It's not often that I use maps, but when I do, I generally prefer that they are actually represent the roads and lands they pretend to. Up until now AAA maps have served me well; they are a bit on the skimpy side, but they work for my bare bones approach. Well, apparently the people at AAA never actually went to Alabama and Tennessee. There were roads on the maps that simply didn't exist, numbers that were just plumb wrong, but my favorite mistake was in the Great Smokey Mountains Park.
I was heading around the long way, as I found out the path through the park was shut still, due to snow. I had to make for the interstate, but instead of following signs, I went by the map, and took what looked like a scenic back road. It sure was scenic. It was a perfect road, windy and slow, through Tennessee forests. Up in the higher stretches, the trees were covered in white, although there wasn't enough for it to stick to the newly paved road.
The newly paved road ran out after about 10 lovely miles, and the road, while remaining a windy, country road that you can't go over 15 mph on, turned to mud. Hmmm. I consulted my map again. Nope, not a sign that this might happen. It was still pretty, though, so I kept on going. It was a lovely drive, however unexpected, and it did get me where I wanted to go.
Let's see, it's been a long time since I was able to blog. Did I tell y'all about the Weeki Wachee Mermaids? This was one of the main FL sights on my list, and it pretty much rocked. Overpriced, like most of Florida, but well worth it. The curtains opened on an underwater marvel, a castle in the background, and silvery bubbles floating up. Suddenly a girl in a sparkly bra and tail pops up right in front of you, eyes wide open, and painted mouth twisted in the most frighteningly frozen grin I have ever seen. She is joined by her sisters, and they put on a fabulous production of "The Little Mermaid", supposedly the traditional story version, but it had a good resemblance to Disney. They changed the tunes just enough to avoid getting sued. Every now and then in between cartwheels they suck some air from these long tube like things. Interesting.
The rest of the park is really just backdrop to the show. There were waterslides and a "River Adventure" that would have put me to sleep if it weren't for the pelicans sticking their heads over the side of the boat to try and reach the fish the captain threw overboard here and there.
My next stop was at the Koreshan settlement in Estero. It was one of those communes established in the late 1800's, you know the type, wacky scientific theories, utopian ideals, that sort of thing. This one was remarkably well preserved, and throughout the park, the information had a strange undercurrent. It's like they really believed they were right, and the park was established to honor the area's founding fathers and mothers, not to show an extinct subculture. Turns out just about the entire thing was funded by one of the last remaining Koreshans, as they were a productive and slightly wealthy commune. History is written by the ones with the money.
By this point my mosquito bites were driving me absolutely frigging nuts, and I resolved to book it out of Florida. I almost took a picture for posterity; there was one on my foot that was about the size of a ping pong ball. Allergies stink!
On up into Georgia again. I spent one whole day tracking down religious sites; or trying to, anyway. County road 78 did not appear on my fabulous maps, and I was not in the mood to speak to anyone at all, so I skipped Pasaquan. Really mad at myself for that one, actually. Anti-social behavior is fine every once in a while, but I really wanted to see that one! I just couldn't picture myself walking up to one of the clean cut looking farmers gathering outside the feed store and asking, "Excuse me, do you know where the heathen religious community is located?"
On to Alabama, where a catholic shrine refused to be found, despite fairly clear directions, and I again refused to ask. Finished up the day in Cullman, Alabama, which made all the rest worth it. The Ave Maria Grotto has been a roadside highlite since the 30's. It's inside the grounds of a monastery, and is the work of one Brother Joseph. If you have AAA, you get a dollar discount on the entrance fee to the shrine. That just seemed odd to me.
Once inside, you see a few funky folk-art shrines, towering cement creations with glass baubles, cold cream jars, and whatever else was handy. Keep walking down the path, and the creations become more numerous and more elaborate. There are two entire villages of miniature religous buildings, one taking inspiration from Rome, and one from Jerusalem. It all ends up in a fabulous gigantic grotto. Breathtaking.
The next day I started out in the Scottsboro Unclaimed Baggage Center. It's basically just a big thrift store, except for the fact that the stuff is not the junk that folks got rid of; it's the good shit that just got misplaced. I picked up a well fitting baseball cap advertising some type of rum (spring break memento? it's mine now!), a new purse (Stripes is getting tired of getting shoved in my back pocket), and 4 pop-py cds (Justified, A-Teens Abbaesque, an unnamed plaid covered disc, and ESPN's 1996 X-Games mix).
I finished "American Gods" about a month ago, and since then, I have been desperately wanting to go to Lookout Mountain. Actually, I desperately wanted to go before then, but that just shoved the want a little deeper. The climactic battle scene takes place there, and there was a fabulous description of the evil gods lurking among the stones in Rock City.
It definitely was creepy. Not at first. At first you wind your way through amazing rock formations and well tended gardens, squeezing through narrow openings 20 feet high, and crossing over a swinging bridge to the view point where 7 states can be seen and where an Indian maiden once hurled herself after her lover.
Then you enter Fairyland Caverns. It starts slowly, a gnome here, a few more there. The music piped in is cheery, and you see a whole group of gnomes at a still, playing the fiddle, etc. You get deeper, it gets darker, and much stranger. There are long stretches of blackness, where you can just feel the gods breathing down your back, and the only interruption to the darkness is when you come to a blacklit diorama of a fairytale scene. I was practically running by the end, mostly because I was all alone. There was not another single soul around; I had purposfully put myself in a break between huge groups. I enjoy everything better that way, but boy, did it nearly make me wet myself.
My favorite diorama was Jack and the beanstalk; you look through a very yannicly shaped flower pod to see a shocked woman standing at the base of a very large stalk. They did that on purpose. My other favorite was a carnival scene, where gnomes with cracked faces and wandering hands went by at a dizzying pace on a Ferris Wheel.
So great, my words don't even begin to give it justice.
That brings me up to the mountains. The snow has stunned me; just days ago I was sweltering. I am loving being in the cool forests again, and can't wait to get going on the Parkway. No more scents of Saipan; instead I smell hearth fires over every other hill.
If I believed in past lives, my reaction to the scent of woodfires would have to be attributed to one. It's too strong a reaction for this life. It reminds me. Can I say that? When I have no idea of what something reminds me of, it just reminds me. Of something just out of reach, that maybe I never knew. It's a reminder of the wilds, a slightly dark feeling, a la "In the Company of Wolves" that makes me grin manicly, slightly dark and intensely comforting. It's also the only smell I can physically bring back, even if it's been a year since I smelled one. I can't clearly imagine the odor of a watermelon, or clam chowder, or engine oil. But a wood fire is permanently in my nose, it just takes a thought to bring it back.
Maybe it's all just because I used to curl up by the fire on dark, chilly (for California standards) nights with a fantasy novel. Dark kingdoms, princesses and werewolves are what I'm smelling.
As for knitting, I'm wearing my lotech every single day, and still slowly working on my tank. The lotech, to answer some questions, was made with a very budget conscious Peaches and Cream 100% cotton. The whole thing was about $10, and it still feels pretty darn nice.