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Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category

I share a random day in my little town. Actually, the following pictures are a composite of several days. I like to take walks in my neighborhood. It’s my constitutional, a time to think and decompress, and I always look for something new, be it ever so small.

I went out early to go to a jobsite. The Eastern sky was aflame.

After work I went for a walk. The head welder at a nearby muffler shop finds time for more creative uses of his talents than muffling exhaust. A quick Google search in images informs me that other people are doing this kind of thing, but I see some real creativity in these “Tin Man” models. This lady, out for the day shopping, was the welder’s first attempt.

Sponge Bob and friends came next. The color really adds something to the art.

My favorite part of the boy is his skateboard, which I think is made from a catalytic converter.

The wry grin, copper corded beard, and fretless electric guitar are quite the sight. The alien looks like something straight out of Star Wars. I like his manifold pants.

Brenda the Good Witch or the Wicked Witch of the West?

Rudolph parked in the corner for next season.

Simple decorations for the Advent Season are the most appealing to me.

Cascade Park is a quiet little piece of woods in the middle of town. Different seasons, temperatures, and flow make it worth coming to see many times over. It is a good urban space to take first time visitors to when you go for a short walk.

Each type of tree has its own form of crown, which if not disturbed by trimming reveals the species. Pitch Pine is a well shaped tree.

Southern Magnolia was originally only native to the Gulf Coastal Plain. Now it is an ornamental all over the South. Since it can live and compete successfully in all of the growth zones, why didn’t it? I suggest it is evidence that the period since the Flood has not been so long. Starting from some few plants it spread over the deep South but didn’t make it any further in the time allotted. It is easy to see why Dogwood is an understory tree. They don’t get much larger than the one pictured.

Oaks trees are ubiquitous in this part of the country. But which of the 15 likely varieties is this treeform? It certainly is of the redoak rather than whiteoak grouping. It is quite large with a spread crown so it is likely Southern Red Oak, Black Oak, or Northern Red Oak.

I took this picture for three reasons. Firstly, you can see that the hour is past midday and the low angle winter sun never shown on the heldover snow. Secondly, the front porch canopy is unique and nice. Thirdly, the old fashion window awnings are a Southern touch to keep out the hot summer sun.

Long may it fly and what it symbolizes stand. “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” Thomas Jefferson

In order to highlight our town’s diversity, the local business commissioned this mural on the side of the local climbing gym. I shows a very Latin American woman in a very Western North Carolina habitat.

I could do a whole blog entry or two on the local architecture. I love big porches. This house also has local fame because a former president sat on the porch during a campaign rally.

Genuine randomness here. Did you know that the color of the hydrant cap reveals the flow rate it can generate so that the firefighters know what they have available?

Red: 500 gallons per minute Orange: 500 to 999 gpm

Green: 1,000 to 1,499 gpm Blue: 1,500 gpm or greater

Also, did you ever consider that hydrants have not changed form substantially for a century?

The sky alight with setting sun and condensation trails is an interesting sight.

A walk by the river at dusk is always pleasant, even though it can be quite chilly this time of year. Cold drainage and moisture from the river seem to make the cold penetrate more.

This is proof that old dogs can learn new tricks. In fact, I really like the new garlic press that got online. It is soooo much simpler to clean.

I hope you may have as nice of random days as I have. I am so very busy and blessed and challenged.

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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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Two trees down, and what do you do with the wood? Neighbors came for some of it. The woodworker snatched away the trunks. The city took the branches. The compost is chewing on the leaves. The friend of a friend ground the stumps. But those pieces in the range of ten inches to two and a half feet in diameter and many with multiple forks were still around. I had suggested to my friend that he borrow a hydraulic log splitter, but he could not find one. Then I remembered that a recent acquaintance, a brother in Christ with whom I hit it off well at first meeting, had recently offered me the use of his wood splitter in an unrelated circumstance. The problem had been that his splitter was at the back of a large workshop that had been converted to temporary storage. It had wood and tools and equipment stacked in front of the wood splitter. So, my homeowner friend with the two big trees on the ground and I offered to help him dig it out. That was an adventure in old wood, old tools, old memories, and dreams for future projects. With a will to get it out, we dug it out in under an hour, inflated the tires and off we went. It appeared that the woodsplitter had been used very few times and it had been stored for several years. Thankfully the gasoline had been drained out of the tank, as that can gum up the carburetor over time. It wouldn’t start anyway. There was definitely fuel in the cylinder. There was no spark on the plug. There was spark from the coil. We took a trip to the Tractor Supply for a new spark plug. It still wouldn’t start. We took the air filter off, found a neighbor with starter fluid, but it still only barked once or twice. I prayed more directly about it starting. The neighbor put his hand over the choked intake. It sputtered. It sputtered a few more times and then started up with very little smoke, running well the rest of the day, and restarting easily after refueling. Those pesky double problems can take time and troubleshooting skills.

