Sunday, March 24, 2013

In the Pink?

March 23, 2013
Macon, Georgia--"Cherry Blossom Capital of the World"
Macon is throwing "The Pinkest Party on Earth," but the guests of honor are not cooperating.

The streets downtown are lined with Cherry Blossom Festival banners, the pavement is stenciled with bright pink cherry blossoms and pink center lines, the visitor center is stocked with pink souvenir tee shirts and cherry earrings, and the residents are in a festive spirit with pink wreaths on their doors and big poufy pink bows on their mailboxes. 

The only problem is that the 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees around town that are supposed to be in glorious bloom did not get the message. We drive the 20 mile Cherry Blossom Trail, and estimate that perhaps .1 percent of the trees are blooming, with just two days of the festival remaining.

Here are pictures of the best trees we could find--just about the only ones fully blooming:

The lack of cherry blossoms did not dampen the party spirit of this pair of revelers, though. 

The pretty pink poodle--complete with an impeccable bubblegum pink pedicure, and accessorized with pink bows on her ears and a silk butterfly barrette on her shoulder--is the pride and joy of this fellow and his wife, who run a local dog grooming business.  She remains pink pretty much all year round, he says.   

Aha--this explains all the wooden pink poodle cut-outs we saw on local lawns during our Cherry Blossom Trail drive.  We have just stumbled into a brush with celebrity.

Macon is only three hours drive from Savannah, and we can imagine how breath-takingly beautiful it would be here if the trees were actually in bloom.  Maybe next year.

Garden Grandeur and More

March 20-21, 2013
We are having so much fun with friends there is scarcely enough time to blog it.  Here are the highlights of our past two days in Pine Mountain and Warm Springs.  

Franklin Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia is only about 20 miles from Callaway Gardens.  The road snakes through the woods and along the mountain ridges of Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, named for the man who once owned all 9,049 acres of Georgia’s largest state park.  

Roosevelt first started visiting Warm Springs in 1924 to swim in the waters of the thermal spring fed pool there as therapy for his polio.  He enjoyed playing water games with the local kids and getting to know the friendly rural folk, and returned multiple times before deciding to build a modest cottage in the woods there in 1932, the year he first ran for President.   His interactions with his hard scrabble common working class neighbors in Warm Springs helped shape his New Deal policy ideas and priorities.

 We toured the Little White House and the museum next to it which covered the high points of his presidency, with special emphasis on his leg braces, custom designed wheel chairs and a crutch style he invented that is still used today.  There was very little attention paid to Eleanor--apparently she did not visit here often.    

Just down the hill from the Little White House is the pool where Roosevelt swam for therapy.  It is no longer used, but visitors can walk down a ramp to the pool bottom and dip their hands in a fountain of the 88 degree mineral water to get an idea of what it was like.  An iron lung and numerous other polio artifacts on exhibit at the pool house reminded us of the dramatic impact of Jonas Salk’s vaccine in our lifetimes. 

On the way back to Pine Mountain, we stopped at Dowdell’s Knob, an overlook in FDR State Park where Roosevelt liked to picnic on a table covered with fine table linens, using silver serving pieces and utensils.  This story from the historical marker there is at odds with the tale told by the docent back at the Little White House, who claims that Roosevelt’s Warm Springs silverware was all mismatched, and he liked it that way, because he wanted to be casual here.  Of great men are great myths made. . .

There is a fireplace on the overlook which has been cemented over “to preserve it” according to a sign there.  So it was destroyed to preserve it--go figure.

Great Horned Owl
Back at Callaway Gardens we caught the afternoon Raptor Show on Wednesday, and enjoyed it so much that we went to two more Raptor shows on Thursday.   At two of the three shows, a Great Horned Owl, a Barred Owl, a White-Headed Vulture and a Harris Hawk flew over and around us many times while the educator shared amazing facts about these birds.  Example:  A Great Horned Owl’s talons are four times as strong as the jaws of a German Shepherd, and it can fly off carrying prey that is twice his weight.

Harris Hawk

White-headed Vulture
 Dick got lots of practice doing flight shots, and I felt the air beneath the silent wing of the owl, and the feather tickle of the hawk’s wing edge touching my ear.  

