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Archive for the ‘Beauty’ Category

I am blessed in so many ways. I have far more than I need and many things that I want. Life is not exciting every day, but God provides, takes care of me, and gives me blessings, some obvious and others more subtle.

It has been a wet summer, and very wet and cool for August. A person new to the area asked if it is always this wet. No, usually August is relatively dry and hot, sometimes not even raining the whole month. But this August grass is still green, creeks are still full, and flowers not want to bloom this time of year are.

Morning Glory amongst the cane by the river

With all of the rain there are moments when one wonders how wet it may become and when it will end. But never fear, there is always the promise of sunshine tomorrow (Genesis 9:8-17). Have you ever noticed that double rainbows have the colors in opposite order? From the observer’s perspective the spherical prisms (aka raindrops) are refracting sunlight in two different directions from that point. Also, a rainbow dims as you travel down a highway because you are no longer at the optimal angle to see the most light. So, one of the two rainbows is not at the optimal angle. If you could fly straight up, there would be a point where the two rainbows would have equal brightness. Beyond that, the formerly bright bow would be the dimmer bow. The following picture is from my front porch just after another hard rain of the day.

Double Rainbow

My wife thinks that I am silly when I take pictures of a meal. But I think the appearance, the taste, and the nutritional value are artwork. I am blessed to have a diligent wife who is also a very good cook.

Evening Meal

Though retired from my “career”, I still need to work to supplement my retirement. As any follower of my blog will know, I am a rock climber, but sometimes when I work I do more dangerous things than rock climbing. I am tied in to a stout rope on a climb with a watchful partner who belays me. As the following picture shows, I sometimes work up high without such protection. I could take the picture because the ladder’s feet were secure. I always attempt to make them secure, but things can go wrong. I am blessed to have worked so many years without significant injury and I work carefully to prevent it. Still, my life and safety are in His hands. About rock climbing, several people have said, “But you don’t have to take that risk.” My reply is that it is far less risk than some other things I do and I like doing it. One may say that I don’t need to do these things either, but someone will. The real solution is to not build structures that necessitate this situation. I have given up climbing trees to take them down. Ladders will come next. All of life is a balancing act. I pray, I act prudently, and yes, I take calculated risks. I am blessed.

Working for a living

The gutters were overflowing and had not been cleaned out in several years. I discovered a little ecosystem there, well watered and rooted in black humus. The white zigzag structure in the Garden Spider’s web (the spider being barely seen behind it), is called a stabilimentum. It bears this name because it was once thought to strengthen the web. It may be for the purpose of hiding the outline of the spider. It is a source of beauty to the aesthetic and confusion to the scientist and perhaps the predator. The tree roots ran at least a foot in either direction, allowing the pulling up of much “turf” in one grab. I think that the foreground tree is a boxelder. I am blessed to be able to see and appreciate beauty in God’s creation in the most humble and unexpected situations.

I found this moth on my front porch several weeks ago. Full disclosure: It was dead. The color is so rich, like raw sienna, the Italian clay of that color. I seem to recognize colors that go well together, but I am not quite able to match them when given many colors to choose from. I am blessed to be someone that appreciates the music even if I can’t play it.

Porch Moth

I don’t know what has become of me to put two selfies in a blog entry, or any at all for that matter. The final picture was an accident, humanly speaking. I was trying to show a family the ladder and “mini-ecosystem” pictures after church and took the picture en route to them. I include it mostly because my greatest blessing is being part of God’s family by the salvation Jesus provided for me on the cross. You, too, may have this blessing by repentance and belief in Him. And in particular I was blessed this day to lead my church in singing and voice my praise and thanksgiving to God in song and segue. I am blessed with fellow saints with whom I fellowship around our common belief in God.

Technology causes me a minor bit of consternation for all of it’s utility.

I am, of course, blessed in so many other ways, but these are a few that came across my path in the last week or so. May you be blessed as well and more aware of it than previously.

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I had small amount of business out town early this week, hardly seeming worth the 3 1/2 hours of driving I would have to do to accomplish it. I decided to make more of a trip out of it.

Firstly, I connected up with my present climbing partner for a quick outing to a hidden crag. You have to hike downhill a full mile to get to the creek side cliff. It is always cool and lush at ground level, but the wall dries fairly quickly. My partner led the 5.8 and an overhung 5.9. I followed by leading a 5.10 and we set up a 5.11 on toprope that I climbed clean on first try. As you may have discerned, the real workout is the 1 mile uphill hike after climbing. It is both cardio- and leg power intense. Our conversation reflected our different stages of life and our mutual love of God, truth, and the outdoors.

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Setting up for the warm-up, Jigsaw (5.8)

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“Belaying Blues”?

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Lowering after cleaning the climb

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Beautiful, cool setting for climbing

Secondly, I went to visit my middle son. I ordered Mexican to go and we went up to Wilbur Lake to eat at a picnic table at the boat ramp. People were pulling their canoes and Jon boats in and out and families were wading. The water comes off of the bottom of Watauga Lake above at about 40 degrees, bone aching cold. We waded and ate and talked and reminisced. We had left this area when he was just over 3 years old. I asked him if he remembered being here. He described it in an insightful way: “It was more like a snapshot than a video.” That pretty much pictured it. The area is called the Horseshoe because the Watauga River, now Wilbur Lake, has an extreme horseshoe shaped bend. The next picture shoes the late afternoon Sun shining over the central spine of the Horseshoe. If you walk up this spine, at one point you can look back and see both legs of the horseshoe below you. After supper he drove me up the short hill to the house we had lived in for those 7 years, 1986-1993. It was some of the best and worst times for our family. Best because of the closeness and nature and gardens and church and tangible provision of God. Worst because of the hard work and lack of money and difficulty in finding direction. In retrospect, I think the two correlate. Difficulty precipitates more trust in God and more awareness of His blessings. We went back to his house, watched a few Youtube videos, talked about his new job and went to bed early. He was up early and left earlier than he had said to get to another day of his job training. It was good to see his diligence and drive, not that I have ever seen it lacking.

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Bone Chilling Wilbur Lake

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Horseshoe Homeplace

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Son’s new leased house

Thirdly, I met up with my brother and sister-in-law for two hikes, one to see wildflowers and trees at Warrior’s Path State Park and the other to see the same plus several small waterfalls in a little gorge at Laurel Run Park on the north flank of Bays Mountain in Hawkins County. The first hike was short in distance but long in time because on this limestone slope below the campground down to the lake I saw many varieties of trees that I just don’t see in NC. I was pointing them out and how to identify them to my sister-in-law and my brother as he took interest.

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Three disparate barks

Though I use leaves as well, I was trained to recognize deciduous trees by their bark, learning them in the Fall mostly after the leaves had fallen off. The above three trees are from left to right, Black (or Wild) Cherry, Chincapin Oak (not common and the bark very nearly resembles White Oak), and Hickory (Mockernut or Shagbark most likely though it is hard to tell at this early stage). Before we left the park we had identified 36 trees species, only one not native. 

