Archive for the ‘Roadtrips’ Category

A Grand Day Out

March 13, 2013

Biltmore Diana and her dog (2) (513x800)

Now, I could tell you that this is our REAL house.  I could say that our doublewide trailer is just a decoy to hide our incredible wealth and that I never mentioned this house because, well…*sniff*…it simply doesn’t do to flaunt one’s riches.  But then you’d probably think, “Hmm…looks like Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl has been watching a little too much Downton Abbey, haha.”   And, haha…you’d be right.

Besides, if this were OUR house, why would all these people be here?

Biltmore from the hill (3) (800x617)

The truth is, a very kind friend (thank you, kind friend!) gave me two tickets to Biltmore, and Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I had a grand day out at a very grand house surrounded by an even grander expanse of rolling hills and mountains.

We were a little worried when we approached the house, and the first thing we saw was this fellow:

biltmore statue (2) (600x800)

We couldn’t help but be wary of someone with a cross in one hand and a big, scary sword in the other.  Talk about mixed messages!  But we felt much better when we saw his sweet companion:

Biltmore Joan of Arc perhaps (2) (600x800)

And better yet when we saw this friendly lady waving, “Hey!”  It’s so nice to be welcomed!

Biltmore friendly statue (2) (599x800)

We politely averted our eyes and pretended not to notice that…ahem…her dress had slipped.  Bless her heart!

And look!  Her companion even unfurled a lovely bough of flowers for us!  Aww…you shouldn’t have!

Biltmore statue with flower bough (2) (800x593)

biltmore looking ominous blog

As you might expect, we didn’t spend much time in the Big House.  In fact, we were rather relieved to walk away from it and the foreboding clouds gathering over it.  Even in all its extravagant glory, it paled in comparison to the glory outside:

Biltmore trail (2) (800x633)

Like this path, where we could see both our beloved mountains and the beautiful French Broad River that flows near our own Doublewide Ranch.

And the stately, ancient trees that were everywhere, including this cypress and the knees gathered, like a quiet and worshipful congregation, at its base.

Biltmore cypress knees (2) (800x599)

And this climbing ivy, that looked almost as though it were painted on the tree:

Biltmore ivy climbing (2) (600x800)

The bamboo was a bit of a surprise, but lovely in its own way:

Biltmore bamboo (2) (800x649)

But I think perhaps one of my favorite things were these little hemlock cones that hung like little bells in the tree.  These were in a secret garden that we found when we sought to get away from the crowds.  My favorite places have always been those that have  little green sanctuaries like this.  Places where you can quiet your mind long enough to remember where the real riches are.

Biltmore evergreen cones (2) (800x599)

(6) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Living in the Mountains

July 7, 2012

(This was at Mount Mitchell on Benjamin’s Birthday Roadtrip in May.  It was a lovely, lovely day.)

We gave up a lot to move to our beloved mountains.  We came here because every time we visited the Blue Ridge, we felt like we were home.  So, as soon as we were able, we moved west.  We came home.

Although it’s been hard in many ways, we’ve never regretted it.  How could we when there are views like this to rest our eyes against on a regular basis? How could we as we watch the way the light and shadows dance and play over the blue and green ridges as the clouds move and tumble across the deep blue sky?  That alone is enough for me.  That alone is sufficient.

Twenty-Five

May 24, 2012

(This is the very first place we went on our honeymoon 25 years ago—Chestoa View at Milepost 320.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway)

Our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary was last week, so Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man took the week off to celebrate.  The original plan for our 25th was to retrace the steps of our honeymoon, hiking the same trails and staying in the same hotels.  We weren’t able to do that this year, but have definitely put it on our Things-We-Really-Will-Do-Someday-When Life-Isn’t-So-Hectic list.

Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man loves a road trip, though, so we decided to take a daycation or two and follow wherever the road might lead.  He particularly loves a curvy, twisty mountain road that goes up, so up we went into the higher peaks and ridges of the blue and green mountain ranges that surround us.

Instead of detailing our week, though, I’ll post photos of a few of the wonders we saw on our wanders.  And I’ll tell you about the honeymoon we’d originally hoped to re-create—the one we took twenty-five years ago.

