Saturday, September 2, 2017

2017 Solar Eclipse from Spence Field

            I had thought about skipping the eclipse viewing, all things considered. The talk of snarled traffic and the uncertainty of weather in the higher elevations where I wanted to view the event made it an easy one to excuse away. It turned out to be worth every step.

I shared the hike with my daughter Marissa and her boyfriend Michael. We hiked to a spot in the Smokies that fits the grandeur of the solar eclipse on 8/21/2017. Traffic was gridlocked at 7am trying to get into Cades Cove and we couldn’t reach the Lead Cove trailhead. We parked in a pull off, hiked back down 0.4 miles to the Bote Mountain trail, and started up towards Spence Field. 
Walking was quicker than driving
A hiker stood at the trailhead, safely off the roadway behind a boulder, staring at her trail map. She was trying to get into Cades Cove and didn’t want to walk another five or so miles along the road. I showed her the trails that would put her in the Cades Cove picnic area and she headed on up.
The hike was uphill and grueling at times. The trail is wide, but rocky. As we passed the trail intersections of Lead Cove and Anthony Creek we were joined by additional hikers. A middle aged guy was trying to catch his breath and told me he didn’t want to end up having to ride in one of those carts when he goes to Walmart, so here he was, struggling up the hill. Michael and Marissa stayed ahead of me, which I told them to do. My trail name should be Molasses because as the old saying goes, I am slower than molasses. And clumsy if I get in a hurry.
A side note- up into the sixties Bote Mountain Trail was a road that carried drivers close to the Appalachian Trail.
I met an interesting guy on the way up, after passing Lead Cove. He said I must be a botanist. He noticed my interest in the flora and anything else that captured my fancy, which is part of the reason I’m so slow. He told me he is slow too because he stops to look at plants. He is much younger and in better shape but doesn’t want to miss anything. His upbringing is such that he has both knowledge and interest in natural remedies. He gives friends and family plants he harvests for making into teas and remedies (he doesn’t harvest in the Smokies.) We exchanged numbers, and I’m looking forward to hiking with him, maybe in October.
We reached the Appalachian Trail after one final steep switchback and took a left to Spence Field.                 
End of Bote Mountain trail. Turn left to reach Spence Field
The views are magnificent, and I want to head back up soon when it isn’t as crowded. Between Spence Field and nearby Rocky Top there were around 120 people. We had some interesting characters, including a ukulele player and a guy that was asleep under a lean-to, snoring loud enough to be heard by anyone within thirty feet. Hikers that make this trek are a different breed, although this event brought out some that don’t do this type of hike.   

Looking west
The plant guy walked by us and headed on up another 1.2 miles and 500 feet of elevation to Rocky Top, and he handed me a dried fig as he passed by. A good snack after the climb.

Light almost gone, minutes before totality
During the first part of the eclipse. The harsh light softened
The event was quite a show. We were not in the center line of totality but with the center line passing through the southeast corner of the park we were close. Totality lasted about 2 minutes from what I heard, although I didn’t time it. During totality the temperature dropped, locusts sang their night songs, and the stars came out. The bright star may have been Saturn, from what I had read.                            
Looking west during totality
With the view we had from the mountaintop we saw classic pre-sunrise colors to the west, with hues of purple and blue. Purple mountain majesties. Turning around and looking to the east I saw the sky with its narrow band of color that rimmed the horizon like a sunset disappearing into the evening’s darkness     . 
 And then someone turned the light on.
The first bit of light that peeked through reminded me of a single light bulb overhead in an interrogation room, with cops trying to pull a confession out of someone. A narrow, dim light that quickly grew into daylight again, but not the intensity you expect at 1:30 in the afternoon. A softness of light soaked the mountaintop, and it slowly began its journey back into harshness of light and the humidity that comes with a sunny August afternoon.
Light on either side of totality was gentle. Marissa said it made her want to remove her sunglasses the way you would in later afternoon. Crescent shaped shadows were anywhere light filtered through. In darker sections of the path bright lights in crescent shapes dotted the otherwise shadowed ground.       

