Friday, September 30, 2011

Suwanee Creek Greenway 9/30/2011

Took an hour long walk with my camera today, enjoying near perfect temps, in the mid 70's at 11AM. As I expected, the butterflies are pretty much gone now, and tonight's cold front will no doubt take care of the few that remain.

I did see a hummingbird and a few butterflies, along with a mama deer with her two spotted fawns following behind. It's a nice place to walk, run, or ride a bike. I parked at the Martins Farm Road lot.

I spend some time at the creek, photographing the beautiful reflections. I will be back with my camera gear in about a month when the fall colors are spectacular.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sweetwater Creek State Park

I finally managed to pull my schedule together to visit Sweetwater Creek State Park and the Manchester Manufacturing Company Mill remains, located in Lithia Springs, Georgia.

I have a passion for old historic structures, plus I love to go on nature hikes when I’ll have lots of photo ops. Sweetwater Creek is ideal for both. I arrived at 9:30 for the guided tour of the Civil War era cotton mill at 10 AM. The only way you can now go inside the walls is through the guided tour, which cost $4. It was well worth the price.

Our guide was George Giddens, a volunteer through "Friends of Sweetwater Creek State Park." His wealth of knowledge was time well spent for those of us that had the opportunity to go. He is 75 years old, and he’s been visiting the park and mill for 70 years. He remembers the days of camping inside the walls, of seeing mounds of metal from the original mill equipment, and he recalls driving down the red trail back in the 1950’s in his car. The trail is actually the original road to the mill for supplies.

The red trail is the most popular of the four.

It runs parallel to Sweetwater Creek and goes to the mill site. Along the way we passed the site of the mill store, a three story structure in its day. The bottom floor housed the store operator and family (over ten in the place,) the middle floor housed the store, which figured out early on the power of the credit card. Generous credit was offered to mill workers, and they were owned by the mill at this point because they owed their paycheck to the store. This helped keep them from moving somewhere for more money. The top floor was for the plant owner. He lived in Marietta, and it took two days for him to travel to the mill. He would stay a few days before returning, and he didn’t visit too often due to the travel time.

Shortly before reaching the mill an artesian well still pumps water. It was on a map of the area dating to the 1850’s, so it has been producing water for at least that long. During the 2007 drought, Sweetwater Creek and the adjoining lake went almost dry, but the well was unaffected by the shortage of water.

A channel was cut to divert water to the mill for producing power. Here are several photos, some showing the rock walls of the channel. The construction was done by slaves.

During the 2009 floods, the park was heavily damaged. The road we walked on was under as much as ten feet of water, and portions of the red trail (the original road) was washed away. The park closed for three weeks for the cleanup and repairs. One item that is still waiting on repairs is the old military bridge that spanned the creek and allowed access to the remainder of the yellow trail, which is on the opposite side of the water. This isn’t a typical creek, it’s more like a wide river. During the floods the bridge collapsed, and portions are still there. A replacement bridge has been funded, and it may be completed by next Spring.

When I was there the water levels allowed rock hopping. In places you can cross the expanse to the other side, and in other places all you see is water. I did go out in the middle for photos, but I didn’t venture all the way to the opposite side.

The mill is the centerpiece of the park. Burned by Union troops during the Civil War, it is in critical need of another round of extensive repairs to stop the deterioration and to make it safe for park visitors. Money has been raised by the Friends of Sweetwater Creek State Park for an engineering study to allow the state determine what should be done. In the meantime, the mill is well worth a visit, and I recommend the guided tour. Check the park’s website for information.

And beyond the history, the beauty of the place is evident. I will let the images speak for themselves.

Kayak rentals, fishing, hiking, picnics. Sweetwater Creek State Park is a great place to spend the day. In addition to the guided mill hikes, they offer a number of other guided events including river kayaking, sunset kayaking in the lake, night time hikes inside the mill by candle lantern, butterfly hikes, GeoCaching, and birding hikes. The visitor center offers many displays as well as a gift shop. Park admission as of September 2011 is $5.

