On visiting Paris and Lyon in 2023

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Paris – note the Eiffel Tower – as seen from the dome of La Basilique du Sacré Cœur

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July 24, 2023 – It won’t be long now. Next mid-September, two companions and I will hike the Stevenson Trail in France, starting in Le Puy-en-Velay. But first I’ll have to get there, through Paris, then by train some 280 miles southeast to Lyon. (A place I’ve never been.) I’ll stay two nights in each place, then take a train-and-bus combo some 84 miles southwest to Le Puy. (Oddly enough, getting to Le Puy from Lyon will take about as long as from Paris to Lyon.)

Those two nights each – Paris and Lyon – mean I’ll have some time for sightseeing. But that also means I have to plan carefully, to get the biggest bang for my buck. (So to speak.)

But first, Paris. After arriving at De Gaulle airport – early in the morning – I’ll take the RER Train B to the Gare du Nord. (18 Rue de Dunkerque.) Then (as I wrote about the 2021 trip), “out the exit past the Starbucks, and take a left and onto Rue la Fayette.” That’s assuming I can find the exit. In 2021 I had a heck of a time finding how to get from the lower level up to the ground floor and then out into the sunshine. (And a sidewalk cafe.) Here’s hoping experience is a good teacher.

In Paris I booked a room near the swanky Hipotel Paris Voltaire Bastille. It’s about a two-mile hike from Gare du Nord, but I’ll have some time to kill. Check-in isn’t until 2:00. From there – barring jet lag – I’ll have some sights to see. In 2021 I wanted to visit a place on the outskirts, Choisy-le-Roi. On my first visit in 1979, a young lady-friend and I camped at a youth hostel there. In a little tent, “very romantic,” between the Seine and Marne Rivers. (“Is the hostel still there?”)

This trip too it would be nice to visit La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre.

Shown at the top of the page, the Basilica is “at the summit of the butte of Montmartre.” Said to be visible from most parts of Paris, it also offers a great panorama of the city itself. Plus it would be nice to visit Montmartre, interested as I am in Impressionist painting and painters. But to get to either Choisy-le-Roi or Montmartre I’ll have to take the Métro, said to be the haunt of numerous Pickpockets and Scams. I’ll let you know how that works out. Or I may just say the hell with it and confine myself to walking tours based around the Île de la Cité.

On that note, it turns out my room is less than a mile from the Père Lachaise Cemetery, where notables like Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde are buried. Plus it’s a nice shady place for a walk – without a pack – through its wooded 106 acres. And when it’s time to leave Paris, the room is a mere mile hike to Gare Lyon, for my train down for two nights in Lyon.

Speaking of Lyon, I once wrote that – as I once thought – hotels were cheaper there than in Paris. That turns out not to be true. For some reason, most places I checked added on either a hefty “cleaning fee,” or a hefty damage deposit. (Supposedly refundable but I hate paying “deposits.”) That routinely doubled the price of what I thought at first was an affordable room. I ended up paying more for two nights in Lyon than two nights in Paris.

I finally booked a do-able room just across the Rhone River from “Presqu’île,” the peninsula center-of-the-city formed by the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers. As in Paris, I’ll get to Lyon before noon, some hours before check-in. But the room is only another two-mile, 45-minute hike, from the Gare de Lyon-Perrache. And on the way is the Damn Fine Bookstore.

It’s billed as one of the few places to get books in English outside Paris. Plus it has a cafe, where I’ll spend some time between arrival and check-in. Then too, once it’s time to head down to Le Puy, it’s only a little over a mile hike from the room to the Lyon Part Dieu station, where I head southwest. Getting there on time won’t be a problem. I don’t leave Lyon until early afternoon.

Back to that room in Lyon. It’s less than a mile to Place Bellecour, third-largest public square in France. More important for me is it’s less than two miles to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Like the Paris Basilique du Sacré Cœur, it too is said to offer a spectacular view of the city. And speaking of those two church towers – Paris and Lyon – the dome of the Basilica of the Sacréd Heart of Montmartre is said to have 300 steps to the top. The dome of the Basilica of “Our Lady” (the Virgin Mary) is said to have 287 steps to the top. With the other walking tours I’ll make in both cities, climbing those 587 stairs all the way to the top – and back down again – will be good training. Good training for that 15-day, 150-mile hike on the Stevenson Trail.

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The upper image is courtesy of View From Sacre Coeur Basilica Montmartre – Image Results.

In writing this post I used past posts like Countdown to Paris – 2021, Hiking over the Pyrenees, in 2021 – finally, A post-trip post mortem for “Paris – 2021,” and Gearing up for the Stevenson Trail.

On “Bang for buck,” see Wikipedia on the idiom of getting “greater worth for the money used:

The phrase “bigger bang for the buck” was notably used by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower‘s Secretary of DefenseCharles Erwin Wilson, in 1954. He used it to describe the New Look policy of depending on nuclear weapons, rather than a large regular army, to keep the Soviet Union in check.

I didn’t know that last bit of history, one reason I enjoy blogging. Those “rabbit trails…”

For more the Sacré-Cœur Basilica see the Wikipedia article.

On the Paris Metro’s “Les pickpockets,” see How to Avoid Pickpockets and Scams in Paris, Pickpocketing Has Skyrocketed in Paris Over the Past Year, and The Paris Pickpocket: How to Recognize and Avoid Them. Or Google. The Eiffel Tower is said to be the place they like best.

On “15 days,” etc. That includes two days off, not hiking. My brother Tom figured 151.3 actual miles hiking, though with two question marks for miles figured for two days near the end of the hike.

The lower image is courtesy of View From Basilica Of Notre-dame De Fourviere Lyon – Image Results. See also Basilique Notre Dame De Fourviere, Lyon | Ticket Price, indicating a price of six Euros, and that the best time to visit is between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m.

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Still pushing the envelope, at “ripe old” 72…

At 72 I could turn into a crusty old curmudgeon, or still have Mountaintop Experiences…

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July 10, 2023 – In Gearing up … Stevenson Trail I noted that in September – a mere two months from now – I’ll fly back to Paris. From there I’ll join my two hiking companions and start the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail. (In Le Puy-en-Velay, 340 miles southeast of Paris.) Which brings up a post I did some time ago, on why an old guy like me would keep on doing things, like a multi-day 150-mile hike in a far-away foreign country. (Like Italy’s Way of St. Francis last year, and before that three separate hikes on the Camino de Santiago.)

John Steinbeck explained it pretty well. He began Part Two of Travels with Charley by noting the many men his age who – told to slow down – “pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.” (They “trade their violence for a small increase in life span.”) But that wasn’t his way:

I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage…  If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway. I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage. It’s bad theater as well as bad living.

In plain words he didn’t want to turn into just another old fart, and neither do I. (I.e., an older person, typically male, who holds “old-fashioned views.”) By the way, that Free Dictionary definition has a disclaimer, that the page “may contain content that is offensive or inappropriate for some readers.” To which I would say, “Get over it, Nancy!”

And speaking of old farts, Steinbeck was 60 years old when he wrote Travels, including that stuff about Old Age. To which I would say, “Punk! And young punk at that!” (Oh to be 60 again… Not!)

But we were talking about 150-mile hikes in foreign countries, and why an old guy would still do them. Partly because they are pilgrimages, giving us a break from “real life,” from the rat race. That last part doesn’t really apply to me; I’m retired and can enjoy life. But as we started to say on the Way of St. Francis last year, “It sure beats playing bingo at the Senior Center!” Aside from that, a pilgrimage can be “‘one of the most liberating of personal experiences.” And on a Camino hike that hot shower, warm bed and cold beer at the end of each day helps too.

Beyond that, I wouldn’t want to be guilty of Bad Theater. Then too, my brother Tom – one hiking companion next September – reacted to a past-pilgrimage blog-post and had this to say:

Read your blog on the trip and I think there is one point where you give [undue] credence to the view of the “pat-pat” people of the world. The issue is the idea that only people, “not in their right minds,” would go to places (or do things) that are unique experiences – ones that most others never have. In my mind, this is exactly what people in their right mind should be doing. I pity those who don’t.

Which mirrors what Stevenson said in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. (On his 12-day, 120-mile solo hike through sparsely populated, impoverished Cévennes in south-central France.) He described one night setting up camp in a place “black as a pit, but admirably sheltered.” He ate a crude dinner – a tin of bologna and some cake, washed down by brandy – then settled in, despite the tempest around him. As he put it, “The wind among the trees was my lullaby.” He woke in the morning “surprised to find how easy and pleasant it had been … even in this tempestuous weather.” He then waxed poetic, in part about seeking such adventure all his life:

Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?

On a Camino hike today you focus, you concentrate solely on getting up in the morning and reaching that day’s down-the-road destination. On how good the fresh-squeezed orange juice and Café Crème taste now, and how good that first cold beer at the end of the day’s hike will taste. You are mindful. You experience the eternal now. In plain words you don’t give a rat’s ass about the future and what problems it might bring. That in itself is liberating.

These days we have plenty of future to worry about. (Things that might happen but hopefully won’t.) So it’s rewarding to take a break from the nowaday sleepless nights and concentrate on reaching today’s destination, everything you own on your back, and looking forward to that hot shower, warm bed and cold beer. Or it could come down to this basic lesson in life: “To have a mountaintop experience, you have to climb the &^*@$# mountain!

I dread the day when I have no more mountains to climb…

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The upper image is courtesy of Jeff Dunham Walter – Image Results. Jeff Dunham is a ventriloquist with puppet characters including “Walter.” See Walter | Jeff dunham Wiki | Fandom: “Walter is a retired, grumpy old man with arms always crossed in discontent… He has a brash, negative and often sarcastic view on today’s world.” For a live version see Some of the Best of Walter | JEFF DUNHAM – YouTube, about “your favorite opinionated, gray-haired grump in the trunk.”

Re: Curmudgeon. Per Wiktionary, an ill-tempered person, usually old, full of stubborn opinions or ideas.

Re: “Nancy.” I was thinking of “walk it off Nancy,” something like “rub some dirt on it” in a sport setting. Meaning to “be strong,” “be tough” or “stop complaining,” as when you suffer and injury. See also Urban Dictionary: Negative Nancy, referring to a killjoy, someone constantly negative about everything in life, and also referring to “Nancy boy” as an effete male. Or someone “uncomfortable in their own skin,” in the world around them or with social situations around them. Who knew?

Re: Stevenson’s book, considered a “pioneering classic of outdoor literature.” See also my post On donkey travel – and sluts.

The lower image is courtesy of Mountaintop Experience – Image Results. See also I’ve Been to the Mountaintop – Wikipedia.

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On George Will’s “Happy Eye…”

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W.H. Auden gave George Will the “Happy Eye” quote for his book, “With a Happy Eye, But…”

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June 25, 2023 – I last posted on May 27, 2023. Partly because I just got back from four days last week on a family stay-cation down in Panama City Beach. (21st floor, Ocean Ritz, very limited parking.) Which was fun, but marred by high winds, high waves and rip tides. For example:

(Panama City Beach has ticketed more than 70 for ignoring beach warnings. Or – if you don’t subscribe to the News-HeraldMen reportedly ignore Panama City Beach red flags: 1 in hospital, the other in jail. I know. I was there.)

