Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Travels due to Irma

Irma from a satellite 
Irma was a bitch.  I don’t know how else I can describe the storm.  I’m just thankful that by the time I had to deal with her, she had lost most of her strength and was more of a nuisance than threat to life and limb.  But I can’t forget what she has done to such much of the Caribbean along with the Keys and South Florida.  A friend of mine moved to St. Martin two years ago.  They were able to catch a flight out just before the storm, but everything they had there was destroyed and they’re left with two suitcases of clothes.  The photos from there are devastating, as are the photos of the Keys.  Although the storm passed to the west of us, we had a much higher storm surge than we did last year with Hurricane Matthew. 

In the middle of the cone (9-7-17)
 It is amazing how quickly the weather can change.  We were still watching news about Harvey flooding in Texas when Irma popped up on our radar.  Up until it skirted Cuba, the weather folks had us right in the middle of the cone.  But then it moved further west, bringing destruction to the Keys.  Although we experienced tropical winds, it wasn’t hurricane force winds.  Still, there were few trees blown down on the island, it was nothing like last year. 

But for a while, Irma looked scary.  Five days out, it appeared she might even miss Florida or bump into Florida’s eastern shore and hit here as a Category 3 o4 4 storm—a major hurricane.  The last major hurricane to strike Georgia was in the 1890s (a decade that saw two such storms). Living on an island meant we were went under an evacuation order beginning, Saturday, September 9.  Many people cleared out before then, and a few who waited till Saturday decided not to leave because by then it was pretty clear the storm had taken a more western track.  I left that Saturday, as planned, having done everything I could to secure property and backed up things at work.  I was glad I’d spent Labor Day (without much thinking about the storm) cleaning out the gutters for the fall and not kayaking. We received just over 7 inches of rain the day of the storm (compared to 12 inches from Matthew).  With nothing more to do, it was time for a hurricane road trip! 

Leaving Coastal Georgia while all of Florida is evacuating is tricky. Thankfully, I had a new downloaded audible book, David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers, giving me over 12 hours of listening.  As Interstates 95 and 75 were creeping along.  Interstate 16, which runs from Savannah to Macon (where it merges with 75 for those heading to Atlanta) wasn’t bad.  They have even closed the eastbound lanes to allow for two more lanes for west bound traffic.  As I was going to stay with relatives northwest of Atlanta, I took I-16 to Dublin, then drove through the countryside on US441, which took me to places that I’d always wanted to see.  I swung through Milledgeville, the old capital of the state.  I have heard much about this town from a fellow blogger, Lynn, I wanted to check it out.  When I told folks here my interest, they thought I was crazy, reminding me it was also the place where the state insane asylum was located.  I also knew it as the home of Flannery O’Conner (who spent her early years in Savannah).
As I made my way up 441, I kept avoiding the bypasses around town and taking the business routes. I just drove through Milledgeville.  In Eatonville, I spied the Uncle Remus Museum.  That was worth stopping, but I learned they’d closed for an early lunch (it was about 11 AM).  I looked around the grounds, then headed over to the Georgia Writer’s Museum.  This was a new museum and they had exhibits mostly on Alice Walker, Flannery O’Conner, and Joel Chandler Harris (of Uncle Remus fame).  I was surprised to see certain folks on the Writer’s Hall of Fame, like Pat Conroy.  While I have enjoyed many of Conroy books, I have never considered him a Georgian.  He’s from South Carolina (and that state needs all the culture boost it can get), but I think he brought gas in Georgia once (or maybe he stayed in an Atlanta hotel for a few nights), so they claimed him.

I left Eatonville, looking for a place to eat. But appeared all the eatin’ places were on the south end of the town and I was heading north, I didn’t find a place to stop and drove on to the delightful town of Madison, named for the President.  I learned that this town hosts an annual Christmas candlelight tour, which would be worth the travel to experience.
African American Museum
(house was built by a former slave)
Madison was one of the towns that was just pillaged and railroad tracks torn up by Sherman and not burned, supposedly because it was the home of one of the Confederate hospitals. The downtown area appeared prosperous and around it was many nice older homes.  I ate at the Madison Produce Company where I had a delightful Cranberry and Pecan Chicken Salad Panini.  It was delicious.  I can’t say the same for the Rosemary and Olive Oil potato chips.  Afterwards, I walked around the town.

