Fall is in the air, Northern Georgia

tree

 

Fall is my favorite time of year along the eastern coast of the USA, with a change in temperature, foliage and festivities.  I took a week to admire and appreciate this yearly change of seasons in the northern Georgia mountains.  A hike in nature revealed its beauty after a day of chilly deluge with radiant earthly colors and cool crisp air.  The trail was soft and spongy from pine needles and the previous day’s rain.  Yellow, red, brown and unturned green maple leaves scenically littered the path while other leaves endlessly floated in the wind. Sourwood and dogwood trees were equally colorful and abundant. Soggy chocolate-brown pine cones and sturdier acorns appeared on parts of the trail, some broken, others in tact.  I imagined squirrels stockpiling for the winter, but I didn’t see a single animal large or small. A burbling creek ebbed and flowed, sometimes growing louder, other times just whispering in the distance.  I crossed over the creek via wooden tree planks on a few occasions, paralleling it during the most of my walk while meandering past boulders and tranquil Raven_Cliff_Falls_GAvalleys.  Ancient tree roots sprouted through the organic trail, well-worn and glossed over like a penny rubbed too much for good luck.   The air was fresh, clean, oxygenated, and slightly petrichor. The trail ends in a grand finale, a hill of slippery boulders flanked by a gigantic granite rock split in two with a waterfall splashing and cascading to the bottom.  I cautiously climbed the smaller rocks to the top of the waterfall, admiring for a brief moment its magnificent beauty.

Fall in the alpine village of Helen means Oktoberfest, one of the longest and largest Bavarian festivals held in the United States.  Crowds flock to the quaint town to celebrate from September 17 to November 1st.  Weekends are packed with beer drinkers sporting traditional Bavarian hats called Tirolerhüte, many exhibiting pewter pins based on personal interest and cities they have visited.  A man with many pins is either well-travelled, very active, or just a tourist collecting pins for Oktoberfest.  Woman also wear these hats in the United States, but it’s not traditional garb.  If you want to stick to custom, their outfit consist of a tight-fitting white Dirndl dress and blouse showing ample cleavage.  An apron wrapped around the dress with a bow tied on front and flat shoes complete the outfit.

octoberfestThe festhalle housing the main event was full of people, beer, bratwurst, pretzels and dancing to live music. First on our minds was buying a stein full of Oktoberfest Warsteiner which we accomplished immediately.  After securing a seat at the common long tables, food was next on our agenda.  For a vegetarian that means a pretzel at this event and a bratwurst for my husband.  Beer would be my nourishment for the evening since the pretzel was dry and less enticing and flavorful than the beer, although the beer cheese dip helped the dehydrated dough.  Apparently fine cuisine was not the strongpoint of the popular festhalle, but music and socializing was the highlight.  The band, people watching and making friends beat out the lack of flavorful fare, but well worth it.  Although I love a good meal , it’s not  always my top priority.  At the end of the night I was singing and dancing to Rocky Top and doing the chicken dance thanks to Warsteiner and a lack of vegetarian options.

The next few days we explored the many pop-up tents housing beer gardens and festivities surrounding Oktoberfest.  Every major venue had their own personal tent and talent for the occasion.  One thing that stuck out in my mind was the ubiquity of boots among females, an appreciation I held being a lover of a good pair of boots.  My husband and I made a game of it, him not noticing the Northern Georgia boot culture until I pointed it out, and then he could not stop noticing it, almost becoming obsessed.  We started taking pictures of the various boots and he approached one couple.

“My wife loves your boots.  Can I take a picture?
The boyfriend almost fell over, “Your wife loves her boobs?”
“No, Boots. Not boobs.  Don’t get too excited.”

We laughed and took a picture along with photos of ten other boots.  Oktoberfest in Helen, the boot culture.  I better find a good pair.

bootsboots 7boots 6

boots 4   boots2

 

Breakfast in Bimini excerpt

end of world barDark in comparison to the bright sun outside, the rustic tavern displayed writing all over wood panel walls, underwear hanging above, and signed currency from many countries taped on a panel behind the bar. Names of boats and fishing teams, individuals with dates they visited, relationships broadcasted, love proclaimed.

“Interesting,” I mumbled.

My name’s in here,” Luke announced.

“My underwear’s on the ceiling,” Russ challenged. I looked up searching for the camouflage boxers I saw earlier on the trip. It was mostly ladies thongs, but boxers also hung from above like a flag revealing a conquest. My eyes shifted to one distinguished pair depicting a skull and crossbones with a patch over the eye, the typical Jolly Roger avatar faded and exposed on a single pair of boxers. I briefly thought of Jeff and his treasure hunting Davy Jones yacht, wondering if he’d left his mark in this bar. I continued scanning for Russ’s undies, my gaze landing on a pair representing the confederate flag. It was integrated with a rainbow of woman’s thongs. Blue, black, pick, multicolored, green and purple.

“That’s yours,” I pointed to the pair hanging in the distance. “The confederate flag, cowboy.”

“Damn, you’re good Kelly. But wrong. I wouldn’t give up a pair that nice.” He turned his stool in the opposite direction, pointing to a plain tan pair with grey scribbling’s. “Those are mine from 2001, during a wild fishing trip.”

“So you let people sign your ass while wearing them, or afterwards?” I asked, giggling at the thought of Russ running around the bar in his undies asking for autographs.

“On of course. A bunch of drunk girls in the bar signing my ass. Nothing on the front, I’m not that type of guy.”

I choked on my drink, spraying a mist of beer while laughing. “Oh, I could imagine.” Glancing at Luke, “So no undies on the ceiling for you, sweetie?”

Smirking, “No just a signature of my name and year, somewhere around here.” He searched the tavern, eyes scanning for a hint of recognition and then handing me a black sharpie, one of many sitting atop the bar. “Make your mark,” he said pragmatically.

Eagerly grabbing the sharpie and searching for an empty section to claim as my own, I noticed fainter scratching’s were written over with darker, fresher markings. I avoided busy walls and found a corner behind a speaker and wrote, Kelly and Luke, Breakfast in Bimini, 2011. Satisfied with my scribbling’s, I joined the two men sitting on bar stools, gulping a slightly stronger Kalik Gold.

“Ok, now the undies,” Russ blurted out, wickedly grinning.

“And I can do a shot from your belly button,” Luke added with an equally sinful grin. “It’s tradition in this bar.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.” I addressed both of them with a smiling gaze. “But I’d have to say, this place definitely has character.”

compleat angler 1“You might change your mind after a few of these,” Luke said, handing me a Kalik Gold to go. Walking the streets of Bimini with a drink in hand is also tradition, ambling to our next stop, lunch at the Big Game Club. During our short walk to the restaurant we sauntered past some ruins stopping for a moment of nostalgia. Luke and Russ both filled me in on the colorful history the Compleat Angler. Ernest Hemingway was perhaps the most notable resident that slept, drank, and wrote at the Angler, but so did Jimmy Buffett, presidential hopeful Gary Hart got caught messing around at the bar and hotel, Matt Damon was spotted there and the less famous Russ and Luke with their past debauchery. Built in the 1930’s it was once the staging area for rum-runners during the prohibition. Prior to its fiery destruction just five years ago, it housed a small yet unique Hemingway museum and it was full of fishing pictures from every decade since the thirty’s. On any given weekend the bar was packed with drunken tourists and locals listening to live music from Stevie S while socializing, sometimes getting downright crazy. The two compared their most memorable stories, with passionate sinful laughs. I longed to have the same memory of the Compleat Angler. Now only a brick fireplace stood in the center of boulders outlining the three rooms and an outside patio. An A-frame wooden sign over a stone archway read The Compleat Angler, a reminder of its humble yet ornate vibrant past.

“How did it burn down and do you think they’ll rebuild it?” I asked.

The two chortled in unison as we continued strolling to the Big Game Club. “The fire was questionable, the owner was the only one who died. All the Hemingway memorabilia was destroyed. Lots of gossip about foul play, but no arrest were made.”

“If it was that popular, will they rebuild?”

Luke took a swig from his beer as we continued along King’s Road. “It’s the Bahamas, nothing much gets done around here.”

 

Breakfast in Bimini. Chapter 14 excerpt

crab2I silently passed by Luke engrossed in the news, he knew my routine.  I sauntered to a dirt road and walked while building up my energy and determination leading into a jog.  I really enjoyed walking and I could probably do it all day, but a quick run was so much more efficient. Lavender morning glories lined the path, shining upward to greet the sun.  Dense scrub brush added a jungle-like feel to the tropical island.  Light peeked through the tall thin pine trees creating an irregular pattern of shadows on the sandy trail. Buzzing crickets screamed through the trees at certain points and then complete silence. The only other noticeable sign of life was a few comical sideways moving land crabs.  They’d raise a large claw in the air, attempting to intimidate and challenge a fight. All the while doing the horizontal tango into the road then back to the bush, proudly displaying an obscenely sizable claw.  On a few occasions I had to stop and play with an arrogant little fellow, almost taunting him.  I’d never hurt a creature but it was sure fun revealing my armor, my sheer size 121 pounds heavier than its claw. And I too could do the tango.  Needless to say, I always won.

I stopped at the beach club to stretch, admiring the three-sided ocean view reflecting several shades of blue and green.  Translucent celeron and jade in the bimini watershallower waters, deep midnight to polar blue in the distance and a lighter sky blue in the forefront.  A color I referred to as Bimini blue given its prominence in front of Bimini Sands and most of the island.  Perhaps the most beautiful luminous water I’ve ever seen.  The water contrasted against a dilapidated rusting white fence and pink cement seawall with columns lining a small inlet allowing access to boating canals.  Cement debris littered a beach rock jetty.  Remnants from the hotel that once existed here, from what Luke told me last night.  A hurricane wiped out the inn, a tsunami size wave hit the two-story hotel taking it out into the ocean.  The set-back corner position of the beach club left it undamaged. Next to me, a solid row of sun-drenched green bushes separated the debris from the road.  Too lush and manicured to be native plants.  In the beach club lawn Bermuda grass held indigenous sea-grape trees fashioned into round balls with heart-shaped leaves, strategically placed sunflowers, fuchsia Bougainvillea, and a surf board placed for ornamentation.

I was only fifteen minutes into my run and already drenched in sweat. I used my right hand, index finger side leading, to propel the sweat off my face like a windshield wiper during a downpour.  A motion I continued throughout my run.

shark lab picI jogged past a sign reading, Bimini Biological Field Station.  Better known as the shark lab, it’s an international research facility designated to studying shark behavior and population.  I made a mental note to visit the shark lab during our brief visit in Bimini.  Several students were hanging clothes in the front yard, old-fashioned washing and drying of clothes I concluded.  Other students were arranging casting nets and two rather large dogs leashed to a pole barked and howled as I ran by.

South Bimini was still quiet, although a few locals passed on golf carts with a quick flip of the hand as a friendly wave.  Not that anyone was going to play golf, a golf course doesn’t exist on the island.  It’s the preferred transportation vehicle which given the island’s small size and moderate climate, it’s the perfect way to get around. Not only were cars missing, except the scattered few, but also street signs, horns honking, background interstate noise, asphalt, squirrels, big lush trees, cats sitting on porches, lawn art and any sort of diverse built skyline.

On another side canal I jogged past private vacation homes belonging mostly to Americans, especially from Florida only fifty miles to the west.  In the sandy yard of a lime green house, handmade wooden signs nailed to a dock piling and pointing to Miami, a nude beach, Jamaica, Cozumel and Cuba.  I smelled wood burning, reminding me of Africa and the exotic experiences I had in Benin, Kenya and Tanzania many years ago. The ubiquitous charred wood aroma of the continent I loved the most, longing to live there in my youth. Searching for the source of the scent I discovered a tree burning in the sand surrounded by scrub brush, a controlled burn I recognized.

I found relief in a small marina pool, diving in and exhaling victory at the end of my painfully heated run.  Hot yoga was easy compared to jogging in Bimini during the summer with a humid hurricane approaching.  The air-conditioned condo seemed like an igloo afterwards, so I quickly hit the shower.

Discoveries along the east coast

Our annual trip in our single engine plane from south Florida, north to Philadelphia and Ohio, began with adventure. Scooting around thunderstorms during takeoff, our airspeed indicator failed.  The transponder, what identifies our plane to Air Traffic Control, was intermittent, and the two iPad’s we use for backup navigation were quickly losing power.  We only needed to make it to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for our first leg of the trip.

shipwreckWeather cleared within a half-hour flying north, so we flew along the central Florida coast with a flawless view of the unusually transparent water.  I have an archaeological permit allowing exclusive exploration to search for shipwrecks in a small portion of the Atlantic Ocean. I took the opportunity to visually inspect the area from air, knowing I would return in a few weeks by boat… an anticipated pre-planned mid-July expedition.  I spotted a curious dark outline the size of a ship.  Scribbling notes, coordinates and drawings, my mind raced through the possibilities as if I was winning the lottery before checking the numbers.treasure chest

A storm was nearing our destination, competing in a marathon for the runway.  One iPad died, the other had 8% power, and our airspeed indicator was still unresponsive.  We won by about five minutes, but we would continue the race the following morning.

Mossy trees, crickets and the faint smell of rain greeted me during a morning jog.  Roadside motels, restaurants and an amusement park provided visual stimulation as I listened to my audiobook.  I briefly peaked at the ocean waves and slightly turbulent sky at my turnaround point, arriving back at our hotel an hour later.

After fixing our airspeed indicator we were again airborne heading to the Philadelphia area, a three-hour flight.  I was flying, circling up between the bulbous clouds building in the region.  This tropical disturbance would later become the first hurricane of the season, Arthur.

robinFor the first time I found  simple but familiar creatures interesting while socializing outside in the summer air.  The ubiquitous northeast coast american robin was funny to watch hop around in the grass.  I’m sure other birds hop, but robins are like the kangaroo of the avian kingdom.  Blue jays and cardinals flew by, sat on fences and studied me as much as I watched them.

At night lighting bugs lit up the fields, bringing back memories of light bug 2my youth.  Similar creatures roamed Ohio, my hometown and our next stop on our journey.  I recalled catching lightning bugs and throwing white objects at bats for entertainment. Bats would dive white balls as we dove into the grass to escape. Simple childhood fun. Damn, I hope I don’t see bats this trip?

Our next stop in Georgia brought about a different kind of animal analysis, that of my little crazy dog.  Last time we visited our home in the Georgia mountains, just three weeks prior, a mini tornado formed as I was walking my pup.  It was brief, just a few minutes of high winds spinning at 70 plus miles per hour, but she remembered.  When it happened she didn’t know what to do and I grabbed her before she bolted into the woods.  I teased her about being Toto in the classic movie The Wizard of Oz.  Now she won’t go outside past 6 p.m. about the time she was almost”Totoed,” she needs a psychiatrist. wizard oz

 

 

Wizard tornado 2

 

Careless Destruction

Although outspoken, I’ve never really been an environmental activist in the traditional sense of protesting and confronting those doing damage to the earth and nature. I protest silently by boycotting, making a small difference by changing my personal choices to support or reject products and companies matching my beliefs. I’m a vegetarian, I reject killing animals for my consumption. I’ve been known to boycott companies that test on animals. It’s a personal choice and I don’t judge others who consume meat or randomly buy cheaper products at the expense of another creature. I’m married to a carnivore, and I don’t preach to him about eating meat. I’m cool with it and completely understand given my Anthropological background knowing that humans have eaten meat for many millennia. That being said, I despise needless destruction of habitat, so this past weekend I took action in my neighborhood.

On Saturday at 7:30 a.m. as I was showering after my morning run, I heard chain saws across the canal and my husband downstairs calling the police. The shrill of blades quickly cutting wood amplified as I ran down to the dock to check out the situation. Our protected mangroves and nature preserve across from our house was quickly disappearing. Hubby went to meet the officers near the construction site to explain the controversy.  We were fine with the development across the canal, so were others in the community as long as the mangroves and trees remained untouched.

Seconds behind him, I jumped into my car, passed the police and hubby chatting near the road, and parked in a lot where I knew had quick access to the protected trees. I ran barefoot through the field as if saving a drowning child. I knew time was not on my side given the rate of the tree destruction. A rapid thrust through a dense bush brought me to the center of the action.

“Stop.” I screamed through the noise. “Stop Now.”

A look of shock and widened eyes crossed the landscapers’ faces and total silence of machinery ensued for a brief second.

“These trees are protected, and an Osprey lives here.” As if any of them knew what that was or even spoke english, I clarified.  “A Seahawk.”osprey

They looked at each other as if an alien had just landed. Then one of the workers defiantly started his chainsaw. “Stop now,” I shouted again. “Or you’re going to be in big trouble.” I wasn’t prepared to chain myself to a tree, but the thought momentarily crossed my mind.

The single high-pitched buzz stopped as two men not dressed for manual labor cautiously approached me. “Ma’am, I’m the developer.” He took a few steps closer. “I have permits to clear these trees and brush.”

He threw me off guard. I wasn’t sure how he got the permits, or the trustworthiness of the issuing agency. I considered strapping myself to a tree again but decided to take a reasonable approach, especially since I had to leave for the airport and fly our plane to Northern Georgia, racing against weather and cumulus cloud buildup.

osprey 1I expressed my concern about the resident Osprey I watched swoop up fish daily, the manatees feeding on the mangroves in the winter and spring, the numerous water birds wading in the water, and even the omnipresent ducks and iguanas, all of which congregated on this little piece of real estate. He assured me that the mangroves and trees would not be cut and he was just clearing bush. I wanted to believe him, hoping he had an innate compassionate side. I walked away, a bit uneasy, back through the impenetrable bushes separating the construction site from the established apartment complex where I parked.  My feet were as muddy as my mind.  Should I stay to make sure the developer followed his word?  Should I talk to the police to express my concern?  What the hell could they do, I concluded.  He has a permit.  I could still chain myself to that tree…

I decided to trust his promise to preserve the trees, and we flew to the north Georgia mountains. While in Georgia I learned that he lied and cut down most of the trees and mangroves, preserving only a wispy few. It hit my gut and I intuitively knew the Osprey was gone.

 

Breakfast in Bimini- Chapter 12 segment

Below is and unedited excerpt from the current book I’m working on, which should be complete by the end of summer.  It’s sometimes difficult to read parts of novels and really understand the story and for the writer it’s hard to post unedited drafts.  But I’m going for it!  I try to pick neutral paragraphs without much background needed or plot revealed. Next time I’ll have another travel story.  I hope you enjoy and as always I welcome feedback and thoughts.

Breakfast in Bimini.

Smoke filled my lungs in the middle of the night and for a fleeting moment I thought I was dreaming. I shook Luke simultaneously pushing out the screen and yelling, “Fire.” In an instant impromptu swoosh I bolted through the screened-in window, seamlessly landing on the wooden dock. I unplugged the boat power cord from the electrical box and upon returning to the cabin, I opened all the doors and windows while shouting “Luke, Russ.” The sun was just starting to float on the ocean as the smell of acrid smoke permeated the air. The two emerged through the haze sporting only boxers, Luke with blue and white horizontal stripes and Russ in hunting Camouflage. I noticed for the first time what I was wearing, plaid boxers, borrowed from Luke, and a loose navy blue tank top. I was relieved to have not slept naked as I often did since that could have been an ordeal. We all stepped on the dock to breathe fresh air.

“Well, that’s a hella way to wake up,” Russ exhaled. “It’s not a fire, Kelly. Fire means flames. It’s an electrical smoldering.”

I blinked and after a few moments rebuked, “Well I don’t have a dictionary with me at the moment, but I’m pretty sure it means smoke and danger, both of which existed. Smoke is just as dangerous as flames, besides screaming electrical smoldering doesn’t have the same effect and at the time…”

“O.K., my bad. You did the right thing by unplugging the power source.” He looked around, “Why is the window screen on the dock?”

“Oh, welcome to my world,” Luke chimed in. “Kelly screamed, “fire” in my ear, shook me into consciousness, then jumped through the screen and onto the dock.”

Russ stared at me in disbelief with raised eyebrows, wide eyes and mouth agape. I answered prior to any of his wry comments.

“Well, I had to do something and I wasn’t sure what was going on in the cabin. My adrenaline just took over. You know, emergency mode. So are things still sizzling in the cabin? Has anyone checked that out yet?”

