Friday, August 20, 2010

final moments in paradise

The last day in paradise. How does one spend it wisely? I have a melancholy feeling that tomorrow morning we will leave this wonderful place, this cooler weather, a pace that is slow and unmeasured, to return to our normal lives, well normal is a relative term. It is hard on this last day to not let in the thoughts that might crowd my brain with the “things I gotta do when I get home”. I make determined efforts to keep them at bay and enjoy the moment. Those “things” will have to wait until I get back because that is all that they can do anyway. C’est la vie.
We woke late this morning having spent a late post dinner night on the front porch/deck with our friends here, once again in the rhythms of the shake of the martini makings. We talked as if we had been friends for life, despite our total time together only the 5 days from last year’s workshop and now this year’s. That lack of history was of no matter to the ease at which we all felt and chatted. 
They told us a story of a bat invasion recently to their house which caused them great anxiety, set them up for having to have 2 separate sets of of very painful rabies shots,  and the eradication of these flying blood suckers that was a real horror show. The bats, 36 was the count, had found a chink in their chimney and set up camp there with frequently forays into their house, and worse their bedroom (reason for of the rabies shots). It was in their telling of this epic battle that would make “Caddy Shack”’s gopher problem pale and insignificant. We were in stitches at their recount of this tale. I really don’t remember laughing so hard or so well. My jaws hurt this morning. 
We said farewells this morning to them, and to most who had been participants in the workshop. One couple remained and Mark worked with the wife on various post camera/computer stuff. I spent time trying to finish a pastel of my shepherd, Heidi. I was getting kind of stuck on some things with it so I thought it a good time to spray varnish on the other 3 pastels I had done this week.
One was a full figure of the new foal from this year,  another was a heavy massive black bull, and the last was a profile head shot of the foal, my best. I had not worked pastels since probably high school so the relearning curve was steep but my results were so pleasing to me. Rarely  do I ever get a painting or drawing as close to what I have wanted or have envisioned in my brain as well as I felt I got these three. They are quite possibly the best things I have ever done. Mark photographed them for me for making future limited edition prints of them. Then I laid them out to spray them with a protective varnish. Bad plan.    
Well, the plan was ok. One does have to protect the chalky finish from smearing, but I was using a new varnish, one I was not familiar with. It buggered them, badly, for the most part ruined. The varnish spray made the lighter tones sink into a muddled mid tone losing the original snap and vibrance. Once done, no undoing. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut at this end result, just sick. Thank god Mark had just photographed them and their images can be recreated. In this fiasco I have learned a monster of a hard lesson, know your material, what it will do, and practice on scraps. I also have learned that if I just devote time to it, my drawing and painting improves exponentially with each effort. That was thankfully, encouraging.   
Photographic lessons for the day, done, we set out for some moving water and found the Big Snowbird Creek our destination. We found a shady spot there with a massive picnic table to eat our lunch and watch the water go by, a camp site not yet claimed by the weekend campers who were moving in and setting up home bases at the other spots. 
Lunches, heck all the meals, are fabulous here at Snowbird. The fact that they pack them up for you, sack lunch style, or in a backpack with a thingy to keep it cool, is so neat. Today mine was a wrapped concoction of humus, calamata olives, cucumber slices, lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, oh, and feta cheese. I also had a slice of one of the best dill pickles on the planet,  and a few chips. Mark had their signature spicy pimento cheese sandwich. We washed this yum down with a basic shiraz and then made it over closer to the water.
We had fished here last year and the water was down about 6 inches from then, but clear, pristine and cold. There were very large stones on this geologically relatively young stream and we climbed out onto them into the middle of the flow and we sat. I put the leftover of the wine in the cool water, wedged between two stones. Mark took a couple of shots with his camera while I sat in the sun, 74 degrees, with my feet in the rushing water.
I watched the patterns of the paths the water took as it advanced towards me, split to go around my rock, and then passed on to parts unknown. I wondered the odds of any of these water molecules passing by ever making the rounds back down this very stretch of water. Odds are probably next to zero chances but in the realm of eternal time, it is possible. At least I like to think so. I wondered how many more times I will sit upon this rock or others like it and enjoy the peace the water gives, and its cooler temps.   
Another dinner here tonight, gifts from a super chef, I will be looking towards having the trout on my last night, but I might be swayed. I am trying to soak in the last of these wonderful breezes, and the relaxation that has overcome me here. Tomorrow we venture south, homeward bound. Before we get all the way home we will have a stop in Birmingham to attend Mark’s high school reunion, see his former classmates and friends, spend the night, and then head to Pintlala on Sunday morning.
I do look forward to seeing the horses and all my pups. The report I have gotten from home is that Heidi is in serious sulk mode at my departure and has not eaten in days. I imagine she has lost quite a number of pounds, which really won’t hurt since she had gained 25 in the past year. I just hope Jack has not eaten her share and gained back all that he had lost. My fantasy is that this wonderful weather will get in our car and travel back home with us and stay so I can start riding my horses again in comfort. Nice fantasy.
It has been very good to be away. It has been great to be here. This lodge is such a special place and the man who built it so many years ago, who felt the magic and peaceful energy of this site, was wise to have done such a wonderful job not messing it up in building here. Instead he built a gift to those who come here and share it.  It is nice that visitors can come and make their lives be still, at least for the few days they are here.   
Now off to shower, pack, enjoy a glass of wine before my trout dinner, and toast to the end of a fabulous and much needed vacation.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day uh...4. maybe? who cares

