Sunday, March 30, 2008

Yeah, So Eight Miles Is A Long Fucking Way

This week's hike was an out-and-back at Long Hunter State Park, the Bryant Grove Trail, on the edge of Percy Priest Lake. The problem with out-and-back hikes is you see the same boring stuff on the way back that you saw on the way there. Caterpillars! Trillium! Cedar trees! More cedar trees! Then you see it all backwards. BORING! But! This was actually a pretty surprising hike. I had verrrry low expectations, but it turned out to be pretty fantastic, scenery-wise. Most of the hike was along the lakeshore - this is a lake that's famous for turning up dead bodies, but Chicago Meg and I were disappointed that we didn't see one bobbing facedown in the water. We had her dog with us, despite the big NO PETS sign (our cover story was going to be that Chicago Meg had just recently been blinded and that Cooper was her guide dog trainee and then she was supposed to bump into a tree) but we never got snagged.

Long Hunter is mostly made up of a series of cedar forests interspersed with some more open, glade-like areas. It's very unusual - one minute it feels like Wisconsin (so says Chicago Meg and she would know, so no posting about how that's wrong) and then the next minute it feels like the thickets of East Texas. It's really odd. There was almost no one on the trail ... which is good because I'm not sure how good of an actress Chicago Meg is and she might have blown the blind-act we had worked up.

We did have one lingering question. We saw a flock of, uhhh, something skittering across a field. They were shaped like pheasants but they were big like turkeys. What are those? Seriously, they were like waist-high. (That's not what's in the pic below - I know that's a heron). We saw another one of the mystery birds in the woods (and it could run fast), along with a fox. I'd never seen a fox in person before so that was exciting.

This particular trail was marked in half-mile increments and we're a little suspicious - they seemed like some AWFULLY long half-miles. Eight miles might be my limit at this point in my life because I was some serious-assed tired. We determined that the one thing missing from nature was a Coke machine. I'm not sure I'll do this actual trail again, but I'll definitely visit Long Hunter again when the seasons change. It was a surprise.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Easter Parade and Also Two Lady Hikers

So Saturday I went out to Farmer Jason's for a big old-fashioned egg hunt. This is like the seventh or eighth time they've done it and it's gradually turned into my favorite party of they year, mainly because we're allowed to drink wine at eleven in the morning. Farmer Jason and his wife Suzy live on a big beautiful farm in Bon Aqua, Tennessee and it's always a beautiful day when they have this party - I don't know how they do it. Lots of musicians show up with their children and that's always fun to see - musicians not focused on THEMSELVES non-stop. Victor Wooten of the Wooten Brothers was there. Usually I play the Easter Bunny but I couldn't get the suit this year, so I just hopped around in my regular clothes, puzzling children far and wide. The usual: hide the eggs while you suppress the children inside - it's always fun to go and listen to how LOUD forty children can be. The exact decibel level is, well, I don't really know but LOUD.

The hunt went off without a hitch and I spent some time taking photographs of Suzy's garden tableaux; she has a knack for the nutty. An owl in a picket fence. A disco ball in a tree. A rusting doll house among the daffodils. Fetuses in a jar. She's the Howard Finster of Bon Aqua! Only not crazy and not dead. Side note: Howard Finster was the officiating minister at Suzy & Farmer Jason's wedding and it was FULL. BLOWN. CRAAAAAZY.

On Sunday, I went on a 6.4 mile hike, again to Beaman Park, with Chicago Meg, Sister Meg and Regular Carol and a dog named Cooper. Two things: 6.4 miles isn't as far as it sounds and cigarette smokers walk the fastest. I saw Sister Meg at the beginning of the hike and then again at the end. She was too far ahead the rest of the time. We all had a grand time talking about our total amount of weight loss - 80 pounds among us all! - and Carol regaled us with stories about her mother who wants some goddamned bread and butter on the table whether she's going to eat it or not. And also about our friend Mary Beth, who is famous for saying things like "isn't it WEIRD how AIR is CLEAR? I mean if it wasn't we couldn't SEE each other." or "I wonder if when you get to be a GHOST you get to choose where you hang out or if they SEND you somewhere. I wanna be a ghost." So there was a whole bunch of talking about crazy people on Easter Sunday in Beaman Park.

