Friday, August 10, 2012

Blue Ridge Blues

I love that sign. At one time in my life it was one of the things that kept me sane. Because, when I lived in Roanoke, Virginia, I could drive less than 20 minutes from home to a Parkway entrance. And when I would see that sign, I knew that escape was just around the corner, and soon the stresses of modern life would begin to wash away. I miss that. So even though Buttercup and I have a wonderful life together, I still want to be able to see that sign, and all that it holds for me.

For those who aren't familiar with it, The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles of scenic beauty snaking through the mountains of Western Virginia/ North Carolina. It begins or ends at Rockfish Gap in Virgina and ends or begins in Cherokee, North Carolina depending on your geographical perspective. It also connects 2 National Parks: Shenandoah NP, and Great Smokey Mountain NP. I have driven every mile of this road at one time or another, although never all at one time. At maximum speed limits of 35 to 45 mph, it would take 11 to 12 hours to drive it's length, even if you didn't stop to take in the beauty of the mountainous terrain- which if you didn't stop, I would wonder why you were even driving on this road in the first place. So it's best to drive it in stretches. Give yourself plenty of time to stop at the scenic overlooks, walk some of the trails, learn the history of the area. Just enjoy the splendor. 

It's less than a month now before Buttercup and I will be leaving the flatness of eastern Virginia and travel in a southwesterly direction to spend a week exploring the mountains of Western North Carolina.  We have our place reserved just outside of Blowing Rock - complete with a "nice" bathroom; so all that's left to do is pack, get in the car and go. We chose this place primarily because of it's proximity to my favorite sign.  I just can't wait to turn the corner off Rte. 221 and see it: "Entering Blue Ridge Parkway". It will be like coming home.... a feeling of pure and utter joy. 

The Parkway section from Boone to Cherokee is my favorite. The highest elevations of the road are in this section, as well as numerous tunnels and drop dead gorgeous scenery.  We will spend a good part of our week driving the 175 or so miles of this wonderful section. But our time will not be spent entirely on the Parkway. There are plenty of other things to see and do in that neck of the woods which are accessible from the Parkway.  Buttercup wants to go to Grandfather Mountain, just south of Blowing Rock, as do I. The mile high swing bridge at the top is very cool to walk across, and the mountain is also an International Biosphere Reserve. Mount Mitchell, at 6684 feet, is the highest peak east of the Mississippi and is only a few miles from the Parkway. The Museum of North Carolina Minerals is also at the top of our list to see. It is located in Spruce Pine, not far from Mount Mitchell.  We also want to spend some time in Asheville, and wherever else the fates may blow us.

So even though it sounds busy, it will be a week of serenity and bliss. And when it's almost time to leave the Parkway on the last day, Buttercup and I will spend some quiet time together, she wanting to stop one more time "for a photo op", me wanting to stop and stare off into the distance, feeling the wind in my face, and smelling the sweet mountain air.  And the last thing I see before getting off my beloved byway will be my least favorite sign: "Leaving  Blue Ridge Parkway". That's when the Blue Ridge Blues will begin......

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Spiders, spiders everywhere

I rescue things. Creepy crawly things. Things most people tend to step on and smash into little unrecognizable bits.  I know my habit of saving bugs, arachnids, snakes, etc. either amuses or annoys most people.  Buttercup is mostly irritated by my reticence to extinguish the life of insects that have inadvertently wandered, crawled,  dropped into or otherwise found their way into our humble abode. I carefully gather up the lost soul and release it back into the wilderness that is our front yard. Even my brother was less than amused the time I found a black snake that was cozily coiled in a storage box near his porch and rescued it from certain death by hoe (He is skeered of snakes and wanted to take it's head off. I, however, carefully coaxed it into a box and released it into a culvert, several hundred yards behind his house). Some of my coworkers think I'm a crank for saving spiders that have wandered into our office. My receptionist though is the first to call me out when she sees one....I think she likes the fact that I save the little buggers from certain death. I do all this because I rather fashion myself to be a benevolent master of my universe. I believe in the natural order of things. I figure if I redirect a wayward bug/spider/whatsit back outdoors, it will buy me some cosmic brownie points in case reincarnation is in fact a reality. Actually, if you believe certain scientists, we are made up of atoms from all over the universe. So who's to say when we pass on that some of our atoms don't show up years later in the soul of a wolf spider, or a scarab beetle, or a Vulcan nematode. I just can't take that chance. 

