One Trip Every Month: Cathedral of Trees

“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree” ~ Joyce Kilmer

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

Of all the years we lived in Western North Carolina and hiked the trails surrounding us, we had never been to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, near Robbinsville. Encouraged by our son to explore this area as he has done, we did just that. Part of the Nantahala National Forest, this 3,800 acre tract miraculously escaped the lumbering of the 1920s which resulted in the clear-cutting of much of the surrounding areas.

The best way to see a woodland is to hike its trails. The one we chose is a two mile, figure eight loop that winds through one of the few remaining tracts of virgin hardwood forests in the Appalachians.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

The old heart got a work out after climbing steps that ran along the rushing creek.  It quickly leveled out to reveal that a few remaining rhododendron were still in bloom.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest- Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

Soon, we came to a boulder with a plaque centered on it commemorating the poet, Joyce Kilmer, for whom the forest is named. He was a World War I hero who died in France, and the forest was dedicated to him in 1935 by the US Forest Service.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

He is also author of the famous poem, “Trees”. Those of my generation surely must recall having to memorize this poem in grade school. The first two and last two lines are the most memorable. This plaque was at the entrance of the trail.


As Ron and I walked, we realized  we were whispering. When we encountered other hikers, which were few,  we exchanged whispered hellos. That is the effect the forest has. One of solitude, sereneness and quiet reflection.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-3

As we entered the area of giants, we marveled at the tulip poplars which are about 400 years old. The largest are over 100 feet tall and well over 20 feet in circumference. I have never visited the redwoods and the giant trees of America’s  west coast, so this is as close to large trees as I have been. I felt humbled and in awe.

Today, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is home to more than 100 species of trees, including virgin stands of sycamore, basswood, oak, and yellow-poplar. All the more important to preserve what we can of virgin forests. The canopy’s density blocked out the gorgeous blue sky and puffy white clouds of summer,  and then the woods opened back up to reassure us of a non-threatening sky. Because it  rained recently, the forest released its earthy aroma while mushrooms sprouted on the leaf laden floor.

Lacy ferns lined the edge of the trail, and large moss covered logs lay where fallen, maintaining a natural state.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-2

It was important to watch our footing as the trail changed from packed dirt to tree roots to large rocks. Watching one’s head was also in order.

High up in the tree canopies we heard the twitter of song birds but could not see them. They remained hidden in their lofty cathedral. And on the trail, the only sound we heard was our own breathing and footsteps. No creatures of the forest made their presence known that day. Perhaps they were watching us instead.

One tree we noticed was heavily carved into. Thankfully, it was limited to the one tree and not others, marring the natural beauty that Joyce Kilmer describes in his simple poem.

Finishing the figure eight loop trail, we crossed the bridge and watched the water gurgling and cascading over the moss covered rocks. Light dappled the area and children could be seen playing in the water.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest- Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

This was a lovely forest hike.  I felt we had the trail mostly to ourselves which only enhanced our experience of walking in this cathedral of trees.

One last look at the information kiosk before heading back to our family gathering at Lake Fontana.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

Have you been on any hikes this summer? And where in this incredibly diverse world were they?

Do check out Marianne of East of Malaga for her One Trip Every Month Challenge.


Posted in Musings, Summer, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 35 Comments

A Moment in Time

“In the end it’s not about how many breaths you took. In the end it’s about the moments that took your breath away.”  ― Volksweisheitheit

Fontana Fog

If I could stop time, it would be for moments and pictures like this. An afternoon fog lies on the lake calling curious young grandsons to check it out. First, there are three quietly walking on to the dock. From a short distance, we adults just watch them as they enter their private world of discovery. What do they see, we wonder, but are content to just observe. Another grandson joins them to see what they are looking at. A turtle? The loch ness monster? The youngest child who has been taking pictures all day, and some good ones, I might add, ignores his buddies and photographs the beauty. As they head back to the car, one grandson remains for one last look while our son walks down to join him.

Fontana Fog Fontana Fog Fontana Fog

Another special moment in time.

Posted in Musings, Summer, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

Beating the Heat

“We grew up around the creek. We wanted to ensure it would be around for years to come for other people to enjoy.”   ~   Margaux Isaksen

One way to beat the heat this summer is to head for the river or creek. A friend of ours we were visiting took us to Deep Creek near Bryson City, NC, in the great Smoky Mountain National Park to just have a look at how popular tubing has become.

This is what we saw regarding this summer ritual.

First, stop at a roadside vendor to rent your tubes or bring them from home.

Tubing Deep Creek

Next, find a place to park and claim your picnic table.

Tubing Deep Creek

You may be content to tube right here or go to the campground on the other side of the river and camp for a week like many do.

Tubing Deep Creek

If you really want to maximize your tube ride, then you must carry your tube up the paved path to one of the bridges. All ages could be seen hefting those huge water lounges for the long hike. The further you walk, the longer the tube ride.

Tubing Deep CreekTubing Deep CreekRemember that small children float faster than adults and if you want to keep up with them, tie them to you.

Tubing Deep Creek

Most importantly, lay back and enjoy the lush mountain scenery.