But now I’m back home and need a post, quick.

Just my luck, I ran across a copy of George Will‘s 2002 book, With a Happy Eye, But… (Published just after the 9/11 attacks.) I don’t agree with all of George’s politics, but he’s enough of a loose cannon to suit me. For example, one reviewer called him a contrarian, and on November 8, 2016 – another day that may “live in infamy” – I posted Donald Trump made me a Contrarian.

Then too, he’s a Conservative With a Conscience. (These days an endangered species.) His conscience led Will to Confirm Nixon’s Treason. (Nixon scuttled the Paris Peace Talks, designed to end the war in Vietnam. He used secret information passed on from President Johnson, to make sure he – Nixon – got elected in 1968. If the talks had succeeded before the election, Nixon would have lost.)

Will also went head to head with fellow conservatives George W. Bush and – most recently – Donald Trump. (See Enemy of enemy is friend.) But mostly I admire his column-writing.

I fancy myself a columnist, or what columnists have become in this age of weblogs. And About the blog (above) tells about how I remembered some advice George gave years ago: “As I recall,” I wrote, Will “defined a columnist as a writer with three seductive skills: ‘be pleasurable, be concise, and be gifted at changing the subject frequently.'” A side note: I’ve learned to change the subject so frequently that my family says my writing “goes all over the place.” To which I can only respond, “Have you read the Book of Isaiah? That guy ‘goes all over the place!'”

Still, I’m trying to improve my column-writing Unity and Coherence, so back to Happy Eye, But. (The rest of the title: America and the World, 1997–2002.) George published this collection of columns just after the 9/11 attacks. His aim was to show that despite the terror attacks, Americans could look to the future with hope, quoting W.H. Auden‘s poem The Horatians:

We can only

do what seems to us we were made for, look at

this world with a happy eye

but from a sober perspective.

The line-spacing may seem strange – it looked even stranger in Will’s book – but that’s the best I could do. Back to the book: After starting to read it, on a lark I looked up “Trump” in the Index. I only found one reference, on page 257, as part of Will’s May 1998 column, “In Need of Another Moses.” The Other Moses was Robert Moses, “American urban planner and public official who worked in the New York metropolitan area during the early to mid 20th century.” The Need had to so with Governors Island, in New York Harbor, some 800 yards south of Manhattan. Will wondered why this “perfectly good island” was going to waste.

He reviewed the island’s history – including that “George Patton played polo there” – and wondered why no one, including the federal government, wanted to own and improve it:

It is passing strange that a congested city with a shortage of housing, green space, and Revolutionary War landmarks cannot find a moneymaking use for an island that is going to waste within hailing distance of the capital of money-making, Wall Street.

Which brings back the one-page reference to “The Donald,” in 367 total pages. (When was the last time we saw that ratio?) On why buyers were scarce, “‘Ferries don’t work,’ says developer Donald Trump.” (He cited the “long struggle toward profitability of Fisher Island in Miami.”)

Trump added that in 1998 Americans were “too antsy to wait on even good ferry service,” and said that even Staten Island didn’t prosper until the ferry-to-Manhattan service “was supplemented by the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge.” Then there was the general business rule of thumb – as he tweaked it – for projects with potential high yields but also high risks. That rule normally: The first investor will go broke, while the “second guy in will make money.” As adjusted in the 1998 Trump-tweak, in the case of Governor’s Island, “The third guy in will make money.”

A big problem, he says, is the government is chock full of blocking mechanisms. Environmentalists are particularly nimble at litigating development to a money-eating standstill.

Observations? 1) Some things never change. 2) “Those darn environmentalists, all concerned with protecting the environment!” And 3) It all depends on whose ox is being gored.

And some side notes. I used Governor’s Island as a secondary objective in June, 2022, when I tried to kayak across New York Harbor, from Statue of Liberty park to Manhattan. (My visit to The Big Apple – June 2022.) And in September 2016 I kayaked across the Verrazzano Narrows from Staten Island to Brooklyn. (Looking back on “the summer of ’16,” and links therein.) Fortunately the tide was just right in September 2016. It neither swept me back into New York Harbor nor swept me out to sea, past Sandy Hook. I didn’t have that luck in June 2022. After an hour’s paddling I got no closer to either Manhattan or Governor’s Island, so I turned back.

But we were talking about looking to the future with both a “happy eye” and sober perspective. Which brings up Donald Trump and his possibly getting a second term on Election Day – 2024. (November 5.) And the fact that to many, the thought of such a second term would be a true nightmare, illustrated below. Thus the question: “Will we still be able to look to the future with a Happy Eye – even if Trump gets elected to a second term in 2024?”

I reflected on such a second term in “Why it might be better…” (Gasp!) That was in August 2019, well before the 2020 election. (I worried a lot, even that long before Election Day.) I thought it might not be too bad, for reasons including that he’d immediately become a political lame duck, and that such lame-duck presidents both lose power but often become more concerned with their legacy. (Like President Reagan signing an arms control treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during his second term, despite opposing such a treaty in his first term.)

I also asked, “Wouldn’t it be better to get it over with? To get rid of Trump once and for all, in 2024?” (Rather than having these two, three or four years of suspense, wondering if there will really be that many stupid Americans? And who knows how he’d handle the crises Biden faced, or what might have happened otherwise.) But on whether we can look to the future with Happy Eye if he does get that second term: Here’s hoping we never get the chance to find out…

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John Henry Fuseli - The NightmareFXD.jpg
Is this how many Americans will feel on the morning of November 6, 2024?

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The upper image is courtesy of W. H. Auden – Wikipedia. The caption: “Commemorative plaque at one of Auden’s homes in Brooklyn Heights, New York.”

See the Amazon version of Will’s book at With a Happy Eye, but…: America and the World, 1997–2002. It’s review began: “The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Newsweek columnist takes on the presidents Bush, Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, Y2K, 9/11, trickle-down economics, Brooks Brothers suits, the essence of golf, and of course, those damn Yankees.” (Will is a Chicago Cubs fan. On that note he once wrote, in 2001, “It has taken me sixty years to identify the three keys to a happy life… A flourishing family, hearty friends, and a strong bullpen.”)

As noted above, I like his column-writing style, but see WITH A HAPPY EYE BUT… by George F. Will | Kirkus Reviews. It ended: “The gold standard among conservative columnists remains William F. Buckley Jr., who can be enjoyed as literature even if you don’t agree with him; the same cannot be said of Will.” (To which I say, “I beg to differ.”) Also, this review pegged Will as a Contrarian, as in: “Will, however, has always been better as a contrarian than an insider.”

Also re my being a Contrarian. My full post title, ‘Mi Dulce’ – and Donald Trump – made me a Contrarian (or actually an Independent). I dated and/or kept up with “Mi Dulce” for ten years, from 2013 on. But in quite a surprise, she died this past year. (I figured she’d hang around way longer.) I never knew her age, but it turns out she was 76. I turn 72 in July, so “76” is not that far away. See also Another “deja vu all over again?” Also, Re: Nixon’s treason, see “Point of order,” Pat Buchanan.

About Will’s going head to head with fellow conservatives. From Wikipedia, “In later years, he became known for his prominent criticism of Republican politicians, including Sarah PalinNewt Gingrich, and Donald Trump. Will’s disapproval of Trump’s presidential campaign led him to become an independent in 2016, and he subsequently voted for Joe Biden in 2020.”

Re: Whose ox is gored. The link is to It all depends on whose ox is gored – The Jerusalem Post. See also The Goring Ox | Wisdom-Laws: A Study, which began, “The goring ox must count as the most celebrated animal in legal history.” Referring to Exodus 21:28-29.

The lower image is courtesy of The Nightmare – Wikipedia. “‘The Nightmare‘ is a 1781 oil painting by Swiss artist Henry Fuseli. It shows a woman in deep sleep with her arms thrown below her, and with a demonic and ape-like incubus crouched on her chest.”

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Gearing up for the Stevenson Trail in France…

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The book that inspired our next hike, 150 miles in France, coming up this September…

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To get to the hike on the Stevenson Trail in France, I have to go back to Paris – again!

This will be my third time back, actually. I first visited the City of Light in 1979, in the company of a young co-ed named Janine. When she finished a semester abroad in London, we toured Europe via Eurail Pass. (Including two days in Paris.) The second time was in 2021, when I met up with three hiking companions. They were going to hike the full Camino de Santiago, starting from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. I only hiked as far as Burgos, in Spain, for reasons explained in Countdown to Paris – 2021. (I’d already hiked to Santiago twice, but hadn’t hiked over the Pyrenees. And felt guilty about missing that.)

Next September, 2023, two of those hiking companions* and I will hike the Stevenson Trail, starting in Le Puy-en-Velay, 340 miles southeast of Paris. But first comes Paris. More specifically, first comes the half-hour train ride from De Gaulle airport to the Gare du Nord. As noted in the ’21 post, “I’ll take the RER Train B to the Gare du Nord. (18 Rue de Dunkerque.) Then out the exit past the Starbucks, and take a left and onto Rue la Fayette.” And by the way, in 2021 I had a heck of a time just getting out of the Gare du Nord, up one flight to the streets of Paris. I didn’t see any clear exit signs, but hopefully this time “experience will be the best teacher.”

In 2021 I had a list of things to do in two days on my own, including a visit to Notre-Dame:

But there is one place on the outskirts that I definitely want to visit… As I recently learned, Choisy-le-Roi is where Henry Kissinger conducted secret negotiations … to end the Vietnam war, in 1972. But back in 1979 it was also home to a youth hostel, and on the grounds of that hostel [Janine and I] camped in a little tent, between the Seine and Marne Rivers. With the moonlight shining through the tent flap… (Can you say, “romantic interlude?”)

I didn’t get to see Choisy-le-Roi in 2021, but maybe this time…

Back to the September trip. Early on, getting ready for that hike, I thought of visiting Arles. (In the south of France, of Vincent van Gogh fame?) I checked and saw a Grande Vitesse high-speed train connection for $43.87, from Paris to Arles. (Second class, Senior discount. A first-class ticket is $50.80, as best I can tell. Paris to Arles by Train from € 25.70 | TGV Tickets & Times.) But the trip from Arles to Le Puy-en-Velay cost almost the same, $48.60. And while it’s 471 miles from Paris to Arles, it’s 132 from Arles to Le Puy-en-Velay, where the hike starts. (Go figure.)

Or I may just take a Grande Vitesse from Paris to Lyon, for a couple of days there. I’ve never been to Lyon, and besides, hotels are a lot cheaper there than in Paris.