They have an African-American museum, which was closed!  I then took the greenway around town, which lead to the train tracks and then around the cemeteries.  There were a couple of section of graves for those who had died in the Civil War (at the hospital).  The tomb stones were all planks of white marble.  Some had names, many were for those who were “unknown.”  I was surprised to find a few slabs with no name, but identified as “Colored” and “Hospital Attendant.”  Later, I saw a sign saying that these marble slabs had been placed in the 1970s and I wonder if they had any idea as who were buried in each grave.  According to another sign, the town maintained segregated cemeteries until the Civil Rights area.  After a pleasant couple hours in Madison, I drove into Atlanta on I-20 and then headed north.

Kirkin' o' the Tartans
While in exile in north Georgia, I worshiped at First Presbyterian in Marietta, which was holding a Scottish Heritage “Kirkin’” Service.  I thoroughly enjoyed the service, from the music to the tartans flying and heard a very good service on heritage.  The preacher spoke about how followers of Jesus need to be careful that in the zeal of celebrating our heritage we not offend others, for we need to remember that Jesus calls us into a new kingdom.

 Knowing that Monday was going to be all rain (as the remnant of the hurricane moved over us), I spent Sunday afternoon exploring north Georgia.  I always like visiting Cartersville (it’s a great place to watch trains) and I walked around the town.  

remains of 19th Century Iron Furance
I also headed over to Cooper’s Furnace, which was an iron making venue in the first half of the 19th Century (it all came to an end with Sherman’s march down through the area on his way to Atlanta and today part of the site around the furnace is at the bottom of Lake Allatoona.  While there, I was able to see a demonstration project for hybrid American chestnut restorations.  The chestnuts were major trees in the Appalachian region of the country but were wiped out early in the 20th Century due to a blight.  Some trees still continue to grow but before they mature, they die back.  The hybrid is an attempt to reestablish the chestnut. 
Allatoona Dam

America Chestnut

Barber Shop roofing in Cartersville

Monday was a day of rain.  I left for home early on Tuesday.  While driving, I finished listening to The Wright Brothers as I tried to cut through the country and avoid the mass parking lot known as I-75 as people headed back to Florida.  Unfortunately, the area between Atlanta and Macon received a lot wind and there were many trees down and the power was mostly out, so instead of sitting on the interstate, I sat on US23, waiting in long lines to get through one stoplight towns (with a stoplight not working, causing traffic back up).  I returned home late in the afternoon, to a bunch of limbs in the yard, but thankfully no down trees and no flooding.  Unfortunately some on this island were not as lucky as the storm surge moved in and flooded many garages and a large number of cars and golf carts was destroyed.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hampton Plantation (and an Irma update)

The last week has been crazy.  A week ago, Hurricane Irma seemed to have us in her sights.  The whole coastal area of Georgia went under mandatory evacuation on Saturday.  They later rescinded the evacuation for all but the islands (I live on one of those islands) but by then I was half way across the state.  I left Saturday and came back home to a messy yard on Tuesday.  Thankfully, I only have a lot of clean up.  Although there was a lot more flooding this year than from last year’s hurricane, there were only a few trees down (last year somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 trees were down just on his island).  I had written his before the quick evacuation and never had time to post it. 
Front of Hampton Plantation
the Washington Tree to the left

 On my way back from North Carolina a couple of weeks ago, I took the long way down US 17.  Actually, this route is a bit shorter in miles, but takes a lot more time.  It’s not interstate and you get the pleasure of going through many towns and seeing different sights.  I took this route in order to make a slight detour to visit Hampton Plantation. As I wrote about in a recent review, I have discovered the writings of Archibald Rutledge.  He was born at Hampton in the 19th Century and the last person to live on the plantation.  Having grown up at Hampton, he later inherited the home. After a teaching career in Pennsylvania, he moved back to the plantation in the 1930s and spent the rest of his life restoring it as he devoted the remaining decades of his life to writing.  Shortly afterwards moving back South, he was honored with the title of the South Carolina poet laureate, a title he held till his death in 1973.  In 1970, Rutledge sound the plantation to the South Carolina.

old rice dikes
It was a hot day and I was sweaty after just walking from my car to the ranger’s office.  It was about 1 PM and I learned there would be a tour of the house at 2 PM.  I signed up and then back to my car where I liberally applied insect repellent before walking through an interpretative area about the slaves who used to work the rice fields around Hampton Plantation.  Some of the dikes are still in place as well as some of the water controls that worked with the tides to flood the fields with fresh water.  The markers make it clear that the ones who were to credit with the wealth of the families who lived in the plantation were the slaves.  I also walked down to where Rutledge’s grace is located.

