Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The indestructible Tree Stand and other Christmas memories

I need to find a photo of the Christmas trees of my childhood.
This Christmas card is a few years before my time--1913!
It's the season to share memories.  I have written about Christmas memories in the past, hopefully there is something new in this post.

Early in December we would head to an empty lot on Oleander Drive where the Optimist Club, who sponsored Little League baseball at Hugh McRae Park, sold trees.  It was always dark.  There, under bare lights strung up from posts, we would make our way through the lot trying to find the perfect tree.  It was never an easy task as we all had our own favorite ones.  It couldn’t be too tall, as the ceiling in the living room was only eight feet, or too short for that wouldn’t show much of a tree in front of the picture window.  We wanted neighbors and those driving down the road to see and enjoy our tree.  Nor could it be too expensive.  There was so much to consider which makes picking the tree a major feat, but it seems that we always found a perfect one.  Having settled on the tree, dad would pay the men who were standing around a barrel where they were burning wood scraps to stay warm (even though it was never that cold).  We’d tie the tree into the trunk and head home, happy and satisfied. 

We never put the tree up right away.  Dad felt that since these trees had come from Canada or somewhere way up north and had been cut for a few weeks, it needed water.  So he would cut a few inches off the bottom of the trunk so that the tree could draw water and then sit the tree overnight in a pail of water.  Putting up a tree was a two-night task. 

The next evening, after dinner, we would decorate the tree.  Before bringing in the tree inside, my dad would lug the tree stand into the living room and place it on a piece of plastic to protect the floor.  I am not sure where he kept the stand for ours was unlike any I had ever seen before or since.  Dad made it himself.   I don’t know what became of it after my parents switched to artificial trees, but this was a stand to survive a nuclear attack.  It was built on a piece of plate steel, maybe 18 or 24 inches square and 3/8 of an inch thick.  Onto this, he had welded a tube with a three or four inch in diameter pipe (another tree requirement was that’s trunk had to fit into the pipe).   He had drilled and thread holes in the top where he ran bolts to hold the tree upright.  One of the problem with this stand is that you couldn’t put much water into it, so after the first year, he drilled holes into the first pipe, then welded on an eight inch metal pipe around the first pipe.  The second pipe was a few inches shorter than the first and made it easy to add water and hold water.  The stand was so secure that the tree itself would break before the stand would sway over.  As a kid, I was a little embarrassed about the tree stand.  Why couldn’t we have a flimsy store-brought stand like everyone else? As an adult, after having several trees knocked over (first, when I was in my mid-20s, by a drunken guest, then it was by Happy, the cat and the final time by Trisket, the dog), I see the wisdom of such a solid foundation.   I have no idea what became of this stand.  My parents switched to artificial trees shortly after my siblings and I vacated their home.  Perhaps the stand rusted away as a boat mooring.   It could have held a battleship.

The first thing in decorating was putting up the lights.   During my childhood, instead of using miniature lights that are now so popular (and a lot easier on the electric bill), we used screw-in lights with larger bulbs. These bulbs not only burned a lot of electricity, they created a lot of heat so we only turned the tree on when we were in the living room because to burn the bulbs too much would risk drying it out and making the whole enterprise a fire hazard.  After the lights, we were allowed to place ornaments on the tree.  There was a star that my dad would place on the top.   The final thing to go on the tree was the icicles.  My mom insisted that each one of the foil icicles be hung individually, which meant the tree never had enough icicles because we would tire of the task long before the tree was covered. 

