I See Georgia: Watson Mill State Park

On a June day in 2002, my life changed forever.

It was hot that Sunday; though the calendar said it was spring, everything about the conditions outside told me it was already summer. I parked on a street in front of a house in Commerce, Georgia, walked up to the door, and knocked. A few seconds (it felt like days!) later the door swung open and the woman who would become my wife stood in the threshold.

We’d met at work through a co-worker, and were about to embark upon our first date. A day date is unusual, but to us, it somehow seemed right. We drove to Athens, where we had lunch at Gautreau’s (a Cajun restaurant that has since gone the way of so many great places and closed). After that, we found ourselves at a loss for something to do. Eventually, we decided to go to Watson Mill State Park. From that point forward, the park would be a special place for us.

Over the years, we’ve been to Watson Mill quite a bit, though sometimes years would pass between visits. When we began the I See Georgia tour, we knew we had to include the park. So, it was that we found ourselves cruising through the countryside on an early September day, headed for Madison County.

Watson Mill Bridge State Park is located between Comer and Lexington, along the banks of the South Fork of the Broad River. We entered the park by passing through the centerpiece, the bridge from which it takes its name. The longest covered bridge in the state, Watson Mill Bridge extends 229 feet across the river. Built in 1885 by Washington King, son of famous bridge-builder Horace King, it is one of just 20 covered bridges left in Georgia.

Driving through the bridge has always felt like entering another world for me. As our car bumped over the wooden supports, headlights piercing the gloom, we could see the light entering from the other end. A new and exciting world was waiting for us.

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Soon we’d exited the bridge, paid our $5.00 parking fee, and walked down to the river. All over, people were wading in the water, lounging in chairs and generally enjoying the day. We walked along, taking in the scene. Before long, we stood at the head of a woodland trail.

We entered the woods and walked along the trail as the sounds of civilization gradually faded. By the time we’d gone a mile, we might as well have been in an unexplored wilderness. There were no cars, no man-made structures and, best of all, no people; only the rolling water to keep us company. We strolled along, climbing and descending, using tree roots as natural stairs.

The path eventually took us away from the river, heading deeper into the woods. By the time we’d reached the halfway point on the loop, a deep silence had fallen over the area. The only sounds came from our footsteps as we crunched over leaves and pine cones.

Eventually we completed the loop and came out downriver from the bridge. We emerged from the woods and walked out on rocks jutting from the water. Taking a few minutes to rest, we were afforded a spectacular view of the river as it cascaded over weathered stones and around outcroppings.

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We then ventured to the other side of the river, where another trail took us past the ruins of the old mill, then along the bank and back into the woods. All along the path we could hear see and hear wildlife beneath the canopy of trees. From time to time we would encounter another hiker, but for the most part, the trail was ours.

Once we’d reached the end of the trail, we turned around and headed back the way we’d come, eventually coming once more to the bridge, where we sat watching the river flow over the falls. The river was up, and the water looked almost like a sheet of glass. Sunlight reflected off the river as it ran over the edge. It was a beautiful scene, in one of the most beautiful parks in our state. As we sat reflecting on how far we’d come since that first visit, I snapped a picture that looked more like a painting that a photo. It is one of my all-time favorites.

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Soon, it was time to go. We walked back to the car, eager to get out of the heat. As we crossed the bridge for the second time that day, we knew that we’d be back soon. As I mentioned earlier, the park is a special place for us; the place where our life together began.

Before long we were on the way back to Athens. As is always the case, the end of the trip wasn’t really the end. There is another destination waiting just around the corner. Our tour around the state has covered the last six months, but our adventure as a couple has gone on for fifteen years. Thankfully, much like our I See Georgia tour, there is no end in sight!

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That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about Watson Mill State Park, visit the official website at http://gastateparks.org/WatsonMillBridge.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll head North and descend into one of the seven natural wonders of Georgia. It’s Tallulah Gorge State Park!

 

 

 

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I See Georgia: Buford

When we left Athens on a hot Saturday afternoon, visiting a city or town wasn’t really on our radar. We’d been so many places since beginning our tour in April, but now we had something entirely different on tap. As we ventured into Gwinnett County, the only thing on our minds was completing a circle that began with a single line of verse:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Stephen King wrote this line, the first in his epic Dark Tower series, in the late 1970s. It would take him a quarter century to finish the story. Of all King’s books, and believe me, Dena and I have read them all, nothing can compete with the tale of Roland of Gilead and his quest.

We love these books; so much so that the long-theorized film version intrigued us to no end. Now, after years of false starts, cast comings and goings, and a handful of directorial changes, the movie had finally been released.

I’d received a cinema gift card for my birthday back in May, but since we don’t have a Regal theater in Athens, I hadn’t used it. What better time than now! The closest Regal cinemas are in Gwinnet County. So, we made our way to Buford.

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Incorporated in the 1870s, Buford grew up around the railroad tracks that pass through it. Its prominence as a railroad stop, along with a booming leather industry, led to population growth in the early 1900s. Today, Buford has around 12,000 residents, and if you’d like to see them all in one place, you need only visit the Mall of Georgia on a Saturday afternoon.

