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I am growing two eggplants! June 25, 2010

Posted by Jenny in gardening, memoir, Uncategorized.
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4 comments

I am inordinately proud of these.

What is it about the eggplants, out of all of the vegetables I am growing this summer? I really don’t know. Perhaps it’s that the eggplant foliage suffered a vicious assault from an army of tiny hardshelled black beetles earlier in the season. I belatedly doused them with pyrethrum. I didn’t expect that the plants would have any particular inclination to do anything for me after that. But I discovered one eggplant a week ago, and then today, I noticed the other one.

Here is my vegetable plot.

I have very little experience growing vegetables, having lived surrounded by shade for the past 16 years. I tended to my shade-tolerant perennials and grew a few tomatoes on the deck. In March I moved into my current abode in Asheville, and learned that my landlady and her husband had plans for a large vegetable garden in the ample space behind my house. Their plan was to do a combination of the traditional rows of vegetables and the “Square Foot Gardening” (SFG) system popularized by Mel Bartholomew. I was under no obligation to participate, but I felt this was an opportunity I could not let pass by.

I never would have had the ambition or energy to do the tremendous amount of work involved in getting this project started. Walt, Gordon, and Ralph did a lot of roto-tilling and building of the SFG boxes. Peggy, Claudia, Resheda, and Debbie advised on the planting and the irrigation, and once the beds and rows were established, I saw them going continuously up and down the hill and doing an admirable amount of planting. After a while, I got my act together and planted tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, sage, onions, chives, peppers, and the potatoes that Peggy generously gave me.

Onions, basil, peppers, and some zinnias I threw in for color

Peggy and Walt constructed a very professional-looking SFG space with thin PVC piping.

PVC piping in foreground, looking down one of the rows over a lot of squash

Walt was the mastermind behind our rain collection and irrigation system. This involved a hell of a lot of PVC pipes, valves, hoses, and barrels. We collect rainwater off my roof at the end of my porch.

The green rain barrels are at the end of the porch

Water collected in the barrels is pumped up periodically to a giant cube-shaped tank at the top of the garden. One of the outflow hoses goes to a soaker hose system and the other is for hand-watering.

The magnificent water tank

With very little effort on my part, I have become part of a flourishing neighborhood garden.

The row of tomatoes is irrigated under the black plastic

Thanks to Claudia, we even have beehives, which are protected from possible ursine invasion by an electric fence.

Birdbath in the foreground, beehives in the background

I am not sure that Mel, of the SFG system, has the answers to everything, but he seems like a benevolent presence hovering in the background.

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Various ailments in Bearpen Hollow June 20, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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7 comments

View toward Cliff Top from near West Point

On a warm summer day, I and off-trail enthusiast Chris Sass set forth to climb Bearpen Hollow to LeConte.  He had never been up this route before, and I had last been up it in, I think, 1983—a very long time ago! But this massive combined ignorance did not deter us from our objective of conquering this stream.

The stream is not a very large one, having a relatively small area of drainage, and we worked our way up over the mossy rocks fairly easily until things started closing in and there were blowdowns and rhodo hanging over the stream. I thought the left bank looked better. In hindsight, I feel that might have been a nearly fatal error. I think I must have gone up the right bank on that hike 27 years ago—at least, I don’t remember it being nearly as hard.

We passed a massive tulip poplar with a trunk that flared out at the bottom.

Impressive tulip poplar

After a while of making what seemed like progress, we ran into a situation that seemed to continue for a long time. We had climbed high enough that we were above the elevation of waterflow in the streambed, but now we found ourselves in a deep, narrow trough full of nettles and blackberry. When we tried to go up on the bank, we found it inhabited by dense colonies of rhodo. But, not easily deterred, we persisted. Around the 5300 foot level, it abruptly became very steep, and we added slimy layers of Anakeesta to the mix of vegetation. We heaved ourselves up over the rock, holding onto handy rhodo branches here and there.

After a while the grade relented and we found ourselves in a nearly level glade of ferns that looked almost silver in the sun.

Ferns in the sunshine

And here for the first time we followed a clearly defined ridge that led north to West Point. We saw some beautiful blossoms. I believe this is Rhododendron minus.

