Posted in Countdown to Christmas

12/8/21 Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks

For this blog category, “Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks,” each day between December 1 and 25, I take a pic of a state park ornament on our Travel Tree and briefly highlight that park.

“Fort Mountain State Park sits at the southwestern end of the Cohutta Mountains near the Cohutta Wilderness in northwest Georgia. Sitting at 2,850 feet above sea level, Fort Mountain is a great destination for hiking and history lessons alike. The area in and around the park was home to the Cherokee Indians for hundreds of years, and their legacy is still felt throughout North Georgia today.” (Park website)

This was one of the more beautiful parks we have visited in Georgia, or anywhere.

Soon after we arrived, we hiked over to the Cool Springs Overlook.

Later on, a cool little family told us about the unique Blue-Ghost Fireflies, which live in mature woodlands with high canopies, especially around mountain laurel and rhododendrons. They said to go back up to Cool Springs Overlook about dusk because Fort Mountain was one of the few places in southern Appalachia to find them. “But you have to look carefully; sometimes they show—sometimes they don’t!” Never ones to turn down an adventure, we headed back up to the overlook a little before dark …

After about thirty minutes, Robert started getting a little antsy about being out in the woods after dark. (He had probably seen Deliverance years back.) But I really wanted to see the bluish lightning bugs. Also I had wanted to bring a glass Mason‘s fruit jar to put a couple of them in. But it’s 2021.

Looking all around, scanning every inch of the darkening sky, I became more and more desperate to see a firefly. “Robert! Look, LOOK!” I finally screamed, pointing, so excited.

“Neal, that’s the moon. And please stop yelling.”

We really did see the fireflies when it got completely dark. But it was too dark to photograph them. Google Blue-Ghost Fireflies. They’re fascinating.


Now, listen to this: there’s a HIDDEN HEART at Fort Mountain! Really.

It seems that during the Great depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a fire tower at the very top of Fort Mountain.

Well, one young stone worker named Arnold Bailey missed his love back on the homefront so much that he carved out and sneaked in a heart-shaped stone and placed it smack dab above a prominent window.

And if that story isn’t cool enough, listen to this: Arnold and Margaret were married 59 years until Arnold died. He died from kidney stones.

Okay, TIB (Truth in Blogging): I made up his cause of death. I couldn’t find out ANYTHING about how Arnold passed away, and it seemed just so boring to end the story with “… Arnold died.” Kidney stones seemed to fit the rock theme. Sorry. I know how important it is for bloggers, like politicians, to always tell the truth.

I asked Robert if one day he would do something for me, long lasting and commemorative, like Arnold had done for Margaret. He just stared at me with no expression. But I can read Robert’s expressions, even the blank ones. This particular one said emphatically, “Just putting up with you is a heart-shaped, rocky monument.”

We loved this park. We ate it up.

Posted in Countdown to Christmas

12/7/21 Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree and Georgia State Parks

For this blog category, “Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks,” each day between December 1 and 25, I take a pic of a state park ornament on our Travel Tree and briefly highlight that park.

We stopped by Reed Bingham, just north of Valdosta, on our way back home from a trip to west Georgia. Named after the man responsible for securing the land to establish the park, it is a feast for nature lovers, with hiking trails meandering down sandy paths and through seemingly never ending waves of saw palmetto and wire grass, all underneath my beloved, scattered Longleaf.

We actually saw a gopher tortoise, but he scooted down his hole before we could take a picture.

Quiet and peaceful.

Posted in Countdown to Christmas

12/6/21 Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks

For this blog category, “Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks,” each day between December 1 and 25, I take a pic of a state park ornament on our Travel Tree and briefly highlight that park.

Our first pandemic Georgia State Park trip, back in March of 2020, was a simple weekday excursion an hour and a half up the road to Magnolia Springs State Park near Millen. We reasoned that few people would be around during the week, and we were right. We had the park almost to ourselves.

We liked the park (and getting out of the house) so much that this short venture started our recurring overnight pattern of heading to a park on Monday, renting a cabin and returning before the weekend crowd arrived.

TIB (Truth in Blogging): Today’s countdown post is sorta long, so you might want to grab a snack and change into comfortable shoes. I’m incorporating three Magnolia Springs trips into one post.

