Sorry I’ve been MIA

Yes, I’m leaving this one for the grammar freaks to fret about, punctual on punctuation as they may be.

“What ever on earth does she mean here?”

Sorry.

I’ve been MIA to MIA (as was marked on my luggage this past week).

You see, before last week, my brain was burnt. I decided maybe it was time to let my body get that way, instead.

Miami made for a nice brain-break.

The waters looked like the blue and green of the Caribbean this past week, and the sand looked like it was shipped down from the Gulf. (My little iPhone probably doesn’t do either of them justice.)

I actually had no plans to see those wavy waters. As it was, I received a last-minute invitation, based on bumming a portion of a hotel room from my sister, along with the use of her frequent-flyer miles. As awesome as that sounds, I still had to convince myself that our plane rides would allow for the final polishing edits of my dissertation. After much arm-twisting, I decided that was a small price to pay.

After 4 nights and 3 days:

  • I accomplished the best tan I’ve had in the past 2 decades (all in the 1st day, thereafter having to hide beneath the beach umbrella each time I heard my skin sizzling like bacon);
  • I unintentionally swam with 2 sharks (after which my oldest son informed me that it’s never a good idea to follow a school of interesting-looking fish who have been chased into the shallows); and
  • I unabashedly looked forward to a small, delicious piece of dark chocolate snuggled up on my pillow every evening (thereafter being tucked safely in my warm tummy).

Within a couple of days of being home, I managed to:

  • scrape off one side of my tan in a road rash cycling incident,
  • splash around at our waterfront while cheering T as he did a triathlon (thinking maybe I could get some of my tan to come back through the scabs),
  • wave goodbye to T as he hit the road for his big move, and
  • finally submit my (typed) final edits to my committee.

I should mention that I only shed tears on one of those aforementioned occasions, but will leave it to you to decide upon which.

Maybe a surprise vacate does clear the mind for taking on the world once again.

Guess I’m truly not sorry I’ve been MIA.

 

Travel Theme: Riding Out the Ripple Effect

When we were in Amsterdam, it would have been highly improbable to have overlooked the abundance of weather vanes atop buildings. It would’ve been absolutely impossible for the abundance of bicycles to have gone unnoticed.

Living in a place where I often feel I’m the target of deranged drivers when trying to share the road while cycling, this was fascinating to me. Not only are bikes chained up one to another along the roads, but there’s an entire garage – just for bicycles!

As awesome as this is, I can’t help but wonder when this RIPPLE EFFECT began…

Thought I’d share a couple of Amsterdam pics that show both the water’s rippling effect, along with the bicycle crowding effect.

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This post is in response to Ailsa’s Wheresmybackpack travel photo challenge on RIPPLES.

Why don’t you follow the link above & post one too? Then I’ll feel like I was part of this ripple effect! 🙂

Travel Theme: Going with the FLOW

Ailsa at Wheresmybackpack has put up a travel theme challenge on FLOW.

I spent last week away from work, going with the FLOW. One of those places was at Linville Falls

As much as I am a whitewater enthusiast, I enjoyed this flow from the bank and from overlooks through my lens, though.

As beautiful as these falls are, they don’t necessarily have the kindest historical reputation, being known as an execution site used by Native Americans because of the associated danger. Even the smaller upper falls are dangerous because of the churning rapids that lie just beneath them and that will ultimately pull a “swimmer” down into the gap between the levels of falls. If you were to survive those churning hydraulics pulling you under in the “in between,” even if they spit you out, the sharp turns that would bang you into the oncoming rocks would likely leave you never knowing you had gone over the greater fall beneath.

One kayaker has been recorded making this run and surviving, that I know of to date. (Did I also mention it would be illegal for you to try this?)

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One of the upper pair of falls

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The other of the upper pair of falls

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Flowing from the upper pool towards the lower pool – don’t miss the higher water lines that have shaped the outcroppings over the centuries

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The upper pool with its pair of falls

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Churning drop in the “in between”

feeding the lower fall

Feeding the lower fall

A bird's eye view of Linville Falls

A bird’s eye view of Linville Falls

Revolting Reptiles or Beastly Bipeds? Which of these is the scariest?!

As hiking and lawn season are now upon us, I’ve noticed a few snakes and signs of other wildlife that are often perceived as ‘undesirables’ trying to cozy up to our bipedal bunch known as humans. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen some unnecessarily dead snakes show up in photos on social media sites lately – some that might have been better kept around to keep other ‘less desirables’ away.

