Archive for September, 2009

Thankful Sunshine

by Karen

I do love the temperate rainforests of the Southeast and I’ve spent a summer in the humid cloud forests of Central America with that one particular camping trip when I finally started wearing my wet clothes because the odds of my body heat drying them out was a better bet than leaving them on the line. I’m no stranger to the rain and humidity. This last bit of weather we’ve experienced here in Marietta was not really a planned experience though.

We’ve kept the windows open while home for most days over the summer to cut that awful spike in energy consumption that gives Georgia Power its strong 3rd quarter earnings and so we’ve missed out on the de-humidifying effects of air-conditioning as well. I washed some kitchen canisters and set them out to air dry earlier in the week. They did not dry overnight. Then I noticed that the dry clothes I pulled from the dryer were damp later when I began to fold them. The dew point inside the house felt pretty much the same as it did outside in all that constant rain.

Last Friday a neighbor lost a large old tree that shaded most of his backyard because the saturated earth couldn’t hold the root system (liquefaction). It caused considerable damage to his house. Once the repair and clean-up is complete, sunshine will soak his backyard filled with shade loving plants. Russ watched the tree fall from the basement. It stretched the full width of their yard and only brushed the fence between us, but there were a few exciting moments when he couldn’t really see what was happening very well and wondered if he needed to grab Pebbles (the Shih-tzu Princess) and run for the other end of the house.

Suffering a severe case of wet cabin fever, we were really needing to get out so we decided to run an errand and stop by a Cumberland Mall for a walk. We picked Cumberland because it is near the part of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area that is at the intersection of the river and Hwy 41. We wanted to see what the river looked like there.

The parking lot where the Chattahooche River crosses under Hwy 41.

The parking lot where the Chattahooche River crosses under Hwy 41.

While driving over the bridge we heard the radio report about the I-75-85 Connector being shut down emphatically telling people not to come down town on the interstates. By the time multiple interstates began closing yesterday, and the news reported some very sad area tragedies everyone was checking on friends and family to make sure all was well. There was a mini-river running through my back yard and as I was photographing it a board floated by.

Street water runs down my drive creating this 6-8 inch stream with a board running through it

Street water runs down my drive creating this 6-8 inch stream with a board running through it

When we went to bed last night, we were braced for more of the same, but woke to bits of sunshine peaking through and the the sound of crickets rather than the sound of rain. The humidity was at 78% and it felt comparatively dry. 81 degrees and the blue skies were calling. When I lived in Southern California I thought that people complained too much about rain when it happened. I dreaded rainy days, not because they were rainy, but because so much complaining by everyone made the day drag. However, on this Tuesday morning I was a sun worshipper extraordinaire and I’m not sure anything could have kept me inside. We headed to the Silver Comet Trail. It is about two miles further to drive there than to Kennesaw Mountain, but we were afraid that the trails on the mountain might be washed out. At other times lesser storms have left the the steep paths well washed.

We saw signs of damage on the drive over as well as on the trail, but intentionally never really got close to any significant damage on either day. Knowing that water continues to rise in low lying areas well after the rain stops, we stuck to known safe routes and were thinking about topography and which bridges in this hilly terrain had the largest flood plain as we picked our route back home, just in case unexpected problems arose.

The retention/detention basins that have been required with new construction were surely a large part of the reason that the problems in Cobb County were not any worse than they were. I would like to see research on just how much difference that made. I hope that issues regarding planning, rainwater catchment, permeable surfaces and storm water management get the attention they deserve while the media are covering the tragic situations that some people have suffered. Tragedy is not preventable, but we can use it to learn and to reduce future risk. Now, while the drought of recent years is still in our collective memory, we are experiencing extreme flooding and the deadline on the mandate that we resolve the “Water Wars” within 3 years will only draw closer. With both extremes in a few short years and a potential legal battle ahead, this is a window of opportunity for media to seek out relevant information and benefit the community.

