Thursday, January 29, 2015

Day Two in the Okefenokee (December 30, 2014)

One of the many alligators I saw
I strike something with the paddle on my port side (left) and feel a quick jerk.  Out of the corner of my eye I see something dark rise up and a splash.  The boat rocks in the turbulence and I gasp.  “Was it an alligator? Or a large fish, maybe a pike?”  I’m pretty sure it was a gator.  I’ve seen many since the clouds began to break up late in the morning, allowing for sun to penetrate and dry out the swamp.  The water isn’t very deep, but its dark tannic stain hides everything.  Earlier there was a large gator in the channel swimming in my direction, almost as if it was playing chicken with me.  I stopped and the gator, about twenty feet in front of my kayak silently submerged.  The water in the channel was only three feet or so deep and it was eerie to flat over the top of a gator.  I held my breath for a moment, feeling as if I was on a warship with an enemy submarine just below me.  But nothing happened.  In this case, I wondered if I had accidentally hit a gator just under the water with the blade of my paddle.  I’ll never know for sure but for the next hour every lily leaf that’s turned up and glistening in the sun appears as the eyes of a gator.  That said, I do see a dozen or so more gators as I paddle around the western boundary of Chase Prairie.  I am surprised to see so many for this is the next to last day of 2014.  It is winter, but it’s also warm and the sun makes everything cheerful. 

Looking toward Bluff Lake from the camping platform
The day started out gray
I had woken up at day break, dreaming about on a canoe trip on the Genesee River in New York State.  I was leading a youth group and the other group leaders were people I knew from Utah and Michigan.  We were late getting started and I was worried that we might be on the river at night if we didn’t get going soon as our destination was Letchworth State Park.  I am not sure how I was going to canoe through the waterfalls on the river in the park, but the falls along the Genesee in Letchworth Gorge never entered my mind in the dream, it’s only after I was awake that I wonder about the foolishness of taking a youth group down that river with people from various periods of my past.

It is still raining, but only lightly, not nearly as hard as it has rained throughout the night.  The sky is gray and fog hangs over the water.  I crawl out of the hammock and begin boiling water for coffee (Folger’s coffee bags) and putt around a bit before fixing my instant oatmeal.  I pack up everything but the hammock, hoping that its fly will dry a little before I stow it away.  I spend a few minutes reading Robert Burns and chuckle at the line:

 “Ah, Tan!  Ah, Tan!  Thou’ll get thy fairin! 
In hell, they’ll roast thee like a herrin!”  

At Bluff Lake Platform
Kayak ready and waiting on a paddler (me)
 By 9, the rain has stopped but the tarp isn’t any drier, and with the humid it seems to be a vain task, so I pack everything up, putting back on the wet clothes (that haven’t dried any).  Even though the temperature must be in the 60s, the damp shirt is chilling.  I pack up my boat and by 9:30 AM I am on the water. 
Swamp view
The platform was on just off the south end of Bluff Lake and as I paddled south, the channel becomes narrower and narrower and begins to move westward, deeper into the heart of the swamp.  It’s like paddling though the middle of a Carolina Bay, the vegetation so thick that one couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead.  It’s mostly shrubs: a variety of bay, myrtles, magnolia, hollies, palm trees, mixed in with small cypress and, when the ground is a few inches above water, an occasional pine.  I see evidence of the Mormon missionaries’ work as the brush has been cut back to allow for a tunnel of vegetation through which I paddle.  However, I find myself feasting on a second breakfast of silk webs spun overnight by spiders that cling to my face and also realize that my double-ended paddle is a liability as the blade out of the water is catching on the branches that cover the waterway.  I’d brought along a canoe paddle for this, as I had been told it might be a problem plus it is always good to have a second paddle, but instead of pulling it out and stowing my kayak paddle, I just break my paddle in half and stow one half into the kayak and paddle with the other, switching sides constantly (the J stroke which is used in canoes doesn’t work well in this situation). 
floating mud bogs

