Category Archives: adventure

Ponder family cemetery

Months ago, back when spring was still cool in the mornings, me, N and fellow cyclist, A, met up with BRAG (Bike Ride Across Georgia organization) for one day of the Spring Tune-up Ride. The three of us weren’t making a day of it, so we took the 32-mile route, which, in different publications could’ve actually been 35 or 42 or 45 miles. The distance ultimately proved to be in the low 40s dependent on how many detours (or “attempted shortcuts”) you took, and how long down said shortcuts you had to chase your girlfriend until she turned around.

It only added a mile probably.

The ride was great, we started early enough that I was chilly the whole way in my new jersey and shorts. A. was eager to plow through til the end and eventually he did, I preferred to stop at all the rest stops (they are rightly known for their PB&Js) and at anything else interesting especially if it was halfway up a hill, N fell somewhere in between, looping back or waiting til I caught up. Since most of the riders were putting in 60-miles over the course of the day, our route split from most everyone else after Rutledge and we were mostly alone in the beautiful Morgan County (et al) countryside.

Before Rutledge however, we rode through the crossroads community of Fairplay where I noticed a big house just beyond the main intersection, for a moment I wished I’d detoured but then, as I glanced back to see if it was still in sight I was struck by the sight of these 2 giant monuments sitting almost on the road bank.

Ponder Cemetery

N and A were far ahead, I skidded to a halt and climbed up to the cemetery. “PONDER” it said on the monuments and my mind gleefully leapt to Eudora Welty’s The Ponder Heart.

Ponder Cemetery The Ponder family cemetery lay straight back from the house which was in plain view across the long field. These 15-foot-tall monuments, the headstones of George F. and Sarah Ann Ponder, would never have been out of sight. George’s father, John H. Ponder built the house in Morgan County around 1850 and it would remain the economic center of the community for decades more as the plantation system converted to sharecropping after the Civil War. Based on slave-holding census records (referenced here), the Ponders were among the wealthiest landowners in Morgan County at that time and though the family’s means must have been somewhat diminished after the war, George obviously wanted to make sure people remembered the family’s prominence when he and his wife died in the 1890s.

I lingered there a little while before my thoughts returned to the task at hand and I pedaled on toward Rutledge.

A and N at a brag rest stop in downtown Rutledge, this was the last we’d see of A for a while

Lithonia Bike

Arabia Mtn Bike RideM gives N a little Historic Preservation education. we might’ve been the only “participants” but it was a most lovely, perfect, and informing afternoon at Arabia Mountain! (Sunday)


If you’ve got a 100-foot tape measure you might as well use it. So we did.

W walked ahead until the tape ran out and we continued down the trunk line (the main levee alongside the main canals used for flooding the rice fields) 100 feet apart, and the tape singing along the ground between us, until we’d measured the length—1000 feet. Granted, somewhere between 400 and 600 we lost count, and again around 800—apparently this was my job—but we are pretty sure that 300 was at “the second tree before the big tree” and 700 was “the crooked little tree past the gator sign.” so we’re sticking with 1000.

That levee today has about a 10-12′ wide top, wide enough for a cart to load up the rice at harvest time. It is just high enough to hold back the water at its peak from the Bulltown Swamp on one side from the canal and then the rice fields on the other. These inland rice fields weren’t affected by tides as the plantations on the coast were and though the swamp had it’s height limits, the rise and fall of a blackwater swamp reacts easily and quickly to rainfall. I think this is because the organic matter in the water creates a bottom surface that can be fairly impermeable, not allowing water to seep in as much as it might in sandier places. (but don’t take my word on that). This levee W and I were measuring was just one of the larger divides in a sea cordoned off by dikes and levees forming square fields between. Our trunk line ends at what is or was once the main channel of the swamp (the lagoon), which I failed to swim for the large sum of 3-some-odd dollars and so we do not know how far the levee continues on the other side. I did, however, earn myself $1.78 for stepping out a little ways into the tall (snake-infested surely) grasses of the the dike dividing the recreated rice fields, although I still need to collect said earnings.

don’t sleep under a mango tree

I learned this bit of information just before I left for Cuba. Viv got the brunt of it after devouring a mango, scrapping the skin clean with her teeth, but both of us got a rash that looked suspiciously like poison ivy which we had been arduously avoiding in the yard, so… turns out, “The sap of the mango tree and the skin of its fruit contain urushiol, the same irritating chemical that causes reactions to poison ivy and poison oak.” One website boiled it down to this take-away: that you should not sleep under a mango tree if you’re allergic to poison ivy. good advice, no doubt about it, but if I’d been hiking through Cuba, this advice might’ve been hard to adhere to. Mangoes are prolific and the trees are perfect in shape and shelter, one finds it hard to accuse that lush foliage and dropping purple fruits of harboring an itchy allergen! However, the rash, should you get it, is not as intolerable or spreadable as poison ivy, at least for me and Viv, and this allergy in no way affects the edibility of the mango fruit—my favorite?

