Red Water   2 comments

Is it not hard to imagine your own language disappearing from the face of the earth?  So many have been the last to utter final words, with no one else to understand their meaning over the last 200 years and I am sure there will be more.  There are words in many languages that have very subtle meanings that are not neatly represented in English.  English does thrive, largely because it is so accepting of outside influences, incorporating the best of many other languages.  There are words that I wish were not there, recently added to the dictionary.  Gaydar, for example.  Which the dictionary defines as a skill only for homosexuals.  Heteros have radars, too!  We at least think we can detect gays in our midst though we are probably often wrong.  So what?! Well, there are people that like, um, burritos, so should we have burritodar in our vocabulary?  I think not!  It is way too awkward, anyway.  Hey! That guy has a very large belly hanging over his belt, big flabby arms and slurred speech.  I detect a binge beer drinker with my beerdar!  Golfer. Pardar.  Sushi eater?  Rawdar.  Kinda silly.  But there are others, as well.  Grrrl is now in the dictionary.  If the young woman is especially hypersexual I guess it could be grrrrrrrrl.  Not sure.  I wish there was no need for the term sexting.    Unfortunately, even though it has applied to me at times, should cyberslacking actually be in the dictionary?  Why not just “lazy at work”.  That covers it.  Some words should be banned, like frankenfood, often used to describe genetically modified foods, which have been genetically modified anyway since, oh, just after Noah started using seeds from plants that had higher production or resisted bugs, just the slow hard way.  The word is cute, sticks, and creates battle lines where science doesn’t support the distinction in terms of health.  So we have to label everything.  Meanwhile, other languages die.

Often when a language dies it leaves behind traces of its former existence, often seen with geographical features.  In the Pacific Northwest, native tribal languages have struggled to survive.  Lushootseed, along with other variants, has barely managed to survive, a language that had only about 100 speakers not too many years ago.  But the tribes involved, probably putting some good use to the tribal gambling casino proceeds, are fighting back and growing the use of the language among tribe members, part of the Salish tribes that once thrived along the coast of Puget Sound.  It is unlikely that much of their everyday vocabulary will spill over into English.  I won’t even attempt   to explain how to pronounce this: ƛ̕ux̌ʷƛ̕ux̌ʷ.  Saying “oyster” will pr0bably remain the dominant way we describe those little fellas!

The list of things that I have been told to do while living here by natives and other transplants is quite extensive.

Ice on a small pond.

Ice on a small pond.

Mentioned by almost everyone, however, was Mt. Pilchuck.  This is easily understandable.  It rises to 5324 feet and though this is not an impressive height, it accomplishes this over only a few miles and is close to Puget Sound.  It really stands out and is famous for having incredible views of the entire region, the sound, Seattle and environs, views of Baker and Rainier, and valleys below.  So wifey, Nana, needed a grandchild fix and was flying off to Southern California.  I decided one Saturday morning, with a weather forecast calling for partly cloudy skies, to climb Mt. Pilchuck.  This implies I though that my conditioning was superior to hers, which, as anyone could tell you that knows me, there is nothing physically obvious about me that suggests this is true.

Fortunately, for me, you do not actually have to climb 5324 feet to get to the top of the mountain.  You drive up a forest service road to a parking area that sits about halfway up the mountain.  The mountain itself is in a state park, but oddly, the trail to the top is still considered federal forest service land.  There is no Mr. Pilchuck.  I googled the name and it did not show up in the first few pages so there may be a Pichuck out there somewhere or a female Pilchick!  Don’t know for sure.  It is actually named after a Lushootseed term that means red water or stream.  I don’t know where that might be but on my travel up the mountain I did not see any red water.  At least the name has roots in the region.

Trail to Mt. Pilchuck.

Trail to Mt. Pilchuck.

The trail up starts out gently enough and actually only rarely becomes very steep, but it is a pretty continuous climb to the top.  The early path leads past small streams and waterfalls through typical Pacific Northwest forest with the older limbs of trees covered in that moss drapery so common in the region.  There had been quite a bit of rain lately so the trail itself was often a small stream but there were always rocks or edginsg of turf that kept me from sinking into mud.  After the trail turns mostly eastward there starts to be more frequent breaks in the trees that allow the opportunity for grand vistas.  But on this day, the view below was like looking into a giant bath with bubbles, oddly lined by evergreens.  There just had to be someone holding their breath under the water out of sight.  And so it was!  There was Mr. Baker!  Far to the north there was a nose protruding from the frothy bubbles.  Mt. Baker was just jutting out above the clouds.

Here is a mountain that clearly does not have a Lushootseed based name.

