I’m tired of doing daily recovery posts

I do like that I have been keeping a nice record of my life, since I hadn’t been doing that for a long time and I missed it, but remembering to write something every day is getting difficult. Or boring. I don’t know.

Anyway, my weight is staying pretty stable, I’m still eating terribly, my mood is great (I feel normal, I still have regular emotions but I am not controlled by them), I’m still getting sleepy during the day and in the evening but it’s not as bad as it was, I have a new online friend and she is really fun, Sean and I have finalized Christmas plans, I still haven’t put up our tree (and now I’m thinking I may not do it), I need to bake cookies today for the cookie swap I organized at work, and I also need to get back to writing (I’ve been slacking off).

I went to Gibbs Gardens yesterday and it was fantastic. No one else was there; it was 40 degrees out. A lot of the trees still had red leaves, so it looked beautiful and I had it all to myself. It was so great.

No red leaves in this picture, but here I am!

me sitting on a rock at Gibbs Gardens

I also had therapy yesterday, and my therapist was like “Maybe we should start talking about whether or not you need to keep coming here.” :D I told her I would like some help with setting and achieving goals, so we’re going to start working on that.

Heart-wise, today my dose of coreg doubled. My dose of lisinopril doubled two weeks ago. The last time I had CHF, I could not tolerate this dose of coreg; I had weird visual side effects. I guess we’ll see what happens.

Beautiful weather, beautiful day

budding daffodil, Gibbs Gardens

Today was lovely :) I got up around 8, poked around online until 9, then headed out for a day of photographing spring blossoms.

First, after gassing up at Costco and picking up a Bacon Egg n’ Cheese Biscuit, I made the drive up to Ball Ground to visit Gibbs Gardens. Normally I go early and arrive right when the gardens open; since I was late today, I had to park in the secondary lot and walk back to the entrance. On the way, a lady approached and asked me if I’d been there before. She was new to the gardens, so I told her as much useful information as I could—including that I think the best time to visit is the middle of summer, when the crape myrtles are in bloom. Spring is pretty in a subtle way; summer is ostentatiously gorgeous.

The daffodils were out in full force throughout both of the main gardens, as well as in their own special woodland fields. I went through the Japanese Garden, spotting a cherry tree and a plum tree, then hiked up to the Manor House, where I saw that the distant mountains were clearly visible against the bright blue sky, and two ladies asked me to take their picture in front of the house. Finally I strolled into the forest of daffodils, and it was incredible. Last year when I saw them, it was sort of early, so there weren’t nearly as many. Today, they were neverending.

daffodils at Gibbs Gardens

The gardens were packed with people. As I was leaving, there was a line not only at the cafe and the restrooms but even just to get in the door! It was lunchtime, so I ate a CLIF bar in the car, then drove to downtown Ball Ground to get pictures of the flowering trees I’d seen on the drive in. There was a lot of traffic, and plenty of people were milling about near the Cajun restaurant and the German butcher shop, but I couldn’t tell if something special was going on, or if they were all just enjoying the beautiful weather.

flowering tree in downtown Ball Ground

I decided I wasn’t quite done taking photos, so instead of going home, I went to Midtown and the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Parking was a little nuts, but I found a spot in the lower levels of the garage. On my way out of the parking structure, two men approached, and one of them asked hesitantly, “Excuse me, do you know where the botanical gardens are?” It is sort of confusing when you’re leaving that garage. “Yes,” I said. “It’s this way.” And I gestured the way I was going. The men thanked me and strode off ahead.

Like Gibbs Gardens, the Botanical Garden was filled to bursting with people. There was a bonsai exhibit set up at the entrance, and daffodils and tulips were everywhere.

me and many tulips

 

I had made it through the Edible Garden, the Fuqua Orchid Center, and the Conservation Garden and was trying to take a photo of a pretty white flower near the Great Lawn when my camera decided to stop working. It’s a known issue with Nikons; apparently I will have to take it apart to fix it. This put a huge damper on my mood, as I felt I had just barely gotten started. Annoyed, I took a few more photos with my phone, then made for the parking garage. I ended up not seeing the Japanese Garden at all.

As I reached the parking garage, I realized I was hungry, so I decided to walk over to Park Tavern at the other end of Piedmont Park. It would be nice, I thought; the restaurant had always been quiet and empty the other times I’d gone there, and I could take the opportunity to rest and catch up on Tumblr. So I strolled past the pond toward the other side of the park, stopping for a skyline shot.

Atlanta skyline as seen from Piedmont Park over a pond

Unfortunately for me, Park Tavern was not quiet and empty today. Every table was either reserved or filled with people. The outdoor section looked to have been expanded and it was still overflowing. I don’t know if I had just never been there at that particular time of day, or if something was going on—maybe everyone was watching NCAA basketball. Regardless, I left disappointed and hungry.

On the way back, a young couple asked me to take their picture in front of the pond and skyline. After that, I stopped to rest on a park bench alongside the pond. I read Tumblr and took a couple pictures with my phone until I was ready to walk again. I felt pretty good when I finally made my way back to my car.

