Tuesday Trippin’ July 12

It’s not just hot, it’s been hot long enough that people are tired of it, especially here in the south. and in some places we are breaking previous heat records for highest (“reliably measured”) temperature on earth, and other extremes regularly, including highest lows.

Locally, there’s been a small respite. Hurricane Elsa, the fifth named storm of the season passed south and east of us bringing rain and some cooler temperatures, a bit of an irony, because warmer ocean temperatures favor storm formation. Elsa was the earliest named 5th storm in history.

The weather made riding hit or miss, with a few good hits. The knee pain was medium to mild, but still around, then almost gone by the time I posted this. It turned out not to be caused by the strength training. I didn’t see how it could be, but the timing made me wonder and I couldn’t think of any other reason at the time. I discovered it was actually because we didn’t get my seat height and angle properly adjusted after the musical bikes. That’s all better now. I’m still liking the new flat bike shoes and pedals, but they’re not 100% at taking care of the tingle and cramps I get in the right foot. I got rides four days in a row. After giving it a rest for a bit, it could be that no shoe would help. Irregular activity levels irritate my problem.

On one of the earlier rides, I saw a newborn fawn. It was the first time for me. As I was approaching, I thought it was a thin sick dog, but then I saw the wet, vibrant dark red brown fur with the bright white spots and thought “Oh dear, where’s Mama? I hope she knows I’m not gonna hurt her baby.” Then the fawn ran away more awkwardly than Bambi on ice. Just afterward I bought a new “flagship” phone. It might give me some better options for getting the unexpected images while riding pre “official” project start time. It’s definitely going to give me better stills without having to carry the Nikon.

I’ve been writing a lot, mostly some of the (not yet finished) posts that should be up when I launch the kickstarter. I’ve also been applying to jobs. It’s not that I can do both the project and a job. I can’t. The project is more than full time for both of us and I’m still trying to get my expected project hours per week down much closer to 40. And, it’s certainly not that I have given up on the video project. Doing something that fits my need to make a difference could be the most important thing I might do next. And, Russ could use a break from his current life to do that as much as I could. What he could really use is about 20 hours a week when he gets plenty of exercise and doesn’t have to manage the expectations of a dozen people in an hour. Really, the reason I applied is that some of the jobs I once wanted very much came floating across my laptop. They did that now. I don’t know that I’d even get an interview for any of them, but back-up plans are pretty important, especially when you’re chasing a long shot, and I may have and answer on this project before any of those companies are ready to interview, so it’s not irresponsible to apply for a job I might not be able to take. If I ever get myself into consideration for the positions in the first place, I can responsibly take myself out as soon as appropriate.

In fact, some people, people who care about me might ask why I’m even thinking of spending another year and a half pursuing unpaid work. It’s really hard to explain. Money is important. Everybody has expenses, and the more money you have, the more options you have. Options are good. I’d like more of them. At the same time, money isn’t what motivates me most in life. It’s the pursuit of whatever I’m following at the moment that lights my fire. I get it. In the world we live in, that takes money, which is why I’m planning a kickstarter. But, my great pleasures are thinking and doing and giving. I don’t get so much pleasure from earning money, I get pleasure from earning opportunities. The distinction may sound trivial, but I’d be a happy clam in a Star Trek Universe where money isn’t really a thing and science, discovery, connection and truth are not just valued, they are the whole point.

I’m thinking about these things at the same time I’ve reached that place in this project where I sometimes give up on myself. That’s not related to those back up job applications I just mentioned. Those were just the choice to have backup potential. It’s related to refining an idea so well, while at the same time keeping most of it in my own head, (and some of it here in these posts). I believe in this project strongly, but I haven’t shared many details, even among some of my closest people. Part of that is because I’m accustomed to caring deeply about more things than most of my people are even interested in knowing exist. I have written 40+ Tuesday updates, but not even Russ has read many of them. When I tell my granddaughter I need some time to work on the computer, I suspect my children assume I’m typing furiously in a FB group (which is only true sometimes :).

The isolation I feel is partly because it’s my MO to be self contained about my ideas, and it’s partly because things are so busy and stressful too. All that stress I mentioned in one of those Tuesday updates? So here’s the thing. I’ve both applied to jobs and hit my wall, both at about the same time. I probably understand my strengths and shortcomings fairly well, and I’m still spending all the time I can pursuing this project. It must be what I am supposed to do next. So, for right now, I’ll just keep plugging along and make it work.

Tuesday Trippin’ June 29

New Bike Shoes, Flat, Stiff and Wide

I ended up buying new shoes just before the century. My go to pair is getting worn, making my tingly toes worse. Breaking in a new pair of shoes is not something I’d normally do for a big event, but it was time and I don’t really remember noticing a “break in” period on bike shoes.

I don’t like clips. I’m afraid I’ll forget to release in an emergency and wrench an ankle. My MTB riding grandson had mentioned I might like flats a while back. Then when we stopped by the recumbent store, the owner showed us extra large flat pedals and said that that they were good for preventing tingly toes. I hadn’t even mentioned that was an issue for me. They look a little clunky. Apparently he recommends them often and his customers love them. They’re not sleek, but I’m all about functionality and plan to follow his advice.

Flat pedals for the recumbent bike

I was already thinking about flats when I ended up using my spare shoes. I keep my, new old stock Keens that are too narrow for me in my car for emergencies and noticed that they are wide enough in the summer with no socks. The stiff sole feels good too, but if I wear them a few times in a row without socks, they’ll start to leave rub damage on my skin. All signs were pointing to flats.

