DragonCon 2016 – Day 3

Sunday was a rather lackluster day.  A friend and I began the day with a revisit with Mike Grell, author/artist of many of the Green Arrow comics and a number of comic series.  Great tales of past bosses, editors, promises of fame and glory… in other words, the sordid tale of a working in the industry by a revered survivor, for the dozen or so gathered anyway.  In any case, factoids included that for a comic to be successful, a print run would be 100,000 and 1/3 of them would have to sell.  The conversation then went to comics originally being intended for 8-10 year olds and the resulting need for character develop to satisfy teens and beyond.  A point of pride for Grell was when his parents found out that he paid more in taxes than his father earned, thus ending pressure to find a real job.

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We toured the Sales hall, noting moderately more walking space between the vendor aisles.  That was a good thing.  And then it was off to “Robots in Pop Culture.”  The speaker was Katie Correll, a self-described “maniacal engineer” and roboticist.  Telling others her title, people frequently reacted with general concern for her as robots were evil.  This prompted the fairly recently Masters graduate to pursue why this perception came to be.  She set about classifying robot behavior in movies as either good or evil, to see what could be gleaned.    The word 'robot' was first used to denote a fictional humanoid in a 1920 play R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots).   The message was essentially that drones are mindless, and humanity is phased out.  Isaac Asimov introduced the term “robotics” in 1941, as a term applying mechanics and hydraulics to robots.  He later adapted laws governing robot ethics which were positive. 

Japanese movies such as Jet Jaguar, Doraemon (1969 manga animation), and Astro boy (1952 manga android) showed robots as helpful agents, possibly because the society had already experienced its apocalypse.  They continue to be used widely in restaurants and concierge services.  The short of it is that in 168 movies, she found robots to be 58% evil.  When Star Wars arrived in 1977, robots suddenly became friendlier, as up to that point, robots had been 76% evil.  In any case, the presentation wasn’t terribly formal, but I’m hoping she puts more work into the subject with TV shows and literature… with more pictures.

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Her site is www.k80bot.com, and she’s done some interesting things already including working on automated performance stages.  Lastly, we attended a panel on “Designing Board Games” which was hosted by four people successful in the field, most notably the guy who imported Settlers of Catan for American audiences.  ($$$).  This was an awkward conversation, essentially suggesting that all there is nothing new under the sun, just repurposing an existing game for a new theme while introducing a different game mechanic for the one that aggravates you most in the other game.  This was made most obvious by Thomas M. Gofton, conveniently not included in the picture below, an entrepreneur who hires a a bunch of designers to pump out movie or TV related games under studio licenses, such as the forthcoming update to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Just based on his smugness, I’ll look elsewhere for satisfying games.  In any case, there were a host of people attending, presumably with their own ideas. 

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There are about 1,000 games introduced each year, and a successful game has to sell 3-4,000 copies to turn a profit.  Also, no game should be built without plans for expansion sets if it turns out well.  As games sell at around $50 each, good reviews play a huge role.  A surprisingly enjoyable and humorous introduction to board games can be found on Wesley Crusher’s, oops, Wil Wheaton’s Table Top web series, featuring various guests.  It makes up for his most notorious role, I think…

Anyway, that concluded the 30th anniversary of what began as the Dragon Alliance of Gamers and Players.  Well done, though with 77,000 reported in attendance this year, one wonders how they can continue to grow by 7,000 participants each year.  Perhaps next year should be Dragon Con: Critical Mass.

DragonCon 2016 –Day 2

Saturdays at DragonCon are probably viewed by many as the peak of convention.  Thousands descend from the metro area to watch the DragonCon parade, and those who are interested in costuming seem to prioritize Saturday to show off.  And with a gazillion people there, it’s the perfect day to be seen.