On a table, we set out the nativity scene… the ceramic figures crowded into a manager that my dad had built out of plywood (and looked a lot like the three-sided shelters I’ve spent many a night in along the Appalachian Trail).   The living room, where the tree was at, was full of activity in December as we spent as much time as possible marveling at the tree.  During the rest of the year, the room was “off limits” except when we had company.  It was the visiting room.  But during those weeks from early December to New Year’s Day (when the tree was taken down), the room was full of life.  On Christmas morning, we were forbidden to enter the room until my parents were up (they were always sleepy and the last up and a few times we did slip in to see what was waiting around the tree).  When my father was ready, Super-8 movie camera in his hands with flood lights as bright as an atomic explosion, we’d run in all excited only to quickly shield our eyes from the blinding lights, as we checked out the presents from Santa (the unwrapped presents that circled the tree).  Favorite memories include an AM-FM radio, a microscope, an erector-set, a lever-action BB gun, and a bicycle.  When I was 12, there was a rifle (that is still in my gun safe but hasn’t been shot in decades) and the next year there were golf clubs.  Thanks to having a much younger sibling, my brother and sister and I kept receiving “Santa gifts” well until high school!  After checking out what Santa left, we’d open the wrapped presents and eat candy and fruit.  An hour or so later, my parents would fix a big breakfast, but we were not that hungry.  Afterwards, we’d play in the yard or get in the car for the ride up to Pinehurst to see grandparents.   

By Christmas night, we’d all be tired.  One year, for some reason, I remember listing to that AM-FM radio (that replaced my little 9 volt transistor radio) and they were playing “Judy in Disguise with Glasses.”   

May you have a  Merry Christmas! 

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.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Paddling around Wassaw Island

Coming ashore on the south end of the island
The weather was perfect for early November.  The temperature, while in the mid-50s in the morning, would warm up well into the 70s.  The morning skies were clear.  The tides were running high (9.9 feet total) due to the full moon being a day away.  The wind was calm and the waves promised to be less than a foot.  Five days after I had paddled in the Okefenokee, I was ready for another adventure.
click to enlarge (I realize my point to Delegal isn't quite right)
 At 9:30 AM, eight of us gathered at the Delegal Creek Marina with our kayaks and supplies for the day.  Before 10, we were in the water and paddling fast through the creek and into the Ossabaw Sound, heading for open water and the south end of Wassaw Island.  The water from the extreme high gave us an extra push as we made great time, arriving on Wassaw in less than an hour of paddling.

North end of Wassaw
A number of shrimp boats were working the south end of the island and on the point, hundreds of birds of a number of varieties (the most elegant being pelicans) gathered.  Because the surf was minimal on the falling tide, we rounded the point and pulled up on the beach.  Taking a thirty minute stop, we explored a bit, walking around to regain feeling in legs desiring to be stretched after being cramped inside boats.


Leaving the north end of the island, we paddled out into the ocean and headed north.  We figured it would take about an hour and a half of paddling to cover the seven miles along Wassaw Island and that about half way, we would stop for lunch.  Although Rudy (the only guy not paddling a red boat) had organized the trip, he had not paddled this stretch of beach, nor had any of the rest of us, so we had no idea what we would find.  We paddled against a light breeze, watching fishing jump about us and seeing a few porpoises.  At what appeared to be half-way, we headed to shore near what we thought was beached buoy. 
Lunch stop

Checking out what seemed to be a buoy from a distance, we discovered a stack of plastic chairs, the perfect lunch spot.  We all wanted to know if Rudy was going to have someone from a club drop by with wine and sandwiches.  Although the island is mostly owned and is a protected wildlife site, the family that has owned it for over a hundred years and who sold it to for a million dollars (well below appraised values) several decades ago so that the island and marsh would be protected, still owns a 200 acre slice in the center of the island.  These chairs belonged to them.  They also have a home on the island, and we walked down the road toward it, through a tropical looking forest of pines and palms.  No trespassing signs kept us well away from their private retreat.
Road leading to private property
Heading toward Cape Charlotte
After lunch, we stacked the chairs and left the place as we found it and began to paddle north.  The tide is beginning to turn and before I can get my spray skirt in place, a wave breaks over my boat.  I paddle out beyond the waves and remove the spray skirt and sponge out most of the water, then resume paddling north.  As we approach Cape Charlotte, the waves increase in size from what we’d experienced when out in the open water, but they are still relatively tame.  Here, the island is being eaten away by the ocean currents and a ghostly graveyard of former live oaks forest that juts out into the water.  We pass the point and paddle by the ruins of the Spanish American battery and pull up on the sandbar west of the point.  As we stretch out legs, a number of porpoises swim by.  Here, we all have decent cell phone signals so before we head out, we make calls to have people pick us up on the Priest Landing Marina. 
North End of Wassaw

