Friday, February 29, 2008

God's Love and Artistry

Because God created the Natural -- invented it out of His love and artistry -- it demands our reverence.
--C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) author

What a thrilling sight to see yesterday near Carver's Gap on the TN/NC border -- it was as if all of Roan Mountain was encased in frost and snow. The mountain absolutely sparkled. I tell you it was hard to stop taking pictures! -- everywhere I looked there was something amazing to see, demanding reverence.

Happy February 29th - Click here to read Kingsport photographer Earl Carter's encouragement that we do something special with this extra day!

Directions: Take Route 19E to the town of Roan Mountain, turn onto Route 143 and travel 12.8 miles to the TN/NC state line (a.k.a. Carver's Gap). On your way up the mountain, you'll pass through the Roan Mountain State Park. Eventually, you leave the state park and enter the national forest. The Appalachian Trail, which crosses Carver's Gap, goes up Round Bald to your left. Since they've rerouted the AT in this area, the climb to the top of Round Bald is much easier and much more scenic.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

a subtle evangelist

One of my current pet theories is that the winter is a kind of evangelist, more subtle than Billy Graham, of course, but of the same stuff.
--Shirley Ann Grau (b.1929) author

One of the things I love about living here in east Tennessee is that while winter does occasionally come knocking, as it did yesterday, it rarely insists on coming in and staying for a long visit.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Beneath this snowy mantle

Beneath this snowy mantle cold and clean
The unborn grass lies waiting for its coat to turn to green
The snowbird sings the song he always sings
And speaks to me of flowers that will bloom again in spring

--Anne Murray (b.1945) "Snowbird"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Coon Den Falls

This beautiful 50' waterfall is located in the Dennis Cove area of Carter County, TN. While the hike is short (1/2 mile), it's fairly steep. I'd say this is a moderately difficult trail. You pass a smaller waterfall on the way up, but unfortunately it's covered with fallen trees, but just a little further and you arrive at the main attraction. This is one of those destinations that doesn't get very much attention. Most people traveling into Dennis Cove are there to hike to Laurel Falls or to go to the Dennis Cove Campground. Next time you're out that way, be sure to take a short side trail to see this beautiful sight for yourself. Click here, here, here and here for more information and photos.

Directions: Hampton, TN is located between cities of Elizabethton and Roan Mountain on Highway 19E. Once in Hampton, turn north onto route 321/67 toward Mountain City. Drive 0.8 miles and turn right immediately in front of the Citizen's Bank onto Dennis Cove Road. Take this incredibly curvy and steep road for 4.6 miles. (If you're familiar with the area, the trail to Coon Den Falls is 0.6 miles past the trailhead/parking area for Laurel Falls). There is no established parking area for Coon Den, so be on the look out on the right side for blue slashes and a small brown trail sign. If you get to the Dennis Cove Campground, you've gone too far, go back 0.2 miles.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Shoulder to Shoulder

This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.
--Elmer Davis

I can remember my grandmother telling me when I was a teen that she enjoyed walking through cemeteries. At the time, I thought that was a bit odd. But somewhere along the way, I've discovered that I, too, like to roam around cemeteries -- looking for the old stones, reading the names -- wondering what their lives were like. The photo above was taken at the Mountain Home National Cemetery in Johnson City, TN. Established in 1903, the cemetery now has 10,000 grave sites, the oldest are those of Civil War veterans.

Click here to access the names and burial locations of those interred at Mountain Home.
Click here to learn more about the cemetery and its history and here for directions.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

From Rails to Trails

Here is one of the forty-seven trestles found along the Virginia Creeper Trail. This particular structure is found in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area outside of Damascus, Virginia. The Creeper Trail, created from a section of an old railroad line, stretches thirty-four miles from the VA/NC border to Abingdon, VA. Click here to read an interesting account of the difficult transition from "rails to trails." Because of it's gentle grade, the trail is very popular with hikers and bicyclists, and boasts over 100,000 visitors per year. Click here for more info from the VA Creeper Trail Club.

Friday, February 22, 2008

a flower in spring bloom

If you've never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom.
--Audra Foveo

Thursday, February 21, 2008

too little time

I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.
--John Burroughs (1837-1921) American naturalist and essayist

While there are plenty of deer freely roaming Bays Mountain Park (Kingsport, TN) outside of the white-tailed deer habitat, this particular one was photographed through the habitat fence. Bays Mountain is a terrific place to visit, especially for those with children -- there are lots of trails to walk, sights to see, and furry friends to meet. Click the above link for more info and directions. Click here to see my previous Bays Mountain posts.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

in the moment

Like life, basketball is messy and unpredictable. It has its way with you, no matter how hard you try to control it. The trick is to experience each moment with a clear mind and open heart. When you do that, the game--and life--will take care of itself.
--Phil Jackson (b.1945) NBA Coach

Above: Milligan College's Danny McKeehan (Maineville, OH) leads the Buffaloes to victory against the visiting UVA-Wise Cavaliers, 82-62. Click here to see more photos from the game.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Bridge Builder

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim
That sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when he reached the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim near,
"You are wasting strength in building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head.
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him."

