Cheap Field Trips # 3: Bob’s Trail

Cheap Field Trips # 3: Bob’s Trail

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Cheap Field Trips # 3

What’s lush, girded, roaring and peaceful all at the same time?  Well, it’d have to be the Bob Callan Trail, of course.

If you’re up for an interesting twist on nature, take a walk down the Bob Callan.  It’s in the middle of where you are and it’s totally free!  The trail traverses the region at the convergence of Interstate 285, Interstate 75, Cumberland, Akers Mill Road, Rottenwood Creek and the Chattahoochee River.  Remarkably, this diverse trail abounds with natural, architectural, and urban fascination.

I discovered the trail when  I saw a news article featuring a man traversing a newly paved concrete path beneath I-285.  What’s this?  Something natural under the Cumberland Connector?   We’ve got our next cheap trip adventure right here.

 

Thankfully, my youngest is usually game for an adventure, so off we went.

First, literally, the biggest challenge was to find it!  The whole place around there is under construction.  I circled the area for about 20 minutes looking for an access point.  Finally, we gave up,  parked in an office parking lot, and hopped over a silk EPA fence and into the trail.  Hopefully, by the time you read this the trail head parking will have opened.  Here’s what came up on Google Maps:

google map of trail head

Wide and paved, the trail is a fascinating confluence of  highly engineered highways and disordered woodlands. The trail seems to refill dead zones that were inaccessible when the highways came.  As my husband says,” I’ve spent all my time above.  Walking the trail gave me a sense of what’s beneath.”  There’s a hidden treasure down under the concrete canopy.   God’s art meets Man’s Art.  The man-made stuff obstructs; but nature finds its way around.  The trail gives you a glimpse into this battle that rages on beneath the thoroughfare, between the natural and the man-made.  In some places, the man-made is winning the battle; but, as you walk along, you see that nature is winning the war.  Little pockets of handsome purple flowers push up at the trail’s beginning.  A large mill-stone, broken in half by time and wear, is exposed in the creek bed.  A tree busts through a concrete retaining wall.  You know that over time, if left alone, nature would reclaim this strip of land back to its own quiet customs.

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In the meantime, until the apocalypse,  there is a great deal of symmetry and concrete to appreciate.

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We stopped frequently, taking in the splendor of a building’s reflection in the water or the feel of cold, steel  bridge I-beams.  Eventually  we advanced past all the bridges, railings, graffiti, and traffic sounds to the place where Rottenwood Creek deposits itself into the Chattahoochee River.   Even here, the mouth of the creek was buttressed with a concrete hedge.  Yet, the water softened the view and made for a lovely sound as it spilled over into the river.

I looked at my phone while we listened to the water spill into the Hooch! Where had the time gone?  We’d lost an hour here beneath the concrete canopy.   Time to head back.

This place impacted me in a bizarre and wonderful way.  Now I think about that trail and the nature going on there every time we drive over the top.  I can hear the rushing water under the bridges.  The image of my son dwarfed by the massive concrete wall, his colorful clothes contrasting against the grey, stays strong in the back of my mind.

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This trip revealed that there are beautiful, natural places to visit in and around our concrete city.   I’d say “The Bob” is a good destination in and of itself.  But, its also a good stop over place to take a lunch or traffic break and well worth the effort to find.  We’ll be back for sure.

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A Bizarre Realization

A Bizarre Realization

Face up, under the belly of my son’s car, my husband was elbow deep in a repair. Suddenly I leaned over the bumper and asked, “Hon, don’t you have one good adventure left in you? ”

That  was 9:00 Sunday evening, August 20th.

An hour later, my hubby came inside:  “Alright! You’ve got me,” he spouted.  “I guess I’ve one adventure left.  But, only one and we leave early as dog-dukers!”

That, my friends, is how we began the adventure to totality!  It was a quest to see the corona.  It was a journey skyward and westward.  It was a cosmological expedition that confirmed what we already knew and what we were yet to know.

Next morning at 7 am, we traversed the entirety of north metro Atlanta to access the 100% eclipse zone on the morning of August 21.  Now, that was an adventure in itself. With the help of a Spotify playlist, 3 1/2 hours later we arrived at the meadow of what was once Lake Hartwell.  This dehydrated field marks the border between Georgia and South Carolina and would be the perfect westward-facing location to view the sun and moon as they crossed paths.  It would also be in the bulls-eye, the 100% coverage zone.  We would have 2 minutes and 20 seconds to view the corona and just maybe, we would be lucky enough to see Bailey’s Beads.