The park website: “Beautiful Magnolia Springs State Park is known for its crystal clear springs flowing 7,000,000 gallons per day, and a boardwalk spans the cool water, allowing visitors to look for alligators, turtles and other wildlife near the springs.”

“Yeah, right, they’re just saying that about the big bad alligators,” I thought haughtily, standing in the sun by the springs, staring out at the water, daydreaming about our upcoming picnic lunch and my special sandwich.

Oh. My. Goodness …

Jeff Bezos couldn’t pay me enough to fish, feed or approach.

The Longleaf Pine’s distinctive orangish, peely bark.

As I I have mentioned before, Robert and I love the Longleaf Pine, which excessive logging has cut to the brink of extinction, but is now making a bit of a comeback. Magnolia Springs has quite a number of majestic, mature specimens. (And so unlike with the alligators, I am simply not afraid of the Longleaf.)

I LOVE hiking through a forest replete with the beauty and aroma of Longleaf Pine.

The Longleaf pine cones are huge.

Oh, here’s my new walking stick. I MEAN HIKING STICK!

Our cabin (and the goings-on inside and out) at Magnolia Springs. Come on in.

And looky here, it’s me leading a little impromptu (and free!) “Everyone is Welcome—Morning Yoga and Mental Cleanse Workshop.”

Even Robert didn’t show. He chose (non-supportingly) to sleep in.

But here he is, gay-ly, pridefully starting a fire.

I need to end this post, don’t I? It’s getting out of hand.

We really do love our nearby Magnolia Springs State Park.

Well, most of it.

Posted in Countdown to Christmas

12/5/21 Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks

For this blog category, “Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks,” each day between December 1 and 25, I take a pic of a state park ornament on our Travel Tree and briefly highlight that park

Located in northeast Georgia near Elberton, Richard B. Russell State Park borders 26,650 acre Lake Russell.

Lake Russell served as the practice site for rowing during the 1996 Summer Olympics.

A meandering lakeside nature trail leads to one of Georgia’s oldest steel pin bridges. Come on, I’ll show you.

One thing that gets on my last nerve about Robert is that when we are on our daily walks, he will often stop to take yet another picture and forget (?) to tell me that he has stopped. He thinks I should “pay more attention” (uh huh, right) and notice! Isn’t that foolish? As I am often in a blissful world of my own, I continue walking until either A: I hear him yelling somewhere behind me in the distance, “Neal, where ARE you going?” (like it’s odd that I’m actually walking on my walk) or B: I forget that he is with me and have a jolly solo saunter.

I can’t remember when or where we found each other after the above separation at Richard B. Russell. But I do remember what a cool state park it is.

However …

I hear a few of you asking, “Who the heck is/was Richard B. Russell? Well, the story darkens considerably with that question. But it needs to be asked and answered.

Russell served as Georgia’s 66th governor, followed by nearly forty years in the U.S. Senate. He was also “a founder and leader of the conservative coalition that that dominated Congress from 1937 to 1963. He was for decades a leader of Southern opposition to the civil rights movement.” [Wikipedia]

Oh gosh.

Several questions come to me:

* Why does this juxtaposition frustrate me so very much: that I can have such a fun time at this beautiful state park and then be bamboozled by the racist legacy of its name?

* Should Robert and I even hang this named ornament on our Travel Tree?

* Is it possible to love the park yet find its name both negative and problematic?

* How/why on earth do difficult issues of race, equity and historical documentation find their way even onto our Travel Tree?

Such hanging questions.

Posted in Countdown to Christmas

12/4/21 Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks

For this blog category, “Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks,” each day between December 1 and 25, I take a pic of a state park ornament on our Travel Tree and briefly highlight that park.

On this fourth day of the countdown, we take a quick look at F.D. Roosevelt State Park. It’s Georgia’s largest state park with 9,049 acres and more than 40 miles of trails. (That made me tired just thinking about it.)

The park’s website explains that “in 1924, FDR came to this part of Georgia to swim in naturally warm springs that offered relief from polio.”

Quite a few of the buildings were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, including the little cottage where Robert and I stayed …

What’s wrong with us?! Who brings cut flowers to a rustic cabin?