On the drive back out of town, I passed my exit again, this time so I could pick up some Zaxby’s for dinner. Then, at last, I went home. I ate my dinner and surfed the web and took a nice, long bath. And now here I am recounting it all to you.

So yeah, it was a nice day. I’m glad I got to get out in the sun and see some pretty flowers. :)

A cherry blossom adventure in Conyers

March, for the most part, was cold and miserable, with occasional freak snow flurries in the mornings. Trees only haltingly started blooming toward the end of the month.

I had known for some time that Macon had a Cherry Blossom Festival, and I’d made tentative plans to go…but the forecast for my intended weekend, March 23 and 24, was horrendous, chilly and rainy. Given the weather of the previous few weeks, I estimated that the cherry trees wouldn’t even have been in bloom anyway.

The next weekend, though, felt just right for cherry blossoms. While I didn’t quite have time for a road trip to Macon, I figured I could find some trees closer to home. A bit of googling turned up the fact that there had been a cherry blossom festival in nearby Conyers, Georgia, the same weekend as Macon’s. According to the website, that city has plenty of cherry trees to enjoy. I was busy with chores on Saturday, so on Sunday, March 31, which happened to be Easter, I headed east on I-20 to the town I always pass going to and from Augusta.

I’d read that both downtown Conyers and the nearby Georgia International Horse Park had lots of cherry trees. I decided to hit downtown first, as I love exploring small towns. Conyers did not disappoint! Not only did I find the cherry blossoms I was after, but I saw a cute and vibrant downtown and plenty of other flowering trees and plants.

Cherry blossoms in downtown Conyers, Georgia

Evans Pharmacy, Conyers, Georgia

Fallen blossoms, Conyers, Georgia

Downtown Conyers even has its own miniature botanical garden.

Lewis Vaughn Botanical Garden, Conyers, Georgia

Lewis Vaughn Botanical Garden, Conyers, Georgia

By the time I’d explored Main Street and the Lewis Vaughn Botanical Garden, I was pretty tired and thirsty, so I stopped at Creamberry’s Ice Cream–the only open store I saw downtown–and got a sundae and a bottled water.

Creamberry's Ice Cream, Conyers, Georgia

Sundae and water at Creamberry's Ice Cream, Conyers, Georgia

After that it was back to exploring. I found a few interesting buildings as I approached the train tracks, and when I actually got to the tracks, I discovered the cherry blossom mother lode.

The Pointe Tavern, Conyers, Georgia

Cherry blossoms along train tracks in Conyers, Georgia

The overcast sky started to clear up just then, so I was able to get some reasonably good shots.

Cherry blossom, Conyers, Georgia

Colorful buildings, downtown Conyers, Georgia

Cherry blossoms, Conyers, Georgia

When I reached the end of the long line of cherry trees, I turned back in toward downtown Conyers, passing the Welcome Center and cutting through to the public parking lot where I’d left my car.

This probably would have been enough, but I still felt like exploring, so I charted the way to the Georgia International Horse Park with my phone. After all, if the cherry blossom festival was held there, there had to be more cherry blossoms, right?

At first I was disappointed, though. Road construction detoured me away from the main entrance, and I ended up driving onto the horse park through a side gate. There were barely any trees at all around the stables and tracks, let alone cherry trees. I drove around the perimeter and didn’t see anything worth stopping for beyond a creek I’d noticed upon arrival. Disheartened, I took the first exit I came across back to the road…and across the street I spotted a nature preserve. I hopped across the road into the parking lot, parked my car, and marched down the hiking trail without a second thought.

Big Haynes Creek Nature Center is nestled along the creek I’d seen from the horse park. The trail led me back through the woods to an absolutely gorgeous wetland area.

Big Haynes Creek Nature Center

The trail winds along a large body of water, upon which I saw Canada geese, a heron, and a surging splash in the distance that may have been a beaver or muskrat (or an alligator). I spent considerable time sitting at the boardwalk area, basking in the beauty I’d found.Boardwalk at Big Haynes Creek, Conyers, GeorgiaHeron, Big Haynes Creek, Conyers, GeorgiaBig Haynes Creek Nature Center, Conyers, GeorgiaBeyond the boardwalk, the trail curves into the forest alongside the creek, past a water purification plant and eventually back to the parking area. Along the way, educational signs and activities share information about local plants and wildlife and the water purification process. I even saw more flowers. It’s a really nice little nature center.

Flowering vine along Big Haynes Creek, Conyers, Georgia

At this point, I was fully satisfied with my Conyers adventure. I got back on the road expecting that to be it. But I ended up leaving the Georgia International Horse Park property a different way than I’d come in, and that meant I finally found the main entrance–and its stands and stands of cherry trees.

Cherry trees at Georgia International Horse Park, Conyers

The cherry blossom-lined road out of the horse park was the perfect endcap to an amazing adventure in Conyers.

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A glorious day in Midtown

Midtown skyscrapers

In my post about second homes, I mentioned that I hadn’t quite made that special connection with Atlanta yet. This past Tuesday, I realized that’s not exactly true. I do have strong feelings…for parts of Atlanta.