My routine of the morning down now to coffee, breakfast, writing, relaxing in the balmy air of the NC mountians...has left me without any compass of time or day. Of course there is always the glance at the Iphone I carry to enlightenment me, should I want to, but I don’t. I carry it only to take pictures with, since there has been no signal since leaving the flat lands.
This morning has a heavier breeze, and more clouds to the sky, perhaps indicating a rain coming. I don’t know how to gage the forecast up here. In a lot of ways it is so much of a feeling like being on the coast in Maine, but without the lobsters. The air is similar in humidity and temps, a nearly constant breeze, there are the wild blueberries too, and since I am on vacation, as I am when in Maine, the psyche is the same.
Yesterday’s adventure was a trip begun down a gravel road beside the Santela River, not a huge river but a good size pretty stream with good energy. Our first stop was at a bridge which crossed it. We stood over the water and watched it flow under our feet, babbling, and gurgling, it swirled into patterns and chaos, and was gone. 
Observing a mountain stream from afar is not the same as being along its banks or in the standing in the flow. It is there beside or in the water that one becomes engaged with the energy it is releasing. There is a feeling like no other when beside moving water, and to hear, feel, and touch the spirit of the moment is soothing, and calming, and very good for the soul. 
I left this bridge and walked the banks down a softly worn path thru the cool vegetation. There was no trash left behind as is so common in the warm waters that I am used to at home. Here I think there is more reverence to the sanctity of this type of place that makes one realize leaving behind a sign other than foot prints is a sacrelige. The mosses under my feet were soft and quiet and I eased slowly towards a smooth pool where I had seen a trout rise from the bridge, and hoped to catch a sight of it closer. I was not disappointed and the fish flashed a silver side as it rose from its hiding place under a rock to catch a drifting morsel. Trout are magical and almost mythical beings and live in such lovely places. Maybe they are the angels and they live in heaven on earth and perhaps their job is to lead us to these holy places where ones soul can be recharged.
On the side of the bank that I crept along were hundreds of tiny mushrooms of outlandish colors of yellows and oranges. There were also white ones with intense black caps, red caps, curly caps, there was just an unimaginable number of ones I had never seen. There were banks of ferns and tall trees canopying it all, the long branches and trunks reaching to the sky like the buttresses of a cathedral. I drew deep breaths and just stood and felt the peace.
One of Mark’s students for the workshop had followed me down this path with his tripod and camera. This man was very new to photography and reticent about the whole thing, but keenly interested. He was also quiet and a bit shy, a tall fellow with intense blue eyes. I suggested that a good shot for him might be from the middle of the stream looking upstream, as he had on wading shoes and the water was not terribly deep nor swift and would be easy enough to set up his tripod in.  He advanced into the water and took his shot and began his wade to the shore.
When he got to the shore he laughed and showed me that his shoe had lost its sole. They were old wading shoes and had earned their keep but he looked pretty comical with the rest of the shoe still intact but with a flap dangling under it as he walked. He had been telling us a story about a run in with some Native Americans up in Michigan, where he had grown up. These fellows had been seriously into some firewater and made for an amusing but a little scary situation for him back then. The story tho got his brain going and he now renamed himself “Jim One Shoe”.
As the day moved slowly along we, Mark, myself, and One Shoe, explored other stretches of this lovely stream, stopping to take photos here and there. We stopped by a stream side picnic table and ate our fabulous lunches which the lodge packs daily for its visitors. Stories were shared and and relationships formed.
We stopped by a log cabin built so long ago yet it stood proudly without a lean or crack in its chinking. Upon closer exam of the dovetailing of the massive beams that formed the walls, I found them to be cut unlike any I had ever seen. It was a unique double tailing that once the logs were joined there was no way for them to move, hence the reason it stood here now in such perfection still. It was a legacy of a master craftsman who’s work has lived long past his own life.    

