Monday, October 31, 2011

Autumn followed us Home

By all accounts this Fall color season was disappointing.  “A three out of ten” we heard, and “too early” “too Hot “too Dry” blah, blah, blah.
We Liked it   and when we got back to Montgomery, we found some more…


Saturday, October 29, 2011


Tuesday—rolling home.
SO, I was doing a really thorough scrubbing of the tanks at the Alabama border Rest Area.  We were, after all, going to settle in for a couple months, look for a new tow vehicle and visit New Jersey – long overdue. 
“Look,” she says, “The Athens Alabama Storytelling Festival is this weekend.”
There was a volleyball game at seven thirty, so we unloaded the essentials and went to cheer. Wednesday morning, more chores. Then,
See if we can get a campsite near Athens for the weekend.”
“Yes, Miss,” thinking All things are possible in Patty world.
So Thursday we are refueled, rearmed and refitted and rolling North.
The Storytelling was great fun.  Much smaller than Jonesborough and with a strong small town feel. Athens has a great courthouse square with abundant restaurants and “cute shops”.  The single tent was on the square.
Thursday night we honored Kathryn Tucker Windham. We were early and looking for warm bodies to snuggle with; Charlie Lucas, Kathryn’s close friend and neighbor, looked a little adrift and we waved him over to sit with us.  We had a grand time until the committee folks needed him to sit with the other dignitaries. Each teller had stories of their friendship with Kathryn, but Charlie’s simple rambling tales were the most touching.

Donald Davis and Bill Lepp were the favorites at Jonesborough but many regretted that Carmen Deedy wasn’t there.  She came to Athens and brought her husband, world class folksinger and teller John McCutchen. Nobody knows how they get this premier lineup except that they “treat them like royalty.”
It was rainy, windy and cold for Thursday and Friday.  We dressed in layers but were glad to get back to our cozy ‘stream at Mallard Point Campground. Each night we wrestled with the AM radio until we heard the last two games of the World Series, hot mugs of Ovaltine in our hands.

Saturday was glorious sunny weather, and the performances seemed to shine as well.  John had Patty leading a standing ovation, tears streaming down her cheeks, as he sung about forgiveness and the Amish response to the horrific slaughter of their little schoolgirls. Donald had us in stitches recounting his mule ride into the Grand Canyon.
One of the stories mentioned “toys that only grandparents buy” and featured the balloon boat. Looks were exchanged as Pat had nearly purchased one earlier.  Sure, we went back to the Mercantile and snatched one, and our new friends there even got her to spring for a new chapeau.



There was, of course, food. The reviews for the Village Pizza sounded like they may have written them themselves, but it WAS the best pizza between here and Chicago. (We tried it three times!) And one cold evening, Joanie, we spent in a cozy booth inside a bookstore. Only a few of us found this refuge and we lingered over hot chili and croissant sandwiches. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lost Highways

Frost was blanketing the ground and ice fog lifting in the sun as we pulled past the “Elk Fields” leaving the GSMNP. There was a huge bull grazing close to the road in the shady corner of the field giving the “Bugle Corps” volunteers a problem -- this guy obviously didn’t want  a  respectful margin, he wanted that tall untrampled green the mower missed.

We were heading home.  For a couple days it had seemed we were lingering here too long.  There were clear signs -- Pat squeezing in one more session with her nemesis, the big brown trout under the ledged rock “RIGHT IN THE CAMPGROUND” , Al  doing housework and making lists of  trailer tasks to do before winterizing.
The route had been carefully crafted to avoid tall hills, Atlanta and Chattanooga.  Is that Possible?  Why, Yes it is.  There are thousands of miles of perfectly adequate two lanes called Blue Highways which wanderers turn to when the scenery, human and pastoral,  is preferred to interstate blandness and thruway sprawl.  EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT. We discovered this afternoon that there are also major arteries called US Highways that proceed directly and independently of the Interstates with broad, sometimes multilane tracks, right where we want to go – mostly.  US 441 and US 27 were without traffic, moved directly down the valleys and beside railroads choosing the “route of least resistance”.  The speeds were pleasingly moderate, the occasional traffic stop actually welcomed as a chance to look around.  Bypasses were in place around most larger towns, but we didn’t have to guess which attractions and opportunities lay beyond exit signs.
We wheeled into the only restaurant in White, Georgia, and found that Willie Nelson stops here. Was it for their chicken fried chicken, deep fried mac and cheese or deep fried cheese cake? Or was it to see the old car yard across the highway, “photographers paradise” spray painted on a car body near the gate?
We took on a month's worth of cholesterol, and proceeded  on. When we did tag the Interstate, the contrast was apparent.  Big trucks in a hurry, compacts with impatient adolescents and debris everywhere.  We sped up unconsciously and tightened our grip on the wheel.  NEVER AGAIN.  We have found our new route to the mountains and will be searching for the yellow and red highways each  time we must make time slowly.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Smokemont Campground GSMNP