Porpoises playing

I am the last to leave and my lollygagging provides me (and a couple of others) a treat.  As we paddle toward Rommey Marsh Creek, we spot a number of porpoises playing (or mating) in the wrack (dead marsh grass that floats on the water).  As we approach, we see them roll with each other and jump out of the water. Others blow water out of their blowholes.  I only have an old waterproof camera available (my DSLR is safely secured in a waterproof box inside a dry bag inside my kayak).   The waterproof camera is slow and I am not able to get a good shot, but I enjoy the show.  At times, the animals are just feet from my kayak. 

I arrive back on Skidaway a little before 4 PM.   We had paddled 17 miles with 3.5 hours of paddling, but we also had a good tide pushing us out toward the south end of Wassaw and then back toward Priest Landing.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Home Sweet Home

I have shown lots of photos around the island upon which I now reside, but I haven’t shown any of my home here, so let me welcome you to this little getaway.  I love the entry way.  I am not sure what kind of azaleas that bloom in the fall, but there they are.  There are many larger azaleas in the yard and I am sure that in the spring the yard will be wonderful.  There are also a number of large camellias and in a few weeks, they will be providing quite a show (there are 100s of bulbs on each).
Inside, there is a large living area (you are seeing about ½ of it).  Since there is an office with bookcases plus the bookcases at my office at work, plus the bookcases we brought with us, there are more than enough bookcases in this home.  The Harvey Dunn print (The Prairie is my Garden) is one of my favorite.  On the wall to the right is an oil painting by a friend of the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.  I insist there be no TVs in the living room (the same goes for my bedroom).  This fireplace is gas.

Divided from the Living Room by French Pocket doors, the Den is quite comfortable.  This is a wood burning fireplace and on the mantle is a lantern that my granddaddy used around the barn when he cured tobacco with a wood fire and would have to sleep at the barns to keep the heat up throughout the night.  The print is one of the Lost Mountain Store.  To the left of the fireplace is the big screen TV and at the back corner of the den is a wet bar!  That was a luxury I never thought I would enjoy.

I find it ironic that now that I am here, where the temperature seldom drops to freezing, that there are two fireplaces!  I would have enjoyed two fireplaces.   In addition to these rooms, there is a breakfast area, a formal dining room, kitchen, four bedroom (one is used as an office and another is being reserved as a hotel room and it is being booked up for the winter by friends from the great white north), and three and a half baths.  Behind the house (with large doors off the master bedroom, living room and den) is a large deck.  This house is more than we need, but I am going to give it a real workout in mid-December when I invite all my staff and their spouses over for a Christmas party (if everyone comes, we’ll have over 30 people here).  

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Paddling in the Okefenokee

One of my bucket list items has been to paddle in the Okefenokee Swamp.  Ever since high school, when I purchased my first canoe, I had thought about paddling the swamp.  Moving here made it a much easier goal and last week I seized the opportunity.  My father, who took up kayaking a few years ago, was visiting.  On Thursday afternoon, we drove down to Folkston Georgia where, early on Friday, we headed out to the swamp’s east entrance at the Sewanee Canal.  We were on the water a few minutes after 9 AM. 
Click to enlarge the photo (and really see the gators)

