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Posts Tagged ‘Camping’

Sometime in our lives, we have an experience that words are inadequate to describe. I had one on 8/21/17, the day of the Total Eclipse. It was my first. I’d missed every other solar eclipse in my life by being in the wrong place or because of cloudy weather. I wasn’t going to miss this one. But summers are so busy. I traveled through eight states in three weeks. Serendipitously, a library in West Virginia had free eclipse glasses. I picked up a pair.

On my way home, I checked for available campsites at my favorite state park in South Carolina. They were booked. I returned to Florida a week before the eclipse, having made no plans, and my van needed TLC before it could make another trip. Despair was not an option.

 

Not my van, but definitely my sentiment.

 

Fate began to smile. My mechanic made the critical repairs in a timely fashion. When I told him where I was going, he said, “You must really like to drive.”

“No. I just like to go places.”

South Carolina campgrounds were full, but what about Georgia? Only about 100 miles from Orangeburg, Magnolia Springs State Park still had vacancies! Instead of a grueling six hour drive to Orangeburg, I faced a four hour trip to Magnolia Springs, followed by only two hours the next day. I made reservations.

Sunday afternoon, I headed north. With no rangers on duty when I arrived, I chose a campsite and enjoyed my evening at the park. Bright and early Monday morning, I reported to the park office, but the staff wasn’t ready to do business yet. I told them I was going to South Carolina to watch the eclipse. “You registered online?” they said. “Then just go! You can do the paperwork when you come back.”

I drove through fog, optimistic the sky would clear. There was little traffic on US 301 although the interstates were jammed. I arrived in Orangeburg at 9:45 and found a shady parking spot at Edisto Memorial Gardens. With hours to spare, I walked around the Rose Garden and decided this was where I wanted to watch the eclipse. Workers were busy mowing and weeding. I thought, what a great job they had—being paid to experience the eclipse!

When I returned to the parking lot, it was full. I’d been wise to get an early start. Half the cars, it seemed, had Florida tags. I strolled through the Sensory Garden and rang the farm bell. Then I went down to the Azalea Garden, where other folks awaited the big event. From time to time, I heard the farm bell ring. Despite growing numbers, the atmosphere was peaceful, friendly, upbeat.

I asked those I encountered, “Where are you from?” Many were from Florida. A mother and daughter from Orlando had driven all night and slept at a rest stop in their Mini Cooper. A couple of ladies came up from Georgia. One couple was from Denver but had been vacationing at Hilton Head. Family members wore matching eclipse shirts. Some had brought their dogs. All races were represented, and many nationalities. I heard accents I could only dimly place, and one group spoke German.

Every so often, I put on my eclipse glasses and looked at the sun. It looked like an orange cookie. The sky cleared and clouded again. Some expressed concern that we wouldn’t be able to see anything (Oh you of little faith!) but others were, like me, optimistic that the weather would be kind.

I walked through a sunny area where families had set up canopies. As I approached a scattering of trees, someone called my name! Who here would know me? It was fellow writer Jessica Elkins and her husband. They’d stayed in a motel in Statesboro, Georgia and were enjoying a little picnic of fruit and cheese and crackers. I joined them.

About 1:30, people wearing eclipse glasses stood pointing at the sky. The sun looked like someone had taken a bite out of the orange cookie. Over the next several minutes, the bite grew larger. Then a cloud occluded the sun and we couldn’t see anything. The cloud gave us some relief from the heat, but many were anxious we’d miss the eclipse. I kept saying, “The cloud will move on and then the sky will clear.”

Eventually, that cloud moved, but another took its place! Blue sky lay all around, but that cloud seemed happy to stay put.

The weather was kind. After a very long 20 minutes, the cloud went away and the crowd went, “Ahhh!” The sun now looked like a crescent moon. The light around us was subdued, as though clouds still shaded the Earth. The crescent grew slimmer. Around 2:20, I took leave of my friends.