Neighborhood storm water catchment basin with missing man-hole cover, probably washed away during high flow.

Neighborhood storm water catchment basin with missing man-hole cover, probably washed away during high flow.


My photos and my experience are tame compared to stories on the news. Today I find myself thankful for the grace of safety and for the glorious sunshine. I am hopeful that those faring less well over the last several days find as much relief as possible.

Cumberland Island, Heed the Warnings and Go

I’ve lived in Georgia for nearing half my life now. Some of those years were just outside Savannah, so at one time I lived within a more reasonable travel distance, but still, somehow I’ve missed getting out to Cumberland Island. At least part of that has been because of the planning involved. There is a limit to how many people can visit, 300 daily, and you must make reservations in advance to take the ferry out, or come by private boat. I was passing by once and stopped to see if there was stand-by room for a day trip with no luck. A television program on the Georgia islands was aired just before a recent trip to Florida and it reminded me that I wanted to see Cumberland Island at just the perfect time. I thought that the program made one of the other islands seem a lot less developed than it actually was and I hoped that Cumberland Island was closer to its reputation. The reputation is sometimes elitist and sometimes rustic. These are not mutually exclusive features in my mind, but they are interpreted as such by many. Russ was going to Florida as well and he was on-board, so we had a plan.

For this trip we had a 4:00 AM wake up. We were driving from Atlanta to avoid an extra night in a hotel and still make the first ferry allowing a reasonable amount of time on the island. The ferry ride was a very pleasant trip.

Ferry to the Island

Ferry to the Island

It had been far too long since I had been out on the water in a boat. Paddling in a canoe or a kayak is not what I mean when I say that. Not so long ago, I had taken a ferry ride on a hydrofoil. The sacrifice for speed not worth the trade-off. It was noisy and the closest thing to a view was a GPS style map screen showing our progression. The lack made me feel closed in. We were strapped in seats, much more securely than an airplane. Not the leisurely walk on the bow that I had imagined. By contrast, the Cumberland Island Ferry is exactly what I want in a ferry. There are seats inside and out as well as up top, available on a first come basis. School was back in session, so the crowds were a small fraction of the limit and free movement around the boat was easy. The seats on top opened up as soon the sun won out in the balance between exposure and view. A slow boat with a gentle breeze and the mood for the weekend was set.

The first thing that anyone tells you about Cumberland Island is to bring the insect repellent. It is important advice that makes the difference between a pleasant trip and hell, but unfortunately, that often repeated advice, in part, fueled my delay in visiting. Being the mosquito magnet that I am, the only thing I hate worse than insect repellent is being bit because I didn’t use it. Even the hardiest resisters use it here and I think many people may avoid a place that comes with the mosquito warning as the number one comment about the visit, but the island is well worth the effort because after having been, now what I want to know is when I can go again.

Cumberland Island felt something like home, even though I’d never been there. I remember the beaches of my childhood and some part of me holds every beach up to those in comparison. These were mostly Florida pan handle beaches near Pensacola and the Redneck Riveria of south Alabama. Before hurricane Frederick hit in 1979 the barrier islands in this area, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, had a lot of private homes rather than high rises. It was a casual barefoot kind of a place, pretty much free from expensive brands, chlorinated pools and places where sand could be forgotten. After the hurricane wiped the beach clean, big developers moved in and changed the nature of the space. So while Cumberland Island was a new experience with some different flora and fauna, it took me home and I was grateful that in the 1950s the island had been graced with few owners, little development and the foresight to protect this beautiful resource for us to enjoy today.

Cumberland Island is the most untouched and protected of the Georgia Sea Islands. It is “the one with the one with the (feral) horses”.

Horse near Dungeness

Horse near Dungeness

There is some mainland industry visible from the island, ruins from the Plantation Dungeness, a headstone marker for “Light Horse Harry” Lee, the small First African Baptist Church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was married and a few other things, but when walking on the windward side of the island (Atlantic Side) there is little to remind you of civilization.

