Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Never Thought It Would Last a Year

In December 2007, I established a blogger identity. I had no plans to start a blog...I established an identity in order to comment on blogs that didn't accept anonymous comments. Several bloggers, especially Susan, Mary, and Laura, kept commenting that I should start a blog and I'm so glad they did. So thanks, guys.

My children did not grow up in this area and I was frequently sending photographs of the beautiful mountains, the waterfalls, and marvelous birds around us. It seemed that starting a blog would be another way to communicate with them and show them our county and the surrounding locations we visit. I never really thought anyone else would read these words.

On April 29, I started a blog, having no idea what I would write or how long it would hold my interest. And now, one year and 246 posts later, I am still at it. I think the most amazing thing is how many blogger buddies I have "met" via the Internet. Every day I look forward to reading your blogs and finding out what is going on in your lives. I do indeed consider you my friends in the blog world. While I never considered that I was writing for anyone else, I often wonder if I would have kept this up without any readers. I am so grateful to all of you who continue to visit. Thank you for many reasons.

So, on with the blog...

We are fortunate to have our kitchen table next to the windows overlooking the birdfeeders on the deck. With the increasing daylight hours, my husband and I love watching the birds while we have dinner. Last night was no exception. We were chatting about Arlen Specter, the flu epidemic, etc., when we suddenly became aware that the trees were silent and the feeders were empty. We looked more closely and saw a very good reason for the quiet. (Sorry for the quality of the photograph. I got only one shot and unfortunately picked up some window reflection.)

Life is a bit like that, isn't it? One minute you are singing and loving life, and the next there is a dark figure waiting to grab you. When I started this blog last year, who would have believed the difficulties our country would be facing? Who would have thought their investments would have lost so much value? That those who felt their jobs were secure would find themselves out of work? That our economy (and the world's) would be in such a state?

Finally the hawk left. Within 15 minutes, the birds returned. They resumed their singing and eating. The episode gave us pause to realize that we also will overcome our dark figures. It may take a bit longer for us, but then, we have more time than the birds. So let's enjoy all the good times.

Thank you, blogger friends. I couldn't have done this without you.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Skinny Dip Falls

Skinny Dip Falls is a waterfall in neighboring Haywood County. Not widely known by "outsiders," Skinny Dip is a local favorite. It is not listed in most waterfall guides but the waterfall is a short moderate hike from the Blue Ridge Parkway. While not a huge waterfall, it is nonetheless impressive with three separate components to the waterfall, and many secondary falls. The sign on the lookout parking area doesn't even mention the waterfall.

The trail to Skinny Dip is part of the Mountains to Sea Trail crossing North Carolina from Clingman's Dome in the west to Jockey's Ridge on the Atlantic Ocean. This part of the trail leads to the Shining Rock Wilderness area of Pisgah National Forest.

Here is a first glimpse of Skinny Dip. The water falls into deep collecting pools. In summer, the pools are filled with swimmers, climbing in and out of the water.

The water is much deeper than it appears. This shot would not be possible in summer. In summer there would be people jumping from the rocks into the pool.

Below the second pool the water takes a sharp turn, leaving a very narrow (skinny) dip in the rocks. This is the real reason for the name "skinny dip." (What were you thinking?)

The deepest collection pool is just below the curve. A secondary falls drops into the pool like a faucet.

The water is absolutely pristine. Cold and transparent, it is lovely to behold.

Here are the rocks that serve as jumping points to the pool (which is not visible from this shot). The water is VERY cold. Sheltered by the trees and coming directly from the mountain, the water temperature rarely exceeds 65 degrees even on the hottest summer day. Yet many people plunge right in. And yes, some of the biggest showoffs do skinny dip. Perhaps that's an incentive to jump faster.
This is the view from the Parkway overlook near the trail head. Looking Glass Rock is in our county and is a beautiful formation popular with hikers and rock climbers.
Skinny Dip Falls is not terribly well know, although I think it is more interesting than some of the more popular waterfalls. Perhaps one reason is that it is located only a mile away from a very popular waterfall viewing area in Graveyard Fields. The day of our hike was a wonderful day with a nice breeze. The high mountains are beginning to awaken to the green of spring and life is good.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Handsome Visitors

I saw him Friday morning. Just a brief glimpse through the trees. Could it be? Are they back for a brief visit? A few hours later, I saw him again. This time there was no doubt. The male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are passing through on their migration.

These birds do not live here in summer or winter. We see them only during spring and fall migrations and we love every minute they are here. What lovely birds.

The males always arrive first, followed in a week or two by the females. Both sexes remain for several days and then the males move on. Shortly thereafter, the females take off and we have no more until the next migration.

Here is my first real sighting:

He came to one of the feeders for a snack.

He stretches his neck to eat from the second tier opening.

Last fall, the males looked like this. They had their winter plumage by the time they passed by our house. In the spring photographs above, you will note they are more pristine, with clean white chests and the hallmark bright rosey triangles on their breasts.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will remain with us for only a few weeks. Their arrival is much anticipated at our house and we envy those of you who see these birds all summer.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fridays are Golden

We did a little yard work yesterday and put up the bird spa. As usual, Ellie and Lucy investigated every little smell around them.