It is actually named after a 3rd lieutenant in the British navy that had been aboard the exploration focused HMS Discovery.  He was  acquitted after a court martial, having run his ship aground, in later years.  Though acquitted, it does not appear that he was forgiven as he never sailed under any command again.  What a lousy name for such a beautiful, spectacular even, mountain that is at least reasonably accessible and often visible from 70 to 80 miles away.  Well, this mountain was not ignored by the tribes in the area.  They had their own names.  Prominent among these was Qwú’mə Kwəlshéːn.  While perhaps harder to remember and pronounce it at least has connections to the people who discovered it first!  It sorta means white sentinel mountain with a puncture wound.  At least one would have an idea of what type of mountain was being talked about.  Volcanoes clearly have puncture wounds, craters, and even this early in the fall to winter season, this mountain is pretty much covered in snow and ice.  It is also known as Koma Kulshan which evens out some of the phonetic issues when pronouncing its name.

So onward and upward.  As the trail round to the south, small lakes and forest appearing below, the peak of Mt. Pilchuck becomes visible.  Between the top of the bathtub and the peak there were no clouds.

View into the bathtub.

View into the bathtub.

The nose.  Mt. Baker in the distance.

The nose. Mt. Baker in the distance.

One could see into the very far distance nothing but blue past the steep vertical drop on this side of the mountain.  The peak itself was wearing a white feather cap.  Winds were clearly pushing and pulling on the relatively thin layer of clouds there.   While a sight to see from below it foreshadowed a degree of disappointment for the future as the view from above might well be highly compromised.

The trail steepened, often offering the opportunity to look back down the path traveled as one switchbacked up to the ridgeline.  Hitting the saddle yielded another view of the bathtub as bubbles completely occluded the view below.

Mt. Pilchuck-5From here on the trail often became a rocky scramble.  As I climbed, the clouds forming along the ridge began to surround me.  The twisted and weathered branches of trees closer to the top held mantles of snow and ice.  The temperature hovered around 40 Fahrenheit.  Steep cliffs offered nothing but frothy views only to a hundred meters or so.  And then, I was at the top, more or less.  As something of a final taunt, the last yards to the ladder that led to the fire observation tower on top were mostly an undefined workout over steeply angled rock.  But then you were there.

First view of the peak.

First view of the peak.

Mt. Pilchuck-8

The forest service built the lookout in 1918.  To do so they had to dynamite the top of the mountain to have an area flat enough to build.  It was used for over 40 years.  On the way up, and near the top as well, you can see remnants of a ski area that was shut down in 1980 due to issues with the amount of snow produced here.  Mr. Baker, Qwú’mə Kwəlshéːn, to the north does not have a snow problem.  In 1999 that mountain set a world record for recorded snowfall over the winter season.  1, 140 inches.  That is, 95 feet of snow or 29 meters!  Poor little Pilchuck just can’t compare but can win on accessible views as it is far easier to obtain the peak than on Lieutenant “court marshall”  Baker.

So where is it?!  I climb the ladder, fingers freezing, legs aching, look to the south and… nothing but white.  I move around the tower for a more easterly view and can at least see the cliffs in that direction,Mt. Pilchuck-3 looking like a giant ship sinking into cotton candy.  As I move around to the north side, there, finally, the sky in front and above opens to a perfect Carolina blue sky!  (Sorry about that, Washington, that description is going to stick).  At least the cotton candy or bubbles below glisten with occasional breaks.  But, alas, no view of Puget Sound, Seattle, Rainier or much of anything else down below.

But perhaps what was down below was not to be the issue that day.  As I looked at the flag that had been hoisted to the top of this mountain, mere miles from the scene of great tragedy, my thoughts moved inward and upward.  I could only wish that the whiteness of the clouds below represented a certain purity and innocence.  The wind stood the flag straight out.  “Look at me and remember”.   Though only my physical plane had been raised by the hike up, I now had to fight to raise my emotional plane away from the sadness and pain represented by the flag of Marysville Pilchuck High School.  It had only been days since the shootings and young students were still dying from their wounds.  Sadly, the meaning of Pilchuck, red water, seemed a little too appropriate.

Abandoned fire observation tower at the peak.

Abandoned fire observation tower at the peak.

But the flag was put there as a soaring remembrance, and perhaps an act of defiance.

There will be those that cannot now, in their grief, move forward with clear purpose or even contemplate joyful times, but for others, and it is hoped someday for all, there will be an end to the long trail upward, rising above, to seek the crystal, azure skies,  the fog and clouds clearing, for a view of something better.

Marysville Pilchuck High School Flag.  A memorium.

Marysville Pilchuck High School Flag. A memorium.



Wobbling in Woodinville   Leave a comment

After arriving in Everett, where we actually live, not in Seattle, thank goodness, we soon wanted, like everyone else up here, to take advantage of the secretly beautiful summer into fall weather.  But first, a comment on getting around here, particularly Seattle.  The traffic in Seattle is currently setting records for commuting time.   It has become so bad that along I-5 they are installing little plastic bag dispensing stations like you see in parks for dogs because so many have to run to the shoulder, quickly try to find a sign or bush, and have something with which to scoop before rushing

Bridge near the entrance to the Sammamish River Trailin Bothell.

Bridge near the entrance to the Sammamish River Trailin Bothell.

back to the car because they think the line might move along without them.  Silly!  They

Nana, ready to go!

