Arabia Mountain Trail, July-August, 2016

Here’s a collection of photos and videos from Arabia Mountain Trail in Lithonia, GA, which were posted to my Instagram account gmatt63.

Worthy, Part 22

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When Abigail enters her apartment, the first thing she sees is Rhiannon lying on the floor in the middle of the living room. She starts to panic, then realizes Rhiannon’s legs are crossed and her head is resting on a pillow. She’s asleep.

“Mom?” Abigail says in a voice loud enough to wake her mother, who looks up at her.

“Hey, kiddo. You just getting in?”

“Why are you on the floor?”

“I slept here.”

“Why?”

“It’s comfortable. Nice, firm surface. Do I need to ask how your date went?”

“We had a great time.”

“That’s fairly obvious. Does this mean you’re a couple now?”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far, but we’re do seem to be headed in that direction.”

“Good, you need a life outside all your studying. I’ve been so worried you’re shutting yourself off.”

“She wants to meet you.”

“Oh, we’re at that stage now.”

“Funny, I said the same thing. But no, she’s just heard a lot about you and wanted to get to know you.”

“Well, she’d better make plans before next Friday.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your show at the club next week. I’m making it my swan song.”

“Swan song?”

“I phoned Rosie. She’s coming down to get me. It’s time I got out of your hair.”

“I don’t mind taking care of you.”

“You have a life here and I’m in the way. There are plenty of people back home who can look after me. You need to focus on getting through your studies.”

“Are you sure you’re ready to travel?”

“I’m more than ready. I’m tired of sitting around here all day trying to amuse myself while you’re at school. Besides, I have a whole support system waiting in Seattle.”

Abigail considers something.

“Is Genni coming down with Aunt Rosie?”

“No. Rosie says she’s got some sort of band function all weekend.”

Abigail seems relieved.

“Why don’t you just tell her?” Rhiannon says.

Abigail sits on the couch so she’s facing her mother.

“It just never comes up. Genni and I have this special relationship. When we’re together, we’re in our own world.”

“That wouldn’t have to change. You’re just letting her know more about who you are.”

“I’m worried it would change. Not better. Not worse, just different.”

“She’s sixteen. I think she can handle different.”

“I’m not sure I can handle it.”

“She’s going to find out sooner or later.”

“Maybe she’ll just figure it out like you did.”

“Well, it’s not going to happen next weekend, so stop worrying.”

Rhiannon props herself up onto her elbows. “Could you give me a hand up?”

“You can’t get up?” Abigail says as she rises.

“I can but it’ll take a while. I’ve been down here most of the night. I need to move around some. Plus, I could use some coffee.”

Abigail assists Rhiannon getting up. They move to the kitchenette.

“What are your plans for when you graduate?”

“That’s not for another year or more.”

“It will be here before you know it. I’ve been thinking about it and I’d rather you not move back in with me.”

“Oh really?”

“It’s not that I wouldn’t want you under my roof again. I just think you need to be on your own. Spread your wings, you know.”

“What makes you think I’m coming back to Seattle?”

“That would be fine. I just think we can both use the space.”

“Okay, who is he?”

“There’s no ‘he’. Sure, I’ve been on dates, but no one serious. But that could change, as it could for you.”

“We don’t really have to talk about this now.”

“I know. I just want to put it out there. Something to think about.”

Rhiannon starts making coffee. Abigail sits at the table.

“How do you think Neil will get along without you?” Rhiannon says.

Abigail rolls her eyes.

“Neil. I haven’t even raised the subject with him. I think he’s still reeling from the news that I’ll graduate ahead of him.”

“I’m glad the two of you have the chance to get to know one another.”

“Sometimes he can be such a goofball. He showed up last night at the restaurant.”

“Really?”

“Tried to make it seem like an accident, but I’m pretty sure he heard me mention where we were eating.”

“What did you do?”

“I made a point of reminding him three’s a crowd. He took the hint and left.”

“Still, he’s a nice guy.”

“Definitely made college more interesting.”

