Spartan Existence

So, it’s been over a year since that comment in my last post about the renewed commitment to writing. I actually have been writing quite a lot, but only in my head where no one can read it. I don’t know whether I needed a new topic or whether it was the fear that no one ever reads my posts… I mean literally, not even my family.

What ever it was, I do have a new topic and so let’s see where it goes.

It has been a longtime dream of mine to own an Airstream, but new ones are expensive and old ones are scary. How would I know if I was getting a bargain or a nightmare? But still, I’ve looked at Craigslist ads every now and then for decades.

Sometime, I think just over a year ago, I saw a Spartan Travel Trailer made in the 50s in Tulsa, Oklahoma I only found it because it was advertised as an Airstream. It peaked my interest. So, I showed it to Russ and we were both bit. We looked and thought and learned. We looked some more. No, we’re not finished with the renovations on the house, not even close. We looked. We joined Facebook groups. We found great websites and lots of Facebook friendlies. For better or worse, we managed to neutralize the fear. We found an Avion. We went to Hilton Head to look at it. It was scary even for our new found bravery and we like Avions, but they aren’t Spartans and we didn’t think it was a price / condition match. We actually found several things we like. Boles Aero, Vagabond, M Class, and on and on. Trolley tops are really cool and there is some stuff out there that is just so awesome that I never knew existed. Each ad we saw represented a trade off between location, condition, price, brand and whether or not Russ at 6’6″ could stand up in it. I had Craigslist alerts set up across the entire south east. Some how I couldn’t stop the Avion query from also giving me the frequent furniture ads by the same name.

I was up one night recently doing the late late night mucking about on the interwebs and I decided it had been some time since I had looked at actual Airstreams. I put in a search and there it was, an ad 15 minutes old for two local Airstreams, only 1 of them was a Spartan. The asking price was within reach and the wording said it was negotiable. This could be the beginning of something new and wonderful!

National Storytelling Festival, Day Two

by Karen

The first day of the story telling festival was the short program presented in sets of two stories per hour with half hour breaks between sets. It acquaints listeners with a variety of tellers. The second day is the long program where there is one story teller per hour, with half an hour break after every teller. On day two listeners can settle in with tellers they would like to know better. Some tellers tell a single long story, many tell two half hour stories. This is the big day. People who are attending only for a single day come for Saturday.

It is hard to decide where to go. All tellers are good, but we did discover some favorites on day one. An Irish teller, Niall de Búrca, was very animated on stage. One teller, Willie Claflin, used a puppet sometimes, but this weekend used music as the primary backdrop for his stories and his son Brian was with him for a special performance. They sang with the most beautiful harmony. Donald Davis told stories that made me think about my southern country roots. Many of the tellers have been featured on National Public Radio, but somehow I had missed those performances and most of these people were previously unknown to me.

As a first time attendee, I was definitely in the minority. Some people have come every year since their first year of attendance and for a lucky few that meant they had been coming since 1973. Many more people have come as often as they could. The festival is a gracious celebration of story telling and all of the tellers encourage those in the audience to tell their own stories. Though story telling is a natural part of all our lives, this was my first serious look at it as an art form and I was fortunate to experience that at the Mecca for story telling. Many in the audience come to learn from the best how to perfect their craft. Some tellers weave the telling of lessons into their stories, all include the life lessons they have learned in some form, often with humor and it is almost always moving.

I learned that our own Kennesaw State University has a story telling group, The Kennesaw Tellers, naturally. They were in attendance, participating at workshops and volunteering, all while wearing t-shirts advertising the February Festival.

Through talking to different people during breaks I understood that story telling like many of my other interests does, to some extent, defy categorization. In some universities it is studied in the English department, in others it is listed as historic in nature, in other it is a performance art. Some story telling is therapeutic and some is not even labelled as story telling. For someone trying to find the correct department in a college, the search can be trying as was confirmed when I was looking for the best link to provide information about the KSU tellers. Even as an attendee who was interested in the subject, my definitions were narrower when I arrived than when I left. I recognized that my favorite pastors over the years were the ones who were gifted story tellers, whether telling the stories straight from the book or stories of their own creation. There were other connections. For example, I enjoyed the story telling through music, but I did not anticipate it. I had been thinking of ballads as songs and forgetting that they were also stories.

Our day had the perfect October ending, scary stories in the park and then “home” to warm our hands and our marshmallows by the camp fire.