Hampton Plantation had a long history, going back into the pre-Revolutionary War days.  The early residents (ancestors of Archibald) were Horrys (Horry County is where Myrtle Beach is located) and  Pinckneys (that family also owned a plantation that is now a wildlife refuge near Hilton Head).  As friends of George Washington, he stayed here on his Presidential Southern Tour.  Supposedly,   Horry wanted to chop down a large live oak that blocked his view of his horses, but George having become a tree hugger after that cherry tree incident of his youth, pleaded for him to keep the tree.  The “Washington Tree” still stands and is huge.  Up in between some branches, there is a bell that dates back to the early 19th Century and was used to call folks to the dinner table or assemble people when there was danger.

During the tour of the house, we were told stories about where Francis Marion (the Swamp Fox) was sitting when a contingent of Red Coats came riding up.  There was a trap down downstairs and the Swamp Fox was able to go out the back and hide in the swamp.  The plantation had a lovely ball room that covered the eastern side of the house.  When talking with the guide about life at the plantation during the summer, the ranger quickly reminded us that the owners never stuck around during the summer.  Rutledge would head up into the North Carolina Mountains during the summers he spent there.  Later in his life, he spent his summers a waterfront house in McClellandville.  I wonder how his lovely portrayals of Hampton might have changed if he spent his summers there working in the rice fields?

Another interesting thing in the house was a crack in the chimney and wall in the ball room.  This all came from the 1886 earthquake.  This 7.3 quake brought much damage and death to Charleston, SC.

Back side of house (the kitchen house to right and out of view)
Visiting Hampton was a nice way to divide my drive into parts and allowed me to stretch my legs as I got to see things that helped me better appreciate the writings of Ruthledge.  Click for my review of Rutledge's  God's Children.   John Lane in his paddle along the Santee (Hampton is located a few miles from the Santee on a creek that flows into the larger river), also refers to the Hampton and Rutledge.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Paddling Across Romerly Marsh

Leaving Delegal Creek
(notice empty osprey nest)
They changed the weather forecast for Friday so I thought I would take my kayak out to an extended trip.  I launched at Delegal Marina a little before ten, knowing that I had just over an hour before the tide turned.  The winds were stronger than expected, coming out of the south, which provided resistance as I paddled out of the creek.  By the time I was in Ossabaw Sound, the wind was coming off my starboard side and I found the skeg worked wonderfully as I maintained a straight line toward the south end of Wassaw Island.  The last mile or so, as I paddled by the shoals off Pine Island, the waves began to build.  As I crossed the entrance to Wassaw Creek, I was paddling in three foot waves.  The boat handled perfectly.  I made the five mile paddle to the island by 11:15 (which would be close to 3.5 miles an hour which wasn’t bad with the waning tide).  

Ranger station on Wassaw
Normally I would be ready to crawl out of the boat, but it was so comfortable that I paddled about a mile and a half up into Wassaw Creek, stopping at the ranger station for the National Wildlife Refuge.  There was no one there, except for a couple of fishermen who had decided to hole up under their dock.  They fished there, in the shade for over an hour and I think they caught one fish.  I pulled out on a sandy beach a ways down from the station, took out my lunch and hammock, and found two perfectly spaced trees up on a high bluff where I could enjoy a nice breeze.  I strung the hammock and then had lunch.  

Lunch stop
Lunch stop
The Good Life
My original plan had been to return the way that I came or back through the Odingsell River, but I have always wanted to try to paddle through Romerly Marsh to the north end of Skidaway Island. I’ve done this before, paddling in the ocean, but I wanted to go through the marsh.  I figured it would still be close to 17 miles (the distance it is in the ocean) due to the curves in the creeks.  I knew there is a dredged cut I’d have to find, and it’s not very wide. I made a call to get picked up at the Priest Landing marina and headed out about 1:30.  I was hoping to be back around 3:30, well before any afternoon thunderstorm.

