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Posts from the ‘around town’ Category

a commute with a (different) view

the old Hardwick Woolen Mill

One of the more interesting benefits of becoming involved with our local American Red Cross chapter has been the change of scenery from my cycling commute point of view.  Riding to the chapter office a couple of times a month has been a chance to leave the old barns, the fields of cows, and ride into the old industrial part of town on largely deserted old streets.  The view is gritty, tough, battered and even decaying and crumbling in places – but (and it might sound crazy) I’ve enjoyed the departure from green fields.

 

I’ve taken my camera along on a couple of past trips, but never managed to stop and explore for one reason or another – running late to a meeting, getting rained on, running out of daylight, or (recently) not wanting to stop in the sweltering heat.

Today things were in my favor to linger and look around.  The building I have always been most fascinated with is the old Hardwick Woolen Mill.

back in the day ... the old Hardwick Woolen Mill (postcard)

today ... the old Hardwick Woolen Mill, not so postcard-ish

Built in 1890, it had once been used to process wool produced from local farms – “the entire process of cleaning, drying, weaving, cutting, and sewing was performed at the Mill”, according to information on The Old Woolen Mill website.  Although there has been a vision to revitalize the old building and convert it into a combination of retail, commercial and residential space, it’s been a struggle.  To date, there has been only minimal development – most of the property continues to crumble and deteriorate, sadly.  To some extent, I suppose it mirrors the economy…

I’d like to think that someday it might be vibrant again … meanwhile, I can’t help but enjoy the patchwork of the broken windows and other old things left behind.

patchwork of old broken windows; Hardwick Woolen Mill

Boiler Company door on the Hardwick Woolen Mill building

the very great people at the Red Cross let me bring my bike inside while I work 🙂

disaster relief on two wheels

a hawk dropped into the frame

It is a very good thing that I completed #330daysofbiking when I did … I think I have just had the longest stretch of not being on a bicycle in several years.  Twelve days, no cycling; fourteen days of Red Cross Disaster Relief.   And not a moment of regret.  It has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

Are things back to normal?  Hardly.  A funny thing about natural disasters  – from tornados, to hurricanes, earthquakes and floods – when cable news has moved on to the next breaking story, the communities that were effected will spend months, even years, recovering and rebuilding.   Healing –  on all levels –  takes a very, very long time.

I have to believe that almost everyone who lives here has been affected, either directly or indirectly.  Colleagues at work who have lost their homes, neighbors who have lost family members, friends at school who were severely injured … everyone is connected to the devastation to some degree.  Lives have changed.   At present, we are simply out of the immediate “crisis” mode.  Now begins the recovery.  And it will be a long ride.

My boys have all arrived home from college (for a few weeks, anyway), and on my first day “off” and away from the disaster efforts, I finally had a chance to take long and much-needed ride with my son Mason.

While too many familiar landscapes have been drastically altered and damaged, and it’s still nearly impossible to travel many of our local back roads without encountering various work crews still continuing the endless repairs and clean-up, I realized that I really needed a change of course.

I needed to leave the piles of rubble and the smell of burning pine behind me.   I needed some open space, green fields and fresh air.  I needed roadside daisies.  I needed to find beauty again.

And my heart lifted when I found that it was all still out there.

Getting out on my bicycle again, seeing green fields, being with my son, feeling the rhythm of  heartbeat, pedals and breath … it was my own personal disaster “relief”.

What lies ahead?  I am not entirely sure.  I have signed on with the Red Cross as a regular volunteer and have enrolled in their Disaster Services Human Resource System.  I’m continuing to help with follow-up work being coordinated through our local Chapter’s office, and am looking forward to continuing disaster response training and becoming an active responder.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with experienced Red Cross Disaster Relief teams who came in from around the country; I learned so much from them, and made some very close friendships along the way.

I also want to extend an enormous and overdue thank you to all of my friends (both local and cyber) who extended so much help and support – from your personal notes, to finding much-needed material items (including a twin bed), monetary donations, offers of manpower, and even mailing a hand-crafted prayer shawl across the country for a woman in our community.  Your generosity and kindness is unparalleled, and has been appreciated more than I can express.