It only makes sense. Atlanta is huge. The sprawl just keeps going and going. Much of the city is strings and clusters of strip malls, businesses, and homes that are only accessible by car. Of course I wouldn’t find that homey, walkable, or natural.

But there are places where I can stroll around happily for hours and find plenty to do and see. As I rediscovered Tuesday, one of those places is Midtown.

Midtown skyscrapers

My friend and former coworker Stephanie just moved back to the Atlanta area–we met in Augusta, but she grew up here. We’ve been trying to get together and do something for awhile, and finally this week things came together. She and her baby Landon, who is just about to start walking but for this day spent most of the time in his stroller, met up with me at the High Museum of Art.

High Museum of Art with signage for Frida and Diego exhibit

Stephanie hadn’t been there since she was in school; as for me, the last time I’d visited was for the Picasso to Warhol exhibit a year ago. I acquired a photography permit (something I don’t recall them doing last year) and signed a statement agreeing not to post my photos online (alas), then we got to exploring.

We started in the Stent Family Wing, heading up the ramp to see European Art from the 14th to 19th centuries and American Art from the 18th to mid-19th centuries. We took a short break so Stephanie could feed Landon; I was impressed with how organized and thoughtful a mom she is. After a quick diaper change, we were able to take in the first part of the visiting Frida & Diego exhibit before Landon became too fussy to continue. All the while, Stephanie and I chatted about the art, and travel, and cutie Landon, and it was a lot of fun!

I wasn’t quite ready to leave yet, so after walking Stephanie and Landon down to the lobby, I headed back up to finish out Frida & Diego. I hadn’t heard of Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera before this exhibit came to town, so it was an eye-opening experience. They both had such fascinating lives, their relationship with each other a pivotal point. One of Frida’s paintings in particular, “The Broken Column,” so strongly resonated that I had to fight burning tears. Frida suffered crushing injuries in an accident when she was 18. Her spine was broken in multiple places and her uterus was impaled. These injuries left her in a lifetime of pain and unable to carry a pregnancy to term. She died young, at 47. “The Broken Column” is a self-portrait. Frida gazes at the viewer, standing tall despite the exposed, fractured column that represents her spine, her body riddled with nails, her face streaked with tears.

All of the Frida & Diego exhibit is amazing and informative; I highly recommend checking it out before it leaves Atlanta in May.

After Frida & Diego I went up to the Skyway Level to see Gogo: Nature Transformed, a temporary exhibit of jewelry based on designs found in nature. Much of it was cast from molds of animal bones, and I didn’t really care for it. After that I wandered through the Modern Art exhibits, which were far more to my liking. I especially enjoyed the furniture designs; the High has pieces from Frank Lloyd Wright (instantly recognizable) and pieces that were sold by Herman Miller in the mid to late 20th century. One thing I also appreciated about the Modern Art exhibits, and the others that incorporate furniture or sculpture, is the way the museum has arranged all the pieces. Designing an exhibit is an art unto itself.

After Modern Art I skipped Folk Art and went straight to Contemporary Art. I remembered many of the pieces–Anish Kapoor’s untitled reflective dish, for one–but new items had appeared as well, and other exhibits and pieces that were on display last year are now gone. Then I went down to the Third Level and looked at American furniture, paintings, and sculpture from the 19th and 20th centuries. Items I found especially fascinating were an ornate cabinet, an intricate piano built for its looks rather than its sound, a group of face jugs from Edgefield, South Carolina, and two separate still life paintings featuring dead fish.

Finally I went down to the Lower Level, where I strolled through the Works on Paper exhibit and the African Collection. I found myself drawn to three paintings by Will Henry Stevens in Works on Paper and a display case filled with intricately detailed metal curios in the African Collection. And with that, my wonderful five and a half hours at the High were concluded.

High Museum of Art

At that point I was pretty hungry, so I decided to try and find food. I’d had a protein bar at around noon, but it was now 4:30. At first I thought I’d just go to the restaurant next to the High, but nothing on their menu sounded appealing, so I got on Yelp! to see what was available in the area. Unfortunately, the Midtown branch of South City Kitchen wasn’t open yet. I tried to go to a place called Article 14, but I couldn’t find it. (I ended up passing it later in the evening on a completely different street from where I’d been looking, but in my defense, the streets are both called Peachtree.) Eventually I decided to just keep walking around and eat whenever I found a restaurant that looked good. It took about 45 minutes, but I finally came across a pizza place called Vespucci’s, so I stopped there and had a delicious pepperoni calzone.

Pepperoni calzone from Vespucci's

Thus recharged, I decided there was still enough daylight to warrant going to Piedmont Park, so I headed off down the other Peachtree Street and then up 14th Street, all the while taking photos of beautiful Midtown. I got to the park at around 6:30 and spent about 45 minutes strolling through it, circling the pond and snapping photos of flowering trees and shimmering water. It was pretty out, though it was starting to get cold; I kept my hands in my pockets as much as possible.

