July 18, 2018

Summer Road Trip 2018: A Long and Winding Road

"I needed a mountain to rest my eyes against."

             -Ernest Smith, father of author Lee Smith 

I am not a good car rider. As in the Harry Potter books, I often wish for a port key, some inanimate object I could grab onto and be transported to where I want to be. Since that is not an option, I am thankful to Google Maps and Subaru for getting us there and back again.

Since my last post, Steve and I have been over many rivers and through many woods, up and down many mountains by automobile and on foot. The jury is still out about whether I prefer it be my turn to drive or white-knuckling it in the passenger seat when Google Maps sends us straight down a winding mountain gravel road for miles and miles; however, in the end, I'm not convinced that navigating narrow mountain roads was any more treacherous than leaving North Carolina on a bumper to bumper I-40 in blinding rain and fog.

We are back in the nest, renewed, but road weary. I hope you enjoy a few shots from our stops along the way.

Seven Islands State Birding Park - Kodak, TN

Seven Islands is a new Tennessee State Park, still under construction. We intend to visit again.

Visitor Center

Picking Blackberries

I always love to find a Kindness Rock to leave on another trail far away.

Beautifully maintained historic church near the park's entrance.

Abingdon, VA

We overnighted in Abingdon before heading into the mountains. If ever you get the chance to visit, do so. I've seen lots of towns make an attempt at gentrification, but Abingdon has done it right. There are so many impeccably restored businesses and homes. I only include one shot of the historic Barter Theatre: the State Theatre of Virginia. A friend interned there one summer and I snapped the picture for her.

Barter Theatre

Grayson Highlands State Park - Mouth of Wilson, VA

I found out about Grayson Highlands a year or so ago. I was absolutely intrigued by the fact that they have 100+ wild ponies living in the park. Wild ponies! Instantly, I was transported back to my 10yo self who read Marguerite Henry's 1947 Newbery Honor Book, Misty of Chincoteague. Someday I will go to Chincoteague on the Virginia coast, but for now, the Grayson Highland wild ponies provided quite the thrill.

Some of the ponies. . .

Wildflowers. . .

Turk's Cap Lily

Bee Balm

Common Milkweed

Queen Anne's Lace
We also hiked four miles on the Appalachian Trail at GHSP, always a thrill.

Our lunch spot, plus just one example of the breathtaking view. . .

Carver's Gap TN/NC

Carver's Gap is up the mountain beyond Roan Mountain State Park. Getting from one mountain in VA to another mountain on the TN/NC border was not an easy drive. It included some bits I like to refer to as goat paths, but we made it by late afternoon––just in time for the rain.

We hiked about a mile on the AT in the rain. I carried only my phone, but was able to snap a few fungi and rhododendron before we packed it in to head toward the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Little Switzerland, NC

With all our trips to Asheville and up the Blue Ridge Parkway, we had never taken in Little Switzerland. We decided this would be the day; however, by the time we arrived, it was late in the day and pouring rain. 

It did not fit my fairytale vision, but we didn't really give it a fair chance. Our hope is to return less tired and under better weather conditions, and to stay at one of the inns long enough to get a true sense of the area.

Asheville, NC

Asheville never disappoints. We love the food, strolling downtown, and no trip to Asheville would be complete without a visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center and the Folk Art Center.

Max Patch Mountain

Unfortunately, our favorite stop on this journey had to be ditched due to inclement weather. Of course, half the fun of Max Patch is the view, so it was an easy call to make. Since we couldn't make it up the mountain this trip, I'm sharing a favorite from July 2015.

On the AT at Max Patch Mountain

Cummins Falls State Park 

Someone posted an image recently that read, "I brake for brown signs." I can relate. We are always looking for somewhere we've never seen before. 

On our return trip, we jumped off the interstate headed for Cummins Falls. This park is an extremely popular day-use area established in 2011 by Governor Bill Haslam. It is a work in progress, but the trails are wide and clean. We hiked the downstream trail (which is definitely not an easy one) until the water was deep enough that I became fearful of an unintentional swim with my camera. At that point, we turned back and hiked upstream to the top of the falls for the view. 

It's a beautiful spot, but without even a park office at present. I understand a visitor center is on the drawing board.

Downstream Trail

Cummins Falls

Standing Stone State Park

Since we were close, according to the brown signs, we decided to head over to Standing Stone. We now know there is no standing stone at the park nor has there ever been. The stone, a prehistoric Native American relic is located in Monterey, Tennessee. We plan to catch it on our next trip through the area.


However, at this beautiful secluded park with all the usual state park amentities, there is a massive stone drive-across dam that was a really cool thing to see.

Well, that's it, our summer road trip in pictures. It's fun to have adventures, but can anything compare to returning home?

Until next time––be well, and take good care.

