Late winter dreary, cloudy and cold
Driving toward spring
Endless prairie, dotted by white barns and farms
Thin sliver of light hints at promise of sun and warmth
Rivers and lakes – water sparkling like diamonds
Meander through forests – sun flickering through the trees
Eagles soar overhead as red tailed hawk eyes me
Clumps of daffodils nod to a coming spring
Wiggle and waggle southward
Narrow roads with no shoulders
Houses with wide porches, doors open, folks rockin’
A church on every corner like gas stations back home
Signs of spring – grass greening
Apple and almond trees shimmering white
Wild plum and redbuds – splashes of color amidst dark, leafless trees
Creeks tumble over rocky beds, rushing with snow melt
Over Mont Eagle, down toward Nickajack Lake
Warm sunshine entices, stop to hike
Cloudland Canyon, home of the Cherokee
Waterfalls over ancient rock faces – awe inspiring
Winter fingers reach out to nip at fingers and nose
Run, run, run to warmth
Georgia stretches on and on at break neck speed
Florida at last – slow lane once more
Cracker style houses, horse farms, and forest green
Live oaks drip with Spanish moss
Wildflowers paint the roadside – purple and pink, yellow and white
Pines and palmettos
Give way to salt marsh and sawgrass
Ocean views and beach stretching on and on
In a favorite book of mine, “Blue Highways: A Journey into America,” William Least Heat-Moon wrote, “Had I gone looking for some particular place rather than any place I’d never have found this spring under the sycamores.”
That describes the beauty of taking the scenic route, getting off the Interstate — typically miles and miles and miles of straight, flat, and boring — and onto secondary roads, county highways, or better yet, those thin, wiggly lines on the map that wind around a lake, over a river, or through the forest.
Case in point, if you drive the Interstate North to South through Indiana, you travel through miles and miles of ancient lake bed, now flat land, however, go a few miles West and you traverse hills and rivers, past huge rock formations, Amish farms, and small towns — a wonderland that the average traveler, bad mouthing the boring drive, never realized existed.
At the beginning of his journey, Heat-Moon wondered if “Maybe the road could provide a therapy through observation of the ordinary and obvious, a means whereby the outer eye opens an inner one.”
I can attest to the truth of those words. Instead of flying past everything, seeing nothing, “meandering” the back roads forces you to slow down, see the hawk soar over the trees, hear the water babble in the creek, and snatch glimpses of another slice of life — horses grazing, children playing, the old folks rockin’ in the shade of their porch.
Instead of billboards advertising gas prices or the next fast food restaurant or tourist attraction, homemade signs announcing “maters and taters” or asking “Are you willing to take a chance with your soul?” You literally go over the river and through the woods, whether to grandmother’s house or not. And you breathe — not only slower, as the stress of everyday life melts away, but cleaner, filled with the scent of apple blossoms, fresh grass, crunchy leaves, tumbling water, or pine.
Heat-Moon shares his father’s philosophy that “any traveler who misses the journey misses about all he’s going to get,” that a man’s (or woman’s) observations and curiosity, make and remake them.
Taking five full days to travel from Wisconsin to central Florida may seem like an eternity to some. “I could do it in 2 ten-hour days!,” they boast. This isn’t Name that Tune, so I will not respond with how fast I could drive it because for me, it is the journey that matters.
This was not a true meander; I had a particular place to be in a “reasonable” amount of time. That time expectation and the cold, blustery weather kept me moving southward, hundreds of miles a day. In the end, it was more like Heat-Moon describes as “turning the windshield into a movie screen in which I, the viewer, did the moving while the subject held still.”
Since each day, I took time to stop, look, and listen — watching wildlife, lunching by pristine waters, hiking trails past awe-inspiring rock faces and to roaring waterfalls, sitting by the campfire, and star gazing — I did not mind watching the movie that unfolded before me at times. In the end it was a good journey.
Because it has been hovering around freezing in the mornings and much warmer in the afternoon, I changed up my usual meander schedule. Instead of driving where I want to explore with fresh eyes and energy in the morning, I have decided to stop mid-afternoon and enjoy myself while the sun is high and the air is still warm, leaving those freezing temps for drive time.
I was really glad that I did, because after a lovely drive over the mountains anticipating lunch at my favorite rest area on Nickajack Lake and finding it closed (bummer) I had the opportunity to camp at Cloudland Canyon, a beautiful state park in North Georgia near Chattanooga (of choo-choo fame.) On travels this way in the past I have always wanted to at least go for a mid-trip hike but it has always been too windy, wet, or cold (seeing that I have always made this trip in the winter not spring.)
Despite it suddenly being an hour later (I am now on Eastern Daylight Time) there was enough time to select a campsite and take a hike. The Waterfalls Trail dropped 350 vertical feet from my campsite into the canyon below. It does this in a a little less than a mile; I think the ranger said something about over 900 manmade steps and that does not count the non-manmade ones!
The going down was not too bad as I kept stopping to take photos along the way. Yet, there is no getting around that basic rule of the universe — what goes down, must come back up. Now that was a hike to be remembered!
It was late and the sun was no longer shining in the bottom of the canyon but the waterfalls were spectacular. Well worth the effort. I already plan to do it again on the way home, weather permitting of course.
For the first time, the night was warm enough to sit outside after dark so I built a campfire, took the last of what I have been snacking on the last few days — grilled chicken, tomato, cheese, and pineapple — threw it all in a pan and feasted on a nice, hot, home cooked meal. Funny how the same foods can taste so different when you add a little ambiance.
I was hoping the morning sun would offer an opportunity to go back to the first of the falls and photograph it again. Though the day broke cold but with a promise of a sunny day, I took my time getting out of my sleeping bag. I started out for a gentle warm up along the rim of the canyon to the observation area. Was I glad I hiked the trail last night because a front came through that dropped the temperature drastically, accompanied with high winds, and even a few snowflakes. Time to hit the road.
