Late last year, I had a session with the renown Dagara elder, author, and teacher, Malidoma Patrice Some’. He prescribed an island location for the last leg of my well-being ritual. Immediately, I thought, “I’m Caribbean bound!” After all, I had resided on St. Maarten for four years, and was comfortable with the sanctuary of Caribbean beaches. However, Spirit had other plans. My friend, Dr. Deb, had spoken with her friend, Valjeanne, who suggested Sapelo Island.
The suggestion of Sapelo led me to do a Google search. I remembered this island! The threat of locals being taxed out of their land was the story that jolted my memory. Previously, I had read and was outraged by the possibility of this encroachment. I remembered families directly descended from slaves inhabited Sapelo, and they were a part of the Gullah culture. After reading more about this treasure steeped in culture and boasting a pristine beach, I immediately felt excited about completing my spiritual ritual there. Dr. Deb, her mom, Dorothy, (one of my spiritual mentors), and I were to journey to Jacksonville, Florida, pick up Valjeanne, drive to Brunswick, Georgia, and take the ferry to Sapelo Island. Road trip! Road trip!!
First Leg: Brandon and Ruth’s House
Our trunk packed and seats secured, we were off! I started the drive, and my knees were comfortable. So…I kept driving. Ten hours later, we finally made it to Jacksonville. My cleansing ritual started there. We stayed with Dr. Deb and Dorothy’s nephew/grandson, Brandon and his family, including his wife, Ruth, and their 5 children and one grandchild.
To be sure, I am a self-acclaimed diva, but I was cleansed from that role and was gifted a home, which inhabited the vitality and warmth of this loving family. Every meal was amazing, and I even slept in a room with fairies on the walls. (Thank you, Leena!) Ruth’s family is from Costa Rica, but it was Brandon who spoke Spanish to Ruth’s mom, Rose. Brandon was one of my daughter’s high school classmates. It was wonderful to interact with and experience him as a thoughtful husband and father.
The family treated us to a day trip to St. Augustine, the tourist haven of shops and restaurants. I marveled at the two-year-old twin boys without a stroller that did so well during the walk and in the restaurant — just as their parents knew they would. We journeyed back to Jacksonville and readied that evening to go to Valjeanne’s for an early rising to Sapelo.
With Valjeanne at the wheel, we drove to Brunswick, GA to catch the ferry to Sapelo. My intentions set for a mystical journey, I dared not eat until my mission was completed. Yes, there were campers and church groups, but our trip there held a significance that tourist/visitor didn’t define. What secrets did an island with direct descendants of Africa hold? Did they hold a sacred key — one that would open me up to the renewal I was seeking?
We ferried to Sapelo, where our guide, JR Grovner, greeted us. He is a direct descendant of slaves. “My grandmother was Sylvia Wilson and my grandfather was James Gardner,” said Mr. Grovner. “I have two boys and two girls.” His granddaughter had sneaked into the van to ride with us. Mr. Grovner is renowned for his tours, and we were to learn the back story of this island.
We boarded our van and followed the path of other tours to the Behavior Cemetery. Behavior was a slave community, and “slave masters used to tell the slaves that they could do whatever they wanted to do, as long as they behaved themselves. You have to be a descendant to be buried in this cemetery.” We made our way to the Research Center, where we met Mrs. Grovner guiding her own tour. Granddaughter went with her. This is where and when Dr. Deb reminded Mr. Grovner about our mission — we needed to find an indigenous tree and to learn about the roots of this island that were not on the commercial tour.
Mr. Grovner accommodated our needs. He took us off the beaten path through the forest. We entered the Forest Preserves, with awe and knowing. Uh huh…this is where it begins, I thought. As we traveled the dirt road, Mr. Grovner answered our many questions:
“The Gullahs and Indians were here before Jesus….It was wonderful to grow up here…We have no crime, police, driver’s licenses, or insurance…We farmed sugar cane and cotton… We use the herb, Life Everlasting for every illness..That’s a bay leaf bush…Yes, we ferry to everything. Barges bring in heavy equipment…There are no hotels or resorts. There are houses and trailers to rent. We have the Birdhouse Cottages…There are strict restrictions and building codes. You can’t build a two or three-story house here…The descendants own their land. The rest is owned by the state.”
