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Spring in the Smokies April 11, 2015

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Life experience, nature, plants, Smoky Mountains, White Mountains.
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8 comments
Nodding trillium.

Nodding trillium.

Hooray! I saw a trillium blooming today. As I started along my hike, I saw many trilliums that weren’t quite blooming yet. As I usually do, I go up the trail at a fairly good pace just for the aerobic benefits, and then as I come back down I stop and look more carefully and take photos. I kept thinking, “Somewhere I will see a trillium in bloom.”

As I got back down toward the trailhead, I was looking more and more closely among those unblooming trilliums. Surely I would find one at least that had erupted into blossom. Hate to say it, but I did not find it in some remote pristine area. It was almost back to my car. (Could the heat from my radiator have caused it to bloom? Ha, ha! No, not quite!) Actually, the woods near this trailhead are quite pretty.

To take the photo above, I very gently lifted the blossom on its stem and placed it atop one of the three leaves so that I could take its picture. (I couldn’t quite ask it to “say cheese.”) The trouble with nodding plants is that they hide from the camera. After I took the photo, I equally gently placed it back in the nodding position.

What follows is just a typical range of what you see in the Smokies in the miraculous month of April. I am not absolutely sure of all my plant identifications and I welcome corrections.

By the way, this place is not at all one of the famous Smokies wildflower spots. I won’t even tell you where it is (if anyone figures it out, I will be somewhat surprised). This is not Porters Flats with the carpets of phacelia, or Chestnut Top with its amazing variety.

This is just ordinary Smokies in spring.

Rue anemone.

Rue anemone.

Chickweed.

Chickweed.

 

Hairy buttercup.

Hairy buttercup.

Violets. According to one source, there are 31 species of violets in the Smokies. I will not try to specify any of my violets.

Violets. According to one source, there are 31 species of violets in the Smokies. I will not try to specify any of my violets.

One of these violets has a small insect enjoying itself.

One of these violets has a small insect enjoying itself.

Fuzzy new ferns.

Fuzzy new ferns.

Geraniums. An insect also visits here.

Geraniums. An insect also visits here (the left blossom).

 

Violets next to a very small stream.

Violets next to a very small stream. I think the water is more interesting here than the flowers.

Ah! Another one I really wanted to see! A bloodroot.

Ah! Another one I really wanted to see! A bloodroot.

A tiny, insignificant, beautiful stream. There are myriads of these in the Smokies.

A tiny, insignificant, beautiful stream. There are myriads of these in the Smokies.

Mayapples.

Mayapples.

Bee and violet. So much life going on around us, nearly invisibly.

Bee and violet. So much life going on around us, nearly invisibly.

The life of the Smokies is so vibrant, so flourishing, so exuberant in its variety. I will soon be leaving this place for another world (northern New England) where the life of the plants has a very different aspect. There is not nearly so much variety. But it is an interesting story. The plant life in places like, say, the region above treeline on Mt. Washington has adapted in the most incredible ways to the harsh environment. I find that equally inspiring, in a very different way.

Below you see a plant that has adapted to a world where the wind can easily blow well over 100 mph in the winter (as you probably know, it blew 231 mph sometime up there on George in the 1930s, setting a world record). This is rhododendron! Smokies bushwhackers may laugh, having wrestled endlessly through giant rhodo. But here this little guy pops up amidst the above-treeline scree. A mini-rhodo! Don’t think bushwhacking in northern New England is easy. You have that belt of scrub spruce that girds the treeline area. And you have all the complicated aspects of snow and ice, especially the freakish ice formations that you find above treeline in winter.

I will be writing about these things on this blog.

Lapland Rosebay, found on the Boott Spur Link approaching the summit of Mt. Washington. Funny little thing, right? Don't make too many assumptions!

Lapland Rosebay, found on the Boott Spur Link approaching the summit of Mt. Washington. Funny little thing, right? Don’t make too many assumptions!

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A “perfect storm” of life events March 31, 2015

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Life experience, Lifestyle, memoir, White Mountains.
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29 comments
View from my deck.

View from my deck.

Within the past 10 days, these things happened:

1. My landlord told me he is going to sell the house. He’d mentioned the possibility a while back, but now I need to be out in June.

2. A short way into a hike to the Lester Prong headwaters to commemorate my mentor, Charlie Klabunde, my knee gave out (again) and I had to turn back.

3. I had a serious disagreement with a director of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club and resigned my position as newsletter editor.

4. My sister in Massachusetts, who is battling mental illness, had a crisis and went into a group home for a “respite,” as they call it.

The upshot: I have decided to return to New England, where I can be closer to my sister and try to help her out.

My living room.

My living room.

Last week was pretty terrible, the nights worse than the days: insomniac hours, waking up with a sudden jolt of anxiety. But I have come through the worst of it, and now I have moved into a new phase of this transition. My insomnia now takes the form of sudden bouts of feverish planning at 3:00 in the morning.

Last night, in the middle of the night, I decided I will move to St. Johnsbury, Vermont. But let’s back up for a moment.

1.  The house. This is a beautiful place that overlooks the Tuckasegee River in Sylva, NC. The person who built it, back in the 70s, was a carpenter with a creative spirit. It has all kinds of nice touches, like the real Portuguese tiles in the kitchen and the railings upstairs fashioned from twisting branches. It does have its problems, such as the steep narrow driveway. And after all those years, it needs repairs. But I am fond of it.