National Story Telling, Festival Day 1

By Karen

I am writing about my first day at the National Story Telling Festival on battery power by flashlight, firelight and moonlight at my campsite picnic table beside the Nolichucky River in Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park. We chose this campground because it is closest to the festival, but the whitewater view out our tent window doesn’t hurt!

We started our morning by sleeping through the alarm, but we we able to get out nearly on time regardless. As we drove to our first day of story telling I was looking forward to hearing Kathryn Tucker Windham. She is the only story teller I was previously familiar with. I heard her tell ghost stories at Calico Fort, an art festival in Fort Deposit, AL when I was a child.

As we drove along the road into Jonesborough we passed a man driving a red truck. He was wearing a straw hat and eating what looked like a breakfast biscuit. He pinched off a piece for his dog, a happy, energetic mutt. After they were done eating he sped up a little and then he passed us. It was easy to appreciate small things like this and the mountain view with faint fog lifting over the river as we eased on in to town. We were glad that we had arrived early to check things out the day before, but the crowds were well managed not so bad as I feared. The streets were closed to vehicle traffic and open to walkers, official golf carts and handicapped scooters. Around every corner there was a beautiful home or church and a bake sale.

I enjoyed every story teller that I heard today, but of course I enjoyed the one teller I already knew the most, Kathryn Tucker Windham. A story, like a song, is better once you know what inspires it well. Mrs. Windham tells stories of a south where I grew up. She has known it longer. Her small town and her small town church were smaller than mine (a rare thing), but the sound was familiar just the same. Today she told a story of growing up in her church and the way she amused herself while sitting through sermons. It really took me back. I remember the musings that I wandered through as a child only half aware of the sermon. There were many similarities. We both knew a pair of sisters. In her church both were hard of hearing. In mine only one. We both knew who would sleep through the sermon. It is good to go home every now and then, and good to go with someone who’s been there in spirit.

For lunch we went a little further than most places, we walked a block away and up a hill to have soup and cornbread with homemade dessert at the Mustard Seed Meeting House. It was a delicious and friendly break.

This was the first time that I enjoyed story telling as a large scale formal performance and the event does cause one to explore the importance and value of story telling, as an art, as therapy as song, as history and culture. It is a defining part of our lives. My father is the primary teller in our family. He can get so excited that the tears roll down his face while he leads the room in laughter. Family stories remind us who we are. I think that story telling is where Russ’ Alabama family culture and mine overlap in the most comfortable of ways. Today was a pleasant new experience and a trip home at the same time. I look forward to the rest of the weekend.

Writing, Networking and Technology on the Road

by Karen

In the realm of potential future work, I’m in love with the idea of going off grid, taking off on the road and seeing what is out there. Research, writing, the “journey”. That is what my bliss would look like if I were to take that age old advice “Follow your bliss and the money will follow.” I wouldn’t have a problem finding a question to pursue. I have so many questions to answer that narrowing things to one subject, then narrowing that subject to one question with a manageable scope would be the challenge.

Is following you bliss practical advice to follow? I have so many things that could be my bliss and most of them bring no money. While some consider it a superior attitude to value intangibles above money, there is the practical side. Money is necessary to sustenance. I can clearly see both sides and how life could digress into a slow painful death if the right balance is not struck. So for the time being, I remain on a tight rope seeking solutions.

I write to you now from a mini-test and I am learning a lot. I am on a three week adventure. The motivating event is The International Story Telling Festival in Jonesborough, TN, a place that is both worthy of blogging, and a place to better learn the craft of story telling and writing. The price is low compared with other learning opportunities of similar quality.

Before arriving at the festival, I had confirmation that it was a good decision. It seemed a bit of a push as I was trying to decide whether of not to come. Part of my tight rope experience is that I am devoting equal time to both of the directions that I might go. I am spending time blogging, writing, and seeking education on writing skills. At the same time I am devoting a lot of time toward seeking more traditional employment. I was afraid that in coming here, I would not be able to do justice to the search for employment.

In a technologically connected world those connections seem more like a lifeline than anything else. Reading books like “What Would Google Do?” has given me a few ideas, but a lot of my search has been on the internet. The job front has been a challenge and anything that appears to be fun rather than work might be seen as frivolous to friends, relatives or potential employers, but mostly to my worst critic, myself.

What I have found so far is that the trip has been better for my job search than I could have thought possible, and even though I brought laptop and phone, it has been harder to keep up with the writing than I expected. On the employment front, I am meeting people because I am out and about. Meeting people is always networking on some level, whether you are making connections on a human level or whether you have specific things in common, those connections make us richer. I’ve been really surprised how easy it has been to network on the road.