I asked the REI sales rep for something stiff and wide. I expected him to show me flats, but I was leaving the door open to learn something new. Flats it was. I needed to buy the pedals as well. These are much more comfortable to walk in too. Ask me how I know!

New flats after the flat. The cleats on the new flat pedals are sharp!

Training and the Hospitality Highway

I decided early in the week before the century (link is not my video) to give the Y a shot. I was riding down the Greenway thinking about driving to the Y nearest the house when I got home, but I was almost at the Y on the Greenway. So I parked my bike and went in. It was time to start going, or to stop paying for the membership after a year and a half of not using it. (It did open back up months before I decided to go.) Under current conditions (the crowding level I experienced this week, combined with the risk level of the current Covid variants status locally and my status being fully vaccinated) I plan to go weekly, hopefully 2-3 times. And, I’ll try not to get too burnt out on the chore keeping up to date with current conditions (has a variant blown through the vaccine?). I’m looking forward to getting back to strength training. It should help my shoulder, back, knees and hips, and keep me riding through more adverse circumstances. I was surprised that my knees hurt after the workout, I didn’t push it at all. I wondered if strength training after so much time without it was part of what made me feel so bad through the rest of the week, but I think it’s more likely that I took my opening to ride almost every day all month in climbing temperatures without having managed to reach an optimal weight. I’ve been busy too. I hardly know which thing to write about.

Highway 400 is apparently called the Hospitality Highway. I learned that when we picked up our t-shirts. The ride (link is not my video) was fun, the week leading up to it was not. I had a flat on Tuesday, a really difficult and draining ride on Thursday and felt bad Friday and Saturday. It wasn’t my best training week at all. I had spasms in my leg, which according to the internet could have been stress, exhaustion, dehydration or the beginning of rare and horrible things. I’m leaning toward stress and exhaustion because I’m pretty good at hydrating.

I was a bit nervous at the start of the ride. It was raining just enough to make the roads slippery. This crowd was full of energy, but crowds in general aren’t my favorite riding situation and the busy roads in areas with high population density aren’t either. I was having a little bit of that nervous feeling I had just before that time I was getting ready to rappel off the side of a waterfall. “Am I really going to do this?” was floating around in my mind, and I was remembering the time I flipped over my handle bars. Flying through the air, I wasn’t scared, I was angry. I thought I was about to miss things I had planned to do because I did something stupid. If I were to have a wreck in this pile of 1650 people, how hard and long would it be to recover? That’s the thing. It’s not the immediate pain, it’s the time you loose.

Near the start line, pre-crowd compression. Our email from the organizer said there were 1650 riders, including some who did volunteer work so they could ride for free.

There was a young man in a Georgia Tech jersey going over safety rules with a man I soon learned was his father, saying things like “Go across the seams between lanes at an angle, don’t let your tire get a tire stuck in the crack).” I was tuned in to hear what ever I might have forgotten to think about. It was a family activity. The parents were celebrating their 39th wedding anniversary, on the day of, by participating in the ride with their sons.

The ride was good. Were were in a midlin’ good position. As we went under the overpass that was in about the middle of the freeway section, there were already large numbers of riders crossing it, and by the time we got to that place ourselves the police cruisers were pulling up the rear, one to each lane. I didn’t see this effect in any of the videos I watched, but, where I was, there were large numbers of riders with bright tail lights ahead and, from a bright red lights standpoint, it looked much like rush hour with cars on the road. I heard other cyclists remark about it too.

We crossed the Chattahoochee River twice. It was beautiful. The rain wasn’t falling at that exact moment and the early morning fog was rising from the water. I didn’t feel at liberty to give it more than a seconds worth of attention, but I made sure to appreciate that it was there for longer. There were plenty of cool sights to file away. At least one person did wreck. Russ saw a cyclist who had an accident and said there was a lot of blood coming from her head. That really surprised me because helmets usually keep that from happening.

I went up some hills with confidence building ease. We loaded the instructions for the 43 mile ride. It would pass nearby our house at the 30 mile point and we could stop if we wanted, or ride it on in if we didn’t. The last hill before the nine mile route ended is called “Mother-in-Law” (no, none of these named hills were named for men). I walked half way up Mother-in-Law and asked Russ at the top what he wanted to do. The conversation took a little longer than necessary because neither of us wanted to say it, but, we were wiped. I stuttered around and said “I only got 4 hours sleep last night.” We went home and showered and napped, then went back to listen to bands and cheer the 100 milers in. Like most things I start thinking “Am I really going to do this?”, I was glad that I did. After I work my way through this video project, it would be fun to look for some other challenging centuries to ride. I’m sure this particular century will have a new home by then.

Mom! Why is My Skin Red?

Mom wasn’t an anti-vaxxer, she was distracted. I had received my smallpox vaccine at school in Texas. I remember lining up in a huge lunchroom, but after that we moved back to the small rural town in Alabama where she and a few more generations of my family had grown up. I really don’t know what happened, but the ball was dropped somewhere and the rest of my vaccines didn’t happen at school, or the health department or my doctor’s office. My vaccine card was also missing Polio, maybe something else as well, but Measles and Polio are the ones I remember. I test positive for antibodies of all the childhood diseases that doctors over the years have ever had a reason to check, including ones I don’t recall having.

I was in the 5th grade when it happened. I noticed the rash in the bath at home. I don’t remember how quickly the shift from “not that sick” to “nearly dying” happened or how long I was sick. I remember lying on the sofa in front of TV (no remote, black and white) drifting in and out while Mom was at work. I lost 40 lbs. I remember Mom telling me if I didn’t eat they’d take me to the hospital and stick a needle in my arm. For a long time I remembered the weird hallucinations I had, and the delirious nonsensical conversation I was told about later, but those are lost to me now. I remember my hair falling out like a cancer patient, but only about half of it. Some of it never came back. I wore my hair in braids and they were never as thick again. No one else in my class got it. I ate a lot after I got well and became chubby for a few couple of years afterward.