The mall, which opened in 1999, is the largest one in Georgia, and it is massive! We were a little early for the movie, so we walked around for a bit. The place was overflowing with people: shoppers trying to find deals at Belk, JC Penny and Macy’s; diners grabbing a bite at the massive food court; young people walking around in packs and calling out to one another. We went into a few stores, but given the throngs of people, were unable to do any shopping. We ended up heading for the theater a little early.

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The cinema is located on the third floor, so we took the escalator to the top. Tickets cost nearly $15.00 each (more than I had on the gift card!), so we decided against purchasing any drinks or snacks. We found the theater where our movie would play, then spend the next twenty minutes trying to buy skittles from a coin machine. Really. Every time we would put quarters in and turn the crank, nothing would happen. Eventually we just gave up and went inside.

The theater was sparsely populated, so we had our choice of seats. We settled in and, after a series of previews, the Dark Tower began. Ninety minutes later, we walked out of the theater not sure just how to feel. While the movie had its moments, the whole thing seemed rushed. I suppose that happens when you try to cram 4,000 pages of action into one film. I found myself a little disappointed, though Idris Elba did a fine job as Roland the Gunslinger.

When we left the mall, it was dinner time. We hopped into the car and headed for a place I’d found online that claimed to have some of the best BBQ around. A few minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot of the uniquely named Praise the Lard.

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We walked inside and were immediately struck by the décor. There was work by local artists all over the walls, and “Praise the Lard” was spelled in huge metal letters over the dining room. We approached the counter to place our order, scanning the menu while waiting for our turn.

Praise the Lard is my kind of place. The menu was short and to the point, offering pork, brisket, ribs, chicken or turkey along with a handful of sides. We both settled on pulled pork plates. I went with slaw and Brunswick stew, while Dena settled on stew and collard greens.

Another reason why Praise the Lard is awesome: the table markers they give out to help the waiter find you are adorned with pictures of professional wrestlers from the 1980s. We were given Superstar Billy Graham, but I also saw The Four Horsemen, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Stan Hansen, and Sergeant Slaughter.

When our food arrived, it was everything I’d hoped for and more. The pork was tender and delicious, and the tomato based stew was hot and tangy. Several BBQ sauces were offered, and I tried them all, including a vinegar based, North Carolina style, and the thicker, more tangy Praise the Lard sauce. Full and happy, we paused to speak with the owner, who told us about the artwork and the atmosphere he wanted to create, and thanked us for coming.

After dinner, we drove to the small, downtown area of Buford and parked on the main street. We took a walk past the stores and restaurants, pausing now and then to check out an interesting spot. The town runs alongside railroad tracks, and is dotted here and there by small parks and green spaces. We passed other people out for a walk, many of whom were accompanied by dogs.

By the time we reached the outskirts of town, darkness was approaching We turned around and headed back. As we neared the car, I paused long enough to snap a photo of the main strip of businesses. Small towns have many similarities, but each one is unique, featuring its own oddities and quirks.

Soon we were in the car, on our way home. Buford is a nice town, even if most people only visit the retail intensive area just off I-85. As we cruised along highway 29, passing through towns like Lawrenceville, Auburn, and Winder, I was already planning our next trip. There are still so many places to see!

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information on Buford, visit the official website at http://www.cityofbuford.com/.

Until later…

Next Time: We’ll visit yet another city, town or place in our great state. While I’m not sure which one yet, it’s bound to be entertaining!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: A Look Back

“The longer we keep looking back in the rear view mirror, it takes away from everything that’s moving forward.”

The above quote, from Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, certainly has merit. If anyone knows the dangers of looking back, it must be him. Still, I don’t see any harm in a little reminiscence; especially when looking back on the things we’ve seen, done, eaten and drank so far on our I See Georgia tour.

Our odyssey began on April 14th in Macon. Since that Spring day, we’ve crisscrossed our state, with stops ranging from Milledgeville to Dahlonega; Rome to Warner Robbins. Along the way, we’ve Kayaked on Broad River, sampled beer at the Terrapin brewery, and witnessed a solar eclipse. Our tour is nothing if not eclectic!

Georgia is diverse. So much so that we’ve seen mountains and beaches; hills and plains; lakes and rivers. Each trip has unlocked more of Georgia’s treasures. We’ve visited both cities and small towns on our tour, as well as meeting people from all walks of life.

One of our favorite things to do in a new place is sample the food. Over the past few months, we’ve eaten at a multitude of restaurants. We’ve also sampled beers from many local breweries. In fact, food has played such a prominent role on our tour that we’ve often considered changing the title of this blog from “I See Georgia” to “I ate Georgia.”