We split wood for more than six hours. The claim and assumption is that a hydraulic wood splitter takes all of the work out of splitting wood. It most definitely makes it easier and splits twisted and forked pieces that are hard to do manually, but it does not remove all work. And, there are pieces that can only be done with sledgehammer and multiple wedges. Following I have two sequences of the splitting process. The observant viewer would figure out that these are not actually sequential pictures, but ordered from various images to show the process. Most of the work of hydraulic wood splitting is getting the log under the wedge.

The fun and easy part is pushing the lever and watching the wedge split, mangle, or destroy almost any piece of wood put beneath it. I found that on the tougher pieces, when the splitter was straining to go through the wood, that I would press harder on the lever as if that would make a difference. Part of the trick on the larger and more twisted grains is “reading the grain” as I call it, or “grainology”, as my friend termed it.

Sometimes the wedge goes through but the wood is not fully separated. Here we are determining what to do next.

Since the piece is heavy you want to avoid having to flip it around or over. Frequently the answer is a well placed blow with an axe or sledgehammer.

We were very tired after so many hours heaving the pieces into place that we totally overlooked one last big chunk. When I returned several days later to load another truckload of wood, I assured my friend that we could split it with sledgehammer and axe. The next sequence of pictures arose from my friend trying to time the shutter of the camera with the blow upon the block of wood. I’m glad he missed numerous times so that you could see what goes into a swing. Splitting a piece of wood is not a strength move but a power mover. Therefore, the power is produced by the whip you give to the axe handle from about its highest point to just before the impact. There was not need for great power in these straight grained pieces I was splitting for this sequence, so my swing is not quite what makes for the most powerful swing. If I was producing more power, I would slide my top hand (right hand in the pictures) down the handle to increase the whip and thus the power. The reason the whip is so effective is that power is how fast work is done. I have a limited ability to increase strength, but the whip can greatly increase speed, reducing time and increasing power.

The other factor in a good blow is hitting the right spot at the right angle. The next picture captures that moment when I focus on the spot to be hit before commencing to swing. I find that I must focus there all the way through the swing and that distraction or fatigue decrease my likelihood of hitting my intended target. Basically, you are trying to strike parallel to the radial grain toward or away from the growth center.** On smaller or thinner pieces you can strike along a ring to split a piece. It is more tricky with forks, but there are places and directions to hit that make those more likely to split as well. It is all in reading the grain.

Splitting wood is both an athletic move and an endurance move in order to keep repeating it.

I attribute my next stance to both the partial stiffness of age and the positioning of the axe for a powerful blow. My young friend takes a similar stance just before striking but with a little less evidence of stiffness.

Proof of the ease of the pieces being split is the axe going all the way through and into the ground. This does not often happen. After the photo op we split the fork with wedges. It took quite a few blows to go through that.

I love this next picture. It shows my friend’s determination, focus and strength. He was amazed at the first decently large piece that I split cleanly with an axe. I felt like I had done a Hollywood stunt*** and quickly explained that I was able to do that because it was so straight grained. These pieces are the joy and fun of splitting wood before the real work commences.

There’s that stance again.

It is amazing how fast the wood can pop sometimes. The piece has flown off to his right before his axe hit the ground. He learned something else this day. Though plastic handled axes and sledgehammers have the advantage of being hard to break, the handle pounds the daylights out of your arms all the way up. I swung his axe a few times and then went over to get my wooden handled axe for the remainder, as you see above.

White Oak wood has such a pleasant smell. I actually took a cup full of ground stump mulch home as a potpourri for my livingroom. The wood has the property of cooperage, swelling to seal fluids in barrels and buckets. It makes lovely, sturdy furniture and provides much food for woodland animals. Its foliage is beautiful and especially in the Autumn when it turns yellow. It can live to a ripe old age five or six times what any of us will. It makes for good shade and grows in rich or poor soil with less water than most hardwoods. It is, in short, another of God’s good creations with much beauty and utility. I enjoyed observing and extracting some of that goodness for multiple people’s use.