The parade starts at 10:00 a.m., and a quarter of that sum arrive early enough, by 8:30 a.m., to grab VIP sidewalk curbing space to enjoy an unblemished and unblocked parade.  Another quarter gazillion arrive over the following hour and 20 minutes, with the remainder  arriving within 10 minutes of the start of the parade, often disappointed/incensed that they and their three year olds cannot see the parade from 8 deep on the sidewalk.  I have sympathy for them, but not enough to negotiate my VIP placement.  After several years of skipping the parade, I decided to go ahead and… it was worth it.  There were the usual great costumes and a number of surprises, such as these two from Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing” music video.

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I’ll give those who desire to show off another few years to adapt to new shows/movies or otherwise be creative.  After all, after you’ve seen one Stormtrooper, you’ve seen them all.  Well, except this zombie one.   In any case, you can see all my DragonCon pictures here.

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After scrounging a lunch, I went to a panel in the Armory track called “My Sword is Better than Your Sword.”   Oops.  I arrived too late.  But never fear, they decided they could shorten the content to two half hour sections if people would wait.  So, sure.  From that came a history of sword styles and their evolution through history with a “show and tell” for each step along the way.  An interesting point was that Japanese katanas, which seem to enjoy a reputation for perfect swords, do not compare with the blades made by German blacksmiths whose  excellent quality blades were not only made for a thousand years prior to the Japanese, but exported around the world.  Essentially, central Europe made the blades, and a purchaser would go to their local armorer who attached the blade to the local hilt du jour.  It was more interesting than you might think, and… hey, I’ll take a shortcut.

 

After that we were off to stand in line for about 40 minutes for the iZombie panel, not an unusual length for a wait for “celebrity” panels, but the only panel I attended where we had to wait more than 10 minutes.  iZombie is a favorite show, where our heroine inherits the personality and occasional memories of the recently deceased, sufficient for enough clues to solve a murder mystery and have a few laughs along the way.  Curiously, this works better on an episodic basis rather than the background arc of the company who caused the zombiepocalypse.  In any case, the panel was interesting, fun, and like so many others, instantly gratifying and forgettable.  Short of it is that when you go to these panels, you want to like the actors as much as you like their characters and comparing them them absent a script.

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They also had many other subjects on this track, one apparently including the impact of an 18 kiloton plutonium surface detonation outside the Hyatt lobby.  Perhaps a map will help to understand how far you need to run to experience less immediate lethal effects.

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My last panel for the day was one that I “sold out” the year before.  There are apparently many who wish to learn “How to Get Away with Murder,” a session led by several scientists, including a chemist and neuropsychologist.  This was not quite as technically detailed as one might hope(?), but it was interesting nevertheless.  Covered were polonium mixed with a drink, an unsolved mystery from Australia, and Jack the Ripper (DNA has suggested ancestors of a 23 year old Polish citizen).  More to the point, how to dispose of a body.  Hagfish, leaving a body for a bear if the body is ripe, hydrochloric acid (if the body is processed through a wood chipper first – surface area matters), and disposing a body using an animal crematorium at a vet or a pound.  There you go.  Remember to remove identifying parts of a body as well, such as fingerprints, teeth replaced joints, piercings, etc.  And, if dropping a body into a glacier river isn’t convenient, remember, “Lye is your friend.”   Oh, and if all else fails, just contaminate the crime scene with DNA from a crime scene Tech.   How many were curious?

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Ah, Saturdays at DragonCon!

DragonCon 2016–Day 1

DragonCon is an exhausting three to four day convention, based on how much one participates.  In hindsight, it’s also amazingly brief.  This year was rumored to have 70,000 guests, which is about 25,000 too many.  Yet, everyone somehow gets along.