This turned out being harder than I thought.  The map showed the cut being further from the Parson family holdings on the island than I thought (they were close to the docks), which I discovered after spending an hour going down false leads.  When I made it back into the main creek, saw someone on the Parson family dock, I paddled over and asked if they could help me.  They pointed me to the right channel, told me to take the second left, which would be marked with a PVC pipe.  I never did see a pipe (in a kayak I’m a lot lower than someone standing in a boat).  I got lost again, but thirty minutes later I had found the cut.  Each time I got lost, I had to paddle back against the tide.  By this point, I was tired. I had also broken a paddle, but thankfully had another with me.

The Parson family purchased the island in the 1860s.  In 1969, they sold all but a 150 or so acre holding to the Nature Conservancy for one million dollars. They, in turn, sold the island to the government to be used as a wildlife refuge. This kept the island from being developed and it is considered one of the most natural islands along the Georgia coast, since it has never been farmed, logged, or used for raising livestock.  The only development on the island are several homes in the Parson holdings, the Refuge ranger's station, and a Spanish American War era battery on the north end that is slowly eroding away.

The marsh is an interesting area.  There are a number of hardwood hammocks within the marsh (with live oaks and sort) and these trees were filled with a variety of birds.  I saw several osprey, ibis, egrets, a variety of ducks, sea gulls and pelicans.  I love watching pelicans fish and one dove into the water not more than 20 feet from my boat, making a big splash.  As he came up, he threw his head back and swallowed.  I also saw a couple of alligator in the marsh.  One, I surprised as I paddled around a bend.  He jumped out into the water and almost hit my boat as he dove under it. 

Dead end
As I floundered in the marsh, I kept looking for where the tide was going against me as I headed in the right direction, for I knew then I’d be paddling out toward the Wassaw Sound.  High tide wasn’t until 5:20 PM, at which time I could probably make it through over the marsh grass, but then I would have to paddle against the tide back to the marina.  When I found the cut and where the tide changed directions, it felt good, as I was now sure that I had only a couple of miles before I would be in Wassaw Sound (and then five more miles before I was at my destination). 

In Wassaw Sound
Once in Wassaw Sound, I turned inland.  In the distance, a storm was brewing.  It was already after four.  I would paddle hard for a bit and then rest.  Thankfully the ocean breeze was strong and to my back, as it gave me a push and also kept the thunderstorm from moving over me.  Instead, the storm moved north, parallel to the coast.  Yet, it was close enough that I saw a dozen or so strikes of lightning.   Once I entered the Wilmington River (where I regularly sail) I felt safe. 

I arrived at the marina at 5:40 PM.  I figured I’d paddled over 20 miles, but I had fulfilled my goal of paddling across the marsh.  

Destination in sight
(notice broken paddle)

The Skeg (photo to answer questions below)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Rain, Kayaks and Ants

Although we’re a ways from Texas, we’ve been getting a lot of rain here, too.  Thankfully we’re not flooding and prayers for those in Texas and Louisiana who have lost so much.  Hopefully everyone will be generous and help them through this disaster. My only problem is that if the grass doesn’t stop growing and the rain doesn’t stop coming, I’m going to need a rice harvester to cut it.  That said, between the rains on Friday, I picked up another kayak from a friend who was clearing out his garage.  He made me a great deal on a Wilderness System 18 with a few scratches, but in very good condition.   I took it out Friday evening, hoping to be paddling between storms.  Well, another storm came up and I got wet, but I enjoyed paddling the boat.  I have never been a fan of rudders on kayaks and this one has a skew instead of a rudder.  It was windy and there were waves and whitecaps, but the skeg helped the boat to track beautifully as I tried it in various positions. This is a very fast boat.

my foot on Monday
But one bad thing happened.  As I was taking my boat off the car at a wildlife ramp along the Intracoastal Waterway, I received a call on my cell phone.  I laid the boat on a grassy medium and took the call.  It was from another paddler whom I’d left a message of going out paddling and since I thought he might want to join me.  As we were talking, I realized something was biting my foot.  I thought it was a mosquito or maybe a gnat.  When I looked down, I noticed that my feet were covered with dots.  At first I thought fleas, then realized it was red ants. I told my friend I had to go and ran out into the water to drown the buggers.  And then I went kayaking.  By the time I got home, my legs were beginning to burn.  I had 26 bites on my right foot and ankle and another eight on my right leg.  On my left leg and foot, I have another 20 bites.  I also received a few bites on my stomach and on my left hand!