--Will Allen Dromgoole (1860-1934), author and poet

The photo above is of a unique footbridge outside of Hampton, TN where the Appalachian Trail crosses Laurel Fork. The volunteers of the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club (TEHCC) are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of 126 miles of the AT -- from Spivey Gap south of Erwin, TN to Damascas, VA. They are the bridge builders and "keepers of the trail," whose hard work and sacrifices keep the trail beautiful and safe. Here is a link to photos of the construction of the Laurel Fork bridges.

Click here to read my friend Aaron Wymer's interesting recollection of this trail to Laurel Falls.

Monday, February 18, 2008

a better prescription

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.
--Anne Frank (1929-1945) writer and Holocaust victim

This quote goes well with the one entitled Desiderata that I posted a few days ago. Searching through quotes all the time for the blog has made me realize that many of the great writers and thinkers reached similar conclusions about the importance of maintaining a connection to nature. You'd think with all this advice and encouragement from such revered persons we'd hoist ourselves out of our recliners more often and get outdoors. Yet in spite of the fact that we live in such a beautiful country, Americans spend more time watching TV than any other people on the planet. Click here to see a grim chart declaring us the couch potato champions of the world. Maybe this is why we're also the most medicated...Anne Frank would suggest another remedy.

The above photo is of Millstone Creek Falls in rural Washington County, TN. Click here for more information, links and directions.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Honoring their Offering

This is a shot taken a few nights ago of the war memorial located at Mountain Home in Johnson City, TN. Once known as the Old Soldiers' Home, most people now simply refer to the area as the "VA Center" (or just "VA") for the large Veteran's Administration Hospital located there. The extensive campus is also home to the ETSU Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy. Click here to read more about the VA. Click here for an interactive map of all the buildings located at the VA.

The inscription at the base of this impressive obelisk reads...
In memory of the men who offered their lives in defense of their country.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Don't tell me about the world today

Don't tell me about the world. Not today. It's springtime and they're knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball.
--Pete Hamill (b.1935) writer

Can you believe college baseball has already begun? This was taken Thursday at Milligan College's home opener. Freshman pitcher Keith Fenner (above) from Chilhowie, VA got the start and the win for the Milligan Buffaloes in game one against the Virginia Intermont College Cobras. Catching was freshman Alex Bush of Maryville, TN. Milligan also won the second game of the double header. Click here to see the rest of the game photos. Today, Milligan plays another double header at home starting at 1 pm against the Blue Knights of Urbana Univerity (Ohio). I plan on being down at the field all day, taking a break from the world.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Go placidly amid the noise and haste...

Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.
--Arthur Somers Roche (1883-1935) writer

My favorite response to these destructive streams of worry is to find an actual stream like the one above and allow its serenity and solitude to remind me to keep things in perspective, that "the universe is unfolding as it should." I get that line from a well known motivational piece entitled Desiderata (latin for 'desired things'). I'm not sure who first introduced this to me, but I memorized this while in college -- and am grateful for its timeless advice...


Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

--Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) lawyer and author

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Roses for a Lifetime

If I had a rose for every time I thought of you, I'd be picking roses for a lifetime.
--Swedish Proverb

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

wonders and worship

When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator.
--Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian spiritual and political leader

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Like a rock

In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
--Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) 3rd US President

Above: Linville River detail.

Monday, February 11, 2008

simple and elemental needs

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.
--Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980) American naturalist, photographer, and author

The winds were howling through the high country of western NC yesterday. Fallen limbs and trees littered the Blue Ridge Parkway, making driving perilous. In hindsight, probably not the best day to be hiking in the forest. But we survived, somehow avoiding being ka-bobbed by falling pines. Linville Falls was all but deserted - an unusual thing for this popular destination along the parkway (Mile #316.5). The above photo was taken from "Chimney View" - click on the thumbnail map to the right to get an overview of the various trails and lookouts at Linville Falls. Click here to see a photo from last July and to read more about this spectacular waterfall.

Click here for more info from -- which indicates that typically the main parking area is gated during the off season. Today, the lot was open. But if you plan to visit this winter, you might want to print off that page which describes an alternate parking area off of highway 183 in case you need it. I'll have more photos to share this week.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Country Wisdom

To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funnybone.
--Reba McEntire (b.1955) country singer

The old Osbourne Farm is found along a beautiful stretch of the Appalachian Trail outside of Shady Valley, TN. This particular section crosses wide open, grassy fields offering stunning views of the valley below and Mount Rogers in the distance. (click photo to enlarge).

Directions: From Elizabethton, TN, take route 91 (Stoney Creek Road) 19 miles to the intersection with Cross Mountain Road -- here you'll find a large gravel parking area on your right. (The town of Shady Valley is another four miles east).

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A sneak peek

The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size.
--Gertrude S. Wister

Whodathunkit? I found this early bloomer in my yard yesterday. Of course, we can't get too excited, winter ain't done with us yet. Still it's nice to get a sneak peek of the color to come.

