A Second Round of Peppers

About a month ago, my first jalapeno and poblano plants both put out a very small batch of peppers, 2 or 3 each, and then stopped making peppers for a bit. I noticed increased growth in both height and foliage, but I wondered if something had caused them to skip making peppers after that first small run. I was pleased to find dozens of small pepper buds tonight when I went out to check on them, so it seems the delay was just a temporary one. I’ve read some people actually pull off the first run of peppers, as it focuses the plant on producing in greater numbers to replace those lost?


2017 Knap-In & Primitive Arts Festival

We made it out for a Friday evening visit to the Knap-In on Friday evening for a short while with some good friends. The majority of the festivities were planned for Saturday, but Friday was our only opportunity to check in. We had a nice time visiting with those who were set up, especially Billy Berger and Steven Riley, both of whom kindly spend time answering lots of questions from the kids.

Fort Mountain – West Overlook

Passing to and from Cohutta, it’s hard to miss the jutting profile of Fort Mountain as you head north up 411. Passing through a series of rural small towns – White, Fairmount, Ranger – you get the idea that the folks who live in these towns are inheritors of a complicated Georgia mountain culture and heritage. With one eye, you can appreciate the rustic charm of a city that moves at a slow pace and holds to it’s own set of values. On the other side, you see the hardships of poverty and neglect. Those two things – progress and economic health – are linked, and there is plenty of opportunity to reflect on this in north Georgia.

Fort Mountain has been a place that I’ve admired from a distance, but always as I am passing from home to some “better” place, like Conasauga. Fort Mountain is known for the ancient wall of mysterious origin that runs roughly 1000 feet along its peak. As we approached the park on Sunday, the transition to rockier mountain terrain was noticeable as we climbed up the mountain from Chatsworth. Beautiful views were everywhere, and we did have to make a stop at a particularly scenic overlook just to take it in for a minute.

With kids in tow, this trip was a mild outing so we chose the West Overlook Trail. It’s a short little trail, but leads to an interesting fire tower and a scenic overlook that you wuldn’t believe. The tower is open during daytime hours, but we’d just missed the closing time, so we puttered around the base while I convinced Jack that the locked tower door was not a challenge for him to practice his lock picking skills.

West of the tower itself, there is a stepped boardwalk leading to the overlook, and it really was an incredible spot! From the mountain, you can see west just an astonishing distance.

photo cred for this one ^ Jeannie Beavers

On the return trip, Jeannie and the kids were rock crawling all over the place, and at one interesting point, I hung back with the smallest one while she and the boys explored an outcropping. As they were doing their thing, a pattern up ahead caught my notice, and sure enough a good sized timber rattlesnake was draped across the trail. Of course, a snake beats a rock outcropping any day, so the boys came charging back down to come check it out. Once everyone was reminded of the need for respect and caution, we were able to get a really good look at him. The patterning was beautiful, marked by a distinctive copper stripe running down his back. After some exciting moments and plenty of pictures, we moved on, but it was a trip highlight to come across a creature like that.

All in all, Fort Mountain proved to be a very worthwhile trip. Between the views and the snake, the kids were enthused about it, and we’ll be planning a trip back somewhat soon to explore the lake and maybe do some camping.

Real Deal Brazil Tarp Ball Cap

I’ve been aware of Real Deal Brazil‘s tarp hats for a several years, but the release of a baseball cap style escaped my notice until I saw one at a Buc-ee Beavers in Houston last year.

I need to pass down some hats to my nephew because I have too many for sure, but since picking up this RD one, its tied with my Cohutta Fishing hat as my favorite. Of course, considering that it is made from recycled cargo tarps, it comes new with that weathered and worn look. That part is pretty nice, but Jeannie did look at me sideways when I showed her my “new” hat… that looked like it had been left outside for months on end. As far as style, I wish they’d leave the little faux patches off. It adds some personality maybe, but I took mine right off and am happier with them gone.