Now, after five months of traveling around our state, we’d like to pause for a moment to share some of our favorites from the tour so far. But first, a few observations:

  1. South Georgia is hot! While the entire state, along with rest of the Southeast, has brutal summers, Southern Georgia is the only place where you constantly feel as if you are sitting in a sauna while wrapped in a wet blanket.
  2. Georgia is big. We’ve driven 300 miles or more on some of our trips. In the Northeast, you’d be in another state if you drove that far. In Europe, you’d be in another country!
  3. Every town has its claim to fame. No matter where we go, there is always something that makes each place unique. From cherry blossoms in Macon to antebellum homes in Madison, every city has its thing.
  4. North Georgia is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Mountains, forests, waterfalls, lakes; It’s all there to be found.
  5. Every person in Monticello, Georgia has a trailer attached to his or her vehicle. Seriously!
  6. There are UGA football fans in every corner of the state. And not just a few. Walk into a store in any town in Georgia, and you’ll likely find something University of Georgia themed for sale. We are the Dawgs, and we are legion!

On to the favorites. In the interest of brevity, I’ve chosen a handful of places and things to mention. So many attractions, So much food, so many beers, so little time…

-Favorite small town: Madison. We’ve visited or passed through quite a few idyllic small towns on the tour, but this village of 4,000 between Athens and Macon is so beautiful that General Sherman spared it from his torch, or so local legend has it. Runner up: Covington.

-Favorite soul food: Bear’s Den, Macon. The first stop on our tour yielded a down home, lunch that has yet to be topped. Fried chicken and Southern sides; What more could you want?
Runner up: Fenders Diner, Cornelia

-Favorite place to relax with a beer: Tubby’s, Savannah. Sitting outside on a patio, sipping a local brew while overlooking the Savannah River? Yes, please!
Runner up: Troll Tavern, Helen.

-Favorite odd attraction: Guidestones, Elberton. In Georgia, it doesn’t get much more mysterious than the granite monolith in Elbert County. To this day, no one knows who is responsible.
Runner up: The tree that owns itself, Athens.

-Favorite burger: The Rookery, Macon. Cheese, sautéed onion, B&B pickles, mustard and Coca-cola ketchup. Plus, you can write on the walls!
Runner up: Harvest Moon Café, Rome

-Favorite quirky event: World’s largest whoopee cushion, Covington. I’ll always be grateful that we were present for the historic moment when a horde of young people helped set a Guiness World’s Record.
Runner up: Are you kidding me?

-Favorite natural event: Solar Eclipse. Nothing we’ve done has compared to sitting outside and watching the sun disappear. One for the ages.
Runner up: Nothing, but I’ll tell you our least favorite. Tropical Storm Irma: F*** you!

Favorite disquieting place: Central State Hospital, Milledgeville. Once the largest mental hospital in the country, the buildings have fallen into disrepair. I can’t imagine a more haunted place!
Runner up: Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah

Favorite ethnic restaurant: Bratzeit, Dahlonega. Schnitzel with mushroom sauce and bratwurst with curry ketchup. Plus, strudel!
Runner up: Metropolis Café, Milledgeville.

Favorite Cemetery: Myrtle Hill, Rome. Naming a favorite cemetery might seem a little morbid, but we always enjoy visiting historic burial places. Myrtle Hill, built on terraces to avoid flooding, is as unique as they come.
Runner up: Rose Hill, Macon

Favorite local beer: Tropicalia, Athens. What can I say, we love it!
Runner up: Tybee Island Blonde, Savannah.

-Favorite restaurant: Crab Shack, Tybee Island. This was a tough one. We’ve been to so many great places, but nothing tops enjoying seafood so fresh it might have been in the water that same day.
Runner up: Belford, Savannah

And, finally…

-Favorite city: Savannah. We’ve visited so many great places, it was hard to narrow the list down, but Savannah takes the top spot. How could anyone who has been to this Southern gem put it anywhere else on any list? Savannah has everything: food, history, beer. Plus, it is located both on a river and near the coast. What else could you ask for?
Runner up: Macon

That’s it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it! For more information about the places mentioned above, follow this blog at https://jkmaxwell76.wordpress.com/.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll visit a small town with one large feature. It’s the home of the Mall of Georgia, Buford!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: University of Georgia vs Samford University

One thing you need to know about me right up front: I’m a Bulldog.

I have been for as long as I can remember. I’ve lived most of my life in Northeast Georgia, and I’ve spent it tearing my insides out, trying to win every time UGA takes the field. I’ve written at length on my love of Georgia football, and won’t delve too deeply into my fandom here. Suffice to say, when the idea for “I See Georgia” began to gestate in my head, a game in Sanford Stadium would no doubt be on the agenda.

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My initial plan was to attend Georgia’s season opener vs Appalachian State. There was only one problem: I didn’t have tickets. I spent the week leading up to the game watching prices on StubHub, certain that they would drop by the weekend. Unfortunately, the usual rules didn’t apply. By Saturday, the cheapest seats were going for $75. I’d have to wait.

The Dawgs (yes, that’s how we spell it!) beat App State 31-10. The next game was a road tilt in South Bend, Indiana against Notre Dame. Once again, UGA was victorious, pulling out a 20-19 win behind freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and a dominant defense led by Lorenzo Carter and Roquan Smith.

The stage was set for the next game, a home date against FCS opponent Samford. This time I didn’t procrastinate, securing two $40 tickets to the game well in advance. For this stop on the tour my brother Matt would be filling in for Dena, and in the week leading up to kickoff, we planned our game day.

