Monday, May 16, 2011


Carol Ruckdeschel holding a coachwhip, a fast moving snake, on Cumberland Island, Georgia, May 2011. (photos by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter, unless otherwise credited)

Hallelujah for the spectacular miracle of NATURE! Hallelujah for the PILGRIMS who spend their lives observing the wonders of the SEA, AIR, and LAND! In mid-May 2011, I found myself at the north end of Cumberland Island, Georgia, interviewing my fourth SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIM, Carol Ruckdeschel, a longtime naturalist who augments her documentation of the island’s ecology with illustrations.

Nestled amongst the long leaf pines and live oaks, we sat on her front porch drinking morning coffee surrounded by a myriad of mini-gardens bursting forth with squash, corn and tomato plants. Fledgling zinnias were emerging amongst established beds of mint, rosemary, and oregano. Two roosters crowed from their pens out beyond us. My Chiboogamoo sat silently with Carol and me, counting the numerous ruby throated hummingbirds (see the short video) visiting the colorful red and yellow sugar water feeder, which was so nearby that their “humming” was an audible part of our interview.

PRE-INTERVIEW NOTE: As the wife of the brilliant paleontologist, Chiboogamoo, I find my ARTist-self in extremely exuberant moments surrounded by other bright and talented scientists in the most amazing locations. Part of my practice of “having coffee” with Hallelujah (my creative persona), is being present to my SPIRITUAL ART needs and not only filtering “field experience” through my imaginative lens but also engaging the scientists present in my pursuit of the JOURNEYING SOUL. I am forever appreciative to Carol Ruckdeschel, biologist extraordinaire and ARTIST, for supporting me by being the FOURTH SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIM interviewee.

Leatherback Egg by Carol Ruckdeschel

CAROL: It’s different things to different people. But to me—I don’t know.

HALLELUJAH: Can you address how SPIRITUALITY relates to nature.

CAROL: It’s about learning….

HALLELUJAH: What do you want to learn?

CAROL: Whatever I can learn about the ecology of this island.
Loggerhead Egg by Carol Ruckdeschel

HALLELUJAH: You are so passionate about what you do. Can you explain that passion?

CAROL:  Beauty can be anything, a baby bird or art…anything that really moves me. You really feel that this is so beautiful. Beauty is something that you are almost just in awe. Beautiful. Like when the swifts arrive, I’m uplifted. They’re here! They nest in the chimney. They are part of my life. They are seasonal.

HALLELUJAH: So your SPIRITUALITY is experienced through the beauty of nature?
Dolphin Skull in the Cumberland Island Museum

CAROL: Spirituality is a word that has bad connotations. I used to have to go to church. I never understood it. The story of Jesus walking on water would lose me flat. As a kid, I would give my nickel and go outside and play.
Loggerhead Nest, by Carol Ruckdeschel

HALLELUJAH: Yes, I understand that attending church is where some people meet their SPIRITUAL needs, but attending church is not what we are talking about here in the SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIM interviews. My own SPIRITUALITY is more related to my focus on the life force in each living creature, the ephemeral, and immaterial. And you, you were talking about BEAUTY.

CAROL: Beauty is much more meaningful to me. It could substitute for the spiritual. Beauty can take many forms. It can be a piece of machinery. The Carnegie buildings on the south end of the island were built with real craftsmanship. They are beautiful and remind me of a time when people were proud of what they did.
A wingless wasp we found on the secondary dunes on the north end of Cumberland Island. Look at that trackway! (Photo by Chiboogamoo, aka Tony Martin)
Then there is natural beauty. For example, if I discover a new trackway, and then there is a revelation that it was made by an ant and not a beetle. That is a revelation to me because it answered a question (See the photo that Chiboogamoo, Carol, and I had made the previous day of a wingless wasp, Timulla floridensis, making a trackway that we previously had not identified).
There have been times in my life when I’ve invoked the “great spirit,” when something needs to be thanked for something, but I can’t formulate thoughts about that.
Carol's random garden composition.

HALLELUJAH: How would you define ART?

CAROL: Again there are many kinds. What I do as art is different than what you (Hallelujah) do as art.

HALLELUJAH: Is it? Why do you do ART?

CAROL: I don’t know why I do it. I get the urge to do a particular scene or something. It is done selfishly for me. That’s beautiful. It was fun that I could do it. It is not from any motivation like yours—which I think it is much more admirable. You create a design and do it.

HALLELUJAH: What kind of ART do you make?
Adult Loggerhead, by Carol Ruckdeschel
CAROL: What I do mostly is illustration. I’m too much of a realist. I want to paint more island scenes. That is different from what I’ve done. What I’ve done in the past is to use art to make figures for scientific illustration.