Much of Saturday and Sunday was spent soaking my feet and putting baking soda on the bites.  The cool of the water helps a lot.  When I had to put on shoes and walk for a ways, my feet burned.  On Monday, I picked up some new “After Bite”® as I realized the bug cream I was using was over a year out of date.  That helped more.  I have now moved to calamine lotion and my feet are no longer burning as badly.

Last night, I went out for another evening paddle.  As I was putting the boat back in the garage, it began to rain again.
Last night's paddle

Monday, August 28, 2017

Trail Report from August 13: White Pine Nature Preserve

White Pines
I spent a week in the Sandhills of North Carolina planning my upcoming year.  Several evenings I took off for a little hiking.  One of these evenings was the White Pines Nature Preserve which sits at the confluence of the Rocky and Deep River, between Sanford and Pittsboro in Chatham County.  This is a unique 275 acres with a micro-climate that allows species of trees and plants that have long been extinct in other parts of the Piedmont of North Carolina to survive.  The merger of the two rivers and the northern slopes of the ridges provide a cooling effect which I immediately felt when I stepped out of my car.  It was around 5:30 pm, at the end of a hot and humid day.  Although it felt cooler, it was still hot.  Here’s my report.

I set off down the White Pines trail, which followed the ridge between the two rivers.  I was curious about seeing a white pine, a tree that I knew well in Michigan and are only seen in mountainous areas in the South. A few hundred yards into my hike, I spotted my first white pine.  The canopy along the top of the ridge is think, shading me for the sun and not allowing a lot of undergrowth.


In this land of long lead pines, the white pine stand out nicely.  Shortly after seeing the first white pine, I come upon two hikers heading out.  As there are two other cars in the parking lot, I assume I’ll soon be alone in the woods.   The trail loses elevation as the ridge dripped down toward the confluence. There’s a nice breeze but I still sweat from the humidity. I take the River Trail, which drops off the ridge to the south, toward the Deep River.  This is the lee side of the ridge and I no longer enjoy a cooling breeze. Coming alongside the river, the undergrowth is thick.  I slap at a mosquito on the back of my neck as I am serenaded by a choir of insects singing their evening vespers. The trail parallels the river, a good ten or so feet above the water.  There are a few places it would be easy to reach the water, which are probably used by fishermen, but most of the trail is separated from the water by a steep bank and a plenty of poison ivy. 
Deep River

Bench at Confluence
I pause at the confluence of the two rivers.  Someone had built a nice log bench to site and enjoy, but the mosquitoes are bad enough that I decide to keep walking, heading up the Rocky River.  In my youth, I paddled both of these rivers, but never had made it down this far, ending both trips at the 15-501 bridges.  The Rocky River, if I remember correctly, was only runnable at high water and we ran it when the Haw River was well above flood stage and too danger to paddle in an open canoe. 

Rocky River
The River Trail turns away from the Rocky and climbs the hill where I joins the White Pine Trail.  Climbing the north side of the ridge, I notice more white pines along with maples, oaks, beech, American holly, hackberry, popular and even a cherry.  The sun is dropping in the west and its rays come in at a low angle providing wonderful light.  I take the White Pine Trail to the cut-off for the Gilbert Yager Trail, which leaves the ridge and funs along the flank of the ridge, cutting in and out of hollows that drain down to the Deep River.  I spook up a couple of deer who run up the hills without pause.  The trail is about a mile in length and drops me back at the far end of the parking lot.  It’s almost 7:30.  Time to find some dinner and prepare for a good night’s rest.  Later that night, I would find two hitch-hikers from my travels (ticks) which I promptly dispatched down the drain.  Thankfully, they hadn't yet dug into my skin.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

An Eclipse Odyssey

When I first look up at the sun through those funky glasses, it appears as if someone had taken just a nibble out of a cookie.

A door in Springvile
We’re in Springfield, South Carolina, a small town south of Columbia.  Savannah is only going to experience a partial (97% of the sun covered) eclipse.  The path of totality was passing by just 70 miles north of here, so it’s time for a road trip.  Since the weather forecast is calling for clouds and rain along the coast, and Interstate 95 is flooded with folks further south trying to make it north, we decide to forgo the interstate and take the backroads.  Leaving Savannah on Georgia 21, we follow the river northwest, driving among the tractors pulling containers in and out of the port.  At Springville (Georgia, not South Carolina), we turn north on Highway 119 and cross the Savannah River.  A few miles north of the river, 119 merges into US 321 and we head north.  Attempting to work our way both far enough north to be in the path of totality and far enough west to avoid the coastal clouds, we take US 278, driving through pine forest and the occasional field of beans, corn or cotton.  We stop in Barnwell, the gateway to the Savannah River Site (a Department of Energy Nuclear operation) and pick up a quick lunch at Burger King.  Then we continue heading north, taking State Road 37.  After Elko, which is in the path of totality, we look for a good place to watch the eclipse.  There are clouds, but also large clear areas in the sky.  We pull into the small town of Springfield. 

