American Holly

American Holly
American Holly

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thankful on Cumberland Island

 Heat up that cup of coffee before starting this - it's another long post. But it's hard to condense 10 miles  of walking and taking pictures into a short post.

Thanksgiving morning found me standing in line at The Cumberland Island Visitor Center to check in for a forty-five minute ferry ride to Cumberland Island. The big winter storm had passed through, leaving chilly air behind but dragging the clouds away.  People in line were in a strange mix of summer clothes - short and sandals - and winter clothes - heavy socks, hats, tights or long pants. I had on long underwear tops and bottoms with a fleece top plus a wind breaker, my new wool hat I'd bought for my souvenir from the Boundary Waters, and my left glove.  (I needed a glove-less hand to take pictures.)

Click here to see a full sized map of the island

While  passengers streamed onto the ferry and into the closed cabin, I asked if I could go up on top.  "Of course", replied the ranger.  The sign said the limit on top was 40 people but I was only joined by two other people for part of the trip. I enjoyed trying to catch pictures of the gulls following the ship and of  views along the way. I even got to get my first view of Cumberland's wild horses from the ferry.


Waiting ferry

Ferry followers

I decided my best course was to get off at the first stop, the dock by the ice-house museum, explore to the south, then east and north and eventually arrive back at the Sea Camp Ranger Station Dock  After seeing the horses, south of of the dock, I wanted to get close enough to get some pictures.  So I immediately headed south.  The tide was out so I could walk  in areas that would be under water later.  The group of  ponies were grazing in the marsh grass.


Ice house museum dock

Landscape near Dungeness Ruins - these oaks were important in ship building

The horse that came down my back trail

 I worked slowly and carefully to get close enough to get a picture without spooking them. Suddenly a pony walked out of the brush behind me and the continued right past me, about twenty feet away, totally ignoring me. Then a father and daughter walked so close to the other group of ponies that, in my long lens, they looked to be almost touching the ponies. So while he horses are feral, they are not very wild. I played around in this area for over an hour, then started to enjoy some of the Dungeness Ruins.

This particular version was built by Thomas M Carnegie, brother of Andrew Carnegie, and his wife, Lucy.  Thomas died before it was completed but Lucy and her nine children lived here, and had lots of important visitors.  There is an entire village of buildings that supported this mansion, including a recreational building, servants quarters, a coach house, greenhouses, and other buildings. For an interesting discussion on the history of this site, click here. Unskilled workers made fifty cents a day, while skilled workers earned a dollar per day.


Dugenesss Ruins
You can use your phone here and at the other remains and listen to  an audio discussion by the NPR.  I listened to a couple of the talks but was way more interested in seeing more of the island, so I continued east, to a where the trail branched to a boardwalk over the marsh, before connecting back up with the trail to the Atlantic side of the island.


First view of the back side of the dunes on the Atlantic side

The boardwalk over a marsh

A view of the marsh from the boardwalk, looking back to the Georgia coast

Some of the many tree skeletons.  The beach is moving south east at the rate of an inch per year.  That may be what  killed these trees.

A boardwalk across the dunes to the beach

The dunes flattening out to become the beach
The Atlantic side was much colder and I was walking into a north wind.  The tide was starting to come in and birds were starting to feed at various spots along the way.  Other birds were closer to the dunes, probably to avoid the wind. The views into the dunes were often stunning and I also did some diversions into the dunes to get out of the cold wind.  I followed pony trails and saw several more of the feral horses.

Horseshoe crab shell remains

A more recently dead crab

Some of a mixed flock of birds

This ring billed gull got its dinner
By about 12:30 P.M., I had gotten up to the turn to Sea Camp. The campsites there are in little openings under the live oaks with a thick growh of palmettos under them. I investigated a few camps and spoke to a few of the campers.  Soon I was at the ranger station.  Of interest to me were the cars parked there and covered with tarps. I found out that the landowners who gave up their land for the park,kept their right to drive on the island.  These are their vehicles.


The most beautiful horse I saw - she was in the dunes along the Atlantic side

A natural sand sculpture

The last flower still blooming

A camp site tucked under the live oakes and surrounded by the palmettos

Some of the rental bikes

If you have trouble walking, just bring your pusher

Haul your gear to camp in one of these carts/wagons

I visited the ranger station but it had very little in the way of displays.  But it did have several rocking chairs on the porch - I enjoyed a little snooze in one of them while waiting to board the ferry. 

Since I still had a few hours of time left, I continued up Parallel Trail  toward Stafford Beach.  When I found a  road out to the beach, I took it and did some more walking out in the open.  (The trail is through a dense forest of mostly live oaks and some pines under planted with with lots of palmetto, wax myrtles, a little holly and a few other plants species.)


