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Last weekend my wife and I went to Knoxville for a one our daughter-in-law’s surprise birthday party, my wife’s family reunion, and other visits. What makes this so amazing is that my wife had had health problems that prevented her from significant travel or visiting- she was in much pain and it simply wore her out. About 3 weeks ago the symptoms suddenly began to go away after almost two years of intensifying. She has been to many doctors, but mostly they could not pinpoint the problems, which are not all solved but she feels like she has a life again. She decided that the birthday party with many people would be too much for her, so I dropped her off at her sister’s house to have a quiet visit while I was at the party.

Her husband is very patient to talk to my wife at the slower pace of someone with aphasia.

I missed the surprise moment of the daughter-in-law’s arrival, but there was plenty of visiting all around.

Visiting with my six grandchildren by my oldest son and his wife was enjoyable.

My oldest son is listening to a story by his pastor. We went to church with them the next morning. You can see my sister-in-law in the pink pants getting to know one of my grandchildren.

The pastor is also a near neighbor, so the grandchildren feel comfortable with him and his wife.

I said that there were six grandchildren. The one in the green cap holding his mother’s hand in an earlier picture didn’t stand still long enough for me to get a picture. My oldest brother is a retired pastor and quite the UT fan.

My sister-in-law is quite the story teller. You can about see her spinning a yarn here to my youngest son: “Ye…eeep! It was a real humdinger.” The daughter-in-law’s brother is listening to another story with pleasure.

My third son has that “are you taking my picture” look, but his wife just smiles.

The family gathered for the reunion at Cumberland Mountain State Park on Sunday afternoon after church. Eating and talking is what you do at a reunion. Most of the participants are past playing games.

Mother and son.

Who looks more mischievous, uncle or nephew?

Brothers.

Their spouses.

The eight siblings of my wife’s family and all but one of their spouses are still alive even though the siblings range from 63 to 86 years old. They didn’t get to have a reunion last year and everyone feels like this can’t keep happening from now on, but they are blessed to still be alive and still enjoy getting together to catch up on what has happened in the last year or two. Could you point them out in order by age?

My two oldest grandsons and their father rode with us to the reunion. The others stayed back for a much needed nap. We had gone on a hike together previously, so they wanted to go again. We went down the road a short distance to the dam where we found a trail down by the creek.

The bridge over the dam is the most picturesque feature in the park.

Besides painted dots to mark trails, the park has these special trail markers, this one on Black Oak bark.

I am trying to keep up on the march in the woods.

This is fun, grandpa, but the creek water is only cool and not cold as we expected.

It floats but will it support any weight?

I had the boys in their cowboy hats and boots stand by a healthy Eastern White Pine.

After returning to my son’s home we visited for awhile before departing to my oldest brother’s house for the evening. I was focusing in on my grand-daughter, who is the first second daughter in four generations among the male progenitors. Speaking of whom, the party, reunion, hike, and visit after a week of laboring has rendered him tired. We were all ready for some rest, but content with time we had to visit.

Indeed the years are passing, and we become more desirous of renewing family ties as time goes along. God has been good to our families according to His mercy. We should love those around us and build relationships while we can, because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, though we can guess what many tomorrows will. Life is short so we best be about knowing God and knowing people while we have the opportunity, because eternity is coming. I am so thankful for the young ones coming along, and I pray regularly for their salvation, health, relationships, and knowledge base. May they know Him and give Him glory. Life is good, because God is good.

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The title is actually the name of a climb at another crag, but it applies better to the climbs at Sitting Bear, a rock formation that truly looks like an animal sitting up on its haunches. It seems amazing that this spire stands since it is at least twice as big at the top as at the base. The approach hike is not over 1 1/2 miles, if that, but it is steep for the last 1/4 mile.

Here my climbing partner leads the Original Route (5.9+). I lead it the last time I was here (see “Bear of a Climb“). It is what is called a mixed climb where you need some trad (traditional) protection pieces and have bolts for quickdraws (1), though the other post shows the ridiculously poor nature of some of the bolts and hangers at this crag.

Looking past the “Bear” on the Gorge (West) side, the other rim of the Gorge is not that far away.

At the bolts and rings and the top of the climb from where my partner belayed me as I came up, he is securing my rope in order to take me off of belay. That way I have a little leeway to move around with while still being secure in case I fall. This stance is about eight feet below the true top and the ~300 degree view. Behind him is a view toward Charlotte. I have been up here when you could actually see the buildings in the “Queen City”.

Given the humidity and scattered showers, you really couldn’t see all that far, but the Gorge is impressive anyway. The mountain top cliff on the left is Hawksbill with Table Rock hidden behind it. Beyond that is a darkly shadowed mountain where resides the North Carolina Wall. The mesa shaped, flat top mountain is Shortoff. The right side or West side of the Gorge is Jonas Ridge upon which the gravel Hwy 105 runs. An indication of how dry it has been is the brown moss on bare rock. It must be a harsh environment for moss to survive in.

Though a simple and easy example, my partner is exhibiting the climbing move called mantling. He is tied in. You can’t see his rope.

That must be quite the sturdy Eastern White Pine on the left, able to grow above the rest on this wind swept ridge. I think it might be drizzling at the south end of the Gorge.

My partner commented that he liked the fact that climbing is the only way to see this view. I am glad that I still can.

I attempted to get pictures of the Solomon’s Seal blooming at the base of the spire.

And here is False Solomon’s Seal for comparison. Notice the difference in position and form of the bloom. If they aren’t blooming, notice the the stems are different colors.

Another beautiful day comes to a close.

We attempted 4 climbs on this spire, a 5.9, 5.10, 5.11, and 5.12, respectively. I did the first one clean, that is, without falling. The 5.10 and 5.11 I did all of the moves but fell once each. On the 5.12 I fell several times and had to yard up one section. I think with much practice that I could do it, but I don’t come here often and won’t get to project it. I sure would like to, but I am thankful for being able to at all. I had to come on a quick trip after work as is was. A few hours of enjoyable exertion out in God’s Creation provide me with days of benefit.

  1. Glossary of climbing terms – Wikipedia and so for all of the terms you don’t quite understand

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I can frequently do spontaneous. I guess my children know that. My youngest son called me last Friday morning and said, “Do you want to go camping in the Gorge tonight.” Well, that took some rethinking the day, but I was in. By the time he got off from work, drove home to get equipment, drove back to my house, and we drove to the trailhead, it was nearly 7 PM. No worries, it was only 1 1/2 mile downhill romp to the river on the Pine Gap Trail. I really like the late evening light and shadow in the this picture with the diffraction blurring around the shadow.

I feel like they should have replaced the post when they replaced the sign. That post is on the way out.