On the way to the Rose Garden, I passed a group of Seminole Indians who were drumming and chanting. The light continued to dim. I sat down on the ground in the middle of the Rose Garden.

Dusk is falling.

By 2:35, the sun was only a thin sliver and the air was noticeably cooler. Dusk had fallen. Then it grew dark. The crowd cheered. We clapped with excitement. We laughed with delight. The drummers increased the volume of their chant. I took off my eclipse glasses.

In the sky was a silver white ring—the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!

Streetlights came on. At 2:45, a band of sunlight appeared on the north side of the garden. The crowd went, “Ohhh!” I glanced up to see a tiny jewel of sunlight on the edge of the silver ring. It was time to put the eclipse glasses back on.

Pictures don’t do it justice. (Photo by Jake McElveen.)

Daylight returned. People stirred, their eyes lit with wonder, exclaiming, “Wow.” “Cool.” “Incredible.” As I made my way back to my friends, I encountered a phenomenon that wasn’t visible on the lawn of the Rose Garden. The asphalt was covered with little crescents of sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees, as though the image of the crescent sun had been shattered into a thousand pieces and  projected onto the ground. A stander-by said they’d been present before the totality, facing in a different direction.

A Thousand Crescent Suns

There were no strangers. Everyone was overcome with awe. One said, “There are no words to describe it.” Another, “Words are inadequate.” A lady said she now understood why people get addicted to solar eclipses and will go anywhere in the world to see them. I’d heard that the experience was a life-changing event. It’s true.

Jessica began to talk about the next one, in 2024, and said she intended to watch it. Yes, I thought, me, too. The wonderment buoyed me all the way back to my campsite. That night, all I could think about was that beautiful silver ring that was the sun. It still remains in my mind’s eye.

The next total eclipse in Florida is August 12, 2045. I’ll be…how old by then? In the meantime, there are others in parts of the world I have yet to visit. On April 8, 2024, less than seven years from now, a total eclipse will begin in Mexico, cross Texas and Arkansas (where I have family), the Midwest, and into western New York and New England.

Arkansas, 4-8-24, here I come!

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With the turning of the year, I was reminded of this story, which took place around the New Year, fifty three years ago.

Dad was stationed in the Philippines during World War II. Afterwards, he couldn’t tolerate cold weather. All through childhood, I heard him threaten to move to Florida to get out of those Upstate New York winters. When I was around twelve, he and a friend actually took a trip south to scope things out. There, his car broke down, so he bought a Chrysler New Yorker and brought it home. That car was destined to return to Florida. A few years later, my parents sold the house, paid off debts, and we moved.

This car is similar to the one we took to Florida,

Our car was similar to this one.

It may sound crazy to load up the family and take off on a 1000 mile move with no solid goal (as in job or place to live), but that’s what we did. Of course, there were preparations. Dad built a utility/camping trailer with a canvas top. Clothing and dishes were packed inside and our mattresses laid on top. The canvas lid could be propped up like a lean-to roof, and with a camp stove and ice chest, we had all the comforts of home, right? No need to buy ice—Dad yanked a couple of ice sickles off the eaves of the house. They were as big around as my arm and people in Florida were astounded.

Our other belongings were left with my grandparents or loaded on the back of Dad’s truck which he stored in a friend’s garage. The plan was to return for the truck in a few weeks. (Those few weeks became a few years.)

Dad's old truck years later. It used to be green.

Dad’s old truck years later. It used to be green.

So, one cold day in late December, 1963, we set out in the Chrysler. This was long before mini-vans, and even a station wagon wouldn’t hold all of us. Have you ever traveled with a half dozen or so kids crammed together in the back seat of a car?  It was the middle of winter, so we huddled together for warmth. We didn’t fight among ourselves. We couldn’t. There was no room.

Besides, we were off on an adventure, fulfilling a dream.