After the hike we were "cooling down" (that's hiker talk!) before we got into the car and uh-oh, here comes my worst nightmare! Other hikers! With GEAR! And poles! Multiple poles! And dumb jackets with zippers and oh, all the shit that makes me crazy. I was rolling my eyes a little because we had just done the whole damned hiking trail system and Sister Meg practically did it in Hello Kitty flip-flops and here were these jackasses looking like they were thinking about tackling Everest before breaking for lunch back at the Chick-fil-A. So then they piped up: "Are you here for the hiking meet-up" and we all said no and then they said that they were part of which seems to be a Scientology-like cult based on the zeal and enthusiasm with which two of the ladies tried to recruit me. They focused on me pretty much and I admit I probably did encourage them when I asked for a newsletter - WHICH THEY JUST HAPPENED TO HAVE! - but then the did that thing that almost every single other hiker - especially the gear nerd ones - does: they got competitive. "What hikes have you gone on?" Um, some. "How long did you hike?" A while. "Where are you hiking next?" Um, over there. I don't know why they all do it but they do. Then they tried to encourage me to rush right home and sign up because then I could be INVOLVED in putting the next NEWSLETTER together! Hahahahah. The Two Megs and the One Carol loved that - I thought they were actually going to WARN the hiker ladies that they better be careful about what they wish for, that if I got involved, I'd not only redesign the newsletter to MY liking but I'd have those two excommunicated from the club! Which was totally probably true. I do tend to lean to the bossy side.

The whole encounter reaffirmed and confirmed my deep belief that you should NEVER join a club of like-minded people. Eighty percent of them will be pushy and have hundred dollar hiking poles.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Office Space

So! My company (er, we haven't updated in a while. Or maybe ever.) is moving. We're going from a fourth-floor corporate-y environment to a really raw space in an up-and-coming neighborhood just south of downtown (but still walkable). We're sharing a building with Crema, the new high-end fancy coffee spot...that's Loretta parked right out front! The Crema people are really cool, in that coffee shop way that I always like. Rave review for Crema.

Here are a few of the "before" pictures. The windows are currently papered, but the room will be filled with natural light. The walls will all be white, with the one long window-less one painted traffic-cone orange. Leaning on that orange wall will be big 4x8 panels of chalkboard. Also included is a picture of the giant bridge visible from our front window. Most of the work we have to have done is going to be bartered, so that's a relief. I certanly don't look forward to the painting part, though.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The dog has questions!

1. Why are you about to make me wear a sweater that has the words "Cookie Monster" on it?

2. Are those cookies? May I have one?

3. Why are you looking at me and laughing? I am not the one about to put a sweater on a dog.

4. Are those cookies? May I have one?

5. Why do I have to go to the bathroom outside? YOU don't.

6. How can you resist me?

7. Are you ever going to mop this floor?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Beaman Park x 2

Saturday I dodged the rain and went to Beaman Park in between cloudbursts. It's seriously beautiful up there in the northwest corner of Davidson County, and it's particularly weird to think of it as still being Metro Nashville, which it is. You get the bad with the good: right outside the park entrance there's a trailer on cinder blocks in the creek bottom with (I'm not exaggerating) ten pit bulls, each permanently chained to a different doghouse, each placed just far enough from the other ones that they can't interact. They just sit there like fearsome quiet sentries, guarding their little shingled homemade huts.

The morning rain had Henry Creek running fairly high and all the side streams cascaded prettily into it, making me need to pee about every seven steps. I was breaking in new hiking boots and also testing out my new hiking stick-a-ma-bob. Spring hasn't quite sprung yet - I did see some reindeer moss and there were some Christmas ferns that did a good job holding over the winter, but not much else was budding up, even the trees. Whereas the trees in my yard are covered with buds. These redneck trees know something is up! They're staying clammed up. My hiking stick has a compass on it and I was very surprsed to see that nine times out of ten in these particular woods, moss did only grow on the north sides of the trees. So that was one thing I thought was an old wives' tale that wasn't. And really: don't leave any comments about how you know otherwise. I don't really care and I will delete them. Let's face it: if I wanted to read other peoples' opinions about this particular issue, I would read their blogs about moss!

It was a 2.1 mile hike - the Henry Hollow loop - and not hard at all, even though there is some significant vertical terrain. I admit that before, I could never really figure out why they called a hollow a hollow, but it's plain as day to me now. You really do see it when you're there - a steep hillside with a wide swooping curve, as if it had been hollowed out with trowel. I didn't see other people at all, which was fine because once again, alone in the woods, I had that "this would be a good place for a murder" feeling.

The next day, Sunday - THE LORD'S DAY - I went again to do the same hike with my hiking friend Carol, who also just helped Sister Meg and me refinance our house so she is directly responsible for my giant bathtub full of twenty-dollar bills. We are trying to hike every week and when Chicago Meg gets back from Gulf Shores, I think we're going to enlist her as well in what I am now calling the Saturday Morning Hiking, Bowling, Brunching and Cribbage Club. We will do ONE of those things every Saturday morning. But! That's putting the cart before the horse! And no you can't be in the club! It's by invitation only. ANYWAY! Carol was as taken with Beaman Park as I am. Next week, we're going to go do the same hike again, with another loop added on for a total of 6 miles. I think it might be cool to do this hike every week because we can monitor spring. There's supposed to be a goodly number of yellow lady's slipper out there and that I would like to see.