What a gorgeous spot in our Peach State.

I experienced abject terror only one time, when we came across Bigfoot lurking near our cabin—although at first I didn’t see him.

After the Bigfoot fiasco, Robert being all state park lovey-dovey …

While FDR was our home base, we also ventured over to nearby Callaway Gardens. We really love the peace of the little Ida Cason Memorial Chapel.

And the garden’s azaleas …

And the butterfly house …

State parks! They allow you to fly away to another world.

Posted in Countdown to Christmas

12/3/21 Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks

For this blog category, “Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks,” each day between December 1 and 25, I take a pic of a state park ornament on our Travel Tree and briefly highlight that park.

High Falls State Park is a naturally beautiful oasis along the Towaliga River just off I-75 between Macon and Atlanta, near Jackson, Georgia.

The water was a bit muddy the day we visited. (But then again, I’m a bit muddy some days as well.)

Here’s a one-minute “meditation” (we’ll call it). Close your eyes and listen to the cleansing sounds of nature …

Moving Peace.

At one point I paused by the water and chatted with … an animal. It looked like a camel. I think it was a camel.

See? Don’t you agree?

It never answered back. And Robert would have no part of it.

High Falls was just a short stopover on our way home from Atlanta, so we want to go back for a longer trek one of these days.

(I hope the camel will still be there. Robert assured me, with a bit of an attitude, that it “wood” still be there.)

Posted in Countdown to Christmas

12/1/21 — Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks

Well before the pandemic, Robert and I had started exploring our state’s 48 State Parks and 16 Historic Sites. Georgia has an absolutely dizzying array of parks, from the North Georgia mountains, to the piedmont, on down to the coastal plain, where we live in Savannah.

After months waiting out the pandemic, and coming down with severe house-stir-craziness, we decided to venture out again … experimentally.

What a glorious time we had, getting reacquainted with or being introduced to our state’s natural splendors.

We would reserve a cabin for a Monday and stay several days before the weekend traffic arrived.

Oh, btw, here’s our nerdy state park magnet board …

Now that December is here, and we are on our Countdown to Christmas, Robert and I have put up our Travel Tree. What’s a Travel Tree, you ask? It’s a Christmas tree, with each ornament from one of our travels over the years.

For this new blog category, “Countdown to Christmas: Our Travel Tree & Georgia State Parks,” I plan to briefly highlight one aspect of a different Georgia State Park each day till the Big Day.

Starting with one of our favorite, Tugaloo State Park, way up in Northeast Georgia near Lavinia.

Perhaps our greatest joy about this park was our very own private dock down the hill from our cabin. The dock extended out onto beautiful Lake Hartwell on the South Carolina border.

And here’s an absolutely pitiful pic (thankfully dark) of me shivering in the morning cold with my coffee.

And here’s one of Robert, inexplicably taking a picture of my coffee.

State Park Happiness!

Joyful First Day of Countdown to You!

Posted in Robert and …

“Robert and …” #5

A blog category of pics I’ve taken of Hubby Robert and … well, just about anything.

Robert and the Longleaf

Ever since we read Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and watched the beautiful documentary Secrets of the Longleaf, Robert and I have been obsessed with the majestic Longleaf Pine Tree.

The Longleaf Pine once reigned supreme, covering over 90 million acres across the coastal plain of the U.S. Now, because of logging and mismanagement, only several million acres are left.

Robert and I have been fortunate to see the stately pine and reintroduction efforts in our Georgia State Part travels.

Here’s Robert … talking to a Longleaf, while others in the background lean in to listen …

And here he is … massaging the tree …

(I try not to judge. Just document.)

Posted in In Our Own Backyard

September Oaks Revisited


Last Saturday I revisited September Oaks Vineyards— a small but incredibly beautiful boutique winery in Ridgeland, SC.  On my first trip to SOV about a year ago, I fell in love with the place–as well as the fun and friendly folks who work there, especially Nikki Davis …


… a kindred spirit, who at the time of my first trip (and the above pic) worked part-time at September Oaks and taught high school English in Ridgeland.  Thus, we hit it off as fellow English teachers right from the start.  Nikki has since become a faithful blog follower and happiness promoter.