At the one indoor raptor show we attended because it was too cold to sit outside there was less flying around, but more close-up views of the birds, we got to feel the wings and heads of taxidermed birds of prey. (Owl feathers are soft for silent night flight when they count on their ears to hear their prey, while hawk feathers are firmer with crisp edges--no need for silence when you can see what you are after.)

Thursday morning the temperatures were in the 40s, so a walk around the garden had little appeal, but the expansive indoor displays of the horticulture center were beautiful--an amazing variety of colorful orchids (is there ever an ugly orchid?), a long stone wall covered in a variety of colorful succulents, lots of whimsical topiary rabbits and chicks cavorting in the gardens, and many more lovely scenes presented in 72 degree comfort.  There was even a geocache hidden inside (one of at least 20 hidden all around the park).

 We came for the azaleas, and found them aplenty along the garden’s Azalea Trail which winds for 1.6 miles through over 100 varieties of native and introduced azaleas in every shade imaginable, from white to endless shades of pink, salmons and peaches, warm reds to deep shades of wine.   There were many different petal and bloom shapes and sizes, as well.  Studying the variations was fascinating, just wandering the paths and getting lost in the beauty was time sublime.


We have found yet another wonderful little piece of Georgia, full of opportunities for adventures, discoveries and quiet contemplation--and it is a really great place to hang out and have fun with friends.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On Safari? No Way!

Pine Mountain, Georgia
March 19, 2013
Today’s highlight is a visit to Wild Animal Safari right here in Pine Mountain.

Anticipated experience:  perhaps a warm-up for our Africa trip. 
Actual experience:  we struggle to protect our camera lenses from the slimy saliva of more species, domestic and domesticated, than we can count.

Here is how the Wild(?) Animal Safari works.  The very cheerful and helpful person at the ticket counter convinces us that we need to rent a safari vehicle from their fleet of beaten up old vans spray painted white with zebra stripes, their windows chopped out and replaced with bars--she explains that the management cannot be responsible for any damage to our vehicle from incidents like a longhorn denting our door panel.  The minute we drive through the gate and  are charged by a herd of animals with big horns sticking their heads into our vehicle in search of food, we are grateful for her wise counsel--even more grateful later  when a bunch of goat-like animals rise up on their hind legs and rest their big front hooves on our window frames, sticking their slender heads deep into the interior of the vehicle.

By now, you have guessed the other critical aspect to a quality safari experience--purchasing plenty of food for the wild(?) animals that we will encounter again and again along the serpentine road through the wildlife park.  We buy the safari package that includes four hefty bags of food pellets, so we can each have our own bag.  We spend $3 extra to rent a big van, so we can each have our own seat, with free access to both sides.  We think we are doing this to optimize photo opportunities, but within a few minutes of entering the gates, we realize the key advantage to each having our own wide seat is so that we can freely move away from the window when an animal with an especially long and slimy tongue is trying to squeeze his head between the bars in search of food.  

The park is an ugly expanse of Georgia red clay covered sparsely by mostly scrubby deciduous trees that haven’t leafed out yet, with a big red mud wallow lake in the middle.  The animals roaming freely around the property include lots of deer-like and goat-like domestic and exotic species, a bunch of deer that look just like the ones in our back yard, some moose and buffalo, burros, horses, and zebras.  The giraffes are in an enclosure close enough to the road to stretch their necks over the fence and stick their heads in the van.  The experience of driving through this menagerie handing out food is so absurd that we cannot stop laughing for more than a few minutes during the hour it takes us to traverse the course.  

But we do learn something from the experience.  Giraffes have the softest lips, and gentle purple tongues.  Zebras are way nore nippy than horses--dangerous to feed from the hand--and their breath is vile. The tongue of a buffalo is very long and exceedingly slimey.  The nose of a moose is smoother than you could imagine.  
Joyce says, “I’m so glad I brought my gloves.  Do you think I should wash them now or throw them away?”   The rest of us wash our hands very well immediately upon exiting from the van.  

a sad and skinny rhinoceros
Afterward we wander through the walk-through area--in other words, the zoo, where the animals that are too wild to run free are in cages.  It makes us sad to see the lions, tigers and ligers, baboons and hyenas (scary!) and all the other wild things behind bars. So we leave.  