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Butterflies and Mildweeds

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One of those, “Which do you see first” pictures: 1) reflection of the tree 2) fish 3) foreground leaves and twigs.

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Holston River

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Some uncommon orchid late blooming.

The Laurel Run hike was a bit longer and steeper, but the shade and conversation were good. People had eked out living in these draws where they were left alone and used whatever resources were available. It is a pity that the American Chestnut was not one of the trees we saw. They exist here but are minuscule in size compared to the great trees of the past that supplied so much livestock with food. With the trip between parks and this second hike, my sister-in-law and I identified 52 species of trees with only 3 exotics. We are blessed with a bio-diverse area. 

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Cultural Residual

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Sis and Bro

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typical limestone layering and color; I wondered where the cave entrances are.

It seems most every wildflower is 10 days to two weeks late this year. We speculated that the warm March and very cool April may have been the cause.

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Rattlesnake Plantain not quite ready to bloom. 

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First waterfall- about 15 feet

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“Waterfall” 2 was about 4 feet but with an inviting pool

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Waterfall 3 was about 10 feet. These would be amazing looking after a good rain.

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Sandstone overlaying Limestone?

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Cultural Art: Tractor oil pan perhaps

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Wild Flocks and Stinging Nettle and a Butterfly that moved too fast for my camera.

I find it amazing how you can fill up a 24 hour period with so much that feeds the mind, emotions, and body. These in turn bring a measure of rest to the spirit, best experienced as you thank and praise the Creator for the beauties before you, the health to enjoy them, and the relationships which are more permanent than either.

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Experience is supposed to make us wiser and more prudent. Sometimes we heed lessons learned and sometime we don’t. It began with a seemingly innocent change of plans: “Oh, I can’t go overnight. We’ll just have to figure it out.” Next up was not taking a map. Then there was the part where I should have asked what the actual plans were. The trails are not well maintenanced, that is, cleared, so they can be hard to find. A new trail had been cut that was not on the map I had nor had I seen it, so we wasted some time going the wrong way. About 1/3 through the trip leg cramps ensued which caused us to change our route to avoid uphills that increased the cramps and pain, which then resulted in perhaps an extra 5 miles of hiking. We attempted to traverse a trail in the dark we had never been on. The trail passed through a field. In retrospect there were probably two exits, maybe more, from that field. After too much walking, we ended up on a road and knew where we were, which was about five miles from our vehicle. So we called in a rescue from an in-law. The final result of these multiple missteps was an estimated 25 miles in rough terrain, having left the house at 8 AM and returned at midnight.

On the up side, it was a beautiful day with cooler than usual June temperatures, partly cloudy and mostly tree covered to shield us from all day sun exposure. The river was cold and relaxing. The conversation was pleasant. We succeeded in hiking the length of the Gorge from Cabin Trail all the way to the lake and seeing several trails we’d not been on before. I took some good pictures and felt the beauty of God’s Creation. The stars shone brightly as we awaited the pick-up. My son asked me at one point how I could still be talking about plants. I had a two part response: 1) That’s just who I am, and 2) When you are hurting and in too deep, it’s best to focus your mind away from the difficulty onto more pleasant thoughts.

A few examples of Providential** assistance included finding a laminated map propped up against a tree at a campsite, a clean water source along the way, and an answer to prayer for assistance. I had told my son earlier in the day that I had prayed in the form of a daydream that a person would be standing in the river, fishing, who knew where to cross and would be willing to point out where the trail was on the other side. In actuality, the answer came in the form of two people who were camping and were just stepping out of the river after swimming. The man walked about a 1/4 mile up the river to show us where to cross and gave a detailed and accurate description of the turns to get on the trail we desired. The end of his description was as follows: “I don’t know what happens after the field because I haven’t gone any further.” (Reference earlier sentence about the two exits from the field for a small chuckle.)

Am I wiser for the experience? In one respect, no. I knew all of those things to do and had regularly done them in times past, except when I didn’t. In another respect, yes. For hopefully a long time, and perhaps permanently, I will ask questions of preparedness of my self and others before attempting something more than moderate. And, the moderate can become the strenuous, so take heed there, too. Now, a few of you are thinking how foolish the whole adventure was. I suspect you don’t have much adventure in your life. Some are saying, what’s the big deal since no one was hurt. Your adventures will likely be short-lived. The balance is to take calculated risks. That involves foresight, preparedness, physical and mental vigor, and a willingness to ask for help. I resolve to be better prepared next time rather than just stay home.

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Father-Son Outing

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Ferns have such a feel of richness

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Never seen Galax so profusely blooming as on this trip

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Mountain Laurel

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Steep, poorly marked trails

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Do you see the fisherman?

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Sourwood sprouts and Table Mountain Pinecone

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Steep terrain and sharp meanders

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The reason the trail doesn’t always follow the river bank

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Raccoon Tracks

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Hawksbill

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1 3/4 liter was not enough

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Wild Ginger (Asarum sp?)

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Refreshing

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Chimneys

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Japanese Meadowsweet. What is it doing here?

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Solomon Seal with seed pods

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???

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Fire Pink

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???

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Indian Pipe

*Last lines of “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

**Answer to prayer is a Providential assistance, too, but is more direct, so I classify it differently from common grace (Matthew 5:45). God oversees all things in our lives.

 

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While driving a short distance to run at my local Greenway, I turned on the radio to hear the beginning of a TED Radio Hour presentation on NPR about the idea that “Everything Is A Remix”, a web series and idea by Kirby Ferguson. The host of “Science Friday”, Ira Flato, asked, “Is there really nothing new?” Mr. Ferguson said, “The Big Bang.” This line of thinking dissonated with me because of the worldview conflict, and because it is only correct in a way undisclosed by either of those speaking. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” But what about beyond the sun? And what does this mean, anyway?

Mr. Ferguson’s point is that any song you hear has an association to an earlier song. He generalizes his maxim to say no thought or attempt at creativity is original. The only creativity is found in remixing it to make it your own and make it fresh. Johannes Kepler wrote, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.” My conclusion to Kepler’s quote is that God has made us in His image, which includes creativity, but our discoveries are repeats of a limited nature of His thoughts and plans. We receive joy and He receives glory when we explore, create, discover, and acknowledge.

Create beauty in visual or musical art forms, God has been there already. Create beauty in prose or poetry. He has known it long since. Create sacrificial love and moral purity. He has perfected it. Create novel questions and solutions. He has mused upon and answered them all. The Humanist will be offended by what seem to him or her a deterministic regurgitation of God’s ways. I rather find joy in discovering what He has done.

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When I was invited by an old friend to spend the day in Grandfather Park and State Park, I didn’t hesitate. I had not been to the Private park side of the mountain in at least 15 years. The day was exceptionally calm for this mountain that can funnel 200+ mph winds over its peak. The atmosphere was clear but not exceptionally so. The conversation on the way up was lively and continuous. After the various and many explanations of rules and restrictions, we headed up the steep, winding entry road. The first overlook greets you with the mountaintop vista and a teasing of the ridges that will be seen when you get higher up.

