Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Age Old Question of Spring Camping

Whether is is better to attend to the weather and hie thee thither or stay and weather the winter and perhaps wither in the gale...


 Our last night in Cades Cove the winds descended and touched 40mph in gusts.  A nearby family awoke to find their staked down 3/4 man tent "play tent" in the trees.  (They slept soundly in their trailer.)  Other flies and awnings were rent asunder...


We had five days to join Anthony for a snow shortened Spring Break in New Jersey.  (Really? Spring Break in Jersey??)  So we were going to have to get tactical about threading our way through yet more "unprecedented"  Winter Weather. Of immediate concern was a band of severe weather from the Gulf to Nova Scotia and the attendant typhoon of dire predictions from the weather media. 

We chose to pull out Sunday morning, weave through the hideous clutter that Sevierville has become and hit the Interstate,  Really? the Interstate?  We did that, and while dodging a winter season's worth of trashed tire debris, tried to pick an intermediate stop.  What?  All the Shenandoah sites were closed. Many others scheduled for a 1 May opening.  Others don't answer phones on weekends.  


We settled on Robertson Lake just 17 beautiful winding country miles from Historic Lexington Virginia.

 It seemed prudent to layover through two days of "Heavy rains, severe thunderstorms with chances of winds in excess of 45 mph in gusts, nickle size hail and temperatures falling to 26 degrees".  The weather mavens even shouted the "S" word for places just up slope of us.  Had any of that been true, this would be an inspired choice.  We sited ourselves on a hill overlooking a lovely lake, near healthy trees, but not beneath them, with water, electricity, only two other hardy campers and, surprisingly, Verizon coverage which to us means free WiFi.  We settled in and even considered a bike ride before the afternoon storms. 

Instead we hiked around the lake in the overcast, Patty toting  binoculars and sighting Osprey, perhaps an Eagle, a very industrious Woodpecker and, of course, the Black Vultures which circled above us waiting to pick our storm ravaged bones. 


She sat a long time looking up at the East slope of the Alleghenies wondering if an Osprey would eat a fish from her hand...


  Our little retreat might  have proven ideal. Scenic roads invite biking in the foothills of the Alleghenies.  Lexington is an intriguing city with cultural, historical and gastronomical delights aplenty.  It even has a Drive In Movie with lush green grass, rated one of the Ten Best Places to Cuddle. We learned this while studying the very well presented tourist literature WHILE IT DID LITTLE MORE THAN DRIZZLE for two days.  Our trepidation kept us indoors and we finished our books and caught up on the blog.   Sure, it's getting colder...it's April and "unprecedented" has not yet run its course. Tomorrow we venture closer to Jersey in weather sure to nip the Dogwood buds.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Criminal Element in GSMNP


I am just a little hesitant to admit this (let alone PUBLISH incriminating photos). 

 Perhaps if you could read this  passage first ...aloud.... hand over your heart please...

I am not now nor ever have been a member of law enforcement, nor do I represent any federal or state wildlife agency or carry an Audubon card, nor am I in the habit of reporting violations of  any current regulations (excepting damage to my personal vehicle) to lawful authority... 

Truth be told, I have recently discovered that my faithful friend and companion these fifty married years (and quite a spell before), the mother of our fine, morally upright children IS A SCOFFLAW , a violator of federal regulations and totally, gleefully UNREPENTANT.

It began innocently enough, lounging beside the Airstream in beautiful Cades Cove Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Bare toes, wrinkled from long confinement in wading boots, were drying in the sun. Suddenly, a pair of unusually raucous Tufted Titmice announced their arrival and swooped for the exposed digits.  They perched, cocked their heads side to side and, singly and in tandem, bespoke their displeasure.  At first, Patty shrunk back and tucked the tortured toes away.
They're hungry, piped up our visiting neighbor.  We've been feeding them sunflower seeds right our of our hands. 
Now it was Patty who was unusually animated.  Touch a bird?  I've never touched a live bird!!
Out came the jar of birdseed we have carried since Florida (where human/wildlife interactions are less vigilantly  scrutinized).  These birds were quite confident and landed to hand. They were selecting only black sunflower seeds and Patty was sorting and replacing seeds while carrying on a dialogue....

The birds tired before Patty did, just a little after it was clear all the black seeds were gone. It would be stating the obvious to report she was excited.  This is, you will remember, the same person who spent six hours of our eight hours at Sea World hanging over a stone wall trying to touch a Dolphin.

Seriously People, I'm not seeing any black Sunflower seeds here...