*I hope you don’t think my pun inappropriate, based on 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV). He does own both after all.

**The growth center is where the rings come together, that is, where it began to grow, and is not the same as the geometric center because trunks and branches frequently grow faster on one side than the other based on tension or compression caused by holding weight.

***Have you ever watched an old Western movie with someone splitting wood? They go through every time. Why? They use straight-grained, dried Western varies of wood like cottonwood or fir that you could split with a hatchet.

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I enjoy relating to serious, fun-loving young people. How can they simultaneously be both you may ask? A person can know what is serious, consider and muse on it and discuss it and act on it, and still have a good sense of humor and enjoy fun challenges and take reasonable, considered risks.

The climbing partner with whom I have been out the most in the last six months is just such a person. He is a former science student of mine who loves to climb, is getting married soon, just started his first nursing job right out of college, and most importantly shares the same faith as me. Life still challenges me with work and play and relationships and worship. As a result, there is plenty to talk about.

Because of where we now live, we meet approximately halfway in between at Rocky Face Mountain Recreation Park. The old quarry has numerous and wide ranging difficulty of sport climbs. I usually post pictures of one or both of us actively climbing, but the mood of the weather, the climbing, and the conversation had me pointing my camera elsewhere.

Reorganizing equipment at the top of the first pitch.*
Happy, but on edge on the first pitch
Shutdown, resting, and figuring out where to go.

On the point of climbing, I suggested that we climb two pitches to the top of the second tier since I had never been there. I bit off more than I could chew on the upper tier and had to traverse left to an easier climb and then far back right further up. You can see this in the following picture.

Check out the rope at far left and stretching across the middle to the right, and me sitting on top under the tree.
Hanging out on top
No easier approach to a climbing area can be had.**

As I said earlier, this climbing area was an old quarry. One of the biggest needs for infrastructure is gravel and stone. The hole pictured below between my feet is the remnants of a bore hole. It is an added boost to perspective to see both my feet and my belayer on the ground.

For the next climber, climbing is no big deal with the right equipment. I think that it is an Eastern Fence Lizard, though arguably out of its habitat if that be so.

*Yes, we are tied in to rope and/or anchors the who time for safety.

**The temperature changed from mid-thirties when we arrived to lower sixties with high solar gain. I am actually getting ready to rappel down, so I have two shirts that I took off stuffed into the shirt I am wearing, giving the appearance of a beer belly.

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…that is, Kerplunk number 2, not Karakoram Mountain #2, the second highest peak in the world above sea level. After the first tree fell without warning, being a seemingly healthy tree and not on a particularly windy day, my friends began to suspect another White Oak tree in their front yard. Was it similarly diseased and fated for freefall? They had a company drop the tree and then called on me to cut it up. I observed that the outer dozen or more rings were indeed darker as if diseased, which you can see in the first picture. It took me over six hours to cut up the branches and part of the trunk. It would have been longer but the local ironworks/woodworker agreed to get the main trunk. Because the tree felling company did not report grounding until late morning, I did not start cutting until 11:30. My friend, the homeowner, came home from work early to clear away brush and firewood. I was cutting pretty much non-stop for 6 hours. My forearms were very weak and achy the next morning.

My stance indicates to me that I was cutting upward to prevent pinching of my saw by the weight on the branch.

Because I knew the iron/woodwork was coming, I cleared the branches off of the main trunk first. I left outriggers to keep the trunk off of the ground and prevent it from rolling over. Then I began to clear the driveway.

I spend a considerable amount of time working outside for which I am thankful. I have however, began wearing light, long-sleeved SPF-50 shirts and hat to protect me from the Sun. My forearms indicate that I spent far too many years baking in sunlight.

There were many forks up the tree because it had been severely topped some time long ago. Don’t trim more than a little from a tree, especially oak trees. It uglifies them and shortens their life.

The ironworker/woodworker has all of the toys. Below he is clearing the smaller pieces in order to drag the trunk down to the driveway. The front and rear wheels of the forklift steer. It is not quite “zero-turn” but close.

I thought that my Husqvarna Rancher 460 with the 2′ bar was quite a lot of saw, but the Stihl was far more powerful and appears to have a 30″ bar.

