On 19 July 2014, we received 2.45" of rain. The next day I noticed a brand-new hole at the corner of my yard.

The walking stick across the hole is 5 feet long.
At first the hole was maybe 3'x5' at the surface, though larger below the sod, and maybe 18" to 2' deep. It is located where a culvert brings a small creek under the road and down the hill next to my yard.

Subsequent heavy rains have increased the size to 5'x5', and about 4' deep. Sod, soil and rocks continue to fall from the sides into the deepening hole with every rainfall. A large boulder that had been close to the surface in the center of the hole has since fallen much deeper.

The first thing I did after noticing the hole was call my brother. He used to work in the erosion and drainage department in our county. He passed the information on to somebody in that department, who said that it is a state issue (it is a state highway) and gave a contact name and number.

I then told my landlord, who contacted the state. They told him that someone would be out to check on it.

I haven't seen anybody yet, and it's been 11 days. Of course someone could have come while I was sleeping or hiking.

[Ed. note: Not a minute after I posted the above blog entry, the highway department came by and put up a cone. They said that they would be back this evening to fix the hole.]

[Ed. note #2, two hours later : A highway department truck pulling a small backhoe on a trailer just went by. They turned around and came back, so they could park close to the sinkhole. And so the repairs begin. I just went out and talked to the backhoe operator; he's waiting on a load of rock. I guess they are just going to fill the hole with rocks.]


ooh, space

Today marks the 45th birthday of the first human footprints on the moon.


can you even buy Vitalis™ anymore?

You meet a broad cross-section of society when you work the graveyard shift at a convenience store.

I see the people going home from wherever they spent the evening, the people out for midnight snacks, the meth addicts who would be awake anyway, students who study at night, and eventually the people going to work or out fishing or wherever they go in the morning.

There's one fellow who comes in occasionally. He (figuratively) reeks of Church with a capital C. Consistently cheerful, but he looks like he stepped out of a time machine from 1964, and his hair is consistently held firm with something like Vitalis™. Nice guy, but a little, oh, out of his time, I guess.

I was just thinking about him for some reason and I imagined that his car might actually be a time machine. Maybe he's actually back in 1964 when he doesn't come around for a while.


road work season

They have started resurfacing my road.

That's a good thing. It hasn't been resurfaced since some time before we moved in. Two years ago they chip-sealed the road from the Shining Creek trailhead to the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the rest of the road is getting worn. I noticed last week that they had resurfaced Lake Logan road, which goes up the West Fork of the Pigeon River on the west side of Cold Mountain.

Today there is a guy with a "STOP" sign standing in the road in front of my yard, controlling the traffic (such as it is). Rocko is protecting me, keeping his ears open since there is often a line of cars stopped out in the road.

It's odd knowing that people actually have a chance to look closely at my house and property. Normally they would be passing at 35 to 45 miles per hour and you really can't get a good look at my yard when you fly by. Not that there's anything to be ashamed of out there; I have tomatoes growing in buckets out by the road with graphite arrow shafts for trellises, but that's just being creative with what you have on hand.

Two minutes later it was just
a delicious memory.
Speaking of tomatoes, I harvested my first tomato since at least 1996 yesterday. I took a picture of it and scarfed it down, warm from the sun. They are, I suppose, what would be called a "grape tomato", small but larger and more oblong than a cherry tomato.

Last year I tried to grow tomatoes in the ground, but it was a cold and rainy year. Not only that, but there aren't any nice sunny places where I can plant things, and I hadn't paid attention (when buying seeds) to the length of the period between transplanting and harvesting. Turns out they were fairly long-season tomatoes and thus failed to produce anything before our first frost.

So, this year I went with short-season seeds and containers instead of planting in the ground; flowerpots and eventually old buckets that had sprung leaks. I even got a bucket from work; it got a crack in the bottom and couldn't hold water anymore, so the boss let me have it. Eventually I did buy a large plastic pot for my marigolds, which I keep close to the peppers and tomatoes, but only because I couldn't find something large enough around the house.