I remember Mom telling me I had a really close call, but just how high my temperature got was a little fuzzy. The mercury was up in that tip of the old glass stick thermometer where the numbers end and just a little bit of tube allows the liquid to continue to expand into the twilight zone of guessed the temperatures. As an adult I wondered if there is a way to figure out how high it got. I looked up the symptoms and things that happened to me to see if they happened at a specific body temperature. It was disquieting. The phrase “denatured proteins” was in what I saw and it wasn’t very far from the temperature range I’d been led to believe my body and brain might have reached. The article likened denatured proteins to scrambled eggs for those who weren’t familiar with the term. In fact, the only reason I’m sure my temperature didn’t get all the way to that level is because I’m alive.

Shortly before I had my first child, I read an article about an unvaccinated farmer who contracted Polio when his daughter was vaccinated. When I took my son in to the pediatrician to get his Polio vaccination, I asked the Dr to vaccinate me as well. I told him about the article and about getting the measles after missing that vaccine. He laughed and gave us both the drops. I didn’t mind the laugh. I wasn’t going to get Polio from taking care of my child and that’s all that mattered to me. They don’t give Polio drops in the US anymore. This article from the CDC explains that the liquid drops vaccine can lead to what happened to the farmer and that’s why those drops are no longer allowed in the US.

Catching the measles isn’t quite straightforward. There are some after effects. I wonder sometimes what new research could mean diagnostically to my health in the future, so I try to keep up with it, but I don’t dwell on it. From time to time, when someone teases me about being distractible or forgetful, I wonder if I did experience some brain damage. I don’t really remember if people started teasing me about my distractibility before that illness, and no one else does either. In some respects it doesn’t matter. This is the one life I have and it’s had some pretty awesome moments that I’m grateful for.

I do tell the story fairly often though. Measles is dangerous and the effects can compound. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to others. I hope that sharing my story will help people to avoid it.

The Sisters, 400 and Me

There is the matter of that century I signed up for… the 400 Century. The first 3 miles are on a large limited access divided highway. That’s what even the 9 milers are signed up for, to get to go faster down that stretch of concrete on their bikes than they do in their cars. Those who finish the whole ride will also do 97 miles of local roads that I choose not to ride on under any other circumstances, after having made a few exceptions over the last 30 years. If getting chased by the Great Dane was the worst of it, I might ride these roads normally. It’s more the near misses and the times I got yelled at because drivers don’t want to share the road (and you know the kind of profane ugliness that comes with the road rage of the frustrated American driver). I only signed up for the century because it was the last time there would be a ride on 400 due to construction and it’s on that pesky bucket list of mine. It’s so hard to watch a bucket list item go away and do nothing.

In truth, conditions have improved with the advocacy of groups like the ABC, Bike Cobb, Bike Alpharetta, Bike Roswell, and others, but it hasn’t been too long since I went to a town meeting where a planning official was being abusively berated at length by an angry driver that didn’t want bike lanes. We still have far to go. Rage is a dangerous thing, more dangerous when you’re not the one in a 3000 lb vehicle. I’ll be safer in a large group activity with support, but riding these roads is not my comfort zone.

To prep for this discomfort that I not only willingly signed up for, but also dragged Russ into, I decided that on days when I don’t ride (the trail), I should go out and practice “the sisters”, those challenging hills on the century that are right out my back door. So, I went over to Big Sister. Usually when I’m on that hill, I’m walking and it’s easy to forget how long the hill stretches out. I ride flat rail trails and stream beds. I deal with hills by building momentum. But, you lose momentum at the stop sign, and even if there wasn’t one, momentum doesn’t last through a long slow grade.

After walking up Big Sister with my bike, I came home to check published elevations to see if I was initially wrong when I guessed the Big Sister was not a higher climb than Trash Mountain (The biggest elevation change on the Silver Comet, graced by the scent of the adjacent landfill. It’s built in a place where railway right-of-way wasn’t available during construction, so it’s the “real hill” on the Silver Comet). The Big Sister and Trash Mountain are comparable in elevation gain, the whole difference (to me) is in the distance the incline is spread across on Big Sister.

I noticed something else while I had the elevations up. The Sisters didn’t really stand out so much on the graph. There are a lot of hills on the ride. It’s just that the sisters come nearer the end when riders are tired.

When I first started to write this piece, I was talking about needing to train a lot and maybe even completing the whole century. I haven’t really done that level of training. I kept riding through the family trip and the musical bike repairs pretty well, but it turned out to be maintenance, not century training. In most ways, this century is irrelevant to the video project. The timing and requirements are different, but I thought throwing it into the mix would make me a stronger rider. Now, I’m looking at the ride being next weekend, and it’s taken a lot of effort just to ride at all. On top of that, there’s time of year. If you look at a temperature graph of Atlanta, the highs peak right about when the ride is scheduled, stay high through July and start to break around the first week in August. Heat is not my comfort zone either.

Of course, I knew this, and was remembering this, when I signed up. Awareness doesn’t keep it from being a pretty big deal though. I can’t just ignore it. My biggest limitation in riding is heat tolerance. When I get overheated, I get a migraine (unless it’s actually heat stroke, IKR?). I have a tell. When my face looks red, I’m still fine, but when it feels red, when I feel intense heat on my face, that’s when I need to quit and take aspirin, or suffer. I got right up on the edge during a ride a few weeks ago. I stopped when I needed to. It happened to be at the end of my ride. I didn’t take the aspirin though. My face had just started to feel red. I didn’t feel like the terrible symptoms were coming. They didn’t. That made me feel pretty good. I hope it was because I’m more fit (or maybe I just stopped at the right time).