This is a frequent scene with my sons. I can’t keep up anymore. Additionally, I don’t even want to since I am looking around and taking pictures. At one point he said, “I thought we had lost the naturalist there for a minute.” The trail, as do all of the Linville Gorge trails, starts off flat for a short distance and then plunges down between the cliffs in switchbacks or rock scrambles.

This Pine Tree had some fungal “foam” inflating on its side.

Catawba Rhododendron are not as large as Grandifolia, but the blooms are very beautiful.

We passed many looming giant hulks of dead Hemlock trees. It is sad that another grand tree has been essentially eliminated from the forest.

This may be the best picture of a trillium that I have ever taken. It is Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum).

Here is the first sighting of the river. Notice the blooming Doghobble in the next two pictures.

Just before dropping down to the camping site next to the river, the trail wound through the rhododendron, pine, oak, and Galax thicket at the top of an eighty foot cliff that was immediately over the river. I was almost made for a movie scene, but better.

The river was not as loud as it frequently is, since the water was low, but it still is exciting to hear it as you get nearer.

Following was our view from the campsite at the river when we first arrived.

Linville River

Since it is a frequented campsite, I had to range out 1/4 mile to collect down and dead branches for a fire. I saw that the sun was getting low and I must return to camp.

We sat around and enjoyed the glow of our carbon footprint accelerator. I thought about it and remembered that if you leave the wood on the ground to rot it released the carbon dioxide all the same, only slower. It warmed us, occupied us, and warmed us up to good conversation about history, new horizons, family, and even a touch of science.

Just above waterline was a mound of moss crowned with clump of bluets.

Violets are such a simple flower, but they always remind me of my wife since it one of her favorite flowers. The composition of the picture is so warm with rock, wood, lichen, Galax, violet, and even a touch of fern.

Electronic zoom on a phone camera is almost useless, but it did allow me to capture a hawk on a branch the next morning as we hiked out. Though blurry, can you see it?

After we exited the Gorge I directed my son to drive to the Linville Falls Access in order to show him the little jewel that I had discovered recently. (see “Underappreciated Little Jewel“)

We even had the privilege of seeing two young deer on the drive out. Wildlife is so hard to capture. I am amazed at the talent, persistence, and equipment that professionals use to bring such amazing images of wildlife to us. Even so, I like to see it for real in nature.

From start to finish, this little overnight outing only occupied sixteen hours. Don’t say you don’t have time to get out. Make the time to exercise the body, rest the mind, and inspire the spirit. God has made us a whole person in need of Him and desirous of the beauty of His Creation.

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On my bucket list of climbs I’ve wanted to do was The Nose at Looking Glass Rock. Today I led all four pitches. This brave fellow was psyched to do it with me.

The gravel road approach was gated and we didn’t know that there was another way closer, so we walked in three miles from the Education Center.

Along the way was a nice waterfall, but checking it out would have to wait until later.

The parking at the approach trail is about 0.3 mile from the base of the rock, though quite steeply up, especially with a pack of climbing gear.

To my eye this rock face is odd both in overall shape and features called “eyebrows” throughout the rock.

I wanted to lead the climb, which is a 5.8 and well within my wheelhouse. It is a different style of climbing, however, because one must use the ‘eyebrows’ as underclings (1). The weather was pleasant for hiking and climbing, but unexpectedly cloudy, cool, and breezy at times.

It is always good to see that your belayer is alert and paying attention. You can clearly see that this climb is the most popular by the impact of foot traffic at its base. Certain climbs are called “classic”, which I have never quite understood. Does that mean people like it, it has been around a long time, that it is interesting or otherwise aesthetically pleasing, or some vague combination of all of these? After some difficult climbs we could not complete later, mostly because of lack of good protection (2), I commented that perhaps the reason you only ever hear about half a dozen climbs out of several hundred is that most are crazy hard or too run-out (3) for most people to want to climb them.

When you trad (4) climb you place protection devices like stoppers, hexs, tri-cams, slings, or cams like the one pictured here. Then you clip your rope into a carabiner attached to the end that catches your fall. This was a solid or ‘bomber’ placement. There are sections on this wall and this climb where there are handholds but no placement for protection. This results in a run-out situation. By the way, do you see how I mark my equipment?

Following is the view at the first set of belay anchors about 90′ up. Spring has just begun at this level but not much higher. My partner commented on how he likes the contrast of fresh green and gray limbs, because the gray accentuates the bright green of new leaves.

I was the lead climber on this climb. My partner was the follower. He is seen here cleaning the route, that is, collecting the protection that I had set. Notice in some of these pictures the visual illusion that the surface is not very steep, as in the foreground here. None of this climb is truly vertical, but except for a few ledges, it is a 60 to 85 degree wall.

And here we are on one of the ledges transitioning for me to begin leading the next pitch (4).

Being such a popular and old climb, I saw several old and broken pieces of pro along the route. The piton pictured is really old school.

The views were great. Note the occasional evergreen amongst the bare deciduous expanse.

It is always nice to have a comfortable place to sit when you are belaying, though it is not frequent. Notice the parked cars at the Looking Glass Mountain Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had stopped there many times in the past, had a picnic with the family there once, and several times thought that I’d like to climb this rock. I wonder if any tourists with binoculars were spying our progress this day? I think that the peak behind the peak behind the overlook is Richland Balsam.

I gave my partner a hard time, saying this picture looked like he was a model for outdoor clothing. You can see some older, though quite sturdy, bolts he is tied into. This location is the lunch ledge which is still not level but reasonable to walk around on untethered away from the edge.

The following four images from the top combine to make a 180 degree panorama from south through west to north. We didn’t stay here long because it started sleeting. Yes, it was sleeting in late April. Well, it does happen rarely on the high peaks in mid-summer.

Time to rappel back down. Once again it looks nearly flat in the foreground but isn’t. The blue device through which there are two bites of rope in his left hand is called an ATC (5).

In the following selfie you can see the reflection of not only the phone with which I am taking the picture but also one of the bolts to which I am attach and my partner is rappelling and the tree line at the top of the peak.

On the hike out we saw some wildflowers like this blue flag and May Apple.

I got closer to the waterfall, which had a 20′ overhang to its right.

This day was the first time I have climbed at Looking Glass Rock and the first 4 pitch climb I have completed. It was a pleasant day with lively conversation. I see endless views of God’s beauty in the rocks and trees and sky and flowing water. It gives rest to my mind and challenge to my body to be out in His Creation and sharing it with someone. Perhaps that is part of the reason that I share it with you. I want to you to enjoy it with me, acknowledge the beauty of God’s work with me, and resolve to get out more and enjoy it yourself. Come along with me if you like.