The detour we made up Bote Mountain added distance to our hike, and my total was 14.7 miles, plus another 0.8 to and from the trailhead to my car. Michael and Marissa added another 0.6 going to the Spence Field shelter and the water source.

As we were nearing the end of our hike I caught up with them, only because they stopped and waited on me. Marissa told me about a couple from Philadelphia that had missed their trailhead coming down and would have to walk back up the road a few miles. They had driven all night to get there, hiked up to Spence Field, and were planning to drive home that night, alternating drivers so they could both rest. We caught up with them and I sent them to an alternate trail that went straight to their car same trail as the lady that morning. He took a picture of my map showing the trail intersection.
Last year I was hiking the Curry Mountain trail and I struck a conversation with a gentle man at the intersection where I planned to turn around. After a while he asked if I had a trail map with me and I admitted I did not. He gave me a National Geographic map and said he has given away dozens. I thanked him, and I always have one with me now. It’s too easy to get turned around when you’re tired. I hope I run into him again on the trails so I can let him know how much his map has helped others.

The next solar eclipse here is only seven years out and stateside it goes from Dallas up through Cleveland. I’m thinking it will be worth a road trip.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Roadtrip into the Past

    I embarked on an 11 hour road trip last weekend with my good friend Sandy along some fifteen miles of gravel roads, miles of two lane blacktop, and through a few old towns. Our  plan was to find a place he had visited 35 years ago, Pennville, Ga. We finally found it with the help of locals in the afternoon.

    Conversations went a good thirty minutes or more each time we met locals. Storytelling and reminiscing.

    We spent the day in a steady and sometimes heavy rain. I enjoy the sound of rain filtering through trees during the summer. Walking through a drenching shower is therapeutic for me, with raindrops peppering my hood like an umbrella wrapped around my head. It's a surreal world where the harshness of sunlight is gone along with its shadows and deep contrast, and what is left is an evenness to the world where everything can be calmly visualized, and  sounds are diffused as well. For me it's calming. 

Lots of treasures are out there, ready to be found before they are all taken over by nature. I spoke to someone recently about his experience riding dirt bikes and all terrain vehicles on forestry roads. He said just off trail, sometimes dipping into private property you find remnants of homes and cars with trees growing through them. Forgotten mementos that won't be around forever.

Here are some images from our eastern Georgia roadtrip-
The old Athens Highway route, with an outhouse thrown in for decor

Durham Apothecary Museum in Maxeys, Ga. A former doctor's office recently renovated and opened as a museum. Est, 1870. Free admission

Maxeys, Ga. Former garage and bank needing renovation

Scull Shoals Historic Site, between Athens and Greensboro on the Oconee River. Pictured is the ruins of the store and storage building from the former mill village

Sandy walking in a driving rain. Scull Shoals Historic Site, between Athens and Greensboro on the Oconee River.

Scull Shoals Historic Site. The riverside hiking path alongside the rain swollen Oconee River

Near Greensboro, Ga

Near Greensboro, Ga

Pennville, Ga

Pennville, Ga. Old service station

Pennville, Ga. Old service station

Pennville, Ga. Driving into the shadows

Pennville, Ga.

Pennville, Ga. Old gas line

Greensboro, Ga. The magnolia tree has the most knotted up trunk we'd seen. Fit right in

Greensboro, Ga

Greensboro, Ga

Greensboro, Ga

Elder Mill Covered Bridge and Rose Creek, Watkinsville, Ga

Elder Mill Covered Bridge and Rose Creek, Watkinsville, Ga

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Winding Path

A winding path stretches out below, as I look down from a hillside.....

Miles to cover, choices along the way. Birds serenading and pulling me in all directions.

Time is no longer on my side.

Beauty along every avenue; which path is for me?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Old Place in the Woods

             The old place in the woods.

 What secrets are buried inside, tucked away among ages of neglect, and a secret or two hidden away that only the more insistent will find. 

Pictured are the remains of an old mill, sitting along the banks of a creek. Fifty yards or so upstream a mesmerizing cascade will lull you to sleep if you stay long enough to be cast under its spell. The mill’s water wheel is covered by wood siding that has conveniently slipped down like a night cover, hiding it from potential vandals.

