Sunday, October 25, 2020

October Camping and Canoeing: Henry Horton and the Duck River

 The weekend began perfectly. The weather was lovely: cool enough for a fire but warm enough for just a t-shirt. We chose Henry Horton State Park because it's close to our Nashville kids and, frankly, it was one of the few TN State Park campgrounds that had any spaces left when we reserved this over a month ago. The pandemic has definitely brought more and more folks out to campgrounds! 

We set up our mansion tent, and Laurel and Hunter set up their cute little tent. Randy built a fire, made his fabulous paella, and we just enjoyed catching up with our kiddos. And then the rain began. Man, I love camping with the sound of the rain gently falling on the tent! 

Or in this case... on the roof of the car.

Because our mansion leaked! When we headed off to bed, we discovered that our blankets, cots, sleeping pads, and pillows were soaked. The tent floor was full of puddles. The only thing we could do was sleep in the car! We kind of missed the van, yep.

But we're all about adventure, right? Fortunately, I'd packed a couple of extra blankets, and our pillows weren't totally soaked, so we made it through the night. The rain stopped before we awoke, and we enjoyed a fire and Randy's delicious breakfast bowls. I'm so lucky. He's the absolute best camping chef! It was a chilly morning, but fortunately, I had a big towel for a blanket. This picture is for Duncan, who thinks it is hilarious that I use a towel for a blanket when I'm sitting around in the house. But I mean, come on! It's a perfect size and weight for warm weather! 

But I digress. Note the blankets and such hanging out to dry. We had canoes reserved for the day, so we left all our stuff out drying and headed to the Duck River. We had a perfect day for canoeing! It was a bit chilly, but we were the only people on the river. The leaves were just starting to change. We stopped on an island and had lunch about halfway through, then hopped back in our canoes. The whole afternoon was perfectly quiet except for a few kingfishers and blue herons.

The whole trip took us way less time than we thought, which turned out to be a really good thing. As we headed back to camp, the rain started pouring again... and we'd left all our stuff out to dry. We decided it was time to pack throw all the wet gear in the car and head to Laurel and Hunter's warm, dry apartment, just 45 minutes away in Nashville. 

So, we had hot showers and ate our steak at the table, warm and dry. It was all incredibly fun, honestly, from the rainy night to the lovely canoe trip to the unexpected night at Laurel and Hunter's sweet little home. 

We got home early in the afternoon. Load two is in the dryer and load three is in the washer, and we have all the gear outside drying. Can't wait to do it all again!

Friday, August 7, 2020

Waterfall Chasing: Piney Falls

 Summer 2020 has been all about exploring waterfalls, mostly in Tennessee but with a few trips over into North Carolina. We probably averaged an adventure every-other-week. Every single falls has its own personality. Some are exuberant, some gentle. Some shout, some sing softly, a few just whisper. I love hearing the water's voice and knowing we are almost there, and then getting that first glimpse of a falls through the trees. Our waterfall explorations have been a way to soothe our souls during these past many months of the coronavirus pandemic.

We visited Piney Falls State Natural Area in mid June. Duncan joined us for this one, which made it even more of an adventure!  


We love our Tennessee State Parks and of course the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but there are also 85 Natural Areas that are affiliated with the TN State Park system. These absolute treasures are guaranteed to be less crowded than the parks.

Cable trail down to the falls
The trail was an easy 2.5 mile loop that included two falls, lots of climbing spots—and we only saw about 5 other people the entire day.

The trail takes you first above the falls. I always get a little woozy on the top of falls, and Upper Piney Falls is an 80-foot drop. Of course, I still get a little nervous when one of my kids stands on the edge, even if he is 19.

Upper Piney is a gorgeous falls, especially after lots of rain. There is a terrific swimming hole there and lots of good rocks for picnicking upon. When you're done looking at the falls, you can follow the trail right behind it.

 From there, the trail follows Piney Creek downstream to Lower Piney Falls, with this amazing sandstone wall on one side. Duncan would definitely like to come back and do some more climbing here!

