Flint River

Rebecca Cristante


The fire ants were the first to know.
Grain by grain
they stacked their hills
five feet high.
Deep reds and brown.
Towering over my head.
But no one seemed to notice them.

We packed our belongings,
And moved them to high ground,
And of our few left over things,
only an old dusty sofa
turned on its side remained.

We hated that trailer,
And the cinder blocks
It rested upon.
Dust to dust drywall
And textured linoleum floor.
Nicotine stains on pine cone wallpaper,
And we were glad to let it go.
Bittersweet, because
we kids knew better than to let it show...

The flood waters being something new,
and none of us had ever seen
anything new.

A last meal was served
on the living room floor.
unwrapped from cellophane
packages and cut
from cans of tin.
A ray of sun from the open door
Leaked in
as dad poured the juice
left over from the salted meat
onto the carpet,
to seal our fate.
To invite the rushing waters
to come and
wash away this place.

I stood on the bridge
And watched her waters rise.
The rushing waters
deceivingly serine.
I contemplated
jumping in.

But the flood never came.
And when we moved everything
back into that trailer
the stain from that can of salted meat

A mark in the doorway
of a time
When something almost changed.

Photos taken in Bainbridge, Georgia during the Fall of 2016.


The horizon can be seen for many miles,
and what is in fact full of curves, appears to be a straight line.  
The sun dips into the deep sea taking along with it the last breath of orange sky and our false sense of security .  
We blow out our lamps and lie down our heads not knowing if tomorrow,
it will rise again.
Under our feet the magma flows and above our heads the moon pulls everything close
and we have learned how to take selfies
so we will never feel alone.
The dark creeps in and the air sinks low and the plants curl in and tuck their blooms in waiting.
-Rebecca Cristante

mornings at mcdonalds

When I was a little girl, I thought Mcdonald's was a fancy place. I remember those rare and magical mornings when my Dad would take us for breakfast there; the smell of sunrise dew mingled with sizzling meat and coffee in Styrofoam cups and the distinct aroma of imitation maple syrup. The in-genius design of a spat of butter shaped like a corn cob melting into a hotcake, and the orange juice that didn't quite taste like actual oranges, but we loved it anyway.
When I became a mother I swore off high-fructose corn syrup, fake fragrances and chemicals, and GMOs.  These molecules pop up in so many places in life that it is hard to refuse them, especially since the older my kids get, the larger my workload gets. And then that sizzling sausage starts to smell pretty good....
(And as I type this my boys are fighting over a game that they both want to play at the same time.) 
I have always been the type to brew my coffee at home instead of sitting in a coffee shop. Mostly, because I am cheap, but also because being a parent I am usually welcomed with bewildered looks from both baristas and the scattered lone computer dwellers in the place when I walk into one. There is almost always at least that one super friendly person who smiles and goes out of their way to make sure I know that me and my kids belong, and god bless you random stranger for that.  
But then there is the fact that after I have gone thru the initiation and made it to the counter 9 times out of 10 my coffee is burnt or I can taste the sour milk from the frothing wand if it's a latte and I leave feeling disappointed that not only did I pay 5 bucks for a sub-par drink, but I also had to pay some young person with an attitude for it who feels the need to shake off my interaction as if being a parent is contagious. I promise, you were all once children yourself.

Did you know that at McDonald's a small brewed coffee costs the same as a large? Mind blowing. I pass a McDonald's almost every morning while biking my kids to school.  One cold morning we needed a place to duck into out of the rain, and there were the golden arches. For one dollar you can get a large brewed coffee, free WIFI, and all the real life ambiance you can handle. And if the coffee sucks, you only wasted a dollar on it instead of five.
(I promise you, they are not paying me to write this.)
From our visits to McDonald's I have met many of the senior citizens in the neighborhood who walk over for morning coffee from one of the several assisted living communities near by. I have heard birth stories from legendary women with 48 grandchildren and have talked civil rights with men who actually marched for the cause. There is a man with dementia I sometimes see who fills a scrap piece of paper with X's and O's in random patterns as if it it some great effort to return a distant memory that will solve everything. 
Recently the woman who was running the drive-thru had to have her father come in and sit with her three year old daughter while she worked and the little girl cried and cried at the grandfather who clearly didn't know how to entertain her, so my boys shared some crayons and paper with her and we drew pictures for the next thirty minutes, allowing her mother to have a little less stress for the time being. While our bikes are parked outside the front door I see some of my fellow PTA moms in their Land-rovers dashing through the drive-thru and hoping not to be seen.