Flowering tree at Piedmont Park

Flowering tree at Piedmont Park

Midtown skyline as seen from across the pond at Piedmont Park

Detail of a flower on a tree at Piedmont Park

Pavilion on the pond at Piedmont Park

Visitors Center at Piedmont Park

I took more Midtown shots on my way back to the car. The setting sun made for some nice light.

Reflected skyscraper bathed in a wedge of sunset light

Sunset light washing over 14th Street

I was headed off for home before darkness had a chance to settle in, thanks to Daylight Saving Time. (I may be the only person who likes DST.) As I found my way back to I-75, the dwindling sunset painted Midtown pink.

Pink-hued Midtown skyscrapers

I’d had an awesome day, but somehow I didn’t want to go home yet. I called Sean to see if he wanted to go out to dinner, but he didn’t, so instead of going to the apartment, I drove to our local movie theater to see if they had anything interesting. At the time, my mood was swinging toward either Emperor or A Good Day To Die Hard, but neither was playing at that location. Oz the Great and Powerful was available, but I’d read a review that had somewhat soured me on seeing it…so I went back to my car and pulled up Yelp! again, deciding to just go ahead and have dinner. A search for nearby restaurants revealed a Thai/Malaysian place in an adjacent shopping center. Given my love affair with Penang, that sounded like a plan to me, so I hopped out onto Cobb Parkway and then right off again, heading straight back to Top Spice.

The ambiance wasn’t quite as cozy as Penang’s, at least not in the entryway. I felt rather like I was on stage, as all the tables were raised above the level of the front door and there was no half wall or anything to provide a feeling of privacy. Once I was snug in my booth, though, I was quite comfortable.

Interior of Top Spice

Rather than an entree, I decided to have two appetizers. This was mainly because they had roti canai and I love roti canai, and I knew if I got roti canai and an entree, I wouldn’t be able to finish. The second appetizer I chose was called martabak. It’s made with the same Malaysian “pancake” as roti canai, but it’s a beef and onion curry wrap. Somehow the flavor wasn’t what I was expecting, and I’m not sure I liked it. The roti canai was good, but Penang’s is better.

Then I gave in to temptation and tried their sticky rice mango, and it was amazing. The plate featured three separate items: a sticky rice patty with sesame seeds, a neat pile of mango slices, and a small bowl of coconut syrup. At first I tried alternately dipping the rice, then the mango into the syrup, but I soon found that assembling bites of all three at once created the ultimate flavor. Sticky rice mango is one of the most delicious desserts I’ve ever tasted. I devoured it all.

Sticky rice mango at Top Spice

With that satisfying conclusion to my meal, I was finally ready for my day of adventures to end. I headed home in sublime contentment, my belly full of yummy food, my camera full of photos, and my brain full of happy memories.

View more Midtown photos | View more March 2013 photos

Fall fun

This month I’ve been indulging in autumn activities and quite enjoying myself. I love the crisp feeling we occasionally get in the air (it’s Georgia, so it can take awhile for fall to kick in), the changing leaves, and all the harvest flavors.

First off, I decorated the dining room for fall, using a centerpiece and candles given to me by Sean’s mom, the green-blue sushi set given to me by Brooke and David, and a few miscellaneous pieces I’ve picked up here and there.

fall decorationsNext, I made banana bread!

banana breadThen, last night, I made a butternut squash pie, which is very much like a pumpkin pie. I used this recipe for the pie and this recipe for the crust. It was delicious.

butternut squash pieOn Saturday, I had Heidi over for a whole afternoon and evening of fall festivities. The main thing we’d planned to do was carve pumpkins, but we also made stewed apples and roasted pumpkin seeds and enjoyed them with hot apple cider.

pumpkin carvingfall treats

pumpkin carved with a haunted house scene pumpkin carved with a jack skellington face

It’s been a great start to the cooler season! I’m looking forward to more baking and activities. Hopefully I can find a good place to get some leaf-changing pictures soon!

Adventure at Sweetwater Creek State Park

Today I spent five hours exploring Sweetwater Creek State Park, a conservation area to the west of Atlanta. I walked, I hiked, and at times I even climbed, wandering around four marked trails and covering nearly nine miles. I saw beautiful forest, plenty of squirrels and bugs, a couple of deer, two tiny frogs, a long expanse of creek churning through white and gray stone, and the beautiful brick ruins of a mill.

Ruin of new Manchester Manufacturing Company millI got out of bed this morning determined to do something with my day off other than clean, cook, sit at my computer, and watch TV. I’ve gotten into a decent rhythm of late with chores and meals, and this has helped us to save money by not going out to eat, but I’ve been going stir crazy in the apartment. I needed to get out and do something fun and productive and healthy. So I decided to find a park to explore.

Atlanta has no shortage of parks, as I discovered when I started googling. This list is huge, and it isn’t even conclusive. I scanned down the page for anything with a good deal of acreage, then started checking for websites or community information. A number of interesting sites cropped up, including Grant Park, Freedom Park, and Chastain Park. (I’ve been to Piedmont Park before and wanted to find something new.) At some point my searching led me to the PATH website. The PATH Foundation builds walking and cycling trails across Atlanta. I was intrigued by several of the projects, including the Silver Comet Trail. I realized I had already seen part of the South Peachtree Creek Trail when Charles and Heidi took me to Mason Mill Park years back.