Some folks might think it looks kinda funky, or even junky, to have mismatched old buckets for your garden pots, but I think they look just fine. I even found a couple of arrows down in the gully - shot down there by the former neighbors, and missing one flight each - brought them up, cut off the remaining flights, and stuck them in the dirt to provide a little support for the tomatoes.

Corrosion-free graphite shafts, yes sir, that's a mighty fine trellis you've got there, boy. Woof!


a nice cool mountain morning

The weather is really nice this morning at Château Cruso. It is not yet 63℉, partly to mostly cloudy, and the air feels crisp.

It reminds me of our first trip up here, nearly three years ago. The air is so different here from the air in Florida. For one thing it is a bit thinner, of course, since the Château is 3000 feet higher in elevation than our house in Elfers was. But the crispness of a cool morning just isn't as satisfying in Florida.

Speaking of elevation, Rocko and I made the full ascent of Cold Mountain on Monday. It was quite a hike: only 5.2 miles each way, but an ascent of 2800 feet over that distance. The last 1.1 miles alone climbs 1000 feet. Two days later, my calves are still a little sore.

Elevation Above Sea, Cold Feet
I found the USGS benchmark at the peak and was a bit surprised by what I found.  Instead of saying, "ELEVATION ABOVE SEA 6030 FEET", it says "COLD FEET".

We parked the car at the Boy Scout camp, Camp Daniel Boone, and started up the Art Loeb Section 4 trail. You get an idea right away that this isn't going to be your average hike; it climbs steeply right from the trailhead.

We went in at about 9:15 AM and reached the peak at 1:37 PM. The trail was nicely shaded for most of the trip. Only a small clearing exists at the summit but there is a small spot where you can look south.

The summit of Cold Mountain, NC
We spent a little while at the peak, but the sun came out and Rocko was getting hot. There is little water on this hike, and none at the summit. There is a spring not too far down, but it is rather weak since we haven't had a lot of rain lately. There are also a few small streams to ford spread out along the trail. Enough to keep Rocko hydrated, but just barely enough.

It did rain half-heartedly a couple of times early on during our ascent. I couldn't see the sky very well through the canopy of the forest, but we continued on because as far as I could tell the rain wasn't going to be serious. Besides, I have a poncho if it did start to pour. But the rain stopped both times and the rest of the day was really nice. Not oppressively hot, but I could have done with a stronger breeze.

Looking south from the summit of Cold Mountain.
You can see the twin summit of Sam Knob just right of center.
When we got back to the car a bit before 5:30 PM, I found a spot where Rocko could get down to the Little East Fork of the Pigeon, which runs through the camp and is right next to the trailhead parking area. He spent quite a while in the water, drinking deeply and standing there with water up to his belly.

We both slept well that night, not rising until 11 AM on Tuesday.

Tuesday night we had the Cruso jam session down at the community center. Steve met a young woman at a bar in Waynesville a few days ago and told her about our weekly session; she brought an upright bass this week, and next week she says she'll bring her banjo. A guy who was only in town for a few days listened to us for a little while, then asked if he could join in. Of course the answer was a resounding "yes" so he went out to his car and brought in a guitar and a soprano sax. He had a lot of easy-to-play but catchy original songs and we all played extremely well and had a great time. Bettina, the harp player, complimented me effusively as we packed up afterwards. She said that I am "obviously finding [my] place" in the group. I must say that I think she's right. All I need now is a bass to play at home. I'd do much better if I could practice during the week.

Oh well. Back to work tonight. I'm getting the laundry done and ought to do the dishes before they pile up.


on books, finished and unfinished

Twice today I've heard references on NPR to some study which said that certain books are rarely read all the way through. One that was mentioned both times was Hawking's "A Brief History of Time."

Hawking's best-selling book was described as being "too hard to read," but I read it at least twice and had no difficulty with it at all. It isn't even a particularly long book. To be sure, I've long been interested in science and read books on chemistry and physics for fun when I was younger, so I wasn't exactly going into Hawking territory blind.

I only willingly gave up on reading two books in my life, to my best recollection; one was a book from the Left Behind series, which I abandoned after one chapter or possibly less because it was just that awful, the other was Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead," which I also gave up on after a chapter or so, and for the same reason.



Yesterday's hike up the Big East Fork Trail has convinced me that we're prepared to do Cold Mountain.