In the middle of the night, somewhere in Virginia, Mom was driving and hit a deer. I woke when the car stopped. Mom was in the front seat, but Dad wasn’t. There’d been no damage to the car, but the deer didn’t fare so well. Later, as Dad told the story, another vehicle stopped but they couldn’t find the deer. Suddenly, the injured animal leaped up out of the roadside brush and one of the men whipped out a gun and shot it. Dad thought this was a good time to leave. He said, “Well, boys, you got yourselves a deer!” Then he high-tailed it back to the car, jumped in, and off we went.

With eight kids and limited funds, you don’t stay at motels. We were geared up for camping, but it was too cold, so we kept going. The Interstate Highway System hadn’t been built yet, so travel took more time than it does for most folks nowadays.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve with our first taste of Mountain Dew, which at the time was a “hillbilly” soda. I thought it was delicious. The formula has since been changed, and/or my tastes are now more refined.

When we crossed into South Carolina, two very disparate things greeted us: a palm tree and South of the Border, tourist trap extraordinaire. The palm was a sable (or cabbage) palmetto, symbol of the “Palmetto State,” also the state tree of Florida. At the time, South of the Border straddled 301 and sold artifacts from Mexico. Now days, it caters to I-95 traffic and sells cheap souvenirs.

Sabal Palm

Sabal Palm

In Savannah, I got my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. A high bridge took us over the river, and off to the left was a sparkling patch of blue. In much of Georgia, the highway ran through mile after mile of pine forests. My parents commented on the lack of guardrails along the deep, water-filled ditches. If someone went off the road, they’d never be found. We rolled into Florida on January 2nd.

We stopped in the Ocala National Forest, near Salt Springs, for a few days. Dad pulled up to a little country store and asked where we could camp. The proprietor gestured to a tree on the edge of his parking lot and said people sometimes camp there, so we did. The man was very nice, but instead of a Southern drawl, he talked so fast I couldn’t understand him. He might as well have been speaking a foreign language. I wonder if he got tired of us asking, “What?”

We were now in sunny Florida, so we put on shorts and went for a walk down a sandy road through a hammock of palm, oak, and cypress. It was sunny, all right, but it was COLD. An arctic blast had followed us south and we about froze to death. After a day or so, my parents decided to go farther south.

We settled in Moore Haven, on the south side of Lake Okeechobee. You couldn’t see the lake because of the levy around it, and you could get to it only by boating down a canal. We stayed in a campground near the lake until Dad got a job and we rented a house.

In reflection, it’s amazing how much has changed in the last half-century. In some ways, though certainly not all, this was a simpler, more innocent time. Not many children today are privileged to have the remarkable experiences we did.

You can read more about Moore Haven and our other early adventures in Florida in “Hurricane Dora”: https://marieqrogers.com/tag/hurricane-dora/

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The month of August saw me traveling and visiting grandchildren, wrestling with my new “smart” phone, and trying to figure out how to use GPS. Before I set out on my trip, I went to a Verizon store for help. I told the nice young man that the GPS insisted on sending me on the Interstate and I don’t do Interstates. “Why not?”  he said. “You get there faster.” What’s his hurry? He’s young. He has plenty of time. As for me, I’m in no hurry to get to the end of my journey, and I prefer to enjoy the drive. You miss a lot when you stick to the Interstate.

You won't find this on the Interstate.

You won’t find this on the Interstate. (Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway)

Google Maps on my computer gives me the option of avoiding highways. Apparently the young man didn’t know how to program my smart phone this way, so he put another app on the phone that (he said) would do back roads. It didn’t.

After plotting my course using road maps and Google Maps, I headed north.

Or this

Or this. (Near Ludowici, GA)

I planned to camp in Uwharrie National Forest in North Carolina. Since I got off to a late start that day, it was dark by the time I reached to Uwharrie. I thought this was a good time to put the GPS to the test, since I was far from any Interstate. I pulled over and typed in Uwharrie National Forest campground.