Southern Railroad used to run through Springfield, but the tracks were no longer there.  Somehow, a caboose had been left behind and the swath of land that once were tracks is now a long park.  The rail beds have been paved over as a walking and bike path and a pavilion was built next to the caboose. We find a shady spot to park, get out of the car and after putting on the solar glasses, take a peak and see that the moon was slowly doing its magic.  Totality is a little over an hour away.  A few others also stop and we all gather in the park in the center of town. 

An African American man is there with his wife and children.  We get to talking and I learn he’s from Springfield.  He tells me the train stopped running around fifteen years ago.  Then he points to another park and said we should come back the Saturday before Easter as the town holds a bull frog jumping contest.  I mention Mark Twain’s story, but I’m not sure he even knows whom I’m talking about as he goes on about how far some of the frogs can jump.  He then points west and tells me about a town with a Chitin festival and how the whole town stinks during the festival.  “I think I’ll skip that festival,” I confide. Then he starts telling about another town where there was a poetry festival.  “Really,” I say. “I might be interested in that,” while thinking that this doesn't look like a hotbed for literary activities.  He continues, describing how folks walk around gnawing on large drumsticks.  I realize he was saying “poultry” and not “poetry.”  “You got to come back,” the guy says.  “All these little towns have festivals.”  The man is proud of his place in the world!

I take another look at the sun and the bite into the cookie is larger.  The cookie monster is busy; or the moon is doing its magic. 

We decide to walk around the town, all three blocks, with a desire to see the sights and hopefully find relief from the gnats flying around us under the trees. They are annoying but thankfully are not the biting type.  Most of the businesses are closed.  The diner is only open Thursdays through Saturday.  The pharmacy closed for the eclipse and, in front of the store, had sat a skeleton in a lounge chair.  The bank is open but doesn’t look very busy.  Just off Main Street is a convenient store that seems to be doing a fair amount of business.

When we got back to where everyone is congregating, we join the group on the pavilion.  Looking back at the sun, it appears as if the cookie is half eaten.  The pavilion provides little relief from the gnats and even though the sun was slowly disappearing and it’s noticeably cooker, it’s still warm and when not looking at the sun, the shade helps.   A large cloud begins to make its way toward the sun and we wonder if we should relocate further west, but the cloud seems to vaporize as it got closer to the sun.  We meet some folks from Savannah, a guy who’d driven a motorcycle up this morning from Gainsville, Florida, another couple from Jacksonville.   
Just before totality 
The next time I look, the sun is about three quarter’s gone.  The family from Savannah’s dog is noticeable agitated and we discuss if it’s because of the eclipse or because he thinks it’s almost night and he hasn’t yet been fed.  Looking away from the sun, the sky is a darker blue.  The clouds are only seen on the horizon.  I walk down to where there are trees and see hundreds of crescents reflecting through the leaves on the ground.
reflections on the ground

Slowly, more and more of the sun disappears.  The cookie metaphor no longer applies.  Looking at it through the glasses, it no longer appears as a cookie about eaten for the rim is so thin it would crumble.  Folks begin to claim space on the ramp leading up to the pavilion.  Insects begin to sing.  Streetlights turn on.  Cars driving through town have their lights on. 

Then it happens.  Very quickly the rim of the sun seen through the glasses disappears.  A few specks appear for a moment and then it’s gone.  You can see nothing in the glasses, so I remove them and WOW.  The corona is visible, flashing out from behind the moon, in a metallic bluish color.  We hold our breath for it is incredibly beautiful.  I don’t even bother trying to take a photo. Looking around, a few stars and planets are visible, but there is not enough time to orient myself as to which is which.  I keep looking back at the dark block crowned with the corona.  Then, way too soon, the sun begins to reappear with just flecks at first.  We put back on our glasses and watch as the rim appears on the opposite side.  We began to clamp and cheer in acknowledgement that we did it, we witnessed the eclipse and it was incredible.