After paddling a mile through a rather deep channel with overhanging vegetation, I enter an area where mud floats on top of the water and I have to paddle hard to push the boat through it.  This floating mud slows me down and my paddle appears to be stirring a chocolate cake batter.  I fight through this for maybe an hour.  Some of this area has been burned in the past few years.  I see a cypress that is maybe six inches thick that burned but new sprouts are growing and some are already fifteen or twenty feet tall.  I struggle for maybe an hour through this section, covering only a mile according to the markers.  As I come to the end of this section, the vegetation thins out as I enter Territorial Prairie. 
Paddling through chocolate cake batter
a more open canal with lots of floating bogs
 After a few more miles of paddling, I feel the need to rid myself of coffee and to stretch my body as my legs are cramping in the kayak.  Solid ground is not available but I paddle up into a prairie area where the water is about a foot deep and push my boat between two trees.  Holding onto the trees, I am able to stand and stretch as well as provide some “over the side” relief to my bladder.    I also pull out my DSLR camera as the clouds are breaking apart and I am pretty sure we’re done with the rain for the day and snap a few photos before paddling on. 

Between Territory and Chase Prairie
Between Territory and Chase Prairie 
Some of this area appears to have burned during the huge fires of 2007 or 2011 and in many places there are standing cypress that had died (some of which have sprouted new growth) along with the stalks of dead pines slowly rotting.  As I come toward the end of the prairie, I notice more and more hammocks (high ground, but here high is relative) with pines that must have been large enough to have survived the fires.  At the end of the prairie, the path tightens back into another tight channel, but it is not nearly as tight as it was between Territory Prairie and Bluff Lake.  In these tight sections, I notice the water is moving, toward the Suwanee River which drains much of the swamp.    I had noticed this earlier in the morning, too.  It’s not much flow, but it gives hope that I am going in the right direction and am being helped a bit.

After a couple of miles, the water opens up as I enter Chase Prairie.  The sun is now peeking through clouds and it is warm and I began to see more and more alligators.  Some remain on top, but most submerge as I pass by.   Although I am back in a prairie with lots of brush and some pitcher plants hanging on from last summer, I can tell that to the north (which is Floyd’s Island_, there are huge trees, mostly pine but some cypress and other hardwoods.  The trail follows the north edge of the prairie.   I stop up on a floating mud island, pulling the boat up on it in order to hold it still and fix and eat lunch while sitting in the boat.  Afterwards, I use my paddle to help me stand without tipping the boat and stretch my legs before paddling on.

Trail to Floyds Island
After a little over a mile after I entered Chase Prairie, I come to the waterway to Floyds Island.  I’ve been told that this hasn’t been cleared since the fires and it would be nearly impossible to paddle to the island.  I paddle up a ways and see that there are many logs over the stream, so I turn south and follow a secondary path that swings closer to the edge of the watery prairie in which I have been told there are a lot of alligator holes.  Sure enough, I see numerous gators including the encounter I described earlier. 

As I paddle south along the western boundary of Chase Prairie, I spot four sandhill cranes to the southwest.  The wind is also coming from that direction and is pretty strong, which should cover my scent and sound.  I quietly paddle pass them until I am at a point where I am directly behind them. 
With my camera ready, I paddle forward and am to get a number of good shots before they take to flight and then I capture the best shots.  I have heard the crane a number of times in the refuge but this is the first that I’ve seen today.

