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March 2015

Old Stone Fort State Archeological Park

by Richie
Old Stone Fort State Archeological Park
RAPTOR PIPE

Raptor Pipe

Manchester, Tennessee
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We are staying overnight in Manchester, Tennessee – a town of substantial enough size to warrant two interstate exits and have five bars of cell phone service, but zero television stations via antenna. So we’ll be watching a DVD of all 23 episodes of Champion The Wonder Horse – a TV series from 1955, long lost (and with good reason) and available at your local flea market for $1. And the first ten minutes of the show will confirm that you’ve paid too much.

We are camped at Old Stone Fort State Archeological Park. This park features a peninsula of about 50 acres located high on limestone cliffs and encircled by two rivers which form a natural moat. About 2000 years ago the Woodland Indians (so-called because their real name has been lost to the dust of history) built a stone wall fortification around the top of the peninsula. It’s a rare and unusual undertaking for people who had only clumsy stone axes to construct such a permanent and monumental structure. Eons later, after the Indians were long gone, white settlers saw the stone walls and assumed it was a fort – hence the name, Old Stone Fort.

STONE 1

In fact archeologists haven’t a clue about the purpose of the wall, or why a primitive culture would expend such enormous effort to build it. There’s no evidence of a village here, no burial grounds or troves of artifacts have been unearthed, and of course no Indians left to explain the legend of the place. So, as often happens in the field of archeology, when the purpose of something is unclear they wring their hands and scratch their stubbly beards and label the thing a Ceremonial. And that is the explanation offered today at the park’s tiny museum – it was a ceremonial place.

What sort of ceremonies might have taken place here, or why they needed to be protected by such an ambitiously planned fortification is left to the visitor’s imagination. The only clue ever discovered was a found by a farmer in 1876, who decided to have a poke around the rubble of the old walls and somehow unearthed a finely carved stone pipe. The Raptor Pipe became the iconic symbol of the area, and then was promptly whisked away to the Smithsonian. So it’s not even on display here.

STONE 2

The ancient stone walls are also not visible, having been buried by the detritus of the surrounding woods for a couple of millennium. Instead all that can be seen are a line of vague mounds ringing the top of the cliffs. Disappointing, really, for a state archeological park. You’d think someone would have taken the time to excavate a few feet of the wall so you could at least see what all the fuss is about.

But the park does have a lovely loop trail, easily walkable and running right next to a series of fetching waterfalls. For that alone, the trip here is worth it. Even if your evening entertainment turns out to be Champion The Wonder Horse.

 

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Student Life

by Richie
Student Life

John C. Campbell Folk School
Brasstown, NC
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 VIOLETS

After a few days at the John Campbell Folk School we have slid into a comfortable routine of campus life. Our campground sits high on a ridge, and from the east dawn spreads over our mountain view. Coffee is sipped under the awning where we are serenaded by spring birds and the ever-present chuckle of woodpeckers.

The school day officially begins with a tradition of Morningsong in the main hall, followed by breakfast in the dining room – both of which we skip as we dine en coach, and besides that’s way too early for me to be appropriately dressed and suitably social.

Classes start at 9:00…show up when you’re ready. I take a short walk down a wooded path to the Basket Studio, and Tim rides the motorcycle down a big hill to the Blacksmith Shop, the farthest flung classroom. tim

In the Basket Studio, seven of us sit at long tables and toil at our craft. The studio is spacious, well lit with windows, and filled with supplies and tools. Days have been sunny and mild, and I’m often outside at a picnic table sewing strips of bark together. Visitors from other classes stop in occasionally to peek at our projects. BASKET STUDIO

Instructors are chosen from the top in their fields. They come prepared to teach 1-3 projects or are happy to assist if you want to divert onto different projects. I started with a difficult birch bark canister, the main project of the course. It was tricky construction using many unfamiliar techniques and took 2-1/2 days to complete. My canister turned out a bit crooked and tilted, so I’m glad we are not graded on our work- I would not have made the honor roll! SHOES

Most folks attending this off-season session are in the 40-80 year old range. I would expect a younger crowd in the summer. More than half are returning students, some on their fourth or fifth visit here, and I agree the experience is definitely worth repeating.