I know something interesting has been on this wall!

You go this way and I'll go that way.

What is this? I don't think it was here yesterday.

You're right. It definitely wasn't here before.

I'm queen of the hill when I sit on this huge rock!

After finishing the plants in front, we took the girls to the trail to do some serious running. Needless to say, they were exhausted when we returned. Here's how they spent much of the remainder of the day.

Can you believe this is the last Friday in April? We are having gorgeous spring weather with warmer than normal temperatures and bright sunshine. May will bring the reality of the spring that April tempted us with.
Whatever your plans for this weekend, have a wonderful one. Touch base with an old friend, and tell your family how much you love them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New Bird

Isn't it interesting that some times good things just happen? Yesterday I was sitting on the deck reading. I had my camera with me, but I wasn't paying close attention to the birds. Suddenly I saw a quick flash of yellow. I picked up the camera and got one shot. By the time I got the camera focused, he was positioned to take off again. It was a Yellow-throated Warbler! I know that these birds often summer in our area, but this was the first one I have ever seen. Imagine...a lifer just dropped in my lap.

Today is Earth Day! A day for all of us to commit ourselves to reducing our carbon footprint, to become responsible for our daily carbon consumption. A day to help our children's children. A day to help our world-wide family.

John McConnell's Earth Day Flag

Earth Day had its official beginning in 1970 when Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson asked Congress to declare April 22 as Earth Day in the U.S. The first Earth Day focused on zero population growth. This year's theme is "The Green Generation." Pledge yourself to do something, however small, to help our environment. Start by looking at your carbon footprint and take measures to reduce yours. It takes all of us to make a difference.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Another Nesting Pair

"Peter, Peter, Peter!" "Jweejweejwee!" "Tseet, tseet, tseet!" These are the sounds that awaken me almost every morning. The trees seem to be full of Tufted Titmice, challenging and calling back and forth.

A pair of them recently took up residence in one of our birdhouses.
We've been delighted to watch them with their courtship display and nest building.

Imagine our surprise when we noticed another pair of titmice investigating a decorative gourd we have hanging in the trees. The gourd is not well designed for nesting, and we never thought any bird would use it. We simply thought it attractive with its leather leaves.

At first we thought perhaps the pair in the other house had decided to move. But as we watched, we realized there were two pairs of titmice, nesting in the same (albeit large) tree.

The gourd is so close to the deck, we can hear the movements inside. What a delightful sound to hear the fluttering as the titmouse arranges the leaves and moss she has brought inside for the nest. We know the nest is almost complete. We have seen the titmouse grabbing the Golden Retriever hair we place in the trees.

We've never had a titmouse in any of our nesting boxes. What a treat to have two pairs to observe.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Isn't She Lovely?

"Female is dull." This phrase often follows the description of the male cardinal as being "brilliant." I describe the color as more warm and muted. And I happen to think females cardinals are every bit as beautiful, if not as flashy, as the males.

This female cardinal visits me quite often. While the other cardinals are rather skittish, she is happy to share the deck with me. I call her Lady Jane. She is a bit more gray than some and she doesn't have much of a buffy underside.

Here is Lady Jane on a misty morning. Isn't she lovely?

Unlike some female birds, Lady Jane also sings. She has a loud and clear voice. Hmmm...perhaps I should name her Susan Boyle.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fridays are Golden

Ellie would love to be a lap dog. She loves to lie in my lap when I'm sitting on the floor and I know she would REALLY like being on the sofa with me. Unfortunately for her and for Lucy, big shedding fluffly dogs are not allowed on the furniture in our house.

They are allowed on the outdoor furniture and their favorite spot is a wooden bench. They will sit there and watch while we are working outdoors. I often sit on the bench with them and try to read. That usually is not successful, so I listen to my iPod instead.

From the bench, they can survey the front yard.

There is always something interesting to watch.

We took the girls to the groomer for a bath yesterday. Regular readers know that we have wonderful bathing facilities for them here. So why take them elsewhere?
----------We used to trim and bathe both dogs at least once a month. Then, my husband got an injury and couldn't help me. I decided to find a groomer rather than spend two days triming nails, paw pads, legs, ears, and bathing the dogs. I found a groomer who did a really good job. She charged me $25.00 per dog! So even when my husband was better, we did some math. Hmm...we could spend several hours of our time, then clean up the grooming room, then wash a load of wet towels, then shower ourselves and wash our own clothing. OR, we could drive the girls downtown and pay $50 to have both of them bathed and groomed.
----------So, while we do use the grooming table/shower for emergency cleaning and for routine grooming, we let someone else do the bathing. Besides, it helps put more money into the local economy, right?
----------The day at the groomer exhausts the dogs. After a long walk, they spend the evening lying around. (Not much different from other evenings, actually.) Of course, Lucy must lie next to (or on top of) Ellie.

