Friday, May 30, 2008

Fridays are Golden

Whenever a new house is being built in our neighborhood, folks wander through on a regular basis to see how it looks. We were living in Milwaukee and I flew back and forth on a regular basis to check the progress and talk with the contractor. Since my visits were brief, I did not meet our neighbors until we actually moved in.

I was surprised to learn that the most frequently asked question about the house had to do with the tiled room downstairs with the "sacrificial-altar-looking thing” in the middle of the room. Apparently the room generated a lot of dinner-party conversations all summer as folks speculated about the room (and the weird people who were building the house).

The room was built for the dogs. The "altar" is actually a combination shower and grooming table. A hand-held shower is attached to the front and there is a drain in the center.

Ellie sits patiently while we get everything together for grooming.

The table is just the right height for us to clean ears, brush teeth, trim nails, etc.

We always do Ellie first. Her hair is much thicker and longer, so it takes a bit more time. Fortunately, she is very patient.
Lucy is patient as well, but she invariably hops up on the table before we are ready.

Lucy’s coat is coarser than Ellie’s, and not as thick so grooming goes a little faster with her.

Shelves hold all their supplies close at hand. There is a baby monitor, since the girls sleep in their room and our bedroom is upstairs.
They each have a crate which is left open except at night. During the day Ellie often retreats to her crate for a snooze, especially if the house is noisy. Lucy rarely goes to her crate except for sleeping at night.
They have a clock so they will know when it’s time for dinner. And the toy box is just outside their room. I have no clue why we have so many toys when all they seem to want to play with are tennis balls.

The pictures in the room are drawings of our former dogs, both Springer Spaniels.

This is Penny, our second dog, who shared our home for 15 years.

Before Penny, we had Tipsy, our first dog whom we got before we had children. She lived 16 years.
The girl’s room has phone and satellite connections, but I refuse to get either of them for the dogs.

Many people ask us how we manage two large shedding dogs. First, they fit our lifestyle very well. We are retired and healthy. We are happy to take them on long walks and take them on trails to run off-leash. We brush them every day. Three times a week we use a marvelous deshedding tool called the FURminator ®

I vacuum often, and thank heaven daily for Swiffer®

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Waterfall Wednesday

Located within Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Falls is one of the most visited falls in Transylvania County, if not in Western North Carolina (WNC). It is a pleasant falls, and no hiking is required for a good view. One can view the falls from the parking area on the roadside by stepping out of the car and walking a few feet.

Looking Glass Falls is a cascade that falls over a sloping 60-foot wall of granite, polished by the continuously falling water.

The wall of granite continues beyond the falls and is believed to be the largest single granite rock in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

The following picture was taken from my car and demonstrates the closeness of the waterfall to the highway. The waterfall’s spray is 30 feet wide at the top. Note the continuing granite far beyond the falls.

A series of steps leads to the bottom of the falls.

The name Looking Glass Falls comes not from the falls itself, but from nearby Looking Glass Rock. Looking Glass Rock is so named because the water freezes on the rock faces during the winter and glistens in the sunlight like a looking glass.

This picture was taken by a friend in February. Unfortunately, there was no ice formation.

You will be pleased to know that one of the hiking trails down Looking Glass Rock is closed due to peregrine falcon nesting. Hikers must return the same route they took up.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel

In late May the mountains are full of color as the rhododendrons bloom. They have peaked in the lower elevations (less than 3,000 ft), and are just beginning at 4,000 ft and higher.

As the rhododendron fades and new growth appears on the branches, the mountain laurel begins its show of color.
The mountain laurel will bloom for weeks. Earliest blossoms will come on plants with more sunlight, followed by those that bloom in the shady areas. It will be a feast for the eyes.

I can't wait!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Let us reflect on this Memorial Day.
Photo by Getty

Photo from

On Being Asked for a War Poem

William Butler Yeats (1928)
I think it better that in times like these

A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth

We have no gift to set a statesman right;

He has had enough of meddling who can please

A young girl in the indolence of her youth,

Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fridays are Golden

Some households have rules for the dogs. In other households, the dogs rule. Our household is definitely one with rules for the dogs.

One of those rules is that dogs cannot be in the kitchen area when I am cooking dinner. There is too much danger involved in moving hot liquids or food from the stove to the counter, not to mention tripping over a dog who is invariably lying right in the way.

The dogs know this rule, but we follow a ritual every single evening. When I go into the kitchen to start dinner, both dogs stand at the edge of the room as if to say, “Anything there for us?”
There never is. The only things they ever get from the kitchen are ice cubes. So I tell them, "Get out of the kitchen, girls."

Ellie will then go lie down somewhere.

"OK, mom, I'll watch from here."
Lucy, on the other hand, will move to a different place near the kitchen.