POTS

Keen friendships are formed in the studio, we all admire each other’s work and boo-hoo over failures. Instructors are quick to offer assistance or divert you to a less tasking project if you seem to be getting discouraged. 

It’s an easy way to study new skills – entirely self-paced and if I need a break I can wander the lovely grounds, shop a bit at the craft store, or start a little side project. Ah, the life of a student at Folk School! WOOD

 

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John C. Campbell Folk School

by Richie
John C. Campbell Folk School

Brasstown, NC

This week we are enthusiastic students at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

For 90 years this school has been teaching the lost arts of hand crafts – baskets, blacksmith, broom, caning, clay, dyeing, enamel, felt, jewelry, lace, leather, painting, quilting, soaps, spinning, weaving, woodworking, and so on. Each craft has a dedicated building or studio and the campus is spread out over several hundred acres. Lighted paths are threaded through the woods and along open meadows and most folks walk to class.

campus

Programs are a week long and each week has a theme. We are here during Scandinavian week, so all the classes, food, and entertainment are centered around Nordic traditions. Tim is learning Viking style blacksmith techniques. His first project is to forge an axe head from a single billet of steel.

forge

 

basket

My project is Swedish Birch Bark Basketry, and I’m starting with a round canister basket project. The birch bark is surprisingly soft and supple and is sewn together much like leather work.

There are 115 students here this week, nearly a full house. Participants can choose lodging and meal packages for their stay. Room accommodations range from private cottages to not so private dormitories. It’s a bit like summer camp for adults. You can wander in and out of class or return in the evening after supper if you’re really dedicated.

Meals are served family style in the dining hall. Tables seat 10 and giant bowls of steaming food are served to each table…help yourself and pass the butter. Folks in the blacksmithing classes are encouraged to sit together and are served a little extra because “Those guys are a hungry bunch!”

The central meeting place, Keith House, has lively entertainment scheduled each evening, from storytelling to live music to contra dancing. There’s even yoga classes and chair massages offered several times during the week. We intend to enjoy it all this week!

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Mountain Calling

by Richie
Mountain Calling

Brasstown, NC
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We left Chattanooga this morning, and I must say that in the category of Public Shaming, the Pillory Award goes to…The State of Tennessee. They not only sentence law breakers to hours of community service picking up trash from the side of the interstate, but also add a special layer of scorn by making the felons wear a neon green vest with 10 inch high letters stating, “I AM A DRUNK DRIVER.” An interesting touch of humiliation, don’t ya think!

We followed Route 64 most of the day – a lovely divided highway, smooth as a bamboo fly rod, until it entered the Cherokee National Forest in NC. There the road narrows to one lane, snaking and twisting along the banks of  the Ocoee River – a burbling and churning whitewater stretch of rapids.This must be a big destination river as we saw dozens of rafting expedition outfitters along the way, and scores of folks in kayaks trying their luck with the foaming water. 

river


Mid-afternoon we arrived at our destination, the John Campbell Folk Art School. Here we will take hand-craft classes and enjoy the mountain scenery for the next few days. 

school
The school has a large campus of buildings nestled in the woods and along back country roads. Tonight we are tucked into their teeny tiny campground – only a dozen or so sites placed haphazardly and at such odd angles that it took 20 minutes of maneuvering to stuff the coach into a spot. Good thing we’ve got a little camper!  camp

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Raccoon Mountain

by Richie
Raccoon Mountain

Raccoon Mountain
Chattanooga, TN
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Sometimes a plan works out, and it’s immensely satisfying and even a bit surprising when things turn out well. Especially when you’re on the road.