Once again we returned to the stream to photograph and take in the beauty before us, each stretch, each turn of the meandering water totally different and unique. Then ol One Shoe started laughing in ernest. He was now “Jim No Shoe’’, as the second of his wading shoe soles had now also come unattached and he was left with just two flapping flipper like covers over the bottoms of his feet. We had a good chuckle at his predicament and when we returned to the lodge he photographed his old dear shoes. He set them on the low stone wall by the garden and took a photograph of them. He then said farewell to them and threw them away.
Mark spent the evening helping the students look at their various shots of the day and then helped them see how to print them, to complete the process of seeing and communicating to others what they saw.  When it came to No Shoe’s turn he wanted to see his shoes printed. It was indeed a very nice shot and the print was beautiful. The most important part was that this was the first shot this man had ever made which made him feel something. He was giddy and proud and had turned a corner in his approach  and attitude to both his photography and, I think, himself. He may have lost his soles but maybe found a new one, metaphorically speaking of course.
Another wonderful dinner with friends, some newer than others, but all were basking in a glow of the new discoveries about their photography. It was great fun to see their improvement in their work and feel their excitement.  After dinner we sipped a cool martini under the stars and off we went to dream until the next dawn.       

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

day 3....i think

The air is cool this morning. A light mist hangs in the valleys below the deck where I am sitting, and have sat to drink tea for the past days. A thicker clouding obscures the peaks beyond. Again I sit and listen to the gold finches and chickadees, the dog in the valley below and a few of the rumbling motorcycles as they pass thru on the roads below. Today is graced with a nice breeze that is keeping the tiny no-see-em’s from being a bother, and it makes the flag over my head give occasional gentle pops.
I can hear Mark too, inside the lodge, talking with the students, them asking questions and him answering, sharing, explaining, and trying to simplify the mystery of the modern photography age. Their questions are many today, a few new faces in the mix. They have come with different levels of ability and are at different points in the learning curve and he is patiently trying to keep them all on a similar page and is having a bit of difficulty, like a kindergarten teacher rounding up her unbridled students. I suspect there will be the ol’ divide and conquer routine of sorting them into smaller groups to help the ones who are beginners and not bore the more experienced. Always a challenge. The martini shaker has been put on notice to be ready latter for medicinal purposes.
Yesterday was lovely, slightly cloudy, and eventually later gave way to a hard rain. Part of the day was spent in the lodge with the classes, then we went on a journey to try to find a photo op that was interesting, and general exploration. We traveled a ridge top road, sort of like the Blue Ridge Prkwy, enjoying great vistas of the soft blues and greens of the rises and falls of the folded earth below us. We came to a turn off where a trail head began to a bald and stopped the car. This one was called Huckleberry Bald and I was curious to learn why. I saw quickly that everywhere were berries. I don’t know if these were indeed Huckleberries but my guess was they were a blackberry/raspberry sort of thing, no thorns, tiny seeds, and bursting with sweetness. I grazed on these while the guys got their cameras together for the walk to the top. Once ready, we walked on thru the greenery on the narrow trail.
At the top the lush canopy gave way to an open field with a vast panoramic view. The un-mown grasses were quite tall but a well worn path led onward. And then I noticed, blueberries. These are my quest when I come to the mountains in August. These tiny berries are unequaled in flavor and behold here were tall shrubs full of them. The guys went on taking their photos and I spent my time filling my cap with handfuls of these yummy morsels, one in the cap, and one for me, or two or three.  I felt like Yogi Bear and Booboo would be walking by at any moment, followed by the Ranger. It began a steady rain so we returned to the lodge.    
I had brought some pastels and paper on the trip, so I did some playing around with these while the rain fell hard outside the window, having not messed with this media in a long while. Giant crayons they are, and I had forgotten how much fun they are and also how messy. My hands quickly turned to varying shades of yellows, reds, and blues as I drew and pulled a portrait of my young colt out from the paper. It felt good. I will do some more today.
The rain retired and left an evening of beauty to the valley. After dinner we headed to the porch and watched the half moon rising. Between the setting sun and the lunar light, the clouds that began to rise from the valleys had a soft golden glow, and was spectacular. Tripods came out with their cameras and took in the scene, beginners and advanced photographers equally appreciating how special the scene was that nature was sharing.
Then off to bed, for another stressful day ahead. Somebody has gotta do it. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 2. Here

