One-Liner Wednesday: Fall Beauty Overload?

After a slow start, the leaves have turned brilliant. I often drive the Blue Ridge Parkway as I shuttle my son around. Since mid-October, I’ve been gasping in wonder as we round each bend of the parkway. With my hands on the wheel and my eyes mostly on the road, I’ve begged my son to take pictures of the fiery orange, vivid red, or glowing golden leaves. He’s a good sport, so he takes them.

Last week, I oohed and aahed over the leaves as we drove along. My son was silent. I said, “David, don’t you just feel overwhelmed by all this beauty?”

He thought for a minute. “Growing up in Asheville, I’ve been spoiled in fall splendor.”

Here’s a taste of Fall Splendor 2017 (photos taken 10/27/17 at Montreat College):

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nf-badge-1linerweds-2017This is my first stab at the One-Liner Wednesday event, hosted each week by Linda G. Hill. To read the rules—which I’ve bent by including an intro to my son’s one-liner—click here. You can read other “One-Liner Wednesday” posts by clicking on pingbacks in the comments on Linda’s post.

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A Day without Butterflies

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A light mist hung over the brilliantly colored maple by the parking area.

Last Saturday wasn’t a good day for a hike: my college son, who isn’t a fan of hikes (probably because I dragged him on too many during his formative years), was home for fall break; a football game that my husband and sons wanted to see was on TV; and the sky had been overcast all day.  But I knew that this week wasn’t going to be good for hikes because of my husband’s work schedule, and I hadn’t been on a walk of any length since Tuesday.

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Skipping the North Carolina-Notre Dame game proved to be a smart play for this UNC fan, since UNC lost.

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To the right of the parking area an overlook shows the valley, filled with clouds. A trail on the right leads to the site where George Vanderbilt’s hunting lodge once stood.

Leaving the boys at home with the football game as a temporary bond—their ages and tastes are quite different, but college football has the power to draw my sons together—my self-sacrificing husband and I drove off on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with the summit of Mount Pisgah as our destination. (My husband was divided in his loyalties, but I take it as a compliment that he chose me over the game.)

Although we’ve camped at Mount Pisgah several times, I can only recall hiking to the summit twice before. In 2001, our youngest daughter was only three, but she handled the 1.5-mile hike up to the summit AND 1.5-mile hike down with amazing determination. (That should have clued me in to her strength of character and her physical stamina. She is now studying ballet in college.) In 2011, we hiked to the top again. By then, our youngest son had joined the family, although my middle son was off at Boy Scout camp, so we still lacked a full roster. On both occasions, what struck me even more than the view of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains were the beautiful butterflies that swarmed around the wildflowers below the observation platform.

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Hard to believe a three-year-old went up and down that trail on her own, but she was determined to keep up with the older kids.

It’s not logical, but somehow I expected to see those butterflies on Saturday, despite the mist that draped heavily over every tree and stone on the trail up to the summit. We’d seen cars with their lights on before we got to Mount Pisgah, but my husband figured they’d forgotten to turn off their lights after leaving one of the tunnels; it wasn’t raining, and there didn’t seem to be a National Park Service ranger on the prowl for speeding vehicles. Silly us: we got to the Mount Pisgah trail lot, looked around at the creeping fog, and said, “Oh. That’s why.”

Still, the sun was peeking through the tiniest bit as we started the climb upward. We’d only been on the trail for a few minutes when we ran into someone we knew: a teacher who was gamely shepherding her two young cousins on the way down from the summit. We exchanged greetings but didn’t think to ask her whether you could see anything from the observation platform. She was scrambling to keep up with her energetic cousins, so she didn’t have time to chat.IMG_0385 (480x640)

You can see where this story is going. After an arduous climb—more arduous than it might have been because we’d forgotten to bring our trusty hiking sticks—we encountered a woman and her daughters coming down from the platform. An unspoken law of hiking is, “Let the faster person pass you,” so we’d stepped aside to let them pass several minutes before. “There’s nothing to see,” she informed us, as we headed towards the creaky wooden steps.