                          This is pretty scary.....

All that being said, I will admit that my altruism takes a backseat when a mosquito, biting fly or velociraptor attempts to taste me. My self-preservation overrides any moral sense of fair play. The offender will die an ugly death, but only after I say a silent prayer for the redemption of the poor bastards' atoms.....

Monday, July 16, 2012



      Well, here it is the middle of July, and it's trip planning time again. Actually, planning is not a very good word for what we do, because, well, it's hard for us to "plan" a road trip. Usually, Buttercup (my significant other/better half/ Northern star) and I decide where we might like to go more as a general (and sometimes vague) geographical area than an actual destination. Once we have an area in mind, then we struggle to figure out where we are going to stay. This becomes more of a game of chance than anything else, because it's hard to figure out where we want to stay not knowing where we may want to go once we get to where we got to....get it? Hours are spent on line looking at hotels, cabins, condos, huts, lean-tos....oh hell.....just someplace to stay that will accommodate us somewhat comfortably and that has a nice bathroom (for Buttercup). As she has informed me, last years cabin was ok, but the rest facility was less than acceptable.... me, I just need a place to do my business and take a shower. She on the other hand wants a "nice" bathroom. She likes "nice" bathrooms. On more than one occasion she has called or texted me while she was on a business trip to extol the virtues of or to denigrate the "facilities" of the hotel she is at. What exactly is a "nice" bathroom? Well, I'm not sure. But obviously she knows, and wherever we stay has to have a "nice" bathroom. Oh well, eventually we will figure out a place to be and make a reservation.......maybe.

                       We WON'T be staying here...

This consternation of where to stay all started last year when we decided an annual trip to hither and yon would be a much better way to celebrate our birthdays than to buy something that may or may not be used or appreciated by the other. First we wrangled over where we might like to go....Arizona was talked about, and maybe some other place out west, but a week is not a very long time, especially when we prefer to drive (road trip!) as part of the adventure. So, after having decided a trip to the White Mountains ( a general geographical area) would be our first trip together, we finally found a cabin on the web (how, I don't know), made the reservation for October something, and eventually drove up to New Hampshire. It was a glorious week spent exploring the White Mountains, as well as taking a few side trips into Vermont and Maine. Buttercup likes, no, LOVES maps, so It became our daily ritual to look at numerous maps and figure out what direction we might like to go for the day. This is like a box of chocolates, because you never know what you're going to get (to see).  It was wicked fun (as they say up north) to just drive and stop as we pleased to explore the little hamlets and countryside of rural New England.

So this year we have decided on a geographical area called Western North Carolina.  It is of course in the mountains, because that's what we prefer. The hunt for Red October....oops I mean accommodations, has begun. We have finally decided on which week we will go. And I know it will eventually be much fun. But for now, we just need to find a place to stay.....with a "nice" bathroom.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Go West

"Go West young man, go West and grow up with the country." so said Horace Greeley. Or maybe not. There seems to be some controversy as to whether he actually voiced this phrase at all. But I digress....

I have been thinking a lot about "The West" lately; I have this growing feeling that I need to take Horace Greeley's advice and go there, go west. I don't even really know why. Except to say that something about the West beckons me. It has for a long time. Perhaps it is long forgotten memories of the West from cross country trips we took during my father's military career. It might be my romantic view of the West derived from watching dozens of Westerns or reading books about the history of the Old West. Or maybe it is simply wanting to experience the grandeur of towering peaks and beautiful alpine meadows, or just the "feel" of being in a special place again. But no matter the reason, something calls to me to go back.

I have only been out west once as an adult, back in the late 70's. A friend and I left Virginia Beach one October evening after work and drove 2 days straight through the Midwest and into Colorado Springs. We then spent a little over a week on a whirlwind tour of the eastern Rockies from Colorado Springs and up into Rocky Mountain National Park. And what a visceral experience it was from the beginning. It began with our drive through eastern Colorado on I-70. As we drove past dry, rolling grassy plains and dusty ranches, creeping ever nearer Colorado Springs, I began to see what appeared to be a pyramid shimmering in the distance. Keep in mind that we were driving through the Great Plains at an elevation of +/- 5000 feet. My brain was telling me that this is higher than most of the "mountains" to which I am used to, so how can something be that big....