Reflections on the hood
We watch the sun through the glasses for a few minutes, but the excitement is over.  People began packing up and soon everyone is heading home.  As I walk back to the car that’s parked in the shade of trees, I notice the crescents covering the hood and take my last photo of the eclipse.  We decide to take what is quicker way back and head off east toward I-95.  A few minutes after leaving Springfield, clouds have covered the sky.  Twenty minutes later, we’re in a downpour.  When we get to 95, we realize that we made a mistake as the traffic heading south is at a standstill.  We opt for US 17.  We’re back home by 6:30 PM.  

Downpour on the drive home

Monday, August 14, 2017

My Paddle to the Sea

John Lane, My Paddle to the Sea: Eleven Days on the River of the Carolinas (Athens, GA: University of Georgia, 2011), 208 pages, no photos, one map.

Having grown up paddling what I considered the rivers of the Carolinas (the Cape Fear and Yadkin/Pee Dee watersheds), I have wanted for some time to take this trip (on paper) with John Lane down the Broad, Conagree and Santee Rivers.  This basin does drain both of the Carolinas, but only a part of the western part of the state.  When I lived in Hickory NC in the mid-80s, I had paddled a couple of rivers that flowed into the Santee basin through the Catawba River. Lane limits his trip to the lessor of the Carolinas (South Carolina) as he stars out on Larson Fork, a creek that flows by the back of his property in Spartanburg, and follows it downriver to the sea.  But he doesn’t begin with this trip, but with a fateful family vacation three months earlier in Costa Rica, where they paddled Whitewater Rivers.  It had been raining and on their last day, there were several fatalities.  Thankfully, the Lane family all survived, but it was a horrifying experience. 

Lane is not the first to paddle this river, nor even the first to write about it.  In his possession, he carried the writings of others who have paddled the river, including a group of students from the college where he teaches (Wofford College), who’d paddled the river in the late 60s.  Although today, much of the river goes unnoticed, in the 18th and 19th centuries, before the railroad, water was the easiest way to travel up country.

Lane is accompanied by two friends.  Venable, a lawyer from South Carolina who found a new and agreeable life in Alaska joins him for the first week.  He a large burly dude that looks like a bit like a John Brown and John Muir mix (139).  Although he sympathizes to environmental causes, he never joined the Sierra Club because he disliked their cup (73).  The man must have spent his time hiking in well watered locations and not had to scoop water from streams or springs that’s only an inch or so deep.  Lane and Venerable paddle through the upper part of the river.  Most of their days are rainy, but they make the best of it as they share stories of their lives and experiences outdoors.  At Lake Marion, Venable heads off to do some turkey hunting before heading back to Alaska.  Steve, a slender but strong paddler, joins Lane as they paddle through coastal plain on the way to the sea. 

The two sections of the river are very different.  The upper part of the river is fast as the water rush off the mountains and foothills.  Along the way, they pass places of history, where water powered industry.  Some of these dams are still present and present challenges for them as they canoe downriver.  This section of the river drains a large amount of the upcountry and even parts of Western North Carolina (through the Warteree/Catawba River system that joins the Congaree to form the Santee. Lane mixes into his narrative history from the region.  This area saw Revolutionary War battles.  In the early 18th Century, they attempted to tame the river for transportation and power.  The river proved especially difficult for transportation and most of the canals were soon abandoned.   However, “the rivers, like the Scots-Irish who settled the upcountry, had proved stubborn and resistant to authority” (117).

In addition to historical insights, Lane shares stories of authors who lived along the river.   Two of the more prominent ones are Julia Peterkin and Archibald Ruthledge.  I’ve not read Peterkin (but she’s now on my list) but I have found the writings of Ruthledge to be soulful.  Although I have a problem with his paternalistic views of African-Americans (but then he was writing in the 30s and 40s), I am moved by the way he describes the land and appreciates the wilderness of the Santee River.  Lane also offers a bit of advice on the art of canoeing and canoe-camping, including a nice description of the “J-Stroke” which the paddler in the stern uses to keep the canoe straight.

The book ends, unsurprisingly, at the sea!  Reading My Paddle to the Seas is an easy and enjoyable float without ever getting muddy or having a sore back from a day of paddling.


