Thursday, March 23, 2017

Stone Mountain Park

Stone Mountain rises out of the woods east of Atlanta like the sun appearing above the horizon.  Its quartz dome is the centerpiece of Stone Mountain Park where Tim and I were parked last weekend.

The park not only offers the campground but also encompasses a golf course, an amusement park, a short train track and more than 15 miles of hiking trails.

Indeed, this campground has made our Favorite Campgrounds of 2017 list.  Either we are doing a better job of researching places to camp or we've had the luck of the Irish.  Regardless, it's going to be difficult to pick Number One next December when we post our year in review.

A full-size locomotive from the 1940s pulls open-air cars on a five-mile excursion around the mountain.  Though we were tempted to climb aboard, we virtuously decided to save our money and get our exercise instead.

So we stepped across the tracks to search for the trailhead to the Cherokee Trail.  

Like the locomotive, Cherokee Trail also circles the mountain, but because it winds through the woods and along the lake, we saw few other hikers.  

But what we did see was a gristmill,

with its waterwheel and 

its trough, 

And the Confederate Memorial Carving that portrays President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  Gutzon Broglum, the same man who later conceived Mount Rushmore, was commissioned to create this carving.  Now, Tim and I can say we've seen both of his monumental works.

Oh, and did I forget?  There were trees--lots and lots of skeletal trees pared down to their stark winter beauty!

Later when we returned to the RV situated at the edge of Stone Mountain Lake, I searched Google for a poem that spoke of winter trees.   

I found two that I liked.  One was this poem, Bare Tree, by a favorite author, Anne Morrow Lindberg.

Already I have shed the leaves of youth,
stripped by the wind of time down to the truth
of winter branches.  Linear and alone
I stand, a lens for lives beyond my own,
a frame through which another's fire may glow,
a harp on which another's passion, blow. 
The pattern of my boughs, an open chart
spread on the sky, to others may impart
its leafless mysteries that I once prized,
before bare roots and branches equalized,
tendrils that tap the rain or twigs the sun
are all the same, shadow and substance one.
Now that my vulnerable leaves are cast aside,
there's nothing left to shield, nothing to hide. 
Blow through me, Life, pared down at last to bone,
so fragile and so fearless have I grown!

The other was a children's poem that tickled my fancy.  I've typed its couplets separately below.

Winter Trees by Geoge Szirtes

Aren't you cold and won't you freeze,
with branches bare, you winter trees?

You've thrown away your summer shift,
Your autumn gold has come adrift.

Dearie me, you winter trees,
What strange behavior, if you please!

In summer you could wear much less,
But come the winter--you undress!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Most Infamous Prison of the Civil War

"Five hundred weary men moved along slowly through the double lines of guards.  Two massive wooden gates with heavy iron hinges and bolts, swung open as we stood there, and we passed through into the space beyond.  We were in Andersonville." - Pvt. John McElroy, 16th Illinois Cavalry

One week ago Tim and I were in Andersonville, too, for a personal look at the site of the most dreaded Confederate prison.  Many of the historical fiction books I've read about the Civil War mention this prison.  I wished to see it for myself.

What must the more than 45,000 Union soldiers imprisoned here have felt upon their arrival?  When those inner gates opened, they almost certainly thought they'd arrived in hell.  The noise, the stench, the crowd of emaciated men desperate for news must have been overwhelming.

Within days of the prison's completion, on February 27, 1864, Adam Swamer became the first prisoner to die at Andersonville, the first of thousands.  Within 14 months, 12,914 Union prisoners had perished here.  They were buried in unmarked graves.  

However, in the summer following the end of the war, a former prisoner Dorence Atwater and Clara Barton, accompanied by an expedition of laborers and former soldiers, undertook the daunting task of identifying and marking the graves.  Only 460 bodies were marked with the epitaph "Unknown Soldier."  Now a national cemetery, Andersonville remains open and active for the interment of an eligible veteran or dependent.

Initially, the fifteen foot high stockade walls enclosed 16.5 acres, but in June 1864 an additional 10 acres was added.  

Still, at its most crowded and with no shelter from the elements, Andersonville held over 33,000 prisoners, three times more than planned.  Prisoners scarcely had an arm's length of space between them.

Sentry boxes called "pigeon roosts" built roughly 30 yards apart, were manned towards the end of the war by young boys and old men.  

Approximately 20 feet inside the stockade was the "deadline," which the prisoners were not allowed to cross.  Anyone who tread over that mark faced certain death.  

Indeed, it was at the trial of the prison's commander, Captain Henry Wirz, that the word deadline was first used.  Wirz was arrested, tried for murder and hanged on November 10, 1865.  He was the only one held accountable for the suffering the prisoners endured.

When Tim and I walked the perimeter of the site, it was hard to imagine the hopelessness of the men imprisoned here, their only water source the small trickle of runoff through a gully that bisects the site.

The wooden stockade is long gone, but the National Park Service has installed two portions of the fifteen foot high walls.

When we left through the South Gate markers, the powerful impact of this place remained with us.

Andersonville National Historic Site also includes the National Prisoner of War Museum, dedicated to the approximately 500,200 American soldiers who suffered captivity since the founding of our nation in 1776.  

"Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope." - Zechariah 9:12
That, too, was a moving experience.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Jimmy's Town

While we were visiting Habitat for Humanity's headquarters in Americus, Georgia, Tim and I drove ten miles west to Jimmy's town, otherwise known as Plains, Georgia.

