Shrouded in Fog: September Days and Blogging 101

Taken at Graveyard Fields last September, this picture reflects my current feelings about Blogging 101.

Taken at Graveyard Fields last September, this picture reflects my current feelings about Blogging 101.

After a day spent tweaking my blog’s title, theme, and previous posts, I am beginning to think that perhaps I ought not to have taken up the gauntlet.  (Don’t ask how well I supervised my fourth grader’s schoolwork today.) Glancing at the posts in the Blogging 101 Commons, I would guess that the theme troubles are just beginning: as soon as one area is improved, another goes downhill. In my case, I am not enamored of “Big Brother”‘s font, but my title is showing up better.

Even Blogging 101’s third assignment–saying “Hi” to other bloggers–wasn’t easy for this introvert. NONE of my Facebook friends are blogging on wordpress.com, or else they avoided connecting their Facebook accounts. Now I can’t find a way to disconnect my Facebook account from wordpress.com: I avoid giving access to my Facebook profile and list of friends, but, in my quest for like-minded bloggers, I agreed to the connection–from which no divorce now seems possible. Making new connections is the obvious solution, but that means stepping out into uncharted territory: “Beyond here, there be dragons.”

Ah, well, this photograph from last September reminds me that beauty may be hiding beneath the fog, just out of sight. As so often happens when we set out on a family hike–the “we” is reduced these days, down from seven to three or four–the weather was not ideal on that September afternoon.  It didn’t rain, but Graveyard Fields, a flat mountain valley in the Pisgah National Forest, was shrouded in fog. Hiking in fog is a surreal experience: you are surrounded by trees, shrubs, and mountains, yet you can see only a few feet ahead. Even on a sunny day, it is easy to get lost at Graveyard Fields, which has several trails that intersect with back-country camping sites; on a foggy day, I would not recommend going it alone.

On the other hand, there is a forced solitude, a necessary quiet, that descends with the fog. Cloudy weather typically reduces the number of hikers, which is a welcome change at a spot as busy as Graveyard Fields. On this particular day, taking the trail off to the left, we hiked quietly and carefully over the muddy ground and then on to the Upper Falls, which you can just glimpse in the top photograph.

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P1050163As you can see, the clinging mists subdued even my spirited son. But I don’t regret our hike that day, even if we did walk more slowly and uncertainly because it was difficult to see where we were going.  There were glimpses of light through the trees, hints of vistas beneath the layer of fog. As the day wore on, the mists dissipated, and we could see the solid forms of rock and stream. In the same way, moments of understanding will surely come as I become more familiar with the technical terms of blogging. These difficult days of blogging confusion–these, too, shall pass.

That September day, the beginnings of fall were evident in the changing color of the leaves, in the crisp coolness of the air. I, too, am experiencing a season of change in my life, as yet another son has left for college this fall. There is beauty in this new season of life as well–more time for some things, even as the time for other things slips away.

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Giants of the Appalachians

Given this blog’s homage to Joyce Kilmer, how could I not devote a post to the mighty trees of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest?  Born in New Jersey, Kilmer had no connection with North Carolina, but the 3,800-acre forest within the Nantahala National Forest was dedicated to him in 1936, as a memorial both to his poetry and to his service in World War I, where Kilmer paid the ultimate price for his patriotism.

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My oldest son and youngest son, ready for adventure!

In the summer of 2012, accompanied by my husband and two of my sons, I made the two-hour drive from my house to visit those Appalachian giants.  Alas, the June day was unseasonably warm, so the first part of our two-mile hike through the forest was less pleasant than anticipated–particularly after my oldest son was attacked by a stinging insect shortly after we started the figure-eight trail. (The cheerful photograph on the right was taken at the trailhead.)

Not only were the humidity and bugs an issue, but, on the lower portion of the loop, there was less shade than I would have expected in a famous forest. Later, I learned that in 2010 the United States Forest Service used dynamite to remove many dead hemlocks that had fallen victim to the invasive woolly adelgid and posed a safety hazard to visitors.

