Sunday, October 21, 2012



No matter where you live in this country, chances are that once or twice a year you are bugged with bugs.  Whether it is mosquitoes or love bugs, sand gnats or chiggers, mayflies or cicadas, insect swarms are annoying, messy, and often unhealthy.  Well, here in the Smoky Mountains, we are at the peak of the autumn color and immersed in some of the best weather of the year.  Our nights are brisk and chilly (no frost yet!) and our afternoons are warm sunny.  But with the beauty of the leaf season comes North Carolina’s swarms.   
No our swarms don’t bite; they don’t splat on your windshield or dissolve the paint on your car; they don’t burrow under your skin leaving tiny red roadmaps of excruciating, torturous itch; they don’t perch in the trees outside your bedroom window to scream and trill all night; no, the North Carolina swarms just…swarm. 
I’m talking about Ladybugs; those innocuous, harmless, speckled orange bumps of such deceptive beauty that Germany even designed automobiles in their image.  Those same tiny creatures that as a child, I collected in Ball jars and kept as short-lived pets.  These are the same Eco-Green benefactors that farmers and gardeners nationwide eagerly seek out to rid their tomatoes of the parasitic aphids.  Ladybugs!  Yes, horrible Ladybugs!
(Honestly, I just had to stop typing to remove one from inside my T-shirt as it was making its way south to my hinterlands.)
Now I’m sure those of you that have not suffered this annoying mountain phenomenon are scoffing at my dramatic reaction to what you think is the epitome of cuteness.  I mean, “Come on!  Ladybugs!  Really?  You’re freaking out over Ladybugs?” 
Okay, try to image a glorious afternoon with ideal temperatures and Appalachian colors that people travel thousands of miles to enjoy.  Then imagine your serene refuse-in-the-woods literally crawling with HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of miniature Volkswagen Beetles; windows and doors alive with moving polka dots.  Outside, the siding, the decks, your soffits and roof are covered with mass congregations of those “adorable” pumpkin colored “buggies.”  “Harmless cuties” that are laying siege to your home, waiting for you or some other unsuspecting human animal to leave the safety of your sealed, impervious shelter.  They’re biding their time, patiently ready to swoop down and catch a spontaneous, adventurous ride on your clothing, or even make a daredevil dash through that momentary opening of the door and into the climate controlled abode of you “strange bipedal apes.”
No sympathy for me yet?  Then visualize what it’s like for me, coming home from grocery shopping only to have the fabric pattern of what I believed was my shirt take flight in my kitchen; imagine the ticklish whisper of one dropping off my color and down my back; or the feather-like wisp of movement on the lobe of my ear.  Go ahead; laugh at my convulsive dance of anti-trespass.  But when I’ve finished raking my hair and rustling my clothes to rid myself of the remainder of these creepy-crawly aliens, I’m going to pour a glass of wine and lean back in my recliner and attempt to ignore that my living room ceiling is animated in a random, kaleidoscopic, migration of even more stowaway invaders.  Yes, I am bugged by Ladybugs and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
BTW:  The Internet says that these massive gatherings are actually a part of the insect’s annual pre-winter mating season.  All I can say is, this riotous, winged, mass orgy doesn’t seem very romantic let alone ladylike.  But who am I to criticize, right?  Whatever floats your boat.  (Oh yeah, they float, too!)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Cataloochie Elk

