Banana palms growing in western North Carolina?

bananatree

I definitely believe climate change is real.

Here where I live, in the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina, each summer seems to grow progressively hotter and longer, and each winter has been milder and shorter than the last (not that I mind this personally, since I really can’t stand cold weather).   This fall has felt more like a continuation of summer than fall, and even at night the temperatures are still pretty warm.    It’s also been extremely dry, and the trees, rather than turning colors, are going straight from green to brown to bare (not that the fall colors here, outside of the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the trees are chosen for their fall color, are that impressive anyway).   Sometimes I feel like I live in Florida, not the mountains of North Carolina, where the climate should be temperate, not tropical.

I’ve noticed something very strange this year too, something that I’ve never seen before.  Banana palms growing in people’s yards.  Maybe it’s just a new fad, and people are planting them here, but I don’t think it’s just that.   I think the climate has actually changed in the past few years, to a more subtropical (and less temperate) one, making it possible for banana palms to grow here.

I decided to look this up on Google, and found out that there is a such thing as cold hardy banana palms, that can withstand mild winters, even if the temperatures sometimes dip below freezing, as long as the trees are protected.  So although they couldn’t grow in the wild (yet), they could grow and thrive in someone’s yard.

climatezones

I looked up the climate type for western North Carolina and found out we are a Koppen Cfa climate (humid subtropical!) climate.  Even more shocking was to find out that central to southern New Jersey is also a Cfa climate, making it possible to grow certain types of subtropical plants, including cold hardy banana palms, there too!   I do know that many beaches at the Jersey Shore now have palm trees gracing them, but these trees are removed and taken somewhere else to spend the winters (I have no idea how that would be done) and then returned to New Jersey in late spring.

In general, North Carolina does not have palm trees, although there are many flowering evergreen species (these usually have dark, waxy leaves) here in the mountains, and palmetto trees (not a real palm tree but they are related to palms) growing in the coastal areas (the palmetto is also the state tree of South Carolina).

palmetto

Palmetto tree.

 

But this might be changing.   I live 37 miles north of the South Carolina border, and almost as soon as you cross the line into that state, palmettos can be found everywhere.  Banana palms are also common there.  So we’re not far from the cutoff for tropical (or subtropical) types of plants.  But I think the cutoff has moved farther north now, even into the lower mountains.   That would make sense, with climate change being a factor.  I haven’t seen any palmettos here yet, but I wonder if that’s just a matter of time.

If food shortages due to climate change ever become a problem, maybe I’ll plant some banana palms.  Bananas are a fantastic source of nutrients and quick energy.

A peaceful, soul healing day at Lake Jocassee.

jocassee5best

Lake Jocassee, Devils Fork State Park, Salem, SC

Nature is the best therapist, and is so much cheaper.

First, the backstory (and why I needed this day and others like it).

ithinkimcrazy

I haven’t really discussed it much on this blog, but since her marriage in January, my daughter and her husband have been struggling with opioid/opiate addiction (at the moment, they are both in recovery),  but for my daughter, her addiction is complicated by out of control mood swings.  She has no official diagnosis, but her rapid and intense mood swings that range from deep and debilitating depressions that make her sleep for days, to manic episodes where she can’t sleep at all and flies into rages easily seems to indicate bipolar disorder (which does run in my family, and my son has it too, but his is more under control because of coping skills he’s learned, and his may be less severe than hers).

She lost her Medicaid when she turned twenty six in April, and now has no insurance until she can get on her husband’s insurance through his job.  As a result, the only mental “help” she has been able to receive is awful, really almost worse than getting no help at all.  Her current doctor is impatient with her, charges her way more than she can afford (forcing her to ration her psychiatric medications) and makes her come in every week for her scripts, even though that costs her more than if she came every two weeks, which would make so much more sense.  It’s also hard for her to get to the doctor because she has no car.    She hasn’t seen a talk therapist yet because of the money/car issue, and also because she has an aversion to talk therapy for some reason.  Even the prospect of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) puts her off.   Her husband is trying to get her to give it a chance, since it has helped him.

She was attending a 12 step meeting, but the man who was driving her to the meeting (also a member) started to take advantage of her sexually, so she stopped going.   I don’t blame her.  I would have too.