(This is the same enchanted trillium forest we saw on our honeymoon 25 years ago)

By the day of our wedding (a courthouse nuptial), we’d saved a little over a hundred dollars between the two of us for our honeymoon.  Now keep in mind that this was in the days before you had to take out a loan to buy a tank of gas.  Nowadays, a hundred bucks would barely get us from Winston-Salem (where we lived then) to the mountains and back, but in 1987, we filled up the tank on our 1967 Volvo 122S and had plenty left over. We had no particular destination in mind—just a yearning for higher ground.  So we headed west with the idea that we’d head home when the money ran out.

I call that honeymoon our Magical Mystery Tour because I honestly cannot remember how it is we managed to travel the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, stay three nights in hotels, and actually eat on a hundred bucks, but we did.  I do recall that we only ate once in a restaurant and that the hotels were all quite modest.  And also that Tom always smiled his most charming smile, told the hotel clerks that we were on our honeymoon, and asked for (and got!) a discount.   But I don’t recall any more of the practical details than that.

But what I do recall is that I never felt deprived.  I remember thinking that I could not imagine a better four-day honeymoon than this; I could not imagine being happier.  We hiked to mountaintop after mountaintop, fed each other from the grocery bag of snacks we’d brought along, and drank gallons of ice-cold mountain water.

We were so full of hope and faith then—a miracle in itself for me since I’d previously experienced a difficult marriage to an abusive man.  I’ve been thinking this week how fortunate it was that we could not see the hard road that lay ahead of us.   Even if we had, though, I don’t think it would have deterred us.  We strode confidently into the future, hand-in-hand and certain that together, we could handle anything that came our way.

And I suppose you could say we have.  Handled things, that is…but only by the merciful grace of God.  We’ve had a hard time of it, I’m afraid, for most of our twenty-five years—illness, injury, job loss, natural and unnatural disasters, too little money, and worst of all, the loss of so many of those loved ones we held most dear.   There are scars, and sometimes, it’s very hard to feel hopeful, to have faith, to trust.

But broken as we are, we are still walking hand-in-hand.  Not striding so confidently now, I suppose.  Our steps are far more tentative and cautious, and sometimes we falter.  But we’re still climbing upward , vigilant for danger, yes… but for  beauty, too.  And still believing that something splendid, lovely, and worth the long and difficult climb lies ahead, just around the bend.

Hiking With Boogerman

April 18, 2012

Yes, it’s yet another post in the series “Remembrance of Hikes Past.”  It’s been a pleasant distraction of late to browse through the photos of the little home vacation (popularly known as “stay-cation) that we took back in November, 2010.  This time, we went to Cataloochee Valley which is now a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  A century ago, however, Cataloochee was a thriving community (which you can read about here.)

One of the main attractions of Cataloochee now are the elk, which were reintroduced to the park in 2001.  We enjoyed watching the young bucks playfight in the fields–I loved the clacking sound their antlers made as they played. I also loved the endearing furry butts of a mother and child elk we saw.  Another attraction there are the historic structures that remain from the settlement, including barns, houses, and two churches.  We found Palmer Chapel to be especially striking in the slanted light of late afternoon.

But my favorite part of our trip was, without a doubt, our seven-and-a-half mile hike on Boogerman Trail (including a bit of the lovely, if muddy, Caldwell Fork trail).  And, yes, it really was called the Boogerman Trail after Mr. Robert Palmer, who previously lived partway up the trail and owned the gorgeous forest there.  He was a shy and quiet man who acquired the moniker “Boogerman” as a child when on his first day of school , the teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.  “A boogerman!” he answered.  And he was known as Boogerman for the rest of his life.  As an adult, his long, rough beard and brusque manner often frightened children and made his nickname seem even more appropriate.

When I heard that story, I felt a deep kinship with Boogerman.  I was also a very shy and quiet child in a family who was quite the opposite.  In fact, I felt so unlike the rest of my family that I used to wonder if my parents had actually adopted me  rather than my oldest brother and sister (who actually were adopted).  And let’s face it–people who are outgoing are always viewed more positively than those that aren’t. Especially here in the U.S., I think.  When’s the last time you heard someone say, “I just love her—she’s so quiet and contemplative!”  Nope. It’s “I just love her—she’s never met a stranger!”

Anyway, maybe I was just projecting, but somehow I felt like I understood Boogerman.  So I was eager to hike the Boogerman Trail and to see where he lived in happy seclusion amongst the huge poplars that he never allowed anyone to cut.  I was hoping for (and got) a quiet and peaceful walk in that gorgeous old-growth forest, but I never expected to actually feel Boogerman’s presence.