Monday we made the short tow to Smokemont at the Southern edge of GSMNP, near Cherokee.  The drive was easy and the last few miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway were downhill through the lower elevations where the colors were still grand – rich yellows and a nice mix of reds from the black gum and maples. 
We settled into our site and quickly introduced ourselves to the other Airstream couple, Richard and Judy Messer. Great folks and lots of fun.   Both have lived near the park all their lives and have great stories. 
We fished the first night with no success; the water is 2011_1019SMOKEMONT0009really low.  The next day we hiked Bradley Fork Trail, but passed so much likely water that Pat wanted to get back early and fish.  Better success with “the black foam beetle.”

Then the rain, and then the COLD with ominous warnings about high winds and perhaps snow flurries.  We have been reading and making up excuses to drive somewhere and “shop”. In Gatlinburg we found that the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) has become another North Face/Life is Good haberdashery and had little we needed.  Sadly the Happy Hiker Shop is no more. We did find an old friend managing the Wesser NOC store and had a nice time catching up.

We visited Ken Jenkins’ Gallery “Beneath the Mist” to look at all the wonderful nature photographs.  I wish we had a large space to hang some of these, but we now have a few notecards hanging in the Stream. Yes we did walk the entire length of Gatlinburg’s sidewalks IN THE RAIN and, yes, it is even worse in so many, many ways when afoot. There are, however, some pleasant eddies in the stream of tackiness.  We took a table by the fire at Legends and had a sandwich and glorious warm bread pudding.  It was the best we had ever had until the next day when we dined Riverside at the NOC (and wondered why we never had been there before.) The desert offering there was Cranberry/Walnut Bread Pudding served in a large ramekin heaped with premium ice cream.

Each night we (and a select hundred or more passing cars) watch the Elk at the Oconaluftee Fields. Pat hasn’t  finished naming them all yet, but work is progressing. The turkeys which guard our generator behind the trailer are “Albert” & “The guy who bats after him.”  Go Cards.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Staying close to Home, at Roan Mountain


48 degrees, sunny and still windy.  We talked a while with our neighbors and then hiked part of the park nature trail.


After lunch and some chores,  we visited the Miller Farmstead (1840-1960) near the mountaintop in the park.  We had a nice talk with Meg, the park interpreter and her chocolate lab Santeetlah.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Carver Gap–Elk River Falls

Carver Gap is a very popular place on the Appalachian Trail.  Not only can you drive to one of the premier “balds” in the  Southern Appalachians, but in season it is the closest approach to the rhododendron “gardens” of Roan Mountain.  Today it wasn’t too crowded, SINCE IT WAS 41 DEGREES AND WIND GUSTING TO 50MPH!!!  Seriously folks, a ice axe might have been helpful just to hold your place on the trail.  Clouds were scooting overhead at warp speed, blinking the sunlight off and on like a disco; a single yellow leaf could be traced as it shot UP from below and coasted across the bald twenty feet in the air like a canary with its tail afire.
carver gap


Rhodies starting to curl up –Brrrrr.