  1. undercling- fingers and palms facing up and pushing up to counteract downward foot pressure for stepping up.
  2. good protection- strong enough to catch you and frequent enough to prevent long falls
  3. run-out- excessive distance between climbing protection that may result in a long and dangerous fall.
  4. pitch- the distance of climb between two belay stations equal to less than the length of the rope
  5. ATC- Air Traffic Controller was named by Black Diamond and now colloquially referred to for all similar devices, sorta like Kleenex is for all facial tissue.

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I was in need of going over the mountain a couple of days ago. I have done the trip so, so many times. I decided that I needed to stop on the way back to take a little hike and break up the trip. I appreciate scenes I have already seen and return to many frequently. I especially enjoy showing others little wonders of nature that I have seen. But I was alone and I longed to see something new, and it did not have to be big or impressive. I found what I suspect to be an underappreciated little jewel off the far end of the Linville Falls Access Parking Lot. Old growth forests are few in the Eastern United States. I content myself with enjoying the occasional lone larger tree. This Eastern White Pine is a healthy example.

The trail is very short. By the time you walk to the far end of the parking lot, you are half way there. The trail goes up over a little hump past several large trees and then down into a narrow notch where the park service has a bridge just right for viewing and walking up between the boulders.

In the middle of the bridge, voila’, Dugger’s Creek Falls.

On the far side of the bridge the steps go up between the boulders in such an inviting way.

Always desirous of a little adventure and a better picture, I got off trail just at the base of these stairs. Inviting though they be, they were a bit too civilized for my present frame of mind. Instead, I battled a bit of rhododendron and some small drop offs. The falls, in the 12 to 15 feet wide notch and cloaked in rhodo’s was not having it.

So, I went to the top of the falls in order to check out how and where the water squirms between the cracks and voids of the notch. If you look closely, you can see the bridge. If it were summer, I would probably wade up the stream to the base of the falls, but I don’t have a waterproof camera, so that would not be recorded.

Above the falls the creek comes rushing down into the notch, still a steep pitch with more broken boulders along the sides.

The scene is green with Galax and fern and moss.

The rock form is definitely foliated metamorphic, the layers curiously formed in waves.

The trail exits the woods onto the road just out of sight of the bridge or falls, but just before it does you get one more good view.

Not quite satisfied until I have explored every little turn and divot, I crossed the creek and worked my way under the bridge and edged up along the small cliffs. It was no use. The likelihood of wet feet or more (e.g. wet cellphone) stopped me short of completing every inch. I was satisfied with one more picture and a rock scramble back up to the trail.

On the beyond the bridge side of the trail are several plagues with quotes. The following was apt to my present situation.

The author does not say why we are in need of these things, and it is certainly true that many never consider that they are. But when I muse upon why this quote is true, it seems to me to point to the beauty of God as the why we seek the beauty in nature. We cannot now see Him, though Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) We want to see His beauty and seek it in nature. But “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:9) But no one is able apart from the righteousness that Christ imparts, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:230 As He told those questioning Him about the work of God, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29) Therefore, I look forward, not based on my merit, but His in which I trust, to seeing His beautiful, awesome visage one day, just as I seeks its tarnished and veiled reflection in His Creation I so enjoy experiencing.

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The opportunities to do things with my children have been spread out more as time has gone along. People get busy, new responsibilities and challenges come along, and time is stretched. So it was good to take two short hikes with my youngest two sons and a daughter-in-law. Coming from two hours away and a half hour away, they met at my house at just after 10 AM. We drove to Catawba Falls, seeing four waterfalls in a mile and a half stretch. Along the way there is an old powerhouse built in 1923 by Daniel Adams. (1,2) My son inspects the foundation and well where the generator once resided.

His wife awaits our return to the trail and bridge on this bright, crisp day.

Right next to the powerhouse is a recent pedestrian bridge from which my son is considering the course and flow of the creek. These new alloys of steel that corrode protectively are a boon for non-maintenance. The trees in this area have been left alone for probably 70-80 years and are beginning to grow decently large.

A tributary crosses the trail a little further up. Just below the trail is a large pile of boulders and little waterfall tumbling between the boulders.

To the right of the falls and pool is a curious little cave that would be a good home for a water side creature. Tree roots provide a eerie entrance curtain.

She patiently awaits our silly exploring again. The boulders are fascinating with their significant overhangs.

The Lower Catawba Falls is a double falls, the upper part caused by the remains of the powerhouse dam. The dam is perhaps a 1/4 mile upstream from the powerhouse. I feel sure that this distance along the creek is to gain sufficient head (3), and therefore pressure, to run the generator. The water looks inviting, but icicles lined the edges of the falling water from the 20 degree morning.

The biggest show is the Middle Catawba Falls. It is said to be a 105 feet cascade. I don’t know where that is being marked from, but I’d say more. I have some better pictures of it when I went with my church group in September. (see “Cascade, Not Falls“) Today I was capturing our enjoyment of the scene.

It’s good to see the guys together and happy and enjoying the outdoors.

In this picture of me you can see icicles just up and left of my head. Pictures of falls in full sunlight are hard. In person the ever changing crystals of reflective light are enlivening to the eyes and mind, but my cellphone doesn’t know what to do with all of that light.

I wanted to see the Upper Catawba Falls. So my sons and I figured out a way to get safely above the middle falls. Recorded as 55 feet high, it is the most beautiful and symmetrical of the three.

I learned a little fun activity when I was at Machu Picchu, Peru. (“Peru 4“) I would go around and ask couples if I they would like for me to take picture of them with their camera. Being a cameraman, I know you can’t take the picture and be in the picture effectively (4). Several people offered to take my picture in return. Being by myself and wanting to record my presence there, it was a welcome offer. So this time I offered an exchange. I took their picture with their phone and they took our picture with my phone. Try it sometime. People are appreciative.

On the way back down there are good views and it is steep.

Next we took a 50 minute drive to the Bearwallow Mountain Trail. I should have taken a few pictures of the very open (no underbrush) woods on the way up (5). The large field at the top with the closely cropped grass and numerous variety of towers, both old and new, was a surprise to me. The short grass turns out to be the result of regular pasturing of cattle.

We lounged and ate in the grass and calm air. There had been a cold wind on the north and west slope on the hike up, but it was calm here.

My cellphone telephoto is not good but it does reveal mountains in the county where I reside some 45 miles away ‘as the crow flies’. The little pointy one is Table Rock and the asymmetrical one two peaks to the left is Hawk’s Bill.

The soil is very shallow at the top of this peak and the metamorphised granite pops out here and there.

Sadly, the old firetower is fenced off. It must provide a truly unobstructed 360 degree view.

The largest domed shaped peak on the horizon is Mt. Pisgah. Even my old eyes could discern the huge tower that resides thereupon.

I present this similar picture for the purpose of showing how large the field is. My three hiking companions stand halfway between the two power poles awaiting my return from picture taking.

