Saturday, September 10, 2016

Georgi on my Mind

     I really enjoyed my summer vacation this year. All two hours of it. It happened late on a Saturday afternoon when we miraculously finished chores before the day was over. You don't question miracles, you accept them on faith, so I suggested to Gwenne that we knock off early. Maybe go for a ride and find some water to sit beside. With endearing logic all her own she responded, "Yes, that would be nice, after I give you a haircut." That's how I got scalped and we headed for the Battenkill.
     We traced a squiggly line thru the hills being careful to give the fairgrounds wide berth. It was peace and quiet with a side of coolness that we wanted, not the hot sweaty mayhem of the fair at full throttle. Soon enough we were in downtown Shushan, turning down Adams Lane. This is the dirt path where Clarence Jackson used to lead his cows to pasture before he sold the property to the Georgi family in 1952. Since then a house was built, the grounds were landscaped and several generations of Georgi's came and went. 

     When Jessie Georgi passed in the late 1980's the property was bequeathed to the people of the Town of Salem. There are nine acres cradled in a bend of the Battenkill River. At the end of the short lane is a former garage tastefully repurposed as a community center with a meeting room, kitchen and bathrooms. The Georgi's former home is off to the right on a low bluff above the river. In front of the house is an expansive lawn sprinkled with shrubs and trees. 

     All summer long the property hosts concerts, theatre performances, weddings and reunions. But you don't need a special event to enjoy the Georgi. It's a great place to just hang out. That's what we did until dusk when the park closes. We walked the short path between the water and the house. It leads to a small beach. You can see the river do a little "S" wiggle thru ledges of slate and phyllite. It's a great place to study the dynamics of moving water. There are deep holes on the outside of the bends where the current is faster with more energy. On the inside of the curves are sand and gravel bars and eddies where the flow is actually upstream. 

     Unfortunately you'll also find empty beer cans in the shallow sections. Most likely the tracks of a local form of wildlife called the Battenkill River Drunken Tuber. It's an invasive species closely related to the Log Bay Party Animal found up on Lake George. Now tubing with the kids can be fun on a hot summer day. But towing a cooler full of alcohol?!? The stream is a public "highway". Anybody ever heard of open container laws? Tossing the empty cans and bottles is disgusting, even dangerous - glass breaks, kids wade barefoot. You get to see the best and the worst of our relationship with place here at the Georgi. The volunteers who take care of this lovely spot deserve our gratitude. And those who trash the river? They deserve their sunburnt hangovers. 
     In addition to the Georgi family and the parks volunteers we may have the last glacier to thank for this spot. I've seen theories that the pre-glacial Battenkill flowed south thru what is now Cambridge and the Owl Kill valley, joining the Hoosic before emptying into the Hudson. Some 13,000 years ago, as the last ice sheet waned, a huge block of detached ice sat where Eldridge Swamp is today. This, along with massive amounts of outwash deposits (The Plains) were enough to divert the flow of the river north thru the valley where Shushan and the Georgi are located. 

     We spent a pleasant evening at the Georgi swimming and wading in the river and strolling the grounds. There are interesting trees that I'm not sure about. They aren't the common black locust  but they look a little different than honey locust. A mystery and challenge to figure out what they are. Naturalists will find a nice variety of plants to identify and birders will also enjoy a visit. We saw just one other family. All was quiet, still and cool - just what we were looking for. 

     I left the Georgi feeling rejuvenated. Isn't that what vacations are for? And I left with a fresh perspective on legacy. Few of us are wealthy enough to leave a park and museum to our community. But we all have some impact on the place where we live. Will our lives make that place better for those who follow? It's worth thinking about. 

     Here's a link to The Georgi's website.

Fair thee well?
     It was getting late by the time we drove home from Shushan so I thought it would be safe to stay on Rt. 29 and drive past the fairgrounds. Wrong again. 
     We were treated to clouds of black, sooty smoke and an ear-splitting roar. This with our windows rolled up. Apparently some kind of evil beast of a tractor pull was in its death throes. Now I've spent my entire adult life and a good chunk of my childhood driving tractors. I've put my share of carbon into the air and probably irked my neighbors with early morning diesel noise. My defense is that it was done in the service of food production, not cheap thrills. Maybe it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black but I think we could do without all the motorized "agritainment" at the fair.
     Cultural habits are often slow to change and fossil fuel based recreation is certainly part of our culture. But we know these fuels won't last forever and that burning them has consequences for climate, our health and even the world's political stability. For the foreseeable future, fossil fuels seem necessary to grow our food and provide other basic needs. But is it smart to burn them just for frivolous amusement? The fair showcases so many good things - the county's agricultural productivity, the mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals, the solid values rural kids grow up learning. Fair management (somewhat reluctantly) finally got rid of the confederate flag and its hurtful symbolism. Maybe roaring, guzzling, belching "monster" machines should be the next to go. 

Tool or Toy?

     Finally, here's a link to the song that inspired my title. It's not about Shushan's park and museum but rather an ode to some place down south where they grow peaches and peanuts. Enjoy Ray Charles singing Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on my Mind".

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