She was right. No butterflies. No view. Just a large antenna, some brown wildflowers, and dense white clouds as far as the eye could see. Frosted with fog, red-oak trees waved their leaves mockingly at us.

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A very Tolkien-ish tree on the trail

But you know what? We had the platform to ourselves. In fact, we didn’t see another person the whole way back down the mountain. I’ll admit I was disappointed that there were no butterflies. I’m no naturalist, but butterflies have been seen as late as mid-October in this part of western North Carolina. Earlier in the week I had seen a blue butterfly at the Arboretum, but the elevation here was much higher. Maybe butterflies only come out when it’s sunny? This could be a learning opportunity.

What we did have on Saturday was atmosphere. The golden leaves glowing through the haze made us feel like we had stepped into a different world. We’ve just finished listening to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so Lothlorien, the golden realm of the elves Galadriel and Celeborn, came to mind immediately. Sure, I’d have preferred to see a brilliant blue sky and blue mountains glazed with the golds and oranges of fall leaves instead of a blank whiteness at the summit. But the effect of flaming leaves against the pale mist was stunning. Magical.

IMG_0389 (640x480)Some sunny day, I’d like to try Mount Pisgah again. But mist in the mountains creates its own beauty, particularly when the leaves are golden and brown and the only sounds you hear are the birds calling, the wind blowing, and your feet tramping down the path towards home.

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So long, September!

I’m going to miss September. October has just begun, but it’s getting dark earlier, so we have to scramble to get a walk in. Today, I missed that narrow window, so no walk for me. I found myself thinking about all the lovely walks I had in September.

This summer, we went on a number of hikes: for me, a hike is defined as a walk that does not originate from my house and that consists of at least two miles—preferably three and maybe more. Once September came, activities filled up the schedule, and our hikes petered out. Still, we’ve taken some delightful walks on September evenings. Even on days when the temperatures soared, things had usually cooled off by the time we left for a walk.IMG_0034 (640x480)

We walked in the neighborhood (above) and at the Botanical Gardens (below).

We tried a new walk at the Biltmore Estate,

but we also revisited some well-known haunts there.

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The first couple of days after Irma, the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed, and my sons and I reveled in walking along the road; a lot of commuters use it, so it was wonderful to have it to ourselves, aside from a lone cyclist. The next day, the parkway had reopened, which dashed my plans for riding bikes. Instead, we decided to check out the damage Irma had wreaked on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Volunteers had already cleared the trail of fallen trees and limbs.

One night in September, my husband and I drove up to the Pisgah Inn for dinner. We took a walk along the ridge to the place where George Vanderbilt used to have a hunting lodge; unfortunately, we were facing east, so we just got the faintest part of the sunset.

This past Saturday night—the last day of September—we were traveling, so our walk took us around the beautiful campus of Indiana University. It was cool that evening, but, aside from a stray tree or two, the leaves hadn’t changed color.IMG_0268 (640x480)IMG_0278 (640x480)

No doubt I’ll get excited as the fall colors brighten up the parkway, but, at the moment, I’m sad about the end of sweet September. September is the swan song of summer.

The Edge

August 2012 (Panasonic Lumix)

Devil’s Courthouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway, August 2012 (Panasonic Lumix)

When I saw that “Edge” was the assignment for Photography 101, it was only a matter of time before I started thinking about  The Edge. No, I’m not referring to U2’s guitarist. I have a strange fondness for the 1997 adventure film The Edge, which features Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, Elle Macpherson, and an actor named Harold Perrineau, whom I know as “Michael” in the television show Lost.

Bear with me if you have seen this movie (and forgive the pun). Since some readers might not have watched The Edge, I’ll try to minimize the spoilers. This rather grisly movie (last pun, I promise) takes place in the Alaskan wilderness, where a plane crash strands a bookish billionaire, Charles (Hopkins), and two photographers, Bob (Baldwin) and Stephen (Perrineau). Making a bad situation worse, Charles suspects that Bob has been fooling around with his wife (Macpherson), and a Kodiak bear begins to track them. The Edge is an intense viewing experience, with enough violence, gore, and language to earn it an “R” rating — not usually the cup of tea that this Janeite sips; in fact, I have to cover my eyes or fast-forward in a couple of places.

