True Blood, Season 5, Episode 2: Authority Always Wins. Yawn.

Last week I bitched about not enough naked vampire guys. This week, the only nakedness we got was in the form of a brief flash of a dead prostitute in 1905. WTF? Too much background on the Authority and not enough naked guys. I think the writers are losing touch with why we watch this show, and it’s not for a deep plot. Anyway, this week’s recap, in pictures.

First, Tara. Seriously. Who thought bringing Tara back as one of the undead was a good idea? First thing out of the ground and she’s trying to eat Sookie. Can we stake her yet?

Is anyone surprised by this?

Back at the 24 hour decomposing, pack leader diner, there’s a dispute brewing over who the Leader of the Pack is going to be.  I am pretty sure that Alcide doesn’t want to be their leader because he came from a neighborhood where the homes are attached to the ground by something more substantial than a garden hose and these low-rent motherfuckers are trailer-dwellers to be sure. Also, he is wearing clothes. This is a bad thing. He turns down the pack’s dinner invitation while looking all moody and hot. Let’s just cut to the chase. This scene would have been way better without a shirt on.

Why is he clothed?

Alcide, Luna and Sam leave, exit stage left.

What? Meatloaf again?

Meanwhile, Bill and Eric’s not so excellent adventure with the Authority lands them at the bunker. It’s noteworthy that the bunker is a run-down disaster that only invites urban explorers and codes citations. I think any Authority worth its salt would invest in more upkeep or at least try to blend in. If you want to be low profile, rent in a strip mall somewhere for God’s sake.

Put this secret compound next to Panera Bread in the suburbs and no one will notice anything.

Bill and Eric and Nora get tossed into a cell for a little light therapy.

Cage dancing at a rave or vampires melting in the sunlight? Your call.

After a little group torture, it’s time for the break-out sessions. Bill gets to go first. There’s a lot of questioning about vampire religion blah blah blah. Bill gets a little silver in his veins for his troubles.

“Remember, this is for posterity so be honest. How do you feel?”

Bill doesn’t take the bait and so we get to visit Eric all tied up.

“No one expects the Inquisition”.

Eric doesn’t take the bait either and so we find our heroes on their knees (yes!) only to find out it’s to listen to a prayer session, in Aramaic (epic bummer). The writers are apparently going to hammer us with the whole religious fanaticism thing this year to go along with our moral parable. Yawn. There’s a lot of talk about Vampire bibles and Lilith (Fair?) but frankly, it was boring.

I wonder if the jeans were True Religion? Anyway, this was a waste of a chance to showcase a shirtless Eric. On his knees, no less.

This whole boring Authority thing lasted for almost twelve minutes. I’ve been to zoning meetings that had more excitement. I will say that the Authority members are nattily-attired. Nice deployment of the pocket squares gentlemen.

Vampires Have Talent!

The Authority members deliberate and are arguing about who gets to go forward to the finals in Las Vegas  live and it’s a split decision, but suddenly Bill offers up a trade. He tells the Authority that Russell Edgington lives and that he and Eric will serve as bait. This logic eludes me and after Chris Meloni offers up a patented serious Law and Order look and threatens to stake Bill, he decides to let them live. Everyone knows this is fatal to the Authority because hot, younger vampires always win and he has just written his own True Death warrant. Also, Bill, please, contact a competent colorist. This hair color of yours is not working.

Meanwhile, Lafayette is proving he’s the only one in the whole outfit with a brain when he is in the crypt standing over Tara with a stake. Sookie of course reads his mind and stops him from killing the whiny she-beast. “She’ll change” blah blah blah. Rigggghhhtttt. Seriously, someone needs to shut Sookie the fuck up. Lafayette has the right of it.

Please God, do it. End the whining now for all time.

Of course, Sookie talks him out of it. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth across the land. This means we will have to listen to the bitch whine for all eternity.

Tara is not grateful and says she will never forgive them. I believe her. We will hear about this forever.

Meanwhile, Sam and Luna limp back from the dinner known as her ex-husband. Then her mother-in-law shows up and begs to be part of the kid’s life. Luna is not amused. Sam tries to be reasonable. Luna throws a hissy and they break up. Yawn. Then later her kid is making a racket and she discovers someone has kidnapped her child and replaced it with a husky puppy with gold eyes. Oh wait, that’s just Emma shifting. So when you go out on the town, do you hire a babysitter or a dog walker? Just wondering.

Do not bitch at a man who has just taken an ass beating on your behalf. It’s impolite.

Pam as usual gets the line of the night. Digging out of the grave, she seems entertained that Tara is not a good vampire baby and only barely orders her not to eat Sookie or Lafayette. When she drags into work, her human white trash employee asks “why she’s all dirty” and Pam tells her “I’ve been in the ground. What’s your excuse?” Badda bing.

Nice dress. Love your fang marks. The nearly-empty bottle of Maker’s Mark is a spectacular touch, although that’s a bit high-end for the truly white trash. Good work, prop folks.

Pam is getting all misty-eyed and remembering back to her first meeting with Eric which naturally involved a dead guy and lots of blood. I must say, he looks quite well in formal attire. It almost makes up for the lack of naked Eric. But not quite.  It is so not a shock that Pam was a brothel madam.

Eric looks hot in a coat and tails.

The good Reverend came to Jessica’s frat party to try to buy Jason from her.  One 900 number-inspired monologue later and Steve has blown his wad and Jessica mocks him and tells him her friends are not for sale.  Then he goes and pulls her hair and the fight is on. Jessica kicks him to the curb and he gives her the ominous news that maybe Bill is no longer the king. Well, then, that’s very special. I guess our friend Steve whose private parts were all tingly and engorged is in tight so to speak with the Authority. More will surely be revealed.