Tubing Deep Creek Tubing Deep Creek

Be sure to pause in front of the waterfall or take a dip.

Tubing Deep Creek

Finally, lounge in the summer sun on your tube after a long ride down a cold water creek.

Tubing Deep Creek

Summer Fun. Stay Cool!

Posted in Musings, Summer, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 20 Comments

Hunter’s Café

Road trips for us inevitably take us off the beaten path, especially when we ask locals about the best places to eat.

Take Hunter’s Café.

While stopping in a wine and cheese shop in Darien, Georgia, we noticed a lovely oil painting of an old weathered clapboard restaurant. The rendition of the small café showed it on a dirt road, surrounded by huge live oaks and looked too interesting of a place to pass up. Being supper time and hungry, we inquired about its location, if it still existed. The owner of the wine and cheese shop was the talkative, friendly sort who gladly gave us directions.  I loved his southern drawl and charm.

After getting in the car, we repeated the directions to each other but didn’t bother to write them down, confident that we understood them clearly.

The cafe is located off of hwy 17 on Shellman Bluff in Georgia’s coastal low country. Sound’s easy, but it wasn’t. It took us two stops along the way, asking for directions.  Advised with new information and gas, we headed down dirt roads, lined with massive live oaks with their gnarled branches reaching out over the road. Finding the correct dirt road to get to the sound was the tricky part.

“There it is,”  I proclaim. “Just like the painting.”

Hunters Cafe, Darien, Ga- Hunters Cafe, Darien, Ga-

Definitely off the beaten path, the crab stew, sweet potato fries and cold beer was worth it, and so was the front porch view of the marsh adjacent to the Julienton River which meanders towards the Sapelo Sound.

Hunters Cafe, Darien, Ga-

In business since 1967, the waitress couldn’t imagine why we had such a hard time finding this iconic place.

“Why honey, everyone knows how to get here. You just didn’t follow the right person. Next time, look for a truck with fishing poles and follow them here,” she laughed.

If only it were that easy.

Posted in Musings, Recipes ~ Food, Summer, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 43 Comments

See You at Sunset : Mallory Square ~ Key West

“Another day in this carnival of souls. Another night settles in as quickly as it goes. ”  Unknown

To celebrate the close of another day in Paradise, visitors find their way to Mallory Square located on the waterfront in Key West’s historic Old Town, overlooking the tranquil Gulf of Mexico. It is here where jugglers, psychics, musicians, artists, and food vendors gather to entertain and feed the tourists and have some fun. Get here early to feel the carnival like atmosphere and then stand back, ooh and aah as the sun sets.

Dominique and his Flying House Cats put on an entertaining show while  coaxing them through hoops of fire. There have been several “cat men” over the years, but Dominique seems to get the most attention.

Mallory Square, Key West, FL       Mallory Square, Key West, Flo

Part of the sunset ritual is jockeying for position to get the best views while watching the catamarans sail by.

Mallory Square has a long history as being a center of activity in Key West. Once it was the chosen anchorage of pirates, and has also been the center of the wrecking industry and the assembling point of American forces for four wars.

Many noted figures have enjoyed the view of sunset from Mallory Square over the years. Audubon wrote glowingly of the glorious Key West sunsets while visiting in the early 1800’s, and legend has it that Tennessee Williams initiated the ritual of applauding the sunset at Mallory Square, gin and tonic firmly in hand.

As you can see, the island is a mix of creative and eccentric characters with carefree attitudes. It is just the way the natives like it; definitely a laid back kind of life.

Mallory Square, Key West, Flo

Posted in Musings, Summer, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Key West ~ Southernmost Paradise

The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Key West, Florida photo

Joining in on Marianne of East of Malaga’s One Trip Every Month Challenge, come with us as we walk the quiet side streets of Old Key West admiring the “Conch” architecture and the lush tropical vegetation that surrounds each abode. Dating back to the 1900s and earlier,  these homes are a mixture of styles that have several features in common: metal roofing, gable porches with lattice and or gingerbread trim, and perhaps a cupola or turret. Oh, and an abundance of white fences. All in all, it adds to the Caribbean feeling.

The main styles include classic revival with gabled roofs and columned porches. Many are private residences while some have been converted to B & Bs.

Key West, Florida photo

The eyebrow house, a style unique to Key West, includes a roof that overhangs the top-floor windows to keep the sun out.

Key West, Florida photo

There are still some Bahama style homes with wraparound porches and floor-to-ceiling windows to best ventilate its interior.

Key West, Florida photo        Key West, Florida photo

The Queen Anne has a pointed turret.

Key West, Florida photo

Key West, Florida photo         Key West, Florida photo

One of the most common is the shotgun, single-story house also known as cigar maker’s cottages. These are popular and many have been renovated and used for vacation rentals. At one time, owners stuck to a pastel color palette, but some are much bolder, now.

This bungalow is joined to its neighbor giving it a contemporary look. A lovely walkway lies between them. Creative use of stained glass mixed with bright blue shutters has curb appeal.