The first two miles were spend paddling straight down one of the canals that attempted to drain the swamp.  Prior to the late 30s, when the swamp became a National Wildlife Refuge, the swamp was logged and seen as a place where, once drained, the land could be farmed.  But the drainage never worked and since then, the swamp has been allowed to return to its natural state.  We were greeted right away with herons and cranes. It was wonderful to hear sandhills cranes again.  I feared I had left them behind in Michigan.  We were also able to see evidence of the fires that are a part of the natural state of the swamp.   There were terrible fires in 2007 and again in 2011. 
About a mile down the canal, we passed a sign designating the wilderness area boundaries.  About the same place we saw the first alligator swimming across the canal maybe a hundred yards ahead.  We would see numerous such beast, maybe 50 or even more, by the time we called it a day.  But the gators don't bother us.  Most slowly and quietly submerge when we approach, much like a submarine drops below the water at the approach of a destroyer. The dark stained water is the perfect hiding place.  The temperature must have been just cool enough for the snakes to stay hidden as we didn't see a single one.

We first explored Chesser  Prairie, a vast open area filled with lily pads and shallow water.  Mixed in within the lily pads was the occasional brilliant white flower.  Next, we found the portable outhouse (built up on a platform as there is little solid grown in this part of the swamp).  This was important as I needed to relieve myself of my morning coffee. 
My dad with his cooler (he wanted ice in his drinks)


At places, the channel constricted.

That's me in a prairie

We paddled onward toward Coffee Bay, where we planned to enjoy lunch on the shelter there.  The canals became narrower and the gators more frequent.  A few places where we were able to get out of the channel and explore the swamps surrounding the canal, we did.  We see a variety of trees.  Where there is a sliver of high grown, long leaf pines can be found, as well as sweet gums, live oaks and water oaks.  Cypress and juniper are found throughout the swamp, growing in the water.   And Spanish moss, dangling like the Taliban's beard, is everywhere.

After lunch, we headed back toward the landing, taking some time to explore the Mizzell Prairie and another section of the Chesser Prairie We were back at the launch by 4 PM, having paddled 14-15 miles.  On the way back to Savannah, I decided we’d stop at the Folkston funnel and learn about the large number of trains running in and out of Florida (but that will be covered in another post). 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy birthday, Nevada

If you have read much of my blog, you will have noticed that I have a real love for Nevada.  Now, I don't mean Las Vegas, but the rural, less populated parts of the state.  My love for the state grew from the year long internship that I did in Virginia City during the late 80s.   This Friday (October 31) will mark the state's anniversary.  On 31 October 1864, just days before the Presidential elections, Nevada was ushered into statehood in time to cast its electoral votes for Lincoln.  In honor of the "Battle Born" state, I submit a collection of my photos which have appeared in my blog over the past ten years.

You can click on the photo to enlarge it and to see the sites.  Here they are from the top middle, working clockwise:

  • Austin,
  • Eureka,
  • locomotive at Northern Nevada Railroad Museum in Ely
  • the Nevada Club in Ely
  • two other shots from the Northern Nevada Railroad.  The ruins are in Treasure City (near Hamilton---another ghost town, south of Eureka
  • me backpacking in the Ruby Mountains
  • Highway 50 (there are two shots of different sections of this road)
  • the train station in Caliente,
  • Boulder Dam 
  • Las Vegas.
  • Rachel
  • the bottle house at Ryolite 
  • a desert rainstorm along US 93
  • the Goldfield Hotel, Goldfield
  • the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah
  • Joshua Trees
  • Virginia City and Mt. Davidson
  • the Virginia and Truckee Railroad engine in Moundhouse
  • Marlette Lake (near Tahoe)
  • Julie, former bartender at the Union Brewery in Virginia City
  • Pyramid Lake
  • railroad in the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Solo paddle to the north end of Wassaw Island

Playing tag with this sailboat
I push away from the muddy beach around 1:45 PM.  Leaving the marina at Priest’s Landing at the same time is a large sailboat.  He motors out ahead of me maybe 200 feet, cuts the engine and raises his sails.  The tide is running out but against it an off-shore wind provides some resistance to my paddling and forces the sailboat to tack.  I keep paddling straight.  His first tack is right in front of me and by the second tack, he is behind me.  I paddle the two and a quarter miles through the Wilmington River and into the Wassaw Sound well before the sailboat.

