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.

 

 

 

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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!

 

Get wet on the Cumberland Trail


Happy summer! It’s time to enjoy wading, floating, swimming and splashing around! Here are a few spots on or near Cumberland Trail State Park to do it, not in any particular order. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a start. More to come, possibly!

For more on that trail, I recommend getting my book Wildly Strolling Along: Father-Son Nature Adventures on Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail. More a collection of memoirs of day hikes with my father than a guide, it’ll nonetheless give you an in depth look at flowers, wildlife, waterfalls, rockhouses and plenty more. I’d like to thank the Cumberland Trail Conference for providing me with much of my information for that book. All photos here are by me. None of the videos are.

Obed Wild and Scenic River

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“Wartburg Beach” near Nemo Bridge. Photo by Ben Pounds

Looking down from Nemo Bridge in the protected area known as the Obed Wild and Scenic River, you may see many people floating about. If you like being with others and not far from the road, this place “Wartburg Beach” as locals call it is the spot for you. More hidden swimming spots await elsewhere in the Obed Wild and Scenic River and Catoosa Wildlife Management Area parts of the CT. I even swam naked at one of them. Just make sure you’re far away from Wartburg Beach proper before you try that.

Imodium Falls

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Imodium Falls. Photo by Ben Pounds

A fairly deep pool depending on rain sits right below Imodium Falls on the Possum Creek section. If you can get past the name, it may just be perfect for you.

I’m not usually much of one for jumping from rocks. But apparently some people are.

Piney River

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Piney River. Photo by Ben Pounds

The Piney River section in Piney River pocket wilderness area is among the best. Deep pools for swimming shallow spots for wading and, if you hike far enough, a good ways from the crowds. Ideally, experience this area as part of a backpacking trip so you can get plenty of time here like my father and I did.

The pocket Wilderness areas were created by the Bowater paper company. Piney is not to be confused with another pocket wilderness that’s even more famous and often just called “Pocket” by the locals. It’ s below.

Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness “Pocket”

Known to locals as just “Pocket” this area is near Dayton, Tennessee.

I’ve written about it in a piece for The News Sentinel and can safely say spending time there with my girlfriend Yvonne apart from my main hike was a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. While on my main trek, the swimming holes were just one of the many things I explored about the place. Yet on return, I had to pry Yvonne, my girlfriend and hiking companion away from the swimming hole we found to look at other parts of the trail there.
I’m not the only one to discover it. Here’s a video from some other visitors enjoying a day there, shot with far better technology than I currently have to film it.

Farragut, Tenn.


An bright orange T-Rex stands in Farragut at a miniature golf course. It’s not a jolly, Barney type dinosaur. Instead he has pained eyes on the edge of tears and a wincing frown as he leans on his bone cane, as though he know’s the asteroid’s going to hit and his time is up. I like him, oddly, even if I don’t recall ever playing miniature golf there.

He seems out of place. While it has two miniature golf courses and plenty of children’s activities, Farragut is not a town of silly tourist traps and roadside nonsense.

Rather, it’s suburbia with no apologies: the precise kind of affluent “respectable” houses no one my age wants because we want to spend what tiny money we have on technology instead. And yet there is resistance in Farragut to apartments or even retirement homes, as I was able to see. Little pretty not-pink houses are the rule in Farragut. In other words, to me it comes off as a dinosaur itself. It’s what our parents and grandparents wanted.

But before the people of Farragut get mad at me, I realize that’s wrong to consider the town a dinosaur. Farragut continues to draw in people. The Chamber of Commerce in Oak Ridge, my current town which I prefer, view it as a threat, pulling away potential residents.

There are two kinds of places a travel writer can write about. There’s the popular destinations: Disney World, New York City, Paris, The Grand Canyon. The stuff everybody knows to go see. You stand there and feel like you’re in a three dimensional postcard, only with real wind blowing around you. Everybody knows this is the place to stand, to sit, to walk, to live!

