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Posts Tagged ‘Chattahoochee River’

Today I registered the boys and I for Paddle Georgia 2014, the 10th anniversary trip for the Georgia River Network and the fourth consecutive year of participation for the boys and me. This year’s trip will pass within a couple hundred yards of our house on its run down the Chattahoochee River from Buford Dam to Franklin, GA.

7 days, 115 miles, 1 great time.

There’ll be plenty to say about the trip later, but for now I’ll take the opportunity to post a poem about our 2012 trip down the Altamaha written by my older son, Will, last year in 5th grade:

Altamaha

The little Amazon

Egret flies,

its great wings spread,

covered in feathers,

from wing to head.

Spanish Moss hangs,

swaying in the wind,

Covering the trees,

almost pinned.

Current flows,

gentle and slow,

leaves float,

to receive water’s tow.

Drift wood sits,

on the bank all tangled,

  lying untouched,

scarcely handled.

Bluffs tower,

cliffs old,

and weathered,

towering high,

too tall to be measured.

Mussels lay,

 on the river floor,

abandoned shells,

washed ashore.

—Will Meyer

Image

The boys and I and the Meyer family canoe (over 1000 river miles now) on the Altamaha, June 2012

We’ll be back in river mode soon enough.

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In his recent blog post titled Near is the New Far, author Richard Louv writes about the importance of “nearby nature” and wonders if rising gas prices might force us to stay closer to home as we chase our next outdoor fix—and if doing so might lead us to live in more rewarding urban environments: “If we stick around long enough, we might even protect what’s left, reclaim poorly used land, and create new habitat.”

I have to admit that expensive gas has put a damper on my getting outside with Will and Andrew since we returned from our summer odyssey.  I could justify the expense when it came to driving cross-country for an extended trip, but I’m not as enthusiastic about the outlay for a casual weekend, much less a day trip—driving three to four hours round-trip to take them day hiking in the mountains just isn’t as attractive when $40 of gas is involved.  For that matter, my kayaking has taken a big hit this year, too.  Metro Atlanta’s sprawl has never felt like so much of a prison as it does right now.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the city were a nicer place to play?

But as much as I’d like Louv’s vision to play out, I admit my gut response to his call to stay closer to home is not a positive one.  Perhaps a young adulthood spent pursuing wilderness experiences has spoiled me, but it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic about these degraded places. When I take my boys down to the admittedly scenic Chattahoochee River, I have a hard time ignoring the old tennis balls and discarded styrofoam cups that float by (much less the posted e-coli warnings). When we visit the little patch of woodland left in my neighborhood, all my eyes seem to see is the invasive Chinese Privet and English Ivy that has overtaken the place.  I know this attitude is counterproduitive, but I’ve been unable to help myself.

In this respect, I seem to have been infected by the dualistic view of nature that William Cronon rails against in his essay “The Trouble with Wilderness”: “Idealizing a distant wilderness too often means not idealizing the environment in which we live, the landscape that for better or for worse we call our home.” Doesn’t this societal mindset just lead to home’s continuing degradation?

Well, it’s said that the first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.  Now that our summer swelter has finally abated, I’m commited to giving nearby nature a second chance, so this will be the first in a series of posts over the next few months as the boys and I explore our nearby faraway.

Last weekend, I took Will and Andrew to Boat Rock Preserve, a popular urban bouldering area preserved and managed by the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, a destination only 15 minutes from home.  This being our second visit, Will was so fired up that he took a Sharpie to a t-shirt he made at camp last summer and wrote “Boat Rock” on the back for the occasion.

We spent a good two hours exploring the area, clambering over and under and between all the boulders.  The boys could have stayed longer, but I was mentally worn out by that point, as the boys kept finding formations that might have an easy walk-up on one side and a nasty drop on the other.  This is not the sort of place where I could take a book and kick back while the boys run wild.

The good: It’s relatively close by, and the rock formations are definitely something to behold, with plenty of cool nooks and crannies to explore.  The woods in and around the boulders are a scenic oak/hickory climax community and have not been overrun with invasives, so it’s a pleasant little piece of forest.  And I don’t think we’ve seen it all; for all the climbers’ cars in the little parking lot, we didn’t see many people, so there must be more to the area.  Kudos to the SCC for saving this area from the bulldozers.