My intent for Friday was to hit the celebrity panels that I was most interested in, thus avoiding the longer lines later in the weekend.  First up was:

Daredevil: The Man in the Mask – This would be Charlie Cox, the actor who plays Daredevil on the Netflix series, now with two seasons completed.   I sometimes wonder about actors and fan panels, which seem to be a unique opportunity for those cast in science fiction/fantasy/geek roles.  Cox seemed to enjoy himself, and if he was not used to panels like this, it would only be evidenced by his lengthy, well thought out response to each question.  Nuggets included insight behind the (many) fight scenes, when he admitted that he only knew the names of two martial art styles.  He has a coach, and they choreograph the sequence in 6-10 moves a time, film it, stop shooting, choreograph the next sequence, etc. It must take forever.  Daredevil Season 3 seems to be a certainty, but it will follow a Defenders miniseries featuring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, the latter two are also to receive their own named series.  And lastly, his recounting of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin/Carlton Fisk, Daredevil’s arch-nemesis, was full of respect.  Season two included a scene where Daredevil/Matthew Murdock confronted Fisk in jail, each actor having a lengthy monologue.  Cox didn’t care to guess how D’Onofrio “gets into” his role, but recalled him telling the director “Keep filming.  You’ll get what you need.”  In the meanwhile, he would say his lines, step away, gather himself and return and so forth.  Cox, having explained that D’Onofrio was also a very nice guy:  “He was brilliant and terrifying.”

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The Backstabbiest, Backstabbing Board games – We’ve taken an interest in “table top” board games, and we dropped in the end of this panel.  It was full of people who have played a lot of games, and I’m not certain if more were there to learn of other games or insist that their personal favorite was the best for this category.   In any case, 18xx Railroad and Wiz War seem to be in our future.  Trust me.

The Power of Line & Symbol: The Art of Sigil Magick – Okay, I could blame this one on my interest, but it was my “find.”  I’ve enjoyed a variety of art related panels, and, hey, how often are presentations made by a practicing witch?  After a brief review of symbols, colors, and numbers in history – pagans, Berbers in Africa, ancient Egyptians, etc. - she generally spoke less about mysticism and more about how symbols represent keeping things safe, going places, and other fairly reasonable interpretations of basic shapes and squiggly lines.  These are featured prominently in her art as well as tattoos.  In any case, here she is pointing at some of the symbols, at some point emphasizing that these are more about the artists intent rather than what others make of them.  To conclude the session she took an audience poll about DragonCon likes/concerns and used a flip chart to interpret these in terms of specific symbols she had introduced making, essentially, a DragonCon sigil.  I’ll leave it to others to fathom whether burning the paper would release that energy to any productive use.  I was more intrigued about her practical application of making a sigil to ward against people stealing my office chair. 

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The last bit on the list is “No con crud” – avoiding germs after amassing with thousands upon thousands of strangers in confined areas...

The Year in Science panel was a disappointment compared with last year, perhaps due to less “big” news. Subjects included:

  • Gravitational waves and how they were detected
  • Evidence of a planet larger than Jupiter joking termed “Planet 9 From Outer Space” whose existence seems proven but not yet found
  • Price gouging from the Epipen to the cat virus cure
  • A failed “all purpose” drug test that had $5B in startup funds, was launched at Walgreens pharmacy, didn’t work, and is now worth… $0.
  • A planet that is likely Earthlike only four light years away, with 1.3x the mass of earth (it’s in Proximus Centauri if you want to drop by for a look)
  • And… a galaxy, Dragonfly 44, 1/10th of a percent luminous, essentially 99.99% dark matter

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Dark Matter cast panel – I don’t really recall anything was said, but it was an entertaining panel, mostly remarkable in that Melissa O’Neil, who plays a generally frowning, static, tightly wound leader of ex-rogues on a space ship, apparently plays opposite to her nature.  Enjoyable, but obviously forgettable...  That’s okay.  You just hope for some humor and cast camaraderie for these things.

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There was also a demonstration of how close they had to stand to get camera angles correct at times:

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Finally, we went to the Magic vs Mayhem session, which included one magicians working the “never met anonymous audience person” to set up his tricks, one “watch me do strange things to my body” performer, and one charlatan.  The charlatan won, handily, though the nailing a hammer in the nose demo was noteworthy.