I'll explain this to the Authorities when they come for her. I hope they will go easy on her...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Same story New Stories

We do this every year.  Alabama Dogwoods by our dooryard bloom and Azaleas flourish everywhere. It is glorious! So WE think it would be great to travel up the Smokies where it is several weeks from glorious, grumpy bears are wandering around with bedhead and trout seem happy to sulk around on the bottom in super cooled water. 

Truth be told there is really no bad day in the Smokies, but some are better than others. Even in this latent period before everything springs to life, the sunsets paint the bare hardwoods and the winter deadned grasses.

Cades Cove GSMNP April Sunset
This being the first good weather in a while, the open portion of the campground is Packed.  We unhitched, met our terrific new neighbors and took a late afternoon spin around the loop road.  Ahhh, home again.

The night was near 36, but warmed quickly under a bright sun.  We fished  near the Abrams Falls trail head each day with marginal success.  Patty did score another one for the team catching a good one in front of a mixed crowd watching from the bridge. Husbands were elbowed, high fives were exchanged and a rousing cheer went up as fishless spouse looked on admiringly.

One day we just pulled out camp chairs at the head of a meadow overlook and watched for the bear with FOUR cubs.  No luck, but a pleasant way to pass an afternoon.

Another morning I showed Patty a hole where an old timer once told me he'd caught the largest trout ever seen in the cove. We weren't "suited up" for fishing, but she pulled her vest over jeans and gave it a try.  She missed the strike and I missed getting the fish in the picture, but her expression tells the story. 

But once again it is the stories. By happy chance, two of our camping neighbors were members of historic  Cove families.  They spun out details of lives they remembered and places they visited as children, told tales on ancestors and siblings alike and kept us enthralled.  We excused ourselves far earlier than we would have wished so as not to intrude any longer on their family visit, but you can bet we will pull up a chair again anytime we are invited.


Friday, April 4, 2014


For those who haven't heard, ALUMALINA is a "Carolina Airstream Gathering",  this year featuring nearly a quarter mile of Aluminum goodness, 55 rigs from 9 states and nearly 150 wonderful, smiling 'Streamers (many of which can really cook!)
 Right now the Airforums Thread is alive with pictures and plans for the next one.  Hurry, space is limited.

But now we are back home (for two weeks).  

  • The Airstream has had her Birthday Wash. (Lotti has been with us since 1 April 2010.) 
  • The Flyover has been accomplished (as is customary here in Montgomery whenever an Airstream returns to base).
  • Thank you notes have been dispatched. (I kid, but that is another Montgomery custom.)
  • Our tow vehicle "The Ginormous Mechanical Conveyance" (GMC) has been serviced, washed and is entering therapy for vague feelings of inadequacy after meeting Barry's "Silverleaf", the most tricked out tow vehicle known to man...

We often say that it is the People that make this wandering lifestyle so rich.  That's True, but really it is the STORIES...

On this weekend I learned why it is never a good idea to let an Alabama boy into a nuclear facility... and how to coax North Carolina Trout from rocky ledges...about love affairs, early in life and later, on the sea and in the air...of fortuitous Airstream finds and glorious restorations...stories of incredible generosity and generosity richly paid forward...

Of Course, there were stories of places visited and campgrounds recommended, adventures completed and adventures planned, but there were also stories of Blue Bell addiction (and regretful recovery)...or catastrophic accidents and near miraculous recovery... of beer brewed with Oysters.  Really?  and a girl of five who chose her instrument, honed her skills for ten years to the delight of all...

Many remembered our lost friend Doug and their stories consoled and enriched even those of us who only shared an "electronic" friendship. 

Thanks to everyone who shared their stories and who listened patiently to (far too many of) mine. I will be back next time for more. 

In the meantime reflect on the mugs we received as door prizes 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Botany Bay Plantation

The Botany Bay Plantation is a gift and a treasure. 

 You FEEL the magic as you pass down two miles of canopied road to the entrance.  As new visitors we are given strict and careful guidance from the volunteer staff.  Watching their faces, it is clear we are entering a special place, a place to be cherished and protected. 

Our volunteer hosts -- good cop, bad cop

Botany Bay joins two plantations on the Atlantic coast of  Edisto Island, nearly 5000 acres now managed as a game management area. Traditional feed crops and woodlands are cultivated ultimately for the wildlife. The rest of us are permitted to visit for no fee, but warned to take nothing home.  They are quite serious about this...

Few of the original plantation buildings survive. This was the Ice House where slabs of ice cut from New England ponds arrived by tall ship and were stored below the floor in spaces insulated by sawdust.

 The attraction, of course, is the wildlife, and, even at high noon on a windy day, songbirds were everywhere.  Eagles swung overhead near Jason's Pond, turkeys were strutting along the edges of fields. Crops of sunflowers, millet and other low country crops enliven the plantation during the summer and provide cover and food year round.