Little Ocmulgee State Park, GA

These next few blog posts will be dedicated to a class I am currently taking at Georgia State University concerning the natural environments of Georgia.  It has been incredibly fun to take the same kind of hikes that I would normally take, but instead with teachers who tend to answer all of my questions before I even have a chance to ask them. I do hope that this combination of class and field will continue in the science department at GSU.

We visited Little Ocmulgee State Park on November 4, 2016 to observe the ecology of the Georgia Coastal Plain. Conditions were very dry as Georgia has been experiencing an exceptional drought. The trails through Little Ocmulgee state park are an excellent example of Sandhill and River Dune Upland Forest community, which are ultra-xeric woodland communities found within deep sandy knolls and ridges within the Coastal Plain. Little Ocmulgee state park contains Little Ocmulgee Lake which was built from the Little Ocmulgee River during the Great Depression by the Army Corp of Engineers.  This harsh sand covered environment is dominated by course sand cover, with an open canopy of Longleaf pines and an sub canopy dominated by Turkey oak. Other plant species include the Bluejack oak (Quercus incana), Sand post oak, poison oak, sparkleberry, southern sand-grass, and Gopher apple. The endangered and endemic gopher tortoise is a key stone species that can be found here, and we spotted at least one burrow.  We also spotted a beautiful southern hognose snake which I respectfully let slither away without a photograph. 
Prescribed fire is a necessary component to keeping this community healthy and without it, hardwoods may take the place of fire adapted trees such as the Longleaf pine. While hiking here we witnessed all three growth stages of the Longleaf pine (Pinus Palustris).
Turkey oak (Quercus laevis), Reindeer lichen (Cladonia) and Haircap moss (Polytrichum commune). Named after the fact that someone thought it's leaves are reminiscent of a turkey's foot, the Turkey Oak is one of the scrub-oak species that is often found alongside Longleaf pines.
Bald cypress, (Taxodium distichum) in all of its fall red pigmented glory.
Romantically named cypress knees, these modified roots, or pneumatophores, are created by various species in the the Taxodioideae family.  Although their exact function is not known, they are believed to both help the tree exchange gases in anorexic environments (low oxygen) and stabilize the roots in muddy conditions such as the swampy areas they are commonly found in.
Arborglyph, boardwalk trail at Little Ocmulgee State Park.
The Longleaf pine (seen above) has the greatest longevity of any other pine species growing in the South, surviving 300 to 500 years. It has evolved in an environment of fire and has consequently developed a fascinating strategy to survive in such a climate, with 3 distinct stages of growth.
After germination the tree begins in the initial grass stage, where the tuffs of the needles resemble a shrub of grass. The tree then steadily stores carbon within it's roots and continues root growth underground. In the grass stage a low-intensity fire such as one mimicked during a prescribed burn does not harm the plant as it is protected by long tufts of needles. A long leaf can stay in this stage for 3 to 25 years, amazingly assuring the best possible chance of survival at all odds. 
Once the seedlings emerge from grass stage they quickly bolt into what is called rocket stage, using the carbon carefully stored within the roots for a rapid growth of 4 to 5 feet in a single growing season. After this rapid growth and from about the height of at least three feet tall they are in sapling stage, where they are once again most likely to withstand the flames of a forest fire,  Perhaps this is why they do it so quickly. Absolutely Genius. 
pictured above is a Longleaf pine seen in both grass and rocket stage
This beautiful and fragrant Eastern red cedar, (Juniperus virginiana) is an example of a species that can thrive in this type of community only if fire suppression has not been utilized. Without fire, these trees might soon outcompete those adapted to fire, such as the scrub oaks and pines.
Usnea strigosa lichen ,
growing on a branch of a small Turkey oak tree. Lichens are a true wonderment of nature, and I am still grasping how to understand them. "A lichen is a symbiosis. That means that it is two or more organisms living together such that both are more successful within the partnership than they would have been if they were living on their own.All lichens are made up of a fungal partner and either/or an algal partner or a cyanobacterium partner, or both". As of late we are also learning that lichens are very sensitive to air pollution and may be able to serve as a bioindicator of air quality. 

The fast growing Slash pine (Pinus elliottii) as pictured above and below, was planted in place of Longleafs for timber once all the old-growth Longleafs were deforested in Georgia.  It is native to South Georgia and Florida.  On a personal note, my great- grandfather was once among the many field workers who tapped Longleaf pines for the turpentine industry and remembers when the Slash pine was being hailed as superior to the slower growing Longleaf.
Sand Post Oak (Quercus margaretta)
this lichen is unknown to me. if anyone has an idea of what it may be please comment below!