Mostly, I have been forever touched by the individuals and families I have been privileged to serve and have gotten to know over the past few weeks.  You are in my heart, and I will never forget you.

(Slideshow:  amazing friends from Red Cross Disaster Relief)

 

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love letters

Today I cried.

We returned to one of the houses from yesterday – the house with the little dogs.  Thankfully, they are now being well-cared for and waiting patiently for their injured owner to recover.

We were helping to clear a spot on the property for some heavy equipment to come in and do the big work – moving branches and pieces of lumber, sorting out scrap metal.

We also made an attempt to retrieve some salvageable items and personal belongings – somewhat unsuccessfully, as the debris pile was so incredibly broken.  It was literally like “trying to find a needle in a haystack”.   Yet here and there we would uncover a small porcelain figurine that was miraculously intact under a pile of cinderblocks and a steel door.  There was no pattern to what had survived and what had not.

found a quilt

My tears came when I found an old box of letters – postmarked from the late 1950’s, handwritten in beautiful scrolling penmanship on delicate paper – the kind that was once used for air mail.   They appeared to be love letters.  The salutation on one of the open pages began: “My Dearest Beloved …”  And I read no more, but gave them directly to the person collecting the personal possessions.

It’s difficult to handle the pieces of someone’s life – much more so than I ever could have expected.  We tried to save even the smallest items that were intact, because how can you possibly know what might have a special or sentimental meaning to the owner?  And to pick up something private and dear like an old letter … well, it can feel almost intrusive.

By mid-afternoon we had done as much as we could at the site, and left to help with a Red Cross van that was delivering hot meals to people in need.  The number of people who are able to stay in their homes but are without power (and often water) remains significant.  Eating cold sandwiches gets old pretty quickly.

our (empty) Red Cross van ... which was filled with boxes of hot meals prepared by the volunteers at Walker Valley High School

 While I am tired, and stinky, and a little bit sunburned  … I feel so incredibly fortunate.  The people I love are close and safe.  I can take a hot shower and drink a cold glass of water – with ice.  I have lights, and the little music box that was a gift from my boys is in its place on my bookshelf.  My bicycle is not wrapped around a tree.  I have clean clothes to change into, and a soft bed to sleep in.  I am truly blessed.

sifting through ruins

Through a chance and random conversation, I ended up with a volunteer crew trying to help several local families clean up and sort the the ruins of their homes.   As the damage assessment throughout the Bradley County continues, the need for helping hands grows.  As of this afternoon, I am now a “spontaneous” volunteer for the Red Cross (and hope to become a regular volunteer in the near future).  I am scheduled to help in whatever way they may need me over the next few weeks.

I also want to make it clear that while I did have my camera with me, I was reluctant to even take it out of my bag in respect for the privacy of the families we were working with.  However, after some time together, several of the families almost encouraged us to use cameras;  they seemed to want to “document” the scene, saying it was “important for other people to see” what had taken place.  And so, when I had moments, I shot as respectfully as I could.

While men with chainsaws and BobCats worked to clear the heavy debris and tree limbs, several other women and I helped clean up the cuttings and helped a few homeowners sort through the rubble to reclaim items that could be salvaged.  I have to confess that it was heartbreaking at times – seeing cherished pieces (and simply ordinary pieces) of a family’s like strewn about like an afterthought.

On one property, I met an elderly woman who was combing through the debris at her son’s house – which had been completely demolished.  She seemed to need someone to listen to her – she talked and told me so many details of what had happened, what her son’s house had been like, where they had been when the storm struck.  How a basement didn’t help.  And the terrible aftermath.   It was as if she needed to verbalize the experience, and I can only hope that I helped her in a small way by being there to quietly listen.

there was no safe place - even in a basement

One of the most difficult moments of the day for me was finding 3 small dogs hiding in the ruins of a demolished home.  One of the neighbors told me that the woman who lived there and owned the dogs had been injured and had been taken to the hospital.  It’s unclear whether or not she had any family to come and retrieve and care for the dogs.  So I went and got some dog food and bowls of water, and the neighbor and I worked on making sure they would be cared for until they can be reunited with their owner.  (The Red Cross is also working on pet rescue in the area.)