I’ve been to quite a few games over the years, including memorable wins as well as excruciating losses. For this game, there shouldn’t be much chance of experiencing the latter, though you never know. Samford, a small school, has an enrollment of just 5,500 students. When compared with Georgia’s 36,000, it isn’t much of a surprise that top athletes don’t flock to Homewood, Alabama.

The original plan was to walk, but when the thermometer crept into the eighty-five-degree range, I began to re-think the idea. Our house is approximately two miles from Sanford Stadium, and I didn’t want to be dripping with sweat before we even made it to the end of the street. To make things easier, Dena agreed to drive us.

We left the house at 4:45pm, with our first destination being the tailgate of Matt’s friend Anthony. Dena dropped us off in what we thought was the vicinity of Anthony’s setup. We jumped out of the car and spent the next forty-five minutes wandering around East Campus, trying to find Anthony. Matt was in constant contact with his friend, via both text and phone call, but we still couldn’t find him. At some point, I began to wonder if the tailgate was like the village of the Smurfs and was invisible unless it wanted to be seen.

Eventually we gave up, though not before walking along about three miles of forlorn railroad tracks. With the tailgate nowhere to be found, we headed for the UGA Bookstore, if for no other reason than to get out of the sun. The bookstore is across the street from the stadium, and I had my picture taken in front of the huge University of Georgia sign which rises above the end zone.

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We walked inside and were immediately swallowed up by the throng of fans attempting to purchase Georgia gear. There were a lot of people in the bookstore; so many that we didn’t so much walk down the aisles as we were carried down them.

When we emerged from the store, we decided a drink was in order. We walked up Lumpkin Street and soon found ourselves downtown, where we ducked into Cozy Bar. Inside, the small joint off Clayton Street was deserted, but blissfully cool. We sat at the bar and I ordered a Terrapin Hopsecutioner. I’d just taken my first sip when my cousin Pete texted asking where we were.

Growing up, Pete was my partner in crime. Every Sunday we would go to my grandparents’ house in Bowman, where the two of us spent the entire day coming up with money-making schemes, wreaking havoc with the house and the surrounding property, and turning our parents’ hair gray well in advance of middle age.

As adults, we are united by a shared love of UGA. Matt and I were just ordering a second round when Pete and his wife Amanda arrived. We sat at a table and talked about the upcoming game and the season so far. At some point, Matt returned from the bar with a pair of shot glasses filled with a neon green concoction called a Starburst melon shot. We knocked back the drinks, which tasted like watermelon juice mixed with pure sugar, then headed for the stadium.

As we walked, I saw multiple people with one of their feet in casts or braces of some kind. Then I saw an older man who didn’t have a leg on which to put a cast. He was hobbling along on one good leg and a metallic one that looked like the bottom half of a crutch. It seems that no infirmity is enough to keep fans away from the team they love!

At the other end of the spectrum, I saw girls attempting to navigate railroad tracks, stairs, rocks and other rough terrain while wearing heels or clunky sandals. I appreciate trying to be fashionable, but you would think something more practical would be in order.

We entered Sanford Stadium approximately 40 minutes prior to kickoff. Pete and Amanda’s tickets were on the other side of the field, so it was time to part ways. Before we split up, Amanda had a UGA staff member take a picture of the four of us. Then we all headed for our sections.

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Our tickets were in section 102, near the West end zone and about 10 rows behind the small visiting fan contingent. We squeezed our way onto the bench which serves as seating with 35 minutes to go until game time.

As various announcements were made over the public-address system, Devon Gales popped up on the Jumbotron. The crowd roared. Gales, a Southern University player who suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in a 2015 game between Georgia and the Jaguars, was adopted by the Bulldog Nation, which has followed his recovery ever since.

During player introductions, I found myself marveling over the cheer that rose from the fans at the mention of each player’s name. Even long snapper Trent Frix received a roar. The SEC must be the only conference in which every player, no matter how anonymous to the casual fan, receives such adulation.

A few minutes before kickoff, we stood and joined the rest of the crowd in pointing to the second deck of the Southwestern corner of the stadium, where the lone trumpet soloist led the rest of the band into the Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation. Those first few solemn trumpet notes always tug at my heartstrings. Maybe I care a little too much!

Finally, 7:30 arrived and Samford kicked off. After an exchange of punts, freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, filling in for injured starter Jacob Eason, connected with Mecole Hardman on a five-yard touchdown pass. Two minutes later, sensational senior running back Nick Chubb ripped off a 36-yard run for another score and it was 14-0 Georgia.

The fact that the Bulldogs were playing an over-matched opponent did next to nothing to dampen fan enthusiasm. After every questionable ruling by the officiating crew, the man in front of us would leap to his feet and scream at the referee. Fan passion knows no bounds!

Georgia’s passing game has been touch and go since Eason was injured early in the season opener vs Appalachian State. Fromm, a five-star recruit, had spent most of the previous two games alternating between plays that provoked reactions ranging from “Wow! He’s a freshman!” to “Damn! He’s a freshman.” Early in the second quarter, he had one of the former on a fifty-yard touchdown pass to Terry Godwin.