Sandhill Cranes
cranes taking flight
Alligator across from my camping spot

Heading south, I spot what I think is the canal.  I am so glad to be nearing my camping spot that I paddle fast upstream but realize, after a while, that this canal didn’t go very far (maybe a mile) and I have to back track.    I do and a half mile later enter the Suwanee Canal and turn westward and in a few minutes I’m at the shelter.  It is a 3:30 and I’ve been on the river for six hours without getting out of my kayak.  This platform is up on the berm of the canal (which is only 18 or so inches above the water).  I pull up my boat and set up camp.  The whole time, an alligator is sitting on the far bank, all but the tip of tail out of the water (it seems gators often leave a tip of their tail in water as if to remind them where to find their natural habitat).  Afterwards, I walk along the canal and collect wood for a fire.  Because of the high ground, this is one of the few places in the refuge one can have a fire.  Then I write in my journal and start cooking dinner, which I do while reading Burns.  Since no one is around, I read out loud and obviously annoying the gator across the canal as it slides back into the water.  Frogs and insects are singing and occasionally a fish jumps in the canal. 
Set up for the night
I eat dinner by a fire, enjoy the last of the wine (I had enough for a “glass” each night).  A bit after dark I go to bed.  The past few weeks had taken their toil and I need sleep and this will be my last night out.  I savor the time asleep.  The wind is up and it is cooling off more than the previous night.  I get a sense that the weather is changing again.
An ibis in Chase Prairie
I am now planning a two night trip in the Okefenokee in late March, starting from the Fargo side and exploring Floyds  Island and prairie.  Anyone want to join me?  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Day One in the Okefenokee (December 29, 2014)

Kings Canal (Kingfisher Landing)
  Having packed everything the night before, I slip out of the house a little before 5 AM.  It's warm for December 29th and there's a bit of fog as I drive over the bridge and across the Diamond Causeway.  There are few cars, even when I get on the Truman going south and then on Abercorn Extension where I stop for a coffee.  At the junction for Interstate 95, I head south at 70 miles-an-hour, toward the Okefenokee.  It's a relaxing drive, watching light seep into the world.  At 7:30, I stop for a quick breakfast at McDonald’s in Folkston, before driving out to the park.  I'm at the Refuge headquarters at 8 AM to pick up my permit and by 8:15, I'm loading my boat onto a trailer owned by Okefenokee Adventures.  I will leave my vehicle in their parking lot and let them drive me to Kingfisher Landing, which is on the northeast side of the refuge.  On Wednesday, the last day of the year, I will arrive back at Okefenokee Adventures after having paddled approximately 30 miles into the interior of the swamp. 

I was following the green trail
Chip, who with his wife owns Okefenokee Adventures, drives me to the launch site.  Both of us are from North Carolina and we talk about rivers we’d both paddled (the Waccamaw, Town and Rice’s Creek, the Black River, etc) and about how he came to be the concessioner for the refuge.  His father, who had been a Baptist preacher, had taken him to the Okefenokee when he was a kid and he’d kept coming.  When he took over the operations ten years ago, there was an environmental battle going on with DuPont who wanted to mine over a 100,000 acres of sand, just outside the refuge's boundaries, to extract titanium.  Thankfully, it didn’t happen as it would have severely affected the water quality of the swamp.  After DuPont backed out of their plans, they donated a large track of additional land to the refuge.  Chip also told me what to expect in my journey and told me the story about the guy who cleared the section of the swamp that I’d be paddling the second morning of my trip.  Finding out I’d lived in Utah for ten years, he had to tell me about how this guy had two Mormon missionaries from there who needed volunteer hours and how he took those boys into the swamp and “worked them like a rented mule.”  The guy let them talk all they wanted about the Mormon Church, as long as they kept working.   He wasn't going to convert, but he admired hard work.  When we arrive at the landing, there is another group also preparing to launch.  

bald cypress
At 9;30 AM, I slide my kayak into the water of Kings Canal.  The other group, who would have been paddling with me for the first mile or so, are still waiting (they had a long shuttle as they were on a four day trip and would take out of the swamp at Fargo). I won't see anyone else for the next 48 hours.  It's warm and I paddle in short sleeves.  The sky is now overcast and I paddle steadily as weather is changing and I know they are calling for heavy showers and even thunderstorms in the afternoon.   After a mile, I leave Kings Canal and turn south on the green trail (at this point, the other group would take the trail to the northwest, toward Maul Hammock).   I paddle through many narrow sections that occasionally opened to a small lake or prairie.  A few miles into the trip, I encounter my first alligator, a six footer who is spread out on a bank, just off my starboard side.  Because of a bend in the stream, I don't see him until I'm right beside him and could easily (had I not been looking) wacked him with my paddle.  I'm careful not to do that, but surprised that he does’t slide off into the water as I slide by  I also see an eagle, lots of waterfowl and kingfishers, and a couple more alligators.
an area recently burned in a wildfire
Paddling south through a prairie