Regardless, I’ve been pushing my heat tolerance all month because the century will be hot. That push is beginning to wear on me. Some days I’ve been tired enough not to do anything very physical except my ride. It’s time to go back to riding in the cooler temps and quit pushing the heat limits. This century will be cool at 7AM when it starts and will heat up later when I’m tired. I’m going to have to treat this as a fun diversion and make sure I don’t stress my body on a level that will cost me in the end. It would have been nice to make this last (and my first) 400 Century Ride a full century for me, but as I look at it from a week out, I’m having to face that for this ride on this day, that’s not going to be the smart choice. That’s ok. It will still be a glorious day.

Tuesday Trippin’ February 23

It’s been a week. I’m grateful that things weren’t worse, but I’m still ready for much better ones. The weather has been great, but I’ve only been out in it once. We had medical emergencies, including one that increased my childcare hours so that a Mom could be in the hospital with her child. Geographically distant relatives also got Covid.

The mask shot

The one day I did ride, was gorgeous, and crowded, at least for out where I was riding it was crowded. I saw a dozen Catrikes. I’ve never seen that many three-wheel recumbents on a single ride, ever. I wondered if it had demographic shift significance. It could have been a fluke, but I was still curious. Was it pandemic related? A wave of retirements related? Just a shift in popularity of cycle type? Some combination of those and other things?

I rode a little less long on that than I otherwise would have because I planned back to back rides I thought I’d get more overall miles if the second ride was the push ride “…best laid plans…” I don’t know what the coming week will bring, but it didn’t bring a ride today, which is the start day of my ride training report week. I’ll see what it brings and meet you back here, same bat time, same bat channel.

The exploration of equipment goes on. Second hand bikes still seem overpriced.The first bike I looked at this morning was probably the right size, but it reviewed as mediocre and was priced above manufacturers suggested retail. I haven’t decided if I should still comb the ad photos of listings that don’t give a size to see if there’s a photo of the size printed or stamped on the frame. I’m not sure why so few sellers list size. I’m a little afraid that those might be more likely to be stolen bikes, or the type of bike that someone who doesn’t even know that adult bikes come in sizes ends up with. I don’t know if the rush to sell that follows the rush to buy will coincide with my time frame either. That desire to clear out the garage comes after the sense of utility slowly fades and asking prices for serious sellers will come down over time, but I haven’t found a deal on a bike that is a fit for us, in any sense of the word.

I found a store in Murfreesboro, TN that deals in recumbent trikes. Their website says they are open by appointment. Going to Murfreesboro is 3.5 to 4 hours, so it’s doable, especially if they have several recumbent trikes in stock to try out for comparison, but a quick look at their website shows brands that are 3 and 4 times the cost of the brand that is available locally, and I don’t know what is actually in stock until I call, and that needs to be just before I’m free to go up there. There’s a real risk in finding out that one of those brands will actually make a significant difference to the success of the project. In theory, the better bike will have a smoother ride, which will result in less required image stabilization, which will result in less image loss. Better images are a totally worthy budget item, if the theory holds water.

Glorious Tuesday Trippin’ February 8

There’s a small older man with a small dog who used to sit on this bench, or the other one directly across the trail from it. He would greet people and wish them a good day. The first few times I saw him, he was smoking. The smell was strong, and while I wanted to feel differently, I wondered how the smoke could be so intensely strong and displeasing and thinking “Well, my day would be better if you weren’t smoking it up.” I would give him my best effort at a smile, but the irritation was probably evident in my body language.

In the spring and summer I would see him often, almost every time I rode by. Then after a while, he wasn’t smoking anymore, at least not when I saw him, and I found it easier to respond to him the way I wanted to. His hands now only holding a leash, he would shoot the empty hand up, his arm high and straight in the air, all five fingers planked tightly together as though there was nothing in the world that he could possibly want more than to have the teacher call on him. And, as he did this he would shout “Hello. Have a glorious day.” projecting strong sincere energy in high fidelity and sometimes saying even more.

I started looking forward to seeing him. I was even thinking of stopping to talk to him. I do this less in a world of masked and unmasked people than I did before. But, I haven’t seen him in a long while. As the temperatures dropped, I hoped it was the cold that kept him away, but there have been pretty days that were warm enough over the winter. Of course, it could be that he’s just there at a different time from me now, but as time passes, I fear it could be lung cancer or Covid or some other awful permanent thing. I miss him and his uncommon exuberance. I hope he’s okay. I hope he’s better than okay. I hope he’s having a GLORIOUS DAY! I hope I get to talk to him some day, to learn his story, to wish him well.

A lot of my rides have glorious moments. This week had fewer. It was on the cold side, and I was feeling pretty punk. I donated blood, but that was after the riding and wasn’t responsible for all of my low energy.

According to the Red Cross, I still don’t have Covid antibodies. No surprise, but being higher on the risk side, and lower on the vaccine priority side, it would be welcome to learn I’d had that magical case that was so mild I didn’t know it happened, but for the antibodies showing up.

I did some of my riding indoors on the recumbent. I don’t count that in my weekly mileage, but this week I’m going to be happy with considering it part of my training. I can ride outdoors in the more miserable weather conditions once I’m filming.

I’ve re-committed to losing weight, so, I’m hungry. I find it hard to do weight loss slow and methodically, the healthy way, because it keeps you hungry, but it’s worth the effort. I think a better weight will be a part of helping me to see the glory in my days.