Eventually, we made our way through the blasted remnants of the dead hemlocks to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Plaque, which was a good place to take a short break from hiking. P1020716 P1020717

Now that we had entered the Poplar Cove section, I began to understand why this old-growth forest was worth a two-hour drive. While California’s coastal redwoods may be older–and the cool climate more pleasant to the perspiring hiker–nothing makes you realize your insignificance like standing next to a tree that is 20 feet around and 100 feet tall. How long had these trees been here? How many silent-footed inhabitants had they witnessed, before the settlers came?P1020721

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As we worked our way along the loop to the trailhead, something happened that accelerated the last portion of our hike: quite unexpectedly, my husband’s cell phone rang, followed by a call on my cell phone. Since we were out of the service P1020718area, the calls were lost almost immediately, but the number was not a familiar one. At the time, our three middle children were on an inner-city missions trip in another state. Little wonder that we both thought the worst and increased our pace for the last leg of the hike. While I retain a few memories of the enormous trees, of the amazing straightness of the tulip poplar trunks, of the leafy greenness of the woodland, what I mostly remember is intense anxiety as we rushed through the forest that we had invested so much time in coming to see. I did take a few photos of the memorial plaque as we passed it on the return trip; there were also two trees whose curiously intertwined roots had taken David’s fancy, so I spared a few seconds to photograph them.P1020726P1020729

But our enjoyment of the outing had ended with the ill-timed phone calls and their reminder that life was relentlessly being lived outside the boundaries of the forest. As it turned out, neither my husband nor I had cell service until we had driven well out of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, my husband pointing out the road signs in both Cherokee and English as we drove. Eventually, we were able to listen to our voicemails. Predictably, the calls had nothing to do with our children. I still am not sure whether or not we should have had our phones on silent: what if there had been an emergency? Yet our hike was–if not ruined, at least made hostage to the pressingcares of this world.

One day, I hope to return to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest–without a cell phone, with a water bottle, and with enough time to stop and go rafting in the cool, wild waters of the Nantahala River on the way home.
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I Think They All Should Be California Trees

Having passed the half-century mark myself, I was recently privileged to view some trees that are a lot older than I am. The old-growth, coastal redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument range mostly from 500 to 800 years in age, with the oldest tree being at least 1,200 years old. (We didn’t notice which tree WAS the oldest on our recent afternoon tour.)

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These aren’t the drive-through redwoods: you have to go farther inland to see those tremendously wide trees.  But the beautiful quality of light streaming through the umbrella-like upper branches of the trees in Muir Woods more than repaid the effort it took to get there. Actually, it took considerable effort: first, we had to rent a car and drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Once we’d driven the curvy roads to the monument itself, we were dismayed to realize that a lot of other folks had had the same idea. Not only were the smallish official lot AND the large overflow parking lot full, but parking on the shoulder of the road went on for more than half a mile past the parking lot itself.  In the end, our car was parked nearly a mile from the official lot.

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But it was still a golden afternoon–golden and green. The weather was amazingly temperate in the woods: sunny without making us hot, breezy without making us cold. Despite the number of visitors, we never felt crowded as we slowly walked along the old trails, frequently pausing to look up at the branches above us. My youngest son was delighted when, near the end of the main loop trail, we noticed a cluster of people quietly watching some activity on the wooded area above the trail. Sure enough, a doe and her fawn were placidly eating, undisturbed by the audience they were attracting.

P1060292P1060282My husband wisely advocated that we take the Hillside Trail, which seemed less popular with the masses. Although it was not suitable for strollers, we saw a couple of men with two toddlers and a large stroller, gamely tackling the steep dirt paths. My sympathies were with the young kids, who were actually helping one of the men lift the stroller over some roots; for whatever reason, the other man was not helping at all. On the Hillside Trail, we found a couple of trees with an opening large enough to stand in.  Leafy ferns and thick patches of enormous clover bordered the paths, and, again and again, we marvelled at the glorious quality of the light streaming through the leaves and all around us.

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If I lived in San Francisco, I would try to visit the Muir Woods often.  There were trails that we did not have time to take: Muir Beach, where we stopped to eat a picnic lunch, is not far away, and one tantalizing trail led to a vista of the sea. Evidently, it rains quite a bit in the Muir Woods in the winter, but my husband thought even that would be something to see. For now, we will treasure our memories of a quiet walk through the gentle giants of coastal California.