Upon arrival, we gathered our ragged chairs, an umbrella and drinks and settled in for the spectacle not fully understanding  the magnitude of what we were to witness.   At about 1:10 pm, Anna broke open her solar shades and yelled, “Its starting!”

I fumbled in my backpack and found my own protective glasses.  After fidgeting a few seconds with the cardboard folds I managed to place them correctly over my eyes and look sunward.  Behold!  A large black sphere had entered the frame of the sun.  An Oreo-sized bite was missing from the right side.   OMG!  This is it!

Everyone got into place and some friends arrived.  We took measured glances at the advancing black moon covering the solar surface.  My camera came out.   Someone hummed “Black-Hole Sun.”

 

Ever so gradually, the light on that field reduced as the moon approached. Great white egrets flew across the darkened skies towards a dusky roost.  A  chorus of frogs started chirping their evening songs.   Dark shadows cast by human forms  were projected by the diminishing sun onto the dry lake floor.  The atmospheric color changed to sepia.

Then, it happened.  At first, there remained the tiniest sliver of sunlight.  Then, that the blackness slid over and the sun was blotted out of the sky!  The moon would have its say for the next 2 minutes 20 seconds.

Darkness and coolness settled over the field.

The protective glasses came off.

“The Corona!” someone blasted.

Comments ranged from “It’s a Corona, Extra Light!” to “Oh my Gosh!”,  “Wow!”  and finally,

“This is literally the most amazing thing I have ever seen!”

Then, at the mathematically appointed  millisecond, the sun’s rays literally burst forth on the other side.  In a flash, the lake bed was ablaze with light and color.

How do I describe an event so brief and surreal?  A time when  clouds, life and the sun seemed to stand still?

I cannot do it justice.  But, there is something I can surmise.

A collective, “what just happened?”  appeared on the faces of all present.

What just happened was that we became aware, at that brief moment, that we are actually on a giant sphere that is being orbited by a smaller sphere and together these two spheres are orbiting an even larger, blazing sphere.   Humans are absolutely minuscule in this whole process.  Yet, we are in the hands of God and He controls the sun, moon and stars.  It was a bizarre, yet comforting realization.

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”  Amos 8:9

Then, we packed this adventure up and went home through the traffic to our mundane lives, pondering what we had just witnessed.

 

Cheap Field Trips # 1

Cheap Field Trips # 1

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In the spirit of  stop-and-smell-the-roses, we’ve been making an extra effort to take cheap field trips this year.  Cheap could be free, or just cheap!  The best thing…these are fun little outings that get us off our routine and don’t require any preparation or great expenditure of funds.

I will be sharing these experiences in a series called Cheap Field Trips.

Cheap Field Trip # 1:  Visit a local Recreation Area

We happen to live near the Chattahoochee Recreation Area on the “beautiful” Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, GA.  There is a place called Powers Island which is an access point for folks “putting in” their canoes or rafts to float the river. Mr. Powers was a blacksmith and gunsmith here on the edge of civilization in the 1830’s.  He ran a ferry right from this island.

From I-285, I’d seen this parking lot and trail head for decades and never stopped.

“We’re going there today,” I told my youngster, one recent Wednesday in February.

Silence came from the back seat.

“It’s supposed to be in the 60’s today. We are doing something outside,”  I snapped, hoping he would catch the fever.

We pulled into the empty parking lot. The grey lot blended with the barren trees.  A solitary, work truck could be seen in a space by the restrooms, occupied by a man eating a sandwich from a wrapper.  His windows were up. A medium roar could be heard from the interstate a few hundred yards away.

“Hmmm. This does look a bit sketchy,” I thought as we unloaded ourselves from our truck. I grabbed my wallet and shoved it into my camera bag.  Then, I looked westward.  Through the dormant trees, the sparkling, greenish waters of the Hooch drew us thither.

The Chattahoochee

 

For these cheapie trips to be memorable, you’ve got to take a slow pace.  Don’t go on a cheapie trip thinking you’re going to get some exercise.  If you get fresh air, that’s a plus!  These excursions are about slowing way, way down to see and observe.

A rust colored bridge formed the entry point of the trail and drew us toward the island.  There, on the banks of this mighty waterway, we saw our first point of interest.

bridge to Powers Island

 

“What is flotsam and jetsam?” asked my inquisitive boy after I called out the words.