After a lovely meander yesterday, ending at Cloudland Canyon State Park in Northern Georgia, a hiked to two spectacular waterfalls, and weather conducive to cooking out, a cold front came whipping in this morning that told me it was time to hit the road running.
Since I traveled from one end of Georgia to the other, I would not call that a meander. It is more like making time. But as Kenny Rogers is known to have sung, “You have to know when to hold ’em and you have to know when to fold ’em.” Today was a fold ’em kind of day.
Will send photos and a description soon.
When I travel, unless inclement weather, my goal is not to go the fastest or the farthest in the shortest amount of time, it is to enjoy the journey. Today was a perfect example of that philosophy — no deadlines, no particular place to go or be, no final destination to make by the end of the day. That leaves one free to explore the day and the area, step by step, mile by mile, moment by moment, stopping or moseying at will.
The roads are narrower, the towns smaller, and the pace slower — takes me back to an era when you really could “see the USA in your Chevrolet” rather than just flying down the Interstate.
Here are a few things I discovered along the way…
Paducah, KY — It was a cold Sunday morning and outside the tourist season, with no paddle-wheelers expected, so it was pretty quiet downtown. Driving through the Lowertown Artists District and into downtown, checking out the old steam train (should I be the conductor or the engineeer?) and seeing the brightly painted flood wall reminded me of previous trips on a warmer day. Here are a few that might entice you to visit the arts district some summer weekend or maybe the end of April for the International Quilt Show.
Land Between the Lakes — When I head South and East, I always go a little out of my way to drive my favorite byway in these parts — The Trace, a rustic and very , scenic road that runs along a ridge of land called Land Between the Lakes (a National Recreation Area) between Kentucky and Barkley Lakes (formerly and still under there somewhere the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers).
I feel a little guilty enjoying this beautiful natural area filled with trees, water, and wildlife because of the way the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and US government, in the name of progress and the greater good, went about acquiring the land by forced condemnation. Families were forced to leave to make way for the damming of the river and thus flooding of their ancestral farms, homes, and businesses. The thing is that between 1960 and the late 60s, some families were forced to move, not once, not twice but in some cases three times, eventually having to leave their land between the rivers altogether to create the “park” itself.
Between sightings of wood ducks, hawks, and a majestic eagle soaring over my head, cement steps leading to nowhere, seas of daffodils in now empty clearings, the occasional dilapidated barn or shed, and the cemeteries are all that is left of these town.
I ended the day at Montgomery Bell State Park, West of Nashville, TN. The park is 4000 acres, the former lands of a young man who came here from Pennsylvania seeking (and gaining) his fortune mining and smelting iron ore until The Civil War put an end to the industry. If you are in these parts, stop by for a visit. A creek babbles along the edge of the campground (or for you city slickers you can get a room at the lodge/conference center), miles of hiking trails will give you a work out, several lakes, some accessible only by foot, provide beautiful reflections — the whole place is just serene (at least in the off-season.
Old Willie just could not “wait to get on the road again” and a few hundred miles into this trip I know the feeling — the joy of discovery today and the anticipation of what tomorrow might bring.
I hate straight Interstate driving so I usually meander a little to see the sites a bit off the beaten path. Since it was cold and overcast, and on a long trip it feels good to get some significant miles under ones belt the first day, I drove down I-39 a lesser used Interstate and made a slight detour to St. Louis, where every chance I get, I stop at Forest Park, the site of the 1903 (I think) World’s Fair, now a fabulous park with three museums, a zoo, a botanical conservatory, fountains, gardens, trails, gazebos, a golf course, a few ponds, waterfalls, and more. It is a wonderful treasure for the city and much better than the usual rest area.
After a short hike and a picnic lunch, I was off to Paducah to take one of my favorite side trips, “The Trace” on the Land Between the Lakes. But that will have to wait for tomorrow because sunset comes early this time of year.
For tonight I am in Metropolis, IL, feeling SUPER!
Have you wondered what I have been up to the last few weeks? You know I have too.
I returned from Mexico to Massachusetts to welcome new baby, Isaiah, into the world. It was a hectic time filled with dirty diapers, late night feedings, lots of laundry , and adorable big sisters. All was wonderfully, marvelously well despite going from 85 degrees to the mid-20s with piles and piles of dirty snow, and melty, icy puddles.
Three weeks later when I returned to Wisconsin though, that is another story!
I think I mentioned in a previous post, that I have multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). This is a disorder where your body has an allergic type reaction to very minute amounts of things most of us would not even think twice about — things like fragrances in shampoos, soaps, bathroom deodorizers, and any number of other things, which in my case includes forced air heat in a closed up space in the winter time (which is why I go to Mexico, I might add.)
Well, I returned to my Wisconsin apartment, which since it is mighty cold outside, is closed up with the heat on and BAM!!! within 24 hours I did not know what truck hit me! I was laid out flat with the biggest, baddest sinus headache you can imagine, one of those don’t make me open my eyes or sit up types. Then what fills up has to run out, so it has been over a week of coughing, hacking, sneezing and well, you know. (I should buy stock in Kleenex!) Needless to say, I am not getting much sleep (or anything much done for that matter) and I am exhausted.
Since I do not see much hope that any of this is going to clear up until the heat goes off and I can open those windows wide (and considering what a winter Wisconsin has had this year, that does not look like anytime soon), I have decided to take drastic action and have loaded the camping gear in the van and am heading South where as the old song goes, “The weather suits my soul.” (Anyone remember Midnight Cowboy?)
I am trading in this… for this…
Now really, is there any other logical choice?
Marcia and Lowell, here I come!