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Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category

Do you cherish quiet, alone time? It can be a great benefit to calm and focus the soul. Don’t push it away with noise of music and voice, dear reader. Lean into contemplative moments of quiet. It will make your time with others more enjoyable and meaningful. I had a short time in the woods to quiet my spirit. Check out my pictures and reflections at Laurel Falls.

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Exercising and staying in shape is such a relentless, daily task. I don’t mean tedious, though if you don’t enjoy it or sufficiently appreciate the results, it can be. I mean that any let up in the pursuit of staying in shape is met with more likelihood of not staying thus. And I am not even talking about the psychological difficulties, though the tendency to give up or give in is ongoing. I refer instead to the accelerated decline in fitness with each occurrence of inconsistency. I am finding, as I may have been able to guess, that age is a factor trending towards an accelerated acceleration of decline, a real Jerk (1) if you ask me.

Now, I am not the giving up kind, so, I am always thankful for an opportunity to get up, dust off my behind, and jump into the saddle again. After three weeks of minimal exercise because of responsibilities and poor health, I went for a little hike with my middle son. It would have been longer, but neither of us had the stomach for a creek crossing in cold weather. The woods were quiet, the stream bubbling, and the conversation good. See my few pictures at Diminutive Falls.

  1. Physics term, look it up

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I missed out on the Mt. Collins/Clingmans Dome hike, which is OK because I did the hike from Newfound Gap to Clingmans in the winter of ’82 with a foot and a half of snow. I spent the night at Mt. Collins Shelter. I spent the next night under a rock overhang because the drifts prevented me from making it to Spence Field Shelter. But I digress. This hike with my daughter and son-in-law last Saturday was for the purpose of going to Mt. Kephart, a 6217′ knob just off of the main ridge toward Mt. LeConte. We added in a few other notable views, The Jumpoff, the highest single drop in the Smokey Mountains N.P., and Charley’s Bunion, a bare rock with an expansive view, for a total of 9 1/4 miles of hiking. For the pictures of this seventh six thousand foot peak that my daughter has hiked to, click on Mt. Kephart.

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Morning Quick Out

If the park had opened before 8:30, we would have been there earlier. Even so, we waited at the gate for 10 minutes and watched a rafter (flock) of turkeys, and then on up the road a Coyote scampered across the road. A half-dozen other cars came in at gate opening. They all gathered to talk in the parking lot. They seemed to be regulars who knew each other. For the other things we did and saw click on Bays Mountain Morning Hike.

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I asked my wife when I arrived back home, “Why do my children all want to plunge down through the brush and off the trail?” She rolled her eyes and said, “Maybe because that’s what their dad taught them?”

Well, what can I say? My middle son texted me and asked if I’d like to go on a hike. He didn’t say where. The Appalachian Trail traverses Cross Mountain from Iron to Holston Mtn. In the gap where the road crosses there is a parking space and a gentle walk across a large field with excellent views. Next it enters an open middle-aged forest of predominately Yellow Poplars, Chestnut Oaks, and Northern Red Oaks. As we glided along this gentle grade on the leaf strewn trail on a balmy November day, my son suddenly said, “I want to show you something. Let’s go down here.” We followed a reasonable slope along a spur ridge for several hundred feet, then took a sharp right and down into the draw. As we slid down the slope we entered rhododendron thicket and rocky creekbed with the slickest leaf and algae combination. Check out my further commentary and pictures at Stoney Creek.

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Hiking the sixers continued this past weekend with a proposed assault on the backside of the Black Mountain ridge that runs from south to north beginning at the Clingmans Peak above the Blue Ridge Parkway, and proceeds to Celo Mountain. The “back” or west side of the ridge is less populated and less accessible. The idea was to go as far up gravel and logging roads in our compact cars as gates and undercarriage clearance would allow, and then hike to the ridge and take in Celo, Gibbs, and Winter Star Mountains, before descending back to Deep Gap and gravel roads and our cars.

Several locals described that last gravel road, which is about 600 feet below the top of the ridge, as the top or high grade. One person explained that this was where the logging and mining railway had been cut many years ago and is relatively flat. There were no gates closed but the road got progressively rough. We should have parked our cars sooner, but we had to push on until the next switchback in order to have a wide place to park and turn around. The extra distance of hiking this resulted in caused us to decide not to include Winter Star on this trip. It definitely could have been done, but there were people already waiting below for longer than anticipated. So, we opted for 2 out of 3.

I continue the story with pictures at Celo and Gibbs.

