Sunday, December 9, 2012

Private Playground

Several months back we decided to get a small dog for the kids to enjoy, while they're still at home. All are driving now, and my son is in college. Life marches on relentlessly; like any parent that has kids this age, I remember carrying them in my arms like it was yesterday.

Allergies are a problem in our household, with four of five people allergic to cats, so we decided to find a dog that doesn't shed much. Something small that can stay indoors. Our youngest daughter did the research, and after a few visits to animal rescue groups and to the pound, she picked out a one year old pup from the pound, with matted hair so thick his eyes weren't visible. She picked out the least attractive one there, but she saw something beyond the unkempt exterior. Sebastian came home with her, and he was immediately cleaned up and groomed.

Our back yard is closed in by a wood fence on one side and a decorative brick wall that curves around the remainder. Several wood scraps and cinder blocks later, I closed off all of the openings that he quickly discovered allowed him to escape into the great city beyond the walls. Quickly, he let us know he likes to roam and explore.

Anticipation preludes his daily ventures into the back. When the screen door is open he goes out with several hops, like a rabbit, and begins his routine inspection of his secret place, however ordinary it can be to him. He takes great delight in mundane things that we often take for granted. Turning his head with blinding speed, he sits at attention at every chirp and remark of birds, squirrels, and the occasional neighbor. Nothing is standard operating procedure, at least not after the first ten seconds or so. He enjoys the day, whether overcast, sunny, cold, warm, or somewhere in between. Sebastian finds some comfort in the delights that are in front of him, and I doubt he worries too much about what isn't there.

I think of the classic book by  Frances Hodgson Burnett titled The Secret Garden.

I try to enjoy each day, but it's tough to match his youthful enthusiasm. After he gets older and calms down  bit he'll probably be more like us. Ahh, another day, let's get through it, the weekend is on its way. Vacation is only another month. Looks like I'll have to start mowing the lawn soon, the temps are turning around. Sun's out? So what, it will be here tomorrow. Or the day after that.

In the meantime we try to enjoy his youthful exuberance, all while we can't help but get annoyed at times. But he will learn, just give him time.

Monday, October 22, 2012


My wife and I went for a walk this evening, taking advantage of the near perfect weather here in the Atlanta area. Our neighborhood is great for strolling. We have enough elevation to get a workout, and the neighbors always wave, and speak when the opportunity is there.

We look our 1+ year old playful puppy, and after a conspicuous start with him barking at the squirrels and one neighbor, he tired out and decided to walk. He weights ten pounds or so, but he can pull us along, going up a hill. I would love to have his energy.

At the end of the subdivision we reached the heavily traveled road, which normally means we turn around and head back to the house. We live at the far end of the subdivision, so it's a nice walk to this point and back. This time we decided to walk across the main road and take in a little more of the pleasant weather, so we crossed the road and walked down the sidewalk a short ways, and entered the cemetery.

The afternoon light was dwindling, and it had that nice soft touch that puts everything on an even keel. Nice portrait lighting, despite the background. As we strolled toward the back of the cemetery my wife pointed to something to our left. She thought it was some kind of animal, and she saw it move, but wondered why it was staying in one place. From a distance I figured it was a rabbit.

We turned left toward the animal and just past the last of the gravestones we entered a field, and I walked over for a closer look. I think we found further evidence of the coyotes I have heard across the street from our house. The object was a ribcage, with most of the spine still intact. It was picked clean, and the ribs were still brown. They weren't bleached out yet. As I looked to my left I saw two more clumps. One was picked clean, and it contained a leg bone with a hoof and the section was covered on fur. The third section was another leg. Must have been a pack of coyotes that caught a young fawn out in the filed grazing. The sections were spread out over forty yards.

As we left the remains and walked on through the field to a dirt road that is not well traveled, my wife started having sharp pains on her leg. We soon discovered we had gone through a patch of cockleburs, and the dog had not escaped either. Poor thing. We picked them out of his fur, and I got them off my wife's socks and shoes.

Not sure why my wife thought she saw the ribcage move, but it seemed a fitting place to find it, right at the edge of a graveyard. And just before Halloween no less.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Stroll Through the Woods

Went walking at lunch today on a favorite spot, in Suwanee, Ga. It's a nice three miler that takes an hour and sometimes a little change, with some elevation changes, but not a lot. It's a good place to go refresh your mind.

