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.

Last Boomsday and Continuing Tennessee Valley Fair

16 Sep

This year marked the last Boomsday. For those who don’t know, that’s Knoxville’s Labor Day fireworks show. It’s been a tradition for years now. Because this was its last year, I figured that I’d go.

Short version: I ended up on top of the roof of a full garage, jammed between cars going opposite directions, and seeing fireworks behind a tree. When the booming started, I assumed that someone was pounding on our car out of anger actually, until I saw sparks behind said tree.

Knoxville Mercury columnist Jack Neely, ever the contrarian pointed out that even if it was the last Boomsday, plenty of other festivals continue, such as the Tennessee Valley Agricultural and Industrial Fair, which, incidentally, has fireworks. Plenty of people complain that it’s not as good as it used to be, particularly in terms of rides. As someone who grew up going to the much smaller Anderson County Fair, I can’t judge. What I do know is that the Tennessee Valley Fair is still going, which I’m thankful for.

I’m thankful for the bunnies and sheep, for the feather-footed chickens, and unicorn looking geese, for the slow moving but scenic observation tower, for introducing my girlfriend to bumper cars and slamming her a few times, for the Space Roller which I enjoyed as it twisted me through the breeze but my girlfriend avoided and compared to a medieval torture device, for the Cherokee flute playing and clothing demonstrations, for the fair lights at dusk, for the trapeze act that we almost didn’t see but wound up catching just above the bleachers of the small circus area and for the fireworks above the lake. I even enjoyed myself puzzling at displays of condiments that weren’t supposed to be eaten, just looked at, because they won awards. There’s plenty more to say, but I’ll leave this post saying I’m thankful for what Knoxville still has.


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