The horse video

This is only a fraction of the time we got to look at the horse Jenn describes in this entry.

We'd seen lots of wild horses there on Cumberland Island -- descendants of the Carnegie livestock from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and maybe some old Spanish horses from hundreds of years earlier, the park rangers think. But this was the first one we saw who was really trucking, not just munching grass.

I first saw him galloping around a bend in the river, all the way back behind the trees on the right in the video. He sees us on the bridge when he's in the middle of the river, and that's when I finally got the camera rolling. He's a pretty big flirt, as you can see.

Cumberland's lighter side

Here's a column I wrote for the paper after we returned from the vacation.
-- Brad

A couple of weeks ago, I'd have told you that armadillos don't exist as living animals. That's because I'd only ever seen them on their backs, on the sides of interstates. In fact, I had a theory that they were all rubber, manufactured by Goodyear from used tires through some sort of recycling grant.

But they do live. They all, apparently, come from Cumberland Island on the Georgia coast. How they all sneak on the ferry to the mainland only to be run over by a Peterbuilt truck is anyone's guess. They're everywhere on the island proper, though -- on the trails, in your campsite, in your tent.

The true existence of the armadillo is only one of many valuable lessons I learned on a recent vacation to the gorgeous, isolated national seashore. Among the others:

• There are clear signs that you've been attacked by a snake, per a poster tacked up at Cumberland's Sea Camp headquarters. Those signs are "bites" and "pain." There are even more troubling signs that you've been attacked by other wildlife, consisting of "bites" and "bleeding." Those are good to remember, in case, you know, you forget actually being attacked by an animal.

• The spiders you can see spanning the live oak trees everywhere are called banana spiders. You might think this is to make them sound harmless, but it's actually because they're as big as bananas. Also, the names Giant Spiders of Death, Wild Hog Bloodsuckers, and Spawn of Shelob were deemed bad for tourism. (I'm not sure what these spiders really eat. Clearly, not mosquitoes.)

• The nearby city of Folkston, Ga., boasts "Train Watching at its Best!" on highway signs at its bounds. I don't know which is nuttier, making that claim, or knowing that there's another city close to Columbus that might challenge it.

• When given a choice, sharks prefer roadways to open water. How else do you explain the preponderance of shark teeth on the sides of the shell-paved roads at Cumberland? Rangers will tell you the teeth are dredged from the water along with the sand and shell. Hogwash, say I.

• And speaking of hogs, I learned that there are ninja pigs. When my wife and I were riding bikes north on the main road, we stopped when we heard a bit of a stirring in the brush. She's looking to the side, where we heard the noise. I'm looking back at her, and I see two shadowy oinkers dart across the road behind her. I know what you're thinking: So that's how Miss Piggy learned karate.


Cumberland Island (seventh day)

Friday, Aug. 15, 2008
Wednesday's storms were intense but caused only minor damage on the island -- although we heard a tornado touched down in St. Mary's.*

We rented bikes yesterday and rode eight miles to Plum Orchard, stopping at the Stafford Cemetery on the way. There were deer and herds of wild pigs, but the most beautiful sight of the week was a young stallion galloping up and down a creek bed. When he spotted us, he raced down the creek bed and didn't stop until he was twenty feet away. He checked us out, whinnied, and galloped away. I could hardly breathe.**

Plum Orchard is a historic mansion that's being restored by the NPS. The deep wrap-around porch held a swinging daybed upon which Brad and I ate our lunch. All week I had been saving the jalepeƱo cheese and wheat crackers, vanilla pound cake, and Skittles from the MRE for the occasion. Ten-year-old food never tasted so good.***

Only minutes after we began our journey home, a terrible storm came out of nowhere, soaking us to the bone. After sealing the camera in a Ziploc, there was nothing we could do but laugh at how miserable we were.**** It was a long eight-mile ride back to camp. A long, long eight-mile ride back to camp.

The rain finally let up around dinnertime, and I made a huge pot of spaghetti with pesto and salmon. Meanwhile, Brad -- who wisely stored our wood under a tarp -- began building our evening fire. It seemed to be the only fire on the island, and it caught the attention of our next-door neighbor, a young kayaker from Scotland, who came over to borrow some kindling. He never did get a fire going. I wish I weren't so shy sometimes; I should have invited him over to sit by our fire and have a cup of hot chocolate. I planned to extend the invitation today, but he broke camp and left early this morning.

The reason we missed his departure is we left before sunrise to ride to the southern tip of the island, the best place for birdwatching. We rode our bikes the 1.5 miles to Dungeness Trail, passing through what we like to call Vulture Valley. The red-headed turkey vultures stared down at us -- quite eerily -- making us feel as if we were part of a deserted western landscape.***** Before Vulture Valley, we rode by an open field where grazing deer and skittish wild turkeys gathered.

