Quarantined in the North Georgia Mountains

flyingAfter several weeks of shelter in place in South Florida, my husband and I decided to ride out the coronavirus pandemic at our mountain home in Helen,Georgia, as numbers of confirmed cases grew in Broward County.  The mountains are less crowded, with beautiful spring weather  and opportunities to spend time in nature abound. We loaded up our plane and waited for a good flying day. It turns out our timing was perfect, any other day may have left us stranded due to weather, a situation we needed to avoid.

When we arrived at our home, I immediately felt less anxiety and more relaxed. I felt like myself again as the situation in South Florida worried and stressed me out. I listened to birds sing off our back deck instead of helicopters flying overhead.  Squirrels crunching on decomposing leaves  replaced sirens screaming in the distance.  I breathed fresh oxygen rich air, cool and crisp, rather than the thick humidity of the south.

I wanted to cry.  I had been so emotionally on edge for what seemed like forever.  Instead I said.  “I feel better already.  We are so lucky to have options.”

“Yes we are.”  He agreed.

I found my new normal over the next few weeks.  Running in the morning through our desolate little town center, side roads and nature trails.  Yoga in the afternoon on the back deck, surrounded by nature.  I use my iPhone to guide me through my practice, with videos posted by the studio I attend.  Fighter jets from a nearby military training area even flew overhead one day, adding a bit of excitement to my flow.  I spotted a red fox in the distance while in tree pose.

My husband has home improvement projects to keep him busy.  We just built our house last year, leaving several tasks unfinished.  He cut and fertilized the grass, planted more trees, stained wood, built shelves for his tools and a framed our fireplace.  It’s an ongoing list but  now has the time to complete them.

One day he called me out back.  “Come here.”

A large bird attacked a tree off our deck.  “What is that?  A woodpecker?”

“Yeah.  The largest one I’ve seen.”

I found new recipes and dinners to make.  We went to grocery store to stock up, a first for me in a month.  We both had masks and gloves and followed the arrows of which way to go up and down.  It felt good to pick out food, although I think many items were overpriced, especially the produce. I had a list for most things, then a random note to buy drinks and frozen food.

In the evening my husband noticed something through a side window.  “Bears.”

“They’re so quiet.”  I whispered.

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They looked in the trash can, picked through it. Then checked out our golf cart, sniffed around and left.  Three of them, a momma and two cubs I imagined.  Although they all looked pretty big.  Our dog didn’t even know they were outside, she usually  hears and smells everything, then barks like crazy.helen15

We are fortunate to have access to hiking trails and golf.  We learned that federal trails are closed but state parks open.  I personally think all outdoor activities should be accessible.  It’s a great way to escape and find tranquility and peace in our current world.  Something we all need.  Please find nature, love, compassion, health and hope during this difficult time, and reach out to those that need the same.

 

 

Beauty and the Beast

mt yonahThe North Georgia mountains have a lot to offer during the summer, so my husband and I decided to spend a month at our cabin in Helen, Georgia.  This quaint Bavarian themed town is nestled near the Chattahoochee River and National Forest in the northeast corner of the state.  It is also close to the start of the Appalachian Trail (AT), so we decided to hike to the peak of Tray Mountain, described as an easy AT day hike with magnificent views.

It seemed like a harrowing feat driving the winding, bumpy dirt road up the side of the mountain. Steep cliffs dropping off on my side made my heart race and hands sweat. After an hour of this I was ready to hit the trail, but I was surprised we were the only ones in the parking area.  It’s supposed to be a popular day hike.

I recognized the white lines on the trees indicating the AT. It was all uphill and I welcomed the challenge, although my husband wasn’t as eager.  We discussed what we’d do if we encountered bears or wild boar, since they roam the area.  In less than an easy-paced hour we reached the top. I took pictures of the amazing view, and suddenly my husband jumped back and shouted “Holy Shit.”

timber rattler2A fat six-foot snake sun bathed on a rock, its tongue flicking next to his leg.  He moved closer to me.  “I almost stepped on it.”

My eyes widened, “I must have walked right pass it while taking pictures.”

“What is it?”  He asked.  “Do you think it’s poisonous?”

“That’s the biggest snake I’ve ever seen.  It looks dangerous.”