I fucking love those purple shoes. Snaps to Jessica.

We do get some Jason feeling sorry for himself after a teenager comes in to beat his ass for doing his Mom and busting up his parents’ marriage. I must say, the whole Jason rethinking his sordid behavior is sad, the same kind of sad like when Van Halen went from “Aint Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” to “Why Can’t this Be Love” sad. Stop now, writers. Please. Don’t Hagar Jason.

Also, there’s more of that whole Terry and Arlene thing with the under-utilized and overly-clothed Scott Foley as Patrick. All the flashback crap from Iraq detracts from the central point of the show, which is to have morally-flexible people who are quite attractive having sex with each other. If you must insist on this plot line, in the name of all that is good and decent, let’s see some naked Foley.

Finally, the episode ends with a scene of gore and dismemberment and pans to what can only be a bloody, revolting Russell Edgington getting ready for his comeback. And, fade to the inevitable John Cougar song.  See you next week kids.

That’s no way to pick your friends.

Kayaking the Buffalo River in Tennessee: an exercise in humility

I was supposed to spend the weekend of the 8th in the Elkmont Campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park so I could finally see the synchronized fireflies that are unique to just this one small part of the national park and nowhere else in the world.  So it would of course figure that the early heat we have had meant the damned fireflies were done three days before we were supposed to get there. This meant I had to find something else to do. I decided we would drive to an area just past Hohenwald, Tennessee, to kayak a stretch of the Buffalo River. Hohenwald, Tennessee, is world-famous for an elephant sanctuary that you can’t visit.

Troy left me to plan the trip which meant no matter what I did, it would be inadequate planning. So I said fuck it and called a canoeing company for information. Of course no one answered, so I printed out what little information I could find on line, directions off of Google maps and we hit the road at 8. A few words to our friends at Google, your directions suck balls. Ditto to the Sprint phone GPS. Note to those who don’t know: avoid the Natchez Trace Parkway at all costs unless you are old and like to drive 50 the whole way. ** For those inclined, directions are below. You’re welcome.

Since I didn’t really plan for much, we showed up at Buffalo Canoeing which bills itself as ‘Christian Canoeing’.  Not sure how you canoe ‘Christian’ as opposed to Jewish canoeing, or Buddhist canoeing, but OK. Since it was a Friday, the place was largely deserted and a very nice man walked out on the porch. He had almost zero information on the river, runs, etc., but he told us we should run the Texas Bottoms run, which was about seven miles long. He offered to port our boats and us to the put in and allow us to leave our cars at the campsite, which is an unheard of luxury. (See previous descriptions of ignominious put ins). We took him up on the offer and we quickly found ourselves in the back seat of a Christian Ford Econoline.

This is the first time in recorded history my heathen self has been anywhere near a church van of any denomination. Miraculously, lightning did not strike.

The driver told us he was a school teacher and we made polite chit chat.  He told us he liked to sew but that he “wasn’t gay or nothin’.” Seriously. I assured him his manhood was not in question and that I merely marveled at anyone who could sew as I am prone to doing things like stapling buttons on my pants when they fall off. (Note: this does not work well). I have created a Google map for accurate directions to the put in so you won’t suffer finding it like we did.  Paddlers, you’re welcome.

This is where you put in.

We were told that it would take us three hours to do the run and that we needed to “watch for a fallen down bridge ” and that we needed to get out and portage the boats over it. That was all the instruction we got. In retrospect, a few more words to the wise would have been helpful. About 100 yards in, there’s a series of falls. Sadly, I had no idea they were coming and getting over them sucked. The water level was low and I high-centered it several times which sucked. Advice to the wise: go right in low water – it sucks less. In higher water, this is a Class II run.

The Buffalo River. There are no buffalo. There are buffalo fish. I think they should rename the river Buffalo Fish River. Buffalo River creates unrealistic expectations of buffalo.  There are cows. You will see lots of them on the banks and in some places, in the river.

Once we passed the first set of falls, we came across this gem:

Somewhere, an Indian is crying.

The problem with Tennessee is that apparently everyone feels free to use the rivers as their own personal landfill. It’s a lovely river, but it’s packed with trash. I quit counting tires after ten. Note to Tennesseans: when you don’t need something anymore, don’t throw it in the river. You will see a lot of blue herons, ducks, cows, gar, bass, etc. If you are very, very lucky, this stretch is reported to have it’s very own Sasquatch. My quest to see Bigfoot continues, alas, no ‘Squatch for Jean this trip.

Troy is ahead of me. This is so I can watch him eat it before I attempt rapids. I am good like that.

The river moves fairly fast and most of this stretch is rapids punctuated by flat still water stretches. This is awesome because I enjoy having a current move my carcass without much effort from me. On the down side, this creates the possibility of decapitation from strainers.  The Buffalo River is chock full of deadfall and strainers. Deadfall is paddling shorthand for dead trees and crap in the water that you hit in your boat which is bad. Strainers are things that allow water to pass but not kayakers, in my case, typically tree branches low over the water that I run into.  Since this river moves fairly fast and has lots of turns with strainers at the end, this is not a great river for novices.  Some people would call it foreshadowing with all the talk about strainers and deadfall, but it was inevitable that I was going to take a hit and dunking in the river. My Waterloo on the Buffalo came in the form of a series of drops with a quick hard turn to the left and a big tree sticking out to decapitate me. I saw it coming, and I could not paddle hard enough to avoid it.  As a wise man once said: “Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way … turn.”  I kind of missed the turn part.

I hit this hard. It sucked. I went over and out into the water. That also sucked. Especially since Troy made it through and I didn’t.