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More about that 150-mile, 15-day hike. It follows the trail Stevenson followed for his 1879 book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. The first of five chapters is titled Velay, referring to the township in south-central France where our hike will start. Known these days as Le Puy-en-Velay, it’s famous for its cathedral, a special kind of lentil, and lace-making. It’s also the starting point of the Chemin du Puy, one of many pilgrimage routes of the Santiago de Compostela. And finally, it’s known for its green liqueur “Verveine du Velay,” flavored with verbena. (A liqueur “normally taken after a meal as a digestif, but it can also be used in cocktails.”)

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Another note to get out of the way. This next hike may have been “preordained before the beginning of time.” Or at least strongly foreshadowed by a post I did in February 2015, On donkey travel – and sluts. (A heads up: Stevenson’s word “sluts” had a different meaning in 1879, explained in the notes.) The post started off saying Stevenson’s 1879 book inspired the theme and title of John Steinbeck‘s 1962 travelog, Travels with Charley. (Steinbeck called Stevenson’s 1879 book “One of the single greatest works of English literature.”) But mostly the Sluts post talked about why Stevenson, Steinbeck and other “old people” like us would put ourselves through such ordeals. (Mostly it’s because it “beats playing Bingo at the Senior Center!”)

So anyway, Travels with a Donkey recounted a “12-day, 120-mile solo hiking journey through the sparsely populated and impoverished areas of the Cévennes mountains in south-central France in 1878.” The book itself – considered a pioneering classic of outdoor literature – describes some of Stevenson’s trials and tribulations. (Which seem part and parcel of pioneering: “One of the first people to do something.”) One such trial involved what a pain it was to get the donkey – “Modestine” – to move at anything more than a virtual crawl. (She was, said Wikipedia, “a stubborn, manipulative donkey [Stevenson] could never quite master.”) Incidentally, hikers today can rent a donkey, for something like $1,000, but we chose to forego that option.

Another trial? The whole idea of “camping” – especially while hiking – was totally new:

[Travels with a Donkey] is one of the earliest accounts to present hiking and camping outdoors as a recreational activity. It also tells of commissioning one of the first sleeping bags, large and heavy enough to require a donkey to carry. Stevenson is several times mistaken for a peddler, the usual occupation of someone traveling in his fashion. Some locals are horrified that he would sleep outdoors … because of wolves or robbers.

But here’s a news flash. Wolves and robbers aren’t such a problem any more. (I hope.) Plus, the area is no longer sparsely populated, hikers aren’t seen as strange “peddlers,” and you don’t have to camp outside as Stevenson did. See Walking the GR70 Chemin de Stevenson – I Love Walking In France. Stevenson “could not have imagined that one hundred years later, thousands of walkers would be inspired to follow in his footsteps.” Also, “There are plenty of options for overnight accommodation* on a long-distance walk along the Chemin de Stevenson.”

Getting back to the sluts. In the part, “Upper Gevaudan – A Camp in the Dark,” Stevenson wrote of trying to get to Le Cheylard l’Évêque, “a place on the borders of the forest of Mercoire.” There was no direct route, and it was “two o’clock in the afternoon before I got my journal written up and my knapsack repaired.” Besides – he was told – it would only take an hour and a half to get there. But he got lost, and finally “rejoiced” when he found Sagne-Rousse.

He went on his way “rejoicing in a sure point of departure.” (He knew where he was on the map.) In the meantime it rained and hailed alternately, and the wind kicked up. Two hours later he ended up “tacking through” a bog when he finally found a village and a crowd of locals, including children. But when he moved toward them to ask directions, “children and cattle began to disperse, until only a pair of [12-year-old] girls remained behind.” The local peasants were – he said – “but little disposed to counsel a wayfarer,” and one “old devil simply retired into his house, and barricaded the door.” That left only one source of guidance, but:

As for these two girls, they were a pair of impudent sly sluts, with not a thought but mischief. One put out her tongue at me, the other bade me follow the cows; and they both giggled and jogged each other’s elbows.

So he proceeded on. He finally found another village, but no one answered when he knocked on doors seeking shelter for the night. Finally he had to set up camp in the pitch-black night:

All the other houses in the village were both dark and silent; and though I knocked at here and there a door, my knocking was unanswered. It was a bad business; I gave up Fouzilhac with my curses. The rain had stopped, and the wind, which still kept rising, began to dry my coat and trousers. ‘Very well,’ thought I, ‘water or no water, I must camp.’ 

So much for being a pioneer. And incidentally, at the end of “Camp in the Dark,” Stevenson brings up “the infamous Beast of Gévaudan,” a man-eating ogre said to prowl the area. (Gévaudan, 48700 Monts-de-Randon” is 54 miles southeast of Le Puy-en-Velay.)

I definitely need to do more research on that topic before starting the hike, and maybe for my next gearing-up post. But in the meantime, “First comes Paris – Again!

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Next September I’ll be hiking Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, but – FIRST COMES PARIS! 

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The upper image is courtesy of Robert Louis Stevenson Trail – Walking in France. I used it as the lead image for the February 2015 post On donkey travel – and sluts, in my companion blog. I did a follow-up post on the Trail – kind of – in March 2015’s On “I pity the fool!”

Re: “City of Light.” Something I didn’t know, all those lights were installed to prevent widespread murder. “In the 1660s, Paris was Europe’s murder capital. Even senior police and bureaucrats were being found in pools of blood… To prevent Paris’ violent crooks” – and murderers – “from hiding in shadows, the king ordered almost 3,000 street lanterns be erected to light Paris brightly at night, making it the first large European city to have evening illumination and earning it the City of Light title.” From the link, Paris’ Nickname ‘the City of Light’ Has a Gruesome Backstory.

Aside from posts noted elsewhere, the bibliography for this post includes, beginning with my own Countdown to Paris – 2021, from this blog: Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes – Wikipedia, GR 70 – Wikipedia, Robert Louis Stevenson Trail GR70 – The Enlightened Traveller, and Stevenson Trail Gr-70 – my 11 days hike through France. See also On donkey travel – and sluts, February 2015, On “I pity the fool,” March 2015, On St. James, Steinbeck, and sluts, from September 2016, and On Saint James the Pilgrim – and “Transfiguration 2021,” from October 2021, all from my companion blog.

Re: Companions. In September 2021, the hiking companions were my brother Tom, his wife Carol, and Carol’s brother Ray. I hiked over the Pyrenees with them, and through Pamplona to Burgos in Spain. The full Camino route they took was the French Way. In September 2022, Tom, Carol and I did a 15-day hike in Italy. See Some highlights – Way of St. Francis 2022.

Re: Plenty of options for overnight accommodation. See the I Love Walking In France post:

There are plenty of options for overnight accommodation on a long-distance walk along the Chemin de Stevenson… The longest section, from Le Pont-de-Montvert to Bédouès-Cocurès, requires a walk of 23.5 kilometres (14.7 miles) or, if you wish to spend the following night in Florac, you will need to cover an additional five kilometres (three miles) of walking. To avoid this, a shortcut along the GR 68 will allow you to reduce the walk by six kilometres.

(Click the link to see the full list of possible places to stay for the night along the Trail.)

For the last part of this post I borrowed extensively from The Annotated ‘Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes’/A Camp in the Dark. Also, Sagne-Rousse is a “hamlet in LozèreOccitanie … situated nearby to the localities Lou Debarras and Gourgouline.” As to Fouzilhac, see GR®70 Segment 4 : From Langogne to Fouzilhac – AllTrails. From Langogne to Fouzilhac: “Head out on this 7.8-mile point-to-point trail near Langogne, Lozère. Generally considered a moderately challenging route, it takes an average of 3 h 18 min to complete.” 

The lower image is courtesy of Paris City Of Love – Image Results. Or Google “paris city of lights.”

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On those slow-grinding wheels of justice…

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As noted, this blog honors Harry Golden and his Carolina Israelite. At the top of this page you’ll see ABOUT THAT “WASP” NAME and ABOUT THE BLOG. That’s where I set out what kind of posts I hoped to do. (To honor Harry.) The categories on the right side include Politics, but the last politics post I did was back on November 28, 2022. (Just after the mid-term elections. “After the election 2022…”) So it’s about time for a new post on today’s politics.

In part this post will include a review of past posts to see how any predictions turned out.

Like back in June 2018 I posted “The rope has to tighten SLOWLY.” It started off talking about then-president Trump’s pardon power, and especially whether he could pardon himself. I first wanted to call the post, “The truth will come out.” (Because that’s what I believe.) But then I started re-reading All the President’s Men, the 1974 book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. I recalled the part where Deep Throat lectured Woodward on the importance of building a conspiracy investigation slowly, “from the outer edges in.”  (In an obscure parking garage at 3:00 a.m.) Or as one old saying goes, “The wheels of justice grind slowly…”

That last was addressed to those who asked, “Why is the Mueller investigation taking so long?” (Five months after Mueller was appointed, bringing up “the classic American need for instant gratification.”) But back to 1974, and Deep Throat lecturing Woodward on the importance of building an investigation slowly. You can read the full lecture – and background – at page 196 of the Simon and Schuster (1974) hardback, but here’s the highlight:

“A conspiracy like this … a conspiracy investigation … the rope has to tighten slowly around everyone’s neck. You build convincingly from the outer edges in, you get ten times the evidence you need against the Hunts and Liddys. They feel hopelessly finished – they may not talk right away, but the grip is on them. Then you move up and do the same thing to the next level. If you shoot too high and miss, then everybody feels more secure. Lawyers work this way. I’m sure smart reporters do too. You’ve put the investigation back months. It puts everybody on the defensive – editors, FBI agents, everybody has to go into a crouch after this.”

The book added, “Woodward swallowed hard.  He deserved the lecture.”

And speaking of slow wheels of justice, “Did they have to grind this slow?” Meaning it’s only now – three years after he left office – that Trump finally got “convicted” of something. Specifically, the May 9, 2023 jury verdict saying he’s Liable for Sexual Abuse and Defamation. (And must pay $5 million in damages.) Back in June 2018 I wrote that the federal Mueller Investigation might end – and it did, without accountability – but that wouldn’t be the end of the story. The Mueller investigation would be followed by “a whole new series of state criminal proceedings.” (As in a state like New York, “where ‘The Donald’ or his minions have done business.”) And then, I said, “the ‘noose-tightening’ would start all over again.” And it did, and it continues.

Yet it remains true that from 1973 to 2023, Trump dodged all legal accountability for his actions. (For an analysis of his tactics – “deny, deflect, delay” – How Trump Survived Decades of Legal Trouble.) But even with the sex-abuse and defamation verdicts, he remains for many people “Teflon Don.” See for example the recent poll saying Biden trails Trump in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election. I’ll address that bombshell in a future post – including a reference to polls showing a “red wave” in the 2022 mid-terms – but for now I’ll say that’s hardly surprising. In November 2021 I posted Donald Trump – the newest “Undead Revenant?”

Trump seem[s] to rise from the political ashes, not unlike the proverbial Phoenix. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say rising again, like a &^%$ Zombie. (Which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as a frightening creature, a seemingly dead person “brought back to life, but without human qualities.”