As of today, the county schools will be closed through May 6th.  Two of the elementary schools sustained significant damage and will not reopen before the end of the school year.

My son’s high school will be opening their doors next week to serve meals and allow residents and out-of-area volunteers to use the showers.  My son, and many of his fellow students will be volunteering to help through efforts coordinated by the school.

As I write this, so many thoughts are swirling through my mind.  I haven’t seen a moment of the whole Royal Wedding – and I don’t care.   I apologize for not replying/responding to friends who commented on the previous post – I thank you for your concern.  I don’t think I will be taking or posting any more photographs of the damage – it almost makes my eyes ache with sadness to shoot these scenes.  (I would never cut it as a photojournalist, apparently).

I also know that there are other areas of the Southeast, from AL to GA, and even within Bradley County, that have suffered far more than the destruction I’ve seen in a few small areas here.  My heart aches for all of them, and I hope that anyone who reads this can reach out – to volunteer,  or donate supplies or funds to relief agencies.   Please help in whatever way you can.

These are the last photos … from today’s efforts.  (You are in my prayers tonight, Mrs. Johnson).

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path of destruction

Last week it was the car accident that left us a little shaken.  This week … the weather has made the car accident look almost trivial.

Yesterday was the day of disaster, weather-wise.  Starting at 8am and lasting all the way until midnight, we were one of the areas hard hit by the rolling wave of bad weather that hit the Southeast.  Nearly every hour we rode through thunderstorms, high winds, hail, torrential rain and even several tornados – it didn’t seem to want to stop.  I’d never experienced anything as continuous and non-stop, weather-wise.

yesterday, behind our house ... when the afternoon sky turns dark as night, it's not a good thing

At our house, we can once again count our blessings, as we only have one large tree down and a few missing roof shingles.  Many of our nearby neighbors were not so lucky.  As of this morning, there were at least 9 deaths in our county alone, and 15 in Tennessee.  Surrounding areas, including north Georgia suffered even more catastrophic damage to homes and buildings.

sadly, I was told that someone had been inside this home (Mt. Zion Rd.)

sadly, I was told that someone had been inside this home (Mt. Zion Rd.)

I took a ride today several roads close to home, and was shocked at the destruction I saw.  People are outside milling around, almost shell-shocked.  The southern end of our road was still closed as crews worked to clear trees and power lines.   Many are still without power; fortunately ours returned to us late last night.

just down the road ...

neighbors ... feeling shell-shocked

buried in debris

Schools have been cancelled until Monday.  Prom has been postponed until … ?  There is so much “cleaning up” to do almost everywhere … I finally stopped taking pictures of huge downed trees, because there were just too many of them.

One of the strangest experiences while riding around was finding random pieces of peoples’ lives strewn along the road – in places far removed from where the actual destruction took place.  A piece of someones kitchen countertop lying on the edge of the road, clothing and carpeting flung against a farm fence.  Pieces of metal roofs and siding hanging from utility lines – with no idea where they came from.

pieces of a household stuck on a fence

carpeting on fenceline and downed trees

I’ve inserted a slide show of some of the scenes from yesterday’s sky, to the nearby damage I saw today around our immediate area.  I haven’t even ventured into town, or into other areas of the county.  Hoping my local friends are all safe, and my prayers go out to the families who have lost loved ones and suffered devastating damage.  Godspeed.

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social network, social neighborhood

 

photo by Tavia McGrath

The photo above is from one of my ShutterCal friends, Tavia McGrath, from the greater Salt Lake area.  I was really moved when I saw it on her calendar – the sepia, the bikes, the old saddle and basket – and even more intrigued with her caption:

I live in a great, walkable neighborhood, but unfortunately it’s the exception rather than the rule around here. Big suburbs where you’re a slave to your car are the norm unfortunately. I feel lucky to be able to walk to the post office, the library, the grocery store, not to mention two big city parks. There are also a whole host of restaurants, coffee shops, and cool, independent stores all within walking and biking distance. It’s a great place to live!

