Fontana Dam, The Fugitive and the Whole Famn Damily

We went to Fontana Dam today. It’s only about 40 minutes from Bryson City. The big plan was to checkout the Fontana visitor center, eat a picnic lunch, and play cards by the lake (Boo’s request). So that’s what we did:

Fontana Lake from Fontana Dam Picnic Area

It’s an easy drive and a scenic one. Here is one of the overlooks on Highway 28. It doesn’t look real in the photo and it doesn’t look real in person either!

Fontana Lake on the way to Fontana Dam

The first thing we noticed when we drove up to Fontana was it must have been “Inspector Appreciation Day” because there were all these official looking guys in hard hats and reflective green vests. They didn’t keep us from walking and driving across though.

Fontana Dam Inspections

Fact: Fontana Dam is the tallest dam in the Eastern United States.

Fontana Dam in the Great Smoky Mountains

It also has a rich, fascinating history. The information center at the dam has a bunch of binders full of old photos in it dating back to the 1930’s (you kind of have to look for them on the counter). The Fontana Dam was built during WWII to control flooding in the area and to power Alcoa’s aluminum production. ENTIRE towns were displaced i.e. submerged when the dammed water level rose. (And of course there is the whole “Road to Nowhere” story you’ll want to check out about the lost cemeteries.)

Fontana Dam War Poster

Source: US National Archives

The scary part of the dam (besides all the cracks, which I’m sure the inspectors are taking care of) are the huge spillways that could swallow up school buses like bon-bons:

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When we drove down to the bottom of the dam Boo said:

Let’s get out of here. I have a bad feeling about this.

I guess that’s normal when you are looking at a concrete wall holding back over 630 million cubic meters of water.

(There’s an app for that: TVA Water Info. You can see water releases and operating information for dams in the area.)

Just a random tidbit: If you drive across the dam and look towards the visitor center you can spot a little metal track running up from the powerhouse into the trees. That track used to be an incline tram to take visitors into the dam’s inner workings. They stopped all that after 9/11/01.

If you want to read more I recommend this book:

Fontana: A Pocket History of Appalachiafontana
by Lance Holland

The fascinating history of the Fontana Dam and surrounding area.  I love that it includes photos and diagrams. The undertaking of the TVA to build this dam and resulting lake is pretty incredible, and there is the devastating part of the North Shore families who were cut off from their homes when the lake waters rose (hence the “Road to Nowhere).

 

Ok quick movie quote trivia:

“Alright, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”

That monologue was the best. The movie debuted in 1993! Good grief I’m getting old. Yes, The Fugitive. And guess what? Not far from Fontana is the Cheoah Dam, also known as the THE FUGITIVE DAM!  The same one that Harrison Ford made his escape via in the movie. If you look closely there aren’t any tunnels for Harrison Ford to jump out of. The tunnel scenes were filmed elsewhere, but all the other scenes were filmed right at this little dam in the middle of the rural North Carolina mountains:

Cheoah Dam also The Fugitive Dam

A few miles before you get to Cheoah there is this huge powerhouse with enormous pipelines going up the mountain side. These pipelines come all the way from the Lake Santeetlah Dam (not easy to photograph)….you actually drive under them again if you follow NC 28/US 129 back to Bryson City via Robbinsville/Stecoah. This never made sense to me until I drove it today and realized that Lake Santeetlah is much higher than Cheoah:

“Water travels from the Santeetlah reservoir through an intake in the dam and passes through a five-mile steel pipeline to the powerhouse. This pipeline is both above- and below-ground, and extends through various mountains and ridges via five separate tunnels and six elevated pipelines. The above-ground sections ofthe pipeline are 11 feet in diameter, and rest on steel support beams and concrete abutments.” –National Register of Historic Places

Okay so the pipeline is 11 feet in diameter. Told you it was enormous.