Will does laps up the crack on this little slab.

Will in particular loves climbing, though there aren’t many easy routes on these egg-shaped boulders.  Next time, I may bring my own rock shoes and clamber around a bit, too.  I’m nowhere near my fighting weight, and bouldering has always seemed to me like a good way to break an ankle, but I do miss climbing.

Happy for the chance to wear his rock shoes again.

Poor Andrew can’t really climb yet, his toes still slowly healing, but he enjoyed exploring all the boulders nonetheless.

The bad: Boat Rock is not in the best part of town.  The area is gentrifying (hence the development pressures that nearly doomed it), but it was nonetheless hard not to think about my car back on the roadside; evidently break-ins have been a problem here.  Traffic noise is very noticable.  And while climbers have done a pretty good job of cleaning the area up, there’s still a good bit of trash at the margins (like a mysterious pile of old athletic socks along the trail to the pond).

The ugly (or at least creepy): Our turn-around point was the little lake tucked back in the woods where , according to local legend, Atlanta police found the submerged bodies of six children back in the eighties, supposed victims of the “Marietta Mangler.”  Creepy.  While we sat on a big rock at the water’s edge and snacked, a guy drove his ramshackle van drove down the dirt road on the far shore, got out, and started fishing.  Given that he was dropping his catch into an empty five-gallon paint bucket, I’m pretty sure he was fishing for subsistence, not sport.  My spidey-sense was telling me I didn’t want to know what else he had in his van.  About that time, Will gushed “This would be a great place to camp.”  Ummm, no. I just told him it was against the rules.

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The trip is over, the gear is packed away, Will and I head back to school in short order.  Is this the end of the road for Postcards from the Outback?  I don’t think so.  After returning home, I got to reading A Natural Sense of Wonder, by Rick Van Noy, another father’s account of trying to get his kids outside, and I realize I have (or will have as the boys get bigger) some of the same sorts of stories to tell.  (I’ve also come across and am inspired by Van Noy’s blog.) Our narratives shape our culture, and so if we are going to reverse in any way our kids’ wholesale retreat into artificial (and virtual) environments, then I think it’s important that these stories get shared.  I don’t presume to do it particularly well or have any radical new ground to cover; I’m just adding my voice to the chorus.

Moreover, I have some questions to ask of my profession.  In my darker moments, I wonder why I teach my students the distinction between a tercet and a quatrain when they know nothing about tanagers and cardinals.  Which kind of learning is more likely to help develop them into the kind of adults that will make our planet a more livable place?  And the narratives that might help us at this point in our history, why are they not a part of the canon we typically share in school?  In the early years of this new and uncertain century, what does it mean to be educated any more?  Should young people be more familiar with Chaucer and Harper Lee than Rachel Carson or Aldo Leopold?

For myself, I often think about the fact that I live a collection of half-lives–husband and father, teacher and coach, wannabe mountain man–rather than one whole.  Some wise-ass (like my good friend Chris) will inevitably point out that my math doesn’t work here, but go with the metaphor.  The times when I can get these worlds to overlap, these are by far my happier and healthier moments.  Can this virtual world help refocus my real-world vision? (Or maybe spending more time at the computer is moving in exactly the wrong direction.)

Anyway, that’s the idea.  Who knows.  Follow-through isn’t always my specialty.  When I look back through the naturalist journals I started keeping in 1999, I come across a number of embarrassing pledges to myself to journal more often followed by gaps up to a year in length before the next entry.  Then again, I have filled two of these journals . . . if my progress has to be measured in geologic time, then I’m comfortable with that.

By the way, after dropping Will off at a day camp he’s attending this week, I carried (literally) Andrew down to the Chattahoochee this morning, plopped his butt on a sand bar for a while, and spent a nice thirty minutes with him before the day heated up too much.  At one point I pointed out a resting butterfly, and he said “I wish we had your butterfly book so we could look up what kind it is.”   Our summer adventure has left its mark.

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