Paddling sout

Bluff Lake camping platform

I arrive at Bluff Lake shelter/platform at 12:30, having paddled seven and a half miles.  Because there is little stable ground in the swamp, there are platforms built for camping, keeping you up above the water (and the gators, I suppose).  Part of the platform has a cover and off to one end is a latrine.  Knowing that rain is a possibility, I set up camp (including my hammock) and when all is ready, eat lunch (cheese, crackers, fruit).  Then I take a nap, read some, and call my dad to wish him happy birthday (I'm surprised I can get a signal, but since this trail has taken me straight south, paralleling the refuge’s boundary, I'm only a few miles from a major highway).
my new hammock
But so much for an afternoon of rain.  There had been a light shower while I was napping, but nothing more.  By mid-afternoon I'm wanting to explore.  Chip had told me about a nice crescent-moon lake that was accessible through a narrow trail (he advised that I not stay too late as it could be difficult to make the paddle in the dark).   I grab my cameras (I take two: a water proof one that I kept handy at all times and a DSLR that I stow in a dry bag), and slide my kayak back into the water and set out to find this nice lake.  Along the way, I paddle a couple of water lilies that have opened up trying to catch what little sun that creeps through the clouds.  While photographing them, I notice how the lily pads all appear as Pac-man, ready to devour some dots.  I also begin to notice the large number of pitcher plants in this section of swamp.  These carnivorous plants are unique as they depend on the bugs they eat.  Pondering this, I make so notes that I eventually shaped into a poem, Swamp Seduction.    I find the lake and paddle around a bit, almost wishing I had a fishing rod.  Then I feel a drop of water and decide that I better make it back to Bluff Lake.  A few minutes later, long before I reach my shelter, the skies opened.  Although warm for December, it is chilly to paddle in the rain, but not chilly enough for me to pull on my rain suit.  Furthermore, I would still get wet as I had discovered at Kingfisher Landing that I had left my spray skirt in my car.  When I arrived back at the shelter, I'm drenched and quickly change clothes, hanging up my wet ones to dry under the shelter.

Rain in the late afternoon

Water lily and "pac-man" lily pad leaf
It's time for dinner and I fix some rice and eat it with the contents of a sealed pouch of curried chick-peas from India.  I use a bag of rice and place the pouch in the same water to heat it as the rice cooks.  As I am cooking, I hear a owl in the cypress to the west of the platform and second later another owl in the distance returns his call.  With dinner, I also drink a couple of cups of tea and then half of a small bottle of wine that I’d stashed in my food bag.  After writing in my journal, I finish reading Henry James’ novella, Daisy Miller and then turn out the light to try my first night of sleeping inside a hammock that I’d received as a Christmas present.   It rains throughout the night and I'm glad that even though I'm under the shelter, I’d put up the tarp because the wind picks up, it blows water across the shelter.  But between storms, when the rains let up, I can hear trains race down CSX mainline from Waycross into Florida.   I like them both, the sound of the rain on tin and the whistle moving across the landscape.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King day and in honor of the work of Dr. King, I am re-posting a book I reviewed here in 2006.  On my Facebook page, I decided that since everyone else was posting well-known quotes by King, I'd post something less serious and not as well-known.  King and others were in the planning stages of the Birmingham campaign and knew he was going to be arrested.  It was late at night and King, looking at Abernathy, said, "Let me be sure to get arrested with people who don't snore."  Then the two of them went at each other, with Abernathy denying he snored and King saying that his snoring was worse than any torture invented.  (Branch, page 706)

What does Martin Luther King and his movement mean to you?  

Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988)

This book is an enormous undertaking, for both the author and the reader. The author provides the reader a biography of the Reverend Martin Luther King’s work through 1963, a view into the early years of the Civil Rights movement, as well as showing how the movement was affected by national and international events. This is the first of three massive volumes by Taylor Branch that spans the years of King’s ministry, from his ordination in 1954 to his death in 1968. This volume also provides some detail about King’s family history and his earlier life through graduate school at Boston University. I decided to read this book after hearing Branch speak in Birmingham AL in June. It’s like reading a Russian novel with a multitude of characters and over 900 pages of text. However, it was worth the effort as I got an inside look as to what was going on in the world during the first six years of my life.

