Monday, May 28, 2007

I'm Yurtin' Here

By Rick Rantamaki

My wife doesn’t camp; to her "roughing it" means staying at a Holiday Inn. So, whenever my son and I would invite her to go camping, she would politely decline. That is, until we discovered a place that provides an almost-camping-like-environment with all the conveniences of modern plumbing.

We packed up our campy-stuff and headed to Bobby Brown State Park, (it’s located between Elberton, GA, and the border of South Carolina). No, it’s not named after the former New Edition hip-hoppin’-gun-toting-Georgia resident who thinks wife beating is his “prerogative”. On the contrary, it’s named after a naval lieutenant who died during WWII. They really should rename the park "Robert T. Brown State Park" (so, at the least, I don’t have to hear another nasally rendition of "I-can-do-what-I-wanna-do" when I bring it up in conversation.)

The park is near the now-submerged town of Petersburg, GA. It was formerly a tobacco town which peaked in the early nineteenth-century, but since the town was settled on marsh (which was obviously prone to flooding); they eventually dammed the water and purposely sunk the town. (Hey, New Orleans, that’s something to think about, huh?)

We reserved a yurt. (Yeah, I didn’t know what a yurt was either till we saw it promoted on a local PBS program - which helped convince my wife to go with us.) A yurt is a round, canvass-covered tent with lattice framework. It’s about 20 feet in diameter and comes with rustic, log-style furniture - which can be converted to sleep six. It has hardwood flooring, a ceiling fan, some lamps, several electrical outlets, and screened windows and doors. Atop the conical roof is a dome-shaped skylight. (If the aliens were to visit the The Flintstones, I would expect their spaceship to look like a yurt.)

The park only has five yurts, fanned out about fifty feet apart, and they’re all within a short walk of a common pavilion - which has shower facilities and surprisingly clean restrooms (with the familiar scent of urinal cakes). Each yurt has a fire pit, a picnic table, and a back deck overlooking the nearby river. It’s camping without the usual hassles of hauling and setup.

None of the other yurters were around when we arrived. It was really quite serine - at that moment.

During our first afternoon at the park, we decided to walk the two-mile nature trail. I led the way so, as my wife put it, I could "clear the spider webs."

Our son loves hiking in the woods. He can hike for miles without a pause in his dialog - it’s truly remarkable. With his constant chatter, we couldn’t even surprise wildly fornicating bears.

Along the trail we passed some picnic areas. They had the classic "state park" look; a concrete picnic table with a grill-on-a-post companion arranged within a granite curbed area about the size of a parking space. A rush of childhood memories came back. I could almost taste the powdery-cheese tortilla chips, the sugary-sweet Kool-Aid, and the charred hot dogs. Each area had a splendid view of the lake. But, oddly enough, they looked as though they had been abandoned sometime during the Carter administration. Decaying leaves filled the grills and the tables had a well-established coat of moss. (Have public picnic areas become passé?)

The trail led across some park roads, a playground, and a fish-cleaning station where, apparently, you can clean your catch AND merrily purée their heads with an electric grinder.

I yelled out like a hillbilly that’s been hittin’ the Mason jar too hard, "Ooooo-wee! Who wants a bass head power drink?" (These are the moments when my wife gives me the, "what-on-earth-did-I-marry?" look.)

We pushed on.

Eventually, we came to a clearing that opened onto the lake. Just off the rocky shore, an object pierced the water’s surface.

"Look," my wife said, "I think it’s an otter".

She continued to follow the path, which wrapped back towards a rickety lookout tower nestled just inside the tree line. But, I wanted to get a better look at the "otter". So my son and I carved our way through some tall grass to the shoreline. From that vantage point, we could clearly see the "otter" was actually a turtle perched upon a submerged tree.

"Hmm", my wife said when we reported our findings.

Further along the trail we came upon a cable suspension bridge. As we crossed it my wife stopped and said, "Look, there’s an otter". In the murky inlet below we could see a dark mass gliding just beneath the water’s surface. It kicked its webbed feet and swam through the shadows. Then, as it drifted upward, its hard shell broke the surface.

"Oh," said my wife as if she just opened another gift-wrapped dish towel, "it's a turtle."

On our way back to the yurt, a wild turkey strutted across our path on its straw-like legs and gave us a cautionary glace (perhaps to make sure we weren’t carrying a gravy boat). Our son said, "Look ma, there’s another otter." That’s my boy.

Later, while we were enjoying dinner, the neighboring yurters came back from wherever they were and piled out of their SUV. There was the husband, who looked like a middle-aged salesman, his mail-order Asian wife, a squeaky-voiced teen-aged son, a daughter that looked to be about nine, AND an infant. Before we could finish our meal, the baby began screaming - like a cat caught in a fish grinder. The family was unfazed.

There were two constant noises throughout that night: cricket frogs (which sound like Geiger counters and made me wonder if ole Petersburg is really just a government cover-up), and that screaming cat-like baby (I swear they were torturing it all night - for their amusement).

Daylight brought yet another surprise. A family of crows began a lively debate right over our yurt. I was secretly hoping they were fighting over which one got to peck out the baby’s eyes. This, I thought, must be the slippery edge of insanity - and I get to experience it WHILE I’M ON VACATION.

That afternoon we sought respite from our delightful woodland retreat by taking a trip into town to discover the wonders of Elberton, Georgia. Elberton, as it turns out, is "The Granite Capitol of the World" - this fact is boldly painted in letters twenty feet high on the side of a two-story building.

Everything in and around Elberton is made of granite. There are granite monuments, granite benches, granite mailboxes, granite business signs, granite trash cans, and even granite birdhouses - it’s an eerie site. It looked like we stumbled into a bizarre graveyard.

At some point we took a wrong turn and were treated to an unexpected tour of the underbelly of Elberton - where the fortunes of granite money don’t quite reach. A pus-colored, metal-clad warehouse served as a backdrop for a horde of single-story, pillbox-size homes packed shoulder to shoulder along the narrow, granite-curbed streets. They had granite staircases and/or granite accented driveways. I half-expected to see someone walking along the street in a granite shirt, except there were few residents to be seen (perhaps they were inside enjoying some granite chips and watching ‘wrassling’ on TV).

We returned to the yurt only to be greeted by the screaming baby. We couldn’t bear the thought of another night of madness with that child and decided to pack the truck - in record time - and left the yurt in a cloud of dust. Even the deer…uh, I mean otters…seemed impressed by our swift exit.

We drove back through the town of Bedrock…er, I mean Elberton…chasing the sun over the horizon. Hopefully, this experience hasn’t tainted my wife’s willingness to go camping - because I really like to be there when she actually sees a wild otter.


jenny said...

Just a suggestion, we went yurtin, we called it "yurts so good" after seeing the pbs program... but we rented all 5 yurts for the weeekend with 5 couple, it was fabulous. the reason we did this was because we did not want to hear the screaming baby or late night beer parties of the unknown. we inside wined and dined in different yurts and decorated our picnic tables with lovely table setting. the whole weekend would have been mostly likely a disaster as yours had we not taken over the compound. regards... we head up there this coming weekend!

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