It would probably be a toss-up as to whether I've written more about rivers or trains...  Here are are the books I've reviewed in this blog that deal with flowing water (and I may have missed some):  

The River Home (Waccamaw River)
The River of Doubt (Rio Roosevelt)
Drifting into Darin  (Altamaha River)
The Mekong  (Mekong River)
Goodbye to a River (Brazos River)
My Green Manifesto (Charles River)
Indochina Chronicles (Mekong River)
Rock Me on the Water (Green River)
River Time (Essay on World's Rivers)
The Founding Fish (about Shad and East Coast Rivers)
Trembling Earth (Okefenokee Swamp)
The Cape Fear (Cape Fear River)
Old Man River  (Mississippi)
Porcher's Creek (A coastal creek in SC)
Down the Wild Cape Fear  (Cape Fear River)
Water and Sky (Athabasca & Kazan Rivers, Canada)

Monday, August 07, 2017

A boat trip to Staffa

In my last post about Iona, I suggested that Staffa needed a post on it's on.  Here it is.  
For more about my week in Iona, see my previous post.

On Monday of my week on Iona, the weather had calmed.  I’d signed up for an optional trip that afternoon to the island of Staffa, about ten kilometers from the dock on Iona.  After lunch, about forty of us gathered at the dock and crammed into a small but very seaworthy boat for the trip to the island.  We sailed across the sound to Fionnphort, where we picked up more passengers.  Although the boat appeared able to handle rough seas, I was glad it was calm.  With so many people on board, I’m sure more than a few would have been seasick in rough seas and there wasn’t enough railing for everyone to hang over the side.  

The ride over

It was a smooth and pleasant ride, so smooth that the captain was able to maneuver the ship into one of the more notable features on the island, Fingal’s Cave.  He said that this was something he could only rarely do as the waves often made it impossible.  The jagged rocks that lined each side of the approach into the cave would have done a number on the hull if he had struck them.  If I was at the helm, I wouldn’t have attempted this maneuver even on a calm day, but he slipped the boat into the cave and then backed it out without a problem.

Sailboats at mooring

Inside Fingal's Cave
Staffa is one of the smallest islands in the Inner Hebrides.  It’s just a little over a kilometer long and half a kilometer wide, with a land mast of 82 acres.  The island sits upon large columns of basalt, having been formed by volcanic activity 50-some million years ago.  While there is a layer of soil on the top allowing for grass and wildflowers to grow, the black rock is very visible.  These columns are mostly hexagonal in shape, and stand up straight.  They were formed by the cooling of the lava and have created several large caves in addition to Fingal’s Cave.  The island was named by the Vikings, who were reminded of their log homes by the basalt columns on the island. 

Approach to Fingal's Cave
We were not the only group on Staffa.  Tour boats come from Ulva, Oban as well as Iona and Fionnphort.  Hordes of people were on mulling around the island.  There were also a number of private boats including a couple of sailboats that had moored off the island and taken tenders over to the docks.  Staffa has been a stopping area for those touring the islands since the 18th Century.  This is a small dockage area on the east side of the island.  With only an hour, I took off south along the basaltic columns in a return to Fingal’s Cave, which was named from a mythological Irish warrior.  

The echo of the waves inside the cave, which was best heard without the drone of the boat’s engine, supposedly inspired Felix Mendelssohn to compose Die Hebriden, or “The Hebrides Overture.” 

Photographing Puffins
After a few minutes, I headed to the north cliffs off the island, where puffins nest along the cliffs.  We had been told to sit still on the edge of the cliff, as the puffins will come to check us out.  Supposedly, they don’t go on top of the landmass during the day, as the seagulls will often attack and kill them.  But the gulls don’t like people, so when we’re present, the Puffins have learned it is safe to come up above the cliff.  These birds mostly spend their day flying back and forth from the sea below to the cliffs, where they tend their young.  In early August, the young begin their flight and soon all the birds fly off into the North Atlantic where they spend the winter. It appears to me that these beautiful birds led the most miserable life, but I was glad to be able to see them so close (a couple came up within a few feet of me). 
Aren't they cute!

West side of Staffa
A seal sunning

There was not enough time to fully explore the island.  Soon, I was rushing back to the boat (and the next to last to board).  On our way back, we were able to see seals sunning off the west side of Mull.  We arrived back in Iona in time for a late afternoon tea.
Looking back at Iona