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And, for the heck of it, here’s a Sharknado victim and one of my daughter’s former high school friends, wearing cats eyes:

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Harvest Moon Kayaking

Some years ago I saw an outfitter company offering a midnight canoe trip – limited availability, bad timing, or kids at home led to it slipping from my mind.  Now with our own kayaks, CRBI, a group I’ve taken a couple trips with, offered a Harvest Moon paddle in Rome, GA.  The only catch was getting to Rome ~ 6:15 for dropping the kayaks and dropping the car off at the pull out location.  Despite the hordes of commuters and a red light conspiracy, we made it in time, though without a stop for fast food.

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With 23 going, we eventually set off after shuttling cars and people and the requisite safety and fundraising talk.  We hit the water ~ 7:30.  One of the State requirements is that boats, even unmotorized, have lights so that they’re not struck by others.  Makes sense.  On a night to observe the moon, these were at times helpful but more often incredibly annoying depending on their brightness and and direction.  In any case, we went not too far down the river from Heritage Park and more or less waited for the moon rise.

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Shortly, our guide sounded pressured that the moon had not yet risen, as if it wouldn’t.  And, to that point, still nothing. 

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There we go, with one building tower in Rome to say that we saw the moon rise over the city.  I know, not that exciting, right?

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Here’s a shot with a little more color, a mystery of digital camera magic in low light...  Essentially, the moon hung at the edge of the southern tree line as we continued another 5 miles or so down the Coosa River.  When there was a break in the trees, the light shone on the northern bank, for a time, suggesting someone turned their boat lamp to a higher setting or that Steven King would find inspiration in a river bank suddenly revealed then made dark. 

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And, after that, we headed downstream.  It looked pretty much like this:

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That is, it did if you got tired of seeing others’ boat lights and stayed at the front.  For what was expected by our guide to be a tight group going down the river, we stretched out quite a bit.  There’s not so much to see, but there were two things to stay entertained:  wildlife and chatting with boaters.   I’ve been on the Etowah several times, and wildlife is more abundant at night, it seems.  Bugs, for one.  They like hanging out on the river at dusk, and they like it even better when there are lights, even more when conveniently located next to people.  It was like driving through a minor snowstorm, watching them fly by the light at the front of my boat and past my face.  Thankfully, we wore insect repellent, which seemed to work pretty well.  And, for that matter, bats liked us too, seen in glimpses as they dashed across at the edge of the light, searching for an easy snack. 

But there were also very loud splashes and resulting ripples when fish jumped.  Big ones.  You rarely see fish during the day, though the kingfishers and herons confirm that they’re there.  They’re rather startling at night, because it’s unexpected, especially close to the kayak.  And, then there are these heads that pop out, one of which one lady bumped.  River otter.  Otherwise, one heron flew by, and geese squawked somewhere ahead of us a couple of times.  So, there you go.  Nature.

Otherwise, there was conversation.  The first surprise was when the daughter of a couple that we were very fond of in our former church recognized Nancy’s voice when we introduced ourselves in the group.  It’s a small world, sometimes, but it had been 20 years since the last known time that she would have met us.  Amazing.

Further down the river, my wife and I got separated, as the river is fairly wide, and conversations come and go depending on who catches up or drops back.  She talked a good bit with Tim, a retired Special Ed teacher from Alabama, who among many hobbies, kayaks alot, encourages the legalization of marijuana and likes live music.  She also met up with an adventurous college senior currently doing student teaching, who was kayaking solo simply because she loves doing it.