We made it to the junction of the Big East Fork, Bridges Camp Gap, and Greasy Cove trails once last year. This time we kept going up (very much up) the Bridges Camp Gap Trail; it ends at the Mountains-to-Sea (Section 6) Trail only 400 feet from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Looking Glass Rock Overlook.

After crossing the Parkway and getting a picture of Looking Glass Rock to prove that I had made it, we found a spot in the shade, away from all of the parked cars, where we sat in the grass and cooled off for half an hour. Cars and motorcycles came and went and my ego wondered what they thought of me and Rocko sitting there. "They probably think one of those parked cars is ours, and we are just resting before driving again," was my main thought.

I had to take a decent picture before
we headed down. Looking Glass
Rock was in the shadow of a cloud
when we arrived at the top.
It felt so good, sitting in the shade, feeling the breeze, no reason to hurry anywhere and no point in trying to hurry since the car was three hours away. It reminded me of the freedom I felt when I was homeless. Nothing to hurry for, no place to hurry to; just relaxing in the shade on a beautiful afternoon.

Time-stamped documentation
(with dog butt)

It's even more enjoyable when you are sober and really do have a safe place to go home to, though the deep memories of
homelessness made me a bit self-conscious. As we walked past the parked vehicles, I felt like a vagrant who might be thought to be casing the cars for theft. Once we were past the cars I felt better.

Back in the forest, I felt great. I knew that we had hours of hiking ahead but it would mostly be downhill. And so it was, but there was plenty of up too. It's not an easy hike in either direction.

Woo-hoo, there's the car!
In the morning, we had left the car and entered the Shining Rock Wilderness at about 9:20 AM. We walked back out at 5:16 PM, tired but happy, not nearly as exhausted as I thought we'd be.

We are ready to assault Cold Mountain next week, weather permitting.

Today's weather is glorious. It's 86.9℉ but only 49% humidity outdoors. I came in from watering my tomatoes and noticed that the air conditioning had come on; I've had all the windows and doors wide open for the past two hours. It's only 76℉ in the house, and I need to get the relative humidity down in here before mold sets in. I had a lot of blue-green, dusty mold last summer because it was cool and rainy and the humidity stayed high.

Oh well. The laundry is almost done, Rocko and I are feeling a real good kind of tired, and I have to find out if we're playing music tonight. I turned off the A/C and left the windows and doors open.


the aftermath of Hurricane Arthur

This season's first Atlantic hurricane brought a change of weather to the mountains of North Carolina.

Specifically, it seems to have sucked a lot of cool and dry high-pressure air down from our friends, les Canadiens. We went from high temps in the low 90's on July 1st and 2nd to 83℉ on the 3rd and 77℉ on the 4th. Last night it went down to 48℉ at my house.

Yeah, we are something like 250 miles from the ocean. Hurricanes don't usually have a lot of effect this far inland, but it has happened that major storms do major damage here.

My friend and neighbor Steve is building a porch (or deck, I don't know for sure) on the east side of his house. Until 2004, there was an entire room there, part of the house proper; Hurricane Ivan tore that room off and Steve just closed up that side of the house until he was ready to rebuild.

Right next to my house is the site of a mudslide that came down from the mountain across the street, blocking the road. Of course I was not here then to see it, but I have heard a bit about it from those who were.

But this weekend it is sunny and cool, the streams getting weaker by the day since we aren't really getting enough rain, though the black raspberries are coming on and are wonderfully sweet. I walked down the road a little bit this morning and gorged on the berries. Elderberries are still green right here but I saw some up around Flower Knob and Grassy Cove Top that were already ripe. I thought that was kind of odd, since they were growing well over 5,000 feet above sea level; we're 2,000 feet lower but ours are far from ripe. I suppose the relative lack of shade near the peaks and consequent all-day sunshine must be helping those berries.

I'm excited for blueberry season to start where I've been hiking.

Uh-oh! I was just reminded - by a sudden urge to take a nap - that I took diphenhydramine before going out with Rocko to find berries. That was over an hour ago. I guess it's naptime.


where I have been hiking

Since I've been dropping names of trails and peaks a lot lately, I figure some of y'all might appreciate some way to easily look these places up.