The game reached halftime with Georgia leading 21-7. While the Dawgs were playing well, the score was still a little closer than I’d hoped. During intermission, we hit the restroom, then paid $7 each for cokes at the concession stand. All I could think was that in any other environment, a $7 drink would contain a substantial amount of alcohol.

The second half began with a Samford fumble, followed by another Chubb touchdown. Chubb, who surprised everyone with his decision to spurn the NFL and return for one last season, rushed for 131 yards on the day. After his second scoring run, he took a seat for the remainder of the game.

At this point, we were subjected to the abomination of abominations: the Karaoke Cam. For the fortunate among you who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it consists of a bad song playing over the PA while the out-of-tune crowd sings along. In this case, the song was Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” I protested by merely humming along.

One the tone-deaf singing was over, Godwin struck again, hauling in a ten-yard touchdown pass. It was now 35-7, and the only thing in doubt was the final score. Georgia piled on more when freshman running back DeAndre Swift scored late in the third quarter. For once, my Dawgs were pulling away from a lesser opponent, leaving no room for drama.

The third quarter came to an end, and we joined 93,000 others by rising to our feet and holding four fingers in the air as the band played “Krypton Fanfare.” This has been a tradition for as long as I can remember. During the last few seasons, fans have also begun turning on the flashlights on their cell phones and holding them up at night games. Following suit, we lit up Sanford Stadium as the final period drew near.

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As time winded down, a mass exodus began. I’ve always believed if you pay for sixty minutes of football, then that’s what you should witness. It is a stance that I’ve rarely abandoned, only leaving early when my team is hopelessly out of the game. We stayed to the very end, watching Georgia wrap up a 42-14 win. When it was over, we followed the crowd out of the stadium and began our walk home. It had been a good night, and we savored the expected, but always sweet victory.

We walked along the railroad tracks, following them even when they veered away from the road and into the woods. Eventually we would reconnect with the street, but for now, we were content to stay off the beaten path. The win improved Georgia’s record to 3-0, and moved them up to #11 in the Associated Press poll. There was still a lot of football to be played, but on this night, the future didn’t matter. It was all about the present, and basking in the afterglow of a win.

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about UGA football, visit the official website as www.georgiadogs.com.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll look back on everything we’ve witnessed so far. It’s been an eventful summer, and the I See Georgia tour is still going strong!

 

I See Georgia-Special Report: Tropical Storm Irma

I knew it was going to be bad. As soon as the forecast path moved from the East coast of Florida to the West, I could tell we’d be getting hit hard. A hurricane’s most intense winds always reside in the Northeastern quadrant of the storm, and it was this area that would be brushing by Athens on Monday, September 11, 2017.

The day began as any other would. I woke up and got ready for work, as I always do. As I drove down U.S. 129, the rain was intermittent and light, but the wind had already began to pick up. I arrived at work to find that quite a few people had decided to stay home; not that I blamed them. Practically every school in the state was closed.

Three days prior we’d made our normal Friday trip to Kroger, procuring more non-perishable items (tuna, soup, granola bars) than usual “just in case.” As we navigated the aisles, it was apparent that we weren’t the only ones preparing for the storm. The place was ransacked, looking more like a rural general store a week after the zombie apocalypse than a city supermarket. Entire sections were empty, including, unsurprisingly, the bread and milk.

I’ve never understood the fixation on bread and milk. In Georgia, and undoubtedly the rest of the Southeastern U.S., every time a rumor of snow or ice circulates, everyone runs to the store and buys massive quantities of these two items. Why? What are you going to do, eat milk sandwiches three meals a day? And just how long do these people think they could be snowed in? After all, this isn’t Minnesota!

Personally, I go for more practical items. Like toilet paper, for instance. Which item would you rather be stuck at home without: milk or TP? Damn right!

Now that our supplies had been replenished, I spent the weekend following the storm’s progress, in between watching football and writing. In one of their biggest road wins in years, my beloved Georgia Bulldogs knocked off Notre Dame 20-19 on Saturday. It was a game many UGA fans had been looking forward to since it was announced a few years ago, and thousands of people made the trip to South Bend, Indiana. In fact, there were so many Georgia fans there that, watching on television, it looked more like a home game to me than a road game. If you doubt this assessment, watch this video. It will amaze you!

On Sunday, my Atlanta Falcons faced the Chicago Bears. I tuned in to watch the Falcons pull out a 23-17 thanks to a tremendous goal line stand late in the game. The game was exciting, though I found myself unable to find as much joy in it as I usually would. Irma had made landfall in Florida, pelting the Southern part of the state with high winds and torrential rains. As the afternoon progressed, the storm’s approach began to weigh on my mind.

Now Irma was right on top of us, and Athens was expected to experience 5-10 inches of rain, sustained winds of 35-45 mph, and gusts up to 65 mph. The rain didn’t really worry me much. It was the wind that gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Our house is surrounded by trees, many of which are extremely old and very tall. We’ve had issues with falling branches and toppling trees before, most notably in 2014, when a freak wind event turned our backyard into a saw mill. Though I hoped to avoid a repeat occurrence, in my heart I knew that we wouldn’t escape unscathed.