I managed some rock hopping to capture an image of the mill from the creek

Monday, September 5, 2011

Letter from Junior (our adorable pug)

NOTE- This letter was found tucked away secretly under his bed, and he has gone into hiding since its discovery. No details of the letter have been confirmed, and as always, consider the source of your information………

A dog’s life, grrrrrr. Bout time somebody starts listenin’ to me for a change. Hey lady, who do you think sees everything that goes on around this place? I mean, I sit at the door, when I’m not resting, and I see everything. I run off the postman, the power guy, and anybody else that tries to mark our territory. Does anybody thank me? All I get is a hard time. I keep your new Japanese maples watered, and you complain. You want well water? Do it yourself. Go ahead, unwrap the hose and do it yourself. I could be doing a thousand other things, like sleeping, and instead I help with the yardwork. Another thing- no more wisecracks about my butt dragging the ground. If you were this short, you wouldn’t do any better. And another thing, if you saw what I see from down here, your eyes would bug out too. Enough already.

Here’s the deal. No more cardboard dog “biscuits.” Beef jerky, and I mean the real stuff, and Slim Jims. It’s gotta be something that used to breathe or I don’t want it. And no locking me outside when I have company. I mean, if they don’t want me jumping on them, they would stay at home, don’t ya think? And another thing- the sofa is all mine. You leave, it’s mine. You leave the room, same thing. You don’t like it, move. I have already marked the yard anyway, so guess whose place it is? As long as somebody leaves me some food and water out, I don’t need you anyway.

Oh yeah- the heater. Keep your legs out of the way. You say I need my beauty sleep, so give me some space. Lots of space. Like leave the room and don’t come back ‘til you can be sweet. After all, who else could bring you this much happiness? The good times? Honestly, sometimes I think you forget who’s the pet.

I almost forgot. If I want to pee in the garage, so be it. Let it dry baby, you won’t even know it was there. Come rain or shine, the garage is mine. What’s with you people? You always want me in the yard. I guess you want me to get fleas, huh? And no more baths. If I want to get wet, I know where the creek is. You put that stuff on me that makes me itch. Go away, bad dream. I’m ready for some changes, and I’m not to sure you’re part of them. Now get me some fresh water. Please……..

Friday, August 19, 2011

Perfect Landing

Driving through an office park today I saw something new. I wasn’t even looking for anything out of the ordinary, I was passing through with my mind on a place six miles away, where I planned to photograph butterflies, during their brief annual display of colors.

As I approached a man-made lake on my right, something caught my eye , high and to my left. I was bearing into a right hand curve, and a pack of geese were coming in, side by side, at least a dozen, if not a few more. They looked more like the wings of a passenger jet, with the body missing. In perfect formation.

They flew directly over my car, and as they approached the water’s surface, their reflections shown on the surface, still in perfect formation, with a gorgeous likeness reflected in the late morning light. Perfectly synchronized.

As they slowly brought the plane down, the entire pack hit the water simultaneously, creating identical splashes, and beginning a series of ripples that ran together and echoed across the lake.

Never seen this before. In my passenger seat, safely tucked inside the patched security of its bag, sat my camera. It’s tough to be prepared every time for that “Kodak moment.”

Friday, August 12, 2011

Vices, Inc.

It seems strange to consider writing a vice, but it may be my worst. Not that I’m out there doing a lot of things that would compete for the honor, but writing opens up doors that normally would stay tucked away in the recesses of my mind, in that dark, hidden chamber that no one is allowed to peek in. Including me. It stretches the proper limits of the imagination, after you reach the point of listening to the breeze flow through your head, the one that folds leaves in half and causes grass to bow down, then pop back up. The same imagination that paints a beautiful landscape in your mind, or a stark urban setting, then allows you to convey what you see on paper. While it’s a public vice if you choose to share the creativity, it’s still imaginary, isn’t it?

For me, photography has more sharply defined boundaries. There are some things I simply don’t photograph and never will. The visual of an image is more exploitive than words in some ways, but not necessarily as descriptive. Writing opens barriers of description to a new level for a good storyteller.

I do enjoy hiking and taking my camera gear along. That usually consists of two camera bodies and extra batters/memory cards. I enjoy creating a story with my camera, and then using my experiences to add description in my writing. We all see the world through our own lens, whether on a camera or not. That’s what comes out in our stories, both in speech and on paper.

So I suppose I do have some annoying habits. None of them bother me, but I get the feeling a few people don’t appreciate my thought patterns at times.