Every week before heading out, I look at Maps of the Middle Prong and Shining Rock Wilderness Areas at the website HikeWNC. Most of the trails I have mentioned are on that map. I haven't ventured far into the Middle Prong Wilderness yet, but I haven't exhausted the Shining Rock Wilderness yet either.

Furthermore, I have added HikeWNC to the Outdoors section of my blog's sidebar and moved that section up so it's easier to get to.

On another subject, my hornet stings gave me no trouble for over 24 hours after the initial pain subsided, but then they all started to itch like crazy and a couple of them were surrounded by hives that turned into bruises. Most of the itching is finally gone.

And one more thing: about a half-hour after we got home from our hike yesterday, I remembered that I had bought a few groceries early in the morning. We had stopped by the house to drop off the groceries before heading up to the trails, but I forgot to bring in a half-gallon of milk. Oh no!

I ran out to the car and brought in the milk. It was in the trunk of the car, in a bucket, which apparently insulated it somewhat from the hot outdoor temperatures; it felt like it was about room temperature despite the 90℉ air temperature outside the trunk and it had condensation on the outside of the jug. Furthermore, I had backed the car right up to the undergrowth surrounding the parking lot, keeping a lot of hot air from flowing around it while we hiked.

I stuck the milk way back in the refrigerator and expected to have to dump it out. Believe it or not, the milk was still good enough that it was OK to drink this morning. I don't expect it to last very long, though, but it's only a half-gallon so I should be able to drink most or all of it before it starts to turn.


shining rock

Today's hike was the entire length of the Ivestor Gap Trail, from the Black Balsam Knob parking area to the Art Loeb Trail, which we took to Shining Rock. It was nearly a 10-mile hike.

We didn't make it to the peak of Shining Rock, but we sure did see the glorious white quartzite bedrock that gives the mountain its name.

If you look closely you can see a large plastic bottle
just left of center near the bottom of this picture.
Bright white rock, fragments and boulders spilling down the mountain below the large outcroppings. Simply beautiful.

On the way back we took the Art Loeb Trail up and over Flower Knob and around the peak of Grassy Cove Top.

It was a hot day, and there was little water for Rocko on the Art Loeb Trail, though there were enough springs to keep him hydrated until we got back to the nice wet Ivestor Gap Trail back at its eponymous gap.

Somewhere between Flower Knob and Grassy Cove Top, at a very narrow point in the trail, I spooked a rattlesnake. It remained under cover in the bushes but rattled loudly and for a few moments I didn't know what to do. Rocko had already passed that point; if I called him back to try a different trail, he might get bit. If I wasn't careful, I could get bit. Neither option was acceptable, so I got into the brush a little bit on the other side of the trail and kept my walking stick out in the trail to distract the angry rattler. I slithered around a tree and got moving up the trail, heart pounding.

By the time we got home it was almost 4 PM and hot as blazes. I turned the A/C in the house down to 74 (so it would come on) and took a shower. Rocko had his supper and crashed out in his bed. I'm about to do the same.

It was a good day.


Hobby Lobby

The Supreme Court will be handing down its decision in the Hobby Lobby case later today.

What is often left out of news coverage of this case is, the very contraceptive coverage that Hobby Lobby sued over was in fact a part of their existing insurance plan.

That's right: Hobby Lobby is suing because they claim to be opposed to contraception on religious grounds, yet they offered that very coverage until they were told that they had to do so. Then, suddenly, it was offensive.

No matter how the case goes, I will never shop at Hobby Lobby.


the things you see

I'm getting up close and personal with Nature a lot lately.

Not only the hiking, which is great of course, but yesterday's hummingbird in the living room, today's hornets on the hillside, and the things I see through my windshield as I drive in the dark and at dawn. Sunrise over the mountains. A cloud obscuring the summit of Cold Mountain. Critters.

A few nights ago I saw a coyote crossing the road just outside of Clyde. This morning's sighting was a bit more special: I saw a mink running down the side of the road.