I left work early, looking to beat the worst of it home. Wind buffeted my car, and it took an effort to stay between the lines. The closer I got, the stronger the wind. The radio was reporting that hundreds of thousands of people in Florida and South Georgia were without electricity. I arrived home at around 1pm. So far everything looked okay, though it was still early. Trees were beginning to sway back and forth. I walked inside just as the power went out.

I got back in the car and headed to a nearby convenience store to buy ice. Inside the store had power, though the card reader was down. I had enough cash to buy three bags of ice, and I hurried home, leaning into the wind to close the front door. We cleaned out the refrigerator, putting everything we could into a cooler and topping it with ice. The rest we put in the washing machine.

You read that correctly. We’d heard that the washing machine was a good place to ice down food. We put the remaining items inside and poured the rest of the ice over them. Then we retreated to the living room and sat in the dark listening to the sound of the increasing wind.

Dena had noticed that the tree near our front porch was swaying earlier in the day. We’d watched it through the window, moving back in forth. Since quite a few trees in the vicinity were doing the same thing, I didn’t think much of it. We were in the kitchen when the watery ripping began.

I knew immediately what it was. The tree was uprooting! The rip was followed by what could only be splintering wood. Before we had time to do anything, the tree crashed through the front porch and smashed into the roof with a tremendous crash. The entire house shuddered with the impact.

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We ran to the living room and stared in disbelief. The porch roof no longer, technically, existed. There was a crack in the wall where it met the roof. Fortunately, no water was leaking in. We went outside to assess the damage. The siding below the edge of the roof was cracked, and we could see rafters through the shingles.

We went back inside and called our landlord, who promised to send someone out as soon as the storm had passed. Then we went looking for our cats, Pip and Squeaky. We found them cowering behind a chair, frightened by what had happened. Eventually we managed to coax them out. I almost wanted to crawl in and take their place.

Outside conditions continued to deteriorate. The wind, which had previously waxed and waned, was now a sustained roar. All over our yard and neighboring yards small branches rained down. Water rolled along the street in a black river. The worst of the storm was expected to last until sunset. It was now 3:00pm.

The rest of the afternoon and evening is a blur, as I lost all concept of time. The wind filled everything, was everything. Every time it gusted, I expected to hear that ripping sound again. At some point before it got too dark to see, I found myself standing at a window, staring at the back yard.

Our yard slopes down to a creek, which is lined on both sides by tall, thin trees. It was from this area that trees had previously toppled. I watched them sway, bending to alarming angles before swinging back the other way. I was still watching when one of them fell.

It happened quickly. One second the tree was standing and the next it wasn’t. It swayed way over to one side and then, instead of moving back, it just kept going. It fell along the other side of the creek, crashing into the brush. As it came to rest, a disembodied voice rang out from that side: “Holy shit!”

When things didn’t improve by nightfall, we briefly contemplated leaving for a motel or friend’s house, but didn’t want to risk driving. The danger involved due to falling trees and flooded streets was too high. So, we hunkered down and rode out the storm, holding strong against the grim night. Eventually, we slept.

My dreams were haunted by visions of even worse damage. In one nightmare, the entire back half of the roof was smashed in by a falling tree. I awoke at some unknown hour, staring into the blackness and listening. The wind had finally abated, and I could hear cicadas and crickets singing. I got up and went to the restroom, glancing outside to verify no further calamities had occurred before climbing back into bed.

I called out of work, as a night of fitful sleep had taken its toll. We got up at around 7am, reveling in the blissful silence of the still day. The power was still out, and would remain that way for the next two days. We took a walk through the neighborhood and saw that at least three trees had fallen across the street.

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Our landlord made good on her word, and an arborist arrived at around 10:30am to begin removing the tree. Eventually things would be back to normal. But the fact remains that Irma was the first time Atlanta and Northeast Georgia had been under a tropical storm warning, though we’d experienced the remains of a hurricane before.

I’ll leave the science of why such powerful storms form and follow the path they choose to the climatologists. Most of us have no in-depth understanding of hurricanes and their causes. But sometimes a monster rears its head. Before sweeping through the Caribbean, Irma registered winds as high as 185 mph, and was the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

That’s all for now. As always, thanks for reading. I certainly appreciate it. For more about Irma’s devastation, check  New York Times coverage at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/11/us/hurricane-irma-florida.html?mcubz=0.

Until later…

 

 

I See Georgia: Broad River

 “We’ll be okay. We’re wearing shoes with closed toes.”

This nugget of wisdom came from the guy in front of me, next in line to go over the waterfall. I clung to a half-submerged rock, waiting for my turn to take the plunge as the water rushed by, tugging persistently at my kayak.

We’d been on the river for at least forever, though I suspected it had been much longer. Already we’d navigated rapids, jagged rocks, sandbars and, most dangerous of all, drunk young people. How drunk, you ask? Fraternity keg party drunk; July 4th hunch punch drunk; New Year’s Eve Jager bomb drunk. We’d managed to survive them, but now the time had come to risk what was left of our hides.

