Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Great Bee Chase [CCR]

There it was in the garage. I tripped over it and it reminded me of many good times growing up back home. I guess things were a little simpler for me then. Many people say the world is more complex, but I think the complexity comes from our loss of innocence as we create our own path in the world. When you move away from home you get to see a great many sights but you also see the full scope of life, both good and bad.

Mom and Dad had a simple trust of both me and just about everyone in our area. As such I had a lot of freedom to travel around, even if it were on a bicycle. Prior to my wonderful ten speed bicycle I had one of those “banana seat” bicycles with a speedometer. I would ride it over to the plant to meet Dad when he got off from work. Don’t tell him, but I would see how fast it would go down that hill just before you reached the gate. I wouldn’t dare guess the high speed now for sake of possible exaggeration, but it was plenty fast for a young boy. When Dad came out of the gate he would throw my bicycle in the back of our old 1951 pickup truck and give me a ride home.

Later Mom and Dad got me a ten speed bicycle. That bike took me on many trips through good and bad times, even in college. I had a water bottle and lights with a generator spinning in the spokes of the back tire. It was a wonderful bicycle that carried all around Cherokee until I got my driver’s license. I remember riding it to school at the end of my eighth grade year to pick up my report card. But more importantly was the transportation to the swimming hole down on the Natchez Trace in the summer. I would bike around Moody Lane and down North Pike and then down the Trace to the river. The swimming hole was popular in those days. Now when I travel down there on my trips home it seems I never see many people. I am not sure what happened. But I can remember the days when finding a parking place down there was a luxury. But with my bicycle I had no problems. I usually swam for an hour or so and then started the trek home. Riding home on the bicycle meant my cut-off jeans would be dry long before I would reach home.

My most memorable ride came on a whim. I would ride my bicycle from our house on Moody Lane to my Granddaddy Daily’s house at Mountain Springs. The trip seemed reasonable enough and I made the ride to Barton without a hitch. In fact the first leg of the trip down Mt. Mills Road was pleasant. I stopped at my great aunt’s house for water and a moment’s rest. Dad warned me to watch for rattlesnakes or copperheads. But he forgot to warn me of the one thing that made the trip a little more difficult than planned. I was more than halfway up the hill before the road to the fire tower when it found me. A bumble bee decided my sweat was either the perfect quench of his thirst or he just didn’t like my looks. Either way, I had walked up the steepest part of the hill, but now I was setting speed records down the hill with the bee right on my back. Somewhere towards the bottom I lost the bee. I climbed that hill twice in the summer sun that day. Later I would stop at my cousin’s for water just before I reached Mt. Springs Cemetery. After completing the trip Mom and Dad came to pick me up so I didn’t have to face the bee again.

In the past I have tripped over bicycles in the garage and sort of grumbled something about the kids and the way they left their bikes. But this time something triggered a memory of a bike, home, and many great rides throughout our end of the county. Rides where you never met a stranger, you could stop for plums or blackberries growing wild along the road, and you might even get chased by a bee.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Traveling West [CCR]

This weekend I returned from a rather lengthy trip out west that took me across the expanse of South Dakota. The trip included a close-up view of the interesting texture and color of the Badlands and the various rock formations of the Black Hills. But the sights came at the price of driving across the wide open prairie lands. Here I am driving through flat open land hoping the next bump in the road will awaken me when I came upon the one thing I least expected. That sight triggered my memories of home and a slight reminder that this was my first Fourth of July trip home I missed in many years.

The rocks of the Black Hills were rather interesting and evidently proves resourceful to carving since it hosts two of the three major mountain carvings in the United States, Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument. But have you ever taken the hike to the top of Red Rock? During my teen years we made several pilgrimages to the pentacle of Red Rock in western Colbert County. The visit offers sights of interesting rock formations and a rather nice view of the countryside. My last trip there was well over twenty years ago, but it is not forgotten. I am not quite sure who owns the property now, but if you can’t get access to Red Rock there are several areas along those hills that provide the same sights and sounds and beautiful scenery.

If you think finding a comparison to the Badlands in the Shoals would be more difficult then you haven’t taken a closer look at some of the rural routes. During my early years Colbert County underwent several road improvement projects that included the route from Barton to Mountain Springs now known as the Mountain Mills road. Those projects required a source of gravel and dirt for which there were two locations we called a gravel pit along the road. I am sure you may know of several others. Those areas might not have had the depth of the Badlands, but they had the variation of colors and even some fossils. Those pits included one of the special attractions you find in the Badlands. When parking at one of the rest stops on the Badlands loop road you see a sign warning of rattlesnakes. I guarantee you could find some equivalent rattlesnakes in those gravel pits, except the snakes in the gravel pits weren’t protected by the National Park Service and were subject to the wiles of our dog, Butch. You might recall Butch’s hatred for snakes.

The Badlands had a rather extensive exhibit of prehistoric life and fossils. Paleontologists probably find that a very attractive feature of the Badlands, but I can still find something near home that is attractive to paleontologists. I could always call up Bobby Stanfield and schedule a trip down to the Stanfield Worley Bluff Shelter, a famous local archeological dig in Colbert County. The University of Alabama maintains many artifacts from this site that span across 9,000 years of history. Of course the findings in the Badlands do dramatically predate the Stanfield-Worley artifacts, but you don’t drive 3,000 miles to see them.

Don’t mistake my intentions. If you have the opportunity to make the trip out west you will see some historic sites and wonderful geographical formations. But don’t forget that you have some wonderful places to explore right in your own backyard. And I know other people are hearing about our home and considering a visit. Why? About halfway across the open prairie is a large billboard proclaiming the beauty of Alabama, particularly focusing on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. That sign triggered a small sigh and a longing for the beauty of home.