Monthly Archives: March 2021

Noon — Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon

Listen To This

It’s been 15 years since their last album, and much like a comet sighting or the in-unison crescendo of periodical cicadas, the return of the amazing and distinct genius of Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon with Noon is a welcomed sight and sound.

Since the release of their tropical sophomore release, Sixty-Six Steps, Gordon has kept the motor running with his full-time and notable bass gig with the band Phish, and Kottke has traveled the by-way circuit in a rental car packed full of guitars — both gathering inspiration for this dynamic album of funky acoustic and fuzzy creole jazz.

The warm gravel of Kottke’s vocals, combined with the smooth layered pitch of Gordon’s, provides a classic whip of cookies and cream with a touch of salt.

With the accompaniment of Brett Lanier on pedal steel, cellist Zoë Keating and Jon Fishman on drums, Noon makes a subtle departure from the previous duo-only albums.

Tracks like the whimsical bop of “Flat Line,” twisty lush of “Eight Miles High” and bluesy stomp cover of Prince’s “Alphabet Street,” make Noon the perfect brew of sun-tea that beckons a glass full of ice, rocking chair, box fan and front porch.

– Chris Rucker

2021 Masters Predictions

Masters Guide

Photo credit-Augusta National Golf Club

Local golf pros share their picks for Masters glory – or heartache.
We’ll have to cut our panel a little slack on last year’s predictions. After all, they didn’t foresee the postponement of the Masters Tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic, so they ended up making their predictions nine months before the tournament was played in November.

This year, however, the Masters is back on schedule, and most of the faces in the field will look familiar. At press time, only four first-time players (one professional and three amateurs) had qualified for the tournament.

With a mere five months between tournaments, our favorite experts are ready. They tell us who will be wearing green, who will be headed home early and which holes will have the most influence on the outcome.

Chris Bates
Director of Golf, West Lake Country Club
(This is Chris’ first year taking our poll.)

2021 Masters Champion: DJ will win again. It’s only been a few months.

Dark Horse: Louis Oosthhuizen. He plays well in the Masters, and he hasn’t won one.

Low Newcomer: Let’s go with the U.S. Am winner, Tyler Strafaci.

Low Senior: I’m going to have go with Berhard Langer again.

Highest-Ranked Player to Miss the Cut: Patrick Reed

Toughest Hole: I think No. 11 is still going to be the one. I would like No. 4, also. It’s a tough par 3.

Pivotal Hole: I would have to say it’s going to be 11.

Highest 18-Hole Score: 83

Highest Score on One Hole: 11

Tommy Brannen
Head Golf Professional, Augusta Country Club
(Tommy’s correct 2020 prediction: Toughest Hole)

2021 Masters Champion: Let’s say Tony Finau just for fun. He always plays well there, and he’s been playing well, too.

Dark Horse: Collin Morikawa would a good one.

Low Newcomer: I’ll take the pro, Carlos Ortiz.

Low Senior: Let’s take Phil. He knows the course pretty well.

Highest-Ranked Player to Miss the Cut: Xander Schauffele

Toughest Hole: Let’s go with No. 5 again.

Pivotal Hole: Probably No. 13

Highest 18-Hole Score: 84

Highest Score on One Hole: 9

Spike Kelley
General Manager and Golf Professional, Goshen Plantation
(Spike needs a mulligan on his 2020 predictions.)

2021 Masters Champion: Rory McIlroy. He’s the best player. I pick him almost every year, and eventually I’m going to get it right.

Dark Horse: Tony Finau. He’s playing so darn well. You can’t keep finishing in the top 10 so many times without winning.

Low Newcomer: I’ll go with Charles Osborne.

Low Senior: Phil Mickelson

Highest-Ranked Player to Miss the Cut: Dustin Johnson

Toughest Hole: No. 11

Pivotal Hole: No. 14

Highest 18-Hole Score: 84

Highest Score on One Hole: 8

Dan Elliott
PGA General Manager/Director of Golf, Forest Hills Golf Club
(Dan’s correct 2020 prediction: Low Senior)

2021 Masters Champion: I like Patrick Cantlay. He’s steady from green to tee, and if his putter is on, he’ll do well.

Dark Horse: Paul Casey. He has a good record at Augusta.

Low Newcomer: It will be the professional, Carlos Ortiz.

Low Senior: Bernhard Langer

Highest-Ranked Player to Miss the Cut: Justin Thomas

Toughest Hole: No. 11

Pivotal Hole: It’s always a tossup between 13 and 15. I’ll go with No. 13.

Highest 18-Hole Score: 81

Highest Score on One Hole: 9

Burt Minick
Golf Shop Manager, Hickory Knob State Park Golf Course
(Burt’s correct 2020 prediction: Highest 18-Hole Score)

2021 Masters Champion: Let’s go with Brooks Koepka. He’s playing well right now, and I think he gears up for that.

Dark Horse: Max Homa. He’s playing well right now. He has broken through again, and I think his confidence is high.

Low Newcomer: Let’s say Joe Long. Why not?

Low Senior: Fred Couples

Highest-Ranked Player to Miss the Cut: Webb Simpson

Toughest Hole: No. 11

Pivotal Hole: No. 15

Highest 18-Hole Score: 78

Highest Score on One Hole: 8

Chris Verdery
Director of Golf, The River Golf Club
(Chris’ correct 2020 prediction: Highest 18-Hole Score)

2021 Masters Champion: Xander Schauffele. Short game and putting.

Dark Horse: I’m going to say Cameron Smith. He played well last time. He’s an excellent putter.