Key West, Florida photo       Key West, Florida photo

One house has metal black crows attached to its roof.  I wonder how many people have stopped, wondering if they will fly off.

Key West, Florida photo

Weathered houses and worn shop fronts are filled with history and stories of their own.

We noticed how popular gable brackets are which give a plain house some island character of its own. House and shutter colors are pleasing to the eye and harmonize with the tropical foliage.  Carved wooden front doors are unique as well as porch decor and yard art.

Key West doesn’t wake up until noon making walking these side streets easy. The couple we traveled with love architecture and history, so it made for great company as we discovered quaint or funky alley ways and beckoning garden paths all laid out in this island paradise known as the “conch republic.”

Key West, Florida photo

“Houses are like people – some you like and some you don’t like – and once in a while there is one you love.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Emily Climbs

Posted in Musings, Summer, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

Sunrise at the Taj

“The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Taj Mahal photo

It is sunrise at the Taj Mahal.

I stand in wonder and awe.

The scene before me literally takes my breath away even though I know what to expect. I know its history

As visitors from all over the world begin gathering in front of the reflecting pools, taking it all in, there seems to be a collective silence. It is this silence that leaves a tingly feeling running through my veins and reminds me I am actually here. I want to linger.

Taj Mahal photo

Now we are home, sifting through our memories and pictures of our incredible trip to India, and I am relieved that travel experiences haven’t jaded me to where everything is just a check list.

While our pictures of the Taj, one of the best known buildings in the world, document the splendor and glory of another era, the image stirs up feelings and emotions and our capacity to feel. This is what makes travelers human, keeps us appreciative and humble.

Taj Mahal photo

This exquisite marble structure, an iconic example of Mughal architecture, is not a palace, but a mausoleum, an enduring monument to the love of a husband, Shah Jahan, for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal or “Jewel of the Palace.” The poets at Agra’s Mughal court said her beauty was such that the moon hid its face in shame before her.

Mumtaz Mahal’s death, in 1631, following the birth of her 14th child, inspired the legend that she bound Shah Jahan with a deathbed promise to build her the most beautiful tomb ever known. Promise or no, Shah Jahan poured his passion and wealth into the creation of just such a monument. It is said that 20,000 stone carvers, masons, and artists from across India and as far as Turkey and Iraq were employed under a team of architects to build the Taj Mahal in the lush gardens on the banks of Agra’s Jamuna River. They completed the epic task between 1631 and 1648, whereas, the outlying buildings and gardens were finished five years later in 1653 AD.

The English meaning of Taj Mahal is “Crown of the Palace”.

The Taj Mahal’s familiar marble domes feature four minarets, a traditional element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each is designed with a slight outward lean; presumably to protect the main mausoleum in case one of them should collapse.

Taj Mahal photo

The calligraphy of the Taj Mahal mainly consists of the verses and passages from the holy book of Quran. Instead of painted on, it was painstakingly created by inlaying jasper in the white marble panels.

Taj Mahal photo

Most Taj Mahal postcards just focus on the white marble domed mausoleum and fail to include the other magnificent structures sharing the plinth.

Two red sandstone buildings flank the main mausoleum. One, to the west, is a mosque which is open only for Friday prayers while the Taj is closed that day to tourists. This mosque is made of red sand stone and has a similar design to the Jama Masjid in Delhi. Another red sandstone building – a replica of the mosque – was constructed on the east side just to balance the overall symmetry of the architecture. This building houses a guest house and is called the Jawab, meaning ‘response’ since its purpose is to harmonise the scenery.

Taj Mahal photo Taj Mahal photo

The Mughals were at the peak of their power and wealth during Shah Jahan’s reign, and India’s rich lode of precious gems yielded him much wealth and power. He spared no expense in using these gems in the design and building of the mausoleum.

The interior of the Taj is beautiful but unfortunately no photography is allowed. The octagonal marble screen or jali which borders the cenotaphs is made from eight marble panels which have been carved through with intricate pierce work. The remaining surfaces have been inlaid in extremely delicate detail with semi-precious stones forming twining vines, fruits and flowers.

Taj Mahal photo Taj Mahal photo

Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves. Hence, the bodies of Mumtaz and later, Shah Jahan were put in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right and towards Mecca.

Standing on the plinth and looking back toward the public entrance is the Great Gate to the Taj Mahal. Also made of red sandstone, it has a grandeur and beauty of its own.

Taj Mahal photo

Later in the day, we photographed the magnificent Taj from across the Jamuna River.

Taj Mahal photo

And it is from this window in Agra’s Red Fort that Shah Jahan sadly gazed upon that splendid monument for his beloved wife. Ironically, he spent the rest of his days imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb, who seized his father’s throne.

Taj Mahal photo

The complex fell into a state of disrepair by the 19th century, but was eventually restored, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

Proof that we were there. Our 50th wedding anniversary. The best kind of memories.

Taj Mahal photo

“Did you ever build a castle in the Air? Here is one, brought down to earth and fixed for the wonder of ages”. ~ American novelist, Bayard Taylor

Posted in India, Musings, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 51 Comments