After lunch we visit the butterfly house in Callaway Gardens, where the temperature is 81, the humidity is 85%, and 65 species of butterflies flutter about the flowers.  Some even land on us when we stand still in the sun.  The legs of a butterfly upon your cheek tickle, even if you are not one to be ticklish. 

Next we drive to the Callaway Chapel, built in 1961-62 as Cason Callaway’s memorial tribute to his mother.  He wanted the chapel to be non-denominational, so he commissioned the stained glass windows to celebrate nature.  The four side windows are inspired by the four seasons, and the glorious front and rear windows are inspired by deciduous and coniferous trees.  Joyce and I thought they were very much like artful quilts, and could be inspirations for our work some day.  We documented these windows well with cameras and I-Pad.  Joyce sent pictures to her friend who was married here.  (What a wonderful place for a wedding!)



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On the Road Again . . .

March 18, 2013
Savannah to Pine Mountain, Georgia

Hooray!  Two months of daily radiation treatments in the rearview mirror, we are no longer tethered to Savannah.  It’s time to celebrate with a road trip.  

Our destination is Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, where we are hoping that spring will have sprung in joyous bloom, and our friends Joyce and Fred will be awaiting us in a cabin in the woods stocked with lots of wine and snacks.
But first, a stop along the way at the Warner Robins Museum of Aviation, where Dick yearns to get up close and personal with some of his most admired aircraft.

He waxes eloquent on the SR-71 Blackbird, a plane that flies at three times the speed of sound 85,000 feet in the air, its “skin” reaching temperatures in the range of 1,200 degrees:  “Form follows function, and something made to fly like that has to be beautiful, like a bird.”  Unfortunately, although it is awesome to look it--up close, from above and below--we are disappointed that there is no way we can figure out to capture the Blackbird’s majesty photographically, given the way it is displayed in the crowded hangar.
I find my muse in the plane nose art (but manage to resist buying the book on nose art in the gift shop, displayed just like a Cosmopolitan magazine in the Publix checkout line--a piece of poster board covering the racy cover shot).

We arrive at our Callaway Gardens cottage in the woods just in time for cocktail hour on the porch, thunder rolling in, then rain plashing with increasing intensity, until we hit the ultimate moment of drama--a power failure plunging us into dusky darkness.  An hour later, now in deep moonless darkness, we give up on waiting for the lights, and find our way to dinner at a place that still has power. All the lights are blazing in our cottage upon our return, allowing us to cap off the evening with a few rounds of Rummikub.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Anniston: Our Doorway to the World

March 2, 2013
Anniston, Alabama
Our African Safari Meet and Greet isn’t until 2 this afternoon, so we have some time to kill, and Dick has found the perfect diversion--a visit to the Berman Museum of World History, just a couple miles down the road.  The Museum houses an extensive and eclectic melange of stuff that Colonel Farley Berman and his wife Germaine picked up over several decades of world travel and intensive collecting in their areas of special interest. 
If you depended on this museum as your primary source of World History information, you would come to the conclusion that weapons, especially guns, are the focal element around which history unfolds, and the American West is the apex of historic development.  Come to think of it, he may be onto something there.
One of many Remington bronzes on display
Among the hundreds and hundreds of guns on exhibit, my favorites were the ones that you would think only existed in James Bond movies and old Get Smart episodes--one in a flute that really plays, and shoots a 22 caliber bullet when you hit one particular note; single shot guns in a match box and in a throat lozenge tin (complete with a foil pack of lozenges for camouflage on top of the gun); a gear shift knob gun used by members of the French Underground posing as taxi drivers; and one in a tobacco pipe with this label--“If one is not carful with this pipe--well, keep in mind the old saying about shooting your mouth off.”  (There were lots more, too--pens, belt buckles, a screw driver, a tire gauge . . .)