Low Newcomer: Just one pro? I’ll pick him. Carlos Ortiz.

Low Senior: I’m going to go with Bernhard Langer again. He’s like a machine.

Highest-Ranked Player to Miss the Cut: Bryson DeChambeau

Toughest Hole: I’ll say No. 5.

Pivotal Hole: Gotta go with No. 12, I guess.

Highest 18-Hole Score: 79

Highest Score on One Hole: 8

Stroke of Luck


Photos courtesy of Paul Lester

Being in the right place at the right time (along with considerable talent) has given an Evans photographer the good fortune of building a successful career on the links and behind the lens.

There’s nothing that Evans resident Paul Lester enjoys more than making a good golf shot. Sure, it’s nice to do it with a club in hand. But with a camera? Even better.

For 50 years, Lester has photographed the world’s best golfers at tournaments, pro-ams, charity events and after-hours parties. He always has been happy to share his work with the subjects of his photographs. He also has compiled some of his favorite shots from years past in a book, Beyond the Fairway, so the rest of us can get a glimpse inside his world as well.

“I wanted it to be a book of older photos. I didn’t want any from nowadays,” Lester says. “The old photos are the ones I like. I could never get those pictures again. The access I had then, nobody has now.”

With a little help from some of his longtime friends, he put the book together in about four months. CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz, who has anchored the network’s Masters Tournament coverage since 1989, wrote the forward for the book.

“He has a gift to make every member of his universe feel important, to bring kindness and joy to everyone he touches. . .. He was born with an enormous talent,” Nantz writes. “Through his prism, he has captured many of the most candid and glorious snapshots you’ll ever see.”

Barbara Nicklaus wrote the introduction. “Paul’s approach is a mixture of art and documentary. Every time he picks up a camera, he discovers something new,” she writes.

In fact, a comment she made about one of his pictures was the motivating force behind the book.

In 1988, Lester snapped a photo of Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan together as Nicklaus was coming off the course at the Centennial of Golf Pro-Am in New York City. “I took that picture, and I kept it for quite a while,” Lester says.

About 30 years later, he sent two 8×10 prints to the Nicklauses, and Barbara Nicklaus commented that she never had seen the photo – a rare shot of the two golf icons together.

“I thought, ‘If they really like this photo, I have a lot of these kinds of photos,’” Lester says.

Inside the Ropes
His career started in 1970 when, three years out of high school, he went to a prep football game on a November Friday night in Woodland Hills, California. The football coach needed someone to take film footage and asked him to cover the game.

There was just one catch – and it wasn’t on the football field. It was above it. Lester had to climb up a 50-foot pole at midfield to get footage of the entire game. Perched in a metal basket at the top of the pole, he got to work for the sum of $75.

He must have done a good job because he became the go-to cameraman for the high school team, shooting 8-milimeter film. This was how he honed his craft, learning to shoot and frame a shot and compose a picture.

His father, Buddy Lester, a standup comedian and actor whose film credits included the original Ocean’s 11, helped him make connections. An avid golfer, the elder Lester played in many celebrity charity events and encouraged his son to photograph the outings.

At that time Lester was focused on the camera. As a 20-year-old with big dreams, his ambition was to work as a cameraman in the entertainment industry. Instead, though, his first job in “show business” was as a construction worker at Universal Studios. Not exactly what he had in mind.

Taking photos at charity golf events, Lester thought there might be a better way to make a living. At the fundraisers, he photographed foursomes, which included a celebrity and his playing partners, on the tee. He charged each golfer $5 for a 5×7 print and mailed it to them.

“I always liked golf. My dad liked golf a lot,” says Lester. “He told me to bring my camera to tournaments. I was lucky to know people who needed helpers and took over when people couldn’t do it anymore. I just learned as I went.”

He soon found himself photographing many events in Southern California. He also got a referral to work for Golf Illustrated magazine to take pictures of pro players at the events, earning $10 a roll.

Al Geiberger, the first professional to shoot a 59 in competition, befriended and encouraged Lester when the magazine sent him on assignment to do a story about the golfer.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Lester started photographing PGA Tour events for Stan Wood, the former University of Southern California golf coach who had started his own public relations firm for the pro tour. He also started shooting for the LPGA, and he has fond memories of photographing the likes of Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan and Pat Bradley.

“The LPGA is where most of us got our start,” says Lester, who still shoots LPGA events. “It was the best tour in the 1970s. The LPGA players will give you a lot more emotion. They were fantastic. They looked fantastic. They dressed fantastic.”

However, when he started shooting the made-for-television Skins Game events in the mid-1980s, he met many key people and sponsors in the industry. An unofficial money event on the PGA Tour from 1983 to 2008, the Skins Game took place in November or December each year after the official PGA Tour season ended.

“The top players in the world were there, and they were at the best places with the best competition,” says Lester.

He started spending a lot of time inside the ropes, and often he was the only golf photographer at banquets for the top pros and celebrities. At the nighttime events, he met the golfers’ wives and children, and he often sent them photos.

“I tried to be friends with them first,” says Lester. “I approached it as a friendly thing rather than as a journalistic photographer. I was part of the show. We were part of the circus that came to town for that week.”

Secret to Success
That friendly approach has been fruitful, and Lester says people have told him he has the right personality to be a photographer.

“You need to know when to talk and when not to talk. You need to know when to listen,” Lester says. “I always laid back a little. I have to shoot what I see. I became more than just a photographer to these guys. I would talk about personal things to develop a personal relationship.”

He enjoys being in the thick of the tournament action in the daytime, and he loves working at pro-ams and charity events because he can set up shots and yell out to players to “give me something.”