“It’s floating stuff that has come to rest between these downed trees,” I gestured toward the logs forming the clog.

“Flotsam are things which float up…like things that have washed away from the shoreline and into the river.  Jetsam are things which have been flung off boats and float from the river to the shore,” I continued, pulling out my zoom lens.

beauty along the hooch

basketball heaven

“I can sure tell people like to play basketball and tennis in this town,” he deducted.

“What about football?  See that black one over there?” I pointed.  He tip toed lightly across the colorful trash and grabbed it. The treasure secured, he squeezed it, heard the leaky hole and then threw it back into the pile.

This multi hued wedge of trash kept us busy for a good fifteen minutes.  There were a bazillion water bottles, every sort of ball, numerous plastic toys, various sized cups, some milk jugs, and a few unidentifiable things.  A pungent, earthy smell hovered over the place.

plastics

Not far from the trash heap was a rock island that needed exploring.  I took a picture and then my guy said, “Mom, you come out here.”  I hesitated a minute and then this middle aged mamma hopped the swift current to make it safely to the rock, camera equipment and all.

on the rock

Sycamore balls

Then, we saw the trees.  They were mammoth!  Who would think there would be giant trees on an island like this?

“Must’ve been here when Mr. Powers was working the ferry,” I concluded.  We looked up and saw their tips touching the deep blue winter sky.

One had a crevice two feet taller than my child.  A quick flash of the cell phone light illuminated a couple of creepy, glowing eyes.

 

the granddaddy

bat eyes

As we walked the trail, each successive tree seemed to be larger and larger.  Finally, we reached the granddaddy of all the trees!  Easily it was five human wing spans across.  Against the blue sky and with sun shining brightly behind, the size and shape of this gargantuan took my breath away.

“What a great way to spend 60 minutes,” I said as we merged back onto the interstate.

“It was pretty good,” was the recap from the back seat.

This trip cost $3, which was paid at the kiosk by the trail head.   It was a great day.

the granddaddy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Lake Bed

On the Lake Bed

On the upper reaches of Lake Hartwell, just south of the mountains where the lake gives way to river and the city gives way to country we have a house.   In this remote section of the lake, even during seasons of high water, we seldom in a single day see more than a handful of boaters.  Duck hunters frequent these river banks as do white tailed deer and Canada geese.   Tales of Cherokee ghosts, brave pioneers and small gauge railroads are told about these surroundings by local historians and naturalists alike.   Except for the occasional flock of flying geese or an air-boat propelled carp hunter, it is quiet here.

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Yet, beneath these green waters lurk secrets and treasures and even creepy things.

These things, usually covered by the shadowy waters of the Tugaloo, rear their heads when the water recedes.  Tiny, living seeds lay dormant waiting for an opportunity to burst forth into life.  Huge, old stumps hide their past, clutching the river banks as if still waiting for a rescuer to retrieve them from the rising waters that flooded these shores more than 50 years ago.   Hidden household items from the 1980’s, dumped from some boat or washed away in some flood are now ensconced in mud and grass.  Their glinty edges catch the eye of a passerby demanding to be picked up and pondered.

Around Thanksgiving, we ventured out into this strange land that we call the lake bed. Mournful children, so saddened by the encroaching mud at Labor Day, were now mesmerized by this peculiar beauty that awaited them.

Launching ourselves from the dock, we tip toed across the soft mud toward the river.  A good 10 pair of shoes were heavily soiled in the process, but eventually all of the family plunged forth into the straw colored meadow.  A drone came out of its box and buzzed overhead.   I heard a child yell out, “It’s amazing!  It’s so soft.”  I peered  50 yards across the prairie and saw my 10 year old making a grass angel!

“What are these mom?” asked another as he picked a tightly packed bud from a tan colored bush.

“Not sure,” I mumbled as I noticed the fall leaves on the South Carolina side framing a backdrop to our activities .

A quick glance north and my black dog came into clear view, her shiny coat juxtaposed against the monotone grasses.

jasmine

We lingered here a bit and then walked on toward the water’s edge.  There we saw several, old craggy stumps, remnants of days when this was a fast flowing river winding through a fertile corn field.   Downstream we saw symmetrical ripples in the sandy bank,  formed when the water drained out bit by bit, like a bathtub needing a shot of Drano.