Until next time, here’s hoping you find it easy to feel the glory in your days, and… do, Have a glorious day!

Training Tuesday November 10

Goal    99 miles

Actual Total  miles 106

1st Ride 16 miles

2nd Ride 28 miles

3rd Ride 28 miles

4th Ride 6

5th Ride 28

Week Total  106 miles

1st Ride:  The fall color change is finally here in full and I’m seeing so much that would be nice for the videos especially on the Silver Comet. Zeta took a lot of the leaves. It will be a shortened color season, but I’m not filming yet, so it only has temporary impact.

2nd Ride:   The paths had less hard tree litter. Usually there will be a path worked in the leaf litter by cyclists, but not so much today. The breezy post hurricane wind moved things around too much for a break in the debris to stay open. It was a good training ride.

3rd Ride:  Another good training ride. My hand is better. I can ride without the padded gloves now, but I’m trying to remember them. My hands are showing that they’ve been held up and out in the sun regularly and I could use the extra protection from the rays.

4th Ride: The ride was shortened because Russ flew over his handle bars at the trail’s intersection with Clarkwood Rd west of Rockmart. There’s a Ghost Bike at the intersection. I don’t know what happened to the rider that bike memorializes. The one article I’ve read on the subject says more about the healthcare provided than the accident and then switches into some boilerplate safety advice that may hint at details or may not.

What happened to Russ is that there was debris in the road. I was riding behind him and had just happened to think (not for the first time) that if I left the marked crossing (which curves) and went straight through the intersection there would be less debris to avoid. If you don’t ride (Or if you have never been stranded by a Mitsubishi transmission barefoot in the middle of an intersection late at night, different story) it can be quite surprising to drivers how much broken glass and other small sharp debris accumulates in some intersections.

So, there I was in clear view of the debris and the Ghost Bike watching Russ go end over teakettle. I heard a loud metal clang, which was apparently his handlebar hitting the bollard, that barrier post with the hazard stripes that keeps motorized vehicles off the path. He flipped over and down the hill and luckily stopped rolling before the bottom. I caught up to him and started to find and pick up things like his wallet. After a few minutes I said “I’m being quiet to give you time to process, but I do care.” I’m not sure he heard the “but I do care” because he was responding with “More of that please.” I went for the car. As I drove him home, I asked him to explain his injuries to me, just so I’d know what to do. It took him a few days before he actually had it all figured out, or partly figured out at least. He was trying to get control of the bike back. The uneven pavement here is really not too bad when your in control of the bike, but he was coming from the grass and out of control.It might have contributed.

5th Ride: I did that one without Russ. Thankfully, it was pretty uneventful.

I was pretty surprised that he was interested in getting back on the bike the next week. That’s when we noticed how bent his handlebars were.

We’re thankful that he’s seems ok, bent but moving forward. I got a little behind in my writing, but the updates will catch up to events soon.

Real World Dreaming in A Virtual World Game

by Karen

Whole Farm

This is one of two posts about my love-hate experience with Farmville.com. Here, I share how my Farmville design pays tribute to a co-op based farming and crafting educational center that I would like to build. The actual Farmville experience is somewhat tangential for this post. The Farmville context is here primarily because being otherwise engaged in distracting activities like playing a brainless game occupies the part of my mind that is in overdrive and gives me a little dreaming space. So, with no more delay, here is a little trip into the vision of one player.

Farmville is off the charts in “cute”, but it doesn’t translate well into the real world (or try). So, my imagineering includes things that are what they seem, but also things that are not so much real world features. What those things mean to me is not apparent without the back story. For example: I have a green leprechaun garden gnome in each corner of the farm, a lighthearted acknowledgment that I will need pots of gold for start-up cash. Some features represent key parts of my plan while others are just a bit of available whimsy.

I’ll share my co-op by beginning in the north at the top corner, continuing around the farm clockwise, and then finishing in the center. The general store and co-op in the southeast are the central theme of my vision and they contain the core features, so, if you are the “skip straight to dessert” type, be sure to look there.

North, The Festivals

In the north corner there is a castle with three hot-air balloons. The balloons are placed closely together as they would be for an evening glow at a balloon festival. These balloons together with  the castle remind me of Malcolm Forbes’s more famous pursuits. But, surprisingly, they are not among those things placed on my farm in whimsy. Renaissance Festivals and Hot-Air Balloon Festivals both present a magnet for revenue and potential for education that could be carried into year ’round in activities as varied as costuming, crafting, cooking, sports, physics demonstrations, history lessons and creative writing inspiration. I have the background to pull off either type of festival successfully (preferably both, and about 6 months apart to distribute labor and attractions).  These events could realistically bring tourist dollars to the co-op area and also support to the educational and outreach portions of the co-op.


Moving East, the Forest

Along the northeast perimeter of the farm there is a forest. I like to idealize this forest as a primary forest with pristine riparian zones and areas for recreation, education and conservation. I’d love for this program to be part of conserving a large forest at risk, but If this type forest does not exist on or near my co-op location, we may instead visit Public Lands or commercial forests on field trips, in books or on websites where we can teach and learn about the differences between different types of private, public and commercial forests, what makes each type of forest important or unique and why they all need to exist. Often, even the people managing one of these types of forest knows little or nothing about the other types. That understanding is, however, important to good management, communication, community planning, strong business interests and sustainability, even to understanding the evening news.