For instance, I have a nice common little garter snake that visits the garden area beneath my water hose. He can get an ample supply of water, frogs and bugs there. I get to curiously watch his behavior. I have woods out back; so if a big king snake decided to take up residence, I’d let him handle the dirty work of eating any poisonous snake that decided to pay a visit.

I thought it might be a good idea to revisit this previously published post about what sort of things people often find to be scary in the wild outdoors. Have you thought about how you might deal with a scary find if and when you come face to face with one?

Whenever we’re out hiking, we know to be aware of the creepy-crawlies on the ground (copperheads, Eastern diamondbacks, and timber rattlers are prevalent in our area) as much as we know to be aware of larger mammals when we’re up in the mountains (black bear are fairly common, mountain lions much less common but existent). But, truthfully, humans create a much greater threat to these creatures, in general, than the other way around.

For your safety, it’s always best to give any of these creatures plenty of room by keeping your distance when you know they’re around. Making noise is usually the best way to warn them in advance of your presence. (Animals have keen hearing & earthbound creatures have a good sense of vibration, so shuffling through leaves occasionally and using normal conversation levels are usually sufficient). Most will be wise enough to help you keep your distance. There are the exceptions, however.

For large mammals – DO NOT try to feed them (even accidentally, by leaving your food out in the open or not well wrapped). ESPECIALLY DO NOT get near their young. Look and listen for signs of large mammals in the area. Low guttural growls are traditionally meant to be sufficient warnings to BACK OFF, but you may not want to wait until you’re close enough to get an ear-full of saliva. Here are a couple of other prominent signs that “bear” good warnings:

Thar's a Bar over Thar! Whar?!

Thar’s a Bar over Thar! Whar?!
Nah! That’s Bigfoot Fur, Silly!

  • The park warnings that are posted in our state recommend that, in a worse case scenario, if confronted by a black bear (I cannot tell you what they say about other kinds – I’m thinking this is not good advice for a grizzly) – make yourself as large and obnoxiously noisy as possible. Let the bear feel threatened by you, believing you will fight it – and in a really worse-case scenario, fight it if it attacks you until you can do no more. DO NOT run from it with your back turned to it and DO NOT lie down and be still, in hopes it will go away. Likely, that will encourage it to perceive you as prey. (I know. This advice is easier said than done, right? Right. Try NOT to end up face to face with one. Wide berths generally work best – as does leaving your food behind if that was the initial attraction.)
  • In case you’re tempted to bring a weapon for protection, guns are not allowed in many state parks – but dogs generally are (as are large sticks…yes, and pocket knives, but best to stick to whittling wood with those – okay, maybe a point on the end of that large stick if you’re pretending to be a survivalist – but don’t trip!). Dogs typically make lots of noise when another animal approaches – lots of vicious noise when they feel their “pack” is being threatened. Most dogs will readily face down a bear rather than run away; so this is a good hiking companion to have in potential ‘large mammal’ wildlife areas. (Hint: When not in a populated area, I unleash, as my dog likes to survey the area for any perceived signs of danger, doing it in a radius fashion – okay, that and he’s just nosy…but he makes lots of noise doing it!)

For snakes – you’ll most often catch a glimpse of a tail as they quickly slither out from under your foot and in an opposite direction from you. (I can’t think of a time a snake was ever slithering towards my boys when they were running to catch it!) Unlike a mama bear with cubs, that’s generally a snake’s preferred response to your presence in its territory – to get away from you and into hiding! (They try to slither especially fast to get away from dogs & curious boys under the age of 15 or so – even if the effort is futile.)

