Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bits & Pieces

If you are new to the blog: Welcome! Scroll down for the first days of the trip, or use the navigation bar on river right.

Check back throughout the week for more pictures! And, if you paddled, send a comment with what you'd do different next year. I want to compile a list. For example, I'd pack more sunscreen, ziploc bags and my own jar of sunbutter for lunches.

Working River: Day After

One week ago 300 people settled their bums down into kayaks and canoes, shoved off from our put-in point in Ellijay, and tossed and bumped along the smooth rocks of the Coosawattee at the beginning of our 92+ mile journey. New paddlers, experienced river rats, lean bodies and chubby buddies, teachers, mechanics, fishermen—people of all sizes, shapes and personal hygiene standards spun out onto the water with the common goal of communing with the rivers. This morning I write from my usual spot in my sunroom, overlooking a very crispy flower bed. My garden and I both miss the water.

The personality of the rivers change from Ellijay to Rome, just as the personalities of our companions changed over the course of the week. The first day found people focused, fast, with a tinge of wariness. The Class II rapids along that section demand attention, and since this was our first day together people were concerned about embarrassing themselves or holding up the group. I know I felt that way. By the end of the run, paddlers leaned back a little in their boats, relaxed with the fast day behind them and miles of beautiful water ahead. We passed palatial spreads and vacation rental property, decks with hanging baskets overlooking the cool, quick water.

The Oostanala River coming into Rome works hard. As the bed widens, the banks grow steep and muddy. Cows blink lazy eyes and the sight of sunburned paddlers munching on potato chips. Blonde fronds of corn silk wave from just beyond the tree line along the river, and farmers run belching generators to pipe the Oostanaula up onto their crops. No more cedar decks cantilever out over the water for summer cocktail parties; instead, bare patches in the river cane offer spots for cinderblocks, a rusty pole, and an orange line down into the water. After a day of splashing, picnicking, Father’s Day fun on Carters Lake, the river gets to work.

This delineation between vacation river and working river surprised me the most on this trip. (Besides the condition of the girls’ locker rooms at Armuchee High School. Poor girls! Where is Title 9 when you need it? Any girl playing any sport for the Indians deserves extra cheers for where she has to rinse off after practice.) I overheard complaints about the rivers from others in our brigade; paddlers unfamiliar with the Rome area. Why can’t you see the bottom of the river, one paddler asked Husband, and does it ever clear up? No, Husband replied. But sometimes it gets worse.

For all her muddy waters, the Oostanaula is still a beautiful river. I think of her as possessing great character, and when you do take a dip (because it is perfectly safe to do so, fellow Romans), you come out sparkling with bits of mica and quartz silt like you’ve been dipped in gold. Gar still flop along the mouth of Armuchee Creek, and turtles stack like pancakes along the smooth limbs of driftwood logs. The river could be cleaner, yes, but generally she’s a healthy old girl. And as Husband and I sat on the bank in Heritage Park last night, our fingers greasy with fried catfish and our shoulders warm with late afternoon sun, we watched her flow by without her 300 recent fans. As good as it feels to be home, I think I could get back in the boat today and paddle a little farther, just to see what’s around the next bend of the Coosa. Leader Joe always says you never step in the same river twice. And isn’t that the best part?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Off River: Day the Last

Fried catfish. Hot sun. Long week. Now I'm home, and you or your loved ones may be home as well.

Look for a wrap-up Paddle Georgia blog coming after I've got my boys back and a cup of coffee at my home computer in the morning. I will miss our coffee guy, though. And will I still wake up at 5:30 am, do you think?

In the meantime, listen to a quick snippet of Husband & I giggling like kids from our day at Armuchee High School. Go to about minute 16 or so.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pictures by Joe Cook

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Scroll down for today's words.

Next Generation Paddlers: Day 28 or so

Housekeeping: Dear Reader, I wanted to give you an entire slide show of pictures but Husband's computer won't let me. Here are a few, a taste, a tease. I'll send more on Saturday morning, from the air-conditioned comfort of my own home!