After failing to divert a guy’s attention from his GPS/depth finder (glued to it the entire trip), I mostly spoke with “Duck,” or rather listened to her adventures.  Like what? There was a deer that chased her for a mile and half when she was hiking on a trail with her daughter.  She now carries a gun when she hikes, no longer concerned by future Bambis.  She likes football, specifically the Pittsburgh Steelers, because “there’s always a bar where Steeler fans gather regardless of where you are.”  I’m sure there’s more to it than that, including her boyfriend who lives there.  She eats out often, but she doesn’t eat at the same restaurant twice unless someone insists.  She’s also disturbed by the number of (inferred) single middle-aged women who are afraid to go to anywhere (like restaurants) for fear of venturing alone in unfamiliar neighborhoods.  She brews her own beer occasionally, not from kits, as well as cider.  She also enjoys exotic cocktails and trying new drinks, like “sipping tequila” which is apparently a thing.  Rather than planning what to do each weekend, she keeps a list of things that are doable within a couple hours of Atlanta, numbers them, then rolls the dice for simplicity, usually joined by her 21 year old son.  She takes kickboxing classes… early in the morning.  She’s done mud runs, but prefers Hash House Harriers… what? 

As their Atlanta chapter sums, it brings “running in strange places, flaunting authority, sweating, and drinking all with good companions.”  It seems to be a somewhat adult running club, ending in a social beer drinking gathering at the end.  One person is the hare, who lays a trail (that may not be straightforward, thus requiring clues) using flour which the runners follow.  This could include (and has) running through a mall or other private property as easily as through a muddy, snarly area around the Chattahoochee River.   There’s a Wiki article with the group’s history, and apparently these happen locally very frequently.   Oh, and she has four kayaks.   Agreeable superficiality seems to be the rule for river conversations, and she was an ace as we paddled through the dark.

Whatever the conversation, the evening was more about the relaxation and socializing with others while kayaking in the (at times) barely illuminated dark, which would otherwise have been scary as hell if done alone.  Fortunately, this section of the river has no shoals or other hazards, other than fallen trees at the edges, the occasional otter head, and the eventual roar of a waterfall alerting boaters that the trip is at its end.   That said, after an emergency McD’s stop (Don’t think negatively of us that way!  We only went there because Krystal was closed!), an accident on the main road out of town, and a fairly lengthy drive home, it was a late night an early morning (2:00 a.m.) arrival at the house.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Oh, and because it fits and I like it:

 
 

Chihuly in the Garden

Tentative plans to view the return of the Chihuly glass art exhibit were made firm by a couple of free tickets.  Even better, they were for one of the evenings that the Atlanta Botanical Gardens opened at night, where the exhibits could be seen by sunset or staged lighting.  Note: click on a picture to expand it.

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I’d seen these before, but during the day, as well as those on display at Bellagio in Las Vegas.  They’re big, colorful, flashy and… not particularly interesting to me in terms of the glass itself.  For a photography project, though, they’re quite good, plus, of course, the walk in the park with my wife.

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And, so it was that on a fairly humid evening in Atlanta, we joined hundred or thousands of other Atlantans to view this rotating display.  From a non-artistic viewpoint, the glass is notable for the physical sizes of the pieces and their volume.  It’s like curio art glass.  Placed together, the scale of the presentation provides much greater appeal than a single piece on your shelf.. or sticking out of one of your bushes.

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While the glass is spaced throughout the Gardens to free viewers from congestion, there’s an attempt to balance between optimal placement along the walkways and putting the pieces in places where they are to their best advantage.  The below picture was actually a rather plain piece of glass, which in my view I made more interesting in postprocessing.  The struggle at the time was to find an angle that had some interest and didn’t have faces, knees, purses, etc. on the other side.   When placed against bushes, this isn’t so difficult.  At others, it was quite the challenge.

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And, in some places, I skipped the glass altogether.  The plant palm below is part of an “Earth Goddess” construct which includes 18,000 plants.

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Or, I could take a picture of what I’m supposed to looking at.

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Not too long later, we detoured to the Children’s area, which was a dead end.  No art glass.  I wonder why?  But, hey, there’s a picture.

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Back on to the intended track, some displays are so massive that they’re really not that interesting to capture in their entirety.

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Another example was this, a focal point by immensity and placement at an intersection entering a section of the Garden. 

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Nice enough.  It’s more fun to focus on a piece of it and torture it on my computer.  More fun for me, anyway.

