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Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and…
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Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island

by Will Harlan

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I walked into a bookstore in Savannah and was about to walk out when I started leafing through this book. The fellow working at the store said if I bought it and I did not absolutely love it, he would refund my money. So I bought it. No refund necessary. One of the best non-fiction books I've ever read. While it is absolutely a story about Carol, as is true to her character, she flips focus off her onto the turtles, precious wilderness and an absurdly interesting look at the local folklore, history and stories of Cumberland Island and all its noteworthy inhabitants, animal, plant and otherwise. If you care about the planet and its living beings, you cannot help but be charmed, horrified and well, inspired, to get of your butt and do something. Highly recommended. ( )
  CarolynSchroeder | Jul 27, 2016 |
At the same time a history of Cumberland Island - a biography of Carol Ruckdeschel - and a ecologial/conservation treatise. The primary figure, Carol Ruckdeschel is a true "force of nature" - a woman of limited formal education but a vast trove of real world experience in the scientific realms of biology and ecology. Her story and the history of Cumberland Island read like a work of fiction but are not fictional. At times the tales a very hard to believe - maybe because the book is written by an obvious devotee. Carol's experiences and beliefs teach us all so much about nature and man's place in it. Well worth the read. ( )
  labdaddy4 | Nov 30, 2015 |
Carol Ruckdeschel is awesome. So is Will Harlan, for doing his research and telling Carol’s story so well. Her last name only appears a few times in the book, so I want to state it up front to help remember this remarkable person. Before I started the book, my first thought was “what a badass!” – in the good way. She chose a lifestyle that isn’t exactly in line with the American Dream, but is, I think, commendable and worthy of consideration, given our place in the greater ecosystem of this planet. Worth considering that while it’s not for everyone, those that choose it shouldn’t be neglected or denied support simply because they’re different. What made Carol different? Everything. Where to begin?

We first see how she got to be so close to animals, and how this in turn was largely responsible for how she came to accept the reality of death and of life. She named her pets – of all species – after other animals, and honored the life of each, so that when they died, they would live on in other organisms, including Carol herself. Yes, that means she ate plenty of road kill, but this book actually made it sound kind of tasty. Provided it’s not too mangled, the meat is cleaner by not having antibiotics or other chemicals, and the animal’s ability to pass on its genes is already removed; there is no waste. The carcasses also provided a top-class opportunity in learning the inner structure and workings of the critters. For over forty years – longer than any of the other outstanding women pioneers of wildlife conservation – she researched the sea turtles on Cumberland Island. She dissected each dead turtle she came across, and built a scientific collection eyed by the Smithsonian for its quality and completeness.

With all of her animal expertise, she also longed to fit in with other humans, and yet still live by her own rules and provide for herself. Carol was not the only long-time islander interested in the nature there, and she was only the latest in a long line of influential women. Certain moneyed families, with undeniably elitist, racist, and eugenic histories, claimed patches of the island, and used their long presence there to argue for their continued authority. A mansion was built for every heir that wanted one, and while almost no one lived on the island year-round, some of the most powerful among them knew the island’s natural history almost as well as Carol did. They had that in common. Dirty politics crept in, further complicating things. To be fair, Carol had Jimmy Carter on her side, and convinced him as Governor to protect river habitat. The National Park Service, part of what Ken Burns might call “America’s best idea,” is far from perfect, and for all the good it does there is another trail of corruption. Will Harlan’s fair treatment of all the conflicting interests is excellent. Even Carol is far from one-sided, but she was friendly with her neighbors despite some strong disagreements – and worse.

For romantic relationships, it’s almost as if she were cursed her whole life. She even endured domestic violence, and reading Harlan’s account, she was justified in every act of her self-defense. (This is a tragedy I don’t feel qualified enough to write much about.) The additional slander and prejudice held against Carol made everything that much more challenging for her mission of protecting Cumberland. Other books were written about her, some hiding behind fiction that is too close to not be based on her and other islanders. In spite of all that, her iron will and constitution, and the power of scientific data, won out many cases, an outstanding grassroots success story.