Several large bruises and a tattered ego later, I crawled out of the river with boat in hand and had to pump water out. Troy managed to maintain a straight face for 30 seconds before he began making comments that will likely get him killed in his sleep.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Just after we passed under a large bridge, we came upon the ‘fallen bridge’ mentioned by the porter. He’s right – it’s best to get out of the boat and portage over the bridge. If you try to go over it, it’s not going to go well.

The water was way too low to try to go over this.

The other side of the fallen bridge. This is the halfway point.

The river flattens out a bit and you get to see nice pretty blue water. You will paddle past pastoral scenes of bucolic countryside. Cows may visit you. Rednecks may also suddenly appear unexpectedly around a bend of the river. They like to sit in chairs in the water and drink beer. By July, this river is reportedly packed with hordes of drunken fishermen. Be prepared.

Bluffs and blue water – almost to the end of the run

Troy and I saw two canoes and two middle-aged women arguing in the middle of the river on chairs and that was it, but it was a Friday. Do not expect to get this river to yourself, but it’s not as crowded as other middle Tennessee rivers.  There is no cell signal in this area, so try to avoid having an emergency.  Services are non-existent outside of Hohenwald so plan accordingly. Also, if you are looking for a nice remote place to bury your smart-assed husband’s body, this area has potential.  It’s hilly, heavily wooded and sparsely populated.

The end of the paddle at the Buffalo Canoeing.

**For those who want to know how to get to this place, at Exit 46 on I-65, head west toward Columbia.  Stay on this highway (Hwy 99 – a/k/a Bear Creek Road) until you get to Hampshire Pike and exit left, then stay on that all the way to Hohenwald (28 miles or so), take a left at Park Street (you have to look for the Hwy 99 sign as the street is not marked) take a quick jog left at E. 4th Ave (also unmarked, but follow the signs for Hwy 20) then take a quick right at Buffalo Road, otherwise known as Hwy 99 and stay on this road until you see a sign marked “Buffalo Canoeing” – you will know it when you see it. Ignore any other prompting from your GPS or Mapquest. You have been warned.

For paddlers who want more information, the Buffalo Canoeing owner is the son of the original owner and he works three jobs. This means he does not answer his phone much. Leave a message. Portage is available for $5 a person. Take them up on it.

True Blood, Season 5, Episode 1: Not enough naked guys

It is no secret that Sunday night during True Blood season is pretty much church for me. Everyone who wants to live knows not to bother me during that hour of communion with the television. Obviously after nine months with no True Blood, I was ramped for the premier. Troy fails to get my enthusiasm for this show, but to his credit, he kept his mouth shut for the entire show without more than a handful of stray comments. He gets to live.

To recap from last year’s finale: Alcide declared that Debbie was dead to him, Lafayette got possessed and ended up killing Jesus, Andy hooked up with Holly, Sookie broke up with Bill AND Eric, Debbie tried to kill Sookie but ended up shooting Tara and Sookie killed Debbie and dumped the body, Alcide killed Luna’s husband who killed Sam’s brother, Bill and Eric offed the annoying blonde from the Authority, Jason got it on with his best friend’s ex, Arlene and Terry’s devil baby burned their house down and Rene appears to be coming back from the beyond. That about covers it.

(Anyone who wants to see this later and not have the whole thing ruined should quit reading now and should definitely NOT look at the pictures).

Season 5 opens with Sookie on the floor cradling the dying Tara in her arms while Lafayette pretty much freaks the fuck out.  I had to agree with Troy that Tara kicking off was awesome because she whined incessantly and I just wanted to shut her up. Death is a pretty permanent shut the fuck up so I was down with it. Then Sookie had to go and ruin it by begging Pam to turn Tara into the walking undead. Fabulous. Now we have a walking undead whiner in the making.

Anyone with minimal brains can grasp that this is a very bad idea.

Pam feeds her some blood and then lays down for a dirt nap with Tara while wearing a yellow Wal-Mart sweat suit. Line of the night to Pam for the “If that’s not a demonstration of team spirit, I don’t know what is.”

Meanwhile, Eric and Bill have run into a spot of trouble. Problem number one from my vantage point is that they are wearing clothes, but I digress. It seems that last season when they killed the blonde mouthpiece of the Authority they irritated the powers that be.  Bill leaves Jessica in charge and he and Eric prepare to hide out.  Eric cleaning the house in super high-speed while Bill is on the phone with Jessica was a nice touch. Both Eric and Bill get a little jolt when they sense Sookie is in trouble, but Eric saves the day with a “Fuck Sookie” since she ditched them. They leave Sookie to her fate. Sadly for Bill and Eric, the Authority is there to nab them as they flee the house and they get netted with silver.  Considering the size of the nets, I can only speculate that these are really pricey nets. They get thrown in a trunk and driven off, then after some chit-chat, they blow the car up and get out. Bill gets injured and Eric comes to his rescue saying “I won’t leave without you.” WTF? These two can’t stand each other and now they’re BFFs?

Could you at least have taken his shirt off?

Just as they are about to get killed, along comes some new hot vampire who rescues them with a timely staking and suddenly Eric and the new girl are on. Bill gets to be all snarky here but Eric introduces his “sister” (insert Louisiana joke here) before he rams his tongue down her throat once again.

Ah, the romance of having a guy grab you by your hair all covered in blood and then ramming his tongue down your throat.

It looks like Eric’s broken heart lasted about an hour, so props to him for his quick emotional recovery. She takes them to a loading dock and they spend the day napping in a shipping container.  I didn’t see air conditioning, so I can only assume vamps don’t mind broiling mid-day Southern heat in a box. Naturally, as night falls Eric has to have sex with his sister while Bill waits outside with the occasional snarky comment. As they are getting it on, Eric’s phone goes off. Nice. It’s Alcide. Eric is so up to something, but it doesn’t matter what because the man is shirtless and zipping his pants. Let’s enjoy this for a moment:

Thank you.