Wormsloe Historic site and the Georgia coastal marsh, Savannah, Georgia

These next few blog posts will be dedicated to a class I am currently taking at Georgia State University concerning the natural environments of Georgia.  It has been incredibly fun to take the same kind of hikes that I would normally take, but instead with teachers who tend to answer all of my questions before I even have a chance to ask them. I do hope that this combination of class and field will continue in the science department at GSU. 

We visited the both the managed forest preserve of Wormsloe Historic Site and Tybee Island in Savannah, Georgia on the weekend of November 4, 2016 to experience a taste of Georgia's Maritime Ecoregion.  The Maritime Ecoregion of Georgia is a small but incredibly vital one, containing the largest area of the protected maritime forest of any state on the East Coast,  as well as one-third of the remaining salt marsh habitat on the entire East-Coast.  This is largely due to the protection of Georgia's barrier islands thru Federal, State, and private ownership.
The distribution of Maritime forest along the coast is often interrupted by bays and inlets, or by narrower barrier islands that are not large enough to support forest growth. Although protections are under place, urban development continues to encroach upon these communities at a much higher rate than ever before as land that once was considered inhabitable or of little value is converted into golf courses and luxury resorts. It also becomes much more difficult to prescribe fire to forests who benefit from the use of fire management in places where roads intersect and housing is near by. 

The Maritime Ecoregion is also characterized by Salt Marshes and Brackish Tidal Marshes, Maritime Dunes, Interdunal Wetlands, Tidal Swamps, Intertidal Beaches and Sand Bars and Mud Flats, and Freshwater Tidal Marshes.
The Wormsloe Historic Site and property is and managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and is open to the public as a state park. It is located on the southern end of the Isle of Hope and is bordered by Jones Creek and Jones Marsh on the East and Moon River and surrounding marsh to the West. Approximately 60% of the Isle of Marsh has been preserved in it's natural state, which includes Maritime Forest, Intertidal Marsh, and limited Freshwater Wetland habitat. 
Recent trends of sea level rise are documented at 3 to 6 mm per year. (https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/sltrends/slrmap.htm)
The island core is currently 3 to 5 meters above mean sea level.  Early 19th century records indicate that the hydraulic heads of artisan wells located on the property were once well above the surface, although they are now 40 feet below earth surface. 
At least one well on the property showed evidence of saltwater intrusion on 11/6/2016.

On the Beach of Tybee Island we observed an example of the Maritime dune system. The texture of the beach sand is much more thick and muddy than one might expect of a natural beach, due to the course sands being dredged from the ocean floor to widen shipping lanes for cargo ships headed to the port of Savannah. You can read a little more about the $706 million project here.
We observed the ecology of the dune formation with several species of flower still in bloom. Plants of Maritime dunes may include some trees that are salt tolerate such as the Southern Red cedar and Live oak, but are mostly characterized by small shrubs and vining plants that helps to hold the sands together.  We observed pennywort, Beach morning-glory, Dune hairgrass, Dune prickly-pear, Wax-myrtle, Peppervine, Saw palmetto, and Railroad vine.  Other common plants of this ecosystem include Spanish dagger, Creeping frogfruit, and Groundsel tree. 
These dunes are a critical nesting habitat for five of the seven known species of endangered sea turtles, with the majority of nests belonging to loggerheads and leatherbacks.

Southern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana  var) covered with Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) at Jones Marsh Creek along the public trail of Wormsloe Historic Site.  Spanish moss is a native, perennial, epiphyte herb which is in fact neither a moss or lichen,  It is a flowing plant, which anchors onto a host plant without taking any water or nutrients from the host.   It derives water from humidity and rainfall, and nutrients from the air.  Often also called an air-plant or old-man's beard, it was once commonly used by native Americans to weave bedding, rugs, and rope. I have also heard it referred to as witch's hair, but I may have made that up myself as a little girl. Spanish moss is common throughout the Deep South.

This, to me, is what home looks like.  A Magnolia grandifora, Southern Live oak (Quercus virginiana, and Spanish moss trio.

 Magnolia grandiflora in bloom during the summer a little south of Wormsloe Historic Site at Jekyll Island. Magnolia's bloom throughout the summer, so none were in bloom during this November visit.

skink spotted on the maritime forest floor.