But I did.  As we walked in the same forest he once walked, dwarfed by the towering poplars, I felt Boogerman’s presence so strongly that I was a little unnerved.  After all, I’d heard that people, in general, were not welcome on his property—-he loved animals and trees, but humans…not so much.  But, as crazy as it sounds, I really did feel as though he somehow knew who I was—someone not so different from him except for the fact that I still think people are worth the effort. Mostly.  But I still feel most comfortable with trees and birds and wildflowers that bloom in quiet, hidden forest glades.

I’ve taken hundreds of hikes in my life, but this is one that will always stand out for me.  For many reasons.  For one, because it was one of the last long hikes we took before Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man’s knee injury.  We’ve both missed our long hikes keenly.  For another, as I look at the pictures of that day, I see how much the troubles of the past year and a half have aged me.  I had hair back then!  And it was brown!  Much of what’s left of my once-thick but now sparse hair has turned gray.  But that, of course, is not what I’ll remember most.  No, I’ll remember the hike on Boogerman trail for the presence of Boogerman himself—how he walked with us a little ways under the towering poplar trees.  No, I never saw him, but I know he was there.

We were quiet that day at the end of the hike.  I think we both were contemplating what we’d seen and felt.  As I walked across Caldwell Fork creek, I paused to listen to the sound of the water flowing over the moss-covered boulders shaded by great thickets of rhododendron as the creek made its way through the lovely green forest.  I took a moment to thank Mr. Palmer (who no longer seemed like much of a boogerman to me) for protecting those grand old trees from the loggers ax so that we could enjoy them all these years later.  So that we could look up at them and know just how small we really are in this big, beautiful, wonderful world.

Finding Our Way Up

March 7, 2012

Back in late October, we took a hike that, while only two miles and small compared to the hikes we used to take, was big in its significance to us.  Since Tom injured his knee a year ago, he’d been unable to hike,  and we both keenly missed our usual treks to favorite trails up on the Blue Ridge Parkway and elsewhere last summer.  And since Benjamin broke his back the previous summer, he’s been reluctant to subject his still vulnerable spine to the rigors of a mountain hike.

But Tom’s knee has been slowly healing, as has Benjamin’s back, so the late October weather was a perfect time to give our long-unused hiking muscles a little workout.  I researched many trails before finding one that was challenging enough to test our mettle, but easy enough to be free of undue pain.  I found the perfect hike on Bearwallow Mountain, a privately owned mountain south of here, part of which has been placed in a conservation easement so that folks like us are free to share the beautiful views from the grassy pasture at the top with the lucky cows who graze there.  The summit of Bearwallow is 4,232 feet above sea level, so the elevation gain is considerable.  But the new trail, built by volunteers from the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and other groups, is so skillfully built (with switchbacks and gorgeous rock features) that we climbed with ease.  Thank you, volunteers–we are so grateful for your work!

Here’s a wood duck we encountered on the trail.

To our delight, the asters were still blooming and the honeybees still buzzing

Though it was late in the season, there was still color sweeping across the top of Bearwallow. 

I loved how these trees, bowed but not broken by the wind, almost seemed to be growing from the rocks.

Some hikers online warned of possible rogue cows on Bearwallow, but all the bovines seemed peaceful to us, if quite curious.

Because of all the communication towers on top of Bearwallow, as well as a former fire tower, there is a gracefully winding road to the top, which we traveled for our journey down.  I felt sad when our hike ended, as it was the first time in a very long time that I’d been able to, at least temporarily, shake off the sense of constant disquietude that has dogged me for a long time now.  I was worried at the start of the hike about Tom’s knee and Benjamin’s back, as well as anxiety about other troubles that seems to gnaw at my gut almost constantly.  But somehow, watching Tom and Benjamin ahead of me climb the trail with strong and sure steps, helped to ease that gnawing for a while and I felt at peace.  And the beauty of the trees and mountains and rocks and sky as far as the eye can see at the top, along with the placidity of the curious cows, filled me that day with a joy and serenity that I had not felt for a long time.  Even now, I feel a sense of comfort and well-being,  looking at these pictures and remembering how I felt that day when I laid down my burdens for a while.