Educators Willing to also Learn

The two schoolhouses beside the forest represent balance and two-way learning, educators as students and students as educators. People love to tell you what they think they know. Many non-profit organizations fail to help a community because they view a problem from the outside and preach solutions that worked in a different setting, culture or context, but they fail to adapt to the unique aspects of a particular situation or to listen to the people they are trying to helping. I have seen many surprising examples in the documentation of organizations you know. There have been improvements in recent years and many of the more complex issues in his type of work are now making it to the public through news media and outreach, bringing about a more widespread familiarity with relevant complexities, but there is also a greater profusion of material that is churned out by people fed on opinion, sensationalism and fallacy. While better information is available, the water is murkier and in many ways we must work harder than ever to find the pearls and stay on target.

To handle these issues, this program will be about adaptation and two-way communication. We will look to see how other programs achieve success and where they have failed and if they hold a relevant lesson for us. There is a new age in these programs. Some organizations are applying business skills and careful analysis to finding the best ways to create benefits and independence rather than dependency. Finding the promise and the success will be difficult, but it is more achievable than ever before.

You Know There have to be Bikes Involved!

In the school as well as throughout the program, everything and everyone will multi-task. For example: The bicycles outside the schools are great for transportation or recreation. There are the more common modern bicycles as well as the old fashioned penny farthings that add extra interest and fun. When compared to each other, these bicycles can also be used to teach a lesson on gearing and mechanical advantage, or a history lesson on when and how the two different styles developed, or even their history and relevance to women’s rights movements. The bicycles in this area fit into the plan in other ways. There could be paved and mountain biking trails with rentals, cycling events to promote healthy outdoor activities, a program that repairs and redistributes donated bicycles, and more.


Make it So

The stable is my “lemonade stand”. By that I mean that it represents an opportunity to make the best of things. I do not expect my co-op to actually have stables, but life is about unexpected opportunities and balancing focus with openness. The stable is here to remind me not to get too carried away in my vision to be able to see. In some ways this is the central point of my theme. There is a firm structure and a business plan that show up primarily in the co-op, but the stables really represent the mission statement. If life presents the co-op with stables and someway to manage them in a manner that benefits the program, there should be stables. If something else works, we need only to be able to see and say yes, to follow through and act on opportunity.

In the east corner there are barns. In Farmville the barns are used to store all of the farm loot that you accumulate through play. (As an aside, Farmville can be seen as a “green” choice because it gives us a place to use that compulsive, seemingly evolutionary desire to collect stuff, trophies or statues, or to satisfy that need to keep up with the neighbors, without the accompanying accumulation of actual real world material goods).

The barn is another building that may or may not exist at my co-op. For now let’s say that one barn is for farm use and equipment. We can think of it as the facility plant where maintenance equipment is stored. The second is multipurpose. In the fall there may be dances, weddings, hay rides, movie nights, community meetings or other traditional and non-traditional activities.

The storage building beside the barns represents a drop off point for a community recycling program. Usually these groups are dedicated to keeping useful things out of landfills. They use any number of media platforms to connect people with things that they don’t need to people who could use those things. The program is not designed for people who are selling, rather for those who are giving things away so that the purchase price is never what causes a thing to go in the landfill that might otherwise be used for a new purpose or by a new person.

Sometimes those things are big ticket items, but more often they are small, Often they garage sale leftovers. I’ve seen people give away something as small as coupons, as nice as expensive event tickets on or as big as a boat. There is a sense of paying it forward and sometimes givers even offer to mail paper items. Givers and receivers can meet in a central location, but usually pick things up at the owner’s home.  Since I’d be starting from scratch, I think a program of my own design with a central drop off point might create stronger benefits for this type of area in privacy and total miles driven by participants. I’ve recently heard of a tent in New York that is open 24 hours a day and based on the same principle. There is no need to provide security for the tent because everything is free and the tent is open 24 hours a day. Whether or not 24 hour access might be wise in the coop area would involve many considerations currently unknown.

Water is Life

Moving south, as we approach the general store (my representation of the co-op); there are a well, a pump, and a water barrel all together. They are here to acknowledge the importance of water. Water is life, and all of the water on Earth has been recycled through natural earth filters time and again. How we use water and how we conserve and care for it, whether or not we allow it to clean itself before reuse, whether or not we use water from aquifers faster than natural processes can refill it, all will dictate our future for many generations to come. Somewhere on my co-op there will be a large mural depicting a local river with a quote that closes one of my favorite books, A River Runs Through It “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

And now for my co-op!

The general store and the fruit, flower and farmer’s market stands all represent the co-op portion of my plan. It is the core of the project and will contain fresh farmers market items, both produce and prepared goods, as well as a craft items. My co-operative is partly modeled after CASEM, a co-op that I visited and studied in Monteverde, Costa Rica, and it will be partly modeled on others. I would like to offer a micro-loan program for participants similar to the model of Grameen Bank. The Rwanda Project is a specific example of how micro-loans are working in foreign countries. I see the micro-loans as a means for participants who could not otherwise purchase supplies for crafting to get a start with the hand up rather than hand out philosophy.

The co-op will offer programs for adults as well as children and we will have leaders who can follow as well as lead. It will have low level goals like teaching a skill or learning facts and it will have high level goals like improving the fundamental quality of life for those who participate.

My co-op will differ from CASEM in that it will provide facilities for crafting in addition to sales space. We will provide for a wide variety craft activities from needle and paper arts to pottery, candle making, design, painting, sewing, paper mache’ and possibly woodworking, weaving or doll making. If someone donates equipment of any kind we will see what we can do with it. One can earn the use of the facilities by working in the co-op for a certain number of hours, by paying, or with a combination of both, what ever fits their need. I see these facilities in rooms across the back of the building with space to market co-op goods in front and cafe’ space in between. Goods from the co-op will also be offered via the Internet, possibly through a vendor like Etsy, possibly through a self-run program, possibly both. Teaching or learning business and financial skills will be an important part of the program from balancing of personal budgets to actual cost-benefit analysis to scheduling and motivation. I plan to build synergy. Volunteers who teach or work may also benefit by attending classes to learn other skills or trades, or they may simply volunteer.