The wind was still cutting on the north aspect when we descended, but the conversation was warm and lively, like the greening grass and bright sunshine in the pre-Spring higher elevation we enjoyed this day. I am thankful to God for time outdoors with family and hope that more will come with more of my family many times in the future.

  1. catawbafallspowerhousesidephotobuck.jpg (800×498) (wordpress.com)
  2. Catawba Falls Trail Map (hikingupward.com)
  3. Hydraulic head – Energy Education
  4. I don’t consider most selfies to be effective, that is, good picture taking, and certainly not to be compared to a good portrait.
  5. I commented to my sons that the “woods is sure clear.” My youngest pointed out that it should be “woods are clear.” He was right, but it caused me to be amazed once again at the crazy language we speak. I think that the reason I didn’t have subject verb agreement was our use of the word woods. Based on reading, I am confident that past usage was “wood” rather than “woods”. Therefore, the “wood is”, referring to the forest.

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It has been a busy month since I last went for a hike with my youngest son. The conditions were totally different (See “Winter Hike” for comparison.). The temperatures eased into the lower 70’s with breezy patches of clouds passing over revealing and obscuring the sunshine. We started off on a crowded trail where most everyone strolls in the South Mountains.

Soon we started off up the ridge onto a trail I observed to my son that I had not been on for perhaps 20 years. He replied that was one way to reveal your age. I did not recognize the trail, however, because it had recently been reworked because of a forest fire that cleared some areas and thinned others.

In one clearing where pine saplings were drinking in the full sunlight, we could see High Shoals Falls on the other side of the gorge. Can you pick it out?

A little snack was in order and more water than we would have expected to drink on the last day of February due to the temperature.

The old man enjoyed a little rest in the warm sunshine before continuing on. In reality, the major part of the climb was over at this point.

One hates to see so many large trees down, but there are advantages like better views, increased sunlight and the renewal it brings to the forest. On the other hand, fires also allow erosion of topsoil from rainfall, which has been heavy the past two years. Take note that every picture showing the ground has bare mineral soil. Notice also the beautiful blue skies when the camera was not facing south (glare).

When we reached the ridge, the breeze was a stiff but pleasantly cooling wind from the south. My son pointed out the peaks he had been on the day before with his father-in-law. We need to form a party of three for a hike sometime soon.

The marked overlook was down to the left of the ridge trail. It had an impressive rock outcropping, but not being near the top of the ridge, it had a limit angle of view. Also, the dude on the rock was listening to loud music and imbibing the combustion products of an aromatic herbaceous species familiar to the olfactory sensors.

I quickly took a picture of some “overly cooked” metamorphic rock with iron deposits, which was quite brittle and sharp.

Then we promptly left for a location of more sensory satisfaction on top of the ridge. There we found a less impressive rock outcropping with far more impressive view. It was the site I had remembered from many years ago but with a 270+ degree panorama due to downed trees. We could see deeper into the mountain range, across to the other side of the gorge, and east toward the Piedmont (swinging around from south to east to north in the following pictures). See if you can spot the bright shirt on the lower lookout in the last picture of this sequence.

Snack and portrait time

Earlier and further down the slope I had hoped outloud that the fire would result in a quicker transition to hardwoods as it sometimes does. You have probably already discerned how wrong I was. In fact the top of the ridge, where it is quite dry, was spread with Table Mountain Pine saplings, whose seeds only germinate with assistance of fire.

I don’t get many pictures of my son looking at the camera. A certain degree of camera shyness or camera apathy is involved, but also he may be getting back at me for those hikes years ago when I expected him and his brother to keep up. Now the old man mostly sees the his back side as he glides away. The next picture is the very top of Chestnut Knob. I am very skeptical that the top of the knob ever had a Chestnut tree on it. More likely it was named downslope where the abundant producers of food for forest ranging swine were fed.

I asked my son at one interesting turn in the trail on the way down to take my picture when I got to a rock below. That picture actually didn’t turn out so well but several before I got there did.

At the bottom of the gorge my son checked the temperature of the water. It is amazing how much a week of warm weather can warm up a creek after it had been filled with ice just two weeks ago.

The company, conversation, temperature, wind, trail, and views were pleasant. It is always good to get out into God’s Creation for a few hours to reset and recharge.

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The temperatures have been very variable this winter, frequently ranging from high sixties to low twenties in less than forty-eight hours. We haven’t seen much snow in the valley, but the mountains and west slope have gotten consistent, though not deep accumulations. My youngest son wanted to go for a hike and I wanted to go see a waterfall that I had never seen. We started down the wrong trail, which I pretty much knew as soon as we started, but we saw a waterfall anyway. It was good to get out into the woods in some crisp air. The first picture is of the Hump Mtn heights from Mortimer Road.

Frozen gravel is an odd sight. The air spaces created by the expanding ice make it quite crunchy to step on.

If you have not seen it before, the lacy frost heave of bare soil with excess moisture is even odder to see.

I am a little out of practice, but you can tell the temperature from the position and shape of the rhododendron leaves. They droop more and more as the temperature drops and curl up in the mid-teens degrees F. The following picture shows low twenties. When we first entered the woods in a shady spot, the leaves were hanging straight down, indicating below twenty. I didn’t see any curled on this trip.

Which trail are we on? The color of the blaze tells you. The sunbeam across this Mockernut Hickory bark gives the blaze an extra apparent significance. It makes me sad to see when someone slashes at a tree. the damage to the bark can introduce disease or allow entrance by insects.

Microcosms or micro-environments have long fascinated me from the perspectives of the interactions and completeness of their little ecosystems and the photographic possibilities. If one takes the time to look, there is so much going on in the following picture. And in warmer seasons, insects, spiders, and other arthropods would be combing the surface and subsurface for detrital delicacies and with carnivorous cravings. My son mentioned that spiders can be incredibly small. Having studied spiders, I told him that the Family Microphanidae (1) required a hand lens to even see and more magnification to discern parts. I had identified a few back in the day.

Stone wall, rock outcropping, or tree bark? This one is not so hard to figure out but pictures with a narrow field of view are frequently used for puzzles. The interesting features include moss “leaves” (2) and miniature lichen scales, remnants of snow, insect bore holes, and the platy form of pine bark.

I like the open hardwood forest which has such a stark, leafless beauty in winter.

The quietness of the woods soothes, quiets, and focuses the mind. Work and societal stress are well coped with by the occasional few hours in the woods. Rhododendron thicket ahead! It means increased ground moisture and change in aspect. (3)

Chimneys in the woods are not uncommon, but this one is in particularly good condition. My son thought it might be an old store next to the logging road.

The old cookstove has seen better days. I had hopes that the nameplate was on the door, but someone had removed it long ago. It would have been cast-iron and not so deteriorated as the plate-steel guts of the stove.

