Banana palms growing in western North Carolina?

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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.

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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).

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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 day in Chimney Rock, NC

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tubing in Bryson City, NC

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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).

Escaping to Deep Creek, Bryson City, NC

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.

 

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.

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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)

 

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.

Early spring drive.

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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.

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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.

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Fishing in Sunburst, NC

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Sunburst Swimming Hole

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.

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.