On the other hand, the Undead Revenant post did mention one good reason Trump might not run in 2024. Call it the “Adlai Stevenson effect.” Some of his advisers – back in November 2021 – had a plan to dissuade him. They pointed out that if Trump ran but lost again in 2024, “he would join Stevenson as one of history’s serial losers,” and Trump “hates losers.” (See also Donald Trump can’t stand being called a “loser.”) Maybe that will turn out to be true.

All of which brings up the so-called old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

Wikipedia noted, “While seemingly a blessing, the expression is normally used ironically.” The irony is that to many, “life is better in ‘uninteresting times’ of peace and tranquility than in ‘interesting’ ones, which are usually times of trouble.” (The way I heard it the curse went, “May your children live in interesting times.” Meaning somebody must have told our parents that.)

Anyway, I’d say “time of trouble” aptly describes today’s political climate in Washington. Or as another Chinese saying goes, “Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos.” That chaos too could describe today’s politics in Washington. Which means that as interesting as it’s been since 2016, it’s about to get a whole lot more interesting.

Who knows, with a few more convictions that “Adlai Stevenson effect” may yet kick in.

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1952, the first of two times Stevenson lost to “I Like Ike.

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The upper image is courtesy of Wheels Of Justice Grind Slowly – Image Results. It’s from a “Friends of Liberty Blog.” I’m not sure which “Chris Robertson” the cartoon referred to. A Google search showed an actor of that name convicted of tax evasion, a “David Chris Robertson” convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor, and a Christopher Ray Robertson convicted of armed robberies. Also re: “Wheels of justice.” The full quote: “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.”

Re: Trump’s “conviction.” Technically, or perhaps hyper-technically, a person is “convicted” only in a criminal case. See Difference Between a Civil Judgment & Conviction.

 Re: Adlai Stevenson effect. Undead Revenant included this from Adlai Stevenson – Slate:

Today we’re quick to banish presidential losers… Yet one White House loser—a serial loser, at that—still haunts the political landscape: Adlai Stevenson. Every political season the pundits find some reason to resurrect him, invariably in a flattering light… Stevenson not only lost nobly; he made losing seem noble in and of itself.

I noted, “It’s hard to imagine Trump making a second-run loss seem noble in and of itself.’”

Also, it turns out there were actually three “Adlais.” The two-time presidential candidate – defeated twice “in a landslide by Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956″ – was Adlai Stevenson II (1900-1965). See also Adlai Stevenson I – Wikipedia (1835-1914), and Former Illinois Sen. Adlai Stevenson III dead at 90 (1930-2021.) As to the latter:

His son confirmed his death to The Chicago Sun-Times… “He just faded away,” Adlai Stevenson IV told the newspaper. Stevenson [III], a member of a dynastic family in Illinois politics, spent 11 years in the Senate and unsuccessfully ran for governor of his home state twice. The former senator was the son of former Gov. Adlai Stevenson II and great grandson of former Vice President Adlai Stevenson.

The lower image is courtesy Adlai Stevenson II – Wikipedia. Caption: “A poster from the 1952 campaign.” I originally planned to use the image at left, courtesy of Trump As Zombie Images – Image Results. It accompanies a set of notes from Mind Over Media. Their slogan: “PROPAGANDA IS ALL AROUND US. Do you know how to recognize and respond to it?” A related note: “Propaganda education for a Digital Age.” As to the image, the article provides Background information: “This is an artistic piece relating Donald Trump to the film ‘They Live.’ It was created by someone called Hefner for personal expression, and serves to show how Trump is just another media based demagogue trying to shape your views for you.” Technique used: “Attack Opponents.” It’s propaganda because: “It attacks Trump and is trying to wake people up to the idea that they are being controlled.” (Good luck on that one.)

One final note about the “so-called old Chinese curse, May you live in interesting times. According to Wikipedia, it’s actually “an English expression that is claimed to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse.” The article added that despite being so well known in English, “no actual Chinese source has ever been produced.” The saying “better to be a dog in times of tranquility” is the closest parallel that’s been found.

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A movie review of “Swamp Water…”

A chilling shot from Swamp Water, the 1941 movie that got me “hooked on the Okefenokee…”

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Once upon a time, I said this blog would focus mostly on movie reviews:

Those reviews – when they happen – are a throwback to my time at the University of South Florida, in 1976. I reviewed movies for the student newspaper, The Oracle.  (Before it got all famous and well-known.) I liked films enough to make that my minor.

That’s from THAT “WASP” NAME, above. But the last review I did – technically – was “Joseph Welch, dead at only 69? OMG!” I reviewed a 1959 movie I’d seen many times, Anatomy of a Murder. It starred Jimmy Stewart as the defense lawyer in a murder trial, but it also had Joseph Welch as the trial judge. That review focused mainly on the fact that Welch had died at a mere 69 years of age, three months “after I’d just turned 69.” So I reviewed Anatomy in passing. (Aside from saying he died way too early, I also noted that Welch was the “real-life lawyer famous for dressing down Joseph McCarthy during the Army–McCarthy hearings.”)

The last real review I did was “Imitation Game” – Revisited, in February 2018. But that post just reviewed a review of the same movie in April 2015, Oscar Wilde and “gross indecencies.” It was a review-of-a-review. Bottom line? “It’s been a while since I’ve done a real movie review.”

In this post I’ll review Swamp Water, the 1941 “film noir crime film” directed by Jean Renoir and starring Walter Brennan and Dana Andrews. Mostly with an eye on how it got me hooked on the Okefenokee Swamp. Hooked in the sense of trying three times to cross it from east to west, and finally succeeding last February, detailed in I paddled across the Okefenokee – finally

It all started when I was 10 or 12 and first saw the film. (In the early 1960s.) The scene I remember most was Walter Brennan getting bitten on the cheek by a smiling – and sinister – water moccasin. (As he knelt over to part some bulrushes, to get a drink of “swamp water.”)

I’ve been fascinated ever since…

Which brings up how different the real Okefenokee is, compared to how it got portrayed by Hollywood. (In the film especially.) It seems like every person I talked to about canoeing into the Swamp last February had the same response. “Are you crazy? It’s dangerous in there!” In short the Okefenokee has a terrible reputation, and I think it started with Hollywood and Swamp Water. I’ll focus on that in this review, the difference between “Hollywood” and reality.

The movie starts with opening credits rolling against what seems a view of the Suwanee Canal. There’s dramatic, heart-pounding music, followed some time later by a calming version of “Red River Valley.” (To dramatize the dangers of the Swamp, compared to life in the “civilized” world?) The film itself begins with a graphic, saying those people who live around the edge of the Okefenokee know “that its sluggish waters were filled with alligators and that its boggy forests harbored the deadly cottonmouth snake. They feared these creatures, but much more they feared the unexplored vastness in which a man might disappear, never to be seen again.”

Which leads to the first question: Are the waters really “sluggish?” Later on that.

After the graphic comes a cross, formed by two pieces of tree branch, shown at the top of the page. The “cross” is topped with a human skull and draped with Spanish moss. The camera pans left, to show a group of flat-bottomed boats poled by standing men. (Again, poling up what seems to be the Suwanee Canal.) Dana Andrews, as “Ben,” is in his boat with his dog. He stops in front of the cross-and-skull to blow a hunting horn. Other boats come up, and the men see – off in the distance – what may be what they’re looking for, two trappers who had disappeared in the Swamp. The camera switches to a huge bull gator, lurking on the shore, menacing. The men pole over and find what they’ve been looking for, another boat, flat bottom up.

Finding the boat, one man says, “No need to look no fu’ther.” Another adds, “No, they was gator-et.” (Eaten by gators.) All they find is a hat. As they paddle away, a sneaky, shadowy head looks out from the bushes. (It’s Walter Brennan, as Tom Keefer, a fugitive from a trumped-up murder conviction.) On the way home Ben’s dog sees a deer, jumps in the water and disappears after it. After they get back to civilization, Ben decides he has to go back in, to find his dog.

But first he has to tell his father of his plans. His father yells, “You be careful, and stay clear of that swamp!” After more argument he yells again, “stay clear of that swamp!” Ben says that’s where his dog jumped out of the boat, so he has to go back in. A big fight follows. His father says to be back tomorrow night and a third time, “stay clear of that swamp!” After yet more argument the father yells, “You be here tomorrow night or don’t come back at all!”

Before going back into the Swamp, Ben stops by a general store to get shells for his shotgun. Asked where he’s headed, he says, “Okefenokee.” The men in the store all turn around and look at him in stunned silence. The clerk says, “You mean you’re goin’ in alone?” (I went in alone three times.) Various insults follow. One man makes a production of checking out Ben’s hat. He says he wants to see if it’ll fit him, because “that’s all they’re going to find of you.”

There’s more in the scene with Tom Keefer’s daughter and a sackful of cats two men are supposed to drown, but that’s not relevant here. I have to focus on that unity-and-coherence “stuff” that real writers are supposed to do, so back to Ben heading into the dreaded Okefenokee. He poles down what appears to be a side channel, and the camera shows a gator slinking into the water, menacing. He poles into some thick trees and brush, blows his horn, and hears his dog off in the distance. He jumps in the water, leaving his boat and supplies and goes floundering toward the sound of his dog. The first thought that came to me: “What are you, an idiot?”

Meaning: No one in his right mind in the Okefenokee would jump out of his boat and go floundering around in the water, looking for some lost dog. Sure enough, Ben soon finds himself in a predicament. After what seems an eternity of floundering around in the muck, he finds dry ground. (Relatively speaking.) In the next scene night has fallen.

Ben sits hunched over. He has his shotgun, but nothing else. (He has however been able to light a fire.) He hears fierce growling in the not-too-distant. (Something I never heard.) He tries to stay awake, but soon falls asleep and Tom Keefer sneaks up behind and bops him on the head. In the morning he sees his dog barking and whining, happy to see Ben. He also sees that his hands are tied behind him. He sees a man with his back to him and asks, ‘Who are you?” The man slowly turns and for the first time we see Walter Brennan’s face full on.

In the dialog that follows, we learn what happened to the two missing trappers. Tom tells Ben, “Them was cottonmouth bit.” He also tells Ben, “You’re in the Okefenokee for good.” With his conviction for murder – trumped up or not – Tom can’t afford to let Ben go free, despite Ben’s promise not to tell anyone that Keefer is still alive. Tom also says that without his help, Ben could never find his way out of the Swamp. (Of course, if Ben hadn’t left his boat?)

Tom turns his back on Ben, to get some coffee. Ben gets a big stick and sneaks up, but in the ensuing confrontation Tom tosses the hot coffee in Ben’s face, then throws him to the ground with a judo throw. He talks again about how hard it is to find your way out of the Swamp, then says. “You’re in here for life.” Then comes the really creepy part.

That night Tom goes to get a drink of water. As shown in the image below, the camera shows a lit-up cottonmouth off to the viewer’s left, coiling and smiling. (Evilly?) After the snake bites Tom on the cheek, he recoils, eventually stumbles back to the campsite, and falls to the ground.