My son wanted to see how thick the ice was. Given the fluctuations in temperatures lately, it surprising that it was about 2 1/2 inches. Composed of three distinct layers, it had vertical striations of air bubbles ending at clearly seen interfaces between the layers.

A full week of consistently cold temperatures would render this cascade flowing under the ice. The edges were icing.

Only a video can show this next curiosity of bubbles: Click on https://youtu.be/HAeuLXcRzyg to see the short video.

North Harper Creek Falls runs down perhaps 150 yards of 30 degree sloped rock outcropping to then fall over a 25′ cliff at the bottom. It occurred to me that the water slips into the pool and makes far less noise than most falls. The picture shows moderate flow for this falls.

You can tell it is cold when I bring out my Australian surplus army wool paints, Canadian down skiing vest, and purple heavy weight fleece pullover. As I get older it takes less cold to pull out the serious gear. We actually saw two trail runners, one of whom was wearing shorts. I guess they didn’t stand still too long.

This spot has memories. I once did a homeschool ecology lesson from this spot. As you can see from the view, this spot feels totally out in the middle of nowhere. It is about as close as you can get to it in my neck of the woods.

Right at the beginning of the trail it crosses private property. The confirming indicator is the corner marker. The government clearly marks their corners.

In fact, they are hard to miss.

I wonder if it is advisable to report an unwilling or accidental destruction, defacing, change, or removal?

Early in the hike as I was making a creek crossing, my left foot slipped on ice and plunged into the creek over the top of the boot. It could have been worse. No injury and nothing else got wet. I poured out the water and walked without a sock on my left foot for perhaps a mile. My heel began to tell me a blister was in my future, so I told my son that I would take him up on his offer to dry out my sock. We found a wide spot on the trail where there was totally bare, mineral soil. My son gathered small dead umbels (4) of flowers that he said are always dry even when it is raining. We both gathered leaves and twigs up to about thumb diameter. He got quite the hot little fire going and fed it while I rotated my sock near the base causing steam to rise from it. I have one regret concerning this blog entry. I was so intent on drying my sock that I never thought to take a picture of the fire. My son did do a thorough job of spreading the embers and stamping it out before we left. I crossed the creek at a different place on the way back.

I was thankful to be able to get out and enjoy the quiet and talk with my son and see beauty. Before we left, with the assistance of the runners’ map, we found the trailhead where we should have begun. We are determined to return soon. I thank God for the beauty of His Creation and His kindness toward me to allow me to hike for so many years and still yet.

  1. I would not be at all surprised if you cannot find any reference to that spider family name. Classification Scientists love to change things around, especially since they believe, falsely as I believe, they have found the key to classification in DNA comparison phylogenetic trees.
  2. Mosses do not have true leaves because they are non-vascular plants and lack the complexity of leaves.
  3. Aspect is the compass direction of slope, which determines amount of sunlight, drying, and temperatures.
  4. Umbels are arrangements of flowers in an umbrella shape.

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I worked on a deck project for about half of the day before my son and his wife came for lunch. I thought we would be sitting around and talking, but he declared that he, his wife, and his brother had planned a hike for the afternoon. I asked to come along for what was a surprise outing on my birthday.

My youngest son decided that he wanted to enter the woods downstream of the main parking lot. The lower lot was full so we had to walk down the road a bit to get to where we wanted to begin on the trail.

I guess they didn’t want their picture taken.

For a change of pace we did the usual trail to the falls backwards, hiking up the long, steep, old logging road to a point above the falls. On the way up there is one small view of the waterfall, which was further obscured by fog this day. The backlighting of the fog caused outlines around twigs in the following picture- odd.

High Shoals Falls through twig and mist

Fog precludes panoramic views but it quietens and narrows the woods down to a more introspective view.

I think that my earth tones blend well with the trunks and leaves.

Sometimes bridges are provided which helps when the water is up and cold. This has been another year of excessive rain, so clogged and sand lined creeks are common.

There is always something foreboding about the top of a waterfall.

Most rock can hold its own weight up, so what level of forces are needed to crack boulders in this way and what supplied it?

The following picture has a number of curious elements. Check out the lower trunk on the small tree a the right. What happened to cause that? The moss testifies to the fact that this area is always wet, not just during a damp fog. The couple are frame perfectly, observing nature, and yet seem out of place somehow. There has been much slippage for these boulders to lie just so. The noise and action of a waterfall never ceases to grab our attention, but there is so much more going on if we look closer.

The splash zone of this waterfall and rapids below is quite large so there are plenty of Hornworts, Liverworts, Mosses, and Ferns. Check out the Doghobble at the right.

We came across some friends, all girls: a mother, 4 daughters, and 2 cousins.

Watching over the brood

There is plenty of Doghobble and Rhododendron, too.

We took a new side trail to a small waterfall as well.

Above the waterfall

River rocks are so good at revealing the geology above their resting place. Though colorful in variety, they speak loudly of the regional metamorphism that shaped these mountains.

My young friend took the following pictures. She is improving regularly in her framing and composition of her photographs. I wear the sunglasses on my head out of habit even when there is little hope of the fog clearing.

I did not expect a hike on my birthday. I mused later that God is good in the little details as well as the big. I enjoyed the day with a few of my children.

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The tradition in my family for about 30 years has been to gather at my oldest brother’s house for Thanksgiving. Numerous traditions grew up around this basic idea. One of the most enduring is the day after hike (see “Cascades and Escapades” and “Ebb and Flow of a Tradition” as two recent examples).

Of course, you can guess that this year was different. We didn’t meet at the elder brother’s house. His immediate family did. They also went on their hike. A good portion of my immediate family met at my house on Friday for thanksgiving reflections and a meal. There was plenty of good food prepared by numerous hands. We read psalms of thanksgiving and sang hymns and shared things we are thankful for.

On Saturday, prompted by two of my sons, we took a hike. My youngest and a young friend were beginning a one night backpacking trip, and the rest of us were along for the views and conversation. The slope had been burnt over twice about 15 years earlier and eliminated much of the topsoil. Regrowth has been slow, but the views are good.

The backlighting turned out OK, but since we did not know that at the time we shifted 180 degrees and posed again for the friendly hiker that I asked to record the images.

My son admitted that he was overly packed for a one nighter.

There are patches where it was not completely burned off and the younger trees come back faster here with the presence of more soil.

New growth is heartening.

The previous pictures show the relatively shallow slope the southeast face of the Shortoff Mountain. The next one shows where the trail comes along the edge of the vertical northwest facing precipice.

Table Mountain Pine predominates the stressed conditions of shallow soil, wind blown and otherwise drying conditions.

You wouldn’t be surprised to discover that this young friend is a tri-athlete. He stands upon metamorphized layers that are common to the Gorge.