New Video of the Elk and Photographer

                As some of you already know, I live just outside the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the extreme western part of North Carolina.  Just to the west sets a beautiful high peak known as Cataloochee.  That mountain not only houses both our winter ski resort and in the warmer months, the historic Ghost Town in the Sky, but it also acts as a natural barrier to one of the park’s pristine wilderness areas, the Cataloochee Valley.
                Back in 2002, the NC Wild Resources Commission and the National Park Service initiated an experimental reintroduction of elk to our mountains; they picked the Cataloochee Valley to establish the herd both for its resources and protective isolation.  The valley is accessible from the North Carolina side only by an exciting, 11 mile, white-knuckle ride on dirt road up and over a mountain pass with a vertical wall of rock on one side and a steep precipice on the other.  It is a one-lane road with two-way traffic and often leads to WTF moments when two vehicles meet midway.  The ride is perilous but worth the effort as our original group of 25 elk has grown to an impressive herd of 150, with new calves being born each spring.  Each evening, these picturesque animals emerge from the forest to graze in the open valley to the delight of the hundreds of nature lovers who journeyed to watch from the distant parkways.  The rangers will admit that we do occasionally lose a baby to the black bears or wolves, but this is one of those rare incidences where humans have tampered with Nature and the outcome has become a glorious success.
                Unfortunately, whenever humans are involved, because of an anatomical anomaly, you end up with certain number of assholes.  Now to premise this story, I will tell you that I grew up in southern New Jersey in a family that supplemented our diet by subsistence hunting and fishing.  Without regard to my prolonged abstinence from that activity, I DO NOT have a problem with people taking game as a food source under a controlled and regulated harvest.  But back to those inevitable “human orifices,” on May 18th of this year, three elk, a bull, an adolescent cow, and a pregnant cow, were shot dead in the Pisgah National Forest just outside of the park.  All three (or four) animals were left to rot in the woods without any attempt to harvest the illegal meat.
                There is, of course, reward money posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the poachers, but I really don’t think that a monetary fine, a little jail time, and the possible forfeiture of their weapons and vehicles, goes quite far enough.  I think these arrestees, if they’re found, should undergo a comprehensive re-education on how difficult it was to take unsuspecting animals from their familiar habitat and strand them deep in a mountainous forest where they were left to forage for food, find potable water, avoid bears, and survive the cold winter nights atop the highest peaks east of the Rockies.  After these butt-heads have a good understanding of the difficulties faced by these majestic animals as they gained not only a survivable foot-hold, but flourished in their new surroundings, these creeps that found pleasure in killing for killing’s sake, should be blindfolded, driven as far into the mountains as possible, and then marched another 10 or 12 miles, stripped naked and turned loose (that’s all the elk had).  If they make it out, I think they may have a little more respect for the sanctity of life and the tribulations of living in the wild without some pea-brained yahoo shooting a gun at them for no good reason.
                Now, I’m telling you my idea so you will know without doubt, that if you ever wake up to hear about some wild, naked men, half crazed with hunger and dehydration, claiming to have been kidnapped and abandoned on a remote mountain top in the Smokys, the perpetrator wasn’t me, but the assholes deserved it.

Columbus Day 2012

Well, the moving of our stuff from one house to another is completed.  That doesn't mean the move is over, we still have tons to unpack, furniture to organize, necessities to find again, and a huge amount of superfluous crap that we need to throw away or donate, but at least most of the heavy lifting is done.  Last night I even got the bookshelves and desk into my office and by the end of the day today, I hope to have the server set up so that I can work on something other than this laptop in a recliner chair.

Having my Internet service through a cellular antenna, I hope my signal will be somewhat more reliable than it was living in town.  I’d hate to have to drive down the mountain to find a hotspot.  Even though we have lived “out” most of the time since we've been in the mountains, the last couple of years living “in town” have gotten us out of the habits and routines necessary when “going to town” is not a five minute, easy jaunt.  We're only about 12 miles out, but the drive down the mountain, then along the river up to the bridge, through the tiny village of Clyde, across the railroad tracks, out to the four-lane and then 8 miles to town, means in simple language: don’t forget anything at the grocery store.
Oh, and here’s some fun: I have received deliveries from UPS, FedEx and even the Post Office, I have had all the utilities hooked up without incident, friends have found me with Google Maps, MapQuest, Garmin GPS and Verizon Navigator, but when I try to change my address with magazines, websites that I do business with, and more than a couple of bill collectors, the attempt comes back, “No such address.”  Apparently a lot of businesses use an address verification program provided by the Post Office that as yet does not know this house exists.  I get mail, no problem, but until I track down my rural-post deliveryman and get him to update his “address edit list” (assuming he knows how to use a computer), no cyber-savvy company will accept that I really do live on Normann Road (yes, two N’s -- must be the Moonshine spelling -- some places will accept two, some want one, either way it will get here).
Just for fun, here is a two minute video of our little mountain town.
With that, please note the new address on the invoice if you get one.  If you mess up and mail to the old address, even our hillbilly postmaster knows how to forward it here, but it will delay delivery.  Let me know you saw this, and have a great Queen Isabella Day (she’s the one who bought the ships and paid for the voyage that Columbus gets all the fame and credit for).