Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lingering into winter

All ready for Christmas
Fall has been lingering around here.  Every so often, since back in October, I’d spot a glimpse of autumn.  First it was the dogwoods, they've been bare at least two months.  Then, in early November, the Sweet Gums began to change color.  They seem to be a multitude of colors, from yellows to reds.  It seems the water oaks have been changing for months now, but many of the trees are still green.  They are a mystery to me.  The highlight, however, are the hickories which are a brilliant yellow.  In the early morning, with a bit of fog and the sun burning through on it, the hickories are stunning (and I need to get a photo of this!).   Of course, most of the trees such as the pines, live oaks, magnolias, American holly and palms, remain green all year.  And then there is the Spanish moss that is always gray.    According to the clock, fall is about to run out as winter moves in next week and I am still wearing shorts and, at the most, a light coat.  If the trees are an indicator of a bad winter, we’re in for a whopper, for the live oaks have produced a bountiful harvest of acorns.  There have been times it sounds like I am driving on plastic packaging wrap, the kind that has the air pockets that pop, when driving out the driveway or pulling into a parking lot shaded with oaks.  What would a bad winter feel like here?  The lights remind me that Christmas is around the corner, but it still doesn’t quite feel like it is time…   Even in what they consider hard winters around here, there is seldom snow.  No white Christmas this year, but still the season is one of joy and excitement and I am looking forward to celebrating.  
A recent foggy morning

Friday, December 05, 2014

Closely Watched Trains and the Folkston Funnel

This blog post is named for a 1966 Czech movie by the same title.  The movie is the coming of age story of Milos Herma, a young man during the Second World War when Czechoslovakia was under German occupation.  The young man takes a job with the railroad as he attempts to have his first sexual encounter.  It’s a world of Nazi agents as well as underground fighters against occupation.  The movie ends with Milos becoming a martyr, as he blows up a German munition train rushing to the front lines.

Folkston GA watertower
Of course, there were no such sabotages (or Nazi or partisans) on that day when I visited the Folkston Funnel (after spending most of the day paddling in the nearby Okefenokee.  The "funnel" refers to a length of double-track line owned by CSX transportation which handles much of the rail traffic in-and-out of Florida.  Just north of Folkston, rail lines that run to Savannah and the eastern corridor connect with lines that run through Waycross and Atlanta and up into the Midwest.  Over sixty-five trains a day pass over these rails. For those of us who get an itch whenever we see a train, Folkston capitalized on our addiction.  They built a viewing stand which is raised, shaded (and protected from rain) as well as complete with overhead fans to keep railfans cool and the gnats and mosquitoes at bay.  This prime location that allows one to safely closely watch trains, brings tourist into the small hamlet of Folkston.   A local business has been formed to offer “rail side lodging” in which they have restored two cabooses (one is right across from the train platform) and a station house.  Here, for a hundred bucks and some change, one can spend the night be awaken regularly by the trains moving in and out of Florida.
Train Observing Platform

Caboose for rent!
There were six or eight people on the platform when I was there.   One was a couple who were driving to their winter home in Florida.  The wife assured me they stop again in the spring when they head north.  I understood… 
A very long train of containers heads north
If you’re looking for a great place to watch trains, this is it!  To learn more about the movie and its link to the Czech uprising in 1968, read this article.  

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Ten Years After

Ten years ago tomorrow, December 3, I was coming to the end of my first year in Michigan and wondering why I had left the American West.  I had been hearing about blogs so I decided to start my own.  To this day, this has been my semi-anonymous blog as I don’t talk about work and spend little time talking about family.  Over the past decade, I have posted poetry, satire, memoir, book reviews, travelogues, recipes and a few memes (thank God that fad has seemed to have faded).  I have a few readers who have been with me since the early years and I appreciate them and learning about how their lives are changing.  There have been a few readers who disappeared and I learned later that they had died.  The world is a sadder place.  And then there are many who kept blogging for a few years before they threw in the towel, but I am thankful for what they shared and their comments on my blog.  Some of the later, I have kept up with on Facebook (which is why my blog is only semi-anonymous). 

In honor of my first decade, I am posting this photo of me.  The photo of me with a dark beard was taken in a few years earlier on a cross-country ski trip across Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah.   Now, gray has taken hold of my beard and the top of my head no longer sustains hair growth.   I have always liked hats and sunglasses.

In case you ever wondered, I like classic rock and debated on whether to call this post "Ten Years After" after the British blues-rock band (remember their classic, "I"d  Love to Change the World") or Decade after the classic Neil Young 1977 album by the same name.  I had that album on vinyl and wonder what ever happened to it.  There was lots of good music on those three LPs:  Cinnamon Girl, Sugar Mountain and the haunting "The Needle and the Damage Done."  

I will close with a photo of this evening’s sunset behind the marsh on my late afternoon walk (taken on an iphone on the panoramic setting.  This country is so different from Michigan and Utah!   Cheers!  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Paddling Rice and Town Creek

Click to enlarge
I had come to North Carolina to check on my mother (she is now in a care facility with Advanced Alzheimer’s) and to do some fall fishing with my dad up at Cape Lookout.   The weather promised to be nice, a little windy (which was nice as it keep the mosquitoes at bay).  But after driving up to Harker’s Island and loading down the boat with gear for three days, we got out into the sound heading to Lookout, we realized that overnight the weather had changed.  The wind had shifted and after two waves broke over the bow, we headed back to the safety of the marina.  We could have probably made it to the island, but with a strong northwest wind we would have never been able to fish around the point or jetty.  So, we headed back and instead of fishing off Lookout, we decided to spend the next day kayaking on Rice and Town Creek in Brunswick County. 

