How lovely and weird, I thought, for the National Park Service to plant tasteful groupings of rhododendron along the hiking trails of North Carolina. Aren’t there already enough plants in the G.D. forest? Turns out these showy blooms grow wild in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thank you, Creator man or lady.
But if you’re a park service employee in need of a swift right jab to the throat, do this: Ask me if I have a senior discount card for my camping fee. They did it to me every time. No, I’m not old enough for your ‘golden years penny saver plan’. And thank you for guessing my age wrong by four years in the wrong direction.
Then I took this picture.
And before I forget, God Bless public radio. WNCW in Asheville has a signal that never quits and provided the most awesome folk, rock, blues, Americana sound track to my Blue Ridge Mountain trip ever.
Next stop: Tennessee.
Legend has it an Indian brave despondent over a young maiden threw himself off this craggy ledge only to be blown back to safety by a strong updraft of wind. True or not, it’s a terrific vantage point from which to view the Blue Ridge Mountains. And nothing makes you feel more alive than rock climbing in flip flops!
Finnegan meanwhile has been a real champ. Keeping an eye on me, but obviously delirious over exotic odors of bear poop and marmot vomit (which oddly smells of pesto). He got a little spooked by the cooler in his cargo space. It rolled into him a couple times before I tied it down. But now we’ve achieved a nice configuration for him… what you might call good Finn Shue.
Maybe I was being hasty, but I thought spreading out the wee bag of kindling I purchased at the camp store over some crumpled up notebook paper would be sufficient to ignite a cheery blaze at campsite #26 on Mount Pisgah along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Humidity, it turns out is a bitch. So is incompetence in fire starting. After 20 minutes of cursing and coaxing, I managed only to singe my corneas and inhale a carton of Camel non filters worth of smoke.
Lacking a Vietnam era flamethrower, I resorted to placing three sticks of crooked firewood directly onto the burner of my Coleman gas grill. After thirty seconds, I used salad tongs to lift the fiery swastika into the fire pit. Then I sat basking in the glow, marveling at all the time I saved not earning an Eagle Scout badge.
This segment of my ‘sabbeardical’ is an effort to seek beauty and clarity in nature accompanied by a 100 pound freak of nature- Finnegan the Doberman. As a kid, Jack London’s Call of the Wild and Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley were among my favorite books. Both involved fearless men who shared their adventures with a canine companion. But unlike Jack London’s weather hardened St. Bernard mix, Buck- Finnegan will be spending the night outdoors for the first time in his 5 years with me. He is more likely to hear a “Call of the Couch”.
So off we venture for two weeks in the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama. In a world of tricked out campers and Ford F-150 trucks, Finn and I will tour these red states in a white Prius.. God help us.
Next: To build a fire!
When people cite Northern Europe’s high standard of living, low poverty rate and high taxes that pay for excellent health care, education and transportation, it’s often dismissed as something the U.S. could never do. We’re too large, diverse and conservative they say to go with single payer health care or legal prostitution. There’s some truth to that, but Holland is an extremely diverse (and capitalistic) country that is closing prisons at a record clip and solving other very thorny social issues.
The Netherlands is famous for it’s “coffee” shops and red light districts, but it’s a mistake to assume these exist because of some deeply entrenched liberalism. One Dutchman told me the approach they take to these issues is threefold: Does it make money? Does it hurt anyone? Can it be done discreetly? And indeed their policies on drugs and prostitution generate lots of tax and tourist dollars while mitigating the harm to drug users, prostitutes and the public when it comes to vices that no society has ever managed to eradicate. Ever.
Besides that, the place is a joy to visit. The ubiquitous bike lanes along impossibly picturesque canals are in almost every city.. not just Amsterdam. The usual European magnificence of architecture and history are there in abundance and food and art and beer and ethnic food yada yada yada. And the ability to walk into a store and buy a joint doesn’t seem to have unraveled their society as some claim it would do here.
The Netherlands ain’t perfect. It’s below sea level in a world of rising seas for one thing. But in typical Dutch fashion, they’ve brought energy and ingenuity to the task of reclaiming and holding dry land. In fact, Dutch engineers are involved in flood control efforts in New York and Louisiana because of their expertise. Let’s see some pictures, eh?
Everything except Cigar City Maduro Brown
Thousands of bikes are dredged from the canals every year. Victims of petty vandalism.
The water looks funky, but it’s actually clean enough to swim in safely.
My favorite photo of the trip.
Canals tour with Peter, born and raised in Amsterdam.
More bikes. A lot more.