This morning I went to Stone Mountain with the intention of going for a nice walk in the woods, but instead I ended up exploring some of the hidden relics of Stone Mountain's past. Along the way I was devoured by countless mosquitoes and nearly ripped apart by thorns, and I walked into about a dozen spider webs.
I started my visit with what I meant to be a quick stop by the beach pavilion area, adjacent to the golf clubhouse, just for a quick peek and maybe a walk along the edge of the lake, but I spied an interesting path through an open gate to the left of the beach area, so I decided to see where it went. I'm not sure if I was supposed to go there or not, but no sign told me not to, so I did.
What I found first were the concrete and steel supports for the park's long-defunct water slide:
According to the Stone Mountain Park Web site's History page, the water slide was added in 1977. I vaguely remember going there with Mom and various aunts and cousins (I'm not even sure which ones) one summer day around that time, when I was ten years old or so, but I don't think we visited the water slide more than once or twice. The Stone Mountain Web site doesn't say when the water slide was removed, but I think it was sometime in the 1980s; I suspect these supports have stood there holding up nothing for more than three decades now.
Venturing a little further into the woods, I found a water fountain that must have once hydrated water slide riders, but which weeds and thorns and fallen branches have now made inaccessible:
I'm sure its water supply was cut off years ago. The next water fountain, though, just a little bit further into the woods, was quite easy to get to:
and remarkably clean:
I did try it, and no, it doesn't work, but based on its appearance, I half expected it to. It's probably been years, decades, even, since anyone took a sip from it, but it looks like you could use it today.
Just a minute or two later I found the old beach:
There's still, as you can see, a lot of sand, but also now a lot of weeds and trees. There are still hundreds of feet of retaining walls keeping what used to be beach separate from what is still woods, and the chain-link fence below (hard to see in this picture, I know) looks much less time-worn than I would have expected:
I'm not sure exactly what this was all about; it looks like a decorative raised garden, and perhaps it was, there to make your walk down to the beach more pleasant:
On the other side, the lifeguard stand still stands, though no lifeguard has been on duty for years, and swimming in the lake is now expressly forbidden:
Granite steps still lead down to the beach, or what used to be a beach:
Another set of stairs, this one with handrails, is now all but impassable:
Twenty feet up a tree hangs an ancient speaker, its wire no longer connected to anything:
I saw several picnic tables sitting unused in the woods, none of them terribly inviting, but also not as worn and rotting as I would expect:
By this point, at least an hour into this tour, I had had enough of the mosquitoes and thorns and spider webs, so, despite my curiosity about what I would have discovered had I kept going, I turned around and trudged back to the car, and from there drove myself home to the comfort of air conditioning, my "WKRP in Cincinnati" DVDs, and chicken nuggets and Jasmine rice.
Later I looked at a map, and realized that what I would have discovered had I kept going was the edge of the campground; I had almost reached it.
Today was the solar eclipse that people have been anticipating for months, and the girls' school, JC Magill, invited families to come view it with their children. So I did.
I didn't get any pictures of the actual eclipse--taking good pictures of an eclipse requires an expensive filter, and I don't have one--but I got plenty of pictures of people looking at the eclipse:
In this picture, Elyse might look upset or worried, but she's just holding her eclipse glasses tight to her head to make sure none of the deadly eclipse rays get in her eyes and blind her:
It didn't get nighttime-dark, but it did get unusually dark for 2:30 in the afternoon:
It was dark enough for a few minutes that, to get what it considered a good exposure, my camera's shutter speed was 1/4th of a second, too slow to handhold and get good focus, but just right for blurry artistic shots like this:
(In most of the other pictures, I had the ISO setting pretty high so the shutter speed could be faster, hence the lack of blur in them.)
This morning I went on a drive that took me a little less than thirty miles west and a little more than thirty years into the past.
When I was nineteen, I took a writing class at Mercer University’s Atlanta campus, not too far from Northlake Mall (the mall of my youth). It was a continuing education class, not a real for-credit college class, though I did take it at around the same time I was taking English 1101 at DeKalb College (another class I dearly loved). Though it didn’t count towards any of my degrees, I consider it perhaps the single most important writing class I ever took.
The teacher was Jalaine Halsall, a short and vivacious red-haired woman with a ready laugh and an infectious enthusiasm for literature. She had recently published a short story in The Chattahoochee Review that had won an award of some sort (I wish I could but I can’t remember exactly what; it was so long ago that Google can’t provide an answer), and she’d published a number of poems in various literary magazines. She didn’t have a degree in creative writing – I believe she had studied psychology at Agnes Scott, years before, though I don’t know if she had a degree or not – but she had recently taken a poetry class at Georgia State with David Bottoms, who became one of my favorite poets because of Jalaine’s influence. (I also took a class with him when I transferred to GSU a couple of years later.)
The class met one night a week – Thursdays, perhaps? I don’t remember – from 6:00 until 8:00 – or maybe it was 8:00 until 10:00; I can recall virtually none of the ancillary details like day and time or classroom number. But I remember the class perfectly. There were eight or ten of us, and at the beginning of class we would drag our desk noisily into a circle, and for the next two hours we would devote ourselves to literature: some nights we would begin by reading and discussing a poem or part of a story, or talking about something that was going on in the reading and writing world, and some nights we would jump right away into what made up the most substantial part of the class: the workshop, where we would all give input on the stories or poems – our stories and poems – that we had distributed the week before. Every kind of input was encouraged, from high-level general feedback (“This character doesn’t seem quite as mature as I think you want him to be”) to specific line edits or word suggestions (“‘rend’ might work better here than ‘tear’”).