They get new names and identities and are headed off to a new life, when explosions occur and the Authority is on them again. This is not good as it means more clothes for Eric.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Andy has scored with Holly and gets the awkward walk of shame to the squad car when her kids come back early from hunting:

Covering up your nekkid self with a fairy costume is on the humiliating side.

Why this is a story line I am unclear. Andy also has a test of convictions and fails when he allows the local judge to get him to let his relative off the hook for a ticket. This is boring too and does not lead to more naked Eric, Bill, Jason or Alcide. Yawn. Note to producers: we aren’t watching this for moral redemption. I’m just sayin’. Ditto the Terry and Arlene thing. More nakedness, less PTSD for the cook.

Getting back to the story, Jason answers the door naked and it’s crazy Rev. Steve Newlin, now sporting fangs. Jason gets glamored and lets the Rev inside to hear his tale, which turns out to be a declaration of gay vampire love. I will forever love the good Reverend for showing up just for this image:

Thank you Jesus. The perfect man. Naked and mouth covered with duct tape.

Thanking him for the honor of being the object of his gay vampire love, he declines and then the Reverend gets all pissy and threatens to bite him when Little Red Riding Hood shows up to save the day:

The sledgehammer of subtlety: the connotations of the red riding hood outfit on a vampire coming to save Jason were too obvious to be missed, writers. We got it.

Then they get it on. Later, Jessica goes all sorority girl and hosts a party at Bill’s house while he is out-of-town and Jason crashes it and bums her out, but they are both jealous of each other and they sing a tragic rendition of ‘Cherry Bomb’ on Guitar Hero and then Jason leaves with a stacked blonde but just takes her home claiming he has a new-found respect for women. Whatever.

Back at Chez Sookie, Alcide comes over to warn her that Russell Edginton is back and she is in danger. Sookie hides a tooth she missed in cleaning up her kitchen (guess Alcide’s werewolf nose is all stuffed up) and Alcide begs her to come with him so he can protect her. Sookie starts to confess she offed his girlfriend, but then Lafayette shows up and goes all ballistic on him and Alcide leaves. Still wearing his clothes. Sigh.

Q: What is wrong with this picture?
A: He’s wearing clothes.

Meanwhile, Sam is trying his best to take one for the team by claiming to have killed his girlfriend’s crazy ex to protect Alcide who helped him find his brother.  In exchange for leaving Luna and her daughter alone, Sam gets a beat down while the writers want us to unconsciously assimilate the crucifixion imagery where he literally turns the other cheek. Finally, he coughs up the location of the grave in exchange for permanent clemency for Luna and her daughter. Then the wolves take him to the body, which they dig up just in time for Alcide and Luna to show up (wearing clothes) and stop his execution, but the dead guy’s wolf parents eat their son’s decomposing corpse. Not sure what to make of that, but I can’t imagine there’s an Emily Post etiquette rule that covers what to do when werewolves devour the body of their dead child in front of you.

Where did he get his pants? He left his house with the werewolf totally naked. So they beat him once he puts his pants on? Whose sensibilities were offended? I vote for no pants.

And finally, there’s night fall and Lafayette and Sookie are waiting for Tara with a bottle of True Blood by the shallow grave. After some totally not so subtle foreshadowing of doom and after some pitiful squalling by Sookie who is constantly squalling, Tara emerges from the grave and she does not look friendly. Girlfriend, I told you this was a bad idea and now you have a mess on your hands.

The bitch is back and she is pissed off.

So much for the end of Tara.  I hope they have several sharpened spikes waiting in the wings.

The hazards of kayaking in Tennessee: ticks, sunburns and rednecks

It’s been a while since the Harrison household hit the water for a variety of reasons. Baxter’s death took the wind out of my sails to some extent and Troy’s continuing rotator cuff injury meant that there was little point in getting the kayaks out. This weekend, though, we decreed it was time. We mulled over a number of possibilities and decided to do a stretch of the Piney River in Hickman County, Tennessee, about an hour west of Nashville. We consulted the oracle, otherwise known as a paddling book for the Middle Tennessee area, and set upon a 6.9 mile run from the old Piney River bridge to the Walter Nunnelly bridge. The book indicates that you will arrive at an area where you can park next to the bridge and then descend a short embankment to put in to the river. After Troy and I skirmished over whether the area we found was indeed northwest of the bridge (thankyouverymuchTroyIwasright), we parked and did a quick recon. The book euphemistically refers to the put in area at the end as a “slide”. This translates to very difficult and steep muddy bank for those not in the know. We lugged the boats down. Then Troy changed his mind and we lugged the boats back up the hill. I complained. After another skirmish about violating someone’s property rights and entering on the east side of the river, we turned back and went back down with the boats to the edge of the river. We were greeted by an Australian cattle dog that gave us the “are you seriously going down there?” look. We went down there. Again.

Crawling down a steep bank with waist-high flora is guaranteed to get you two things: poison ivy and ticks. I marinated myself in Deet, but as it turned out, the ticks laughed at my feeble attempts to keep them at bay. One of them was later discovered lodged in my side where the sports bra was. I am reasonably confident I avoided the poison ivy, but it’s a bit early to say for certain. However, the end of the bank and my less than graceful entrance into the water pretty much guarantee that I washed off any sap I may have touched as we pretty much took headers into the river. Troy’s shoe got stuck deep in mud and there were some choice words that rhyme with brother trucker and similar words that came out of his mouth.

Had we paid $5 each, we could have ported to the private spot across the river.