The Broad River is as much a part of Northeast Georgia as mountains, forests and moonshine. Beginning in Stephens County, the river flows through Franklin County, then serves as the border between Madison and Elbert Counties before joining the Savannah River. For most of my life I’d crossed the river on my way to visit family in Bowman, occasionally hiking along the bank, or going for a swim. Now here we were, navigating our way South on the rolling water.

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It all began on the Sunday before Labor Day. Looking for something to do that didn’t require too much travel, we decided to spend the afternoon kayaking down the river. Our odyssey began at Broad River Outpost, a near legendary outfit outside of Danielsville that specializes in river adventures.

The outpost is in the middle of nowhere, and would be impossible to find if not for the mini boat on a pole near the driveway. We parked in the gravel lot and entered a ramshackle building, where for $25 each, we received kayaks, life jackets, and transportation back to our car after the trip.

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Not long after selecting our life jackets, we stood at the top of what looked like a dry, worn slip and slide which trailed down a steep hill. Members of the staff brought our kayaks, and we pushed our way over the edge and slid to the bottom. We then made the short walk to the river, dragging our kayaks behind us. Minutes later we were on the water.

It was a beautiful day, warm but not hot, and we moved gently along. From time to time, we’d hit mild rapids, but nothing too extreme. As we bobbed on the water, we saw turtles sunning themselves on rocks, and a crane standing at attention on the bank. We alternated between paddling and floating at the river’s discretion; the serenity of the day broken only by cicadas, birds, and portable sound systems blasting music of an indeterminate genre.

I’ve already mentioned the drunken young people, so to avoid descending into “get off my lawn” territory, I’d just like to thank them, on behalf of ourselves, the other kayakers, people on highway 172, and astronauts aboard the international space station for the tunes.

As we made our way down the river, we tried to avoid the rocks which protruded from the water. Despite our best efforts, from time to time we found ourselves stuck. We’d rock back and forth, push with our paddles, and sometimes even get out of the kayaks in order to continue along. We passed through some rapids, but nothing quite prepared us for the previously mentioned waterfall.

I clung to my rock as the sooth-sayer in front of me headed for the edge. Upon reaching the falls, he gave one last push with his paddle, and his kayak tilted downward. Just before he disappeared from sight, he threw both hands in the air and screamed “Oh Shit!” Not very promising.

Dena was next in line, and she moved to the edge. Someone below gave a thumbs up and she nudged her way over. I approached the edge of the falls, getting close enough to see Dena at the bottom before sticking my paddle into the river bed to stop. She was upright in her kayak, and gave me a wave. Since everything appeared to be okay, I pulled my paddle out of the mud.

Later, as I was taking inventory to see which of my extremities were still intact, I began to piece together just what happened in the frantic seconds after I topped the falls. I remembered easing my way over the edge, then dropping straight down. I remembered the feel of the wind in my hair. Most of all, I remembered crashing into the giant boulder at the base of the falls.

I hit it squarely, at full speed. Luckily, I remembered the sage words of the guy in line in front of me and tucked my feet close to my body. My kayak struck the rock with a tremendous jolt, then spun sideways as I did everything in my power to remain inside. The rushing water shoved my kayak into the rock, and I found myself stuck, and in danger of flipping over. With a massive effort, I managed to wrench my kayak free and we continued down the river. There were a few more rapids to navigate during the remainder of the float, but nothing on the order of the falls.

I began to look for the take-out sign long before we could actually see it. Though I immensely enjoyed our adventure, my arms and shoulders were aching from navigating obstacles. Finally, the sign appeared. Paddling with renewed vigor, I was the first person to the bank, followed immediately by Dena. We dragged our kayaks up the bank and collapsed on the provided benches, exhausted from the trip.

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Soon we were on a bus, headed back to our car. As we bounced along dirt roads, I realized that moments like this one are what travel is all about. Rarely does everything go as planned. More often than not, circumstances will dictate that you do things you hadn’t planned on, and go places you never thought you would. There is no substitute for experience.

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about the Broad River, visit the official  Georgia River Network site at         http://www.garivers.org/broad-river-water-trail.html.

Until later…

Next time: It’s a Saturday in September, which can only mean one thing: Game day in Athens! Go Dawgs!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: Georgia Guidestones

If you live in Northeast Georgia, you may have heard of the Guidestones. Then again, maybe not. Even though the massive granite monument in rural Elbert County is well known to historians around the country, and even the world, it isn’t something that is mentioned very often here. I grew up in neighboring Madison County, and frequently visited family in Elbert County, but never knew the Guidestones existed until adulthood. Even when someone does bring it up, the conversation often seems to make some people uncomfortable.

Why wouldn’t locals want to promote such a unique attraction? There are a number of reasons, primary among them the words that are engraved on the stones. There are various theories on the true meaning of the “guidelines” that are carved in eight languages. Given the monument’s location in the heart of the Bible Belt, some have taken them as pagan, or even satanic. I’ll let you make up your own mind about that once you’ve read the text. But first, a little background:

One day in 1979, a man walked into the offices of Elberton Granite Finishing with a plan for a large and complex stone monument. Using the name Robert C. Christian, the man claimed to represent “a small group of loyal Americans” who wished to remain anonymous. According to Christian, the group had chosen Elberton as the site of the monument due to the high quality of the stone quarried there.