Then there’s the towns around the blue highways that the great and awesomely named William Least-Heat Moon wrote about. The out of way places, and especially, their unique scrumptious or bizarre food you can claim to have discovered at their diners and restaurants. Plant your flag. You can declare yourself the discoverer. No one else noticed this place before. Doesn’t it feel good?

But seriously, what about places like Farragut? Writers don’t go wild about those ones. Right off the interstate, some decent shopping and restaurants, but nothing anybody goes out of their way to see. And yet it haunts me. Because I had to cover that town often. I got some pretty mixed feelings about it. So I’m writing about this just to get my thoughts out there.

I was stuck covering Farragut for “FarragutPress” because it was my job at that local paper. My editor really wanted me to specialize in things entirely within the town boundaries.

But what are those town boundaries? No one really seemed to know them. Signs didn’t mark them. And the most interesting places in town, like Concord Park or the Pinnacle movie theater were actually outside of town. Many people who lived in Farragut worked elsewhere and people who worked in Farragut lived elsewhere. Knox County Sheriff’s Office provides law enforcement. Lenoir City Utilities Board provides some of the utilities. Knox County also provided the schools and library system. Even the town hall’s receptionist’s desk has pictures of downtown Knoxville behind it.

The town was inhabited in the 19th Century and has one pre-Civil War building,  Campbell Station Inn. But the town, as a town was founded in 1980, in an attempt to avoid paying property taxes to Knoxville. Most of what’s there is pretty recent. My editor there received a call once blaming a threat to that city’s high school on bused in outsiders, something which seems rich given how everyone there is an outsider.

The town desperately wants more of its own identity, the way that older ones have. I sat in on meetings in which its Planning Commission struggled to make a short strip mall with a Starbucks look like a historic downtown. Starbucks wasn’t interested in playing along. Because it’s Starbucks. The exhibitionist mermaid knows no boss. I left the paper before I could learn how that shopping center turned out.

At the time I stayed as an objective journalist, trying to please my adopted town. But now I laugh at their attempt at an old timey Starbucks and furthermore their attempt to trick the public they were older than 1980. At the same time, I understand that desire. A local identity is important. Seeing Farragut struggle to create one made me realize just how powerful a local identity and history can be. To be fair most attempts at a local identity tend to pretend to be older than they are, be they mock-Greek, mock-Roman, mock-Medieval or mock-Mayberry.

Indeed Farragut’s own identity is in some ways quite unique and fascinating, and not at all the history people from other parts of the country would expect. Its statue of Admiral Farragut is one of the few Civil War statues Knox County has, and he fought for the north. He was born near present-day Farragut, long before it was a town. Tennesseeans here in the East were quite divided during that war.

That Starbucks dispute was hardly the only one that I saw which would make outsiders giggle about as first world problems. During another meeting, the citizens who lived behind the famous Turkey Creek development piled in to complain about garbage trucks running too early in the morning. A public housing resident laughed when I told her that story.

Of course, avoiding more serious problems isn’t exactly a bad thing.  Except for us journalists, no one really looks forward to things going really wrong. Indeed, Farragut has at least one thing to admire: through it’s homeowners associations, citizens have a way of organizing outside of government and bringing any issue, no matter how small, to its attention. They have a strength for community organizing of which Barrack Obama could only dream. Every once in a while though, I wish these people would have been more grateful for what they had.

The town has many hidden strengths. West Bicycles remains among my favorite places for bike repairs. The town has a good number of parks, pedestrian and cycling routes, most hidden a bit off the beaten path, but some like Mayor Bob Leonard Park, below, close to main routes.

However much I might mock certain people in Farragut, I have found most of its people quite friendly, whether at Rotary or Optimist Club. I do at times miss those folks and look forward to seeing them again whenever I can.