view from grassy bald

View from Grassy Bald ---also Brrrrr

We retreated to lower altitude, thinking that this sustained wind may just spell the end of the fall colors.  There were times when sheets of yellow leaves were crossing the road horizontally.  We drove to Elk River Falls thinking last night’s rain would swell it’s volume.  Oh Yes, and the Kodak people had left just one more brilliant red limb for your photographic enjoyment. 
elk river falls
We had heard about the Valle Crucis County Fair and the Wooly Worm Festival in Banner Elk; We planned our weekend to take them in, but our little drive over highway 194 (“one lane, road work” “road closed. local traffic only” ) convinced us that the festival traffic would be an unqualified nightmare. We will be seeking amusement nearer the campsite.
On the way “home”, Pat bravely went where we were forbidden to go and neatly bypassed the blasting zone at the Watauga River bridge.  To celebrate, we dined at the Captain’s Table, a fifty year old Marina restaurant overlooking the lake.  From our cozy perch, we watched whirls of wind whip the lake surface into whitecaps while a steady stream of puffy flat bottomed clouds pushed toward an impact with the mountains behind us.  We are happy to be back in our snug campsite in the hollow, electric blanket on high and a little hot chocolate steaming..

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Roan Mountain

Jonesborough and Kingsport Tennessee are in a huge bowl.   (Declarations  that emissions from the Eastman (Kodak) Chemical complex dissolved the surrounding  limestone are apocryphal.) 

Whichever way we proceed from there it is into the folds of steep, soaring mountains cloaked in yellows, gold and some few vibrant reds. We were routed 2011_1013ROAN_MOUNTAIN_SP0003through winding two lanes in flat green valleys with the mountains overhanging, then on to graceful 19E sweeping around and into the folds, always climbing. The sunshine was intermittent. Spots of  light would illuminate a hillside or a valley farm while puffy little white clouds eddied into the corners and lay on ridges.

It was an easy, BEAUTIFUL fifty miles to Roan Mountain State Park where we took a leaf covered site clinging to the hillside. We’re told that this Color season rates only a 3 of 10, but we are pleased to be here and burning these sights into memory even if the photos never seem to do it justice.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We Walk to Eat

For those who are waiting for autumn to arrive (or to peak) before heading for the high country, there is news. IT’S HAPPENING! We have watched the colors creeping in around the verges of the campsite and have seen patches of glorious color in the hills we passed through yesterday, but today, conclusive proof.

We headed to Bays Mountain Park, a long mountain overlooking Kingsport Tennessee.  They professed to have wolves and otters and such in “habitats” as well as miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.  The enclosures were a bit disappointing – most zoos are, especially for Wolves and deer which should be free to range wild and find their food, not be reduced to bare spaces and feed troughs.  

The Raptor enclosures were nicely done and tYodahe park detailed the reasons the rehabilitated birds could not return to the wild. We grudgingly approved.

We met Yoda, the Screech Owl preparing to be weighed and fussed over.  

It was threatening rain, but we were entranced by the autumn colors and wandered all around the lake on graveled roads and single track trails.


The munchies were getting us, so we tracked down the food mecca in Kingsport. After discussing all the offerings, we opted for the place that could sate all our appetites at a bargain price –The Early Bird Geriatric Buffet at GOLDEN CORAL. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

We Dig it

Back in 2000 they were widening a road down by Daniel Boone High School in Gray, Tennessee.  The road crew hit some wet clay that wasn’t expected and called the State Engineers to look at it.  In the meantime, they noticed lots and lots of bones –- one looked like an Alligator.  It was. It was an Alligator that lived here 4.5 million years ago along with Giant Sloths, Shovel Tusked Elephants, Short Faced Bears, more Tapirs that anyone had found 2011_1010JONESBOROUGH_more0042anywhere, a nearly complete Red Panda hitherto known only from a tooth and small skull part…This was easily the richest Miocene site in the Eastern US and they have only dug two feet of the 110 foot deposit.

It was a short drive through rural scenery just starting to color up for fall.  We studied the exhibits showing the incredibly tiny bones and pieces of bones that are identified and cataloged here.  There were views into the working labs and, after lunch, a tour of the on-going dig site and chats with the paleontologists scraping away.  We screened a little soil, watched a couple researchers sorting tiny snake vertebrae and saw the same bone from the Elephant.

