Monday, June 22, 2009

Into The Quiet

June 22, 2009
Poinset State Park
Wedgefield, SC

It's been a quiet week here at Poinset State Park. There is a peacefulness to this place that is very rejuvenating.

We left Savanna, GA early last Monday morning and headed North on I-95. Along the way were the usual stops for food, supplies and gas. At S.R. 261 in SC we headed West towards the park. It was nice to finally get away from Interstate routes. How many McDonalds, KFC, South Of The Border and motel billboards can one see without going totally brain dead? Along 261 we passed through farms, forests and the small towns of Paxville (pop. 248) and Pinewood (pop. 459). While waiting at the only stoplight in Pinewood, we read that the local gas-mart offered liver pudding, butt meat and souse - not items you come across everyday. For those not familiar with rural Southern cuisines, souse is a headcheese sausage made from the meats of heads and feet; usually pork. I asked Deb if she would like to sample some of the local fare, but she passed. It's an acquired taste.

Poinset State Park is about as far from everything as one can find. It is bordered by both the Manchester State Forest and a large U.S.A.F. gunnery range. Even after turning off of 261 there is an almost two mile drive to the park entrance. The nearest convenience store is almost ten miles away. That kind solitude may seem inconvenient for many people, but what a beautifully quiet atmosphere it provides.

The park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corp. during the years 1937-38. Covering 1000 acres, it has a unique ecosystem that blends elements of both the upstate and coastal regions. We spent one morning hiking a 1.7 mile trail around the lake that was downright rugged at points. For this part of the country, the trails have a very high mountain feel to them. The campsites are clean and level, the staff friendly and the facilities spotless. The best part is the cost. An eight night stay, including 30 amp. electrical hookup and water, is only $113.00.

The only noises we did hear were weekday practice maneuvers of a fighter jet squadron over the gunnery range. At times they flew low enough to shake the ground. But they reminded me of thoughts I had while in Savanna. During the weekend mornings there we heard the sounds of mortor explosions from the National Guard Training Center. My first thought in both places was a reminder of the awesome powers of our armed forces. Then another thought arose. Unfortunately in too many places today around the world, and for too many people, these sounds are a routine occurrence - but it's not practice. Perhaps this was precipitated by the fact that my nephew's Army unit is scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan in August. Let us hope that all of our troops can return safely as soon as possible.

Update you later on our travels from somewhere down the road.

Photgraphs by Debbie
copyright 2009 Lane A Geyer

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Crossing The Border

Skidaway Island State Park

June 14, 2009

Skidaway Island State Park

Savanna, GA

We arrived here on June 8th after a smooth trip going East on I-10, then North on I-95. The only problem arose on a twenty mile stretch N. of Brunswick, GA. Heavy construction in both directions with narrowed lanes and too many concrete barriers too close to the road. In a 35 ft. motor home that can be tricky driving. Every large passing truck creates a wind draft that makes the unit drift to the right. Thankfully, we made it through without scraping a barrier.

Crossing the border out of Florida was a major turning point. It was a symbolic passage into a new life; which can leave your mind in a twist. We no longer have a fixed space of residence, but a mobile one. It takes the mind a little time to adjust to that change in thinking about residency. We saw it when we would tell people of our plans to live full-time in an RV. They would become silent and turn their eyes slightly upward as they thought about it. Usually we would get responses like, "Oh, so you'll be back after the Summer?" or "Where will you really live?". They just couldn't grasp the concept of no fixed place. This, unfortunately, was not helped by the resort owner who, for his own professional face-saving motive, floated disinformation that we were only taking a sabbatical and would return in a few months. We made sure that tidbit of false information floated about as long as a cast-iron turd.

Skidaway Island State Park is beautiful and very nature oriented. Located on a barrier island of the same name, it is ecologically a delta area where fresh waters combine with tides from the Atlantic creating nutrient-rich tidal marshes and estuaries. The woodlands are thick with oaks, maples and pines accented by cabbage palms and Spanish moss. The bird population is extremely diverse. We were fortunate to spot a Painted Bunting during one of our hikes. Another nice touch to the surroundings has been a mature doe who has casually walked by our site on several early mornings.