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I went to a family reunion last weekend, but the majority of the people there were from an in-law’s family. They were nice people, but I didn’t have much to say to them since our connection is tenuous at best. Instead, I talked to the few closer relatives there and most spent time with my oldest son and his family. The day was absolutely beautiful and at that perfect temperature so that you could warm up in the sun and cool down in the shade. And it all took place by a lake with plenty of views, wildlife, playgrounds, walkways, easy places to lounge, and smiles. Click on Grandchildren Run to see what we enjoyed.

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Moving, unpacking, settling in, finding your way around, starting a new job are time consuming. One must make time for the more relaxing moments. My preferred way to relax is walking. Having a job that involves standing is not good for flow of body fluids, so I walk, observe, think, and pray during my lunch break or converse with my wife during evening walks. The pictures at Fall Begun come from three different walks, two at lunch and one in the evening. I feel so blessed to live in a part of the world where seasons change, and I work and live in neighborhoods where I may daily range. God gifts many larger blessings, but the smaller daily ones help to fortify the soul for daily stresses. Be active or quiet and at any rate contemplative so that you may absorb the goodness of God in His creation and through His other manifold blessings. Being contemplative means quiet and open to observation both internal and external.

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As I walked the other day, I observed a Mockingbird pestering a Redtail Hawk. Plucky birds that they are, he cut in and out, notifying the hawk that he was in his territory. The hawk made his ponderous circle upward to free himself from the pest. You know that if he got ahold of Mr. M he would shred him between his talons and beak, but it is not to be because Mockingbirds can make much quicker cuts that hawks can’t follow.

A few days later I heard a Mockingbird as it sat singing in a Maple tree as I walked past. He jumped up to the powerline as I passed under the tree and continued to sing. I have lost count at around 25 to 30 different songs of an educated Mockingbird that used to sit on the light pole where I once taught school, entering under his joyous morning songs. And that reminds me how that I don’t like the name Mockingbird, because they don’t sneer or make fun. Neither do they plagiarize their songs since they give credit to their composers by the songs they sing and to the Creator of them all. Perhaps they should be called Song Learning Birds or Repeater Birds or Remix Songbirds. Anyway, I love to hear them sing.

Yet another day walking I observed Mr. M making a perfect two point landing on a lawn. Approaching at full speed, he flared his flight feathers at the last possible split second and seemed to simply step off of the air onto the lawn. My eye could hardly follow the transition for the speed, but Mr. M executed the move into a bush not long after and I caught more of the action. Then he flew almost vertically from bush to an altitude of 30 feet to peck at an intruding competitor. The two M’s made their quick cuts to claw at and peck toward one another in quick succession. I thought how much more dangerous they were to one another than the hawk was to Mr. M or visa-versa.

I could not have seen any of the flight action had it not been for the color and flashing of feathers. Their lateral tailfeathers are white against the gray background of the rest. They have white mid-wing feathers that barely show until they spread their wings wide. When Mr. M turned his wings downward for the perfect landing, the white on dark gray feathers showed straight in my direction. M’s are not so colorful as other birds but they always seem to be dressed up for any occasion, looking rather sharp.

All of the brief encounters with Mr. M over the past week have caused me to reflect on this pleasure at observing him in various ways and at various times. I have always favored the species, but I think that I could now say that Mr. M at least ranks if not holds the highest regards in my mind among birds. His Creator is certainly of the most intelligent, beauty-loving, design worthy sort, unmatched by any other.

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My daughter decided to start hiking to build up her stamina. She said that she needs intermediate goals in order to make progress and keep interested. So, she decided to start hiking to the top of the 25 tallest peaks in the Eastern U.S. That had to morph into a different goal because it is either hard or silly to do, depending on which list of highest peaks you look at. The hard has to do with deciding which peaks are the 25 highest. Different lists credit different peaks with that status. You may think that is silly in the days of Global Positioning. In one sense it is silly. One site included any peak that rose from around the surroundings for 160 feet. That means that you could “bag” five or six peaks on two hikes along two different ridges. The site she settled upon was a Wikipedia page called “Southern Sixers“. It includes all of the mountains east of the Mississippi that are taller than 6000′ above sea level, except Mt. Washington (6288′), which is in New Hampshire and would rank 22 on the list. The list has 53 entries, so 54 with Mt. W. I don’t what my daughter is going to do, but she suggested some number like 32 on the list. She will bag some peaks lower on the list with the two ridge walks that I mentioned above. I hope that I might be included in a fair number of these excursions.

Click on A Good Beginning to see how the first two “sixers” went.

