Magnificent Monarchs on St Mark’s

by Karen

Monarch Migration St Marks NWR

Monarch Migration at St Marks NWR

As I go about the business of putting a life back together, there’s nothing I’d like more than an escape to the sandy beaches of my youth. I look forward to the point when I will have enough settled to feel like I can responsibly be away for a little while. The shore is where I feel most at home, but these days “You can’t go home again” has extra meaning. Not in the sense that the physical house that was my home is gone, but more in the sense that the place that is my other home, the place where a part of me belongs, has changed. It’s not just that the barefoot casual place that was wild and accessible when I was young has been overrun with highrises and upscale brand names. It’s also that now, when I walk down the beach, there will be some point when a little hint of discomfort makes me wonder about the effects of BP dispersants, EPA waivers on paper company scrubbers and Monsanto. What persistent heavy duty chemicals am I grinding into my heels to be absorbed through my skin?

I came across this un-posted entry while going through the inner workings of my blog and getting ready to write and post on a rigorous schedule. In some ways it may seem like I’m not on target for the “new” face of my old blog, but this little piece of heaven that I first wrote about three years ago is exactly the point, so here is my updated post.

We were heading away from the Okefenokee NWR toward St. Josephs Peninsula in a leisurely “see things along the way” path when we pulled into St Mark’s NWR. We arrived as the Visitor’s Center was closing. As the ranger was walking down the ramp Russ asked “What’s the one thing we need to know?” She attempted to narrow our interests and then told us about the current state of a few different animals. She said “I don’t know if the Monarchs are still down there. I haven’t been down today.”

I missed seeing the Monarchs en masse at the end of their migration in Mexico on a visit to Leon a few years back. A case of Montezuma’s revenge kept me from heading for the hinterlands, so this was a pleasant surprise. We headed toward the lighthouse, slowing for deer and stopping to see a few birding sights along the way. I let out a little gasp when we drove by a bush covered in Monarchs. Russ didn’t see it. When he heard me he thought there was a traffic hazard.

We made it (accident free) to the light house and there they were by the hundreds. They were spread about, near and far, but no other bushes covered with the density of the first one I had seen on Lighthouse Rd. They were flying in groups, almost swarming. They were in pairs sometimes swirling around one another. At times it looked like a mating dance. We wandered around for a few minutes taking photos and the sun sank in the sky, none quite captured the experience. It wasn’t my dream of seeing them densely packed by the hectare in Mexico, but it was a little piece of the dream and because it was unexpected. There was nothing real or imagined for it to live up to, just an unexpected afternoon joy.

Monarchs migrate to and from all over North and Central America. A local event that celebrates the Monarch butterfly happens annually in July at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. The festival delights children as well as adults. It is filled with creativity, learning and celebration. There are butterfly releases, face painting and a journey through the woods that illustrates the journey of the Monarchs, last time I went there was a native plant sale in conjunction with the festival, and it was truly one of the best events for engaging children that I have attended.

Here is a link from the World Wildlife Federation here here is a tracking site and here is an article from The Economist. I’d be cautious about how that advice in The Economist is characterized though. If you share my dream to see these magnificent insects at their densest, “stampede” isn’t the way to go about things. Tourist money may well stop illegal logging, but large numbers of tourists without care can “love them to death” with as much damage as loggers do.

The only thing more wonderful than seeing this natural spectacle, would be the pleasure of taking my children and grandchildren, something that seems more at risk in the last year. This year was again a year when migration numbers have been disturbingly lower than any previously recorded lows. It has also become a political ploy, showing up in divisive “shame on you” advertising, messages and memes that tend to overwhelm, un-inform and shut down everyone and everything positive or progressive, bringing the miracle into the realm where vocabulary is loaded, real thought is suspended and nothing is sacred.

The truth though is that it is sacred, no matter how some would politify and deface it. That which is natural and beautiful is sacred, above and beyond whether or not it is recognized as such. Another truth is that we get to live in the world we create and so do our great grandchildren. So give the power to your faith and your habits rather than your pundits. Our decisions count. From the decision to re-use items rather than letting them go to the landfill all the way to the decision to step on the podium and offer up an alternative. It is all connected and it all matters.

