Far Too Close

It was so hot that the trees were sweating. The Spanish moss, sopping wet from last nights rain, was making it so misty I could barely see my cousin, Josh, biking ten feet in front of me. We were going to welcome my Uncle Bill’s cousin, Helen, who was flying herself onto the island. I was surprised because I didn’t know that Helen could fly and I didn’t know there was a place to land a plane on the island! All the surrounding sound was muffled by the dense humidity flung out across the road. The damp trees made a dark green tunnel all the way down the long, sandy road. All I could hear were the crunching of the bikes’ wheels on the sand and the constant clicking and whirring of the gears. It was the hottest part of the day, when most sane people on Cumberland Island, Georgia, would be taking a siesta indoors. All fifty of them. The dark tunnel of Spanish moss and old, gnarly trees was acting as a sort of greenhouse and the air inside was almost unbearable. I knew I shouldn’t have been complaining because soon enough, the mist would burn off and it would be even hotter. As we whizzed by the old horse skeleton and the armadillo field, I saw some wild pigs rooting around. The leader’s ears perked up and it’s massive head swiveled towards us as it heard the bikes approaching. I called to warn Josh and we quickened our pace. By now the mist was beginning to dissipate and the heat was starting to beat down even harder. Josh had forgotten to bring water bottles so we were about ready to sit down and wait for a passing wild horse to hitch a ride on. As we neared the breaking point, the road suddenly opened up into a huge grassy field. It had to be the size of a football field, at least. And on that giant, overgrown football field were the wild horses. Left there hundreds of years ago by Conquistadors, there was no domestic blood left in their veins. Yet they stayed calm and kept eating as they always do. It always surprised me how something so wild could be so calm around people. My Uncle Bill told me it was because they didn’t see very many humans. That field is now one of the horses’ favorite meeting spots, besides the beach. As a pair of young foals chased each other across their immense playground, I thought about if their close vicinity with humans was a good thing or a bad thing. That’s when I heard the plane.

The rather large Cessna aircraft came hurtling over the low tree line and into sight. I nearly got whiplash trying to follow it. The horses reared and whinnied in terror. There was chaos as all the horses began running for their lives through the coarse grass. I watched one palomino panic as the shadow of the plane crossed the field towards her. I could see her look of fear and felt that same fear creep across my face and course through my blood. As the plane neared the end of the field it slowly began to bank. I looked at Josh in horror. “Quick!” I shouted, “Where is the plane going to land.” “Right in the middle of the field.” he replied, as if it were obvious. I couldn’t believe it. I was frozen as the plane finished banking and began to come in for a landing. All the horses who ran from the initial pass now reared again and tried to clear the field as fast as possible. The plane bore down quickly on the retreating horses and, as its wheels touched the ground, the last of the horses leaped over a bush and hightailed it into the woods with the rest of its brethren. As the plane taxied down the grass and slowly, menacingly rolled towards us, I imagined myself as a horse and seeing that lethal propeller bearing down on me, ready to chop me up. But the plane stopped and didn’t chop me up, and as the propellers became slower and slower, Helen opened the cockpit and stepped from the plane. “Hi!” she shouted over the noise of the propellers. “When’s lunch!”

Throughout the rest of the vacation, I kept on thinking about that episode. How unaffected Helen and Josh had been. The idea of the islands animals getting too close to people kept popping up. A couple days later, right before dinner, a wild boar staggered across the sandy clearing in the trees we call a driveway. Soon after, we learned that it had been shot in the leg by one of the islanders for rooting in his vegetable garden. Another morning, we were cruising down the beach after a day of shark fishing, when we saw a mass swaying in the shallows. It was a sea turtle, strangled by a fisherman’s net. It was all a constant reminder of how humans were such a danger to all the animals. We might have run from the boars and kept our distance from the horses, but in the end, they should be running from us.

It was the day we had to leave. It had rained the night before and the turkeys were busy following the wild horses through our backyard as they kicked up the insects and tore up the dew-covered grass. We loaded the pickup truck with our bags and began the sad and slow departing drive towards the dock. As we pulled up to the boats, my little cousin, Sean, cried out, “Look at the boat! It’s moving!” As we got closer we realized, in horror, that he was right and the entire boat was covered in little green grasshoppers. What were we going to do? We had to get to the airport soon and we needed that boat to get back to the mainland. I suggested we try to brush them all off, but we didn’t have enough time. We had to catch our flight home. My Uncle Bill said we must to leave or we wouldn’t make it to Jacksonville, the location of the nearest airport. Reluctantly, we all piled in, trying not to squish any of the grasshoppers. As we loaded, many grasshoppers jumped off, some plopping onto the dock, others diving into the water. I wanted to try to save them as they started to kick their way towards shore. I hoped they all would make it. I proceeded to try and help them to land but I was stopped in my attempts as the motor started and we shoved off towards the mainland. As the boat picked up speed, I watched in vain as grasshopper after grasshopper dove off our boat and into the deep waters of the intercostal. Some desperately tried to cling to the boat, but as the wind whipped by, even they were flung off, one by one. By the time we reached the dock, not a single live grasshopper remained on the boat (only the ones that had been squished underfoot). I looked sadly at the our slowly fading trail, of white foamy bubbles and grasshoppers, picked up my bag, and shuffled back to the car.

Our plane arrived in JFK at around three o’clock. On the plane, my mind was filled of thoughts of running horses and swimming grasshoppers. When we arrived at our house in Bedford, I brought my bags up to my room to unpack. I thought about how great that vacation had been and how much I loved Cumberland. I just wished the animals had kept their distance. Sure, it was cool seeing them so close but I didn’t want them getting hurt. As I opened my bag to unpack, I looked down. Lying on top of my shirts was a little green grasshopper. It was dead.

Thomas Freund
Age 13, Grade 8
The Dalton School
Silver Key

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