“There is a camel in there somewhere. We have his leg bone.” 

Jeff showing where this sample will fit on  a Tapir’s back.


Patty digging in the Museum exhibit,,,


,,,,,and helping a little paleontologist with her screen...


…then watching the real thing. There are several creatures exposed in this pit and it is a race to find a good place to stop for the winter.

Look Emilyn.  Meme can wrestle a gator too.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tenting Tonight

The storytelling starts in bright cool sunshine in all the big white tents simultaneously.  The first two hour session samples short stories from a number of tellers. Subsequent sessions feature two tellers for longer sessions and each evening another showcase with short presentations from several – a good chance to see  most of the participants and choose where to go tomorrow.   We were prepared for world class tellers and we laughed till our sides split at Bill Lepp discussing things that started out as compliments in his head, but weren’t received that well by his wife. Waddy Mitchell told cowboy poems or Buckaroo poetry as they call it on the “ranges of the West.”  Bill Harley, who has told stories in 2600 schools, took us back to when we knew our job “was to explore the zone between Yes and No.”  and sang the most touching ballad about a quiet young schoolteacher who  always tried to do the right thing and not cause any trouble “but I will not give this test.”
There were lots more, but surprising to me –I don’t know why – was the music.  Spencer Bohren, 45 years as a guitar picker from Wyoming, via New Orleans and the Delta “didn’t know I was a storyteller until Friday.”  But he was a natural, telling about how he acquired his steel guitar and nearly missed playing Henry Townsend’s 93rd birthday, then playing the Cairo Blues , a song that has deep personal meaning for me…
Women in Cairo will treat you nice and sweet
Women in Cairo will treat you kind and sweet
Get your hand and knock you off your feet
Kick you and knife you, beat you and cut you too
Kick you and knife you, beat you and cut you too

Henry told Spencer that when his band got to the edge of Cairo, the Sherriff pulled them over and searched their car for guns and knives.  Finding none, he gave them each one before he let them enter town.
 Not  a big surprise was David Holt, who has mastered everything with strings, learned from and played with the best mountain musicians in history. (He now tours with Doc Watson and does the PBS show.)   What was cool was hearing him play with Josh Goforth who first approached Bill in a middle school auditorium and now records with him.
Willie Claflin sang a Scottish ballad A cappella for twelve minutes interpreting with asides and hand gestures. Then he brought his son Brian on stage (the only time they sing together all year). Brian discussed his new support group for Adult Children of Storytellers and brought his  concert partner, ”spawn of two storytellers”  to conduct a “meeting”.  It was hilarious, and then they slid right into a song for three perfectly matched voices. 
There were so many many high points…Everyone should see this again and again and we plan to.
BUT, You Ask, What about the FOOD?   Just the highpoints….
  • Three Bean chili
  • Cuban sandwiches
  • pulled pork, beans and potato salad
  • cheesecake to die for
  • Southern Peach Cobbler with ice cream 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mr. Henley’s Porch

Gerald Henley’s Porch almost overhangs the Main Street sidewalk in Jonesborough. If one of his flowering plants were to be upset, it would roll four feet to the gutter. Nearly everyone who passes is eye level to Mr. Henley2011_1010JONESBOROUGH_more0015 as he sits.  Patty was dragging behind, so I stopped to speak. A few compliments on his “catbird seat”, a little of his history,  a little of ours…
“Trailer, huh?  You out at the campground?  … I got one of them camping in the back yard….Had cancellations this year.”
 “Couple rooms in the house,” he pointed toward the door behind him and swung it open to the breeze, “cancelled too.”
“I’ll show ya.”
 The Parkinson's has slowed him and smiling at jokes has become extra effort best conserved. He was all business just keeping a steady pace down the long narrow passage between the row houses and along the wooden fence. I had photographed the entry to the passage yesterday, but hadn’t intruded further.
mr heney's fence

Beyond the fence, a couple of closed barn wood sheds and a huge tree sat a lovely old Airstream with Alabama plates.
“We have dinner out here during the storytelling,” waving toward the huge College Street Tent which stood on the green verge of his backyard.
 “You can just walk.”