I guess we need to take another hike…soon. :-)

What We Did on Our Autumn Vacation: Part Three

November 23, 2009

(Swan at Junaluska)

One thing I failed to mention earlier about our trip to Graveyard Fields was that after we’d hiked to the bottom of Upper Falls and were admiring its beauty, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man pointed out that there was something he called a “trail” going up to the top of the falls. But “trail” was much too kind a word for this slimy mud slick with a few gnarly tree roots that desperate fools could grasp as they clawed their way to the top. “Ha,ha…that’s not really a trail,” I said. “What kind of fools would take that?” (Never suspecting that I would soon know the answer.) Then I tried to distract him by gushing about how lovely the falls looked from where we were.

But Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man is an adventurous sort and would not be distracted. He said, “Come on…I’ll help you. Let’s see what’s up there.” I eyed the mud slick. It was practically vertical—what was he going to do, carry me? I’m just not a vertical trail sort of girl. I’ll take horizontal or diagonal, thank you very much and leave vertical for all you daredevils out there.

But I’ll do almost anything to make Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man happy, and really, who wants to be a stick-in-the-mud? So up our intrepid adventurers went! Wait, make that: So up our two silly old arthritic fools went! I’d like to say we scampered up like mountain goats, but it would be more accurate to say we fought our way up tooth and claw, huffing and puffing like the Little Engine That Shouldn’t.

It was a pretty traumatic experience, so I don’t wish to discuss it further except to say that (1) as bad as it was going up, it was ten times worse coming down (2) waterfalls are really best viewed from the bottom (3) a stick-in-the-mud beats slick-in-the-mud or stuck-in-the-mud or perhaps stooge-in-the-mud every time and (4) if you’re going to slide down a mud slick, don’t wear light-colored pants.

Anyway, after that debacle, I was seeking something a little tamer for our next adventure. Preferably something civilized and horizontal. I found it at Lake Junaluska. Whan I went to their website, the first thing I noticed was a verse from the 23rd Psalm: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.” The second thing I noticed was that even though Lake Junaluska is a retreat and conference center run by the United Methodist Church, they made it clear that they welcome all—regardless of faith or color.

And indeed, our souls were restored as we walked the 2.6 mile path around the lake. The day was cool and blustery, but our hearts were warmed by the friendliness of almost everyone we met and the peace we felt as we walked beside the still waters. I know I’m idealizing the place, but it really was such a balm to our weary spirits. I kept thinking about how much I’d love to live there, but quite likely the houses there are way out of our price range. At least I have the pictures here to remember that sweet day by.

But, of course, in this week of Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of the importance of being thankful for what I DO have. I think a lot about Philippians 4:11: “…for I have learned, in whatever state I am, in this to be content.” This verse has special meaning when you know that Paul wrote it from prison. It’s so easy to see what others have (whether it’s money or talent or beauty) and think, “If I only had that, I’d be really happy.”  But true happiness comes from within, not without.  It is a choice.  And everybody knows that neither money, talent, nor beauty brings happiness. You only have to look at Hollywood celebrities to see that truth. But learning to be content with what you have (and to be thankful for it) bestows a far more profound and lasting joy that sustains you through whatever life throws your way.

So, I wish you joy and peace this Thanksgiving season. May your souls be restored by the love of friends and family, and may you find contentment whoever and wherever you may be.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Even the ducks of different feathers flock together there.

A view of the lake

Dogwood berries

In the background you can see the lovely footbridge across the lake.

We loved this delightful topiary.

And I obviously loved the ducks.  Even gave up my Ritz bits for them…

This cross, which sits high on a hill above Lake Junaluska, is alight at night.  I hope to see it alight sometime.

“And the Light shineth in darkness, and the darkness overcame it not.”

John 1:5

What We Did on Our Autumn Vacation–From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

November 16, 2009

Part One: The Ridiculous (SILLY POTTY PUN ALERT!!!  READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!)

shiny new potty blog

(Our shiny new toilet)

Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I went on vacation last week. Of course, I guess, in modern jargon, you’d call what we did a “stay-cation.” After all, we slept in our own bed every night. But we barely did a lick of work all week, ate a lot of junk food, slept in, and had great fun, so it was a vacation to us. And when you live in Paradise, staying home really isn’t so bad.

As regular readers know, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man dearly loves a roadtrip. So, naturally, we went out most every day. Even on the days we were running necessary errands, it was fun because…well…we have fun every time we go out together, whether it’s to buy a toilet or to hike up a mountain. And we did both on this vacation!