For one thing, I like to collect things, as long as it’s interesting and catches my eye. That could open the door for a lot of objects, but I stay with items like shells, driftwood, rocks, hornet’s nests, bird feathers, part of an old house, pine cones, and….you get the picture. Nothing of real monetary value, just things that are interesting and could possibly start a good conversation. I have bucketfuls of stuff tucked away at home, out of sight and out of mind, just waiting for a place to display it. I doubt I’ll ever have a place to display some of it, and when I pull it back out it will all seem new again.

And, I like old license plates. I’m not alone in this addiction, but I don’t pay much attention to the value. I like the different colors when they’re displayed in a garage or game room wall. I have one from the year I was born, and the year my wife was born, in the garage where our respective cars are parked. My tag in particular looks a bit rusty around the edges and is showing its age. It tells its own story.

I have, in the past, collected the following: baseball cards, signed racing posters, lightning bugs in jars, half dollars minted before 1965, car advertisements from dealerships, Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, records, model cars, comic books, and stamps. Too bad I wasn’t at a collecting age when marbles were all the rage; I would have enjoyed all the different colors and patterns. When I was a kid someone gave me a leather pouch full of old, colorful marbles, but for some reason the habit never attached itself. And, my collection of car advertisements was so intense at an early age that each summer, when I visited my grandparents in Florida for a week or two, my parents would clean out the collection in my closet, leaving room for yet another fresh start.

These things may not qualify as vices to some, but they do annoy people. Quirky and aggravating are words I’ve heard. But, I need some room here. I hold off on the vices that would create uproar so that I can fit into a civilized society.

I suppose my writing is a necessary escape from the dreaded realities of life. It does keep the imagination alive, at least for another day. Maybe that’s what all of my annoying habits are, to a point. Something to reach for, a carrot dangling in front of me, a way to keep from being bored out of my mind. Without a project in front of me I’d be one restless collector of bad habits. Or vices, if you prefer.

Friday, July 22, 2011

St. George Island, Fla.

St. George Island has become a special place for my family. Starting in 2005 we have now spent week-long vacations on three different years, with ’06 and ’11 topping it off. It isn’t often that my immediate family, along with that of my brother and my parents get to spend a week together.

In ’05 we arrived a week after Hurricane Dennis hit the island. We drove over the bridge the first day it was open to non-owners, and we were greeted with lots of standing water, which remained in some portion the entire week. The water treatment plant was over run with the surge, and we could not get in the gulf until Thursday. Loads of sea worms (my best attempt at an official name) littered the beach, and generated quite a smell by mid week.

We got out in my dad’s pontoon boat during the week and after some fishing we headed over to Little St. George Island. Separated from the privately owned portion of the island in the 1950’s by a channel, or cut, to allow boats to enter the bay from the gulf, the only way to get to the island is by boat. As we beached on Little St. George at the cut, the beach was flat with hard ripples, and it almost felt like concrete. We walked to the wall of sand where the huge dunes started, and a whole sand dollar was embedded half way in the wall. It had been thrown into the wall so hard during the storm that as we tried to pry it out the sand dollar shattered.

One of my priorities on that trip was to see the lighthouse on Little St. George. It had been standing near the southernmost portion of the barrier island since 1852, and had originally been 500 yards from the water. Many years and numerous storms later, the natural movement of the barrier island had left the lighthouse in the water, with a precarious lean following Hurricane Opal in 1995. Through the efforts of grass roots efforts the lighthouse foundation was reinforced, but it fell in October 2005. Three months after I got one mile from seeing it.

We beached at the battered docks at the walking trail that led from the bay side across to the lighthouse in July 2005. The hurricane had blown the mosquitoes off the island ten days earlier, but the eggs had hatched. As I began my trek across the path and stepped into the black, murky wet trail, I was covered up. I ran my hands down my arm and shirt sleeve and left a black and red smear. I made it back to the boat after going forward about forty yards, and that’s the closest I ever got to the original location.

Fast forward to 2011. The lighthouse has been rebuilt on the main island using as much of the original structure as could be salvaged. It stands tall as you approach the island off the bridge. One more reason to visit beautiful St. George Island.