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ripples

Suddenly, I was startled away from my amusement with the ripples by a thud to my left.  This was the sound of my teenager whacking autumn toned bushes.  Each whack produced a cloud of tiny, poufy seeds dimly lit by the late autumn sun.  We took a few minutes to whack some more of these tender bushes and take photographs.  How did these shrubs grow so quickly?  Wasn’t there water here just two months ago?

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taking-pics

Next, we moved a hundred yards down river to a flat, sandy area on the shoreline.  It was the perfect slate for practicing cursive.  It’s much easier to form capital letters in the damp sand!

cursive

After handwriting, I found myself sitting in the supple grass for a few more minutes, taking in the autumn colors and the stumps.  So many stumps!

“They’ve been down there this whole time,” I told my boys.  “We just swam over these giants a few months ago!”

“That is creepy, mom, ” a boy announced.

“We’ll have to remember where they are when the water comes up,”  I noted.

By this time, like the lake, the late afternoon sun was running out.  It was time to get home.

As we shambled back toward our dock, the most amazing hues of a pink and blue sunset caught my eye.  “Probably the affects of all the smoke,” I mused, remembering the fires just north of here up in Rabun.  The big sky, without trees or water, gave a vast, open feeling, like being out on a Montana ranch.  We North Georgians don’t typically get big openness,  I figured.

sunset

At dark, we arrived back at the marooned dock;  that stark reminder that things are not as they should be.

“You certainly can’t have a lake without water!” my husband maintained later on the phone.

“Yes! But, you can have a lake bed!” this nature nut retorted.

Out on the lake bed, we’d been given a consolation, a little silver lining to an otherwise very disappointing situation.  Nature was there, all around;  and it was lovely.

grass

 

 

City Folks Hit the Pasture

City Folks Hit the Pasture

Recently we took a fall walk and encountered some iconic bucolic scenes.  My fourteen year old son, after viewing my photographs from the outing, penned this piece on his experience.  I hope you enjoy.

City Folks Hit the Pasture

by H.P.N.

The November air was soft and cool that evening. Walking up the gravel road, my dad was setting up a hunting blind in the field behind me. My dad loved to utilize his Thanksgiving break to go hunting. Guiding my neighbor and I up the road, my mom was telling us all about what she had seen up this way the night before. As our small company reached a barbed wire fence the wood ended and I saw them on the other side.

cows at the golden hour

Some were brown, some were white, some were black, and a few were mixed. I approached the fence and a few of them standing near the fence walked up to us. Ben, our lake house neighbor where we were presently staying, picked up a tuft of grass. Ben cruised over to the fence, reached out with the grass and let out a hardy chuckle as the cow ate it. Stepping back from the wire I too picked up some of the little stiff shoots around me and held them out to the cows. A brown one walked over to me and munched on the dried plants.

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“Hold right there,” My mom said while pulling out her camera. The low and sluggish fall sun gave off the perfect shade to the cool, but crisp afternoon. This made for the best environment for picture taking. Ben was still feeding the cows, but now was trying to challenge how far the poor thing could reach for its food. The large animal reached up as high as it could with its short stubby neck and stretched out a lengthy pink tongue. It curled this tongue around the weeds and pulled them out of Ben’s hand.

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Alien Cow! Look out!

 

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“Whoa!” I laughed, “That is one long tongue.

“Yea,” Ben answered in his almost southern accent.

By now the whole herd had gathered at our end of the pasture, coming to take advantage of the free hand outs. For a while we zoned out of our busy American lives to cross paths with this gentle community of cows. It was like the world around us froze, letting us enjoy this moment. Suddenly, I heard the crunching of boots on loose rocks and turned around to see my dad strolling up the road.

“Hey y’all,” He said announcing his presence and zapping us out of our utopia. “I finished setting up the stand.”

Walking back down the dirt road we told my dad all about the cows and how calm they were. Stepping back into the car the reality that this week was coming to a close came rushing in on me. Sitting there on the leather seat looking out the now dark window, I wished that I was back there at the pasture with the cows.

petting-the-cows

 

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laughter

 

 

Hypnotizing a Chicken

Hypnotizing a Chicken

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Have you ever hypnotized a chicken? I hadn’t either until we became urban poultry farmers.  Although I’ve hypnotized a few fowl in my day, it’s the kids who love it most!  There’s something entertaining about holding a soft, fluffy living thing in your hands, massaging it on the wishbone and then watching it blissfully melt into a heap of uninhibited slumber.   Hypnotized chickens drop into a sleep not unlike a one-year-old would in a car seat on a road trip to grandmas.  Sometimes you will see a partially opened eye.  Sometimes you will see a beak opened, which is the chicken equivalent to a drooling, napping baby, mouth opened, head slumped in relaxation.   The sight of an hypnotized chicken is something to behold and I’ve captured it here for you to ponder.  Apparently, this is an addictive past time that doesn’t get old, even with the surliest of teenagers.