We walked to the back edge of the property, surveying the entrance to our future camping spot. The approach was down steeply on a single lane road at a pitch of 1 to 2, requiring a tight uphill backing ninety between the permanent utility pole and the temporary power pole serving the tent.

“He tried it from the uphill side last year and ended down there…”
The ground guide blanched; the pilot continued to analyze, but slipped into future thought, imagining a shiny Airstream parked in the sun, visible to adoring masses in the tent.
“Twenty a night, but call me as soon as you know.”

“We will!   ….err…we might.”


If Endorphins are released when we are laughing, we are in Endorphin Overload and loving it. Three days with the best storytellers in the country, perfect weather, historic town and quality shops, FAIR FOOD –- what could top this?
Thursday  We were up early  to get our tickets.  The registration crew was just getting set up and in high spirits.  Everyone was so friendly and interested in each other.
 “Where are you from?”
“Have you been here before?”
 Stories –- our own and theirs –- started there and continued.  We learned that one of the parking guides was an AT section hiker, his partner played college baseball with Michael Dukakis… The stories continued….On the street, and in lines at the port-o-lets, with seat mates in the tents and along the main street, the endorphins were flowing and there was more sharing than a twelve step meeting (and more laughing.) 
Hanging out in the entrance to the visitor center, we had our parking solved.
“We are not the Methodist church from Jonesborough. (They’re  our  friends, but our church is in Johnson City.) We offer parking at half their price and it’s right up there…”
Three folks in period costumes approached us separately;  One was the former director of the Birmingham Symphony. Each told us different things about I Am Home, a play woven of stories told by the people of Jonesborough, about Jonesborough and presented by an amateur cast of people from Jonesborough ages 4- 70.  We wavered, but went back later and got our tickets.  IT WAS THE BEST DECISION WE MADE ALL WEEK!
A school bus whisked us a few blocks to a long closed school with limited parking.  Each of tho2011_1010JONESBOROUGH_more0030se cast members spotted us in the crowd filing in and thanked us for coming. The cast mingled, kids politely welcomed us and scurried around the bare brick room and behind the tiered folding chairs. The only props were painted wooden crates, rearranged artfully for every scene. The lighting was professional but secured to bare rafters. No real sound system was needed.  We were close and the actors well directed – we didn’t miss a word.

“We laughed, we cried…”  (you know there is no way to recreate this night for you here, but here is a little vignette..) As the lights dimmed, the author,  huddled near the corner of the seating, was sobbing and, on stage, the huge brawny guy who played frontiersman Daniel Boone was weeping openly and so was everybody else.
The cast mingled with us as we filed out and we congratulated a black man who had carried one of the most intense scenes. (turns out he was born in Clanton, Alabama.)
“ I wanted to do this well…. because that story is from a man who is a deacon in my church…He’s 95 this week … and two others (who were part of the scene) are in my church as well.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Storytelling–The Preview

The pull to Jonesborough Tennessee (THE Oldest Town in the State, we are regularly reminded) was smooth and  short.  We found the Persimmon Ridge CG (city), and, after a little prospecting, found a level site with all the facilities in working order.  We lunched and walked the Oldest Town until dinner time, getting familiar with the location of the big tents where the stories would be told and other venues.
We acquired the highly recommended tickets to hear Donald Davis tonight as a preview.  What a treat! Davis is a retired Methodist Minister, a favorite of everyone we talked to.  He told four stories of his growing to adulthood with the theme “I didn’t know it would turn out like THAT!”   We enjoyed it immensely and were given a thorough orientation on how to navigate the festival from some kind locals we sat with.

Our Montgomery connection to the late Kathryn Tucker Windham garner us a lot of heavy sighs.  Ms. Windham was a great favorite here and as often as we crossed paths at craft shows and such in our area and as much as we loved her, I guess we felt she would always be with us. People here have heard hundreds of her stories over the 40+ years and surely are closer in spirit and feel the loss quite deeply and sincerely. 


