It’s easy to get bored during quarantine. One thing that doesn’t put myself or anyone else at risk of becoming ill, but gets me out of the house is driving. As long as I don’t get out of the car, and make the drive the destination in itself, all is good.
Driving along I-26 eastbound into upstate South Carolina during lockdown was strange to say the least. Neon signs overhead nagging me to “STAY HOME” and hardly any cars out on the road, in spite of the glorious spring weather. I rolled down my windows, took a deep breath, and let the wind whip my hair around. I turned the hard rock station all the way up, and just coasted along the highway, taking in the view. I had to be careful not to speed, something I tend to do whenever I listen to music while I’m driving, especially when there’s practically no one else on the road.
Since the purpose of the drive was relaxation (and boredom relief), I only took these two pictures. I liked the juxtaposition of the nearly flat savannaesque terrain near Campobello, South Carolina looking northwest toward the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, only about five miles away. Things were a lot greener and hotter in South Carolina than they are up in the mountains, that’s for sure. One hour away from my house, and it feels like summer.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, I kept my vow to escape to Deep Creek in Bryson City yesterday and spend the day tubing. There’s nothing like the great outdoors and exciting outdoor activities to restore one’s sense of sanity.
The weather was gorgeous, and the water was refreshing and cold!
We stopped at a place called JJ’s tubes to rent our tubes (only $5 for the entire day) and the very friendly staff attached our three tubes to the top of my car.
Then we drove the mile to the entrance to the campgrounds.
We decided to hike to the top of the trail that runs parallel to Deep Creek (almost a mile) and tube all the way down back to the campgrounds. The top part is more difficult: there are more rapids, whirlpools, lots and lots of rocks you can get caught on, small waterfalls, and the water runs much faster. It seems like it could even be dangerous, but it really isn’t. It’s just exciting enough to give you a sense of danger but you’re really pretty safe. I wouldn’t recommend the higher part of the creek for small children however, although I did see quite a few braving the rapids anyway.
Once you pass under the bridge, the ride becomes more like a “lazy river,” with fewer rapids and whirlpools,and just becomes slow and relaxing. Some of the views are breathtaking:
We climbed up the trail and came down the entire way twice. Afterwards, we stopped for burgers and ice cream, and then drove back to JJ’s to return our tubes. A perfect way to end a perfect day.
I didn’t take pictures due to not wanting to have to carry much equipment with me up the trail and then have to worry about possibly losing or ruining it in the water. So these few were taken along the trail by my daughter, who had a small waterproof box to store her phone in (and for anyone who is wondering, she is doing a lot better). There’s one picture of all of us once we made it back to the slower portion of the river as we were approaching the campground (shown at the top of this post).
Everything is terrible right now.
Future history books will not be kind.
I need to escape into the woods.
I need to feel the rush of cold mountain streams.
This is what I plan to be doing this Memorial Day weekend.
There’s always time for joy.
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.
Day Trip to Sunburst, NC (if you’re a butterfly fan, you will want to take a look)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the past three or four years, I’ve been noticing drastic changes in our climate that can’t be explained by temporary freakish weather conditions or other passing factors. These are enduring, permanent changes that have affected the climate in the mountainous regions of North Carolina (Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains) and have actually raised us up a notch on the Plant Hardiness Growing Map so that plants that were once not viable here (due to it being too cold) can now be grown. Soon I expect to start seeing palmetto trees!
Forgive the gallows humor, because it really is no joke.
In spite of occasional blasts of severe winter weather and single digit temperatures, for the most part, the past three or four winters have been extremely warm, some days so warm you can go without a jacket or sweater. I remember Christmas Day of 2015 was in the seventies. I’ve seen trees and flowers blooming as early as mid-February. I may live in the south, but it’s not the tropics or even the deep south. In normal years the winters have been consistently cold, though they don’t last very long, even here in the mountains, where it tends to be colder.
But even more noticeable than the higher temperatures and earlier springs (and later winters)is the rain. While climate change has made some parts of the country, such as California and much of the west, extremely dry and prone to drought and devastating wildfires, other places are getting an excess of rain (and severe storms). We are one of those places, and the rain often leads to flooding, something that until recently wasn’t that common here, or at least was confined to specific areas that everyone knew to avoid. Now it seems to be everywhere, and is affecting small farms in this area the most drastically. There’s an area of fairly flat land in Henderson County that I pass on most days. This is a valley area which is often used as farmland or grazing land. Now many of these farms and grazing areas seem to be almost permanently flooded, forming shallow lakes and ponds. The water never gets a chance to evaporate sufficiently before the next rainstorm comes along and causes even more flooding.
The rivers also seem unusually high. There are times certain roads have been closed off due to the rivers and streams overflowing their banks.
And the mud! While it tends to get muddy here every late winter and early spring, I’ve never seen anything quite like this. When you walk across the grass, you feel the ground give way beneath you like a soggy sponge. Trees have fallen because the ground is too soft to hold their roots in place. And all my shoes are ruined. This forested region is fast becoming very close to something resembling a wetland.
The speed of these changes is scary. Climate change is real. Anyone who tells you otherwise either isn’t paying attention or has bought into lies certain powerful politicians and CEOs are telling.