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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

Last week in the Jefferson Kroger, I was met by a curious sight: approaching me in the aisle was a woman pushing a grocery cart in which was seated a toddler, a boy, who had both arms in the air and was bobbing his head rhythmically.

The sight became curiouser when the child burst into song.

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

His head bobbed to the beat. He pumped his upraised fists in time to the music playing in his head.

Frankly, he looked barely old enough to talk, much less sing rock songs. But there he was, belting out a tune nicely on key.

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

By then, our carts had passed in the aisle, and they were behind me. Even after I turned down the next aisle, I could still hear the boy singing heartily.

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

Eventually, the refrain ceased. Either he was too far away to be heard or his mom shut him up.

Oddly, the mom seemed focused on her shopping and oblivious to the boy’s performance. I wondered briefly if she might be hearing-impaired, but decided that was improbable.

Anyway, the child was truly in the zone, and I was happy for him. It’s good to, you know, let it all hang out.

Keep on rockin’ while you can, kid. The inhibitions, insecurity, and self-consciousness will bubble up soon enough.

We Will Wock You

Wocking the Jefferson Kroger.

The Queen classic We Will Rock You is an interesting song for various reasons, which I will address in my next post, a Tune o’ the Day.

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

Shellac is used as a wood primer/sealant and also as a waxy coating on food. Jelly beans are coated with shellac to seal them and make them shiny. It’s also a fact that shellac is a natural substance, not a manufactured material.

Shellac is secreted by female lac bugs (Kerria lacca) in India and Thailand. The insects leave tunnel-like tubes on tree branches. The tubes are scraped off, refined to get rid of bark and stuff, and turned into commercial shellac to coat your jelly beans.

The rhinoceros family has five living species: white rhinos, black rhinos, Sumatran rhinos, Indian rhinos, and Javan rhinos. The first three have two horns, and the last two have one horn.

The Hudson River flows 315 miles from upstate New York south to the Atlantic Ocean. However, the lower Hudson is a tidal estuary, so its direction of flow depends on the tide. On the incoming tide, the Hudson flows back upstream about 160 miles.

The closest living relative of the elephant is the hyrax, a small, rotund mammal native to Africa. Hyraxes resemble plump rabbits with short ears and no tail. Manatees also are related to elephants, but hyraxes are closer kin.

Hyrax

The E Street Band has been Bruce Springsteen’s backing band since 1972. It is so named because the mother of keyboardist David Sancious allowed the band to rehearse in her garage at 1107 E Street in Belmar, New Jersey.

The U.S. two-dollar bill was introduced in 1862 and, in spite of chronic lack of demand, remained in circulation until 1966. It was brought back in 1976 for the Bicentennial and remains in circulation today, even though the public still largely ignores it. Two-dollar bills account for one percent of the U.S. currency in circulation.

The legend of Atlantis, the island nation that fell out of favor with the gods and sank into the sea, originated with Plato. The Greek philosopher used the story as an allegory about the hubris of nations. He said Atlantis began as an advanced utopian society, but the people became greedy and petty, and they paid the price in “one terrible night of fire and earthquakes.”

During its century as a British colony, Barbados had a flag that featured an image of Britannia (the female personification of Britain) holding a trident. When Barbados gained its independence in 1966, it adopted a flag that symbolized the break by depicting only the head of the trident.

Flags

The U.S. Navy decommissioned its last battleship in 1992. Currently, the Navy has 283 ships in active service: 10 aircraft carriers, 9 amphibious assault ships, 22 cruisers, 3 near-shore combat ships, 62 destroyers, 17 frigates, 71 submarines, and 89 support vessels. Oh, and 3,700 aircraft.

The Outerbridge Crossing is one of three vehicular bridges between New Jersey and Staten Island. Opened in 1928, it is named for Eugenius H. Outerbridge, the first chairman of the port authority. It is called a “crossing” because the “Outerbridge Bridge” sounds ridiculous. Most people just call it “the Outerbridge.”

Nebraska native Thurl Ravenscroft (1914-2005) was an accomplished bass singer and voice actor who did his first voice-over as Monstro the whale in the 1940 film Pinocchio. You know Ravenscroft as the voice of Tony the Tiger and for singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

The Labrador Retriever originated in the 1500s in Newfoundland, not Labrador. Labs are a cross between the Newfoundland breed and the St. Johns water dog. They were called Labradors, I assume, because we already had Newfoundlands.