After our ignominious start, we ambled down the river. For those who read this and actually want to know what the river is like, note that this was a warm, dry day in May after several days without rain. A good bit of the first part of the river is inches deep and there was some portage involved. Also cursing. Expect a fair bit of grinding over shallow rocky bars in the middle of the river in places and if you have a fiberglass kayak, I’m so sorry.  For novice kayakers, there are parts of this river that run at class IV+ to Class V and this is not a river to fuck with in high water or in specific stretches. Leave that to the pros and stick to the area between Piney River Road and the Piney River Campground and you really can’t hurt yourself without effort.

The start of the run next to the wreckage of the Old Piney River Bridge

In May of 2010, the middle Tennessee area was hit with catastrophic flooding and this river still shows the effects. Huge trees are down along the entirety of the river and there is a great deal of deadfall and some strainers.  At the beginning of the run, you can see the wreckage of the old bridge which was destroyed by the floodwaters. Also, the picture above gives you a good idea of just how shallow the river can get in places. Look ahead for the blue water to avoid getting high centered on a gravel bar. Also, this avoids hearing taunting comments from one’s husband who did not get high-centered on the gravel bar.

Shallow and wide at the beginning, punctuated with little rapid runs.

The Piney River drops at about 8 feet a mile so there are some nice little rapids you will have to contend with. Post-flood, there is a ton of debris you have to avoid and in higher water, this could be challenging and easily a class III run.  Most of this is in the class II category which is easy enough, but for the novice, you may find yourself tipped over multiple times. Fortunately, unless you knock yourself senseless, you won’t drown because these rapids aren’t more than a foot deep in most places.

The water is clear and moves along at a good 100 cfm. There are places to fish for those inclined and there are a lot of trout. Also, there are a lot of beer cans, which indicates redneck fishermen. Be prepared.

This river is lovely, but it’s also trashy. 99% of the people you will meet on the water are going to be beer-swilling rednecks with extended families carrying fishing gear, and smoking and drinking. Apparently, they simply heave their trash wherever they happen to be which is quite unfortunate. On the plus side, the old sewer plant no longer takes water in here.  Less than two miles from the end of the run, you will come upon what is clearly a Redneck Riviera. As you round a bend, you will see a campground on the right packed in good weather with the unwashed masses swimming in the river, drinking beer, smoking and engaging in redneck mating rituals. Paddle harder and get past this. Resist the urge to look as you might need therapy.

Troy lagging behind just past the Highway 48 bridge

On this run you will pass under three bridges. The first at Pinewood Road, the second at Highway 48 and the final one at the end which is Highway 230 where you have hopefully had the foresight to park your car or arrange for portage. Once you hit the Highway 48 bridge, you are roughly halfway done and the river gets wider and deeper, still punctuated by occasional rapids with steep turns and things you want to avoid.

Once you see these, you are in the home stretch.

You will know your run is at an end because you will see another bridge, but this one is packed with redneck kids. They like to jump off the bridge. This is Darwinism in action, but make sure you look up before you go under the bridge to get out on the left side. There are dumb kids up there and they might not realize you are coming underneath. No sense dying with them.

Walter Nunnelly bridge and home to jumping redneck kids

You will want to exit here as we are told the debris from the flood has made much of the rest of the trip to Vernon Bridge (2+ more miles down the river) largely impassable.  On your exit, you will immediately note the poor condition of the bridge while mentally wondering if you have to drive over it. The good news is, no, you do not have to drive over this bridge which looks like it’s at risk of imminent collapse from below.

“Big Guns vs Hot Rod FOREVER”. I have no idea what this means. Note the kids preparing to jump up above.

I was told by one of the kids that before the flood of 2010, you could just walk right up to spray paint the bridge, but now, they have to hang off the bridge to do it. Today’s youth, tomorrow’s convenience store clerks.

I am not a nice person.

At the end of the day, what I have is three ticks, one serious sunburn, majorly sore muscles and a new appreciation for urban dwellers.

I am not sure how to explain the line of sunburn demarcation.

Elegy for Baxter: 2003 – 2012

Au revoir, Baxter

In the summer of 2003, I agreed to take a young, very scared Great Pyrenees mix as a foster dog in my home. All I knew was that he had been rescued from a very serious abuse case and that at seven months old, the vet treating him had decided it would be kinder to euthanize him as he lived a life of perpetual fear. I was so arrogantly sure I could fix him, that I never considered that I could fail. I went to pick this dog up in a parking lot at a movie theater from a nice lady who had driven him to Nashville from Chattanooga. On arrival, I was greeted by a terrified, drooling, shaking, over-sized puppy who wanted absolutely nothing more than to get away from everyone and go hide somewhere.  Getting him in the car proved challenging as he instantly became one with the pavement and he performed some kind of meld with the concrete to avoid being picked up. We finally got him into my car and I got him home. Once I managed to get him in my house, he shook violently,  peed on himself and tried to get as far away from us as he could. This was not the most auspicious of beginnings. After much debate, he was duly named Baxter.

For the first couple of days, I let Baxter observe us so he could decide for himself what our routine was and learn that the pack and our home was a safe place to be. As time wore on, I spent hours on the floor, petting him, rough housing lightly to get him to play. Always, he laid there absolutely still and stared up at me with sad brown eyes looking as if the weight of the world was on his puppy shoulders. Finally, weeks into the process, I tried to engage him in play and I saw for the first time a spark. He put his mouth on my arm, but very quickly backed off as if he were in trouble. I pressed forward and played more. Outside we went. I will never know what it was that broke through the fog to this poor boy, but something finally clicked and he grasped that it was OK to be a dog and that he was safe. This giant, sad dog who suffered unspeakable abuse morphed instantly into a spinning, smiling, happy dog who was excited to play for the first time. I knew we had a permanent family member as this baby boy was mine and  Baxter and I had a bond.