P.S. One LAST little interesting thing I must tell you about. It has to do with The Fugitive. The train wreck scene was actually filmed in Dillsboro, right outside of Bryson City. It was a REAL train wreck. They wrecked a REAL train. And then left a real WRECKED train:

The Fugitive Train Wreck Dillsboro NC

Photo by Vicky Somma Flickr Creative Commons Copyright
The Fugitive Train Wreck Dillsboro NCPhoto by Vicky Somma Flickr Creative Commons Copyright

It’s not easy to see though except by river, otherwise you have to venture onto private property and I feel the need to post this now: Trespassing is a crime where someone else enters or stays on the property without consent or permission. 

P.P.S. So I’ve added this post to my “Smokies” page. Click the image below for more stuff around the Smoky Mountains and Bryson City.

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P.P.P.S. I might be available for guided tours if you are willing to pay my ridiculously unreasonable hourly rate…still being calculated.

Kayaking on Fontana

Here is Boo learning to kayak out on Fontana tonight:

Fontana Lake Kayaking right outside of Bryson City

This was an exciting weekend because Bryson City Outdoors starting adding kayaks to the current fleet of stand-up paddle boards. The local Crossfit group (Crossfit 2232) was the first to take them all out to get some lake training in yesterday:

Crossfit Bryson City on Fontana Lake - Bryson City Outdoors

I followed Brett and Boo across the lake tonight as they shared a tandem kayak. Never in a million years would I have imagined living here and being a part of an outdoor business:

Kayaking on Fontana Fingerlake - Malibu Kayak

I was trying to take some video. Instead I got this awesome accidental selfie of my shoe (Salomon Techamphibian shoes rock):

Ashley Hackshaw - Fontana Lake

We stopped and watched these guys jump off the rope swing across the lake. You have to cross the lake to get there. This guy must have been about 30 feet in the air:

Rope Swing over Fontana

 

I think this place must be one of the most beautiful places on earth:

Kayak Rentals at Fontana Lake Bryson City

Romantic Asheville just did a great story on Bryson City here voting it the “Coolest Mountain Town.” They included a photo of Bryson City Outdoors partner Ben King and his dog Lager on the river. Yes, you can paddle board and/or kayak on the Tuckaseegee River right downtown in Bryson City too:

Stand Up Paddleboard Rentals Bryson City(photo courtesy of Romantic Asheville Travel Guide)

Information on stand-up paddle board and kayak rentals can be found at Bryson City Outdoors. You can even reserve the boards and kayaks ahead of time here. 

And just a few awesome things about renting from BCO:

1. There’s water-side valet. “BCO knows that not every one can haul a 12ft SUP around. That’s why we actually deliver the boards & kayaks to the fingerlake and even carry them down to the water for you at no additional charge.”

2. Life jackets are provided. Just bring yourself to Bryson City.

3. You are supporting local small business! Thank you!

P.S. I get a LOT of emails asking for recommendations on things to do in Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountains so I’ve started my own little “things to do” page. It’s brand new and I’m just updating it as I get time but check it out if you get a chance. Thanks!

The BCO Renovation: Indoors

So yesterday I shared all the renovations to the outside of Bryson City Outdoors. I think what we are most proud of is how much recycling and environmentally-friendly thought went into it:

Salvaged windows
Salvaged doors
Reclaimed barn wood walls
Recycled/reclaimed wood furniture
Recycled paper bag floors
Recycled lighting
Recycled A/C system and energy efficient gas furnace
Locally sourced low-impact hemlock siding
And all the t-shirts are recycled from plastic bottles.