As for me, this year has been extremely stressful, and my daughter’s mental illness and addiction is breaking my heart.    I love my daughter dearly but since she started taking opioids, it’s as if something in her brain broke, and even though she is clean now, she seems to have lost any ability she once had had to regulate her emotions, and has become paranoid about her environment and the people around her.  Her episodes of rage seem always directed at me, although I know it’s not really about me at all.  Still, it’s hard not to take the attacks personally.

I know with the opioids, the recovery process takes a long time, but patience isn’t my strong point, and I’ve realized I have no choice but to distance myself from her.  I need to take care of myself.    There’s really nothing I can do for her except pray for her healing and I can’t be of any help to her at all if I’m crazy myself — and between her issues and the awful political situation (which hopefully may be nearing its end but I’m not holding my breath), I am almost there.

I’ve gone on longer about that than I intended about my daughter, but that’s the main reason I haven’t been blogging very much this year, in case any of you wondered.    I’m just preoccupied and worried to the point where it’s not healthy.   I’ve been attending Al Anon meetings when I can, although I haven’t found a group I really feel at home in yet.  I’ve been spending less time at home, because frankly, I never know what I’m coming home to (my daughter and hubby currently live with me).   I’m looking into downsizing and moving to a smaller apartment or even a room in someone else’s home.  I need to escape.  They are adults and can take care of themselves here.   I’m not going to kick them out.  I prefer to move out myself, but the prospect of a move is causing me a lot of stress too.  It all just seems overwhelming.

Get to the point already!  You said this was about your day trip to the Lake!  

jocassee1

Oh, yes.  Of course.  Sorry I took so long to get to the point!

No matter what’s going on at home or in my personal life, I can always escape, and natural places always have a healing effect on me.   Bodies of water, in particular, soothe my soul and put me at peace, making it easier to cope with life for a while.

Back in June, I became interested in Scuba diving and had been researching places where I might go to get certification, and that’s how I found out about Lake Jocassee, which is located in Salem, South Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It’s the main attraction of Devils Fork State Park.  Jocassee is formed by the confluence of four rivers that flow into it from the Appalachians.   The lake actually has a fascinating history, which you can read about here. 

jocasseevalley

Jocassee Valley in the early 1970s, before it was flooded by the State of South Carolina and Duke Energy to create Lake Jocassee

The reason Lake Jocassee is so popular with Scuba divers is because of its clarity and depth.  It’s a large lake, which goes as deep as 300 feet and is not dark and murky like most lakes.  It also lacks that funky, swampy “lake” smell.

The day couldn’t have been more perfect.  It may be early fall, but the day felt like the middle of July: hot, sunny, and perfect for swimming.   The lake water was every bit as clear as I’d been told and had seen in pictures.   I was definitely not disappointed!

jocassee3.jpg

You can get a good idea of the water’s clarity here.

The drive was very pleasant, only a little over one hour from my home, and it was just a short walk down to the small sandy beach.  When I waded out into the water, I was delighted that the bottom remained sandy, and wasn’t at all gunky with mud and the usual slimy stuff that’s usually found at the bottom of lakes. There were a few twigs, small rocks, and a little plant matter here and there, but it was definitely mostly sand, which I could dig my toes into and almost feel like I was at the ocean.   I could also still see the bottom even when I waded out so far the water was above my head!

jocassee4

…and here.

There were also small waves!  The lake is pretty large (not so large you can’t see across it though), but I don’t think it’s large enough to have any real wave or tidal action like the Great Lakes do; the waves might have been caused by the breeze or the boats in the distance.  In any case, it was relaxing listening to them lap rhythmically onto the sand.

jocasseedog

Dog and kids having a romp in the lake.

For me, Lake Jocassee is a perfect merging of what I love about the Blue Ridge Mountains and love about the beach.   While the mountains in upstate South Carolina are not as high or impressive as the ones in North Carolina, they are less intimidating and still make for lovely views and are a perfect frame for this crystal clear lake.   But at the same time, I also got a real “beach” feel here, unlike any other lake I’ve ever been to.

jocassee6

When I wasn’t in the water, I watched the view from my beach chair and just soaked in the sun, watched kids and dogs play in the water, and read.   I think I stayed about three hours, until late afternoon, when it began to cloud up a bit.  I decided then was a good time to head home.   I left feeling refreshed, relaxed, and better able to handle the challenges I’ve been dealing with.