Hey Mom, how's the weather in Illinois? ;)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Two ways to live your life...

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
--Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-born American Physicist

This is another recent shot from the Blue Hole outside of Elizabethton, TN. The above waterfall is actually what people know and recognize as the Blue Hole, but the Blue Hole is actually a series of four beautiful waterfalls (click here for more photos).

Directions: From Elizabethton, take Route 91 (Stoney Creek) for approximately 10 miles, turn left on Panhandle Road, continue for approximately 1 mile to parking area on left. Click here for map.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear; rather look to them with full hope that, as they arise, God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them. He is your keeper. He has kept you hitherto. Do you but hold fast to his dear hand, and he will lead you safely through all things; and, when you cannot stand, he will bear you in his arms. Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. Our Father will either shield you from suffering, or he will give you strength to bear it.
--St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

I post this thinking of those struggling in the aftermath of the devastating tornados, the deadliest in more than twenty years, that hit Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama on Tuesday night.

Above: The Blue Hole outside of Elizabethton, TN.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The World's Shortest Tunnel

Carve a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.
--Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) Minister and Civil-Rights Leader

Click here and here for more info and directions to the "world's shortest tunnel" found in Johnson County, TN, eight miles from Shady Valley, TN and five miles south of Damascus, VA. Click the thumbnail to the right to see a map posted at Backbone Rock of the available trails and campsites.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

For the next generation...and Charlie

It is our task in our time and in our generation, to hand down undiminished to those who come after us, as was handed down to us by those who went before, the natural wealth and beauty which is ours.
--John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) 35th US President

Here's another shot of a great blue heron in front of the waterfall at the Elizabethton Covered Bridge taken from a slightly lower angle than the one I posted yesterday. I thought it lent itself to black and white -- and I couldn't help but keep the eye it's bright orange color. (Click photo to enlarge).

On a completely different note, I have my friend Andy to thank for introducing me to this cute and hilarious video. It gets my vote this Super Tuesday...

Monday, February 4, 2008

the peace of wild things

When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be -- I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
--Wendell Berry (b.1934) Author

I found this great blue heron feeding (quite successfully) at the weir dam in front of the Elizabethton Covered Bridge. It stood perfectly still as it waited for fish, so I was able to keep the shutter open to soften the water coming over the dam. What a beautiful and graceful bird -- so peaceful and patient. It knew a little fish would flop over the wall and be pushed up against that log by the current -- no need for worry or dispair. Just watch and wait (and trust).

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Little Laurel Branch Falls

I originally had this labeled "Big Laurel Branch Falls", but with the advice of Randy Gardner and looking more closely at my own map, I realized that this is really "Little Laurel Branch Falls." Both of the Laurel Branches spill into Wilber Lake, but I don't believe the "Big" branch has a waterfall (maybe someone who's explored in this area will leave a comment and confirm this). Located on Wilbur Lake, you can almost drive directly to Little Laurel Branch Falls. It's directly across the lake from the picnic area (which lies between Wilbur Dam and Watauga Dam). It was too sunny when I visited to get a really good shot (click here to read the waterfall photography advice I didn't heed), but what I like about this scene was that the waterfall was completely covered with ice. I could hear the water rushing down from behind a shield of ice. Click here to see a photo of this 50' waterfall at high flow.

Directions to Wilbur Dam: There are different ways to get to Wilbur and Watauga Dams from Elizabethton, TN. I think the easiest way is to take Highway 19E toward Blountville and take the Stoney Creek Road exit (Hwy 91) and travel approximately three miles. You'll come to a red light with a BP on the corner, turn right onto Blue Spring Road -- After one mile, you'll want to bear right onto Steel Bridge Road. Take this for 3/4 mile, and you'll cross a very unique one lane bridge. After crossing the bridge, the road is called Wilbur Dam Road (aka Horseshoe Dam Road, Lookout Road). Follow this road for two miles, you will come to Wilbur Dam and Wilbur Lake. The picnic area described above will be on your left side. Continue on for three miles further and you'll arrive at Watauga Dam Overlook. Click here for map.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Looking fear in the face

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.
--Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

It might make you feel better to know that this little guy was just the size of a dime. The dark area you see on the left is the grout line on my tiled kitchen counter. Over the past couple of years I've gotten much better dealing with snakes and spiders and assorted creepy crawlers -- and I credit the macro lens for that. Instead of running for the fly swater or paper towels, I now run for the camera! Like the quote above, I've found that when something scares me, fleeing only reinforces the fear, drawing closer forces me to recognize that my fear was unfounded and based largely on the unknown. Although I'm better in dealing with these things, it doesn't mean the photo above isn't heavily cropped. This was, afterall, a jumping spider.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Old Abe's Epitaph

Die when I may, I want it said by those who knew me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.
--Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) 16th US President

The late afternoon light brought out the warmth and detail of this dried thistle on Iron Mountain.