I Iike The Edge for two reasons: 1) its revenge-of-the-nerd plot; 2) its inclusion of one of my favorite lines in a movie: “They die of shame.” Throw in a script by David Mamet and an excellent cast, and there you have it: a movie that will not only keep you on the edge of your seat but may lodge this dialogue in your brain permanently (that’s what happened to me):

Charles Morse: You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame.

Stephen: What?

Charles Morse: Yeah, see, they die of shame. “What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?” And so they sit there and they… die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives.

Robert Green: And what is that, Charles?

Charles Morse: Thinking.

As someone who over-analyzes every decision and agonizes over past decisions, I seized on Charles’ quote as wisdom that applies to many situations, not only to occasions that find us literally on the edge of society and survival. No matter how much I may justify my actions later, I blow it — not from time to time but every day. Sometimes the consequences of my mistakes are minor, and sometimes they are enormous. Sure, I should learn from past mistakes, but nothing good will come of permitting myself to be paralyzed by the awareness of my own incompetence.

December 2014 (iPhone 5s)

Edge of the Parking Garage, December 2014 (iPhone 5s)

If I’m running late to an appointment or event, will it help if I “die of shame” on the way, castigating myself for the series of poor choices that led to my being late? It will not. Nor will wasting the first five minutes after I arrive by over-apologizing. Human frailty is a redundant phrase: as Alexander Pope wrote in An Essay on Criticism, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” Should we hold ourselves to a high standard in our daily actions? Yes. Should we “forgive” ourselves when we stumble and slide along that straight and narrow path? If we don’t, then we may do more damage — not only to ourselves but to those around us.

In the unlikely event that my college kids happen to be reading this, please don’t “die of shame” at the end of the academic semester. In The Edge, Charles implies that thinking would have saved the lives of the people lost in the wilderness. Not necessarily, but assessing the remaining options, now that the door has been irrevocably closed on better options, is the only way out of any bad situation. (Says the woman who can’t seem to schedule her mornings productively.) So study on! Find a study group, limit your internet time, go visit the professor — but don’t die of shame.


Not having gone on any Alaskan adventures recently, I have no edgy photos of charging grizzlies to illustrate my post. I had hoped for a return trip to the Devil’s Courthouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where I remember the sensation of being on the edge of the world.  I had to content myself with the edges that I found in a local park and in a local parking garage (above). Adding a black-and-white filter brought out edges and textures in some photos.

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Text and photos copyrighted 2014 by Sandra Fleming. Please do not reproduce them without her permission.

When Men and Mountains Meet

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.

This is not done by jostling in the street.

— William Blake, Gnomic Verses

Who doesn’t love a view? Few sights surpass blue mountains stretching across the horizon beneath an endless sky. In my part of the United States, you can easily see such a view by pulling off at an overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile scenic road that begins in Virginia and winds its way down through North Carolina.

Sadly, I take this view of undulating blue hills for granted. In fact, my original plan for Photography 101’s Landscape theme was to drive out to Max Patch, a bald mountain on the Appalachian Trail. Situated on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, Max Patch offers an amazing 360-degree view of the surrounding mountain groups: the Bald Mountains, the Great Smokies, the Unakas, the Black Mountains, and the Great Balsams. You need a video camera to capture the astonishing scenery at Max Patch.

June 2011:  A partial glimpse of the 360-degree view at Max Patch

June 2011: A partial glimpse of the 360-degree view at Max Patch. Click here for my unsteady video of the view.

