My backyard just got a lot bigger and more interesting.

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Pioneer plants and grasses are beginning to overtake the bare ground the removal of the blackberry brambles left in its wake.

I’ve been living in this 1908 farmhouse since 2012 (yes, it’s really 111 years old!).  Until earlier this year, the backyard sloped down rather steeply and seemed to end with a very thick, overgrown patch of blackberry bushes, that alas, never produced any edible blackberries (grrrr!) and had become an unmanageable tangle of brambles that had become invasive and made the grass at the base of the slope very difficult to mow.

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Another view.

It all started with a lost septic tank.

When our septic system needed to be pumped last fall no one knew where the septic tank was at first.  It hadn’t been pumped in at least ten years!   In fact, when I moved in I mistakenly thought we were on the city sewer system, but when I began getting strange odors coming from the sinks, bathtub and toilet, and finally some kind of brown sludge coming up through the drains, I made an emergency call to my landlord and he arranged for the system to be pumped.  But first they’d need to look for it, because even he couldn’t remember where it was located.

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Lots of snakelike roots and hanging vines.

Well, they finally found it.  It was located under the blackberry brambles, so all of them had to be removed, leaving a large, mudpit shot through with thick roots that gave the entire back of my yard the appearance of a giant snake pit.  But I was shocked at how much more space there was too.   The land behind the brambles went back pretty far, down into a ditch far below that may or may not contain a small stream.    It turns out, all that land belongs to this property.

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There’s a fallen tree that goes way off into the distance, though it’s hard to see the other end.

I did nothing to clean up the area, other than toss some grass seed on the dried mud.  Now it’s May and nature is taking over again.  New plants and tufts of tall grass are growing lushly and there are even pioneer trees and shrubs beginning to take over the once bare soil and cover the sinuous roots.

Thinking like my cat.

My imagination went a little crazy.  I thought about my tuxedo cat Sheldon quietly slithering into the natural nooks and crannies in the trees and shrubs, and all the secret cat trails he has probably discovered, where he finds heaven knows what.   I imagined being a cat, and in my mind’s eye I saw trails leading off into the dark woods beyond, even though there don’t appear to be any there right now.  Maybe we can bushwack some of the shrubs and vines and make a trail, even though in all likelihood any trail we create would lead to nowhere more interesting than the newish housing development there behind the trees, much of which can be seen in winter when the trees are bare.

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I always have loved the golden light of late afternoon and early evening.

 

An abandoned school in Ruskin, Florida: a detour.

I was reminded of Easter Day this year.  It was my first full day in Florida after arriving there the night before.  We had gone to visit my son’s partner Josh’s family in a place called Ruskin, which is just south of Tampa.

There’s not much going on in Ruskin, Florida, but across the road from Josh’s mom’s comfortable doublewide where we spent the entire day eating a motley assortment of potluck dishes as though it were Thanksgiving (and getting just as sleepy later), are several trails that go off into the woods for quite a long distance, but all wind up in the same place:  an old abandoned school that burned down sometime in the 1970s.

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My son and a friend after gorging on potluck Easter dishes all day.

No one knows if the fire was an accident or arson, or if anyone died in the fire, but seeing the darkened red brick and yellowed concrete walls of the old school (there are only three walls left standing and two of them are crumbling) suddenly emerge out from the junglelike brush and Floridian forest plants, was a rather spooky (but cool) experience.

I didn’t take photos, because my son was taking better photos on his more expensive and much better camera.   It was nice to have my hands free so I could swat the hundreds of mosquitoes that swarmed around me and were happily dining on both my arms and my hands.   I finally resorted to waving my arms around wildly to ward off the clouds of mosquitoes, but the next day both my arms were covered in itchy red welts.  I’m glad I had the presence of mind to wear long pants and sneakers, rather than shorts and flip flops, like two of the people who accompanied us did.

Although I didn’t take pictures of the school ruins, a friend of my son’s did — on Christmas Day of all times.    My son was along for that hike too.   There’s also a video of his friend jumping (and almost falling into) a creek, but I’ll spare you that.   I guess that’s what people do in Florida on Christmas – they go hiking and hunt for old ruins in the woods.   We made the same hike on Easter.    That seems significant.   So here are four photographs of what they saw on their Christmas hike, and that’s pretty much the same thing we saw on our Easter hike.

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Credit for the above photos:  Tahoe Wolf  Ⓒ 2018

Back at home.

