Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Fresh Air Barbecue.

When I was a kid I would often ride with my parents on trips between Macon GA and Atlanta GA and sometimes to points north such as Ellijay GA. All places where my parents had homes or businesses or both.

To keep from traveling on the boring Interstate all of the time my parents would often jump off to ride a state highway. Because, face it--Interstate highways are not known for beauty and variety. If you ride the backroads you get to see isolated parks and rivers and lakes and encounter quirky villages tucked away in the country.

One spot that would always cause us to pause in our journeys was a restaurant called Fresh Air Barbecue in Jackson, Georgia. The place was legendary by the time I was a kid. We'd pull over into their big parking lot, go in and usually order sandwiches and chips to go, with drink. I know everyone says this a lot, and everyone has their favorite barbecue joint...but the barbecued pork at Fresh Air is the best I have ever tasted. It is indescribably delicious in every way. No barbecue I have ever tasted comes close.

So, when Carole and I were staying at Indian Springs State Park, we made sure to ride up to the old Fresh Air Barbecue and order a couple of meals. Carole was dubious about my stories concerning the unmatched quality of the barbecue, but she was soon singing their praises, too.

I had not been there in decades, and the flavor of their food was everything I had remembered.

Seriously. If you ever get even the slightest chance to eat at this place, do it. The world's best barbecue.

The place hadn't changed! Pretty much as I recalled it.

Fresh Air Barbecue. The best 'cue I've ever tasted.

I love it when something remains much the same as it has existed since my youth.

The same sawdust floors at the outdoor benches and tables.

Even the interior was the same.

Do yerself a favor: get you some barbecue here.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Driving to Find Snow.

When you live in a town that rarely sees snow, or even cold winter weather, you sometimes have to take the initiative to find a place to play in the snow.

So it was one day when Carole and I jumped in the truck and headed to the North Carolina high country to find some real winter weather. We were not disappointed.

At Carvers Gap on the NC/TN border.
Sometimes you have to drive a couple of hours and 4,000 feet higher.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Be Yourself, Not Like Someone Else.

Most writers I know are self-conscious and pretty darned critical of themselves and their work. This is a good thing in some ways, but should be kept to a minimum. I also know some writers who are totally ego-mad and who do not look upon their work with a critical eye at all. This is also a bad thing, except in the rare occasions in which they actually deserve the praise they lavish on themselves. But this latter is an extreme rarity.

For years I would worry that I was not only not creating fiction as well as I could, but that my work didn't measure up to what I read from my favorite authors. This is probably the worst thing that a writer can do to himself. The chances are that your favorite writers are pretty damned good and display tremendous skills and stunning insight. (There are exceptions. You may have no taste and your favorite writers are awful, in which case you're safe and sound.)

The thing is--to make a baseball analogy--some authors are like Hank Aaron and can crush the ball out of the park on a regular basis. There are those rare dudes who can slap a homer all of the damned time. These folk are rare. For me, such folk are Hemingway, Bradbury, McCarthy, Gifford, Bukowski. Don't try to match what they do, because likely you're going to either end up producing thin, watery copies of their styles; or you are going to fail miserably and create something that doesn't deserve publication.

The past couple of months I have been reading a lot of science fiction from the 1950s, much of it written by some truly talented authors; men with well-deserved reputations for excellence. However, I was surprised when most of these stories were not the sparkling gems that I had read from their pens over the years. Slowly, as I read the volumes, I realized that in general they wrote stuff that was entertaining, but mediocre. They were professionals in every way, so the stories were almost never what I would call "bad". But mostly they were only barely over the line into territory that I would call "fun", but hardly brilliant. And definitely not home runs. A couple of triples were in there. Some doubles. A whole lot of singles. And a few walks.

So here's what I took out of all of this.

Don't try to slam a homer out of the park every time you sit down at the old screen. Sure, it happens. And it happens a lot if you're the equivalent of the best among us. But if you're not, then just sit there and work on the project and get it out to the markets where it will hopefully see print. Be happy with sliding into third, or getting a stand-up double, or a close reach to first base on a bobbled catch in the outfield is even okay.

Work at it. Be a journeyman. Hone your skills. Eventually, you'll hit some homers. You might even become a star.

Friday, May 27, 2016

On Writing.

Writing is a pretty damned sedentary occupation. One sits for hours at a desk and pours their imagination onto a page or a blank screen. I've heard it's easy work for some, but it has rarely been such for me.

That said, you can get really fat in a brief time if all you do for activity is fire up the brain cells and do little else. Fortunately I love being outdoors, so I find myself in various places where I can play. And if your exercise is also one of your favorite pastimes, then what a great combination.

This year I gained a fair amount of weight (almost 20 pounds at one point--most of which I have thankfully shed) because I've spent so much time at this desk and so little time getting much needed exercise. It doesn't help that my wife is one of those women who cooks pretty much every day and prepares excellent meals.