Another Friday as we head into spring. It's unseasonably chilly here. This morning a hummingbird was huddled at each feeder in the 32-degree weather, waiting for the sun to warm things up a bit. I sat cradling my coffee and waited for the same thing.
Have a wonderful weekend, whatever your plans. No matter how busy you are, take a time out to appreciate the beauty that surrounds you. Sit and listen to the birds or take a walk outside. Stay safe.
And you New River Gorge birders...better get packing. It's a little more than a week away. We're expecting some great photographs and stories. Heck, some of them might even be about birds!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Couple of Cute Kids

Connemara, Carl Sandburg's home in North Carolina is one of our favorite nearby places to visit. It is a lovely place, with hiking trails and huge rocks; a place of tranquility and beauty.

The goats at Connemara are almost as famous as the place itself. Lilian Sandburg bred award-winning goats and the herd is still maintained.
Each spring we visit to see the new kids at Connemara. We went last week on an absolutely gorgeous spring day. It was such a nice day that we weren't even disappointed that only one kid had been born so far.

She is Bella, a Toggenburg goat and has quite a pedigree. She is a direct descendant of Jennifer, the champion milk-producer in America in her day. Jennifer averaged 2.5 gallons of milk every day and was the world-wide Toggenburg Champion goat. While the current goat herd is much smaller than Lilian Sandburg's, all the goats are descendants of Lilian's careful breeding. They are lovely.

This lovely doe is Bella's mother. She is brought into the barn several times a day to nurse Bella, although at only a week old Bella is munching grasses (and anything else she finds).
This buck is likely Bella's father, although I did not verify that.

This view of the front lake gives you an idea of what the awakening spring looks like around here.
Visiting the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site is a new and inspiring treat every single time I go. It is so moving to walk and sit in places where Carl Sandburg walked and sat; to stand near his favorite rock where he worked outdoors; to be surrounded by his books and letters. There are echoes of both Carl Sandburg and his wonderful wife Lilian all around.

This post was titled a "couple" of kids, yet there was only one little goat at Connemara. This is the other cute kid with whom I fell completely in love. She is participating in the White House Easter Egg Roll. The very polished shoes behind her belong to President Obama who helped her with her egg. You just have to love her determination. I also loved the outfit, especially the great boots.
Photo from the Associated Press

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nuthatches Sublet to the Titmice

Several weeks ago, a pair of Nuthatches spent an entire day cleaning out one of our nesting boxes. (

We were not at all surprised that they decided not to nest in the box despite the hard work. After all, we have lots of trees with great cavities for nesting and this nesting box is relatively near the house. It is most often used by chickadees.

The other day I saw a gray bird entering the house. On a limb above it sat a Tufted Titmouse. Interesting.

As I kept observing, another titmouse (I'm assuming a female since they do most of the housework) flew into and out of the house.

On occasion, she removed something she had brought in. Perhaps not the right design for her decor.
She worked most of the day.
I hope the titmice will decide to use the nesting box. They are such fun little birds and I love hearing their loud calls in the trees. What volume for such a small bird.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunrise in the Mountains

Easter Sunrise services are held all over the south and in many other parts of the country as well. People gather before sunrise to watch and pray until the sun appears. The rising sun symbolizes the resurrection and ends the forty days of the Lenten season.

Perhaps the most glorius sunrises occur at the beach, where people gather to watch the sun creep over the horizon and in the high mountains where the sun slowly rises over the peaks to bathe the valleys with sunlight.

There are many popular places for Easter Sunrise services in the mountains. One of them is only a few miles from my house. The Symmes Chapel at Pretty Place provides a spectacular view of the rising sun and the mountains. It is a small chapel, so numbers are limited. Because of limited seating and parking, many people arrive at 4:00 or earlier. (No, I did not attend)

Here is a view from Symmes Chapel, taken in January. It looks much the same now, although the trees likely have reddish and green hues as the buds and tiny leaves appear.

I hope that this Sunday is a special day for you regardless of your religious beliefs. Make this day a new beginning, and live each day as if it were your last.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Fridays are Golden

This is a terrible photograph and in the past I would not have posted it. I was shooting directly into the sun which was totally darkening the profile. But by golly, this is my first hummingbird sighting of 2009 and I wasn't going to miss it.

As usual, the hummingbird migration splits when it nears our mountains. They fly to our east, and to our west, and gather again north of us. So we have hummingbirds on all sides and wait in frustration until they visit us again. Yesterday, he finally came.

Yesterday was a brilliant day full of sunshine. Lucy loves to spend the morning in the sun. Honestly, that dog can sleep better than anything I have ever seen. She looks WAY too comfortable, doesn't she?

Today we are expecting some violent weather as the unstable fronts sweep across the Carolinas. I hope everyone remains safe from the storm.
If you are Christian, I hope you find renewal in this most holy of weekends. If you are not Christian, find your renewal in the increasing signs of spring. All of us need to keep in mind the earthquake victims, the ship's captain still held hostage, those affected by the fires in Texas, the weather across the southeastern United States, and all others who are suffering here and abroad.