Nana, ready to go!

actually have to run back up the road as the traffic here often moves backwards.  Those listening to radios are cycling through a station’s entire playlist.  Audible is making a fortune since those listening to recorded books are finishing an entire volume of Game of Thrones on one commute.

As far as actual labor is concerned, the employees that work downtown are actually only working two hours.  The boss often is the last one in so no one  has to pay the piper for being late.  There are, of course, the hardy souls that bicycle in to work, rain or shine.  They have their little lights just a flashin’ through the fog like tiny mobile lighthouses.  Those that have followed this blog over time know that we like to bicycle, as well.  Nana is a lady of leisure now and I have about 25 miles to get to work, uphill both ways, and resist any tendency that might emerge as a form of temporary insanity to pedal to Sultan.  I’m fine, as I move against the flow…well actually the traffic to Seattle has no flow…dry and conserving my personal energy, inside my mobile cocoon.

But we do like to pedal on the incredible range of bike trails that exist in the region, hundreds of miles. To get started here, before the onset of the wet season, which comprises about 300 days of the year, we struck out on the bicycle trail, or a portion of it, that runs from Bothell to Woodinville.  This seemed like a very logical first choice since near the turn around point there existed several locations where essential supplies could be obtained that would allow us to survive to bike another day.

Woodinville Bike Trip-100 Woodinville Bike Trip-98

We sauntered across the bridge near the start of the trail and followed the Sammamish River into Woodinville.  There were some sections near interstate but much of the trail was lined by fields, trees, parks, and in the river, boaters and ducks.  Some boaters were fishing while others paddled canoes or kayaks down the gently flowing river.  This area has many acres of vineyards and over the

Paddling on the Sammamish.

Paddling on the Sammamish.

Beautiful tree on the winery grounds.

Beautiful tree on the winery grounds.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery - early birds for the evening concert.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery – early birds for the evening concert.

years many wineries have sprung up following the lead of Chateau St. Michelle.  The grounds are beautiful and they produce a wide variety of wines with a wide range of, ummmm, outcomes.


We thought that we had some obligation to sample much of this variety of wines.  We certainly did not want to disappoint the worker by refusing to taste at least most of their wines.  We were inside but on the outside there were people sitting in the sun, trying to store enough vitamin D to survive the coming dark times.  “Winter is coming!”  They were actually just waiting, early birds, picnicking  until the gates opened for that evening’s concert, which was Hall and Oates.  They have a fantastic range of performers most weekends over the summer, current rising performers, top groups and performers from times that were contemporary when I was a teen.


Lunch in "Hollywood".  The beer is only part of the lunch.

Lunch in “Hollywood”. The beer is only part of the lunch.

Woodinville Bike Trip-126











Can we just take the container on the left?

Can we just take the container on the left?

There are more options of various types in the area.  Other wine choices but other types of options as well.  After lunch and beer at The Hollywood Tavern, which was quite good, we walked 10 yards to the entrance of the Woodinville Whisky Company.  So this turned into a triple play, especially after a final visit to the Red Hook Brewery 200 yards across the way.

Angst on entering the Woodinville Whiskey Co.

Angst on entering the Woodinville Whiskey Co.

The distillery produced excellent liquors!  We know because we tried most all of them.  Oddly, they also produced infused honey.  In addition to whiskey they also make other liquors such as vodka.  They also sell a kit where you can age your own bourbon!


Well, not too bad!

Well, not too bad!

Woodinville Bike Trip-136Woodinville Bike Trip-138This was all good, but we finally had to make our way back down the trail to our vehicle.  It was not a long bicycle ride but the trail did not seem as stable on the way back.  They do have earthquakes in this area but we later did not see any reports for that day.  Not exactly sure what put Nana down.  It could not have been a lack of liquid hydration and the trail was not that long.

She soon recovered enough to slowly pedal past the duck and boaters gliding in the lazy Sammamish.


Woodinville Bike Trip-139



The Cost of (NOT) Living   3 comments

When we decided to leave North Carolina, at least for now, and transplant 2,786 miles to the left coast, just north of the Socialist State of Seattle, in Everett, Washington, a common question was “Yeah, you will be retired and drawing a decent check from the retirement system here, but won’t the cost of living out there eat up the difference even with your new job?”  There is more than one way of looking at this.  Yes, some things here are more expensive.  Sales taxes are higher, property taxes are higher and with recent changes in pot laws there are lots of people higher.  But there are flip sides to every story, but not to be flip, you may not know what you are talking about.  Several things ameliorate the impact of these points.  Some utility rates are quite good because this area depends on hydro power to such a large extent.  They would be even lower if they didn’t spend millions on some “green”, as in the color of money, projects that often don’t work out or produce electricity at much higher rates such as the stalled, ever more expensive, tidal power generation system that now appears to be going nowhere.  This is particularly true as their electricity is already so “green”.  But with a need for air conditioning that is not a need at all, except for a smidgen of days in the late afternoon, overall utility bills are lower anyway.  There is no state income tax…yet, anyway, though there are rumblings.  Fruits and vegetables, as fine as anywhere, are cheap and plentiful in season.  While it may not balance out completely, the difference is not as much as might be expected.