That’s right, next to peaches perhaps, I’ve decided mangoes are my favorite fruit. In Cuba, they were in season and I was determined to find a couple fresh ones. The breakfast buffets typical held delicacies like Guava and Papaya which i tried, again, and avoided thereafter. The blandness of those tropical fruits is nothing like the juicy acid and sweet of the mango. I got my first mango in Havana, on the way to the marcado, R, X and I happened upon a market closing for the day. I had no pesos (National currency) but had confidence enough by then to offer the relative equivalent in CUCs, or the centavos thereof) 10 pesos for a giant mango, I dug 35 centavos from my pocket and offered it to the lady. No go. I wasn’t thinking, 35 centavos was more like the value of her 6 or 8 peso smaller mangos, she put her hand on one, i totally agreed. But when she tried to pass off the least respectable specimen for my change, I immediately selected my own, a nice ripe one which i would take to the roof of the Plaza later armed with a pocket knife and plate to catch the drips (and peels, i knew better than to eat that now).

mango tree

The next day we were trundling through the countryside where mango ORCHARDS abounded. Deep pink and purple of the ripening fruits dropped like, well, hung like, um… pendants from the trees. So bizarre and beautiful. In Ceinfuegos the Js and I went in for 5 little ones for a CUC, way more than the advertised price but good for us. Apparently there are many different kinds of mangoes. The smaller ones are ripe in shades of yellow-orange and even green, the bigger ones (REALLY big in Cuba) always have some dark red to show they’re ripe enough). The smaller ones are also slightly more acidic.

The morning before we got on our plane home, i scouted out one more produce market somewhere in a hidden northern corner of La Habana Vieja, I wasn’t paying attention and agreed on the mango I was given, though, truth be told, they all looked a little underripe. For 50 cents, whatever. I had a few bits at the airport (with the aid of a plastic knife this time) but let C finish the rest, too acidic, a let down from my mango high.

Now, if they can get peaches to grow in Cuba (they have! a few) can’t I grow a mango tree of my own??

un cafecito

After that café Cubano in Miami I skipped up to the roof of the Plaza Hotel on that first morning in Havana. My excitement was quickly dashed however when I learned that the “breakfast included” involved not even regular coffee but a coffee machine. You can get a cappuccino if you want! were the words my predecessor to the roof greeted me with. I won’t name names. We all had our ways of dealing with the machine, using the machine’s con leche button was quickly scrapped, G’s method created an inevitable lake in her saucer, my method—push button, wait, insert cup, remove cup before water comes out—was completely trial and error and I usually wasted a cup or 2 before it was drinkable and finally I gave up altogether. In the last days of our first stay in Havana, J and I started with breakfast on the roof then strolled across the Parque Central to a pasticceria which opened at 8. There we had a French café con leche and observed a few tourist regulars before heading back for the day’s activities. But this was not Cuban coffee either.

Included lunches usually meant café at the end, still, not a Cubano. I asked at rest stops, bars, even the best coffee in Havana, roasted on site or something at the Plaza Vieja – I ordered an espresso and it came with a bowl of sugar. It was good espresso, don’t get me wrong, but nothing was living up to that thick sweetness I encountered in Miami. I started keeping an eye on S. More experienced, surely he knew what he was getting. But his cafecitos were the same, strong but unsweetened. finally he tipped me off on the peso stall in Viñales, conveniently, AFTER we’d been there—I resolved to keep and eye out for them when we were back in Havana. There it was, on the last full day of our trip, as we trekked back to the hotel from a visit to the train station, in one of the many open doorways I saw it. A folding table with tablecloth, a thermos and a tray of small glasses. un peso, café. I stood beside a woman and put in my request. I gave her 5 centavos (about 24 pesos to the CUC almost the same as a dollar), and tasted the heavy liquid excitedly. it was perfect. The next day in my wanderings I found another cup in Centro Habana (much-needed, my sleep that last night on the top floor of Hotel Florida was intermittent). I’d finally discovered the cafecito and it was time to go.

Back home this morning I reverted to my usual routine of just coffee and cream. I poured in the half and half, but alas, it was Vanilla flavored and icky. I’ve written to Horizon about their poor package design which causes various unwanted flavors of half and half to land in our fridge. Perhaps I will forego this old habit altogether and start my morning with a jolt of espresso brewed sweet.

norte de La Habana

Miami looked just like I expected it to. There were aquamarine tiles and deco/moderne buildings in the lighter shades of green and pink and yellow. Condos abounded, even A and M live in one, and various transportation systems weave their dilapidated futuristic paths in, out and around the high rises.