“I like it when they’re laughing,” says Lester. “It shows that they’re good human beings.”

Hall of Fame golfer Amy Alcott and Johnny Bench, Hall of Fame baseball catcher, struck a pose for him – hats on backward, of course – during a break at a Dinah Shore Winners Circle Tournament. Bench got down in his catcher’s crouch, and Alcott stood behind him like a home plate umpire.

At a Skins Game, Fred Funk needed no prompting. Lester got a shot of him paying up on a bet that Annika Sorenstam couldn’t outdrive him. After she drove her ball past his on the fifth hole, Funk unzipped his golf bag and slipped into a pink-flowered skirt.

A photo of John Daly, with cigarette and beer in hand at the opening party of his first Skins Game in 1991, is one of his favorites. “It’s a classic,” Lester says. “It’s vintage John Daly.”

In another shot, Nicklaus is resting his head on Lee Trevino’s shoulder. “I knew that they knew that I was there,” says Lester.

Riviera Country Club is one of his favorite places to shoot because he knows the venue so well, and he also enjoys photographing the Ryder Cup.

“The emotion is just nonstop,” Lester says. “It’s a whole different deal because it’s not an individual thing. The thing is huge – the press, the parties. It is very special.”

He tries to take photos quickly, and oftentimes he knows the shot he wants beforehand.

“I could get the pictures that no one else can do,” he says. “Anyone in that book would do anything I asked them to do. I knew I could shoot it and light it very well, but I had the relationships.”

From the daytime golf to the nighttime events, it’s not unusual for him to work 10-hour days.

“I do a lot of corporate, charity and celebrity events. I enjoy them all. I’d better be pumped up and excited for every job,” says Lester, who divides his time between Evans and Los Angeles. “The people that you’re doing it for, that might be the only event they do a year.”

He shot his first Masters in 1995. He missed the following tournament, but he has been a regular since 1997. During the Masters, Lester typically shoots private parties, where tour players and celebrities often make appearances, in the evenings. “I probably do four houses a night,” he says.

Being in position helps him get the image he wants.

“The secret is being ready. In golf, it’s all luck,” says Lester. “Are you at the right spot? Can you get the right angle? When you’re a still photographer, all you can hope for is that you’re there. The challenge is getting in the correct spot without getting in trouble.”

It’s also tricky to get a shot that’s different from everyone else’s.

“When looking through the lens and the shot is over, a lot of people pull the camera down,” says the 71-year-old Lester. “I try and leave it up as much as I can because you never know what the reaction will be. Don’t take your eyes off of the lens thinking that it’s over because you’re going to miss the shot.”

50 Years and Counting
Even though Lester got his start filming high school football games and occasionally shoots other sports, he has specialized in golf.

“The people that I know are in golf,” he says. “If I shot everything, I wouldn’t have the relationships that I have with the golf community.”

In his half-century career, he has traveled the world recording key moments and images in golf. His work has been featured in Golf Digest, Sports Illustrated and ESPN, the Magazine.

“I’ve been so lucky to cover golf for 50 years,” Lester says.

We’re lucky he has covered golf so well for so long, too. The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and To purchase any of Lester’s photos, visit and click on Portfolio.

By Betsy Gilliland


St. Andrews: The Road War Papers by Roger McStravick

Literary Loop

The Old Course at St. Andrews is one of the most famous golf links in the world, and Roger McStravick takes readers through a piece of its storied history in St. Andrews: The Road War Papers.

He recounts the “road war” that ensued in 1879 after the St. Andrews town council encouraged residents whose homes faced the Old Course to build a road over a portion of the ancient links.

Local resident John Paterson emerged as a vocal critic of the plan, fighting in court to preserve the historic grounds. The case eventually made its way to the House of Lords.

McStravick gathers, transcribes and analyzes original archival documents from St. Andrews institutions to construct a vivid account of the legal conflict while telling the story of the town’s evolution and development around the Old Course.

This research, compiled in the 2020 Herbert Warren Wind Award-winning book for the first time, includes court testimony of local residents, including Old Tom Morris and three-time Open champion Jamie Anderson.

Finding His Voice


From performing comedy sketches to opining on the latest news, an Evans podcaster ranks No. 17 in Sweden, No. 24 in Italy and No. 81 in the U.K.

Six months ago, Evans resident Finnish Warren knew nothing about podcasting. Minor detail. In October he launched his aptly named podcast, “You’re Not From Around Here With Finnish Warren.”

Finnish moved to Evans from the mountains of his native Southern California in February 2020 with his wife, Jodie, and their 13-year-old son because of her job. (Irony lives. Her employer wanted his wife to spend more time in the office. You can guess how that has turned out so far.)

“My wife said I needed to do a podcast,” says Finnish, who formerly worked in television post-production. “I had never listened to a podcast.”

She must have been on to something. Available on Apple, Spotify, Buzzsprout and Google, the comedy variety podcast with more than 30,000 downloads has been compared to “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” “Kids in the Hall” and “Little Britain.”

A Taste of Home
The comedy sketches feature goofy, recurring characters that appeal to a worldwide audience, and Finnish believes the podcast is popular in Europe because of its dry British humor. This season he is focusing on Scandinavian-centric and Canadian themes.

“There’s a whole lot of countries in the world that are picking up the show now. I get messages from homesick people,” says Finnish, a stage name he adopted to honor his Finnish relatives. “A lot of ex-pats listen to the show. During the pandemic, they can get a little taste of home.”