We ditched our bikes when the trail reached the beach and walked another 2.5 miles to Pelican Banks. Along the way, we saw royal terns, least terns, herring gulls, banded gulls, brown pelicans, semipalmated sandpipers, and a tall stork-like brown bird that I'm determined to identify. Coming back, we took the boardwalk and saw two osprey flying over the marsh. We made one last stop at the public dock hoping to see manatees, but there were too many motorboats stirring up the water.

After dinner, we took our chairs down to the beach to watch the moon rise. Then back to camp for one last cup of hot chocolate. Good night, Cumberland.

Brad's footnotes
* An oak tree fell across the only path between us and the Sea Camp dock, which is where you rented the bikes. This proved, as you might imagine, inconvenient.
** I'll post a video of this later.
*** All that extra food she mentions came solely from her MRE. Those things are jam-packed with food. I ate all of mine the day before, because I'm a fat pig. OK, I did share the two large Tootsie Rolls.
**** Cussing and yelling counts as other stuff we could have done. Admittedly, I might have done some of that, until we got the camera safely sealed up.
***** Seriously. I kept waiting for the tumbleweed to roll by and a cue for the music by Ennio Morricone. It was weird.

Cumberland Island (fifth day)

Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008

We awoke early yesterday morning to watch the sunrise over the beach. On the way to the bath house, we sneaked up on a doe with her fawn*. We stood so quietly that they didn't notice us for a full minute; then a second doe emerged from the wood. Another thirty seconds passed before they walked silently back into the forest. We strolled through Dragonfly Alley** and made it to the beach just in time to watch the blood-orange sun rise through the clouds.

The rest of the morning was spent reading at the camp -- until a pileated woodpecker showed up, pounding on every tree in sight. He was gorgeous, easily the size of a crow, with a huge red crest of tufted feathers. I followed him about until the bugger started pelting me with chunks of bark.

Around 2:00, the rain set in and didn't stop until 10:00 this morning. Brad and I curled up, napping to the sound of rain hitting the tent.*** As soon as a little light broke through the clouds, we made a break for the beach, eager to stretch our legs. The shore was covered in starfish and, as soon we would throw one back in the surf (thinking we were saving its life), it would swim toward shore again.**** Maybe they were mating?

Good thing we went for a walk earlier, because the thunder is rumbling and a tornado watch is in effect until 6 p.m. Hopefully nothing will come of it.
Brad's footnotes
* The deer were all over the place, once we started looking. I'd seen one ducking into the brush on our first day there, and surprised two by the park amphitheater the night before. Still, this was the longest and most spectacular sighting.
** Dragonflies are always drawn to Jenn, for whatever reason. But this valley in the dunes, running parallel to the shoreline, was always full of the winged critters.
*** Sounds romantic, huh? And it was, until we spent the next two days in the tent, dodging the rain.
**** Jenn is trying to forget this, but after I carried a starfish to the water, she picked one up to do the same. She was holding it by its little arm, which broke off. That's what really convinced us to leave them alone...

Cumberland Island (second day)

Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008

We arrived by ferry on Cumberland Island yesterday, and the last 24 hours have been phenomenal. We're camped in Site #9, the most secluded on the island,* and our tent is completely enveloped by gnarled live oaks and a dense understory of palmettos. A fire ring lies in the middle of camp and, as I write, Brad is starting our evening fire.** We awoke at sunrise (after an unsettling nightly encounter with an armadillo) and walked to the beach, where we spent an hour watching dolphins and pelicans search for breakfast.

At 9:45 we strolled to the dock hoping to find Susan and Jeff on the ferry. God love 'em, they left Savannah at 6:30 this morning to catch the early ferry and spend the day with us. We all walked to the Dungeness estate ruins on the south end of the island, which were beautiful but nothing compared to the wild horses that grazed in the fields. A cattle egret skittered between the legs of the horses, eating bugs, and a peregrin falcon flew overhead. On our way back, we were drawn to the public dock by the sound of manatees surfacing. Six enourmous cows were floating in the shallows, and their breathing was so loud it sounded as if they were on respirators.*** I hope we can swim with them before the week is over.

We lunched on four-year-old MREs**** left over from Hurricane Ivan (fitting for a visit with Susan and Jeff) and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the ocean. The water was flat, calm and warm and felt wonderful after the day's walk. We said goodbye to Susan and Jeff as they left on the 4:45 ferry, but we'll see them again next Saturday. We'll probably spend the rest of the evening sitting around the fire.*****

I love Cumberland.
Brad's footnotes
* Also the longest walk to the bathrooms, as a result.
** She's being kind. I failed miserably during this first attempt, thanks to soaking wet wood and a lack of Boy Scout training.
*** It was almost exactly like the first half of the Darth-Vader-breathing-sound.
**** We got the MREs four years ago. We actually think they date back to the first Gulf War.
***** Wrong.