He also assured us that the tax dispute had been resolved in favor of the descendants. Hallelujah!
The trees were adorned with moss and twine that invited us beyond ‘show and tell’. We saw it, and gasped in concert. It was our tree. She held out her arms, and beckoned us to visit, and we did. In anticipation of the energy, we all washed our hands with Florida water, but I was compelled to stand back to scan the splendor of this specimen.
She had tendrils that touched the ground, and she wore her age with beauty with majesty. Her markings dug vertically deep, yet her lines were horizontal, and she was wrapped to perfection – a gift. I watched, as she held audience with the other women, and finally, I approached her. I asked to feel all that she represented – life, the earth, reverence, peace, and wisdom. I placed both hands on her, and she said, “Yes.” I believed her. My hands still on her, I felt a rush of energy and a sense of certainty.
“The slaves weren’t treated like slaves,” Mr. Grovner informed us. Yet, the remnants of the slave quarters were clearly separated from the master’s house, which had a chimney. Amazingly, these structures were built with oyster shells in the 1800s. There was also a huge barn with pigeonholes that had been restored, and a Sears and Roebuck catalog house that overlooked the Mud River.
Maybe because we were leaving the plantation, I posed the question: “Do white people live here too?” As we entered our van, Mr. Grovner answered, “Yes…we do everything together. We go to church together, cook together, fish together.” I thought to myself, “Is this what it takes? To live on an island?” My second thought was that this was all about the spirit of legacy, strength, and compassion of this island and the descendants.
The houses were modest and lovely. Each boasted land, and we even got to see Mr. Grovner’s house. He stopped to give us each a few red peas, which we held sacred. We stopped at the only local store, where I stood on the deck overlooking the grounds. It was here that I felt my grandmother pass through me. I knew I belonged in this energy. I recognized this feeling. I don’t know where, when, or how, but island living will be a part of my life again.
Because the Saturday tour only lasted until 12 noon, time did not permit us to visit the Native American Shell Rings or the First African Baptist Church. The church was built in the 1800s and restored in the 1960s. Our last stop was the beach.
And so it is…
We rode past the annex of the University of Georgia and through the grounds of the RJ Reynolds Mansion. Mr. Grovner quipped that “this would have been a part of his “regular” tour.” We laughed, as we rode what seemed to be an endless road towards the beach. When we arrived, I was the first to get out of the van and make my way towards my goal destination.
As with the tree, I was awestruck. Immediately, I understood the energy of this island. This span of beach was sacred, pristine, and looked almost untouched. I understood the tax dilemma, the pride, and the secret/sacred spirit of Sapelo. The waves were high, but my business was with the water. I approached the shore, closed my eyes, and let the ocean take the gifts I had brought. My cleansing ritual completed, I said a prayer of gratitude. Dr. Deb and Dorothy came to support me, and I felt my feet sink into the sand.
Eyes now open, I listened to the wisdom of this ritual. It told me my ancestors are with me and that I should yield to their support. It told me I could walk in clarity; that I was cleansed and worthy to receive the gifts of my journey. I kept repeating to myself, “Ase’…Ase’, as we made our way to the ferry.
Post Sapelo — Mr. Clean
I received a gift from Valjeanne . She gave me her statue of St. Martin de Porres. Saged and cleaned, he assumed a place on my home altar. As a Catholic child, I remembered de Porres as the only Black saint, which was why I was grateful to receive this gift. De Porres was an organizer, barber, and a mystic that did bi-locations and astral travel, and he was often pictured with a broom.
Before my trip to Sapelo, I promised to join a De Clutter game, in which you de clutter daily. This had always been a part of my practice. So I had an easy start. I became a cleaning, de cluttering fool, and couldn’t figure out where all this zeal was coming from. Then, one morning it hit me. Martin! His energy symbolized by this statue had me in the flow of getting rid of stuff I forgot I had. It was another gift of cleansing from my Sapelo road trip. It’s all good/God.
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Garden Spices Magazine