On the way home, I passed by Table Rock, also in the upstate of South Carolina, and pulled over on the side of the road to take a few quick pictures.

tablerock2

Table Rock, Table Rock State Park, Pickens, SC

 

I also got a little color.

I’ll definitely be going back to Lake Jocassee.   It’s on my growing list of “happy places.”

Enjoy the photos!

 

A day in Chimney Rock, NC

bridgeofflowers6

Today was my birthday!

For the past two years, I’ve been going to Chimney Rock on my birthday. It’s a perfect way to spend that day.

chimneyrock

Chimney Rock is a little village right next to Lake Lure. It’s full of cute shops, restaurants, and all kinds of natural wonders: Chimney Rock itself, which I passed on because it involves taking an elevator through a mountain, a wonderful rocky creek that has places where you can wade and even swim, and the whimsical Bridge of Flowers, which has been there since 2013.

bridgeofflowers

 

My daughter (who is clean 49 days now!), her hubby, and I walked through the town, stopped for ice cream, and spent about an hour by the creek, sitting on the rocks and wading in the water. Most of these pictures (except the one of DD playing in the creek) are of the Bridge of Flowers, which has every type of plant, aromatic herb, succulent, and flower you can imagine, and tons of artistic and whimsical touches, such as “secret gardens” with brightly painted benches, handmade birdhouses, “doors to nowhere” and old windows repainted in creative ways, colorful gates, paving stones, and lots of other creative touches. It’s maintained by the community, all volunteers.

bridgeofflowers1

bridgeofflowers2cactus

bridgeofflowers3

bridgeofflowers4

bridgeofflowers7

A beautiful day in the Blue Ridge mountains.

I took a nice long drive today to one of my very favorite spots, in Sunburst, NC.   There is a campground there, an actual swimming hole (which I posted about last summer), and the most beautiful scenery you could ever ask for.

sunburst1

sunburst2sunburst3

sunburst4

Closeup of the running water and moss

 

Further reading:

Day Trip to Sunburst, NC  (if you’re a butterfly fan, you will want to take a look)

 

Spring in the mountains.

These three gorgeous pictures capture the Blue Ridge in April.   These photos were taken from about 3,000 feet.

I wasn’t lucky enough to get the flowering dogwoods or many other flowering trees (most have turned green by now).

springtrees1

springtrees2

springtrees3

Early spring drive.

springdrive2

I needed a day to unwind and de-stress, so I decided to take my new car out for a spin, because it was such a gorgeous spring day, and this is my favorite time of year.

Has anyone noticed the colors on the some of the trees in spring are the exact same colors you see in the fall?   The reason for that is the chlorophyll, the substance which turns the leaves green so they can make their own food from sunlight, hasn’t kicked in yet.  In the fall, the leaves stop making chlorophyll when they no longer need to make their own food.   The photo above and immediately below show the fall-like colors.

springdrive1

Is it early spring or late fall? It’s hard to tell here.

I drove all the way to Sunburst, a beautiful spot near Lake Logan which has a campground, a swimming hole, and a fast moving stream.    In the summer, this is a great place to cool off (the water in the swimming hole is crystal clear with a slight greenish tint, surprisingly deep, and cold)  but right now, it’s fishing season.   I didn’t fish, but I sat on one of the big boulders and just took in the sights and sounds, and let the stress leave my body and mind.

springdrive4.jpg

springdrive5

Fishing in Sunburst, NC

springdrive3

Sunburst Swimming Hole

A swamp in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Who knew?

swannanoaswamp2

The swamp covered in water lilies.  They don’t appear to be in full bloom.  Photo: John Boyle/jboyle@citizen-times.com)

 

Yesterday as I was driving east along US Highway 70 headed toward Black Mountain, I passed an unusual sight:  to the immediate left on the road was a flat expanse covered with what looked like bright pink water lilies.   On closer inspection, I realized I was looking at a swamp!   We don’t have swamps here in the Blue Ridge Mountains!  Or do we?

I’ve actually passed the swamp many times before without knowing it.   It never really stood out to me before, since this stretch of the highway isn’t especially scenic.   It’s filled with used car lots, run down buildings, and sad, outdated, nearly empty strip malls.    During the winter and early spring, I had seen the swamp, but because of the vast amounts of rain we’ve had this year, I assumed it was just a flooded area and would probably eventually be drained and something built there.