He also interviews recording artists such as Nick Camryn, the Moore Brothers, Scott Collins, Scott Milligan, Grammy nominee Angela McCluskey and classical violinist Jennifer Frautchi.

The podcast has a cast of seven people that includes his sister, Tina Hammarström, aka Swedish Nora, and his childhood friend, Darren Reagan, a Realtor in Chicago.

At the beginning of the year, his former co-worker, Bridget G., a political Instagram influencer, started writing and co-producing the show with him. “We went from zero sketches to six sketches a show,” Finnish says.

He does a podcast, which lasts 40 minutes to an hour, every Friday at noon. Typically, it includes sketches, a monologue, a guest interview and music. “Nothing that we do is complex,” says Finnish.

Calling All Nerds
Despite the podcast’s popularity in Europe, 87% of the audience lives in the United States. “We went from 100 listeners to more than 5,000 an episode overnight,” Finnish says. “The thing about podcasts is you don’t have to listen to them live.”

He enjoys the freedom and creativity of producing podcasts and the connection he makes with his listeners. “I’m a nerd, and every person who listens to the show is a nerd,” he says.

And of course, Finnish, who did some standup comedy as well, loves to make people laugh. First, though, he seeks the approval of his toughest critic.

“I get my son to listen, and if he calls it funny, it’s good to go,” he says.

Wise man, that Finnish, who listens to his wife and son. And he would love for people, nerds or not, to lend him an ear, too. “When people who don’t know about the show give it chance, they like it,” he says.

Low-Carb Zucchini Pancakes

Side Dishes
  • 1 pound zucchini
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 medium scallions, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 2 tablespoons coconut flour
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil for frying

Grate zucchini and place in a colander. Season with salt and gently toss; let sit 5 minutes. Squeeze zucchini with your hands and place into a medium mixing bowl. Add eggs and scallions and mix together. In a separate small bowl, add remaining dry ingredients and stir together. Add to zucchini and mix thoroughly.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add oil to cover bottom of pan. When hot, stir zucchini mixture and dip out 1/4 cup (level) of batter and pour into pan. With a spatula, gently shape into a pancake. Cook about 3 minutes, adjusting heat if needed. Flip and cook 3 more minutes, adding more oil to the pan as needed to prevent sticking. Drain on paper towel before serving. Makes 8 pancakes.

Test the Waters


Photos courtesy of Cole Watkins Tours

Welcome spring with a kayak tour of local waterways and you just might paddle past ancient shell mounds, glide along beneath osprey and herons, share a snack with wild donkeys and strike a pose at a whale of a boulder.

Don’t ever tell Martinez resident Cole Watkins that there’s nothing to do. Even when – or especially when – activities come to a halt because of a global pandemic.

Watkins, who owns kayak rental and tour business Cole Watkins Tours, had his best year yet in 2020 – despite shutting down operations in March and April due to covid-19.

“We actually doubled our sales from our best year ever,” he says.

He had the first inkling that people were anxious to get on the water in late April when he got a call from Andy Colbert of Outdoor Augusta Riverside to borrow several kayaks. (The two kayak rental companies, along with Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental, often loan each other kayaks when they have reservations for big groups.) “He said, ‘Every day is Saturday,’” Watkins says.

After all, kayaking is a great way to get outside and enjoy nature while social distancing.

The Basics
In his weekday job, Watkins works as the director of content strategy for Aggressor Adventures. He started CWT 10 years ago as a junior in college when he had a class assignment to build a business from the ground up.

“Kayaking is an easy hobby to pick up, especially on the flat-water routes,” Watkins says. “It’s great for all ages.”

He credits the pandemic and the Serene 18 Paddle Trail with boosting his business last year. Serene 18 is a Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau initiative in which paddling enthusiasts can explore 18 square miles on four of Georgia’s most serene water trails – Stallings Island and Betty’s Branch on the Savannah River, the Augusta Canal and Clarks Hill Lake. Paddlers receive a passport, which they get stamped when they finish a route, and earn a free T-shirt after completing all four water trails.

CWT offers kayak rentals and guided tours on four routes – Betty’s Branch, Stallings Island and the Dam Trip on the Savannah River and the Augusta Canal. Single and tandem kayaks are available for rent, and CWT drops off and picks up the vessels. The rentals also include life jackets, paddles and dry packs.

For safety purposes during the pandemic, paddlers must pre-pay over the phone by credit card or with an online payment app. CWT emails waivers to customers so they can print and fill out the forms before their trips. Start times between groups begin at 15-minute intervals, and all of the kayaks and equipment are sanitized at the end of each tour.

On group tours, CWT can accommodate up to 15 paddlers to Stallings Island and up to 25 paddlers on other routes. However, 10 is the average number per tour. A minimum of two people is required for a tour, and paddlers can rent kayaks or bring their own.

“Most of our tours are combined group tours,” Watkins says. “We have beginners’ routes for people who have never been kayaking. If we have combined groups of beginners and experienced paddlers, we will have two guides so we can split the groups if need be.”

One guide per seven people accompanies each group, and CWT has six guides, including Watkins. Before the tours get underway, guides give a brief tutorial on the proper paddle stroke and water placement and correct seating in tandems. Last year CWT did more guided tours than rentals.

Tours typically start at 9 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. During Daylight Saving Time, sunset trips beginning at 5:30 p.m. are available as well.

The Trails
Offering beautiful scenery and a good time, the water trails include:

Betty’s Branch:
A Savannah River tributary with minimal current, Betty’s Branch is CWT’s most popular route for rentals. The launch and finish are at the same boat ramp in Riverside Park, so there is no need to carpool or shuttle. It’s a good trail for newbies, and paddlers can choose one of two options on this route.