And what happened to the old stuff:

The new roof was built over the old to reduce waste
The old drop ceiling tiles were upcycled to our church to repair damaged tiles
The old brick was saved for a future project so it won’t end up in the landfill
The old windows were sold to someone for use in a greenhouse
All the large hemlock scraps were saved for art projects

The past few weeks have also been spent working simultaneously on the indoors. I love stopping by each day to see what’s new. The building used to be two separate retail spaces, and the floors were even different levels.  One of the doors to the outside was like a miniature door because of a step-down. That door is now gone. Here is the inside when demolition first started:

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(photo courtesy of Bryson City Outdoors in Instagram)

The demolition found all kinds of stuff behind the walls including a few windows that had been covered by drywall. And once all the ceiling tiles were removed they revealed beautiful soaring rafters:

indoors

Oh, I should show you a REAL before photo of the interior: (click here to see the exterior before)

interior

The office is in one corner of the building and the door you see from the retail space was found at Habitat ReStore in Asheville. The interior window was left in place and painted with chalkboard paint:

inside2

 (photo courtesy of Dwayne Parton on Instagram)

 A few interior walls were covered with reclaimed barn wood, and the sides were drywalled to make electrical easier. Here is Ben painting one of the walls where drywall went up:

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In person I think the wall color looks just like the color of Ben’s dog Lager. Below Lager and Max are meeting for the first time. Now they are old pals.

dogs

Ben also painted this amazing mural map on the wall depicting the Great Smoky Mountains’ North Carolina side. Complete with all the main trails and distances. So when people visit they can see how close Deep Creek is to downtown Bryson City…just a few miles…and three gorgeous water falls within a short walk.

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The concrete floor was such a mess that the guys decided to put down a paper bag floor. The floor is made of Elmer’s glue, paper and polyurethane. It looks like high end concrete. And if it gets messed up all you have to do is add another layer to that spot. I’ll upload a tutorial in the next day or so.

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The conference table in the office was made from a 1950’s era window that we just had replaced in our living room on Hospital Hill. The legs of the table were reclaimed from fence posts Brett found at his mother’s house in Mississippi. All of the carpet was salvaged from a “model train” room in our friend’s house that was being torn down.  It was in perfect condition.

conferencetablebrett

Here is Brett making the base for the table from the reclaimed fencing:

tableBrett

A table made from reclaimed wood for a display:

tables

How awesome are these chairs? These were given to us by our friends Nick and Suzie to fix up. They just needed a little sanding and a layer of clear coat:

chairs

Here they are in the building. The side table was made from a slice of one of the trees we cut down in our yard. I’ve been collecting outdoor books when I come across them at the used book store, doesn’t every outfitter need an outdoor-themed reference nook?

chairs

The building used to be a jewelry store and a pawn shop among other things over the years.  There was a huge built-in concrete vault.  A few sections were cut out to make windows and now it’s the check-out area. I think my favorite part of the whole renovation is how the guys worked with the existing finishes of the walls and left as much as they could original.

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The retail store is slowing coming together. The other day Boo came home wearing this awesome hat with the new logo on it:

hats

Today Boo and I stopped by and saw this yummy pile of folded t-shirts getting ready to be put out on the floor.  Each BCO shirt is 100% recycled.  Each one is made from 8 plastic bottles.

t-shirts

One of the designs, “the Smokies” tee, is by my artist friend Stephanie Corfee. And I love the Leave No Trace shirt:

smokies

The grand opening of the store is scheduled for the end of next week.  I’m so excited for everyone involved. All the t-shirts designs will be offered online too as they are added. You can see the current ones here.   I’ll post more photos soon as the store inside is set up!

The Ghost of a Seminary School

When we were in D.C. two weeks ago my friend Sarah said: I have a place to take you. I think you’ll love it. And we went to the National Park Seminary grounds. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am obsessed with old, abandoned places. This place was like a dream for me. The original/unrestored portion of the grounds reminded me of The Shining meets Epcot, and in the best sort of way.

The Seminary isn’t necessarily abandoned because it’s slowly being rehabilitated, but it’s only half way there. The other half is still boarded up and in need of conservation and repair. It was a resort hotel until 1893, and then was turned into a finishing school for young women. Walter Reed Army Hospital acquired the property in 1942 and used it as a medical annex. Back when it was a school, the girls were required to join a  sorority and held their social events in small one-of-a-kind themed clubhouses: a pagoda, a castle, a windmill-like Dutch house, Greek and colonial are just a few examples. The quotes I’ve listed throughout are from plaques on the grounds.