Immediately after crossing the city limits of Plains, there's a National Park Service sign that says you are entering Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.  What?  Yes, the whole town of Plains is a national park honoring the 39th President of the United State, James Earl Carter, Jr., affectionately known as Jimmy.

Tim and I began our tour at the town's former high school, now the Welcome Center of the park.  Folding down a wooden seat in the school auditorium, we settled in to watch a video about the former president, the hometown hero whose name is splashed all around town, from the banner over the General Store to the paint job of the town's one police car.

And to think that if his wife Rosalynn had had her way, her husband Jimmy, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, would have stayed in the Navy where he drew a decent salary with opportunities for both of them to travel the world.

Instead, a phone call informing them that his father, James Earl Carter, Sr., was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer summoned them home.

Plains Peanut & Grain was formerly owned by the Carters.

Initially, they moved into project housing on the north end of town then rented a series of rental homes until their peanut warehouse began to show a profit. 

Rosalynn became a charter member of the Plains Garden Club while Jimmy joined numerous civic organizations and served on the town's school board.  He voted to consolidate schools in 1961 even when that meant the integration of black and white students.  The referendum was defeated, but served as the catalyst to Carter's political career. 

That's Tim sitting in the replica of President Carter's Oval Office.

In 1962, he ran for state senate and was defeated, but blatant election fraud by his opponent overturned the voting results, allowing him to take office.  Four years later he tried to become Georgia's governor, but lost only to try again in 1970 and win.  Carter reorganized state government, championed civil rights and waged war on crime and corruption, thus setting the stage for his national presidential campaign.  

Jimmy's Boyhood Home

Pretty heady stuff for a boy who grew up in a farmhouse without plumbing or electricity and who worked the fields alongside African American day laborers.

Jimmy's father imparted his love of tennis to his son during games played on the farm's tennis court.

"Mopping" cotton was a job Carter hated, but it had to be done to rid the fields of bool weevils.  Young boys like Carter mixed arsenic with molasses and water, then walked the rows with buckets and a rag mop, daubing sticky poison onto the cotton buds.  "It was a job for boys and not men, and we despised this task.  After a few hours in the field our trousers, legs and bare feet would be saturated with the syrupy mess," wrote Carter in his 1975 autobiography, Why Not the Best.  (Hmm!  That reminded me of my childhood when I pulled rye from the wheat of our farm in Kansas, only that wasn't quite as messy, just an itchy, seemly never-ending task.)

Local townspeople ran Jimmy's presidential campaign from the former Plains train depot, chosen because it was empty and had a bathroom.  Ninety-eight Georgians nicknamed "The Peanut Bridgade" flew to New Hampshire in January 1976 to campaign door-to-door in below-zero temperatures.  Running as a populist, an outsider and a man of integrity, Carter defeated Gerald Ford in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

When his single term of office as President ended, Carter and his wife returned to their roots in Plains.  They became members of Maranatha Baptist Church located on the outskirts of town.  The church does not have a janitorial service; instead, members, including the Carters, take turns cleaning the church and mowing the lawn.  Former president Carter at age 93 still teaches a Sunday School class that attracts visitors from all over the country.

Can you catch a glimpse of the Carters' home?

A Secret Service gatehouse bars the entrance to the street where the Carters even now live in the home they built in the mid-1960s.  None of the townspeople we met considered that extraordinary.  After all, this is Jimmy's town.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Heading in the Wrong Direction

Unlike Gerneral William Tecumseh Sherman's 'March to the Sea' in 1864, Tim and I are headed in the opposite direction north to Atlanta.  Why you might ask?  Why leave sunny Florida to trek into the arctic north?  The answer is I have surgery scheduled at Johns Hopkins Medical Center for the end of March.  I've decided I need a cochlear implant in my right ear to match the one in my left.  So we set sail in the Dawntreader, our RV, bound for Atlanta.

But first, we stopped in Americus, Georgia, where the headquarters of Habitat for Humanity is.  We wanted to see the Global Village that Habitat has built there to draw attention to their work in over 40 countries around the world.

We watched an introductory video that highlighted the abysmal living conditions of the poor globally.

Sri Lanka

One in every five people in the world today lives in absolute poverty.  


More than 1 billion people worldwide live in slum housing.  


Nearly 3 billion people--close to half of the world's population--live on less than $2 per day.  Seems to me, those statistics are a call to action.

Leaving the Discovery Center, we walked initially through a narrow alley of ramshackle dwellings that might be found in many urban slums.

It was a relief to emerge on the walkway where stand replicas of homes Habitat builds in representative countries.  




Sri Lanka

Every house was distinctive.  That's because Habitat uses readily available local materials found in the country where they work.

Although it wasn't in use the day we visited, there was also an area where a Habitat volunteer could demonstrate brick-building techniques.

This beautiful quilt hangs in the Discovery Center.

Returning to the Discovery Center, we talked with a staff member who told us about the Global Village's volunteer trips (see this link for a list of prospective trips).  There are various opportunities from building homes to disaster recovery to working with vulnerable populations like children or the disabled.  There are even trips just for women.  I'm not sure I could do that, given my hearing loss and my need for an electrical source to recharge my hearing aid batteries every night.

Perhaps I'll just send Tim in my place.  That at least would be a step in the right direction!