The first option is to paddle north until kayakers get tired and then return to the boat ramp. This 4-mile route takes about two hours.

The longer 6-mile option around Germany Island takes about 3 1/2 hours to complete. A small sandbar 30 minutes north of the boat ramp is great for picnics. The route is more secluded and shadier on the tributary side than the Savannah River side, and it is best to travel in the morning before water levels rise in the afternoon.

Wildlife is abundant on this water trail. The most common animals along the route are turtles, herons, osprey, deer, hawks, otters, raccoons, owls, beavers and foxes. Lucky paddlers might even spy a boar along the way. The trail also runs through Champions Retreat Golf Club.

Augusta Canal:
With its steady downstream current, the 5-mile Augusta Canal trip is ideal for groups with children. The route starts at Savannah Rapids Pavilion and ends at Lake Olmstead. (For Serene 18 purposes, the trail continues for another 2 miles to downtown Augusta’s 13th Street.) The trip takes 2 to 2 1/2 hours to complete, and swimming is not allowed. CWT does not offer shuttle services, so paddlers need to park a car at Lake Olmstead before meeting at Savannah Rapids.

Stallings Island:
The 2.7-mile Stallings Island tour, which follows a figure eight loop, covers the most secluded section of the Savannah River. This intermediate level, two-hour trip can have a steady current, so it’s best to have a little paddling experience.

“My company is known for the Stallings Island route,” says Watkins. “It’s the most popular trip for guided tours.”

This history-rich route first leads paddlers through a chain of islands referred to as “99 Islands,” some of which are so close together that it feels like paddling through small creeks. Near the South Carolina side, kayakers pass two cypress trees known as the “hissing trees.”

“There’s a 90% chance you’ll see a snake in the trees,” says Watkins. “It’s optional for people to paddle over to them. We always have at least two guides on this route, so the lead guide can take people to the trees and the other one can hang back with everyone else.”

Nonpoisonous river snakes are spotted most commonly, but copperheads and cottonmouths have made an appearance as well. “They barely even move,” Watkins says.

With or without a closeup of the snakes, paddlers continue on Stallings Island, which was identified as an archaeological site in 1861. Designated as a national landmark, the island is maintained by the Archeological Conservancy.

Archaeologists speculate that the Stallings culture originated about 5,000 years ago, and it produced the oldest documented pottery in North America, the first local shell fishing and the region’s first settled communities.

Home to many shell mounds, the island was an apparent gathering spot for Indians who lived, grew crops and died there. A 1929 expedition by Harvard University’s Peabody Museum found 89 burial sites on the island.

“I tell people about Stallings Island, but I don’t want them to feel like they’re in a history class,” says Watkins.

No one is allowed on the island, but that doesn’t stop its current residents – wild donkeys and goats – from greeting visitors on the riverbanks. Guides are helpful because most people don’t know where to find the donkeys or how to get them to the water’s edge.

“I have a distinct whistle to call them,” says Watkins. “People can feed donkeys apples, carrots and veggies out of their hands.”

The goats keep island vegetation under control, he says, and the donkeys protect the goats from coyotes that swim to the site.

Currently, Stallings Island is home to three donkeys – Jenny, a mama donkey; her niece, Abigail, and a baby donkey, Buster Jr.

His father, Buster, a photogenic donkey that liked humans, was removed from the island last June because of his aggressive behavior toward other donkeys.

“There were reports that Buster bullied two small male donkeys to death, and Abigail was so beat up that she needed medical attention,” Watkins says.

Watkins, Colbert, Savannah Riverkeeper, the Archaeological Conservancy, Veterans for Clean Water and others collaborated to relocate Buster. The group put two life jackets around Buster’s neck and helped him swim about 300 feet between two jon boats connected by a stick to the South Carolina side of the river. A horse trailer was waiting to take him to an animal rescue facility, and Watkins says he has since been adopted by a farm family. (Video of Buster’s removal is posted on Cole Watkins Tours’ Facebook page.)

“It was quite an adventure to get him off the island. It was bittersweet for me. Buster was a baby when I first started going there, and he was like a pet to me,” says Watkins. “Hopefully, Abigail and Buster Jr. will mate to increase the donkey population.”

The eight to 12 goats on the island were led by a horned, black and brown goat called Bruiser until he died in February. Watkins doesn’t recommend feeding the goats because they just might decide to headbutt an unsuspecting guest. However, he says, the goats have become friendlier to people since Buster left.

Once the donkeys have been petted and fed, kayakers proceed to Stevens Creek Dam and a stop at Whale Rock for a photo op before returning to the starting point. “The boulder-sized rock looks like a whale coming out of the water,” says Watkins.

Strom Thurmond Dam:
The 7-mile downstream Dam Trip starts at the bottom of Clarks Hill Lake and ends at Riverside Park. Paddlers enter the Savannah River and get a view of the 1,100-foot wide, 200-foot tall J. Strom Thurmond Dam. Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1946-1954, the dam provides flood control, hydropower and downstream navigation.

While not difficult to navigate, this route is best paddled in the afternoon because of the current. As the longest tour, the water trail takes about four hours to complete.

“We always try to time the route around a dam release so we have current going down. It can feel pretty slow if there’s no current,” Watkins says.

The first half of the trip goes downstream on the main channel, and the second half travels through Betty’s Branch. CWT does not offer shuttle services, so kayakers need to park a car at Riverside Park before meeting at the starting point.