He cut two logs, a ten foot one and a twelve foot one and loaded them in 30 minutes. I estimated the larger of the two logs to be 3500-4000 lbs based on size and typical weight of green oak wood.*

While I was editing the next picture, I zoomed in to count rings. This is about 22 feet up the trunk on the smaller of the two trees (2 1/2 feet in diameter instead of 3 1/2 feet in diameter of the larger tree). I counted 70 rings. Even if the base revealed 90 years of growth, this was a mere youngin’ in White Oaks trees that can live for 500-600 years.

*60 to 70 lbs per cubic foot- wow! Especially amazing considering the dried oak is 48 lbs/cu.ft

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A neighbor said it sounded like a huge car crash when it came down. There was little to no wind when it happened. The roots were rotten. White Oak trees don’t usually fall over from a rotten base. The wood is more rot resistant than the red oaks, but I guess most any tree can rot.* My friend and former colleague’s wife found it lying on the ground when she arrived home. She reported that the tip of the branches were 10-12 feet from the house. She also said that her husband commented on the tree appearing to be leaning before he left for work. The base was about 3 1/2 feet in diameter with a dense crown from having been topped many years ago.

Though you cannot see much progress, I am already hard at work in the following picture. In fact, it took me 7 hours to clear all of the branches to the point seen in last picture. I had abundant help from my friend and his brother and their wives. They kept the area clear for me to cut non-stop.

I delight in the light gray, “alligator skin” bark of a white oak that wraps around.

A good stance, concentration, ear and eye protection, awareness of what can go wrong, and always God’s grace have kept me from major injury chainsawing for 37 years. The closest I ever came** to major cut injury was a six inch gash in my left pant leg below the knee. Near misses are instructive and precipitate thankful exclamations and further caution.

Awkward positions are unavoidable at times, but having an escape plan and hazard avoidance help. Notice, though it works me harder, how I am instinctively holding the saw away from me. This position avoids the potential kickback of the limb and dropping the saw onto myself.

I took home a truck and trailer load of wood. The homeowner set aside wood to split later and 8′ to 15′ pieces to make a barrier for erosion control. A local welder/woodworker came and got the lower ten feet of trunk for boards. Not wasting resources does my heart good.

Here I avoided reaching overhead by cutting further down the trunk. I dropped this section onto waiting logs below so the I could cut it up without striking the ground, which is the worst enemy to a chain.

Hopefully I will remember to take a few pictures of the end result when I am there again. It was a hard, but a good day’s work. I am thankful to God for continued health to be able to work this hard still outdoors.

*Is Cypress an exception?

**How many major injuries has God kept each one of us from that we knew nothing of?

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What, you may ask, do those two words have to do with one another? Well, I’m the dinosaur who took two newbies out to go climbing. As they described it, they had climbed two or three times each indoors but never outdoor and I was the “pro”*. There was a little fear of heights, a little curiosity, some determination, and a good amount of enthusiasm. Father and I attend the same church. His daughter came in to town specifically for this outing. It was cloudy and uncertain when we met at the rendezvous point, but as we traveled up the mountain we could see the sun shining on the side of the mountain where I knew we would be climbing. It turned out to be both a beautiful and pleasant day with plenty of challenge and a measure of success.

Flaking the rope; grinning for the camera
Father and Daughter; yeah, definitely related
Enthusiastic Start
Working it.
Always good to have an attentive belayer

The next picture is very instructive to those who have not climbed before. At any level of climbing, you reach a challenge point. The pose reveals the intensity. The facial expression shows the focus and goal. Sometimes it is fun to just cruise up a climb, but challenge, getting shut down, and overcoming the by problem solving and focus are major draws to climbing. Add to that training for strength and technique in order to up your game, and you have many of the central components of good climbing.

Seeps Keep Green
Challenge can be fun!

I must give credit to the young lady with the iPhone for the great pictures. Indulge me for a moment in a sequence of shots on one climb that I did.

In this next shot, notice the rope going through the carabiner at my left hip. The carabiners and “dogbone” in combination are called a quickdraw. It is attached to a bolt in the wall that protected my move over this small roof. This style of climbing is called sport climbing. You can see other bolts of an adjacent climb at the right.

The next few moves involve crimpers, small fingertip holds for one to four fingers.

The picture below gives a sense of pause which actually happened. Sequence of which hand or foot and in which order the holds are used is important in climbing.

At least the foothold was huge.

The hardest part of the climb, upon which the climb is rated, is called the crux (from crux ansata, literally “cross with a handle”; very appropriate for a difficult move on a difficult hold). This one relates to the smallness of holds as well as the long reach up left to a crimp. Don’t be impressed since it is only a 5.10b climb, far below world class 5.16.