Day 2 lazily began with a nice mug of coffee, eggs benedict, and Mark began doing a bit of helping folks with their f stops and such on their cameras. I spent time writing and relaxing again on the front porch.  After a of time at this, the plan was made that each would do individual time with their cameras, exploring the area and new techniques. This move gave Mark and I much needed time to head into town for some critical provisions, the North Carolina ABC store to be exact, as seeing our martini shaker going thru withdrawals is not a pretty sight.
Armed with sketchy directions and good intent we headed to Andrews, NC, via Robbinsville, crossing Log Hollow Road, Willie Calhoun Drive, Big Snowbird Creek Road, and other such colorful descriptive names. We pulled off the road by a lovely tiny stream to eat our sack lunches and peered into the clear water for any sign of any elusive trout rising to catch a drifting meal. We saw none but the moving babbling water was soothing and peaceful. Our meals finished, we pressed on further into our quest.
Down the mountain we went, swerving left, hairpin right, speed up then slow down, turning a mile into days. After many hours of this, in reality only 20 minutes or so, we hit a bigger road and assumed and had faith that we were pointed in the general direction of our mission.
Miles after miles we rode along with some occupied houses along the way, very many that weren't, but what was amazing to me was the lack of grocery stores, any retail other than gas stations, no pharmacies, no medical facilities that I could see. There were just no services of any sort anywhere. This got me wondering what does one do in an emergency in regions like this where basic services are nil or very far away. If one broke their arm what was one to do? And if snake bit? Generally sick? Where would anybody come from to help, and where would anybody find even aspirin to deal with pain?
This got me to thinking. These folks who live up here have to live with a different attitude, or else stay very healthy. This all got me thinking too that maybe I needed to be a bit more careful before thinking about skipping over stream side rocks, watching where I sat (lest it be next to a Copperhead snake like I managed to do on another outing), not get stung by a wasp (to which I am allergic), or do anything that might make my wondering about getting help, my problem, and a big one.
We finally made our way to the store we had sought, barely seeing it as we passed by, a camouflaged hole in the wall with a neon sign blinking an ad about a tequila based sweet mix. With a sliding stop and quick turn into the tiny parking lot, we accomplished out mission, and jumped back onto the road home. Up we went, climbing the mountain to Snowbird Lodge, swerving back and forth, again and again, and once again, up and down and around...I get sea sickness easily so I happen to notice the curvy road stuff and its affect on me.
We returned to find a large tour bus full of rather elderly folks who were there for a quick lunch, respite, and a visit from a local member of the Creek Indian tribe here, named Diamond. He was dressed in full native dress complete with peace pipe and he startled us as he appeared as if out of nowhere from around the garden wall. Mark took his portrait and asked him if he did email to get a copy sent to him. Diamond said “Yes. I do smoke signal,” and off he trod in his fringed moccasins.            
Once in the lodge we sat in the main room to rest from our journey, and quickly picked up on the fact that one of the elderly ladies from that group was laying on the sofa behind us and was having some sort of trouble. “Is there a doctor in house?” was the next thing we heard. Our friend from last year happened to be one, an anesthesiologist( correction...a radiologist), so he went over to see if he could help.
This lady was 94, traveling with a tour group on her own, and had tripped over a curb, fallen and broken her wrist, badly. She was laying there quietly, but was going into shock, and needed to go to hospital. 
Here was the situation I had been wondering about. Just what does one do now with an elderly lady, needing attention, probably surgery, in the middle of no where? Answer was that some emergency techs were pretty close in the area, 30-45 minutes or so away. They came and carted her away to a clinic an hour away, with probable plans to send her several hours away to a real surgeon once the bones, and she, was stabilized. She was a spritely lady and should be fine, but it was a reality check. The rest of the group were instructed to take the down stairs to the bus with extreme care. They did.
The afternoon brought a rain in the valley, obscuring the view for a while and then lifted to reveal the peaks beyond like an etherial sumi painting. We walked thru the garden and took pictures, and drank some marvelous Champagne that was brought as a token of congratulations from our friends here, who share our intensive love of college football, and whose team lost this year, to ours. The bubbles went down easily.
Another wonderful dinner was followed by a game of throwing the bones, or dominos, a sprinkling of martinis, and a good night to all to rest up for another day ahead.