Parallel Trail

I came back to the road via the access road to Little Greyfield Beach and again walked under a dark canopy of trees.  Several bikers passed me - they are only allowed on the roads and not the trails.




Bikers on the road north of the Ranger Station

I arrived back at the Ranger Station forty-five minutes early and enjoyed just sitting, rocking and dozing while waiting for the ferry to let us load. The sun set as we were returning and I took my last picture off the ferry before disembarking. 




As I was dozing on the ferry trip back - this time in the cabin - I overheard a gentleman talking to his companions.  He had served as a volunteer at many National Parks and was a wealth of information. He mentioned that the British had emancipated about 1200 slaves from Cumberland Island and recruited many of the men to fight in the 1812 war.  He said the British gave the slaves three choices of where to go.  I only remembered one of them being Halifax but it piqued my curiosity so I did a little more reading when I got home. It seems the British had an outpost on the island and recruited slaves to fight for them.  Then they were given their choice of Halifax, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or Trinidad.  Trinidad was apparently the winning choice.  Here is a little more information on that time. By the time the Civil War ended, there were about 400 slaves on the island. Some of them received plots of land on the island and built a little community on the north end of the island. They became part of the Gullah people, although I believe the slaves were raising a very fine kind of cotton on the island know as Sea Island Cotton, as well as rice. Here is some more information.

Can't wait to go back and look for birds and buildings at the north end of the island. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Meet an Extradorinary Craftswoman

While wandering from booth to booth at the Cane Grinding Festival at Okefenokee NWR, I was attracted to some wonderful functional art.  Some of it was decorated gourds that had been cut into bowls and decorated in various ways.


The gourd on the left has a drawing of the Chasser house and yard on it



Each pine cone "leaf" has been taken off a pine cone, then glued back into the pattern of a pine cone

Then I looked up at the woman  who was showing her work and realized that this was Sally, a local volunteer. She is currently running the gift shop for Okefenokee Wildlife League, the friends group of this refuge. She seems to be a quiet, but friendly number cruncher so I was blown away to see this whole other side of her.

In addition to the gourds, I was even more impressed by  her baskets.  She had two on the table and was working on another one that was attached to deer antlers. Her medium is long leaf pine needles and raffia.  This is the same medium that the Coushatta Indians, that live in East Texas and Central Louisiana use to make their baskets.  Since I went to school with some of this tribe and loved their work - even had a large basked with a lid when I had stuff - I felt a kinship with her.


This basket won first place at a local fair.

This tray tied with the pine cone gourd bowl for my favorite piece.

I lingered at the table to listen to Sally discuss with visitors how she made this gourd basket.

To make this basket.....


First make sure the gourd is dry.  Then cut the top off of it. Scoop out all the seeds and pulp.

When it looks like this, color it with shoe polish then punch holes around the neck  to hold the trim and mount the handle. Click on the picture to more easily see the holes she has started around the top. 


When the visitor left,  she went back to working on the basket in progress.  See how she is working it around the deer antlers? She uses a needle to weave the raffia around the bundles of pine needles.




I thought she must be a local person who had learned this craft from her relatives.  But she is actually from up north - I think she said Pennsylvania.  She learned to make split oak baskets when she lived up there and then took up this type of basket making and gourd decoration after she moved down here. 

Getting to meet people like Sally is one of the most exciting aspects of this traveling life. Another traveler wrote in his blog that when you travel, you don't become lonely because you have left your friends behind - you still keep up with them - but are now able to meet  lots more of the same kinds of people you enjoy.

That is certainly true of me - and sometimes I even get old friends to come visit me.

This blog is scheduled to come out right before Thanksgiving. I'm going to have Thanksgiving early since I want to go to Cumberland Island Thanksgiving Day.  I'm making only my absolute favorite parts of the traditional dinner - the turkey, the cornbread dressing, Momma Stamberg's cranberry sauce, and the pie filling which I'll just have a a pudding. I invited one of the staff over because she is cancelling her plans to travel, due to the storm.  We'll be enjoying dinner on Wednesday night.

So far, the turkey is in the brine, the cranberry sauce is freezing and I'm about to make the dressing.

Hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful and that the storm doesn't stop you from your intended destinations or keep your guests away.  But either way, hope you have enough time to list all your blessings.


Monday, November 25, 2013

A Sweet Treat

What's sweet, hot, melodic, interesting, and engaging?

The Annual Okefenokee Cane Grinding Festival, that's what.