After our hike/gossip, we went to the new Red Robin, even though I am pretty anti-chain restaurant but I really wanted a hamburger, where I had a pot roast sandwich, which is not a hamburger at all, I KNOW, but at least I didn't have a chicken sandwich like Carol did, which I am convinced she only ordered because there was a picture of it on the menu and that way she didn't have to read all the other five-thousand descriptions of items they had. In addition to the pot roast sandwich experience, a large red plastic chicken menaced me from across the room - just look! HIS EYES ARE STARING RIGHT AT ME!. Though Carol pointed out sometime later that it was probably not a chicken at all but instead a red robin since we were at, you know, RED ROBIN and suddenly that made a lot more sense. Though in a way no sense at all; there's still no explanation about why this giant red robin was threatening me, though I admit robins seem less instantly terrifying than chickens do. Then we went to World Market (my third time in four days!) because she hadn't been there yet and then wa-la, that was the end of this meeting of the Saturday Morning Hiking, Bowling, Brunching and Cribbage Club. Except this time it met on a Sunday. Hmmm. I think I have some things to work out about this club still.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

No Business Like Snow Business

For the first time since 2003, Nashville had more than an inch of snow on the ground last Saturday....for about ten minutes. Less than 24 hours after this pic was taken, everything was grassy green and pretty again and I was on a 3-mile hike in Percy Warner Park. Hey, did you know that when SNOW mets, it turns into WATER? And that makes TRAILS MUDDY. I dragged my friend Carol along and about halfway through I think she wanted to kill me, especially when I told her she couldn't get in my car with those muddy feet. Percy Warner is a pretty park, but I can never quite shake the feeling that I might run across a dead body at any given moment. It feels so remote to not really be remote. You know?

Anyway, it's supposed to be 72 tomorrow, so I am going to take the morning off (MARGIE! DON'T TELL DAVE!) and take a hike in Beaman Park, yet another almost wilderness in Nashville. It's only been open to the public for a year or so, after being a private hunting reserve and then ten years of restoring it and making it accessible to the public. So if I never blog again, it's because a wildcat ate me.

Friday, March 7, 2008

With a Banjo On My Knee

The last two days of the Alabama vacation were as great as the first two. I spent a couple of more hours on Wednesday on the Pine Beach Trail, yet another part of the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge. This was a four-mile out and back and it went through a lot of different kinds of landscape. Maritime forest, scrubby something or other, a lagoon sort of thing and then some dunes...until ta-da, the gulf. It was a good hike but I got a little bit sunburned.

Later in the day, Chicago Meg and I tried to go get pizza but since everything in Gulf Shores closes at like 1pm in the low season, we were foiled at every turn. So we had tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for the Project Runway finale. We were definitely both Team Christian and we are both completely stymied by Jillian's apparent non-Jewishness.

Thursday I packed up the car and then I took Madeline out on the beach and she did her usual thing when I let her off the leash where she sort of runs around deaf and nuts and the fuh-reaks out when she can't find me. Then we piled into Loretta and took the Ft. Morgan ferry across the mouth of Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island. Now don't try and get all fancy and pronounce Dauphin in the French manner; pronounce it in the bottle-nosed manner, like "dolphin" without the L. Anyway, this bay is where David Farragut (another famous D.G., by the way, as his middle name was Glasgow) yiyapped about not firing until you see the whites of their eyes. Which I could totally see, as Madeline's eyes nearly popped out of her head when the ferry engine started. She calmed down eventually but one thing I noticed was that of the 18 cars on the ferry, at least eight of them had dogs. That seemed high. Anyway, you could see lots of oil platforms from the ferry, both in the bay and in the Gulf. I wonder if you can visit them? Or is it all super-secret?
So anyway, I hopped onto I-65 and made my way to Splinter Hill Bog Preserve, which is another area heavy on pitcher plants. None were in bloom but you could see all the dried up ones and that must be something else in the summertime. It was one of those trails where they post little informational things along the way and on one of them it said something like "there are eight million venomous snakes in this one square acre" which frankly is something they should say at the BEGINNING of the trail if you ask me, BUT THEY DIDN'T ASK ME so then Madeline and I turned around to get the hell out of there and that's when we saw another little sign that said WATCH OUT FOR ALABAMA BLACK BEARS and suddenly this Splinter Hill Bog trail was PISSING ME OFF. Then I remembered Chicago Meg telling me a story about how when she was in the Peace Corps (Togo!) one of the things they taught her was how to kill a snake with a rock. She said if you see a snake in Africa, don't bother with your ethics; just kill the damned thing. With a rock. So I picked up a rock for protection. I figured the mechanics of it were pretty straightforward. She didn't give me any advice on taking out a bear; I guess they didn't teach her that in Togo.