Here at summer camp for grown-ups, certain times of the day find the residents a bit edgy and irritable, a bit tough and tired, and generally difficult to be around. This time of day usually correlates with our disembarking from the bus, damp, dirty and slightly dehydrated, to find the showers completely full and a line at the coffee guy’s iced mocha station. Only one person in this entire camp seems to hold a permanent smile, an enduring grin and full-faced welcome to any passing paddler. Little Odessa, the youngest camper and the new baby daughter of a Paddle Georgia coordinator, wins the prize for the cutest, smiling-est, cooing-est baby I did not birth. It warms one to the core to see her laughing eyes and fluffy black hair, to see her being passed around and clearly enjoying every lap she happens to grace.

Watching Odessa this afternoon, for the first time I had the thought “I could do this again next year.” Can you believe that, dear reader? What would possess me to live with 300 other people, in June, without decent shower facilities, ever again in my life? Curiosity, I guess. I want to check in with Odessa at a year and four months. She also reminds me of another little girl I’ve watched for a number of years: Ramsey Cook, the vivacious and lithe daughter of our patient Leader Joe. Between the two of them, these young ladies turn my thoughts to the kids of Paddle Georgia. What’s this whole thing like from their eyes?

I miss my boys, so in general, I’ve avoided the children participating here. I am not one of those meet-and-greet-every-child type adults who likes to carry on conversations and find out the favorite ice cream flavor of the boy on the bus next to me. I think kids appreciate me more for not taking up their time, anyway. The kids here seem especially busy and clever at figuring out ways to entertain themselves. For example, today I walked into the gym and found a group of about six of them taking turns spinning each other down the halls in a rolling, commercial sized trash can with a fresh black liner. (When Husband saw that, he said “oh, yeah. That’s what I would have done, too.) They play tag, ducking behind vending machines and crouching below the bleachers. They hula’ed with Hula Girl’s hoops, until they got bored with it.

On the river, the kids play pirates. Sometimes we’ve come upon a canoe of them tucked into a tributary or under an overhanging rock, ready with their pumps to ambush some other boat. We paddled for a while today behind a canoe with three boys in the age range of six to ten. They dipped their paddles in the water here and there, but mostly the conversation tended towards establishing the rules and order of the canoe domain. Farther down river, as the sun burned our skin a light pink and the cows came down the bank to blink their slow eyes and all the paddlers, a boy hollered for his dad. With panic in his voice, he yelled “Dad, Dad! There’s a spider in my boat!” The father responded with a concern as slow and lazy as the river, asking “Is it bigger than your hand?” His son ignored him, claiming “I told you there were bugs in my boat.”

Listening to this, watching the kids find their places and establish a comfortable domain in the midst of all these wacky strangers, one thinks of the next generation of paddlers. What confidence they will have; what comfort with their surroundings and the outside world, as comfortable as little Odessa is now with any fawning adult who springs into her line of vision. They may not remember all of this experience (come to think of it, I hope I don’t remember all of this experience), but it shapes them. I’ll certainly remember one image from the day, even if I don’t know any of the kids’ names. Stopped at a testing site for water monitoring, Husband and I found ourselves alone on the river. From around the bend came a little girl, one of our group, standing on her kayak like a raft. She looked to be about six or seven. Her blonde hair wisped behind her like spider webs; she kept her eyes focused straight ahead, standing with one foot on either side of her blue kayak. Her paddle dipped first on one side, then the other, making tiny whirlpools in the water behind her. We watched her pass us, a tanned sprite, a Huck Finn concentrating on her own private journey. Then she was gone.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fish Out of Water: Day…I Lost Count

Quick housekeeping: Tomorrow night I'll post pictures!

From here on into Rome, the river scenery stays just about the same from day to day. Between last night’s margaritas, a heavy rain shower around midnight, and some guy in our campsite with the most obnoxious, thundering, pass me a defibulator type snore, it seemed like a good day for me to check out the other side of Paddle Georgia. After the paddlers load the school buses in the mornings, toting their full Gatorade containers and shiny with sunscreen, what happens back at camp? How does a sudden influx of 300 or so people camping out at the high school affect the town? If Paddle Georgia aims to raise awareness about the rivers, how does our immediate presence impact those directly in contact with this bunch?