Some writers I know get treadmills or build little indoor gyms in their homes. That's cool. But it wouldn't get me outside, even if the treadmill is in front of a window so that you can pretend you're out in the fresh air and sunshine. That's not for me.

As I mentioned in my last post, writing is like an obsession for me. Sometimes it burns white-hot and I couldn't stop myself if I wanted to. The words come and they have to be placed on the page. More often, it's just plain hard work with little inspiration and the application of a lot of sweat-of-the-brow. It's after such tough bouts of effort when I have to open the door, walk out into the light of day, and get some real exercise.

Work work work work work work work.

A man outstanding in his field.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Two Obsessions.

I have two obsessions in my life. One of them is writing, and the other is my pursuit of outdoor activities. The workday world has always pulled me in the opposite direction of both of these interests. One has to earn a living, in my case as a laborer, and that often makes it difficult to find the time to create or to retreat to a wild area where I can find solitude and peace.

Since I mainly write in seclusion, I find a similar peace when I create stories as I do when I hike or kayak to a far, isolated place to be surrounded by nature. And the journey to find quiet and to listen to the sounds of the wind in the trees or the calls of birds, absent of the growl of machinery helps to spur my imagination which, in turn, spins the wheels that grind the fiction.

I hope to always be an outdoorsman. If I could not walk into a deep forest or hike to the top of a peak separated from the cityscape, I would be lost. Similarly, if I was robbed of the pleasure to write stories and novels I would find myself in a great deal of pain.

So if you don't see me for a while or hear from me, be assured that I'm either creating a new story, or sitting quietly in a forest somewhere, observing the movements of Mother Nature.

Heart Rock at Pinnacle Park in Sylva, NC.

Climbing to the Pinnacle in Sylva, NC.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

One Trip, Three Campgrounds.

We ended up staying at three different campgrounds on our latest road trip to Florida. Heading right down from Charlotte, we drove straight on to the Suwannee River State Park in the northern part of the state, pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. The park was quiet with some nice scenery and excellent access to the Suwannee River. We have nothing but good things to say about any of the parks and the campgrounds that we used.

After about a week at Suwanee River SP, we headed westward and slightly north toward the Florida/Georgia border where we got a spot at Three Rivers State Park. This one is on the shores of the man-made Lake Seminole, which is an attractive body of water full of fish, waterfowl, and big alligators. It has so many alligators that they don't allow swimming. Again, the camping experience was flawless and our hats are off to the park and its employees.

After a few days there we packed up and headed toward Middle George where we got a spot at Indian Springs State Park. I had spent many a day there as a kid when my parents would take me, and staying there brought back some good memories. Again, this park is well maintained and quite beautiful and has extremely nice amenities with some interesting historical aspects.

Two days there and we finally had to load up and zip on back to Charlotte, NC and home.

All three state parks and their campgrounds come highly recommended. Suwannee River State Park. Three Rivers State Park. And Indian Springs State Park.

Our campsite at Suwannee River State Park. The site was relatively level. We did see a few sites in the park that are not level and which should likely be avoided. The sites here have full hookups, including sewer. It's so nice not to have to use the dump station when you pack up to leave.

Nicely landscaped campground. The bathhouse is located at the front of the campground and includes sinks, flush toilets, hot showers, and laundry.

Breakfast with our sometimes camping friends, Bobby and Sharon Childers.

Our campsite at Three Rivers State Park. Very level campsite. Water and electric hookups. No sewer hookup, but a nice dump station that was really easy to use.

The dam that forms Lake Seminole on which Three Rivers State Park is located.
Bull gator not far from our campsite at Three Rivers. This is one reason you can't go swimming in Lake Seminole.

This is our campsite at Indian Springs State Park. Again, a nice, level site. Gravel surface with landscaping timbers. Water and electric hookup, plus cable TV service. Wooden patio and a very nice picnic table. The bathhouse was located just across from our campsite and had sinks, flush toilets, hot showers, and a laundry.

The rocky shoals at the entrance to Indian Springs State Park.
Indian Springs State Park and the nearby High Falls State Park.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Favorite Camping Experience.

Carole and I have been on so many camping trips that sometimes they all seem to blur and we try to recall where and when we saw this or that view, or how we happened upon a certain swimming hole or kayaking run, or how we found a certain waterfall. And so on.

We have our memories and our photos and have considered what we think of as our favorites.

Recently we thought about the single best campground we've ever used, and without too much debate about it, we settled on Rock Creek Recreation Area. It's located in, and operated by, the Cherokee National Forest near Erwin, Tennessee. There is so much to see and do in and around the area that you could spend months there and still never exhaust the possibilities for outdoor adventures.