  • If they feel they can’t escape, they still like to coil and make ample noise before they strike as a warning (rattlers will rattle; many other snakes will often hiss; often, an initial strike will be half-hearted – as if to say “back off or else”). Unfortunately, snakes don’t understand if you’re not paying attention by not looking down in their direction or not hearing their warning to heed it; so if you didn’t notice the warning, you might be walking away with some venom – usually in your leg (unless you were down on your knees looking curiously into a hole with one eye – or, more commonly, climbing rocks on a sunny day and reaching above you without noticing you’ve just disturbed a reptilian suntanning session).
  • A little good news: Even a poisonous strike may not have venom attached. Some sources say 25% of pit viper bites are “dry strikes” (or low venom strikes – as they like to conserve their big doses for hunting, rather than defensive maneuvers). Treat all unidentified bites as though they contain venom, however – particularly if the snake is angry enough to strike multiple times (a good sign that he may have “loaded up”!)
  • As a general rule, snakes will not strike any greater than half their body length (except in cartoons, where the law of gravity can more easily be defied); so wearing boots and heavy pants (if you are standing upright at the time of your encounter) can serve as some of your best protection against an injected dose of venom (or at least a full dose). Admittedly, Eastern diamondbacks have been known to penetrate boots with their impressive fangs, but despite their size (or maybe because of it), they tend to be more docile – (hint: when left alone!).
  • Also, let’s back up just a minute (yeah, from the snake & in our conversation). In most areas of the world where there are snakes, the proportion of non-venomous to venomous is still phenomenally great – so even if you’re bitten, there may be no poisonous venom involved. We’re just speaking worse-case scenarios here. It’s always helpful to know your snake types. In our southeastern Appalachian area, triangular heads and elliptical (cat) eyes are the best indicators of the venomous type – more than colors, patterns, or body types. (For instance, corn snakes get mistaken for copperheads quite often based on color and pattern only.)
w-hiss-per

This fella’s w-hiss-pering, “But I’ve got a triangular head and elliptical eyes…”
To this, I throw on my redneck cap & say, “You ain’t from around here, are ya’?”

  • Important Tip: Killing a non-poisonous snake is like shooting yourself in the foot. I’m not promoting the killing of any creatures (except for the time the baby copperhead was coiled up in my house, staring eye to eye at my little own ones – yes, I felt bad for him, but not bad enough to keep me from rapidly disposing of the threat – and then trying to track down his mama who had the audacity to have baby copperheads in MY territory! Where’s Rikki Tikki Tavi when you need him?). Conversely, a large, non-poisonous snake (even one who acts threatening) is a good thing to have around – many of them will kill & eat poisonous snakes. (Yes, reptilian cannibalism still exists around the world.)
This is a corn snake. Admittedly, it's a little difficult to identify its rounded head and beady eyes while it's on the move like this. But we made sure before picking it up. ;-)

This is a corn snake – NOT a copperhead – being shown some warm-blooded love. Admittedly, it’s a little difficult to identify its rounded head and beady eyes while it’s on the move like this. But we made sure of these things before picking it up. 😉

If bitten by one of the poisonous vipers I’ve mentioned (mambas probably shouldn’t be included in these recommendations), here are some suggestions from the experts to follow:

  • Best to let the snake go rather than spending time trying to catch it. Time is better spent dialing 9-1-1. (Take a picture with your cell phone if you think someone else needs to identify it because you couldn’t.)
  • Lie down, stay calm, and keep the bitten limb immobilized. (I know. Easier said than done – especially the calm part – but an adrenaline-freak out really isn’t going to help in this situation…unless you’re wanting venom to rush more quickly through your body.)
  • If you’re going to have to walk out, lie there for about 20 minutes first to let the venom localize. (I know. Easier said than done.)
  • Apply a light constricting band about 2 inches above and below the bite. Yep, somebody’s shirt is probably getting ripped (which is another reason why you don’t wear expensive clothing to impress the wildlife when you are hiking). This is NOT a tourniquet. You DO NOT want to shut off blood flow to your limb. This is to compress your lymphatic system only. Check for pulses periodically to assure these bands aren’t too tight. (Blue toes are a sure sign they need to be loosened up!)
  • Wash out the bite if you have soap and water available. (No, please don’t have someone cut it open & suck the venom out. Only Hollywood would do that. Think about that a minute. Hollywood’s the one who also puts out Reality TV, remember?)
  • DO NOT use an ice pack over the area. Recent studies show that ice packs may actually be worse.
  • Also, while you’re lying there, make use of your time by removing any restrictive items (rings, bracelets, etc), as there’s probably going to be some swelling involved!
  • Calmly walk out when it’s time (pretend it’s a fire drill and you really didn’t want to be bothered with the disruption). Get medical help immediately. If no medical transport is available, call ahead to the nearest hospital and alert them of your bite, so antivenin can be available.

For today’s REPTILIAN RUSH of photos, remember that most reptiles prefer FLIGHT OVER FIGHT – unless they’re much larger than you and hungry. (Best to avoid their feeding grounds in such cases.) Nevertheless, people still win most of the fights, as evidenced by the fact that you don’t see many reptiles carrying purses or wearing boots made of human flesh.