Mona B

July 7, 2018

Back in the high life again!

“Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things.”
                                                                                                                                   ― Kurt Vonnegut

After a three week hiatus, we hit the trail early this morning. Forecasts had promised a beautiful, moderate day and they were correct. The Cub Lake trail at Natchez Trace State Park is one of our personal favorites. Car door to car door it figures at just over six miles of excellent hillwalking, although parts of it get fairly close (hairy, wooly, overgrown) at this time of year.

Since we had been away from the trail for a bit, I decided to lighten my load by leaving my Canon at home and hiking only with my iPhone camera.  Fortunately, I didn't miss any opportunities for long shots, and the woods offered up some beauties for me to snap on the fly.

As you'll see, it was a great day for fungi. A couple images may seem to be duplicates, but look closely, the second image includes my sunglasses for scale. Those mushrooms were huge!

We were happy to see some much needed trail improvements. "Scary, slanty bridge" has been replaced by a beauty of a new one. Some tiny reroutes in that area have created a few spots that are now more picturesque.

Trying something new with the pictures. Let me know if you like the gallery presentation. Click on the first picture to open the slideshow. This is all new to me friends. Thanks for following along.

Until next time—be well, and take good care,

Mona B


July 6, 2018

Extra, extra! Read all about it!

Waiting for the sequel to a beloved book takes patience. Just as any good newshound, you find yourself doing the mental gymnastics of who, what, when, where, and why. Always hoping and expecting the author to hit one out of the park again.

Well, for those of you who have been eagerly anticipating the sequel to Vince Vawter's 2014 Newbery Honor book, Paperboy, the wait is almost over.

Without spoiling much, I can say it was definitely worth the wait.

Recently, I attended the annual conference of the American Library Association held this year in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was a pleasure to see Vince and his lovely, gracious wife, Betty, in the Capstone booth sharing advanced reading copies of the Paperboy sequel, Copyboy, with a few thousand of their librarian friends. Copyboy is to be released officially on August 1. I'm just sorry you can't read it today. 

Vawter picks up six years after the original story. Victor is 17 and a high school graduate working the summer as a copyboy at the Memphis Press-Scimitar newspaper. The story begins as Victor is weeks away from leaving that job and heading to college to continue his studies and to play baseball.

Copyboy is not so much about the boy we all cared for, but rather a coming of age story about the young man he has become––a young man struggling for his independence from an overbearing mother, a young man continuing to use creative tricks and techniques to disguise and navigate his stuttering, and a young man determined to keep a promise to a friend.

Vawter takes us along as Vic goes on a search from Memphis down through the Delta to New Orleans and beyond. Is he searching for a spot on a map or is he searching for something deep inside himself? Along the way, Vic's original quest evolves, bifurcates, and morphs into the discovery of a whole new world of people, experiences, and courage.

The writing is fresh, emotive, and exciting. I laughed and I cried, always a good sign. Many of the characters we already knew are represented here, and some are fleshed out to reflect the growth of the main character both emotionally and intellectually. New characters are well-crafted and interesting and the story is solid. I am already encouraging friends to pre-order Copyboy. I look forward to sharing it with my students when school is back in session. 

If you've not read Paperboy, please do, although it is absolutely not necessary to enjoy Copyboy. Both books are available wherever fine books are sold, the latter for pre-order to be delivered after August 1. If you'd like to learn more about the author, as well as details of his upcoming three-city book launch, visit www.vincevawter.com

June 29, 2018

Digging up Bones

As a school librarian, there are often opportunities to get my hands on a book before final publication. These printed books are softcover uncorrected proofs that are not for sale and not to be catalogued into the library collection. They are called advance reading copies or ARCs.

For years, I have returned from AASL and ALA conferences with ARCs for my students. As a steward of public funds, I find they are a good way to test the waters for student interest in a title before spending precious budget dollars. But recently, with the advent of social media, ARCs are offered up to interested parties via Facebook, Instagram, websites, etc.

This summer, Turner Publishing offered ARCs of a November 2018 release of Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky and I jumped at the opportunity to read a YA novel published fairly locally.

I did a little digging on the author's website and found this quote by Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of the Reign of the Fallen Leaves series:

“Nerds and fashionistas alike can rejoice: Natalie is the unapologetically awesome heroine we’ve all been waiting for! Fresh and fun, this story is a love letter to paleontology, a great example of women in STEM, and a victory for anyone who’s ever wanted to change what they see in the mirror. I can’t say it enough: this book is a must-read!” 

Needless to say, I was looking forward to the arrival of my ARC.

Fittingly, I took it with me last weekend to read on my way to New Orleans for the annual conference of the American Library Association, and I was not disappointed.

