Cumberland Island National Seashore is the largest barrier island off the coast of Georgia. Its rich history of inhabitants include the Timucuan peoples, African slaves, the Carnegie Family, and now everyday campers. The island is reported to have the highest diversity and density of birds in the entire state of Georgia. Every year the eighteen miles of undeveloped beach is impregnated with endless sea turtle nests and The Wild Woman of Cumberland Island works tirelessly to defend them. The maritime hammock forest that spans the island has remained in tact, giving the forest an ineffable sense of being in modern and ancient time at once. Cumberland Island is one of the rarest places in America.
Going to Cumberland is visiting an Ancestor - a living being that keeps the ways of life and mysteries. For many a day tripper, going to the island might be like any other. But for me, Cumberland is best approached with respect, reverence, and deliberate intention.
For the second year, it's been the place of pilgrimage for my annual renewal fast. Four four days I walked slowly among the oak trees, listened to the ageless ocean tides, and slept under a blanket of stars and fireflies. On the second day, while walking a detritus-rich trail I came upon a woman, with her back arched, chin raised, and arm stretched back - a living figurehead of the forest. A Live Oak Woman.
Live Oak Woman echoed the voices of the birds, trees, and wind. She stood rooted into the quartz-packed soil, pointing the way forward. Hidden in plain sight, she went about her way offering a glimpse into mystery for any who dared to look.
Live Oak Woman reminded me of the power women hold to tell the story of the land. She awoke my inner eight year old who swore allegiance to protect tadpoles, water striders, and muskrats. She bore witness to the moral authority of my lived experience.
I returned from my annual wilderness fast renewed to my commitment to echo the voices of the animals, plants, and elements; and to guide others through challenging parts of their pilgrimage home. Unlike last year, my return home was more gentle. However, I did quickly learn that like almost every beautiful place on earth, people believe they can have it for themselves.
This enchanted island is again under pressure for 1000 acres of development. Almost all of Cumberland is public land, save for some inholdings. And some of those inholding owners (heirs to fortunes) want to develop paved roads (there are none on Cumberland) and subdivide the land into estates. If the development is approved it will forever change the land by eroding it's untamed nature and increasing tension between public and private interests.
As a woman standing in the moral authority of my lived experience, I oppose this development outright. I don't need an archive full of scientific evidence, nor a litany of complaints to justify my reasons. I have stood at the feet of Live Oak Woman and remembered my power to echo the voices of the birds, trees, and wind.
Cumberland Island is an Ancestor unto itself. May we act on behalf of those that keep the ways of life and mystery.