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Canoeing the Deep River May 30, 2011

Posted by Jenny in canoeing.
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Zach and Noura had excellent hats for a canoe trip

My longtime friend Gary Howell suggested a canoe trip for Memorial Day weekend, and I found myself thinking, “My goodness…something other than hiking…that might actually be fun!” So I drove out to Cary, NC (near Raleigh) to spend a chunk of the weekend with the Howell family. They live in a house stuffed to the brim with books and musical instruments (saxes, clarinets, and a grand piano). Spending time with them in their nice neighborhood full of woodland pathways is a fine thing to do, anyway.

We set forth Sunday morning with two canoes on two cars. Our destination was the Deep River between Carbonton and Gulf. In case you might not know where that is, look to the west of Sanford, southwest of Raleigh and near Route 1.

Since I moved to NC in late 2009, I have not ventured much out of the western part of the state. In fact, I am more likely to be found in Tennessee than in other parts of my adopted state. My ignorance of eastern NC is so profound that when I was chatting with a friendly gentleman in a Cary convenience store and he mentioned he was going to Greenville, I asked him whether he meant Greenville SC or Greeneville TN. Of course, he meant Greenville NC.

North Carolina does tend to trip up the unwary, I must say. There is not only an Asheville but an Asheboro, not only a Greenville but a Greensboro. There is a Jacksonville with no apologies to Florida and a Wilmington with no apologies to Delaware. And a Concord to compete with the ones in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The other thing about NC is that it seems as though the settlers were under instructions to establish a medium-sized city exactly every 50 miles. As I drove east on I-40, they came along as regularly as speed bumps. Hickory—Winston-Salem—Greensboro—Durham.

After performing a car shuttle, we put in at Carbonton beside a mysterious structure, perhaps the remant portion of a mill.

Structure at our put-in spot

Gary and I were in one canoe, Zach and Noura in the other. We started gliding down the Deep River, and I enjoyed the immediate change of mode from land to water, as if entering a different dimension. The river was muddy, full of fish that rose up to the surface to slurp down bugs, and other creatures including otters (we saw one), snakes (I didn’t see it, but the others did), and birds (herons, ducks, osprey, and geese).

We start our journey down the Deep River

The Deep River turned out to be not deep at all. I could often touch bottom with my paddle. But it had a wonderful sense of privacy because of its steep deep banks. During our mighty six-mile journey, we never saw a house and never heard an automobile until we reached the bridge at the take-out point. The banks were full of lush green vegetation with very small side streams running down over sediment instead of rock—that seemed odd to me. I’m more accustomed to streams that scour off the muck and get down to the rock. The trees were predominantly sycamore and willow.

We found a big horizontally growing sycamore for a lunch spot. After bobbling awkwardly in the front of the canoe trying to climb up onto the tree trunk, I opted for the easiest solution and simply stayed in the canoe. Zach, Noura, and Gary clambered onto the tree.

The Howells climb onto the sycamore tree...

...and eat lunch on it.

After lunch, we continued gliding down the river. We explored around an island (Gary and I ran into a dead end and had to backtrack) and bounced along over a couple of mild riffles. We reached the bridge and there had to deal with a rather challenging take-out at a steep muddy bank bordered by lush thickets of poison ivy. Gary and Zach did the brunt of the work while Noura and I performed the end-point car shuttle.

And returned home to greet Nadia, have a delicious meal of pasta and bean salad, and go out for a walk through Cary’s green parks that led us to a spot where we consumed our dessert of cheesecake and ice cream.

We are not afraid May 25, 2011

Posted by Jenny in history.
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Stained glass window honoring the three murdered civil rights activists

I am the organizer of a “History Discussion Meetup Group” in Asheville that has, in fact, had only limited success. Our topics so far have been: Western North Carolina in the Civil War; Cortez and the Conquest of the Aztecs; the Industrial Revolution in England; and the Civil Rights Movement. Next month: the Vietnam War. That may be our last meeting. People are just too busy to do the advance reading that makes these discussions possible.

Last night, our meeting about the civil rights movement was attended by myself and by Jack, who was a member of CORE in Cincinnati in the early 60s. He and his wife had an interesting assignment. When a black person or black couple attempted to, say, reserve a bowling lane in the local alley and were told there was no room available, Jack and his former wife (who are white) would then call the bowling alley and see if they could make a reservation. If they could, then racial discrimination was proven and perhaps steps could be taken to force the establishment to open its doors.

A month ago I’d gone down to the Buncombe County public library and looked for books about the civil rights movement. I picked out two. One was a biography of Martin Luther King and the other was a book entitled We Are Not Afraid, authored by Seth Cagin and Philip Dray, published 1988 and since reissued in new editions. The King biography turned out to be tedious—not a reflection on MLK but on the author. (There have been many biographies of him.) I turned to the other book, which had immediately gripped my attention anyway: the cover had photographs of three men in their early 20s, one black (James Chaney) and the other two white (Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner). Their faces showed something that absolutely could not be defeated, even though they were murdered by the Klan and its associates and buried deep in an earthen dam.

The episode has been publicized in many ways, in movies and books and folk songs. I had heard about it before, but now I read about the events of June 21, 1964, in all their detail. I read of the three civil rights workers visiting the site of the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Longdale, Mississippi, which had recently been burned down by white extremists because it was a meeting place for civil rights groups. I experienced the hot, humid summer of east-central Mississippi, the terror of the lone vehicle with its three occupants as it was pursued down lonely country highways after the visit to the church—and ultimately they were stopped, imprisoned, set free only on a pretext, then quickly stopped again according to prearranged plans with a Klan murder squad. The occupants of the vehicle were shot. Chaney was apparently severely beaten before he was killed. Goodman and Schwerner were quickly shot.