Fiddler crab hiding in a deer print. 
The southern portion of Jones Marsh, where these sands lie, has been impacted by the large-scale dredging of soils moved to construct the Diamond Causeway (1968-1972). 
Saw palmetto is a groundcover found in Maritime forests and most closely associated with Longleaf pine forests. It's medicinal uses that have been known to native Americans for centuries are currently being explored, and Saw palmetto supplements can be bought in capsule form at your local grocer as a treatment for many ailments, most notably enlarged prostate in men and hormonal imbalances in women.
an unknown fungus or lichen with a pretty pastel hue
Beach morning-glory (Ipomoea imperati) found on the Maritime dune of Tybee Island.
Sunset over Jones Marsh from Wormsloe 
Jones Marsh and Jones Creek at Wormsloe Historic Site
Ghost shrimp found in its hole on the forebeach of Tybee Island. (Don't worry, as soon as this picture was taken we sent it back home)

Could you imagine seeing a forest covered in bubblegum pink?!! This lichen is my absolute favorite species that I saw often as a little girl on my many walks thru slash pine forest of South Georgia. It is called Cryptothecia rubrocincta, or more commonly Christmas wreath lichen. Growing up I always heard it referred to as bubble gum lichen and that's what I still like to call it.
Hericium erinaceus, 
also known as Lion's mane mushroom or bearded tooth mushroom, is often found growing on hardwoods and is both edible and medicinal and is widely consumed in Asia where is it also native. (There are some look a-likes, though, so please do not ingest any wild mushrooms unless you have done more research than just my blog post ;)
Atlantic ghost crab on a primary dune.
Saw palmetto block print I carved in 2013
Live oak (Quercus virginiana) a true stand-out species of the Maritime forest, with leaves that stay green all year.
Maritime forest seen along Jones Marsh. To the right, Sabal palmetto,( or cabbage palmetto) and to the left, Cedar.

Springer Mountain and Three Forks Creek on Appalachian Trail

These next few blog posts will be dedicated to a class I am currently taking at Georgia State University concerning the natural environments of Georgia.  It has been incredibly fun to take the same kind of hikes that I would normally take, but instead with teachers who tend to answer all of my questions before I even have a chance to ask them. I do hope that this combination of class and field will continue in the science department at GSU.

We hiked the start of the Appalachian trail up to Springer Mountain and then down to Three Forks trail on September 30,2016. From the top of Springer Mountain one can see an example of an Montane Oak forest community and then make their way down the mountain and continue along as the Appalachian Trail changes into an Acidic Cove community.

The AT stretches 2,189 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Main. The trail was proposed by regional planner Benton Mackaye in October of 1921,who originally envisioned the trail as an escape from urban-ism complete with recreational and farming camps that would create jobs as well as promote conservation. He rallied other city planners and officials in support of the trail until the first meeting of the Appalachian Trail Conference of 1925. The decisions of the Appalachian Trail Conference ultimately led for the volunteer based trail system to be protected from development. In 1937 the trail was completed, but World War as well as natural disasters took a toll and and would be hikers and volunteers were sent to war. The first thru-hike was completed in 1948 by Earl Shaffer who aimed to walk the "Army out of is system". Emma Gatewood, a mother of 11 and grandmother to 23, became the first woman to complete a thru-hike in 1955 at the age of 67. The Today, an estimated 2 to 3 million people hike the AT every year, with a few hundred of those completing a "thru-hike". Today the trail is almost entirely protected and managed by the Appalachian Trail Land trust, who continue to monitor the trail from development to keep it a natural and serene refuge, free of commercial developments.

The highlight of this hike was seeing a mighty Eastern Hemlock about half a mile off the Appalachian trail that has still survived in spite of logging in the past and the invasive Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) of the present.  HWA has devastated millions of hemlock trees since it was first discovered in the USA in the 1950's and continues to spread. Once infected, a tree can die within 2-4 years. Currently, strategies to control the parasitic incest include both insecticides and introduction of the Sasajiscynus tsugae beetle which eats HWA. 

Appalachian Trail Marker at the summit of Springer Mountain.
views from trail marker at summit of Springer Mountain
(Quercus alba) This old growth gnarly white oak at the top of Springer Mountain has been shaped by many years of facing harsh winds and freezing temps which as one can see have snapped off several branches in the past. Many of the old growth oaks at this elevation share these same features which is also why it is thought that they were over looked by loggers in the early century and left to survive.
The same white oak as pictured above, with an "arborglyph"  
hiking up the Springer Mountain trail
juicy leaves unknown to me. if anyone knows what they are please feel free to comment =)

  moss and lichen 

red maple leaf (Acer pensylvanicum) is a common tree found in the Montane oak forest community. ferns and goldenrod wildflowers scatter on the forest floor.
I would love to call this the endangered and endemic Georgia Aster ( Symphyotrichum georgianum) which was nominated by the Georgia Native Plant Society as the 2015 plant of the year, but as there are many types of asters I'd rather not get this one wrong and just hope that that's what it is.

