Here we are again. We made it to paradise. If only we could stay here forever… But no, that’s not the way the game works. That’s not realistic. It’s against the rules. Our camping permit is limited to three nights. We only have enough food for a few days. And the real world calls out to us like a siren to a sailor. In other words, our cash supply is very low and my stonework season begins soon. We can stay here at this magical, incredible, fantastical place called Cumberland Island, but we can’t stay for long. Will the time constraint work somehow to intensify our experience of all this wonderfulness? Is a vacation better because it’s going to end? Or will anxiety about the pressures of the real world ahead undermine our ability to truly appreciate this paradise while we are here? I don’t know. If only we would find a way to make the real world… the everyday world… more like this.
After cycling with the gators in Okefenokee, I have an inkling to cycle a bit more. The ever accommodating Ms. B. agrees to drive ahead to the coastal town of St. Mary’s and wait for me while I follow along on my bicycle. It’s a 50 mile or so journey and I appreciate the exercise but it’s definitely a road for automobiles and not a road for bicycles. And that, unfortunately, is the way of the world. We could theoretically change that with a straight forward political campaign. Build the Bike Path. Come on Mr. President! Come on Congress! It’s a horrible injustice and it needs to be corrected. Our transportation system violates the rights of citizen cyclists. We pay for the thruways for the motor cars. A comparable system of pathways should be built for cyclists. Build the Bike Path. It would be a jobs bill in these tough economic times. Stop investing in overseas wars of conquest and start investing in a green, non-fossil fuel network of transportation services. Start with the Bike Path; the easiest, simplest thing that anyone in need of work could participate in. Call it a jobs program with a useful purpose. FDR built the State and Federal Park System during the First Great Depression. Come on Barack. Build the Bike Path during this Great Depression. You can do it…
Anyway, I arrive in St. Mary’s and find Ms. B. parked in front of a coffee shop. She has all the info on a place called Cumberland Island. It’s a twenty dollar per person ferry ride over but once there we can primitive camp for four dollars a night so it’s definitely within our price range. We decide to go for three nights and buy the appropriate tickets and permits for the following morning. We spend the evening organizing supplies, eating Chinese food and sleeping in a luxurious tree shaded parking spot in the Walmart parking lot.
The ferry ride over the next day takes about an hour. It’s a pretty big catamaran with more than 50 passengers but there are no automobiles because private vehicles are prohibited on the island. We leave the Subaru in a parking lot on the mainland and bring our big backpacks stuffed with everything. We have tent, sleeping bags, food, wine and weed. A very good time is ahead of us indeed.
Arrival is one for the record books. Wow! Paradise found. It’s so amazingly beautiful that it doesn’t even seem real. Like a movie set for a fantasy planet. All of a sudden we are wandering in a whole other world. Seriously, I’m an expert on paradise. I have found paradises (paradaii?) all over this great planet. I spend lots of my time traveling from paradise to paradise. I even build paradises in people’s back yards during my working hours. If anyone knows paradise, it is me. I live and breathe paradise. And if ever there was a contest to determine which place on the planet earth most deserves to be called paradise, Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia in the USA would have to be in the running.
It’s about a half mile walk across the width of the island from the ferry dock to Sea Camp. The trail meanders through a forest of fragrant pine trees where soft pink needles blanket the ground and into a forest of Live Oak trees dressed elegantly in flowing scarves of Spanish Moss. Truly incredible. The harsh ocean winds have stunted and twisted and turned the limbs of the live oaks into unusual shapes that seem almost sculptural. Sunlight shines through the hanging tresses of moss to bathe the surroundings in ethereal light. It’s like walking through a multidimensional very intense giant art installation. It’s hard to believe a place so magical just naturally evolves. But it does. And we set up our tent in the midst of it.
So, here we are in paradise. Me and Ms. B. are living the dream. Just beyond the forest grove where we are set up, is a nearly empty beach. The white sands stretch out for miles without a hotel or motel or restaurant or bar to interrupt. After lunch at camp, we stroll along the shore and collect shells. We like to create using colorful shells and collecting is half the fun. We wade out into the water and consider taking a plunge. But it’s just a little cold for that right now. Maybe tomorrow if the sun gets hotter.
In the evening time, we celebrate. A box of wine, a little weed, a campfire in a forest of oak trees and a full moon shining through the branches. That’s right; we do know how to live. Too much fun…too much fun…a whole lotta things I never done…but I never had too much fun.