Labs

 

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In my last post, I wrote about my visits to Chattooga River country starting in the early 1990s and my special fondness for the territory along Section IV of the river.

I wrote about a regular destination, a sandy beach near the river’s confluence with Camp Creek, and my frustration over the lack of trails along the river — as if the Forest Service owes me a trail for every whim.

My specific gripe: just downstream from the beach are the crown jewels of the Chattooga, the famous Five Falls — five major rapids in less than 1/4 mile of river.

This graphic shows the five rapids: Entrance, Corkscrew, Crack-in-the-Rock, Jawbone, and Sock ’em Dog. All are rated Class IV or Class IV+.

Five Falls 2-1

Here they are in person.

Five Falls 2-2

The flat water below Sock ’em Dog goes by the ominous name of Deadman’s Pool. The unmarked trail I learned about in Clayton ends there.

Once you know the trail exists, it’s obvious and easy to follow. My dog Kelly and I reached Deadman’s Pool in about 30 minutes and emerged onto these rocks:

Five Falls 2-3

We were alone, but within a few minutes, kayakers appeared in the distance, working their way through the rapids.

I took this photo as one of them ran Sock ’em Dog.

Five Falls 2-4

Kelly and I spent the next hour exploring the river bank, pausing to watch when boaters came along. Our vantage point on the rocks gave us a good view of Jawbone and Sock ’em Dog.

Kelly was off-leash that day. I always carried a leash in case it was needed, but, especially in such a remote location, she was unrestrained. That was routine on our hikes. When we encountered people on the trail, I would call her back to get hooked up. Kelly was a well-mannered and cooperative lady.

It was a fine, warm day. We had lunch, explored, and exchanged pleasantries with the rafters and kayakers who paused at the pool after running the rapids.

All was peachy — until Kelly ventured onto wet rock, slipped, and tumbled into the river.

She fell about six feet and — kerplunk — went under and out of sight. By the time the situation registered in my brain, she bobbed to the surface, wild-eyed, dog-paddling furiously.

The river current was negligible, so she was in no real danger of being swept away. But she was panicked and disoriented, going in circles. I kept calling to her, trying unsuccessfully to get her attention.

But luck was with us. Three kayakers had just exited Sock ’em Dog and entered Deadman’s Pool. They paddled to her, and one grabbed her collar. Instantly, she relaxed and regained her focus.

While the kayaker held Kelly by the collar, his friends pushed him toward the shore. I hoisted her to safety, babbling my gratitude.

After all that excitement, remaining at the pool any longer seemed anti-climactic. The three kayakers continued downstream. Kelly and I hiked back to the beach and up the trail to the car.

Over the next few years, I went back to Deadman’s Pool with Kelly twice, with my two sons once, and a fourth time with Paco. Nobody else ended up in the river involuntarily.

I probably owe Jake a trip sometime soon.

Five Falls 2-5

My best girl Kelly in the early 1990s. She was a fine lady.

 

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In 2009, I posted a story about being confronted by two armed local dudes while hiking to the Chattooga River in Northeast Georgia. It happened in 2002. The memory still gives me the willies.

That post focused on the incident itself, not the river or the experience of being there. That, I see in retrospect, was a serious omission.

I hope to fix that with the following story.

———

The Chattooga River, the inspiration for the novel and film Deliverance, begins in North Carolina and flows south as the state line between Georgia and South Carolina. It passes through terrain that is mountainous, dense, fertile, and humid. The region gets the most rainfall in Georgia.

The Chattooga is designated a National Wild and Scenic River and thus is under federal protection. No development is allowed within 1/4 mile of either bank. The river corridor is pristine and spectacular — clean, green, peaceful, natural, invigorating. A balm for the spirit.

Chattooga country is a premier destination for whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing, hiking, backpacking, and camping. For boaters, the upper sections of the river* are relatively tame and forgiving, with exceptions here and there. But Sections III and IV at the lower end feature multiple rapids that will test your skills.