Got it!
Topping out
Building an anchor

Everyone was all smiles and we enjoyed the day. They even said they would like to go again.

Later

*”You are to us”, the protested when I said I was nowhere near that.

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… and little people are nonetheless significant beyond their size.

My wife and I visited our daughter and her family this past weekend. It set me to notice little things more than I have recently. Flowers blooming at the end of November is novel, but this little guy was showing off his stuff right next to their driveway. I have told the problem with controlling the focus on my phone, but here it reminded me of a little thing. This is what the flower looks like when I don’t have my bifocals on or when not using the right part of them. Doing fine work above my head is a pain since I have difficulty seeing it. I have actually flipped my glasses upside down to see what I am doing. It’s those little things.

I took an early walk the next morning. The temperature was brisk and there was no one out yet. The woods on either side of the road give this straightaway a pleasantly lonely feeling. White oaks and red oaks and maples and Sourwood and the occasional pine reside in a woods infrequently grazed by cattle. It is a pleasant little scene.

Most of the leaves have turned and dropped off, but this little Red Maple tree by the road was not having it. There was still time to show off the colors.

I’m not a big dog fan, but their dog is an outside dog and likes to explore and circle back around to you. He seems to have come to understand that I’m OK with his occasional inquiries as long as he is not in my face all the time.

Little grandchildren are a big deal, posterity and all that. It is fun to watch them explore and learn. It was a little kindness, but the man in the picture who is unknown to us, gave the children feed to give to the goats. I hope that he enjoyed watching them interact with them as much as they and we did.

It was also curious to watch how adept the goats had become at retracting their heads and horns out of the fencing without getting hung up.

Little moments of quiet, particularly in nature, are so restful to the soul. I hope that my son-in-law found it so.

The rolling hills of the Virginia landscape are fertile soil for an orchard.

Pruned apple trees produce larger and more fruit. The orchard is picturesque because of the views in both directions.

The Little Man is riding on his mama.

His big sister is not so little anymore and in the 3rd grade this year.

Who knew that anything ate Cayenne peppers. Tobacco Hornworms do. (My daughter looked it up first.) The seven white V-shaped markings and red horn confirm the ID.

Yet another small flower exhibiting its beauty. It is some variety of Balloon Flower, because that is its appearance before the bloom opens. The flowers were confused. I have an azalea still in bloom this 6th day of November, the third time it has bloomed this season.

I guess the hood warms his head and the bear warms his heart. But what warms his feet?

While I am talking about little things that are big, I thought I’d add a few more thoughts. One of my pastors offered me some firewood that he had no need of. I cut and began loading. In a few minutes he came out with his son saying, “I brought reinforcements”, and helped me load the wood. Kindness can be a word of encouragement, but an act of encouragement is even better.

Today I did small repairs on a house. I sealed the leaking skylight on the roof. I re-nailed a soffit board that had warped and pulled loose. I caulked around windows that were leaking air and allowing Lady Bugs entrance. Such a little crack can allow so much to transverse a barrier. Do maintenance on the little cracks that can allow rain and cold and insects into your living space. And I don’t just mean your house.

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I am one tired 60 year old this evening*. It rained relentlessly yesterday and last night. The weather forecast suggested cloudy in the morning and sunshine in the afternoon. It was drizzling heavily when I left home this morning. The job I had intended to do was postponed until drier, so I shifted gears to get firewood. I cannot remember a year in the past 37 winters of heating with wood that I began the year with so little firewood. A job estimate I did turned into an opportunity to get wood. The oak tree in question had been down about a year, having died and been cut. It was elevated off of the ground by branches, which allowed it to dry without rotting, and it was about 18 to 20″ in diameter at the base. The wood was sound, sap dried**, and fairly straight grained***. The drizzle quit, the saw was cutting well, and the distance from truck to tree was short. The landowner had even said that I could borrow his hydraulic splitter. After reminding him of this kindness several times, it never materialized. So, after rolling the larger pieces up beside the truck and throwing all of the smaller pieces into the truck, I began to split with my trusty 10-pound sledge hammer and wedges and double bladed axe. I might need to buy some new wedges some time since I have pounded the old ones to about 2/3 their original length over the past 37 years. I split 15 of the 18+/- diameter logs and all of the pile of medium sized logs in the picture. Then I loaded it, hauled it home, and after a large, late lunch, stacked it in the firewood shed. It is time for a sit.