There are many large animals like deer and alligators as well as invasive species. Here the invasive species are watched carefully and include animals such as feral horses, boar and armadillo as well as the plants that more often come to mind when one thinks of invasive species. Animals on the island are accustomed to being protected most of the time and not as shy as others you may have encountered. Ironically, the lack of fear can make it easier to scare them accidentally if you don’t respect their distance. Many animals protect us from an unpleasant encounter by being afraid and running or hiding before we ever see them. Remember that because an animal allows you to come closer is not necessarily a sign that you should. I did not see alligators or boar, but there was an impertinent armadillo that stayed in our camp-site shuffling and and rooting. It sounded like he was also making a snorting sound, but with all the rustling of the leaf litter I really couldn’t tell. I understand that an armadillo’s fight or flight reflex sends it flying 3-4 feet in the air, so even least intimidating of the wild animals could be a little unpleasant if you frighten it. Oh, and the raccoons…use the elevated lock boxes for your food as instructed by your ranger, really. We had our small trash bag high on the pole with little actual food and they still ripped it apart. I understand from the ranger briefing that a video of one raccoon on the shoulders of another reaching was taken with a cell phone.

Campsite

Campsite

We stayed at the main camp ground nearest the second dock. As we were picking our camp sites, the ranger told me he had lived in the Atlanta area recently. As Park Ranger (interpretive, not enforcement) is high on my list of dream jobs, I told him I’d make the same trade so fast his head would spin. The main camp ground is covered in a beautiful Live Oak canopy with a palmetto under-story and it has cold showers. I wasn’t alone in mine. There were frogs and a lizard. The other camp grounds are primitive.
Karen's Shadow Beachcombing

Karen's Shadow Beachcombing

Shell collecting is allowed and a little bit better pickin’s simply because there are fewer people looking than on most other beaches.
Peaceful Sunrise

Peaceful Sunrise

As we left the camp ground we passed 3 deer in the path. While we were on the boat waiting to leave there were a pair of butterflies dancing above the water together and horses in the distance. It was a nice farewell and it will not take me very long to find my way back.

I had a sample of Natrapel lotion that worked very well for the mosquitoes. I also used some spray that contained DEET when my sample ran out. I believe that the Natrapel worked best, but had a difficult time finding it again.

Editors Update: I recently attended an educational presentation at the Georgia Conservancy where Charles Seabrook presented his book Strong Women and Wild Horses and director William Van Der Kloot presented his film Cumberland: Island in Time. Both give excellent background on he history and unique flavor of the island.

The Indoctrination of our Children

by Karen

I watched the Sunday Morning news program Face the Nation this Labor Day weekend and learned that there is a certain level of controversy and turmoil over the planned message of President Obama to be played for students at school with the expected message that education is important. There is apparently some concern that this represents indoctrination. I will totally set aside the fact that indoctrination and assimilation along with keeping children out of the workforce were among reasons stated for establishing a national public school system in the first place. This is not a historic commentary.

First, I am familiar with those ubiquitous television sets in the nation’s school systems that would allow such a a message to be played for the students. Many, were provided “gratis” by corporations, but they didn’t actually provide them for free, they provided them in exchange for access to your children. They require that an advertising message be played and this is commercial indoctrination in the form of advertising. I could spend an entire post on the belief that the benefit of providing televisions to schools is worth the cost to the corporation, but the benefit of receiving televisions on that basis is not worth the cost of the mind space to our children.

Second, there were altruistic attempts to indoctrinate my children while they were in school. Altruism, is not usually as well funded as commercials and not nearly so sophisticated in levels of persuasion or the ability to push psychic buttons. It starts pretty well, but it does not always stick. My children came home saying that smoking cigarettes was terrible and they repeated the indoctrination they received with the fervor of a religion. The one of my children that seemed most sincere and devout is also the same one that began to smoke in high school and has been addicted to cigarettes ever since, something that damages her health, strains her limited budget and makes me sad for the burden it puts on her.