Ultimately, though, I decided I wanted to rough it a little more, and Sweetwater Creek, a conservation area, started to stand out. I noticed that it’s relatively close to where we live, and from the description it sounded like it would be really fun to explore:

Sweetwater Creek State Park is a peaceful tract of wilderness only minutes from downtown Atlanta. A wooded trail follows the stream to the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill burned during the Civil War. Beyond the mill, the trail climbs rocky bluffs to provide views of the beautiful rapids below. Additional trails wind through fields and forest, showcasing ferns, magnolias, wild azaleas and hardwoods.

My destination decided, I set about preparing. Obviously my Nikon was going. I shifted my wallet and little Canon into the bag. I’d also need provisions. I packed a bag of almonds, an Atkins bar, and some snack crackers, then made some tuna fish salad to carry in a cooler with an extra bottle of water. I also fried some bacon, and despite the fact that I left it too long and it got crunchy, I bagged it up as well.

Then I realized that I should probably charge my Nikon’s battery.

As I sat watching the blinking light on the charger, waiting for it to stop its strobing, I realized I would go nuts if I sat around waiting any longer. It was past noon, which meant the Marietta Square Farmers Market was open; I went to an ATM to pull a $20 and then headed up there to buy peaches, tomatoes, and potatoes. (I also bought a small lemon-chess pie for $3 from a vendor whose sweet potato pie is apparently beloved by President Bill Clinton.)

This little excursion gave the battery plenty of time to charge. However, by the time I got home, I was hungry, and Sean needed lunch too. So I boiled some hot dogs and made macaroni and cheese and sat down and ate. Time ticked by as I waited for the food to settle.

And then, finally, I was ready.

Everything was all packed, so I snagged the cold items from the fridge and put them in a cooler with some ice, grabbed the camera bag and my Camelbak water bottle with purse strap addition, and I was on my way.

The drive wasn’t bad and the website’s directions were pretty clear, so I found the park without incident. Upon arriving I discovered there was a $5 parking fee; I hadn’t thought of this, so it was fortunate that I had change from the farmers market. “Enjoy the park!” the man at the booth said cheerfully, and I drove back on the winding road through the trees to the parking lot at the very end, near the Visitors Center.

I’d read up on the trails online before heading out, and I intended to simply take the red trail; it was short and sweet and led to the main attraction, the mill. However, there were people everywhere. A group of kids, one a teen, one possibly a tween, and one who looked maybe 7 were goofing around and talking loudly. Huge families and throngs of friends loped by with baby carriers and walking sticks. I felt that to avoid them–to keep them out of my personal space and my photos–I would have to keep hurrying up and then stopping and waiting, and that didn’t seem enjoyable. So when an unmarked side trail branched away from the red trail, running down along the creek, I took it, and was instantly comforted by solitude.

Side trail along Sweetwater CreekEventually the side trail I was on led me to a bridge that spanned the creek; I saw that the yellow trail also led here. I remembered vaguely from my reading that this trail was longer than the red trail. More importantly to me, it was deserted. Everyone seemed to be fixated on the red trail. Without a second thought I crossed the bridge.

Yellow trail bridge across Sweetwater CreekI got turned around at first, heading down what I thought was a trail but what was actually apparently a service road. RunKeeper’s GPS helped me see that I was going nowhere; I turned back and found the yellow markers leading off away from the bridge, along the creek the way I’d come on the other side. I followed them, and eventually a left fork in the trail guided me away from the creek and into the forest.

I hiked uphill. It was a long climb, but I felt good. It was only when I’d reached what seemed to be the highest point of the trail (though it was hard to tell with all the trees) that I saw any other people. Two men walked by together, and then a third came up behind them moments later. I greeted them all cheerfully.

Yellow trail, Sweetwater Creek State ParkAs I wound my way back down and around, I remembered that the yellow trail was a loop, and the fork in the trail must have defined its start. Sure enough, I found myself walking back along the banks of the creek, and eventually I passed the point where I had set off into the woods. I retraced my steps to the bridge, crossed back over, and this time followed the yellow trail back to the parking area.

I could have called it quits then and headed to the car. It had been a good hike, with lots of uphill climbs. But I had plenty of water left, and I wanted to see the mill. So I turned back to the red trail, which by this time was thankfully less populated. One of the first things I saw was a beautiful butterfly atop a mound of dog doo. Of course I got a picture.

A gorgeous butterfly atop a turd.I found the beginning of the red trail to be far less strenuous than the yellow trail had been. It was mostly flat and very wide. Occasionally there would be an area off to the left where I could climb down to the rocky shore. The red trail also offered some lovely views of Sweetwater Creek.

View from the boardwalk alongside the ruined millIt wasn’t long before I reached the ruined mill. I was overjoyed to discover plenty of great angles for photography, from the trail and from down along the creek. The mill is inaccessible thanks to chain link fencing, but the views are still spectacular. The crumbled brick and empty windows reminded me of the old Sheldon Church ruins near Beaufort, the ruined abbey in Whitby, and Roche Abbey. And the wooden steps down to the mill reminded me of the forest jaunts my classmates and I took during our 2001 trip to Japan. Meanwhile, the water lapping and sometimes surging through the smooth rocks of the creek took me back to my childhood exploring of creeks and rivers in Kentucky. I was enchanted.

