Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Into the Forest and Home Again

With my participation in the Forest Stewardship Week over, I had to make a decision which way to drive home. I’d checked the mileage both ways, and both were about the same. I had an errand to do either way I chose, but I was also ready for some rest time before the final softball game between Georgia and Louisiana State, which was going to be broadcast on ESPNU at 8, with a supper to fix beforehand.

I chose the Harrisburg route again knowing I wanted to stop by and see Josie Brooks at the Book Emporium. But I was thinking longingly about taking a side trip to see Bell Smith Springs, which I’ve always wanted to visit. When my car approached the highway sign with an arrow pointing to it, the car turned on its on left blinker and headed down the side road. I was glad not to have to make the decision.

Soon on both sides of the road were amazingly tall trees—skinny trees actually because they were growing so thick and close together. As I enjoyed their beauty, a sign on the left explained I was in the middle of the Bay Creek Wilderness Area of the Shawnee National Forest. Googling here at home, I found such areas in national forests were created by Congress in 1990, and seven wilderness areas make up about ten percent of Shawnee with its over 270,000 acres and 1,250 miles of trails. More signs encouraged me that I was approaching Bell Smith Springs, and then an arrow pointed south to yet another side road. Still surrounded by trees, I drove on till I came to a parking area although the road continued beyond.

I had met no one since I left Highway 145, and no one was at the parking area. I was glad to be alone since I had been with people all day. Opening the car door, I realized I was not alone in silence. Winds sweeping through the rustling trees made almost a roar—but it was a comforting pleasant roar broken only by occasional bird sounds. I read the information provided in glass-fronted display cases and learned over 700 species of plant life surrounded me. Before starting down the rain-eroded path of small rocks glued together with some sort of hardening agent, I followed instructions and wiped my shoes on the provided boot cleaner lest I unintentionally carry in any seeds of invasive plant. (I was told to do the same when I left, and I did.)

I was glad for the path since the most common of the 700 species beside the path was poison ivy, but I also enjoyed a number of varying small blossoms among the ground cover beneath the towering trees. Far down the path and still enjoying being alone, I did recall from a decade or more ago, the story of a murder somewhere along such a deserted natural area. Shaking that ugly image from my brain, I determined to relish the beauty around me as I descended towards a canyon that the information board said had rocky sides of sandstone left by sand deposited millennia ago by some long-ago ocean. Unexpectedly, I came to stopping point where the path ended at a rock-walled viewing spot and then descended to the canyon by rocky steps between two such sandstone bluffs.

Another decision time. No banisters although the walls on both sides of the narrow steps going down were close enough together to offer some balance support. Did I dare go on? Common sense prevailed as I knew I am no longer as stable on my feet as I was a few years ago, and I really did not want to create an emergency if I were to fall down there in the canyon. I settled for sitting down on a lichen covered rock beside the path and looking down on the narrow rocky steps and the water below.

The ancient-looking steps assured me that many before me had appreciated this beautiful spot, and I marveled at how the steps had been created. I wondered who had done this for the rest of the world. Maybe during the Great Depression when Shawnee National Forest was being created during 1930-38, perhaps some of the young men in the CCC camps did this back-breaking creative work. Maybe even before this, it was some long ago nature lover who struggled and built these steps on his property to encourage others to come and picnic by the springs and swim in the river flowing through the canyon.

Videos on U-Tube show strong young swimmers in this century jumping and back flipping off the bluffs into the water here. My solitude was interrupted by a middle-aged couple, who had parked above by me and come down the path. After our friendly greetings that hikers exchange, they did not hesitate to descend the rocky steps looking for the natural stone bridge they’d read about. Envying them, I pondered again the possibility of trying the steps. (Now if I broke a leg or someone tried to murder me in the canyon, they could help me.) However, I really did not want to ruin that couple’s escape to the wilderness by going where my age told me I should not go, so again I refrained.

I was quite comfortable on my stone seat although I had scooted to the middle after seeing some spindly poison ivy I hadn’t noticed touching the sleeve of my sweater. I sat quite awhile longer enjoying the wind and bird sounds and then walked back up the incline to my car.

I could go back to Route 145 where I had turned off, or signs told me I could continue west to Route 45. New territory appealed to me, and I was glad I chose that way when I saw a sign leading to parking near Burden Falls in the Burden Falls Wilderness Area. I listened to the falling water there and smelled the damp forest aromas for awhile and then started west again. While I was at Burden Falls, a truck that I assumed carried forest employees went on by me onto a private-looking narrow road; otherwise the roads I traveled belonged to me alone ever since I turned off 145.

Occasionally there was a private home or farm tucked in an opening in the forest or then more along the road as I seemed to leave the forest behind. There were a number of side roads, but I stayed on what looked like the main road. Finally I was back on a well-maintained highway following a school bus and seeing many farm homes and rural churches. I knew this was not Route 45 and could only hope all my choices had been correct. Soon Route 45 appeared, and I was in territory I’ve traveled many times.

I was refreshed but tired when I reached Woodsong, and glad to read the paper and mail waiting for me there. Gerald was watching the afternoon game on game tracker between the Georgia Dawgs and LSU, and I joined him in his office. The night before we had watched their first game in the series at Baton Rouge as we celebrated Katherine’s birthday at her house. We had a good time. Though we would have loved seeing Tara’s family, we liked knowing Tara and her family were watching the same game down at Gma Shirley’s house as they took a road break before night-time driving for Tara’s Southern Force tourney down in Woodstock, Georgia. Yet despite our good time, seeing the Dawgs lose 5-1 after 15 straight wins did put a damper on the end of the evening.

Now despite our early lead in the afternoon game, LSU rallied and we lost that game also 5-3. Georgia is the team who are supposed to be experts at coming from behind and winning. LSU stole our game plan, and I wasn’t in too happy a mood as I fixed us a bite to eat so we would be ready to watch the third game on the television in the family room.

At last Georgia prevailed when freshman Alison Owen made her first game start as a pitcher and we won 3-2. Rains came during the night, but we woke up knowing our son was a happy guy when he phoned on his way to see Geri Ann, 16, and Tara’s Southern Force at their tournament. His three grandsons awaited him at Woodstock, and he was eager to join Vickie and Bryan in taking care of them. He was even happier when he could report that the Force had won the tournament and, thus, is already qualified for the 16U gold nationals for summer teams. He was also exuberant about Aidan, Maddux, and Payton whom he pronounced on Facebook as being sooooooo sweet.

Somehow Bryan, Tara, and the boys made it through the Nashville floods safely on their 12-hour drive back to northern Illinois. Meanwhile, our granddaughter Leslie, a Resident Assistant on the Belmont campus, was struggling at Heron Hall with its flooded basement. With no electricity, the RAs were on watch throughout the weekend, which might not have been as difficult if she had not been suffering a terrible sore throat and a final ethics paper to write. The electricity is back on now and the paper is written, but she has not said if the campus is closed yet. We have all prayed for her and sympathized with her on Facebook.  We sympathize also with those whose homes and businesses were destroyed in this unbelievable disaster, which makes us realize that winning or losing softball games is not too important.

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