There is one house remaining on Chesser Island which is on the auto tour here at Okefenokee NWR. It was built by Tom Chesser and his wife Ida, for the gigantic sum of $200.00. The rest of the Chesser family lived nearby and they all made a living raising sugar cane and tobacco, and harvesting turpentine.  They also had a garden, chickens and hogs. I'm sure they also hunted and fished since this area is rich in ducks, wild turkeys, and deer.

The best first view of the house is from the staff/volunteer entrance through a tunnel of trees

Tom's father moved into the area in the late 1890's and some members of the family lived on Chesser Island until after the Refuge was established in 1937.  Tom and Ira lived in their house until 1958. Their relatives still live in the area and some of them work for the Refuge or for Okefenokee Adventures, the concessionaire that offers guided tours and rents canoes and kayaks. So staff that have been here the longest, have lots of stories to tell along with the relatives that work here.

 The Refuge has maintained the house.  Ida took her furniture with her when she moved out but helped the Refuge staff buy furniture in the same style. So the house is one of those living museums with volunteers acting as docents to bring the history alive.

One of the AmeriCorps workers visits with the horse who is waiting to grind the cane



Each year, a local volunteer grows cane and then donates it to the refuge. Other volunteers, including several of the Chesser descendents, come to help grind the cane, boil it up, and then can it. They also showcase hunting, fishing, the natural history of the swamp, old-time games, quilting, soap making, and other crafts. Local musicians also come and play and there are old-timey  games and activities for children (and the young at heart).

The cane grinder is ready to go - just add horse and a person to feed the cane into the grinder

I came back on my break to find all the cane had been pressed and the juice was bubbling away in the cauldron.   It takes about three hours to make the cane syrup.  Oh yes, and be SURE not to watch the pot or it may never make.


Not watching the cane boil - but being ready to add wood as needed

 Each year, a local volunteer grows cane and then donates it to the refuge. Other volunteers, including several of the Chesser descendents, come to help grind the cane, boil it up, and then can it. They also showcase, hunting, fishing, the lore of the swamp, old-time games, quilting, soap making, and other crafts.


The Blue Goose and Ali the Alligator made an appearance


Naturalist Don Berryhill brought his skulls and told mesmerizing stories - this one about alligator teeth


Sarah, a staffer and husband Noah had a booth on hunting and fishing


Jackie discusses how to make lye soap

Some of the musicians I didn't get to hear

My boss, Gracie Gooch  gives the start for two AmeriCorps bag racers

The loser of hop-in-a-gunney sack race







Kids enjoyed trying to keep their hoops going


I had to work the visitor center and didn't get to catch all the action. Check out the Refuge's Facebook album for more pictures. (And a little redundancy.)

Sorry for the lateness.  I work Wednesday - Saturday and with wanting to do exercising, find out more about the area, get settled in and just goof off, I'm falling behind on my blogs.  I'll try to catch up soon.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Okefenokee From the Tour Boat

The second day I was here, I was told to go make arrangements  to join on of the ninety minute guided tours of the swamp, starting from the boat basin, next door to the visitor center. This is part of the orientation for all workers.

Looking out over the boat basin

Leaves are turning but the Spanish moss stays the same

Our guide was a local who who grew up listening to stories about the swamp and who obviously loves it. He added a lot to the entertainment. The day was slightly cool and I didn't expect to see any alligators but we ended up seeing several, including one that let us drift up to within about ten feet of it. It just opened an eye every once in a while to check on us.

Our Guide

There were lots of new-to-me plants and some I've haven't seen for a long time.  A huge flock of little blue herons, with many white, first year juveniles were sitting in trees along the Suwanee Canal and flew down in front of us. We also disturbed a great blue heron as well as snowy and great egrets.

The cypress du jour was all pond cypress - but bald cypress occurs here also


Dahoon Holly was all ready for the holidays


And titi was also getting ready

We put up a huge flock of little blue herons

But only saw one great blue heron

Our path was down the Suwanee Canal to an island where we turned into the Chesser Prairie. The island was a junction of several different canoe trails.  We were only able to go into the prairie for a short distance as it was quite shallow.  But we did get to look at the bladderworts, which float around in huge masses and catch microorganisms in trapdoors in their bladders. I'll have to get some better pictures to show you.


This island is at a junction of several canoe trails. Gotta get in paddling shape.

Our guide and Chesser Prairie


A sunning alligator that let us drift right up next to him

By the time we started back, we started to meet paddlers and saw more gators in the canal.


Sneaky back non-paddler

Most gators looked like this

It was definitely a beautiful experience.  Can't wait until I can get out in my canoe. Definitely another of life's tough jobs.