Many of my favorite people live somewhere else and I only see them rarely, so I had always had distance connections, but now my connections can have employment relevance. I am willing to move, so anything I learn has potential. I just underestimated exactly how much that was true. In REI in Franklin, Tennessee, I was looking at the clearance shoe rack and mentioning to Russ how much I’d like to find work that allowed me to wear what I wanted to work. Three of us who were trying on shoes at the same time had strange fitting problems and we struck up a conversation that ended in a stranger telling me that she had close friends in my home town, asking for my professional information and offering to pass it onto her friends.

The next day as we headed west toward the story telling festival, we stopped in Oakridge, TN to visit the historic landmark. We pulled up at the facility and asked about the visitor center, looking for the science museum. The woman we asked mistook us for people seeking employment and ended up telling us that there was potential for stimulus jobs and where to find the listings.

That was interesting on two levels. First, the obvious interest in new sources for job listings, but second, it is interesting to see that stimulus money is actually going somewhere. For someone who has lost employment directly due to the downturn, it seems like there would be a better likelihood of finding something else through stimulus spending. After all, part of the stated intention of that funding is to preserve or replace lost or at risk jobs. In Atlanta, the stimulus jobs that I have found are for police officers. I don’t really qualify for an enforcement job, so that cuts me out. We were laughing optimistically and saying that if we keep this up, surely we would both be employed before the vacation was done.

Conversely, the writing has been unexpectedly inconvenient. The challenges to writing are primarily technological. My laptop is equipped with wireless, but I am not equipped with any frills in my phone package. We are focusing on parks and more remote locations. Most people who take off for the great outdoors will know that remoteness is not usually an issue in phone signal, but as someone who has spent her time on the road with people who were more connected, I have never needed to overcome connectivity issues for myself. I have a basic service plan with testing blocked and that means I need to learn the ropes about finding connection spots (as well as recharging issues, we are car camping). I love my Camry, but car camping is not the most convenient way to do it.

I now sit at Books A Million writing this, but do not have connectivity because I apparently need to be a member to enjoy the privilege of connecting here. There are no stores near my home, so the membership fee is not useful past today.

If I had personal connectivity, I could avoid these complications. I also could have taken care of travel needs in a more organized manner and it would have allowed me time to visit a prehistoric archeological site with a new museum, a great blog subject and I would have two blogs to write here before I seek a place where I can connect to upload those blogs. Spending more time finding that spot may limit opportunities further. Some of the things you do don’t turn out to be blog worthy, so missing an opportunity matters and as those missed chances add up it clearly becomes worth it to purchase a personal connection to the internet.

So, in taking this trip to pursue some of my writing goals, I am, in fact, closer to my employment goals, and for budgetary reasons, challenged in my writing goals. My own personal feasibility study is proving very fruitful.

Cumberland Island, Heed the Warnings and Go

I’ve lived in Georgia for nearing half my life now. Some of those years were just outside Savannah, so at one time I lived within a more reasonable travel distance, but still, somehow I’ve missed getting out to Cumberland Island. At least part of that has been because of the planning involved. There is a limit to how many people can visit, 300 daily, and you must make reservations in advance to take the ferry out, or come by private boat. I was passing by once and stopped to see if there was stand-by room for a day trip with no luck. A television program on the Georgia islands was aired just before a recent trip to Florida and it reminded me that I wanted to see Cumberland Island at just the perfect time. I thought that the program made one of the other islands seem a lot less developed than it actually was and I hoped that Cumberland Island was closer to its reputation. The reputation is sometimes elitist and sometimes rustic. These are not mutually exclusive features in my mind, but they are interpreted as such by many. Russ was going to Florida as well and he was on-board, so we had a plan.

For this trip we had a 4:00 AM wake up. We were driving from Atlanta to avoid an extra night in a hotel and still make the first ferry allowing a reasonable amount of time on the island. The ferry ride was a very pleasant trip.

Ferry to the Island

Ferry to the Island

It had been far too long since I had been out on the water in a boat. Paddling in a canoe or a kayak is not what I mean when I say that. Not so long ago, I had taken a ferry ride on a hydrofoil. The sacrifice for speed not worth the trade-off. It was noisy and the closest thing to a view was a GPS style map screen showing our progression. The lack made me feel closed in. We were strapped in seats, much more securely than an airplane. Not the leisurely walk on the bow that I had imagined. By contrast, the Cumberland Island Ferry is exactly what I want in a ferry. There are seats inside and out as well as up top, available on a first come basis. School was back in session, so the crowds were a small fraction of the limit and free movement around the boat was easy. The seats on top opened up as soon the sun won out in the balance between exposure and view. A slow boat with a gentle breeze and the mood for the weekend was set.