Section III consists mostly of Class II and Class III rapids, ending with Bull Sluice, a Class IV+. Section IV takes it up a notch with 10 rapids rated Class IV or higher.

The Chattooga abruptly fizzles out at Lake Tugaloo, the first of a series of reservoirs inflicted upon the Savannah River, which the Chattooga becomes downstream, as it flows to the Atlantic.

For me, kayaking Sections III and IV is out of the question, but I’ve rafted both several times commercially. Raft trips with the local outfitters are reasonably priced, reasonably safe, and great fun.

Over the years, however, most of my visits to the Chattooga have been to go hiking, and occasionally camping, in the magnificent mountain setting. My dog Kelly, and later her successor Paco, helped me explore numerous trails that lead down to and along the river.

Five Falls 1-1

Kelly in 2000, ready for the day’s adventures.

From the headwaters down through Section III, Chattooga country has numerous dirt roads and trails, and you have good access to the river and the surrounding forest.

For example, the Chattooga River Trail follows the river corridor for 19 miles from GA 28 in the north (where Section II begins) to US 76 in the south (where Section IV begins).

But along Section IV, only a few roads access the river. And the handful of trails at river level are short and primitive.

For me, this always presented a problem. The upper Chattooga is terrific, and I’ve been there often. But it’s more crowded than Section IV. And the rapids aren’t as imposing as those on Section IV. And the terrain isn’t as steep and scenic as on Section IV.

I’m simply a bigger fan of Section IV.

On the map below, Section IV begins at point #1 and ends at the takeout on Lake Tugaloo, point #25. Note that only a few roads access the river in this 8-mile stretch.

Five Falls 1-2

Sometime in the late 1990s, by asking around and exploring the roads myself, I learned that the easiest route to the river on the Georgia side is via Camp Creek Road and Water Gauge Road, ending at Point #19 on the map.

(Point #22 at the end of Camp Creek Road is where I was confronted by the previously-mentioned armed local dudes. I decided not to go there again.)

At the end of Water Gauge Road, an abandoned dirt road serves as a trail down to the river, arriving at a spot just north of the confluence with Camp Creek. The river there is straight and calm and features a rare sandy beach.

I took the photos below in 2004 when I took Paco there to introduce him to the river.

Five Falls 1-3

Five Falls 1-4

Paco liked it fine, as long as his feet could touch bottom.

A few years earlier, Kelly and I had visited that spot several times to go swimming. But each time we went, I had the same nagging complaint: just downstream, literally around the next bend, are the biggest and best-known rapids on the Chattooga: the Five Falls.

And there is no trail along the river to get you there.

Five Falls 1-5

Five Falls — just around that bend to the left.

True, you are free to bushwhack downstream, climbing over rocks and wading where necessary. But trails were invented as a sensible alternative to that.

Then I got lucky. Someone at the visitor center in Clayton told me about a primitive trail that begins near the beach, climbs away from the river, crosses the adjoining hill, and drops back down to the river just below Five Falls.

The next weekend, Kelly and I went back, found the trail, and had an eventful day at Five Falls.

Details in my next post.

* From north to south, the Chattooga consists of six sections: 00, 0, I, II, III, and IV.

 

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Pudgy

Some dogs have a heightened instinct to protect home and family. We think of breeds such as Dobermans, German Shepherds, Boxers, Rottweilers, etc. as being natural guard dogs.

When I was a kid, I had a dog named Pudgy, a certified mongrel, who was in no way the guard dog type. But on one occasion, he surprised us. It happened over the Christmas holidays in 1952, just after my brother Danny was born. Pudgy was a puppy then.

Let me begin by noting that my pal Jake, who has been with me for almost a year now, is my eighth* dog. Before him was Paco; before Paco was Kelly; before her were Dinah and Murphy; before them was Frederick the Bassett Hound; before him was Kimo; and before him was Pudgy.

Seven of them entered my life after I was an adult. Pudgy was the dog of my childhood.

Pudgy-1

Pudge was a happy, lovable little guy. Technically, he was the family pet, but everyone understood he was my dog.

He was born to a litter of generic mutts at a neighbor’s house when my family lived in Falls Church, Virginia. I was seven years old, maybe eight.

