Looking through some old photos, I found these from my trip to Cumberland Island last fall, where nature is slowly reclaiming the old Carnegie estate. The last one is my favorite.
I’ve been too busy with work to do much exploring, photographing, etc. this week, but I have some photos of sea stars saved from my trip to Cumberland Island that I’ve been meaning to share. (I’ve managed to break myself of saying “starfish” – they’re not fish, after all!)
I have yet to see any sea stars on our beach here on Jekyll Island, but we found them in abundance on Cumberland. There were a lot of dead, drying ones along the tide line, but we also found a couple at the edge of the waves that were still alive.
This one had been crawling across the sand – I had to crank up the contrast on the photo to make the trail show up, and it still doesn’t look that great, but I think it’s cool.
“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away/Wild wild horses, we’ll ride them someday…”
So sang the Rolling Stones back in 1971. It would seem that everyone, from British rock bands to American schoolgirls, loves wild horses. When I was in grade school I was one of those kids who loved horses from afar, reading about them and drawing pictures of them without ever learning to ride. I devoured the Saddle Club books and the works of Marguerite Henry. We love wild horses because we see them as symbols of freedom, of, well, wildness. But of course they aren’t technically wild at all – they’re feral, descended from domesticated ancestors, and the issue of feral horse management is much more controversial than my starry-eyed fifth-grade self understood.
They may not be as famous as the ponies of Assateague Island or the mustangs of the Great Plains, but Cumberland Island, Georgia is also home to a herd of feral horses, the descendents of escapees from Spanish explorers onward. Pretty they certainly are, grazing among the ruined grandeur of the old mansions or lounging on the beach. I can’t deny that I enjoyed seeing them on a day trip to Cumberland last weekend.
And yet. Horses are not native to the island, anymore than the feral hogs (which I doubt anyone feels particularly sentimental about!), or the deer who were introduced there for the pleasure of hunters. Cumberland is a National Seashore, and a large part of its area is a federally-designated wilderness; its dune ecosystem is fragile and would blow away without the plants that keep it in place, plants that horses eat. Does an invasive population of large grazing animals really belong there, just because we humans think they add to the place’s picturesque atmosphere?
No effort has been made to reduce the size of the herd since the 1970s. For now, the horses are there to stay.
As I’ve mentioned, next month I’m moving to Jekyll Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia. Sun, sand, and salt marshes. This will be the first time I’ve lived near the ocean, but I spent my final spring break as a college student backpacking on Cumberland Island, the next one over from the one I’m moving to, which is preserved as a National Seashore. Cumberland (unlike Jekyll) can only be reached by ferry, and the number of people there at any one time is kept limited.
The beaches were the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen, white sand, no litter, very few people, studded with conchs and sand dollars. Inland from the beach was a forest of live oaks and palmettos, where armadillos were as common as squirrels are here in Ohio.
Jekyll is inhabited, and connected to the mainland via causeway. I know it’s not going to be this pristine. But I’m still excited.