“How ‘bout I just stand here to watch?”
"No, Lucy, get out of the kitchen."
She immediately walks around the hallway and stands at the dining room entrance to the kitchen.

“Oh, did you mean this door too?”
"Yes, Lucy, get out of the kitchen."

Then Lucy will go lie down, usually next to Ellie.

This little scenario plays out every single evening. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s a game to them. Who knows what these goofy Golden Girls are thinking.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Waterfall Wednesday

The area now known as Dupont State Forest was originally an operation for DuPont Corporation. When DuPont ceased operations there in 1996, the State of North Carolina began to acquire the 10,300 acres. There are several waterfalls along the Little River in DuPont State Forest.

This is High Falls. At 150 feet, it is the tallest waterfall in DuPont Forest. To give you some scale, you may want to enlarge the picture to see the man standing to the lower right at the bottom of the falls.

At the top of the falls stands a picnic shelter on the old site of the Buck Forest Hunt Club Lodge.

In the right center of this picture, you can see a dying Carolina Hemlock.
High Falls is a cascading waterfall, meaning it mostly stays on the rocks, descending them like steps. It does “free fall” in some places.

Huge boulders line the bottom of the falls as it returns to Little River.

Amazingly, the water ceases to roar and tumble and becomes very placid less than fifty yards from the bottom of High Falls.

A fifteen minute hike downstream leads to another large waterfall. But that’s for another Wednesday.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blackberry Winter

NOTE: This post is not about your personal digital assistant. It's about a plant that is so valuable and useful your PDA was name for it.

Spring in the mountains brings varied weather; some days are quite warm, while others are much cooler. At this time of year we have a name for the chilly days. You see, the blackberries are blooming. And chilly days this time of year are known as "Blackberry Winter." Blackberries grow abundantly in the NC mountains and can be found along the roadside, creek banks, and fields.

The blackberry blossom is made up of five petals. Each blossom contains a green center which will ripen and form a blackberry.

Blackberries are ancient plants that have many medicinal uses. The berries are rich in Vitamins E and C, beneficial anti-oxidants and fiber. For centuries, blackberry tea has been used to treat diarrhea. A soothing solution made by boiling the leaves is used to treat boils and minor burns on the skin.

Blackberries are a food source for many birds and animals, including humans.

In about two months, these blossoms will be delicious blackberries, ready for picking and eating. There is hardly a rural child in the mountains who hasn't been blackberry pickin'. The wonderful jams, jellies and pies are worth the scratches from the thorns, the stinkbugs, the heat, and other hazards of picking blackberries. Adults may enjoy blackberry wine or brandy.
As for me; I'll have another helping of that blackberry cobbler, please.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mountain Pottery

Artisans of all types live and work in Western North Carolina (WNC). Transylvania County is home to a large number of skilled potters, some whose families have lived here for generations.

Many WNC potters still use wood ash for the glazes. Traditional potters used materials found locally. Wood ashes, and variations in firing methods result in lovely brown, gold, and green glazes.

Here is a large jar we have.

Face jugs are extremely popular. Here are a couple of whimsical face jugs we own.

While these face jugs evoke more laughter than fear, the traditional face jugs of the 1800s were quite different. Some WNC potters still make these scary, somewhat demonic face jugs in much the same way the slaves made them before the Civil War. The slaves made the jugs based on African tribal beliefs and they were often placed on graves to scare away evil spirits. They were also placed in dark corners of houses to keep the devil himself from coming inside.

The tourist industry led to a demand for less demonic and more comical face jugs. Not many people want such dark and rather creepy jugs in their homes.

Here is my favorite pot. It is a feast for the eyes and wonderfully tactile. One feels a sense of calmness rubbing one’s hands across the raised portions of the glaze, and looking at the wonderful and rich colors. (Please click to enlarge the image to fully appreciate the colors.)
And guess what? That is the backside of the jug. On the front is an intricate carving of a young boy holding a pig. The process for this type of glazing and art work is complex and only a few potters have the glazing, firing, and etching skills to produce such lovely works of art.

I’ve shown you only a few pieces of the wonderful pottery we have around here. In future posts, I will take you to visit some of our talented potters. You will love the work they do.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ghost in the Graveyard

I was a kid before the days of computers and super-organized sports; a time when kids played outdoors all summer long. There were few scheduled events and it was safe to play outside until twilight. One of my favorite summer games was “Ghost in the Graveyard.” It’s a variation of “Hide and Seek” in which the ghost is “it.” Whenever anyone encounters the ghost he or she yells, “GHOST IN THE GRAVEYARD” and everyone runs for home base.

I think of “Ghost in the Graveyard” every time I drive down town. There is an abandoned house by the side of the road. Within feet of the back door is a cemetery. The building is clearly a house, not a church. So why in the world was it built so close to the cemetery? Or did the cemetery keep growing toward the house? Recently, I stopped the car and got out. I did not see a “No Trespassing” sign, which I interpreted as “Come on over.” I decided to take a closer look.