We walked back to the car and began the long drive up 65. It was almost eighty degrees when I left Snake Bog. It was thirty in Nashville when I got out of the car and we are expecting four inches of snow tonight. Sigh. Chicago Meg says she's gonna do the Gulf Shores thing again next year and I can't wait to go.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Crazy in Alabama

Oh, Alabama! You crazy barefoot inbred mistress of my heart! From the depths of my Croc-flopped soul I look at thee! My BFF Chicago Meg is on her 2nd Annual Escape From Winter working vacation in Gulf Shores for a few weeks and I took it upon myself to skeedaddle eight hours down I-65 and visit her and avail myself of a free place to stay at the beach for a few days. So far it's been insanely beautiful: near 70 every day and sunny, except for a dramatic thunderstorm last night. BUT ANYWAY! Enough about the weather. Do I LOOK like WILLARD SCOTT? But a happy Smuckers birthday to my centenarian readers nonetheless.

I loaded up Madeline and drove down on Sunday, with brief stops in both the cosmopolis of Elkton, TN (where Madeline was menaced by a giant thirty-foot-tall knife-wielding, chef-hat-wearing chicken. What is a chicken that tall looking for to eat? And also? Chickens do NOT HAVE opposable thumbs! How do they hold a knife or fork? It was a very confusing stop and I haven't even gotten to the part about the joint next door, The Boobie Bungalow. I have no idea what they do there. Perhaps it is a wildlife group dedicated to the preservation of a certain species?) and also Greeneville, AL, where absolutely nothing of interest has ever happened, other than me driving through. Oh, maybe a tornado or a civil rights march or WHATEVER but other than that, NOTHING. Especially if you judge it by the gift shops. NOTHING. So then I got off 65 and made a beeline to the Coleman Camping Factory Outlet, where I picked up two hiking poles (because that's what makes me a SERIOUS HIKER. How much shit I carry when I do it) and a red steel-belted camping cooler. I'm stopping there again on my way back. Then I got to Gulf Shores, hung a right and drove all the way out the Ft. Morgan Peninsula, as far as I could go without falling into the Gulf of Mexico. The name of the house is Dolphy Dunes. I have no idea what a Dolphy is.

Monday was mostly a little bit of beach-walking and a trip back into Gulf Shores to eat a plate of oysters at a pizzareia/oysterbar. Good, not great. I'm still sort of craving a spectacular plate of them.

But TODAY! Oh, TODAY! Fantastic. We got up early and drove back a few miles to meet our tour guide for a nature walk in the Bon Secour WIldlife Refuge. Her name was Jan and she was a lovely older lady with a Wisconsin accent. She pointed out reindeer moss and dewberry and dollar weed and several hollies and someotherthingamajigs and I couldn't hold it all in but she was very knowledgable but she didn't like it when BFF Chicago Meg said something about a muscadine grape leaf that seemed different than the other grape leaves she had pointed out. Jan turned on her heel and stomped off into the alligator/armadillo/cottonmouth-infested maritime forest. I laughed at that, "maritime forest." It sounded so fancy! It just means "woods by the beach." But it was super-pretty.

Then we had breakfast at a weird place that had 9/11 newspaper clippings all over the place ("I'll have two ham biscuits with a side of tragedy! And a small orange juice!") and then we delivered our friend Jenna to the Pensacola airport - after I spent sixty-two dollars on inexplicable things at Souvenir City and the Purple Octopus. Don't ask. But if you need a sand dollar that has been airbrushed with the phrase "Liquor Up Front; Poker In The Rear," please call me. I have a surprise for you!

Anyway. On the way to the airport we saw a drive-in liquor store and I was very excited about that. Liquor! Now with Manatee!

Then, on the way home from the airport, we stopped at Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park, on the Florida side of the state line. It's pretty simple and small as state parks go, but there's a spectacular boardwalk that hovers above (in summer) vast expanses of wild-growing pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants. It was pretty great and I can't wait to revisit it in high pitcher plant season. This last picture really does capture the essence of the place, and also of the day as a whole, from a morning maritime forest, to a late afternoon bayou. All perfection.