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After conversation with the parking and trail attendants, we excitedly started up the trail. The first small peak allowed a view of McCrae Peak that was framed by a spruce and fir.

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McCrae Peak

The topography, geography, and geology of this place is fascinating and somewhat extreme. There is much metamorphic rock in this area with splatterings of igneous intrusions. Don’t let the signs fool you. This is a Flood remnant from a few thousand years ago with extreme upheavals and collapses opening fissures, grinding formations, and recrystallization of minerals. Under one severely overhung outcropping at the base of the large ladder on the Underwood Trail, are stones and cobbles seemingly glued into the cliff face. Normally I would declare this to be a conglomerate, a sedimentary rock made of cemented sediments of rounded rocks. And that may yet be true, but the cement is metamorphic, gneiss and such. Was it originally sedimentary rock metamophized by the pressure of the upheavals or was it stones that fell into or were forced alongside a magma inclusion that metamorphized the cement? Either way the process was extreme.

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Tiny quartz crystals “glued” onto metamorphized quartzite and feldspar

I did not know until this time that the ladders and all but 1/4 mile of the trail are in the State Park. Except for the huge boulder which is McCrae Peak, I feel confident that there is an easier way up, but the ladders give their climbers understanding of the starkness of the topography. 

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Chutes and Ladders

There is one point along the trail where you are coming to a knife edge of the ridge. Because of the prevailing winds, you may turn this corner and come into the full blast of the wind. This day pictures me with my new friend at that turn, on a calm, sunny day. One time in the past, I was fully surprised by the calmness and reasonable temperatures on an Autumn day only to be rudely awakened by the blowing snow, frosted heather, and fierce winds and chill factor at this very turn.

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A bright day and a new friend

It is amazing how few people have been seriously injured or killed over the years of hiking these trails. Below is a segment of the marked trail that causes one to step cautiously.

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The reflection in the pool of water in the next picture is deceiving, leading one to believe there is a hole in the rock. Actually, the picture was taken to show the Junco bird picking up a bread crumb. These hardy little birds can be seen and heard flitting around on the hottest summer days and coldest winter gales at high elevations.

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The very peak of the mountain at right is one in a series of large boulders that sits on top. The cutting edge of the ridge seems to have been thrust up over the western, American plate.

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There really is no other way up to the peak other than the ladder, unless you wanted to do some real bouldering. The drop is probably 75+ feet off of the back.

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McCrae’s Peak ladder

May 14th and Spring is only beginning to peak its head through the rhododendron leaf litter. I do wonder what the other green leaves are since there were many more of these than fiddleheads.

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Fiddleheads

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Hobble Bush (Viburnum lantanoides) new vegetation

I took many more pictures of the bridge area, but this one taken by a trail attendant best communicates the joy of reopening day. We went past McCrae Peak up through the Attic Window to look back to the McCrae Peak and the bridge beyond. It was a strenuous, talkative, view intensive hike.

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Indeed, this blog entry is cut short, because I could not upload another picture. Now I must decide what to do, because my picture storage for the blog is full. Do I upgrade for a service that I have been thankful to use free thus far? Will deleting old entries free up space for new entries? Is there value in retaining old entries for the occasional reference value to things I have written? How valuable is this blog to me and to those few who regularly follow it and those who occasionally visit? What journal value does it have for me and my posterity? What spiritual value does it have to communicate my journey and God’s goodness, graciousness, power, creativity, and holiness? I will have to weigh these questions against other priorities. For the time being, I am grateful to have had this outlet for my thoughts, thanksgivings, teachings, and creative trice.

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My son, his wife, a friend, and I went hiking in the Gorge last Friday. The temperature was perfect, the skies were deep blue, the wildflowers popping and beautiful, the conversation enjoyable, and the hiking strenuous. We went down by way of the Sandy Flats Trail which is on maps but no longer marked or maintained. In places the trail was easy to follow, but in others downed trees and shifting creek obscured any remnant. It was always extremely steep with actual rock scrambles in several places. I am glad that we went in this way instead of coming out this way, because we would have been discouraged when tired. Instead, it was an adventure with many undisturbed spots for wildflowers and jutting rock outcroppings.

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Steep descent via Sandy Flats Trail next to Wiseman’s View

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Newlyweds on a jaunt in the woods

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Crazy Friend

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Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra eximia)

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Wake-robin Trillium (Trillium erectum)

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Showy Orchis (Gelaris spectablis)

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expanding tree Shelf Fungus (or Bracket Fungus; Polypore)

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Linville River

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Sandy Flats?

Next, we turned up gorge toward Babel Tower. My son felt like the Sun would beat us to our destination, so he set out on a fast pace. With taking pictures here and there, I had the hardest time keeping up. The Gorge is so narrow down by the river that at times you are only a few yards horizontal from the river but 1 to 2 hundred feet above it.

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Trail on the Edge

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Notice the rounded cut outs in the far bank from flood scouring.

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Blue-flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

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Tower opposing Babel Tower

I am beyond frustrated with the autofocus. In one attempt, I even tried to put a large leaf in the immediate background to force the nearer focus and it still chose 1/5 of the field of view and focussed further away. But I did record a flower that I have not seen often. I saw several of these plants as we went along.

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Sessileleaf Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) with violets below

Perhaps the most classic and beautiful view of the Gorge is from Babel Tower toward Hawksbill, Table Rock, Little Table Rock, and Chimneys:

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From Babel Tower downstream

The river goes around three sides of the rock outcropping called Babel Tower. A wide angle lens could record in 30 degrees of field of view the upstream and downstream river flowing at an angle about 60 degrees downward. This is extreme topography.

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radical descent

It is always good to have someone to share the journey and the view with, whether the day be pleasant or strenuous, or both.

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And to think, God is pleased to share the journey and the beauty with us and one day bring us to dwell with Him for eternity.

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I love to observe the beauties of nature. Some of the following pictures are from before the pandemic and many are part of my coping mechanism since it has started. The first picture shows algae with what I believe to be a brown spore case. If I am wrong, I wish some algae expert would set me straight.

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Algae under a microscope

Cameras can be deceptive. The pizza place was actually rather dim with little points of light. We enjoyed the cauliflower crust pizza with organic toppings of veggies and cheese.

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Upscale Pizza place with my Valentine

It is convenient that my son has several downed trees in his side yard that I have cut off of a few times. I had never been so low on wood, oh, except for the time many years ago when I had been sick for several months and nearly ran out. At that time a friend felt sorry for me and brought some wood. The present wood is dry and off the ground with very little rot. The day was pleasantly cool for work.

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A little more wood needed

I gave one of my 9 year old Sunday School students an adult coloring book. The next Sunday she showed me the following:

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Sunday School student’s art

A mobile lab comes to our school each semester to do a DNA Electrophoresis Lab with our Biology students. It is a very effective use of their time.

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DNA Electrophoresis Lab

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migrating DNA in a gel

A friend of ours from Bible School days came by to visit. She is retiring from many years of missionary work in the Philippians. It has been a privilege to be in contact with her all of these years, following what God has been doing with and through her.