For this second visit, good friends Robert and Edward (such strong, classical names–who names their child “Neal”?  And with an “a”?) accompanied me along lazy U.S. 17 on the forty-five minute trip from Savannah.

The entrance to September Oaks is as beautiful as the place itself.


So I motored down the old oak-lined entryway and parked Skedaddler.  (My little car’s name.  What?  You don’t name your vehicles?  Well, why not?  And, what?  You think “motored” sounds a little silly and pretentious?  Well, I would too under normal circumstances, but those ancient oaks and the incredible fall weather made me want to talk British-fancy.)


A special event was going on that day:  A Novel Wine Tasting & Literary Festival, featuring readings and book signings from over two dozen authors.  Such fun!  (More about that later … with a Princess Diana twist.)


So we sauntered (there I go again) into the tasting room, paused just inside the door because the place was booming with folks at the counter, and glanced around.  But not for long–because suddenly I heard a hooting and hollering, and saw Nikki rushing toward me and giving me a big hug, as if I were, oh I don’t know, a World Famous Blogger or something!  It was so cool to see her again.


We waited our turn for the tasting and then belly-ed up to the beautiful new counter …


… which is made from crushed wine bottles poured in layers to give the appearance of a flowing river amid vineyards.  WHO thinks to do creative stuff like that?!  When I think of crushed bottles, I always remember the time as a kid when I stepped on a broken Coke bottle and had to have a terribly painful and tear-producing tetanus shot.  And let’s be honest, nobody wants to see THAT scene worked into a wine tasting counter!

Anyway, we met our pourer Annette (delightful), who led us through three whites and three reds, from dry to sweet.  We were asked to score each wine on a scale of 1-5 points.  And I probably don’t need to tell you, but wine has alcohol in it!  Edward and Robert were SO much better at the taste scoring than I.  Really.  They swirled the wine around, smelled it deeply, commented on its color, and even had exaggerated expressions on their faces after each tasting which somehow seemed to register their definite approval or casual dismissal.  They even made comments such as, “Oh yes, I would serve this one with fruit and chocolate” or “This white would pair perfectly with fresh, local seafood.”  Me?  What was I doing?  Well, before I answer, look at the picture below.  Although the photo is a bit dark, here I am with Edward and Robert.


My biggest concern during our tasting was not wine aroma or pairing possibilities … but that woman in the right edge of the picture.  See her?  You can’t tell from the pic, but she’s really close (too close in my opinion) to the two heavenly smelling featured dishes at the tasting–southern seafood gumbo, and shrimp and grits–and she’s actually somewhat blocking my path to the food.  All through the tasting I kept glancing over my shoulder and worrying about how I could get past her.

Here’s a lighter picture of Robert and Edward.  I took it mainly to get a better perspective on how to get past that lady.


I did it!


Here’s Nikki with Evie Woods, wife of September Oaks owner Grady Woods:


And here I am with Evie:


And here’s Evie between two wine bottles:


And here’s Evie eating gumbo:


And here’s Evie feeding me gumbo:


After the wine (and food) tasting, Annette asked if we would like a tour of their new barrel room.  Well, who’s gonna turn that down?


On your visit (and of course you’re going to visit soon), look closely and you’ll see my shadowy spirit protectively overseeing the oak barrels.


Oh my gosh.  Look what showed up next in the warehouse area:


A set of drums!  So of course I had to play a while.


It would have been so much more enjoyable for myself and the others if I knew how to play drums.  Oh well, we moved on to the big steel barrels.


Next, we ventured outside to the vineyard and the literary reading.


Here’s Jack and Robin Firestone, authors of Chasing Diana.  The Firestones were in Paris on the night of Diana’s fatal car crash sixteen years ago … and were in the tunnel … and saw the wreck!  Chasing Diana is their fascinating story.  Here they are reading excerpts from the book.


And here I am harassing them.


Evie and Grady, SOV’s gracious owners and hosts.


What a joyful Saturday afternoon.  I hereby declare September Oaks to be the Official Winery of!

A special thanks to Robert Smith for taking most of the pictures in this post.

Read the blog post about my first visit here:  SOV 1.