The Guidestones were installed on a hilltop purchased from Wayne Mullinex, owner of Double 7 Farms for $5000 plus lifetime cattle grazing rights for the family. Over the years, the stones have been visited by people from all over the world. They’ve also been defaced by those who take offense to the guidelines, though the long-term effects of the vandalism have been negligible.

We visited the Guidestones on a warm August day, following a stop in nearby Bowman. My dad grew up in Bowman, and my aunts and uncles live there to this day. Most of my memories of Elbert County involve Sunday afternoons at my grandparents’ house, playing games and wreaking havoc with my cousin Pete. Spending time in the small town was like taking a step back in time.

We walked around the small downtown area, looking into the windows of some of the shops, which were mostly closed on a Saturday afternoon. Eventually we stumbled across Ann’s ‘tiques, which hadn’t yet shuttered the doors for the weekend. We ventured inside to find a glorious hodgepodge; everything from antique furniture to vintage Coca-Cola bottles. You could easily spend an entire day browsing through the shop, but the real reason for our visit awaited!

Twenty minutes later we were in the middle of nowhere, passing farmland and stands of trees but little else. It seemed like the last place you’d find a monument that has been called “America’s Stonehenge, but then we topped a rise and the Guidestones appeared.

We pulled into the small, gravel parking lot and got out of the car. There was one other couple walking around the area but otherwise, the place was deserted. We approached the monument, which seemed about as out of place in rural Georgia as anything I’ve ever seen.

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The Guidestones stand at the edge of a pasture. Four granite slabs surround a central column, with yet another slab serving as a capstone. The whole thing towers overhead, extending more than 19 feet above the ground. We stood and gazed for a while, marveling at this monolith tucked into an out of the way corner of the state. Then we began to move about the small, fenced hilltop.

The day was oddly quiet, almost as if nothing quite dared disturb the serenity of the place. The four main slabs are engraved front and back with a set of guidelines for an unknown and unrealized world. Each of the eight sets are written in a different language: English, Spanish, Swahili, Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese and Russian. The guidelines read as follows:

 

Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.

Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.

Unite humanity with a living new language.

Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.

Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.

Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.

Avoid petty laws and useless officials.

Balance personal rights with social duties.

Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.

Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.

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What do they mean? There are several theories, but to me, one rings more likely true than the others. The Guidestones were erected in 1980: the height of the cold war. Taken in this context, the ten lines read as instructions for survivors of an apocalyptic event as they attempt to rebuild society. Whether or not you agree with them is a matter of opinion. As I mentioned earlier, I’ll leave you to make up your own mind, though I’d recommend visiting for yourself before doing so.

At the top of the monument, etched into the capstone in four ancient languages: Sanskrit, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Babylonian Cuneiform, and Classical Greek, is the statement:

“Let these be Guidestones to an age of reason.”

A few feet to the West lies a granite ledger, which gives the dimensions. It also details several astronomical features, and we immediately set about checking them out.

A channel drilled through the stone allows a viewer to see the North star. A slot in the same pillar indicates the sun’s solstices and equinoxes. An aperture in the capstone allows a sun ray to shine through at noon each day. In addition to these features, the four outer stones are oriented to mark the lunar declination cycle. It seemed that the planners wanted to do more than raise the hackles of religious folk in the area.

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We circled the monument, wanting to take it in from every angle. The other couple who’d been there when we arrived was gone, leaving us alone. Eventually we found our way back to the ledger, where we noticed something we hadn’t seen before. At the very bottom, below the dimensions and a listing of the astronomical features, is a line that reads:

Time Capsule
Placed six feet below this spot on:

To be opened on:

There are no dates listed. Did the group that planned and paid for the Guidestones actually bury a time capsule? No one knows. Given the secretive nature of the whole operation, we’ll likely never know. Of course, this only adds to the mystery.

We spent more than an hour walking around, seeing all that there was to see. Finally, we headed back to the car. Minutes later we were in Elberton. We stopped for a few minutes at the Granite Bowl; a football field ringed by rock seating, and one of the more intimidating venues in the state. As I gazed down at the field, which my dad played on more than 40 years ago, I could almost see the ghosts which no doubt frequent the area, clinging to the glory that began and ended in the enclosure.

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Eventually, we headed home. As we passed a building bearing a sign which proclaimed Elberton the “granite capital of the world, we were left to wonder just what that “small group of loyal Americans” hoped to accomplish. Were they devotees of a New World Order? Did they mean for the area to be landing site for extraterrestrials? Or were they just planning for the worst?

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No one knows. For what it’s worth, I believe that they were merely like-minded people who believed that nuclear technology, overpopulation, and fanaticism were dangerous and needed to be scaled back. Again, I’ll leave you to form your own opinion of whether they were right or wrong. After all, there are two sides to every story.

Always two sides.

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. For more information about the Guidestones, visit the Wikipedia page at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_Guidestones.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll see Northeast Georgia from a different perspective. It’s an afternoon float down Broad River!