The most convenient place to start seemed to be the nearby Laundr-o-rama. Right around the corner here from the high school sits a low brick building about as big as a minute, humid and thick with lint in the air. I took my bag of wet things, some quarters I changed with our coffee vendor at camp, and a good James Lee Burke novel to pass the time. As soon as I had loaded my laundry and settled down on a bench in front of the building, an older black man came and sat down beside me. He wore beat-up old Pumas and a worn baseball cap advertising some auto mechanic. “Hey,” he leaned over to me, “Hey, you know anybody’s got it made?” “Excuse me?” I responded. “You know anybody’s got it made,” he repeated, like a statement of fact. I thought about it a minute, and then said no, I did not personally know anyone who has it made. I know of such people, but none of them are personal acquaintances. I asked him if he had it made. He said no, he didn’t, but he knew a guy who had a nice truck, and that guy probably had it made. Then the old man started to ask me about various people, did I know so-and-so or this guy or that guy. I kept repeating that I was not from Calhoun and didn’t know anybody he was asking about, nor was I likely to even if he kept asking. Finally, he cocked his head at me and said “You one a them people over at the high school, right? I seen them tents. You going out on the river or something? Why you wanna do that?”

A similar conversation occurred after I tucked my clean and folded clothes back into my dirty, odorous and now baking tent. We set up our spot right in a breezeway of the school; from the creative nametags around the doors it looks like we sleep right outside of the art classroom. As I gathered my things to walk into town, the teacher showed up with her cup of coffee and set of keys. She seemed nervous, as if she were invading my space. I tried to communicate deference, since I was so obviously invading hers. Finally she set down her mug and a deep look of concern crossed her face. “I’m happy to have you here,” she started, “but I really don’t think this is a good idea.” I assumed she meant taking over her school campus and tracking river mud through her hallways gave her some consternation, but that wasn’t her issue. “I worry about so many people in that river,” she admitted. “What about all those toxins they found last year? What if you all get sick?”

I walked up the street, past the refurbished train depot that sits like a guardhouse on the edge of downtown, and found a cute little place to eat called JD’s. A sign taped to the window of the restaurant read “Welcome Paddler Georgia Participants.” Inside, a few locals enjoyed French fries and hamburgers, hot dogs and homemade desserts. I watched them, eavesdropping some, as I ate my cheeseburger (so amazingly delicious after a week of slightly warm and damp turkey salad sandwiches). I heard a conversation about a woman losing her job at a local plant. Another table talked about a mutual friend who might be sick. As I paid my bill, I told the waitress I wanted to bring people back that evening for some of the homemade desserts. “That’s fine, hon,” she said. “We’d be happy to have you.” Window-shopping my way back to the campsite, I noticed the welcome paddlers sign taped to many of the doors and windows. I was the only paddler left in town to shop.

People worry these days. They worry about illness, money, jobs, things they can control, and things nobody can. Some in our group operate from an education perspective; they shift into little lectures with the custodial staff or the local Chamber of Commerce ladies about the good this trip does for river awareness. That’s just not ever going to be me. I want the rivers cleaner, too. I guess it just doesn’t feel like my place to come into their town and give them something new to worry about. All I can do is be a polite guest, toss a little money into the local economy, and hope to generate some interest in what goes on between the muddy banks. Because I don’t know anybody who’s got it made, do you?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Moving Day: Day 4

Tonight’s blog may be a little sketchy, dear reader, as your reliable narrator did find a lovely margarita in the local Mexican restaurant (within walking distance) of the high school in Calhoun, Georgia. After eight hours of sun a shot or two of tequila will do wonders for your sunburn.

We moved camp today. Starting at a red sky early morning (sailor take warning), clanking aluminum tent poles and zipping Gore-Tex echoed across the dewy grass of the Gilmer County High School practice field. On our way down to the one coffee station, we dropped our three tons of stuff off at the semi trailer truck hired to scoot belongings from Point A to Point B while the group spent the day shuffling down the Coosawattee (pronounced Coosa-Wah-TEE if you are a cool kid).

Ah, the group. I mentioned on GPB that this entire experience reminds me of a grunge version of a pleasure cruise. We’re all stuck together, and even though there are different activities on different decks (or gym rooms) for your continued entertainment, we are all stuck together. That means sharing showers, breaking bread at the same time, and facing difficult and unexpected conversations at inopportune moments (such as, “Hey, do you know where they keep the plunger?” while I’m finishing my peach cobbler). This level of intimacy sets my teeth on edge, generally. But it has been interesting to watch certain characters bloom in this environment, kinda like bacteria in a Petri dish.

