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

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