Borrower’s Bookcase

By Karen

The first time my lodging came with a lending library I was in Turrialba, Costa Rica at a bed and breakfast. The bookcase was centrally located near the dining area. Don’t imagine a Victorian cottage when I say this, rather something elegantly rustic with open space, cool breezes, hammocks, tropical plants and a lot of fresh fruit on the menu. The large bookcase had a sign the said “Take one, Leave One”, permission for which I was grateful because I found a book that I couldn’t put down and didn’t have time to finish. Later I stayed at the lodge in Volcanoes National Park on the “big island” of Hawaii and there was a bookcase headboard. These books were hard bound and didn’t seem to offer themselves up the way the books in Costa Rica did, but I appreciated the more temporal loan none the less. I decided that staying in the kind of place that offered books was the ultimate luxury. Then I didn’t see it much anymore for a long time.

I remembered how much I enjoyed the loan of books while away from home when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I was collecting donations from around my home. I was cash poor and beyond that, I don’t like to throw cash indiscriminately at a problem when I don’t know how it will be spent. I had been through hurricanes before. I knew what kind of things you need when your front porch is two blocks away and there’s a tire on your bed. I sent the obvious things. Linens, first aid supplies, air mattresses, extra travel toiletry kits that the airlines gave away on international flights, spare suitcases. I also went through all my bookcases and pulled out every book I was willing to part with, and a couple that I knew I would replace. They were books that I would enjoy reading if I were stuck in the Astrodome or some other shelter for an indefinite period of time.

I was reminded of these things on a recent trip to south Florida. We were camping in the Everglades without electricity, thus no radio. The sky was clear, but just as we were leaving a storm came quickly and we were caught in the rain, a cold wind driven rain leaving us soaked and shivering. (Now we have a wind-up solar radio with NOAA channels). Places to warm up and dry off are few and far between on the Tamiami Trail. When you do make it to civilization, you find yourself in the high rent district just as suddenly as that storm rose, and we drove north along the interstate for some time looking for a place to stay for a price we’d pay. Beyond tired and not quite dry, we finally stopped at a mid-level chain hotel. They had the standard free breakfast room adjacent to the lobby, and in the corner beside a built in bench seat was a book case. Seeing that unexpected bookcase was the emotional equivalent of a warm fire.

My love of a book borrowed probably started in childhood. My father had a particular book that he liked to share with anyone who seemed interested. We joked about how many copies he must have bought over time, and still I have no idea what that number might be, only were it was that we looked to see if a copy was currently residing in the bookcase. There has been a borrower’s bookcase at the YMCA where I work out for many years. I am seeing them in more and more places and they are filled with promise. The promise of a good story or idea shared, the promise of recycling, the promise of a little enlightenment or levity. The last book that I put into a borrowers bookcase was given to me by a roommate from Canada while I was traveling in Japan. Her other book went home with a Czech. It is not just a shared book, but a well traveled book. I wonder if the books in these cases were tracked like dollar bills on “Where’s George?” or a Geocoin if the story of how the book came to be in the bookcase might be as interesting as the book itself.

Here’s my suggestion. If you are in charge of a space where people linger, if there is space, even for a small book case, put one there. If you are on a low budget, get the bookcase at Goodwill and do a good deed while you’re doing a good deed. If you do not have books to share, you can get your seed books there too, or get them when the public library has its annual purge.

Children Lead a Wildlife

by Karen

This week, March 15-21, is National Wildlife Week and a great time to get outside. From local and urban parks to National Wilderness Areas people seek nature to play, enjoy the view, blow off steam, meditate, pray, study or simply relax. That begins in childhood for some. In fact, some of our greatest scientists were inspired by childhood experiences outdoors, for example Richard Feynman and E. O Wilson.

