Time for a road trip.
Georgia’s coast is protected by over a hundred barrier islands. A few are large, some just specks, most are bounded by little creeks.
Growing up in South Georgia I knew all the waters. I sipped the sulfurous flowing well along US 17 and skinny-dipped on Jekyll Island but have never visited the real gems.
While turning the last pages of Will Harlan’s “Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and The Fight For Cumberland Island,” the guilt of my ignorance landed on me like a falling live oak.
The book tells of Carol Ruckdeschel’s study of sea turtles, her life-long mission to preserve Cumberland and of her habit of eating road kill.
Harlan describes Carol’s life on Cumberland as “wild,” as in “feral.” I’ll leave you to your impressions after reading the book and, of course, I recommend it.
I know nothing about Georgia coastal life, but should. People who live across the country know more about the Golden Isles than I and that should change.
The coastal islands were first cheap land for farms, then homes to the wealthy admirals of industry. The names of part-time residents of Georgia’s islands reads like a list of America’s economic giants: Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Goodyear, Morgan, McCormick, Carnegie, Pulitzer, Reynolds, Lorillord, and others.
Some mansions remain, some restored, some in ruins.
My only sustained contact with the coast came as a college student.
I, with other young pilots, landed small airplanes on an abandoned military airport on Harris Neck, just west of St. Catherine’s Island.
During World War II it was a multi-purpose training site.
A man who grew up there said that young plots learned to use machine guns by shooting at targets pulled by another airplane on a 200-foot rope.
And who flew the target pulling airplane? “WASP girls,” he said.
“Women’s Air Service Pilots” were not in the military but part of an organization of volunteers. They did the flying that relieved a male pilot for combat.
Most of us know Jekyll and St. Simon’s islands. These are developed to the hilt but still hold historic value.
I never visited Sapelo Island. It felt like a neighbor who was always there but a bit too far to visit. Hog Hammock is the last remaining “Gullah-Geechee” settlement in Georgia.
Wolf Island and Blackbeard are closed to the public.
Little St. Simons is called the most remote of Georgia’s Barrier Islands. It is a surprisingly large privately owned island accessible only by boat.
Sea Island is a private resort with homes of celebrities and highly successful people.
Many of us were awakened to Cumberland in 1996 when John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette married at the tiny First African Baptist Church.
Islands that are closed to the public still have government employees living and working there.
I’ve waited a long time to restart my Georgia history. Maybe it isn’t too late.