Third, the school systems I have been involved with have always handled controversial messages as well as possible (not that I see where there should be controversy in an acting President taking the time to encourage children to excel in school and take ownership of their education). Sex education, for example, was something that the school system my children attended handled well. The films (one for boys and a separate on for girls) were available for parents to see ahead of time and each child had to have a signed permission slip in order to see the film. I did not personally go in to view the films, but a trusted friend did. She said, to abbreviate things, that the two different films reinforced male/female stereotypes and that made her angry, but that they were technically accurate and she wanted her daughters to see the see the film that was produced for them. Reinforcing stereotypes does not please me, but when special interest groups weigh in on a topic like this, the resulting product is rarely the best possible message, but the best possible compromise, not at all the same thing.

When one of my children showed up with the permission slip I asked “Do you know what this is about?” Answer: “yes”. I then asked ” Do you want to see the film?” Answer: “Not particularly, but I won’t know what all the jokes are about if I don’t”. The response was unexpected, but the point was important and I signed the paper. At first glance, knowing what the jokes are about may seem less than the important point, but jokes actually show a sophisticated understanding of a subject. Understanding them is part of being aware of what happens in the social environment you share. More importantly, you should be able to tell two things about those jokes. 1. Are they funny? and 2. Are they fair? Yes, these two things are different. I can appreciate the humour and irony in jokes that do not seem fair to me and are not based on the way I see the world. It is part of being able to appreciate points of view that I do not share, something that I think that we as a nation are loosing a grip on. I can also tell when a joke goes too far.

The ability to discern fairness is really the big issue here, whether you are actually talking about jokes or about comments and opinions. If a person never sees the original act, idea or information that is being criticized, how could that person possibly know if it is fair or have any way to access what is being said? One person makes a criticism to another and it travels like the famous Normal Rockwell painting “Gossip” so that the original comment is not even recognized by the time it gets back to it’s originator. The vast majority of media also exaggerates in the same way in an attempt to gain market share. And the special interest groups? Pound the drums, rally the cry, encourage donations and the gulf widens.

However, if the criticism is anchored to an original source with which everyone has familiarity, there is some basis for keeping the logarithmic exaggeration, at least in part, under control. Everyone benefits when there is some basis to approach the world from something similar to a realistic point of view. Real conversations minus the huffing and puffing can occur. If your positions hold water they will stand up and if they do not…

So what exactly am I saying? Indoctrination is pervasive, most dangerous in the forms that we don’t think about or recognize, and as often as not unsuccessful, regardless of the level of altruism behind the message. Children and school systems are smarter than we give them credit for, and our children should not just be given the opportunity to think for themselves, it should be encouraged. And the best part? When you teach your children to think for themselves they are a lot more interesting. They even come back after growing up and teach you things, good things, important things, from time to time.

So if you would like some original source material with which to base your opinion on this particular issue, it will be available today at http://www.whitehouse.gov/

Shiny Blue Water

by Russ

When Karen realized that NASA had scheduled another night launch for Tuesday (August 25) morning, she called me at work to see if I could get off for it.  I was fortunate enough not to even have to ask.  Boss man just said,”I won’t need you until Wednesday,” as we were leaving work on Friday.  We spent Saturday getting ready so we could leave Sunday morning.  Part of the preparations included getting reservations for a ferry ride to, and a camp site on, Cumberland
Island.  This resulted in the unfortunate definition of ‘leave Sunday morning’ as ‘be out the door by five o’clock’.  We made it out on time and got to the ferry with a half hour to spare.  Had a nice afternoon and night on the island, then headed out on the first ferry to resume our trip to Merritt Island to watch the launch.