I loved the color of these blossoms

It was somewhere around here that our various physical ailments caught up to us. I was suffering from the aftereffects of a severe bout of insomnia the night before (this happens to me from time to time), and was experiencing a lethargy that was compounded by foot and leg cramps. I knew I had to drink more water on this warm summer day, so Chris and I both stopped and pounded down some water. It was about ten minutes afterward that Chris said he thought he might have drunk his water too fast. He looked very uncomfortable. A severe queasiness had set in.

But we persisted. I think Chris was putting a pretty brave face on the situation of a rebellious stomach. I went ahead for a bit to give him and his stomach some privacy, and we met up again on the top of West Point.

The magnificent summit of West Point

Then it was just a matter of pushing our way east from West Point to the upper Alum Cave trail. We definitely saw lots of signs that people had been along that ridge before. There were pruned branches, bits of faded flagging, and the signs on the ground of trampling by hiking boots. I would be interested if anyone can fill me in on this. West Point is not a “legitimate” 6000 footer, is it, even though it measures 6344? Doesn’t it have an “inadequate col”? Why are people going out this ridge?

After a few struggles to stay on the ridgecrest in spots where blocks of Anakeesta loomed up before us, we finally arrived on the Alum Cave trail and saw many hikers pass by. We rested there quite a while in the effort to recover from our ailments. Then we wended our way down the trail. I amused myself by locating the top of the manways to Big Duck Hawk and Little Duck Hawk even though those ridges are now “off-limits.”

We saw a beautiful laurel near Inspiration Point, completely dense with blossoms. The laurel seems to operate in increments of five: the blossom forms a pentagon, there are indentations in between that form ten points altogether, it’s all about the number five and its multiples.

Laurel at Inspiration Point

From there it was a quick walk down to the trailhead.

View from near West Point

Synchronous fireflies June 11, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Smoky Mountains.
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It’s gotten so everyone knows about the synchronous fireflies at Elkmont. The Park Service runs shuttle buses to see them, which is certainly the best way for the park to handle the influx of interest. But there are several other places to see synchronous fireflies in the Smokies.

I don’t want to reveal all the details, because I want this place to be a little difficult to reach. I will say that we started at an elevation of 3,000 feet, climbed up to 5,000 feet, and camped there, because that is the closest legal place to camp, and also it’s just a nice place to go. Then around dusk we walked back down to a point near an old metal bridge, around 3,200 feet, and waited for the fireflies.

A 100-foot tall spruce near our campsite

We got down there on a rather mucky trail and had to wait a bit for true black, velvety darkness. A few fireflies gave us a brief preview of the show.

It got darker and darker. We stood in the middle of the dirt road and peered into the thick night air that was fragrant with vegetation, complicated with patterns of leaves.

Then the fireflies started flashing in their pattern. They go “blink, blink, blink,” for several seconds, and then they all go dark. Then, in unison, they go “blink, blink, blink” again.

It was a bit more intricate than that, but it would take a musician inscribing several lines of melody on composing paper to describe something like this. There were patterns, and there were patterns within patterns.

At first we went into the usual observer mode: “Wow! This is amazing! Look at that!” Then we just fell silent. After a while, as the stream kept running softly over the stones beneath the bridge, and as the tall trees were breathing all around us, we just watched and gave up on commenting about it.

We decided to find the darkest place, where we would be surrounded by the fireflies. We walked a bit further down the road, to where the darkness seemed to be particularly concentrating itself, although our legs were tired, and we stopped thinking about it in the usual way. We just saw the flashing, sparkling lights everywhere, generally about five or ten feet above the ground, in the warm, fragrant, living night air, going on-on-on; off-off-off.

To me, it somehow made me think of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a time of darkness and magic when everything gets mixed up and people end up in fatally inappropriate relationships; but the single night of folly and enthusiasm makes it all worth while. And I kept looking at the lights, sparkling, sparkling, that were saying, “Joy! Joy! Joy!”

Finally we remembered we had to get back up to our campsite. So up we climbed with headlamps, back up 2,000 vertical feet, for a total 4,000 for the day. We were tired. It was 1:00 in the morning.

The next morning I woke up early and went around looking at the spruces, the early rays of sun, and the many forms of life visible then.

Morning sunbeams

Spiderweb

Snail on stalk

Nan and Terri at breakfast