What a great feeling it was when we came down Atlantic Avenue turning into Fort Clinch State Park. Eight months ago we drove through the same gate, yet in the opposite direction. We are very much looking forward to staying for four months at camp site 1, reconnecting with friends, and being part of the Fort Clinch volunteer team.
But before we write about our winter season on Amelia Island, I would like to step back and talk about the last few stops we had made on our way home.
Choctaw Lake was our home for two days. What a wonderful, quiet, family oriented campground with peaceful views from the hike around the lake. It was very close to Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge.
This highly rated refuge will be our home from April through June of 2020. It offers a place for migratory birds and native wildlife. Noxubee attracts hunters, hikers, and fisherman alike. Can't wait to learn more about the different species and plants in the refuge, and to assist in maintenance projects. One of the great values of our RV life is that we get introduced to places which have such totally different missions.
After staying one more day at a COE park near Silas, AL, we crossed the FL stateline and were welcomed by sun, palm trees, and temperatures which made us to turn the A/C on the first time for months. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park amazed us with Caribean beaches and nice hikes. One more stop to go.
Three Rivers State Park, a very cosy park northwest of Tallahassee, was our harborage for the last two nights on the road. Sunrises were magnificent and the nearby Florida Caverns State Park was worth the day trip. The small town of Marianna was already decked out for Christmas and we even found the rarity of a shoe maker. The time away from home went by so fast and we are back to the place where we left eight months ago. This will also be the starting point for our next years journey and T.S. Eliot's quote resonates with me: "Home is where one starts from".
Sardis, Mississippi, was our next stop on the way to the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge. It was another example for the Small Town America we encountered on our journey off the beaten path. All those towns have a specific character and show how people are trying their best to make a living.
Small Town America is also a place to meet interesting and wonderful people, such as Miz Beasley, who kindly invited us into her beauty salon, where she proudly showed us the decorations for her 25th Wedding Anniversary.
One of my favorites are side streets, the sleeping beauties of Small Town America. Workshop fronts, deteriorating buildings, back entrances, and even a closed Elvis museum gave Sardis a special character in the twilight of the evening.
After a photowalk in a foreign city, I always have to think about a saying of a photography friend of mine: Everything has beauty, you just have to see it.
Can you imagine that time once stopped in the central Mississippi Valley as the earth suddenly began to shake, roared, and violently moved about. The peaceful woodlands rolled like ocean waves, landslides covered many rivers and streams, and the air was dark and filled with sulfurous vapor. A great depression was formed and the forces of nature let the Mississippi River run backwards to fill the sunken area.
Reelfoot Lake is the remnant of one of the most violent earthquakes in North America that happened in the winter of 1811. It was our first stop on the way home to Florida and will be one of our volunteer sites in 2020.
We had a wonderful time meeting Tara, our volunteer coordinator at Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge. She showed us around the refuge and even had a flock of white Pelicans as a welcome committee.
Tiptonville is on the west side of Reelfoot and as per the information of the proprietor of the smallest and oldest liquor store in Tennessee is the poorest county in the state. By the way, the former General Manager of the New York Giants Jerry Reese, was born and raised in Tiptonville.
Louisville was one of the other stops while at Reelfoot. It is the County Seat of Winston County, and the home of Tyler Pearson, the 2017 world champion in steer wrestling. The downtown area is grouped around the county court house and especially some of the side streets leading to the square showed some healthy retail activities.
Looking back to the event that created Reelfoot lake and seeing it's current beauty makes us better understand Einsteins's quote: Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.
We had no idea what we were getting into when we accepted our assignment to volunteer at a National Fish Hatchery. We have to say that volunteering at the Norfolk NFH exceeded our expectations by far.
We were introduced to so many tasks at a cold water hatchery from cleaning to feeding to moving fish.
Being in charge of the Visitor Center gave us the opportunity to meet great people from near and far and to explain the hatchery operations.
Most of all, we will miss the people we have worked together with. Dedicated folks that know what they are doing and keep their sense of humor even after 90 minutes cleaning of raceways in freezing conditions.
We will miss you all and fully agree with Winnie-the-Pooh: How lucky we are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
The Ozark Folk Center presents such a wealth of information that we decided to stop by a second time and to watch the highly skilled artisans practicing their trades.