This was my first walk there in a while. I haven't walked at all in the past week plus after my hiking trip in the Smokies. I had to allow my feet to heal. But today the temps were perfect, and the skies clear. Temps in the 60's.

Heavy rains ended a day and a half earlier, and the ground was still completely saturated. I walked a short distance to the beginning of the soft trail through the woods, which goes for 2/3 mile, and after I went down to lower elevations along the river the smell was overwhelming. It reminded me of a wet dog, fresh out of the tub. To my right everything was soaked and muddy from the flooding caused by 4-5 inches of rain. Parts of the trail had been underwater during the rains, as evidenced by the wash across the trail. And further down, after I reached the paved portion and later walked across the wood boardwalks across the swamp iI saw that much of this had been underwater as well, from the mud washed over and the lack of leaves on the trail. At higher elevations the trail had a nice layer of fallen leaves.

A few hints of the changing seasons dotted the trails, with colors starting to peek out. Anticipation.

Three hours after my walk finished I had a green inchworm on my collar, having been caught out. A reminder of the day. Nothing like a stroll through the woods the unclutter the mind.

The Common Good

My dreams are always disjointed and in specific scenes. My mind sees everything as a stage performance or some other entertainment medium, not as real life with lots of mundane details thrown in for good measure. I like the interesting filler material during normal waking hours, but it’s just as well I pass over it when sleeping; there is nothing worse than waking up just before a dream ends, so let’s skip over the unnecessary details and get this dream finished up. Sometimes I remember enough details to put together a storyline, if I transcribe my notes soon enough. My dreams fade into distant memory much quicker than my memories I create during waking hours. With that as an intro, here are the “minutes” of a dream I had overnight 10/1/2012 that I find interesting. Something in my life must have prompted this. I can think of several things, and it could be a melting together of different issues. Here is the dream:

I was on some type of outing or vacation, not necessarily a pleasure trip, but I recall beautiful colors in the sky in several scenes. Sunrise or sunset, I don’t know. Nature was a constant, and I observed everything from a ground level structure that was fully enclosed and protected from the dangers outside. A field with high grass, brownish, like un-harvested hay, stood at an even level in the foreground, reaching out as far as my dream allowed me to take notice.

A bear and a tiger grappled in front of me, and I zoomed in for a closer look, but I remained in the shelter. The zoom lens embedded in my brain was at work. Both animals were partially hidden in the tall grass, like a well staged scene, intended to keep the view easy to watch. As I observed from my comfortable place in the wilderness, the two were fighting to the death. First I saw the bear winning, biting and shaking his head violently, with hair and flesh in his mouth, ripping at the tiger, then the fight turned and the tiger was inflicting the same damage to the bear. Later I looked out and at first glance it appeared the bear was winning. I saw him on the top of the heap, ripping flesh loose from its combatant, nearing an irreversible victory, and I then realized the two had joined together, and the bear and tiger were destroying the symbolic king of the animal kingdom, a lion.

Working together can perform miracles, but strife neutralizes a strong, powerful body. The enemy watches and smiles, waiting until both sides are weak before pouncing upon the weak, easy target. I can think of so many applications of this principle. Employees that prove themselves unable to make positive changes because of bickering among one another, religious organizations that fragment over ideals and power struggles, political parties that should work for a common good, etc. The list goes on. A united enemy only needs to sit and wait. Their time will come. And the defense will be negligible after enough time has passed.