classmates passing thru a canopy of rhododendron in the lower elevation Acidic cove forest near Three Forks Creek
Acidic cove forest on Appalachian Trail
The ground is damp and the trees and forest floor are covered with moss and lichen.
Hair cap moss (Polytrichum commune)
 moss and lichens on tree bark
 the base of this hemlock tree
this Galax urceolata covering the ground along a stand of hemlocks is now a protected plant in many places due to illegal harvesting because the evergreen leaves are popular in the floral industry.
A group of mighty hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) which have died from being infested with Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA)
dead hemlock bark
living hemlock bark.  this is just a close up of a tree we measured that may classify as a new state champion.  the bark is home to a healthy community of moss and lichen and the holes are evidence of woodpecker foraging
Battus philenor
spotted one of my favorite butterflies, the Pipe vine swallowtail, on the trail (although I am using an image of one that I took from my neighbor's garden) It is a poisonous species whose pattern and colors are mimicked by many, including the black variation of the female Eastern swallowtail butterfly.

Cloudland Canyon

               These next few blog posts will be dedicated to a class I am currently taking at Georgia State University concerning the natural environments of Georgia.  It has been incredibly fun to take the same kind of hikes that I would normally take, but instead with teachers who tend to answer all of my questions before I even have a chance to ask them. I do hope that this combination of class and field will continue in the science department at GSU.

600 million years ago the area of Coudland Canyon was once covered by a shallow sea full of tiny marine organisms, some of whose remains would be pressed into the limestone bedrock and are still visible today within the exposed rock at sites like Ruby Falls within the Mountain.  Cloudland Canyon lies on the Southern end of Lookout Mountain, which was formed over 250 million years ago during the collision of North American and Africa along with the formation of the Appalachian Mountain range. This collision bent and folded the existing layers of rock, creating cracks that allowed water through to begin the process or erosion that would eventually create the surrounding lower elevation areas such as Cloudland Canyon. So essentially, Cloudland Canyon was formed from erosion, and long ago the surrounding elevation was all much higher.  The Appalachian Mountains used to be a mighty tall range that is still slowing eroding into the sea.  What we see at Cloudland Canyon is the product of that erosion and a forest that was once under the sea, and if current trends of sea level rise continue, it may once again be.

Several ecological communities can be found here, such as Oak-Pine-Hickory forest and pine-oak woodlands.
The Acidic Oak-Pine-Hickory forest community seen here includes tree species such as Southern red oak (Quercus falcata), White oak (Quercus alba), Rock Chestnut oak (Quercus montana), Post oak (Quercus stellata), Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea), Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata), Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana), sourwood (Oxydenfrum arboreum), and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

The sandy, acidic soils created by sandstone and shale bedrock support acid loving ericaceous shrubs such as mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), hillside blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum), sparkle berry (Vaccinium arboreum), fringe-tree (Chionanthus virginicus), and witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) .

The park is also home to Acidic Cliff and Rock Outcrop communities, which support mountain spleenwort (Asplenium montanum), partridge-berry (Mitchella repens), and hairy-southern bush-honeysuckle, which makes me laugh and just to name a few.

"Located on the western edge of Lookout Mountain, Cloudland Canyon is one of the largest and most scenic parks in the state. Home to thousand-foot deep canyons, sandstone cliffs, wild caves, waterfalls, cascading creeks, dense woodland and abundant wildlife, the park offers ample outdoor recreation opportunities. Hiking and mountain biking trails abound. The most popular hiking paths include the short Overlook Trail, strenuous Waterfalls Trail and moderate West Rim Loop Trail. Mountain biking is available at the newly developed Five Points Recreation Area and along the Cloudland Connector Trail. The park also includes an 18-hole disc golf course, wild caves available for touring during select months of the year, a fishing pond, trails for horseback riding, picnicking grounds and numerous interpretive programs, especially on weekends. Guests seeking an overnight experience can choose from fully-equipped and comfortable cottages, quirky yurts or several different types of camping and backpacking options. Come enjoy the great outdoors at Cloudland Canyon State Park."

On this day of early Fall October 15, 2016, North Georgia has been experiencing a severe drought and none of the waterfalls or spray cliffs in the park had water flow. Signs of drought could also be seen in many of the wilting ericaceous plants.
Virginia pine (Pinus virginia)
wild blueberries (Vaccinium arboreum

dry shrubs and rock outcroppings

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
Drought conditions have severely wilted this rhododendron, which likes a moist and acidic environment.

Calcareous cliff rocks in Cloudland Canyon are high in Calcium and limestone and are easily eroded.