My son checks out an exhibit in the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. (iPhone 5s)

My son checks out an exhibit in the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. (iPhone 5s)

IMG_3197 cropLife interfered with my plans for a panoramic photo at Max Patch, so I chose an easy — and obvious — option for a landscape picture: the Haw Creek Valley Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. En route to the overlook, my son and I made an unscheduled pit stop at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. This was my first time inside the Visitor Center, where several hands-on exhibits caught my son’s eye. Meanwhile, my eyes were drawn to William Blake’s words — “Great things are done when men and mountains meet” — emblazoned across a photograph near the entrance.

In this context, Blake’s statement is lauding the Blue Ridge Parkway as a “great thing” achieved by the conjunction of men and mountains. Construction of the Parkway began in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal and was finally completed in 1987. In every subsequent year since 1946, the Parkway has been America’s most visited national site. As the longest linear park in the United States, the Parkway annually gives millions of visitors access to campsites and hikes, vistas and waterfalls, wildflowers and trees. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a remarkable achievement.

Like most visionary projects, the Blue Ridge Parkway was not without casualties. Browsing through a bookstore in August, I came across When the Parkway Came, a children’s book written by Anne Mitchell Whisnant and David E. Whisnant. The Whisnants’ book looks at the building of the Parkway through the eyes of Jess, a boy whose family’s farm lies in the path of the proposed highway. While Jess is fictional, the book is based on a letter written to President Roosevelt in 1937 by S. A. Miller, owner of a small farm in North Carolina. Miller’s objections to the low offer made for his land were eventually rewarded with a better price. Although the book does not shy away from the Parkway’s darker repercussions, the Whisnants end on a note of optimistic reflection:

“I wish this land was still ours, Papa Jess,” I said. Papa Jess was quiet for a while. Then he looked up and smiled. “It is, Ginny,” he said. “It still is. Yours, mine, and everybody’s. And it is still so beautiful.”

As someone who benefits from the Blue Ridge Parkway, I am torn between sympathy for the mountain farmers whose property rights were overruled and gratitude for the engineers and CCC workers who made the mountains accessible to everyone. Because farmers like Miller sacrificed their land, the mountains bordering the Parkway are now a place for refuge and reflection – a beautiful place that provides recreational opportunities and inspires artists and writers.

In my reading of Blake’s epigram, he was not thinking of a specific “great” achievement when he wrote, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet. /  This is not done by jostling in the street.” A Romantic poet who hated the ugliness of industrialization and wrote of England’s “dark Satanic mills,” Blake is speaking here of that sense of wonder and awe that descends upon us when we gaze on a landscape too large for our circumscribed minds to comprehend.  Blake lived in London all his life — amidst the jostling of nineteenth-century London’s dirty, crowded streets.The great thing for Blake would have been solace for his soul and freedom for his thoughts as he gazed upon mountains.

Does the creation of a public treasure like the Blue Ridge Parkway justify the high price paid by Miller and many others? Thinking of the countless visitors who have gazed in wonder at views along the Parkway, I would answer, “Yes” – but, then, it wasn’t my land.

Haw Creek Valley Overlook (iPhone 5s)

Haw Creek Valley Overlook (iPhone 5s)


Thanks to Colleen at Silver Threading for hosting the weekly Writer’s Quote Wednesday event.

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All photographs were taken by Sandra Fleming in November 2014, with the exception of the Max Patch picture, which was taken in 2011. An iPhone 5s was used for the panoramic photos and overlook sign, while a Panasonic Lumix was used for all other photos. Text and photos copyrighted 2014 by Sandra Fleming.

A Swarm of Trees: “Till the Wood of Birnam Rise”

The folks at Photo 101 are forcing me to get creative with my camera. Photograph a “swarm” in late November? An old poem about swarming mentions only the months of May, June, and July:

A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay;

A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon;

A swarm of bees in July isn’t worth a fly.

I might add, “A swarm of trees in November is worth a photo.” Looking along the Blue Ridge Parkway for “something that overruns your scene,” I was forcibly struck by the bare trees seeming to march towards me, line upon line of bark-clad soldiers with outstretched arms.