Monday, August 16, 2010

To leave. Day 1

Yesterday we began our trip up to our destination for a week long vacation, a week in the mountains of North Carolina at the lovely Snowbird Lodge set on the peak of a mountain, overlooking the vast smokey valleys below it. The trip began with the car thermometer reading 99, a relatively cool day, compared to the recent ones of August. We traveled along the interstate until finally reaching the point where civilization gives way to less inhabited areas of smaller roads and nondescript towns, small farms tucked into grassy coves and tiny brooks meandering thru the shadows of the overhanging trees.
Along with the lovely and the quaint came an awareness of the weight that has come from economic struggle in the world and its effect to an area which had been riding a bubble of development. Scattered along these roads were subdivision gates and their overgrown garden entrances, ghost towns who had never seen inhabitants, full of hope and promise of prosperity that never got the chance. There were abandoned restaurants and shiny strip centers all poised to scrape up the gravy. One such place was an apparent former dining establishment. It stood on top of a hill, vines now covering the facade, with a sign in the front facing the road that said for all to see that this was a ”proven location”. The claim was certainly dubious at any time, but its proven track record of failure was a grisly, and somehow humorous fact, to be claiming now.
Finally we reached mountains, the temps cooled but not to the 70’s or less that we had expected, but they hovered sluggishly in the mid 80’s. Temps much nicer than where we had just come from, perhaps another sign of the pendulum swing of the changing climate, it was a bit sad to think of this Mecca as ever being anything but cool and pleasant. Despite the warmth, it was so nice to breathe a different air. Dinner at the lodge was excellent, shared with friends we had met here last year, and so we resumed where we had left off, sipping our pre dinner martinis and laughing a lot.   
This morning begins Mark’s gig teaching whoever wants some help with cameras, and what to do with a photo once you take it. I am sitting on the front porch of this massive lodge and listen to the chirps and whistles of the golden finches as they flit around the various feeders. Butterfly bushes cascade down the lawn in front of me, and they are covered with many bouncing varieties of boldly striped swallow tails, and tiny periwinkles. There is an unhappy dog barking somewhere far away, hummingbirds hover in front of my face and cicadas buzz in the trees.  The sound is concentrated  and thick.
Somewhere far below in the valley I also hear the rumble of groups Harley’s and their not so quiet sound systems, with their predominately graying riders, they are here to slay the famous Dragon. Highway 129, which winds its way thru some of these western hills,  lives up to its fame by whipping its riders thru wicked hairpins and steep inclines. There are photographers set along the road to catch these ambitious actions for these seeking a spot of immortality and the right to say “I did it”.  There are t-shirts for sale at the end, and there are ambulances on call for the ones who don’t judge the turns well enough.
To vacate, to leave. Leaving the farm always fills me with such anxiety. My first action this morning was to try to check messages back home to see if all was ok. There were a  few questions from my invaluable substitute “me” there to take care of all the animals, which I answered. I keep my fingers crossed that all will be fine, no emergencies, and time will pass as quietly there for them as it,hopefully, will here for me. I know all too well how a pleasant day can be ruined with the look of an ill horse and what that could mean if not caught soon enough. I do appreciate the willingness on the part of my friend to take on this responsibility in my vacancy from the farm. 
Getting away is important tho. I do need the break from the daily grind, the patterns. It is good to see new faces, and new places, eat someone else’s fine meals, and to relax. My brain is always sharper for the changes, and the spirit is brightened., and I certainly hope to achieve these things on this trip. Maybe we will go hike to a waterfall today or a lake. There are many lovely ones near here.  As warm as it is I may get in for a dip. There is no script and nothing written in stone about the day, my plan is to try to fall thru the week like water down a mountain stream, do some writing, do some catch up on my painting, and simply recharge.  

