Cumberland Island is the largest and southern-most barrier island off the coast of Georgia, in the southeastern US. It lies between Fernandina Beach, Florida, to the south and Jekyll Island, Georgia, to the north. Interestingly, it has little similarity to either of those popular destinations. No bridge connects the island with the mainland; you must arrive by boat, which for most tourists means a short ferry ride. Anyone familiar with the pace of growth in southern coastal areas will quickly see that, without a bridge, little development can occur – and that is the simple explanation for today’s Cumberland Island.
Although the island was originally inhabited nearly 4,000 years ago and has a rich history that includes native Indians, Spanish and English settlements and a cotton plantation in the 1800s, it was the purchase of the majority of this island by Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew Carnegie, in the 1880s that determined the ultimate and fortunate fate of this amazing place. The descendants of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie successfully fought to have the island included in the National Seashore (established in 1972), diverting it from the path of industrial and commercial development that it had at one time been traveling. Most importantly, the family was adamant that there would be no bridge, thereby limiting the island’s attractiveness to those who would exploit it.
My husband and I visited Cumberland Island in April of this year, our stay wedged between a couple days at Amelia Island (near Fernandina Beach) and a couple more days in Pinehurst, North Carolina. It had been on our vacation wish list for a long time and for once it fit neatly into our plans. We stayed at the Greyfield Inn (only hotel on the island) and arrived there aboard the inn’s small ferry that departs from the main pier in Fernandina Beach.
The Inn itself is quite an experience, given its origin as one of the original Carnegie “cottages”, and the staff there makes one feel almost like a guest of the Carnegies themselves. My real interest, though, was in experiencing (on foot and bicycle) the natural coastal environment that has been preserved on this island for everyone’s enjoyment. It is simply fascinating to think that at one time most of the southern coastline was awash in these coastal Live Oaks, adorned with Resurrection Ferns and surrounded by unruly-but-exuberant palmettos.
To the west there are large areas of salt marsh and to the east the maritime forest gives way suddenly to an extraordinary 17-mile shoreline, seemingly forgotten by the typical hordes of sun-lovers and surfers. The only true beach-goers here are the wild horses that live unfettered over the entire island. I hope my images do this island the justice it deserves.
Redfish Hole is not exactly what it seems. Yes, it is a popular fishing spot for locals – residents of the little-known Nature Coast that runs along the “big bend” of Florida’s west coast. To me, though, it is about so much more than fish. Due to a natural ridge that extends far out into the marshes, the Hole offers one the rare opportunity to wander through everything from scrubby flat-woods and hardwoods to tidal salt marshes, and to experience at close range and in all seasons the marvelous details of those natural communities. But most importantly for this artist, Redfish Hole is a fitting archetype for the 12 million acres of public conservation lands in Florida, a large portion of which exist along its coastline.
I tend to return to Redfish Hole often to enjoy the timeless quiet and to shoot what I find there (artistically speaking). To be completely truthful, this occurs more often in the cooler months, as the wretched “no-see-ums” and mosquitos can ruin a summer morning. The four images I’ve included here were all captured this past spring. I’m no bird photographer, for sure, but these first two shots just begged for my attention. It was just after sunrise and there wasn’t a breath of breeze – the water in the marsh was mirror-smooth. With my short telephoto lens, I could actually pre-visualize an expanse of bright smooth water framing the heron as he foraged for breakfast. It’s one of my favorites from the Hole. With one possibly-successful image in-hand, I tried a similar approach on the ducks. In post-processing, I blended in a texture from Flypaper Textures to give it more depth, but the idea is the same.
The next photo from the Hole is included here as context. This is one of the wonderful palm hammocks that dot this coastline. It’s a bit frustrating to shoot traditional landscapes along this coast because the terrain is so flat and it’s difficult to pull in the details in the middle-ground and background. I’m satisfied with this one, though. I went with black-and-white (all those beautiful greens tend to blend together in color images) and gave it a very subtle infrared look in Photoshop, especially in the crowns of the palms, to give it a bit of contrast.
The final image is admittedly a bit of self-indulgence. I just love Sabal Palms (also known as cabbage palms). I love the textures and beautiful symmetry of the leaf bases and the browned fronds that hang tenaciously under the fresh new growth for a full season and more, giving a stand of Sabals a soft three-dimensional and iconic look that appeals to me. In the extreme, the palm’s crown completely dies but stays perched on the trunk, as shown here (high-key black-and-white), to serve as the perfect aerie for a couple of lucky ospreys to set up housekeeping. Nature’s recycling.