Jonesborough Tennessee

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stories–the prelude

So here we are at Natural Tunnel State Park in Virginia marking time.  We think we saw all the “Attractions” yesterday and we aren’t expected at the Jonesborough Storytelling for another day.  What to do?
“Talk to Randy” seemed a great opportunity.  Randy rode in last night on a leg of The Ride East, his cross country Adventure tour on by totally tricked out BMW.
Randy is a natural storyteller and has a wealth of experiences to draw from.  We had a nice chat last night, but Patty was otherwise occupied. We started again this morning as the tent fly was drying and began with,
“Monterey Bay Aquarium!!! How could you leave a place like that?”
Well, I haven’t LEFT it; this is just a 5 week cross country trip I have been promising myself and preparing for since I was eight.”
After this adventure, Randy will return to his post as chief photographer for the best aquarium in the universe.  He has stories of the founding of the place, his ten years as the first dive officer and eventual transition to photographer, as well as stories of the talented people who staff and volunteer there.  They were grand stories, warmly and eloquently told.  He thankfully delayed his departure and we visited all day.  He even included a lot of good advice about photography which might help this blog and a mini tutorial on PhotoShop Elements. It was grand.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Natural Tunnel State Park, Va.

So William Jennings Bryant said The Natural Tunnel was the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, but you know how he exaggerates….”cross of gold”  yada, yada, yada.  It  Is a bewildering geological feature -- even the visitor’s center has exhibits on two different explanations.  We walked  (sorry no chair lift today) down into this huge stone cirque into which flows a creek out of a huge tunnel.  How huge?  A full size railroad runs thru it on an elevated rail bed; ten coal trains a day, they claim.  We heard a whistle and sprinted into position for the obligatory blog picture, but none materialized.

The drive over from Cumberland Gap was predictably gorgeous, paralleling the long escarpment with the morning sun lighting up the White Rock cliffs.  Lots of prosperous Cattle farms along Highway 58 with that lovely backdrop.
 2011_1003NATURAL_TUNNEL0001At Jonesville, surprise,  you have climbed to the head of Powell valley and now go up and over two steep folds — go over in second gear and 40 mph.  Beautiful Views from the tops of the ridges as we let the Yukon  breathe.
The Cove View campground in the park is practically empty.  We are essentially marking time here until we go to Jonesborough Tennessee for the Storytelling on Wednesday, so we took time to wash Lotti inside and out and catch up on laundry.
Barrels of new railroad spikes ready to lay the new continuous rail through the Natural Tunnel.  I’d like to stay around to watch that.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Around the Cumberland Gap folks wait all year for the Homecoming at Hensley Settlement.  This one day we2011_1001HENSLEY_HOMECOMING0035 are allowed to drive up the steep one-way Shillalah Creek road, mix with the Hensley and Gibbons descendants, participate in lots of ole timey activities and hear some stories.  We extended our stay to visit here again.

This being Patty + a National Park, the weather turned freakishly cold. ( A whole sidebar will someday be devoted to cataloguing the climatic calamities associated with our visits to National Parks.)

There were little sprinkles on the windshield at the campground which translated to snow flurries at 3000’ . Many park staff and volunteers spent the night up at the settlement to be ready for our arrival and everyone was  shivering and stamping feet but in fine spirits.
2011_0930HENSLEY_HOMECOMING0018Nearly 300 folks came and walked the settlement, watching basket making, eating apple stack cake, watching the moonshine still, grinding corn, and playing with period toys. By one o’clock, when the road opened back down, many were ready to head for lower altitudes, but we of the multiple layers, stocking caps and gloves had a thermos of hot chocolate. Thus fortified, we forged off to see beekeeping --

“These bees are mad at me;  they've got babies in this glass hive and it’s cold on ‘em” ,

-- blacksmithing, soap making and quilting and an array of the fresh fruits that were eaten and canned in the settlement. A fresh load of Apple stack cakes was being delivered by red lightning flyer wagon. 
“I have to get this wagon back to it’s proper time period,” the wagon master told us with a wink.

We lasted until mid afternoon then slipped down the mountain in four wheel drive, Low range.  We have been kicking around the Airstream for several hours  and are JUST NOW getting our temperature stabilized. No ice cream tonight.