Our Tarp Ball Cap’s crown, slightly shallower than a standard baseball cap, is heavily stitched from six separate triangular panels of recycled tarp, often of very different shades. An elastic sweatband and a hook-and-loop adjustable strap ensure a custom fit, while five small metal grommets aid ventilation and, along with the metal button at the very top, further boost this all-purpose hat’s uncommon character. – Real Deal

The material, cotton canvas, is noticeably heavier than that of the usual ball cap. Adjustable at the back with velcro straps, there is also inside an elastic band that snugs the hat down against your head nicely. The description offered by RD is appropriate, as the crown is lower than usual. My one disappointment in the construction is their choice of material for the uderside of the hat brim. I’m not 100% sure what it is, but it feels like a thin nylon, and it’s not affixed to the stiff brim interior, so it kind of bunches up if you choose to wear your hat with the brim curved. It is an out of place material choice, considering the rugged design and style of the rest of the hat.

Being that their headgear is made from tarps, it is water resistant, though not waterproof. Once you cross that line from resistant to proof, breathability goes out the window, and breathability is a nice trait for a sweaty head. So for a light drizzle, this hat will keep your dry, but it’s not going to stand up to a full on downpour. If you were inclined to, a spray or wax would make it so.

With the quality construction and chosen materials, I expect this to be a durable, lasting hat that is appropriate for all seasons here in the southern woods.

A Blackwater Wilderness

To an observant map viewer, you might notice that among the dense lights, roads, and metro areas, there is a mysteriously dark patch of the map at the southeastern edge of Georgia, running along the border with north Florida. To Atlanta area folk, the southern half of the state is often thought of as the less interesting portion – good for growing crops, driving in long straight lines, hunting deer, and passing through on the way to the beach. But what many residents and visitors both fail to realize is that of the handful of significant wildernesses that have been conserved in the east, Okefenokee Swamp is an extraordinary ecosystem, brimming with unusual plants and creatures, and ready to astonish visitors at nearly every bend in the water trail.

Okefenokee and the areas surrounding have been inhabited by humans for thousands of years. Native peoples settled the region, occupying the dry lands repeatedly that extended into the swamp and the scattered high ground areas within. They also took on projects to increase the dry land areas in the swamp by constructing sand mounds. Despite the fame of the Cherokee in north Georgia, most of middle and south Georgia was firmly inside the sprawling dominion of the Creek tribes who hunted and controlled the region of the Okefenokee and the Altamaha River.

With the arrival of Europeans, white settlements were established off and on through the early 1800s. Much like the rest of the area, the swamp was utilized as a site for agriculture and homesteading. Some swampers even today trace their bloodlines back to some of these early families who adapted to the swamp and carved their homes and lives from it.

Due to relative isolation, the inhabitants of the Okefenokee used Elizabethan phrases and syntax, preserved since the early colonial period when such speech was common in England, well into the 20th century. – Wikipedia

The signs of those settlers, native and European, are all over the place there, and perhaps because of the exotic nature of the swamp, the history of the people that lived there seems ancient but at the same time, alive.

Having first visited the swamp a couple of years ago now and getting an exceptional introduction to its wonder from Chip Campbell, I have been turning to the swamp as the location for my big adventure each year since. It so happens that canoeing also captured my attention around the same time as that first visit, so the combination was an instant affinity to the place and culture. I returned home after three days of paddling with a connection to a place like I’d never experienced before anywhere. That first trip, we toured by canoe the expanse of Chase Prairie and the canals and trails surrounding it. That trip was well worth the cost of the guide and outfitting, and I felt that I got a bargain from the nature, lore, and history that Chip shared all along those few days of pretty solid paddling.

Over the next year, I told everyone who cared to listen about the swamp. First, it was surprising to me how few of my Georgia friends had ever even been there, and those who had had mostly experienced it by motor boat. A few had canoed there though, and it was those friends that seemed to understand. Those who hadn’t been seemed unable to understand the appeal that a swamp would ever have to offer!

