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Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snack and portrait time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, they are hard to miss.

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

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

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

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

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I 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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Have you ever smelled rain? Have you been exhilarated by lightning? Have you ever been fearful in the wind or awestruck at the rising waters? The power of the storm both attracts and repels. Why might that be?

The air of rain does smell
All birds’ songs it does quell
The nerves of grazing beasts try
When a fierce storm is nigh

Of sudden does it burst
Relieving ground’s long thirst
Overtop river banks
Calamitous flood pranks

No way to stem the tide
Or break the waves’ wild pride
Neither calm the screaming wind
Nor many trees defend

Where can one find shelter
Midst the helter-skelter?
Or from much loss be spared
No matter how prepared?

The Maker of the storm
Who gave to all things form
He our refuge always
To Him for help one prays

He may deem things be lost
Great material cost
But rescue of the soul
Is the reward and goal

Though many troubles come
Storms that frighten and numb
Yet He is gracious still
Your heart with thankfulness fill

.

We are awed by the wonderful, the powerful, the overwhelming, and the strikingly beautiful. The God who created the world is all of those things and more and He has made us for Him. We have then an inbred desire to seek for the glorious*. I believe that it gives glory to Him to see the superior in Creation. We must, however, make it our goal to see Him in all that He has created and done, so that all glory and honor goes to Him as is due Him and beneficial for us. Fear of harm must surely be the main reason we are repelled by storms. God is merciful to those who trust Him, but He is powerful and not to be trifled with.

I read poetry online infrequently, but recently I did because of a poet’s name that came up in conversation. One of the poems was about storms. It was good poetry, but it was atrocious theology. I don’t like poetry with bad form but I really don’t like poetry that tells lies or misses the truth. So, I set out to write my own poem about storms. When it flows and conveys deeper truths, I am happy with what I have written. Given the constraints of poetical form I place upon myself, it is difficult to convey the ideas in the way that I want.

*from Hebrew kabod, meaning weighty and the Greek doxa, meaning of honorable reputation

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

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

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

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

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

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

New growth is heartening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here she is with her husband.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roadside Waterfall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from Coyote Point

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

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

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

20200727_071504

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.

20200727_071716

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.

20200727_074058

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

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“Bull’s Head Gap” overlook cairn

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Panarama of 180+ degrees

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

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

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Newest Grandbaby

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1st 2nd granddaughter

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Yawns mean mom will get a break

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

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with Big Sister

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

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Water Balloon prep

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

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Scottish watch soldier

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

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With the artists

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

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

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

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Remembrance of darker days

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

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Interesting Preservation and Access

The wildflowers were popping all over.

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Fire Pink

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Limestone has the weirdest looking forms

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Not too close!

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Neversink Pit, AL

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

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162 foot pit

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Would love to rap it someday

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flint sandwiched in limestone

 

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Younger brother and oldest son

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No expense withheld

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In extravagant training facilities

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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Let do this!

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

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Low elevation outliers

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Big outliers

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Spruce among decidies

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A great niece learning about Galax

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A break in the trees

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Incline

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Almost there

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

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Mt S BM (Wow, 1928!)

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

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NE more or less

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

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Enjoying the view?

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Main ridge at Guyot to Cosby Knob

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Campsite 38

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Interesting perspective

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

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After lunch relaxing

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Silly cousins!

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Can you tell which one is his sister?

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At the top and still smiling

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Survived many a storm and wind

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Black (or Wild) Cherry

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White Ash

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Beauty everywhere you look

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Almost down

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My daughter was reminiscing about a backpacking trip we took when she was 20 years old. As I pointed out to her, I have always been bad with ‘when’s’ and am slipping with regards to ‘what’s’. So, she reminded me that it was in August of 2008 and that I had blogged about it (see “Casting Cares”). That former blog entry was more about a few impressions of the trip than a diary thereof. At her request I am posting more pictures. I can’t resist a little commentary, but I will keep it to a minimum. Check out the map of the route at the end.

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You can’t hide forever

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I like lichen for the patterns and color variety.

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Beech Gap Trail

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Mutual Support

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Fir Cones

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You can just resolve the fire tower on top of Mt. Sterling.

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Water Filter Blues

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New Style Shelter

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Old style blogging (trail journal)

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“Why do we do these things? I will tell you…Tradition.” Based on the elevation and approximate sequence of pictures, the location is near Eagle Cliffs (elevation 5781 ft.).

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Remembering former days on the trail

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A goodly sized Red Spruce

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The Happy, Rested Crew

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Bee Balm or Oswego Tea?

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Hog Wallow (Russian Bore, that is)

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Tired turns to fatigue

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I don’t even know.

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The Cucumber Magnolia seed pod begged to be photographed.

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Occasional Surprises in the GSMNP

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When it is sharp or slick or both, you have to watch you feet.

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Watching the wading crew

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Spores Galore

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Cool looking mushroom; frustration of automatic focus camera

08-08-16 Backpacking

Trip began and ended at Round Bottom, hiking counter-clockwise. The first night we stayed at Laurel Gap Shelter. The second night we stayed at Pecks Corner Shelter.