To say the procedures here are laid-back would be an understatement. At check-in you simply drive around and pick a site that isn't already occupied. If you arrive after the office is closed you can still stay and pay the next day. Instead of a ranger on weekdays at the front entrance, there is a sign stating that the $5.00 vehicle fee can be left in the collection boxes at the parking areas. But it's that kind of atmosphere that makes this place comfortable. It's quiet, the staff friendly, other campers respectful and there is a wifi hot spot by the office. Except for several muddy sites, it's a nice place to hang. The only big drawback has been the heat. This time of year it is a sultry, oppressive HOT that begins early and makes moving around in the afternoons almost unbearable.

We have also been crossing borders the past two weeks on more personal levels; namely adjusting to our new home and redirecting time outside of a daily work schedule. Make no mistake. There is still daily work to be done, but now our time is not structured by someone else.

The adjustment to living in the RV has not been difficult. Because of living and working together at the resort, we were already comfortable with being around each other constantly. This, we found through research, can be a major problem with those who try this lifestyle and have not been around someone 24/7. The other major transition problem other found difficult was a reduction in living space. Again, because of the resort, this also has not been an issue. The studio unit we lived in had almost the exact same square footage as our RV; just a different layout. A few problems have cropped up like a leaky toilet valve and ants, but both were easily remedied. So far, so good.

The nice thing about this way of live is that it makes you think ahead. Think about living without the conveniences of municipal water, sewer and electrical systems. What if you were three miles from the nearest store and your only way there was by walking? How would you plan meals for seven days if it was not convenient to make a quick trip to the store by car? We have water and electrical hook-ups at all sites. Dump stations for our black and gray water tanks. We could go to the nearest store in the RV. But once you reach a site, set things up and fold out the awning it is easier to not move unless absolutely necessary. So we make sure that our gas tank is filled for use of the generator, if necessary, that the LP tank is full for running the frig and stove and buy enough supplies for the length of our stay. Like I said, it makes you think ahead, but in a good way. It makes life much easier in that it allows the time to enjoy life around you in a more relaxed manner.

I'm sure there will be more adjustments to come, but by crossing these borders we have learned a great deal more about new places and ourselves. It's a nice, new and adventurous expedition into previously unexplored territories.

Photographs by Debbie
copyright 2009 Lane A Geyer

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Gone, Gone, Gone

Carillon Tower & Suwannee River

June 3, 2009

We pulled out of the Rooftop Resort parking lot around 7 a.m. on June 1st. After months of discussing the idea of full-time RV living, scouring every available resource to find the right unit, packing, repacking and putting our affairs in order it was exhilarating to feel the forward movement towards our new way of life. Ironically, for me, it was the ten year anniversary of moving to the area from South Bend, Indiana; which I found fitting in my belief it is important to complete life circles. There were no tears, high-fives or fond farewells to the neighborhood. In later discussions we both shared feeling no sense of sorrow or regret in the leaving. We will miss the beautiful vista of the Atlantic ocean we enjoyed every day, but the work and general lifestyle in S. Florida had worn us both out.

The Eastern coast of Florida is a tropical paradise of warm weather, beautiful vistas and superb exotic foods all underscored by an eclectic mix of cultures. But there is an ugly underbelly to the region that, after a time, proves to be a slow infestation on the soul. Once beyond the wow factor of no more cold, exciting new places to go and ocean views, it hits like a hammer to the head that there is indeed always a yin to the yang. Violent crime rates, horrendous traffic patterns (especially on-season), transient populations and hurricane seasons can eventually leave one feeling it is more of a place to be endured than enjoyed.

Most of the day was spent on I-75 heading North. First across Alligator Alley then up the West coast. We actually did see one gator floating in a canal. It looked like a gray-white log with a tail. The trip was smooth and uneventful with surprisingly few rattles or shifting of our stuff. We did a good job of packing things for constant transport in a moving vehicle considering we're virgins at it. The Pace Arrow drove solid for her age. After brief stops at a Flying-J for fuel and a Wally World (Wal-Mart) for foods stocks, we arrived around 5 p.m. in White Springs, Fl. for a 7 day stay at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park.

Upon entering we knew the right choice had been made for the first stop in our new journey. Slowly making our way along winding roads to our campsite, we were greeted by lush woods filled with massive oaks draped in Spanish moss. The place just screams antebellum Old South. After a few wrong turns we found our site, set up what we needed and watched nature unfold. While squirrels foraged, an amazing chorus of bird songs and the hypnotic, slow sway of the moss kept us spellbound for hours. After the atmosphere we had left only hours earlier, it felt like nirvana. We sat, ate, opened a few windows to continue enjoying the bird chorus and slept like infants.