But the presence of the water lilies made me realize this wasn’t just a flooded area that would eventually dry up, but an actual, bona fide swamp!

swannanoaswamp1

Photo: John Boyle/jboyle@citizen-times.com)

 

I was intrigued.  I wanted to find out more.   When I got home, I Googled “Swannanoa Swamp,” not expecting to find much, if any information.   But there were actually two articles written about it, one in the Asheville Citizen-Times and another on the River Link website.   There were also a few photos, which I have copied here.

Since both articles appeared to be written in the past year, I assumed the swamp was a new thing.  I had never noticed it at all until this year, when I assumed it was just a flooded area.  But it’s actually at least 60 years old!

Here is the quote from the “Answer Man” on the Asheville Citizen-Times article that explains the swamp’s (actually two connected swamps) unusual history:

…The KOA Campground in Swannanoa owns the swamp ponds on the north side of the road, which are actually strangely attractive with all the lily pads and bright pink lilies in bloom.

A co-owner of the KOA, who asked not to be identified, said a divider lies between the two ponds, and they do have a resident beaver. Campers aren’t allowed to fish in the swamps.

For their origin, she referred me to Swannanoa Valley historian Bill Alexander, whose family owned much of the property around there on the north side of U.S. 70.

“When Grovestone inquired about some property they would like to get rock out of, my father and my uncle gave them permission to dig some of that area out, just for the granite or whatever they could get out of there,” Alexander said. “They did that, and because they were getting something essentially for nothing, they said, ‘We’ll make you a lake.'”

This was in the early 1950s. The lake remains as the KOA Campground lake.

“There was a body of water that came from the original lake, and it didn’t have anywhere to go,” Alexander said. “The swamp was a run-over from the lake. That’s how that body of water, specifically, came to be.”

The article went on to explain that there have been no known health issues or problems because of the swamp’s presence, but that people exploring the area should take precautions and stay covered and use bug repellant to ward off mosquitoes, which breed there as they do in any wetland.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Swamp in winter or early spring.  Credit: Riverlink.org

I didn’t get out of the car to explore the swamp myself, so I didn’t get a chance to take my own photos.   I think you probably have to go in via the campgrounds, which are behind it.   Maybe one day I will do that.    These photos don’t show the brilliant pink of the water lilies.  It’s not a large area.  I’d say it’s about the size of a fairly small, but long pond.

Sunday drive to Mount Mitchell.

mtmitchell1

I had to get out of the house yesterday and clear my head.  I’ve been very upset about the situation with the children at the border.

Nature usually calms my soul and centers me, so in spite of the iffy, partly cloudy weather, I took a drive to Mount Mitchell State Park, about 50 miles to the north from where I live.   Mount Mitchell is part of the Black Mountains (eastern flank of the Blue Ridge) and at 6,683 ft is the highest mountain on the East Coast (Mount Washington in New Hampshire is the second highest, at 6,289 ft).

mtmitchell7

It was noticeably cooler at the summit, almost sweater weather.  That high up, only conifer trees can grow, and the area is known for its Frasier firs, a species known only to this area that almost died out about twenty years ago due to an aphid infestation.  There are still many white skeleton-looking trunks of the trees that died off, mixed with the newer trees, giving the area an eerie but interesting look.

I took these photos.  Hope you like them.

mtmitchell2

mtmitchell3

mtmitchell4

mtmitchell5

mtmitchell8

mtmitchelltree

mtmitchell9jpg

 

 

 

 

Friday evening drive into the mountains.

060217_2

I was bored and needed to clear my head, so I headed into the mountains again.  I took the same route I took on Memorial Day.   It was later in the day though, so there was this wonderful late afternoon golden light that was just magical.

There was no one at the overlook where I stopped to take photos, and no signs of civilization at all, not even any cars on the road.  I felt like the only person in the world, and realized these mountains looked exactly this way thousands of years ago.   This is what the native Americans would have seen, long before there were any paved roads.

060217_1

060317_3

060217_3

060217_4

060217_5

060217_6

060217_8

060217_9

060217_10

Dogwoods in bloom.

I snapped these photos of a flowering dogwood near my home today. Dogwoods–actually a shrub, not a tree–are a common sight in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains and are so well known their beautiful four-petaled white blooms are the North Carolina state flower.

dogwood1

dogwood2
Click the images for more detail. (The closeup is a little blurry–sorry about that).