One thing that I have to say about the campground is that is is extremely popular. The locals are endeared to it and--since you cannot reserve a campsite--it can be exceedingly difficult to land a campsite. Even in the middle of the week you can find the place full. All sites are first-come, first-serve. So you just have to take a chance and ride in to see if a spot is available. If you do find one open, nab it and begin one of the finest camping experiences you will ever have.

Easily our all-time favorite campground. Fantastic amenities.

This little sheltered kiosk is unique in our camping experience. Most of the campsites had one.We used it to set up our propane stove for outdoor cooking.

The slope above our campsite.

It doesn't get any better.

Upper Rock Creek Falls. Just a short hike from the campground.

Campground entrance.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Reptile Love!

We spent the second leg of our Florida/Georgia trip at Three Rivers State Park right on the Florida/Georgia border. The park is located on the shore of the man-made Lake Seminole which is a nice impoundment that has created a lot of deep water habitat for all manner of freshwater flora and fauna.

While you can boat and kayak and fish in the lake, it is actually unsafe for swimming. This is because of the hefty populations of large alligators who live there, and for the danger of infection from a particular nasty amoebic infection that has been reported (rarely, thank goodness) from exposure to the those who have gone swimming there.

The one thing about this trip to Florida is that we did not encounter much in the way of wildlife. I'm not sure why this was, but I suspect the spring flooding of the Suwannee River drainage system likely contributed to this. Normally we see plenty of wildlife down there, but reliable animals such as raccoons, armadillos, white-tailed deer, hawks, owls, ibises, woodpeckers, and other creatures were in very short supply.

However, I did see a number of large alligators in Lake Seminole just off the boat ramp not far from our campsite. In the late afternoon I spotted one alligator that seemed to be very gradually creeping up on the near shore from a point on the opposite side of the channel. It was hard to get photos because she was so far out, and I have never been happy with the quality of photos that I get with my telephoto lens.

After a while I noticed that she seemed to be switching position. And then I realized that I was seeing two alligators. Then, in a while, I recalled that it is getting close to mating season for alligators when the males will take to roaring and vibrating their bodies to create enough of a bass-line to attract the opposite sex. What I was seeing was a female alligator taking the measure of the tolerance level she night expect from a large male who was hovering around the near side of the lake. Better safe than sorry, I expect.

At any rate, here are a few that I managed to take (not good ones, I'm afraid) of the near encounter of a female gator and her bashful target.

This was our campsite at Three Rivers State Park. Nice and quiet even when the campground filled up on the weekend.

Lake Seminole. Kayakers and Canoers make the turn around an island.

A medium sized gator was sliding carefully across the lake.

And then I noticed that there were two!

When your prospective mate is an armored, territorial grouch, you approach with care.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

When Springs Go Dark.

Too busy to post much on the blog today. But I did want to post a video I created of the situation we encountered when Carole and I kayaked down the Suwannee River. We originally wanted to see some of the springs that line the banks of the Suwannee, but the Spring floods had inundated all of them. This has happened to us before when we went to see springs that are within the Suwannee floodplain. We'll try again.

The river was going down, but not enough to reveal the springs.

This boardwalk is normally not only high and dry, but a fair distance above the river.

Anderson Springs was bubbling away, but had gone dark.
Better luck next trip....

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Spring Floods!

One of the main things we wanted to do on this trip was kayak the Suwannee River to see the many springs that lie along its banks and in the areas around that river. We have tried this a number of times and every time we have been stymied by the spring floods. The Suwannee drains the Okefenokee Swamp and every spring that area gets a tremendous amount of rain which swells the river. When this happens the river overtops its banks and inundates the springs and fills them with the dark, tea-colored water of the swamp and river system. This is called "a blackout" of the springs.

And so, alas, the time we wanted to spend exploring and snorkeling in the big freshwater springs and the clear blue waters they generate was not to be. We got there just after the flooding of the Suwannee River basin and so encountered nothing but dark water and no sparkling springs.

Still, we went ahead with the main kayaking trip we had opted to take. We picked a canoe service just outside the entrance to the Suwannee River State Park where we were staying. They had a great deal of charging only $10 per kayak to shuttle you to a point seven miles upstream from the park. After that all we had to do was paddle down the river and back to the park where we would use the boat launch to disembark just yards from our campsite!

And, while we did not get to see the springs we wanted to explore, we still had a great time kayaking the river. We saw one small alligator along the way, a few turtles, and heard a tremendous number and variety of birdsong.

Carole heads off!

High water.

Live oaks and Spanish moss.

Limestone rock, the reason for the wealth of springs in Florida.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Radium Springs, Georgia.

As I had mentioned earlier, Carole and I decided to take a swing through middle Georgia on the way home. This was done so that we could hit a number of locations and parks that I recalled from my childhood and which Carole had never seen.