As we drove on I remember feeling the anticipation seeing the Rockies and then being overcome with wonder by the sight of the 14,110 foot Pike's Peak looming on the horizon. It began to fill up the windshield as we approached Colorado Springs. On into town we went, suddenly confronted by rows of massive peaks all around. I could barely contain my excitement. After we got settled we drove to the top of Pike's Peak, a harrowing drive complete with a 12.5 mile stretch of gravel road (I use the term "road" loosely, it was more of a path), containing hairpin switchbacks and, oh, NO guard rails to keep you from plunging thousands of feet should you miss-judge a corner. I was the passenger and numerous times I grabbed the door handle as I looked out my side window only to see nothing but air. I swear that road is so narrow that several times as we passed a vehicle coming down, several inches of our tires were hanging off the edge of the road. But in the end making it to the top was an amazing adventure. And the view is one I'll never forget.

The rest of the trip brought other wonderful gasps of wonder and awe. And I had witnessed only one little corner of an immense expanse of real estate that comprises the West. I was hardly believing how fast the time went, and how much more there was to see. It was a trip that began to fan the sparks of a nascent love affair with the West. I began to wonder if I should move there as my friend later did. But I didn't. Other things were more important, or so it seemed at the time.

Now, those "important" things have passed. Could be "middle age" has me thinking about time and how quickly things can change. So it just seems like a good time to revisit my thoughts of exploring the West. I think I need another adventure. Maybe I'll explore just a little at first, as finances and time allow. But maybe while I'm exploring I will find a place that feels "right", and just maybe I will find myself listening more and more to Horace Greeley and go West...and call it home.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sunday at the beach

Virgina Beach, 49th St, Sunday morning about 8 am....another chance to walk the beach, barefoot on the sand, shirtless, feeling the sun beat down on my skin. I used to take it all for granted....maybe even acting a bit disdainful. Lived with the water so close and yet thinking I couldn't be bothered going down there to share the beach with the tourists and the sunbathers and the surfers. Lived near the ocean almost all my life and for a good part of my adulthood I had lost my joy of going to the beach. I thought only the mountains held sway over me.
But now as I've entered middle age I have found myself drawn again to the sand and the waves and the simple joy of an early morning walk along the beach.
As I start my walk, I smile, saying good morning to the folks who are out walking their dogs. Some of them are throwing a ball into the surf so their best friend can run out and fetch it, running back, shaking off the wet , front legs bouncing up and down as if to say "let's do that again!" I try to imagine that sense of sheer joy they seem to have spending time on the beach with their caretakers.
I continue my walk, close enough to the water that the occasional wave washes over my feet. It feels heavenly. I scan the ocean for dolphins, and I am not disappointed. I see the familiar fins break the water and disappear again and again. Fishing must be good, for not only are the dolphins hunting, but several Brown Pelicans are cruising and diving into the water grabbing fish. The gulls and terns are participating too.
I walk on with no particular thought about how far I want to just feels good to walk on the sand and breathe in the salt air. As I wander down the beach, I see a sight that always makes me stop and gaze in wonder....the unmistakable silhouette of a large raptor- a bird of prey. I watch silently as this magnificent Osprey searches the ocean for a meal. Then in a flash it swoops and dives into the greenish-gray water and rises up with a silvery fish in its claws. As it starts to climb and head to shore, I find myself mesmerized by this bird. I get excited as I realize that I may be almost underneath it as the Osprey reaches shore. And sure enough, this incredible bird is flying so low overhead when it reaches shore that I can darn near see the scales on the fish it is carrying....I stand there dumbstruck at my luck. I've seen an Osprey several times before, but always at a pretty fair distance. This time I felt like I could almost touch it.
All in all it was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning. A nice walk by the ocean in the sunshine and a couple of bonuses- seeing the dolphins, the Brown Pelicans and the Osprey.
So maybe the beach isn't such a bad place to be after all.....