Staten Island Ferry


It’s one of the few things in NYC that’s entirely free. Except its refreshments.

Manhattan
Manhattan as seen from the Staten Island Ferry. Photo by me.

I rode the Staten Island Ferry with my other half Yvonne and her good friend Cameron on the Staten Island Ferry, watching as Manhattan came into view, then faded behind us. Gulls flapped by and

From inside the city, it may seem crammed together, and unclear as to where what you’re seeing fits into anything larger.

New York City
Looking up from street level. Photo by me.

From the harbor you can really see it as a whole.

Manhattan
Manhattan as seen from the Staten Island Ferry. Photo by me.

I’m not seasoned enough to know how many of the faces of different ages, costumes and races and even language speakers aboard were locals as compared to tourists, although plenty of them on the deck seemed interested in a lot of what was there.

Cameron pointed out certain details of Manhattan, Jersey City, Staten Island and various ships as we went by.

Staten Island Ferry
Cameron points out various sights. Photo by me.

Probably for tourists, though, the ferry may be notable as a free way to see the most famous landmark in the area, a certain French statue. Cameron mentioned his great grandfather passing by it. And now we see it perhaps as it was meant to be seen, passing by it. I will warn you though, cell phones aren’t the best way to photograph it in the evening.

The mother of exiles
My ancestors would have seen this, if they hadn’t instead immigrated to Boston. Photo by me.

 

 

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Fence lizards and sex


I’ve touched on eastern fence lizards before in my book Wildly Strolling Along. I’ve seen them on the tops of the Cumberlands and more recently at the top of House Mountain in the summer. Oddly enough though not much on fences.

Fence Lizard
Blurry? You try getting a fence lizard to stay still to be in focus.

I have so much else to write about, between New York City, NY; and Rumney and Stinson Lake NH which I’ve done since the House Mountain trip that I don’t have time to give a full run through on everything about these animals. So instead, I’ll just focus on mating.

And indeed, male fence lizards do much to sell themselves to females. If you want an academic take, this might be up to your speed. To summarize, males show off their blue throats and do push-ups to attract mates. I can do neither. You’d be lucky to see five pushups in a row from me before I collapse, as my girlfriend can attest. And yet she’s stayed with me for five years.

Immediately after sex, fence lizards go their separate ways and then the males try to hook up with someone else, so comparing them to any long term romantic human relationship isn’t really helpful. That’s probably just as well. If you pick a long term husband based on how well he shows off his blue throat, I doubt it would work out.

Also, the mothers also bury their eggs rather than watching them. We can’t judge them by our standards.

Also according to the above link, fence lizards are “fully mature” after one year.

As a side note, it’s rather odd that we consistently refer to sexual passion as being “animal.” And yet many animals have a specific mating season and never do anything else about sex at any other time of the year.

 

 

 

Berry Time in Tennessee!


Not quite ripe berries.
Some not quite ripe fruit near House Mountain.

It was just barely berry time a few weeks ago at the bottom of House Mountain. Meaning back in Tennessee it should be berry season now. I’m in New Hampshire meaning I have wild blueberries to eat, but anyone in Tennessee can enjoy the berries you have now. Any overgrown clearing, such as the one near House Mountain should be teeming with blackberries and raspberries.

Some taste sour when not quite ready, but so long as they’re at least kind of black, I tend to dig in.

My book “Wildly Strolling Along” has a section on Tennessee’s wild fruit, which I encourage you to check out. Blackberries and raspberries aren’t actually berries in the botanical sense of the word, but rather aggregate fruit. They’re pretty distinctive looking things and as my botanist Dad told me recently, no toxic fruit look like them.

If you want to learn more about which blackberries, blackberries or dewberries the ones in your area (if you’re in Tennessee) might be, check out this page  from the same university that gave my Dad his degree. Go Vols!

 

Does whatever a spiderwort can


Spider wort
Spiderwort at House Mountain near Knoxville, Tennessee

It’s time for summer wildflowers in East Tennessee, including spiderworts.

That link, by the way, is for people who want a scholarly overview of what in Latin are called Tradescantia. The truth is, I can recognize the genus, but need my Dad, Dr. Larry Pounds along to look closely with his field glass give the precise species. I love hiking independently from him, but sometimes I feel like he spoiled me in that now I miss being able to name every single species. The plant has long leaves with a small flower in the middle.

I know the name sounds like some kind of wizard school. “Wort” spelled that way is an old word for “plant” and has ended up in quite a few plant names.

I’ve seen spiderworts in the Cumberlands as my Dad and I discuss in our book: Wildly Strolling Along. Get your copy today at that link to learn more about Dad me and the plants of Tennessee!). The ones shown in this post however were from last weekend at House Mountain’s Mountain Trail.

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Hiking House Mountain in summer


House Mountain is a hidden treasure: a mountain very close to Knoxville, apart from both the Smokies and Cumberlands. While short even by East Tennessee standards, you can still see miles of surrounding countryside from its summit.

House Mountain overlook
The view from House Mountain.

Yvonne and I climbed up the Mountain Trail recently with our friend Linda. The two of us had originally wanted to reach Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains, but due to time concerns we aimed for something closer and shorter.

Closer and shorter, but still sweltering in the summer. Our older friend Linda, who came with us, decided to quit and lie on a rock rather than climb up all the way. We also ran out of water quickly in spite of me thinking I had enough bottles for Gregory’s Bald.