Here’s a photo of a “Red Rock” in Red Rocks Park, Colorado:

Red Rock

And here’s a photo of the self-assigned “Guardian of the Red Rock”, trying to look quite intimidating. Impressively scary, huh, even without our ability to hear the added sound effects?

Guardian of Red Rock

Now, here’s the “Guardian of the Red Rock” being transported to a safer location (for him and the oncoming bus tourists). You see, this scaly-scary fella’ had placed himself in a prime spot where a curious bus-full of tourists were about to come by. Though some might have just been curious to see him, others might have felt threatened by his presence and decided his presence wasn’t really needed there – permanently. Our bipedal beast (aka ‘human’) is relocating him to a safer spot, where both he and the tourists won’t bother one another.

Teletransportation

Notice how our bipedal beast is respecting the distance of the strike zone when preparing for transport. Also notice how our guardian reptile friend is respecting it too – by not using his venomous striking motion because he still feels there’s enough ‘safe zone’ distance between the two of them. He stays prepared though – just in case. As you can see, the big, tall human is the one who looks the scariest to this little reptile who was just doing his job of blending in before the beastly bipedal beings came onto the scene.

Here’s a slightly larger version of a reptile. This guy may be Captain Hook’s ‘fiendish friend’, based on the smile on his face. (Okay, he’s actually an alligator, rather than a crocodile, as evidenced by the thick snout.)

Captain Hooks fiendish friend

This picture, taken in Florida, became somewhat of a stand-off. I’m getting a sort of Clint Eastwood vibe from him. “Step on over here, punk, and make my day!” Though this guy doesn’t have any venom, this is still his hunting ground. I’ve got to respect that. But this guy’s not big enough to eat me. Don’t worry. I still understand that he’s fast enough to be sufficient at ankle biting as an appetizer. Thus, pictures like this are better taken with some zoom potential in between.

Then there’s the granddaddy reptile of them all – a less amphibious ancestor of Mr. Alligator.

We were obviously in his hunting ground at the time of these shots – and, given a heartbeat and the chance, he would’ve all too gladly made a meal of us! Always Respect the T-Rex Reptile! He could easily wear you as a purse (dangling from his teeth, since he can’t balance the straps well on those ridiculously small front appendages)!

ancestor

If you find yourself tangling with a T-Rex, here are some good tips to remember:

  • Screaming and running (or even slithering) away would be approved measures to take.
  • If bitten, it is advisable to go ahead and panic!

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Wild Weekly Photo Challenge: Look Up!

Things are Looking Up in South Sudan:

Luk 21:28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.

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I’m participating in the onlineadventure travel and photography magazine LetsBeWild.com’s Wild Weekly Photo Challenge for bloggers. This week’s Challenge is: Look Up, so venture into nature and point your lens above you!

Wild Weekly Photo Challenge: Wanderlust!

wanderlust

These two always have a touch of Wanderlust, especially when it comes to the beach and what they might get into there – most especially when classes are in session and they’re dreaming of getting there.

One late afternoon when I snapped this photo, as I watched them searching their electrically charged horizon, I was sensing the draw of it too. As I peered through my lens, I stood in awe of the ocean and the sky as a natural backdrop, one emulating the other in mirrored waviness until the two different elements blended together perfectly at their horizon, in blue-gray harmony.

The white sands and white sky, below and above, were feeling it too. They swirled about in a light mood, cheering the water and sky to stretch out beyond their moment of equilibrium, to race to another destination full of wondrous marvels.

Though each of my subjects appeared to have a calm, relaxed demeanor on the surface, I felt the spark of adventure, brewing tumultuous, as Wanderlust claimed dominion over them all.

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I’m participating in the online adventure travel and photography magazine LetsBeWild.com’s Wild Weekly Photo Challenge for bloggers. This week’s Challenge is: Wanderlust, so get out there and join me by photographing something that makes you yearn to travel and explore the world!

The Conasauga River: An Accidental Adventure

Admittedly, I stumble along in life quite often.  But…Have you ever stumbled upon something absolutely marvelous, by complete accident?

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For me, it’s the fairy tale of hiking. Like Belle, stumbling through the obscure forest map, lost from her original destination, having a beast of a time finding the turn-offs because the ruts in the one-lane road are bouncing the not-so-reliable-directions out of her hand (and, no, this place doesn’t exist on any GPS) — there’s just no turning back…Suddenly, out of nowhere, she spots her trailhead of destiny!