Dad sliding his kayak in on Rice Creek
A few years ago I wrote about another trip in which we explored the lower part of Town Creek, boating up the creek from the Cape Fear River.   On that trip, we turned around at the Brunswick Country Park which has a kayak landing.  On this trip, we began at the Wildlife Resources landing on Rice Creek and paddle to the kayak landing at the park, a trip of 12 or so miles (plus a few more due to two wrong turns).   I had paddled these waters in my youth, but the last trip on this creek was over 30 years ago.

It’s a cool morning.  The temperature, which had dropped to nearly freezing overnight, has risen into the low 40s when we slide our boats into the creek at 10 AM.  We started out heading down stream toward Town Creek. The wind is brisk, out of the northeast, which is roughly the direction we’ll be traveling.  There is no current (the tide is rising, but this far up it isn’t much of a problem except that there is no elevation change to create current).  We pass a secluded home on a high bank with “no trespassing” signs staked out at the water’s edge.  I notice what I at first assumed was a weird kind of fungus was growing on some logs in the river, then realized they had been painted pink (maybe it was red and had faded).  I also noticed an interesting tree that had dropped out over the water, and a branch had become a new tree, shooting up and clothed with colorful leaves.  The original top, which hung just above the water, is dead.   We arrive at the confluence with Town Creek quicker than I thought.  Dad’s in the lead and I follow him.  Although there is a branch off to the right, we continue straight into the main channel and take the second right.  We are making good time, or so I think.  Then I notice some more of that weird fungus and that tree hanging over the water and the house…  We’d taken the oxbow to be the main channel.
Notice the cypress along the left bank (the blue thing is a rain/wind jacket)

Continuing downstream, after having paddled in a circle, we arrive at the confluence 30 minutes later.  Here, the creek is larger and there are some trailers parked along the north bank.  Huge flat-topped bald cypress along with sweet gums line the river banks and further inland, where there is higher ground, pines grow.  We hang a right.  I am in the lead and at Morgan Branch (without any current to give me direction) I take a wrong turn and head upstream.  As the stream narrows, I hear the sounds of US 17 and realize that we have again made a wrong turn.  Dad disagrees, but I pull out my new iphone and turn to the map app and sure enough, we are well off course.  We begin to retrace our route.   I notice I am a little lightheaded and assume my sugar may be down, so I pull a small apple and a half piece of pita bread and eat them both as I paddle. 

At 1 PM, we decide to stop for lunch along the south bank, in an area that is state game land.  I check my blood sugar level and I’m at 90, which is low considering my snack an hour earlier.  Obviously, I am burning more calories than I had assumed.  As we eat lunch (canned beans and weanies, crackers, humus and pita bread and a bottle of beer for each of us).  As we eat, several deer including a small buck runs by, not more than 20 yards away. 

Shortly after lunch we cross under a railroad trestle for the government railroad that runs from Wilmington down to Sunny Point (a military shipping terminal).   After the trestle, the creek twists and turns, as it winds itself from a high bank on the north side to one on the south side.  The high banks can be spotted from a distance by the pines, while the area in between them cypress swamps.  A few turns after the trestle, it becomes apparent that the cypress are stressed and the further we travel, we begin to see more and more of them dying so that at the time we are at the landing at the Brunswick County Park, they are all dead.
Boat house beside Town Creek

The river meanders to an extreme.  Sometimes we are paddling into the wind and other times the wind is to our backs.  The good news is that the tide is falling and the current helps, especially when paddling into the wind.  When we arrive at our destination, at 4 PM, we have covered only about 5 air miles, but have probably paddled at least fifteen miles.  It has been a good day.  In addition to the deer we saw at lunch, we saw a few others later in the afternoon.  It is already too cold for alligators, which do inhabit this creek closer to the river, but we did see a number of turtles.  There were several pairs of kingfishers and numerous waterfowl, a few blue herons and egrets. 

Notice the dead cypress.  The take-out launch is to the right

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The danger of hypertension

Cypress along Town Creek
Mom always questioned why I never added salt
nor understood why I felt I received more than enough.
The Army Corp of Engineers gouge the river channels
so larger ships can bring us more stuff
along with salt that moves upstream in the deeper veins.
The cypress that once lined the river and the connecting estuaries,
Spanish moss dangling from their limbs,
also don’t like the extra salt.
They die, shedding the bark as a snake abandons its skin,
only the snake continues to live, at least for a season.
Mom never liked snakes
                though she can no longer acknowledge her fear
                Sitting, she stares and asks no questions.
In time, even the snake will fade from memory,
                but my questions remain.

I was back home last week to check up on my mom and to do some fishing off Cape Lookout with my dad. For background, my mom is now in a care center.  As you might remember as I have discussed before in this blog, she has Alzheimer’s.  Nine years ago, it was confusion and forgetting what she’d said or was doing.  But it rapidly progressed and she hasn’t been able to talk in years nor does she know us.    My dad and I scuttled the fishing as the weather changed and the waves were rough and breaking over the bow of the boat. Instead of heading out into salt water, we took a kayak trip from Rice’s Creek to Town Creek (I’ll write more of the trip and share more photos later).  The trip took us from the pure black water of a Cypress swamp to the brackish water that is causing the death of the cypress.  The photo was taken near the point where the dying has begun and as you can see, the dead and the live trees are beside each other, but soon they’ll all be dead.  When the cypress dies, its bark sheds and the tree remains standing as a bleached out ghost, Spanish moss dangling on the slowly disappearing arms.  Thinking about the cypress and my mom and the changes we are all experiencing, I attempted to write a poem.