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A friend and missionary

All of the previous pictures were pre-pandemic. The following ones are various fresh air excursions since warning to keep apart from others. The trillium are going wild in a little triangle of woods about 1/2 mile from my house where I frequently walk.

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Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

I like the beauty of my own yard in Spring as well.

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Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

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Just a week before the restrictive stay at home orders came, my daughter and two grandchildren came to visit.

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He can look so serious

Only 3/4 of a mile from the house is a small waterfall in a draw (small vale or notch for those of you from a different neck of the woods) surrounded by wooded suburbia.

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Neighborhood waterfall

We hiked one day to a much larger waterfall. It is a short but steep walk, which I would have thought nothing of had it not been for the little ones to help along. We have had so much rain lately that the ground keeps giving water.

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Upper Creek Falls

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Mama enjoys time outside, too

I can’t paint a still life, but I can appreciate one.

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Colors, Contrasts, and Tones

When my daughter went home, my granddaughter wanted to stay. We did several fun and relationship building things. When we went to the climbing gym I told her to watch me climb at first, knowing that she takes time to warm up to things. After about 45 minutes of following me around, she asked if she could have some climbing shoes. She was really quite good.

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More time together

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Only thing lacking was confidence

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roughed up a little

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Historic times

My wife is a wonderful cook. The only problem is her food doesn’t last long around our house with me there.

 

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Yet another fabulous dish from my favorite chef

On the way back from a doctor across the state line, I decided to stop for a leg stretcher. In warm weather it is one of the best and most crowded swimming holes.

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good flow

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Elk River Falls

Two more backyard blooms and a small neck of the woods trillium follow:

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Backyard Beauty

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Pontentilla sp.

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There is little for perspective, but this huge, perhaps 12″+ in diameter.

At 5 PM on this very day, they were closing down many outdoor venues, specifically including climbing areas. I went and got in a quick session since both gyms and crags are closed for the foreseeable future. So much time to go and so little availability.

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Mushroom Boulder

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View from just behind the boulder

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Galax

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Bloodroot and Wood Sorrel

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Wood Sorrel

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Bloodroot

Having not been outside much to climb lately, I was mostly shutdown by problems that I could previously do. I enjoy climbing for the mental and physical aspects. I needed some success before I went home and this is a good boulder for it.

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Warm-up Boulder

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Shelf Fungus

I bought this ground cover only last Spring and it is covering the ground!

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Verbana sp.

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Red Dogwood

I don’t know why it is named after a snake, but the vividness and pattern of the white lines on the leaves are fascinating:

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Rattlesnake Plantain

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Fiddleheads

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Mayapple

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Wisteria

Many trees can be identified to the species by how they are shaped. Even sometimes their reaction to heavy pruning still comes out identifiable. One bright blue day I took pictures of 8 or 10 treeforms. I won’t bore you with the lot of them but the general idea is there.

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Spruce treeform

If you know what fractals are, then you will see why I mention them before the white oak tree picture.

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Oak treeform

To end this random array of flower arrangements and outdoor excursions and such I give you one more flower that grows by my backyard shed. Enjoy what little joys and beauties you are afforded. They help you deal with the sad and ugly moments of life. They are gifts from a gracious Father who loves beauty and blessing.

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Star of Bethlehem

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We haven’t had much of a winter this year. If it has reached the teens more than twice, I don’t remember it. But I went on a hike with one of my great nephews (in both senses). He had never been to Mt. Cammerer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I had never been there coming from Cosby Campground. It was 20 degrees when I left the house and the top of the mountain is about 4000 feet higher. I suspect from the reported low on a mountain of similar height closer to home that the Mt. Cammerer saw 15 or lower. It also snowed 1/2 inch, clinging to the branches and needles. It was still below freezing on the north slopes when we reached the top around 11:30, indicated by the hoar frost on the branches and ground frost columns in the bare spots. There was quite a chilling wind when we began, but when we arrived on top the air barely stirred and the sun warmed the rocks to a comfortable lounging temperature for lunch. We felt so good that I suggested that we consider going back another way that would add mileage- 3 miles by my estimate. I was wrong and the hike extended out to 16 miles total. The way back along Lower Cammerer Trail was an easy grade on smooth ground. We hiked at our own paces in places and together conversing at others. There was so much to clear the mind of stress and consider God’s goodness in our lives and in creating the world. I have yet to hear how my partner fared for soreness, but I had relatively little. It was an overall pleasant day.

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Beginning point in Cosby Campground

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Good flow from abundant rainfall

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Mid-sized Yellow Poplar

My sister-in-law gives an excellent explanation of how this frost forms (click here) and my great-nephew had a a better camera to capture the effect. I am always fascinated by how it elevates pebbles and flat rocks.

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Ground Frost

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Still Fresh

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Which way?

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Ground Frost

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Snow Line

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Main Ridge north of Low Gap toward Mt. Cammerer, GSMNP

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Still well below freezing on the north slopes

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Treetop and Beard Frost

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Took some wind to produce that

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Such intricate outline

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English Mountain in the background

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Good to see in a warm, snowless year

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Pleasant experience, good reminiscing

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Mt. Sterling! rain gauge?

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Restored Mt. Cammerer Firetower

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The next two pictures show how intense the short-lived snow shower must have been. It would have been an adventure, though not so fun, to have been at this location during the snowfall.

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Many names of mountains have changed. The benchmark says Sharp Top, but the internet says it used to be called White Top because of white rocks jutting out. Mt. Cammerer is the name given it after the early Park Commissioner who helped to secure the parklands.

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BM Sharp Top, 1928. Why do they rarely include the elevation?

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Pine tree on a south facing slope with limited soil

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The following two images I borrowed from my great-nephew’s site (with permission) to highlight the immensity of the scene and the smallness of us sojourners. John Piper says that we were made for something bigger than ourselves, meaning God. The proper response to the bigness and beauty of creation is worship of the Creator.

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I-40 and the Pigeon River

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Galax, lichen, and snow

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Time to head down

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid has decimated Eastern Hemlocks in recent years. The Park Service treats some of the larger ones that are left. Evidently the treatment has to be repeated (For details click here.) to save the trees. Are the two paint marks two successive treatments?

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Treated Hemlock

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Treated Hemlock next to the untreated one

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Christmas Fern

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Barely over halfway point

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Seep

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Mountain Silverbell seedpod on oak leaves

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Cemetery

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The only marked stone and probably the newest at 1912.

Many of the draws showed more evidence of high flows than the black width of drainage way here.

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The high water must have been something.

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Cruising the easy way in a north facing woods with little underbrush.

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Was the bridge nearly toppled by high water or poorly set to begin with? Bridges across the wider streams are a welcome and easy passage.

With all of the amazing things that cameras can do, I am still amazed at what the eye does better. The following scene revealed 360 degrees of mist penetrating rays to the eye, but several attempts with the camera failed to show any of it. It does show how low the sun was. With the driving to and from home, the hike, and the time on top, I was gone from home for 13 1/2 hours. It was well worth it.

