Northern green frog (Lithobates clamatans)


You can sometimes see just the skipping of a frog-sized shape. Other times though you can find their big-eyed faces peaking up out of the water or the leaves. I count myself lucky when I catch them like that.
Yvonne stayed silent, wanting to conteplate nature in a respectful, worshipful way. Silent too, I crept slowly and silently too, but my approach was that of a hunter. I wanted to capture the big-eyed stair, the dull back, the bright green under them.
In my experience frogs are either still or hop or swim out of the way. Rarely have I ever seen one just leisurely stroll.
But I must have been doing something right. Only after quite a few pictures did this one jump out of the way.
Green frogs are not always green or in this case, not always all across their bodies. The main thing that separates them from bullfrogs is the fold that extends down their backs. They also lack the square or round spots of pickerel or leopard frogs. If all that came off as gibberish to you, and to you they’re all frogs, that was the same for me until I read up on these hopping adorables in The Amphibians of Tennessee, a book I recommend.
Their mating call, which they make at age two onward when seeking mates sounds like a banjo and you can hear it for half a mile.
I spotted this and another frog recently at the University of Tennessee Arboretum in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The Arboretum is not, precisely, wilderness, but rather spot with various experimental and exhibit areas, among them “small wetlands” which are shallow ponds. These are the best spots, as you can imagine, for frogs.

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The Scopes Trial was about money


Scopes and Rappleyea
Photo from Smithsonian Institution Scopes, left and Rappleyea, right, apparently on their way to a Harry Potter convention.

I did not originally want this blog to be about religion. Or about politics. But I’ve found that I’ve written a book that intrudes on both of those without being about either. Wildly Strolling Along: Father Son Nature Adventures on Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail is a memoir of hiking with my Dad. But in researching the Laurel Snow trails, I hit on something regarding an event people love to site: The Scopes Trial. And along with much else, the book will give you a great overview on the real reasons that trial happened.

There are two versions of the Scopes trial, in which a man was convicted of teaching evolution, a crime at the time. There’s one story promoted by people who know history, and the other by people who want to promote either science or religion and love simplified narratives.

People imagine history as being simplified play of ideas bashing each other over the head. That’s a myth, and I should know it as should others. There are people and personal egos. There is land and resources. There’s that constant thing people always talk about and act about: money.

As a side note, completely unrelated to money, my book, available on Amazon is an excellent guide to the plants and animals of Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau as well as a quirky father-son bonding story. Get yours today!

OK, so some of the proceeds will go to me, while some will go to the Cumberland Trail Conference, which maintains the trail. But I was posting the above to point out just how much money has to do with things that are supposedly just about ideas.

I’ll admit, in my book, there was an error confusing a mine entrance visible from Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness with a coke oven. I have this on the authority of Bob Fulcher and other Cumberland Trail State Park staff. But it was that mining company that led to the trial happening. That’s something you usually don’t see in textbooks.

Karl Marx, however much else he might have gotten wrong, at least understood that money motivates conflicts. But now we get even supposed Marxists, writing whole articles where the role of Dayton’s mining and other businesses gets no mention at all.

To paraphrase William Jennings Bryan at the trial, people don’t think about the things they don’t think about.

I believe in evolution. The scientific evidence supports it. I do not, however, believe the account of the Scopes Trial people assume is true. And plus, the parts of the story that always gets cropped out of the trial story involves copperhead bites, mine explosions, people with names like George Washington Rappleyea and an Englishman named Titus Salt. Shouldn’t all that also be part of the story?

Anyway, here’s the myth:

  1. The Tennessee General Assembly made the Butler Act prohibiting the teaching that people were descended from other animals and expected to enforce it.
  2. The people of Dayton were genuinely mad at John Scopes for teaching about evolution and the trial was their idea.
  3. Dayton was an isolated pre-industrial rural town.
  4. The trial failed as a publicity stunt.

Here’s the truth:

  1. The Butler Act was one of the least thought through pieces of legislation ever written as there were no Creationist textbooks at the time. By default teachers had to use evolutionist ones.
  2. A mining engineer native to New York was stuck in town due to a copperhead bite and became the head of a struggling mining company, saw an ad from the ACLU offering to represent anyone convicted under the law. He promoted the idea to other local business leaders who agreed. They asked Scopes if he’d be a defendant and he agreed too. He never testified and never went to jail, because really, the trial wasn’t about him. What was it about? Here’s what F.E. Robinson, a drug store owner at the time said.