Branch does not bestow sainthood nor does he throw stones. The greatness of Martin Luther King comes through as well as his shortcomings. He demonstrates King’s brilliance in the Montgomery Bus Campaign as well as in Birmingham. He also shows the times King struggled: his battles within his denomination, the National Baptist; King’s struggles with the NAACP; as well as his infidelities. The FBI also had mixed review. Agents are credited in standing up to Southern law enforcement officers, insisting that the rights of African Americans be protected. They often warned Civil Rights leaders of threats and dangers they faced. However, once King refused to heed the FBI’s warnings that two of his associates were communists, the agency at Hoover’s insistence, set out to break King. Hoover is shown as inflexible, a man who reprimanded an agent for suggesting that King’s associates are not communists. The Kennedy’s (John and Robert) also have mixed reviews. John Kennedy’s Civil Right’s Speech (and on the night that Medgar Evers would be killed in Mississippi) is brilliant. Kennedy drew upon Biblical themes, labeling Civil Rights struggle a moral issue “as old as the Scriptures.” Yet the Kennedy brothers appear to base most of their decisions based on political reasons and not moral ones. This allows King to sometimes push Kennedy at his weakness, hinting that he has or can get the support of Nelson Rockefeller (a Republican). Although we think today of the Democrat Party being the party of African Americans, this wasn’t necessarily the case in the 50s and early 60s. Many black leaders, especially within the National Baptist Convention leadership, identified themselves as Republicans, with Lincoln’s party.

Another interesting aspect in this book is the role many of the black entertainers played in the movement. King was regularly in contact with Harry Belafonte, but also gains connections to Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, Jackie Robinson, James Baldwin and others. The author also goes to great lengths to put the Civil Rights movement into context based on the Cold War politics. Both Eisenhower and Kennedy found themselves in embarrassing positions as they spoke out for democracy overseas while blacks within the United States were being denied rights.

The book ends in 1963, a watershed year for Civil Rights. King leads the massive and peaceful March on Washington. Medgar Evans and John Kennedy are both assassinated. And before the year is out, King has an hour long chat with the President, Lyndon Johnson, a Southerner, who would see to it that the Voting Rights Acts become law. 

As a white boy from the South, this book was eye opening. I found myself laughing that the same people who today bemoan the lack of prayer in the public sphere were arresting blacks for praying on the courthouse steps. The treatment of peaceful protesters was often horrible. There were obvious constitutional violations such as Wallace and the Alabama legislature raising the minimum bail for minor crimes in Birmingham 10 fold (to $2500) as a way to punish those marching for Civil Rights. I was also pleasantly surprised at behind the scenes connections between King and Billy Graham. Graham’s staff even provided logistical suggestions for King. King’s commitment to non-violence and his dependence upon the methods of Gandhi are evident. Finally, I found myself wondering if the segregationists like Bull O’Conner of Birmingham shouldn’t be partly responsible for the rise in crime among African American youth. They relished throwing those fighting for basic rights into jail, breaking a fear and taboo of jail. The taboo of being in jail has long kept youth from getting into trouble and was something the movement had to overcome to get mass arrest in order to challenge the system. In doing so, jail no longer was an experience to be ashamed off and with Pandora’s Box open, jail was no longer a determent to other criminal behavior. 

I recommend this book if you have a commitment to digging deep into the Civil Rights movement. Branch is a wonderful researcher and his use of FBI tapes and other sources give us a behind the scene look at both what was happening within the Civil Rights movement as well as at the White House. However, there are so many details. For those wanting just an overview of the Civil Right’s movement, this book may be a bit much. As for me, I’m looking forward to digging into the other two books of this trilogy: A Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65 and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Trembling Earth (A book review on my birthday)

Megan Kate Nelson, Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2005), 262 pages including notes, index, bibliography and a few photos. 