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House Mountain’s trail features various wildflowers.

In the summer, the climb features berries, butterflies and wildflowers, many of which will lead to later posts on this blog so stay tuned. It also features poison ivy, which doesn’t much affect me, but may lead to problems for others. So you may need long pants and even more water. But for me the trail is worth it.

Many locals know it well, so you won’t be entirely alone. At least we weren’t. But once they cleared out at the summit, it was just the two of us, the fence lizards and the vultures circling below us.

The trail is rocky. This used to make Yvonne panic but now she just sees it as part of a strategy. My strategy heading down is to trot fast enough that my momentum stops me from falling. Yvonne insists on carefully putting her feet in exactly the right places.

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Another view from House Mountain

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies


Yvonne Jellyfish
Yvonne admires a jellyfish at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.

Landlocked folks love ocean stuff. People want something exotic, themed to something that isn’t nearby. It’s with all this in mind, I assume, that Ripley’s decided to make Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.

It’s smaller than its nearby competitor the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga with far fewer fish and other creatures of the deep. I visited Tennessee Aquarium last year and will give a review here at some point.

In any case, Ripley’s has got some advantages that make it more geared toward children. With a playground in the center, two chances to touch sea creatures, a crawl-through tunnel that lets children be surrounded by penguins and various interactive exhibits, it makes for a very kid-friendly place. Also the smaller size makes it a great place to cool off in the air conditioning after a hot hike — which is what we did after climbing House Mountain -rather than spend all day.

Lionfish
A lionfish.

While the place doesn’t seem to trust the animals to carry the attraction, it does have some good ones. With giant crabs, graceful sharks, speedy rays, cute penguins, piranhas, mudskippers, jellyfish, eels, clownfish (kids know them as Nemo), blue tangs (kids know them as Dori) and lionfish among others, the place is full of some impressive creatures. The focus is on fun, but there’s nothing wrong with having some fun.

Nautilus
Nautilus.

Adults can visit too, although it is a bit pricey. But I can say Yvonne and I certainly had a good time.

Iguana
A sleepy iguana at Ripley’s Aquarium.

I visited Sat. June 7, with Yvonne, fairly late at night (from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. when the crowds had thinned out, letting us crawl through the children’s penguin tunnel to view the penguins. Don’t judge us.

The best part, as far as I’m concerned, is the shark lagoon tunnel, allowing you to see sharks swim above you as you move through a tunnel, along with a sawfish who likes to rest on the tunnel’s top. It’s best to visit this part when crowds have thinned because you can walk on the carpet rather than being stuck on the conveyor belt. The moving sidewalk has the advantage of speeding up some people while slowing down others.

The use of Pacobell’s cannon as background music there made Yvonne joke it sounded like the sharks were about to get diplomas. But the piece does its job in making people see the sharks as something other than scary.

Yvonne’s favorite part was getting a chance to touch moon jellies, a species with so little venom they’re harmless to touch (as a side note, that link’s to another aquarium, but I like to mix things up in terms of sources when it comes to learning about animals). The aquarium also lets visitors touch horseshoe crabs.

Horseshoe crabs
Visitors can touch these horseshoe crabs.

The weakest parts of the aquarium are in the special exhibits sections. The shipwrecks exhibit would be OK interactive fun due to its interactive archaeological activities and educational touch screens, but there’s something just annoying about hearing a repeated snippet of “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot over and over again. For some reason it’s not even the full song. It’s not a bad song, in fact it’s a good one, but for Yvonne especially, it just gets to be too much.

Since I don’t know how else to end this, here’s that song in its full version and only playing once.

St John’s wort on Melton Lake Greenway


St. Johnswort

Bright yellow bushes of shrubby St. John’s wort greet visitors to the Melton Lake Grenway’s Boardwalk in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in summer. The bright yellow flowers are still distinctive against the dim evening light and the dark blue of Melton Hill Lake.

Melton Lake Greenway’s boardwalk isn’t for everyone. It’s right next to a coal fired steam plant, which might be enough of a turn off for many to not even consider what the trail has to offer.

But what it has to offer at this time of year is bright yellow St. John’s wort flowers, many birds and fishing, although none of the fellows I saw seemed to catch anything. As Yvonne put it, the area looks like a marsh on the edge of the ocean, even if all it borders on is a narrow lake.

St. Johnswort is a reminder of how lost I am at identifying and talking about plants without my dear old “kickass botanist” Dad. For more on our relationship read our book., but in short, he’s been around to identify every plant around us on every hike for most of my life since I was toddling around barely taller than the roots in the trails we walked.

After hearing recently from him the bushes that had so delighted Yvonne and I was St. Johnswort, I quickly did some research and saw, the US Department of Agriculture says it is an exotic plant that crowds out native species and poisons livestock. So, in an earlier version of this post, one that earned me three “likes” already I wrote:

“A non-Tennessee plant on an artificial lake, surrounded by power cables and towers. And yet I somehow still enjoy the landscape.”

All well and good, but wrong. As Dad pointed out and I should have figured out, there are multiple species of St. Johnswort and the one we were looking at, which grows as a bush, i.e. Shrubby St. Johnswort was native.

St. John's wort by dim light.
St. John’s wort by dim light.

At any rate, most people if they think about any variety of plant at all, think about it as an herbal tea that’s supposed to make people feel emotionally better, curing anxiety and depression. It often works for me, although Yvonne loathes its taste.