It’s not just those who go on to careers in science who have important connections through childhood experiences outdoors. Outdoor recreation is connected to health and well being throughout life. I became most in tune with these connections in childhood when I chaperoned a group of middle school children on two school trips. They were pretty much the same group of children on both trips, one to Washington D. C. and the other to a nature retreat in the north Georgia mountains. The children were equally excited about both trips, but turned on for the outdoor experience in a way that I did not see in our nation’s capitol. That’s why I’m writing about the upcoming National Wildlife Week. After sharing the outdoors experience with these kids, I decided to become PTA Chairperson for the Energy and Environment Committee. In that position, I became familiar with some of the programs of the National Wildlife Federation. The programs they had then, for example, Certified Wildlife Habitats, are still going.

They also have new materials and new alliances, not just designed to foster an appreciation of wildlife and the joys of nature, but also to combat health problems like fighting childhood obesity. The NWF has partnered with the movie campaign for Where the Wild Things Are and their website features a character doll, Lanie, made by American Girls. Lanie “discovers the world in her own backyard” in her hometown of Boston. She’s the girl of the year and available for just one year.

It is good to have a special time when you call attention to things that are important, but those things are important always. So, if you can’t plan anything in time for outdoors week, or if you come by this post a week, or six months after outdoors week, the kids, the outdoors, the fun and the opportunities for learning will still be around and there are plenty of ways to get involved year ’round. Here are some suggestions from the NWF, but there is no reason to stop there. The first organization that pops into your head is most likely to be the one with which you have the strongest connection.

We plan to attend the Wakulla Wildlife Festival for our celebration. We’ll let you know how it goes!

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.

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.

A Hum Tater Lecture

I was doing some internet research yesterday and ended up on the Georgia Organics web page. I checked the calendar just to see if there was anything interesting scheduled. A wild edibles lecture was listed for a different organization, Mushroom Club of Georgia. It had not been two weeks since I had attended a wild edibles hike in a nearby state park. It was conducted by the summer intern and she did a great job, but she was not local and she was still early in her education. I didn’t learn anything and that left me wanting. You never know, you could end up lost and hungry. Russ and I decided to go.

The visiting lecturer was Jerry Hightower, a 30 year veteran of the National Park Service and a local who grew up wandering the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area before it was a part of the National Park System. His lecture was a hum tater. That is a word he used to describe one of the refreshing beverages he was telling us how to make. “What does that mean?” he was asked. “You’re not from around here are you?” he answered, and then he said “Hum tater means that it is good”. And, by the way, I learned that acid content is what makes refreshing beverages refreshing and that there are several things you might have in your own backyard to make one.

Ranger Hightower had a great sense of humour and he was so jam packed with information that not even he could remember to say it all. Great questions from the room brought out even more. While the talk was given at a mushroom group meeting, none of his information was actually about mushrooms. He will give another presentation with a walk in the spring and promised to send us an email to let us know when. I’m looking forward to that.

The meeting was held at the Central Congregational Church in Atlanta, a very nice setting. Mushroom Club members were friendly and welcoming and there were plenty of well placed signs. The church has a long driveway that forks and other activities were also happening in the building. The signs kept us from needing to ask any questions anywhere along the way. Refreshments were served and there was a specimen table. I’ll definitely be going back.

Ranger Hightower had a table full of recommended books. Some of his recommendations are below. He cautioned that some of the books had great information, but were slim on actual identification (a pretty important part huh?). One book in particular had common names and was written from an European perspective, so that some of the common names were not the same as the ones that would be used here. It sounded like the best idea might be to get a few books and use the best parts of each. He said that most of the books were readily available from a number of sources, book stores, Dover. I didn’t hear him say so, but I expect they might also be available at the Island Ford Visitor’s Center.

Ranger Hightower singled out the next two books as recommended:

His version of this book was older and shared authorship with Dykeney

He also had several books by this author, including this one.

Canoeing the Hooch: An Elaborate Ruse

The time/money trade off is at the heart of the challenge in making it through a span of unemployment. There are things you would like to do, and there is time to do them because you can’t spend all of every day seeking that elusive next position, but making the emergency fund last as long as it needs to is the background stress making you wonder if it is really ok to take some time for fun. We thought a canoe trip would strike the balance. We already had the canoe, it was not motorized so no registration was required. It would cost parking fees and gas. We were going to canoe the Hooch, from Powers Island to the boat ramp Northridge Parkway Parking lot in West Palisades Recreation Area so gas would be minimal and parking would be $3 at each of two parking lots. This was the same route I had taken on an outing with the Georgia Conservancy in a raft with a friend from Missouri a few years back and I knew that it was a nice stretch. Russ had Monday off, so we had a plan.