Lake James actually dams three parallel streams, two of which are visible here. The South Mountains are visible in the background, being the last foothills before subsidence into the Piedmont region.

Wind is a creative and random sculptor of trees, imparting to this specimen a bonsai appearance.

There are many lone trees hanging onto the cliffs but the pine on this vertical section seems somehow “braver” or “more determined” as anthropomorphisms would have it.

Table Mountain Pine is also one of those species that require fire to open the cones and germinate the seeds. The cones appear to be fortresses against their time of opening.

Shortoff Mountain is amazingly flat on top as seen in this view along the Mountain to Sea Trail.

I know that fire is necessary and unavoidable, but I hate what it did to this little pond. First of all, it is amazing that a pond exists at the summit of a flat-topped mountain. It is not a mere wet weather pool. It used to have shade, open water, abundant frogs, small fish with only minimal vegetation in the water. Now the pond has eutrophied to such an extent as to hold no discernible animal life.

Not knowing that it was there, I had to point out to my young friends that we should stop and look at the best view of Linville Gorge available. Because the Gorge turns slightly at the mouth, you stand here on the rim looking straight up the majority of the length of the Gorge.

You can tell by the quality of the colors that this picture was not taken with my phone. I credit my daughter-in-law for this good picture.

And here she is with her husband.

Near the previous view is another one facing out of the mouth of the Gorge, revealing ridges more than 30 miles away.

I conclude with a picture of me contemplating the change and continuity of God’s nature. We can design our Biosphere 2 in an attempt to copy the real thing*, but our attempts cannot hold a candle to the ability of God’s designed Biosphere to absorb stress in the form of weather and natural disaster and human pollution and still recover and adapt. Man may have caused the fire that so affected this pond, but lightning could have just as well accomplished the same thing during drought. The pond may be changed for the duration of its existence or it may eventually recover its shaded, lively charm. Either way it is and will adapt well.

*If you don’t believe in design in nature, just consider the extent to which scientists go to design experiments like Biosphere 2 and they don’t even work that well.

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Geometrically, a cascade is a type of waterfall that drops along the contour of a slope rather than freefalls over a precipice. Catawba Falls is a massive cascade at the base of Black Mountain near Old Fort, NC. A group of 22 from my church made the relaxed walk to the base today. in the group were people from about 4 years old to nearly 70. Some children waded and swam, others held hands. There was much enjoyable talk and enjoyment of God’s creation. It has been very wet lately, so the cascade was flowing well. Muddy spots and rivulets cross the trail frequently. There are a few places to rock hop or wade tributaries. There are two large bridges to cross rougher stream crossings. Even in mid-September the leaves are all still green and mushrooms abound. The day was cloudy and cool, but this nor the cold water prevented most of us getting some part of our bodies wet from feet to head.

A Start
A 1920’s hydroelectric generation structure near the first bridge
Tributary cascade above the trail
Well graded trail on steep ground
A small tributary falls below the trail
At the old hydroelectric dam upstream of the powerhouse
Second Bridge
A little friend I helped near the cascade
Catawba Falls
From a rock about 1/3 up the cascade
Food is anything you can digest
Yes, it is cold!

While the group was proceeding back down at a leisurely pace, I decided to bushwhack a little. See what I found.

Where do all of the helium balloons come down?
Mosses and Club Mosses
In September this valued plant gives its location away by exhibiting its red berries. But I won’t give away its location.

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My oldest brother turned 72 years old this past Friday. He asked for a hike for his birthday. His wife, two brothers, his daughter, and two grandsons came along. It was an exceptionally humid September day, but not unreasonably hot, particularly because the hike was in the shade of a forest. The particular forest was Lone Mountain State Forest in Morgan County, Tennessee. I drove with my older brother. He pointed out a waterfall along the Hwy TN62 as you go up onto the plateau.

Roadside Waterfall

The signage at the parking area shows all of the trail names, distances, and marker colors. I wish that I had a map to indicate how these interconnect. We had planned a 7.0 mile out and back hike to Coyote Point Overlook.

Below is the crew minus my brother’s wife who is taking the picture. We all look fresh and ready to go.

Some things, fungi in particular, have the ability to look both beautiful and ugly at the same time it seems to me.

The next button of a mushroom seems to reveal the face of a proper English gentleman with Mutton Chop sideburns and lace collar.

The Cumberland Plateau has shallow, sandy soil that dries out quickly. In a normal year, August and September would see soaring temperatures and many days without rain. That has not been the case this year, resulting in the mushrooms popping up through the leaf litter in profusion.

The next two pictures show an interesting variety with gill-like structures on the stalk. Do these shed spores like the cap? The second one looks to me like a bright version of a WWI army helmet set on top of the frilly stalk.

The ray of sunshine pointed out this next beauty to me. It looks like an overextended parasol. The green ribs were barely observable in the bright light and it was somewhat translucent.

Spreading Yellow False Foxglove Aureolaria patula
A mint variety?
Doll’s Eyes Actaea pachypoda

The following Earth tones of decaying root and leaf and cap contrast nicely with the green of renewal.

At a trail intersection about three miles out from the parking lot, we stopped to reconsider the length and difficulty of the hike. GPS and seasoned legs told us this was farther than the signs said. We milled around and considered and ended up eating lunch here before continuing.

I am confused by this spring cover. It seems that it was built (or rebuilt?) crooked on purpose. The spring needed cleaned out, having an orange rust appearance in the water (Click here for an explanation.).

The distance to the overlook was over 4 miles, so that the GPS of several relatives indicated around eight and a half miles of hiking by the time we finished. There are several very steep sections of trail, though not terribly long. The view looked out over the ridges of the Cumberland Plateau. If you look closely, you can see two smoke stacks which we believe are Kingston Steam Plant at perhaps 15 miles away. Ridges far distant behind that were discernible to the eye.

View from Coyote Point

So common to this area is the sandstone cap rock over limestone. This point is a flat area ending in a sandstone outcropping of perhaps 20 feet in height at the top of a ridge, sufficient for a decent view.

Coyote Point
With my older brother at the overlook (photo credit: my niece)
At the local mud puddle

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For various reasons the hike schedule I had intended to keep with my great-nephew has been delayed. But this Monday we got out on our 3rd day hike, this time to Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many years ago I had attempted a winter assault via the Bulls Head Trail with a college friend, only to be shut down by icy trail across slides. The thought of slipping down the thousand foot plus slope of cleared forest covered in ice on rock, runs shivers up my spine even now. We crossed one slide ever so tenuously only to be confronted by a second one a short distance later. We turned back, knowing we still had to recross the first one to be delivered to safety. For all of those many years I had wanted to complete this trail. Now my young relative was getting to go up Mt. LeConte for his first time while I completed the only way I hadn’t been to the top. The trail starts in Cherokee Orchard above Gatlinburg. Both of us having stayed at my oldest brother’s house in Knoxville and getting up early, we were on the trail at 7:15. There were actually two cars in the parking lot and one man and son starting up the Grotto Falls Trail as we left. From there you take a 0.4 mile jog on the Old Sugarlands Trail to Bulls Head Trail. It is obvious from the pictures that this has been a high precipitation season.