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My oldest brother turns 74 today. Always looking for an excuse to go on a hike and get together with family, he emailed the family via group email about hiking not too far a drive from any of us. Schedules being what they are, three out of the four brothers and their wives and one son out of eight children and his family made it for the hike, 14 souls in all. We had done this hike as one of our Thanksgiving hikes several years ago. For some reason, all of us remembered the falls but forgot the hike. It is not steep but it is continuously up. It is not long at 1.5 miles out, but it is rough with randomly pitched small boulders in sections. Small children needed assistance and less stable older participants gave out. The purpose of the hike was time together and time in the woods. Both objectives were completed. For half of us there was a little extra adventure as well. Check out the pictures at Margarette and Bailey Falls to see why.

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I have not divulged the recent goings on of my wife and me for two reasons. Firstly, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. Then when it did work out faster than I anticipated, life got very busy. There was so much to finish up where we were and so much to do in transition and so much to do at our new location. As one friend used to say, “I’ve been going hard in the paint” for several months now. In fact, I just recently realized that I was truly exhausted, the kind where one or two good nights of sleep are not sufficient. But God is good, sustaining us through all of this transition, and though we are living in a forest boxes, we have moved in and slowing down somewhat. In fact, today we went to a local park and took a leisurely walk, the first time in months. Check out a few pictures of our new house and the walk we took today at ETN Move. We moved away from East Tennessee 29 years. My wife commented just today that she thought we would never return. I agreed. At my new job several weeks ago, I came into the room to meet a new client. She stared at me for a long moment. “May I help you?” I queried somewhat uncomfortably. “Did you ever teach Biology?” she questioned. “Oh yes,” I replied, “many times to high school students.” “No, I mean, did you ever teach Biology at Northeast State Community College?” “I can’t believe this is happening! I taught there for one semester, 29 years ago.” “Yes, I was one of your students. I liked you as a teacher, but what impressed me most was one night after class I came up to you and said, ‘I can’t come to the next class because I don’t have a babysitter for my 2-year old. You said it was no problem, just to bring him with me and I did. He is 31 now.” That was another significant transition in our lives. I am thankful that I could influence someone in a good way in the midst of that stressful time. Oh, that I may do so this time around as well, giving God the glory.

I hope to cycle back around and share some thoughts on several things that happened before the move and caused the move. Now we are in a new phase of our life, still moving forward, still finding purpose in what God is calling us to.

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While we were in Johnson City, we looked at several houses to possibly buy. One was near to a place we used to live, so we drove up to see what the old home place looks like now. I’ve always heard it said that real estate is about three things: “Location, location, and location.” From the prices for homes, the huge size modern homes have become and the less than desirable locations of many of those homes, I doubt that is true for many people. But for my wife and I, it is huge. And this little house had location, being situated on a small inholding of private properties surrounded by TVA land and National Forest. It sits just below a gap in the mountain between two lakes, near the Appalachian Trail in fact. Click on Cardin Place to see the pictures of the old home place. I should take some more pictures of the surrounding mountains and lakes for a better indication of location. There are few places so beautiful to my heart. It was a place of peace and nature, wherein two of my children were born with good memories of life and work and even struggle.

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One sunny day not long ago I was resting and reading for a short period of time. After I completed the passage, a deep essay on theology, I looked up and called my wife’s name. The house sounded empty. I cruised through the rooms and she was not to be found. Then I looked out the window and there she was wandering around in the yard with her head down. I went out and made a comment about the beautiful day and asked her what she was doing. She raised up a hand grasping small flowers, most people would call weeds, and said, “They cover the yard, and they are so beautiful.” She had three different flowers. I began the search, and we found seven different types of flowers, some hardly as big as the head of a pin, but covering the yard with blues, yellows, violets, and wee little whites. All the detail for male and female flower parts and nectar production and beautiful little petals. How much of God’s beauty goes unnoticed because we are looking but not perceiving, looking inward and not around us, looking to find fault rather than encouragement, or looking to show off rather than being shown to? So small, frequently unnoticed, but declaring God’s glory anyway, quietly turning heavenward.

Many years ago I watched a program about the exploration and mapping of the cave Lechuguilla that is in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. At the very back of the cave is a room with intricate gypsum stalactites, one 20 feet long. The majority of the cave was not discovered until 1986 when cavers broke through an extensive breakdown blocking the main passage. The Cave of the Crystals in northern Mexico features selenite crystals up to 37 feet long and 4 feet in diameter. The conditions are harsh in terms of temperature, humidity, and vaporous sulfuric acid. The cave was discovered in 2000 by two miners after extensive pumping cleared the room of water.

