Cumberland Island

As we drove south out of the mountains we entered into a VERY different climate.  Asheville being at 2,500’ elevation in the southern Appalachian Mountains was starting to receive cooler weather by late November and there were no longer any leaves on the trees.  By the time we reached the coast of southern Georgia the air was warm and balmy which made it feel like we rewound the seasons back to late summer.  The following morning we woke up in the sub-tropics and we would remain in this climate for quite some time.  Our job for the day was to organize our camping gear in order to catch the pedestrian-only ferry that would take us to Cumberland Island, the southernmost island off the coast of Georgia.

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Cumberland Island was something I knew nothing about.  Michelle set it up, she made reservations for the ferry ride and the few nights of camping on the island.  I didn’t really anticipate or think much at all about it.  I did know there were wild horses, I knew that there were no cars permitted on the island, and I knew there were miles upon miles of wilderness beach line.  But that’s all.  Stepping onto the island was like entering a different world.  The forest had a deep dark green and quiet feel too it.  All of the trees were Sand Live Oak trees, an evergreen species of oak, and the undergrowth was Saw Palmetto, a species of palm which is only waist high.  The oaks were draped with long hangings of Spanish moss while the ground was soft, packed sand that was comfortable with bare feet.   Their was a common feeling among all of us as we landed:  This was going to be fun!

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We hauled our stuff a quarter mile down the foot path to the other side of the island to the campground on these funny garden type carts and on our backs.  The camp ground was nestled in the dark forest adjacent to the beach.  As soon as we set up we started exploring.  On the way there I had over heard a ranger talking about the most likely place to see the wild horses.   From camp we set off on a network of wide dirt roads/trails south to the ruins of a large mansion at the edge of the island’s southern marshlands.

Although the known human history of the island began 4,000 years ago with various native tribes followed by Spanish settlements in 16th and 17th, and then the English in the early 18th century, what remains on the island are a  series of very large estates in various stages of ruin sprinkled around the otherwise wilderness landscape.  These remaining ruins were built by the Carnegie Family.  The oldest and largest was a huge plantation that burned to the ground before the Carnegies rebuilt it even larger than before.  After the Great Depression it was burned to the ground once again.  As we walked onto the estate a heard of deer tending to the well trimmed grass stampeded off followed by a bunch of wild turkeys.  Soon after that the famous wild horses of Cumberland island started showing up.  One by one they would walk in from the forest or the marsh.  Ila was very pleased.  Even with Michelle and the boys beginning their stroll back towards camp, Ila would not leave.  The two of us stayed and watched the horses for quite some time. We were used to the well kept, well groomed horses living on the horse farm at uncle Frederic’s house. This was an entirely different animal. These horses were wild, a bit shaggy and breathtakingly free…sort of how we were feeling at this point in the trip.

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Through much time spent at the incredibly wild beach as well as exploring the island, we soaked in the pleasures of Cumberland Island, but not without incident.  Jacob acquainted himself rather intimately with the most poisonous caterpillar in North America.  As we were walking in to the forest to our campsite from spending time on the beach I saw Jacob up ahead standing there grimacing and holding his arm in pain.  As I walked up to him he was moaning and he pointed down to the bizarre thing he claimed had just stung him.  It was one of the weirdest little things I had ever seen.  About an inch and a half long this well brushed wisp of fur could only be identified as some sort of alien caterpillar.

A Puss Caterpiller

At the Ranger station on the other side of the island Jacob’s pain seemed to subside a little as we spoke to the ranger on duty.  He had no idea.  He called the head ranger who had the day off.  The head ranger said two years ago someone had gotten stung by the same thing.  Nothing terrible happened, just very painful up his arm and down his side.  We didn’t evacuate and his pain subsided.  It turns out this caterpillar is called a Puss Caterpiller, as in Pussy Cat, in reference to the cat like look to it’s hairy coat.  It’s found in the southern US with most activity in Texas.  It’s sting is known to be very painful and goes from a localized reaction to systemic through the lymphatic system.

That evening, as we shooed away some of the most aggressive raccoons I ever encountered Michelle jumped onto the picnic table and the boys started swinging what ever was around and yelled. Ila watched in amazement as the raccoons ate up her “doodles” (noodles). Every now and then she will tell us this again…”raccoons eat doodles”! The racoons were followed  by a few opossums and armadillos.

On the ferry ride back to the mainland the five of us were all gathered on the bow of the boat.  Soaking in a beautiful ride Elias yelled “Hey, look down”.  We looked down at the water 8 feet below us and 3 dolphins were right there riding in the wake so close to us and the boat we could almost touch them.  It was so cool.  Up and down and occasional jumping out of the water they entertained us for quite some time before they veered off.