Warm Welcome
Watkins has lots of repeat customers, and he estimates that 40% of his clientele come from other Georgia cities and Southeastern states such as South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. He also says Serene 18 has attracted a lot of out-of-town visitors.

“I have always enjoyed showing people hobbies that I love. I like to introduce them to the outdoors and kayaking,” says Watkins. “I’m a born and bred Columbia County kid. There’s so much to do here, and I’m always happy to show people everything Columbia County has to offer.”

By Todd Beck

Spring Chickens


Photos courtesy of the Fitzgerald Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Tis the season to celebrate anew the prized poultry of Fitzgerald, Georgia.

For the last 24 years (excluding 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic), the small town of Fitzgerald in south central Georgia has strutted its stuff with its annual Wild Chicken Festival.

While event organizers aren’t counting their chickens before they hatch, they plan to hold the festival, as long as conditions allow, on March 19 and 20 this year.

“We’re diligently planning as if we’re going to have it, and we’re praying that fate, luck and God shine on us,” says Barry Peavey, the festival chairman.

Even if the town has to cancel the festival again this year, every self-respecting Georgian should know about this one-of-a-kind event because it will be back – sooner, hopefully, rather than later.

First, though, a little history.

Fair or Fowl
The forerunner to the Wild Chicken Festival was the Rattlesnake Roundup, which lasted 30-some years, but that’s another story for another day. (Let’s just say the nice folks at the state Department of Natural Resources asked the fine citizens of Fitzgerald to please refrain from catching the snakes.)

Instead, chickens have ruled the roost in Fitzgerald since the 1960s when the Georgia DNR stocked Burmese wild jungle fowl, native to India, all across the state as an additional game bird to be hunted like pheasant or quail.

Flocks of these tiny colorful birds, which resemble fighting game chickens with their orange and yellow ruffs and black tail feathers, were released several miles from Fitzgerald at the Ocmulgee River.

Populations of the bird never took hold in other parts of the state. For some reason, however, they left the river site and made their way to downtown Fitzgerald, where they have propagated and prospered ever since.

“One of the DNR employees hatched eggs under bantams and started the whole population. They just walk around downtown,” says Peavey. “The population has ebbed and flowed through the years. The red-tailed hawk also has made a comeback as a predator, particularly for the chicks.”

Predators such as foxes and bobcats likely had something to say about the presence of the interloping chickens as well, but the exotic jungle fowl might be smarter than the average bird.

After all, if drawn into a fight, these chickens are known to channel their inner Muhammad Ali and think out their moves. Other birdbrained breeds step straight into the ruckus.

Peavey estimates that the current wild chicken population is more than 500 but less than 1,000, and Fitzgerald residents have a fair or “fowl” attitude toward their Burmese chicken brethren.

According to the festival website, “Some folks buy seed and feed them regularly; others chase them out of their yards and gardens with a broom and a few choice words.”

The chickens wake up residents in the morning and create minor traffic jams, but some people claim that they also keep away bugs. For several years, the local Humane Society even had a fundraiser where people could drop donations in a love jug or a hate jug to express their sentiments about the chickenss

“The love jug always won,” says Peavey.

So, naturally, Fitzgerald wants to celebrate its favorite feathered friends.

“They’re way more interesting than squirrels,” Peavey says. “To my knowledge, no one eats them for food. That’s not to say that one of them hasn’t landed in a pot.”

Something to Crow About
Fitzgerald will have something to crow about when the Wild Chicken Festival kicks off Friday night with a dance party and a concert featuring The Bushmen.

However, if you’re going to a festival in praise of prized poultry, then you might as well wake up with the chickens for the 6 a.m. pancake breakfast on Saturday as well.

Other activities include a 5K and 1-mile fun run; pine wood derby; an artisan market with upscale, handmade wares; a juried art exhibit called Wild Chicken Soup (because, why not?); classic car cruise; street vendors; bungee jumps; kids’ characters and of course, a chicken crowing contest.

Judged by local dignitaries, the crowing contest has a children’s and an adults’ division.

“You should see some of the adults get into it, complete with theatrics and strutting,” says Peavey. “And there’s nothing like seeing a five-year-old girl with curly blonde hair walk out on stage and say, ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo.’”

The Poultry Palace, a traveling trained chicken “Eggzibit” based in the Albany, Georgia area, will be on hand as well. “They will bring a portable chicken coop full of exotic chickens that you don’t see in the barnyard like silkies and a Rhode Island red rooster,” Peavey says.

People can have their pictures made with the chickens and watch the birds peck out tunes on a piano.

This year, to lessen the chances of transmitting covid-19, vendor booths will be more spaced out. Masks and social distancing also will be encouraged. Otherwise, the festival should carry on as usual.

“We’re going back to our roots and have some local musicians and a good, old-fashioned downtown street festival,” Peavey says. “Folks seem to be shifting their travels to smaller towns. We’re going to celebrate small town life, get together and have fun, and eat funnel cakes and sausage dogs.”

Small Town Charm
Families and their broods can perch overnight at one of several area motels or a variety of Airbnbs. In the future, a giant chicken topiary that is under construction also will include a rentable room for overnight stays. At more than 62 feet in height, the steel-framed chicken with a copper wattle and crest will be the world’s tallest topiary upon completion.

“He hasn’t grown in yet,” says Peavey, “but he’ll put Fitzgerald on the map.”

Rich in history and small town charm, Fitzgerald isn’t just chicken-centric.

“Fitzgerald has brick streets in the historic district and varying architectures because the founders were from all different parts of the United States,” says Brandy Elrod, the director of Tourism, Arts & Culture. “We also have a lot of cute Mom and Pop shops downtown.”