The lady’s voice on the GPS—whoa!–that’s too awkward. Let’s call her GyPSy. (We used to have a pony named Gypsy and she was cantankerous, too.) Anyway, Gypsy directed me down a series of back roads and deposited me in front of someone’s driveway. I didn’t think the residents of the house wanted me to camp in their yard, so I drove on, hoping the campground was nearby. I never found it. Gypsy kept telling me to make U turns, turn down such and such a road, and the like for the next hour until I figured out how to shut her up.

Consulting my map, I concluded I’d taken the wrong road to the national forest. It was raining and I didn’t want to backtrack, so I drove on. The next town had a Walmart. With the permission of a manager, I parked there for the night. The next day I stuck to the directions I’d written down before my trip and reached my granddaughter’s house with no trouble.

One thing I’ve discovered is that newer road maps are less detailed than older ones. That plus poorly labeled roads makes it hard to plot a course. Is there a conspiracy? Do “they” want us to stick to the Interstates? Are “they” trying to sell more GPS gadgets? Or is our growing dependence on GPS letting highway departments get away with sloppy work?

I spent two pleasant weeks in West Virginia. Toying with the phone during my stay, I figured out how to program Gypsy to avoid highways. Before leaving for Virginia, I drove over to Hampshire County in search of some ancestors who are buried in Slanesville. Although, I knew my way around, I thought I’d see if Gypsy could find a short cut. No–the poor dear was lost! Maybe I was too far from any Interstate. That thing on a computer that goes round and round when it’s searching for something went round and round and round until I reached Romney.

Slanesville, WV

Slanesville, WV

I consulted a map and spent the rest of the afternoon driving through picturesque West Virginia mountains. Almost Heaven. I hated to leave but was expected at my daughter’s home in Radford, Virginia that night. I stopped to eat in Covington. The day had been pleasant and sunny, but the night turned dark and rainy. Over supper, I consulted my road map for the most direct route to Radford, then I programmed Gypsy.

Computer savvy people refuse to believe that those devious machines have a mind of their own, but they do. I know what Gypsy was thinking: “So, she wants back roads? Well, I’ll give her back roads!”

And back roads I got. Roads with names like 617 and 725. Roads that weren’t on my map. Before long, I was helplessly lost and dependent on her caprice. Gypsy directed me to turn here and there, mostly in unpopulated areas, through two national forests. One road was so narrow that if I’d met an oncoming vehicle, we’d both have scraped paint off trying to squeeze by. Fortunately, I had plenty of gas and my compass told me I was gradually making my way south. I breathed with relief when I came to US 11, Lee Highway. Now I knew where I was and where I was going.

I have to give Gypsy credit—she got me there in one piece and in the time frame she’d predicted. But how’d she know about these forest roads when she was totally lost on a state road in West Virginia?

Is this Tow Mater?

Is this Tow Mater? (Near Hillsville, VA)

On my way home, she successfully navigated me through Salisbury, North Carolina, where I invariably get lost. I planned to spend the night at Santee State Park in South Carolina, so I gave her this destination. She found a short cut that wasn’t on my map, but when I got to the park, she argued with me that the campground was at a ranger’s residence. Don’t you hate a machine that thinks she’s smarter than you?  But I knew better. A sign clearly pointed to the campground.

The next morning, I expected Gypsy to find a shortcut home, but she routed me through Orangeburg, South Carolina. I didn’t mind. I never drive through that city without stopping at Edisto Memorial Gardens to smell the roses.

Edisto Memorial Gardens

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Travels with Teddy

When my daughter Amber lived at home, she took care of my animals when I traveled. Once she said Teddy missed me so much he wouldn’t eat when I was gone. It turned out she was feeding him twice as much as I did! He ate like a cat, nibbling his food throughout the day, not gulping it down all at once like some dogs. He’d leave what he didn’t eat.