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Today is my birthday. I have had many now. I share my birthday, not by choice, with my mother who is 80 years old as of today. (The story of her suduction of my father and bribery of the doctor, to this end is another story for another day.)

 Birthdays are always somewhat reflective and reminiscent to me, and I am glad to be here and have to wonder how many more might be ahead. This may well be the last one for my mother, who very nearly didn't make this one having spent last week in the hospital getting a gallon of fluid drained off of her cardio/pulmonary area. Who knows how many more any of us get, until it just is the last one, and then I guess you won't know or care.

Remembering the early ones tho is fun, to remember details, first parties, first cards, and even the first awareness of what a birthday really was. The first one I do remember was accented by mother having her friends over with their respective kids, and we stood at long, low tables with paper coverings set out under the car port . We had cake and ice cream in the little tubs that you dug out with wooden spoons. They all sang to me, and to my mother.

I also remember the women as they stood around us kids, dressed in their very late 50/s garb, full skirts, fitted bodices, and the pocket book draped on their left arms, lips brightly covered with red, hair cropped short, and all smiles. I do not remember what gifts I got that year but I do recall how difficult it was to take a nap before the party when I was so full of anticipation about it.

I have  a scrap book which mother kept up for me when I was little and the book contains many of my first birthday cards from my grandparents and other relatives and friends, their signatures faded but their scripts still obviously theirs. The hands that wrote them are long gone now, and they will celebrate birthdays no more in this life. To see these cards and these best wishes from the past makes me want to say thank you to them now for making me understand that on your birthday it is a special day, and one that should be taken stock of because they are not guaranteed.

Perhaps one of the most disappointing gifts that I ever got was for my 16th  and was from my mother. I was turning driving age, finally, and was really hoping the trend of my brothers receiving new cars for their passages, would continue on to me. In that mind set, one day as we came toa stop in our driveway, my mother suddenly turned to me and said that she just could stand it any longer and that she had to tell me what I was getting for my big 16th. "You are getting a Porche", is what I heard.

I sat there in stunned amazement and giddiness while I listened to her begin to describe it....What I didn't hear was the type of Porche, color etc. She was saying things about how exquisite the details in the dress were. We were absolutely on different planets in this moment and it took a long while for me to understand that she had indeed not said "Porche" but "Portia". I was looking at her dumbfounded, which she probably took as a sign that I was over whelmed with the news that, instead of a hot new car, I was so thrilled to be getting instead,,,a 12 inch tall porcelain statue of a woman... and what 16 year old would not be thrilled with that news?

I did not spoil her excitement that day at this gift she was so happy to be sharing with me. I did tell her years later and she had had no idea about my disappointment at getting no Porche. It was probably a good thing I didn't get one. I drove my early years with a heavy foot on the peddle, and the hand me down car I did get obliged by going way faster than I should have gone. I was lucky to have survived my youth, and hope to continue surviving the rest of this ride, at a slower pace.

I have had a good one so far, and a good day today. My horse went so well on my morning ride, and the air is beginning to feel like fall isn't that far away.  I have been a bit overwhelmed with Happy Birthday wishes from so many folks that I am feeling pretty good about reaching another milestone. Tonight I will raise a toast that they keep on coming for both myself and my mother. 

This week began with a visit from one of my favorite folks, my sister in law. Together, she and I and Mark peeled the  36  or so pears and made  and canned the 2010 batch of pear relish that everybody in the family will get to put on their veggies thru the winter. The recipe is a legacy from my grandmother and is closley guarded. Its yearly production is arduous but is so satisfying to know that there will be ample supply once again, for this year.  We go to the mountains next week for Mark to teach a photo workshop and I get to just chill out and enjoy the break.  aaaaahhh. Happy Birthday to me...