 Rhododendron maximum
couldn't resist adding in this photo of Rosebay rhododendron seen in bloom on an earlier trip to the canyon in mid-summer
Kalmia latifolia
Mountain laurel, also seen earlier in the year when it was in bloom early summer
turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) are a common polypore mushroom found in many parts of the world and has been used medicinally in many cultures as well.
Sassafras sapling (Sassafras albidum), a fragrant tree used in making root beer
Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)
This Autumn leaf butterfly and a mating pair competed with paper wasps for the sap of this tree.
the bright beginnings of the unmistakable and edible Chicken of the Woods fungus, also known as sulphur shelf , (Laetiporous sulphureus)
The white spots seen on this young Hemlock tree are a colony of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HMA), which is an invasive insect imported from Asia that has decimated Georgia's Hemlock populations and continues to spread quickly across the state. 

scenic views from the rim trail show the exposed bedrock cliffs 

Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve

These next few blog posts will be dedicated to a class I am currently taking at Georgia State University concerning the natural environments of Georgia.  It has been incredibly fun to take the same kind of hikes that I would normally take, but instead with teachers who tend to answer all of my questions before I even have a chance to ask them. I do hope that this combination of class and field will continue in the science department at GSU.

Granite outcrop communities have been said to be the crown-jewel of Georgia natural communities because they feature a rare suite of endemic or nearly endemic species, and Georgia has more of these outcrops than any other state. (L.Edwards,The Natural Communities of Gerogia p.303) Mount Arabia is a perfect example of one of these communities, consisting of granitoid rocks known as Lithonia gneiss which is a nomenclature distinct to Mount Arabia.  It is with much awe that I also mention that although Arabia Mountain, Panola Mountain, and Stone Mountain are all granite outcroppings within 20 miles of one another they each are composed of a distinctly different composition of granitoid rock. Mount Arabia is a perfect example of the healthy successional plant community that is adapted to all three of these just mentioned.  The many stages of succession can be observed here, starting from Xanthos and Endolithic lichens and Elf Orpine, and moving all the way up to Virginia Pine trees and Muscadine Vines. Many of these plants are endemic and/or federally endangered, so be careful where you step! If you plan on exploring the mountain in the summer please be aware of ticks, which are abundant here! This is a truly special place that we are lucky to have so close to the city and still largely intact.  
Find out more about the trails and history here:  arabiaalliance.org

Here are some of our field findings from Mount Arabia on September 16th, 2016:
(Photos taken from trails located in Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve)
rock moss, (Grimmia laevigata)
The top of the mountain was dry and sunny, as Georgia had been experiencing drought conditions. Pictured here is rock moss, which can appear dark grey or even black when dry but puffs up and turns green when wet.  Here the green colored rock moss has been watered by our teacher with a water bottle.
Ornate Chorus Frog (Pseudacris ornata) found camouflaged in one of the water filled seepage pools on the mountain top.
water-filled seepage pools on the rock outcropping create a temporary wetland habitat of standing water and mineral breakdown
Haircap moss (Polytrichum commune) and Reindeer lichens (Cladonia spp. and Cladina spp.) growing on rock outcrop
After flipping through field guides and looking through several online data-bases, this appears to be 
           Puck's orpine (Sedum pusillum), 
a federally endangered species that is very similar to the famous Elf orpine, but prefers to grow in the shadier borders of the granite outcrop and not in the vernal pools.  It tends to be found under the shade of the Juniper tree or in cracks in the granite, such as pictured here. If can also be green when found in the shade but develops a more reddish color when exposed to full sun. 
Pine weed (Hypericum gentianoides) is well adapted for the harsh environment and full sun of the granite outcrop with it's modified photosynthetic stems.  
The rare and endemic Confederate daisy (Helianthus porteri)
exposed rock that has been cut in early quarry operations 
with only 11 known sites of this species left, federally endangered Elf-orpine (Diamorpha cymosa or Diamorpha smallii) 
seed pod awaits the harsh summer sun before germinating in the Fall
Xanthoparmelia conspersa,
a slow growing lichen seen of a quarried granite slab just off the walking trail. I never tire of getting lost in the patterns of lichens.  