The road, I should hasten to add, runs right next to the East Fork of the Pigeon River, prime habitat for something like a mink - especially due to the regular stocking of trout from our local hatchery, Sunburst Trout Farms, located on the West Fork of the Pigeon. I think they drive up and down with a truck full of water and fish, stocking both forks, every week. I see them a lot when I'm headed for the trails.

The truck pulls over, a guy jumps out and grabs a net on a pole, gets some fish out of the tank on the back of the truck, and runs to the river where he tosses the fish in. The trout dart around and jump a few times, then the fishermen pull up and start casting. (Personally, I am fantasizing about the tiny brook trout in the streams above the trails. I've seen the fish in there. I'll bet they're sweet and tasty to somebody who likes fish, but I'm not that guy. I just want to catch them and put them back.)

The thought occurred to me, the first time I saw the fishermen swoop in, was that hatchery fish, freshly released into the wild, might be used to food coming from above and thus not be very wary about fishing lures coming in either.

Last winter there was a flock of turkeys on the mountain across the street, and one morning on the road between Clyde and Bethel I had to stop to let a flock of truly enormous and obviously well-fed turkeys cross the road, the bright-blue head of the tom almost electric in my headlights.

Haven't seen many snakes yet this year. A dead timber rattlesnake fifty feet up the road from my house is about it. I am hoping that my black rat snake survived its ordeal with the Haywood EMC truck. It limped back to the house with a couple of inches of gut hanging out of its butt and disappeared into the foundation, but that was last year. I don't have mice yet, so maybe it is still around. I never used to see it much anyway. It was about four feet long, so a couple of inches of gut sticking out might have been a survivable injury.

Oh well. The hornet stings no longer pain me, except for a pair of really impressive ones - side by side like a snake bite - on the inside of my right calf, that actually caused bruising, and they only hurt when I touch them. I found the nest and retrieved my weed-whacker by catching the metal portion with my walking stick and carefully lifting it off of the nest. Yeah, it was right on top of it, more or less. The hornets started buzzing around and I cautiously made my retreat.

The hornets turned out to be just little yellow jackets making a nest next to a big rock. I'm going to leave them be for the moment; they appeared to be in the process of moving out when I went down for the weed-whacker. They said something about nasty neighbors being a hazard to their larvae.


Today's excitement, so far, certainly exceeded yesterday's in terms of my own adrenaline.

Yesterday a female hummingbird came in through the front door but tried to leave through the window, which has a screen. I managed to carefully raise the screen and usher her out before she had a chance to injure herself. Cool, and a bit of afternoon excitement.

Today I went out and whacked a bit at the undergrowth on the east slope behind the house. All I was trying to do was clear the loop path I take down to the compost and back up to the yard. I was almost done, coming back up, when I disturbed a previously unknown hornet's nest.

It took a fraction of a second to recognize the difference between a couple of thorns and a bunch of small hornets, especially in the shady undergrowth. I never did see the hornets, but if it had been bees I would have had eight of them stuck to me when I crashed onto the lawn. Nobody stuck to me, just eight angry welts screaming in pain.

I knew that the pain would subside fairly quickly, at least the worst of it, but dang it really hurt for a few minutes. Five stings on my right leg, two on my left, and one on my right middle finger.

The worst of the pain is long gone; it's been almost fifteen minutes. All of the welts are a bit swollen and tender. They are starting to itch. Soon they'll just be wee red memories. Fortunately I am not the least bit allergic to most stings. Still, I took a diphenhydramine capsule to reduce swelling and itchiness.

But my weed-whacker is still down on the slope somewhere. I don't think I'll be going back for it until I have long pants and proper shoes on.


Pink Beds and hiking in the clouds

I've been back on my meds for almost two weeks and am really noticing a difference. I feel much better.

Beaver pond at Pink Beds.
On Monday Rocko and I took a quick, two-hour or so hike around the Pink Beds Loop, just across the Pisgah Ridge from us in Transylvania County, North Carolina.

It was supposed to start raining some time after noon, so I wanted a fairly quick hike. The Pink Beds Loop is about 5 miles around, but it is relatively flat and an easy walk. The area is very different from the Shining Rock Wilderness. For one thing, it's a lot warmer on the south side of the Ridge. For another, it is a wide and open valley with a lot a slow creeks, rather than a collection of narrow valleys with fast, cold creeks. A walk through the woods, rather than a mountain hike.