So, getting back to my newly opened up backyard.    It’s kind of ugly still, and there probably aren’t any interesting old ruins from decades ago, but it has promise.  There’s more there to explore, and over time, it will become more eyecatching as the patchy almost bare ground becomes covered with new plants and flowers.  I might toss some wildflower seed down there to help it along.

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Looking back up the hill at the burned out hulk of the apartment building that partially burned down in late January and killed a woman who was trapped inside (I posted about this and included a video of the fire I took on my phone that got used on the local news).

I’m sorry that I have no “before” pictures of the blackberry brambles that were blocking our access to anything beyond (and hiding our septic system), but frankly, they weren’t that attractive anyway.

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This is the ugliest angle of my house.  This was taken looking back up the hill at its backside, which is devoid of shutters, has old ladders and other junk propped up against it, and the grass is way overdue for a mow.   Still, I liked the juxtaposition of the stark white against the deep green and blue sky.

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A beary good day.

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I took a drive out to Lake Logan, about 30 miles from here.  The lake’s surface was so still it was like a mirror.  There was no human activity at all (this is a very isolated lake, but in the summer there is still quite a bit of activity from people camping in the area).

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There’s a definite fall feel in the air even though the days are still hot and most of the leaves haven’t really begun to turn yet.   Summer is definitely over.

Driving back home along some back roads, was I in for a surprise!    This black bear was standing in the middle of the road and at one point was quite close, but he quickly lumbered off before I could grab my phone to get a closeup picture.   I managed to snap this photo before he disappeared back into the woods.  I guess he found the attention unbearable.

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Return to Sunburst, NC

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I enjoyed our day trip to Sunburst a couple of weeks ago so much that I decided to go back, only this time alone. I left my house early and arrived there at about 11 AM.

I was the only person there!   How wonderful!  I could easily imagine I was the only person in the world, and this tranquil and perfect little spot with its cold mountain water, breathtaking views, and swarms of colorful butterflies was my own little Garden of Eden.

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This time I had taken along a couple of plastic gallon jugs, and filled both with the cold, clear water. I know it’s perfectly safe to drink as is without filtering it, because I tried it last time we went and didn’t get sick.

With no other people splashing the water, it was very still, and therefore it was easier this time to get an idea of how deep the water may have been in the “swimming hole” area.   The slope down into it was quite steep from where I stood at waist level.  My guess was the water in the deepest spot was about 6 or 7 feet.  You could still see the stones at the bottom,  with the water at that depth taking on a greenish tint.

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Looking down into the “swimming hole.”

Here and there in the shallows were little piles of different sized stones.
I’m not sure if these are some kind of markers, or if they’re just there for decoration. Whatever they were there for, I thought they made for interesting photographs.

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If anything, there were even more butterflies here this time than last. I spent less time taking pictures of them, but I did take this one because it includes a yellow and black butterfly that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest (there were actually quite a few of them there too).

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I stayed about an hour and waded out into the water up to my waist, then decided to go home because I had errands to run. On the way up the hill back to my car, I saw some trash. That made me angry. Why are people such pigs? Why would they desecrate this idyllic Eden-like spot with their garbage?

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I looked in the car and found a trash bag in the back, and spent about 10 minutes picking up beer cans, chip bags, styrofoam cups, etc. Then I got in the car and drove back home.  I think I’ve found my happy place.  I’ll keep coming back here often.  It should be lovely in the fall.

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Day trip to Sunburst, NC

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Blue swallowtail butterflies.

Probably the best kept secret in my neck of the woods is a swimming hole in Sunburst, North Carolina.  It’s about 30 miles to the west of my home, deep in Haywood County, near the Tennessee border.  It’s actually part of a river system near Lake Logan, in the Smoky Mountains.   It’s one of those places that mostly just the local people know about, since it’s not advertised anywhere, there are no signs leading to it, and there is no admission to get in.   Which is wonderful because it never gets too crowded, and you almost feel like it’s your own little secret happy place.

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You just park by the side of the road and walk down to the water (you have to be careful — it’s very rocky and lots of roots too).   But once you’re down there, you’re in for a treat.   The water is cold, and probably the clearest freshwater I’ve ever seen — or tasted.   There is no cloudiness to it at all.   You can drink it and it tastes fantastic.    In fact, I filled my water bottle with it to take back home with me.  Next time, I’m taking a gallon jug!