Encroaching trees (Coolpix L320)


Parkway trees prepare for attack! (Coolpix L320)

Parkway trees prepare for attack! (Coolpix L320)

Was it looking through the narrowed view of my camera that made the trees appear to move? Trees without leaves seem threatening, somehow — although trees with leaves can be hostile, like the apple trees in The Wizard of Oz. But bare-branched trees, thronged against the sky, create an eerie effect:

Trees on the Blue Ridge Parkway

After I posted this photo, my brother made it into avideo of swarming trees for a joke — I think it was a joke? While not high quality, the video is unnerving. (Panasonic Lumix)

As I sought “swarming” trees to photograph, I began to think about literary examples of trees that moved. The most famous instance of moving trees occurs in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The witches hint that a moving forest will precede Macbeth’s defeat: “Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him” (4.1.91-93).

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Panasonic Lumix photo, edited in PicMonkey

Confidently, Macbeth asserts:

That will never be:

Who can impress the forest, bid the tree

Unfix his earthbound root? Sweet bodements, good.

Rebellious dead, rise never till the wood

Of Birnam rise, and our high-plac’d Macbeth

Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath

To time and mortal custom. (4.1.93-99)

Macbeth’s arrogant optimism is ill-founded. In Act 5, soldiers camouflage themselves with tree branches cut from Birnam Wood as they march on Dunsinane Hill, creating the illusion of “a moving grove” (5.5.37). The “forest” that advances on Dunsinane is, in reality, an army of men who overwhelm the castle and force Macbeth’s downfall at the hands of Macduff.

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Treebeard leads an enormous army of bonafide trees to the Battle of the Hornburg. This time, the trees can walk — vengeful Ents and Huorns, who uproot themselves to aid the desperate men of Rohan at Helm’s Deep:

The land had changed. Where before the green dale had lain, its grassy slopes lapping the ever-mounting hills, there now a forest loomed. Great trees, bare and silent, stood, rank on rank, with tangled bough and hoary head; their twisted roots were buried in the long green grass. Darkness was under them. (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers)

Haw Creek Valley Overlook (Panasonic Lumix)

Aroused, Tolkien’s Ents and Huorns decimate the terrified Orcs at Helm’s Deep. The next morning, the mysterious forest of Huorns has vanished, leaving instead an enormous mound of dead Orcs.

A moving forest does not have to be fantastical to cause destruction. In Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children,  trees suddenly begin swarming down a rural hillside toward the railroad tracks. Had it not been for the quick thinking of Bobbie, Peter, and Phyllis, the landslide might have caused a tragic railway accident:

And, as Peter pointed, the tree was moving — not just the way trees ought to move when the wind blows through them, but all in one piece, as though it were a live creature and were walking down the side of the cutting.

“It’s moving!” cried Bobbie. “Oh, look! and so are the others. It’s like the woods in Macbeth.”

“It’s magic,” said Phyllis, breathlessly. “I always knew the railroad was enchanted.”

It really did seem a little like magic. For all the trees for about twenty yards of the opposite bank seemed to be walking slowly down towards the railway line, the tree with the gray leaves bringing up the rear like some old shepherd driving a flock of green sheep. (Edith Nesbit, The Railway Children)

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Panasonic Lumix photo

In western North Carolina, incidents of trees that suddenly begin to move are rare, although there are occasional rock slides along I-40 heading west. While I am being fanciful with the idea of trees that swarm, landslides and mudslides are a real danger in mountainside communities not far from my home. An actual swarm of trees, caused by erosion or earthquake, would be terrifying.

I have made much of the oppressive character of bare trees on a bleak day, but I like to walk in the woods in late fall and winter. Stripped of leaves, the hardwood trees reveal their clean lines and rough texture. Depending on the time of day and the light, row upon row of leafless trees can create a soothing effect. This cluster of trees suggests not a restless swarm but a graceful gathering of grey-clad Quakers.

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Panasonic Lumix


Photos taken November 2014 by Sandra Fleming with a Nikon Coolpix L320 and  a Panasonic Lumix. Text and photos copyrighted by Sandra Fleming © 2014.