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This was closed off, but my curiosity gets the best of me:

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“The Forest Inn was built in 1887 as a summer resort hotel. In 1894 it was leased and alter purchased by John and Vesta Cassedy to be the National Park Seminary for young women. The hotel building became known as Main and was expanded several times, providing space for classrooms, dormitory rooms, and school offices. When the Walter Reed Army Hospital acquitted the seminary in 1942, it used Main for administrative offices and convalescent wards.”

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Part of the hospital and power plant:

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Buildings seemingly mismatched together and connected with more tunnels:

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Details:

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Love the round porthole windows:

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Boarded up:

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A room in one of the sorority houses:

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“Although originally built in 1887 as a resort, the first structure on what is now National Park Seminary was converted into a girls’ finishing school by the beginning of the 20th century. Under the guidance of three different headmasters the site transformed itself into what has been called a “Fairy Tale Setting.” The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago influenced much of the diverse architecture and landscaping, and the school’s first headmaster purchased a book of plans at the exposition from which many of the single family homes on the site were designed. At its peak, National Park Seminary boasted tuition rates higher that both Harvard and Yale and catered to some of the nation’s most influential families.”

I think this is the Colonial house:

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A picture from the early 20th century:

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Here’s an old picture of a young student on the porch of the Greek building. The students held their meetings and social events in the small unique houses. Eight houses were built between 1896 and 1905:

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Here is the Japanese Pagoda house:

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The castle is really cool. Really hard to access because the bridge was removed in the 1960’s:

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Early photo of the castle. Match up the windows with the previous photo and you’ll see the changes.

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 “Hotel guests and seminary students arrived at the Forest Glen railroad station and entered the campus by one of several bridges across the glen. The natural beauty of the glen was enhanced with stone paths, stairways, and a grotto. The bridges were removed and part of the glen was lost when the Capital Beltway was built in the early 1960s. The Italian Villa, a dormitory built in 1907, and the English Castle, built in 1904 for the Pi Beta Nu sorority, can be seen across the glen.”

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A great video showing before and after photos of the entire renovation process, plus the extent of ruin and disrepair they were in,  can be found here. It’s all fascinating…reminds me of the big house in the movie Great Expectations. 

The buildings were interconnected by covered walkways to protect the students as they walked from building to building and that’s what you see below. I think they were added by the 2nd headmaster of the school:

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We toured this building which used to be the President’s house:

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Here’s a photo from back in the day, the overlook doesn’t exist anymore, it’s now just a solid floor:

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The “Main” building as it’s called:

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Once the hotel here it is as a dining area for students. Pretty posh. All that woodwork has been restored:

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Inside the hallways today. Walking through them I definitely heard the voices of the past:

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A view of the Greek house with the smoke stack in the back. And how cool are those passageways?

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The ballroom was built in 1927 as a social gathering place for students of National Park Seminary, and later, for soldiers recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Want to know more? There is a full lecture with photos and history on the ballroom here. 

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Girls outside of the gymnasium, which by the way is being completely renovated and the swimming pool will be a sunken living room for whoever lives there.

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Yes, a fairy tale setting. I’m so glad it’s being saved. Nothing makes me more disappointed than old historic buildings being bulldozed.

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You can read more about the history of the Seminary here. I love this project.

 

New York City

Our trip last week wasn’t just limited to Washington, D.C and the Holocaust Memorial. We headed up the coast a little farther to NYC. We stayed with our friends Maya and Amy and they gave us the grand tour:

new york

Boo has wanted to see the Statue of Liberty since she was about 3 years old (since seeing it on an episode of Wonder Pets):

statue

So awesome:

statue2

Ellis Island:

ellis island

Boo wanted to visit the 9-11 Memorial and Museum.  Taking it all in:

september11_2

Leaving a message:

september11

It was definitely an emotional few hours, but the museum was awe inspiring.  So well done and I can’t imagine how much work went into it to keep it respectful and show the imprint of the 2 towers. We’ll never forget it.

