Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Page Turning Underwater

My dad was a deep sea diver. Could go down for hours and not come up, if my mom would have let him. Granny was better at it, and there was nothing except the clock to tell her to come back up for air.  I guess I take after them, cause my mom can't stand it.  She has to live up here, in the real world, where things happen that are supposed to.  But not me... give me the depths of my imagination, and I'm all set.  Course, I have to get away from the electronic gadgets and visual whizbangs that constantly try to distract me.  And they do, most of the time.  I figured out that while I'm eating there's nothing else to distract me.  Definitely the easiest time for a dip is while eating.

Of course I'm not talking about wearing scuba gear and playing with the sharks.  A good reader never worries about saying anything without a layer or two of metaphors and imagery.  I remember being in the middle of the Mines of Moria, reading (or rereading) Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, on the way to getting an outdoor pool (what a disaster that was... never get an above-ground pool), and being so thoroughly engrossed that it took me a good 20 minutes to get back to reality.  It was like slowly coming up for air, because ascending too quickly will give you the bends.  

Then there was the day when I was sick with the flu, I think, because I had a 101° temperature, and the whole house was quiet, so I picked up the Illustrated Classic version of George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind and read it cover to cover in one afternoon.  I think going under kept me distracted from my sickness, and, like my brother who just sleeps his illnesses away, gave my body time to heal.  I absolutely loved the book... its calm, lyrical writing (which, as I have learned, is edited from a staccato 1800's Scottish to a more modern English), it's poignant ending, and upon reflection, the Allegorical meanings.

My favorite author to stay "underwater" with is Orson Scott Card.  I'd be reading, and reading, and reading, and then go to the kitchen for something to eat or drink, and while walking back to my bedroom, I would try and remember what amazing television show I was watching.  Turns out, of course, it was the movie going on in my head from the OSC book laying on my bed, waiting for me to finish.

I never understood why, in my dad's huge science-fiction/fantasy collection, there were few (if any) short story collections.  I mean, in school, we'd read short stories from Clifford D. Simak or Ray Bradbury, and they would be wonderful pieces of literature, a bite sized piece of glorious artwork (to mix metaphors).  You can't go wrong with Godwin's "Cold Equations," for pure science-fiction genius.  They are like watching an episode of The Twilight Zone or Star Trek, a snapshot of a universe, of a person's life.

But those metaphors don't work when it comes to reading, especially for my dad.  He read for escape, to immerse himself in a world and forget about this one for a while.  Same thing for my grandmother, who read for hours at a time.  And using this metaphor, that of going underwater, it's obvious why there were no short story collections in my dad's library.  Imagine going scuba diving in the clear, tropical waters of the Caribbean, with fish and underwater treasures everywhere. A world so different from ours, magical, in a way.  You could stay down there for hours, taking in everything under the waves.  Now imagine that instead of scuba gear, all you had was the breath you could hold, for thirty seconds at a time.  You couldn't follow a fish as it hides among the coral, or a small shark as it hunts for prey.  Rather, you just get glimpses of wonderment, and then it's back to the surface to breathe again.  Those are short stories to my dad.  Short stories don't provide an extended look into a world, into the entire lives of characters.

While I understand that, there are still amazing short stories that rival the best Twilight Zone episodes, if you know what authors can truly take those snapshots (mixed metaphor again) and make them memorable.  Right now I'm reading The Anything Box by Zenna Henderson, and I'm trying to figure out how she isn't Ray Bradbury.  That's how good she is, providing short, intense looks into the world of the supernatural, the unknown, and leaving each story screaming for a continuation. The only problem with short stories is that they "force" you to come up for air every time you finish a story, which I am not often ready to do yet.  And in today's world where escape is so desired, short stories just don't accomplish what long, meandering novels do.  But perhaps instead of lengthening the stories, we should adjust our reading habits, seeing beauty in short dives, and seeing the same beauty in the real world between times.

So in between those long dives into tomes deep, dark, and enchanting, maybe just a short trip, in the shallows of the human imagination.  Believe me, reading those stories will bring just as much magic as the 1000 page books that I go diving with each day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hiking at the Georgia International House of Pancakes...