The Okefenokee Swamp is huge bog located mostly in South Georgia, just above the Florida border.  Today, much of it is a National Wildlife Refuge, but before it was protected in the 1930s, the swamp existed as an unknown barrier. Nelson calls it an "edge space."  The name, "Okefenokee," comes out of a Native American term meaning "trembling earth."  This name describes the floating peat islands inside the swamp.  Since there is only a little "solid" high ground inside the swamp, it wasn't a settled area.  Prior to European immigration, there were a few native communities existing along the edges of the swamp.  The interior was only probed for hunting.  This changed over time as the Spanish began to populate Florida and the British began to move into Georgia.  The swamp and the native populations served as a buffer between British and later Americans in the north and the Spanish in the South.  Native communities began to move into the swamp during the Seminole wars of the early 19th Century, using it geographical barrier to their advantage.  Another group to find the interior of the swamp beneficial were runaway slaves.  At first, Georgia didn't allow slavery.  However, because Africans had some immunity to the diseases that affected Europeans, and the need for new areas to expand rice plantations which had dotted the coastal plains of the Carolinas, there was a push to employ slaves.  Being close to Spanish Florida, some slaves would hide out in the swamp and then try to make their ways south.  Interestingly, the last group to find refuge in the swamp were poor white men who were trying to avoid conscription in the Confederate army during the Civil War and crackers who lived under the radar in the swamp, living off the bounty of the land.

After the Civil War, serious attempts were made to "conquer" the swamp.  The first was a failed attempt to drain the swamp through the St. Mary's River to the Atlantic Ocean.  It was with hopes that the rich ground could be utilized for farming.  This attempt failed to understand the geography for most of the swamp actually drains through the Suwanee River into the Gulf of Mexico.   After the bankruptcy of the dredging company, the swamp fell into the hands of northern timber companies who built "mud lines" (temporary railway spurs) which allowed them to harvest much of the cypress and pine within the swamp.  During this time, another group began to make the swamp their home.  These "crackers" or "swampers," both worked for and were often resisted the various dredging and timber companies who were attempting to change their environment.  As the timber was being harvested, the interest in birdlife in the swamp increased as various surveys were made of the birds and waterfowl within the swamp leading to the land being transferred to the government in the 1930s. 

Using a historicity which she labels "ecolocalism," Nelson tells the history of the swamp through the stories of competing groups who relate to the landscape in different ways.  These groups include Native Americans, slaves, colonists, developers, swampers, scientists, naturalists and tourists.  This book is a distillation of her dissertation and although it has been edited into its present form, it still maintains an academic distance from her subject.  Only in an opening essay does she acknowledge having been into the swamp.  This lack of a personal connect makes the book seem a little aloft.  She does draw upon many of the groups stories which makes the book very readable. 

I read this book because of my recent move to Georgia and a desire to understand a place I am setting out to explore.  This book just scratches the surface.  I am even more curious now about the Okefenokee.  In a few days, I'll hopefully have up a post of my post-Christmas solo trip across the east side of the swamp.    

And yes, today is my birthday and I am still in Orlando.  I return home tomorrow.   Below is a photo of from my trip from last month into the Okefenokee--of sandhill cranes.  If you remember, I had posted about these birds when I lived in Michigan.
December 28, 2014
On the west edge of Chase Prairie 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Another afternoon on the water

Add caption
The sail club doesn't race when the winds are over 18 knots and on the scheduled races were cancelled.  In addition, the air had turned much cooler from the previous week in which I had sailed in a short sleeve shirt.  I came prepared for cooler weather only to arrive at the marina to learn that I should have checked my messages.  But all was not loss as I was invited to go on a J22.  This boat is larger than the Rhodes 19 the club races.  Two club members had recently purchased this from another member and the three of them were sailing.  Five of us piled on the clothes and foul weather gear and prepared the boat for sailing in high winds by reefing the mainsail.

catching the other boat...

that'a us in a photo taken by the other boat
notice the reefed mainsail 

Before heading out, I measured the wind between 18 and 23 knots, but that was with it partly blocked by the break wall.  It was coming almost due north, the direction of the outlet to the river, which made sailing out of the marina a little tricky and required a couple of tacks within the break wall before we were able to slip out into the outrunning tide.  Sailing on a starboard reach, we headed up the Wilmington River.  Even going against the tide, the boat's electronics said we were doing over 5 miles an hour.  Coming down the river from Wilmington Island was another boat under sail.  After it passed us, we reverse course and headed down river, enjoying the outgoing tide and favorable winds, catching them just before we enter Wassaw Sound. Here, with the winds having a few miles to race over the waters, the waves were larger and splashed over the boat.