“You should invite Lauren over before I leave.”

“Here? I’m not sure a student apartment is the place to entertain. I could fit three of these into her place.”

“If she cares about you she won’t mind the accommodations”

“We’ll see.”

Worthy, Part 21

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Abigail opens her eyes and immediately is aware she’s not in her own bed. A moment later, her memory catches up and she recalls going out with Lauren. She rolls onto her back and props her arm under her head and smiles as she recalls the events of last night.

Lauren enters with a cup of coffee.”Morning. Sleep okay?”

Abigail laughs. “After we finally got to sleep.”

Lauren sets her cup on the night stand and sits on the bed. She leans toward Abigail who meets her halfway for a kiss.

“I made some coffee. I’d have brought you a cup, but I don’t know how you take it.”

“Black, for future reference.”

“It’s in the kitchen. I believe you remember the way.”

“I do. Are my jeans still in there?”

“Right where you left them.”

“Was it obvious —”

“Yes. But fortunately, this isn’t my first go round, so I knew to take it slow.”

“I guess I was a little anxious.”

“That’s putting it mildly. We’ll talk about your technique later.”

They kiss again.

“What do you have planned for the day?” Lauren asks.

“First, check on Mom. Then back to the grindstone. I have finals in a few weeks.”

“How’s your mom doing?”

“She’s getting around okay. I think she’s suffering cabin fever. Ready to head home.”

“That’s understandable. I hope I get to meet her.”

“Are we at the meet the parent stage already,” Abigail says with a laugh.

“We don’t have to be at a stage for me to get to know the people in your life.”

“True.”

“Like Neil. Why does it seem he shows up wherever you are?”

Abigail laughs.

“I sometimes make the mistake of letting him know where I’ll be,” Abigail says. “What you’ve seen are his efforts to be discreet.”

“Why does he do it?”

“Ever since he found out he has a younger sister, he’s taken his role as a big brother to heart.”

“That’s got to be weird, finding out you have this whole ready made family.”

“I’ve known they existed since before I was in high school, actually, but never thought I’d actually meet any of them. I still haven’t met the oldest. He works for the CDC in Atlanta. I guess if I ever make it there, we’ll meet because Neil says he doesn’t come home often.”

Lauren rises.

“Well, I could try to whip something up in the kitchen, show you what a horrible cook I am. Or we could get pastries down the street.”

“You do have food, right?”

“Of course. I don’t mind my cooking — not much.”

Abigail checks under the covers. “Let me get some clothes on and I’ll cook for you.”

“And she cooks, too. Must be fate which brought us together.”

“I was raised by a single parent, of course I can cook. If I can find all my clothes.”

Lauren starts toward the door. “You left a trail. Hang on, I’ll gather them up and bring them in.”

Zebra Finch, Chamblee, GA, July, 2016

While walking around Century Center in Chamblee Monday, I encountered an odd looking little bird I’d never seen before. Investigation on the Internet uncovered that it’s a male zebra finch, which is not native to North America, but the species has been introduced, possibly as pets or for research.

I’m not sure how this one came to inhabit the area it’s in, but it seems fairly acclimated to humans, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

It’s probably also a good thing it didn’t show up while the heron was hanging around last month.

These are some photos and videos of it I posted to my Instagram account, gmatt63.



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Break the Chains 

How far removed are we from segregation in this country? On the day I was born in Atlanta, it was not possible for blacks and whites to eat in the same restaurant. That changed a few months later, so segregation was a reality within my lifetime. People of different races could not marry in most of the US. That changed a few years later between the years my brothers were born. While much of the stigma society imposed upon mixed marriages has lessened, there are still many people opposed to people of different races marrying. Given that it’s been more than forty years since the legal restrictions on mixed race marriage were removed without gaining full acceptance in society, one can assume those who supported legalization of same sex marriage still have a long road ahead of them, and will most likely never win total acceptance from every segment of the population.