I remember going to see the pups one cold evening with Mom and Dad. Snow was on the ground. The pups were in the garage in a blanket-lined cardboard box, wiggling and yapping. A kerosene heater was nearby.

To get you oriented, think of the movie “A Christmas Story,” which takes place in the late 1940s. Ralphie’s world in Indiana and mine in Falls Church were remarkably similar. The people, neighborhoods, schools, communities — all essentially the same.

That night in the garage, the dads chatted, and the moms fawned over the darling puppies. Then they told me to choose any pup I wanted as long as it was male. Pudge was the most active of the litter, and he was rather striking with a white body, black head, and tan eyebrows. He was my choice.

We named him Pudgy because he was round and plump. Most puppies are, but the name turned out to be appropriate. He grew up to be low to the ground and stocky.

A month or so after we got Pudge, a few days before Christmas, my brother Danny was born. Mom brought Dan home from the hospital right after Christmas.

Dad was a disaster when it came to cooking, cleaning, and other domestic tasks, but we got by, and we managed to assemble a crib in Mom and Dad’s bedroom. Mom took care of the baby and slept a lot. New routines took shape. Little Pudgy ran around joyfully, soaking it all in.

A few days later, the first relatives arrived to see the new baby: my paternal grandmother, universally called “Honey,” and Aunt Betty, who drove them up from Savannah.

I recall the scene well. After hugs all around, Honey set down her purse, removed her pillbox hat and veil, and asked to see the baby.

Mom and Dad escorted her into the bedroom where Dan was asleep in the crib. Honey tiptoed up to the crib and peered over the rail at Danny.

Suddenly, Pudgy shot out from under the crib and confronted my grandmother, barking furiously, bravely protecting the new human.

Honey hastily jumped backwards. I’m not sure if she and Betty even knew we had a dog.

“Wal-tuh?” she said with alarm. “Wal-tuh” is the Geechee way of saying “Walter,” namely her son.

As my grandmother retreated, Pudgy advanced, barking like a small fiend. One of us, probably Dad, scooped him up and tried to shush him. He was slow to calm down. His puppy growls were almost comical, like the purring of a cat.

With Pudgy restrained, Honey and Betty were able to see Danny properly. Dan, of course, had been awakened by the barking and was bawling robustly. The scene was chaotic.

Pudgy soon calmed down and was himself again. But over the next few days, he continued to object loudly whenever Honey approached the crib.

Curiously, his problem was only with my grandmother, never with anyone else, and only when she came near the crib. No one had a clue what was going on in his brain.

You had to feel bad for Honey. She was a dignified woman, very straight-laced and proper by nature. She was a fine person, but, as the saying goes, she was standing behind the door when the humor genes were handed out.

Honey’s default demeanor was serious and formal. I remember her as a matronly lady always clutching a hanky. I recall no evidence that she had a relaxed and casual mode.

Stella Ham Smith (Honey) at 201 Kinzie Ave., Savannah, Nov. 1951.

Which was a shame. It might have allowed her to see the humor in Pudgy’s behavior and laugh it off. Instead, she reacted with concern and bewilderment.

After Honey and Betty went home to Savannah, life returned to normal, if having a new baby and a new dog can be normal. For a while, Pudgy slept under the crib, presumably guarding Danny. He launched no more attacks.

In 1957, the Air Force transferred us to Europe, and Pudgy couldn’t come along. He went to live with my maternal grandparents in Suwanee, Georgia.

Naturally, he quickly bonded with them. And, when we came home from Europe in 1960, it was clear that Pudgy was their dog, not mine.

To my knowledge, the guard-dog behavior he exhibited in Falls Church never resurfaced.

Pudgy-3

The Smiths suffering through a photo session, Falls Church, October 1953.

Pudgy had a good life in Suwanee as a country dog. Frank’s assorted hunting dogs lived in a backyard pen, and Leila’s cats were largely feral, but Pudgy was a pampered house pet.

His end came abruptly when he was about 13. I was home from college for the weekend, and Mom had asked me to stop at Leila’s to pick up some tomatoes.

When I backed out of the driveway, I didn’t know that Pudgy was under the car. He wasn’t run over, but he took a blow to the head that left him dazed and staggering. He was glassy-eyed, gasping for air.

