Sunday, July 23, 2017

Visiting Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park is in Kentucky, a state not too far from mine. Like many people, I have been to many of the far flung National Parks and foreign cities, but I have neglected some of those nearer to me.  So, this summer, being both tight on time and cash, Mammoth Cave seemed like a good idea.

Interestingly, Mammoth Cave doesn't seem to get a lot of the big PR like Yosemite, Yellowstone, or the Grand Canyon.  One reason I think this is, is that, being a cave, the park doesn't offer many great photo opportunities.  It is dark in a cave! It is rocky and close and otherworldly, and really hard to photograph.  Even if you can get a picture, it doesn't translate into a feeling about the experience like big, open vistas do.  (I think Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park suffers in this way too-)

Historic entrance to the cave
We first took the historic tour which goes down into the big cave opening.   The National Park was at one time farm land covered with sink holes.  The land today still rises and falls.  When farmers first discovered caves on their land in the low ground, they opened these caves to tourists.  It is frightening to think how they went about exploring these caves with little more than curiosity and lanterns.  Many of the cave explorers and guides were slaves.

Going down into the sinkhole

Here, the large man in the doorway seeks reassurance from the guide that he will fit in the narrow passageways.
After lunch, we took another tour of a different part of the cave (the cave covers over 400 miles and is still being actively explored!).  This involved riding on a bus, trekking down into a sinkhole and going through a cave opening not nearly as romantic as the historic entrance we went into that morning.  This was a tour called Domes and Dripstones.

After entering this through this door, we walked down long, long, long, single file staircases through a twisty narrow crevice in the earth.  We crouched along passageways, and sucked in our stomachs, and watched our heads for jutting edges of rock.  It was fantastic!  Utterly adventurous feeling, without really being totally adventurous--I mean, there was the possibility of danger, but not the likelihood of danger.  I had visions of Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, and--of course!--Dante--as we wandered through various chambers and high ceilinged splices of earth.  Really, really awesome!  If you get a chance to go see this, you should!
Our little cabin

Circle of cabins
We stayed in cabins which have been park since 1913.  Unlike many national parks, Mammoth Cave does not have a beautiful historic lodge.  It has a boring hotel that was built sometime in the 1970's (or maybe the late 1960's). The cabins are the only remaining historic lodging.  Luckily, our set of cabins had window unit air-conditioning!  I loved their cozy simplicity (no TV or wi-fi), but the woman in the neighboring cabin was not so enamored of her experience.

Returning to her cabin one evening, she happened to look down just as a snake was waking up and deciding it was finally cool enough to come out to do some hunting.  She shrieked.  I heard her say she'd seen a snake, so, being something of a snake enthusiast, I hurried to identify it and snap its picture.  It was a copperhead (venomous).  I was thrilled, though also very aware that my neighbor was lucky not to have stepped on him for she very likely could have been bitten.  I contacted the ranger, who sent some other rangers to come collect the snake and move him off away from people. The rangers could not assure the woman that she would not encounter more snakes (they even could not assure her that she would not encounter one IN the cabin--though I know that this would be highly unlikely).  She declared she had had it with rustic domesticity and would be leaving in the morning.
My nervous phone picture of the snake as it came out of from under the metal flashing under the door.  Beside him is the corner of the welcome mat.
All in all--it was a wonderful adventure.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Island Ford Trail

Today we braved the heat and damp and went for a hike.  Island Ford Trail is a short, easy trail (3 miles) in an urban woodland that often runs parallel to the Chattahoochee River.  Today, being Saturday, groups of people were out with inflatable rafts heading into the water to relax to cool off.  I think you can even rent a canoe at the recreation office there. Even though the trail is shaded, the forest holds moisture and when the path veered away from the water, the humidity was particularly oppressive.

One of several granite alcoves along the way.

We were lucky to see deer several times along the route.

Gross slug in this picture was unintentional at the time!