Mill stairs creek and rocks
Ruin of new Manchester Manufacturing Company mill Ruin of new Manchester Manufacturing Company mill

Once I’d had my fill of the mill, I decided to keep going on the red trail; a sign indicated that “Sweetwater Falls Overlook” lay ahead just half a mile. I didn’t remember from my morning reading that this part of the red trail was difficult, and so I was surprised when soon I was having to climb over rocks and fallen trees and watch my footing across narrow passages. It took much longer to navigate this part of the trail.

Small, rusty slide, red trailEventually I came across a large family I’d seen earlier; they were out on the rocks looking at and playing in the water. “She caught up with us!” yelled the father, as though this was a horrible thing to have happen. “Everybody back on the trail!”

“What, are we racing?” I mumbled to myself, annoyed, and continued on. I found a set of metal stairs, easily traversed, and shortly thereafter a long passage of railroad ties that might have been meant as stairs but which were far too steep to walk up. I used my hands and climbed, eventually finding myself on a boardwalk. I could still hear the loud family below me, but they seemed to be growing distant. I wondered if they would attempt the climb; it seemed a bit much for the littler ones.

Looking down from the boardwalk, I saw the creek cascading a few feet down some rocks, and I took a picture.

Sweetwater Falls?It never crossed my mind that this could be “Sweetwater Falls”. When I hear “falls”, I expect a waterfall–something tall. So I kept walking, wondering when exactly I would find the falls.

I knew that the red trail had ended and that I was now on the white trail; when I’d climbed up the hillside, I’d been met by a sign indicating that the blue trail was to the right and the white trail was to the left. I’d gone left, thinking the right would just go back to the parking lot (which, as I discovered much later, was correct). I didn’t remember that the falls were supposed to be at the end of the red trail. So I kept walking and walking and walking. And of course, I never found any “falls”, though I did enjoy the views of the creek to my left and the rocky cliff face to my right.rocky cliff faceflowersEventually the trail headed away from the creek and into the woods, and I knew I’d missed the falls somehow. “If I hadn’t seen the mill, I’d be pretty disappointed right now!” I said aloud. I decided to see where the trail went rather than turning around. I didn’t remember anything about the white trail; I was assuming it was one-way and that I would eventually have to go back, and I decided that when I did, I would take the blue trail to avoid having to climb down the side of the hill.

But the white trail kept going, eventually coming to a bridge and some very helpful signage. The bridge, apparently, led to a residential area; I was at the very edge of the park. The white trail continued in a loop that would eventually end back up near where I parked. It was quite a distance, but so was the way I’d come…not to mention that the way I’d come was rough, while the white trail seemed smoother. I continued forward.

White trailAfter a time, the white trail stopped being as obvious. Occasionally the forest cover would break and I’d emerge into a meadow; sometimes white strips were affixed to various plants along the way, and sometimes there was no sign of which way to go. I find it easy to follow established forest trails, whether marked or not, but I wanted to make sure I was headed in the right direction. Sometimes different trails would intersect with the one I was walking, and I was never quite sure if I should take them. I consulted RunKeeper’s continually-updating map to help me decide; somehow the GPS kept working even when I was out of my service area.

Moon visible from clearingFor the most part I made the correct decisions, but at one point I was flustered by the fact that the sun was going down and I needed to get north as soon as possible, so I followed an unmarked trail that seemed to be going in the right direction. At first everything seemed fine; it was a wide, clear path. My first indication that something was amiss was when I came upon a house. I was still within the boundary of the park, so I assume it was the home of a caretaker; there were two trucks in the yard, and one of them was marked “Georgia Department of Natural Resources”. I probably should have just turned around then, headed back to where the trail split and taken a different branch…but instead I kept going.

The path turned into what was obviously a service road, and that turned into a wild mess of rutted dirt and fallen trees. As I tramped through, a deer looked up, startled, and before I could raise my camera, it bounded away. Another one disappeared into a stand of trees just beyond it. I was a little unsettled, but continued walking; GPS informed me that I was at least heading in the right direction, so I hoped I would come upon one of the marked trails shortly.

deer footprintAfter awhile, the service road seemed to die out, and I was again walking a forest trail. This trail, though, was unmarked, and often unclear; it may not have been a human trail at all. I was having no trouble following it, though, and it was still going in the right direction, and the day was growing ever darker. I couldn’t see turning around at this point, not if I wanted to get to my car before the sun was completely gone.

For the last stretch of woods, there was hardly a trail at all. At one point, a thorny branch seemed to wrap around me, hooking itself to my clothes, and I had to wrestle myself free. The leaves crunching under my feet made me paranoid about snakes; I watched every step like a hawk.

And then, finally, blissfully, I spotted a clear trail running directly perpendicular to my current vector. I plunged out of the wilds and back into human space.