One lingering problem within the United States is the institutionalized racism that exists at every level of society. The conservative right in this country has done an excellent job of conditioning citizens to equate the terms, “welfare”, “government assistance”, and “low income” with minorities. While it is true that a significant number of minority individuals are on public assistance, it is an unfair assumption to equate most people of a given race or ethnicity with low income or so-called “ghetto” conditions. The problem is that the attitude of many liberals is not much better, believing that minorities need public assistance because they can’t take care of themselves. Rather than arguing over the need for such safety nets, perhaps the politicians would be better advised to concentrate on the factors that lead to people requiring public assistance than debating whether or not assistance is needed. People will always have hard times, which require them to seek assistance from some outside source. Ironically, many people who oppose government programs, will gladly contribute to charities or church funds which benefit the same people they would deny food stamps or other government aid. 

The term “welfare queen” has come to represent people milking public assistance while wearing expensive shoes and driving Cadillacs, but the term was originally used for a specific individual, a Chicago woman most commonly identified as Linda Taylor, whose crimes included, but were not limited to living high on the public dole. While the press in Chicago dubbed her the “Welfare Queen” and detailed her many frauds, it was candidate and future president Ronald Reagan who brought her to the attention of the larger public, thus politicizing her story. The term “welfare queens” is now racist code for minorities, particularly blacks, but the actual individual who inspired the term frequently lied about her race, and on her death certificate and census documents is listed as white. 

White people, as a group, really don’t understand the problem of institutional racism, largely because we’re responsible for creating, maintaining, and benefiting from it. There are many aspects of life I take for granted, even though I grew up in a lower middle class setting. In most cases, when the police pull me over for a traffic offense, I don’t fear that the encounter could result in my death. In fact, my complaint with the police is often that they sometimes don’t seem responsive enough when something happens. I would not hesitate to contact them and while sometimes wary, I rarely fear encounters with them. I’m aware that many minorities do not have the same experiences or attitude, often with good reason. I’m more concerned that some deranged individual — with a high statistical probability that person is white — will open fire in some space I’m inhabiting than I fear an encounter with police. 

I grew up in rather unique circumstances, namely, when I was around seven or eight years old, Atlanta experienced “white flight” when whites from the inner city moved to the suburbs of Cobb and Gwinnett in response to blacks moving into their neighborhoods. In a relatively short amount of time, I went from being in the majority in my school to being in the minority. By the time I was in seventh grade, I was one of only five or six whites in either class, and below that, there were only four or five whites in the entire school, two of whom were my brothers. While this gave me some insight into how it felt to stand out in a group of people, and to experience hostility directed at me for no other reason than how I look, it did not cause me to experience what it’s like to be a minority twenty-four hours, seven days a week in the US. While blacks and whites can be equally racist on a personal level, it’s usually the whites who have the power and privilege of institutionalizing racism. 

Large, well-funded organizations like the NAACP do a reasonable job of going after corporations or governmental institutions which foster institutionalized racism though it can be difficult to spot or prove. When the focus shifts from institutional to individual racism, the problem is a little more difficult to diagnose and correct. It is important to confront racism whenever encountered, but simply branding this individual or stand-alone organization racist doesn’t always accomplish anything constructive, and frequently leaves the target bitter and more entrenched in his or her racist attitudes. Individuals see little incentive to change when the organization to which one belongs or the company where one works fosters the same attitude. 

The US has a long way to go in addressing racial disparities but we accomplish nothing by pretending the problem doesn’t exist. Too much hostility is directed at too many people and far too much blood has been spilled for us to turn a blind eye to what’s happening. Our leaders need to work on solutions rather than fanning the flames of racial hatred, as a certain candidate has been doing. We should applaud the efforts of those who are attempting to initiate a dialogue, but more importantly, we need to participate in the conversation.

Notes:

An article on the original Welfare Queen can be found at Slate.