You can read more about it here. There is a lot of information about the events, and I’m not inclined to try to recount them in condensed fashion. What I want to communicate is the reason why this seemed important to me. There have been a lot of protests over various important matters during my lifetime, such as the demonstrations against the Vietnam War. But the “Freedom Summer” events of 1964 involved a special courage that is particularly inspiring to me. Here the black citizens of the Deep South and the white kids from the North literally risked their lives in the face of a virulent racism that expressed itself in beatings, firebombings, and lynchings. And quite a few of them did pay with their lives.

And that courage is very important to me.

Memorial to Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner

A sweaty day on Mt. Winnesoka May 23, 2011

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, Smoky Mountains.
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The north ridge to Lookout Rock was loaded with laurel

This turned out to be a very difficult hike. It’s hard to say how much of that was due to the terrain and how much was due to problems of dehydration. The sweat dripping into our eyes supported the dehydration theory while making it hard to even see how difficult the terrain was—which might have been just as well.

I had intended this to be a pleasant off-trail experience for Amanda and Adam, who are just getting into bushwhacking. I hope they won’t be discouraged from giving off-trail another try. The trip was a variation of one I’ve done before, when I ventured up Long Branch to Long Branch Gap and then headed over to Lookout Rock before following game trails down Potato Ridge past Turkey Rock. This time we would start on the Grapeyard Ridge trail and follow the steep, narrow ridge on the north side of Winnesoka that hits Lookout Rock from the other side. The narrowness of the ridge in its upper section made it look intriguing to me.

I’d seen on one of the forums that people have gone up or down one or another of the three main north ridges. It seemed steep but doable. This morning I went back and looked at that forum discussion again. While the middle ridge has been done, people sounded more enthusiastic about the west one that hits Round Top and the east one that hits Turkey Rock. I think I know why now.

Our day started with a three-mile walk along the Grapeyard Ridge trail. It was already warm and muggy as we headed up toward  Injun Creek and the old steam engine that lies in the stream, where it tumbled over the edge in an accident in the 1920s. As we approached Injun Creek, Adam spotted something else interesting—what he described as a “gray ghost” of a giant stump that was still standing upright just off the trail. He thought it looked like a chestnut, and I think he was probably right.

We think this was an old chestnut stump

Around the corner, we came to the old Nichols-Shephard No. 4246 engine lying on its side in the creek.

The engineer jumped clear in time to avoid injury

There was a wheel lying nearby that made a lovely planter for some ferns.

I could picture this as a garden ornament

The bottom of our intended ridge (which is actually Grapeyard Ridge proper) could be approached from a number of directions. We simply walked along until we found a slope of open woods (mainly, unfortunately, dead hemlocks) and started clambering up. We followed some old fence posts for quite a ways.

We found old fence posts under the trees

We started seeing beautiful laurel in great abundance.

I love the shapes of laurel blossoms, so unusual in their pentagonal formation

The vibrant colors of flame azalea mixed in.

A touch of burning color amid the greenery

Some of the laurel was quite pink in color.

Pink laurel, blue sky

It was around this time, at about 3300 feet, that we began to realize that we were in trouble as far as water supply was concerned. The hot afternoon sun beamed down, the open woods had given way to dense brush, and the steepest part of the ridge towered above us. Our progress became slower and slower. Adam and Amanda had already nearly depleted their supply, and while I had most of a second quart remaining, that didn’t matter, because I hadn’t been drinking enough all day, and I probably would have needed to drink that whole quart pretty soon and then start working on a third quart. My problem: I was dehydrated already when I started the hike, due to drinking caffeinated beverages and no water on the way over.

My legs started cramping up continuously, and Adam said he was having muscle cramps as well. I felt weak and lightheaded. We adopted a routine of stopping to rest, pushing forward another couple hundred vertical feet, stopping again. As the ridge grew steeper, we encountered sandstone bluffs. They were not dangerous, but they were encircled with rhodo limbs that made the climbing quite effortful. In between we found sections of heath through which we had to crawl on hands and knees. After a while I started to experience arm cramps as well as leg cramps—even hand cramps. I rationed myself out water bit by bit.

It was at this point that the expedition turned into a “death thrash.” That’s what I’ll call this off-trail that became an ordeal (comparable to a “death march” of a trail hike). We finally dragged ourselves up to the top. I found Lookout Rock and took in the restricted views. Adam and Amanda did not even want to work through the brush to get there—I don’t blame them.

This zoom shows the heath on Brushy Mountain from Lookout Rock

Our urgent need was to find water as soon as possible. We angled southeast to try to hit a tributary of Long Branch as high up as we could. The brush wasn’t quite as bad as sections of the ridge where we’d had to crawl, but it was slow, and we were tired. At last we found a seep of water in a draw, and then—flowing water! Hurray!

We still had a lot of work ahead of us. A nice flat stretch next to Long Branch that was knee-deep in black cohosh (cimicifuga) gave way to a tortuous rhodo hell as I mistakenly led us into its maw in search of an old footpath. We had to retreat into the creek bed, slipping and sliding down a steep slope to get there. At last we reached the open stream bank of the lower section, as a thunderstorm rumbled over our heads. On and on we went, amidst raindrops and flashes of lightning, until at last we reached the Brushy Mountain trail.

Quite an experience.

Occasional catawba rhododendron in bloom helped brighten the way. (I mistakenly told Amanda and Adam it was rosebay.)