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[ft-l] Cumberland Island Trip Report (part 2)

Oysters, crackers, cocktail sauce & wine. That was the plan. Set up our base 
camp and trundle off into the wilderness with our day packs, find a fresh bed 
of oysters. It's amazing how quickly plans go awry...

Armadillos kept distracting me. Sure, I've seen them before, but never so 
many, so frequently. Popping out from under bushes, truffling through layers 
of decaying debris, digging for grubs. I frequently stop for photos, enough 
so that the entire group starts to search for armadillos for me. There aren't 
any rocks to speak of on Cumberland Island so, hey-- a new and different 
quirky distraction!

Feel the wealth. The power. Something -- certainly not the scant funds of the 
NPS -- transformed this tumbledown old Settlement church into a gleaming 
white monument. JFK jr. stood in this very spot, vowed his pledge to his 
bride, far away from the clicking shutters of the paparazzi. Perhaps that's 
why the funds poured in. Its pews speak of the days when the newly-freed 
slaves gathered here to worship. But there are no black residents left now on 
Cumberland Island. Like other National Parks, properties revert to the 
federal government after the last deedholder dies. There aren't many of them 
left now, since the park's inception in 1973-- Millers, Olsons, Greenes, 
Candlers, a Carnegie or two. Some folks whose familes' prescence on the 
island date back to the Revolutionary War. And they do their darndest to 
lobby their congressman against the wilderness designation of the park. With 
a handful of properties left -- townhomes for rent, an upscale bed & 
breakfast, millionaire's mansions --  it's hard for them to let go, let the 
houses fall to the bulldozer like their poorer neighbors, who needed the 
government's cash. To give up the island way of life. And sitting on the 
shoreline, watching the tide wash over the oysters, not a cloud in the sky, 
not a soul nearby, I taste moments of what they must have always enjoyed. Can 
you blame them for fighting to stay?

Our wilderness experience spoiled. This is the third time today we encounter 
the jeeploads of tourists, and I'm not amused. After an unsuccessful stab at 
oystering -- the oysters all tainted, dead -- we round a bend towards the 
ruins of a wharf. Walking along the driftwood-strewn shore, I see a face peer 
over the high sand bluff. Then another. Damn! They're back! These folks pay 
BIG bucks -- $250 to $490 a night -- to stay at the exclusive Grayfield Bed & 
Breakfast, so they get carted around in jeeps to experience the sights that 
we've perservered on foot to enjoy. All this using roads through a designated 
wilderness area! 

It adds insult to injury to arrive on foot at the Plum Orchard mansion a 
couple days later only to be refused a tour until the B&B crowd gets their 
walk through the mansion first. 

I felt like a snowplow, tearing through the overgrown trail, pushing 
palmettos and briars away at every step. Morning chill hadn't yet lifted as 
we trundled down the Brickhill Trail, double-step, trying to stay warm. I 
stopped, pointed, halted the group. Horses! Three of them, browsing in the 
fountaintail grass, the wild descendents of the train-car-ful of horses that 
Thomas Carnegie set loose on the island in the 1920s. They watch us; we watch 
them. Another successful animal encounter. 

Whomp! Whomp! Judy battles through the night with a mole intent on burrowing 
up into her tent. The mole wins; she moves the tent. I get startled by a 
rustle in the night, half-awakening from a dream of someone trying to get 
into my tent. It turns out to be a raccoon sauntering through the campsite. 
But we've had pretty good luck with nocturnal visitors. Diane got spooked the 
first night when a wren buzzed her hat at dusk. The wild horses, so far, have 
stayed on the perimeter; we can hear their snorts, feel their hooves. We all 
hung our food bags the night the raccoons were spotted, a hilarious spaghetti 
tangle of strings and bags. In the evenings, we play virtual campfire around 
the red glow of my photon light; then, Gloria produces a candle, and we 
huddle around it as it casts a warm aura of reflected light from within a 
windscreen. Temperatures drop into the 20s. We Floridians sure are 
freezing...I wake to ice along the rim of my water carrier. But the 
temperature inside my Nomad (flap staked all the way out) never drops below 
40. Why, I wonder?

...more to come...
Cheers, Navigator
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