But so what!


Packing for the move.

Packing for the move.


Straining under the weight of pillows!


Obligatory selfie…now that we have that out of the way!


Halfway from there to over there.


I have lived in two states my entire life, and I regret that it was only two. That is twice as many as a large number of people, probably a surprisingly large number.  Not that there is anything wrong with making a choice and sticking with it.  That is, if it is a choice.  Inertia is not a choice.  There was nothing essentially wrong with North Carolina.  It is beautiful but planning at any level of government for the future, such as for roads or education, sucks.  In Seattle, the leadership doesn’t want to build roads or add lanes because it thinks that if the freeway is continually in gridlock then everyone will go to the park and ride so that they can get in a bus or will carpool and sit in the gridlock anyway.  Just not going to invest more in petroleum based energy, even though waiting in traffic, stopping and starting, probably averages 17 miles a gallon in a auto designed to obtain 32.  Everyone should just ride their bikes in the drizzle.  In North Carolina, they are just  inept in their planning, little sense of the long term.  They would make terrible Chinese who seem to think longer range than most of us here in the west.

I will not recall living in Louisiana.  I begin to sweat profusely and my underwear starts to stick.

I regret not living in other places, even outside the United States.  Yes, we are avid watchers of House Hunters International.  Perhaps that is not yet too late.  Though, I do have some difficulty with the euro concept of a toilet separate from the bath/shower and sink.  One mistake and it is a looong way to the faucet and soap.  Bidets are cool, child accessible fountains.



Megan and Nana share a jig celebrating sighting of Washington across the Columbia River!



Even if the cost of living overall is higher, why not, at some time in your life, just go where you wanna go?  Do what you wanna do?  And take the kids!  Living in one place, especially if you are not a traveler, is like looking at only one spot on the body with a magnifier, blind to all else.  That one spot may be quite interesting, but are there not other interesting, maybe more interesting spots?  I should think so.  Much has been written on the richness in one’s life that comes from moving about for travel or to live.  Nana has found herself with tears sparkling in her eyes as they absorb patterns of light that form images of this new world that are stimulating and beautiful.  While not quite driven to tears, each day as I drive to work the world can be different in clear and even measurable ways.  Yes, now that we have left summer, far underrated by those outside the Pacific Northwest, there are days of watching rain sloughed off the windshield by friskly moving wiper blades, but there is so much more.  The Cascades may be enshrouded by thin clouds turned orange by the rising sun, or there may be bands of light and dark streaking out from behind the trees or ridges through dense fog.  But there can also be a crystal morning where our world is guarded to the north by Mt. Baker and Glacier and to the south by Rainier.  There is the unique, once per year, morning where a glistening white shimmers from the nearby peaks with the first snows at elevation.



We have approached this as a working vacation.  I work and Nana vacations!  No, just kidding!  Sorta.  She is now a lady of leisure.  Well earned.  Each weekend we try to find the opportunity to explore more of our new world.  I do not pretend mountaintop guru wisdom.  The move largely evolved out of economics, not philosophy, so there is no room for arrogance.  This is a finite life being lived in, for a given lifetime, an infinite world.    But I have not been able to avoid pondering what is the cost of NOT living? I think the costs are quite high.  As a school psychologist we are known to talk about a certain poverty of experience that many children bring to the school environment. From the outside we can see the impact this has on their functioning in school.  I contend that there can be adult versions of a poverty of experience.  It may not be so obvious from the inside but, like an alien might look in on human existence, it may be very obvious from the outside.  I could have dismissed existential crises by just accepting what was and turning way from the choices available.  I have never heard of or known of a person who said that travel to new places and experiencing other parts of the world ruined their life, with only a few exceptions related to going to war and such.  In coming posts, we will share some of the sights and experiences that have begun to transform our aging brains creating a certain newness.

Mt. Rainier, the perfect backdrop for a city!

Mt. Rainier, the perfect backdrop for a city!


Nana and Mt. Baker on a perfect day.

On the Go! Go! Go!   1 comment

North Carolina is a beautiful state with so much to offer.  As a rather conservative person I think that taxpayer money needs to be not only spent well but frugally.  Unfortunately, North Carolina has not valued educators as it should.  Some paring of funding may well have been appropriate.  With less money most school districts in North Carolina have managed, until changes in testing make long term trends an exercise in comparing apples and, oh, say celery, to not show much, if any, deterioration in skills among their students.  With outcomes similar over time it is hard to argue that some aspects of previous spending were not wasteful.  Education has always been a carousel and pendulum ride between different strategies, methods and, yes, fads.  Enormous amounts of money have been spent on such endeavors.  Now, the trend is towards the use of notebooks, laptops, tablets to further instruction.  This is expensive and there is inherent obsolescence that requires commitment to further large expenditures of money down the road.  While it may exist, and everyone will have an opinion, I have not seen much evidence that these expenditures are justified in outcomes in comparison to other uses for that money, the opportunity cost.  (But it is a grant we won!  How could we turn it down?! Um, that is not free money.  It is borrowed from somewhere, mostly the future and to some extent China)   I hope the positive outcomes will be there because that is a money that could be spent in many ways that have proven effective over the years and to pay for quality teachers.  I am not a big fan of tenure, as I have seen some teachers ride along for years with little productivity and even less reaction to this.