It came pouring rain about half and hour after we left.
"And the rain it raineth every day," (from Twelfth Night) is definitely the motto of this summer.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mid-summer Catch Up!

So, here we are in the smack middle of summer.  The heat is upon us.  Rain sweeps in almost daily and sweltering steam rises from the visibly from the asphalt, and tangibly from the grasses and plants. Magnolia leaves hold water like sorry inverted boats, homes for mosquito larvae.  Cicadas buzz.

The garden loves the rain, of course.  We had magnificent pea towers early on, but of course, they succumb to the heat, so we've replaced them with cowpeas. We've got loads of shishito peppers which when roasted and salted make a fantastic snack.  Our cucumbers are doing well too even though some are bulbous and yellow and we joke that they could be confused for limes.

A wild rabbit has been exploring our yard and eating the petunias and green bean leaves.  I put my rabbit playpen up around the garden and it seems to have stopped him.  That or he became someone's lunch.  Sad!!

One of my little old bunnies (9 years old) has a lump in her abdomen.  Her fur is a constant shabby mess.  I was embarrassed to take her to the vet.  She is old for a rabbit and happy enough so operating to remove the lump would be too much for her.  I thought about bringing her into the house and pampering her, but being inside freaks her out.  She'd rather be in the place she knows with her bunny friend.

These unstructured summer days are passing too quickly.  I wanted to read more, to knit more, to have time for more writing and some lesson planning.  In 3 weeks school starts up again, and I have at least 3 more books I want to read--at least!!  Here's what I've read so far, not including the audio books by Elena Ferrante.

And I would like to finish knitting a Nevis sweater I started.  But I doubt I'll get through all those rows with thread-like yarn before school starts, though I may get it done so I can wear it in August of September.  However, I did crochet this shrug which really turned out a little bit too big, though not terribly so. It was fun to make!

Well, that's enough for now.  I hope to write more soon.  Really.  I don't mean to neglect this blog. It's fun to put together.  I so enjoy reading and seeing other people's blogs that I like to join in.  Hope you all have a great day!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

High Falls State Park

Well, we seem to be on a roll here.  It is raining today, but last week we went off hiking again at High Falls State Park.  We got up and out early and arrived at the park around eight.  Almost no one was around and it was still a little cold even.
After awhile we could smell the smoke from morning wake up camp fires.  It made me think of the bacon and eggs we used to eat when we camped when I was a kid.  The smell of fire and sizzling bacon always was just enough to pull me out of the warm snuggle of my sleeping bag (though the morning cold in New Mexico is real, not like Georgia at all where all we had was a little shiver in our short sleeves).

One of us was a snake hunter of course, but we did not find even one snake.  There were many little toads and tadpoles, baby ducks and even some baby birds fallen from a nest which I hadn't the heart to take a picture of.  Here and there wildflowers bloomed, but not prolifically.  You had to be paying attention.  Lots of them had little horn or bell shaped blossoms.  And poison ivy was all over the place.  Sticking to the trail was a must.

The remains of an old water power house are fenced off, though the fence is knocked down in places and the gate lags open.  Signs warn not to enter.  The information placards said that the power house made this a boom town until the railroad was built further away and commerce went in the direction of the railroad.  A little sad.

We walked both sides of the river.  One side zig-zagged back and forth between water and hills.  There were many, many signs about the Danger of Death from playing on the rocks or in the falls.

Down away from the falls, the water was quieter, even almost swampish and later in the year I am sure it will be an insect paradise.
As it was, we came home with a few ticks (!).
It was a holiday, and by the time we left, many families with picnics were arriving and throwing frisbees and rowing little boats on the lake above the falls.
We headed back to the city for Chinese food.  And later, our snake hunter went out and found 3 snakes in our neighborhood park.  How's that?!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Great Smokey Mountain National Park

Earlier this week we decided to explore Asheville, NC and en route, take in some of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.  It was a stormy day, so not much good for hiking, but we did manage to venture out of the car a little bit.