*****

We probably had more fun at Maya and Amy’s house than visiting the big city. They have so much cool stuff going on: poetry, artwork, classes. And lots of neat little collections of inspiration. Boo would wake up early, get dressed all by herself and head downstairs to play with all the neat things she’d find:

knickknacks

Out in front of their house they have a Little Free Library…..and a Wish Tree (with sharpies and tags ready to add wishes!). I’m totally going to start a wish tree somewhere in Bryson City:

wishtree

A collection of awesomely colorful typewriters. The first time I met them I knew we were kindred spirits! (Maya and Amy…not the typewriters)

typewriters

 (Photo courtesy of @foodforthesoultrain on instagram)

I’d never seen a Hebrew typewriter. This one types right to left!

typewriter

And tiny people:

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(photo courtesy of @mayastein on instagram)

Love these gals. They are so inspiring with all that they do: writing classes, camps, tandem poetry tours, and retreats. I look forward every Tuesday to Maya’s 10-line poem email.    

amyandmaya

Boo’s wish on the wish tree? That she could come and stay with Maya and Amy again. Yeah me too.  Thanks gals!  You both rock.

P.S. Check out Amy and Maya’s upcoming creative retreat in Vermont!

spoke

They Were People

On our trip last week we visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum.  It was at the top of Boo’s list. Brett and I debated on whether or not she was too young for the main exhibit, but we felt it was something she needed to see. She’s always been very inquisitive about the Holocaust and Hitler, just like she is with Pompeii and September 11. She becomes fixated on events that are complex and tragic and hard to comprehend.  Last year we read Anne Frank together and after a few chapters she stopped me and asked: do they find her? When I told her yes, they find her, she didn’t want to read anymore. We haven’t finished the book yet.  Back then she asked me if I thought Hitler was in heaven or hell.  I asked her what she thought and she answered: he’s in hell.

The most powerful moment was when we walked into the permanent exhibit entrance and encountered a large picture of the Ohrdruf camp liberation:

Boo: What are they looking at? What is that on the train tracks?
Me: Those are human remains.
Boo: What do you mean?
Me: People. They were people.

She turned her back to the picture for a few moments, for the first time realizing the magnitude of the evil, for the first time realizing what humans are capable of.  I saw her lose her innocence right before my eyes. I knelt down and whispered to her: we are here to be witnesses.  She nodded…and then I saw her fill up with strength and walk to the next image in the exhibit.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum

She walked thoughtfully through the museum, reading every notation.  I was so proud of her.  Her interest, compassion and empathy floor me sometimes. She whispered and tiptoed and showed the exhibits more respect than some of the adults did. When we came to a pile of books representing the books burned by the Nazi’s she knew exactly what they were because we had watched The Book Thief this last summer. When I pointed out a book by Helen Keller in the pile she lit up with recognition because we had also just recently watch the Miracle Worker (1962). And she said: I’m glad Helen Keller made more copies of her books.

We left the Memorial to eat lunch and afterwards Boo wanted to go back, so we went through the children’s exhibit a second time. It follows a boy named Daniel. She wept in the room where she learned his sister and mother didn’t survive. So did I.  But she wept….standing in the center of the room with tears streaming down her face, captured by the story on the screen, as other visitors walked around her noticing her emotion. After a while she continued on to the next exhibit. She walked through the room that transforms Daniel’s old life into his life in the ghetto and exclaimed: hey, that’s my bed.  (it really was…she has a bed exactly like the one in the museum that we got from the old depot).  And then I think it really hit her: Daniel was a kid just like me.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum

A few questions from her perspective:

On the gas chambers: Why would they go into those showers at the camp?  Why would people think it was normal to shower with other people? That would have told me that something bad was going to happen.

On the murder of the disabled: Why would they kill people just because they were different? What if Hitler lost a leg? Would he have had to kill himself? Like when they tried to kill him at a meeting, he could have lost a leg. (she told me the story of the attempted assignation of Hitler at Wolf’s Lair, I don’t know where she learned this, maybe school?)