Back to Judy…
Okay, there’s something you need to know from the start. When my make-every-minute-count pal Kathleen plied me with pancakes and unlimited coffee following a grueling 7:00 a.m. trek around a golf course in the rain last week, she had me primed to say “yeh, sure” to almost anything. I was hungry, my feet hurt, and at that weak moment she struck. “Let’s collaberate on a blog,” she said. I was happily pouring syrup when I experienced some sort of involuntary action and agreed.
Admittedly, I’ve been experiencing a creative slump that has allowed time for my obsessive-compulsive side to seek and repair baseboard paint nicks throughout the house. Still, I thought my contributions to our golf course walk conversations have had real merit. During this quality time together, Kathleen talks about advanced photo techniques gleaned from countless classes and books, thrilling itineraries for upcoming trips, and the intellectual stimulation derived from her career. In turn, I share with her the joys of having orderly closets, and reminisce about my long-gone dog Agatha, whose passing I fully and continually blame for the abyss into which my artistic abilities have fallen. Apparently, Kathleen has grown bored by this and feels a need to fix me. Thus this blog, into which I was cunningly tricked.
Begrudgingly, I smile as I type this. She always knows how to jumpstart my lighter side.
So … this morning, I recklessly abandoned my quest for flawless baseboards and popped a freshly charged battery into my Canon. And then I sat down to compose and post this entry, rather than suffer a look of disdain from Kathleen when I try to enjoy my pancakes next week.
Be forewarned that I will frequently use this blog to carp and moan about the constant prodding I endure from my ebullient friend. In defense of my grousing, I will tell you that the last thing she talked me into was a 5:30 a.m. drive to Payne’s Prairie, a spectacular 22,000 acre state preserve near Gainesville, “to get some good Florida nature shots,” she said. It proved to be yet another exhilarating experience in our seven year friendship. I now share my quickly snapped shots documenting THAT day …
(It should be mentiontioned here that Kathleen’s photos from this excursion include finely detailed landscapes, wild horses, and the graceful forms of grand old oaks. She and everyone else who’s visited the preserve will say I missed tons of beautiful sights while I was fumbling with my telephoto lens to get these images. Their story. )
Having a friend like Kathleen means that every time she utters the words, “What would you think if we …,” I sit back, fold my arms defensively across my chest, and wait for the surprise. Whatever her scheme, it will require me to think, work, learn, or stretch my imagination (and sometimes keep an eye out for approaching alligators). But who’s complaining?
She had lived at the end of a picture-perfect Maryland lane all along, and I never knew. She had made a home there with her guy Stu and their dogs, and was apparently happy as a clam. I had heard all about both of them for years – had heard stories about the early adventures of two active little boys in Baltimore, and of the later adventures of the boys as young men in Florida, following in their dads’ footsteps into the Martin Marietta workplace. Judy had made her way into the stories by that time – new stories of young newly-weds with their best buddy, my husband, Peter. But I was not a part of those stories and could not have predicted a meaningful place for me in that happy troupe. Maybe that’s what makes it so special.
Peter and I turned into that lane on a vacation trek to the Eastern Shore in 2002, and out of nowhere there was a distinct shift in the course of my life. Within moments, sweetly seasoned by a natural chemistry, Judy and I found we had much in common – spouses who were lifelong friends, a love of old houses and coastal air, an unsophisticated fashion sense, and an irritation with our spouses’ need to embarrass us. But most importantly, we discovered parallel long-time passions for photography.
Now we are both in Florida, she lives 5 miles away as the crow flies, and we are fast friends and shooting buddies. For that I am truly thankful. Over the past six years, we have together explored and become reacquainted with the natural beauty of central and north Florida, each with our own unique photographic style and perspective. We have been a part of each others’ lives, witnessing the events that come with the slow roll of time – Judy’s mother’s move to be closer to her for the first time in years and her ultimate passing, the death of Aggie, Stu and Judy’s beloved retriever, the introduction of our children (and even my favorite Aunt Polly and her Gordon) into their lives as extended family, holidays together, including a Thanksgiving on St. George Island during which we almost lost Judy to a bad batch of oysters (that’s her story, at least), and even our very first joint photography exhibition at the local frame shop. In a few months, my own mom will move closer to me and that will be the beginning of something new and personally satisfying for all of us. This most recent turn of events got me thinking about the richness of our lives and of how rewarding it is to share those life experiences with a true friend. It just seemed like the right time to begin a photographic journal (now generally known as a blog). I asked Judy to join me in this endeavor and she good-naturedly agreed.
Actually, to be truthful, I demanded that she join me and she slowly nodded her head as she devoured a gi-normous plate of pancakes at our favorite haunt, the Plantation Resort in Crystal River. That’s a photo I really wish I had!
So this is Blog Post #1. It doesn’t tell you much about either of us individually, but that will all happen over time as we share our images, our travels and our unique perspectives on life. Blog Post #2 will be Judy’s, so stay tuned.