For example, there’s Locker Room Lady. Locker Room Lady hangs out in the showers, naked, with all her wobbly bits exposed for heavens and paddlers to see. She puts on sunscreen while naked; she discusses her menopausal characteristics while naked; she looks for her lost contact on the floor while naked. She’s earned it, she claims. Like others of her ilk, she believes in a correlation between hard work during the day and loss of modesty at night. “Who would be modest after all we’ve been through together,” she asks, while digging through her mesh bag for a spare travel bottle of shampoo. Sorry, lady, but drifting down a river in a canoe does not count as “all we’ve been through,” in my book. I’m showering in my swimsuit.

Another personality I’ve enjoyed on this trip is Hula Girl. Hula girl brought hula hoops to Camp Paddle Georgia. She’s probably in her 40’s. A forty year old woman brought hula hoops. I know. I thought the same thing. Anyway, hula girl represents that ultra-fun strain of persona who cheerleads every minor accomplishment (“hey, we’re getting on the bus, yea!”) and spontaneously burst into song while paddling across the lake. Most of the time she picks especially annoying songs, like anything by the Beach Boys. Nothing makes you want to flip your canoe like hearing Hula Girl sing “Ba-bra-An-a-an.”

Today I spent the day with the Adopt-a-Geeks, aka Adopt-a-Stream testers. These guys work their way through Paddle Georgia, conducting water tests and chemical analysis tests at various spots along the river. Wise boaters watch the nerds to see if it’s safe to take a dip and wash off the extra sunscreen; if the water testers are dry, stay out of the river.

Big props to the city of Ellijay for taking in all of these characters, and good luck to Calhoun. So far, Calhoun High School rocks. Someone has music playing in the bathroom all the time, which is great for erasing the memory of Hula Girl’s singing, and they even sprung for shower curtains. And if you find yourself in Calhoun, I highly recommend El Pueblito for margaritas on Monday night. Day on the river or not, a drink on the rocks is a great investment, and could really help one get along with all the characters.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day at the Lake: Day 3

My dad taught me how to canoe. His older brother, a master carpenter, built his own canoe many years ago, and I think Dad marveled at it so much Uncle Dave finally just said here, take it. I remember sitting in the bottom of that cedar boat, my 1970’s style orange life vest bumping up around my chin, trailing my fingers in the water. Dad appreciates cold mountain streams and smooth river stones and a bump down the rapids, but he also likes a good lake. On a camping trip up to Lake Santeetlah many years ago we loaded my whole family in the canoe, five of us, and set out on an afternoon expedition across the wide expanse of water. About halfway across, we saw the water start to shimmer and vibrate in a straight line from shoreline to shoreline, as a sudden downpour advanced towards us. We kids screamed and pointed, but it was one of those moments where children glimpse the truth of their parents’ utter helplessness. Dad’s rowing power seemed to know no limits; the man could row for hours just tooling around the lake until my siblings and I started picking at each other and wiggling in the boat for lack of other activities. But Dad couldn’t stop the rain.

No rain on Carters Lake today as the Paddle Georgia brigade made our way across this nine mile stretch. This morning, in line for the yellow school bus with the ex-Nascar driver who shuttles us back and forth (and clearly does not get paid by the hour), a fellow paddler commented that lake miles count like dog years: for every one mile on a lake it feels like you’ve paddled about seven. My shoulders attest to that tonight.

Of course, Husband and I like to stretch our dollars as much as possible and really get our money’s worth out of this trip, so we took off from our launch site going the wrong direction. We paddled an extra two miles or so back towards yesterday’s rapids before he finally caved into the readings on his GPS and turned us around. By that time, the thirty or so other paddlers also drifting upstream like salmon returning to spawn figured out this mistake as well. A sense of misgiving followed by sudden epiphany wrinkled through the group at once. Lots of yelling and whistling ensued. We all eventually found the right channel, thanks also to our very patient Leader Joe. (If you read this blog to keep up with the daily exploits of another paddler on the trip, be warned. If you ask your paddler about the lake day and he or she responds with a shuffle and mutter, he or she probably spent the morning in our same situation. It is not an easy thing to get lost on a big open body of water. It takes special talent.)