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Almost there

My sister-in-law helped me identify this little beauty on a short detour we took off of the main trail. After the late winter snow and cold up above, it was a surprising harbinger of Spring after a brief brush with winter.

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Trail detour Hepatica

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‘For me this place is therapeutic, but I don’t know why exactly’, my partner mused.

Black Fork 1

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Table Mountain Pine

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Clouds cruising over the ridge (Colors were more vivid in person.)

It is the most isolated place in our county, thoroughly quiet and secluded, but opens up on a view of the valley a distance across several miles of woods. It feels like you are alone with God in this small wilderness with time to reflect.

The clouds and low sun made a significant distinction and contrast between the wooded draw and the valley and mountains beyond. We felt set apart. The clouds with evening colors rushed over the ridge like great ships entering harbor and yet there was no wind at the surface. The barren trees lay quietly in their winter snooze. A lone train whistle on the far side of the ridge quietly reported its presence at a far distance in the next valley. It was a time to praise God in prayer and quietly reflect on the peace it brings to the beleaguered mind and heart.

The Table Mountain Pine is not common unless you are on a south facing, shallow soil of a flat cliff top. It’s spiky cones suggest the struggle it has to tolerate the harsh heating and drying conditions where it outcompetes other conifers. My rough fingers, tape, and chalk suggest the cherished struggle I had with rock faces moments before.

It was a good day to climb, a good day to reflect, and a good day to imbibe the tranquil therapeutics. I am so blessed to have this outlet in seasons of stress. The focus and intensity of climbing and the reflection and relaxation of time in the woods and views from the clifftops are a gift.

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Life is good because God is good.

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May

Before this most recent seasonable cold snap we had a strangely warm period. The appearance and feel was of a different season.

The sun arises, oh glorious day
Herb’s fresh flowers along the pathway
Mist arises, dew will not stay
Soon birds will come out to play
Grass grows, soon cut for hay
Horses graze and neigh
All bright, all gay
Warmth now lay
All say
May

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Some things you learn through “book learnin'”, and I’m not adverse to that since I can’t be everywhere at once or in one life time. But learnin’ by experience is better when you can get it. I have a friend who is a very talented artist. He produced several insightful and intriguing stippling pictures (check out “Business on Parade”). And at one point when I was underemployed, he gave me a little work. One of the projects he gave me for some graphic design work he was doing was a stippling of a 8 1/2 x 11 sheet from white graded to black. I guess we would produce that by a digital method now, but he said at the time that the random process of poking a pen at a paper produced a far better picture.* I think that I remember it taking about 10 hours overall.

On my way to church this morning, I was praying that God would give me something to make the Sunday School lesson more interesting. As I drove the interstate the drizzle (or mist) slowly intensified and then later let up. I turned on the intermittent wipers to a slow setting, but I did not increase it as the rate of drizzle increased. I began to notice what reminded me of stippling on the windshield and every 5 seconds or so it got wiped off and started over. Artists that stipple use different sizes of pen tip for a given picture or on different elements of the same picture. The windshield stippling was far more complex in its randomness, utilizing multiple droplet sizes and some streaked upon impact. The effect was quite interesting. To our eye randomness brings some level of pattern. Three dots even nearly in a row look like a line and catch the attention. Four dots can suggest a square, rectangle, or rhombus. But looking at the individual dots is not the point (or points? ha ha). One must step back to see the artistry. The windshield would still look random, but when an artist is involved the result can be detailed beauty and communicate mood.

There is a metaphor here. Our lives are stippling drawings. Each strike of the pen can seem random for which we are thankful or annoyed or perplexed or overwhelmed or exited or challenged. But from these many seemingly random events God is designing a beautiful picture that reveals the Artist’s involvement in the process. Randomness alone cannot produce ordered beauty.** God is giving glory to Himself and benefiting us and others through controlling each strike of the pen on the paper of our lives. No unforeseen events ever mar the picture He is making.

I began the Sunday School lesson with this illustration and then in Luke 9 showed how Jesus was sovereignly controlling every detail of the events before, during, and after the feeding of the 5000, including what details were recorded. Jesus tested Philip’s and Andrew’s (indeed, all of the disciples’) faith when He knew what He was about to do. Every detail filled out the picture He was painting. Before the big reveal of everyone satisfied and 12 baskets full of leftovers, the questions and commands must have seemed trying and confusing. God, give me patience and perseverance as the pen contacts my paper in seemingly random spots and ways, knowing You are in control and this process is for Your glory and my good.

A stippling ball

A Stippling Ball****

*Yes, I enjoyed making that predominantly “p” phrasing.

**Crystal patterns in rock or snow flake form randomly but have underlying chemical design. I could get into the whole evidence of design argument, but you should read my blog entries because it is a frequent theme.

***In fact, the painting seemed to be focused on an extended metaphor of bread. Let’s talk about that another day.

****It would take more time and far more dots to make a good picture of a ball and its shadow, but I feel like it represents the intended purpose.

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On our hike at Thanksgiving I challenged a great-nephew and niece to prepare for a backpacking trip next summer. Besides asking them to take regular brisk walks around their neighborhood, I offered to do day hikes building up to the overnight trip. Yesterday we went on the first of those trips: Sterling Gap to Mt. Sterling in the GSMNP. When they arrived at the meeting place, they had a cousin in tow. So the four of us enjoyed the strenuous 2 mile hill (~5.2 miles total) and the views from the ~50 feet fire tower. It was just cool enough to make walking comfortable and just overcast enough to make for better contrast in viewing distant peaks. We had interesting conversation and enjoyed the transition of the tree types as we increased in elevation. It’s time to get in shape for the next bigger hill!

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Waterville Hydroelectric Facility: Why does a hydroelectric facility have a chimney?

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The exit is in Tennessee but the hike is in North Carolina.

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Let do this!

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It simply is not 0.4 mile between the trail intersection and the tower at Campsite 38.

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Low elevation outliers

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Big outliers

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Spruce among decidies

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A great niece learning about Galax

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A break in the trees

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Incline

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Almost there

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Notice how it tappers, though you must know that perspective exaggerates the effect

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Mt S BM (Wow, 1928!)

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A camera with the proper filter would better catch what it really looked like with even more distant ridges appearing.

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NE more or less

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We made it. I wonder how any panes of glass survive in what must be a very windy site.

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Enjoying the view?

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Main ridge at Guyot to Cosby Knob

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Campsite 38

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Interesting perspective

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Do you see my great-nephew? Notice how perspective from here makes the tower appear straight-sided.

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After lunch relaxing

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Silly cousins!

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Can you tell which one is his sister?