Even with the shortened sail, every puff pushed the boat over on a extreme heel.  It was exciting.  We raced back and forth with the other boat, exchanging phone numbers so that we could exchange photos.  Each of us took a turn at the helm.  After a couple of hours, the wind had soften a bit, and we headed in for a beer on the porch before heading home.  It had been fun afternoon and I was thankful for the opportunity to try out a new boat.  (I am surprised to review photos and to find that I didn't catch the whitecaps that dominated the water when we were in more open areas.)
Sage at the helm
 I'm in Orlando and am tied up most of the time with a conference...  When I get a chance, I'll get around and catch  up with everyone's blog.  Last night I had to watch (and was disappointed) with the college national championship.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Some ramblings: flowers, the weather, and sailing

A camellia that just opened up
Tonight it is supposed to drop down all the way down into the low 20s in Savannah…   Here on the island, where the water moderates things a bit, it's only to get to 26.  That’s spring-like weather for where I have lived for the past thirty years, but this year finds me in a place where such temperatures are seldom experienced.  There have been warnings on the radio for people to remember the 3 Ps (pets, plants and pipes).  Plants and pets are brought inside and water is to be left dripping so pipes don't freeze...   What?  I did have a pipe freeze last winter, but it was minus 17 (for those overseas readers, that minus 28 C), and a strong wind blowing that proved too much for the insulated pipes in the garage under the kitchen.   I better not have any pipes to freezes at this temperature, but I wonder what the weather will do to the camellias in the yard?  This is a new variety that’s now blooming; there have been camellias blooming since November. 
in the lead (actually we were in 2nd)

On Sunday afternoon it was in the low seventies and I wore a short-sleeve shirt while sailing.  It was a bold move not to cancel the race because we knew the weather was going to change as a front was moving in around 5 PM.  But the wind was lovely and the races fast.  After three races, we got the boats put up and were having a beer on the porch of the marina when the guy came out to tell us we were just in time as we were under a tornado watch and severe thunderstorm warnings.  A few minutes later, the front moved through with strong straight line winds, heavy rain, and possibly a tornado to the north. 

Starboard tack
Port tack

Although I find myself something missing the snow, but I can’t have everything and the miss feeling doesn’t last for doesn’t last long for I’m really enjoying being out on the water so much.   After all, the only sailing I did last winter was on ice.  I need to get my post up on my solo 3 day trip into the Okefenokee.   I’m not a huge football fan, but all the interest I had in the playoffs died last weekend with the Steelers and the Lions losing.  Now, if I watch a game it will just be in the hopes of seeing a Cowboy loss. 

Next week I will be in Orlando, but no, it won’t be to see the mouse or any other theme parks but for a training conference.  I use to enjoy business trips to Orlando in January.  I was there last January when they were complaining about the cold (it was in the mid-30s) and just shook my heads, having felt like I exchanged the deep freeze for the vegetable bin inside the refrigerator.   I can’t get excited about heading that direction this year.   

Heading to safety

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

An Interview with an author whose newest book is released today

Sage:  It is a pleasure to interview Stephanie Faris in my blog today.  Currently, she is on a promotion tour for her new book, 25 Roses.  Stephanie, many of my readers may not have had a chance to meet you.  Can you give us a brief introduction to yourself?

Stephanie:  Hi, everyone! Thank you so much for welcoming me to your blog today. I’ve been writing since the 90s, which makes me really old! I finally landed an agent in 2009 and sold my first book to Simon and Schuster in 2012. That book, 30 Days of No Gossip, came out last year and 25 Roses is my second book for Simon and Schuster.