Some fathers spent today on the lake, pulling their kids around in circles behind a motor boat and yelling critiques of the kids’ skiing techniques. Some fathers spent today on the lake hiding in a shadowed cove, trying to coax a fish onto a hook. (These fathers appeared most content with their choice of the day’s activities). Husband spent his Father’s Day drifting from island to island, curve to cove, as we took our time just studying the lake from a canoe’s perspective. Just like Dad taught me to do.

As we crawled alongside a red clay bank stacked with layers of jagged shale, I caught a glimpse of one father with a skinny blonde boy who looked to be about ten. They were breaking down a campsite together. As they started to tote the last of their gear up towards the road, the boy turned and gave the lake a last look before trotting to catch up to his dad. It made me miss my boys. It made my breath catch with how much I love my dad, and how much I love theirs.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Of Rapids and Chutes: Day 2

(*Quick note: Tonight's blog comes to you faster thanks to Larry and Kathy Robinson, owners of Cartecay River Trading Company in downtown Ellijay. If you get a chance, stop by and they'll take care of you.)

Today I discovered how appropriate it is that the temporary name of this blog is “Canoe Chronicles,” replacing (for a week) the usual moniker “Minivan Chronicles.” Canoes are the minivans of river travel. Big and bulky, kind of slow, and usually overfilled with all kinds of odds and ends one does not need on the river any more than one needs all that crap in the van while driving from home to work. Canoes carry sets of people, usually two big people on the ends and sometimes a little person in the middle. They serve their function on the river, and what they lack in snaziness they make up for in reliability. If only canoes came with more cupholders.

Kayaks, on the other hand, are the speedy little hybrids of the waterways. Kayak “drivers” dash in and out of the current, paddles flashing silver as they catch the light. I remember an insect we saw today on the river, a cute little bug called a whirligig who spins in quick circles and seems to know his purpose in life. Kayaks move like whirligigs. The perfunctory nods that pass between kayakers and canoers communicate each boater’s understanding of his purpose: I win on speed and finesse, nods the kayaker. Yes, but I’ve got enough stuff in here to make it to the Gulf of Mexico, returns the canoer.

After an oh-so-tasty breakfast of soft scrambled eggs and crunchy orange juice, the navy set out for the first leg of the Coosawattee River. This section challenged most participants; a warning of class II rapids and a hearty sprinkling of sharp-cornered rocky shoals infused our helmeted argosy with a healthy dose of nerves. Between the mandatory helmets, the mandatory life jackets, and the thirty minute safety talk the night before, I think most of the paddlers woke up this morning fairly freaked out. Meanwhile, for all the Paddle Georgia protectionism flung like a net over our brigade, other non-PG river goers showed up on the river in nothing but their skivvies and flip flops—to their eventual detriment. We watched a couple of Gilmer County residents tube down the same chute we bounced through, and I appreciated not having my backside quite so exposed.

Husband and I make a good team in a canoe. We did not flip once, and we managed to avoid the deep raspberry sunburn that some of our Paddle Georgia brigade achieved today. Along the route we watched a Green Heron dart from bank to bank, as if policing the entire brigade. At one point, the river to ourselves, we startled a gaggle of Canada geese who could not have been more offended by the presence of our canoe on their waterway. My favorite bird, a Kingfisher, swooped alongside of us towards the end of our river journey. We navigated a few tight spaces; not so much a part of the river as a part of our marriage. Rocky spots, poor communication—I’ll leave you to carry on with your own metaphors, dear reader. Tomorrow he promises to quit with the mental telepathy he believes I can hear, and I promise to try to learn my right from my left.

Tonight the group shuttles into Ellijay for a Gilmer County hootenanny. The city pulled out all the stops, I am told, and plans to treat us to dinner and a festival atmosphere while all of us who spent the day navigating splashy water wander around in a bleary-eyed stupor. Tomorrow’s agenda puts us on Carters Lake all day, with stops for swimming and perhaps some ice cream at the marina. Lake paddling works like interstate driving: tedious, a little dull, but could be fun if you pick interesting stops along the way. And of course, for interstate travel, nothing beats the family minivan.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Camp for Grown-Ups: The Check-In

Remember that first day of summer camp? Cool kids, camp veterans, hang out in the drop-off parking lot and play 4-square. They eyeball this year’s crop of newbies. The first-timers try to pull off calm confidence while their eyes dart around, trying to figure out where they are supposed to be. They hold tight to their duffle bags and backpacks.

