Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!

Something had moved into our garage. We were keeping the back door of it open so Scooter could come and go at will, by day. Not a good decision. His food, his water, The Lifestyle To Which He Had Become Accustomed, looked fine to what we thought was a raccoon. Much knocking over of shelves full of our stuff. Several smelly messes.

Use of the Havaheart trap revealed that it was a little possum. We have relocated him to the perfect new home - After all, the Episcopal Church Welcomes You! We resisted the urge to name him Dumbledore. I mean, no point in putting up red flags.

The church sits next to a big undeveloped tract of forest.

A trip to the church parking lot.
In the trunk.

Naturally this would be a Sunday. We waited till past noon, but there were still people around. A group of kids enjoyed meeting our possum.

We walked him pretty far back into the woods, opened the cage and persuaded him to make his exit, which took a few minutes, while he got it through his head that he was not about to become our dinner.

GO, already!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

OK, it's not real gem mining

I've probably spent too much time and money trying to replace things I lost in Hurricane Hugo, but i was determined to replace one more thing on this NC trip. I wanted to go mining.

When I was 14, my uncle brought my cousin and me to the mountains and, among other things, we went emerald-mining. The area is studded with old mines, whose main product was feldspar used for BonAmi cleanser and Fels Naptha soap. But they also yield various precious and semi-precious stones. On that occasion nearly 40 years ago (OMG) I though I'd hit the jackpot when I found a chunk of granite with a cloudy, rudimentary emerald (worth about 2 bucks) embedded in it. It's now out in the SC marsh, along with most of my childhood artifacts, where it can baffle some future geologist.

So Larry, good sport that he is, took me along a winding, winding road deep into the mountain, as we followed signs toward Little Switzerland and the Emerald Village mine. I'm happy to say he ended up having a fun day too.

Safety and insurance concerns have ended real do-it-yourself mining in most of these tourist tra- I mean, places. So what you actually do is buy a bucket of rubble and sort through it for any valuables. They seed each bucket with enough poor-to-medium quality gems to make it worth your while, and the rest of the rubble sometimes contains a surprise.

The price varies by bucket size. We got the $35 buckets, and each received a bucket full of rocks, a trowel, and a plastic cup to sort the good stuff into.

You trowel out some of it. Sluice it through the water. Examine each big rock on all sides.

Once the big pieces are sorted out, then I pick through the tiny ones. I pull out every item of any color at all, since even the worthless stuff can be pretty.

Trowel, rinse, repeat. It didn't occur to me to bring my reading glasses, so I examined each piece with a Mr. Magoo squint, for about 3 hours of sorting.

Then we bagged it to take home. The mine will also appraise it for you, but somehow we thought we'd get a better deal elsewhere, so now we've got two plastic bags of pretty varicolored rocks.

This was done in the lower mine. The upper mine is set up to tour and we did that, too, after a nice deli lunch which they also offer. Gift shop, displays, the whole tourist tr- I mean, nine yards.

As we walked to the the upper mine I found one of my favorite rocks-of-the-day for free, lying alongside the road. I've taken umpteen pix, but suffice it to say no photo really gets the multicolored and layered, textured, 3D -ness of it.


According to the guidebook, the third photo shows a 12-horsepower steam engine, model name the "Eclipse," made by the Frick Company of Waynesboro, PA, "probably in the early 1890's." And it still runs.

This mine closed in the 1950's, as did many, though feldspar is still an economic force of some merit in those hills. The mine exhibit shows various miserable aspects of the job, including child labor, and a lot of original equipment, most from the 1920's and 30's.

And here's my take. (above)

A select array of colorful items from it is in the photo on the right -- and note the clear purple-tinted crystal at the very bottom of the picture. This may be the coolest thing I got, because that back speck in the end is a tiny fossilized ... something. Bit of seed or leaf. Maybe a tiny feather? This thing, I will definitely need an expert to identify, but whatever it is, it's neat!


Overlook view in Little Switzerland

Last but definitely not least, a non-mine-related addition to the general documentation of the trip -- I just got back prints from my one role of conventional film, wherein can be found the Motel Cat. She seems to drift from room to room, visiting all who are amenable.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A week in the mountains

(Pictures should come up in a higher resolution if you click them -- be forewarned, the quilt photos come up extra-large to show detail to anyone who's interested!)

Yancey County, NC, week of Oct 1 2007.