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The textures and contrasts were more interesting than the color sometimes.

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Sometimes the glass was creepy.

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And others, more fanciful.

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That’s all, folks!

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Kayaking – Allatoona Dam

I’ve enjoyed a couple trips now with the Coosa River Basin Initiative, a conservancy group for the various North Georgia Rivers that form the Coosa River just before it enters Alabama.  Each month, they schedule a group kayaking trip, typically from 10-13 miles.  This trip was on the Etowah River, beginning at the discharge of Allatoona Dam and continuing to Cartersville, GA.

One nice thing about entering the water here is that it is much cleaner than that upstream.  Why?  The dam discharges from the bottom, free of sediment or floating plants or algae.

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Then, of course, you learn that the lack of oxygen in the water forever changes the river and the number of species no longer present.  There were about 50 of us on this trip, and, other than the CRBI leader, no one I recognized as a repeat from my previous trip.  Still, it was an amiable group.  For what promised to be a scorching day, the most pleasant aspect was that when the wind blew, it picked up the coldness of the water, which may as well have been outdoor air-conditioning.  It felt really good.

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Sadly, it’s getting rather mundane to paddle underneath bridges, whether active or forgotten.

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On the other hand, you never know when something will catch your eye.  These pipes were suspended by cables affixed to towers at both sides of the river, with braces to support them.  Cut the cable and… some sort of pollution I guess. 

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Otherwise, it’s a nice, sunny day, with temperatures climbing to the mid-90’s.   The thing about rivers is that you have to pay attention where you’re going.  Tree limbs sticking up, shallow areas with rocks, or… in another 50’ from the below…

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An abrupt and unpleasant ending to the day.  Fortunately, we were forewarned.  So, what do you do to avoid individual destruction or mass casualties?

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You “portage” around the obstacle.  This was much, much safer. That’s a truthful statement, but not as truthful as it should be. There’s a little creek that crosses the narrow loose-stoned path, just for an extra thrill.  Hey guys, help the ladies.  There were several casualties, all favoring the leafy side of the path.

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The river largely is “natural,” meaning that any developments are set back from the river at a distance where they’re never seen.  But then, you come across a good distance flanked by very nice houses.  And, if you should buddy up to the CRBI guide, he’ll inform you how the different choices of each homeowner to prevent erosion actually worsen things downstream for their neighbors and/or cause more erosion on the opposite bank.

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My, that was a nice, vibrant sky.  What’s that thunder in the distance.  It’s just summer.  No threat.  Fast forward five minutes, “Clear the river!” 

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Always, always, pack a rain jacket.  I did.  I still got soaked.  And, I’m not certain that climbing the banks of the river to some scattered trees and Indian mounds are the best spot to hide out from lightning.  Nevertheless, the clouds parted, and may as well explore.

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Actually, a stop at the Etowah Indian Mounds had been planned – a special access privilege from the river, discounted $5 admission, a planned lunch stop.  It lost something in translation.  Still, I learned a bit about the ancient “city,” customs, etc.  So I climbed the main mound, where the leader ruled, raised my arms, and… no one was there to take my picture.  In any case, the depicted dude had no idea his back would one day face a nuclear power plant in the distance.

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In this and the other trip, I paddled over Cherokee fishing weirs, sometimes without ever seeing them depending on the water level.  Weirs are stone funnels/dams laid in the river.  The fish would gather upstream of the rocks due to the current, and then they would be chased to the throat where they would be caught.  Many of these weirs still exist, several hundred years later.  The V wedge below, directly adjacent to the mounds, is clearly visible.  When you’re paddling, it just looks like rocks in the way.  Hint: aim for the middle.

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Later, we stopped for the obligatory biology demonstration, scaring up small fish that stay hidden in the rocks and catching them with a skein.   Some were very interested.

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There.  Genuine Georgia wildlife.

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And, many watched from a distance. 

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All things considered, a great way to spend a day.