I’m into hour five of Paddle Georgia 2009, and so far it feels like the first day of camp. Camp for Grown-Ups, with a few adjustments. For example, I don’t think my bunk-mate, Husband, brought any Snickers bars or SweetTarts to sneak after lights out. That works out, however, because I don’t have to go through all the trouble of flirting with the lifeguard, getting burned when he dates my best friend, and then finding the “nice guy” who brings me a bouquet of allergy flowers from the nearby meadow. I skipped ahead to the nice guy part.

That first all-camp dinner brims with bland announcements and safety talks, punctuated by a few well worn camp jokes that the director starts to tell and the camp veterans finish from the audience. We sit on the bleachers of the Gilmer County High School gym tonight while Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia leader, mumbles a few words of welcome and occasionally jumps up and down as if to communicate excitement. Around me sit paddlers from Florida and North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Joe warns one couple from Minnesota “not to come down here and tell us how to canoe.” He fills the role of the genial yet slightly disheveled camp director, quick with a hug or a joke for everyone while most of the time forgetting what he was about to do. Over dinner, BBQ plates and slightly mucilaginous banana pudding, I look out over the crowd and try to guess other paddlers’ stories. Who will turn out to be the camp jokester? The camp flirt? The camper who gets sick/sprains an ankle/gets sunburned so bad he has to go home?

Tomorrow morning starts early, dear reader. Your faithful chronicler will be up at six, count them, six thirty in the morning for breakfast in the cafeteria of the Gilmer County High School. Mmm-yum. Then we hop into our canoes, dive into the Coosawattee, and see who flips their canoe into that white, cold water first. When we return here tomorrow night there will be stories to share and more familiarity and instant comfort between people than each of us has had since summer camp as kids. I only wish there were s’mores.

Good Guys vs. Bad Guys: Prequel

Tonight Husband and I spend our first night in the tent in Ellijay, official members of the Paddle Georgia brigade. I wish I had bought a pirate flag to sail on our canoe.

Anyone want to meet me at Heritage Park with a pirate flag?

Something about this trip makes me want to be a pirate. Paddle Georgia raises money to save the rivers in this state; Georgia River Network works to raise awareness and educate and lots of other things that good guys generally do. I assume most of the people going on this trip, my co-canoers, will also be the good guys. Good guys recycle and participate in volunteer clean-ups and shop local organic food stores and appreciate hemp. We should all be such good guys.

Why does this make me want to fly a Jolly Roger and be a bad guy?

The environmental movement suffers from a distinct holier-than-thou snobbery. Intellectually, one can sit through Al Gore’s little film and appreciate the wisdom and research, but goodness sakes—wouldn’t we all rather sneak into Transformers in the theater next door? They sound like they are having a ton more fun. Sometimes the refrain of environmentalists’ ballads chime in my head like a mother’s nagging: Styrofoam? What are you thinking? I don’t care if it costs $5 for one cup of coffee, it’s shade-grown! Don’t you flush that toilet, little lady—do you think this world is made of water? Think about the dehydrating giraffes in Africa!

This week I join the good guy navy. I already know I love with the gentle gliding of the canoe, the sound of water over rock, the brief glimpse of a heron leading around the next curve. Perhaps all this, experienced en masse, will also translate into a greater appreciation of the Green Dream. Perhaps I’ll figure out some way to appreciate the good guys without all my personal, non-Green guilt getting in the way.

If not, someone send a jet ski out to a little island on Carter’s Lake. I’ll be the sunburned one with a bandana around my head, yelling “Why is all the rum gone?!”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bathing Suit Shopping for Paddle Georgia

Modern society gives us beautiful and surprising gifts; things like tub butter, HOV lanes, and little plastic balls of lemony freshness one can drop down the garbage disposal to get rid of that off odor. Surely someone could also devise a better way for women to shop for bathing suits.

Of course, once a woman passes the age of 35 or bears her first child she no longer sets aside time to shop for the season’s bathing suit. Shopping for that season’s bathing suit only happens when it absolutely must, which makes the whole event more like the peak scene from a Bond film: cut the wrong wire, buy the wrong suit, and the whole mess will blow up in your face.

Many major department stores moved their seasonal swimwear displays down to the lower levels of the store, the levels that dump out into underground parking decks. They do this to eliminate the shopper’s contact with the outside world. Cell phones drop bars midway down the escalator; they’ll be no calling your husband or your sister or your momma to cry desperately about your physique, or lack thereof. You are entirely on your own.