It took many years for Baxter to get comfortable in the presence of new people, but each month he improved until he finally made peace with the fact that strangers sometimes come to our house. He even learned to let strangers pet him and enjoy it. Baxter was a natural born guardian and he took his job very seriously. Initially, we thought the dog park would be a place where he could play with other dogs, but all he did was run the perimeter to guard EVERYTHING in the park from threats only he could foresee. I believe if we could have provided Baxter with just two sheep to watch over, he would have been the happiest of dogs. Sadly, urban Nashville is not a good place to raise sheep in the back yard, and I’ve never been a fan of livestock in the house.  Baxter somehow made his own peace and he healed himself over time by learning to love us and trust us.  He also became the ambassador dog in our household and it was Baxter who generally made the many fosters dogs that followed him feel welcome in the house as Baxter accepted everyone (with the exception of two dogs who drove him to distraction – Milo and Cooper, you know who you are).  He was a generous soul to all animals and he was wonderful in every way.

It is the saddest of truths that we do not get to keep our dogs forever. We forget as the months and years march by that their time on earth is measured differently than ours, and they feel the spin of the earth much more keenly than we do. The giant dogs with their oversized hearts and boundless love are tragically the ones we keep the shortest time. Baxter was a very big boy and his giant body became increasingly frail over the past year. Still, he seemed happy and enjoyed fits of riotous barking and bouncing play sessions that nearly knocked me off my feet, and so I pushed back the creeping awareness that Baxter was in the bonus time and that his time with us was coming to an end.  Yesterday morning, when I got up to leave for work, I never dreamed that this would be my last day with my baby boy. Had I known, I would have cleared my calendar and I would have spent the entire day telling him how much I loved him, and how wonderful he was. I would have petted his tummy and rubbed his ears and done all those things Baxter loved, but never demanded.  I could not know as I was getting ready for bed that the end was upon us.

Late last night, Baxter became violently ill. We rushed him to the emergency vet who gave us the diagnosis I did not want to hear. Baxter had bloat and even thought we caught it immediately, the prognosis was very poor as this was a repeat of an earlier bloat episode and his esophagus had twisted and was beyond repair. Given his other health issues and the significant likelihood that he would not survive the surgery, we made the agonizing decision to let him go. Dogs give us everything they have. Their hearts are ours to keep or break as we see fit and they love us even at our very worst. The one gift we can give to them is to give them back when their time is at an end and walk that long walk with them, even knowing the loss and the silence that will follow. I had the strength, but only barely, to let my beloved Baxter go when every fiber of my being wanted to try every thing possible to keep him with me. In the end, we did what was right for Baxter and we released him from this world. I do not know how long it will be before I can smile at the mention of his name, but no dog was ever loved more than Baxter. I hope that if there is a heaven, Baxter will be there waiting for us in some patch of shade in a lush green grass with birds singing and his nose in the wind with a huge smile on his face. If he’s not there, then I want to go where he is. I’ll see you on the other side, Baxter.

Ambling along the boardwalk in Blue Springs State Park, Florida

I have been out with major dental surgery for the past two weeks, culminating in an unplanned visit to the oral surgeon to address an infection in the jawbone. This sucked epicly, as the pain level was remarkably high. I am not a wuss as I walked around with a broken neck for three weeks in exquisite pain before it was surgically repaired. So when they asked me “How would you describe the pain on a scale of 1 to 10” my response was pretty simple: “That would be a 10” with an unspoken “thanks for asking Captain Obvious”” tacked on the end. Fortunately for me and those forced to be near me, someone totally awesome invented Percocet. I have decided Percocet doesn’t really dull the pain – it just makes you not give a damn that you are in pain. This post is dedicated to you, Mr. Unknown-I-invented-Percocet-guy. Without your invention, I would have either gone mad or killed my husband, and it was even money on which way I would have gone. I am on the mend, but I am pretty sure in my last life I must have killed a slew of dentists to end up in their chairs so much over the past two weeks.  Karmic vengeance to be sure.

So kids, here’s your pretty for the week while I live in a haze of oxycodone bliss. These pictures are from Blue Springs State Park just north of Orlando, Florida. This is just off the St. Johns River and during the winter, it is a major manatee hangout where they come by the hundreds as the temperature of the water is steady 72 degrees year round. The spring is enchanting, and for those who like to dive, you can get certified to dive here as the spring is 140 feet deep at the source.  There is a boardwalk along the river for those who want to stroll along the water and you can swim here unless the manatees are present, at which point, it’s off limits. For those of the kayaking bent, forget it. The main spring and run down the 3/4 miles to the convergence with the St. Johns River are closed to kayakers. The water is spectacular and the wildlife viewing is great if you want to see manatees in huge numbers. This park is famous for huge crowds during the season, so call before you come because they do close it off when the crowds are high. There is a $5 entrance fee, and for a quick stop, it’s a nice place to see.

Blue Springs State Park: it's just that pretty

 

Where the Blue Springs run converges with the St Johns River. This is all manatee preserve and it's off limits to people from November to March.

 

Spectacular scenery.

 

Scuba diving at the main spring. The divers disappear into a dark blue crack below the water. It's pretty cool to see.