Yes, we started our vacation with a bang when we went to our local home improvement store to look at toilets. They had them lined up with spotlights shining on them, like automobiles in a showroom. There were at least twenty or more there, arranged on the commodious warehouse shelves, gleaming in all their glossy porcelain glory. It seemed a waste though that the toilets were high up on a shelf out of reach. I’m not privy as to why they do that—are they actually afraid people would sit down and try them out (take them for a test drive, so to speak) if they kept them on the floor?

A lot of people these days raise a stink about the fact that we’re having a movement towards low-flow toilets and pooh-pooh the idea, but we were ready to take the plunge. We were bowled over, but flushed with excitement at all the choices. But in the end, we decided to go with the flow and use the…umm…process of elimination to choose our toilet. Our #1 choice was one that boasted of being able to flush 20 golf balls. I mean, what a comfort to think that if we accidentally flushed a bucket of golf balls, that they would go down the first time! That’s sort of like twenty holes-in-one!

But that one was a little out of our price range (sort of like golf.) So we settled on #2, the one that said, “Rated Best Flush!” on the box. After all, like they say—a Royal Flush beats a Full House every time!

The excitement continued when we got home and went to install it (even though we were a little wiped out.) No problem doing the job—all you need is a “Can Doo” attitude. Anyone that tells you otherwise, well, they’re full of it. When we were finished, we were so excited that we had to sit down. But in the end, after we got to the bottom of things…everything came out alright.

Part Two: The Sublime (This story guaranteed pun-free.)

graveyard fields path blog

Well, if you’re still reading, after that shocking display of potty pun humor, I’ll tell you about our trip to Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a lovely place with two good-sized waterfalls (three, if you count nearby Skinny Dip Falls). Unfortunately, not a single picture I took of the waterfalls turned out, and I’m not skilled with photo-fixing software. So, if you want to see some decent pictures of Graveyard Fields and the waterfalls, go here.   Or for lots of wonderful pictures of waterfalls, you should check out my friend Betsy’s blog.

Unfortunately, too, all the trees were bare up there, so there wasn’t much bright color to excite the eye. But there was beauty to witness and capture nevertheless—in all the shapes and patterns that Mother Nature provides in any season. In the bark of trees, in shifting shadows, in sunlight in and out of clouds sweeping across the mountainside, and in the swirls and eddies and sparkles that the wind and sunlight make in the clear water that washes clean the river rocks. That was what thrilled us most all day—watching the interplay of sunlight, rocks, water, and wind. Even though the bright colors of autumn were gone and even though we never captured the true beauty of the waterfalls, we didn’t mind. Because there was such beauty and life and energy in the swirling current, in the eddies of the river, in the scintillating water. In the sunlight, in the rocks, in the water, in the wind. All we needed was right there.

Fire. Earth. Water. Air.

Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man Takes Us For a Ride

September 2, 2009

view of the Parkway from Waterrock Knob blog

The last of our family road trip adventures was to celebrate Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man’s birthday which, unlike the other birthdays, really IS in August. We had no idea where he’d choose to wander, but we did know for sure that it very likely would involve two lanes, four wheels, and plenty of fossil fuel. The man loves to drive. And, boy, does he love his road trips.

Sure enough, before the day was over, we’d driven over 250 miles, down the Blue Ridge Parkway and on curvy country back roads. In fact, we drove all the way to the southern end of the Parkway, then into the countryside a ways before meandering back to the Parkway.

But even though much of our day was spent going forty-five miles-per-hour, there was still plenty of time to take a more leisurely pace on foot. After all, no Blue Ridge Blue Collar Family Road Trip is complete without a hike. First stop: Waterrock Knob at Milepost 451.2.

paved part of Waterrock trail blog

The beginning of the trail to the summit of Waterrock Knob is paved and quite civilized looking, so it somehow gives the impression of an easy stroll, a painless promenade, a serene saunter. HA! It didn’t take me long to realize that the handrail they had there wasn’t just to steady yourself. It was there so that people like me could heave themselves up with their arms when their legs and lungs wouldn’t go any further. No easy ramble here—really more of a wheezing, shuffling trudge I’d say. At least in my case. But ultimately very rewarding, once I was able to breathe again. I wasn’t too surprised to read that, at 6,400 feet, this trail goes higher than any other trail on the Parkway.