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Short way over to the turn up the mountain

Log bridges are a staple in the park. The one pictured is longer than usual and the nearness to the road means that gravel is put down to reduce rutting and erosion.

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first bridge

I remember well the pictures of Gatlinburg burning in the fires of 2016. I also knew that the national park had sustained damage. Of the 16,000 acres that burned, 10,000 were in the park. We were about to see the remnants of those fires.

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Contrast

There were great swathes of mountain slope that no tree was left alive by the fire along side other areas where no damage seemed to exist. Very few areas had brush fires that didn’t get up in the treetops. There was a goodly amount of natural charcoal. Secondary Succession is in full swing these four years after the fires. Root sprouts of trees, seedlings of Table Mountain Pine whose cones need fire to open, and abundant annuals covered the ground. 

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Death and renewal

All of this clearing results in non-stop views around every corner. You can see in the next picture the large cylindrical hotel that is built just outside of the park at the entrance to Cherokee Orchard. Two ridges beyond that hotel you can see the strip that is Pigeon Forge. This line of sight convinces me that the far ridges on the horizon are toward a stretch of mountains on the far side of the Tennessee Valley from LaFollete northward to at least Cumberland Gap.

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Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and beyond

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Wooly Tops Mountain?

The exclusively mineral soil speaks strongly of the degree of erosion that took place on these slopes that receive over 100 inches of rain a year. It saddened me to consider what had been lost. As I discussed this with my sister-in-law in the evening, she reminded me that when my father was young, the area had been logged extensively*, rendering it much the same as these smaller areas now. Some 80 to 100 years later it was the lush forest I so loved. It can repair again. 

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bare, mineral soil

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Secondary Succession well under way

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continuous views

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some type of wild grapes

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Lampshade Spiders

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glimpse of the top

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gap between Bulls Head and Balsam Point

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Oswego Tea

I asked myself why some places were completely burned and others seemingly untouched. When we entered the woods from a burned over area, there were almost always coneflower and Oswego Tea which grow in wet seeps. Even in significant drought like was occurring when the wildfires hit, these areas have abundant water under the surface. The fire was doused by the seeps, preventing wholesale destruction.

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Where there were seeps, no fire

There is a constant battle for resources in the forest. When life is good- abundant sunlight, rainfall, nutrients, temperate climate- the battle is intense. Parasites are opportunistic. When life is good or when it is stressed, parasites find resources that are being squandered or difficult to use, and they rob them from other organisms. A common example of plant parasite in the mountains is Dodder.

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Dodder (Cuscate sp.) on Stinging Nettles

Lichen comes in deliciously diverse forms. The texture and variety in this next picture could keep my eyes busy for hours.

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Love the texture

If you can’t find anything else interesting to look at, check out the mushrooms. They come in so many shades and sizes.

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Caught in the forest on the run

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Classic Toadstool look

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Ancient looking Yellow Birch all fern and moss decorated

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Spruce, fern, and moss! We must be above 5000 feet.

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The lush, highland forest

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The fir trees persist

Balsam Firs! Now we are above 6000 feet. A bit of the Canadian Boreal Forest in the Southern Appalachians (There are no long a’s in that word.) Clifftop is not quite the highest point on Mt. LeConte, but it is the most visited for the views of steep, cloud cloaked ridges beyond.

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near the edge

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Over the Alum Cave Bluff Trail ridge

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over the edge

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My phone camera is not the latest generation and digital zoom is pitiful, but sometimes you have to emphasize what you are taking a picture of.

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Newfound Gap

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windblown Heather and Spruce

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Clingsman’s Dome almost revealed

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LeConte Lodge

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Mountain Boomer

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Shelf Fungus

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Rainbow Falls

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There are few healthy Hemlocks after the wooly adelgid, but the park service treats some of the tree to preserve them.

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A healthy Hemlock

The lower part of the Rainbow Falls Trail may be one of the most heavily traveled stretches of trail in the park due to the large waterfall and distance from Gatlinburg. To prevent the erosion from destroying this segment of the forest the park service has put in segments of permanent rock steps. I’m thinking these had to be placed by small skid-stears (like a Bobcat, etc.). I don’t know if even four stout men could lift many of these stones.

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The hike was 14 miles on a high overcast day with thunder on either side of us as we neared the end. It was a good outing, a goal accomplished, an enjoyment of God’s green earth that can so well repair itself and be beautiful in the process and at the conclusion.

I end this entry with a little camera envy. I have an older version cellphone. My great-nephew has one with a far superior camera. I guess when my first blog entry goes viral and get requests to have sponsors, I’ll get some good camera equipment. Anyway here are the pictures I asked him to take mostly of smaller things I knew my camera wasn’t up to:

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Caught in the Crossing

J2

“Bull’s Head Gap” overlook cairn

J3

Panarama of 180+ degrees

J4J6J7J10J11J12J13J14J15J16J18J19J21

*History of logging n the Smokies: https://www.smokiesadventure.com/smokymountains/history/logging_in_the_smokies.htm#:~:text=Before%20the%20boom%20of%20logging%20in%20the%20Smokies%2C,attention%20of%20logging%20companies%20in%20the%20late%201800s.

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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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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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In normal times “Out and About” sounds like a pretty lackadaisical pursuit of nothing in particular. But in these days of shutdown and stay at home orders, it sounds edgy and adventuresome. The beautiful days cry out for you to come outdoors. The first few pictures show flowers my wife and I found on our greenway walk.

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Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina)

This species is so very common in Western North Carolina and so unknown where I grew up in East Tennessee. The mountains are quite the barrier for some things. They are also not to be confused with Mountain Silverbell (Halesia monticola) which I mention in a recent blog about hiking on the Tennessee side of the Smoky’s (“A Brief Brush with Winter“).

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Common bloom in these parts

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With my wife on the end of the Bridge over the River

I didn’t purposefully play with the focus this way, and in fact, it is one of the main frustrations I have with automatic focus. But the result of framing my wife in the background on the greenway did turn out nice. If I had done it on purpose, I would have framed her in the space just below the small branch that bisects her in the picture. That would have been a very nice shot, which I could have cropped to include a little branch, leaf, and bloom around her on the path.