Mammoth hits all the high points for someone such as myself purchasing for a teen audience. It's edgy, but not so edgy that I question its appropriateness for the audience I serve. It has romance, but not so much romance that it's a girl read, exclusively. It has adults who are role models and some who aren't, just like IRL.

In Mammoth, Baguchinsky has crafted an ensemble cast of young adult characters I recognize. They are not perfect, but they are not yet finished. They have lessons to learn and they learn them.

Unlike the artifacts of the creatures they are seeking, Baguchinsky's characters are not extinct, but very much alive. They are smart and driven––sometimes to a fault. The plot pitfalls send up some pretty glaring warning flares to the adult reader, but just as in life, the young characters in Mammoth often either don't recognize those warning signs or make the choice to discount them.

Mammoth has a strong STEM focus and Natalie Page is a strong female main character. I believe the book will resonate with my high school readers. Having once been a teen myself (It's true!) it still resonated with me.

I'll be pre-ordering the hardcover for my library for the fall. I can't help myself, I am digging Mammoth because it ROCKS!

June 18, 2018

And where he goes I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow

So far, summer vacation has been a steady stream of remodeling supervision and runs, doctor appointments (as a caregiver, I'm fine), and meetings, but with the reno work almost complete and the last big meeting of the summer, ALA Annual in New Orleans, happening this week, the hope is for a calmer July.

We've been off the trail the past couple weekends primarily because it's just too dangerously hot for old(ish) people walking long distances; however, a few days ago, an Instagram friend posted a picture of the Common Milkweed at Land Between the Lakes and I kicked myself because those pictures were still sitting in my camera. I promised myself a post today.

Before I show you the pretty stuff—I have to take a break for safety. The ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas are out in droves this summer, and they're packing heat: Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Zika, etc. and, most recently, the Alpha-Gal allergy caused by the bite of the Lone Star tick.

We experienced two hikes earlier this spring where the ticks were rampant and not deterred by our usual method of DEET spray before and during the hike. After some research, we decided to try pre-treating our gear to ward them off. The night before our hike, we prepared our clothes with a Permethrin spray in anticipation of heavy tick activity. Because, in its liquid state, Permethrin is dangerous to cats, we sprayed our clothes in the garage and left them to hang dry overnight. The Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent we used is pictured here. We bought ours from Amazon.

PROS: I am happy to report that we didn't find a single tick following our hike in pre-treated clothing. Also, I was not bothered by mosquitoes which usually eat me alive.

CONS: There aren't any. Well, perhaps, the fact that you are limited to hiking in the same clothing all summer, unless you want to douse everything for variety.

The spray is reported to last for 6 weeks or 6 washings.

The Honker Lake Trail is one of the Nature Station Trails near the KY/TN border at Land Between the Lakes and is one of our favorite haunts. The trail has just enough woods, water, and watchable wildlife to keep the hike fresh pretty much year-round AND the Elk and Bison Range is close by, an added bonus.

Two Saturdays ago we headed north for the recommended dosage. Before we even made it to the actual trail, we decided to take the short detour down to the canoe shed to check on the progress of the American Lotus or, as I like to refer to them, the Shower Head Lotus. The center of the bloom is an amazing structure that reminds me of a shower head. Well, it is still too early for blooms, but the lily pads are up and looking beautiful.

There are two spots on this trail where the Common Milkweed grows. One is at the very beginning (or end, depending on your choice) of the trail, the other is over near Lake Barkley about midway through the hike. These pictures are from both spots. Although it was not at its peak bloom, they are still among my favorite blooms due to their beautiful structure. They, along with Mountain Laurel and Passion Flower blooms, take my breath away.

If you follow me, you already know that I am a sucker for all sorts of fungi. I hate that I cannot be in the woods every day because that is what it takes to get the best shots of these little magical bits of nature just as they emerge from the ground and before they are nibbled, gnawed, and kicked. I was lucky enough to spot just a few on this hike.

Butterflies and moths are another favorite, although my luck at getting them to light seems never to be great. I did capture both a Tiger Swallowtail and  Spicebush Swallowtail on the milkweed above and was fortunate enough to catch a Luna Moth, a skipper, and a Zebra too stunned (or smitten by blooms) to notice me.

Also spotted a couple creatures along the way, but missed an extraordinary opportunity at Honker Bay when an Osprey came off a nest I had not noticed just over my head. I waited a long time for it to return, but finally decided it just wasn't my day. Again, I'm not a birder, just a hiker who enjoys birds.

Maybe we'll head somewhere cooler in a few weeks. For now, we're just trying to stay smart and safe by staying out of the heat–except for yard work.

We had a great hike on a glorious day. And, yes, after 39 years, I'd still follow him anywhere.

Until next time, be well and take good care,

Mona B

"I needed a mountain to rest my eyes against."                                                                           -E...