rock and ferns Waterrock Knob blog

(Rock and ferns at Waterrock)

The next stop was the Devil’s Courthouse at Milepost 422.4. It was not what you’d call an easy leg-stretcher either, but at least I didn’t feel in need of immediate medical attention at the top. It’s a lovely trail, with nice plants growing on both sides, including the pretty pink turtlehead. We were all amused at the juxtaposition of two particular sentences in the description of Devil’s Courthouse in the excellent Guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway that I always take along on our Parkway travels. It reads:

According to Cherokee belief, the devil had a courtroom in a cave inside this mountain where he delivered judgment to those who went astray. To avoid damaging rare plants, please stay on the trail.

We were very, very careful to stay on the trail, and I’m happy to say, didn’t go astray a single time.

Devil's Courthouse view blog

trail to Devil's Courthouse blog

turtleheads, ferns, white wood asters blog

(Pink turtleheads and white wood asters)

down Devil's Courthouse Trail blog

As we headed back home on the Parkway, Tom saw a sign for a side road at Elk Pasture Gap (milepost 405.5) that said something like: Caution! Steep, winding, curvy and generally-nail-biting road! Avoid like the plague if you’re driving an RV or towing a trailer! When I read that and saw the gleam in Tom’s eye, I knew for certain we’d be taking that road (NC 151) back home.

And what a lovely road it was, especially in the gloaming of a hot summer day. We glided down the cool, tree-shaded road, the late-day sun illuminating the trees at a golden slant, the only sound the low hum of our motor and the rustle of the wind in the trees and the birds singing their last song of the day. There was even a tiny waterfall spilling over the rocks on the side of the road that we saw as we rounded a curve.

It was a perfect end to my day with those I love best. The kind of moment that makes you sigh with satisfaction and pleasure, where you feel like there has never been a better moment than right here, right now. And you close your eyes and smile and breathe a simple but profound prayer:  Thank you.

ferns with shamrocks blog

(Oxalis and ferns)

hoary mountain mint blog

(Hoary Mountain Mint)

little waterfall on 151 blog

(You never know what you’ll find around that bend in the road.)

Benjamin the Birdman and His Birthday Adventure

August 26, 2009

SandyMushGameLandsblog

My children are back at college now. I miss them keenly, but at least they left a bit of themselves behind. Ariel, her wonderful new paintings (if only we had more wall space!).  And Benjamin, a CD of some of my favorite guitar pieces he plays (including Ave Maria that he plays in the style of the late, great Chet Atkins). And, too, I have my pictures from our weekend birthday roadtrips. I smile as I look through them—-remembering a quiet moment shared, a new wildflower discovered, or how red my face got on the climb to Waterrock Knob. The photographs seem almost like postcards I’ve sent to myself from the past.  Having a great time! So glad I was here! Love, Beth

For his birthday roadtrip, Benjamin chose to explore a place we only recently heard about—the Sandy Mush Game Land. It contains 2,600 acres that are actively managed with clear-cutting and controlled burns by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to provide a favorable habitat for certain animals. The best thing is that it is open to the public, and they even provide parking. It’s apparently quite popular with birdwatchers, which is how we discovered it in a wonderful book that recently came out called The North Carolina Birding Trail: Mountain Trail Guide.  It comes in a Piedmont and Coastal Plains version, too.

Long-time readers of my blog may remember that Benjamin is a very enthusiastic birdwatcher. He’s always liked birds and watched them intently even as a baby, but developed an obsessive interest in them around age four. That’s when we discovered he could read (very well indeed, too!) when he started reading to us from one of our bird books for adults. So we bought him bird song tapes and more books, and before long, he could identify most birds by hearing just a few notes warbled from the trees. I recall one sentence in particular from the bird tapes (which I remember because it really caught Benjamin’s fancy and he’d rewind the tape and play the sentence over and over):

The Eastern Kingbird very often sings while sallying forth in quivering flight.

Of course, we all love birds in our family, and Ariel is quite knowledgeable, too (possibly from hearing Benjamin play his tapes over and over). But Benjamin is the real Birdman. When we’re out hiking and hear a bird, I’m likely to say something inane like, “Hey, that’s a real pretty birdsong, isn’t it?” But Benjamin will stop, cock his head to the side (looking a bit like a bird himself) and say, “Hey, that’s a warbling vireo!” And then I’ll nod my head sagely, as though I knew it all along. Not that I fool anyone. :-)

We didn’t really see any unusual birds on our trip—just an indigo bunting or two and a galaxy of goldfinches on the gossamer seedpods of the bull thistle. But no matter. We had the forest and fields and mountains and birds to ourselves this time. And we had each other. And that’s a gracious plenty.