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At the top and still smiling

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Survived many a storm and wind

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Black (or Wild) Cherry

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White Ash

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Beauty everywhere you look

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Almost down

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I don’t know if I have enough time even now, but I have wanted to share some thoughts and pictures concerning my second son’s wedding that was on August 24th. The typical wedding comment is, “It was a beautiful wedding.” or “It was a beautiful ceremony.” There are two things that can be meant by that. It was visually beautiful and/or it was beautiful in content. Certainly my son’s wedding was visually beautiful: sunny day, aesthetically pleasing, hilltop venue (Whitestone Chapel), and beautifully dressed young people. But I see the true beauty of a wedding to be in the genuineness of the ceremony, which I define as a combination of giving glory to God, the creator and sustainer of marriage, and matching the couple’s personality by revealing a heartfelt commitment and participation in the ceremony (they are not rote repeating spectators).  And it was that. Beyond the traditional vows which they repeated, they had written what they called promises to one another. My son asked me later, “Do you think we collaborated on those?” I said that it seemed likely since they followed the same line of thinking and simultaneously were complimentary to one another. No, he said, “We wrote them separately and then read each others.” He said that the only change she made was to add a comment about coffee similar to his, a moment of levity in the covenant of their promises. The two hymns, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” and “Amazing Grace” focused our attention to how gracious a God we have, Who not only saves us but gives us all good things to enjoy. The pastor directed our thoughts to the reality of how difficult marriage is, “two sinners living together”, and how the need for love is not just a feeling but a commitment to do what is best for our spouse. The ceremony was God glorifying throughout.

Another thing for which I am very thankful is the number of family members who were able to attend. Many family members from my wife and my extended families were able to attend. The reception afterward was held at a barn at the bride’s family property with 150+ people in attendance. All had feared the August scorching heat, but some clouds and a cool breeze prevailed and it was quite pleasant. I felt that the happy couple were carried along by God’s blessing the whole day, and may it be true throughout their lives.

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Rehearsal

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Pianist

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Bride’s Oldest Sister and Family

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Mamaw and oldest grandson

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Bride’s younger siblings

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Amazing, long preparations and carry through

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‘We’re happy but it’s a long day.’

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Bride’s mother and the Pastor and friends

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My wife beside Bride’s parents

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Taking it in stride

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Fellowship

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Uncle with the little chunk

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Hilltop Venue

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Overlooking the Lake

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The Wedding Party

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My Oldest and Family

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My Youngest and Wife

Bean Family

My Daughter and Family

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My Third Son and Roommate (This Son got engaged the next weekend)

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The Growing Clan minus the Married Couple

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The Grandchildren

5 Children

The Children

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Always in Costume

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The Groom with the Pastor and His Wife

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A Portion of My Family

 

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The title comes from the notion that my extended family gathers every Thanksgiving at my oldest brother’s house for a meal and remembrance of God’s goodness to us. That is what feasts in the Old Testament were about, sacrificing animals to recognize and acknowledge one’s sin followed by celebration and feasting with family and friends over God’s goodness to forgive, provide, and protect.

Recently, because of growth within our family, we have had several additional gatherings for meet and greet. The latest one was planned for Independence Day, 2019. That comes under thankfulness for protection within this great country. Anyone thinking we could have what we do without God’s blessing is foolish, and anyone who implicates God in the evil that sinful men and women of this country have promulgated is without any sense. We are blessed and we don’t deserve it, therefore, God has been good to us. <-Period, read it?

On the way over the mountain, my wife and I stopped at the small westbound I-40 rest area in the highest gap for lunch. On our way to the bathroom, we saw several bunches of planted flowers. The edge of the woods had many wildflowers, notably Solomon’s Seal gone to seed. The entrance to the restrooms is the most busy corridor in the rest area, but it also has a dry ledge for mud builders. I took pictures and described to two ladies why it was a barn swallow instead of a cliff swallow, tree swallow, or swift. (Besides facial pattern the forked tail is a big give away.) Several Swallowtails landed among the plantain to warm their blood in the cool, sunny air. The traffic is close and noisy, people are coming and going, and the creatures just accommodate and adapt as needs be. I am sure some adapt by staying well out of range, but I was amazed at how others live so close.

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2 Beauties
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Barn Swallows
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Built on the Rock
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Eastern Swallowtail

Speaking of accommodating, my oldest brother and sister-in-law are very accommodating to have a family party. I think we are sensing the passing of the years, the incredible blessing of extended family, and the need to connect more often and more deeply. I was so busy talking and playing and eating that I almost forgot to take pictures. My wife and I counted 30 souls in attendance, the majority under 15. Many of my children and theirs were not able to attend. They have 15 grandchildren and I have 6.

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A Story, I’ll be bound
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Whack it hard! The “Birdie” is in motion just above her head over the white SUV.
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Get ready…seriously.

The next day, my older brother and I decided to go on a hike while my wife visited her sisters. The grandchildren wanted to go, but the pictures below reveal why that wouldn’t be safe. My brother wanted to visit a tristate marker on the way. It was a very unheralded spot, tying a point on a map to an actual location in the real world. Lines have thickness on paper, but lines in the world have only one dimension, length. It may seem as trivial to most, but the connection between the two is most fascinating, particularly as you stand over the spot.

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Grandchildren saying ‘goodbye’
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Another Tri-state intersection: The arch says, “Tristate Corner Paradise Point Resort”
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Which state is the camera in? And which way is north?

My brother had been to Foster Falls previously in winter when there was abundant rain. I was not surprised to find it simply dripping. This is the way of streams and falls on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee. The pool was quite deep and must be well sealed to keep so much water with so little input. It was a beautiful sight, nonetheless.

After the falls, we walked about a mile along the base of the cliff, reconnoitering the sport climbing for a possible future push. I attempted a few pictures but the quality was sub-par due to contrast of shade at the base and full sunlight on the cliff. With the heat it would be best attacked in Fall. The walk back along the sandstone caprock was significantly flat with sandy spots and intermittent seeps, all dry and baked this summer day. And yet a succulent was thriving on the rocky, shallow depressions, Fameflower. My sister-in-law, who is very knowledgeable about wildflowers, named it and described it from this picture I texted her. She said she had never actually seen one in bloom in nature owing to the fact that it only blooms a few hours in the mid-day heat. You frequently don’t know what you are looking at until someone points it out later. I saw 10 or more blooms at the edge of thicker grasses, but only stopped to take a picture of this one because of its extra-ordinarily stressed environment- kinda a “bloom where you’re planted” scenario. It turns out that they are just tough as nails and out compete other plants for such sites.

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Foster Falls- capstone, shallow soil, and infrequent rain result in a boom or bust flow
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Mud Daubers? Cliff Swallows? Dried Mud? No, it’s pitted limestone!
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Topview of Foster Falls
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Phemeranthus calcaricus, Limestone Fameflower
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Natural Pavement, aka Sandstone Cap; Unnatural Meadow, aka Powerline Right-of-way

We made it home late that night, tired but blessed by the family time and brushes with nature.

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I like big adventures as much as the next person: A trip to an exotic, far off place; a expedition into an unknown place of exploration; a purpose driven service for others. But daily life rarely presents such big adventures unless you can re-orient your perspective to sum all of the small discoveries and opportunities into the whole. Following are a few very small joys in which I partook in the last week. They are neither big nor even the best of the week, but they are the ones for which I had a camera and the appropriate occasion to use it.