Visitors can take a self-guided walking, biking or driving Architectural Treasures Tour or see the 1936 art deco Grand Theatre. The Depot houses the Blue & Gray Museum, which has been renovated and redesigned to tell the founding story of Fitzgerald and its Civil War roots. The Vintage Kitchen Museum displays kitchens from the mid-1800s to the present day.

“Fitzgerald is a quirky little town. The people are friendly, and there is a lot to see and do here,” Elrod says. “It’s worth the drive.”

The Wild Chicken Festival just might be the perfect catalyst for a road trip.

“I want to see friends and neighbors and strangers. Eating a funnel cake in a mall just isn’t the same. It’s way more fun to spill powdered sugar down the front of your shirt at a festival,” Peavey says. “After 24 years, we’re an overnight success.”

If You Go:

What: Wild Chicken Festival

When: 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. Friday, March 19 and all day Saturday, March 20

Where: Historic Downtown Fitzgerald, Georgia

How Much: Free admission

More Info: or

By Morgan Davis




Top Flight

In The Home

Photography by Sally Kolar

At their Bartram Trail home, a bird-loving Evans couple creates an inviting “nest” for themselves and for overnight visits from their flock of family and friends.

Evans residents Julie and Timmy Calhoun have been flying high since they moved into their Bartram Trail home in May, and their love of all things avian takes wing from the first step inside their home.

In the foyer, they kill two birds with one stone (Don’t worry – it’s just an expression) by showing their love of family and feathered friends.

A dough bowl on the chest contains greenery and a nest filled with 12 baby blue eggs. Each egg represents one of their seven nieces and five nephews, who range in age from 4 months to 14 years old.

“We love birds, and we love nests, so we often refer to our place as ‘The Nest,’” says Julie. “We are all about hospitality. We have a whole guest suite upstairs.”

Birds & Bees
The foyer, which features a vaulted ceiling, also has heartwood yellow pine flooring that flows into the main living areas. Their Southern hospitality and affinity for nature extend into the adjoining dining room, which includes a high chair rail and picture frame wall molding.

Ready for entertaining, the table is set with their Lenox bone china pattern, “Chirp,” featuring birds and flowering branches, and Julie’s grandparents’ crystal. For the centerpiece, a ceramic basket sits between white lanterns filled with greenery.

A vintage milk can filled with artificial magnolia blooms occupies a corner of the room, and a wreath of magnolia leaves hangs on a wall. They forage for decorative pieces in small shops in the area, and a local woman that Julie discovered on Facebook Marketplace makes all of her seasonal wreaths.

“We love flowers and plants,” says Julie. “And we love supporting small local businesses.”

The pen and ink drawings of four insects – a bumblebee, a butterfly, a ladybug and a dragonfly – above the buffet show support for a worthy cause. An avid tennis and soccer player, Julie bought the pictures when the granddaughter of one of her tennis friends was battling cancer. The family was selling the drawings to raise money for pediatric cancer treatment.

The bumblebee represents Julie’s sister, Brittany, whom everyone calls “Bee.” The butterfly represents her mother; the ladybug represents her grandmother; and the dragonfly represents Julie.

“My mother always loved butterflies. My Nanny had a love of flowers, and she always looked for ladybugs. She would pick them up and let them sit on her fingertips. I likes dragonflies because they’re a symbol of peace,” says Julie. “All of the pictures are original, except for the bee. It was for a good cause, which is the most important thing to us.”

Staying Close
Julie and Timmy also share a passion for cooking, which was instilled in them by their parents. Timmy likes to smoke and grill. Julie prefers to bake, and her Nanny’s framed, handwritten recipe for strawberry cake has a prominent spot on the kitchen counter.

“If our house caught on fire, that’s one of the first things I would grab,” says Julie. “Nanny passed away six years ago. She was the love of my life.”

For every family birthday, Julie, who is one of six children, is asked to make the strawberry cake.

“Birthdays are a big deal in my family,” she says. “I get that from my Nanny. Everybody had to have a birthday party. That’s how we get our family together, and that’s how we stay close.”

The kitchen also features stainless steel appliances, ceramic tile flooring, a tile backsplash with a copper finish, granite countertops, a wood stove hood, glass-front cabinets on either side of the stove and dark wood cabinetry.

“The dark cabinets were a big draw for me,” says Julie. “And they’re soft close.”

They made the lazy Susan in the center of the breakfast nook table, where they also play cards.

“She comes from a game-playing family,” says Timmy. “They had to break me in. Our favorite card game is a game called ‘Golf.’ It’s easy to learn. You play 18 rounds with regular cards.”

A breakfast bar overlooking the living room gives the house an open feeling.

Small & Cozy
The focal point of the living room, which also features heartwood yellow pine flooring, is the stacked stone fireplace with a wood mantel and a raised granite hearth. A word art sign, which they received as a housewarming gift, says, “Welcome to our home. Please leave by 9 p.m.” Evidently, their friends know them well.

“We’re early to bed, early to rise,” says Julie.

Portraits of Julie’s late grandparents, Mildred and Jim Goodwin – her Nanny and Papa – hang over the entryway to the living room. Her grandparents also loved birds.

“They had lots of birdfeeders and hummingbirds,” says Julie. “My Papa’s favorite joke was, ‘What do you get when you cross a hummingbird with a doorbell? A humdinger.’”

The master bedroom and bath are on the first floor, and the carpeted room is furnished with an off-white, distressed bedroom suite. The bedroom also features a trey ceiling, and a large window overlooks the backyard.