Drive like a Tourist

Drive like a Tourist

If you look closely, you can see that the speedometer reads 42 mph. (The speed limit on this part of the parkway is 45 mph.)

Ah, the power of words! Writing about fall photos inspired me to do something I have never done as an Asheville resident: search for fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The last line in A Tale of Two Photos got to me: “Now is the time to capture these golden days–whether with camera or words.” Even though my husband had a long to-do list for his day off, I persuaded him that we should hop in the car and go look for leaves. (He pointed out that there were plenty of leaves in our driveway, but he agreed.)

Instead of listening to his suggestion that we hike down in Brevard or up at Craggy Pinnacle, I insisted that we use the recommendations in the weekly Fall Color Report. At that point, the report was six days old, but surely those experts knew more about fall color than my nose-in-a-book husband. We had a limited amount of time, since I wanted to be back to cook dinner for my daughter, who had too much homework to accompany us. That ruled out the Cullasaja gorge, but we could still try for the Black Balsam area, past Mount Pisgah. We grabbed walking sticks, water bottles, cameras, and Bojangles chicken. Off we set!

Our destination was Black Balsam Knob (elevation: 6, 214 feet), which, according to the report, should offer brilliant colors. Since we were in tourist mode, we turned off at several overlooks as we drove west on the parkway: the Bad Fork Valley Overlook, the Pounding Mill Overlook, the Cherry Cove Overlook. My son got excited about the out-of-state license plates, especially when we saw the same cars at multiple overlooks. Having moved to this area when he was five, my husband found it painful to play the role of a tourist, but David soon was happily pointing out beautiful patches of red or yellow or orange leaves. (Despite the name of my site, I’m no tree expert, but we saw mostly white oaks, red oaks, and maples.)

After eating lunch at the Mount Pisgah picnic area, we drove on, stopping at more overlooks to photograph Looking Glass Rock. Not far past Mount Pisgah, however, we noticed that we were seeing more empty branches and fewer golden and orange leaves. My husband said thoughtfully, “You know, I’ve always heard that the 15th to the 20th is the best time for color.” Today was October 21st.

By the time we reached the Black Balsam area, I suspected that we had driven too far: at this elevation, the color had “peaked.” Nonetheless, we parked at the end of Black Balsam Road and started walking down Flat Laurel Creek Trail. Although we saw many red maple leaves on the ground, the limbs of the deciduous trees around us were bare. After hiking a short distance, I looked at my husband and pleaded, “We could hike this trail any time, but I was hoping for a fall-color hike today!”

By now, it was too late to take winding Highway 276 farther down into Pisgah National Forest, where we could have hiked at Pink Beds or Looking Glass Rock. Since we would drive past Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower on our way home, my husband suggested that we hike there. I prefer a path through the woods to an old service road, but the weather was so perfect that I couldn’t complain about the rocky, uneven trail.The last time we climbed this 70-foot tower, David had been too little to go up the steep metal stairs. He insisted that he didn’t want to climb the tower, but, by the time we got there, he had changed his mind. It was a windy day but beautifully clear, and we had amazing views at each stage of our climb up the old tower, built in 1941 and listed on the National Historic Lookout Register. If the photo seems a bit crooked, put it down to my shaking hands.

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View from the Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower (taken with my iPhone 5)

As we walked back to our van, a young couple passed us on their way to climb the tower. We warned them about the wind, and they just smiled. Headed east on the parkway, we stopped at an overlook or two for more photos. Suddenly, I realized that I had failed to get a picture of one of the many stone tunnels along this section of the parkway. My husband began to drive more slowly, looking for a place to pull off near a tunnel so that I could get out and take a picture. His hesitant driving irked the driver of the car behind us, who started following closely and even honking intermittently. As soon as we could, we pulled into a overlook and let him go around us. These locals are in such a hurry!

Enjoy the slideshow of photos, taken with my Nikon CoolPix L320. Believe it or not, I weeded out some pictures.

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