Glen Lake Nature Preserve

Glen Lake Nature preserve is a tiny little nature preserve (roughly one to two acres) that runs along a creek in Decatur, Georgia. I have been lucky to visit this little stand of woods many times over the past year and I am constantly impressed by the secrets it reveals.  There is a healthy layer of topsoil and I have seen more variety of fungi here than any other patch of woods in the metro area. This preserve is an example to me of how badly our birds and other animals need refuge in our ever growing metropolitan expansion. I have seen many owls, nesting bluebirds, raccoons, possums, and salamanders in this preserve. In the back of the creek there is a rock dedicated to a young man whose ashes are spread here.  I can definitely see why he must have loved it so.

dog-day cicada exoskeleton, Tibicen canicularis 
Eastern Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio glaucus 
Daddy long legs spider on Beech tree leaves, Fagus Grandifolia
pleated ink cap mushroom, Coprinus plicatillis
unidentified fungus
swallowtail wings discarded and found in piles
trail view
tulip poplar beauty moth, Epimecis hortaria
umbrella magnolia, Magnolia tripetala
tulip poplar bloom
garden snail party
puff ball mushrooms
Magnolia grandiflora

barred owl, Strix varia

Angel Oak

A visit to Angel Oak Tree and marshes near Charleston, South Carolina.

"Lives are lived
and rivers flow.
Our feelings,
like layers of current
stirring silt
and carving rock.
carrying us out to sea.
The creeks and streams     
like capillaries,
fortifying the spaces
Connecting air to flesh
to earth
like the roots
and leaves of a tree."

-Rebecca Cristante

poetry from our neighborhood creek


Somewhere past the planted
And under the veil of
quilted sheets
there lies a riverbed.

I am buried there.

Along with my pots and pans
and scattered bits of bead.
With the rolly-pollies
and arrowheads.

Deeper than the limestone caves
and round like the wind

don't tell me we are not our
We are nothing but.
And soon will but a memory be.

Like a longleaf pine
After a forest fire,
I will groom my roots and wait,
Before shooting up
From the red georgia clay


Being a word for a name
Of a woman who knows nothing of this place

Born from the ashes,
The soil has kept me clean.
For when i rise
to take back what
you took from me.

Rebecca Cristante

We spent the afternoon sifting through our neighborhood creek; sifting and drinking coffee of course.
Collection as follows:  eastern swallowtail butterfly, tulip poplar leaves, shoe sole, bic lighter, quartz crystal, and various unidentified clay rocks

We found swallow tail wings piled in great numbers, eaten by some creature who seems to collect them all in one spot to feast before discarding the leftovers.

a poem for summer


The birds weave their summer nests
With pine needles
And plastic straws.
The creek runs red orange
With erosion
From freshly manicured lawns.

Branches bow to the wind
And part for me as i pass.

A breath escapes me
Like light reaching thru
A crack in the door.

My heartbeat fills the
then spills onto the
forest floor.

And flowers rise from my
To caress the soles of your feet

for a moment we are young
And running along that creek.

We build our nest
With brick and mud
And paint it with
Plastic blood.

Birds flutter on our windowsill
And butterflies drink
From the palms of our hands.

The sun sets on our ignorance,
And night falls
On our innocence

Nothing can stop us,

We are IN LOVE.

-Rebecca Cristante

found bird's nest made with bits of plastic landscape netting, Decatur, GA 2016

About me

Welcome to "Coffee and Creek"! I am so glad you are here. This is my little cozy corner of the ether sphere where I will be sharing most of my nature photos and musings.  I live in Atlanta, GA with my husband, two sons, and a sweet little irish sitter named Chelsea, who is approaching official old later status at 15 years. We enjoy getting out into nature everyday, and I am a firm believer that in nature is where we find all of life's secrets. Most of the journeys here are short day trips away from the Atlanta area.  I hope these photos and stories inspire you to get out and enjoy the places you love!

Best wishes and peace to you,
-Rebecca Cristante


White Oak Pastures, Bluffton Georgia

Pictured here is my Great-Grandfather, Fred Faircloth. circa 1918.
I don't remember much about him, but I know the story well of how he held me the day we met.  He looked into my eyes, and told me that he didn't know how such a beautiful little thing came from those two parents of mine. They must have taken the wrong one.  Little may he know of how much that line resonated with me through out my entire life, but that's a story for another time and another day.

My Grandfather was a sustenance farmer, like many were in those days.  He owned a small plot of land in Seminole County, Georgia, close to the site of Lake Seminole before it was flooded and damned as it is today. He grew vegetables for the family, and raised turkeys and chickens for the meat and eggs. Deer were hunted and eaten as well. Some days he worked as a laborer and some days went out with a group of men, mostly poor and black, to collect turpentine from the long leaf pines. They would carry huge metal buckets strapped to there backs for collecting the sap. This, of course, was before all the trees were cut down. I grew up playing on his swamp land in the house that he built by hand and watching out for snakes and alligators, which there were plenty of. And when I here the word farmer, he is what I think of, even though he might not have called himself one at the time.  His old house has since been sold and the first thing the new owners did was cut down the massive  few old trees on the property and sell them for timber.