It’s on our third day there when we go on the adventure. We originally planned to carry everything and backpack the full length of the fourteen mile island. But instead we decide to leave our tent set up at Sea Camp and day hike just one section of the island at a time. The first section we do, however, is a rather big section. I really am an idiot sometimes and that’s how I get myself in trouble. It’s bad enough when I’m alone, but dragging Ms. B. along on my crazy misadventures is just unfair. I always seem to bite off more than I can chew. I have delusions about my superman like capabilities. Come on Ms, B., it’ll be easy. We’ll hike to the other camp, then do the big loop and then hike back. No prob…piece of cake…we can do it.
Yeah right, it’s a bit like a marathon by the end of it. Ms. B. would probably kill me if she had strength left for the attack. But she doesn’t. She used all her strength hiking and photographing and frolicking in the forest. Now all we can do is trudge slowly down the sand hoping to reach camp before dark. The last hour seems an eternity. The beach goes on forever. Exhaustion, delusion, the never ending quest… Today’s journey is but a microcosm of the much bigger journey that is ever ongoing; lots of struggle and toil but well worth the effort.
We do make it back to camp where we have ourselves a nice big meal but no camp fire. Absolutely exhausted from the day’s endeavors, there will be no celebrating tonight. Instead, we collapse into a blissful sleep in our tent. Surrounded by a grove of oak trees, bathed in the glow of moonlight, Ms. B. and I are slumbering in a little slice of heaven.
The next morning I run with the wild horses. Really, I do. Yeah, I know, I forgot to mention the 140 wild horses that inhabit the island. How cool is that? An island with wild horses in the USA, it’s almost hard to believe. But we saw several yesterday on our long walk and we took a bunch of photos. Now as I stroll the empty beach alone in the first light of morning, I see a group of them off in the distance. Once again, my morning ritual of wake, bake and wander has brought me close contact with the wonderful world.
I’m walking barefoot in the sand on the edge of the shoreline. I carry my flip flops in my hands. I notice the far off horses strolling in my direction. Impulsively, I start jogging towards them. They too pick up their stroll to a trot. We will meet at an arbitrary point ahead in the sand. What will happen when our paths cross? Will they trample me? Will they allow me into their pack? I don’t know, but it’s like a scene from unreality. The human creature runs on the beach. The wild horses run towards him. Will they pass, embrace or fight? Drum roll… Background music. Is this really happening or am I in a dream?
Just before I reach the horses, they turn left and head inland. I turn right and follow them. They are horses, of course and I am only human so I can’t keep up. I lose sight of them after a short distance and my jog slows to a walk. Now that’s what I call a great way to start the day.
The horse trail I now find myself on crosses over the island’s only road. It’s not a paved road and there’s no traffic so it’s very pleasant for walking. I decide to follow it back towards Sea Camp. I walk the road for a half an hour or so and don’t see a single motorized vehicle. A couple early morning cyclists but that’s all. Now this right here, is my kind of universe. If only the rest of the country could be more like this…
I think about it a lot actually. It’s a fundamental change for the good that could happen very easily. A network of “greenways” or “bike paths” criss-crossing the country. We already have a massive transportation network designed around automobiles, we should have a similar network designed around humans. It is the single worst thing about the organizational structure of the American Society. And now in history would be the perfect time to do something about it. Gas guzzling, air polluting automobiles should not be outlawed. But they should not be a human necessity either. Unemployment is sky high. People have to drive automobiles to get to jobs that don’t exist. Why not give people jobs to build a network so people can get around without automobiles. It’s an absolute absurdity. They ban cigarettes to protect people from second hand smoke. But you can’t walk or bike anywhere without being subjected to car exhaust which is a hell of a lot more dangerous. I’m not saying they should ban automobiles. But green routes should be built as a healthy and just alternative to our present roads. Stop investing in gas guzzling wars. Stop re-distributing wealth from the middle class to the rich. Invest in something that will be good for everyone; Build The Bike Path…
Anyway, I make it back to camp and awaken Ms. B. for breakfast. We spend our last day on the island visiting the ruins of the old Carnegie estate on the southern side of the island. It’s a rather grandiose structure that has collapsed into relative nothingness. Mother Nature is re-claiming her territory. There’s a museum on site that tells the story and many visitors go there on tours. We don’t take a tour but we do look at the display. Truly amazing; There’s a paragraph or so about how native Americans lived off the resources of this place for hundreds and hundreds of years before they all died off from small pox that was brought to them by white settlers. And then there are pages and pages and stories and pictures to explain the magnificent Carnegie family and all the jobs they brought to the island and the self sufficient community they set up here using their wealth and prosperity. But the Carnegie wonderland only lasted a couple generations before being overwhelmed by the Great Depression. Perhaps there was a problem with their business model…
So, here we are, standing before the ruins of the Carnegie Mansion with a perfect paradise spreading out around us. Civilization falls, Mother Nature bounces back. The symbolism is perfect. Irony so thick you can taste it on your tongue. And oh how good it tastes…