It’s not easy to find good house rentals in the Sylva area—this house is kind of a fluke. I’m renting rather than buying because I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that I might need to move back to New England on short notice. Sylva’s a small town, and most of the rentals are mobile homes. Well, I could move to Waynesville or Asheville. Nope, don’t want to do that. As far as Asheville’s concerned, “been there, done that.”

House as seen from the driveway.

House as seen from the driveway.

2.  The knee. I’ve had this problem of a dislocation of the joint for quite a while now. It flared up three years ago, got better for a while, and then went down the tubes this year. Looks like surgery is needed. I will need someone to help me in the recovery period. The treatment consists of placing a pin in the joint, and the leg is immobilized for several weeks in a cast. I have an old friend in Vermont who can help me.

3. The SMHC dispute. Ever since I took over the newsletter editor duty (after Charlie became too ill to do it), I’ve also been the resident curmudgeon (Charlie had played that role as well). I’ve advocated for preserving the traditional ways of the club—especially maintaining a program of challenging off-trail hikes. But the trend has been toward making everything easier, more accessible. The issue extends beyond the hikes themselves to things like whether we wait for latecomers at the carpool spot.  My opinion is, we never used to. Why should we now?

I need more space to explain my seemingly unfriendly position. I’ll follow up in my next blog post.

4. I would truly like to give my sister more support.

She lives in Northampton, Mass. Nice town. People in western North Carolina could think of it as “the Asheville of central Massachusetts.” It’s one of those places known for its tolerant attitudes, its restaurants of locally-sourced produce and happy free-range chickens. Inhabited by health-minded, environmentally correct souls. (Note: I more or less agree with most of those ideas, but that won’t stop me from making fun of them.)

But I don’t want to live in Northampton. It’s cluttered, it’s busy. I’ve gotten used to listening to the sound of the river running over the rapids. Noho’s too urban for me. Also probably too expensive for me to buy a house, which I want to do when I’m back in the area.

I thought of the I-91 corridor, which hits the Connecticut River Valley in Hartford, Connecticut, and follows it on up through Springfield Mass., Northampton Mass., Brattleboro Vermont, and up as far as St. Johnsbury Vermont, not all that far from the river’s  headwaters. There the highway diverges and runs toward Sherbrook, Quebec.

First I considered moving to Brattleboro, or possibly west of there in the Mount Snow area, located on an interesting high plateau of central southern Vermont (A.T. hikers know it for Glastonbury and Stratton Bald). But that area can get pretty expensive, too, and nothing about it pulls me there.

Then I started homing in on St. Johnsbury. It’s the biggest town in what’s known as Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. That consists of Caledonia, Essex, and Orleans Counties.

Location of St. Johnsbury.

Location of St. Johnsbury.

It has odd parallels with Sylva. Populations in both run only around 7,000, but both are the largest town in their county. And both are located near major mountain ranges. Sylva is close to the Smokies. St. Johnsbury is not all that far from the White Mountains, in particular the Presidential Range that includes Mt. Washington.

You may be thinking, “But Vermont means Green Mountains, not White Mountains.” Bear in mind that St. Johnsbury is in the eastern part of the state, just across the Connecticut River from New Hampshire. Within Vermont, it is close to the incredible Lake Willoughby, a narrow glacial lake 320′ deep that is framed by the dramatic slopes of Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Hor. I’ve been there many times.

Yesterday, gripped by the idea of St. Johnsbury, I researched the cost of housing. Looks like the area is in something of a real estate slump. The average price has been dropping, and houses have been on the market for long periods. Good news for buyers! I could purchase a nice little well-kept up Cape on a 0.76 acre lot for $70,000.

St. Johnsbury is too far north to be part of the trendy, touristy parts of Vermont invaded by leaf-peepers wanting to stay in quaint B & Bs, buy maple syrup, and look at covered bridges. Oh, it does get tourists, but nothing like the numbers that seasonally migrate to Manchester or Bennington.

Plus, it has the Athenaeum and the historic St. Johns Academy. The Athenaeum contains major paintings of the Hudson River School, a legacy of the local Fairbanks family. They made their money from inventing and manufacturing the world’s first platform scale in the mid-1800s.

The Athenaeum.

The Athenaeum.

It will be a straight shot down I-91 to visit my sister, a drive of 2.5 hours. North of White River Junction, the drive is on nearly empty highway. I could easily get to Northampton and back in a day, or go down for a weekend. I could stay there for an extended period.

I know some people might think, “Two and a half hours? That’s too far.” I can only say that this is the place that inspires me, and I badly need inspiration. I am giving up the Smokies. I can’t even afford to dwell on the loss these days.

Instead, I will have the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington. And big forests full of moose, and ponds with loons, and glacial ravines.

Tuckerman Ravine as seen from Boott Spur Link.

Tuckerman Ravine as seen from Boott Spur Link.

Sawyer Pond September 30, 2014

Posted by Jenny in grief, hiking, photography, White Mountains.
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16 comments
Looking across Sawyer Pond.

Looking across Sawyer Pond.

This past weekend I traveled to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a memorial gathering in honor of my longtime companion Bob Parlee, who died of kidney cancer in March.  Seven of his close friends gathered near the summit of Mt. Washington, at the Great Gulf headwall, to remember Bob.

If you are interested in helping with a donation to the Kidney Cancer Association, please visit the  fundraising page for the Great Gulf Hike for Bob.

I will not post a blog about that experience, but I did want to share photos from a short hike I did the day before. I visited Sawyer Pond, a beautiful pond located in the Sawyer River valley near Mt. Carrigain.

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Worlds upon worlds.

Worlds upon worlds.