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Now onward to south Florida.

Categories: Accupuncture, Cumberland Island, Family camping, Puss Caterpillar, wild horses | 7 Comments

Thank you Chickens

Annique, my wild and beautiful Prescott College roommate and Thomas her friendly, intense and loving husband whom she also met at college settled down in the little town of Putney, VT. We couldn’t leave New England without a brief visit.  Over a decade ago we visited them in their cute rustic house on Putney Mountain with a 2 year old Jacob. Thomas shared tales of tracking animals in the VT winters – hare, deer, weasel following their prints in the snow, as Annique cultivated her hearty garden and found her own roots in the rugged and beautiful North Country.

It’s funny how the little things that seem inconsequential in our life can make subtle and lasting ripples. Way back in 2002 Annique taught us the art of singing to their chickens when we gathered the eggs to thank them (and to calm the rooster so he didn’t peck at us)!

”Thank you chickens,

thank you chickens,

for your yummy eggs,

for your yummy eggs”…

That little chant has become part of our family thankful repertoire all of these years since and is such a sweet way that Annique and Thomas are woven into our everyday life.

Over the last few years they designed and built a beautiful home tearing down the old house and keeping and developing the gardens. Annique, a well respected Midwife and Thomas an accomplished Acupuncturist and Chinese Doctor, share an office/practice in Putney called Medicine for the People and seem to be living a very busy and meaningful life as integral resources in their community.

Pretty quickly our families connected in a warm and deep way.  This visit we met Samuel their very sweet 4 year old son.  Elias quickly and quietly got to work on Samuel’s train set and Ila at dismantleling Elias’ work! As they have been lacking in traditional toys they were quite pleased to play and play and play and Samuel was a generous playmate.

Jacob was under Thomas’s spell after quickly realizing that they share common interests…Thomas has a vintage collection of comic books…! This coupled with his mastery in the art of bow making, tracking and animal awareness kept Jacob teetering between nonstop questions and nonstop reading.  He had his first introduction to characters like “the Punisher” and was later given a three volume set of books on how to make bows and arrows, the Bow Makers Tome.  Jacob was SOLD!

Although our visit was short we found time to hike through the beautiful VT autumn with Annique and Samuel, walking a few miles up the road from their house towards the top of Putney Mountain watching raptors soaring on the drafts above. The kids played on a magnificent old and huge tree, hiking home barefoot and free.

The day before we arrived, Annique, Thomas and their friends killed and prepared chickens for the winter – 100 of them.  Although in my vegan years this would have been quite difficult for me to bear, in my recent incarnation as an omnivore I was intrigued by the process.  Our drive across the country has allowed for a few good conversations on food, food choices, raising animals and farming. Very recently Jacob and I discussed different slaughtering techniques and theories comparing factory farmed animals and humanely raised animals. I understand, based on my reading and my brief time working on a ranch in Colorado, if killed humanly the animal does not experience fear or as much anticipation and terror in the end.  This is so much kinder to the animal and healthier for the person eating the meat.  Unsurprisingly, this was Jacob’s first question to Thomas after finding out about the chickens. Thomas described how he held each chicken closely and compassionately in his arms until he felt them stop “buzzing like a refrigerator” and felt more calm.   A wide eyed Jacob (and Michelle) were captured by this story.

Evening was spent with the boys helping Thomas stack a truck full of wood near the back door of the house in preparation for a long VT winter as Annique and I prepared incredible chicken enchiladas and fresh salad from the garden.  Around the fire Thomas brought out arrow making materials and the boys learned the art of crafting their own arrows by gluing on the feathers and the tips with the proper tools. They made a list of all of the things that Jacob needed to craft his own bow over the next few months which fit in perfectly with his 6th grade Waldorf curriculum and made missing school a tiny bit easier to bear.

We came full circle that night singing our thankfulness to the chickens with a deeper sense of gratitude and understanding.  All holding hands and smiling at each other around the dinner table we giggled as we sang –

”Thank you chickens,

thank you chickens,

for your yummy meat,

for your yummy meat”…

Stocked with delicious syrup and VT hard apple cider, we packed the minivan and shared hugs trying to convince our friends why reuniting in Arizona this winter is an excellent idea (hint hint if you are reading this Annique and Thomas).


Categories: Accupuncture, Autumn, Hiking, Homeschooling, Medicine for the People, Midwife, New England, Prescott College, Putney Mountain, vT, Waldorf Curriculum | 1 Comment

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