Well we’ve decided that we’re having far too relaxing a time in Florida and we need to do something worthy and educational so we’re off to Atlanta Georgia particularly to see the Martin Luther King Historic Site and the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Yesterday we met a girl who is running, yes running, from the East to the West Coast. Her name is Ari Ramos, she lives in Tahoe and flew over to begin her trek from Jacksonville Florida. Although obviously very very fit, the realities of her journey: a place to stay at night, safety along the route, weather, groceries etc etc, are such that I would imagine she could use all the help she can get if any of you have family, friends or what have you who could feed her or put her up along the way. Here’s her FB page https://www.facebook.com/ari.ramos.75?fref=ts, tell your peeps. Good luck Ari!
Since we left Bahia Honda on The Keys, we have had a very nice time allowing the modern combustion engine to propel us northward with frequent stops for tea.
We spent another night in the Everglades at Big Cypress National Park. This park is a little more terrestrial than Everglades NP but still best explored by canoe which we didn’t do this time. The place is teeming with bird life and apparently you can even see Black Bears and Florida Panthers, a very close cousin of that which keeps our various neighborhood forums in business, our very own Mountain Lion. There are only about 120 Florida Panthers left in existence, largely because they’ve been squeezed into such a small space by development that the males don’t have a wide enough territorial area and will often fight to the death when they meet. Of course cars and 18 wheelers careening down Interstate 75 (Alligator Alley) or route 41, 30 miles an hour in excess of the speed limit, also exact a toll. It seems to me that when you have a species that endangered, maybe more aggressive speed limit enforcement is called for? Just sayin.
After Big Cypress we headed North East across the wet belly of South Florida, skirted the north edge of Lake Okeechobee (accompanied by torturous strains of “you put you left foot in, your left foot out….” courtesy of me) and headed east-coastward for Sebastian Inlet State Park. We camped close by at Long Point Park, a county park on a little island in the straits. Nice setting but the park itself is a bit grubby; cheek by jowl RVs, alarming bathrooms and smelly water, it had it all. There is an en suite bijou island which you can get to via a little footbridge and that has a certain Gilligan’s Island charm. There are also some fun and flat unpaved bike trails through the mangrove leading to Sebastian Inlet SP, so we spent our time doing that and enjoying the pristine white sand, blue water (yawn) beach; I know, very tiresome.
Then it was inland to Lake Kissimmee State Park – pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable if you wish to avoid the sardonically raised eyebrow from the unguessably ancient volunteer ranger. KisSIMmee was lovely: towering live oaks covered with great swaths of spanish moss, wildlife in abundance, a particularly large population of the puzzling but pleasingly snuffly armadillo, an animal made of spare bits and bobs that evolution had lying around the place and needed to get rid of, and miles of flat but fun off-road biking.
Then a final zigzag back to the East coast to see Saint Augustine, the very first permanent, continuously occupied European settlement in America, founded in 1565; touristy but very beautiful with the oldest masonry fortification in the country, Castillo San Marcos, and a beautifully preserved downtown. We camped at Anastasia State Park, I shall not bore you by espousing its beachly qualities.
Interestingly, a Finnish folk duo played at the park one night; it’s not often you run into one of those. They’re in the States touring across the country and will end up on the west coast, performing at, you guessed it, home of all things rock n’roll, Menlo Park Library on March 20th. Their website is www.vellamomusic.com. if you feel like some traditional Finnish tunes.
From Saint Augustine we drove west to O’Leno State Park where Bob at the nature center there was subjected to my aforementioned pronunciation blunder. Actually he was a good natured, unflappable, Gandalfian fellow in his element in the tiny, one room nature center, who let the kids hold the snakes and pointed out the best slides for scrutiny under the microscope.
Olivia and Stella were comfortably ensconced in there for hours, familiar as they are with rooms stuffed to the gills with science crap, thanks to our favorite science and art teacher, Treena Joy. Many of you might remember how we once had such a science room at Corte Madera middle school with this incredibly enthusiastic teacher adored by the kids? You may also remember how she was drummed out of the district by a certain rules-obsessed and inspirationally-challenged, Principal with help from a likewise afflicted Superintendent. One wonders where they are now after their hatchet job at our school? Probably ruining someone else’s career.
I’m a little bitter about all that still, could you tell?
So that brings us to Osceola National Forest, Ocean Pond Campground, in Northern Florida where we were when I started writing this (3 weeks ago ahhh!), a gorgeous and peaceful spot with hot showers and laundry! Unusual for an NF. Naturally, we’d just done all ours at a laundromat in Lake City – the grimmest one we could find of course, I could do a whole blog on that – but we threw some smokey coats in there anyway to really get the most out of the place and, with coats at the ready, started out for Atlanta Georgia.
