Atlanta, Ga.

Cumberland Nurtures Connections

By Patti Horton

My husband and I began volunteering on Cumberland Island with the Georgia Conservancy in 2008. We were so touched by our experience on the island that we brought our two teenage kids the following year as well as my Dad.

As with most teens, the journey on the ferry included them getting in the last text messages and social media posts. But as we approached the island something transformational happened. The phones were turned off, and we all began to feel the vibe of the island, taking in the nature that surrounded us. The live oaks draped with moss welcomed us, the wild horses walked with us, and the island history intrigued us.

Over the years, other family and friends have joined us on our annual pilgrimage to Cumberland, and I have special memories of our time there. Digging post holes for trail signs, maintaining trails, picking up some of the most unusual beach trash, long walks on the beach with no one else in sight (except maybe a horse or two), watching the sunrise over the ocean and then watching the sunset over the marsh, seeing an albino deer for the first time, watching horses graze and gallop in the marsh, listening to the sounds of wild turkeys and tracking their footprints in the sand — these are the experiences of Cumberland Island. But it is more than experiences; it is connections.

I didn't know at the time how much I'd come to think of my time on Cumberland Island with my Dad as one my fondest adult memories. It allowed us to connect in a way we hadn't before. He came to understand my love of nature and in his later years became an advocate for environmental issues. He wrote letters to protect the North Atlantic right whale, and he signed petitions to protect our natural resources. And each year, we'd feel the powerful pull to return to Cumberland Island. He was enchanted with the island, and we cherished our time there together — time I didn't know was coming to an end. In January 2013, my dad came down with pneumonia. He was 75. He told me, “I am going to miss Cumberland this year, but I am looking forward to next year.” There wasn't a next year. He died January 26, 2013, only six days after we returned from the annual trip to Cumberland Island. Just days before he died, he posted on social media about his love for this great barrier island.

It was difficult, but important, to return to Cumberland Island. As I watched the sunrise over the ocean and saw the morning light reflect in the water, tears streamed down my face, tears that he wasn't there with me and tears of joy for our time spent here together. It is here that I feel most connected with him. The trails of Cumberland Island connect the north end of the island to the south, they connect the past with the present, they connect us with nature, and they connect souls here on this earth with those passed. 

- Patti Horton works for Bank of America and volunteers for the Georgia Conservancy.


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