 The most awesome weaponry, though, was a Royal Persian Scimitar paid as tribute to Catherine the Great when she ruled Russia in the late 1700s.  It is encrusted with jewels embedded in three pounds of gold--1295 diamonds, 31 rubies totaling over 50 carats, and a ten carat emerald on the hilt.  How did Colonel Berman ever get his hands on this?

There are lots of other things that we wonder how he ever managed to acquire for his collection:  the coronation crown, orb and scepter of a Czech king crowned in 1346, at least ten large Chinese ceramic vessels in perfect condition dating back to the Han Dynasty (making them about 2000 years old), and Adolph Hitler’s monogrammed silver service, to name just a few.
Later we found an article about the Colonel and his museum from the Emery alumni magazine.  The article said experts had estimated the worth of the collection at over $100 million. The pieces on display here today are just a fraction of the works the Bermans amassed.  (We wondered where they got the money and time to travel the world collecting--the Colonel's family owned a department store in Anniston, and he was an attorney and real estate developer.)  

Given the obvious value of the items being exhibited, I couldn’t get over the lack of security--after we walked past the ticket seller at the front desk, we never saw another museum employee, and when we left, there was no sign even of anyone at the front desk.   

Antique puppets, from a collection of well over 100
Then there were the lady bugs in a bunch of the exhibit cases.  Dead ones on the bottom of the cases, and live ones crawling on the artifacts inside.  Lady bugs usually are a symbol of good luck--but not in this case.
We could go on and on about this odd little Museum, but let's just close with the recipe the museun offers for Buffalo Bill Cody’s favorite drink, the Stone Fence: add a shot of rye to a glass of cider and garnish with a lemon twist.

 After a quick lunch it was time to meet our future safari mates at Larry Martin’s Wren’s Nest Gallery.  We were impressed with the organization, thorough preparation, and unbridled enthusiasm of our tour leaders, Larry and Crystal, and we enjoyed meeting our fellow travelers, including some who have been on safari with Larry before and can't wait to travel with him again.  It was a long drive to Anniston just to attend this meeting, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.  And so the excitement builds . . . .
 We are not the only ones excited now--the whole town of Anniston is in a tizzy, because we are experiencing "snow flurries."  The snow is very fine, barely visible in the air, and showing no signs of accumulating on the ground.  It wouldn't even be worthy of notice above the Mason Dixon Line, but we hear that the grocery stores hereabouts have sold out of milk and bread, as folks prepare to be snowed in.  We can't imaginie it will keep anyone from getting to church tomorrow.

Friday, March 1, 2013

March 1, 2013
The Victoria
Anniston, Alabama
Elections in Kenya are next week, with murderous rampages expected to follow, if the past is any predictor of the future.  Meanwhile, here we are in Anniston to meet with our fellow travelers to Kenya in May, should luck be with us and the political situation stabilize enough for us to feel safe on safari by then.

It is Friday night, and there are only 18 people dining at The Victoria Inn, which offers one of the finest dining experiences to be had anywhere in Alabama.  Tonight is no exception--beginning with our fois gras and buttered pear appetizer, which we remember fondly passionately from our last visit here, back in November.  Our waiter tells us that fois gras is rarely on the menu--they only have it tonight because regulars at another table asked Chef Alan Martin to prepare it for their visit this evening, and he of course obliged.  Last time we were here, we were the only diners, and Alan came out to talk food with us between courses--the fois gras we had then was extra from an order for a very fancy party he catered.  We wondered why someone so talented would choose to practice his art here, and he told us that he grew up in Anniston, and after working in fine dining restaurants in larger markets he was happy to have the opportunity to return to his home town to open his own restaurant and be near his aging mother.
We got to know Jimmy the bartender pretty well during our last visit, too, since we were the only people patronizing the bar that night. This time, I was the only one at the bar again, and he gave me the most generous pour ever, almost overflowing my glass, figuring the bottle didn’t have enough left for two glasses, then he told me to drink it down a bit and he would top me off, since there was still some left.  While I was making room in the glass for more wine, he told me how he ended up in Anniston:  “After three divorces, if I moved again it would have to be someplace where I was sure there was a woman there who loved me. My mama lives here.”
To Alan's and Jimmy's mamas we extend our very sincere thanks.