I wrote a number of stories and a few poems for that class. I craved the attention and feedback and, yes, praise that environment provided. I learned from all of my other writing classes, too, of course, the ones I took for college credit at DeKalb and then at Georgia State, and the classes I took in graduate school at Kennesaw and GCSU years later, but I think the Mercer continuing-ed creative writing class with Jalaine is the class from which I gained the most.
I took the class two terms in a row (quarters or semesters or eight-week sessions; I don’t remember what the terms were), and I stayed in touch with Jalaine for a year or so after that, but then I got busy with college and work and life and I lost touch with her. I wish I hadn’t.
That was all thirty years ago. Now, this morning I needed to return a few things to JC Penney, a few shirts that Anna had picked out for Jessica but which Jessica didn’t like, and I decided to take them to Northlake – even if it is not the mall it used to be (and what mall is?), I still like to go to Northlake and walk around and have lunch in the (ever shrinking) food court a few times a year, just to revisit my youth.
I had plenty of time this morning (I don’t teach on Wednesdays), so I decided that before I went to the mall, I would drive over to Mercer – it’s not far from Northlake, remember – and see what it was like thirty years later.
It’s a beautiful, heavily-wooded campus with about a dozen buildings, some of which were constructed (I’m pretty sure) after my short time there. It was mostly empty this morning – their fall semester must not have started yet, so I passed only a few students during the forty-five minutes or so that I walked around. I went into several buildings, including, I think, the one in which my creative class met all those years ago, but nothing seemed especially familiar; everything has probably been changed several times over since I went there.
I kept expecting someone to challenge me – “Can I help you? Could I see your ID?” – but no one did. I walked into the bookstore; one of the young women who worked there asked if I needed anything, and I told her I was just looking around randomly, and she allowed me to do so in peace. I kept thinking that everyone can tell I’m not really a Mercer student and I didn’t belong there, but I doubt anyone actually gave me that much thought.
I enjoyed walking around that beautiful campus; it didn’t make me as melancholy as I thought it would – mourning my lost youth and all that. I treasure my experiences from that time in my life – reading the authors of that time, like Amy Hempel and Bobbie Ann Mason and Raymond Carver; discovering Chekhov; writing my own attempts at minimalist short stories, a few of which were published in amateur little magazines that nobody’s ever heard of (Green Feather Magazine, The Agincourt Irregular, and The Ecphorizer, among others); dreaming about the literary life I would someday lead.
And now, thirty years later, I don’t lead an especially literary life – not like I thought I would, anyway – but I don’t especially mourn its absence. I still read Chekhov sometimes, but I haven’t read Hempel or Mason or Carver in years, though Hempel and Mason are still alive and writing. I’m pretty happy teaching English 1101 at a two-year technical college rather than teaching creative writing and literature courses at a major university, as I once aspired to. I’m not writing fiction these days, but I do intend to again some day, and I keep myself at least somewhat creatively fulfilled with photography, essays like this, the family blog, and (believe it or not) the many exercises I create for my students.
I’m glad, though, that I can go back to the places that have been important to me over the years, and think back on the times that were special to me. I may not go back to Mercer again anytime soon, but this morning’s walk around the campus nourished me enough for a while.
Me, just before I got out of my car to walk around Mercer for a while.
The McAfee School of Theology at Mercer
The cafeteria (tiny though it appeared to be) is in this building
Today is the eighteenth anniversary of our first date!
I've written about this before, on earlier anniversaries of our first date, but it's worth revisiting: As it happened, the day we first went out--we met at Marco Polo, a Chinese restaurant, in Roswell--was also the day I bought my first digital camera, and one of the first pictures I took with it (after a couple of myself and the inside of my car) was this one of the twenty-three-year-old Annie:
That was a Wednesday; the following Saturday we went on what might have been our true first date, to the zoo. I took this picture that day:
Today, the middle of the last week before school starts on Monday, Elyse went to spend the afternoon with Granny and Pa and Jessica and I went to Stone Mountain.
First, Jessica wanted to go to "the old houses" (now called "The Historic Square," formerly the "Antebellum Plantation"), so we did:
(Jessica took this one.)
(Jessica took this picture of me taking a selfie, though not actually the one below.)
We also went to the Farmyard within the Historic Square, where a friendly goat tried to eat my shirt.
(Jessica took this, either before or after but definitely not during the attempted shirt-eating.)
Finally we went to the old marina, so we could look at the now-neglected riverboat the Henry W. Grady (you can barely see it in this picture, but just typing the word "riverboat" makes me want to read some Mark Twain), and find out a little about the current REI kayak rental options:
We picked up Elyse from Granny and Pa's house at about 4:30, and then came home, where Mommy was waiting for us.
Tomorrow we go to the open house at J.C. Magill and find out who the girls teachers are!
The girls go back to school next Monday (August 7), so, to make sure we didn't spend the whole last week of summer on the sofa watching "Animaniacs" on Netflix (though that is a pretty darn good use of one's time), I packed the girls into the car this morning and told them we were going on a surprise trip. Except for some arguments involving hair brushing (always a source of conflict), they enthusiastically went along; apparently they were as ready to get out of the house as I was.
In keeping our destination a surprise, stubbornly refusing to respond to the barrage of "Where are we going? Where are we going?", I was risking terrible disappointment, of course, since their idea of a worthy surprise doesn't always line up with mine. Fortunately, however, they were pretty happy walking around Freeman's Mill, then playing for a few minutes on its playground:
Afterwards we went to lunch at the Stevi B's in Lawrenceville, arriving just in time to eat with approximately a million summer camp kids (in all seriousness, there were probably 100 of them. No kidding.). Now we're safely back home, and "Animaniacs" is playing on the TV. All's right with the world.