If it is crying you want, the bathing suit section of most major department stores provide some background wailing for your shopping enhancement. A newborn baby or a toddler on a people leash usually comes with a mother who is perpetually “at the END of her ROPE.” Sometimes she her own mother joins her and you can witness generations of poor parenting skills while you browse through MiracleSuits and GodCouldYouBeFatterKinis.

No fitting rooms are ever available in the actual swimsuit section of the basement. For trying on, you must gather your bundle of mesh and lycra and truck over to the “Intimates” section, where Sylvia Sidney guards each room and growls at you if you don’t return the suits to their proper hangers. A hospital-like florescence lights each dingy cubicle, coating your body with a greenish tinge as appealing as the skin on a cafeteria pudding. The last thing in the world it makes sense to do in this room is take off your clothing.

But take it off you do, expect for the bare minimum, so as to save your tender parts from coming in contact with anything that might have touched anyone else’s tender parts. Even the sexiest, most petite model tries on suits designed to cling to her body with stray bits of underwear puckering out of the top and a security tag the size of a cordless drill dragging the whole suit slowly down her leg.

When one finally leaves with the trophy swimsuit, one has no idea what the suit actually looks like in the light of day, on her own body, where she will wear it in front of her friends and family and/or a flotilla of Georgia canoers. Except, of course, she won’t. Because one of the other most clever trends of our modern society stylishly saves her: the tent-like, floor length, bathing suit cover-up. I wonder if I could still paddle in one of those?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Start of the Canoe Chronicles

Yes, faithful readers, the rumors are true. For the next week or so Minivan Chronicles tries out a greener mode of transportation and becomes Canoe Chronicles. Starting Friday, Husband and I attempt to spend six days together in a small boat as part of the Paddle Georgia argosy.

Let’s parse this a bit, shall we?

What possessed me?

I could spend the week sprawled in a rusty aluminum lawn chair in my backyard, sipping on Bacardi & Cokes and re-reading old Robert Parker novels. Instead, I chose to join the crew of Teva-shod paddlers who will float the 92 miles from Elijay to Rome down the Coosawattee and Oostanaula rivers. There will be group camping, and sweating, and bugs, most likely some questionable food choices, and sixty -year old women who glare at me if I look like I don’t recycle as much as I should. Why?

Two words, dear reader:

Michelle’s. Arms.

I am assuming that to get from there to here at some point along the way I will be encouraged to pick up a paddle and row. In the past, our marital canoe trips consisted of Husband sweating it out in the back of the canoe while I held my parasol aloft and gave villagers on the riverbanks my best Lady Di wave. Wrist, wrist, elbow, elbow, pearls, lap.

But my upper arm region could use a little change, and it doesn’t hurt my motivation to know this fall brings a major high school reunion year for me. To spend a week reconnecting with my best beloved and working on my triceps and my tan seemed too much to forgo.

So stick close, dear reader. It promises to be an interesting trip.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Today is my birthday.

Birthdays don’t scare me. Any holiday worth celebrating is worth celebrating with utmost gusto, and birthdays count as personal holidays. Streamers, balloons, big fun food, marching bands, airplane banners, it’s all on the table when there’s someone to celebrate.

And none of my excitement about my own birthday belies a false bravado about aging—the aging part of birthdays pretty much sucks. I learned recently, for example, that when one stays up all night chatting with good people around a campfire, it takes several days to revitalize all one’s 38 year old brain cells. Also, my hands are starting to look kind of beat up, and my knees pop when I jump up too fast.

None of this disturbs me.

The only dark cloud over my birthday today will be the nagging edge of self-doubt, the pesky awareness that perhaps, at 38, I have reached some sort of blank and uninspiring plateau. The five years from 34 to 39 seem like the long, dull stretch of I-75 from Middle Georgia down to Florida; there’s just not that much to see. The major milestones of my youth fall behind me like rest stops: kids? Done. College? Done. Career choice? Done. Grad school? Done. Until I hit the next major milestone of living on this earth for 40 years, it’s all just going along to get along. I’m not gearing up for much of anything.

Well, that’s not true. Tonight the males in my household are making me dinner, cake and homemade ice cream. I’m geared up for that.