudes with every sing-a-long. Old songs never die. They just go to sleep in your head until you need them. It was all very groovy baby. Karen and Jesse were engaged in an animated conversation while Coley and his Dad talked about bow hunting and other manly Cumberland Island activities. Liz and I took it all in with huge smiles plastered on our faces. You don't get many nights like this in life. Karen followed me to bed. We slept long and hard that night bathed in pewter moonlight. Wild horses whinnied outside our windows.
The next day we headed out in the truck with a gill net to try and catch some fish. We cruised along the wide, white beach under a clear blue sky. Three bodies in the truck cab a luckier three riding in the back. The sun singed our shoulders as we waved to the less fortunate pedestrians who dotted the beach. It reminded me a great deal of Padre Island back in the 70's. After a bit of
scouting Jamie declared the spot and we headed into the waves towing the net out and back. The girls waited on the beach ready to scoop up the sea's bounty. The sea was miserly indeed on this day my friends. What few fish we caught were too small to eat (unless you're a Survivor contestant) and so we returned them to the water. After three attempts my hamstrings were singing a mournful geriatric tune as we pulled the net hard into shore. The last cast captured a good sized Drum but the wily veteran made good his escape through the bottom of the net. Coley, Jesse and Jamie headed off to the north end of the island to gather some oysters for a roast to be held that night at Jamie's sister GoGo's place. While they did the heavy lifting Karen and I snoozed the late afternoon away. When we awoke we found everybody in the living room watching college football and actually enjoying it until the Gators got their tails righteously stomped by the Missouri Tigers 36-17. With the sunset a big boomer storm rolled over the island unleashing moss ripping wind and monsoon rains. In an hour it
was all over with. Feral horses grazed in the yard and visited us on the patio.
GoGo's party was a trip with an assortment of island folk in attendance. Everybody seemed to have some sort of business going on the side. Jewelry shops to run and services to sell. It was a good crowd to hang with on a Saturday night. The oysters and clams were roasted over an oak fire on the large open deck and then heaped onto a big table around which diners stood with their oyster knives held in En Garde position. Karen and I headed home about 10 PM and they were still going strong. I grabbed a slice of GoGo's delicious gluten free cake on my way out of the door. I don't get the whole gluten-free thing myself but it seems to make the folks on Cumberland happy. GoGo's son-in-law; Benjamin, told me that it was the "healthiest cake I would ever eat" to which I responded that given a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.
Sunday was spent reading and talking and watching NFL games. Jesse had to head
back to the mainland as she was due in San Diego for business on Monday. Jesse turned out to be one of the best centered people I have ever met. Happy and gentle with a perpetual smile. Easy company to be sure and very easy on the eyes. Our company now diminished we ate wild pig for dinner and each of us started packing for a morning departure. Jamie was leaving on the early boat as he has a real job to get to. Coley was staying on at the house. Liz invited Karen and I to stop by Ava and Nakoa's farm for a quick visit on our way home in the morning. I helped Jamie with a trash run where we were met with separate dumpsters for everything from brown bottle glass to paper items. On our way home two tourists stopped us to ask where the horses could be seen. I couldn't imagine how they had missed them seeing as I had just drunk a cup of coffee in the company of two horses that morning.
After the Jamie got off to work, Liz, Karen and I packed up and rode the boat into
St. Mary's to pick up our cars. It was about a 40-minute ride to the farm via multiple turns and sandy roads. Liz had a couple of errands to run on the way so Karen and I arrived first. Ava and Nakoa met us outside as we had to make pleasantries with their Great Pyranees pooch before we could greet the kids. I hadn't seen Ava since 1993. I hate seeing these kids grown up. Really makes me feel my age. Ava and Nakoa are two sharp kids with a handle on things. From the little girl I met in Alamogordo so many years ago, Ava has turned into a beautiful and intelligent woman. I cannot say enough about the wonderful job that Liz and Jamie have done with their kids. Ava and Coley are great people and I feel honored to be in their company. Nakoa and Ava operate an organic farm and sell their wares at a local farmers' market every Saturday. They have a horticultural gift. They showed me some plants that I am familiar with that blew me away. I still am amazed at the beautiful, bountiful crops they produce using nothing but land and compost
and water. Liz arrived with a couple of pizzas. You Go Girl! While the girls took a tour of the farm, Nakoa and I sat and got to know each other. He's from Southern Ohio near the place where my Grandfather grew up before he moved to Chicago. Nakoa is a smart guy with lots of astute questions and a sponge for a brain. Within 10-minutes we had sized each other up and came away happy with the results. I don't know what the future hold for these kids and my own but I know that the selfless philosophies that they have embraced will serve them well later in life.
All too soon it was time to go. We gave everybody a hug and a fervent wish that we would all get together to do it again. Sooner rather than later. Thanks to Jamie and Liz for your warm hospitality. Thanks to Coley for his friendship and making me laugh and a big shout out to Ava and Nakoa for showing an old man a new trick.
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