Launch Pad to Right of Russ

Launch Pad to Right of Russ

We were to watch the launch from kayaks at the intersection of Haulover Canal and Mosquito Lagoon (If you look at the map here, you can see the viewing point at the green arrow, and the white circles down and right are the launch pads.  Eleven miles away, with nothing to obscure the view)  Karen discovered A Day Away Kayak Tours a few years ago(review here), and I had gone out with them once to see the manatees (Karen’s post on it).  We had plenty of time to get there, so we messed around in Daytona, New Smyrna Beach, and Edgewater, but I was so excited by the prospect of seeing the Shuttle launch that the only parts I can remember are when we stopped in to the library to check the weather and when we bought a dry bag at the local Ace Hardware and a friendly associate let us check the weather and launch status on the internet there (file under,”Things that don’t happen at Home Depot”).

The time was getting close, and things were looking good.  The only problem was one storm sitting in the vicinity, and the experts expected it to break up or move off.  We headed down to the put-in.  The official report still looked good, so we got our equipment, safety lectures and boats, then headed out.  For logistical reasons, everyone who could be placed in a two-person kayak was.  Karen and I have done well in a canoe together, but the kayak is a whole other story.  We eventually got it worked out, mostly, and I was really glad I had a partner by the end of the trip.  As we got closer to the viewing area, we became more exposed to the effects of the storm still hovering out past the pad.  The Coast Guard Auxiliary was at the end on the canal warning us not to go out of the canal because of heavy chop.  Our guide explained that we were just going to wrap around the point and pull up on a beach to watch.  We did just that, although we were exposed to the chop long enough for it to feel adventurous.  We waited in the beach/lagoon for a while, and NASA scratched the launch shortly thereafter because that storm didn’t look like it was going anywhere.  We were offered the choice of going back or turning it into a bio-luminescent trip.  I was all set to go back because my  shoulder was starting to bother me and the guides statement that we were going to chase fish made no sense to me.

Backtrack- We were not officially on a bio-luminescent tour at the start, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.  The dinoflagellates tend to put on a strong showing in this area- the water is right and there is very little light pollution.  According to our guides, it didn’t get any better than what we were seeing that night.  It was very strong, and for some reason it was bluish, as opposed the the usual green.  Every paddle stroke and the wake of all the boats were shown in a beautiful blue glow.  I can’t begin to describe how cool it was, and I had no idea how cool it would get. -end backtrack

Karen left the decision up to me, as she had been before.  She told me it was really neat, and I didn’t think my shoulder wasn’t going to die from a little more kayaking, so I decided to go on.  We went on around the point into a more sheltered part of Mosquito Lagoon to ‘chase fish’ and stuff.  On the way in I got some glimpses of what was to come, when the odd fish darted out of our way, leaving a glowing wake underwater, or a mullet jumped in the distance, making a bright blue splash.  I thought we were chasing fish, but we were just running in to them.   Mullet,  as it turns out, like to lay up in the shallows at night.  It’s harder for predators to maneuver in the shallow water so the mullet feel more secure.  We went to an area where it was only a couple of feet deep, and started herding schools of mullet.  It was amazing.  It was like some submarine was firing dozens of glowing torpedoes.  Mullet are prone jumping anyway, and these fish were scared for their lives.  With no way to escape down, many tried to escape up.  So the subs started firing missiles, as well as torpedoes, blue glowing water arcing in to the air and bright blue splash-downs.  We ended up chasing a few schools of fish, and almost everybody had a mullet in their boat at some point.  It was a wonderful experience and I recommend it to anyone who can paddle a boat (no experience necessary, but you have to be able to paddle.)

On the way back in, our guide mentioned that if you dipped your hand in the water, it would luminesce as it ran down your arm.  He did not mention just how much your arm looks like a Gatorade commercial, but the resemblance is uncanny.

We didn’t get to see the Shuttle launch, but we did see the Shuttle on the pad from the kayak.  The Shuttle was noticeably larger from this vantage point than from the best viewing spots pointed out to us by the Titusville locals,  so if you go to watch a launch, I’ll tell you that you can’t get a better view without being in the inside.  If you’re not down with the paddling, though, try Space View Park.  It’s dry, free, and they have live audio of the launch sequence.