Red Eft at Frozen Head



Little red efts were crawling the wet forest floor at Frozen Head State Park yesterday. They’re poisonous to eat but generally won’t bite. They live on the land but they’ve just left the water and will return again.
They’re really just another phase of newts, a flashy youthful stage in which they roam the land.

As I point out in my book they never know their parents, not even as babies.

This was in contrast to me, at age 31, living on my own but still enjoying some time with my parents on a hike at Frozen Head, joined admittedly by 21 people and two other naturalists. Dad, a plant ecologist by degree entertained the crowd by naming and providing facts about the natural world around us, such as the eft and the iris shown below. While at the time our book describes, I wanted to break free of Dad, I realize now, just how good I have it hiking with a Dad who knows so much.

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Great Smoky Mountains: Noah “Bud” Ogle Nature Trail.


These days the Noah “Bud” Ogle Nature Trail area bears the scars of a 2017 fire. Yet many of the wooden structures survive. My favorite is an old water mill, which, while no longer operational, still lets visitors see how people once gathered the water’s downward momentum for energy.

BORCE, Oak Ridge TN


Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement is my hometown’s worst-named collection of trails, but the area has its charms in spite of the bland name. It’s worth exploring if you’re in Oak Ridge. New Years Day brought many different people there: individual cyclists, a family with a dog, a group of college aged men. Some spoke in other languages.

Many of the trails are old gravel roads now bike, foot and sometimes hunting paths but still sporting road signs, that look just like the road signs in parts of town with houses. These seemingly post-apocalyptic country roads lead nowhere, in a good way. They take visitors through forests of red cedars and other, often young, trees, alongside and over gurgling streams with no houses or even structures at all in site for the most part.

On New Year’s Day Yvonne and I passed an old, remote graveyard, the kind that would have filled my young mind with gleeful Halloweenish thoughts of ghosts dancing about away from living human eyes. Nowadays the most striking thing about those old graveyards to me is the saddeningly short lifespans of the people, sometimes children, buried there. I can thank Yvonne for pointing that out to me on another occasion, but now I can’t unsee it. We walked on rather than bothering ourselves with that.

Cemeteries in Oak Ridge are usually a sign of what Oak Ridge replaced. The US government built Oak Ridge to enrich uranium for the bombs that dropped on Japan during World War II. It left the graves from old communities though, even if the old communities have become the city of Oak Ridge in some places and grown up into forests elsewhere, many accessible to the public through trail systems, like BORCE, Haw Ridge and others.

Decades later, the Department of Energy, the modern-day descendant of those World War II gave BORCE land it owned to the public as a way of compensating for water pollution and decreased fishing opportunities elsewhere.

You can visit BORCE’s charming, gravel woodland paths without ever once thinking about things like war, pollution, or death at all though. They offer a quick chance to escape and explore.

The BORCE route had other, subtle signs of a hidden probably pre-World War II past, like this very reflective greenish pool, possibly an old quarry site, probably the most beautiful feature we saw. I plan to return to these trails, hopefully some time soon and do more research.

Daddy’s Creek Tennessee with Daddy


As summer is refusing to surrender to autumn here in East Tennessee, the Cumberlands are exploding with flowers.

My Dad Larry Pounds and the co-author “Wildly Strolling Along” along with me recently led a group of wildflower lovers to two unique habitats near each other. Both were part of Catoosa Wildlife Management area.

First was a meadow area with a short access road on which we walked. We would stop every few minutes and Dad would get down, examine, give Latin names, sometimes certain, sometimes speculating, surrounded by others who seem drawn like bees to them.

Next we drove down to a “cobblebar,” along Daddy’s Creek, a which is not a place for booze and homemade desserts but rather a rocky area along the banks of a stream. It too had flowers, some growing out of big outcrops.

A pool not too far from the trail entrance is also good for swimming. I was the only one of our party who jumped in, possibly because everyone else was identifying more ferns and flowers. Which far too often, I can’t do.

But I am me. My Dad is himself. Not everyone can name every flower. But maybe you can at least enjoy them.

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.

Stinson Lake, New Hampshire


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White birch trees, like palm trees in a beach scene, frame and accent its blue water and distant green tree-covered mountains which surround it. Sailboats, speed boats, skiers kayaks and ducks go by but the clear water still feels relaxing. It’s what Yvonne calls “the temperature you like your beer” but if you swim for long enough if feels fine and its perfect after a hot hike at any of the nearby trails.

Stinson Lake looks and feels good and relaxing whether on a cloudy day, by evening light, underneath the thousands of visible stars from the dock or on a sunny day from the water watching dragonflies and damselflies flying above its surface.

What it lacks is public access. Private rentals and vacation homes crowd its surface. But at least I’m lucky my family owns one of them soon to be able to rent. And I’m happy to return year after year.

Times Square, New York City


Times Square is a place I’d never visited until this most recent trip to New York City.

Of course I’d seen it on TV and in pictures, many, many times, but actually being there amid the sensory overload of bright billboards is different.

In some ways, it’s like nothing at home. Packed with people at every hour of Saturday night and full of distinct buskers and performers, almost like a free version of Disney World. Indeed two of them dressed up like Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Although admittedly there was also a Donald Trump costume guy too and the aforementioned bikini gymnast, both of which Disney World would probably not have.

The New York Times and ABC News buildings, are giants compared to any of our newspaper or TV station buildings in Tennessee.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, no one sells Kit Kat bars the size of cafeteria trays — still labeled “Snack Size’ — like they do at Hershey’s Chocolate World. And our benches are, as a rule, not set into weird wrecked-ship-like sculptures.

It’s side streets have theaters showing the most high-profile plays and some of its billboards advertise other theater productions, including Spongebob Squarepants, which is almost unheard of in Knoxville. Theater productions high-profile enough to have billboard ads that is, not Spongebob Squarepants.

And yet at the same time, if you’re a Tennesseean who wants to really feel like you’re in another world, Times Square is probably the wrong place. The famous New Year’s Day ball drops on top of a building with a Walgreens on the bottom floor for instance. Similarly other stores here like Forever 21 and the Disney Store exist in Knoxville’s West Town Mall.

Although, running around the Disney Store, a bit of an expansion from the Tennessee version, with two other 30-somethings who were making stuffed animals dance to The Lion King music was actually a highlight of the trip.

At times I wondered if I had wandered into just a version of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge that didn’t close at night and where Spongebob had replaced the Bible as the main source of theater inspiration, if not also possibly religion as well. The area has both a Ripley’s Believe it or Not like Gatlinburg, and a wax museum, which would not have been out of place there.

At any rate enjoy this photo gallery of Times Square as it is in July 2018.

Disco singers
Disco singers stayin’ alive at Times Square