It rained all evening Sunday and the forecast called for more on Monday. We talked about the effect on the river and and changed the alarm. Monday’s weather was looking better and about mid morning I said that I was tempted to go look at the river to see what it really looked like and Russ said that he thought we might as well take the canoe while we were at it. In for a penny… The river looked just as I expected it to, fast, muddy and high. I said I was 50/50 and he could push me either way. Russ wanted to go. We had taken separate rental kayaks on flat unchallenging water together, but had never floated together in a canoe. I had been out with my father as a child, but he always made all the decisions and did all of the paddling. There is only so much you can pick up through osmosis. So I said a little more, that I didn’t have the skill and couldn’t swim against the current, only at an angle with it, but I was happy to go if he felt that he had the skill to go alone and I would help as I could. He was confident. We dropped the car and headed up to Powers Island to put in. There was a put in on the narrower east side of the island with a course marked. We decided that was the least troublesome landing to use in high water and we were off.

Once you float underneath 285 there are a couple of apartment complexes and then things begin to look remote. There are hiking trails, but not much human activity until you near the take out ramp. Traffic sounds are quieted by the tree covered bluffs. Heron, ducks and other wildlife can be seen on the river and there is very little sense over this part of the river that you are in the middle of a large metropolitan area. We were having fun and getting used to paddling together. Russ was steering and giving me instruction the way we learned in previous raft trips. I was very comfortable. The things he was telling me to do were the things I would have chosen myself and we were working well together. We sailed through Devil’s Race Course and Russ decided we should pull out and look at the river ahead. We pulled out on the west side and there was a map posted on the trail along with a good view of the river ahead. We got back in and headed downstream again.

Things were going great until they weren’t. I’m not sure what turned us over or exactly where we were. I didn’t feel it when it passed underneath me so it must have been just a tiny unexpected bump as opposed to all the more seemingly risky things that we had passed through without incident. That little surprise and boom. As soon as we came up and both grabbed the boat and Russ said “This was all an elaborate ruse. I knew if I asked you to go swimming, you’d say no”. You’ve gotta love a sense of humor that is stronger than the current.

What we learned is that we work well together while wet and that we are actually able to right a pretty much sunken canoe and get back in it under less than ideal conditions. It took two attempts. During the first attempt I didn’t raise my end high enough and it didn’t quite empty. Russ’ Chapstick came out of his pocket. We both watched it float across the space between us and then away. Neither of us said a word. Neither of us was willing to let go of flotation, paddle or canoe to reach for it. It was a strangely quiet little pause as we both watched it pass.

I got to a higher rock. We righted and emptied the canoe. He held it steady while I stepped up still higher on the highest rock my feet could find, into the center of the canoe and then moved up to my seat. I knew that the canoe would begin to move downstream as soon as Russ tried to enter the boat. I looked straight forward and tried to be the best counter balance I could, but there was no need. I couldn’t believe it worked. I had prepared myself to take another dive. Not only was I surprised by the fact that we were under way and dryish, I was also surprised by the next thing I heard. Russ said “Ok, now this will really be a team building exercise because my glasses are at the bottom of the river. You need to be my eyes.” I hadn’t even noticed. We were also down to one paddle now.

I began to look for calm water and to direct him toward it. We used the standard clock type communication…”It’s at 10:00″ and so on. To make sure there were no hearing problems I began to confirm information with my arms like a cheerleader with big arm movements, left or right when he needed to go that way, then clapped together above my head for straight ahead. We looked for the paddle as we floated the remainder of the trip and never found it. Russ paddled alone for the duration. In a small tributary on the west there was a man with his dog. The man would throw float toys into the water and the dog was playing the happiest game of fetch that I think I’ve ever seen.

We got out at the boat ramp and both felt a little rush of gratitude for landing without further excitement. The trip was a good bit more expensive than planned with the loss of the glasses and the paddle, but all things considered we really weren’t too much the worse for the wear and we’re already talking about our next trip.