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Unintentional cool effect

My son asked why the lawnmower was parked on the carport. I said that I was trying it out to consider buying it, but then it quit. After a quick wolfing down his lunch, he offered to look at it. He figured out what was wrong in ten minutes. After work he came back and fixed the fuel pump without any need of parts. I have been impressed with how fast he has picked up on “mechanicing” since starting at the local independent Toyota repair shop.

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Lunchtime mechanic

Another day I needed to go across the mountain to pick up whole food supplements. I took a quick stop to hike a short section of the AT. I saw no one and was informed afterward by a neighbor that it was closed down. This is getting ridiculous. Largely Yellow Poplar stands are not common in WNC, but they are in ETN. I believe the difference is soil and rainfall. There is a slight rain shadow effect from the mountains so that the average yearly rainfall is typically about 10 more inches per year in ETN.

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Yellow Poplar stand in E TN

Yet another day I needed to feed the fish and water the plants in my classroom. Since we are told to not come to the school, if at all possible, I had to take my temperature upon entering. I brought the plants home and a secretary said she would feed the fish. This room has been my classroom for 11 of 13 years at this school. It feels a little like home away from home.

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My forlorn classroom

Exceptionally pleasant temperatures and blue skies have been the rule of late. I hope we neither have drought nor crazy storms at the end of it. I have been making actual but slow progress in my running lately. When you are coming back from sickness and injury it is hard to tell how much is attributable to your present physical condition and how much to excuse by being old. I am trying to make no excuses and have no high expectations. I am thankful that I can make any come back.

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At the end of my run

Today my youngest son called and asked if I would like to go for a hike. I had responsibilities at the beginning of the day, so we opted for a short jaunt in the woods. I honestly do not understand the mentality of closing trails. It further crowds the one not closed. Is that what someone wants so that there is an opportunity to close all trails and control people? It is beginning to feel that way. Why not rather let people make their own decisions about such things, warning them of the consequences, informing them about best practices, and limiting only the most obvious dangers. That is the way of freedom. Our founding fathers understood that we should trust the populace over the ruling class. We have reversed that and we will one day regret it. Thankfully on this day, the trail we had chosen was not shut down. We came in from a less traveled route and avoided all the more passes on the trail. I did not meet one person of the two dozen or so that did not make and succeed at social distancing.

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Ominous sign

The view just off one overlook we lounged on was curious to me. In the valley, Spring has sprung. Here is has only just begun. Notice the unshod trees on the slope behind. The foreground tree (birch perhaps) is just beginning to open blooms. And just beyond is a fir tree. There were a dozen or so surrounding the base of this crag. They were odd because they don’t usually occur at such low elevation (no more than 3000′ at best) and they are totally healthy when almost all others are infected or dead from aphid. I mused to my son that here was an isolated, small stand of Balsam Fir on a north slope under a shading crag where there was plenty of moisture (protection from wind, I might add) and distance from other infected trees. Long may they prosper.

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Spring barely begun

Look directly across from my nose, about 7/8 across the picture, to just past the slope down into the gorge and above the main body of cliffs. You can just see Babel Tower, a very worthwhile hike and view (Check out “Reminiscing Romp”.)

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Most pleasant day to be out

The climbing area at Hawksbill is a little intimidating upon approach. There is some good climbing here and some hard climbing. I hope to be climbing here again one day soon.

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Middle Hawksbill

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a mini-ecosystem

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The Gorge laid out before us

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view over to Wiseman’s View

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Roan Mtn and Hump Mtn

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Gingercake and Grandfather

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Enjoyable time with my son

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From Hawksbill across Wiseman’s View into North Cove with the Black Mtns (Mt. Mitchell) beyond

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Pitch Pine rather than Table Mtn Pine

I was reading another blog earlier today that suggested that spiritual life is better than physical life. The point was being made to focus on the more important one. I took the point, but took exception with the implied undercurrents. Our lives are not divided. All things have spiritual ramifications, including giving too much attention to your temporal life. But our physical life is not evil in and of itself as the Gnostics were apt to say. Instead, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) Enjoy God’s good gift of a good day but don’t live for it. Acknowledge His work in your life and live for Him, rather than take credit for it or sweat your way through making your own way. He is both pleased and you benefit from the mundane and extraordinary lived out for Him.

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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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My last post was about my third son’s wedding. You can see the pictures by clicking here or scroll down. This blog entry is a little commentary on stops along the way there and back.

On our way through Knoxville, we stopped to drop off some children’s clothes and baby equipment that Mamaw had gathered from the consignment sale. I got to meet and hold my seventh and newest grandchild. 

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Newest Grandbaby

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1st 2nd granddaughter

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Yawns mean mom will get a break

We had a few minutes with the other grandchildren. May God bless, protect, and know them.

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with Big Sister

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My son’s former roommate and friend came along, too. He is good with children. As you can see, there was a one-sided water balloon fight.

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Water Balloon prep

All things Scottish are greatly admired by my oldest son’s family.

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Scottish watch soldier

The masked man next to the little guy was said to be wearing a cape and carrying a dear over his shoulder. Robin Hood stands between him and Maid Marian.

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With the artists

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The missing, shy, sleepy brother arose from a nap just before we left.

The following pictures were taken on the trip home. I told my partner that I wanted to stop somewhere along the line in order to stretch our legs. We left at 5:22 AM, as he reminded me several times. The sun rose in central Louisiana. Below is the Visitor’s Center in Jackson, MS.

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I-20 at Jackson, MS crossing of the Big Muddy

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Remembrance of darker days

The leg stretcher was a quick jaunt up the ridge to Neversink Pit in Jackson County, NE Alabama. The sign informed us that we needed a permit to even hike on the property. It is amazing what you can do from a cell phone these days. We filled out the permission slips and had approval is less than 10 minutes. I should have taken a picture of the map. It showed the squares of land that individuals bought to set aside this natural wonder.

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Interesting Preservation and Access

The wildflowers were popping all over.

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Fire Pink

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Limestone has the weirdest looking forms

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Not too close!

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Neversink Pit, AL

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My expert sister-in-law (in identifying wildflowers at least (couldn’t pass up the left-handed compliment, Sis)) assures me that it is Violet Wood Sorrel.

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162 foot pit

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Would love to rap it someday

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flint sandwiched in limestone

 

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Younger brother and oldest son

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No expense withheld

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In extravagant training facilities

The topics of conversation widely varied, though we are both science geeks. For example, we spent perhaps two hours on the way down reading and discussing the history of the development of longitude all because I made the comment, “I wander why they called it Meridian, MS?” We later found out that it stemmed from an argument two developers of the town had, but the discussion about longitude from 1541 to 1767 was interesting. If you are willing to explore and ask questions and be flexible, then the world has many wonders small and large to keep your interest. And we stayed well away from everyone else in the process. Social distancing is not all that bad.

 

 

 

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Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains