SUMMER LINGERS WHILE FALL BECKONS

 

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Wild turkeys outside my office window in the winter.

The wild turkeys gather together as summer wanes forming their “gangs” to wander the mountains surrounding our cabin. Last night we heard a rustling outside our front door. When we went to look, a large turkey flapped its wings and flew into a tree in front of our porch, settling on a branch precariously. We watched as it moved around on the bouncing branch. Finally, it quieted and went to sleep for the night. The turkeys have come home to roost.

 

As always, the summer flew by and our days are numbered in the mountains, although we hope to see much of the color burst forth on the still-green trees. Yet, signs are everywhere as berries form on the holly tree and the sumac leaves begin to turn red.

dsc03660Our first full summer in North Carolina satisfied us. The garden grew and grew, providing the pantry and freezer with plenty of vegetables and sauces for the winter. We froze peas, beans, cole slaw, soup starter vegetable sauce, and zucchini bread. I pickled dills, chips, and relish. We put up pasta sauce and salsa. And if that wasn’t enough, my husband went out and bought local corn from a roadside pick-up truck because that’s one thing he doesn’t grow. He froze twenty bags of corn kernels. When his lima beans only produced enough for the table, he bought a bushel from a local farmer of “butter beans” and froze seventeen bags of those. If you’ve never tasted fresh lima or butter (same thing) beans, then you have no idea of the soft buttery vegetable’s virtue. Try it sometime.

 

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Tomatoes waiting to become pasta sauce or salsa.

Our kayaks provided transportation on local rivers and lakes and gave us moments of serenity and inspiration. We’ve only begun to explore all the places of watery beauty in our area. We are the beneficiaries of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s damming of the rivers. The lakes that are formed as a result–Chatuge, Nottley, and Hiwassee–are deep and long. Plenty of boat ramps make them easy to access and give us a multitude of landscapes to explore.

 

Drives brought us to waterfalls with plenty more to explore and enjoy.

The only complaint I have is the weather. It’s been an unusual summer here in the mountains. We came here to escape the heat and humidity of Florida’s summer, but it followed us here but without the rain. Temperatures near ninety, humidity as high without even the relief of afternoon showers. The storms I love to watch moving across the mountains have been few and always bring us running to the front porch to catch a rare glimpse of darkening clouds and rain hitting the metal roof. Who knows what is normal anymore as far as weather goes? Maybe the winter will be sunny and warm in Florida all winter.

How did your summer shape up?

SUMMERTIME AND THE LIVING HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER

IMG_0729Here in the western Smoky Mountains, the rain has often skipped us this summer. No wonder when it started raining yesterday, we danced on the porch to the sound of drops on the metal roof. The garden turned its thirsty heads heavenward and drank in the beauty of a late afternoon shower. Our excitement was tempered by the thought of the folks in West Virginia who received too much too fast of the wet stuff.

Water is a stunning force and never doubt its ability to wield its power over anything in its path. It follows the road of least resistance, which sometimes means manmade things will never stand a chance. I respect its eminence and magnitude in our lives.

Early this morning found us in our kayaks on the Hiwassee River–yes, I’ve spelled that correctly. Here in western North Carolina the “a” is missing, but go ten miles into Georgia, and it is spelled “Hiawassee.” (From Chenocetah’s Weblog on Cherokee names: Both are from the Cherokee “a-yu-wa-si,” which means a meadow-like place, or a place with mostly low plants and few trees.) It’s anyone’s guess why. However you spell it or pronounce it, it shimmers in the morning sun and provides a peaceful cruise for two kayakers seeking beauty.

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Happy Fourth of July to all my fellow U.S. citizens and Merry Summer to all the rest of you. I hope you are enjoying blue skies, pleasant temperatures, and tranquil company.

#Kayaking – Sign of Spring

Raccoon Lake in western Pennsylvania

Raccoon Lake in western Pennsylvania

We brought the kayaks down from their storage place, where they hang all winter upside down under a second-story balcony. Before we could load them up in the truck, we had to remove the very large nest taking up residence in one of them. I felt badly about that, but we have some robins that set up shop in some very strange places around our house.

We live about twenty minutes from Raccoon Creek State Park, but for some reason we’ve spent very little time there. We’ve never been on Raccoon Lake which is created from the water dammed on Traverse Creek. Raccoon Creek doesn’t even touch the lake but travels on the outskirts of the park. We had an adventure on Raccoon Creek several years ago when our kayaks capsized after ramming into a large tree downed over the creek where it runs its fastest.

The cruise on Raccoon Lake this past weekend didn’t bring any adventures, except when my kayak banged up against what I thought was a rock as we approached the end of the lake and shallow, muddy water.

“It’s not a rock,” my husband said. “I saw it raise it’s head. It’s a turtle.”

Sure enough, the red, green and brown shell looked ancient and massive–two feet long at least. I didn’t have my good camera, so this is all I could manage to shoot of the creature in Raccoon Lake. It’s an outline at best.

freshwater turtle

freshwater turtle

I’m guessing it’s a snapping turtle because I couldn’t really get a clear view either with my naked eye or through my camera lens. When my kayak nudged him, I worried it might wake the sleeping giant, but it just swam away from me leaving me intact in the kayak.

We also saw an osprey guarding its nest. I will never again leave my good camera with zoom lens at home for even the shortest of nature explorations. My little pocket camera couldn’t zoom far enough to capture the osprey standing on a branch high above the banks. I didn’t even try to pull the camera out of the ziplock baggie. In a way, there was relief in not worrying about capturing the moment. I could just enjoy the majesty of this bird and rejoice in its population resurgence in western Pennsylvania.

The warm spring day makes me yearn for more lovely days when the trees are green and flowers bloom along the shore. We plan to spend more time in this lovely spot in our backyard. After all, the day we found our house four years ago, we were on our way to the Wildflower Preserve within the park. I haven’t been back since 2010, but this is the year to explore nearer to home.

Eastern Painted Turtle sunning

 

Raccoon Lake in Raccoon Creek State Park

Raccoon Lake in Raccoon Creek State Park

A View from the Creek

Raccoon Creek 2011Raccoon Creek May 2011

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Raccoon Creek winds for nearly thirty miles through the foothills of the Alleghenies in western Pennsylvania. During its course through valleys and woodlands, it picks up several tributaries flowing down the hillsides before it dumps into the Ohio River thirty miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

We recently kayaked five miles of the creek from outside Raccoon Creek State Park. We actually put in our kayaks in Little Traverse Creek in the park and paddled a short distance to Raccoon Creek which begins its flow seven miles upriver.

Downed trees made the first mile or so rather challenging but interesting. We managed to get by the majority but were forced to portage the kayaks twice – once pulling under a tree and once carrying over a split trunk of a large sycamore. We hit some small white water flows and a few places where stones and rocks required some fast maneuvering. It’s a pleasant cruise. As soon as a challenge is met, there’s a wide expanse of deep water and easy floating as the water carries the kayak downstream. We saw deer swimming across the creek. Great blue herons yakked in the air above us flushing out smaller birds from the bushes on the banks. Little blue herons sat on downed tree limbs basking in the sun. And catfish more than a foot long swam past us in the clear water.

Skipping stones

When I wasn’t figuring out how to wedge between tree limbs or how to dodge the large rocks on the riverbed, I gazed at the trees, birds and skies with gratitude and relief. At one point, tears filled my eyes when I considered how close we came to losing this creek. While it looks pristine now, it really isn’t. Surrounding us in the hills and in the woods are abandoned coal mines, both underground and strip mines on the hilltops. A decade ago, this creek was filled with acid mine drainage, and no birds sang. If fish swam, they were filled with toxins such as mercury and unfit for consumption by any living thing.

Since 1781, the entire area was mined for coal, and Raccoon Creek and all its tributaries were nearly killed by acids and metals draining from the abandoned mines. The Raccoon Creek Watershed covers 184 square miles in southwestern Pennsylvania and Raccoon Creek runs right through the middle of it. After a report was released in 2000 on the levels of poisons in the creek, major efforts began, resulting in the installation of  acid mine drainage pollution treatment systems. Those efforts in the past decade have made a big difference here and elsewhere.

I brought my back up camera on the trip and took lots of pictures of Raccoon Creek and its abundance. As I prepared to write this blog, I couldn’t find the camera to download the pictures. I’m using photos from our trip last year when we attempted to kayak nearly the entire length of the creek. It ended two miles from our takeout point when we both collided into a fallen tree with a fast current moving underneath it.

The tree that took us out.

The rescued kayak from 2011

My kayak got away from me and our paddles floated along behind it. A rescue crew brought us home although the only thing rescued that day was my kayak.

Raccoon Creek is only navigable from March to June when the water is higher. We’ve been in a drought here for most of the spring and summer so we had to wait this year to get out until the rains brought the water level up high enough. Now we’ll have to wait until next year for our next cruise. Thanks to wise environmental practices now being implemented, the creek will be there waiting. And so will the wildlife.

A living creek