Farragut is overall an excellent town for the people who live there. It’s just not for me. I prefer my 1940s-era apartment in Oak Ridge with a park nearby that I don’t need to mow. I don’t need a lawn. I have strange but seemingly significant history all around me: an identity that while controversial is an identity that doesn’t have to be manufactured by making a Starbucks look old.* Besides, I’m close to Frozen Head, the Haw Ridge Trails and the Obed Wild and Scenic River and some excellent local restaurants here that Farragut and its charms don’t really hold much sway on me. I don’t want a place to settle down. I want places to explore. And that’s why Farragut’s not for me.

*It’s the site of uranium enrichment for the Manhattan Project. I’ll probably get more into that later.

 

Frozen Head: North Old Mac and Spicewood trails


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Old, metal, standing in the middle of a mountain which makes it seem taller, all of that ready to make anyone afraid of heights even a little nervous. But it’s one of the best if not the best view Frozen Head State Park  has to offer.

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People call it the “fire tower” although its really an observation deck that replaced an old one about a decade ago.

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Not much to look at but a lot to look from.

The grayish shapes of mountains all around give a sense of just how amazing the Cumberlands can be and just how much “plateau” might seem a bad name for hills that do stretch on in places but at times jump up and down like a rounded roller-coster track getting bluish and hazy into the distance on all sides, even stretching into a view of the far more famous Great Smokies. It’s one of the few places you can see all around you. I look forward to seeing it again throughout the year.
There are many ways to the fire tower.
November in the Cumberlands which is when I visited is what some people might call drab. No icicles, the colored leaves only on a few of the trees, few evergreen plants at least on these trails. But the glory is the ability to see not just at overlooks but also glimpses through the trees, both of what’s further up and also what’s below. Now in March you can still see those kind of glimpses.

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My sister Jessie at an overlook before the big one. Photo courtesy of Judith Roitman.

Just to give you a good general map including the distances of what I’ll describe next, here’s one. The trails all have at least some connection to them, so if you get lost missed your route, it’s good to know the closest route to your destination may not involve backtracking.
Of course, I your intrepid guide never get lost. Except this time and plenty of other times. But I’ll get around to getting lost when it happened.
I left with Yvonne, Mom, Dad, my sister Jessie and my dog Zeke on Black Friday.
All the routes, or at least most of the obvious ones, to the firetower begin at the old mac trailhead, near a picnic area complemented by a playground (complete with plastic drums) and a small pond.
From there begins the Old Mac trail with the North Old Mac trail splitting off to the right. That was the route we took. Like any mountain hike it’s not exactly for beginners although it’s not the worst mountain on earth in terms of difficulty either. We then turned right on Lookout Tower Trail and continued on to the tower itself.

I did get separated from the others and lost on the way back, accidentally ending up on Chimney Top Trail but was able to consult my phone in an odd spot of reception and head back down in the dim light on Spicewood Trail, then a small piece of the Judge Branch Trail back to to the entrance trail and the picnic area and playground. In general, making a loop gives the route some variety anyway. The total route is about 8.3 miles.

Bald River Falls in Winter


IMG_0321.JPGI could never create this. I could never make this up.

IMG_0316This is Bald Creek Falls in Cherokee National Forest transformed into glorious columns of ice with a few streams of water still left to remind us of what the falls had once been.

IMG_0318.JPGIt drew crowds, forcing us to walk up the road. After all, we’re Tennesseeans. Ice is a novelty to us.

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But the frozen falls was glorious, and so was the trail nearby. Stay tuned. More wintry photos of Cherokee National Forest. are on the way.

Frost flowers aren’t litter


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An ice flower in Loudon, Tennessee. This and other photo by Yvonne Rogers, the best girlfriend ever and not bad at photography either.

White clumps decorate the basses of blades of dried grass. Sometimes I passed them wondering if they were trash.
They’re not. They’re one of nature’s glorious temporary sculptures.
The weather channel calls them “rare and ellusive” in spite of just how many I’ve seen this winter near my Loudon Home. Delicate, spiraling, often with the texture of cotton candy but made of stringy ice. The water from the stems of plans leaks out, then freezes. If you’re in Tennessee or nearby right now, look for them.
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