This area is a little to the north of Asheville, NC. We didn't visit Asheville, or much touristy stuff (with one exception, to be covered in a followup post). What we were looking for was to sample everyday life, as a potential place to land. For the rest of our lives, maybe.

A place away from hurricanes,
with a mild climate but real seasons.
A place where our vote might actually count.

So you might as well know, I picked this county by pulling up an election 2004 political map, then looking into amenities and accommodations.

The local coffee shop, where we had tea, bagels with cream cheese, and delightful conversation with locals, each morning. We miss this place! We're now scouring local shops for approximations of the tea flavors we got there.

My best picture - a winding road between Burnsville and Little Switzerland. This one's going to be my desktop wallpaper for awhile. Not much fall color yet, just a hint.


We were staying in nearby Burnsville, a nice little town that straddles a major highway. It's the county seat, has the chain restaurants and big grocery stores Spruce Pine enchanted us more. This is a view of the "lower town." Just over my right shoulder, the road splits and takes you into upper Spruce Pine, a similar, slightly busier street one step up the mountainside.

Close encounter with a freight train coming through Spruce Pine. According to the local newspaper guy --we stopped in the office and received giveaway maps and tourist info-- the Barnum & Bailey Circus Train also comes through each year, on its way to the circus's overwintering in Florida.

Spruce Pine has nice shops selling exquisite local arts and crafts. The glasswork in the art gallery was fantastic.

I was particularly blown away by this piece (right), about 10-12 inches tall, with what looks like a baobob tree inside it!

Closed! Will reopen at 10:00AM!

Well, darn!


The Mountain Piecemakers Quilt Show

Can't we put this one on the Amex card??

Back in Burnsville, a small but superb quilt show was on. All from local crafters. From the traditional to the very artsy. We were asked to vote for our favorites, and the one to the right got my vote.

On our last evening we had dinner at the Nu-Wray Inn. Built 1908, and pretty famous - Elvis stayed there! Its recipes show up in southern cookbooks. Delicious country-style dinner, which reminded me of Scarlett O'Hara's reminiscences, during the hardship years at Tara, about the opulent meals they used to have in the prewar days. The dishes just kept coming, and I gave in, fell off my sugar-free wagon and sampled the peach cobbler.

Mist in the mountains, as we drove out.

Sunset on our last evening

Since this post is unwieldy enough, I saved our Wednesday excursion for a post of its own!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I tried to resist

I place all blame on bad influences. You know who you are.


I dated a Republican for 4 years. In fact, a Republican politician, local level, though his term of office had just ended and he'd decided not to run again, by the time we had our first date. He's definitely one of the good guys, and, while we were ill-suited as a couple, we got past it and he was a truly good friend during my life implosion of 1994.

When we first went out, the Bork nomination had just been rejected, and was still a hot topic. My take on politics was still pretty simpleminded and I was furious with Reagan, but my friend asked me to consider the possibility that Reagan was a shrewd politician who nominated Bork both to play to the anti-abortion voters, and, quite intentionally, to fail the approval process. Equally shrewd liberals, he claimed, would know that it was a political maneuver designed to keep the anti-abortion people placated and the Court centrist.

I still watch the process with his words in mind and wonder how often either party is really trying to get something done, in a system where failure can sometimes score you more points with voters.


Forget whatever you're thinking. I'm counting the alligator I sampled at the Gator Cookoff. I mean, alligators are the quintessential conservatives. Firm believers in private property, absolute freedom within that property, local control. Surely they believe in Intelligent Design. They consider their design so intelligent that they haven't seen any need to change it in 60 million years. Strong opponents of redistribution of wordly goods. Traditional values.


With the Republican boyfriend, I attended a Barry McGuire concert. Barry, famous for Eve of Destruction, became a Born Again Christian in the early 70's. This concert, in around 1990, involved a lot of talk about his beliefs and experiences and a few songs. McGuire is skilled with an audience, animated and jocular, but his jokes veer into obnoxious insults of people with different beliefs. It was one of the rare occasions on which we agreed about the whole evening. It was interesting, disturbing, and musically dull.




All I can tell you is that I have three online conservative friends. They are all in Michigan. And the Republican boyfriend mentioned above? Born and raised in Michigan.