We spent 4 days in Atlanta. Our tactic with big cities is to find a park as close to downtown as possible and use public transport to get in to town. This has served us well in Chicago and New York and was equally successful in Atlanta. We stayed at Stone Mountain Park to the East of the city which is an enormous park in the middle of urbia, dominated by a huge natural granite dome in the middle. This is the “Stone Mountain of Georgia” which makes an appearance at the tail end of Martin Luther King Jr’s, “I have a dream…” speech which he gave at the March to Washington in 1963; very fitting considering our reason for visiting.
First stop was of course the MLK Jr. National Historic Site. We took the MARTA train in from the rather incongruously named Kensington station to King Memorial and walked the few blocks north to our destination. The Historic site has a visitor’s center which displays about 8 multi-media vignettes detailing events in MLK Jr’s life and the civil rights movement. It’s very well laid out on walls of circular glass, with large black and white photos, quotes and commentary from the time and video clips of speeches and footage of events such as the Alabama police turning fire hoses on high school demonstrators in Birmingham, the lunch counter sit-ins and violent responses to them, Bloody Sunday – The March for Freedom from Selma to Montgomery, etc. Stella and Olivia spent a long time with the exhibits. I think the struggle against segregation is immediately compelling for kids and even though one hesitates to expose someone of Stella’s age say, to images of the meanest and most hateful displays of human nature, I think the net effect is very positive. The end result was a victory after all, at least against formal segregation, and it is essential that our very privileged children completely understand the manner in which an entire segment of our society had to fight for the right to be accepted merely as equal. Of course, the most captivating element of all is Martin Luther King Jr. himself. I, like many other people, am consistently and greatly moved by his words and his voice and that would be quite enough were it not for the galvanizing effect of his physical presence on screen. To my mind, in that quiet stoic face is expressed so much honest human emotion which, through some chance conjunction of upbringing, nature and circumstance, is communicated wholesale and unsullied to the listener. I think if I had been alive at that time I could have been persuaded to do almost anything by that voice and that presence. In many many ways he was too good for this world.
We spent a couple of days seeing all there was to see at the Historic Site: his birth home where he grew up in relative comfort, having a number of strong role models, particularly his father, MLK Snr.; Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both his grandfather and father were pastors; and the King Center Freedom Hall which has some of King’s belongings on display, including his travel case and clothes, his Nobel Peace Prize medal, books etc, and lays out in detail the part that Coretta King played in her husband’s work, both during his life and continuing on after his death. The kids did the Junior Ranger packet, something we’ve done for all the National and some State Parks that we’ve visited. This one was actually quite challenging, they were even asked to write a speech in the vein of “I Have a Dream” (their parents made sure it wasn’t lame).
We also spent a day at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. This is a must-see if you find yourself in Atlanta for any length of time. It is not so much a museum in the traditional sense but more a three dimensional, interactive, multi-media story that you walk through, starting with the chronology of the American Civil Rights movement and leading you on, and making connections, to the broader movement for Global Human Rights. The design of the interior space and the exhibits is world class and reveals a level of thought and planning that I think is rarely seen in regular museums where you are essentially just left to wander about in the hopes of being engaged by something. Don’t get me wrong, I love the wondering about type of museums, I’m merely illustrating that this is another kind of experience altogether. The interactive lunch counter, where you sit at a counter and experience what it was like to be involved in one of those sit-ins, is not to be missed (although, full disclosure, I managed to miss it). Rebecca and Olivia both found it to be both brilliantly done and intense. Interestingly, Stella was too young to participate.
Again, if you are accompanied by a 9 year old who reads everything, then there are things that you naturally feel some urge to steer her around, nothing graphic or gratuitous, just subject matter that maybe you don’t want her head filled with quite yet, particularly in the Human Rights section. Olivia is more at the age (13 1/2) where it starts to become important to have an understanding of this stuff. I should emphasize that this is by no means a holocaust museum, there are no truly awful images, and no very detailed accounts, of human suffering. The emphasis is always on the stories of those resisting or ameliorating oppression and as such has a ring of hope and of pragmatism, and avoids the trap of becoming a despair-fest. Nevertheless after 4 hours or so it was definitely time to go have a beer and luckily, just down Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd, there is Mellow Mushroom Pizza which has a million beers on tap and good pizza. So there you have it, there’s a half day or so excursion for you, start to finish, should you need something to do in Atlanta. Well worth it.
We finished our Civil Rights unit by traveling down to Selma, Alabama where the march for freedom began on March 7, 1965.
The National Park info center and the Voting Rights museum are really good. The voting rights museum even shows a videotaped interview with James Gardner “Jim” Clark, the sheriff of Selma who was responsible for so much violence during his awful tenure. Quite fascinating to hear this man give his version of events with such easy arrogance. He died in 2007 at the age of 84, unrepentant to the end.