Yet Another Sunset, Tired of Those?

8 Jul IMG_5547

It’s been too long. New jobs, new commitments, none of which mean anything to the average reader of this blog.

No, the average reader of this blog, if they even cared to read more than one post would be saying “Yeah, that Ben person sure does post way too much about sunsets.”

It’s not original is it? Sunsets get plenty of love. People go out to beaches or mountains to see them. They throw them in movies for style to add a sense of romantic danger or paradoxically a romantic calm.
And yet how could I not post this?


The simple motion of the earth around the sun feels like the absurd grinding of fate. More days gone from life. And yet how could I not post this?


It’s a parking lot, not even a tourist attraction. A boring office parking lot. And yet, how could I not post this?


Heaven as firey as Hell. Sky as diverse in color as the world, full of blues grays, yellow, orange, colors that go together, colors that clash. Blood, flame, blackness, lightness, peach banana pudding. It’s easy to forget these were storm clouds which pounded rain and shot lightning just seconds before the photograph.

What does it all mean? Or should it even mean anything?

Truth is not beauty. Truth is not ugliness. Truth is every color thrown at the eye in a blinding glare. When the sun heads down, the truth is more comprehensible. But only slightly.


Karns Nature Trail

26 Sep IMG_5544

This Karns Nature Trail, behind the Karns Community Center is short. It starts in the forest and continues near stream and wetlands. It’s not likely to show up in any major guidebook. Still, it’s a good spot for wildflowers at this time of year.

Barred Owl and Bike at Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness

26 Sep View down into Ross Quarry Lime Pit

Here is my recent article “Urban Wilderness draws hikers, runners, cyclists” about my the Knoxville Urban Wilderness, particularly the Ross Quarry area. While the article does contain some great pictures by me, here are a few more. All photos here are by me.

The owl that I mentioned in the News Sentinel piece linked above was a barred owl.

Barred owl seen at Ijams Nature Center.

Barred owl seen at Ijams on Imerys Trail.

When barred owls are young they can climb trees using their talons and beak. They don’t migrate and in general, stay in the same place. For more about them, check out Cornell’s page on them.
Also, here’s a video of a cyclist Alex riding the Flow Trail.


Iconic Appalachian Trail Not Just For Thru Hikers

26 Sep

Photo from Clingmans Dome on the AT by Brian Stansberry.

The Appalachian Trail is on people’s minds now. Here’s a bit more by me about the part of it in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Some great links for AT hikers in the Smokey Mountains can be found here.

Clingmans Dome was a big focus of my recent AT article. The Great Smoky Mountains Association has a video about it below with lots more information.

Know Your Enemies, or The Statue of Gaia in Nashville

25 Sep

I don’t usually like to talk about religion. It tends to get people angry. I’ll make an exception here though, because it relates to a broader, secular lesson.

Recently, I skimmed a book by Jenkins and LaHaye, the authors of Left Behind. It was titled Are We Living in the End Times? Surprisingly, their answer to that question is “No,” due to their desire to take the Bible literally and insist on their particular version of the order in which prophesies get fulfilled.

The statue of Athena in Nashville.

Yet that’s not my focus here. Instead, I’ll narrow in on a particular passage in their book. “A replica of the Parthenon located at a park in Nashville, Tennessee features a huge statue to Gaia,” they write. I’ve been there. Unless they’re talking about the indirect representation of Gaia by way of the snake next to the big statue, they’re confusing Gaia (Terra in Latin), the goddess of the Earth, with Athena (Minerva in Latin) the warrior goddess of knowledge.

Gaia and Athena Separate

Gaia (below, as befits an earth goddess) hands her newborn, Erichthonius, to Athena as Hephaestus watches – an Attic red-figure stamnos, 470–460 BC copied here from a public domain photo on Wikipedia. Clearly they’re separate people.

There are several problems with this mistake. Athena is a virgin. “Wide busomed” Gaia, on the other hand, is Mother Earth, who slept around, including with her own children and grandchildren, such as Zeus. Also, she apparently had children with her first husband/son Uranus’s castrated penis. Greek mythology is weird like that.


Athena, from the same goddess merchandise website as that last picture.

The mistake is understandable. To Jenkins and LaHaye, all gods and goddesses who aren’t Jesus are evil. For them, calling something evil seems to be more important than understanding that evil thing.

I’m using this example, because regardless of your positions, there are two ways to look at things you perceive as wrong. Ideally you should do both.

    1. Focus on how wrong it is and fighting it.
    2. Focus on understanding it.

LaHaye and Jenkins focused on the first rather than the second with regard to Greek mythology.

When you’re particularly with people who hold positions you view as wrong, or have done things you consider bad, these two ways of seeing things can be at odds with each other. After all, trying to understand someone’s reasons for doing a wrong thing or holding a wrong position can feel like buying into a series of bad excuses. Sometimes it’s not even really necessary.

Yet sometimes it is. Sometimes your own arguments make no sense if they’re up against something you got wrong. Sometimes you’ll just come off as stupid to people in the middle or ones who disagree with you.

I’m probably just as guilty of this as anyone. People may point back to this post when I say certain things that seem to misunderstand people who disagree with me. All I’m doing here is raising a fairly obvious point which people can use to evaluate their own arguments and the arguments of others.

Unadmired Beautiful Parking Lot Views from Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

16 Sep IMG_5527

IMG_5507 (3)

It’s a construction site and an adjacent office parking lot. It’s on aptly-named Commerce Park Drive in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Nobody goes there to look at scenery. I go there to pick up my girlfriend from work.


Yet somehow, that hill’s view of the Cumberland Plateau over ridges, uninvited wildlife and exposed red clay mini-mesas leave me running around with my camera as though it’s the Grand Canyon.

It’s a spot too big to be a mandala like the one that David George Haskell described in The Forest Unseen, and perhaps it’s most defining feature is the view of the world beyond it. Yet it intrigues me.

I’ll be returning there on this blog many times throughout the year.

Finding Beauty in a Broken World: Crazy, Hard to Get Through, Yet Somehow Awesome

16 Sep

“Writers break black letters out of lead and line them up on white sheets and ask others to read sentences we have created for ourselves.” -Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, in a section in which she compares herself to disembodied mosaic hands in prayer on Italian columns.

Terry Tempest Williams’s Finding Beauty in a Broken World is the kind of book that readers might want to send me to Siberia for recommending. It’s long, and has no chapters, making it hard to read at times. It moves from quiet, slow field-notes-style observations of prairie dogs to harsh testimonials about the Rwandan genocide.

Yet at the same time, perhaps because of all that, it’s brilliant, and I wish I could get away with writing like it.

Williams repeatedly talks about mosaics. It’s her cue for how she sets up the book, a picture of little fragments. The paragraphs, separated by spaces, are often short with only a few sentences.

If that style sounds familiar, it’s because, perhaps unintentionally, it’s the style you’re reading. The book is similar to the typical style of the internet in some ways.

Yet it’s undeniably “literary.”* It’s arty, poetic in places and it takes its time when it feels like taking its time, unlike the typical web style. It also has sections that are more like a single book, long masses of paragraphs.

*I absolutely despise the word “literary” because it’s too hard to define. I’m only using it here to mean “not stereotypically internet-y.”

Some parts are better than others. Her quick descriptions of action in nature read well: “The clam broke open and the gull swooped down to eat the fleshy animal inside.” She also speaks well about literal mosaics, “a dazzling narrative of cut stones and glass,” “a conversation between what is broken.” She falters at some moments though, like “What if the burrows of the prairie dogs follow the energy paths of the earth?”

In short I can neither sum up this book nor recommend it to most people. And yet I liked it.