Lower Piney Falls is less impressive.... from the top, anyway! There's no access to the bottom of the falls, so you have to peer over the top of the cliff. Still the cascades were pretty!

This was definitely one of my favorite falls....although I'll probably say that about most of them! This is just a little over an hour from Knoxville, on the Southern Cumberland Plateau.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Sheltering at Home: March and April in a Pandemic

I want to remember this strange time, and how we were during a pandemic.

Largely, we were the same.

Outside the window, the bright red male cardinal and a special guest towhee perched on the black hook of the feeder while the red-bellied woodpecker hammered at the drain pipe, all spring long, marking his territory. Squirrels clung like acrobats to the feeders, and Randy periodically yelled, "Hey, squirrel! Scram! You're a jerk!" The flowers bloomed in their usual order: daffodils, forsythia, hyacinths, tulips, daisies, roses, irises, sweet William, peonies. Spring has been exceptionally long and beautiful this year, with cool evenings and temperatures only reaching 90 once so far.

Inside the house, I read, kept all the household things moving along, taught a class from couch or table, fixed meals, played mindless games on my laptop, watched Netflix. Like everyone else everywhere. Randy worked mostly from the sunporch, teaching classes and having meetings via Zoom.  Bonus: I get to go outside, walking around in my big yard or in our neighborhood, with its wide lawns and streets. Randy and I both did lots of yardwork—he even conquered our side yard, which was an absolute jungle of weeds, ivy, and honeysuckle. What victory!

Teaching a Brave Writer class from home

Randy conquering the jungle

Duncan arrived home toward the end of March. He had been in Peru on a spring break ecology trip when the world went crazy. He was off the grid in the Amazonian rainforest and had little idea of what was happening. He got out of Peru just two hours before the country closed its borders, and they made it back to North Carolina safely. They quarantined then, having been in four major airports. We were so happy to see him when he finally got back home. He was sad, of course, to leave college with just six weeks left, but he's such a happy guy. He diligently did his online classes and connected with his friends daily. He's definitely made the best of a weird situation.

Duncan arrived home from college with an extra roll of TP

When all the climbing walls are closed....

Lots of hammocking

Watching the quiet world

Once a week or so, we ventured outside for hikes. Before the national and state parks closed, we headed there. After, we had to settle for less scenic city parks or just the neighborhood.

Stinging Creek Falls

East Lakeshore Trail

Obed Natural Area

Obed Natural Area

We celebrated birthdays, worked, chatted with family, held book club, and gathered with friends via Zoom. We talked to Randy's mom, who is quarantined at her senior care facility, via FaceTime each Tuesday.

Mom turned 93

The entire family joined her Zoom birthday celebration!

Book club!

Tuesday FaceTiming with Randy's mom. Thanks to her awesome nurse, Leslie, for setting this up each week!

Celebrating Jesse's 27th birthday!

Weekend family chat

Randy has been our ambassador to the outside world. Once every week, he puts on mask and gloves and heads out to the grocery store for us and my parents.

We visited our Knoxville kids once, bringing bread and flowers and wine. It was sooo good to see them, from a distance, of course. The streets of Knoxville were empty and quiet.

Like so many couples, one of the first questions when this began was:

They've decided to postpone their wedding until next summer because they really had their hearts set on getting married July 4. I totally understand--it's so weird to plan a wedding during this time when we all feel in limbo.

Limbo. That's how March and April felt, as if we were suspended in time. It's been a sweet time, honestly, for the most part. There is certainly an underlying, uneasy feeling of uncertainty, of course. A restlessness. And yet we have enjoyed more time together without the pressures of having to go anywhere. We are among those who have secure jobs that can be easily moved to home. We have shelter and food and reliable internet access and financial security. Our parents are safe, our children are safe, our friends are safe, and we are all healthy. As of today, our county has had 77 cases of COVID-19. We're still rising a case or two each week. Everything has opened back up now, so we are watching the numbers to see what happens next.

And that's life in the first two months of coronavirus.