(~Tavia McGrath)

We had a brief e-conversation about her neighborhood and the strong feelings we both have about the importance of social communities and sensible development with human-powered transport in mind.  From what she described, there are several up-and-coming neighborhoods in the Salt Lake area with the “livable community” tenets in mind – from attractive (non-cookie cutter) housing, small independent businesses, community gardens, and social events to miles of biking and pedestrian trails enabling people to take advantage of everything without depending on a car.

Sounds like a slice of heaven to me.

 

Grant on the greenway

This week has been Grant’s Spring Break, and we’ve been fortunate to have a few balmy spring-perfect days.  We spent some time riding around town – along with throngs of other folks who were out enjoying the gorgeous weather along the greenway.

And it always get me thinking about that famous movie line, “… if you build it, they will come.”  People genuinely want to walk, ride, and get out of the car when they are given the opportunity.  I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t rather walk to the corner store for the newspaper than have to drive, park and deal with the nearest congested StuffMart for the same thing.

In these times when far too much of our social connectivity is linked through cyberspace, from social networks to email and the rest of it, I really believe that many people crave more real social interaction.  From gathering at the coffee shop, or sitting at a sidewalk cafe table for lunch, or simply taking your kids and your dogs for a walk or ride along the greenway.

We crave a sense of neighborhood and a connection with the people within it, even at the most casual level.  While our “virtual” communities may seem limitless, and are not without merit (as I think about Tavia), they are not always as “human” as we need them to be.

I really hope that we can change this … that we start re-examining the direction of our “progress”.  That maybe moving forward will actually take us a little bit backwards –  to two wheels, two feet, and connections with real people.

 

around town

spring

 

 

 

 

 

the gallon of milk

 

cartoon world of our local grocery store

Although I am tempted to rant about our local grocery store choices (or more accurately, lack of choices…), and the disappointing assortment of over-processed, over-packaged convenience foods within our horrid chain stores – we have no Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, EarthFare or anything remotely decent within a 25 mile radius – I will spare you my whining.  My family is weary enough of my complaints.  But I like to cook – and I like to cook real food.  Food “from scratch” as we used to say, rather than out of a box or a freezer case.

And today as I was heading to the grocery store on my bike thinking about all of this, wishing I had a decent grocery store/market within riding distance, I was reminded of a wonderful 3-minute video I had seen earlier in the week by the amazing people at Streetfilms: Moving Beyond the Automobile (Vimeo).

Of course it features the incredible cycling infrastructure improvements of the Big Bicycle Cities (NYC, Portland, SF, etc.), but what really struck a chord with me were some of the statistics about the exponential increases in ridership when safe, protected cycling infrastructure is provided to the public.  The old, “if you build it, they will come …” idea.  Tenfold.  One-hundredfold.  Exponentially.

As (my hero) Rep. Earl Blumenauer so perfectly states:

“People shouldn’t have to burn a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk … “

He goes on to talk about the need to give people safe and accessible transportation choices of all types – choices that will reduce the demand for using the automobile, which can ultimately save people time and money, while improving their health and “ultimately enriching their daily experience.”  I couldn’t agree more.

So I cycled to my poor-excuse-for-a-grocery-store and got the gallon of milk.  And a few other items of “real” food.  And I dreamed about how wonderful it would be to have a bike lane, or even a little bit of road shoulder, to easily cycle to some Real Foods store …  Maybe someday.

 

the enriching experience part ... "cartoon" Xtracycle, back home with the milk & groceries

 

 

karma Friday

the hauling

Do you ever have days when a tiny voice inside says something along the lines of … “today is not the day”?  The planets are not aligned, there is a feeling of bad karma, an inner hesitation, clouds overhead.  And of course I completely ignore that little voice.  Serves me right.