Deadfalls just past the pond.

We were in and out within two hours. Sure enough, it started sprinkling a little bit just as we crested the Ridge on our way home. A couple of hours later we had almost a half inch of rain.

Yesterday we went up to the Flat Laurel Creek Trail, which is entirely over 5,000 ft. in elevation. On that day it was also below the cloud ceiling much of the time. Despite being surrounded by mountains, we could see none of them most of the time.

I had been wanting to ascend the Flat Laurel Creek Trail from the bottom, i.e. the trailhead on Route 215, for some time. We had already been down from the top as far as the Little Sam Trail (the one with the disingenuous "Easiest" rating) but I didn't want to go all the way down and then have to ascend the entire trail to get back to the car.

Hiking is like canoeing. Go uphill (or upstream) first. That way, when you decide that you are getting tired and it's time to turn back, you have an easier journey home.

We neither saw nor heard any other hikers on this trip. We went all the way up to the Little Sam junction, then went back down to the Sam Knob Trail junction. I took off my shoes and forded the creek, and we ascended a wet and muddy trail through low trees as far as the junction with the Sam Knob Summit Trail, where I could get a good look at the sky, which in this case was right on top of us.

At the foot of Sam Knob. Here comes the rain!
This is why we carry a poncho.
Yeah, it's gonna rain, I said, and decided against trying to climb Sam Knob. "Let's go, Rocko," I said, and we headed back down toward Flat Laurel Creek.

The section of Sam Knob Trail from the creek to the base of the mountain is wet and slippery on the driest of days, but it started raining before we made it 50 feet down. After a few minutes I got out my poncho and wore it all the way back to the car. Even after the rain stopped, the trees and mountain laurel were wet and I would've gotten soaked.

Back at the car, it had barely rained at all, though visibility was treacherously poor as we headed toward home on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a sign as you enter the Parkway that warns you to "Avoid the Parkway During Rain Snow or Fog" and you really do have to go SLOW and be very careful when visibility is down to a few hundred feet or even less. It ain't exactly fog; you are literally inside the clouds.

What a great view!
On the way home I took a picture of the iconic Devil's Courthouse. (You can click on the image at left to embiggen it, but you still won't see anything.)

At home, maybe five miles away as the crow flies, it was sunny and 85℉. No sign of rain, though it did come down pretty good a few hours later.


a brief word about Kurdistan

It has long been apparent to me that Kurdistan ought to be an independent entity.

Over a few decades wherein military action seems to be the order of the day, nearly every day, somewhere in the Middle East, the Kurds appear to be a rare point of relative stability. This despite being denied their own fully independent political and geographical state by Turkey and Iraq, primarily, whose artificial borders divide and engulf Kurdistan.

The Kurds were protected from Saddam Hussein, during the 1990's, by the Northern No-Fly Zone after the first Gulf War but now that Iraq is falling apart again, they remain stable and haven't been seriously challenged by ISIS.

The Kurds don't seem to be interested in conquering the world, converting or exterminating their neighbors, or being converted themselves. They do, however, seem to be living somewhat prosperously and peacefully.

It seems to me that before the dust settles in the Middle East, there could well be an independent Kurdistan. And there really should be one. They deserve full rather than relative autonomy.


picture in a frame

This past Thursday, 19 June 2014, was the sixth anniversary of my moving in with Lisa. In 2008 it was also a Thursday. It would be our sixth third anniversary because of the way we counted such things. If that sounds odd to you, all the better.

I miss you, baby. I have your picture, in a frame, on my nightstand and in the living room there's one printed on letter-size paper too.

Picture in a Frame
© Tom Waits

Sun come up it was blue and gold
Sun come up it was blue and gold
Sun come up it was blue and gold
ever since I put your picture
in a frame.

I come calling in my Sunday best
I come calling in my Sunday best
I come calling in my Sunday best
ever since I put your picture
in a frame

I'm gonna love you
till the wheels come off
oh yea

I love you baby and I always will
I love you baby and I always will
I love you baby and I always will
ever since I put your picture
in a frame