This one happened to be Conasauga Trailhead 61. Let me say, my photos don’t do the place justice! My camera’s limited capability (okay, maybe it was the operator’s limited capability) couldn’t fully capture the water’s exact beauty as it went from deep forest green to clear emeralds, teals and jades. The river also transitioned between exciting rapids, suitable for a kayaker, to calm swimming holes, one complete with the addition of a rigged wire/rope swing that I wouldn’t trust any more than a grinning politician. That – and the pair of undies snagged in a tree – were the only signs of civilization I encountered on the trail. I’m fairly certain all that will change in the summertime, but I also know the rapids won’t be as impressive once the spring rains subside.

The Conasauga River - Is this Heaven?

The Conasauga River – Is this Heaven?

The trail is an easy one to hike, with the most challenging feat being to keep your feet dry at a couple of creek crossings and mud holes. The second crossing is rather wide and does require some skill at creek rock jumping, so those who are balance-challenged should plan to un-boot – or bring a change of shoes. (Not many southeastern trails come without creek crossings – and most don’t have bridges, in case you were wondering.)

Rolling Out the Welcome Mat...

Rolling Out the Welcome Mat…

So how do you get to this accidentally magical place, you ask? The directions are quite simple…You adventurously drive around the Tennessee-Georgia border while looking for another trail you were actually searching out (from directions supplied by a deranged Eagle Scout) until you pass this old tractor in the middle of nowhere.

You thought I was kidding about the tractor, didn't you?Nope. I had to stop for a visit - 'cause I thought this tractor was sexy. :)

You thought I was kidding about the tractor, didn’t you?
Nope. I had to stop for a visit – ’cause I thought this tractor was sexy. 🙂

Then you veer right onto a one-lane, once-graveled, now deeply rutted trail that is meant to serve as a mountainous lane. If you’re acrophobic, best not to look out the window while topping the mountain ridges, wondering why there are no guard rails – better just to pray for the next several miles, as you bump along, that you don’t pass any other vehicles. You will pass three moonshine stills (but you probably won’t notice them unless someone fires a warning shot, since they’re covered in digital camo netting); you’ll continue to check your map that hasn’t done you a bit of good since you set out much earlier that day; the road will turn back into asphalt for approximately 50 feet and you’ll wonder why they even bothered (apparently they just needed to clean out their asphalt truck); you’ll then wonder if you’re going to run out of gas before you ever reach civilization; eventually you’ll convince yourself that the mountain creeks are better than civilization – and maybe you could move there and get on your moonshine neighbor’s reality TV show; and then…out of nowhere, you’ll inadvertently pass Trail No. 61. This would be a good time to back up and find a parking spot.

Conasauga Trail No. 61.You Are Here (however that happened!)

Conasauga Trail No. 61.
You Are Here (however that happened!)

Quick (and Possibly Imperative) Geography & Translation Lesson (most especially if “you ain’t from around here”)

If, on your trip, you begin to hear banjo music playing from a front porch, you’ve traveled too far east to hit this Conasauga River trail. You would be on the Chattooga River instead. The Conasauga River is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, but don’t confuse this with the name of the Chattooga River (upon which the movie, Deliverance, was filmed). Chattahoochee is loosely translated as ‘painted rock,’ while Chattooga means ‘he has crossed the creek and come out on the other side.’ If you saw the movie, coming out on the other side takes on an entirely new meaning. Conasauga means everything from ‘sparkling water’ to ‘strong horse’ to “let’s mess with the white man and not tell him what it really means. Hey, your mama’s a Conasauga!” Now that we’ve got that all straightened out…

WELCOME TO THE CONASAUGA!

WELCOME TO THE CONASAUGA!

I’d love to share with you some of the views I stumbled across. I am serious when I say that, once you’ve traversed all the ridges in your car, the hiking is easy, being fairly even and following the river the entire way – always providing a gorgeous view. Various generations in your family could enjoy it together, if they’re reasonably steady walkers. Kayakers could also enjoy it when the water’s elevated with decent rapids because carrying your equipment back up the trail would be a breeze. (I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic to do that with my canoe – the portage part, that is.) Lastly, I’ve not forgotten you fisher-people. This river was once stocked with trout and though it’s no longer stocked, they’ve bred and are present. There are also bass, catfish and bream – and even geeky little fish that like to be studied by scientists.

So, without further ado (or probably just in addition to it), here’s my geeky slideshow for your viewing pleasure:

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Happy Hiking! -jody