Many other examples of once hidden beauties and wonders could be paraded before you, but these several examples demonstrate to me that God has many hidden beauties in His Creation, quietly giving glory to Him, and how many may never be discovered? Secondly, I believe it gives new meaning to why we explore at all. We don’t just climb a mountain because it is there, we seek something, something wonderful or beautiful or hidden. Our desire to discover and explore reveals God’s glory. Many explorers and exploration societies give glory to the explorers or the less than scientific explanations of what is found, but pieces of God’s character in power and design and goodness and wisdom are revealed in what we find. That is a worthy reason to explore and discover, reveal and describe.

The seventh type of flower is hidden around back and several are facing away, but they decorated our window sill for few days.

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Spring has sprung, and along the Catawba River Greenway, it is in full bloom. The years pass and I have seen every season multiple times on this 6 miles of trail by the river. To long time watchers of this blog (1), this entry might be a bit boring, but there are a few new twists and turns and the beauty of God’s Creation never grows old. I am especially drawn to its ability to regenerate and renew. I didn’t take a picture, but I observed several large Mayapple patches blooming in the middle of a died out Kudzu patch. Of course, as the weather gets warmer, the Kudzu will take over and completely shade and choke out the Mayapple for the remainder of the season. But the plants persist because they sprout, leaf, bloom, and fruit by mid-May before the Kudzu has done much more than sprout.

I found a wildflower new to me. I took two pictures and immediately sent them to sister-in-law, the family resident wildflower expert (2). Within two minutes she replied with the name and inquiries as to the presence of crossbred varieties with different color centers to their flowers. A short distance down the trail I spied a curiously marked songbird, and the two of us stared each other down for a few minutes. I made a cautious one step for a better view, and the bird flipped around on the branch preparing to fly, allowing me to see the backside coloring. After another good look I cautiously moved away, leaving the bird on his branch. I feel quite confident, after looking it up, that I was viewing an Ovenbird, a larger songbird but smaller Warbler. I haven’t the camera to even have bothered to try to take a picture, but the breast markings, eye ring, back and tail feathers were distinctive enough.

To think that this walk had come about because every effort to secure work for the day had fallen through. So, what do you do when you can’t make your best laid plans A, B, and C happen? Take a walk, pray, and look intently around at the beauty of God’s world. For a few of the pictures I did manage to take, click on “Greenway Flowers“.

  1. Some of my former blog entries on Spring on the Greenway follow: “Out and About“, “Small Delights“, “Colorful Treasure“.
  2. In fact, she is a remarkable woman. If you don’t believe me, check out this link: https://www.wate.com/news/local-news/remarkable-women/2022-remarkable-women-linda-francis/

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It was a bit cooler than we anticipated last Saturday for climbing. My climbing partner arrived at the house just after 8 AM and it was still about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. We decided to go to a south facing, low elevation crag. From what we observed and others said later on, it was a good thing. One friend at church said, “I could swear that when I looked up at the mountains it was snowing.” I replied, “I can swear it was snowing.” We had snow showers with sunshine and wind alternating with just sunshine or then dark clouds and wind. Just as we were hiking out a fierce sleet flurry rushed down the draw. It was laying before we could get out of the woods. On our first climb the rock was quite cold resulting in cold fingers, but after that the sun warmed the rock just often enough to make it good climbing. We had lively talk, good climbing, brisk hiking in and out, bracing weather, Spring just breaking in blooms, and Winter trying to hold on for one more hurrah. It was a good day. Check out the pictures at Crag Day.

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My wife and I had a long weekend with family, the first since Thanksgiving because of sickness, finances, and business. We interacted with 8 our of our 10 grandchildren, two of our children, three of my brothers, one of her sisters, nephews and nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces, and in-laws at meals, on hikes, sitting around, and in church. Click here are some pictures of a few of the activities.

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Wow, time flies whether you are having fun or not. So many challenges and unknowns have come our way in the last 3 months, but God is faithful and His providential care and guidance is unerring even when we can’t see it. We are thankful that our house sold, but we don’t know where we are going next. Houses are hard to get in this rarefied real estate market, and direction for where we should be is even harder at the moment. I am by no means a control freak, but I like a little predictability and consistency in my life, and that is all out the window at the moment. My climbing partner said just today that I seem to handle uncertainty (“the unknowns” as we called it) pretty well. I testified to God’s work in my life to make that so. If I say that I trust God, then I need to prove it by not fretting and by waiting for His guidance.

Having said all of that, I am also thankful for decompression times like hiking hard on an approach to a cliff and climbing hard on climbs that are very challenging for me. That was today. Last week was more chill (or was it?) on a bright sunny day and friends trying hard at the boulder field. Check out a few pictures of that trip at Bouldering with Friends.