Next morning, we see Ben digging a grave. He gets up and prays, looking up, before going back to the campsite to get the body. He arrives only to find Tom alive, well and sipping a cup of coffee. Explanations follow. For one thing Tom says, “Just made up my mind to get well.” More to the point, “I bet I been cottonmouth-bit a dozen times.” (And apparently built up an immunity.) Ben has Tom’s knife, which he used in part to clear brush and help dig the grave. But he adds, “I cut that snake bite, to make it bleed.” Tom thanks Ben and says, “You can have your gun back.”

In other words, Tom is grateful that Ben helped save his life, and Ben starts to believe that Tom is innocent. To see the rest of the story you can check various reviews, but that’s as far as I watched. (To the part where Walter gets “cottonmouth bit,” and a bit beyond.)

Wikipedia has a short review, with all but the first sentence dealing with the movie after Tom and Ben “form a partnership in which Ben sells the animals hunted and trapped by both until townsfolk become suspicious.” For a smorgasbord of reviews, see Swamp Water (1941) … User Reviews – IMDb. One such review – “Old classic, May 29, 2001 – sounded familiar to me:

I can remember seeing this movie as a kid and getting the bejesus scared out of me. The darkness and uncertainty of the swamp terrified my young imagination and the image of the skull atop a cross touched all my Roman Catholic primal fears. My impression of the swamp, i.e., crocs, gaters and snakes, topped with a dark image of the fugitive played by Walter Brennan, lasted for years. 

Which brings us back to that glaring difference between Hollywood and reality. On the first question –  Are the waters of the Okefenokee really “sluggish?” – the answer is a resounding No. The city of Jacksonville once proposed a “40-mile pipeline be constructed from the Okefenokee Swamp to the city for drinking water. Natural, pure water from the Okefenokee Swamp is highly valuable and has been sought after for centuries.” Further, old time sailing vessels – called “tramps” – sailed hundreds of miles out of their way to get the water. “This water was found to be healthful and pure, and lasted a long time in wood barrels used by earlier mariners.”

And from personal experience I can say there’s a definite current in the the Okefenokee, sometimes quite strong. That certainly helps to keep the water “healthful and pure.”

As for the movie’s other claims, in a total of four trips into the Swamp – 10 days all told – I didn’t see a single snake of any kind, let alone a cottonmouth. As to people getting gator et, “No alligator attacks on humans in the swamp have been recorded in the last 80 years.” (When they started keeping records.) That’s according to the University of Georgia’s River Basin Center, which adds: “It is important, however, not to feed gators or try to touch them. Habituating gators to human contact makes them dangerous.” No attacks, let alone fatal attacks.

Which brings us to the Fatal alligator attacks in the United States – Wikipedia. One thing to note is that the number of fatal gator attacks has increased dramatically, from one in the 1950’s to eight in the 2010’s. That’s the last full decade, but since 2020 there have been seven such fatal attacks, with seven years left in this decade. Another thing to notice is that most of the attacks are in Florida, followed by Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina. And near ponds close to retirement communities and golf courses. So, with those statistics there’s one logical conclusion:

You’re safer from gator attacks INSIDE the Okefenokee than out in the “civilized world.”

Happy canoeing. And take that Hollywood hype with a grain of salt. (Or maybe a bushel.)

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The “smiling” cottonmouth, at left is about to bite Tom Keefer, at right..

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The upper image is courtesy of Swamp Water 1941 Movie – Image Results. It was accompanied by another review, posted June 19, 2009, by Steve Lewis, who had been “producing Mystery*File on and off since the early 1970s.” See also MYSTERY*FILE ON-LINE:

Devoted to mystery and detective fiction – the books, the films, the authors, and those who read, watch, collect and make annotated lists of them.

The lower image is also courtesy of the Image Results site. I clicked on a photo of a big, hulking bull gator, which accompanied a page linked to California Herps.com. I clicked on “View Page,” and went to a “Snakes in Movies” page with eight photos. The first four showed Walter Brennan’s infamous scene where he got bitten on the right cheek by a Cottonmouth. The photo above is the third of the four. The “Herps” site is a “Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California.”

Re: Joseph Welch dying at 69. “Born in 1890, he played in Anatomy of a Murder in 1959, and died not long after that. ‘Sixteen days before his 70th birthday, and fifteen months after the release of Anatomy of a Murder, Welch suffered a heart attack and died on October 6, 1960.’” My 69th birthday was in mid-July, and mid-October would be three months after that.

Re: “It all started when I was 10 or 12.” For starters see 2015’s Operation Pogo.

Re: Okefenokee water being “sluggish.” See Okefenokee: The Swamp Next Door That Is a National Treasure. Here’s the complete quote referred to in the main text:

The Okefenokee Swamp produces “black water,” which looks like tea. Organic plant material decomposing in the swamp brews under sunlight releasing tannins that color the water. The “black water” flows to the Atlantic Ocean passing through Cumberland Sound, just north of Amelia Island. This water was found to be healthful and pure, and lasted a long time in wood barrels used by earlier mariners. Old sailing vessels called “tramps” would come hundreds of miles off their course for St. Marys River water. Vessels that docked in the port city of Fernandina could procure barrels of “swamp water” for voyages. Many years later, the city of Jacksonville proposed a 40-mile pipeline be constructed from the Okefenokee Swamp to the city for drinking water. Natural, pure water from the Okefenokee Swamp is highly valuable and has been sought after for centuries.

Another article called the Swamp “the kidneys of the earth, filtering contaminants from the water flowing from the Suwanee and St. Mary’s Rivers.” From the February 5, 2023, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, B5, “Okefenokee: ‘This Earth is us, we just can’t let it get away.'” It reviewed “Sacred Waters: The Okefenokee in Peril.” For more options Google “sacred waters okefenokee in peril.” My local – oldest – brother handed me the article a few days before I headed south to the Swamp.

Re: Gator attacks in the Swamp. The full link: Okefenokee FAQ & Resources – The River Basin Center.

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The Okefenokee – “Haven of Serenity” or Deadly Swamp?

“Man overboard!” – My brother paddling over to help two Scouts whose canoe capsized…

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This post presents the second half of my account of paddl[ing] across the Okefenokee!

In Part One I wrote about finally bisecting the Okefenokee Swamp, eight long years after I first got the idea. I wanted to paddle a kayak – or canoe – all the way across, from east to west. From the east entrance at the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, near Folkston, then from the west entrance at Foster State Park, near Fargo, Georgia. And “meet in the middle.*”

Part One included background, like how I got so fascinated by the Swamp in the first place. It went on to describe my brother Tom and I starting the trip. We put in at the SCRA east entrance last February 14, a Tuesday. (And Valentine’s Day.) We made it down to Monkey Lake camping shelter. But that Tuesday is pretty much as far as I got in the post. I told of the first day’s paddling, and how I “slooshed” the dinner dishes that night, leaning over into the water. (With an eye out for lurking gators, lest I be “surprised”) And of closing the day with a shot or two of O-be-joyful, which itself has a fair amount of American historical precedent.

Briefly, in my first attempt in 2015 – paddling an eight-foot kayak, towing a small “tag-along” rubber dinghy – I got as far west as Coffee Bay shelter. In my second try – in the same kayak and tag-along – I made it as far east as the Canal Run shelter. For this last try Tom and I each had a canoe, which gave us a lot more room for traveling supplies. My goal – at least – was to close that wide gap between the Coffee Bay and Canal Run shelters.

And with that, to finally say I’d paddled all the way across the Okefenokee, east to west.

Moving on, to Wednesday, February 15 – On this second day of the trip we paddled the seven water miles from Monkey Lake back up to the Cedar Hammock shelter. That’s the shelter where I camped, alone, eight years before, my first overnight trip into the Swamp. We saw a local gator lurking, looking for handouts, but I doubt it was the same one I’d seen back in 2015. Plus, back in 2015 I had a small “two-man” tent, along with a camp chair and two beers in a cooler. But the mosquitoes were so bad – that 2015 October – that I didn’t get a chance to enjoy the camp chair much. I had to retreat to that tiny tent way early in the evening.

This time I had a new, bigger “six-person” tent. Big enough to fit a cot, camp chair and all my five days’ supplies inside. Also on that Wednesday paddle up from Monkey Lake, Tom tried paddling while standing up in the canoe. I never tried that; for much-needed “butt breaks” I’d paddle while kneeling in the bottom of the canoe. Incidentally, the next Thursday, February 16, paddling over to Canal Run, we saw a guy coming the other way. He paddled standing up, with his long white hair and long white beard. He and the canoe looked “as one,” as if it was a part of him. And they both looked like they’d been in the Swamp a long, long time.

Which brings up a word about the Okefenokee type of swamp. The Suwanee Canal – where we started on Tuesday and spent all day Saturday on, heading back – runs through the swamp, east to northwest. It’s lined with lots of trees – cypress, mostly – along with downed trees, underbrush and lots of developed “trembling earth.” (Okefenokee means “Trembling Earth.”)

Along the Suwanee Canal there there are some places to stop and get out, if you check those places carefully and wear rubber boots. (At least up to the knees.) But most of the rest of the swamp – including the way up from Monkey Lake – is made up of “prairies.” Unlike the Canal and its tree-lined banks, the prairies offer no place to stop for a butt-break. (Unless you stand up in your canoe.) And they have nothing to block the wind.

We learned that lesson on a windy Thursday, February 16. We “played bumper cars.” The wind bounced us from one side of the eight-foot channel to the other. (And tangled us up in water lilies, small bushes or swamp muck.) The prairies also have lots of swamp grass, for lack of a better term. It looks very dry, even though it’s rooted in water – and that muck. But the gators love it; they love to sun themselves on the matted-up grass that lines most prairie channels.

Thursday, February 16 – This was our first long day, 11 miles paddling to get up to the Round Top shelter. Probably for that reason I didn’t write anything in my journal that evening, after our first day of paddling 11 miles. (Instead of the previous seven miles each, Tuesday and Wednesday.) But that gap gives me a chance to explore the issue, Why? “Why would anyone in his right mind paddle into the Okefenokee Swamp for five days?”

I offered some ideas in March 2015’s “I pity the fool!” Starting with a combo-quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Mr. T: “I pity the fool who doesn’t do pilgrimages and otherwise push the envelope,” even at the ripe old age of 71. (In my case.) Also in my case, a quote from when I paddled my kayak miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, to achieve some much-needed closure:

Every once in a while I’d pause, turn off my stop-watch and just enjoy the feeling “of being somewhere, someplace that no one else in his right mind would ever be.” I imagine the explorers back in the olden days had something of the same feeling.

I had other quotes from Emerson and John Steinbeck, on how most people give up and slow down as they age. (While a limited, feisty few don’t.) But maybe the best answer came from our hike on the Way of St. Francis 2022. We’d say, “It beats playing Bingo at the Senior Center!” 

Back to Friday, February 17 – Our original plan for today was another 11-mile paddle, ending up over at the Canal Run shelter. The actual distance from Round Top shelter to Canal Run would make a very short day, so we planned a scenic detour. We’d paddle up to Floyd’s Island and then back down to Canal Run. But some time on Thursday afternoon – paddling those 11 miles – we came up with a Plan B. “The heck with Floyd Island, let’s just paddle straight over to Canal Run.” (“Straight” being relative, as in “relatively straight.”)

I say “relatively” because the National Geographic map shows open water straight west from Round Top over to Canal Run. But the touristy canoe trail – the one you’re supposed to use – shunts way up to the northwest, then trickles back down southwest. (Effectively doubling the paddle-time.) But since discretion is the better part of valor – so they say – we decided to follow the boring canoe trail. Which turned out to be not so boring, and brings up the fact that it’s actually pretty hard to get lost in the Okefenokee. The Suwanee Canal is well marked, as are the canoe trails leading off from it. (Mostly, except for one exception detailed in the notes.) 

In other news, tonight the local gator at Canal Run got a bit too close, so Tom whacked him on the head with a paddle. He still hung around, but stayed just out of paddle-whacking distance.

Saturday, February 18 – This morning came after the coldest night of the trip. It got down to 38 degrees. I had the same sleeping bag I used canoeing 440 miles down the Yukon River,* but it was still hard to sleep. In the morning, first getting up, I stumbled around like the proverbial drunken sailor. I wasn’t drunk. My feet were just that numb from 12 hours of cold. But we started that cold morning knowing that at the end of the day we’d have a hot shower, a cold beer and a warm bed to look forward to. (“Straight” down the Suwanee Canal.)

This was the second-longest day, 10 miles from Canal Run back to the SCRA east entrance.

We made it to the Coffee Bay shelter for lunch, and there ran across a Scout troop. Five adults and seven teenage boys, with lots of horse-assing around. (By the teenage boys.) They eventually left, but we kept running into them on the way back. The last time was almost back to the SCRA take-out. As shown in the picture at the top of the page, that’s where two young Scouts managed to capsize their canoe. This was 15 or 20 minutes after I’d taken the picture of the gator shown at the bottom of the page. (15 or 20 minutes earlier, I think.)

But Tom paddled over and helped them get back in. (With no appearance from the local gator who I’ve heard hangs around SCRA waters.) Incidentally – and on that note – it was only a day or two after we got back that I read about the 85-year-old woman killed in an alligator attack at a Florida golf course. (I’m glad I didn’t read that before we started.)

But seriously, that brings up the question: “How did the Okefenokee get such a lousy reputation?” Is it a Haven of Serenity or a “Deadly Swamp?” Some Okefenokee devotees “swear by its ability to envelope visitors in a haven of serenity.” So there are devotees of the Swamp, and I count myself one of them. I found it a haven of serenity, even with the gators, mosquitoes, and butt-numbing paddling. But offsetting that was the peace and quiet, and a chance to get away from the phone and internet agitations that are so big a part of modern life. Then too:

Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?

Which is pretty much what I found, paddling away for hours in the quiet marsh. My mind “occupied and composed,” so much so that I wasn’t annoyed by future problems. Or by the problems of our “now” outside world for that matter. (The quote is in 2015’s “I pity the fool,” from Robert Louis Stevenson‘s 1879 book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.) 

On the other hand there’s the negative image from that 1941 movie Swamp Water. I’ve noted how watching it back when I was 11 or 12 got me so fascinated by The Swamp in the first place. Especially watching in horror the scene where Walter Brennan gets bitten in the face by a smiling, evil-looking Cottonmouth. And I think a lot of the Okefenokee’s bad reputation stems from that movie. So “what I’m gonna did” – as Justin Wilson used to say – is review that movie in my next post. I’ll also explore how “Hollywood” can often distort reality.

In the meantime, I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment now that I’ve finally paddled across the Okefenokee, east to west. I’ve crossed that off my Bucket List. (Gators and all.)

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I photographed this gator a mile west of where the two Scouts went into the water…

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I took the picture at the top of the page. The “scout overboard” incident happened the last of five days canoeing around the Okefenokee. Also, for this post I borrowed from past posts like Getting back up to speed – for canoeing and Another paddling adventure – January ’23. And it all started in 2015 with Operation Pogo – “Into the Okefenokee:”

“Meet in the middle.” Coming from the west, to get to the shelter I’d reached heading in from the east.

Re:  “Two-man” tent. I put the term in quotes because one person can barely fit into a two-person tent. As far as the “six-person” tent, Tom and I shared mine after his tent got trashed by the 80-mph windstorm on the Missouri River. It was a tight squeeze with two people, along with their cots.

Re: The second (2016) trip in, to the CANAL RUN shelter, nine miles in from Foster State Park. Among other things I saw 50 alligators in the first hour of paddling. After that I stopped counting.

O-be-joyful” is a code-word for ardent spirits. We brothers – originally four of us – started packing samples in past canoe trips, like down the Missouri River from Fort Benton, MT. That was a way of following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, and other American pioneersBack in the old days of our country, whiskey – for example – was used instead of hard currency:

One of the first media of exchange in the United States was classic whiskey.  For men and women of the day, the alcohol did more than put “song in their hearts and laughter on their lips.”  Whiskey was currency.  Most forms of money were extremely scarce in our country after the Revolutionary War, making monetary innovation the key to success.

See Why Whiskey Was Money, and Bitcoins Might Be.

Re: “Trembling earth.” See Floating Peat Islands: The Land of Trembling Earth: “Methane gas under decomposed organic peat causes peat blowups, forming mud peat batteries where herbs and grasses grow. Okefenokee means trembling earth, because of these peat islands.” The article quoted a book on the Swamp, with its “mass of floating vegetable forms, intermingled with moss drift and slime.” The mass formed a “compact floor,” capable of sustaining one character’s weight. But he saw that although the mass “did not at once break through beneath him, could be seen to sink and rise at every step for twenty feet around.”

Re: 2015’s “I pity the fool!” I’ll be updating it after my next post, a review of Swamp Water.  

Re: “Mostly,” as “detailed in the notes.” And on it being hard to get lost in The Swamp. It’s well marked, including the canoe trails that go off from Suwanee Canal. But there was one time when we got near the Suwanee Canal, heading to Canal Run. It looked like the powers-that-be had cut off access to the shelter I was aiming for, “just to piss me off.” I paddled a ways up past the “area closed” sign but didn’t see any way through. When I got back Tom had checked his map, always a good thing to do. The lesson? In my case don’t over-react and assume people are out to piss you off for no good reason. And by the way, I kept this out of the main text in the interest of UCC, “that unity and coherence crap.” My family tells me my writing “goes all over the place,” and I’m trying to fix that. Also, the episode was mostly just embarrassing to me, though it did provide a bit of extra exercise.

Re: Canoeing 440 miles on the Yukon River. See for example, “Naked lady on the Yukon.” For another canoe adventure, this time in Canada, see “Naked Lady” – on the Rideau Canal?

The Okefenokee quote about its being a “haven of serenity” is from an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sunday, February 5, 2023, page B5. My brother Bill gave me that story a week or so before I left to head down to Folkston.  

Re: Alligator attack. For further reading see An alligator killed a Florida woman. It doesn’t happen often, but here’s what to do if a gator attacks. Among the nuggets of wisdom: “Predators want easy meals, not battles.” Adult humans are normally considered too big for an alligator, but “a child or small animal — those they’re going to want to go for.” Also, “the sound of dogs playing or barking can actually attract alligators to an area.”

Re: “Donkey in the Cevennes.” Our next big adventure, coming up this September 2023, is hiking the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail … in France. See also GR 70 – Wikipedia. We’ll travel without the donkey.

Re: Hollywood distorting reality. Google “hollywood distort reality,” or see 6 Ways Movies Subtly Distort Reality | Mental Floss, or A Few of the Many Ways We Distort Reality | Psychology Today.

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I paddled across the Okefenokee – finally!

“Man overboard!” – My brother paddling over to help two Scouts whose canoe capsized…

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My last two posts* talked about Finishing Some Unfinished Business. The unfinished business was paddling a kayak – or canoe – all the way across the Okefenokee Swamp, from east to west. I first got the idea of doing that back in early 2015. It took awhile – eight years in fact – but just this past February 2023 I finally got to say, “Mission Accomplished!”

But first I need to apologize. It’s been over a month since I last posted, on Getting “ready, for the Okefenokee.” And we finished the job on February 18, well over three weeks ago. But since I’ve “mission accomplished” – and so likely won’t be going back into the Swamp again – I wanted to make this my magnum opus on the subject. And to explain why anyone in his right mind would go into such a place. A Swamp that’s been called “sinister,” “mysterious,” and full of lurking dangers beneath those seemingly tranquil waters. (Gators, cottonmouths and the like.)

As explained in 2015’s Operation Pogo, it all started when I was 10 or 12 – I’m 71 now – and saw the movie Swamp Water. (That would be back in the early 1960s.) In one scene I watched in horror as Walter Brennan got bitten on the cheek by a smiling – and sinister – water moccasin. (As he knelt over to part some bulrushes and get a drink, of “swamp water.”)

I’ve been fascinated ever since…

I suppose it’s a matter of “that which horrifies us also fascinates us.” (Kind of like how I used to feel about visiting New York City.) But back to the subject at hand…

My first time in was a simple day trip in September 2015. I paddled in from the east, with no supplies. The trip took about two hours. I just wanted to get a feel for speed, to see how long it might take to cover the water miles from east to west. Based on that limited first outing, I thought I could bisect the Swamp in two overnight trips. (One from the east entrance and one from the west.) That didn’t happen, not for another eight years anyway, and took this year’s extra five-day trip. But as it turns out, if you can paddle two miles in an hour, you’re doing good.

My first real try came weeks later, in October 2015. I put in at the Suwanee Canal Recreation Area (SCRA). I had the same kayak, with a “tagalong.” (A small rubber dinghy, towed and holding camping supplies and cooler, complete with two cold beers.) Unfortunately, that time of year is popular, so most platforms were already reserved. The only shelter available was Cedar Hammock, a mere three miles in from the SCRA. Paddling to Cedar Hammock didn’t take long, so I headed down toward Monkey Lake, for exercise. But I had to turn around early and paddle back to Cedar Hammock, in the dark. (Complete with slews of grabby water lilies to paddle through.) The second day I made it as far west as the Coffee Bay day shelter. (No camping allowed.) Bottom line: I didn’t make much bisecting progress on that first trip. 

Then in June 2016 I kayaked in from the west side. I put in at Stephen C. Foster State Park, east of Fargo, Georgia. As noted, my original plan was to bisect the Swamp, east to west, and this time I made it to the CANAL RUN shelter I’d reserved. (Nine miles in from Foster State Park.) That was still an all-day paddle, and it still left a big gap between Canal Run and Coffee Bay.

But finally, last February 2023 and eight years after my first attempt, I closed the gap between Canal Run and Coffee Bay. I had finally bisected the dreaded Okefenokee Swamp.

