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What do you think? April 30, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking, memoir.

Added 5/1: I was in a very whiny mood yesterday. I’m tempted to delete this post, but naw, I’ll let it stand. We all have our bad days!

As many of you know, I made a decision in 2009 to come back to the Southern Appalachians—in particular, to be within striking distance of the Smokies, where I had so many wonderful experiences in the 80s. This decision came after the end of a 15-year relationship in Massachusetts, which made me decide that I’d like to start a new life. Since I’ve moved back to the area, I have experienced some absolutely wonderful adventures in the Smokies. But there is something missing now. The way I see it—and this could be just some warped perception—as a 50-something single female bushwhacker, I just don’t fit in. I am quite friendly with a number of male bushwhackers (there are very few other female bushwhackers), but I think they don’t feel comfortable hiking with me. Many are married and have family obligations. For them to go out with a single female seems inappropriate. I can understand that. Even in the situation of several guys bushwhacking together, I think it doesn’t occur to them to invite a single female along—it seems odd, or unprecedented. Therefore, I am thinking that possibly what is best for me is to move on to some place where I can invent my own adventures once again, where I’m not comparing the present experience with past experiences. I’m thinking somewhere out west, where I have spent some times in the past but where I don’t have any strong personal memories. I invite you, my readers, to comment if you have any particular feelings or reactions about this.

Wildflowers and space aliens April 23, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: , ,


Yesterday I went on a wildflower walk with an old friend. But when I think back on the experience, the subject of space aliens keeps popping into my brain. No, don’t worry, I haven’t gone around the bend. I wasn’t abducted by space aliens on the Porters Creek trail. But for some reason my friend and I got onto the conversational topic of space aliens, and once the topic was introduced, it just wouldn’t go away.

This was the first time I have ever gone up Porters Creek to look at the wildflowers and not just to pass through on my way to the great and mysterious regions of Dry Sluice manway or Lester Prong that lie beyond, as I did a few weeks ago. This was not going to be a huge hiking challenge, it was going to be a wildflower stroll. I met up with my friend Bill at 9:00, under drizzly skies, and we headed up the trail. We saw plenty of yellow trillium right at the trailhead.

Yellow trillium

We were experiencing Phase 2 of the kaleidoscopic procession of spring wildflowers in the Smokies. I have usually gone up Porters Creek during Phase 1, the phase of fringed phacelia and large-flowered white trillium. This time, the phacelia were all gone and the large white trillium were either shriveled up or had gone into their faded pinkish stage. The sparkling carpets of phacelia are truly wonderful, but I must say one advantage of this later stage is that it is more colorful.

We saw a cluster of showy orchis, a relative of the ladyslipper that I don’t see very often.

Showy orchis

We went up to the old Smoky Mountains Hiking Club cabin and looked for graffiti from old-timers in the 1930s that an acquaintance had recently spotted there, but we couldn’t find it. Bill and I were chatting about what we’d had for breakfast that morning, and I told him that on my drive over from Asheville I’d stopped at a convenience store at the Hartford exit and picked up an apple danish that turned out to be really horrible. “It tasted like it came from outer space,” I said. Bill replied, “And we all know what a danish from outer space tastes like.” For some reason, it was really funny. You had to be there.

Continuing toward the crossing of Porters Creek, we encountered a cluster of painted trillium growing right out of the top of a mossy boulder. It was beautiful.

Painted trillium

At Porters Flats, we saw that the phacelia were all gone, as we’d expected. We stopped frequently to admire the flowers, the giant trees, and the beautiful stream running fast down the valley. Unfortunately, the subject of food from outer space had gripped Bill’s imagination, so our cries of “Isn’t that beautiful!” were interspersed with random musings about the space alien menu.

We reached Fern Branch Falls.

Fern Branch Falls

The sun was starting to come out. We passed masses of phlox and foamflower that made a nice contrast to each other in both color and shape.

Phlox and foamflower

I loved the communities of geraniums, which have two big attractions, from my point of view: that shade of purple is just wonderful, and the foliage has such an intricate shape. There was such a tremendous concentration of geraniums in this particular spot that I decided this section of the trail must have absolutely the ideal conditions for these plants.