I'm not usually one who takes pictures of signs, but the Native American Cherokee writing here was interesting to me, as the fantastic graphic.

Here you can see the characteristic "smoke" in the background hovering on the hills.  This is what gives the Smokies their name.  It is actually fog, or water vapor from the plants.

We call these gourds on posts "bird hotels."  They are seen widely throughout the southern states.

Part of an old homestead exhibit.  Later in the season there will actually be animals here.

A field of elk. The greenish tinge to the trees here is from moss.

The water was high rushing brown.

A few days later, we drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway which overlooks the Smokies.  Luckily for us the road was open because the storms had passed.

This is Looking Glass Falls.  The spray from it was fresh and COLD!
On the right side of this picture you can see exposed rock.  This is where the ice forms and then becomes the waterfall as it melts.  Because of the way the light reflects on the ice it is called Looking Glass.  We could hear the waterfall from this point.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

My Life in Cookbooks

Wow!  It's spring and I need a new banner.

I have been walking a lot and it is gorgeous in my neighborhood.  A real feast for the eyes, as everything is in bloom.  (Unfortunately, for some it is super pollen time and miserable to be outdoors).

I seem to have a lot of dried beans and lentils that need using up, so that aim sent me into my cookbooks to look up my most used and best loved recipes.  I got to looking at these books as objects of my  life and wanted to share two of them here.
The first is this one:

This book is about 30 years old.  Unbelievable!!!  It is the book that taught me the most about fresh food and herbs and how to prepare them.  It has lots of lists and general basic information that I read again and again.  Some of the recipes are complicated (like Torta Milanese), but most are pretty simple.  Many of these recipes have become ones I have used so often, I no longer consult the book anymore.
My brother gave me this as a Christmas gift the same year my dad gave me a cookbook.  The one my dad gave me was a large, beautiful hardbound one with lots of amazing pictures. When I closely examined the recipes though, I read things like "gas mark 4" and "gateau" and I realized it was an English cook book for recipes in a French style and that wasn't really my zone.  Instead, "Seasonal Vegetarian Cooking" got used way more than I bet my brother ever anticipated!

And then, there is this treasure:

I got this book for one dollar as part of a "Buy one book and get three for one dollar" mail away book club offer.  (I don't even think those things exist anymore.)  I bought this book and wore it out.

There's a note from my now passed mother-in-law about how to hydrate dried tomatoes used as marker on this page.  Her recipes are all around my cooking bibliophily.

This is another one that I have used so much I no longer consult the book.  It is divided by regional ethnic dishes, and some sections I have used again and again.  It has no pictures.  It has reference sections near the back that I needed so much in the course of my adventurous life, for example metric to non-metric conversions and Fahrenheit to Celsius, etc.

These books are like little diaries of my life.  In one of my all-time favorite books called Chilly Scenes of Winter by Ann Beattie, the character who has lost his girlfriend laments her and all the cookbooks she left lying around with her notes scribbled in them, little testaments of her.  I know exactly what this is.

Recipe from a life long friend and excellent cook.  I was learning Italian at the time as evident by my penciled definitions. So much of my Italian came from recipes and food related instructions.

An instance where I combine a friend's recipe--having had this gazpacho at her house one afternoon--and the recipe in the book to hit the perfect combination of ingredients.

Not that I will be making Nocino again any time soon--because tradition says, you have to steal the nuts before the 24th of June -but when I do make it, I know exactly where to find this recipe, and exactly why one year's batch turned out better than the next year's batch. 

I will never make this Turkish dish, but the recipe was taken down  by my 1st husband ( who is now passed) as he made it with our neighbors across the hall who used to bring a bowl of it to us on occasion.  The paper and idea of this food and so much else, makes this artifact dear to me.

And last, a little shopping list of the kind I still make.

I have other well used cookbooks, but these two are the ones most full of notes and etc., the ones I've relied on the longest.  They're my most comfortable old friends.
(And no, I am not a vegetarian.)