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I never let the dream die, even as years passed. Then came a boost from my brother.

Last September (2022), Tom, his wife Carol and I hiked 150 miles on the Way of St. Francis, in Italy. Somewhere hiking in the Appennine Mountains I mentioned this “Unfinished Business.” (Possibly over a cold beer at the end of a long day’s hike.) A bit to my surprise, Tom expressed interest, possibly at the prospect of enjoying a break from “icy arctic blasts” such a part of winters in Massachusetts. We settled on a tentative date, in mid-February 2023.

The result was a plan to take five days, using Tom’s two canoes, instead of one eight-foot kayak. (Towing a rubber-dinghy tagalong.) I’ve done two earlier posts* on preparing for the trip, and closed the last one saying, “I’ll keep you posted.” So, here’s that final report.

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For starters, on Monday February 13, we met up at the Newell Lodge, northeast of Folkston. As it turned out, Folkston was halfway between the Lodge and the east entrance (SCRA). That night we packed up what we could. I had my last shower and last cold beer until the following Saturday. Four nights without a beer or shower. Not a real shower anyway; I brought along some Dude Shower Wipes. (One of many alternatives, I just learned via internet.)

The next morning, Tuesday, February 14, we put in at the SCRA boat ramp about 10:30. Our goal for the day was Monkey Lake shelter, seven miles away. (The Monkey Lake I tried to reach back in 2015.) Along the Suwanee Canal, and up until the turnoff to Monkey Lake, we played paddle-tag with a boat full of tourists, complete with a guide yakking on a bull horn. He’d stop and talk awhile and we’d pass him, then he’d motor by and get up ahead of us, then stop again. It was annoying in a way, but we heard some gems along the way. Once he pointed out the plentiful Spanish moss lining the Canal, and said that such “moss” is related to pineapples. (?)

We got to Monkey Lake by 3:30, after five hours on the water. (With breaks and a short Lunchables lunch.) Two breaks involved standing up in the canoes. Very carefully. (I call them “butt breaks” because paddling five hours without changing position really gets to you.) At the shelter we first unloaded the canoes, then set up our tents. For supper – the one hot meal of a typical canoeing day – we had hot dogs and baked beans, with crackers and a fruit cup dessert. After that I washed the dishes and enjoyed a shot or two of “O-be-joyful.”

Which brings up a word about “washing those dishes.”

The first step involves “slooshing” the sticky stuff off plates, pans and dinnerware, followed by a real wash and rinse with hot water from the camp stove. And two of the shelter platforms were heavy-duty plastic going all the way down into the water. But the other two, Monkey Lake and Canal Run, were raised wooden decks. They left a gap between the bottom of the deck and the water, and with my active imagination I could just see a gator lurking underneath that deck. (Attracted by the slooshing and food particles.) Nothing ever happened, thankfully. On the other hand, I did “sloosh” those dishes very quickly on the two wooden-deck camping platforms.

That gap between the water and bottom of the deck reminded me of my 2016 second trip in. Because it was so early in the season, the canoe-only trails were much vegetated-over. Which meant that many times I had to “butt-scootch” the kayak over a barely-sunken log. Sometimes I also had to stick my hand out, grab another branch and finish pulling the kayak over. The last time I reached my left hand out I saw a patch of white.  It turned out to be a gator – a small one, but a gator – “smiling” nicely at what he thought was a tasty snack.

That memory came back as I slooshed the dinner dishes at Monkey Lake camping shelter.

But, dishes done and O-be-joyful enjoyed, that first day ended with dusk and a chill setting in at 6:15. I’d brought along a head lamp, and stayed up – in the tent, away from the mosquitoes – reading and also writing in a journal. I actually sat in my camp chair, beside the cot, inside the tent. That brings up the fact that I love my new bigger “six-person” tent. Even with its bent support-pole, courtesy of an 80-mile-an-hour windstorm on the Missouri River back in 2020.

We retreated to our tents that early the next three nights as well; in our cots and at least trying to sleep for the next 11 or 12 hours. Much different than my daily routine back home.

Also different from my daily routine back home: Seeing so many alligators sunning themselves on the banks of the Suwanee Canal, and also in those Okefenokee “prairies.” But my magnum opus is getting way too long for one post, so I’ll have to continue it in a “Part Two.”  

In that Part Two I’ll describe the last three days of our Okefenokee adventure. That will include the climax – the denourment if you will – of the trip: Where a canoe with two Scouts in it capsized, not far from where I photographed this gator. Stay tuned!

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I photographed this gator a bit west of where the two Scouts went into the water…

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I took the picture at the top of the page. The “scout overboard” incident happened on the last of our five days canoeing around the Okefenokee. Also, for this post I borrowed from past posts including Getting back up to speed – for canoeing and Another paddling adventure – January ’23. And it all pretty much started in 2015 with Operation Pogo – “Into the Okefenokee” and following.

The descriptive terms “sinister” and “mysterious” came from the cover of the Swamp Water DVD I just got from a local library, based on the original movie poster.  

Re: Cottonmouths. See Agkistrodon piscivorus – Wikipedia, on the “pit viper in the subfamily Crotalinae of the family Viperidae … one of the world’s few semiaquatic vipers … and is native to the southeastern United States. As an adult, it is large and capable of delivering a painful and potentially fatal bite.” I didn’t see a single cottonmouth in any of my four excursions.

Re: The Canal. The Suwannee Canal was dug across the swamp in the late 19th century in a failed attempt to drain the Okefenokee. After the Suwannee Canal Company’s bankruptcy, most of the swamp was purchased by the Hebard family of Philadelphia, who conducted extensive cypress logging operations from 1909 to 1927.” Okefenokee Swamp – Wikipedia.

Re: Tom’s two canoes. The same canoes we used for the the July 2020 trip down the Missouri River. (Sioux City to Omaha.) See On my “new” Missouri River canoe trip. Apparently I never did a post-mortem on that trip, even though it featured us surviving an 80-mph windstorm that obliterated Tom’s tent, and left my tent with a fractured support-pole that I had to repair with a lot of duct tape. The COVID outbreak had just started, so the post included a lot of detail about how to stay healthy on the up to and back from the trip. We used the same canoes for a trip from Kingston Ontario up to Ottowa in 2018. See The “Rideau Adventure” – An Overview.

Some nuggets about Spanish moss. It has been used as building insulation, mulch, packing material, mattress stuffing, and fiber. In the early 1900s it was used commercially in the padding of car seats. In the desert regions of southwestern United States, dried Spanish moss is sometimes used in the manufacture of evaporative coolers, “colloquially known as ‘swamp coolers.'” Wikipedia. See also The Antioxidant Benefits of Spanish Moss – WholisticMatters.

Re: The second (2016) trip in, to the CANAL RUN shelter, nine miles in from Foster State Park. Among other things I saw fifty alligators during the first hour of paddling. After that I stopped counting.

O-be-joyful” is a code-word for ardent spirits. We brothers – originally four of us – started packing samples in past canoe trips, like down the Missouri River from Fort Benton, MT. That was a way of following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, and other American pioneersBack in the old days of our country, whiskey – for example – was used instead of hard currency:

One of the first media of exchange in the United States was classic whiskey.  For men and women of the day, the alcohol did more than put “song in their hearts and laughter on their lips.”  Whiskey was currency.  Most forms of money were extremely scarce in our country after the Revolutionary War, making monetary innovation the key to success.

See Why Whiskey Was Money, and Bitcoins Might Be.

I also took the Gator picture at the bottom of the main text. But he was a good mile or so away from the capsized canoe. (I’m pretty sure…)

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Getting back up to speed – for canoeing…

A recent view of the Okefenokee Swamp, made famous – or infamous- by a 1941 film, shown below… 

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I started working on this blog-post on Saturday night, February 11, 2023.

Which is part of what is shaping up as a busy weekend. One part came earlier today when I started packing up the basics for my next paddling adventure, a five-day canoe trip into the Okefenokee Swamp. Tomorrow will be even busier. I have to be at church by 9:00 a.m., for a special meeting, then take my sweetheart to lunch after church. Then I get to finish whatever packing I can do, aside from last-minute stuff on Monday morning. Then I’m heading to a Super Bowl party in Stockbridge. (Riding with a friend, so by the time I get back to his house I’ll be “sober as a judge,” fit to drive back to my house.) Then – as early as possible on Monday morning – I’ll drive down to Folkston GA to meet up with my brother and his two canoes.

Then on Tuesday, the 14th, we’ll head into the Okefenokee for those five days of canoeing.

As I started packing up – and otherwise getting ready – past canoe-adventure memories started coming back. That actually started last Thursday when I put up my alleged “six-person” tent. The one I used in the last canoe trip we did, which I previewed in On my “new” Missouri River canoe trip. The July 2020 canoe trip in which I survived an 80-mile-an-hour windstorm that ruined my brother’s tent, and snapped a hold-it-up fiberglass pole for my tent.

You can see the proposed (preview) of the trip in the “new” Missouri post, but one thing we didn’t count on was that 80-mile-an-hour windstorm. It happened on the Iowa side of the river, and my job last Thursday included sweeping out the river-bank sand from so long ago. For some reason I didn’t do a follow-up post on that trip. But my journal from 2020 noted the “[stuff] hit the fan,” the night it happened, from 1:10 a.m. to 1:50 a.m. That’s when I thought “my time had come,” pinned to my cot as I was for 40 long minutes by the front part of my tent. As the wind whirled around us, tore off the tent flap designed to keep rain out, and otherwise blew all kinds of equipment hither and yon. Next morning, a Sunday, July 12, 2020, we “picked up the pieces.” The first thing we noticed, No canoes! Or at least not where we left them, tied up so carefully to tree branches high up on the bank.

But not high enough, as it turned out.

We did find the canoes, eventually. One was sunk in the river, or practically so, up to the “gunnels,” about 20 feet out. The other was downstream, tightly lodged in some dead tree parts piled up on the bank. And not only did we find the canoes, and paddles, we managed to paddle the remaining 25 miles to Omaha, where that trip ended. (With a steak dinner and two beers.)

Which brings us back to my next adventure, and some more good news. As I found out last Thursday, wiith the judicious use of duct tape, that snapped tent pole can still hold my tent up for the trip into the Okefenokee. (Even though I had to duct tape one joint together, so the dismantled segments don’t fit neatly together in their bag like they used to.)

Then too, the ritual of putting up the tent – then taking it back down again – brought back some memories from past canoe trips started. Like each morning having to dismantle the tent the same way, together with the swanky cot I got for that last trip, not to mention the ordeal of stuffing all that into their respective storage bags. And the regular morning breakfast of lukewarm coffee and one and a half breakfast bars.

Then memories came of later in the day, after paddling a canoe for hours – the best part – of having to set up the tent, cot and other camping gear. Followed by the one hot meal of the day, then my “slooshing” out the dinner pans and dishes, then washing and rinsing them in the water boiled nicely on the Coleman stove. (By custom, my brother cooks and I do the dishes.)

Followed by some prophylactic swallows of O-be-joyful.