I see this as located in a rural area, supplementing the incomes of stay at home parents or others who would like to earn more. However, the co-op also needs to be located in a area where there is access to brick and mortar customers as well as the Internet customers, near an interstate between rest stops where travelers might wish to stop or near a vacation spot are potential locations. It could also be on an urban edge and help to preserve a family farm or critical habitat. It will have several features to attract customers and visitors. These may include a dog walk-rest station for travelers with pets; a store/eatery, possibly a bakery (people are much more likely to buy a cup of coffee or a trinket for a good cause than to donate, so, I will invite people to support the program in the most comfortable ways possible),

I’m a HAM, Russ is a HAM

I see a HAM station for education, communication and emergency preparedness (I would love it if the HAM station doorway were a scale replica of a blue police box, adjoining a room for the bigger inside effect. The Dr Who allegory would be great. Which Dr.’s Tardis would you choose? And, the real world history and culture that apply are pretty cool too). We may have an Internet cafe’ with secure internet access, a borrowers bookcase, or Little Free Libraries outside, maybe a download spot and/or a listening area for audio books.

The co-op will offer things like frozen yogurt, Dole Whips (You ought not to have to go to the Magic Kingdom or Hawaii to get one of those!) or Great Harvest Bread, whatever franchises  or independent goods that research indicates to be best justified for the location. A co-op branded line of value added foods might offer the best long-term potential, canned in glass Mason jars with a recycling program. The basic goal would be to provide value added goods and services that will draw people to spend a few minutes and a few dollars to support the co-op, and in turn support the community while receiving something tangible or intangible in return. I want people to drop in for creature comforts, but to leave with something more, and to get that extra something that makes them want to linger, then come to back over and over.

The interior design of the building will use layers of visual interest that teach, amuse, and inspire, perhaps on a rotating basis. People who stop in for a cup of coffee or a light meal will notice something new on each visit. The building may be LEEDS certified construction or renovation, potentially built as a project with a local trade school, or with recent graduates. The emphasis will be on using local labor to feed the local economy.

Decor will be part retro-historic, part local flavor, part whatever is most popular and inviting at the time and it will come together to involve the community in as many ways as possible. For instance, I wouldn’t just hire local talent to paint a mural, but also get local talent to teach and create more local talent while producing the mural. Perhaps an artist-teacher could work with a 4-H group, a group of scouts or a group from a school or church teaching the children how to paint. A mural might be in a classroom that would also be available for meetings afterward so that the new artists could enjoy their own work with pride on a regular basis. I would like my co-op to provide a community gathering spot, both in the Internet cafe’ and for other things, perhaps a book club, game night, trivia night or whatever else is positive and takes root. My building will have a courtyard with a green or live wall and a staircase leading to the green roof above.

Many of the building furnishings will come from auctions, thrift stores and donations. If there is an existing building like the silo behind the general store or the lighthouse that could be repurposed with style, it would be incorporated into the plan. The more unique, the better. Local memorabilia large and small will add character. The parking lot might use porous pavers laid out with a local historic map design and there will be shade trees for cooler summer parking. A location at a crossroads to other local attractions would be perfect. Adding to the number of local attractions will increase pull to the area. The co-op will offer books, collectibles and art that reflect what is unique about the location, possibly renting booths, possibly not.

Beginning to End

Next is another feature that bears explanation, the crop circle. Less whimsy than it appears, it is inspired by a woman I heard about on the radio. She plants her front yard with wheat every year. When it is ready she invites all of the neighborhood children to make bread, teaching all of the processes from start to finish. I envision this lesson done on a larger scale than most front yards in conjunction with local schools and the side lessons could be varied as, cooking, home economics, self-sufficiency, the moral of the Little Red Hen, soil conservation, geography, landscape planning or why wheat grows best in the breadbasket of the U.S., even a lesson on where different foods come from historically. Whatever fits the needs of students has potential to be a part of it. Putting a crop circle or a maze in the wheat field could add extra fun for the kids, extra motivation for visitors to stop and see what is happening, maybe lead to additional lessons, but the big picture is in the seeds to bread lesson.

South

Monteverde Inspiration

While the farming portion of the co-op will focus on vegetables, the dairy and pig farms pictured side by side represent concepts I learned in agro-ecology as illustrated by the Monteverde Cheese Factory and the pig farm to which it donates by-products (whey). This pig farm has a wonderful design that has several levels of recycling to maximize the utility of inputs and reduce waste products to near zero. We might or might not ever have meat products. It is the multiple layers of efficiency and waste free design that I wish to carry through to my farm more than the food animals. I will carry inspired planning, economy, recycling and minimal waste through in every feature of my design, from farm produce to arts and crafts produced to the furnishings of the buildings.

Beside the dairy are the hen house and green houses. This area moves into tour, tell and touch areas that would be attractive to youth education programs. The south corner is a petting zoo. If I have a petting zoo, mine will not look like the traditional concept. It will be spread around in separate enclosures rather than located in a single spot and will have very traditional animals that you would have seen on farms fifty and a hundred years ago, heirloom or heritage animals. The idea will be to come closer to naturalized enclosures. There might be a variety of chicken breeds, perhaps chickens of the rainbow with a big rainbow worked into the enclosure and coop designs.