Sage:  Congratulations on your new book.  Without spoiling the story for potential readers, could you provide basic summary and tell us what you would like your readers to take from your story?

Stephanie:  When I was in high school, we had a carnation sale for Valentine’s Day. People bought carnations for their friends and boyfriends/girlfriends. You could send them anonymously or with your name on it. I started thinking about what would happen if the girl in charge of that sale decided to give flowers to the people who didn’t normally receive them—the unpopular girls and boys, mostly. While my main character, Mia, has the best intentions, we all know “no good deed goes unpunished.” Mia soon finds herself in the middle of a big mess that she created by having such a big heart.

Stephanie:  It’s interesting—for younger books, boys and girls will both read books with female and male main characters. Around eight or nine, they seem to split. Girls love books with male main characters (the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, for instance) but boys seem to stay away from books starring females. 25 Roses has a universal message that I think would appeal to boys and girls if the girly cover doesn’t scare them off.

Sage: I know for boys (or at least for me), the middle school years (they called it Junior High back in my days) were some of the most difficult years of my life.  What was your life like in those grades?

Stephanie:  It was junior high for me, too. I was just thinking about it the other day. I think your junior high/middle school years are tough in part because school is everything. Once you reach high school, you get a job and start driving and you can distance yourself somewhat. In middle school, you’re stuck dealing with these people. I was not popular at all and I always felt like I wasn’t quite good enough. I’d say to my middle school/high school classmates I was mostly invisible except for my small group of friends. Maybe we all feel that way, though.

Sage:  Do you have young adults read your work while it is in progress in order to see how they are relating to the story?

Stephanie:  I don’t…but I would love to put together a group of young beta readers! My stepdaughter did read the first chapter of one of my middle grade books once and she pointed out things kids would never say or do. That was very helpful, but I couldn’t get her to sit still long enough to read more.

Sage: From what I have come to know about you, you have published in two distinct genres—Young Adult Books for middle school girls and articles and blogs on technology.  What is it about each genre that you enjoy exploring and writing?

Stephanie:  It is quite different! Freelance writing is my day job and I’ve always said I hope someday to be able to write fiction full time. However, I do love writing on certain topics, like technology and fashion. I have a feeling I’ll probably always do that part of it. I’ve also been very fortunate to write for several very talented marketing experts and that work has led me to learn more about how to market my books online. You can’t buy that sort of experience.

Sage: You are published by a big-named company and represented by an agent.  With all the changes in the publishing world (self-publishing, need for a media platform, fewer editors, etc) you seem to use a more traditional publishing approach?  What are your thoughts on the changes in the publishing world and can you tell us how you broke into the young adult market?

Stephanie:  I landed my agent with a middle grade series I’d written called “Ghost Patrol.” That series never sold, but I found that the tween audience was the best area for my voice. I think the big publishers will always be there. But I also think (as I always have) that e-books will become more dominant as traditional bookstores dwindle. It also seems independent bookstores are thriving right now because customers get an experience there that they can’t get at a chain store or online.

Sage: What advice do you have for someone who is considering writing a young adult novel?

Stephanie: I think with any books for young readers, it’s important for a writer to figure out where his or her voice fits. Young adult books tend to be a little darker, while middle grade novels are generally much more lighthearted and fun. Chapter books are an even younger version of that. Reading as many children’s books as possible can help them find where they fit.

Sage: In closing, can you let my readers know where they can purchase your books?

Stephanie:  If you want an autographed copy of 25 Roses, you can buy it through Parnassus Books. Just put in the Notes of your order what you want me to sign. They’ll have me come by and sign it and ship it right to your door. You can buy it in paperback and e-book just about everywhere you buy books—Barnes and Noble, Amazon, BooksaMillion, etc. I do recommend buying indie if you can, although I know people love their Kindles!

Sage: Thank you for your time, Stephanie.  May your new book not only be successful, but be an encouragement to young adult readers.

Stephanie:  Thank you so much for having me!


ENTER TO WIN:  Stephanie is giving away an autographed copy of her book, a $25 gift certificate and a chocolate long stem rose.  Click here to enter the drawing...