When Amber was not available, a neighbor tended my animals. One summer, I came home to find Teddy wearing a pink flea collar. No one knew where he got it. Of course, he managed to scratch it off and lose it. One day Teddy and I took a walk on the dirt road. A neighbor I didn’t know well said, “Hello, Teddy.” I stopped to inquire how he knew Teddy and learned that while I was traveling, instead of staying home to keep the varmints out of the yard, my faithful dog was nearly living at their house! That’s where he got the flea collar.

After this, I took him with me. Teddy loved to travel. If I went somewhere in my van and didn’t take him, he’d pout. On the road, he was well- behaved and even tolerated a leash once I explained that city dogs had to wear them. He accompanied me as far north as West Virginia and as far west as Arkansas. On hot days, I couldn’t leave him in the van and tour a museum or antebellum house, but we stopped at parks and walked the trails. Here are Teddy and Tristan, both dog tired after a long walk through a North Carolina swamp:

2011 pics 391

One summer we spent several days on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at every cabin and walking every trail that wasn’t too steep for him to climb. I’d go sightseeing and Teddy’d go smell-sniffing. He delighted in new and unusual smells. Here he is checking out something that looks disgusting to a human:

Copy of 10-15 131

He seemed to understand that the van was our home away from home. If a park ranger stopped by our campsite, Teddy would bark until I told him it was ok. One year we went to Arkansas. From there my mother and I flew to Washington to visit my sister Sue. I left Teddy and my van at Mom’s house, under the care of my nephew. Teddy made himself at home and didn’t leave the farm as long as my van was there.

But things were different in the city. One summer when we visited Amber in Virginia Beach, I tied Teddy in the back yard at night and slept in the house. The next morning he was gone. I hiked all over the neighborhood but no one had seen him. We called the pound but he wasn’t there. I was afraid I’d lost him forever.

That afternoon, Amber’s father-in-law returned home and said, “Get your damn dog out of my car.” He’d found Teddy! On a whim, he’d decided to take a different route home, spotted an Animal Control truck, and Teddy being led toward it. Randy convinced the officer he knew whose dog it was, and Teddy was released without bail. Apparently, Teddy had gone as far as a house on a lake and hung out in the backyard all day. When the owners got home from work, they called the pound. After this, I slept out in the hot van with Teddy so he wouldn’t escape again.

Teddy got along with most dogs but my sister Bonnie’s dog is jealously territorial. He wouldn’t let Teddy out of my van. Brutus sees me only once or twice a year but always greets me with wagging tail, even if no one’s home. He doesn’t even object when I use their hidden key to get into the house. Some watchdog! Bonnie said he senses I belong there. But Teddy was not welcome. Brutus had to be distracted so Teddy could get out to relieve himself. Then Brutus got curious about my van and wanted to check it out, but that was Teddy’s territory. He wouldn’t let Brutus near.

As he aged, Teddy had trouble climbing into the van. He could get his front paws in, but I’d have to pick up his hind quarters and shove. Sadly, his traveling days were over. I always felt safe when he was with me, and I missed his company when he wasn’t.

Next time I’ll tell you how Teddy became known as my Million Dollar Dog.

.

 

 