Miami, i really felt, was an introduction to my trip to Cuba. With Spanish spoken everywhere I felt like I was already in a foreign country. C’s nanny, Carmen, only spoke as much English as I spoke Spanish and she was the first person I encountered! I walked for miles in the hot sun to Vizcaya (Bizcaya, and it was closed), admired the profusion of houseplants taking over the city, including big-leafed vines that would fascinate me all the way to Pinar del Rio. I encountered the coral-based limestone, Beaux Arts and some art deco. Of course, there is much more modern architecture in Miami than it’s older southern counterpart. it was also in Miami that I had my first café Cubano, or Cafécito as it can be called. thick, frothy, strong, and sweet, I sipped the espresso at the counter while i read another page of Cuban history. I had much to look forward to.

Untitled Untitled

Interestingly, Miami is also a seat of historic preservation. In 1976 Barbara Capitman spearheaded the movement to preserve the art deco, mediterranean revival, and MiMo (miami modern) style buildings that comprise the beach area. The Miami Design Preservation League was formed and National Register Districts were followed up with local designation and protection. I read all this over an expensive coffee in a diner (though appropriate, the diner was not authentic as it was transported there from PA) while it poured, turning the beach’s bright colors gray and slightly depressing the menagerie that paraded the sidewalks. Then I hoped back on a very off-schedule bus that made Marta look like a dream come true and headed back to Brickell.

acting supicious

I was almost to Carrollton (the town of face in the courthouse attic window) when I finally saw some accessible yellow flowers. I’d been eyeing those bright cascades of yellow jasmine since Atlanta, thrown among the still-gray branches of the roadside arboretum alongside budding maples(?) flinging up their fiery tips and the occasional spray of fuchsia redbuds. I pulled over and carefully extracted vines of fragrant yellow to take to mom, P, and R. As I pulled out of my roadside turnoff, another car pulled out not far behind me, a dark, non-descript, early 2000s model that COULD be a country cop or a local resident driving a cast-off cop car. I didn’t worry. In town, I was about to continue as usual around the courthouse and on toward Pickensville, but, looking this way and that as I tend to do, I realized there were old houses in there, and I had never taken the time to drive around this few-block town. So, making a rather sudden turn into the neighborhood, I proceeded to drive up one street and down the next (and that was it, there was only 2). Crossing the north-bound main road, I passed my car, yep, a cop, he was stalking me. I zigzagged on about my business then came out on 86 and proceeded east to Mississippi but before I knew he was even following me, i had blue lights in my rearview mirror. I pulled into the AA Pawn gas station a bit worried I’d been speeding. “Ma’am. You know why i pulled you over don’t you” he said over my shoulder standing outside my car (he took his sweet time getting there too). Not really, no. “Well I saw you coming out of the woods back there and I didn’t know what you was doing (picking flowers officer, i indicated them on the seat beside me) and then you turned off on that street started just driving all over the place kind of crazy, and you saw me back there, and then…” he checked out my insurance and my license and I went on my merry way, but lessons were not learned, they never will be!

At Sunshine I, typically, got distracted by all I could do and before I knew it I was digging up a bucket-full of irises which I had the brilliant idea to plant at the cemetery on my way on to Louisville. All I needed was a trowel, but I only had access to a shovel so i threw it in backseat with all the other dirt and flora that was accumulating (thinking of Eudora Welty and her letter to Diarmuid Russell allowing that though she kept clippers in her car she had no compartment for manure—so far I’m lacking a trowel, clippers, AND a compartment for manure), and headed to town. I studiously avoided a drive through the center of Macon, knowing how many stops that would take and went straight to Oddfellows and the hilltop where the Cavett family is serenely perched. As I pulled the big shovel out of the car I realized how this must look, and quickly got to work. Luckily, no one appeared to question me and I made it safely on to Louisville without another delay.

Oddfellows Cemetery

a man with a yellow guitar and other stories

On the way down at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, J read interesting bits of Flannery O’Conner’s letters to friends and agents from her relative isolation outside of Milledgeville. Her words put me in mind of my own mom and of Eudora and her mother. I felt like it should be mother’s day or something to appropriately commemorate women and their mothers. Toward her mother she was generous and respectful, but the less than eloquent language O’Conner used to describe encounters with book club women, KKK events, country neighbors and city folk alike was hilarious and familiar. By the time we reached Andalusia itself we were ripe for the O’Conner world, or at least a little riper.