I put him on the passenger seat and zoomed off toward the vet’s office.

On the way, suddenly, he snapped out of it. The old Pudge was back, relaxed and normal.

But it didn’t last. By the time we got to the vet’s office, he was in distress again, rigid, his breathing labored.

He died overnight at the clinic.

Pudgy was a good boy, loyal and faithful. A delightful friend. A credit to the family.

I still miss him.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky) and Pudgy, June 1956.

Pudgy and me, 1955.

* Actually, I had a ninth dog, but only for about three days. When Deanna and I got married, she had a poodle named Loser. Loser always hated me anyway, but he went bonkers over the new living arrangements. After he bit me a few times, Deanna gave him to her grandparents.

 

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The expression “May you live in interesting times” supposedly is an old Chinese curse. It’s considered a polite way of wishing someone ill, owing to the fact that interesting times usually involve strife and unpleasantness.

For America, “interesting times” accurately describes the entire decade of the 1960s. And in my case, it started with a bang.

In January 1961, when I was a freshman at the University of Georgia, a major brouhaha erupted in Athens when UGA was ordered by a federal judge to enroll its first black students. I wrote about that in some detail here.

A lesser brouhaha, one that barely made the national news, occurred in Athens not long after that. I’m referring to a series of protest marches to desegregate a popular local restaurant.

The restaurant was the Varsity, a beloved fast-food joint that had been an Athens institution since 1932. Owing to the time and place, it was open to whites only. A bit of background to set the stage.

In 1928, businessman Frank Gordy opened the original Varsity drive-in near the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. The business was an immediate success. The day he opened, Gordy had 300 customers. By the end of the 1930s — a Depression economy, mind you — Gordy was a millionaire.

It’s the burgers, the chili dogs, and the fries, people. Varsity food is fast food, not health food by any stretch, but it tastes great. And, incredibly, it tastes exactly the same today as it did when I had my first meal there in 1960.

Varsity-1

In 1932, Gordy opened a Varsity in Athens. It was located downtown, across the street from the UGA campus.

Varsity-2

Varsity-3

It remained there until 1962, when a larger building with loads of parking was built on Atlanta Highway. That location is still in operation today.

Varsity-4

The closing of the beloved downtown Varsity was traumatic, and it took a while for Athenians to warm to the new location. But they did, and the Varsity has remained popular with students and townies through the years.

The desegregation of the University in 1961 prompted the black community to address the irksome fact that the Varsity did not allow black customers in the restaurant. Ironically, most of the employees were black.

In my student days, it never registered with me that the Varsity was white only. Yes, the place was a sea of white faces, but Athens was a college town in the 1960s, perpetually awash in white faces.

I was a liberal Democrat then as now, and I agreed that admitting black students to the University was the right thing to do. But in other ways, I was just an oblivious white kid.

Not until years later did I learn that the downtown Varsity only served African-Americans through a walk-up window on the sidewalk.

The new Varsity on Atlanta Highway didn’t even have a walk-up window.

In 1963, taking a cue from the successful lunch counter sit-ins in North Carolina, Athens civil rights activists began marching on the Varsity in protest. Sometimes the marches were peaceful, sometimes they weren’t.

Protesters regularly were arrested and hauled away, but the city usually released them immediately. Prisoners in jail have to be fed, clothed, and looked after. That costs money.

Reportedly, the largest and most contentious march happened in the spring of 1964. And, yes, I was there to see the fireworks.

At the time, I was a senior, set to graduate in June. Everyone knew about the protest marches, and we had heard talk that the Varsity management was weakening, fearing that the negative publicity would affect business. That would never do.

That spring evening, a friend said he heard that the KKK had arrived at the Varsity to protest the protesters. Immediately, we went to see for ourselves.

We arrived just after dark. The black marchers had gathered under the trees on the south side of the building. Between the protesters and the south entrance stood 15 or 20 Klansmen in white robes and pointy hats. Only a few wore hoods that covered their faces.

Earlier, heated words were exchanged and a few bricks were thrown, but the police had made no arrests. Everyone — protesters, Klansmen, cops, and onlookers — stood around more or less quietly, waiting for what came next. The mood was calm, but tense.