In case you are over easy about the process, here’s how you do it.  First, you have to hold the chicken in your warm hand or on a flat surface.  Usually, the hen will stop squirming after about 20 seconds and then you can easily manage her into the hypnotic state.  Regardless of your pecking order, you can do this!

 

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Next, find the breast bone of the chicken and gently rub the muscles on both sides of this bone for about 20 – 30 seconds.  You will find that your bird will begin to relax and fall out.  This is the best part!  You can literally lay your chicken down and it will remain in this spellbound state for a minute or two until it comes to its senses.  As the Japanese proverb goes, “It is better to be the head of a chicken than the rear end of an ox.”   This wisdom applies here as the chick awakens refreshed and ready to work as hard as a hen hauling wood!

Be patient!  This may take a little practice.  But, you will soon be able to feather your nest with visions of hypnotized chickens slumbering silently in the setting sun.

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This happy hen above looks like she is still a bit groggy!!  Ah, the joys of hypnotizing chickens.

The Missing Mushrooms

The Missing Mushrooms

We’ve been  looking for mushrooms for weeks!  No mushrooms! 

Not good, since we’ve been trying to study them this semester.

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Talking with my young student a couple of weeks ago, we got on the topic of the missing mushrooms.

“Could it be because of the drought?” I asked.

He shrugged, “They need moistness.”

“I guess you’re right,” I nodded.  There had been no moistness, no rain, no mist in weeks.  We hadn’t even seen a cloud in weeks.

The subject was dropped.

Then, one morning last week, it was mentioned again.

“Mom, there is a mushroom over by the big swing.”

“Really? I asked disbelievingly.  There had been no rain.  But this was the mushroom season… so perhaps he has made a real sighting.  Maybe a ‘shroom has pushed through, I thought.  

Quickly, we gathered our mushroom observing paraphernalia: a field guide, tweezers, magnifying glass, a plastic bag, cameras, and set off for our adventure.  We walked a little ways over the creek and along a grassy path into a field.  Cut up apples and flies were scattered in a little ring near a tree. 

“Look, that’s where Jared is feeding the deer,” my boy pointed as we walked by the green and red pile, flies buzzing between the fruits.  Then, we turned right and walked out of the field into a small sloping wooded area.  Pines and oaks dominated the landscape.  Sure enough, right there in front of the big swing, in the dappled midday light grew a single white mushroom.  Like a light house on a dark coast, its stark, white beacon drew us hither.

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Non poisonous mushrooms

We stooped down to take a closer look, dropping our gear.

“What kind is it?”  I asked. 

“It’s not a Destroying Angel!” returned my son.

“How do you know? ” I inquired as I tried to keep his hands from touching.

He thumbed through the guide.  “Here it is, a Smooth Lepiota,” he indicated, touching the laminated page.   “It isn’t poisonous.”

mushroom field guide

“Good.” I sighed, thinking that he’s really mastered this art of nature study.  He’s gotten pretty good with woodland fungi identification.  The mushroom field guide shows the underbelly of the mushroom, the shape, the color and other features to help us newbies along in discovery process.  

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There is something so gratifying about these brief nature moments with my youngest.   

Selfishly, I just love being outside and taking pictures.  But, more than that, I think something is happening here, where this boy really likes stopping to appreciate what’s growing around him. Hopefully, these experiences will stick and he’ll be a lifetime appreciator of nature.  

As we left the scene and walked toward home, we spied a striking rotting branch covered with pale colored turkey tails.  Already, we are getting the mushroom lingo!  Turkey Tails are shelf mushrooms that grow on rotting trees and look like little fanned out turkey tails.

“Those will be cool to sketch,” I suggest.

Carrying these forest treasures back to the house, we plopped down on the deck to sketch and identify and make a spore print.  And, for mom to take pictures!!

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Away from media and cell phones and schedules, the quest for the missing mushrooms became our classroom.

All this talk of mushrooms has got me thinking about Sylvia Plath, one of my favorite poets! 

MUSHROOMS

by Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.