Cades Cove

Bucket lists. Creepy and unattainable, or optimistic reminder to live life to its fullest? I don’t personally have a formal one, but I certainly have ideas about things I’d like to do. This spring, I did one:SmokyMts2014 001My husband and I biked the loop at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park! During the spring and summer, the park shuts down the 11 mile auto loop that winds through the cove to all motorized traffic twice a week for about 3 hours in the mornings. For those precious hours, only pedestrians and bicyclists are allowed. We got up very early, rented bikes, and biked it on the first day it was closed to cars during the 2014 season. It was awesome.

SmokyMts2014 101With views like this, it’s easy to see why the auto loop is very popular. During high season, the one-way road through the cove often resembles a parking lot with cars inching along it, lined up bumper-to-bumper. Which sounds miserable, but even with all of that, I’ve always managed to see a stunning variety of wildlife the times I’ve been viewing the cove from a car. There are old homes, churches, and barns from back when folks lived in the cove that can be toured, and there are plenty of places to park so you can access the several trail heads found along the loop at various points.

But from a bike? What a difference! It was so peaceful and beautiful. We saw several black bears, lots of deer, wild turkeys, and heard so many song birds. It was just magical, biking along as the fog that gives the mountains their name began to clear.

SmokyMts2014 104 SmokyMts2014 123And look at all of these empty parking spaces!SmokyMts2014 112I’m ready to do it again. :)

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Perfect Company

005So this may be a bit of a surprise, but I love cats. So does my husband. Yes, we adore our ridiculous pack of dogs, but cats are equally great. The idea of needing to pick sides on the whole dog/cat thing seems pretty nonsensical. There is room for both! (I will admit, though, to finding dogs easier to photograph…or at least our dogs will sort of hold still for a second when I come at them with a camera. The cats? Not so much.)

When my husband and I first met, we each had two cats. One of mine was a black cat named Ellie. One of my husband’s was a black cat named Elenore. Great minds and all. :)

Rescued as a feral kitten, his Elenore didn’t do the whole hissing-scratching-biting thing so common with feral cats. Instead she was very shy, elusive, and reclusive. So reclusive, in fact, that my husband actually spent weeks after he got her thinking that she had somehow escaped from his apartment. After bringing her in, he didn’t lay eyes on her for the next 3 months! Luckily, he had another cat, so there was always food and a liter box available. Apparently, she hid behind the stove a lot, assessing things, and would come out only when there was no one to see her. Just when he had given up, she came and sat in the kitchen doorway, looking at him.

She became a constant companion to his other cat. She would also come sit with my husband, just usually not if anyone else was in his apartment. He had friends who never saw her even though they were at his place frequently. After a while, they sort of thought that his second cat might just be fiction. Imagine his surprise the first time I visited his apartment: he mentioned that he had a second cat, said I probably wouldn’t see her, and then when he returned to the living room after using the restroom, it was to find Elenore sitting calmly in my lap.

Things only got better after that auspicious beginning together. Although she never much cared for my cat Ellie, Elenore took to me– and I to her. She was a small, delicate, graceful little thing. She was like smoke, or maybe like the cat that inspired the whole fog-on-cat’s-feet metaphor. The Ur-quiet cat. She was also the perfect companion. She was undemanding. She didn’t need attention all of the time and wasn’t prone to much meowing. She never once did that whole weird cat thing where you’re only allowed to stroke them a certain unspecified number of times and the moment you exceed that unspecified amount, the cat claws or bites you, you know that thing? Never.

She would simply come find me and sit quietly on my lap when she needed some company. (Or maybe it was the other way around?) Sitting with her was always peaceful and soothing. Almost all of my blog posts were written with her purring softly in my lap. At night, she would come curl up  and doze on my sternum while I read a book before going to sleep. Once I would turn off the light, she would hop down and curl up on her favorite pillow by the window. Perfect.

The day after the lovely cabin weekend earlier this month, we had to put our sweet little friend down. She was 15 and her systems were failing. Part of being a responsible pet owner is knowing when it is time to say goodbye. Our vet was very kind. My husband held Elenore on his lap and I stroked her head while the vet administered the shots to euthanize her.

I’m glad we were able to give her a painless, peaceful end. Frankly, we should all be so lucky. A peaceful moment to die in, while surrounded by those who love us? That’s a luxury in this world. I know that. But still, it sucks. I miss her.

Hocking County Cabin

cabinza!2014 065Along with 8 friends, spent the weekend relaxing and celebrating a dear friend’s birthday at this lovely cabin in the hills of Hocking County. It was situated in on 11 acres and had pretty views all around.

cabinza!2014 057 cabinza!2014 032cabinza!2014 043Although there are some great hiking trails and state parks in the area, we contented ourselves with short rambles around the property. It was pretty darn cold, albeit sunny. It was a weekend of eating, loafing, and laughing.

cabinza!2014 069 cabinza!2014 075We made VERY good use of the hot tub, fireplace, and the fire pit. Made lots of s’mores over the fire. Between those and the bunk bed I slept in, I kind of felt like a kid again (in the best way possible.)cabinza!2014 031 cabinza!2014 089Good times with good people. I feel very lucky. :)

 

The Pack

autumnwalkkestrel 028It is a bit of sight when we take our dogs for a walk. When my husband and I walk them together, usually one of us has 3 of the dogs and the other takes 2. During our rambles on Sunday, we both took turns with all 5 so we could trade off using the camera. (Hard to have a steady hand when several excited dogs spot a deer leaping across the fields.)

autumnwalkkestrel 013It was perfect walking weather for our pups. Gus and Chico can hike for as long as we’ll take them in most weather (provided Chico is properly attired in the cold, that is!) but the pugs, with their squashed faces, don’t do hot or humid so well. However, a crisp autumn day? So good! They can go for miles if we pace ourselves properly.

autumnwalkkestrel 033They were so happy! These pictures feel a bit deceptive in one way, though: usually the leashes are an unholy tangled mess of mythic proportions. We’re talking Gordian knot or  maybe Cerberus harness inspired.

autumnwalkkestrel 007Good stuff.

Autumn Meadow Details

The other day, we hiked the Kestrel and the Monarch trails out at Walnut Woods Metro Park. These trails are the newest parts of the park to be opened, in the middle section between the Tall Pines area and the Buckeye area. This part of the park is a meadow, but a wet meadow, if that makes sense? I love it. Here’s a broad view:

autumnwalkkestrel 010I suspect that to many, that may seem a bit bleak. But if you look closer, a meadow in fall reveals its own splendors:

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Goldenrod gone to seed. It glowed in the sunlight and almost looked like snow!

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Scarlet leaves at meadow’s edge.

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Milkweed pods and seeds.

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A very late blooming goldenrod.

Ghosts of the Forest

Sycamore trees are sometimes known as the “Ghosts of the Forest”. How did they come by such a handle? Some say they earned the name due to spooky phenomenon told of in Wyandotte and settler lore. Others think it’s just due to how their ghostly white limbs stand out against other darker trees. At any rate, these stately natives are pretty eye-catching. With little foliage to mask the interesting bark, my husband and I both found our gazes drawn to this gorgeous example during our walk yesterday:autumnwalkkestrel 071The trail we were on eventually wound around much closer to this grand tree, so here are 2 additional points of view: autumnwalkkestrel 092 autumnwalkkestrel 101Magnificent at any angle!