The magic of bears: Wekiwa Springs, Florida

Florida is one giant strip mall in many respects and you never have to go more than 2 miles in any direction to find a Panera Bread. It’s also oddly like God’s waiting room, full of old people on their last leg. Surprisingly, it also has some outstanding natural areas that are truly wild, even in urban areas. Exhibit A: Orlando. Nothing is worse than Orlando. Tons of tourists spending their last dollar to entertain their hopeful children whose fantasies will be crashed on the shores of reality. (Note: my parents never took me to Disney World, so I am still bitter about this). Endless shopping malls and outlets where you can buy crap you never knew existed or that anyone would ever want. Concrete, traffic, noise and people everywhere. It’s loud and there’s no headset in the world that can drown out the incessant hum of tourist noise. All this is to say I was shocked by Wekiwa Springs.

The main pool of Wekiwa Springs.

Wekiwa Springs State Park is located smack in the middle of Apopka, Florida, a northern suburb of Orlando. On hot days, the spring fed pool is packed with screaming children splashing everywhere. We arrived on a Tuesday and stared at what seemed at first to be our worst nightmare come true. We hate crowds and we hate noise and there was a lot of both on display. I had heard of the fabled clear waters of Wekiwa Springs which hook up to St. John’s River and I had always wanted to kayak the area. On arrival, we parked in an asphalt parking lot and looked down on this pool which the State of Florida has thoughtfully rocked in around the sides. The manicured feel to the main attraction did not engender much hope in me that this was going to be something I wanted to do after all the hype. There is nothing natural about this pool. It’s nature that’s been made safe for the masses. It is of course, beautiful. The water is crystal clear and the scenery is drop dead gorgeous.

The water is really this clear.

As luck would have it, the launch for kayaking the river is at the bottom of about a 1/4 mile fairly steep trail. There is zero car access so this means kayaks and gear have to be carried down and what goes down, must come back up later.  The State of Florida has a park concession here that rents cheap kayaks, canoes and these ridiculous “exercise” boats you pedal and sit up in.  It didn’t seem to be very expensive for those so inclined, and I confess part of me wanted to just rent gear rather than haul it down and back up. This is because I am a whining sissy.

The majority of people who hit the river stick pretty close to the launch area. About a mile down the river is a commercial marina/bar just outside the park boundaries where drunk college students lay in the sun and occasionally, launch boats to go into the park to annoy older, more sober people. Once you get past this, it’s pretty quiet and you won’t see much except a lot of wildlife in the form of birds, fish, turtles, and the occasional alligator. The current is moderately strong going down the river which makes the paddle seem much easier than it will be on return. The water is very clear. You will see tons of dead trees in the water which I hope were left there to capsize drunken morons who high center their canoes on them. It pays to paddle in the middle of the river to avoid all the deadfall in the water, but you will have to work hard to avoid the incompetent masses paddling out of control.

Taking a left about 2/3 of mile down stream will take you to the Rock Springs Run, which is an 8-mile, narrow, winding and fast-flowing, spring-fed stream with amazing scenery. It is very frequently impassable after 2 -3  miles upriver as the water is very, very shallow. The current is strong and you will be fighting to go upstream against it. On the plus side, you will make record time on the return. Most of the crowds will disappear after a quarter-mile in and if you are quiet, you will see amazing amounts of wildlife.

Rock Springs Run in Wekiwa Springs State Park

This is the very best part of the park. Because I am lazy and wanted to turn around 1 1/2 miles in (paddling against the current is hard, kids), I sent Troy onward and told him I would meet him at the launch. Three minutes later, I got the absolute thrill of a lifetime. Because the current was strong, I was able to practically just rudder to get back without paddling and I was making no noise. With no one near and the only sound being the water and birds calling, I rounded a bend and came face to face with a beautiful cinnamon bear who was at the water’s edge. The moment was surreal and I paddled back to keep myself stationary in the water which was no more than 12 inches deep.  We sat there, the bear and I, five feet apart for five minutes or so, just watching each other. He was curious, but wary and I was mesmerized.  Finally, something startled him and he ambled off into the forest and I watched the sun sparkle on his wet fur. Naturally, the moment was rapidly ruined by drunken frat boys who saw him heading into the forest, but I got my golden moment with just me and the bear and it was fucking awesome. Suck it Disney World. You can’t compete with a bear.

Troy went on to this campsite on Rock Springs run about 2 miles upriver. Sadly, he had the camera when I had my magic bear moment. It's lovely, but it's no cinnamon bear picture.

Also, just because it amuses me, I snapped this quick shot of an actual douche canoe on the river. Seriously, the people in the canoe were BOTH on their cell phones.

Hang up your fucking cell phone. I did not come out here to say "Can you hear me, now? Good."

Okefenokee Swamp: kayaking in the corporate woods

We decided to take off for a week to kayak as spring is here and we always get the itch to go somewhere.  For whatever reason,  Okefenokee Swamp in deep Southern Georgia popped to the forefront of the itinerary. I have a thing for swamps with still, dark water as it appeals to the goth in me. Also, I like to say the word Okefenokee because it makes me giggle. I had no real idea of what we would see which is how every single Harrison adventure starts: pack your stuff, get in the car and drive. There are zero hotels anywhere nearby which meant a tent would be involved. We made reservations in Stephen C. Foster State Park to camp in a campground.

Okefenokee is near nothing and getting to it takes some driving no matter which way you come in. Miles and miles of pine forest surround this national preserve. Logged pine forest. I have a thing for nature and I appreciate the fact that it has a beauty all its own that is arrived at without planning or forethought and which is based on nothing more than random luck and Darwinism. Sadly, the timber companies which logged the land think replanting trees in soldier rows makes a forest. Not so much. There’s nothing but rows of trees for miles on end spaced precisely six feet apart which has the depressing ability to make nature look like corporate America.  I had zero idea that you could log the forest in a national preserve, but a preserve is not a national park and apparently our national forests are totally for sale.  Even a morally-bankrupt lawyer like me finds this disturbing. I could not bring myself to take a picture of the corporate forest so I made this drawing instead.