I walked out in the yard on a pleasant Spring evening, beyond the large hedge bush, where I had forgotten that I had transplanted a daylily last fall because of crowding where it was formerly. There was a bright surprise on the other side of the bush. Spruce or forest green is my favorite color, but a light golden yellow is a close second. (I never know what to call this color. It’s not gold leaf; it’s too orange to be yellow and too yellow to be orange; it doesn’t quite seem like amber.)

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Twin Beauties

My wife is a particularly  good cook and all the better because she tries new dishes. My palate is never bored. After a new and good dinner the other evening, I pushed back from the table a bit to savor the moment, noticing the patterns of pinewood, stainless wear, and Corelleware. Oak grain is perhaps my favorite and most interesting grain though admittedly curly maple is quite intricate. Walnut grain is rich. Pine knots are the most interesting part pine grain. When placed in pairs on a veneer such as a plywood, the parallel knots can may interesting pictures of faces. Patterns on forks and plates can be gaudy for my taste but French curves are tasteful if not overdone. For instance, consider the persistence of Paisley’s, a French curve derivative.

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Unity and Contrast of patterns, colors, and materials

Mallard Ducks are common and “garden variety”, but have you ever looked closely at the decorations on a male Mallard? I reminds me of the verse: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” (Luke 12:27) Conversely, I only saw two Mallard’s paddling upstream against the current. Where are the thousands of birds and the teaming fish in the river? Once migrating flocks blackened the skies. What have we done?

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From orange, webbed feet to yellow, dabbling bill, he’s a well decorated flier

One of the activities my wife and I do most consistently beyond chores is walking on our local Greenway. This is where we saw the ducks. Only a few moments later, my wife was asking me what kind of tree was beside the way. This got me to looking up a little more than usual. Though I do like to look up in the trees, I usually do it more when sitting or lying. As the picture reveals I saw a little different variety on a large oak trunk near the path, a few feet above usual line of sight. I told my wife to come back and see it. She exclaimed and gave it wider berth. I stayed behind to snap a few pictures. I had more close up pictures but black is black and the context of trunk and path seemed more informative.

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For perspective: approximately 4 1/2 feet Black Snake

I am thankful to God for occasional brushes with small joys in nature and relationships and comforts to keep life interesting. Catalog your small joys like the old hymn says: “Count your blessings; name them one by one. Count your many blessings; see what God hath done.”

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It was not a record snow. Those seem to be more in the neighborhood of 18″ in 1993, the 1960’s, 1925, 1911, or something, depending on whether you mean 24 hour total, storm total, and where exactly. Tracing such records is dizzying and hard to do. But a solid 14″ on the hard surface of my yard where there is gravel and scant, short grass is good enough for me.  I have a picture of it when it was 13″, because the 14″ measurement picture was blurred by condensation on the lens.

I think that one of the changes with age is my way of enjoying the snow. Some people don’t really seem to enjoy it unless they are sliding on it. I, too, used to love to do that on anything slick: sled, shovel, skis, shoes (boots really, but I couldn’t resist 5 s’s in a row).

But now I like most of all to take a long walk to the point of fatigue and take pictures of anything that looks beautiful or unique. I find much peace and exhilaration mixed together when it is snowing. It is quiet and yet screams at the senses, bright and yet darkly overcast, beautifully sculpting and yet messy, sanguine and yet melancholy. The wind, flakes, and sound absorption isolate you and yet your neighbors come out to greet you and lend a hand if you are stuck.

I apologize to my friend whose picture I took, twice. It seems that the snow flake that I did not see and obscures part of the clock was inconveniently on his face moments later. I walked 2 miles over to his apartment and then we walked a mile back up into town. We are both school teachers and don’t have anywhere we have to be at the moment.

I am thankful to God for hearing my prayer for it to not rain last night, since that would have certainly caused significant flooding. It melts away slowly today, running down the gutter at the bottom of my driveway. It was a beautiful, big snow.

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The Homeplace draped in liquid lace

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It’s hard to keep firewood dry.

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I had a better picture of this, but the flash reflecting off of the snowflakes was a pleasant surprise.

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It really was 14, later.

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Wind Sculpting

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Nice contrasts

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Working hard for a day off!

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Companionship is always good.

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It looks intense.

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Good architecture shines even when covered.

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In a small town near you

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Iconic, Historic Courthouse

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Go, but not too fast

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No one in attendance this week

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I forgot to tell him to turn off the flash.

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Snowtime

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“I moved down from Wisconsin to get away from this.”

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We have a few pieces of snow equipment in our small, Southern town.

Decorated Snowy Lightpole

Pass Go, collect $200, and have a Merry, White Christmas.

 

 

 

 

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Keeping the Thanksgiving tradition alive on a day after hike is one of the enjoyable ways of renewing our family relationships. I find that the quieter, slower pace and distance between hikers perpetuates more personal conversation. It’s when I really catch up with where family members are at. And I met one new extended family member, too.

The best time to see waterfalls and cascades is when there is plenty of water. This must have been a record rainfall year. Chuck said the area is 10 inches above normal so far. And there had been a big storm just two days before.

The hike we took was on Rhododendron Creek in Greenbriar. I’m told it is not an official trail, but given the traffic, it might as well be. Toward the end of the 2.6 mile stroll we came to cemetery that had numerous Whaley’s in it. There was a curious story about how two distant cousins in my family meet, genealogically speaking.

When we got back to the road, my niece and I ran about 1.3 miles down the gravel to retrieve the cars. I am so happy that I can begin to run again. It was a pleasant hike all around.

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Ready for a hike even on a damp day

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Every little stream full to overflowing

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Hi-ho, hi-ho!

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I like to slow it down a little

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Plenty of water

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The crew at a destination

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A very bushy lichen (Anyone help with the ID?)

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Leon and Chuck

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To read and see my brother’s description of this and another hike, click on Chuck’s Description of the Hike 

While at one of the seven cascades, my niece decided to take a selfie. As she described it in her e-mail with the attached picture, this is the picture with my ‘crazy uncle’. That crazy uncle was trying to go see the next cascade up that was hidden in the rhododendron above. My nephew followed and you can see the site below.

 

Emily with me in background

My Niece’s Photo Bombed Selfie

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‘Crazy Uncle’ Cascade

Some people reading this blog may say that Leon (aka ‘crazy uncle’) seems to think that he has to tag on a thanksgiving or praise to God at the end of a blog entry. I don’t always, but if you look at the title and subtitle of this blog, you will see that it reminds me that He is the one worthy of praise and thanksgiving for our existence, provision, and salvation. I intend never to stop praising His glorious name, and enjoying and thanking Him for His provision of all things good and beautiful. Among those provisions are good health, the beauty of creation, and the warmth of family.