The St George Island State Park costs $6 per carload to enter, and the visitor is rewarded with miles of beach access, and the beauty of sand dunes that tower as high as twenty feet. This is how a barrier island looks when it isn’t built out.

The campground is large, and it was full during our July 2011 visit. A boat launch is available, and the eastern tip of the park is for foot and bike traffic only, along with a nature trail for hikers and photographers.

My brother and I rented two kayaks in the park, for $35 per day. Quite a bargain compared to other prices I saw online. We left the boat launch in the nine o’clock hour and we were greeted with a cool breeze and nice movement of the water. We split the day into two sessions, before and after lunch. I found out the hard way to wear shoes in Apalachicola Bay, in consideration of the oyster beds. Picture walking on glass; you get the idea. I stayed on the kayak after my first attempt to explore, unless we landed on a sandy beach. We saw eagle’s nests, lots of sea birds, blue crabs, conchs, and plenty of fish jumping out of the water. Rowing eastward, we ended up in a cove with high grass on either side, then it ended, and we headed back. After lunch we chose a different direction and we came across a large sand bar with a boat already anchored nearby. It was covered with shells, consisting mostly of oyster shells. All together we rowed around eight miles on a very satisfying day out.

Our return trip by boat to Little St. George was uneventful this time. My dad dropped me and my two teenage girls off at the cut and we proceeded to walk west around 2.5 miles each way. We had originally thought about taking the walk across the island that was interrupted in ’05, but we decided to not spend everyone’s time doing that. The others stayed close by to fish, while we walked the unspoiled beach and filled the burlap bag I brought with loads of shells and driftwood. We found seven whole sand dollars washed up in the surf, and all were already dead. We kept them. A tree not far from the cut was covered with shells along its trunk, a graffiti tree of sorts. We saw many areas marked as sea turtle nests.

I found the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve on Friday, and I wish I had stumbled across it earlier. Turn north at 6th Avenue East and you’ll run into it. You’ll have access to the bay and also a couple of small lakes that are probably good photo ops during different times of day. I plan to go back next chance I get.

The time spent with family was precious. My dad could not go a year ago due to severe back problems, and it was refreshing to see him enjoy this trip. Family means so much to him, and it was wonderful having everyone there.

A few other spots worth seeing as well: Apalachicola is full of rich history, and has some beautiful homes. An old cemetery is on Hwy 98, and many of the graves date back to the early to mid 1800’s. The waterfront park is a great place to photograph the sunrise. Unlike the beach on St. George, you can see the ball of the sun come up here. And, there are many shops and restaurants to enjoy.

St. Joe State Park is an hour away, but t features a 45 minute nature trail walk and beautiful beaches and camp sites It’s worth a visit. Entry fee is $6 per car.

On my wish list is St. Vincent National Wildlife Preserve. A ferry costs $10 or $20 if you take your bike. It’s over 12K acres, and hosts endangered red wolves, bald eagles, sea turtles, deer, alligators, and many different birds.

Lots to do at St. George Island. I could have easily have spent another week without slowing down. One word of warning, however. If you are looking for entertainment or convenience, it isn’t the place for you. No fast food, no miniature golf, just lots of opportunities to enjoy nature, and enjoy beautiful beaches.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Roadside Theatre

It's not rage that drives me, it's competition.
Lennox Lewis

A drive during afternoon rush hour, by its nature, is not meant to be exciting. Aggravating at times, but not terribly exciting. Yesterday, however, in an Atlanta suburb, I had the fortune to see an interesting exchange that thankfully did not end with someone getting hurt.

Paint the picture in your mind…..traffic backed up at a traffic light on a main road, with cars trying to turn right out of one of the many shopping centers sprawled all along the Lawrenceville area.

. Cars trying to pull out into the snarled traffic are at the mercy of a kind hearted driver, one who perhaps has gotten in line due to the favor extended by someone not too far back up the road. In this instance, an older car, eighties vintage, stopped in line, and left a half car length in front of him. The male driver was around eighteen years old. He was already on the main road, and had no reason to move.