The Vernacular Georgia group (ultimately numbering about 26 I think) filled the sunny front screen porch where we were given the quick history of her time there (13 years) before being let in to wander the unpainted interiors. Unpainted, that is, since someone last lived there which was not long after Flannery O’Conner’s death in 1964. The farm is beautiful despite the approach: your typical strip mall/gas station-lined, 5-lane entry to any American town. It is a set well-enough back in the woods, obscured from all this modern mess, it appears after a bumpy turn-off marked by a small brown sign and car dealership opposite. The farm consists of several buildings: a 1940s clay-tile constructed store house for the milk beside a huge cattle barn (which I stood by a long while, wishing a barn was still standing at Sunshine), an ancient I-house that was a servants and later tenants home, and a few other outbuildings besides the O’Conner house itself in which you could comfortably stay tonight if you felt like stopping over.

The Vernacular Georgia group was a particularly good group to tour with. Made up mostly of knowledgeable preservation and history professionals as well as students, spouses, mothers, and friends—people who like exploring, walking, seeing, learning—it was a comfortable group. Walking down the streets of Old Clinton later (an olde county seat, left in the lurch by the railroad and up-and-coming Gray, Georgia), I’ve never seen so many people commenting on the I-house form hidden in a house, or the spot where a door used to be, or the replacement windows. I ventured to the porch of an overgrown bungalow and had to give an intelligent report when I returned. And everyone, EVERYONE, positively lit up at the sight of a cemetery, and would’ve happily passed the rest of the afternoon conjecturing over graves and weeping willows.

On the way home, J and I listened to Flannery O’Conner stories on CD (I was in Viv’s car) that I’d bought. I may not have read a story of her’s since college, but by the time we were back to the EAV I’d got it, they all die.

an Arabia Mtn hike

P bought this book, 60 hikes within 60 miles of Atlanta, and I must admit I was a little skeptical. Honestly, I’m not used to moving at the pace of my hiking boots, i prefer wheels, but I’d forgotten how much there is to see on a real, down-to-earth hike.

The shape of our hike was “2 connected loops” or something like that, as opposed to the “loop” or “there and back” forms of others in the book. Indeed it was and my only complaint with the book was that despite its detailed descriptions, “take the wide sandy path that veers off to the right after the bridge,” we got off track because the maps were incredibly lacking in information. I’m sorry, but the shape of our path on a gray background just does not help me figure out where i am. That aside, we got quite a kick out of the narrative which directed us to stand at the top of Bradley Mtn, face Arabia (that white rise over there) and look downhill to our left, see those 2 trees? (out of a forest) head toward them and you’ll find a low box with glass over the top (and writing inside that tells you about the flora of the area, aka, an exhibit? or sign??); however, if you don’t see the 2 trees, don’t worry, just head down to the treeline and walk along it until you see something that looks like a path through the woods and take it. The book had a good philosophy—”don’t worry too much”—after all, while there was good chance of not making it to all the points you intended to, there was very little chance of actually getting lost in this area. At any rate, we did find the “low box with glass on top” and a path that led us to cross the road eventually, we did make it to the quarry house (albeit by a different route) and the little lake. P even found the loblolly pine the book pointed to with some interest at the bottom end of the lake, when i asked what it was like (i failed to notice it, too busy looking at the moss) he merely indicated all the other pines that we were walking through.

landscape ii

But what there was to see! We covered a little over 5 miles and the day was gorgeous for it. I think i even got a little sunburned. Besides all the pine trees, there was thick green moss in the forests, clover-like lily pads in the lake, and dried moss (at least 3 kinds of fungi/moss) on the rock surfaces. We began and ended on the rocky monadnock(s) of Bradley and Arabia Mtn. A monadnock is an isolated hill or lone mountain that has risen above the surrounding area usually by erosion (wiki). Stone Mountain is, of course, Georgia’s prize monadnock, a prominent dome of quartz monzonite, granite, and granodiorite (trust wikipedia). Arabia mountain is not so prominent, it’s surface has been carved up by excavators and it’s height is such that it is mostly hidden by the surrounding trees. The vast sheets of rock occur throughout the region however and are particularly intriguing to one who comes from a state with no true rock whatsoever (sandstone, a mere sedimentary rock, not included). Yes, these monadnocks (Kennesaw mountain being another in the Atlanta area) formed most likely by the eroding away of softer sedimentary rocks like limestone and shale, leaving the more resistant, volcanically-formed igneous rock standing alone. That’s the end of your geology lesson for the day though.

The rocky plains made for an industrial-looking site which still bore the marks of, well, industrialism. Most interesting were the hunks of granite already perforated for breaking into blocks, but abandoned when, I suppose the conservation area was formed. Looking around the top of Arabia mountain at this stepped landscape does make you wonder HOW much higher the peak used to be…