I’ll do a follow-up post once I get back. (The plan is to drive home Sunday, the 19th.) Hopefully with tales of relaxing days canoeing in the peaceful Okefenokee, with chirping birds and alligators who mind their own business. But for a review of our last canoe trip before the one with the 80-mile-an-hour windstorm, see The “Rideau Adventure” – An Overview, from September 2018. But before that I did a preview in Next adventure: Paddling the Rideau “Canal,” from July 18, 2018, and later that month – July 31 – “Naked Lady” – on the Rideau Canal? Here’s a heads up: I didn’t see any naked ladies on the Rideau Canal in Canada in 2018. But come to think of it, we did go through some severe weather on that trip too, paddling to Colonel By Island 

That overnight campsite included a violent rainstorm and raccoons breaking into our plastic food containers and taking our supplies of breakfast bars, crackers and trail mix.  That in turn was preceded by us paddling through a veritable monsoon, on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 21[, 2018].

And that’s why they call it adventuring. As in an “enterprise of a hazardous nature,” or preferably, an “unusual or exciting experience.” Or maybe just relaxing? Either way, Wish me luck!

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SwampWaterPoster.jpg
Here’s hoping I don’t get “bit on the cheek,” like Walter Brennan…

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge – Image Results. From the article, National Wildlife Refuge System celebrates 114th birthday

Alleged six-person tent.” It seems tent sizes are always overstated. After the 80-mph windstorm my brother shared the tent with me, a combination of two people, and it was a really tight squeeze.

O-be-joyful” is a code-word for ardent spirits. We brothers – originally four of us – started packing samples in past canoe trips, like down the Missouri River from Fort Benton, MT. That was a way of following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, and other American pioneers. Back in the old days of our country, whiskey – for example – was used instead of hard currency:

One of the first media of exchange in the United States was classic whiskey.  For men and women of the day, the alcohol did more than put “song in their hearts and laughter on their lips.”  Whiskey was currency.  Most forms of money were extremely scarce in our country after the Revolutionary War, making monetary innovation the key to success.

See Why Whiskey Was Money, and Bitcoins Might Be. It’s in that spirit that I take some “O be joyful” along on such trips. As in “I just had my fifth swallow of ‘Oh be joyful,’” and then, “Which helps a lot.”

The lower image is courtesy of Swamp Water – Wikipedia.  That article describes the “1941 film directed by Jean Renoir, starring Walter Brennan and Walter Huston, produced at 20th Century Fox, and based on the novel by Vereen Bell.  The film was shot on location at Okefenokee SwampWaycross, Georgia, USA.  This was Renoir’s first American film.  The movie was remade in 1952 as Lure of the Wilderness, directed by Jean Negulesco.” 

Here’s what I wrote about the film in 2105, in Operation Pogo – “Into the Okefenokee:”

I saw the movie Swamp Water back in the early 1960s.   (When I  was around 10 or 12.)  The part I remember best was watching Walter Brennan getting bitten in the face by a snake. In the scene, he kneels over and parts the bullrushes to get a drink… As Walter does all that, the viewer can see a grinning cottonmouth off to his right. (The viewer’s left.) The grinning cottonmouth then proceeds to bite him “right on the cheek.”

I’ve been fascinated ever since…

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Another paddling adventure – January ’23…

I’ll see a lot of these critters when my brother and I canoe into the Okefenokee

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Welcome to the “Georgia Wasp…”

This blog is modeled on the Carolina Israelite. That was an old-time newspaper – more like a personal newsletter – written and published by Harry Golden. Back in the 1950s, people called Harry a  “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.” (For his work on the Israelite.)

That’s now my goal as well. To be a “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.”

For more on the blog-name connection, see the notes below.

In the meantime:

I just ran across a post from March 2019, on a kayaking misadventure back in 2013.

I called it On a 2013 kayaking “adventure” and what brought it to mind was a new venture coming up next month. My brother and I are planning a five-day canoe trip into the Okefenokee Swamp. I’ve already camped overnight twice in the Okefenokee, in a small kayak, but they were solo journeys. (Remembering the Okefenokee, and links therein.) But this trip will feature two separate, large canoes, not one 8-foot kayak, trailing a small rubber dinghy. (“Tagalong.”)

I’ll have more on the Swamp trip later, but first a word about the 2013 misadventure.

I had just bought the eight-foot kayak, after getting back from canoeing 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi. (An eight-day primitive camping trip, as in “dig a hole and squat.”) But I hadn’t gotten too well acquainted with it yet. For example, I didn’t know about the drain plug. And so the post started out, “There I was, in the middle of a local lake around here, on a fine sunny summer afternoon. I was happily paddling away in my spandy-new kayak, when suddenly…

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It was only my third time paddling the kayak. I had put in at Lake Kedron, and getting in a kayak is always awkward. But this time it tipped over a bit too far to the side, so once I got in I noticed what seemed like a small bit of water sloshing around. But I didn’t want to go through the whole process of getting out, emptying the water and then getting back in. I figured, “No problem, I’ll just put up with water sloshing around a bit until I finish,” in an hour or so.  So I paddled out, then turned around and headed back when I noticed what seemed a bit more water.

I kept paddling, and in a bit glanced back and noticed the back end seemed much lower. That’s when I discovered a big difference between a kayak and canoe. I couldn’t twist around to get a good view of the back end, which led me to this: “You know, I’ll bet there’s a drain plug somewhere on this kayak. I wonder where it is? I’ll have to check the instructions when I get back.”

To make a long story short, I ended up in a reverse-Titanic. (Titanic sank bow first. The kayak sank stern first.) And while it was a bit humiliating – the lakes in that area are all surrounded by homes – it didn’t turn out that bad. You can see the gory details in a 2013 kayaking, but here’s a final note. I sent out an email to family members, and my oldest brother – not the one I share travel adventures with – had this reply: “I don’t think I would have shared that.”

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So anyway, back to that other adventure, upcoming, the one into the Okefenokee.

Back in October 2015 I kayaked into the Okefenokee from east side, using the same kayak. I put in at the Suwanee Canal Recreation Area (SCRA). Then in June 2016 I kayaked in from the west side, where I started at the Stephen C. Foster State Park east of Fargo, Georgia. My original plan for these trips was to bisect the Swamp, east to west. However, in October 2015 the only camping shelter available was at Cedar Hammock. Unfortunately, that was a mere three miles in from the SCRA entrance, so I couldn’t make much bisecting progress.

Still, the next day I made it as far as Coffee Bay day shelter. Then in 2016 I made it to the CANAL RUN shelter, some nine miles in from Foster State Park. That was still an all-day paddle, and still left a big gap between Canal Run and Coffee Bay. But next month, with two canoes and five days to paddle, we should make it from the east entrance to Canal Run, by way of Round Top shelter. And that’s not to mention “by way of” Monkey Lake.* (Finally getting down there.) That’s the plan anyway, to bisect the Okefenokee at last. I’ll keep you posted…

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All of which leads in to another travel adventure. This one is coming up next fall, and was possibly “preordained before the beginning of time.” Or at least foreshadowed in the post, On canoeing 12 miles offshore, from May 2015. It talked about Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1879 book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. And about why he would do such a foolish thing as embarking on a “12-day, 120-mile solo hiking journey through the sparsely populated and impoverished areas of the Cévennes mountains in south-central France in 1878.” His answer:

I had been after an adventure all my life, a pure dispassionate adventure, such as befell early and heroic voyagers; and thus to be found by morning in a random nook in Gevaudan – not knowing north from south, as strange to my surroundings as the first man upon the earth…

And such is the nature of pilgrimages. They give us a break from “real life,” from the rat race that consumes so many today. Which is why they can be described as “religious ritual on the move.” Through the raw experience of hunger, cold and lack of sleep, “we can quite often find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings.’” Put another way, such a pilgrimage can be “one of the most chastening,” but also one of the most liberating of personal experiences.

In case I’m being too subtle, after the canoe trip into the Okefenokee, my next great travel adventure will be this fall of 2023, hiking the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail in France. (With my travel brother and his wife.) Which again raises the question – for some anyway – “Why would anyone your age want to do that?” For a good answer check out John Steinbeck, who based his 1960 book Travels with Charley on Stevenson’s In the Cévennes travelog.

In Charley he noted many men his age – he was 58 at the time; I turn 72 this year – who are told to “slow down.” In turn they “pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.” But that wasn’t Steinbeck’s way:

I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage…  If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway.  I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage.  It’s bad theater as well as bad living.

Or as we used to say hiking the Way of St. Francis, “it beats playing bingo at the Senior Center!”

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http://walkinginfrance.info/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/Travels1.jpg
Another adventure coming up this Fall, 2023 – without the donkey…

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The upper image is courtesy of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge – Image Results. See also Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The “misadventure” link formerly included that add-on, “(blub, blub, blub).”

About Monkey Lake, and the Cedar Hammock shelter. In the October 2015 trip I paddled in to Cedar Hammock and checked it out, but since it was still early in the day I decided to padde down to Monkey Lake. And that’s where I went head-to-head with a big bull gator in a narrow canal, complete with two “bumps” that prompted me to paddle much faster. Here’s what I wrote a bit later:

I saw a big bull gator – who eventually submerged – in a very narrow canal. This was on the canoe trail to Monkey Lake. As I paddled over the water where the gator had been, I could swear he came up and nudged the bottom of my kayak.  I figured it was an accident. But the second time? That added some spice to the trip.

I turned around before Monkey Lake, and got back to Cedar Hammock way after dark. (See “Into the Okefenokee” – Part III.) I ended up paddling, in the dark, through a slew of water lilies, which led to: “That Monet guy can take his stinkin’ water lilies and ‘stick ‘em where the sun don’t shine.’”

Stevenson Trail. It’s also known as the GR 70 – see Wikipedia – or the Chemin de Stevenson.

The lower image is courtesy of Robert Louis Stevenson Trail – Walking in France. See also a post from my companion blog, On donkey travel – and sluts. A side note: Stevenson’s use of the word slut was grammatically correct at the time:

Slut first appeared in the written language in 1402, according to the Oxford English Dictionary…   At that time, slut meant roughly what one sense of slattern means today: a slovenly, untidy woman or girl.  It also apparently meant “kitchen maid” (”She is a cheerful slut who keeps the pots scrubbed and the fires hot.”).

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Re:  The Israelite.  Harry Golden grew up in the Jewish ghetto of New York City, but eventually moved to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Thus the “Carolina Israelite.”  I on the other hand am a “classic 71-year-old “WASP” – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – and live in north Georgia.  Thus the “Georgia Wasp.”    

Anyway, in North Carolina Harry wrote and published the “israelite” from the 1940s through the 1960s.  He was a “cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur.”  (He told good stories.) That also means if he was around today, the “Israelite would be done as a blog.”  But what made Harry special was his positive outlook on life.  As he got older but didn’t turn sour, like many do today.  He still got a kick out of life.  For more on the blog-name connection, see “Wasp” and/or The blog.

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