Geraniums and more geraniums

I saw one odd cluster of densely concentrated bluets.


Our conversation had progressed on to recent developments in our families, books we had read, and other good subjects. But, unfortunately, when we reached Backcountry Campsite 31, the space aliens came back. Although Bill’s pop culture IQ is generally much higher than mine, I was surprised to find out that he had never learned about the primary, well, anatomical method by which aliens obtain information about the human beings they abduct. Everyone knew that, I thought—there was a huge amount of laughter on the subject.  We broke off our conversation just in the nick of time, for a group of polite retirees walked in to the campsite with friendly greetings.

Experiences are often composed of unrelated themes that become tightly interwoven. So I present to you the whole experience rather than the usual edited one.


Out of the clutches of Zephyrus April 19, 2011

Posted by Jenny in art, nature.
Tags: , ,

"Primavera," or "The Allegory of Spring," by Botticelli

We have entered an orange grove that is carpeted with flowers. It is twilight, or perhaps a time outside of the twenty-four hours, a time of eternal translucent blueness. The grove is a very busy place. To the right, chilly Zephyrus attempts to capture the nymph Chloris, but she escapes, flowers spilling from her mouth as she flees. Flora walks serenely forward, scattering flowers that she has gathered in her gown. Venus presides over the scene. The Three Graces dance, intent on each other and not noticing that Cupid is aiming his arrow toward the one in the center. Mercury lifts his caduceus to ward off any harm.

At least, those identifications and those meanings are common among the countless interpretations and discussions of this very well-known painting created around 1482 by Sandro Botticelli. Some see in it an allegory of Neoplatonism, with Venus representing a calm intellectual love that is different from the lust embodied in Zephyrus.

I don’t worry too much about what each figure is supposed to symbolize. There are too many other aspects of it that enthrall me. I think what I find especially appealing is the way in which each participant in the scene is so unselfconsciously intent on his or her purpose. None of them, except perhaps Venus, is looking back at us, aware of the outside world. And she is somehow the least appealing of the group. Her gaze is a bit vacant, distracted. If she does in fact symbolize a calm intellectual love, she’s not doing much to make that seem appealing.

Venus and Cupid

Zephyrus is wonderful. That hint of blue in his flesh—how many painters could have done that? And his menacing look, full of determination to capture his prey. Chloris does look like a tempting prize (as every nymph should be). She has that perfect version of beauty that you see in so many of Botticelli’s faces. You could argue that they all look too much the same, but I never get tired of looking at those faces. Her hair has been done by the same stylist as the Venus in “Birth of Venus” (a.k.a “Venus on the Half Shell”). The Three Graces have had their hair done there, too.

Zephyrus and Chloris

I just looked up “nymph” in the dictionary to refresh my memory of its exact meaning. Merriam-Webster: “Any of the minor divinities of nature in classical mythology represented as beautiful maidens dwelling in the mountains, forests, trees, and waters.” Wouldn’t life be much more interesting if we could actually believe in such minor divinities?

Flora’s face is amazing. Those pale blue eyes, that slight smile that suggests an inner contentment. She is happy with her task of scattering flowers. It is said that the painting depicts 190 species of flowers, of which 130 have been specifically identified.


More than any of the other figures, Mercury seems oblivious to all of the activity around him. He is looking up at his caduceus, the staff he carries in his role of messenger or herald. It is composed of a design of wings above two twining snakes—now most often used as a symbol of medicine. Here I find I don’t want to agree with the common interpretation that he is using the caduceus to ward off harm. To me, it looks more as if he has just been given the caduceus—perhaps he has just graduated from the College of Messengers—and he is posing with it, thinking to himself, “Don’t I look cool?”


The Three Graces. I might like them best of all. Their expressions are so intent, so serious. They are dancing rather gravely, belying their usual identification as Aglaia (Splendor), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Good Cheer). But there is something in that seeming contradiction of dance and seriousness that seems exactly appropriate to the season of spring, which has something massive and powerful lurking behind its delicate new plants.

And now I will tiptoe back out of the orange grove, leaving this collection of solipsists to their strange, dreamlike mixture of activities.

The Three Graces