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The atmosphere has always fascinated me. As I sat in the sunshine eating lunch the other day, I noticed the contrast of deep blue to the pine needles of the surrounding pencil straight conifers surrounding the house. A few moments later as I relished my lunch and the opportunity to sit down in the midst of a day of labor, I saw a soaring bird up very high. It appeared black but with no gray wing feathers, which would have identified it has a Turkey Vulture. It could have been a Black Vulture, Golden Eagle, or Raven, though the latter is unlikely that far from the mountains. It wasn’t an Osprey because the wings were too broad. Next I spied a commercial jet very high en route to some far away city. I started. I knew that the deep blue meant low humidity, but here was an airliner with no contrail whatsoever. I made comment to my work partner, and he replied by reminding me we were under a severe fire hazard warning and that Pilot Mountain was even now burning.

For all our efforts to insulate ourselves from the changes and extremes of the atmosphere, we still are waylaid by its sudden and violent outbursts and subtle intensities. Low humidity is certainly the latter of the two, quite enjoyable for the blue skies and warm afternoons but endangering our forests and sometimes homes with the potentialities of dryness.

California is an example where this subtlety all too often becomes an intense extreme. The Chaparral Climate* there is generally dry with rainfall ranging from 10 to 17 inches of rain annually. Most of the moisture falls in the winter, causing the summers to be extremely dry. If that were reversed and the rainfall was in the summer, fires would probably not be a serious problem there. But the shifting ocean current, which is determined by the tilt of the Earth and therefore the Sun exposure, controls when it is wet and dry and there isn’t really a climate with limited rainfall and wet summers. A little less winter moisture than usual and wildfires abound.

I am so thankful for the temperate climate in which I reside. The weather and the woods are most usually friendly with just enough change to draw one’s attention to changing seasons and weather patterns.

Though I bring up these details in retrospect, as I concluded my lunch on that day, I decided to forego the cost/benefit analysis of dry weather and enjoy the day while I labored on. Solomon agreed: “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.” Ecclesiastes 5:18

*https://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/chaparral_climate.php

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I have talked about heating with wood several times over the years of writing this blog. Particularly at this time of year, it is entails a significant input of time, energy, and mental focus. You might wonder why anyone would expend so much energy over the course of 38 years heating their house. In generations past is was, no doubt, a simple necessity of life. It certainly has saved me thousands of dollars in heating bills which I would have struggled to come up with in certain years of the past and always preferred not to spend.

But even more than that, it is a lifestyle. David Thoreau was generous when he said that heating with wood warmed you twice. Cutting, loading, unloading, splitting, stacking, carrying in, starting and maintaining fires, enjoying the heat, carrying out ashes, and cleaning the chimney are a few ways it warms me. I think it probably warms me nearly ten times. Central heat is good, but I don’t know where to go to warm my hands or dry out my wet clothing. And when the blizzard of ’93 hit, we were warm for the 8 days that the power was out and cooked beans and soup while we heated the house. My boys split wood while they were home, but I even participated then. I have been loaned a hydraulic wood splitter thrice that I recall, but never split all of the wood that way for a season. At my latitude the winter is not long or bitterly cold. 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cords of wood is sufficient for the warmest and coldest winters we have. I prefer taking dead wood over cutting live trees and the majority of trees here are oak.

I have gotten to where I can smell what kind of wood is being burned and whether it is wet or green or dried. When the first fire of the season is lit, the smell of dust burning off of the stove brings warm reminiscence of past years. For all of this, the 39th year of heating with wood may be the last. I am not tired of the work and fire making effort. If you had asked me 5 years ago what would cause me to stop heating with wood, I would have said ability and energy to gather it. The real reason now seems to be that all of that smelling of fires, and more specifically chainsaws has had a bad repercussion. Between mowing, weed eating, leaf blowing, and chainsaws I have become “allergic” to combustion products, particularly 2 cycle oil. An hour or so exposure brings on aches and sometimes debilitating joint pains. So, since I haven’t converted over my heat source, still mow and weed eat and blow leaves, I have to wear a organics fume mask. Try working in that on a hot day. And since I don’t sport a Hitler mustache (regulation for gas masks), The seal on the mask is not ideal and I still get some mild ill effects from the fumes. So, check out my latest foray into the woods to cut and split wood here.

I thought as I pulled my truck out of the woods and passed a super duty four door diesel truck that I am thankful to have an old truck that is still functional and being used for what it was designed for. I guess that I like working, even though I want to do it at a slower rate these days. What’s the rush? Of course, there is the need to get wood in the dry before the wet and cold days when very little dries out. I believe I am ahead of that curve this year.

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