We were in a jam.  It blocked our path back down to our car, we had cliffs on both sides and in the opposite direction the AT trail continued for another 6 miles to a gap, but we didn’t know if a town existed at that junction.  Besides, I knew we weren’t prepared for a longer trek and we didn’t see another single hiker on the trail.

“Does your book mention anything about snakes?” He asked.

I took the trail guide out of my pack and paged through.  “No, but it has phone numbers to the park service.  They’d know about snakes in the area.” I hoped.

We finally reached someone at the forest service and described the snake.  We couldn’t see it’s tail, but it looked like a rattle snake to me. I’ve never seen one that large during my hiking days in California, and I didn’t hear a rattle.  Its size resembled a python.

She told us to treat it as poisonous.  “Don’t point any sticks at it and don’t cross it’s path.  Gather small pebbles and rocks and throw them towards the snake.  Stomp your feet because they don’t like the vibration. You want it to retreat.  But don’t get aggressive.”

I walked in the opposite direction down the other side of the mountain and found some small rocks.  A few pebbles hit its head and the snake didn’t budge.  We discussed our options, should we try to find a way down and around the cliffs, climbing through scrub brush?  timber rattler

“It’s too dangerous, you risk falling off the cliff.” Hubby said, before walking off to gather some more rocks.  The moment he disappeared from the snakes view, it started to slowly turn away.

“It’s retreating.”  I whispered loudly.

We watched it slither off, lastly revealing a large rattle.  I shuttered and carefully walked down the rocks and then more hurriedly down the trail.  Believing we were safe, I stopped and breathed.

“That could have turned into a deadly situation.” I said, still freaked out by the encounter.

When we got home, I started researching Georgia snakes.  It was a Timber Rattlesnake described as a heavy bodied pit viper.  It is one of the most dangerous snakes on the east coast due to its long fangs, high venom and impressive size.  The females often bask in the sun before giving birth and they prefer not to strike, but will if threatened.  In fact, a man in this area recently died from its venomous bite.

At the end of the day I had a cocktail, embraced life and relaxed on our back patio.  I heard a large bang and my husband ran out.  “Bear out front.”

bearsThe bear had knocked over our garbage can and proudly walked down our empty street.  It too was large and beautiful.  We often found our bear-proofed trash can sideways, but this was the first time I’d seen one in the area. I smiled and welcomed a bear over a snake any day.

The next day we watched mama bear and her cubs lunching on our trash.  With four locks, I was shocked they opened it. Although I don’t think its a good idea for bears to eat human food, I certainly wasn’t going to stop her. She knew we were watching from the porch, along with a stray cat that adopted us.

After my wild life encounters the friendly cat scared the crap out of me the next morning with his warm greeting.  I really didn’t want strange creatures jumping at me before my morning coffee.  Maybe I was just a little sensitive.

 

 

North Georgia Mountains: Always an adventure

mt yonah“We know you want to blow up that deer in your garden.  But it’s not deer hunting season.” Announced a southern accented radio commercial.  I burst out laughing with images of Bambi exploding to pieces.  We had just landed in North Georgia Mountains and the commercial and car rental experience reflected our country location.  We’d reserved an Enterprise car rental, but it was not delivered.  Instead the lovely airport manager decided to rent his car to us for $300 for the week.  It would do with 160,000 miles, dirty floors, and a CD combo cassette player.

Spring was in full bloom.  Mountain-laurel blossoming pink flowers, lush green trees, bear tracks, geese meandering, and a red-tailed fox wandering around our house.  The fox looked like my dog, and for a moment I wondered if she was outside.  It was the same size with a cute button nose just sniffing grass in our yard.  It probably smelled our pet, since the sniff ratio is much higher in animals than humans. A trait I admired.  I was often in awe over my dog’s ability to smell something miles away, including unfamiliar wildlife and her favorite food, bacon.  While hiking she’d regularly become fixated on a patch of grass.  “It can’t smell that good,” I’d tease her.

On Saturday night we visited our favorite biker bar hangout, Mondays.  Walking in alone, I felt like an alien, all eyes on me while my husband parked.  Seats cleared, whispers flowed, girls gossiped.  Yes, I was an out-of-towner, but really. I confidently waved down the bartender.  “A white wine spritzer and Bud Lite please.”

She wore a number, not name on her badge. Number 197, and I called her such. “Hey number 197 can I get…” throughout the night.  She carded me, laughed with me and we hugged at the end of the night. I got a job offer starting at 4 p.m. the following day.  “You can make a ton of money here,” she said as I departed, declining her offer.

I recognized some of the same people from my last visit six months prior.  The tattooed girl who started a brawl last time, a bearded guy on her arm with his tongue down her throat.  Two girls flitting eyes toward me while whispering.

The following day, I noticed one of the eyeing gossipmongers working at a tourist shop.  “Hey you were at Monday’s.” I said. Followed by a smile and a cheerful, “Happy Mother’s day.”

“Yes I was there with my daughter.”  The one with the ponytail.”  She was cordial, her rosy face and shy smile reflecting embarrassment.  “Happy Mother’s day to you honey.  God bless.”

I got to hike and enjoy the town during our one week stay, but it was also a working vacation. Editing my novel, cleaning up our rental home for the season, and we bought a 1977 Cessna 150 to put in a flight school for profit. I would fly it back solo since hubby was flying the faster six-seater.  Yikes.  I had to learn the plane.  Nothing happens fast in the Northern Georgia mountains, especially commuting.  I only had about 45 minutes to familiarize myself with the two-seater. I felt overwhelmed and anxious about the long journey in an unfamiliar plane, named the Rita Rae from a past owner.

To my relief, a pilot friend offered his help getting the Cessna back to south Florida.
“You can’t fly that distance in a 150 alone. It takes all day, and you’ve never flown a 150.”

Whew.  I agreed.  I didn’t have the time to properly get to know the plane for a solo cross-country flight
Although I was up at the crack of dawn, we departed at 10:00 due to airport distance and pre-flight preparations.

704cx

  • Ipad with flight-aware for navigation and first destination loaded. Check.
  • Full tanks at 24 gallons. Check.
  • Test fuel for water contamination and drain a half cup of water in tank. Check
  •  Oil at six quarts.Check.
  •  Exterior normal and tires inflated. Check.
  • Radios frequencies and backup VOR frequencies written down. Check
  • Backup batteries, water and anything else I could throw in my purse. Check.
  • A healthy amount of adrenaline pumping through my heart. Check.

I rotated at 45 knots, staying in ground effect building to a 60 knot climb speed. Rita Rae seemed sturdy and powerful despite her size and simplicity.  My heart calmed as I settled at cruise altitude of 3,500, getting comfortable in the left seat with one hand on the yoke correcting for heading and altitude as needed.  Two and a half hours later we were in Alma, GA where my husband was waiting with our Piper Lance and a packed lunch.  The sandwiches he ordered was incorrect.  Not a problem for the guys, but I’m a vegetarian.

“It’s going to be a long day,” I sighed.  I was fine with peanut butter filled crackers.

After take-off for our next leg we realized we lost communication.  We could hear Air Traffic Control and other pilots, but they couldn’t hear us.  My co-pilot really came in handy at this moment.  I focused on flying the plane not allowing too much distraction, while he assessed the situation,  switching around all kinds of wires and frequencies.

“We need to find the nearest airport,” He said.

I put the lost comm code 7600 into the transponder “Let’s try to make Jacksonville.” I said while looking at our location on the GPS.  “JAX is only 80 miles.  There’s nothing out here, just small airports with no service.”

“I think I saw a handheld mic back here.” He fussed around behind his seat finally pulling out a small oblong mic, appearing ancient and tobacco stained.  He plugged it in and called Atlanta Center.”

“Loud and clear 704CX.”  It was music to my ears. Although we both remained calm during the 40 minutes since takeoff, not communicating with ATC for traffic advisories and flight following around active military restricted areas was a bit of a risk.

We had a brief fuel and bathroom stop along the space coast around 6:30. We were both tired and mentally drained, but we pushed on to our destination, Fort Lauderdale.  The sun set as bright lights shined from below. My eyes adjusted to the light change in the cockpit.  I had an emergency back up light on my lap for our final landing in Rita Rae.  It was 9:30 I was starving, exhausted, and desperately in need of a glass of wine.

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

 

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.

Unfamilar Creatures

helen mtsI was recently thrown into another adventure, and as always welcomed the challenge.  A friend of mine had financial issues with a property at a popular vacation destination in Helen, Georgia.  With her at the verge of a short sale, my husband and I advised her to take the chance furnishing the property and listing it as a Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO).  Being unfamiliar and non-computer literate she gave us a blank look.  After explaining the details we offered our help.  Having several properties listed on VRBO, my hubby decided to take charge, enlisting us as masters of the endeavour.  And we only had one week to get the place ready prior to Memorial Day, the beginning of “the season.”

The previous night we loaded up an open-air car trailer with her spare household goods. Wrapping the furniture in cellophane then strapping it down was not the ideal situation, but I went with the flow. Why couldn’t we just rent a U-Haul like normal people?  For the first 50 miles the furniture shifted and we had to pull over and check the stability.  I watched the cellophane getting torn up in the wind, whipping around in the rear-view mirror.   We could have easily blended into the set of the Beverly Hillbillies.  The bluegrass ballad played through my head as we began our journey out of Florida into the Georgia mountains.

Our thirteen hour drive was split between two days with a stopover at a friend’s house in Jacksonville.  Arriving in Helen the following day around 5:00 we almost lost the cargo within the last half mile as we climbed a 45 degree slope.  Two pre-arranged helpers greeted us.  They had their work cut out for them with three flights of stairs, as did I over the next few days.

Inside the house, the younger teenage mover, with blonde hair, sullen eyes and sweaty six-pack abs pointed to the back slider.  “Ma’am, have you seen one of these before.”

I inched closer to the door, examining the small spider on the other side of the glass.  “Well, I’ve seen spiders.”  I looked at the kid.  “It’s not a brown recluse, is it?”

“Yes Ma’am.”  He grabbed a large wood pole, slid outside and crushed the spider.  It didn’t go easily, spinning down its web like a mini Spider-Man meeting its end.

I shivered.  Several years ago, only twenty miles from our current location, my husband was admitted to the ER from what we believed to be a brown recluse spider bite.  He blew up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and little Target signs appeared all over his body.  I researched the spider extensively and I was very much aware of the damage the little critter could do.

Minutes later hubby was assembling the cable hookup as I was unpacking boxes of plates and cups.  I noticed a tiny scorpion scoot across the empty room.

“Honey, can you step on the scorpion?”  I calmly asked.

His eyes widened as I pointed to the creature.  After two attempts another danger was removed from the house.  I was more concerned that something would hurt my dog or husband as I was OK with nature but certainly not immune.  I try not to kill things, but a home should be safe.  If it’s outside, so be it, I’ll go inside.  Thoughts of my one other encounter with a scorpion crossed my mind.  I was excavating in the California desert as a field Archaeologist.  I left my backpack unzipped in the bush for most of the afternoon.  As luck had it when I went to retrieve something from my backpack I witnessed a black scorpion on my bag inching it way towards the opened zipper.  I kicked it off my pack and till this day I never leave anything unzipped in nature or in strange rooms.  A lesson learned.

Over the course of a few days I got buzzed by hefty wood bees sounding like helicopters.  I’d duck down as if I was in a war zone.  During one of these episodes my dog went into a frenzy as I hastily opened the back door for her safety, since she’s allergic to bees. During our walks she’d gingerly walk in the fallen leaves, until a leaf jumped back at her.  She kept sniffing as it repeatedly jumped. She was more sceptical to the change in environment than I was.

English: Male Luna Moth (Actias luna)

On one day, a moth the size and color of a small palm leaf hung out on the balcony all day.  I later learned it was an endangered Luna moth.  Living only for a week, its only purpose is to mate. Since it has no mouth, it can’t eat.  Next to this stunning creature sat a normal sized grey moth and I silently giggled at the thought of her reproducing with the normal unattractive one.  Hell if your endangered and only have a week, why not?

Most of our time involved tracking down used furniture and basic necessities for a large four bedroom house. Thrift stores, yard sales, Wal-Mart and Home Depot, all a good distance from Helen, were part of our repertoire.  At the end of the week everything came together beautifully with a charming mountain home complete with picturesque views and everything one could need for a mountain getaway.  As we drove back to Florida, we listed the house for our friend online.  And I had renewed view of nature and all its funny unusual forms.

My friend who owned the house asked, “Did you at least get some time to enjoy yourself?”

“Ah yes,” I beamed.  “I love mountain running and I experienced it every morning.”

My thighs and butt screamed, but I loved the challenge and my time with nature not freaking out about the creatures that somehow in my mind could attack my dog or partner.