Carol turns and asks Chiboogamoo if he makes any art that is beyond scientific illustrations for his articles and books. And he and I discuss the more imaginative artwork that we are doing for the Darwin exhibit at Atlanta’s Fernbank Museum of Natural History in September 2011. Then Carol continues….
Random bone composition on museum steps.

I would like to push myself back into it.  I have really felt the urge to do more art.  Who else can paint an alligator with a big amount of mud on its nose?

HALLELUJAH: You did these turtle drawings that seem so much more than “illustration” to me.

CAROL: Those drawing come from how turtles develop in the egg. The turtle grows at the top of the egg. When the baby turtles hatch, they start out rounded and have to stay in the nest a while to straighten out.

HALLELUJAH: What is the connection between SPIRITUALITY and the ART you make?

CAROL: I like it to be pleasing to the eye and to be beautiful. No it is more than that…. Sometimes it is an emotional expression. But most of the time, I don’t indulge myself that much. To me, I have to have nothing to do, to make art. I have to feed my chickens, water my garden, and my book has to be written. Art takes second fiddle.
Random frog composition on Cumberland Island Museum shelf.

HALLELUJAH: Who or what has been the most influential in your life with regards to ART?

CAROL: I have been doing drawing and art since I was a kid. I was given a piece of paper and pencil to occupy myself. It was my “Gameboy.” I remember my dad was a hunter, who liked guns and got those outdoor magazines like Field and Stream.  One of those magazines had a full page of someone’s art. That art page always intrigued me.  For instance, there was one with a person on a horse hunting a bear at the edge of a mountain. That really impressed me. These scenes always had animals.  But it wasn’t just a scene—action was involved. My interest was in the animals and how well the person could paint them. Oh my gosh, these scenes were beautiful!

I had one friend in Rochester, New York, an older guy, who did beautiful things. He painted the Franklinia alatamaha, a small flower on a really large scale. He had a dedication to art.

HALLELUJAH: I am so moved by the way you have organized your yard. Everywhere I look, I see mini-compositions as if every object has been placed with thoughtful intent.
A random arrangement outside Carol Ruckdeschel's research lab on Cumberland.

CAROL: The compositions are a result of randomness. (Carol pauses and then nods her head in realization toward a line of five gallon buckets arcing around one of her vegetable gardens.) Well, that orange bucket offends me terribly. It was with the blue buckets, and I had to move it. There is thought given—but very little.
Random blue bucket composition.
HALLELUJAH: In the future, what ART do you intend to make?

CAROL: What I call real art. Instead of illustration, something that means something to me. Like this watercolor I have in the museum that I did because the buzzards had pooped on the roof and I could see it in the moonlight. That’s really great!
Partial view of a watercolor by Carol Ruckdeschel of the roof of her research lab. Notice the streams of vulture scat streaming down from the top where Carol's "buzzards" like to perch.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Immeasurable thanks to Carol Ruckdeschel, founder and curator of the Cumberland Island Museum, co-author with C. Robert Shoop of Sea Turtles of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States. She is a generous and kind SOUL, who attended to me and my simultaneous interests in FLORA, FAUNA, ART, and SPIRIT. In addition, she hosted and “played” with both my Chiboogamoo and me along the shores, in the dunes and maritime forests of Cumberland. She is a friend. Gratitude to V.J. Henry, one of the foremost coastal geologists along the Atlantic coast, who died in May 2010 and hosted us along with Carol in 2008 when we camped on the bluffs above the north end marsh. Thanks and love to my dear boon companion Chiboogamoo, whose deep curiosity and book writing (Life Traces of the Georgia Coast) keep us returning to the wonderlands of the Georgia barrier islands.

This saying by Michelangelo resides next to the door of Carol's research lab. 

Carol Ruckdeschel with Chiboogamoo at the dunes on the north end of Cumberland Island, Georgia, May 2011. (photo by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)

Carol Ruckdeschel with Hallelujah Truth after a fun day in the field tracking snakes, insects, lizards, bobcat, coyote, alligator, and turkey. (photo by Tony Martin, aka Chiboogamoo)

See the first three SAP interviews: Cecelia KaneRobey TappKaren Phillips
That’s coffee with Hallelujah! SOUL BLOG with me ( and tell me about your JOURNEY!  I want to know about your PILGRIMAGE and the BEAUTY you are experiencing!


  1. Carol's spirituality in her art shines through loud and clear, despite her objections to the term,and her dismissal of the artistry of her gorgeous illustrations. Her equation of spirit with beauty is a good one. Both are amorphous concepts. Whether we contemplate these ideas in a church or on a wild-natured island, I appreciate the evidence of Carol's creative soul.

  2. SEE SEE, you have a way of explaining things so WELL! Thank you!