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The Thrilling Conclusion to the "Around Atlanta in 180 Days" Street Photography Project!

Posted May 24 2014 8:24am

And that's that. My 180 Days Around Atlanta are done. I'll be in the city at least once a week this summer as I compare and contrast public pools (there are no public pools in the metro-Atlanta city where I live, as opposed to six in the City of Decatur and that gorgeous one in Piedmont Park, all of which are on my list, each for about five bucks a visit). But otherwise, you'll most likely find me riding my bike in the early morning and then under a magnolia tree writing. I'm on a creative writing sabbatical until August 1 and now is the hot and lazy time of the year in the southern United States when things slow down, roots deepen, and words drip like sweat onto paper.

So many things about this past school year surprised me:
* How happy my younger daughter was at her new school;
* How energized instead of exhausted we both were at the end of the day;
* How fun it was to share new experiences with my older daughter as she embraced a new life in college far away and then joined me on adventures when she came home;
* How amazingly "game for anything" so many of my friends are;
* How my husband and I reconnected as people, not parents, as if we were dating again in New York City 25 years ago;
* How satiated I finally feel again from the daily expression of publicly-accessible art;
* How much beauty there is, even in detritus--especially in detritus;
* How I learned how to shut up and let people find what they wanted to find in each photo;
* How nice people can be;
* How exciting it is that Atlanta is experiencing a true renaissance. And how I am, too. At 50 years old. You want the truth? When I scrambled like a billy goat up on a train boxcar to take this photo (on left) of the Good Shepherd Agro Ecology Center the other day, I felt like my nine-year-old self (photo on right) again. And that feels awesome.
I was not surprised that I could have so much fun for free. Almost everything I did cost no money, a skill I perfected when I lived in Manhattan early in my career. I was also not surprised how happy and healthy all of this joy-based discovery would make me feel. I'd especially like to point out that after a year of riding my bike almost daily, knee pains I was starting to have are completely gone (they left within a month) and I feel significantly fitter than a year ago right now (even though I'm the exact same weight--see photo on left). It is true that where you live (or spend your time) can have a significant impact on your mental and physical health, so choose wisely. My ability to ride my bike safely in the City of Atlanta made a big difference in my life during these 180 Days (big thanks to both the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition for that). In fact, some might say it saved me. I'm continuing my advocacy work to encourage safe biking infrastructure throughout
metro-Atlanta , starting at the place I call home. (Here are  other topics of importance to me . Perhaps some of them matter to you, too. Maybe we were meant to meet and work together. Maybe there are no coincidences in life . . .)

That cork photo reminds me to share with you that about a year ago, I traipsed around the imperiled cork oak forests and factories of Portugal on a media trip with the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance. I wrote about that journey here . The final post was the lesson I learned from that experience, titled Be Ready for the Chihuahua on the Accordian. I want to rerun that for you here, because I think, at the end of these 180 Days, I can say that's what I truly tried to do this year. And it's a good reminder to myself to keep looking for that chihuahua each and every day to come.

The world, the City of Atlanta, my resident city of Dunwoody, my family, and I are all in some pretty big transition right now. I'm not sure what's next. But we're all on our way.

I'd like to give some special shout-outs to The City of Decatur, which I used as my home-base during these 180 Days, specifically the public library (where I brought my laptop and did my work for a few hours each day) and the recreation center (where I had free access to its bathroom before the library opened,the terrific fireplace during this winter's seemingly-endless cold weather, and the lovely picnic tables and garden when the weather was mild). Plus, when I did need to get my hair cut, run errands, or see a doctor, I had the wonderful opportunities to "buy local" at its plethora of local businesses, mostly by walking to them. I had an immersion opportunity to truly observe that city in action and I am blown away by it. I know it took a lot of years to get where it is now, but, man, that city is doing a whole lot of things right. Bravo.

I'd also like to applaud the Atlanta BeltLine (with a special thank you to Ryan Gravel ) for absolutely changing the way we and the world think about what's possible in this city, and Trees Atlanta (with a special thank you to one of its past employees, Robby Astrove , whose impact is evident everywhere), which is one of the hardest working, most important non-profits out there for so many reasons. I'll give you one--dignity.  And here are two examples of that: 
(1) When a community is planted with shady street trees, it changes. People can walk and bike more comfortably, it looks better and feels safer, and pride grows along with the trees;

(2) When a community has free, publicly-accessible fruit trees in it, it changes. Organic, fresh food is suddenly available for all and is fun to pick and share.
There are still no publicly-accessible edibles on the Atlanta BeltLine , but I have recently eaten my way through mulberries and serviceberries along Freedom Parkway and beyond. As for urban farms within the city, don't miss the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture, the East Lake Community Urban Farm, and the Good Shepherd Agro Ecology Center. Plus, Helping Feed Atlanta takes my breath away with how much fresh produce can be diverted to those in need. The nagging question remains: What on earth is really possible? (For those who don't know me, food-for-thought for a changing world--and urban agriculture in general--is my primary beat. See my 8-year-old blog, FoodShed Planet , for more on that.)

I simply must give a huge shout-out to the Atlanta chapter of an organization named Living Walls and its participating artists. They are the folks enlivening large stretches of concrete and sides of buildings all over the city, and it is making a dramatic, exciting, inspiring difference.

My final thank you's go to DeKalb School of the Arts for giving teens a place to truly flourish as their authentic selves, to my extraordinary family for their unyielding support no matter what project I take on, to my crazy and wonderful friends, and to you out there in Twitter world (you can find me @pattiebaker) for joining me on this journey.

Let's stay in touch.

Oh, wait, here's Be Ready for the Chihuahua on the Accordian:

As the conclusion of my "Talking Cork with Pattie Baker" series, I offer you this life lesson I learned while traveling to Portugal recently: Always be ready for a chihuahua on an accordian. 

You see one and you think (for some inexplicable reason, even though you've never seen this before) that maybe you're going to see lots of chihuahuas on accordians, but you don't. You realize afterwards that your only chance was that one time. You had to act fast. You had to have your camera ready. You had to not be shy. You had to give a couple of coins. And you did it--you got the photo. 

Life is that way. Be on the lookout. You never know when you will be faced with the proverbial chihuahua on an accordian. You never know when you will be faced with a moment to take a chance and grab an opportunity. You never know when these moments (small or big, simply memorable or possibly even life-changing) will present themselves to you--and thus, as they say, "luck favors the prepared." Be ready.

P.S. I learned another lesson just yesterday, and my older daughter caught it on video. It's this: I may not be able to move all the mountains I want to move in life, but I can spin a rock! 

I May Not Be Able to Move Mountains, But I Can Spin a Rock! from Pattie Baker on Vimeo .

Spin rocks, folks. Get hands-on in your life. Engage. Take risks. Have fun. This past year, I wrote my heart out, and I rode my art out. Who knows what will happen as a result?

eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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