Benjamin and Tom at Sandy Mush blog

(Tom in the drill sergeant hat he got at the surplus store and Benjamin in the Stevie Ray Vaughan hat he got at a yard sale)

partridge pea blog

(The partridge pea flower.  I think.  Please correct me if I’m wrong)

Ariel in Sandy Mush forest blog

(Ariel on the light-spangled forest path)

Sandy Mush Game Lands blog

(We could see remnants of an old farm there)

bull thistle seedpod blog

(The gossamer seedpod of the bull thistle)

Sandy Mush blog

Seeing God in Everything…and Everyone

August 19, 2009

hikingatBlackBalsamblog

(It seems I’m always bringing up the rear in our hikes. That’s Ariel, Benjamin, and Tom well ahead of me.)

It’s August and that means one thing in the Blue Ridge Blue Collar household—–roadtrips! August is when both our children are usually home from college for a visit, so we reserve the weekends for adventures, mostly of the hiking variety. And since both of our children are generally at college in the thick of exams for their birthdays (which occur in April and May), we celebrate them in August. And since Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man’s birthday actually IS in August, I end up baking a cake every weekend, and August ends up being one long, wonderful cake-eating binge. So it’s a good thing that we all love to hike so we can rationalize all that cake- eating. :-)

It’s always been a tradition in our family that we get the roadtrip of our choice(within reason and budget)  on our birthday weekend. Since Ariel’s birthday is earliest, she got to choose the first junket (I’ve always wanted to use that word!). We all love the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it’s no surprise that our roadtrips often involve the Parkway. This year, Ariel chose to go to Black Balsam Knob, which is just off the Parkway at Milepost 420.2. For directions and some amazing autumn pictures (much better than mine), go here.

The little road that you turn on (off the Parkway) is deceptive. The pavement is cracked and overgrown, and it’s easy to believe that no one has traveled the road for a very long time and that you’re going to have Black Balsam Knob all to yourself. Here’s where I should confess that I’m a slightly anti-social hiker, or as I prefer to call myself, a contemplative hiker. Oh sure, I enjoy brief chats with folks we meet on the trails and I love talking to my favorite hiking companions, but I’m really there to commune mainly with the One who makes all that beauty possible—God. And my favorite hikes have always been the ones where we’ve had the place mostly to ourselves, such as our hikes last year at Craggy Gardens, which you can read about here, here, and here.

Anyhow.  As we traveled up the desolate road, my pulse quickened with excitement, thinking of all that lovely solitude. But I was quickly disabused of that silly notion as we rounded a bend and came upon upwards of twenty-five cars lining both sides of the road. Good Lord. So much for my momentary fantasy of a serene and undisturbed hike.

But no matter. I said a little prayer before we started our hike—-a variation of the same prayer I pray every single morning:

 God, please help me to see You everywhere. Not only in the mountains and flowers and sky and rocks, but in every soul I encounter on this hike. Even if, in the midst of all this beauty, they’re talking loudly on their cell phones or their surly children are whining about being bored. Help me to remember that they, too, are Your beloved children. Amen.

And we did encounter a good number of folks. And some of them were very loud. But I was able to silence my inner curmudgeon, and we had a peaceful and lovely time. And I was even able to commune with the One Who made this all possible and to give Him my most fervent thanks for the blue layered mountains that seemed to stretch to infinity and for the clouds that tumbled across the sky and for all the wildflowers growing in a tangle on the bald. And, while I can’t say I thanked Him for all the many people there, at least I didn’t curse their presence.

Hallelujah.

Black Balsam blog

Bee on Filmy Angelica blog

(Bee on Filmy Angelica)

Bud of Filmy Angelica blog

(The really cool bud of the Filmy Angelica)

Filmy Angelica opening blog

Black Balsam trail blog

ferns blog

Swallowtail at Black Balsam blog

BlackBalsam blog

fireweed blog

(This one stumped me.  Fireweed, maybe?)

rocksandflowersblog

WildflowersatBlackBalsamblog


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