So North Carolina passes a budget with raises for teachers that on the early years of the pay scale yield large raises and nothing, for all practical purposes, for teachers with a great deal of experience.  What must be noted is that these are not actually raises at all give even the low levels of inflation for the past 3 or 4 years.  For the veteran teachers it represents falling behind for another year by the rate of inflation for the year.  Further, in North Carolina, the pay scale is subject to legislative approval most every year.  So if you are a new teacher and look at the pay scale and say to yourself, “Self!  Look what I will be making in 5 years!  Woohoo!” then you could be sadly disappointed as the legislature could do exactly what it has been doing, basically freezing your salary by making what you make at year six the same as for year 5.  It is at their discretion each year.  So watch out!

So why am I going on about this?  In my district in North Carolina our local supplement has not been restored to the levels at the beginning of the recession even the county as a 25% budget balance, far above what is considered prudent.  Taxes are among the lowest in North Carolina.  Have the low taxes led to vast migration of businesses and industry to the county?  No.  What does not appear to be understood by county leadership is that businesses don’t just look at the tax rate.  They look at other factors as well, the educational status and support for education, school ratings on Zillow and other sites on the web, community support for recreation, not just remaking a downtown, and at other indicators of the overall health of a community.  With no prospects for improvement and approaching the end of our working life cycles, we realized that there just would not be enough money to do what we wanted to do in retirement.

Well, over the course of about two weeks I submitted resumes through, interviewed and accepted a position in Sultan School District in Washington state, approximately 2800 miles from here, and began the process of retirement here.  On August 20th we journey there with our house sold and a very much downsizing condominium purchase in Everett, Washington.  Sultan is a small district, but when we went there in July we were met by extremely friendly people.  I can’t wait to go to work there.  I was hired there even though I was going to be pretty close to the top of their pay scale.  I wonder if that would have happened here in most districts……

Nana will be fully retired and I will work to fund all of her extravagances!  I expect martinis and lingerie at the door when I get home each day.  Yeah, right!  Not necessary at all.  Instead of constant monetary anxiety I will come home to a less stressed spouse, and that is enough right there.  There are downsides.  Expenses of moving but they will be recouped.  Moving further from two grandchildren but a little closer to three.  I know!!  It is supposed to be wet out there!  Raincoats or hats!  And I do already know, no umbrellas or you will be silently ridiculed!  It will be about a 30-35 minute drive to my district.  Some of the time through residential or I can four lane it most of the way but my favorite route so far is through a beautiful river valley with field that spill over with fruits and vegetables.  The cascades rise to the east as I approach from Everett.  Every day (yes, there will be many days where clouds and drizzle will spoil the view!) has the potential for me and us to see and do the things we yearn for when we travel.  What better conditions for work.

Someday we, at this time at least, anticipate returning to North Carolina to retire, perhaps around Brevard unless it is completely overrun by sweated out Floridians seeking something cooler to the north.  Who knows.  I hope, even among my usually favored conservatives currently running the state, that they find the will to do what is right on a consistent basis for education.  The children and the teachers deserve better.  The state deserves better.  Give us a reason to return.

The Return! Ramblings Close to Home: Biltmore and More!   1 comment

Um…yes it has been a long hiatus, but…we’re back!! We had not looked at the sight for quite some time.  When we did I saw that people from dozens of countries had visited.  While we realize there is not a huge demanding audience worldwide waiting with bated breath for a new installment, we decided that going forward was fun!  The next few years could be quite interesting as well and this will be a way of documenting the changes in our lives during that time.  So onward!

This weekend we made a return trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  It is sad to think, but so many people we know who were born and grew up in North Carolina have never been there.  We bought season passes this year as we wanted to see the estate in every season.  Plus, we can bike the many miles of bicycle trails and paths on the property.  For those that are unfamiliar, the estate was conceived and built by George Vanderbilt with construction starting in 1889 and opening for visitor in 1895. While it is difficult to conceive today, the original estate included over 125,000 acres most of which became part of the first national forest in the United States.  The house was the largest personal residence ever built in the country.  Richard Morris Hunt was the building architect and Frederick Law Olmsted, famous for Central Park in New York, was the landscape architect.  The home is still in the Vanderbilt family overcoming, wars, depressions and taxes!

So off we went this last Saturday.  This trip would be to visit the gardens, not the house itself, and make an obligatory, yet welcome trip to the winery.  This would only consume about half the day so before hand we journeyed south of Asheville to what could well be our future retirement destination in the area around Brevard, North Carolina.  We want to have a short hike on an absolutely gorgeous day at Dupont State Recreational Forest, over 10,000 acres that was last owned by the Dupont Corporation to conserve clean water for its manufacturing plant.  We have previously visited the larger more frequented falls, such as Triple Falls, and wished to get a little bit more off the beaten path.  So we entered from the old CCC road on the north side of the forest and hiked to Wintergreen Falls.