* * *
June 7, 2009
Our time here has been relaxing and more informative than we could have ever imagined. Home to the annual Florida Folk festival, this park provides a perfect balance between nature and Florida's cultural heritage.

One of our first hikes was to the Suwannee River, Luckily, we hit a week when the river has been at its highest peak all year. It is a "black water" system that starts in the Great Okefenokee Swamp and winds its way for eventual release into the Gulf. The blackness of the water comes from the tannic acids of cypress trees and decaying vegetation. Fed by hundreds of underground springs that, at one time, poured half a billion gallons of fresh water into the system daily, the river lightened as it reached the Gulf. Unfortunately, the amount of fresh water has diminished tremendously of the years due to shrinking water tables, now causing the river to remain murkier at all points. But it still remains a beautiful, largely unspoiled natural area that is unlike anything else in the state.

The centerpiece of the park is the world's largest carillon tower comprised of 97 tubular bells. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., it chimes the hour including notes on every quarter hour. At 10, 12, 2 & 4 it also fills the park with renditions of Stephen Foster tunes. They are some of his lesser known works, but still beautifully melodic. The sounds of the bells became a very relaxing part of our days.

One of our more fascinating visits was to the Stephen Foster Museum that is housed in an antebellum mansion typical of those that existed in Foster's era. The first thing that strikes you upon entry are the beautiful oil paintings of Foster overhanging fireplaces in both of the grand rooms. Dioramas depicting interpretations of scenes from his best known songs fill the building. There are reproductions of his sheet music sitting on pianos of the era, plus the desk upon which he wrote "Old Folks At Home".

As far as anyone knows, Foster never actually saw the Suwannee. He was a prolific composure from Pennsylvania, born into a wealthy business family, who had neither the inclination or patience to be a businessman. In all, 201 of his songs were published. While he was writing the lyrics for "Old Folks At Home" he showed up at his brothers office frustrated that he could not find a two-syllable Southern river that fit the tune. After suggestions of the PeeDee in South Carolina and the Yazoo in Mississippi, both of which Foster disliked, his brother pulled out an atlas and suggested the Suwannee. Foster liked it, dropped it from three to two syllables (Swannee) and an American Classic was born.

It was also interesting to learn the history of White Springs. Now a sleepy little town, it was once a major tourist destination for its mineral springs spa. The old spas concrete skeleton sits at the entrance to the park and, beginning in the early eighteen hundreds until the early seventies, became a place to "take the waters". Rich in sulphur, the spa waters touted cures for everything from the gout to dandruff to mental disorders. It also offered colonics, warm blanket wraps and massages. Admission was 25 cents and ladies were permitted to bath without stockings: a bawdy atmosphere for the times! Because of this single business, the town once boasted 14 luxury hotels and numerous boarding houses.

On Saturday, we experienced an absolutely wonderful evening at the Arts In The Park Coffeehouse held in the auditorium. It was hosted by a fiddle player who entertained with tunes like "The Opossum and the Skunk". For two hours we listened to local artists share beautiful songs; most of their own composition. Some guitar, some piano, a colorful three-piece Old Opry trio, a storyteller and Ranger Larry. Most proudly proclaimed themselves "Crackers" and sang of a Florida lost and days when local waters ran plentiful. Many would argue about the use of the word "Cracker", but to those native born it is a term of pride. The word comes out of history. Old-time cow handlers would drive great herds of cattle across Florida to shipping points, popping long cowhide whips so loudly they could be heard for miles around. It is a link to their past. We reveled in the songs, sang along to an acapella version of "Amazing Grace" and felt a true community connection to those around us.

Tomorrow we head down the road to a park outside of Savanna, Ga. This place will be missed. We have rested, re-learned outdoor cooking, become familiar with our new home and met nice people. The fellow campers have been friendly and the facilities superb with beautifully maintained grounds and a top-notch staff. Between the people, the daily carillon bells and the setting it has felt almost ethereal at times. We are more rested and better people in both body and spirit because of our time here.
Photographs by Debbie
copyright 2009 Lane A Geyer