I don't remember ever being so happy to see the sunrise. It greeted me at a small dock in Midway, Georgia almost as if it were a reward for enduring the hair-raising drive to meet the boat. I'd traveled five hours in the dark - most of it through fog and a fierce thunderstorm - to get there and I was just in time. There had been warnings that the boat would leave without me if I was late and might even leave early. But I beat the captain there and unloaded my car in the crisp quiet of the morning.
As I waited, I gazed across the water, wondering which landmass was St. Catherines Island, a place I'd never been to, but where I'd be spending the next seven months. I was about to start a unique internship taking care of ring-tailed lemurs on a private island. The first time I'd heard about the job, I thought it was too good to be true. Who knew that there were free-roaming lemurs outside of Madagascar? A friend I'd made over the summer had just left the place herself and when she spoke of it, she had that wistful look in her eye. I wanted to get that look too and applied as soon as I got the contact information. Several months later, I found myself looking at the dock and the sunrise.
St. Catherines - unlike Madagascar - is far from the coast of Africa. It's on the other side of the equator, just off the coast of Georgia. The island is part of a string of barrier islands that hug the east coast of the state. The northernmost of these islands is Tybee Island; a tourist destination just across from Savannah. Directly south is Sapelo Island, home of the University of Georgia's Marine Institute. These islands were formed by the Atlantic Ocean, pushing up sand with its waves. Eventually, the sand got so high that it reached above the water and plants took hold on the surface. Those plants trapped more sand and violå - barrier islands.
I didn't have long to wait before others started to arrive and load my things onto the boat. The three passengers tried to make conversation until the sound of the motor made it impractical. After about twenty minutes, we docked again, this time on the island. On shore, my new roommate waited to meet me and helped me haul packs and sacks into the intern house. I had my pick of two upstairs and four downstairs bedrooms - minus the two already occupied. The quietest, warmest room was luckily still vacant.
After unloading, I went straight to work and finished seven hours later. There wasn't much of my first day on the job that I could absorb. I was exhausted, babbling, and overloaded with new information. Fortunately, my new coworkers were patient, understanding, and friendly. One thing I do remember is the first time I set eyes on the long fluffy tails of lemurs, walking along behind me on the road. I kept shaking my head and grinning like an idiot. But I didn't just see lemurs that day. There are also hornbills, cranes, raccoons, pigs, deer, alligators, and armadillos on this island. Some of them are native, some are not, and some are migrants who decided to stay. I'm looking forward to sharing all of their stories and mine, over the next seven months on Saint Catherines.