I went up to my waist in the water (I didn’t jump off the rocks like the kids in this video were doing — and the water does look quite deep in the middle) and when you emerge you do feel rather tingly all over — I’m not sure if that’s due to the coldness or the minerals in the water.  It has a very “soft” feel to it, and I did feel very relaxed for several hours after this trip, so I wonder what good, healthful minerals it might have been infused with.

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There were blue swallowtail butterflies everywhere!  Here is the video I made.  Please excuse how amateurish it is — I’m new at making videos and haven’t figured out how to get it to fill the screen yet.    I just posted this one and the Clearwater Beach one on my Youtube account, which I’ve always had but never had anything of my own on it before.

The swamp again!

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about a surprising swamp here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.   At the time, I only had a couple of photos not taken by me.   I’ve been fascinated by the swamp ever since I discovered it.

Today, with nothing else to do, I took a drive back to the swamp to get some photos.  There wasn’t really anyplace to go down into the swamp and get closeups (not that I’d really want to do that anyway) so I took these from the highway that goes right past it.   The weeds along the side of the road were too tall to walk in.

I love the creepy beauty of these pictures.

The flowering plants growing on the water are water lilies and the blooms are a lovely bright pink, but it’s hard to make out the color from the photos.   It would have been worth getting closer in for that.

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Floodwaters.

This is a local creek.  Due to all the rain we’ve had, many areas are flooded and this creek has turned into a river!   It’s MUCH wider than it is normally.

Yes, that is wild bamboo growing on the left.

I promise I will have the Florida pictures up very soon.

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A fun day.

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Side view of the Hundred Year Old Cabin, Arden, NC.

Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday, but this year has gone by so fast (and because of the continued cold weather, I was having trouble believing spring had really arrived), so I almost forgot about her birthday. It just sort of snuck up on me.   So I realized yesterday I hadn’t made any plans or gotten her anything.

I stopped by a cupcake shop on the way home and got six different types of cupcakes, then had her pick her favorite one (red velvet cake).  Then I placed a candle on top of it and brought it out to her while we sang happy birthday (I did not get a picture of that but I should have — the cupcakes were adorable and so colorful).

Then I told her I wanted to go for a drive and wanted company.   What I had in mind was a 3 mile trip to some river cabins I’d always been curious to see.     She and her boyfriend joined me, thinking the trip would be boring, but it wasn’t at all!

There are seven adorable rental cabins tucked away in the woods by the river.   Six of them are new, and all perfectly charming (we could actually go inside two of them), but the one that fascinated me the most was the Hundred Year Old Cabin.   We didn’t get to see the inside of it, but it’s very photogenic, as you can see below.

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Back view of the Hundred Year Old Cabin

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Front view of the Hundred Year Old Cabin

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Two photos of one of the newer river cabins.

We got to try out the hammock on one of the cabins closest to the river.   It was a beautiful day, and so relaxing just swinging in it and hearing all the nature sounds.  It was hard to believe I wasn’t on vacation and only a few miles from my home .

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We walked around the campgrounds for a while and took some pictures of the river, then we headed to Panera Bread for her birthday dinner.

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The extraordinary in the ordinary.

Some things we think of as ugly or ordinary can be beautiful and extraordinary when we see them through the eyes of a photographer, a naturalist, or a scientist.

I’m not a scientist, just an amateur photographer, but I deeply appreciate nature.  These ants that swarmed around a little puddle of syrup that leaked from a garbage bag were interesting to me.   They seem to come out of nowhere.  They’re so industrious and play an important role in our ecological balance.

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I took a similar photo last August while in Florida (here is my post about that).   One night we went fishing and used shrimp for bait.   This is what happened to one of my shrimp after just a few minutes of sitting in the hot sun:

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Flowering trees.

We had a cold snap here over the weekend (and a little snow too) and I was afraid it would kill the blooms on the trees, but I guess it wasn’t cold enough because they still look great.   Here’s a couple of pictures from today.

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The first (and hopefully last) snow of the season.

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It started to snow yesterday afternoon around 2:30 PM.   So it’s a good thing I decided to play hooky from work yesterday.   I can’t drive in the white stuff.  Obviously, I’m not a big fan or either winter or snow. I’m definitely a spring and summer person.

But hey, snow is pretty.  I took the first picture (above) around 7 PM last night, and the other two are from about 2 PM today.  Hopefully it’s all gone by Monday.   Some of it melted during the day.

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