We travelled a couple of hundred miles south to Chattanooga today. An easy interstate lope, with only one traffic snarl that was mostly a mild inconvenience. DSCN2233

We pulled into Raccoon Mountain, sans reservations, and scored a good, level, pull-thru spot. I had aimed for this RV park because it had promised some unusual amenities. So after a short rest and a quick snack, we rambled out of the camper and up a little staircase to tour Raccoon Caverns – an almost famous cave system just a few steps from our parking spot. CAVES

Today a special was offered along with the cave tour tickets – two rounds of Go Kart time. Lucky us, we had the track to ourselves.

 DSCN2271

I never know whether to trust the campground write-ups because sometimes they over-promise. But this place lived up to expectations and we enjoyed an afternoon of fun, just steps from our campsite. Worked out just like a plan! 

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Have We Left Yet?

by Richie
Have We Left Yet?

BORDER

 

After much hoo-haw and futzing around with unexpected repairs all week we finally managed to get on the road today and travel to another state – and hopefully a better state of mind!

A couple of weeks ago we gingered the RV out of its winter cocoon to haul it in for annual service ($$$). Usually this brings us up to cruising speed, all the little nagging repairs tidily fixed to make it road worthy. 

When we got the coach back home I started prepping it for our trip – the usual preflight check list, including flushing the interior water lines and tanks. That’s when a busted water pump was discovered ($$). Yeah, okay – that was a DIY repair. Only took one extra trip to the dealer to hunt for parts, fiddling with fussy teflon tape, and losing a couple of screws down an invisible crevice. But we got the pump working. 

The next day I filled the water tank and ran the new pump. All 25 gallons immediately drained down the side of the coach like a kiddy pool with a punch hole. Ah. Not good. Made another appointment at the dealer. 

It was about then, standing in the driveway lamenting our luck, that we noticed one of the rear dualie tires was flat. Oh, and the opposite side tire had a quarter-size chink in the sidewall. So next came an unplanned trip to the tire store ($$$). 

Riding on the new tires we drove wearily back to the dealer to see about the water leak. Got the bad news that afternoon…the hot water tank had frozen and busted wide open. We were told sternly and without a hint of kindness that it was Our Fault for not draining the tank via an inaccessible and undocumented rear petcock. A new hot water tank was ordered ($$$$) to be paid in advance, naturally. However it’s a specialty model and not available for 2-3 weeks, so we have to travel with only the cold water lines working. Sigh. Fine, I’ll just heat up a pan of water in the microwave to wash my hair somehow. 

We left the new kittens in the good care of friends, stuffed the parakeet in his travel cage and had a mercifully uneventful ride down to Nashville. 

OPRY2

I’d chosen a campground near Opry Mills Mall where Tim could visit the renowned Gibson Guitar Factory. We hopped on the motorcycle, drove over, and walked most of the mall only to discover that the Gibson factory had relocated several years ago after the Cumberland River jumped its banks and flooded the entire area, ruining the mall and Gibson’s precious stockpile of exotic woods scheduled to become pricey guitars. 

Disappointed, we sauntered out of the mall intending to ride around the area in search of a nice meal. You can guess what happened next. Yup, the bike wouldn’t start. Dead battery right there in the parking lot. Gratefully this bike is pretty low-tech, so with a good push we could jump start it. But we’ll need to find a motorcycle shop tomorrow and buy a new battery ($$). 

Whew – our vacation has just started and already we’re broke and exhausted!

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Curtains It’s Kittens!

by Richie
Curtains It’s Kittens!

SMITTY-FRAME

 

Smitty the Kitty has graced us with a litter of five kittens, all tucked under our bed in a cozy nest of towels.

But I’m ahead of myself here…

First a sad announcement on the loss of our dog Shadow. He passed just before Christmas, a couple of weeks after we moved into the new house. 

Shadow was our trusty camping buddy, ever faithful on the trail. He shared every trip with us, starting way back when we were sleeping in a tent up through more recent years of traveling in the motorhome. We miss him terribly, and have beloved memories of the adventures we shared. SHADOW

His absence left a big hole in our lives, and our neighbors decided we needed a replacement pet right away. A stray cat had shown up at their barn, and even though we said, “No, no!” they brought the cat over the next day. 