Rachel and Skip, the copper colorists, demonstrated how to "paint" on copper with a flame and how the temperature and the layers impact design and color.
Tom at the knife shop told us how fulfilling it is to be on his own. He learned how to craft hunting knives after a successful career with the Ford Motor Company.
Robin in the woodcraft shop made us aware that making a wooden spoon is an art.
Shawn in the broom shop taught us that it takes up to two hours and strong hands and arms to build a kitchen broom from scratch.
The apprentice at the chandlery showed us how many dips it takes to make the perfect size candle.
The pupil at the chair shop surprised us with a guitar concert.
All of the artisans are wonderful story tellers and we love listening to them. Since I have spent many years in the printing industry, I always have to stop at the print shop. Troy Odom is running two letterpresses and I have learned from him something new:
The letters of the text that is to be printed are held in a metal frame. The space between the text block or phrase and the frame is filled with metal spacers, which are squeezed into the frame with wedges. In the old times of letterpress printing, those wedges were called lockup coins, thus creating the term "coining a phrase". Thank you Troy!
While our cooking club visited us from Amelia Island, we went over to Bull Shoals Lake. The dam construction was completed in 1951 and the main purpose was flood control of the White River and power generation. The lake and the White River offer great recreation opportunities. Jim Gaston was instrumental in developing the recreation "industry" in this area of Arkansas and to make his fishing lodge, restaurant and marina to an Eldorado for trout fishing. The resort even includes a small air strip, giving fly fishing a totally new meaning. The wonderful visitor center across the dam carries Mr. Gaston's name.
The White River is a great reflecting stream for the colors of Autumn. Watching the fisherman, Schubert's German song "The Trout" came to my mind:
"In a clear little brook,
there darted, about in happy haste,
the moody trout
Dashing everywhere like an arrow.
I stood on the bank
And watched, in sweet peace,
The fish's bath
in the clear little brook."
Calico City Bluff was our next stop with Brian. This is a place near Calico Rock where families meet for picnics, teenagers have their first dates, and visitors enjoy the look over the majestic White River, one of the best trout fishing streams in the country.
Birders enjoy watching Bald Eagles soaring above them and the fishermen are casting their lures hoping for the next big fish.
Leaving this spot, a quote from Thomas Campbell came to my mind: "Tis distance lends enchantment to the view, and robes the landscape in its azure and golden hue".
During the visit of our dear friend Brian and with Halloween coming up, we decided to go on a ghost hunt to East Calico, the forgotten ghost town of Calico Rock.
During the hay days of Calico Rock, East Calico was the part of town where desperados met and lived. The only bar served an alcoholic brew called Peppersauce. Gunfights were normal, the busiest places next to the bar were the jail and the funeral home. Today it is quiete in East Calico and the prison is empty.
It felt as if ghosts were all around us. We just had to look for them.
Sometimes a foggy road leads to a magnificent sight...
...as it was the case for us last week during our trip through the northwestern part of Arkansas. Our find was one the most famous waterfalls in the Ozark Mountains, Glory Hole Falls. A 45 minute wondrous hike led us to the 30-foot fall, fed by Dismal Creek. Over the years the creek has carved a hole through an overhanging bluff to create this magnificent sight. Water & Woods, the main ingredients of Arkansas, at its best.
Some days ago we went for a mini vacation to the northeastern part of Arkansas. Bentonville, the headquarter of Walmart, was one of our stops. First, we went to the Museum of Native American History, and were positively surprised. The museum allowed us to take a 14,000 year journey back in time. It included winter counts, the calendars of the Native American Indians, showing the main event of the winter seasons. The museum was well done and one more time, Arkansas surprised us.
The afternoon we spent at Crystal Bridges. The grounds of the museum are as much a part of the Crystal Bridges experience as the art inside. The architecture of the museum blends beautifully into the Ozark settings. The artwork along the trails is amazing, overwhelming and mostly unexpected. The Frank Lloyd Wright House is a perfect fit to the grounds, that change their character with each season.
"The surprise is that you continue to be surprised" summarizes our Arkansas venture best.