Climate change has turned our farms into lakes.

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Floodwaters in Henderson County, NC

 

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.

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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.

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Exploring Asheville’s Grove Park Inn, my son’s unexpected visit, and more.

 

Looking up at the front of the Grove Park Inn, Asheville, NC

I had a pretty exciting (and hectic) weekend.   My son came up from Tampa with a friend of his (Rudy) in tow.   I really wasn’t prepared for the visit, since he announced it just three days before their arrival.    He had to take Rudy to the airport in Atlanta and decided to come up to NC to visit his mom and newly married sister (and new brother in law), since we are not that far away from Atlanta.

Friday night after I got home from work they were already at the house.  We ate at the new Galactic Pizza near my home (their Italian food and especially their pizza is amazing).  The space theme decor is super cool as well.

Inside of Galactic Pizza, Asheville

Closeup of the laminated outer space theme bar counter

The next day was pretty quiet, since my daughter and her husband both had to work, so my son and his friend went out to visit some of my son’s old friends from school, and I had a chance to clean up the house and do a little shopping.   Saturday night was Game Night.  They had brought two friends back with them to the house.  All seven of us crammed into the small living room, ate a huge bucket of Bojangles’ chicken, and played some online games (you have to download an app to play) and they were pretty fun, but after awhile I developed an intense headache and felt tired so I went to bed early while they continued to play more games deep into the night.    I was really feeling my age that night!

Sunday we had the best time.  We got up pretty early, and after a quick breakfast and some coffee, decided to head to the mall.  My son bought his partner some gifts, and I splurged and bought myself this adorable Betsey Johnson pink flamingo suitcase that was on sale (it was the last one left so I *had* to have it!).   I needed some new luggage anyway, and since I’m taking my yearly trip to Florida in two months (I can’t wait), the pink flamingo motif was perfect.  I’ll probably get the smaller matching case later, which would be perfect for smaller items and cosmetics, but I’ll probably order that online and get a cheaper price than I could at a store (and it was out of stock).

 

I also stopped in Hallmark while my daughter and her husband were busy and bought them this as a late wedding present (they got married several weeks back, but I never got around to writing a post about it). I think it looks like them a lot.  Both of them were touched.

 

After the mall run, my daughter left for work and her husband left with her, and so my son, his friend and I decided to go exploring the world famous Grove Park Inn (purchased by Omni Hotels and now officially referred to as he Omni Grove Park Inn) The hotel was built on he side of Sunset Mountain (part of the Blue Ridge) and completed in 1912.  It was built in the popular and beautiful Arts and Crafts architectural style that was fashionable at the time (and has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years).  Its red shingle roof has an organic look to it, and the facade is constructed of stone found right here in the mountains.   It has been added to over the years, with an additional wing added, but it all fits together seamlessly and the hotel has become enormous!  You can easily get lost in it.

Looking down from the hotel (it is built into the side of a mountain)

Looking up from the bottom. Yes, there are actual waterfalls, and these are natural features, not manmade.

 

Many notables of both the past and present have visited the hotel, and adorning the hallways are photos of the various famous visitors.   There are several excellent (but expensive) restaurants, and beautiful architectural detailing everywhere.

One of the most impressive things about the Inn is the huge stone lobby with its vintage rocking chairs and sofas, and especially its two gigantic fireplaces on either end.  There are outside porches extending from the lobby, and the views are breathtaking,  overlooking the nearby mountain ranges.   You feel like you are in the sky.

There is a vintage 1913 (?) Ford Model T (?) in the lobby.  Someone correct me on this if they know the exact model and year.  I forgot to take down that information.

You can get an idea of the view from these pictures.   I wish the day was less cloudy/foggy (and cold!), but it was still lovely.

And here is the three of us:

The hotel also may be haunted!  There is the famous legend of the Pink Lady, who was staying at the Inn in 1920, and died from a fall to the Palm Court from the balcony in the central part of the Inn (the floors above the main lobby). Her room number was 545, and to this day, people are either drawn to that particular room because of its macabre history, or they avoid it!   None of us encountered the Pink Lady or any other ghost that day (yes, we did walk past Room 545!)