West

Moving west, we find bees in the middle of a field. Beekeeping can provide honey, beeswax and beeswax crafts for sale as well as an opportunity to teach the importance of pollination and pollinators, the variety of pollinators and the struggles that beekeepers and farmers alike are now facing. The lesson would carry through to also talk about dispersers.

Dinner on the Grounds

Continuing west there are two long tables. This is a place for a dinner as a celebration of local and organic foods, connecting people to each other and to their food sources. We may invite the folks from Out Standing in a Field to put on a first class shindig for a special occasion, or we could go the more traditional route with a more lowbrow feast, fantastic all the same. I remember a painting my mother did “Dinner on the Grounds” of the Sunday picnic on the country church grounds as she remembered it from her childhood. This outdoors celebration in connection with our roots and our sustenance is a old as the hills, but the reconnection sometimes requires an event, a happening, to bring people together and back to the hills. Geography of food is a possible lesson for the educational version of this event, history is another and arts still another. On the other hand, it could be a good occasion for an outdoor movie showing or a concert, again, whatever takes flight.

Continuing west we run into the wind farm. These are modern smart grid windmills that can power the co-op, charge cars, or sell power back to the grid. Cars can plug into the co-op building and serve as battery back-up when not in use. That would be part, but not all, of a more complete off-grid or  If wind is scarce and water is plentiful, the primary power source would be water. Either might have solar supplements. Pieces of smart grid technology are already in use in many markets, but a small sample of the most complete system possible at my co-op would show a fuller picture and help to spread the design. It would be nice if co-op and, especially features like the pottery kilns and the kitchen, were self sufficient in on-site wind, water or solar power.

Something to do While you Charge your Car

The area from the west corner leading back up to the north represents a recreational area. The forest and the Japanese Zen garden are for walking, enjoying the outdoors, meditating, learning about other cultures or simply appreciating the day. They will be part of the draw for visitors. Aside from being among the most beautiful of gardens, a Japanese garden might provide a basis for foreign exchange students to participate in internships. The Japanese theme is dear to my heart, but there could be a different theme to suit what ever may come. I would attempt to treat the relationship between local and global much the same as the Tennessee Aquarium. While not the largest or showiest, I believe the Tennessee Aquarium is one of the best I have ever visited because it has excellent displays that are primarily local, but it also places what is local in a global context for a richer understanding and greater appreciation of setting.

Central Area

Four trails lead toward the center where we have what Farmville calls the Botanical Garden. It represents the primary greenhouse to me. I actually envision this as attached to the co-op building. I would like for it to have a selection of plants chosen for local knowledge, health, clean indoor air, environmental awareness and of course marketability. I see these plants as fitting into three broad groups. One group will be unique types of fruits. There are a some varieties of fruit where only one selection of that variety is common or known in the continental US, but others exist. Kiwi and papaya are examples. If I can show one or more uncommon varieties in the green house it will give visitors one more reason to stop in. It might also provide a basis for co-op branded products and possibly present the potential for a different type of student internship.

A second group would be indigenous plants like orchids and other unexpected plant varieties that seem exotic, but aren’t. This would help people realize that there are amazing indigenous species in their own backyard so to speak, to learn the advantages of planting native species and to appreciate the biological heritage of the area.

A third grouping of plants could be those that are known to improve indoor air quality. I hope that the greenhouse will be an area that is of significant enough interest to stand alone as an attraction.

Somewhere between the greenhouse and the social space I plan to have a green (plant) wall and perhaps the co-op will have a green roof.

Co-op Central

And, finally, dead center is the farmer, me. That’s where I pop in to my Farmville farm when I log on and my dog Red runs in to greet me. I am surrounded by benches and plants because my virtual world neighbors can fertilize my crops faster if I am “contained” by objects, otherwise they must wait for my farmer character to walk everywhere they click. I have contained myself with things that are pleasant and I have placed doves on an olive branch nearby. Inside with me there is an open space. Every time I get the chance, I adopt an ugly duckling to put it in the spot beside me. Over time the bird realizes that it is, in fact, a beautiful swan. A sign pops up to tell me that the bird is ready. I click the transform button and move it over to join the other swans in the lake and the spot opens up again. I hope to sit beside many ducklings and watch as they transform themselves and learn to appreciate who they are and teach me what they know. This is a great center for my farm. After all, transformation is the whole point, isn’t it?

I have left a lot of questions unanswered. Location for instance. Many people think romantically about non-profit work and want to go abroad to exotic locations. That is a good thing, but charity begins at home and you never need to look very far away for an opportunity to make a difference. The right mix of conditions could exist in many locations. I sometimes imagine it near where I grew up in south Alabama or other places in the southeast because these are areas I know well. My actual location could be anywhere the co-op is needed, supported, feasible and finds its funding.

How realistic is my dream? I know that it will work and it can produce the expected results. It needs someone like me with diverse talent, education who has energy and the potential to help people.

In the minus column, it will require a lot of start up funding, a small amount by many standards, but a large amount to me. My toughest feat would be in competing for those start-up dollars with large non-profits and their even larger fund-raising machines in a stressed economy. The stressed economy makes the project both more important and harder to fund at the same time. According to a Guideposts white paper I just received, non-profits are down 25% while at the same time I see more and more emphasis on fund raising activities in articles, drives and job postings.

My strong points will be that this plan is unique in how it fits together. It should work to relieve economic and other social woes. It works with people not for them. It will become self-supporting so that the need for charitable funding would decrease over time while the project would be permanent. These are all strong advantages. It would be extraordinary if the sun were to rise on a real world benefit, just as it sets on a virtual world distraction.

Who wants to help me with building a co-op using whatever works? If you don’t know the right person, why don’t you pass this along and see if any of your friends do?

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.