Tent City

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On the morning of the last day of school, one of my students pulled me aside and discreetly mentioned, “This weekend we’re moving to a place called The Salvation Army.” I explained where it’s located and talked it up as a place where they’ll be well-taken care of until they have to move again (a familiar ritual). After our conversation, I wondered how the residents of a local homeless camp were faring given recent destruction of woodland habitats, and recalled my first visit to Tent City.

I drove across town to join a small hodgepodge of volunteers from Athens and Atlanta in a Lowes parking lot on the morning of January 6th, 2008. The meeting was organized by an Atlanta-based nonprofit called The Mad Housers. We drove two miles west to Tent City on Lexington Road, a homeless camp tucked into the woods along a stretch of Loop 10.

Wielding tools and panels constructed the day before, we hiked up a shady trail dotted with tents and rudimentary lean-tos in varying states of disrepair. It was hard to discern which were occupied and which ones were abandoned. Once the path leveled a bit, a gentle war veteran named Radar greeted us with firm handshakes. He was the reason for our visit.

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Radar and the rest of our crew spent the next few hours chatting while building his new home, the now-vacant hut pictured above.

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The Mad Housers returned to Tent City and built more homes over the years. Radar passed away, then a woman named Sissy shared the hut with her ailing mother.

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Now everyone is gone. Crews contracted by the Georgia Department of Transportation are in the process of felling trees and clearing undergrowth alongside major roadways. According to a piece on the WUGA website, the project “pushed back the tree line to reduce shadows on the road and ensure falling trees wouldn’t disrupt traffic in storms.”

Whether it’s a mom unable to pay rent and utilities, a chipmunk or garter snake seeking refuge from predators, or military veterans and the mentally ill seeking shelter, the DOT has disrupted more than a few fallen trees and shadows on the road ever could.

 

 

Hanging Out Above Tallulah Gorge

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On days devoted to whitewater boating, 500-700 cubic feet of water flows through the Tallulah Gorge every second. A cool mist rises to meet hikers from around the world swaying in awe 80 feet above on a suspension bridge.

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The eastern tiger swallowtail clings to a red maple limb.

Palma Sola Bay to Sarasota Bay

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A bicycle tour south through Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key begins with great egrets, brown pelicans and an opportunistic gull.

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After grooming atop a pole, an agile resident settles into a standing split.

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Vying for scraps, a laughing gull plops down on a pelican’s back as it dives for mullet.

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Next is a ride through the Robinson Preserve.

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Stretches of paved path yield to elevated sections winding through mangrove forest.

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Hidden breaks in the forest lead to amazing vistas of the bay.

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A flock of white pelicans slowly bobs up and down until one notices a school of fish.

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An awkward orange, black and white ruckus erupts. The collective briefly takes flight.

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Crashing down onto one another, the frenzy lasts maybe a minute (but it doesn’t appear that many catch a snack).

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Compared to Robinson, Perico Preserve is a smaller and younger restoration project. Bikes are restricted to a small loop, but the route includes curious flora and fauna, including fallen trees and sharp turns.

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Drivers and cyclists on Manatee Avenue are forced to take in the view as a yacht lumbers through the drawbridge over Anna Maria Sound.

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More avian natives eye tourists from a weathered jetty on Coquina Beach.

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Taking such subjective advice in Florida (and across the US) is hard these days.

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A dune daisy blooms below one of many towering resorts occupying Longboat Key.

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The day’s ride begins and ends on Palma Sola Bay.

Fallstreak Hole

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During an evening run, a fallstreak hole forms within an altocumulus sheet. According to Wikipedia, the curious formation occurs “when the water temperature in the clouds is below freezing but the water, in a supercooled state, has not frozen yet due to the lack of ice nucleation. When ice crystals do form, a domino effect is set off due to the Bergeron process, causing the water droplets around the crystals to evaporate: this leaves a large, often circular, hole in the cloud.”

Wilson Lick Ranger Station

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On the way up to Wayah Bald, a stop at Wilson Lick offers hikers a glimpse into the world of Nantahala National Forest’s first rangers. Construction began in 1916.

“It’s a widely accepted principle . . . that you can claim a piece of land which has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, if only you will repeat this mantra endlessly: ‘We discovered it, we discovered it, we discovered it.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

American Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum

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Hikers flock to Raven Cliff Falls Trail for the rush of falling water, but a trip in early April offers subtler beauty along the way.

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Since ninety-nine percent of trout lily plants are non-flowering, the illusive perennials pictured above are one-percenters thriving in the mountains of White County.

Simple Pan-Seared Hearts of Palm

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When our family used to occupy Aunt Sandy and Uncle Pat’s kitchen in Kenner, Louisiana, we crowded around a table covered with the Times Picayune and devoured steaming piles of boiled crawfish and crab. While still in diapers, my addiction to capsaicin was in its infancy, so I slurped down raw oysters on the halfshell. In lieu of seafood, this neo-Cajun side offers some of the flaky texture and sacrosanct spice I still crave to this day.

 

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon oil

1 can hearts of palm

1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

 

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Heat the oil over medium heat.

2. Drain and slice the hearts of palm.

3. Place them upright on an absorbent towel to remove excess moisture.

4. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of seasoning.

4. Sear seasoned side down for two minutes until they begin to brown.

5. Sprinkle with the remaining seasoning, then flip and sear the other side.