The first thing that anyone tells you about Cumberland Island is to bring the insect repellent. It is important advice that makes the difference between a pleasant trip and hell, but unfortunately, that often repeated advice, in part, fueled my delay in visiting. Being the mosquito magnet that I am, the only thing I hate worse than insect repellent is being bit because I didn’t use it. Even the hardiest resisters use it here and I think many people may avoid a place that comes with the mosquito warning as the number one comment about the visit, but the island is well worth the effort because after having been, now what I want to know is when I can go again.

Cumberland Island felt something like home, even though I’d never been there. I remember the beaches of my childhood and some part of me holds every beach up to those in comparison. These were mostly Florida pan handle beaches near Pensacola and the Redneck Riveria of south Alabama. Before hurricane Frederick hit in 1979 the barrier islands in this area, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, had a lot of private homes rather than high rises. It was a casual barefoot kind of a place, pretty much free from expensive brands, chlorinated pools and places where sand could be forgotten. After the hurricane wiped the beach clean, big developers moved in and changed the nature of the space. So while Cumberland Island was a new experience with some different flora and fauna, it took me home and I was grateful that in the 1950s the island had been graced with few owners, little development and the foresight to protect this beautiful resource for us to enjoy today.

Cumberland Island is the most untouched and protected of the Georgia Sea Islands. It is “the one with the one with the (feral) horses”.

Horse near Dungeness

Horse near Dungeness

There is some mainland industry visible from the island, ruins from the Plantation Dungeness, a headstone marker for “Light Horse Harry” Lee, the small First African Baptist Church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was married and a few other things, but when walking on the windward side of the island (Atlantic Side) there is little to remind you of civilization.

There are many large animals like deer and alligators as well as invasive species. Here the invasive species are watched carefully and include animals such as feral horses, boar and armadillo as well as the plants that more often come to mind when one thinks of invasive species. Animals on the island are accustomed to being protected most of the time and not as shy as others you may have encountered. Ironically, the lack of fear can make it easier to scare them accidentally if you don’t respect their distance. Many animals protect us from an unpleasant encounter by being afraid and running or hiding before we ever see them. Remember that because an animal allows you to come closer is not necessarily a sign that you should. I did not see alligators or boar, but there was an impertinent armadillo that stayed in our camp-site shuffling and and rooting. It sounded like he was also making a snorting sound, but with all the rustling of the leaf litter I really couldn’t tell. I understand that an armadillo’s fight or flight reflex sends it flying 3-4 feet in the air, so even least intimidating of the wild animals could be a little unpleasant if you frighten it. Oh, and the raccoons…use the elevated lock boxes for your food as instructed by your ranger, really. We had our small trash bag high on the pole with little actual food and they still ripped it apart. I understand from the ranger briefing that a video of one raccoon on the shoulders of another reaching was taken with a cell phone.



We stayed at the main camp ground nearest the second dock. As we were picking our camp sites, the ranger told me he had lived in the Atlanta area recently. As Park Ranger (interpretive, not enforcement) is high on my list of dream jobs, I told him I’d make the same trade so fast his head would spin. The main camp ground is covered in a beautiful Live Oak canopy with a palmetto under-story and it has cold showers. I wasn’t alone in mine. There were frogs and a lizard. The other camp grounds are primitive.
Karen's Shadow Beachcombing

Karen's Shadow Beachcombing

Shell collecting is allowed and a little bit better pickin’s simply because there are fewer people looking than on most other beaches.
Peaceful Sunrise

Peaceful Sunrise

As we left the camp ground we passed 3 deer in the path. While we were on the boat waiting to leave there were a pair of butterflies dancing above the water together and horses in the distance. It was a nice farewell and it will not take me very long to find my way back.

I had a sample of Natrapel lotion that worked very well for the mosquitoes. I also used some spray that contained DEET when my sample ran out. I believe that the Natrapel worked best, but had a difficult time finding it again.

Editors Update: I recently attended an educational presentation at the Georgia Conservancy where Charles Seabrook presented his book Strong Women and Wild Horses and director William Van Der Kloot presented his film Cumberland: Island in Time. Both give excellent background on he history and unique flavor of the island.