The first place we had decided to see was Radium Springs in Albany Georgia. My dad had taken me there when I was very young and I remember swimming in the spring vent. I think I was about six years old at the time. So it had been more than five decades since I had been there, but I vividly recall swimming in those cold, blue waters.

Until the late '90s, Radium Springs had a large, abandoned hotel sitting above it. This was referred to as "the Casino" and it was a very impressive building. In its day it had been a major vacation destination for wealthy white folk who came from far and wide to spend time in the lush interior, to swim in the phenomenal spring, to go horseback riding, and to play golf on the (I'm told) fine course that was then present. Apparently no less than Bobby Jones had played the course.

The Depression put an end to most of that and by World War II the military had taken over the building so that it could serve as a place for officers to vacation, relax, and recuperate from deployment overseas. After that the building was pretty much completely abandoned. Subsequently a series of mighty floods following the course of the Flint River inundated the casino doing major damage to the building. The last flood did so much damage that any idea of restoring the structure was out of the question. Thus, the Casino was slated for destruction and soon met the fate that every man-made building must face sooner or later.

These days, all that is left of the old hotel and resort are the walls of the bottom floor of the main building, and the facades of a few more out-buildings that serve as decoration. The fine rock walls that line the springs and which were used in the construction of small shelters and gazebos are also there, alog with a bridge leading to a small island in the center of the main spring.

In addition, the city of Albany has created a fine garden and park around Radium Springs. There is ample parking, some short trails to walk, and plenty of opportunity to sit and take in the beauty of what is called one of Georgia's Seven Natural Wonders. The spring was as beautiful and awe-inspiring as my child's memory recalled. However, these days no swimming is allowed in the spring. So walking down the stairways to take a dip in those cool, clear waters is something that is with us now only in memory.

Well maintained gardens.

The remains of the old hotel.

Turn of the century rock work.

Southern beauty.

Cobalt water.

An extremely deep spring vent.
Video of Radium Springs, Georgia.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Bird's Nest.

Recall the bird's nest with babies in it from just before we left for Florida? The ones for whom I had to create a new, safe nesting area? As you recall, we took off for the Sunshine State not really knowing if my efforts would succeed.

Well, as soon as we arrived at the parking spot for our little trailer, I got out of the truck to examine the nest. The birds had fledged, the parents were gone. The nest was still sitting unmolested in my makeshift shelter. Carole wants to save it and use it in some kind of decoration. (Not sure what.) So it will be preserved in some manner.

Mission accomplished.

I removed the roof I had rigged...

Woo HOO! The family was gone. (The metal part you can see inside is the valve handle for the tank.)

North Florida Indian Mounds

Carole and I love to visit sites that relate to American history. We always have a blast learning about America's past. We especially enjoy archaeological sites and parks.

Northern Florida has a number of Native American mound complexes. Many of these were obliterated over the years by European farmers and developers who used the mounds as fill material to use in construction or drainage projects. There is quite actually no telling what kind of history and artifacts we lost when mounds were removed to make room for fields or foundations.

Two mound complexes that are still at least partially present are the ones in the Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park and the Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park. We decided to see both of those in the same day because they're in the same general region.

First we headed over to the Letchworth complex. It contains the highest temple mound in Florida, topping out at almost fifty feet tall. When you consider that these structures were built using only hoes and the earth transported in baskets, it must have taken a great deal of time to bring them up. We arrived to find that we had this isolated rural park all to ourselves. The entire time we were there we saw no one else. There are some information kiosks there explaining the history of the people who made the mounds and filling in details about what we know of their culture.

You can't actually climb to the top of the Letchworth temple mound, but there is a fine boardwalk and viewing platform at the base that offers a good look.

From there, we headed over to Tallahassee to find the Lake Jackson Mound Complex. Thank goodness for GPS. In no time we located the park. Again, we arrived to find it empty of visitors. There was one guy working who we assumed was the groundskeeper. And that he was, working busily to clear brush. But he was also obviously the park ranger who filled me in on the history of the Lake Jackson site. At one time there were many more mounds there, but most of them were destroyed by farmers and builders who wanted the earth to use in fields and foundations. You have to wonder what they destroyed in uprooting the work of the people who were there before them.

A few days later we would be visiting the Ocmulgee Mound Complex in Georgia which dwarfs both of these sites, but I still recommend that you see these two complexes if you are at all interested in American history and specifically Native American history and culture.

Me for scale. The tallest Native American temple mound in Florida.

Representation of the mound under construction.

The walkways leading to the temple mound at Letchworth.

The lesser temple mound at the Lake Jackson complex.

It looks like you could just walk across the field to the larger mound. However, flooding had caused a creek in the middle of the field to overflow. I had to find a narrow place to pick my way across.

Once I found a way across, I climbed the stairs to the top.
Video tour of the mounds. Carole and I do enjoy our vacations together.