It was the blue trail. I turned left, and it guided me back towards the park entrance.

The trail was simple and mostly flat. I walked briskly, not daring to run in the dying light but knowing I needed to get out of the woods fast. At one point I stopped for a photo; the flash went off and two deer I hadn’t even noticed bounded away, perhaps the same pair I’d seen earlier.

As the trail wound around, I groused at it inwardly for not leading straight back to the parking lot. But finally the trees opened onto the back of a building I recognized as the Visitors Center, and the trail guided me up past it to a gently curving sidewalk. At the very end of that sidewalk was the parking lot, and directly across from it sat my car…the only vehicle left in the lot.

my lone carI had made it!

I slid into my Yaris and turned up the A/C. Taking deep drags from the spare water I’d left in the cooler, I drove my winding way out of the park and back to I-20.

In all, the hike lasted five hours. Here’s the RunKeeper map. Towards the end I could tell my legs were tired, but at the same time I felt like if I’d only had more water and sunlight, I could have kept going forever. When I got home and started cleaning up, I discovered thick rings of dirt around both ankles, evidence of my day of hard fun. I also discovered I’d taken a whopping 408 photos, which I later culled down to 377. Click here see them all.

This amazing adventure was just what I needed. It left me so energized and happy. I’ll definitely have to remember to go hiking the next time despondency tries to set in!

me

Adventure at Aqueduct Park

I didn’t set out to endanger my own life today, but that’s what ended up happening.

Some time back, Augusta cleaned up the aqueduct between the Augusta Canal and Lake Olmstead and dubbed the area Aqueduct Park. Whitewater rapids spill down a long stretch from the canal into a swimming area that’s also fed by a trickling waterfall on the other side. That pool drains off towards Lake Olmstead, a body of water the size of a pond that sits near the Augusta GreenJackets’ minor league baseball stadium. To get to the park, you either have to travel the Augusta Canal trail by foot or bike, or drive in along a gravel and dirt road from Sibley Mill.

Rushing flume of water at Aqueduct Park

I’d ridden past the area many times on my bike, and even taken a few pictures of the waterfalls and swimmers from up top, but I’d never climbed down to the pool. After the park was established, some trees were cleared, making the climb more inviting. This morning, desperately wanting to swim after my run and having few options–the Family Y doesn’t open until 1 o’clock–I clambered down rocks and dirt to get to the inviting waters below.

Aqueduct Park swimming hole

I’d cooled off considerably thanks to the air conditioning in my car, so to get back in the mood for swimming I hiked around the aqueduct area and took pictures. I tried to capture the beauty of the place–the rushing waters feeding in from the canal, the old brick tunnels now closed off at the end, the blocks and sheets of slate over which trickling waterfalls painted smooth, wet paths. By the time I was satisfied, I’d warmed back up and was quite ready for a good swim.

rushing waters brick tunnels rocks reflective pools reflective pool tiny waterfalls

Stripping down to my swimsuit and exchanging my tennis shoes for flip-flops, I carried my towel over to where the rocks gradually descended into the pool, laid the towel where I thought it would be most convenient, and then started to step down the rocks to the water.

This was my first mistake.

slippery rocks

The rocks were smooth, wet, and covered with slime. As I felt myself slipping, two thoughts occurred to me: one, that the water was very cold, and two, that flip-flops didn’t provide very much traction. I scooted down onto my bottom to try and slide into the water without falling.

It was then that I recognized my second mistake.

Filled with enthusiasm, and perhaps overconfident after successfully climbing all over rocks and waterfalls, I’d chosen to enter the water right next to the canal ingress. Right next to where the barreling flume of water was churning into the pool.

My ingress point

As I sat slipping on the rock, trying to pull off one of my flip-flops, the surging water caught me, thrusting me out and down into the pool. My flip-flop was instantly sucked away. As I struggled to keep my head above water, arms pumping downward to thrust my face out of the rapids, I thought, “If I drown here, like this, I am going to be pissed.”

My efforts were not in vain. I was never completely submerged. At first there was no ground beneath me, and I thrashed in terror to stay afloat, but then, suddenly, I found myself dashed upon the not-at-all smooth array of rocks that makes up the bed of the aqueduct pool.

“Ow,” I said. And then, “Well, I’m stupid.”

As the water continued to push me, gentler now that I was out of the direct path of the flume, I pulled off the other flip-flop for no logical reason, and, holding it, fought my way around the pond. The flume sent water churning in two directions: to the left, off towards Lake Olmstead, and to the right, forming a clockwise eddy circumscribed by the pool. I was caught going right, thankfully. The flume’s strength decreased little by little as I was pushed further and further away; I braced myself on rocks to keep myself steadily on my bottom.

The pool

Eventually the water no longer had the strength to push me, and I maneuvered myself to shore–to the spot where I should have entered the pool to begin with. There, the water merely lapped at the rocks and dirt as its final whirlwind strength was sapped away.

“I survived,” I said.