Worthy, Part 20

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After Rhiannon is released from the hospital, Abigail sets her mother up with a room in her apartment. Rhiannon is suffering mobility issues, some lack of function in her right arm and hand, and has difficulty walking without a cane. In addition to classes, Abigail undertakes the responsibility of seeing that Rhiannon gets to her rehabilitation appointments and follows the prescribed regiment at home to regain her strength and mobility. Despite her familiarity with the process, Rhiannon is not the most cooperative patient, so Abigail frequently bribes her mother with interesting activities in the afternoons when they’re free. Most evenings, this includes watching the band practice.

The role Abigail plays in the band has expanded considerably since she first sat in during their preparations for the fraternity party her freshman year. Being the most astute with numbers, she serves as the accountant and is the one who negotiates with clubs over gigs as well as with other musicians who sit in with the band. The core members of the group trust her implicitly and Neil, who’s typically the one who coordinates talent, defers to her decisions regarding whether or not they can afford certain musicians. Whereas the guys constantly argue over the musical direction of the band, they never question the bookkeeping, not wanting to endure the protracted lesson in finances they know they’ll receive from Abigail. She has become such an integral part of the band, that when she doesn’t play with them, they frequently bill themselves as “Not Worthy”.

Arrangements have been made back in Seattle for Rhiannon to return to her home, where she’ll be under the care of her sister, Rosalind, niece Genevieve, and an army of nurses from the hospital where Rhiannon works as a nursing supervisor. While they enjoy their time together, both Abigail and Rhiannon are looking forward to Rhiannon’s returning home and resuming, as best as she can, her normal activities. Abigail has decided to take a lighter-than-average load for the upcoming semester, which meets with the disapproval of her mother.

“You’re on track to graduate nearly a year and a half early,” Rhiannon says as they’re arriving at band practice one evening. “I don’t want you squandering that because of me.”

Neil, who’s helping Rhiannon navigate the steps, stares at Abigail. “Really? A year and a half? I knew you took some extra classes, but I didn’t realize you were that far ahead of me.”

“It helps not having social life,” Abigail says.

“What about that woman you met when you and Jillian went out?”

“What woman?” Rhiannon asks.

“Thanks a lot, Neil,” Abigail says. “She’s someone I haven’t had much success in hooking up with so far. We’ve had coffee but keep running into problems making an actual date.”

“Because of me? You know, I can navigate your apartment just fine. I can get along for a few hours.”

“True. But I can’t bring her home, can I?”

“She doesn’t have a place of her own?”

“I’m sure she does.”

“Then what’s the problem? You need to get out. Make some friends, or maybe something more.”

“Mom. I’m perfectly capable of handling my own love life.”

“Sometimes I wonder. You never dated in high school.”

“I never wanted to date in high school.”

“This is precisely why we never had cats.”

“I thought you were allergic,” Abigail says.

“Well, that too.”

Inside, Rhiannon waves Neil off and uses her cane to get to a seat. He goes to help the others set up. Abigail drops her bag off with Rhiannon, but before she can go, her mother catches her by the arm.

“Promise me that you’re going to call this woman and set something up.”

“Okay,” Abigail says, then gives Rhiannon a hug. “I promise.”

“Hey guys,” Neil says once Abigail joins the group onstage, “I know she’s going to kill me, but Abby has a new song she’s been working on.”

“Neil, I told you it’s not ready yet.”

“Let’s hear what you’ve got,” Freddy the drummer says. The others agree.

Abigail picks up a guitar and sits.

“I think I’ve got the lyrics but the tune doesn’t sound right.”

She plays a few bars and sings a verse. Rob, the bass player nods.

“I see what you mean,” he says. “I think it’s the tempo. Seems like it’s dragging.”

Rob improvises a bass line in a slightly faster time but Freddy stops him. He starts to tap out a beat. “Try this.”

Rob starts to follow along and Abigail starts to nod in time with the beat.

“I like that,” she says and starts to strum along finally adding in the next lyric. Neil joins them on guitar and they’re soon playing along like they’ve been playing it for a while.

After rehearsal, Neil tells her, “See, I told you the guys could help.”

“You were right. I just need to learn to trust people.”

“Sounds like good advice for your social life as well,” Rhiannon says.

“Maybe so,” Abigail says.