Millions of years of evolution made Cumberland the rich biodiverse island it is today, and Carol has done more than anyone, it seems, to slow its deterioration. Knowing the animals and plants, and waters and land, of the habitat is essential for its conservation. Sea turtles helped convince me to move towards conservation, and I want to thank Carol for her extraordinary efforts. Will Harlan tells a comprehensive yet very readable history of the island’s stakeholders, and does the same for other relevant topics. It is beautiful writing about a place that must be beautiful, and of a life that has been equal in its troubles and beauty.

Note: this book was provided through Net Galley, and my review also appears on my blog (http://matt-stats.blogspot.com/). ( )
  MattCembrola | Nov 27, 2015 |
An unconventional biography of an unconventional, self-taught woman who becomes one of the world's premier experts on endangered sea turtles and one of their fiercest advocates. Inspiring, entertaining, and educational. Imagine Jane Goodall and Annie Oakley bred and raised a beautiful and mercurial marine biologist. Recommend. ( )
  dele2451 | Aug 30, 2015 |
Almost finished....just a few pages to go, but entering now as right now I have a computer at the K-ville Library. The book read like somewhere between juvenile and adult nonfiction. Simplistic arguments and simplistic narrative lead to an easy read, but not overly provocative. Other than the details centering around Carol's life, the book repeated old lines of thought in a mostly uninteresting way. The narrative of Carol's life is what led me to give the book its 4 star rating.
Along those lines, Carol appears to be a highly sexual sort. She can play it down all she wants, but the truth of the matter, it appears, is that she was able to use her sexuality to further her beliefs. Not a thing wrong w/ that....if more women did it it would make the world a happier place. There were a certain number of disclaimers that the author probably felt compelled to enter regarding this very idea, but I'm not buying them. E.g.,
"If all the men on earth died tonight, the species could continue on frozen sperm. If the women disappears, it's extinction....How much convincing does it take for a male to give up his sperm? Zero. I could ask you for your sperm right now and you'd give it to me....Women on the other hand need a lot more convincing because our eggs don't come as easily, and we're only fertile for a few days each month."
Or the author Ard Eulenfeld:
"She latched onto Louie McKee, got all she could out of him, then shot and killed him at the back door of the cottage he had built for her," he wrote. "Every man she touches winds up dead. She must have some kind of hole on her."
Overtly sexist? Probably. But true? Again, probably.
The point here is that Carol appears to be a unique goal-driven person on a wonderful mission. I firmly believe in her mission and after having retired from the NPS, am firmly against most of their "missions". I'm on her side. I do believe that she is using her womanly ways to further her agenda, which again is ok w/ me and, I believe, the author.
Finally, don't read any more of this authors books, unless uvenile writing is what I'm looking for at the moment.... ( )
  untraveller | Feb 13, 2015 |
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On a gray winter morning in upstate New York, Carol walked to church with her parents.
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On Loan to Joseph Fields (4/2018)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802122582, Hardcover)

Carol Ruckdeschel is the wildest woman in America. She eats road kill, wrestles alligators, rides horses bareback, and lives in a ramshackle cabin that she built herself in an island wilderness. She’s had three husbands and many lovers, one of whom she shot and killed in self-defense. A combination of Henry David Thoreau and Jane Goodall, Carol is a self-taught scientist who has become a tireless defender of sea turtles on Cumberland Island, a national park off the coast of Georgia.

Cumberland is the country's largest and most biologically diverse barrier island—over forty square miles of pristine wilderness celebrated for its windswept dunes and feral horses. Steel magnate Thomas Carnegie owned much of Cumberland, and his widow Lucy made it a Gilded Age playground. But in recent years, Carnegie heirs and the National Park Service have clashed with Carol over the island’s future. What happens when a dirt-poor naturalist with only a high-school diploma tries to stop one of the wealthiest families in America? Untamed is the story of an American original standing her ground and fighting for what she believes in, no matter the cost.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:35 -0400)

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"A combination of Henry David Thoreau and Jane Goodall, Carol [Ruckdeschel] is a self-taught scientist who has become a tireless defender of sea turtles on Cumberland Island, a national park off the coast of Georgia ... In recent years, Carnegie heirs and the National Park Service have clashed with Carol over the island's future. What happens when a dirt-poor naturalist with only a high-school diploma tries to stop one of the wealthiest families in America?"--Dust jacket flap.… (more)

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