Wintergreen falls admired by Nana!

Wintergreen falls admired by Nana!

This falls is small but in a beautiful setting.  The entire time we were there no one else appeared.  There were others on the trails which are also used by those riding horses and also mountain bikers.  Both leave the walker with something to be vigilant about when hiking.

Along the way we were passed by equestrians which included one finely attired Julie, quite the lady in her “hat” on top of her head which enclosed her ear.  I am sure it has a name.  Also, we rescued a man and his two young boys out for a day of mountain biking but who had no map so were pretty much lost on the 80 miles of roads and trails.  Fortunately I had as spare may and I hope they are not still wandering the woods starving and avoiding the occasional black bear.  So here are some pictures of the falls taken a while before noon.  Perfect temperatures, skies, day.


Wintergreen Falls.

Wintergreen Falls.

Wintergreen Falls.

Wintergreen Falls.

Bluets at Wintergreen Falls

Bluets at Wintergreen Falls

Wintergreen Falls.

Wintergreen Falls.

After a nice lunch at the Square Root in Brevard, we drove on to the Biltmore Estate.  We did so with some trepidation as I had realized that, while trying to avoid a wallet like George Constanza’s on Seinfeld, I had earlier removed our Biltmore passes and wondered if our afternoon would be a lost cause.  Not to be!  The kind gentleman issued new passes, whispering that they usually charged for new ones but he was going to let it go this time…  So, shhhhhhhhh!

We made our way to the garden parking area.  We had been there a few weeks ago when the walled garden was filled with tulips and other bulbed and unbulbed flowers.  It was in a transition state and a touch dowdy at this time but this was expected.  Our goals was the Azalea Garden and the walk to Bass Pond.  Here are a few pictures with an included ridiculous selfie just so we fit in with the zeitgeist!  Note that on the two pictures of the conifer the pollen exploding when even gently touched. Rather beautiful yet probably contributing to “yellow lung disease”.  I don’t think any attorneys have addressed this peril yet.  Many of us our ready to sue or be sued due to the buckets of pollen we or our neighbors dump maliciously and capriciously and generally eviliciousilly (made up word!) into the atmosphere this time of year.  Our poor lungs!  And not to mention that we all bought cars of a particular color for a reason and right now they are all YELLOW!  Yes, where are the lawyers, the peony and azalea chasers, when  you need them!  I’ll tell you where!  The Barbados!


Massed azaleas at Biltmore Estate Gardens.

Massed azaleas at Biltmore Estate Gardens.

Massed azaleas and wildflowers at Biltmore Estate Gardens.

Massed azaleas and wildflowers at Biltmore Estate Gardens.

Woodland Sunflower.

Woodland Sunflower.

Yellow-orange azalea.

Yellow-orange azalea.



Ok, I don't know what this is!  Help! Anyone!

Ok, I don’t know what this is! Help! Anyone!

Obligatory selfie.  God, I didn't know that tooth looked that crooked!

Obligatory selfie. God, I didn’t know that tooth looked that crooked!

Nana.  Happy in flower paradise!

Nana. Happy in flower paradise!





Nana looks really happy!  She is going to the winery next



Conifer shaking out a lung-full of pollen!

Conifer shaking out a lung-full of pollen!

So, pollinated and visually saturated, off we go to the winery at the Biltmore.  Now, in 1990, about the last time we had any of their wines, they had only been in business 5 years.  They are much improved since that time.  That it took so long to actually drink their wines again says something about our opinion at that time.  Not that we are wine experts.  Nay, Nay!  They ARE much better now as far as we are concerned.  We really like some of the Chardonnay’s and the Reserve Tempranillo.  Nice place for some wine and cheese, but we had to be careful, had a drive home in front of us. Pretty good day.  This is how spring should be!



Oldy, Moldy Rollers on the Even Older New   Leave a comment

What should be the true “Old man river”, the New River is considered the second or third oldest continuously flowing river on the planet, perhaps 300 million years old.

Whenever involved in a project we are really good at plowing through the first 97 percent.  That last 3 percent can be a problem, however.  We remodeled our bathroom,”finished” some months ago, but still have not replaced the ceiling light and vent combo.  The old one still sits there, cover gone who knows where enjoying the apparently unlimited postponement to its removal and exile unto the great landfill in the sky.  So it is with the trip from this summer.  I still have posts to make on that.  I swear, someday they will be done.  Or I will be dead.  This may be a closer race than I would like to think it would be.  Be that as it may be, such as it is, so be it, que sera, sera or something like that, I really got sidetracked by the Olympics.  I am an addict.  I think back, how did I ever really enjoy it when I could not simultaneously record on 4 channels with my DVR and then scan 30 hours of broadcast a day to condense it down to a manageable 8 hours of viewing?  Heaven forbid I miss any of the air rifle competition!!  So I was thinking, I need to get back on track.  And we did!  Though not necessarily the right one, in terms of finishing what I had started.  Railroad track was more like it, or at least where track used to run.  Now that we had our bicycles, see previous posts for the Mickelson, Myra Canyon, Galena and the Hiawatha trails, we decided on Friday to go to the New River Trail State Park up the road in Virginia.  The park averages 80 feet across but runs for about 57 miles.  Its claim to fame is that it follows the New River or Chestnut Creek along a very well maintained rails-to-trail multiuse trail.