The wall décor includes a tobacco basket filled with greenery, a pair of square white tobacco baskets and a wreath of magnolia leaves.

Double doors lead to the adjoining master bath, which includes a garden tub with a glass tile surround, tile shower, dual sinks, granite countertops, separate water closet and a walk-in closet.

“I like small, cozy houses, and the bottom floor is small and cozy,” Julie says.

The Calhouns, who met when she was 14 and he was 13, also wanted the master bedroom on the first floor. When they saw the house online, Julie – like the early bird getting the worm –immediately told their Realtor, “I want that house.” They bought the Bartram Trail home and sold their former house on the same day.

They were attracted to the neighborhood, where they play golf and ride bikes on the trails, because of its seasonal events and food trucks as well.

“We wanted a better sense of community. That was one of our main reasons for moving here,” says Timmy.

Fun & Games
A map of the world hangs on the wall by the stairs, which lead to a place filled with fantasy and escape for their overnight guests. Their guests have free rein of the second story, which includes two guest bedrooms connected by a Jack and Jill bath, a library and a rec room.

Two watercolors of tennis balls that Julie painted at an art party hang at the top of the stairs in the library, and fellow tennis players are frequent out-of-town visitors.

Her grandfather’s putter – Julie used to play golf with him – leans against her grandparents’ desk. “I grew up on this desk. I used to play school or pretend like I was a teacher on it. It’s very special to me,” she says.

A framed $2 bill that Timmy got from his dad sits on top of the desk. “He taught me how money works and how to spend it, and I have kept that $2 bill ever since he gave it to me,” Timmy says.

Stacks of individual oak shelves on one wall are filled with books. A duel-sided, hanging station clock with an antique look is mounted on the same wall, and a world map on canvas hangs on the opposite wall.

Timmy always has been interested in maps, languages and cultures, and he loves to read.

“I’m only physically active if it’s work. Give me a book; give me a movie, and I’m good to go,” says Timmy. “Lately, I have been into vintage crime thrillers written in the ’40s and ’50s.”

One of the bedrooms features an arrangement with – what else? – a bird’s nest and eggs on the door and a guest book for visitors to sign.

The second guest room, which has three pink walls and a navy blue accent wall, is set up for their nieces to spend the night. “They have their own fairy named Charlotte. She brings them goodies when they stay,” says Julie.

Charlotte “lives” behind a tiny pink door just above the baseboard.

The Jack and Jill bath features tile flooring, and a coffee pot and a basketful of goodies on the countertop make their guests feel at home.

Another snack station in the rec room includes a microwave, a fully stocked mini fridge and a snack rack. The room also features a round game table with four chairs, a big-screen TV and a sectional couch.

Julie and Timmy each claim credit for spotting the sectional couch first, but they agree on one thing. “It is so soft and so comfortable,” Julie says.

Green Thumb
Timmy also enjoys gardening, and his green thumb is evident in the front and back yards. “I have a fascination with watching things grow,” he says. “I got it from my mom and dad. They loved plants.”

By the driveway, Timmy has an experimental flowerbed where he plants cat mint, China barberry, cone flowers and coreopsis.

“I try out new plants until I find something that really sticks,” he says. “Julie likes lots of color, so I try things out until I find what she likes.”

The front porch, where the doormat appropriately says, “Bless This Nest,” also is home to live plants such as a fiddleleaf tree and peace lilies. Window boxes are planted with sweet potato vines, and pots of seasonal flowers line the front steps.

They also have lots of plants on the back deck including potted lavender – one of Julie’s favorite flowers, a blueberry bush and a lemon tree. “We eat the fruit right off the plants,” Timmy says.

Other shade plants on the deck include azaleas, coleus, hostas, caladium, Ligustrum and mini hydrangeas. Another must-have is a palm tree. “Julie loves the beach, so on every back porch, we have to have a palm tree,” says Timmy.

He also plans to plant lots of rose bushes in the yard. And the rose garden, he says, “is going to be the last major project.”

Until then, though, the Calhouns can continue to feather their nest with their family, friends and the memories they have made together.

By Betsy Gilliland


Busted Juicebox Vol.3. — Shovels & Rope

Listen To This

The Charleston folkabilly duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, aka Shovels & Rope, are passing around a box of instruments in the spirit of pre-school music hour for their latest installment of the cover series Busted Jukebox, appropriately titled Busted Juicebox Vol.3.

Four years have passed since their last installment, and while it seems the world has aged 40 years, this release harkens back to youthful days full of whimsical creativity and wild abandon.

The 10-song Busted Jukebox Vol. 3 is a Romper Room-style collective of sing-a-long favorites and naptime jams spanning multiple genres and decades that connect and resonate with listeners of all ages.

The play-date party begins with a simple pick and strum rendition of “Hush Little Baby,” which flows effortlessly into the echo canyon lo-fi beat of the Beach Boys classic, “In My Room.”

Other snack picks include the wide-vibe “What a Wonderful World,” Annie’s optimistic “Tomorrow,” and a soft music box medley of “Everybody Hurts,” appropriately performed by Augusta’s own and current Athens resident, T. Hardy Morris.

As the weather changes and the year rolls on, take some time to spend with all those you love, big and small, short and tall.

– Chris Rucker

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

Literary Loop

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris.

When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books.

But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor.

As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family and the power of literature to bring us together. Charles shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

“Intelligent and sensuously rich… a novel tailor-made for those who cherish books and libraries,” says Kirkus Reviews.

“A love letter to Paris, the power of books, and the beauty of intergenerational friendship,” says Booklist.