Scale model of Grove Park Inn displayed in one of the hallways

Another famous thing about the Grove Park Inn is the annual Gingerbread House Competition, which takes place every Christmas season.  It’s a fairly new event, which started as a tiny competition for local people in the late 1990s, but has now become a huge sensation that people from all over the world travel to see.   Everything in the Gingerbread Houses must be edible, although it doesn’t need to all be of Gingerbread.

Here are two views of last year’s winner.  This construction includes (edible) gears that actually move!

 

The best part came last.  We descended all the stone stairs down the mountainside (seen above in some of the photos) and at the very bottom is the Grove Park Inn’s Spa, which is actually built into the rock itself.  It’s basically contained within an underground cave system, and as you walk along the stone tunnels leading to the Spa, there are  waterfalls here and there, trickling water collected in small pools along the rough stone walls, and even a few actual geodes embedded into the rock.   (It was too dark to get a good photo of those).   As you approach the Spa itself, you can smell the scents from inside.   We didn’t go inside, as we didn’t have a pass and hadn’t paid for a day at the Spa (how I would have loved that!), but what we saw was still impressive.

I do have one good picture of one of the tunnels leading to the Spa. Beneath that is a photo from Omni Hotels’ website, showing the Grove Park Inn Spa’s underground pool (which is manmade but might as well be a natural feature).

The underground pool at the Spa. (credit:  Omnihotels.com)

One day I’m spending a day here.  It’s on my bucket list.

This morning my son left to return to Florida.  I’m off work today so I’m spending the rest of the day working on my blog, something I’ve been sadly neglecting.  This is my first post.

 

The white squirrel of Brevard, NC

Brevard, North Carolina, is just to the southwest of where I live, in Transylvania County.

Transylvania County was named that because of its physical  resemblance to the Transylvania area of the Carpathians of Romania.  In fact, the movie “Cold Mountain,” which takes place in western North Carolina during the Civil War, was actually filmed in the Transylvanian part of Romania due to the less developed, mountainous terrain which would have resembled western North Carolina during Civil War times (also because it was cheaper to film it there).   Even today, the appearance of both areas are strikingly similar, as the below photos show.   They also share a similar climate and rural mountain culture.

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Transylvania, Carpathians, Romania

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Whitewater Falls, Transylvania County, NC in the autumn

 

It rains a lot in western North Carolina, but nowhere does it rain as much as it does in Transylvania County, which is actually classified as a temperate rainforest.  Transylvania is also known for its many waterfalls.  Within this temperate rainforest lives a unique creature that lives nowhere else on earth:  the white squirrel.    It’s not an albino, because its eyes are pigmented, but other than its unusual color, it’s a perfectly normal squirrel.    No one is quite sure why the squirrel (also known as the Brevard squirrel) evolved a bright white coat in an area that doesn’t normally get an abundance of snow.

 

October sunset.

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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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A swamp in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Who knew?

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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!

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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.

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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.

Memorial Day Photos — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC (Balsams, Plott Balsams, Devils Courthouse)

I had no plans for Memorial Day and no one to spend it with, and I was going stir crazy sitting around the house, with nothing to do but watch the depressing news.     So I decided to go for a drive.

I’m lucky to live very close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so I decided to drive south along it into the Plott Balsams, about 50 miles from my house.  This range (which is east of the Smokies) contains the highest peak along the parkway (6,053 feet).    The highest peak on the East Coast is Mount Mitchell (6,674 feet) in the Black Mountains, but that’s about 50 miles in the other direction.

I moved to western North Carolina in 1993, and I remember these high peaks you see pictured here used to be almost bald and covered with the dead white remains of the Frasier firs, which were almost made extinct by an aphid infestation that killed almost all the trees at this elevation.   Now they are lush and green again, but in a few of the photos, you can still see the white trunks of the dead trees peeking through the green.  I love the contrast of the dark green of the firs and balsams against the light green of the deciduous trees (which stop growing above 4,500 – 5,000 feet).   The pink flowered shrubs are wild rhododendron.

Enjoy the photos I took today.

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