“Cutting off the power supply should have stopped any additional smoke, it’s like clipping the fuel supply to an engine. It fizzles pretty quickly. Let’s go check it out,” Russ urged Luke.

I stayed on the dock, admiring the sunrise for a moment. It wasn’t a phenomenon I witnessed often, at least not lately. I was amazed by the stillness and tranquility of dawn, the vast calm sea only enhancing the serene moment. Waking up docked in the Bahamas was an experience unlike any other, the way life should be lived with natural sounds of the sea tenderly hitting the dock pilings, fresh slightly saline air, peaceful and carefree. I drank a quick cup of coffee still brewing courtesy of Luke preparing it the night prior and then pushing the button on his way out.

I changed into my running clothes. “I have time to run, right?” I asked, scooting past Luke.

“Yes, honey. We have to check the wires and weather again before setting sail.” He glanced at me and added, “And reinstall the window screen.”

I snickered, confidently knowing I had done the right thing. I was always one quick to react, a benefit at times and occasionally a nuisance. In hot debates I’d sometimes stick my foot in my mouth and shoot out a comment I regretted. Once as a witness in a courtroom I’d answered too rapidly to a cross-examination, spurring more interrogations from an unfriendly lawyer who tried to trap me. But overall, my innate need to swiftly respond was a gift.

A little piece of heaven in the hills

helen signA spur of the moment purchase of a mountain home in Helen, Georgia flung my husband and me into an unexpected trip and immersion into a country lifestyle.  We won the high bid on a foreclosure and decided to turn it into a vacation rental for ourselves and others.  Collecting furniture from auctions and personal knick-knacks from our Florida house we hit the road with the goal of having it ready for the rental market in a week or less.  Game on.  It was not my first rodeo doing this, we’d done it twice prior.  My ten pound snorkie was accustomed to the drill and probably thought we were professional movers.

It was my first time seeing the house, hubby flew up and checked it out prior to our bid.  It blew me away instantly. Within walking distance to the quaint Bavarian styled village, yet in the woods in a gated golf course community and we are the only house on the street.  Hiking trails are nearby as are wineries, ATV rentals, zip lines, mini golf, German restaurants galore and my favorite country store Betty’s.betty country store

What surprised me as the crème de la crème and the real gem of north Georgia are the super friendly people.  They are warm, sociable, helpful and generally pleasant folks.  We made friends everywhere we went, already feeling like part of the community.  Before we even arrived in Helen we got stuck in gridlock traffic on Interstate 75 due to a fatal accident.  We backed up an interstate ramp and pulled over to figure out directions around the traffic jam.  A local pulled up in a red dodge asked where we were heading.

“Follow me.” He suggested.

We sped through winding country roads, landing us just north of the accident and continued on our merry way.  During our detour I spotted a unique bright yellow government issued sign reading “Quiet Sickness,” and silently pondered its meaning.  Does this mean I’m in danger of getting sick and why the quiet part of sickness.  Weird and strange things to discover on country roads in Georgia.  Winding paths I’d become all too familiar with over the course of the week.georgia sign

The gate guard at our newly acquired house as well as the young freckled blond at the local convenient store were smiling and congenial.  As were our few neighbors who went out of their way to introduce themselves, welcoming us to the community.

The best part of our initial stay was the interaction at bars and restaurants.  One night we joined a biker party singing Karaoke combined with a separate birthday party group from Atlanta.  Everyone laughed, toasted drinks, exchanged home states and even shared an impulsive parking lot mob flash dance.  Many of them were in a band and we applauded their performance. I smiled all night including our stop at the local pub where we mingled into the wee hours.  One woman was a little too friendly and a fight between two men almost broke out.  My hubby grabbed the bartender, our new friend and neighbor, warning him of the tension building.  He was quick to react, diverting any fight.

At Lowes when I couldn’t find something the clerk was readily available and walked me to the item.  At Betty’s, when ordering lunch, the boys behind the counter were attentive, assuring me that my sandwich was made with care and the best I would have.  They were right.

helen roadSo with all the love is there any downside to Helen?  Just that’s it far from some basics like large chain stores.  Groceries, home improvement, Wal-Mart and anything other than a small country grocery store will be at least a 45 minute drive or more.  But I’ll take that given all the natural and cultural beauty of the place.