... or maybe that should be Georgia International Horse Park. I decided when this long, depressing winter began that I couldn't just stop walking, but I didn't want to continue to traverse Arabian Mountain, as I wanted to see the beauty of that area when it was warm enough to enjoy it.  I wanted to stand on the mountaintops with the clear blue sky and sun reflecting off the lakes, not cloudy, dreary, overcast days where I shivered in my coats.  So I picked another area for winter hiking. The Georgia International Horse Park (hereafter referred to as GIHP) was a perfect spot.  The wetlands around it, seen from Google Earth, would be much better walked around when it was too cold for mosquitoes and the like to swarm around my face.

The true beauty of Rockdale County exists in its variety. From the Panola Mountain granite mountainsides to the forests of the South Rockdale County Park to the wetlands of the Haynes Creek Nature Center, you would never guess it's all within Georgia's second smallest county.  I started walking at the GIHP south of the Memorial Arboretum on the gray path covered in horseshoe prints.  As usual, it's the paths off the main ones that are the most interesting.  The trees labeled with pink ribbons wind through a cave of trees, past grass-like plants down to the Yellow River, where the trees flow down from upstream and get caught in the shallows.  I spooked a Blue Stork standing in one of the dried up river banks (it delivers Smurf Babies, because Smurfette doesn't, you know, Smurf.) The swampland down in this area reminds me of Degobah, and a path goes from the gray one along the Yellow River off underneath the Power Lines and through strands of grasses, where the crickets and frogs sing incessantly until you come closer to them, and then they hide.

Then, after it rained, I walked under the bridge at Gees Mill Road and watched the now brown, muddy Yellow River sweep past us, leaving each drop of water, each moment, flowing endlessly away from me.  It's true that if we wde into a stream bed, we've never actually waded in the same river twice, for the water is different each time, as it flows down into Lake Jackson and south from there into the sea.  The rain washed out part of the path, and I realized later that it would do me no good to continue, for the bridge next to the private Railroad Tracks (made for those small toy-sized trains like Ricky Schroder had in his living room on Silver Spoons ) had been washed out many times, leaving the wood rotted away.

It's amazing how many of the wooden structures I've seen that have not been kept up here.   There are
places on the web where you can see structures of past Olympics in ruins, the trees growing over the bobsled track, now covered with moss, a highway for the squirrels and such.  Such is the case here at the GIHP, but on a much smaller scale.  There were places along the trails where some wooden structure had been built, perhaps to stand a camera on, or for judges, or water stations, and now these areas are crumbling, as they aren't needed anymore. I'm glad that people keep the trails up, and cut down fallen trees and the like.  There are some places where it looks like strong storms have knocked over the trees, and so there are areas that look almost destroyed. There are areas of serenity, where I walked down a wide grassy path, finding nothing but the birds and the sunlight angling through the trees.  I could have walked for miles and found no one about.  I feel grateful that the people have let me enjoy my moments of solitude, yet I wonder, what if people could see outside their homes and televisions and smart phones? It is gorgeous, and yet I fear that the campgrounds I've seen remain vacant for much more than they are used.  What of the gravel pits
rounded by wooden benches (now half rotted), or the ones circled by granite stone, used for campfires, where boys told stories and laughed and roasted hot dogs or marshmallows in the flames? Would they remain empty while people bickered and funds dried up and everyone lost interest in raising children with any semblance of what the outdoors actually looked and felt like?  The barn houses will rot and fall down, the mills along the rivers (like the one next to the Haynes Creek Nature Center) will fall silent, standing inside of tall fences meant to keep people with beer and spray paint cans away.  Would these places become as invisible as the stone walls in the Factory Shoals area in Newton County?

I learned a few things while hiking these trails.  Watch where you step... they are horse trails, after all. For the bike paths, walk backwards from the way bikes would travel, that way you seem them and can step out of the way in time.  The falls off of some of those paths would hurt.  Follow the color codes on the main trails, or you will become lost, and then walk on the other trails some other time.  It might take a little bit to find some of the trail markers, but they are there.  Finally, take the time to see the beauty around you. I see bikes whizzing by, their riders more interested in how many calories they've burned than the marvels they are missing.  As Noel Paul Stookey said, "There's two ways to miss things. One is if they go by too fast, and the other is if we go by too fast.  In some cases, it's well worth watching the rings form around the trees, and let the speeding machines just pass by.  The cool thing is that, in the GIHP, there are tons of trails to hike, through rocks, swamps, fields, giant hills, forested lands, and it will take some time to walk through them all.  But I have the time, and the desire, so the winter's cold won't stop me from continuing my trek through the world, nor should it.

Trails I've been on up to March 12th, 2014 at the GIHP