I asked her today what she remembers the most and this is what she said:

The gas chambers. That they locked people in rooms and pretended they were going to take a shower.

The shoes. So many of them. And some of the shoes were so nice, it was like the people didn’t even know where they were going! They were all dressed up. 

That they tried to burn the bodies, to hide what they had done. They knew they were wrong. 

 

They knew they were wrong. Yes. And still the Holocaust happened. That’s the hardest part to explain to her.  And persecution still happens all over the world today.

I wanted Boo to be a witness. That’s why we went. To know what our responsibility is when we see injustice and hatred. To know when to stand up and say:

THIS IS NOT RIGHT. 

This is why we have sought out a new path in life, this is why we continue to simplify and seek ways to be more generous and compassionate:

to create space for the things that matter. 

This is why our kitchen chalkboard always reads: let your faith be bigger than your fear.

Memory is what shapes us. Memory is what teaches us. We must understand that’s where our redemption is.
-Estelle Laughlin, Holocaust Survivor

If you haven’t yet been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, please go. You can start here. 

 

Boo Goes to Washington

Boo is on Spring Break. We headed north and east.

On the way: The Natural Bridge

The Natural Bridge - National Park

Just the drive through the Shenandoah Valley was worth the trip:

Shenandoah Valley Drive

We stayed with our friends Matt and Sarah in DC.  Our first morning we took a walk to see the frozen Lake Barcroft where they live:

Lake Barcroft

Our friend Sarah set up a time for Boo to go and make her own custom ice cream flavor with Susan, the owner of Moorenko’s Ice Cream. Boo chose strawberry, vanilla, and marshmallow. I dubbed it Count Straw Van Mallow. It sounds very prestigious right?

Moorenko's Ice Cream

We learned a ton about ice cream from start to finish: prepping the machines, cleaning the machines, how the fat content of ice cream makes it taste better. (i.e. the 2 for $4 deals I’ve been purchasing explain why the ice cream tastes more like icy sugar).

Moorenko's Ice Cream

We visited the Smithsonian and saw Julia Child’s kitchen, the ruby slippers, and the Star Spangled Banner. And this art installation, My Mother’s Altar, by Sandra Cisneros:

My Mother's Altar, by Sandra Cisneros - Smithsonian

The National Monument:

The National Monument

The Lincoln Memorial. I could hear Brett pointing out how the entire memorial was marble and granite. No concrete.

The Lincoln Memorial

The Vietnam Memorial. I love this photo of the reflection of her bowing her head.

Vietnam Memorial

Walked just about everywhere we could:

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Our second day in Washington we woke up early and Matt took us to the Metro before he went to work. This was also a highlight for Boo:

The Metro

Our first stop was the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I think that needs its own post though. I’ll save that for tomorrow.  And I’ll tell you about another amazing place we went after that….it deserves it’s own post too.

The White House:

“Is anyone there?!”

The White House

Boo was pretty bummed our White House tour didn’t work out., but at least she got to see the outside of it. If I was President I’d take 15 minutes each week to sneak out of the bushes randomly and “BOO!” tourists. How awesome would that be? Anyway, after all of that we went to Arlington Cemetery to visit Brett’s Aunt Alma’s grave:

Arlington Cemetery

 

Arlington Cemetery

Later when we looked closely at the photos of Alma’s grave we saw these pink wispy lights over the cross. I’ve always wanted to capture an orb:

Orb Arlington Cemetery

We visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We arrived at around 4:45 (the cemetery closes at 5pm) and I wasn’t sure if we would be able to see the change of the guard at 5pm, but they let us stay.

Changing of the Guard

Later that night we went on a night time tour of all the monuments again:

The Lincoln Memorial at Night

The MLK Monument was probably one of my favorites. Boo thought it was strange that they didn’t put “I have a dream” on the side instead of “Out of a mountain of despair, a beacon of hope.

Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in. -Martin Luther King, Jr

Martin Luther King Memorial DC

The FDR Memorial:

FDR Memorial DC

The only memorial we didn’t actually go in was the Jefferson Memorial. They turned off the lights earlier than we thought and as we walked up to it Boo and I said at the exact same time: I’m not going in there. All I could see was this huge looming figure in the middle, and it didn’t look friendly at all. Actually his hair kind of made him look like a monster. Sorry President Jefferson.

Our last day in DC we visited the Library of Congress and the National Archives. Boo thought the Library needed more books. The detail was incredible…the mosaics just worth the visit:

And this our life, exempt from public haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything. I would not change it. -Shakespeare

Boo: Why are all the U’s written as V’s?

My brother: Make sure to find the President’s book of secrets.

Library of Congress DC

It rained for most of the day but that was okay too. Sarah had enough umbrellas for everyone:

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Thanks to our friends Sarah and Matt for being incredible tour guides…and hosting us for the time we were there.  We’ll never forget it!

Crystal Clear

How thin and insecure is that little beach of white sand we call consciousness. I’ve always known that in my writing it is the dark troubled sea of which I know nothing, save its presence, that carried me. I’ve always felt that creating was a fearless and a timid, a despairing and hopeful, launching out into that unknown. -Athol Fugard

A quick trip to Florida. The sand in these beaches traveled all the way from the Appalachian mountains…to the gulf. Tiny pieces of quartz, crumbled from mountain sides, polished while traveling down river thousands of years ago.

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It was 30 degrees and windy…but just to look at it:

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…in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth. -Rachel Carson

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Trainspotting

I rode the train by myself yesterday. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

Train Tracks in Bryson City

I was late (and almost missed it) because I chatted with the parking lot attendant too long about how locals with season passes should get free parking….my idea, not his.

I was assigned boarding section 5 and when I asked someone where that was they said:

Well it’s after 4….and if you get to 6 you’ve gone too far.

I never got as far as section 4 because I was forced to board at section 3.  I walked through all the train cars to get to section 5.  When I reached section 5, the woman I sat next to was worried because an older man had just suffered from a heart attack as he boarded.  I told her that luckily the hospital was on top of the hill next to us so he would probably be okay.  She seemed relieved.

At the start of the trip, I bought the $10 book because the man on the train said it was the best thing I would come across all day.  And it was. I sat and followed the map mile marker by mile marker. I slowly learned how to read a topographical map by matching up the scenery outside to what was in the book.  Like this adorable gingerbread farmhouse:

Old Farmhouse in Lower Alarka, Bryson City

I met a couple in their 70’s that were on their honeymoon.  We had a discussion about hickory nuts and pontoon boats. I listened to the train musicians sing an amazing rendition of Rock Me Momma…but then spent 20 minutes contemplating what “rock me momma like a wagon wheel” meant.  A lady with hot pink lipstick asked the musicians to play a song for the newlyweds.  Her mother had matching hot pink lipstick.

At the train’s “intermission” point I ate a huge BBQ sandwich by myself at a picnic table. I threw an animated fit when I brushed a red ant off my neck and the red ant WENT DOWN MY SHIRT.  A couple next to me stopped sipping their cold beers for a second to ask me if I was okay.

I watched a little boy pretend to talk on a police scanner in a foreign language. He had a toy gun in his holster and looked ready to use it.

I refilled my Diet Coke and asked a couple if they would watch it for me so I wouldn’t have to take it into the bathroom.  They looked like my grandparents….and the probability of being roofied at the Nantahala Outdoor Center is very, very low.

I asked three different people what time the train was going to leave. They each replied: when the horn blows.  Well thanks for nothin’….

I walked by the Nantahala River and collected driftwood. I spotted a shoe that had washed up at the bottom of the rapids. I thought about the fact that Deliverance was filmed on the Nantahala.

Nantahala River / Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Stop

I observed a man sitting on a rock in the middle of the river deep in thought.