By the time spring rolled around again, there was not question in my mind that another trip to Okefenokee was in order. Almost like a reward for surviving winter, it dangles the hope that canoeing, fishing, and sleeping outside won’t be denied forever. This time around though, I was thrilled that my dad and two grown brothers from Texas were sufficiently interested to come along. We made plans to trek down to Stephen C. Foster and access the swamp from the west side – a direction I hadn’t explored from before.

We traveled down from the Atlanta area, and it was a good sign that virtually the moment we entered the preserve, wildlife was everywhere we turned. Alligators, turkeys, deer, lizards, frogs, woodpeckers, fish, possum, owl, turtle. We were pulling warmouth from the boat launch an hour after arriving, reeling quickly to beat the clearly educated and well fed alligator that cruised the square pond. For this trip, we did take advantage of the state park cabin instead of the chickees, and there were both deer and turkey right out back of the house the next morning.

We rented canoes from the park shop, and paddled down the narrow canal leading out to Billy’s Lake. Out in the lake, that sense of awe returned instantly. The black water, cypress trees, water grass, and clean blue sky all reminded me again why it’s a place like no other. Billy’s Lake is a surprisingly long body of water, and was different than any section of swamp I had encountered on my previous exploration on the east side. Lake-like, there was a current to note, but the water was a black as any and brimming with gators right from the start. My youngest brother was in the canoe with me, and it was a joy to see that his excitement at the beauty and wildness of the place matched my own.

We headed up toward Minnie’s Lake with the intention to explore there, but before we could get there, we were distracted by the first catch of an Okefenokee “mudfish.” A colloquial name for bowfin, it was a first of it’s kind to be caught among us. After a good fight and a few minutes of study there at the bottom of the canoe, we let him go but turned our attention to catching more of the interesting fish. It wasn’t long before we realized that fishing for them was much too easy – basically, dropping a white or yellow softbait at the edge of the water grass mat yielded a bite seemingly as often as not! I was underquipped for them with my bream pole, and I lost a bunch to broken lines before I landed my first on gear borrowed from my brother. We never did keep any to eat, and it seems opinions on the goodness to eat varies.

After a few hours paddling along and catching fish, the sky turned a deep grey and unloaded a cold spring rain on us. Paddling along with a canoe gliding through that black water beneath and with rain coming down from above, I felt as alive and content right then as I ever have.

Noteworthy in the history of Okefenokee, I really wanted to get a look at Billy’s Island, which isn’t a far paddle from Billy’s Lake and the launch at Stephen C. Foster. Chip had mentioned it frequently the year prior, and my dad and I both enjoy seeing places of old history firsthand. Incredibly, Billy’s Island was at one time an actual town – a logging settlement there at the edge of the swamp that was complete with quite a number of amenities.

Camps were built, displacing the Lee family homestead, even though 21 Lees remained, according to the 1920 Census of Clinch County. Until 1932, the Lee males worked for the lumber company, and the descendants lived in a boarding house on the island. The lumber company built 49 houses divided into white and black family quarters, as well as a theater, machine shop, doctor’s office and commissary on Billy’s Island. A primitive railroad provided access to construction materials. By 1929, the logging camps were abandoned because the valuable lumber was gone. – USAToday

As we wandered the abandoned island and pondered the old tombstones, it wasn’t hard to imagine it as the site of a native settlement, but it was quite a stretch of imagination to picture it as a bustling logging camp.

Second in a line of what I hope continue to be annual visits, the swamp disappointed my family by no means. In fact, they are swamp converts now, as interested in returning and exploring as I am. There are a lot of paddle miles out there I haven’t seen yet, and a whole southern side of the wilderness that appears on the map to be untracked. I don’t know what’s out there in that section of swamp, or even if the USFS lets paddlers out that way, but wildness, mystery, and that rare sense of belonging are what infected me out on those black waters and will keep me coming back again!