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This September, National Weather Service in Jacksonville celebrated the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Dora, the only tropical cyclone to hit the area in recorded history. I remember Dora quite well. It was one of my family’s many adventures. We weathered the storm in the men’s bathhouse at Ocean Pond Campground, in the Osceola National Forest, just west of Jacksonville.
Let’s back up. This was not my first hurricane. When I was a little girl, Hurricane Hazel ripped up through the eastern United States. All I remember was that she badly damaged our cherry tree.
In January, 1964, we moved to Florida, first settling in the Everglades, in Moore Haven, a small town on the shore of Lake Okeechobee. We rented a house on the bank of the Caloosahatchee River, a picturesque cottage on stilts, which had the distinction of having survived the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane.
In the early 20th century, a small earthen dike had been built around Lake Okeechobee. In 1926, storm surge from a deadly hurricane breached the dike. The 1928 storm was even worse. Hundreds of acres were flooded, some areas under twenty feet of water. Thousands of houses were swept away and at least 2500 lives were lost. Many bodies were never recovered. Our house, and presumably its inhabitants, survived because, being built on stilts, the water washed under the house.
Thirty six years later, the disaster remained fresh in the memory of survivors and their descendents, who recounted the horror to anyone who would listen. The old two-story schoolhouse still stood, with scars on the walls of the second floor where boats had scraped against it during the flood. After 1928, the Army Corps of Engineers had erected a huge levee around the lake, but our neighbors said they didn’t really trust it.
August brought Hurricane Cleo. My parents stayed glued to the radio for storm predictions. I remember townspeople expressing anxiety as Cleo approached, but few made plans to evacuate. One of my friends said her family might shelter at the high school, but that building had a ground floor only. We didn’t take chances. We packed our camping trailer and tents and headed north on Highway 27.
After fifty miles or so the flat Everglades gave way to sandy hills. We pulled into Highlands Hammock State Park. Cleo followed. She snaked up the east coast of Florida as a Category 2 storm, slowing to a Category 1 as her eye passed fifty miles east of us. We were safe from flood, but the wind would have blown our tents away. Fortunately, the park rangers let us stay in the lodge, a sturdy building built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression.
This storm was unlike anything I’d experienced. Instead of heavy raindrops pounding the earth as in a thunderstorm, which finishes its business and moves on, falling rain danced all day at the mercy of the gale. Through the windows we watched trees thrashing in the wind and heard its incessant howl. I recall being more bored than afraid. There was little to amuse us in the dim light of the lodge. Once the weather cleared, we returned home. The Lake had remained within its banks and surrounding communities were safe.
For various reasons, not limited to hurricanes, my parents decided to move to the northern part of the state. A week or so later, we were camped near Olustee while my father looked for another job.
Were hurricanes out to get us? Two weeks after we fled Cleo, Hurricane Dora caught up with us. She headed straight towards North Florida as a Category 3 storm. For the second time, we found ourselves with only a few sheets of canvas between us and a tempest. At least we didn’t worry about a 20 foot flood, since Ocean Pond is a tea cup compared to Okeechobee. Other campers packed up and went home. We had no home to go to, having given up our house in Moore Haven. One other family remained, a retired couple in a pop-up camper.
The men’s bathhouse had a large open area surrounded by concrete block walls. We moved our bedding in as Dora slammed into Jacksonville as a Category 2 hurricane. The other couple joined us, their little pop-up no match for 110 mph winds. Cleo had been gracious enough to hit Florida during the day. Not Dora. She made landfall at 2 am, but we had felt her blast hours before.
The bathhouse was lit by an open skylight, practical in fair weather, but not in a major weather event. Mom and Dad put tarps over our beds, so we could sleep dry, but they did not sleep. As the wind roared through the night and rain swirled through the open roof, I woke now and then to see them pacing the floor. I remember Mom adjusting a tarp that had blown loose. Little splatters of rain hit my face, but I felt safe. Only when I experienced a tropical storm as an adult could I appreciate what my parents must have endured.
As daylight came, the storm subsided. By early afternoon she moved on. The retired couple crawled into their camper to get a few supplies and the lady cooked grits. What food supplies weren’t soggy must have run low and I was hungry. Those plain grits were the best thing I ever tasted. When it was safe to go outdoors, we went down to the lake. To our surprise, a plastic orange fish came bobbing across the lake toward us, carried by the wind and waves. My little sisters scooped it up. We had no way of knowing who it belonged to, so we kept it. That orange fish stayed in the family for years and is featured in several old photographs. I wonder what became of it.
After a few more adventures, my family settled in Scrambletown, Florida. More adventures were to follow, but the next time a hurricane blustered through, we had a strong cypress house to protect us from its wrath.

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