Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Windy Day in the Mountains

Three hundred million years.  That's the estimated age of Grandfather Mountain.  At elevations of 6,000 feet, The Grandfather is one of the highest peaks in North Carolina.  The mile-high swinging bridge was built between two of the peaks in 1952 at an elevation of 5,280 feet.

Our daughter and I took a day trip to The Grandfather during her visit last week.  High winds are the norm on the mountain, but the winds that day were fierce.  The abnormally high winds closed the bridge that day, so we paid only half-price for admission.  Truth be told, neither of us wanted to walk across it anyway but we would have enjoyed the view up there.  The bridge was rebuilt in 1999, replacing all the wooden parts.  Locals call it the "Singin' Bridge" because of the sounds made when the wind whistles over and through it.  I recall from my childhood  the creaking sounds the wood made when we walked across the old bridge.  And of course my brother would always jump up and down right next to me.

(Internet photograph with no credit cited)

April is not the prime month for viewing much of the flora on the mountain.  Not much is green and there are no blooming plants or flowers at that time of year.  But Grandfather Mountain area has more plant diversity than in all of Europe.  (At least according to the brochure.)

Admission comes with a CD for a guided auto tour.  My daughter and I laughed when the voice mentioned a meadow we were passing by as a great place to throw a Frisbee.  "You could only throw it once," my daughter said, "and it would fly away."  Yes, the winds were that strong.  It took effort to open the car doors.

It is still winter on the Grandfather

Wonderful rock formations abound

Wildlife habitats offer opportunities to see black bears, otters, cougars, Bald Eagles, and deer.  Unfortunately the otter and cougar areas were closed for maintenance when we went, and we really didn't care to see more deer.  We see too many of them at home.  But we did enjoy the eagle and especially the bears.

 A gorgeous cinnamon Black Bear
She had just been given refreshment

Two Black Bear cubs were wrestling at the far end of the enclosure.

Grandfather Mountain was so named by pioneers who thought the formations looked like the profile of a sleeping old man.  In the following photograph, his forehead and hair are on your left with his bearded chin on the right.

(Photograph from the Internet with no credit available.)

 I grew up in Boone, NC, not far from The Grandfather and we visited often to hike and picnic.  I especially remember trips with my mother to MacRae Meadows for the Singing on the Mount and the Highland Games.  Those were annual mother-daughter days since neither my father nor my brother cared to attend.  It was nice to visit again.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What is that Bird

We were sitting at the table when we noticed a black bird with a splotch of white on his back.  It was backlit by the sun so we weren't at all sure what it was.  I grabbed a quick photograph through the door.  Looking through the lens I realized we had just seen our first migrating Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  There was no mistaking that bill.

I went outside to watch the woods hoping the bird or one of his friends might come back.

 My reward came rather quickly.  Another lovely grosbeak wearing his best summer plumage.  These birds occasionally nest in the highest NC mountains, but for us they are merely traveling through our area during Spring and Fall Migration.  While they are lovely at all seasons, nothing compares to the bright rosy chests they sport during the Spring.  Their backs are a speckled black and white; the heads are black; and their front bodies purest white.

 He stared directly at me

 Then he looked away as he prepared to fly

The males will stay around for a week or so and then will be joined by the less colorful but still beautiful females.  After a few days the males will continue their journeys leaving the females behind again.  The females will leave after a week or so and we will not see any of them again until the Fall migration.

I had a lovely blogging break and took many day trips all over western NC with our mountain loving daughter.  The weather was perfect except for one rainy day.  That is expected to change for the worse tonight as we prepare for some severe storms.

Our thoughts go out to those in eastern NC affected by last Friday's severe weather and to those in Oklahoma and Arkansas over the weekend.  And to those in pain all over our planet.

Friday, April 18, 2014

We Love Lucy

Another week for very strange weather.  We had a hard freeze that actually froze the hummingbird nectar.  I was quite worried about our little visitors and was delighted to see them return with the warming sun.  I can't recall a spring in which we have turned the heat on and off so frequently.