Time for business
Only nine logs at this time; 15 when I rolled them all up.
About halfway there
Not totally volumetrically full, but weight full with trailer attached
Ready to haul
Recycling a stump

Rats, I didn’t have time to workout today. Do you reckon I’m OK skipping a day?

*I asked myself a question you may have asked about my blog writing. Why does he write about everyday events? Who cares and who wants to know? My answer is that my twofold reason for writing this blog is to glorify God and record what I am thinking and doing. I think it does the former by showing His work and provision in the mundane as well as exceptional, and it does in the latter by showing I’m just a common joe going about life.

**Wood may be soaked by rain and still be “dry”. Green wood does not burn well, needing a year for the sap to dry out.

***Straight grained wood is easy to split. Oak is generally so except where there are knots. Some tree species, for example sycamore, twist as they grow and can be difficult to split.

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

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

Morning Glory amongst the cane by the river

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

Double Rainbow

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

Evening Meal

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

Working for a living

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

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

Porch Moth

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

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

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

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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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I received an email today that left me chagrined. I am a 60 year old participant in outdoor activities, particularly climbing at the moment. Access to local national forest climbing areas may be threatened. I wrote a letter whose introductory paragraph read as follows:

“I am a native of East Tennessee and longtime resident of Western North Carolina who has spent many 1000’s of hours in the national forests of the Appalachians and Blue Ridge hiking and climbing and camping. The public lands and my use of them is my single most loved freedom and pursuit that retains me as a resident of these beloved mountains. For 50 years I have roamed these mountains for my mental and physical health, leaving as little trace as I could and taking many pictures and memories. As a family man, I have taught my family to appreciate and care for the mountains and as a teacher I have done the same both in the classroom and outdoors. I plead with you to not shut down the opportunities of young and old alike to enjoy the challenges of climbing by overly restrictive and one-size fits all statutes and procedures concerning climbing areas and their approaches. Educate people and see them rise to the challenge of protecting while utilizing these resources that belong to the American people. Don’t lock it away to be underutilized by preventing access to world class climbing areas in our beautiful forests.”

If you are interested in helping to keep the National Forests open to climbing both here, and ultimately nationwide, please spread the word and write a letter at the following site: Click on https://www.accessfund.org , and go to the bottom of the page for the quick help with the letter. It really only takes 5 minutes and may retain climbing access for years to come. 

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

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

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McCrae Peak

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

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Tiny quartz crystals “glued” onto metamorphized quartzite and feldspar

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

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Chutes and Ladders

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

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A bright day and a new friend

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

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

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

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

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McCrae’s Peak ladder

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

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Fiddleheads

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Hobble Bush (Viburnum lantanoides) new vegetation

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

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

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

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

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Newlyweds on a jaunt in the woods

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Crazy Friend

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Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra eximia)

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Wake-robin Trillium (Trillium erectum)

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Showy Orchis (Gelaris spectablis)

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expanding tree Shelf Fungus (or Bracket Fungus; Polypore)

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Linville River

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Sandy Flats?

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

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Trail on the Edge

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

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Blue-flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

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Tower opposing Babel Tower

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

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Sessileleaf Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) with violets below

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

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From Babel Tower downstream

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

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radical descent

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

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

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

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Algae under a microscope

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

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Upscale Pizza place with my Valentine

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

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A little more wood needed

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

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Sunday School student’s art

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

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DNA Electrophoresis Lab

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migrating DNA in a gel

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

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A friend and missionary

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

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Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

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

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Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

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

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He can look so serious

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

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Neighborhood waterfall

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

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Upper Creek Falls

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Mama enjoys time outside, too

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

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Colors, Contrasts, and Tones

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

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More time together

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Only thing lacking was confidence

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roughed up a little

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Historic times

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

 

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Yet another fabulous dish from my favorite chef

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

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good flow

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Elk River Falls

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

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Backyard Beauty

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Pontentilla sp.

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

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

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Mushroom Boulder

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View from just behind the boulder

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Galax

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Bloodroot and Wood Sorrel

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Wood Sorrel

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Bloodroot

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

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Warm-up Boulder

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Shelf Fungus

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

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Verbana sp.

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Red Dogwood

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

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Rattlesnake Plantain

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Fiddleheads

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Mayapple

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Wisteria

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

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Spruce treeform

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

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Oak treeform

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

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Star of Bethlehem

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