Paddling toward Cape Charlotte
Entering the sound, I am in big water (the sound is two plus miles wide).  I set course for my destination, Wassaw Island, passing the wide mouth of Rommey Marsh Creek and some ominous sounding high ground known as “Dead Man’s Hammock.”  A large bird flies across the sound.  It’s not till the bird is almost above me that I notice it’s a bald eagle.  I wish my camera is ready, but it flies over and is quickly in the sun.  The sky is cloud free, but the unhindered sun isn’t able to warm the air much above 70° F.   The wind picks up in the sound and the water becomes a little rough with the tide running against it.  I keep paddling, passing several hundred yards from the mouths of Blue Bank Creek and Crooked Creek.  

Mill Creek
My target, the north end of Wassaw and its heavy vegetation becomes more distinct.  I pull up on an exposed sandbar near Mill Creek (was there ever a mill here?).  It feels good to stretch my legs.   I’ve paddled over five miles into the wind.  It’s 3:30 PM, in fifteen or twenty minutes, the tide will turn.  I pull my boat way up toward the dunes and begin to explore the area, walking a ways up into the creek and then over the dunes and back to the shore.

Horseshoe Crab (RIP)

Fort Morgan

As I walk toward the point, I come upon the ruins of Fort Morgan.  A battery of guns were placed here during the Spanish American War to secure Savannah from an attack up the Wilmington River, a back channel into the Savannah River.  After a year, the guns were removed and the only thing that remains are concrete ruins that are being slowly reclaimed by the tides.  The concrete mix included a lot of oyster shells, showing the ingenuity of those building the fort who used what they had on hand.  

Wassaw Island, looking toward the point

The north end of the island is slowly being eaten away and it appears that at high tide, the water would be up against the woods.  Around the point, named Cape Charlotte on the charts, the remains of trees stick out of the sand, evidence of the southward erosion.  These islands are always in flux and as the north end erodes, sand is being added to the south end creating wide sandy beaches.  

Pines on the Island
I've been told these pines are related to those on the Bahamas

Selfie taken on the island
After exploring the north end of the island, I head back to my boat.  The tide is now rising and although I know I have pulled my boat way up on the beach, knowing that the days’ tides will be running around 8 feet, I don’t know how fast it might rise.  Of course, when I get back to the boat, the water is still way below the boat so I sit on a cushion and make some notes in my journal, while watching some boats run through the inlet.  There are now two boats anchored 25 or so yards offshore from where I am at. One appears to be a group of teenagers, although they maybe older, who are drinking.  In the other, two African-American men, who look to be father and son, are fishing. I see them pull in one fish, but I can’t tell what kind of fish it is.

At four-thirty, the water is rising closer to my boat.  The wind has died and the gnats are out.   I pack up and begin the paddle back to Skidaway.   Shortly afterwards, I see what I think is an osprey dive for a fish.  The bird misses its target and as I takes back to flight and is over head, it does a funny dance, flicking up its tail feathers as it flutters its wing, obviously an effort to dry itself off.  The big bird sails high and, once it’s over Mill Creek, makes another dive.  This time, when it takes off, there is a fish in its talons.  Dinner will be served in his nest this evening.

I had hoped that I would have had the wind to help push me, but my luck has run out.  I still have the incoming tide, but when I reach the wide mouth of Rommey Marsh Creek, I find the tide now works against me for the water is pushing into the creek and I have to paddle harder for the next half mile or so.  Once I’m back in the main channel of the Wilmington River, I can see the marina at Priest Landing in the distance.  The sun is bright, but quickly dropping in the western sky.  When I pull up on the beach at Priest Landing, named for a former Benedictine Monastery on the Island, sunset is only a few minutes away.  It has been a nice afternoon.  
In open waters, paddling home