 

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The sky was so blue you would have thought we were out West. The day was just barely long sleeves cool in the shade and balmy in the sun. With the low humidity rock friction was good. The wall pictured has very obvious ripple marks which were probably laid down during the Flood in loose sand, lithified then tipped. It is the type of climb that is challenging because of the small holds rather than the need for significant strength. It is not really that hard since it is on a positive slope, but you never quite feel like you are secure because the holds are small. I would not attempt to lead it for that reason. For me this has been a year of recovering from injury, so climbing at all is amazing and climbing decently is even better. I picked my way up this climb and completed it in one try. By contrast, on a later climb I struggled with strength moves up half way and then the holds became so small I didn’t even know what to reach for next. I was totally shut down. I find climbing to be both exhilarating and humbling. I always enjoy the conversation with my climbing partner, who is a growing, young believer in Christ, an avid outdoor enthusiast, and an intelligent engineer.

Noel Rap BF

Rappelling after a climb. Deep blue skies!

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In the moss of my backyard

The trees in my backyard usually sustain moss green until the heat and shade of June, but this year it has remained green even until late October. As I write it is raining hard yet again. The miniature scene above shows a recent mushroom popping up through the moss into a spot of sunlight even as leaves begin to fall off of the willow oak. I don’t remember seeing this type of mushroom before with the yellow rim. It was bright yellow when the fruiting body first began to open. I readily understand the attraction of bonsai scenes. The small detail of lush greenery is fascinating and beautiful. 

I am so thankful for eyes to see dark blue skies, ripple marks on rock, moss and mushrooms and all. The Creation is only a dim shadow of the beauty of our God and one day we who belong to Him will see Him.

Frederick Faber says it well in his hymn “My God How Wonderful Thou Art”:

“How beautiful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power,
And awful purity!…

Only to sit and think of God—
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the name—
Earth has no higher bliss!.

Father of Jesus, love’s reward!
What rapture it will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze and gaze on Thee!”

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Last Saturday I went climbing with two friends in an out of the way place that local climbers know about but don’t widely describe its location. The day began cool, cloudy, and damp. There was no one out. We stopped along the way to take pictures at the top of the cliff, because you walk in from above and descend a gully to get tot he base of the cliff. My friends had never been to this location before, but I didn’t show them around much because our time was limited.

We worked on 3 different climbs, two sport and one trad. I have a habit of overprotecting trad climbs, but I put in adequate protection without overkill this day. It felt good. For the uninitiate, sport is clipping your rope into bolts on the way up using carabiners, while trad (traditional) protection is various devices that you place in cracks and clip the rope into with carabiners. Trad is more challenging since you have to take more time, and therefore more energy, to place the protection.

The clouds blew away in late morning, leaving a clear blue sky and pleasant temperature. We encouraged and quipped each other up the rock. It is good to have friends with whom to do things.

This day out of context seems pleasant enough, but it is mid-October and still unseasonably warm. The year has been exceptionally wet. Flowers and shrubs seem confused. I have an azalea that is blooming for the third time this season. Below is a picture of rhododendron blooming in mid-October. Mosquitoes are still fierce, moss is still green under the trees in my backyard, and mildews are ubiquitous. Most of the leaves are still green and only now do we see sourwood turning deep red (picture below). Higher in the mountains the yellows are appearing, but green is still the predominant color. Finally, this weekend we expect near freezing temperatures, but we ought to be approaching hard freeze date and it is not likely soon. Whether this is a permanent change or a prolonged cycle I have no foresight to tell, but it is at the very least odd.

One way or another, for one reason or another, this old world will be as a worn out garment one day, ready to be changed and rolled up. But God never changes. He will remain and all of those who by faith are His children. (Psalm 102:25-28) So, I enjoy the beauty of nature and glorify God for its beauty and in its fading glory.

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Preping for the Climb

Dan at BF

Balance and Concentration

lichen

“Paint Flake” Lichen?

Noel belaying

The Old Man Belays

Stephen at BF

Beautiful day for a challenge

Stphen belaying

“Belay On.” or Banana on?

variety of seedlings

How many varieties of tree seedlings can you identify? (I see 4 and one more I’m not sure about, a vine and a shrub.)

Lake J From BF

From Cliff Top

3x selfie from BF

Guy Outing

Rhodo blooming in Oct

Rhododendron blooming in mid-October?

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I had asked my fourth born son to come to town one weekend and go for a hike with me. It has been a long time since I have hiked with any of my children. He decided to invite a friend from college days. Since it is summer, I thought it would be nice to visit one of our adventuresome swimming holes at the base of Babel Tower in Linville Gorge. It is a steep hike down for two miles. I love to stand on top of the tower, which sits in a severe turn in the river and look down at about 60 degrees to the right and then the left to see the upstream and downstream legs of the river. After we looked around, we went down to the river where we swam, jumped, and sunned. My son waxed reminiscent about past trips that challenged and pleased us.

He said that he liked the other swimming hole we used to frequent better. We still have a lot of daylight; we could go to that one, too, he suggested.

So we hiked as quickly as we could back up out of the gorge. This brought on a discussion (when I had enough breath to talk) about how he and his brothers learned to hike fast, trying to keep up with dad. “I remember the very hike that it changed. You could no longer keep up with us. To be fair, my younger brother and I could not keep up with our older brother either.” But I am thankful to God that I can still hike, and especially since I had a knee injury seven months ago. I have not run since then and could not walk any distance or speed for many months because the back of my knee would swell. But this time I almost kept up.

We went on to Wiseman’s View and took pictures there and told stories. Then we started the car ride around the top end of the Gorge and down Hwy 181 to Mortimer Road and cut across to Wilson Creek in order to hike to Lower Harper Creek Falls. There are few swimming holes so versatile as this one. There are two pools separated by a gentle cascade that you may slide down seated. In the middle of this cascade is a pothole of four foot depth and diameter that the water swirls around in. You can stand in it and even submerge into an airspace under the falling water to hide. The upper pool is narrower and deep with a forty foot waterfall coming into it. Along side the falls you can run off the steep incline at about twenty-five feet up and hit the pool beyond the sloping rocks. The water is quite cold, but the rocks warm up nicely in the afternoon sun.

My son wanted to do everything that we “used to do”. I figured out that between the swimming and jumping and eight miles of hiking to three locations that I was exhausted. On top of that we took very little for lunch. My wife had a three pound roast and plenty of vegetables prepared when we arrived home. There were very few leftovers after three hungry men ate supper. I am thankful to God for the mountains and the health so far to enjoy them, the memories we have of playing there, and the opportunity to show them to others. I need to do more of that.

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I wonder if this is where the Babel Tower separated from the Gorge wall.

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Friend from college days hopping around on the Tower

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Hawk’s Bill and Table Rock

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Beautiful day for a hike with friends

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Upstream of the Tower just below the swimming hole

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Frequently you can see people on top, but I don’t today.

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The Tower has 100′ cliffs on one side and another 100+ foot drop to the river beyond that.

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Deep pool, various jumps, current, decently cold water

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It has been a wet season

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from Wiseman’s View

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Lower Gorge with Shortoff on the far downstream side

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Brings back memories; makes new ones.

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Lower Harper Creek Falls

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The cascade into the lower pool

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The way in and out to the upper pool

 

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