Friday, September 28, 2012

9/20/12 Clingman's Dome to Siler's Bald Hike

Thursday morning, September 20, 2012. I never seem to have trouble waking up early for a Clingman’s Dome sunrise. Never mind that they rarely turn out to be clear, with a magnificent array of colors just before the orange glow of the sun peaks about the mountain tops. No, I have found that a zero chance of rain at the lower elevations means nothing at the higher elevations, especially in the mornings. I have also found a soothing, richness in the beauty of a new start at the dome, even when fog is blowing through so hard it looks like it’s going to wrap around everything in its path and pull it into a new, strange world. Nothing there is what I consider normal. And I don’t mean that in a bad way.
I usually manage to get some good images regardless. A spot among the fog that looks like a fist clenched in rage, topped with a glimpse of pinks and blues and all those wonderful hues of morning color. Or travel a few hundred yards and the sky may be clear again. If only I could be in more than one place at a time during those beautiful moments of pre-dawn color, and then the orange tint that bathes everything in its path.
On the morning of the 20th I headed out early for the sunrise, which was around 7:20 am. This meant leaving the place I stayed at before 6. Skies were clear for most of the trip, but as often happens fog began intermittently rolling through at the higher elevations, and as I reached my favorite sunrise spot on the road, I could see trees in the foreground and not too much else. Still, I captured a few good frames, with morning colors bleeding through at the top.
Driving on up the Clingman’s Dome road I passed a coyote walking alongside the road, not paying much attention to me. I saw three coyotes on my brief but enjoyable three day trip. Further up I spotted a view to the west with a much clearer spot, with some of the eastern beauty trying to spill over. You just never know what to expect up there.
I drove on up to the parking area at the top and tried to let the morning fog pass through, but it remained thick and embedded. With the temp 47 degrees, I finally started on the trail at 8:30, heading out to Siler’s Bald, a 4.7 mile trek in each direction. 9.4 mile round trip. This one is rated strenuous, and with the elevation changes I can see why.
 I did not walk to the Clingman’s Dome top. I took the trail that goes toward the Andrews Bald trail (another hike I have done this year,) and at the intersection I walked 0.6 miles to the AT. This short piece is very rocky, and in places the stream seems to use the trail as a creek bed. It’s quite pretty to see actually and fun to walk through. One spot requires a bit of rock climbing, but overall, with the short distance, it is passable.
Turn left at the AT. If you go right at this point you will reach Clingman’s Dome in 0.3 miles. Take a left and start toward the Double Spring Gap Shelter. One thing you’ll notice at this point is you start walking downhill pretty quickly, and in some parts it’s quite steep. This should be ominous, considering you are not far into the trail. You will be climbing this prolonged incline on the way back, after walking 8+ miles. It’s tiring.
A hiker passed me on this section, on his way to a twenty mile day. His destination for the day was Spence Field. He talked about walking the entire AT one time, and how he was an accountant through April and then had time to do hikes. He was full throttle. He mentioned two older gentlemen he had passed and asked if I was with them. A while later they caught up with me and I did indeed stay with them, at least as long as I could keep up. They were neighbors and hiked often. I found one of them is eighty years old, and I could not keep pace after a while. I can blame it on my right knee that began tightening up on downhill portions of a host of other excuses, but they were better prepared. Can’t beat exercise and preparation. I want to be in that kind of physical condition at eighty, but time will reveal how badly I want it.
The shelter on the right is a good stopping point. On the day we stopped no one was there on the way in except the twenty miler. We saw him for the last time at this point. He told us a story of two hikers killed there years ago when chicken wire was installed in front of the sleeping bunks, and a lightning strike electrocuted the two. The shelter was redesigned afterwards. Water is available here from a natural spring. I saw a few butterflies floating around, not staying in one place long enough to take pics, but they still added to the beauty of the trail.
The shelter is more than half way to Silers Bald, so the remainder of the hike to the bald wasn’t too painful. The scenery began to take on a new life as the fog lifter. From a point after the shelter until I returned to the Clingman’s Dome parking area the lighting was beautiful. The haze that is so typical during the midday hours wasn’t as bad s normal. The colors popped, including the blue sky. I figure the heavy rains two days earlier may have helped clean the air.
The last portion of trail to Siler’s is very steep, so be prepared, but you’re almost there.