Shadows from tree limbs moved about across the mill, their dark gray blending with the aging of the wood. I kept expecting to see a face from the past look  out a window, and then turn away as if to say you will have to come find me to hear my story. 

 I would like to know the story of the old truck, and the last time it was pulled in and parked for eternity.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Backstory

Cascades flow nearby, its steady rhythm lulling me into a trance. The smell of the woods is delicious. The rock I sit on is multicolored with splashes of white and strips of green lichens growing along crevasses. It has a life of its own. I notice more detail the longer I sit here. Things that existed all along, but were somehow lost in the busy scene in front of me. After a time I notice something struggling.
A large tulip leaf lies plastered over a rock, drenched by the sporadic shower as whitecaps flow on either side of the rock. The colorful leaf is hanging on for dear life. It looks like four legs are draped out trying to hold on with not help in sight. This is the life of a loner.

He will see things that can only be imagined by most, and he may die in a spectacular way or with remarkable circumstances. Flying solo, he has no backup when the day goes awry. Swept off a rock, clinging for life. Yet still we all die someday. If only the loner’s story could be told.
Beauty emanates as he grips the rock, practically wrapped around it, perhaps in his finest hour based on the richness of his color. But I don’t feel compelled to help him. This is the final page of his story and he must write it. He could be an artist; someone who hopefully has published his story along the way to help us to understand how he got here. The backstory is always tucked away conveniently in the shadows.
The leaf has gone through its years of attachment to its mother, clinging on for survival. As youths we hear the loud directives, often times the only way they know to speak. Often for our own survival. Family, teachers, friends all had their say. Friends chose to stay among those of like interests, and some took cover to mature and present their gifts later, at their appropriate time. We must cut loose to finish our course.

A solitary yellow butterfly darts in and out of shadows, preferring sunlight. In the shade hides unsightly things and those who choose to be hid. I watch the butterfly dance about but not really wanting its place in the sun. I prefer to be the yellow or red leaf, floating lazily downstream, enjoying those final days or hours to the fullest. Seeing what others don’t see that dance about in the spotlight, among crowds, wanting to be noticed. Along the way the leaves fit into their own groove. They morph into what seems the fittest. 

Passerby’s stop and look upon the fall scene and smile, reflecting on their own lives as times past and memories wash over them as the beauty unfolds. The leaf is part of the bigger picture, part of a complete scene. Like an actor, one of dozens, with a bit part.

I am following a leaf now; it survived a small set of rapids and is floating again, further downstream. Some get collected in bunches around rocks and limbs shortly after leaving their tether. Others make it through the crowds on to new adventures, in their golden hour. A portion sinks to the bottom after being set free and turns quietly into the foundation for their successors. Why is that? Shouldn’t we all enjoy the glory of our golden hour?

Deep pools of black water pull in what’s dancing overhead, its reflections capturing them peering in. The butterflies and their friends. Their beauty is diffracted by the pools of darkness, but the result is stunning. Black water deflects light, but dark normally absorbs. During nighttime it pulls in all illumination and blankets its hidden secrets in a cloak of protectiveness. During daytime it does the opposite. The creek is a place of renewal and follows the course of life.

I see a city in the dark water’s reflection. Our worlds merge here. Ripples of life run out from the center and touch everything in their path. I see myself in a small corner of the city, then spreading out as though a pebble was dropped in, sending my introspections to all four corners.

A lower tone of light just settled on me. A reminder that the twilight hour is approaching again. The leaf won’t be there tomorrow after the overnight storms change the landscape. Its time is now.
Another gentle shower of yellow leaves is falling into the creek, beginning their final journey after spending a lifetime connected to a branch for nourishment and survival.

A couple is watching the scene from the old stone arched bridge. 
Will they be inspired, take photos, tell others, and encourage a love for nature in their kids? That’s quite a legacy for a single leave floating along, painting the landscape with its unique art, and dissolving into the bigger picture. Maybe someone is watching me that way from a distance, from a bridge or otherwise.

Prelude to “The Backstory”
Craig Elliott 2016