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

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

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

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2 Beauties
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Barn Swallows
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Built on the Rock
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Eastern Swallowtail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two weeks ago my climbing partner and I were making a short approach to a crag. I chose to come to the top of the cliff and set up a toprope. He went down through the crack to the base of the outcrop. When I was ready to rappel down, he said, “Watch the snake below you about ten feet above the ground.” I asked for further explanation. A moment later my partner said, “He fell.” I looked down just in time to see the snake smack the ground. This snake was climbing perhaps a 5.9 section of a 5.11 climb. We climbed a few pitches, watching this 5 foot Black Snake search for holds. After a while it gave up on the direct approach and moved up a slanted ledge toward the top of the cliff. While I was climbing, my partner commented that it had climbed into a bush high up on the ledge. We took no more notice for a while.

A little later while I was belaying my partner, I saw the snake 30′ up on a branch, reaching out to the cliff. It was at nearly full extension with just the last 6″ wrapped around the branch. I could discern the possible path that the snake had crawled out of the bush onto a far branch of the tree, to the trunk, and out to the end of the branch to the cliff. After much searching on the cliff for a hold, it slowly released hold on the branch, and soon afterward fell 30′ to a boulder below. I thought surely this killed the snake. However, I did observe the center of the snake strike the rock and the head flopped onto the leaf mulched ground beside it. It lay still. After my partner came down, I went over and poked it with a stick. It coiled up to strike. A few minutes later it crawled into a crack low on the ledge, and then back out followed by a shorter Black Snake. The shorter one tried climbing the wall several times, searching different holds to go up. It was more cautious that its climbing partner backing down instead of falling.

At one point I took a long stick and removed the shorter snake from a climb that I wanted to try. It got back on the climb shortly after I ascended. As I descended the climb I ask my belayer to stop at a small crack/ledge filled with miniature rhododendron bushes. The crack was no more than 4″ wide. There under one of the bushes was a fairly new bird’s nest without a bird or eggs. I suspected that this nest was the goal.

We moved to the right of the crag only glancing back occasionally to see the progress of the snakes. Now, nearly 2 hours since we had arrived, the larger snake was coming down from the top of the cliff and succeeded at getting into the crack where the nest was without falling. It must have been a disappointment to find no eggs for breakfast (late evening though it were). I would guess that they had visited the nest previously and consumed the eggs but had no idea that there would not be more eggs when they returned. So much effort with no return. Well, we certainly enjoyed the show!

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“Shorty” about 10′ up

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Check out the tail hold, full body contact, tense core, use of multiple holds, and hold searching

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Ledge Traverse

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Another “try hard”

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Climbing Partners in matching outfits

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It has been 3 1/2 months since I went climbing, and it was two months before that. This is beginning to not look like a hobby. Oh well, I was thankful to get out today, and perhaps we have a plan to be more regular without overwhelming our schedules.

Being a little warmer, mid-80’s in the valley, we went to a crag where a creek cascades between two cliffs and most climbs are in the shade. It is about a mile walk in, down hill, meaning, of course, that it is a fairly stout walk out after climbing. At least the walk in doesn’t exhaust you before climbing. I knew that my finger strength was still good because I regularly do doorframe pull-ups, but I have not persisted in endurance training activities for my arms. I expected to do single hard moves and then be exhausted. Surprisingly, I did somewhat better than that, though I definitely felt the burn too soon. We completed 4 pitches and worked on a 5/12a project. Gonna have to increase the endurance before that one goes down.

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“On Belay?” Ready to start a sport lead of a 5.10b
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Jigsaw 5.8
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Overhung, shady, and frequently damp (Frazier Magnolia in the foreground)
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Belay lock position
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Height is not a problem when you are properly tied in
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At the rings at treetop level
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The aesthetic cooling factor
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Wall with roof and tree
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Galax is so bright green and lively looking in Spring
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Beautiful and cold
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Grow where you’re planted
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Hanging out at the crag 

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

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

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Twin Beauties

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

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Unity and Contrast of patterns, colors, and materials

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

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

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

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For perspective: approximately 4 1/2 feet Black Snake

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

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In my years of teaching Earth Science, I have discovered that one concept seems to tie more physical phenomena together than any other. Frequently it is the cause of what is observed and often it is the connecting thread between interactions of matter and energy. So I thought to give a few examples of why it is so often the correct answer to questions in Earth Science:

Earth Science is all about density
What will go up and what will come down
That convective cell propensity

Uneven heating of the atmosphere
Solar gain and wind and pressure change
Forced aloft forms clouds, sinking air clear

Heat, salt, and wind stir up the oceans
Many upwellings from the great deep
Gyres and thermohalocline motions

Far below the roots of the mountains
Plates form rifts, volcanoes, and trenches
Float on plastic and magma fountains

In the stars war gravity and fusion
Caldera of rarified plasma
Spots and flares in boiling confusion

Thus mass divided by volume seen
In many small and grandiose ways
And from its study much knowledge glean

 

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