Blue Ridge Outdoors editor in chief Harlan intimately and expansively profiles a fearless Southern island dweller.
A small, bridgeless barrier island off the Georgia coast, Cumberland is home to countless endangered species and three major ecosystem regions. It is also home to Carol Ruckdeschel, a self-taught biologist who has integrated herself into the lush landscape and lived off the land for much of her adult life. Harlan met this intrepid “Jane Goodall of sea turtles” while he was a park ranger and shadowed her for two decades, impeccably documenting in field notes and journals her ramshackle cabin life of “packrat practicality.” Ruckdeschel was a rowdy only child born during the early stages of World War II, a solitary, curious tomboy who skipped church to commune with feral cats and turtles while her father taught her to shoot rifles and appreciate liquor. Her interest in the biological world bled into young adulthood; she was obsessed with dissecting animal carcasses as she taught herself outdoor skills and drank, which expelled her from college. Undeterred, Ruckdeschel immersed herself in natural history studies and married the first of her three husbands, all of whom she would divorce. Perhaps to soothe a broken heart, Harlan presumes, she retreated for the marshes and mountains of Cumberland, where she has resided as an increasingly feral inhabitant ever since. Her grass-roots activism has kept her spirited love of the island and its wild inhabitants sustained as she forcefully combats developers thirsty to capitalize on the land’s natural resources and sweeping vistas. Harlan’s painstaking detailing of the island’s history includes the legacy of the Carnegie family and the ruins of their antebellum plantation houses and mansions. Ruckdeschel’s extremist legacy and tireless wilderness preservation campaigns are sweepingly recorded here in arresting detail.
A moving homage and an adventure story that artfully articulates the ferocities of nature and humanity.