Siler’s Bald is marked by a small monument, which I have pictured. The two hikers and I walked a short ways further down the AT, thinking we had not reached the bald itself, but we determined the stories about the bald being grown up were true. Unlike neighboring Andrews Bald, which had much open space and beautiful vista, the one open area at Silers didn’t offer much of a photo op. I did venture down a narrow, more overgrown trail that led to an endpoint that may have been the bald. The scenery was beautiful after reaching a large rock, which is pictured. Initials are carved in the stone, and the date looks to be the 1930’s. I wonder if the date is genuine. Someone took some time to chisel it in.
On my return trip the initial downhill portion put pressure on my right knee, and I started limping and favoring the knee. My pace slowed considerably. I had no pain on the straights or uphill sections, but downhill caused me problems. After reaching the Double Spring Gap shelter later than my buddies and talking to two hikers down from New Jersey, I stayed with my two hiking partners for a half mile or so and finally I told them to go on. My knee had me walking very carefully, and I saw no reason to slow them down. I didn’t see them again.
Lots of hyper yellow butterflies on the ridgelines, with a few monarchs and other species fluttering along, making my walk more enjoyable. They seemed to be on stage, putting on a show for all that ventured their way. One almost landed on my camera lens. A hawk flew directly overhead, screaming his arrival. In the distance I saw a large bird that appeared light colors, flying into a covering of trees against a steep backdrop of a mountain.  
One thing to remember about hiking from Clingman’s Dome; with it being the highest point, all the trails have to go down. That means, as you approach the end of your hike coming back and you’re already tired you have a steep uphill section. This is true when returning from Siler’s Bald or Andrews Bald, both of which are accessed from here. The last section between the shelter and the trail to the dome’s tower is brutal, in my opinion. Breathtaking scenery and well worth it, but very tiring if you aren’t accustomed to the terrain and the elevation.
I was resting on a section of rock during my hike up this section, nearing the end of my day, and I stopped and pulled out my small notebook and pen. I wrote (and rested) for about twenty minutes, and the thought came to me that I had an incredible panoramic view to my right of the rolling peaks, a much closer hill in front of me that stood out clear against the early afternoon sun, and more vistas over my shoulder, to my left. The trail was beautiful at this point with a few colors peeking through, and everything blending together into the most beautiful scenery imaginable.  Blue skies with wisps of white, billowy clouds, scenery on both sides, and rolling hills that seemed to go on forever. However, when I first sat down all I could think about was sitting in my car, getting ready to head back. I was so tired in body. A byproduct of my lack of preparation? A chocolate covered, crème filled donut from Krispy Kreme sounded good for some reason. I recovered before long, and I enjoyed the beauty before resuming my hike.
The closely situated, formidable mountain still loomed in front of me, and I was glad I didn’t have to scale this one. Now there’s a thought, sometimes the overwhelming mountain can be sidestepped. Not every time; some things must be tackled head on. We need some trials to help us reach the point where we can take on challenges and reach our potential. And enjoy a fulfilling life.

Approaching the final stage of the hike I saw and photographed the Clingman’s Dome parking area. A different perspective, as the parking lot is as far in that direction that most people venture.
As I reached the junction and turned right to exit the AT and take the 0.7 mile walk toward the parking area a young couple, from Florida, walked up and we talked a while. They had crossed paths with the two gentlemen that I tried to keep up with, and when they met one of the gentlemen was out in front. They asked if he was alone, and he told them no I have a 15 year old lagging behind. Turned out to be his 80 year old friend, the one I couldn’t keep up with. Now that’s something to think about.
As I was getting in my car the parking lot was packed with visitors. I noticed a few had arms crossed, trying to stay warm in the 60 degree air. Perspective I suppose. They hadn’t been where I had been.
A beautiful trail, one full of mental imagery that you won’t get by looking off the roadside from pulloffs. You feel the scenery when you get out on these trails. The sights and smells are invigorating. And it will go home with you. Nature has a healing salve, it renews.

 Sunrise, looking west

 Morning fog

Double Spring Gap Shelter

 Silers Bald marker

 1930 something chiseled into the rock

 Beautiful section of the trail, near Silers Bald
 Lake Fontana in the distance

 Almost back. Go left here to reach the C Dome tower
 Clingman's Dome parking lot, from the AT
 Trail doubles as a creek bed

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Breathing Entity

That's how I describe the sights and sounds of nature on my hike of September 9, 2012, at Big Haynes Creek Preserve in Conyers, Georgia.

The woods were alive, a breathing entity. A new surprise around every turn. All the snaps, pops, and whispers from the brush, darkness of trees, and waters of the wetlands. The beautiful weather had everything out. I saw butterflies, dragonflies, many different examples of mushrooms, deer, herons, and an otter darting gracefully just under the surface of the water. I saw it go under, but the camouflage was so well done I could not find a trace, from five feet away.

A group of young ducks floated silently in the water, beyond a partially submerged log that had a turtle perched on the sunny side. The delicate wake following the ducklings dissolved almost as quickly as it formed. The mom was out of the frame, but no doubt she was close by.

Nature is so unique. You couldn't write a better script if you tried.

Pictures can tell the story much better.