This is the forest of my childish imagination. Except it would have squirrels. Sadly, I can't draw squirrels so you'll just have to picture it in your head.

The campgrounds of Stephen C. Foster State Park are weirdly inside the actual national preserve. Fortunately, Georgia has good campgrounds and this is a nice one as far as campgrounds go. Each campsite had running water and electricity which for one of Troy’s trips practically makes it a four-star hotel.  Also, there are showers with hot water. Heaven.  Mercifully, the campground was pretty empty but as luck would have it, we were placed in a nearly empty campground next to chatty lesbian kayakers. So much for listening to the wind in the pines.

Chez Harrison at Stephen C. Foster campground in Okefenokee. Note the presence of electricity adjacent to the tent.

We rolled in late Saturday night as the sun was setting. With the setting of the sun came a dropping of temperatures. I loathe freezing and the wind coming in off the ocean 40 miles away smelled of salt and portended a long night of shivering. Thankfully, I had the foresight to bring fuzzy socks and flannel sheets. I did freeze to some extent and staggering out to pee at 3 a.m. is bracing to say the least. (Note to non-natives: be careful in choosing an outdoor location to pee, as saw palmettos have painful points that can do damage to exposed butt cheeks in the dark). This is a great place to see stars as there is no light anywhere around to pollute the night sky and the stars were brilliant.  Of course, my communion with nature is limited in cold weather and as much as I enjoy the vastness of the universe in the middle of the night, I also really enjoy not freezing and 50 degrees with a 20 mile an hour wind is going to get your attention.

The sun always rises early and we lost an hour to daylight savings time on this trip, so it was time to hit the water. Okefenokee is divided into canoe trails labeled by color. Stephen C. Foster State Park is on the west side of the swamp and the main area to put in is just down the road from the campground.  Okefenokee is the headwater of the Suwanee River and you can kayak the canal to the river if you like, but we headed down the main canal and hooked a right to the red trail and then on to the orange trail. The main canal is a manmade structure dredged out eons ago. It is wide and deep and reasonably still, lined by stands of old growth cypress draped in Spanish moss:

Cypress in the early spring always look like dead grey ghosts to me, but this is pretty much what the water and trees look like.

The wind was reasonably stiff and paddling against a headwind is tiring. We decided to explore the red trail up to Minnie’s Lake and Big Water. This is the best kayaking we saw as the canal narrowed down to a beautiful  forest on both sides with lots of water lilies. Sadly, morons are allowed to run in this area in motor boats so you have to avoid the wakes from boats, but it was still very much worth it:

Heading up to Millie's Lake with still water, just before a boat of rednecks attempted to mow us down.

The scenery along the red trail is spectacular:

Cypress and lilies.

Heading back down, we paddled off for Billy’s Island and the Orange Trail. The scenery is much the same, but we saw a lot of wildlife, including river otters and lots of big alligators. We subsequently learned that those adorable otters are actually pretty amazing killers and they prey on young alligators in the four to five foot range. I have new respect for otters.

Say hello to our little friend.

For those who actually want to know about the kayaking in Okefenokee, our experience is that the western part of the preserve is far more scenic than the eastern side with the entrance off of Folkston, although the east entrance has a lot more amenities including a grill. There are no grocery stores within 3o miles of the park, and aside from candy bars and ice, there’s nothing to buy from the concessions in the park. Plan accordingly. The gates close at 10 p.m. and campers need to be in before then. If you arrive after 5 pm, you can get your reservation form from the trading post and pick your own spot in the campground, a decided advantage, and you just check in before 10 the next morning at the trading post.  There is a cell signal in the campground, albeit faint. You can rent canoes and kayaks to tour the waterways, but if you don’t plan to hit the water, this park is a complete waste for you. There is almost nothing to see that you don’t have to paddle to appreciate. There is a loop drive on the east side and some walking trails, but they are boring.  Water levels vary and many trails are closed due to low water at times so it pays to call and ask before you head out.

There are bears in the area and alligators are all over the park and common sense rules apply. Do not slather sardines on your naked body and sleep in the woods and don’t swim in the area unless you have always wanted to know what it’s like to drown in the jaws of a 1000 pound alligator. This is also a mosquito haven so expect to be drained of blood and slather yourself in deet in the vain hopes you won’t be eaten alive.  The bastards are actually less of a problem on the water as the water is too acidic to support the larvae.  At dusk and dawn, the mosquitoes are out in droves so be prepared. You can bring your pets, but why would you want to since they can’t go on the water and there are many creatures that would like to snack on them.

This is the resident campground alligator that lives in the storm culvert. We were not clear on what he ate there as the ditch has zero fish, but there are a lot of people who bring their dogs to the park.

Science Geek alert – aurora borealis

I have always wanted to see the aurora borealis. There are two main flaws with this plan. One, I live in the South, where auroral displays are pretty damned rare and two, it’s hard to plan your schedule around coronal mass ejections* to make plane reservations to get there in time to see them.  Of course, getting to see these displays generally requires winter time (darkness is essential) and northern latitudes. Winter + northern latitude = really fucking cold which everyone knows I am morally opposed to. Also, polar bears.  Since this winter has been freakishly warm and today we are expecting mass destruction in the form of tornadoes here in the Nashville area, I present this video of aurora borealis from space because this appears to be as close as I am going to get to either outer space or the northern lights. If Troy really loved me, he’d book me on the space shuttle so I could see the famed northern lights from the relatively warm comforts of the shuttle, with the bonus of zero gravity (things have got to be perkier in outer space).

*that sounds really dirty

Happy Mardi Gras

Because my dogs are a blank canvas when I am bored.