I took a barefoot walk back around the shore of the pool, hoping my flip-flop had washed up somewhere, but it was nowhere to be found. I resigned myself to throwing the other one away…but first I would wash the mud off my feet, clean out the shallow open scrape the rocks had left on my right knee, and get back into my sneakers. I was moving my shoes over to the rocks–the calm area–when I saw it. My flip-flop had somehow been deposited on the rocks right next to the flume. Perhaps during my flailing, I’d actually flung it backwards.

I laughed; somehow finding the other flip-flop was more of a relief than scrambling to shore. Maybe my brain took it as a metaphor of getting out of the situation in one piece.

the pool

I washed and dried my feet, tied on my sneakers, retrieved my wayward flip-flop, and began the hike back up and out of the aqueduct.

As I was leaving, a man walking his dog came down the pass. “Wow, I haven’t seen it rushing like this in a long time,” he said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “It’s crazy!”

“It used to be like this all the time when I was a kid,” the man said.

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah.” He gestured back up to the top of the flume. “We used to slide down the rocks.”

Wow,” I said. If that was the case, then kids have been doing essentially what I did today for decades.

the flume

Maybe my life wasn’t really in danger. I hope that is of some comfort to my mother, who is probably horrified that this happened. Sorry, Mom.

I’ve learned some good lessons. Don’t walk down slippery rocks, especially in flip-flops. Don’t enter a pool fed by rushing water right next to that rushing water. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to get a good idea of the depth of a body of water before swimming in it.

All that said…I did have fun, and I’ll probably swim there again. :)

me in front of the little waterfalls

View the complete photo gallery here.

A little extra work

Two weekends ago I went on one of my photo adventures, hitting various scenic spots around the area and taking pictures. I spent a whole Saturday exploring and snapping, and then on Sunday I began processing the photos.

This time, rather than simply saving off the camera and uploading immediately, I tried editing each photo using some tricks I read about online. I was extremely pleased with the results; I feel like I’ve taken my first step out of casual pointing and shooting and into real photography.

First I evaluated each photo, rotating and cropping where necessary. Then I applied Image > Adjustments > Match Color > Neutralize, which I read about here on Sitepoint.com. I had used the other option mentioned in that article, Auto Color, before, but wasn’t always happy with the results. Match Color > Neutralize really helped make the color of my photos look natural. I was especially happy with the Color Intensity slider, which helped me bring out color without affecting detail.

For most of the daylight photos, Match Color > Neutralize was very beneficial, but it wasn’t necessary on all of them.

After rotating, cropping, and normalizing the colors, I went through a variety of adjustments. My friend Don posted a link on Facebook to this technique used by a photographer to enhance colors on his images. I ended up modifying the technique a bit, depending on the photo I was editing.

To begin with, I didn’t use the High Pass filter at all. Most of my photos were shot in bright daylight, and all that filter did was cause weird halos that didn’t add anything to the scene. However, I made heavy use of Blend Mode. I would duplicate the background layer, then change its blend mode from Normal to Soft Light (or, in a very few cases, Hard Light). Sometimes I’d Desaturate the top layer; other times I’d leave it the way it was.

I also fiddled with the opacity on the top layer to get the exact contrast and color pop I wanted, and on some photos I played with Curves and Levels to get richer contrast effects.

By the time I got to the last location, Thurmond Dam, the sun was setting. I had never managed to get a really good nighttime shot before, and I’m open to suggestions about shooting at night. For the shots of the dam from the Georgia side of the river, I propped my Nikon D60 against the side of a tree.

The editing methods listed above didn’t work quite as well for the low light shots. High contrast tended to destroy the details and it was hard to pull out color without making the photo look grainy. I’ll be interested to research and try out different techniques for night photography.

Any thoughts on the techniques I used for these photos? Do you know any shooting or editing tricks?

The battle within

Lately I have been struggling with things I want to do, things I need to do, things I absolutely have to do, and things I think I should do. I’ve been stressed and unhappy for most of this week, a striking contrast to last week, when I felt like I could do anything. I ended up burning out and crashing hard and it sucked.

I feel like I go through cycles of mood and competence. Normally it doesn’t flip so fast from week to week, though.

I’m reevaluating lots of things. What do I definitely want, and how can I get it? What things do I have to do every day to make those goals happen? Is there anything I can cut out to save time and energy?

Moving to North Augusta would help–I would be able to walk or bike to work, maximizing my commute by combining it with exercise. But I doubt it will solve all my problems.

So here I am at Boll Weevil, seeking comfort in warm familiarity, settling in with a Curious George, chips, and tea.

I hope I can figure this out.

New tea set

I got this at Hibari Market in Lexington, Kentucky on my way home from spending Christmas with my family. I hope to shift my home office to a blue scheme, so this will match perfectly!

Picture roundup

I wanted to link to some galleries I’ve posted in the last few months, to give blog readers an idea of what I’ve been up to.

Brick Pond Park and Alligator – September 22, 2009

Henderson Heritage Preserve – October 17, 2009

Work Halloween Party – October 22, 2009

Riverwalk – November 3, 2009

Aiken State Natural Area – November 7, 2009

Augusta Riverfront Marina and Skyline – November 9, 2009

Gasping Gobbler 5K – November 21, 2009

And there’s more to come…