Monday, October 08, 2007

First things first

Chris Clarke, who writes a very nifty natural history blog, started passing around this animeme, and tagged people I know. Next thing I know I get roped in by both Sherwood and Dann. So I'd better get on the job here. I will however, tag no one else, since most of the people I know who blog are already victimi- I mean tagged. Actually, my biologist brother might have some fun tales. I'll have to email him, though he's often on the road doing field work.


SPARKY, circa 1972
Sparky, like many of my animals, adopted us instead of the other way around. This was around my 7th grade year, 1966-67 or so. He lived several streets away but had a devoted relationship with a girlfriend, Spooky, who lived 2 doors down from us, and he simply bunked at our house so much that his family called up. The kids are grown, they said, he's always at your house, shall we just bring his stuff down? He became our dog. Mine most of all.

He and Spooky were a lifelong couple. When he was injured in a fight with a Saint Bernard (Yeah, really. Brave or stupid. We could never decide), Spooky came down to our house and stayed next to him, while he lay in his basket on the porch fighting a nasty infection from a really big bite.

He looked like a beagle, but his original family said he was actually a dachshund/basset mix. He was kind of an Eeyore dog, looked gloomy most of the time. My mom recalled a kitchen incident in which a mouse sauntered along the wall and disappeared behind the fridge, while she said to Sparky "Catch it!" and he looked at it, then at her like, "Oh please. Must I?"

He vanished a week before Christmas 1973. A week stretched into two. Surely he was gone for good.

New Year's Day, 1973, I went mountain climbing with friends. Sort of. OK, really just a big hill there in the Carolina Piedmont. Came home to find ...

Sparky, thin and exhausted!! He'd staggered back onto the yard and pretty much collapsed against the brick wall. He mostly slept for the next week. And we can never know what happened or where he was. But we've always joked that somebody, as my grandfather had suggested, had make the mistake of catching him to hunt rabbits. And had discovered, as with the mouse, that he looked at the kidnapers as though they were insane, and they either let him go or he escaped.

He was mine. I was his. I spent a lot of time with his head resting on my knee. He was getting quite old by the time I finished college, and had one last burst of energy Dec 23 1977, when he chased and was hit by a delivery truck. We buried him in the damn snow. That Christmas sucked.

I want to see all my animals again in whatever the next life is, but he's the one I want to see run out and meet me first. He appears in my dreams often to this day.


This would be marinated alligator, at a Gator Cookoff. Chewy.


One fun day during our NJ years, Larry and I took the kids to the Philadelphia Zoo and went into the Lorikeet Aviary. These little birds are hilarious. Here's a picture from another aviary, showing someone feeding one. You get a cup of some kind of nectar-y stuff they love and they land all over you and battle each other to get to it. Hard little claws. Pushy, funny little guys.


Our neighbors had a daughter with birth defects, and built a backyard swimming pool for her. It was a homemade pool, rough concrete walls. She grew up and got married, they sold the house to us. We'd drain the pool for the winter. In spring we'd clean and paint it and try to seal out the water leaks.

One spring a mole got trapped in it. I don't care how destructive moles supposedly are. I'm a bleeding heart. He was adorable. He scrabbled blindly around the concrete walls, lost and helpless outside his environment. I followed him with a bucket trying to catch him. Finally he bumped against the arch of my foot and just ... stopped, too tired and discouraged to move. I remember his hard, weirdly human little hand and the fine velvety texture of his fur. Scooped him into the bucket and tipped him out next to the fence, which he scurried under, and presumably dug his way to happiness.


Meet Betty.

Our tidal marsh is rather brackish, not an alligator's favorite thing, but once or twice a year, Betty hangs out for a few days to check out the local edibles. She solved the nutria-invasion problem in short order. This picture is from January -- she was around a couple weeks ago, but we couldn't get a picture. And since we fear for both Scooter and our feral cats, it's just as well that she didn't come in too close or stay too long.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

My heart's in the highlands

Little Switzerland, NC, October 4, 2007
[date corrected!]

There's something about a vacation.

We didn't need to leave home to see natural beauty. We're surrounded by coastal tidal-marsh beauty. We didn't need to leave home to take a break from work. Leaving home didn't really put any of the stresses we've got on hold. They were all just a cell phone call away, and always are.

But it was delightful. Cooler, drier air. Not much fall color, just a hint, but beautiful mornings with mist cloaking the mountains. Lots of so-so pictures taken by me with my inexpensive camera and my not-real-steady hand, and great ones taken by Larry, but with few exceptions you're gonna get mine, so try to bear up!

More later, as I get my picture act together.