Our Lucy loves it when the weather is cool and brisk.  She especially loves to run.  Fortunately we have several places in which she can run off lead.  And run she does.

Slowing down a bit at the end of a sprint

 While Lucy is a very active dog, she is also skilled at relaxation.  She is particularly fond of finding convenient little pillows for her head.  At a given time she might rest her head on a chair rung, or on the stone hearth.  And if you happen to kick off your shoes?  Well Lucy is just fine using them too.

 Head on shoes

Can you believe I'm taking yet another blogging break?  Our daughter is coming to visit for the week and so I won't be posting for at least a week.  I hope we have good weather because we have many places to go and things to see.  But we won't let the weather stop us from having a good time.

This quote by British poet Thomas Blackburn seems quite appropriate.  It is from his verse, "An Easter Hymn"

Awake, thou wintry earth
Fling off thy sadness
Fair vernal flowers laugh forth
Your ancient gladness.



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

They Got It Right

In 2012 I was furious that the Pulitzer Prize was not awarded to any novel.  And while I enjoyed the 2013 winner, Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son I was not convinced it was the best novel of the year.

But this year the committee was spot on.  The award this year deservedly went to Donna Tartt for her fantastic novel The Goldfinch.  Long a big fan of the author, I pre-ordered this book and read it the week it was released.  At my age, not a lot of books keep me up reading most of the night but this one did.  In addition to the hard copy, I ordered it as an eBook as well.  I can truthfully say that of all the books I read this past year (and there were many of them), none held my interest as much as The Goldfinch.

The first book by Donna Tartt was The Secret History followed a decade later by The Little Friend.  I had read each of these at least twice so I was really looking forward to this book, a decade after her second novel.  I now know exactly how the tweens felt when awaiting a new Harry Potter book.  And I wasn't disappointed.  This is her best work yet.

The Goldfinch is everything one could ask of a novel.  The plot is intriguing and never dull.  It is a hefty book with more than 500 pages and I assure you that each page will hold your interest.  The characters are well developed, there are many twists and surprises, and the ending is satisfying.  This book has so much to offer.  Kudos to the Pulitzer Committee for making the right selection this year.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Not a Real Assault

Mountain biking in our area is very popular.  We have many strenuous off-road trails.  Even biking on the mountain roads is quite a challenge for bicycles.  Our county has welcomed the bikers and Transylvania County calls itself the "Cycling Capital of the South."

Logo from the Chamber of Commerce
(You knew there would be a white squirrel involved)

The "Assault on the Carolinas" is an annual event that draws people from all over the country.  Sponsored by the Pisgah Forest Rotary, the money raised is used to promote their various charities, services, and scholarships.

The Assault is a very popular event, limited to 1,000 bikers.  Each year the event is filled up within days of registration.  This past Saturday, the bikers assembled in downtown Brevard to begin the Assault.  There are three different rides; a 40K, a 60K, and a 100K.  The riders enjoy the beautiful mountains and valleys.  The 100K includes a challenging ride up to South Carolina's Caesar's Head State Park.  Saturday was sunny and beautiful...a perfect day for the ride.

[The following photographs were taken from the Assault Web site:)

The Walnut Hallow course meanders through some lovely farm land along the East Fork River.

The bikers start in large waves.

Most of the riders are single file on the mountain roads.
It's often a long file.

The Assault routes pass by all three gates of our community.  It goes without saying that we do not leave the community during the Assault.  There are too many bicycles to think of passing them.

All along the route, people gather to encourage the bikers.  Various businesses along the routes provide water and refreshment stations.  The bikers are thoughtful and leave all cups at the stations and do not add litter to the roads.

Policemen are stationed at intersections on US 276 to direct traffic and allow the bikers access.  Downtown there are craft booths, food stations and music, giving the town a festival atmosphere.