Rest assured – nothing truly bad happened.  No crash/collision, no flat tire, no mechanical issue.  Just a multitude of  basic annoyances that began with getting rained on (and having no rain gear, of course), continued with wasting energy (Staples no longer carries the type of photo canvas I went to buy), and included a superabundance of discourteous Friday motorists (the left-hand turn cut-off, the texting-while-driving twenty-something passing too close for comfort, and the barreling log-truck driver apparently late with his delivery to the pulp mill).

There are not many days I am happy to get off of my bike and off of the road, but today was one of them.  I should have listened to the little voice.

universe off-kilter ... but home again, safe and sound

fear factor

 

underpass, undertraffic

It’s been a grey week.  Yesterday, I had an appointment in town – and I’m always glad to have the stretch of greenway to ride.    It’s not that I mind riding in traffic, but having a stretch of traffic-free – and stoplight free – pavement makes the trip much that much easier.

While I was at my optometrist’s office, I had a brief conversation with his assistant about cycling.  She told me that she and her husband and finally unearthed their old bicycles out of the back of their garage, had them tuned up, and had started to do a little riding – but “not on the street!”

And the usual comments followed … too many crazy drivers out there, too scary to ride on the road, the fear of being hit by a car.  While I was so happy to find out that she and her husband were re-discovering the joy of cycling, it also made me a little sad.  It’s so unfortunate that people who really want to try to ride about town, past the constraints of bike paths and greenways, have reasonably legitimate fear of doing so.

 

finding the quiet streets in town

 

This morning I read an insightful blog post by one of my favorite twitter pals and cycling bloggers in Austin, TX – Tim Starry, aka An Old Guy On 2 Wheels.  Tim is a really great guy, an enthusiastic cyclist and cycling advocate, a devoted family man, and I feel honored to call him a friend (and you must check out his blog).   He just attended a cycling transportation lecture highlighting a Canadian group called 8-80 Cities, who pose a really interesting question:  (basically) is your local pedestrian/cycling infrastructure adequate for an 8-year old and an 80-year old to use safely?

In our case, I’d have to say yes to our local Greenway for the most part … but a resounding no to too many other places throughout town.

Tim also cited an excellent and revealing article (definnitely worth a read) by the Portland Bureau of Transportation that discusses the large demographic of people who are curious about cycling and might like try cycling for transportation, but are fearful about the traffic interaction component.   Just like the woman I talked with at my optometrist’s office, and likely the majority of the people using our local greenway.

 

coming thru…

 

I know that progress along these lines will be slow to come in our area.  We are not an Austin, TX, or a Portland, OR, or even a Steamboat Springs, CO, as far as cycling rideshare or political will.  I am grateful for the stretch of greenway we have, as well as the outlook for its future expansion.

And yes, it’s always a good kick in the pants for me to read these things and think about them – and hopefully, to get more involved.

 

rain commute out-takes

 

rain

When you’re going to end up jumping into a pool anyway, does it really matter?

One of the big gaping holes in my blog, I think, is … well, the rest of it.  The not-so-pretty stuff, the traffic, the rides around town that don’t take place on the pleasantness of the greenway, but rather, tailing exhaust pipes and edging away from distracted minivan moms texting on cell phones.

 

view of traffic from the handlebars, in the rain {-P

I rarely take pictures while on the commuting rides, largely because it’s tricky business, not-so-safe, and I typically don’t carry my DSLR along.  It’s not the kind of shooting where I can take time to stop, compose the shot.  When I manage to capture anything, it’s typically blind shots from the hip with my point-and-shoot.  And on days like today, rain on the lens and blindly shooting … well, not a pretty picture.

 

blind shot from the hip

like I said ... my arm (and a truck)

I had a couple errands to run, and since it was a better day to be swimming than cycling, I wanted to head to the pool.  The weather was pretty high on the crappy scale – upper 30’s, rainy, gloomy – and probably a blessing in disguise.  I ended up having the pool largely to myself.

 

going from wet to wetter at the Y

pool to myself

Had a great swim, got out and dried off …. just to go back out in the rain. {-P

So, although I may try to tip the scales and balance the biking photos with some real-life-on-a-bike shots, don’t hold your breath.  I think I am obviously more suited to old barns and quiet rural roads.  😉

 

blindly shooting wet legs heading home