I guess it was tense enough to make me thirsty, because I excused my way through the line of Klansmen and went inside to get a drink from the water fountain. No problem, I’m white.

As I passed them, one Klansman pulled back his robe to reveal a holstered pistol on his hip, as if to say: look here, boy, I got me a gun.

I was genuinely embarrassed for the guy. Personally, I think being a Klansman identifies you as a mental midget and a detriment to society. Being a Klansman who flaunts a weapon to a passing teenager further identifies you as an obnoxious jerk.

Somehow, the situation that night remained calm. The protesters occasionally chanted, and the KKK guys watched in silence. Then the protesters walked in single file back to a nearby church, where the march began. Then the Klansmen left, then the police, then the onlookers. The Varsity was back to normal.

A month or so later, I graduated from UGA and left Athens to begin a new adventure in the Air Force in exotic New Mexico. The Athens Varsity was rarely in my thoughts.

But, indeed, not long after I departed, the restaurant saw the error of its ways and opened its doors to all paying customers, regardless of skin tone.

Nowadays, when I stop there for a chili dog fix, I observe that most of the employees are either black or Hispanic, and of the customers, a few black faces might be peppered among the white.

But in truth, the Varsity never became a big thing for black people in Athens. Maybe they don’t like the food.

No matter. What counts is they have the choice.

Varsity-5

Varsity-6

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Since I moved back to Georgia in 1979, I’ve lived in five different places around Atlanta and Athens. And the one constant since my return has been regular trips north into the mountains to go hiking.

There was a time when I took multi-day backpacking trips, but that practice evolved into the more civilized pursuit of dayhiking. Over the years, I’ve been on many hundreds of hikes in the mountains and foothills of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.

For any given hike, my route to the mountains depended on where I lived at the time and where I was headed. By now, I’ve probably driven 90 percent of the roads, county, state, and federal, in the northern third of Georgia.

Sometime in the early 1990s, on my way north, I came upon an intriguing road sign that compelled me to stop and take a photo.

Bates Motel Road

It appeared to be a legitimate, official road sign, not a joke. The story behind it was a mystery, of course. All I could do was accept it as a humorous oddity and take the photo.

When I got home, I made a print and put it on the refrigerator. I also saved it as a .jpg and filed it away on my desktop.

But the novelty eventually wore off, and for the next couple of decades, I gave Bates Motel Road little thought.

But then, not long ago, a curious thought popped into my head. That photo of the Bates Motel road sign — where, exactly, did I take it?

I remembered the setting clearly, but I couldn’t recall the location. It could be anywhere in half a dozen counties in the North Georgia foothills.

For a while, when I drove north to go hiking, I made it a point to take different routes, hoping to find the elusive sign. No luck.

Then it dawned on me to look online. I Googled the words, Googled the image. I checked Google Maps and Google Earth. I searched various counties for “Bates Motel Road.”

I did all that and found nothing. Zip.

Why, for Heaven’s sake, could I find no record of any kind? Has the road been renamed? Was it bulldozed to make way for a subdivision? The subject bugs me greatly whenever I think about it. Which, lately, is often.

When you consider how many roads must exist in North Georgia, the odds are pretty slim of locating Bates Motel Road by searching randomly. It’s a needle-in-a-haystack situation.

Inevitably, the elusive road reminds me of the story of Brigadoon, the fictional Scottish village that is nowhere to be found except when it reappears for one day every century.

Then there is the 1957 movie “Raintree County,” a Civil War-era melodrama that takes place in the fictional Raintree County, Indiana. Essentially, it’s “Gone With the Wind” with Montgomery Clift in the Clark Gable role.

In the story, Raintree County is named for a romantic local legend that, hidden deep in the forest, is a magnificent Golden Raintree planted long ago by Johnny Appleseed. Find the Raintree, the legend says, and you will learn the secret of life itself. The locals consider it a nice fairy tale.

I remember the movie mostly for its ending. As the main characters emerge from a swamp after a dramatic climax, the camera pulls back to show the Raintree looming behind them, shining in golden splendor, still undetected. The End.

My road sign doesn’t qualify as magnificent or splendid. Just elusive.

And undoubtedly looming just out of sight.

North-GA

A needle-in-a-haystack situation.

 

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