Smitty the Kitty was young and quite thin, but friendly and in desperate need of company. She endeared herself to us immediately – being gentle, well behaved, and an exceptional mouse hunter. The plan was to keep her in the garage, but sub-zero temperatures seemed too cruel for outdoor living so she took up residence in the basement, save for a couple of fateful nights when she mysteriously disappeared.

A few weeks later I remarked on her expanding tummy which Tim insisted was due to better nutrition. It wasn’t long before Smitty started to look like a bowling ball with legs, and then it became quite clear why she vanished those nights. 

So here we are, Dog Lovers, with a box full of newborn kittens. Think they can hit the trail with us?

 kittys

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Foggy Bottoms

by Richie
Foggy Bottoms

“Unusual weather we’re having,” said the Cowardly Lion. 

Two record breaking snowfalls have melted away like the Wicked Witch, defeated by buckets of rain and a blowing gale worthy of Dorothy. The happy relief of warmer air has unhappily combined with a deluge of rain and melting snow to form a thick fog that clings to the lowlands like old tapioca.

From the front porch I can hear a nearby tributary rushing full throttle at flood stage to join our creek in the Bottoms at the lower echelon of the farm. The Bottoms are a section of pastureland below the mossy limestone cliffs and beyond the ancient spring house, and from our back deck I can see the fog expanding along the creek there. fog

 

On the backside of the house a surprising new lake formed overnight. Dubbed Lac du Splishy-Splash, it is trying to find its way to the Bottoms via a good-size muddy trough. Unlucky this, as we were planning to locate a new fruit orchard in about that spot, which now seems unwise. lac

 

Beyond this temporary lake sits the Big Barn, where a family of foxes has taken up residence in a former calf crib. We see their footprints in the dirt floor and occasionally spot stray feathers from what must have been a fine feast of local wild turkey.  

Following a loosely mowed trail behind the barn is another lively little stream, found today to be leaping over rock ledges and forming fetching waterfalls, a pleasing byproduct of what is essentially too much water. Crossing the stream and passing through a thicket of cedars you come at last to Dancing Mantis Meadows, where our log cabin sits prettily on a perch between rolling hillsides and dense forest. waterfalls

This round-about tour of the farm is an odd way to announce that our motorhome, the Flying Mantis, is back home from its service call, waxed and primed for our next trip. We’ll hope the fog has lifted by then!

 

 

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The S Word

by Richie
The S Word

It’s five minutes past March, and somewhere a daffodil is tapping its wristwatch.
 -The Washington Post

 

Snow is becoming a four-letter word around here, uttered with chilly contempt as yet another historic blizzard has lavishly blanketed our corner of the Near South.

The remnants of the last storm had just melted and the air was warming to a tolerable degree such that it was possible to step outdoors without fear of frostbite. Then, in a deliberate and malicious maneuver by Old Man Winter, twenty inches of the dreaded stuff was thrown down yesterday. Take that, Spring!  

It’s a knock-out punch, making travel impossible and keeping us homebound for the next few days with a stockpile of groceries and a ready-to-pop pregnant cat. 

 

s word

With negative-number temperatures, our forays outdoors are limited to a few minutes of shoveling and a brave walk up to the mailbox, which is a quarter-mile away. A thoughtful and generous neighbor has plowed a path for us with his tractor, and I’ll be baking a sumptuous cake for him this afternoon as a small token of our deep and abiding appreciation.

Nearby the main North-South route, I-65, is a 30-mile graveyard of stranded semi-trucks and hapless motorists who found the local hills impossible to climb. The National Guard has been called out for rescue and retrieval, and word is the highway will re-open sometime in late summer. Or maybe sooner if they can figure out where they left the snowplow.

 

65

At the moment, the RV is tucked away at the dealer awaiting its annual maintenance. They called to apologize for a delay in service, due to the weather, and I’m thinking it may be a week or so before we’d be able to slide it down our driveway anyway.

Just in time for our next adventure at the end of March –  We‘ll be heading farther south, hoping that the S-word won’t follow!

 

 

 

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