Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Lap Desk Has Many Uses

Such as, a kitty platform.

My nephew gave me this lap desk for Christmas last year, and within 10 seconds or so of settling down on the couch with it - before I could even reach for my book - I had a cat perched in the center of it. I came across these photos recently, and even though they weren't very high quality and are now months old, they still make me laugh!

Silly Lucy. 

It is all about the cat, after all. 

Sometimes I forget...

...but Lucy reminds me. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

High Elevation Adventures

Dogs may not use words, but they can talk.

This is Lucky saying: 
"Let's go for a ride in the truck. Or for a hike. Can we?" 

He's so unassuming with his requests, and so seldom asks for anything, it's hard to say no. With the hint of fall in the air lately, I had to admit the mountains have been calling. So off we went - this time to Black Balsam Knob. This is a spectacular higher elevation hike, which made it a great destination on a day that would otherwise be almost too warm to take the dogs hiking. The truck's temperature display dropped from 81 to 68 degrees as we climbed the Parkway.

Lucky had done this trail as a young dog, but neither Lady nor Katie had ever been to the area. Excited faces crowded the little window in the back of the cab, and a trio of tails wagged joyfully. When we arrived, the dogs were like pups in their enthusiasm to hit the trail - despite the fact that two of the three are 12 years old!

The path to the summit starts out winding through thickets of blueberry and blackberry bushes, and patches of spruce forest. As you might imagine, this is a very popular hike when the berries are in season. Rising higher, the vistas grow more expansive, providing great views of a dense spruce-fir forest that skirts the edge of a meadow.

Black Balsam is one of my favorite places to hike. The mountains in this area are grassy balds due to logging and forest fires in the 1920s and 40s. It gives the entire area a unique and "faraway" feel.

Katie takes a good sniff of the higher elevation air.

The late summer wildflowers were so beautiful - both sides of the trail were lined with a kaleidoscope of purple, green, and yellow. Our hike proceeded at the pace of about 1/4 mile an hour, because I kept stopping to take photos!

Cow parsnip grows in great profusion along the trail. This tall herb was used by Native Americans to make poultices, with the dried stalks used as drinking straws for the elderly, and as flutes for children.

Eventually the trail becomes a winding path through a wide mountaintop meadow.

Can you spot the people further up the trail?

It's hard to gauge distance without trees or nearby objects as reference. From this point, it's still about a quarter mile to the summit. Even though this was a short hike, the plan was to play it by ear. If going all the way to the top seemed too much for the older dogs, we'd stop and head back. But Lucky said "Let's keep going!"

After another 15 minutes or so of hiking, we arrived at the 6214' summit. A bronze plaque embedded in the rock honors Art Loeb, for whom the trail is named -

"An industrialist, conservationist, and hiker who deeply loved these mountains."

Lady seemed to understand we'd reached our destination, and stood majestically for several moments gazing out over the Shining Rock Wilderness area below. Too bad she's the same color as the rocks. This would have been a great photo, but she was almost perfectly camouflaged!

Numerous campsites dot the summit area. I can hardly imagine a more beautiful place to camp, with 360 degree panoramic views. On a clear day, they say you can see 70 miles into the distance.

However, I would not want to be up here in a tent during a thunderstorm!

The Art Loeb trail traverses several peaks in this area. In addition to Black Balsam, you can hike to Tennant Mountain (6040'), Pilot Mountain (5095'), or to the base of Cold Mountain (6030'), which became quite famous with the popularity of Charles Frazier's book and the 2003 film. Another popular trail in this area is the Ivestor Gap trail. There are so many branching and spur trails on the broad summit of Black Balsam, you have to pay attention so you don't get lost!

I missed getting a photo of picturesque Mount Hardy, but this photo borrowed
from shows its 6110' dome looming over the trail to Black Balsam.  

After exploring the broad summit for awhile, we headed back. Lucky was a bit wobbly on the way down and had to be helped over a few of the steeper rocky areas. Seems like his enthusiasm for the hike might have exceeded his physical abilities a bit. He wasn't too bad off though - on the ride home, while Lady and Katie were out of sight resting on their beds, Lucky was up, his happy face in the window, and his nose taking in all the passing smells.

Lady, Lucky, and Katie all agree - when the mountains call, go.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On Rainbows and Being Alive

Have you ever touched a rainbow? And no, I don't mean in the spiritual, poetic sense... I mean really, reached out and touched the colors. I did that last night! What an exhilarating experience! It all started with a train and getting stopped by a cop...

It was the start of Labor Day weekend. In trying to be good and squeeze in some exercise before going to a Friday night movie, my walking partner and I decided to head to the nearby Oaks Greenway, for a super quick 3 mile walk - sans dogs (they slow things down considerably). But wouldn't you know it, a slo-o-o-o-o-o-w train had traffic backed up right before we needed to turn. It was only 25 yards or so further to our turn, and no cars were coming, so I helpfully suggested a creative traffic maneuver that would help speed things along. And it did, for about 10 seconds, until the blue lights appeared in the rear view mirror. Arg!

Fortunately, this turned out to be a nice officer, and he let us off with just a warning. We drove the additional few feet over to the parking area and hopped out. Eager to make up for lost time, we opted not to take the umbrella and instead just scurry on up the road. Big mistake. Despite the fact that it was sunny, blue sky weather when we started, we got caught in a downpour. Hopeful that it would just be a quick shower, we took shelter under some trees and waited, and we talked about Marti.

Marti died yesterday. She was young, only in her 50s, and full of life. A few months ago, plagued by indigestion and stomach issues, she went to the doctor. It turned out not to be a food allergy, but pancreatic cancer. You hear these stories from time to time, and they almost become cliche. But the thought that someone I know, someone just a little older than me, someone who just a few months ago was worrying about work, finances, getting the "to do" list done - is now gone... it seemed surreal.

The rain went on and on, and pretty soon it became obvious that the "hunkering down under the trees" solution wasn't working. So off we went, into the rain, laughing and squishing and remembering how much fun it used to be to play in puddles as a child. Just for old times' sake, I jumped in a few of the biggest puddles. And then this rainbow appeared - which in and of itself was a treat. But as we continued up the greenway, suddenly the rainbow was right there, next to the path! You could actually reach out and touch it! Amazing! It's also amazing that these photos turned out, since it was really pouring at the time. I guess it's hard to drown an iPhone.

Even though getting stopped by the police and getting caught in a downpour weren't at all convenient or in keeping with getting to the movie on time, it was fun. Fun in a crazy, go-with-the-flow kind of way. And I felt very alive.

There's something about getting drenched and touching a rainbow that makes you feel very, very alive. I think Marti would be happy to know that we were laughing and jumping in puddles and thinking of her and touching rainbows all at the same time.

The one who wasn't happy was Lady. Even though she can't talk, it's always quite clear when she's displeased. She acts out by stirring up one of the throw rugs.

And if she's really, REALLY unhappy, she stirs up two rugs. 

It's hard not to laugh when she does this, but of course I don't. Because to her, it's serious business.

I just feel lucky to have a dog who expresses herself by stirring up the rugs, and not be eating furniture, wallpaper, or sheetrock... like in this photo I found tonight on the blog life in the dog house.

Oh could be much, much worse.