We welcome the Assault on the Carolinas.  It is only for one day.  I must admit I am less welcoming at other times when my trip home is interrupted by the slow-moving bicycles pedaling up the steep hills.  But that has become a part of living in the mountains.  And it's a small thing compared to all the other riches we enjoy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

We Love Lucy

April is flying past and we are enjoying the freshness of spring.  I've mentioned it before, but it is wonderful to see the various changes as you drive different elevations.  Spring is in full downtown but evident only in the flowers here.

Typical for spring in the mountains, our weather has been quite changeable.  Lucy enjoys all of it except for the rain.  She won't care much for the hot summer weather but loves the spring mornings and late afternoons.

Wonder what she is thinking?

 She doesn't carry tennis balls like Ellie did.
She does love to chase them.
And she likes to have them around her.

 She loves the wind blowing her hair.
So many wonderful scents on the breeze.

This week is a very special one for the faithful.  Passover begins on Monday at sundown for our Jewish friends.   Interestingly enough, the Jews celebrate in our Catholic Church, having no synagogue here.  (They keep the Torah in our priest's office.  Somehow it didn't seem to fit well with the crucifix in the sanctuary.)  For Christians, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week.

Mark Twain had some appropriate words for spring around here, although he did exaggerate at bit:

In the Spring I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Molting and Changing

The American Goldfinch is our most frequent visitor these days.  They live with us year round and we do enjoy them.  Our resident birds are in various stages of molting right now.  The American Goldfinch undergoes two complete molts every year.  Some of the birds look rather disheveled and others have almost completed the process.  The males are turning their bright yellow although they will not be mating until much later.

Roger Tory Peterson said, "The responsibilities of life seem to rest lightly on Goldfinch's sunny shoulders."

This little guy is a mess but in a week will be a brilliant smooth yellow
[You may need to click to enlarge]

It is said that to see a Goldfinch in your dreams is a glimpse into your soul

Legend says that hearing a Goldfinch sing means that happy experiences are coming your way

Native American folklore tells us that if a Goldfinch flies across your path it is to remind you to live your life fully and to celebrate who you are.  To remind you that every single moment you waste in fear, anger, or hatred is a moment that will be lost to you forever.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Rainy Days and Mondays

It's raining here in the mountains.  Welcome rain.  It has been very dry and there have been several fires in the county from brush burnings gone astray.  So we are happy for the rain.

The Tufted Titmouse lowers his tuft in the rain

Lucy checks out the front porch.  There is no danger that she will run into the yard.
She hates getting wet.

The bluebird flag drips in the rain

Here's the front bringing all the rain.  It's moving to the northeast, so we have more storms to come.
(Map from The Weather Channel)

We have plenty to do on this rainy day, but little desire to do any of it.  Think I'll sit and read for a while and then do a little knitting.

Friday, April 4, 2014

We Love Our Lucy

April 4th last year brought us a rain/snow/sleet mixture.  It was quite cold and the trees were covered with ice.  None of that this year.  We have had near record-breaking highs all week.  Today we are in line for a series of severe thunderstorms.  We need the rain, since it is very dry and the tree pollen is thick.

Lucy looked out at the sleet falling on the deck.

 All the branches on the trees were coated with ice.

We know that we will have more chilly weather.  But we also know that spring is getting closer and closer.

Our quote comes from American author and journalist Hal Borland:
"No Winter lasts forever, no Spring skips its turn.  April is a promise that May is bound to keep, and we know it."



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

No Such Thing as Normal

Other than the usual morning mist and fog, very little about our weather has been "normal."  We have had late snow, colder than normal temperatures and warmer than normal temperatures.  Today we are enjoying much warmer than normal temperatures.  We might even reach a new high for the date.  It feels much more like May than early April.

A walk around the house reveals much improvement in the plant life.

One of a few camellias that got to blossom fully

 The hellibores looking much healthier

 We have a lot of ducks about the yard.
This one looks at the plants while enjoying his stogie.
Remember it's art if you love it.

 Another fully blossoming camellia.  Occasionally we have the blossoms all over
This year they are few and far between with most buds dropping before blooming

As I walk around the yard and into the woods this spring, I miss sweet Ellie even more than usual.  Spring without her is a little bittersweet.