I restyled my hair using the cool river water.

I walked along the edge of the train in awe of it’s underbelly. I wondered if anyone would survive laying on the track as the train rolled over (i.e. is there enough space for a human underneath). I was tempted to leave a few coins on the track to come back for later.

The train blew it’s 5 minute warning, and I definitely flinched.  I hopped back on, in the wrong car again.

On the way back I eavesdropped on a conversation concerning Ferragamo shoes. They sounded very expensive.

I talked with the man who had been sitting on a rock in the middle of the river and learned he was a landlord in NYC.  I also learned that he used to live in a bus year and years ago that he’d outfitted with a fireplace.  I asked if he still had the bus (because I might be interested in a bus).  He said he had just abandoned it and that someone else was probably enjoying a sweet bus right about now. (Hey Craig!)

The rocking of the train was so peaceful I thought about coming back one day for a nap.

As I got off the train, I saw a house for sale right in front of the depot and thought it would be a great place for a lemonade stand.

It took about 4.5 hours round trip. And that was that.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Departing from Bryson City Railroad

Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music – the world is rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself. -Henry Miller

I do forget myself…but I remember everything else.

 

 

Wherever You Go Becomes a Part of You Somehow

(Photos are from my Instagram feed @Lilblueboo)

The profile of Grandfather mountain yesterday morning from where my parent’s house is:

 

We’ve spent the last two days in Linville visiting my mom, my brother and his family at my parents’ house.  Two days ago, as we approached Grandfather Mountain, Boo began weeping in the back seat:

Boo: I wish I had died in the tornado.
Me: What?! Why would you say that?
Boo: Because then I would be in heaven…and I would see Grandpa.
Me: But we would miss you!
Boo: Oh, but you would have died too.

I guess at least she has the whole afterlife thing figured out, but we were pretty taken aback by her sudden response to a place. It reminded me of this:

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow. -Anita Desai

Yes sometimes it is hard to believe that my dad is gone.  Everything in Linville reminds us of him. Like the Linn Cove Viaduct…every time he took us over it he’d say some thing like “here’s the Viaduct…the road is just suspended over the mountain.”

The Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Linville, NC

 

The first day we were in Linville it was pretty overcast. We drove up to the Mile High Bridge at Grandfather anyways.  A few years ago I took Boo by myself and I refused to walk across.  I look thrilled and enthusiastic this time too:

 

Ok I was pretty proud that all three of us went across. Fun fact: the highest temperature ever recorded on the top of Grandfather was 83 degrees.

 

Standing in the middle of the bridge:

 

As I walked back across the bridge I noticed a family huddled over the side like they were scoping out their surroundings.  Then I noticed a jar one of them was holding: ashes.  When they got back across I asked one of the men whose ashes they had released under the bridge.  He told me it was his brother who had died 3 weeks earlier.  We listened to their story for a while and then my mother walked up and she went right up to one of the women in the group and hugged her.

Me: Did you know them?
Mom: Oh yes, that was Glenda. She’s a hospice nurse where I volunteer.

*****

After Grandfather we drove over to Julian Price Lake to rent a canoe.  It’s only $13 for an hour.  Brett and my brother Swen took turns rowing the kids around the lake. It’s a dreamy place:

 

My mom made us all dinner and afterwards we made a fire. Is there anything better than a crispy marshmallow?

 

While the kids burned sticks in the fire with the rest of the adults, Brett and I went on a walk at dusk. We noticed that it was so quiet we could hear our breathing. We are so used to the katydids in Bryson City that it seemed eerily quiet. No birds, no insects, nothing.  And the cloudy mist comes in. It always looks so perfect that it looks fake to me…like someone brought in a smoke machine:

 

Yesterday morning we hiked to Linville Falls:

 

We persuaded my brother and his wife to come along with us and bring their two kids, and we all pitched in carrying my nephew Carter who is still toddling. Brett carried him the most because he’s part llama:

 

I got a stamp in my journal: [Read more…]