A second vehicle, an eighties vintage pickup driven by a twentyish male and a younger male passenger, pulled out on the main road behind the eighteen year old, and could not clear the right hand turn lane. He needed the half car length I mentioned to make the turn. So he hit his horn. More than once. The eighteen year old was next to me, and he had no response, didn’t even look that way. I figured the light would turn, the truck would ride his bumper a while, then one of them would turn off the main road, and everyone would be happy. I’ve seen it before. The driver of the truck had a different idea, however, and he maneuvered before the light changed. He backed up, whirled around the eighteen year old, and nosed his truck in front of the offending motorist. He still blocked the right hand turn lane, but satisfaction was finally at hand. He was in front, the clear winner of the turf war.

Once again, the eighteen year old showed no emotion, no response, at least until the traffic light turned green and it was almost time to move. He abruptly leaned out of his open window, sat on the door where the door track was, and hurled a plastic water bottle at the truck. It had some water, but not too much. It bounced off the truck’s roofline and into the right turn lane. The male driver of the truck, turned, lit a cigarette, and screamed something at his new found friend. Then both drove off.

I drove off in the left lane, with both of the combatants in the right. I was watching for any signs that I should bail further to the left, but neither driver seemed too aggressive. It seemed they knew this game, and knew how to play.

A little further up the road, as expected, the eighteen year old managed to change lanes and as he passed the truck, he threw something long and metallic, hitting the truck, then the object bounced between lanes for the other commuters to drive over. The drivers who just wanted to get home. Not sure what the object was, but it reminded me of a slinky, one that was stretched out a bit. Like he had thrown it before.

Nothing happened at the next traffic light, for several minutes. I guess it’s in the rules of engagement.

Moving forward again, I watched in my rear view mirror, alternating between the thick traffic in front of me and the drama coming up a few car lengths behind. The eighteen year old again threw something out of the driver’s side, and it made a huge metallic thud as it slammed into the rear quarter of the truck, then bounced across the lanes behind them. Must have been a car part he didn’t need, or a brick. Something he kept in the car, just in case.

The truck turned off, much to my surprise. Maybe he had something under the seat that he didn’t want to be found during a police interrogation. As the eighteen year old came up behind me, a police officer got behind him, and I figured this was about to have a good ending. Much to my disappointment, the officer apparently had not seen anything, and he went about his business and drove past the eighteen year old.

Everyone involved was street smart and thugs; that much I could tell by their actions and appearance. Yet another reason to take a deep breath before laying on the horn or using other more pointed gestures to voice your displeasure with a fellow motorist. You never know who you’re dealing with, or what his/her day has comprised of. Makes me wonder how much of a civilized society we really live in now days. Take away the threat of punishment and watch how the masses react.

I made it home in one piece, and in this case, everyone else seemed to. Good thing neither of those guys had a girl riding that they would have felt obligated to impress.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rites of Spring

Springtime means renewal. Our new hopes haven’t been dashed yet, and reality hasn’t had time to hammer our new found expectancy into its proper place. The ones we design through our thoughts and acquaintances, plus a few failures along the way. Okay, sounds a bit negative I know, and sometimes our planting in the spring, with proper care and watering turns into a great harvest in the fall. As long as we kill the weeds during the Summer, lest they take over.

This Spring marks the second straight year a mama bird has picked an outdoor light fixture as her safeguard against the elements and prey. The nest is just outside our bedroom window, which is on the second floor. As the photo shows, we don’t use the light; the bulb would cause harm to the babes, and it might even be a fire hazard with the bulb’s heat against all of the nesting material.

It’s a nice Spring ritual; everything new and coming alive, the serenade of hungry chicks when Mom brings another mouthful of nourishment, lush greenery and beautiful spring flowers filling out overnight, it seems. On Saturday mornings for a few weeks I hear the frequent sounds during a feeding frenzy. Today they are no doubt ready to go out on their own, exploring the big, new world with no self-imposed limitations on what they can do.

Check out the one on the left. Seems to be the ringleader. I figure this will be the first one out, the one that has the most fun, and the most likely candidate to get eaten by a cat. If only they can survive those teenage years…..

We’ll look out in a few days and they’ll all be gone, with an empty nest to remind us of the beauty and miracle of birth, the nurturing, and yet another cycle of life we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

I absolutely love Spring. If for no other reason, because life is renewing, if only for a season. It’s something to look forward to even in a trying time. Despite extreme hardships, there is hope, as reflected in Alexander Pope’s quote:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always to be Blest.