“Dayton would be woefully remiss in her duty to herself not to grasp this hour of her lime-light incandescence and make of it an occasion for self-aggrandizement with some incontrovertible facts about her products and natural resources.”

  1. Dayton like much of Appalachia at that time was actually an industrial coal mining and coke oven area, admittedly one on its last legs, due to those mine explosions. It was founded by an Englishman named Titus Salt.
  2. Thanks to the trial, the town got Bryan College, so it didn’t fail.

Quincy Bog in July


Purple flowers bloom, pools with lilies sit quietly, and if you keep walking far enough, you’ll see little frogs jumping from your path everywhere. Ducks swim by. Just the kind of place that makes you want to take a moment, reflect …

And scratch like crazy from all the mosquito bites. I imagine for a lot of people what they’ll be contemplating is … how soon they can leave.

All joking aside, Yvonne and I enjoyed coming to Quincy Bog Natural Area, near Rumney NH, by evening. It’s a short trail and you might even learn some plant names by the helpful signs placed near ferns. While we did not see beavers, we did see what appeared their dam. With a little insect repellent, which we did not have, you should be fine. And truth be told I can handle a few bites in the name of natural beauty.

Rather than reading about Quincy Bog, enjoy it for yourself! This video isn’t by me, but Peter Bloch really does a good job.

Trail maps are available here althoug we did fine looping around the pond without one.

Artist’s Bluff, Franconia Notch State Park


IMG_20180718_192343271_HDR.jpgArtist’s Bluff, particularly the less than .5 miles just the bluff, is not that far a walk  but it has everything: grayish cliffs! Mountains of green trees! A bright blue lake! And that most scenic of things, an interstate!

I-93 from Artist's Bluff
I-93 from Artist’s Bluff, in the literal shadow of a much greater spectacle of mountains.

It’s another odd thing writing about hikes and National Parks. There are people like Bill Bryson in “A Walk in the Woods” who whine about being out in the woods too far away from any farms or villages — unlike in Europe — and want some human habitation for perspective. And then there’s people like Edward Abbey who demand that not a single car touch their perfect parks.

And then in the middle there’s me, an admirer of both writers, who just sits back and looks at that little shoelace of pavement I-93 with its hot wheels cars and trucks. They go by in the shadow of the mountains around them, dwarfed by the mountains that drew artists lugging their canvasses here almost a century ago. Neither they nor the ski slopes really steal from the area’s natural beauty that have brought people here for centuries.

Trail to Artist's Bluff
This is part of the actual trail.

Ladies in their frilly dresses climbed here. That’s at least what my guidebook told me, although imagining them on such a steep and rocky trail seems nonsensical. But even back then artists appreciated these views. Here’s a few comparisons of then and now.

Many people, people who are not trying to cram this hike in near sundown like I was, go on to Bald Mountain or stop at the bluff on their way down. Also, the nearby Echo Lake is a good way to cool off, again, if you’re visiting at a different time of day. For me though I have no regrets. Artist’s Bluff is a place to enjoy at your own pace.

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Rumney, NH


“It’s not every day you get to explore a quaint New England town,” Yvonne said.

With that rationale from my girlfriend, we wandered rather aimlessly around Rumney, NH. At one time an industrial center specializing in crutches — “the crutch capital of the world,” — a history brochure described it as, nowadays, the place caters to two very different kinds of tourists: adventurous rock climbing types and quiet people interested in quiliting and antiquing. All the while, it’s avoided really feeling like another Gatlinburg. It stays as sleepy and quiet as people imagine New England villages.

While I had been in the area plenty of times, Rumney had always been “That place we go after hikes” rather than a proper destination in its own right. And while it’s not the more developed of places, it has its charm and we still only scratched the surface. The place has at least two live music venues. We didn’t listen to any music at either.

If you want a diversity of souveneirs, the Rumney Village Store might be your preferred stop as it was there we picked up local maple syrup and a colorful grateful-dead-esque painting of a moose fishing.