OK, we didn’t do every mile of this trail, only about 25 plus a couple of miles off the main trail.  We will cover the rest on later visits.  We aired up, saddled up and began our ride after paying for a shuttle from Foster Falls to Cliffview, just outside of Galax, Virginia.  This is a beautiful area with rolling hills, some deep valleys and waterways lined with forest or cliffs.  This is still the home of bluegrass music, but don’t fret ( Get it? Llike frets on a guitar?  Nevermind!), this is not a scene out of Deliverance.  The trail is moderately used so your body would still be warm when found if anything happened, but it won’t!

We started at Cliffview. Kinda wimped out, saved two miles by not starting in Galax. We had not done over 18 miles and were a little nervous, needlessly as it turns out.

Rails from near the trail that is rails-to-trails.

We start off down Chestnut Creek.  You very quickly come upon a park, Dannelly Park,  next to the park that has camping and would be a great place for a picnic, as well.  Very soon you have the feeling that you are many miles from civilization.  Some might think that anywhere in this part of Virginia would be many miles from civilization.  Wrong.  It can be very rural but there is plenty of civilization.  Along this stretch you see a few farms and homes but mostly, it is just a mixed eastern forest.  We have to come back when the leaves turn this fall.  It must be beautiful.  A few miles in you cross a bridge that has an excellent view of a small waterfall along the Creek.  The trail almost forces you to stop every now and then because of the scenery or some attraction.  It keeps you from turning this into a forced march.

Chestnut Creek Falls. Small but very pretty!

Nana sets the pace! My view for 27 miles. Not bad!

There are some remnants of the old railroad along the way, including some crossties sticking through the trail, evidence of locations where water towers had been, a few leftover pieces of equipment and even the outline of a turntable at what at one point had been the end of the line near Cliffview.  Mostly, though, forest, stream and sky.

A couple of guinea hens, I think, along the trail. Not really wild. We did see deer and many birds. Bears sometimes come down from the mountains. 

Along Chestnut Creek.

Nana scouts a tunnel downstream from Gambetta.

Emerging from the first tunnel.

Railcut through cliffs along Chestnut Creek.

You cross a small road at Gambetta.  Unfortunately, you can see where a development is in place across the creek.  I didn’t see any houses but the road and utilities were in.  This was sad to see.  A line of houses along the river here, or anywhere, rather ruins the near wilderness atmosphere that exists along most of the trail.    A bit farther along, at a little over nine miles, you arrive at a bridge that crosses the New River just nest to where Chestnut Creek merges gently into the main watercourse.  The New starts up near Boone in North Carolina.  The name give more than a clue as to the types of people that came through this area.  Farther down stream there is Austinville, the birthplace of Stephen F. Austin.  By the time the New River gets to this point it can be quite wide at times, though usually not very deep.  There are places where when the water is low, one can almost walk across.  After heavy rains it can have moderate class rapids in places.  Many canoe the New or kayak.  The trail itself is often used by those on horseback.

Trestle bridge at Fries Junction.

Fisherman at the confluence of the New River and Chestnut Creek.

The New is not a free flowing river as there are many dams that generate hydroelectric power.  As a result, there are sections that are actually lakes with submerged shorelines often dense with aquatic vegetation.  I don’t really know but I bet there is some pretty good fishing along here.  We was quite a few small boats and some fished from the banks.  You pass two dams along the trail in this section, Byllesby and Buck dams.  They are placed in an are where the river narrows as it passes through the ancient remains of a towering mountain range, the Iron Mountains.  There are many high cliffs in this area.

Buck Dam generates electricity.

While we had a picnic lunch near Buck dam, by sitting in one place we had a better idea of how many people use the trail.  Many came by in a short time.  Very young children on tiny bikes with their parents to fully decked out in cyclist clothing, grey haired women who were wonderfully not acting their age!  While resting and checking out the moist wooded area near us we spotted and Easter Newt.  Fortunately, I didn’t handle him before lunch as he excretes poison through his skin.  The version we saw is also known as the red eft.  This is the middle period in the life cycle of these little guys where they wander about trying to find new water sources before they become fully aquatic adults.  They stay in this terrestrial stage for about three years.  They can live up to fifteen years.

A red eft, an Eastern Newt in its terrestrial stage. Sort of like adolescence! Like human adolescents, better not to mess with them. These can excrete a poison onto their skin.