The plantation protects over a mile of seacoast in its natural state. This section is eroding quickly and the sand is littered with a ghost forest of palms and hardwoods. 

The waves that lick around them bring in a variety of shells that would quickly be bagged by tourists anywhere else.  Here they stay, although some are arranged artistically by passersby.

Botany Bay is the kind of place we would like to visit again and again, in different light, in different seasons.  We will be back.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Edisto Beach

The long, beautiful Low Country road to Edisto Beach is a National Scenic Byway. It is a relief and a reward after a hundred miles of I-95. There are timberlands and marshes, canopied roads and crossroads stores, flocks of birds and a decorated tree --WHAT?

Somehow, I had imagined the State Park at the beach would be isolated, but we found a well developed beach community with grocery, an assortment of eateries and the requisite beach amenities -- ice creamery, bike rental and BarBeQue. (This is South Carolina!) 

The campground is snug in a copse of Palms just over the dunes from the surf.  We needed that wind break last night as the offshore storm hit us with 25-30 mph winds. The Airstreams were rocking; not an awning deployed anywhere.




The Lettered Olive

 When my family visited Florida sixty plus years ago, the beaches near St Petersburg were literally crawling with live shells.  Left Handed Whelks crossed the flats at low tide in platoons;  It took no real skill to find, bucket, boil and bag far more live organisms than anyone had any right to.  We were rapacious city-bred hunter-gathers without a hint of conscience,  long before Rachael Carson was in paperback.

I remember one young boy who had "the gift".  He could locate, and dig out the beautiful Lettered Olive shells at a whim. He would proudly display them, then toss them back into the surf.  He would not disclose his techniques to me or the pretty young things assembled nearby.  I doubt this was from any well developed conservation ethic;  I will always remember him as the archetypal Mean Kid.

This story is a`propos of nothing.  My lovely beachcombing buddy this morning harms nothing and, though severely provoked, hasn't done anything mean in her life. 

 We collected a few Lettered Olives from among the windrows of mostly oyster shells along the Edisto beach.  They are "weathered" like us, but still have their style and grace, like she does.  She will abandon them near the pathways to the beach, easy pickins for the little ones entering from the campground.  Tomorrow we will visit a more private place which promises good shelling and prohibits collecting anything but photos.  

That is a lot of progress in sixty plus years.  Thank you, Ms Carson...

So....Tonight...28mph... going to 34 degrees  ...that's a wind chill of twenty!!!  Welcome to SPRING BREAK AT THE BEACH...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fort McAllister State Park Georgia

Towing on a rare good weather day wasn't our idea, but if it had not been so sunny we might not have stopped for a glimpse of the Marshes of Glynn. If we had not stopped, we might not have met Lulu. 

This is Lulu.  She and her humans are transcontinental travelers rocking a two wheel drive Ural motorcycle.  The sidecar is Lulu's.  "A small house with a very large backyard" Visit this delightful trio here. (and brush up on your French.)

The Fort is WAY out in the marsh guarding the approaches to Savannah via the Ogeechee River.  The campground is even further out on Savage Island. The Fort was named for the owner of the plantation on which it sits.  Savage Island reportedly was named for the Sand Gnats which still thrive here and were more responsible for holding the Union fleet at bay than the Big guns at the fort.

When breezes blow, the "no-see-mus" are tolerable.  They seem selective about who they attack, and when.  Bend over with both hands full and you are dinner. 

 Patty likes the campground.
 "Nearly everyone  waves." (or perhaps they are just swatting)

The reconstruction of the battlements and "bombproof" bunkers was excellent.  We've come to expect quality from Georgia Parks, especially if
a quantity of big timbers is required.  

We sat in a breezy spot and talked with Tally Kirkland whose Civil War knowledge is encyclopedic and delivered with warmth and wit. 

Tally Kirkland

On our last day, we biked West off the island and wandered among the residential neighborhoods.  On the verge of the marshes, tall pines loosed clouds of yellow pollen. We paused to pet puppies, again to take a phone call and once again to remove a 3 inch nail from Al's rear wheel.  Remember, "bent over, two hands filled with tools"?  Oh yes, fixing that flat was torment, but lovely wife shooed off the bigger bugs and in the process sacrificed a quantity of her precious bodily fluids to the skeeters.

 You might think that Patty is admiring the real estate, but No.  It's the beautiful Live Oaks again...

Glooms of live-oaks, beautiful-braided 
          Emerald twilights,--
          Virginal Shy lights

Affable live-oak, leaning low

Emerald twilights,-- Virginal shy lights,

Affable live-oak, leaning low,--