My Grandmother, Ruby-Jean Faircloth on our small family farm, Seminole County, circa 1938

cow skulls at White Oak Pastures, Bluffton, Georgia.

And now on to the topic of White Oak Pastures.  When I stumbled across this place I felt like I was taken back a hundred years to a time when a farm was still what a farm should be.  It is a friendly place where nothing goes to waste and you can even visit with your kids and have lunch right on the property. And then buy a bone for your dog on the way out. If my grandfather was alive today, I feel like this is the kind of place I might find him at.

Find out more about the farm from the folks themselves here http://www.whiteoakpastures.com/

bird house, White Oak Pastures, Bluffton, GA

abandoned building on a main street outside of White Oak Pastures. Bluffton, GA 2015.

watching the bald eagles patrol the chicken coops. White Oak Pastures, 2015.

my family on the way to a wholesome dinner at White Oak Pastures, 2015

Kolomoki Mounds, Blakely, Georgia

Kolomoki Mounds is the largest and oldest protected Woodland Indian site in the southeastern United States. I am not up to date on the latest research on these sites, and I'm convinced that most of what I have been told about it is wrong, so if you are interested I encourage you to dive deeper into the subject.  What I do know, though, is that there is a sacred presence over this place. If you are not the type to feel subtle energies or believe in sacred I suggest you make the trip to this place and walk to the top of the tallest mound.  Wear good socks and shoes and watch out for the many fire ant piles, and if you have the time, stay a while. 

Climbing the stairs of the largest mound. The is a magical feeling one gets while on the top. It is easier to experience it than to explain it.

Native plant, (yucca filamentosa)

(gopherus polyphemus)
The sandy soils here in the Southwest Georgia coastal plain are home to the endangered gopher tortoise. Several burrows, including this one, can be found within walking distance of the visitor's center.

When I was a little girl I remember going on a field trip to visit  Kolomoki mounds. Looking back, I am so glad our teachers found this place important enough to visit, even though at the time the very un-accurate theatrics performed scared the bejesus out of all of us. Inside the museum and visitors center one can see the actual remains of an excavated mound, and at that time actors performed some kind of bad rendition of a ritual dance full with feathers and stereotypical pow wow chants as if they got the entire skit from a black and white country western movie.  I really don't want to offend anyone who was a part of the performance, and it is quite possible that my memory serves me wrong, but I just remember having this utterly horrible feeling that is was all wrong and being scared shitless. It felt like a desecration of a sacred space that was being turned tourist attraction.  Maybe that's my ancestors talking thru me, but it certainly didn't feel right. I honestly don't know if they do this anymore, but if they do I just hope that someone with actual native blood is being paid for the performance.

(Solenopsis invicta)
also known as the Red Imported Fire Ant, making one of their colonies on this young Long Leaf Pine tree.  Be careful of these ants if you hike here, because they attack quickly when disturbed and inflict a painful sting that will burn and itch for days. 

Providence Canyon

Providence Canyon is a little off the beaten path and a short drive away from both Kolomoki Mounds historical site and White Oak Pastures,( you could actually visit all three of these places in one day).  White Oak Pastures provides excellent meals and lodging if you decide to lengthen your explorations.

Located about 150 miles southwest of Atlanta in the Coastal Plain eco-region of Gerogia, Providence Canyon is believed to have been formed over 150 years ago from agricultural erosion.  Forests were cleared on a massive scale for cotton fields and timber, and with no vegetation to protect it the remaining topsoil was washed away by rains, creating the deeply eroded gullies and canyons that are still slowly eroding today. I found a geologic guide by Lisa Joyce, which noted to a story that the canyon was started by water leaking from the roof of a barn that used to sit on top of it. While this may not be true, you gotta love a southern folk tale. We are full of them. 

Because the canyon is created by loose sediments, rapid changes can occur suddenly and visitors are warned to be extra careful in wet or rainy conditions.

The exposed clay formations of the canyon gives us a look back in time, and through geological analysis one can even see where the ocean once flowed over the area, lowered, and flowed again.  Some of the major sediments present are iron-ore, mica, and kaolin clay.

We visited Providence Canyon on a sunny Thanksgiving Day, 2015.  It was a typical South Georgia day in November, just chilly enough for a light jacket and hardly no wind at all. 
The slightly running stream of water and minerals at the bottom of the canyon is full of iridescent particles that are hard to see from the photographs alone.

Kaolin clay mining production near Providence Canyon in Bluffton, Georgia. Photo take 11/24/2016