So on we went.  Our legs felt pretty good but after 17 or 18 miles the booty began to get a little sore.  A little hard on the prostate, too.  We passed near Austinville which in times past was a center for lead and zinc mining.  You can still see remnants of the mining hear, abandoned sidetracks and tunnel entrances.  The mines went as far as 1100 feet below the surface.  The lead was used before and during the civil war to produce lead shot.  Near the end of the portion of the trail we road, Interstate 77 passes overhead and just past this is what is called the Shot Tower.  Lead would be taken to the top, melted and drops allowed to fall 150 feet, hardening into a sphere on the way down, dropping into water to cool and then exited out to the river banks through a tunnel, in those early times, by slaves.

The second tunnel along the trail.

View from the bridge near Ivanhoe that crosses back to the right side of the New River.

Closed mine entrance along the trail. Lead and zinc were extracted here.

Interstate 77 passes over the trail, crosses the New River.

The Shot Tower near Foster Falls.

Our journey ended just past the Shot Tower at Foster Falls, where we began our shuttle to Cliffview.  Foster Falls has beautiful camping spots.  No driving in to the campsite.  Load your stuff up on little yellow carts and pull it in!  Most of the campsites are very near the water with beautiful view to a small island or the series of rapids over angled rock that forms the falls.  No huge drops, just a series of small drops that form a linear pattern across the river.  Cliffs rise up in the distance.  On the park property is a furnace used for smelting iron ore, also found in the area, and many old building.  One old building, that had been used as an orphanage, is being slow converted into a bed and breakfast.  Something to look forward to!  After we finished the trail portion, which actually extends many more miles to Polanski, we wandered about here looking at the old buildings, watching children wade far out into the river, canoists arriving, and a train of horses taking visitors off into the forests along the river.  I hope the people who live in this area and Virginia, generally,  appreciate what a gem they have here.  I might note also that the staff there was friendly and helpful.  A perfect day on the go for Papa and Nana.

Old smelting furnace.

Hard to see from this angle, but one of the small drops along the New River at Foster Falls.

The river is very shallow here at this time of year. Children and fishermen wade far out into the river.

When Mountains Come Tumbling Down   Leave a comment

When you travel in the west or most any mountainous region you often see signs warning of falling rock.  In many places you can see evidence of rock falls or the slightly softer version, avalanches.  Usually, no one is around to see or hear them.  Usually they are not very big though, of course, it only takes one rock to kill you.  On a previous trip I had visited Earthquake Lake in Montana, near Yellowstone.  Yellowstone has some sort of tremors ever day.  There is a lot going on under that place.  It is basically the home of a potential super volcano that were it to erupt at full intensity would devastate a large area in the middle of the continent.  Hopefully that is very far off, but there has been swelling that has increased in recent years.  At Earthquake Lake, often just referred to as Quake Lake, an earthquake of magnitude 7.5, which affected the entire Yellowstone area,  occurred in August of 1959.  Had it been the depths of the winter it might not have had the impact that it had.  This was not the case.  Eighty million tons of rock fall off the side of a mountain around midnight, completely blocking the river and surging with rock and water that killed 28 people camping in that area.  It is amazing to see huge boulders that traveled over 100 miles and hour across the valley and up the other side a huge distance from where it started and actually up hill on the other side.

The scar is clearly visible where the upper flank of Turtle Mountain collapsed in April of 1903.


Near Crowsnest Pass in Canada, the lowest pass across the lower Canadian Rockies, something similar occurred but for different reasons.  No earthquake was involved but the geology of Turtle Mountain was such that the layers of the rock were mostly vertical, with instabilities caused by erosion, water seeping, freezing and thawing and further destabilization caused by glaciers during the last ice age sheering off much of the bottom of the mountain’s support.  This was mining country, still is.  There were small camps, a railroad and other human fixtures in the area including a small town, Frank.  Frankly, those in Frank were rather lucky as it was mostly just beyond the area that was devastated when the entire side of the mountain fell off.  The area of rock was about a kilometer wide,  a kilometer  tall and had a thickness of around 150 meters.  That is a lot of rock.  Ninety people died, at least.  Miners within the mountain were, ironically, safe but did have to dig themselves out.  The tragedy could have been much greater if Frank, with roughly 600 residents, had been slightly farther to the East.  On April 29th, 1903, 82 million tons of rock fell fell of the mountain, quite comparable to the Quake Lake event.  The rock may have even floated along on a thin layer of compressed air and flowed almost like a river.  The flow buried two kilometers of railway.

A highway now cuts a narrow slice through the mile and a half long, 15 meter thick boulder field strewn far from where the rock perched before April 29th, 1903.

The slide is still very visible with the main southern  highway across the area cutting through the middle.  It is pretty obvious, if this happened again, paying attention to the “Falling Rock” signs is probably not going to do you much good.  Actually, those signs are more about fallen rock than falling rock anyway!  I think it is important to appreciate, when traveling, that what you are seeing hasn’t always been that way.  Those mountains often started out at the bottom of an ocean.  Those boulders once stood atop mountains.  Every so often, the events that create those vistas, canyons, waterfalls and other beautiful geological formations, also have had an impact on the people who passed that way before you.

Posted July 28, 2012 by papaandnana in Uncategorized