Our wanderings also took us to The Common Cafe a place with a wide selection of coffee, some rather large brownies and adjoining it, the former site of a funeral parlor.

We stopped but did not buy anything at North Country Quilters Sew and Vac, because neither of us can sew.

The town is a place where people seem to take up plenty of other hobbies though, be it raising ducks and chickens or starting a pottery studio, as at Shanware, the one we visited.

But really the best — if buggiest — attraction for me in Rumney is Quincy Bog. More on that next post.

The Basin Cascade Trail


“This pothole is perhaps the most remarkable of its kind in New England,”

-Henry David Thoreau in one of his less memorable sentences, describing quite a memorable place.

Thoreau’s always this overwhelming presence for all of us who write about nature. Especially the ones of us, like me, who aren’t him.

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Although my beard tends to look equally silly when it grows out.

Thanks to Thoreau, a nature writer can’t confess to watching Marvel movies, or enjoying the cheesy ooze of a Taco Bell burrito, or admit that the song in his head he hikes to isn’t his own different drummer but a Justin Bieber EDM track.

We’re supposed to pretend we’re above it all, even if we’re really aren’t.

It is with this in mind that I confess I spent much of my time on the Basin Trail trying to “suck the marrow” to use Thoreau’s creepy phrase from Walden, out of the place in the most un-Thoreau way possible: by trying to see what it would look like captured on my phone, obsessing over the shots I could get, I had to force myself away from that thing and just enjoy the scenery for myself a few times. At least none of them were selfies. I hate my own face in photos, mostly.

But odds are you want to read about the trail itself, not about people with stupid-looking facial hair. And thankfully my pictures will probably help you see some of its highlights. It’s just 1.6 miles round trip, although it does involve climbing a hill. But the most famous part’s down at the bottom.

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The basin itself, what my New England Grammy calls “Where the Old Man of the Mountain washes his Feet” comes near the beginning of the walk, and while it’s not big as far as rock or water formations go, it’s charm comes from how melting glacers and whirring sand and rocks shaped the rock into a smooth curving surface.

“A luxurious bath fit for the ablutions of a goddess,” is how another 19th century writer, Samuel Eastman described it. A rail stops any visiting goddesses from actually jumping in though.

While less noted in signs, the whole area around the basin does have some shallower pools to play around in. The real highlight for me though was further up the trail, and harder to really show in photos.

While the trail stays in the shade, it has plenty of places to get out and be on a long slab of rock with a flowing stream down it, reaching down the mountainside. The water sprays out over rocks and smoothly glides through channels. Families come out here to picnic and splash about and rightly so. Pictures don’t really do it justice though. Which is why I kept trying. The sheer size of the smooth rock, like a wide river itself is what we enjoyed exploring, sliding down its rocks, climbing along streams, hiding in little rock formations. And that size is exactly what these pictures can’t show.

The shaded path has its charms too though, particularly chipmunks.

Kinsman falls was near the end of our rooty path and unlike my guidebook “AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains” would indicate, the route to it was indeed marked.

There are waterfalls that make you feel like just a tiny drop. Then there are intimate fountains like Kinsman Falls that aren’t roaring so much as quiet escapes with deep, clear pools below. And Kinsman Falls was indeed an escape for us. Unlike the rest of the Basin Cascade Trail we were alone there.

Franconia Notch State Park


 

The mountains of Franconia Notch show off their granite slabs to visitors below and to climbers of its mountains.

They turn red at sunlight.

You can see them from the interstate, pull off and visit them from along a bike trail, swim in a lake below them, ski them in winter, hike them or rock climb them regardless, Franconia Notch State Park has something for many different tastes. Of course, most famously, people often view Franconia notch from above on the Appalachian Trail from Mount LaFayette.

As we were trying to speed run New Hampshire, we focused on two short hikes: The Basin and Artist’s Bluff. I will post them later. For now though, enjoy these images taken on and near the park’s bike trail which we used as a route to travel through some of park.

They aren’t representative. Much of the bike trail is wooded rather than wide open and it’s never far from the interstate. Still it’s a way to avoid interstate traffic and parking issues to get out and enjoy the park, walking to all of its trails.

Plus, it had one or two fresh raspberries still left which were certainly delicious.