Here is the largest monument in the cemetery and it is very close to the back of the house.

Roaming around, I found the most recent date of interment to be 1951.

Further from the house are many graves marked simply with stones. How old are they? Who is buried there?

The cemetery is not well maintained, although one grave has faded plastic flowers on it.

Who put them there? And when?

A view from the other side of the house again shows the proximity of the cemetery to the house as well as a hint of the lovely view of distant mountains.

The cemetery location was obviously chosen with great care. A quiet resting place on a knoll overlooking the mountains. But who selected it? And how long ago? When was the house built? And by whom? And the biggest mystery of all…why is the house so near the cemetery?

I will try to uncover this mystery and share it with you.

Oh, this would be a great place to play “Ghost in the Graveyard.” But then again; perhaps not. There might be a ghost, but not enough hiding places.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday is Golden

The Golden Girls do not have many of their ancestral traits. They are very active, but they do like the comforts of home. (One trait they kept is that of rolling in deer scat, or something equally disgusting, in order to mask their scents.) They may not be bird dogs, but they certainly are birdwatching dogs. They love to look out the doors and windows at the birds at the feeders and in the trees. (You wouldn't believe how much window cleaner I go through every week.) Here is Lucy, intently watching the bird activity.
Wow! Look at that Red-bellied Woodpecker!
When Lucy tires of birdwatching, she rests, using Ellie for a pillow.
Chill out! I delegated the birdwatching duties for a while. Ellie will keep an eye on them.
Other times, Ellie takes a rest while Lucy watches the birds.
Ellie had better wake up soon. My eyelids are getting heavy and I can't concentrate on the birds.

BTW: Here's a tip for those who have dogs that roll in disgusting, smelly things. It's especially helpful to have in your car for that drive home. We have a "go pail" containing paper towels, old towels, a bag for disposing of the paper towels and holding the old ones, and the first aid for a smelly dog. Keep it in the car when you have your dog out with you.

First aid for smelly dogs:

Mix Listerine™ (the old fashioned amber kind) and water in a spray bottle. One part Listerine and 3 parts water. Use the paper towels to get as much of the yucky stuff off as you can. Spray the solution on the area to saturate hair, then rub off excess with old towel. It is antiseptic and has a nice clean smell. It surely makes the drive home much more pleasant.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Waterfall Wednesday

Batson Creek and Carson Creek make spectacular twin waterfalls and then converge into one stream. The Carson Creek waterfall is known as Connestee Falls and the Batson Creek waterfall is Lower Batson Creek Falls.

Access to the top of Connestee Falls is easy, a 50-yard walk from a parking lot. Most people think they are looking at Connestee Falls, when in fact they are standing at the top of Connestee Falls and looking at Lower Batson. The view of Connestee Falls itself requires a strenuous hike to the bottom of Batson Creek Falls.

This is Connestee Falls. To the right you can see the end of Lower Batson. At the top of the picture you can see the observation area at the top of the falls. The size of the woman on the deck provides scale for the size of the waterfall. (You may wish to click to enlarge.)
The picture was taken last fall. So far this spring, I haven’t had time to hike down.

This is Lower Batson Creek Falls, taken from the top of Connestee Falls. In the middle right you can see the steps from which the preceding picture was taken. (You may need to click to enlarge.)

It amazes me that the two creeks making these waterfalls are small. They meander down, collect in pools and then take the gigantic plunge over the rocks.

This is Batson Creek.
This picture was also taken during a fall hike to the bottom of the falls.
This is Carson Creek, less than 25 yards from the top of Connestee Falls.
Connestee Falls is privately owned, but the owner allows public access to the top of the falls. Negotiations are underway to have the falls purchased by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.

Lower Batson Creek Falls lies entirely within my community and I own part of it. (In reality the land is green space owned by the Property Owner’s Association, and since I’m a property owner, I own a tiny portion of the falls.)

No waterfall story could possibly be complete without the ubiquitous Indian princess legend. Folklore tells us that Princess Connestee (from the Cherokee Nation) leapt from the top of the 110-foot falls to her death on the rocks below. She jumped for the same reasons all folklore jumpers take the plunge – loss of a lover. Her English husband returned to England and she was so heart-broken she just couldn’t go on. As is the case in most legends, there isn’t much evidence to support the truth of it. It is said that if you go to Connestee Falls at midnight during a full moon you can hear Indian chants rising from the gorge at the foot of the falls.

The falls were named in 1882 by F.A. Miles. He named the falls after the legendary Princess.

There are more than 250 named waterfalls in Transylvania County. I will try to bring one each Wednesday, although I'll certainly not hike to some of the most remote ones.