It’s easy to see Georgia’s coastline as static.
Within our lifetimes, even if we live as long as the venerable matriarch of Ossabaw Island, the 103-year-old Sandy West, changes are often not immediately visible.
But the coast has been moving and shifting this whole time.
Some of those changes were the topic of discussion at the most recent Ossabaw Island Foundation annual meeting.
Held every year to coincide with West’s birthday on January 17th, this year’s meeting featured two speakers who talked about the changing landscape on Ossabaw Island.
One of the jewels of Georgia’s coast, undeveloped Ossabaw Island has a history that stretches back more than 4,000 years.
University of Georgia archaeologist Victor Thompson has been unearthing some of that history in his investigations into Native American ways of life.
His digging has uncovered shell rings that lead us to believe that the indigenous coastal people had massive feasts.
“It’s nothing new to human societies,” he says of communal feasting. “It provides a way of dealing with environmental change. It provides a way of dealing with our problems.”
The rings consist mainly of oyster shells from the surrounding tidal waters.
You might call these rings the trash heaps from large celebrations and the celebration of everyday life.
You also might call them evidence of what Thompson describes as a culture settling down into their place.
“Those estuaries are teaming with life,” Thompson says. “And it’s because of those estuaries, which we can think of as a giving environment, which were likely perceived as a giving environment, that allowed the first Native American communities, the first inhabitants, to develop stable communities.”
The location of the rings have moved and changed over time in response to changes in the landscape.
In a 20-minute talk, Thompson certainly provides a lot to think about, given the fact that sea levels are rising and humans again will be faced with problems associated with moving in harmony with natural forces.
Thompson is director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Archaeological Studies.
Fast forwarding into topics of more modern times and history that we can hear in someone’s own words, this year’s annual meeting also produced an appearance by Ossabaw’s “Island Cowboy,” Roger Parker.
Now 80-years-old, the boots-wearing Richmond Hill native has worked on the island as a wildlife manager for six decades.
His first full-time job there began in 1970.
He’s wrangled cattle and hogs and crossed paths with alligators and rattlesnakes, both for the Torrey and West families that used to own the island and more recently for the state.
He also oversees the foundation’s annual pig roast.
“One year, I trapped 1,500 head of hogs,” Parker says of hog removal, a constant task on the island. “And normally, I didn’t trap during the summer. Mrs. West wouldn’t let me trap. And then she went by some of the traps I had, she’d open the gates and let the hogs out.”
West is well-known for loving the hogs and treating them almost like pets.
Of course, wildlife managers have to control the hog population, lest they overrun other species.
In his 20-minute talk, Parker talks about his exotic career and the animals he’s encountered on Ossabaw Island.
It seemed to me that some of the strangest animals arrived in the 1970’s and didn’t know anything about gardening.
But that’s just one story in this informative and entertaining podcast, which ends with a birthday tribute to West.
And please make sure to register for the 2016 Coastal Symposium, where you’ll discover more voices and mysteries from the Georgia coast.