Sunday, May 21, 2023

Lighthouse Birthday

 On Thursday we had a very special celebration on Ocracoke: our lighthouse was 200 years old! Built in 1823 and in continuous operation since that time, the Ocracoke light is the second oldest in the United States still in operation.

At only 65 feet, our lighthouse is not at all the tallest even in North Carolina, but, its non-rotating light is visible for fourteen miles out into the Atlantic, and, more important, through Ocracoke inlet and into the Pamlico Sound.

When built, as many as 1,400 ships each year passed through Ocracoke Inlet.  This was the only way to get to mainland North Carolina beyond the barrier islands of the Outer Banks.  With its beam magnified by a fourth order Fresnel lens, it takes only a finger-sized tiny bulb to be visible for safe navigation.

Several hundred people gathered at the lighthouse while we had speakers from the National Park Service, the Coast Guard, and the community in celebration of this birthday event. The Coast Guard presented colors to kick off the event.

At the end of the ceremony a bell was rung by John Simpson while the names of all the light keepers was ready by Trudy Austin.  The two of them each had grandparents who were lighthouse keepers.

You cannot climb up to the top of our lighthouse, but you can look inside at the circular stairway.  At the top there is a final ladder to reach the light chamber.  In the coming year, there will be a major job of restoration done in the lighthouse and the keepers’ house will be raised for future safety.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

At The Swag

 While we are here at The Swag, in addition to telling stories in the afternoons, Trish and I lead nature and history walks where I used to hike as a child in the National Park. The scenery is as spectacular as ever!

One of our walks takes people up toward Hemphill Ball.  The clear Bald is a great lookout over half of Haywood County. The way up and back is just coming to green life with emerging springtime.

Among the wildflowers in full bloom are masses of thyme-leafed bluets.  Below their delicate and brilliant blooms, the eponymous foliage strongly resembles thyme leaves.

There is also fungus galore.  When we first spotted this one from a distance, it looked like some kind of giant hovering moth.  Close up it is still beautiful.  We love being here as every square foot is filled with fascination and beauty.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Back to North Carolina

 Since we decided to stop and ride the train in Durango, Trish and I only had two days to drive back to North Carolina where we were due to be at The Swag, The Great Country Inn of the Smokies, for the week.

Our driving plan, when we need to get from one place to another, is to drive only in the daylight and then not more than ten hours a day. This usually means from about seven to five.  We share driving about equally; I usually drive in the morning and Trish drives in the afternoon.  This way we arrive at our destination in time for an early supper and reasonable bedtime.

On Sunday we drove 753 miles from Durango to Oklahoma City.  We love to eat at the Magnolia Steak House in downtown Oklahoma City, so, we stay next door at the Colcord Hotel. On Monday we drove 757 miles from Oklahoma City to Cookeville, Tennessee.  This left us only three hours from The Swag where we were not due until mid-afternoon.

The Swag is a beautiful Country Inn just outside my home town of WAYNESVILLE.  They have a total of  twenty guest rooms in lovely log settings. Each week The Swag has an Expert in Residence for the pleasure of the guests. I have been coming here for eighteen years to tell stories and lead walks. It is right on the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the area where I camped and hiked as a child.

At this time of year, at 5,000 feet of elevation, the spring flowers are just coming out.

Lots of trillium is in bloom as well as violets and wood anemone.  As the week goes on we will discover more and more beauty as we walk in the woods.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023


 The destination of our train ride from Durango was the old mining town of Silverton, Colorado. This is a beautiful old town with only one paved street where we had a couple of hours for lunch and exploration.

There was still a good bit of snow up here and there was a lot of snow that had been blown off the tracks in order to get us up through  the canyon. We ate lunch at the Lacey Rose Cafe, where Lacey Black, the owner, plays Ragtime piano during mealtimes.

On our way back to Durango we could see old mine remnants from the silver mining days. Our train, in this first day of the season, was fifteen cars long and we were nearly the last car, so, we could see the rest on the train on all of the curves.

The entire trip is a great treat, if you like to ride trains.  In you are in southwest Colorado, give it a day!

Sunday, May 7, 2023


 When we finished the Utah workshop week, Trish and I drove southeast to Durango, Colorado. This is a favorite place of ours.  

We spent the night at the old Strater Hotel so we could, the following day, ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

This wonderfully restored steam train travels about 46 miles from Durango to Silverton, Colorado in three and a half hours. We then get a couple of hours in Silverton for lunch and exploration before making the journey back down the Animas Canyon Gorge to Durango.

The ride is spectacular as the train sometimes is confined to a four-foot-wide rock shelf high above the river.  This is the second time Trish and I have made this trip, and, we will not hesitate to do it again.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Inside Tulips!

 We visited the Thanksgiving Point Tulip Festival on four occasions after our workshop days this week.  As the week passed, more and more of the 750,000 bulbs came into full bloom.

What we began to study, that I had never noticed before, was the beautiful artistry of nature to be found INSIDE the blooms of each tulip.

Not only the interior color variety, but the beautiful shapes of pistils and stamens made each kind of bloom was unique and spectacular.

We saw some tiny insects secretly working away at the pollen in some of these blossoms.  What is it that attracts different one of them to different blossoms?  One of the other great mysteries of nature.

When we started looking at the tulip blooms in this way, it multiplied both the time we were spending and the joy with which we admired them.  No two were alike.  We compared and smelled and were happy that our time here coincided with the Festival.

Thursday, May 4, 2023


 One evening while we have been here, Trish and I drove up to Sundance for dinner.  It is only about a fifteen minute drive from where we are staying while working here. After severe draught for several years here, this past winter saw nearly 700 inches of snow. Each day we have watched the snow melt from the mountains but had not had a close-up view until we went here.

When we got to the restaurant at Sundance, we could not see the building from the parking lot.  The accumulated snow almost touched the roof all round the place.  

This is even after so much snow melt that the ground in places is exposed where the sun hits all day.  We wondered what it must have been like in the true depths of winter.

The ski slopes are still white, but with these 70 to 80 degree days, it is melting too fast for skiing.  What we are seeing is lots of flooding down below in the agricultural valleys as the rivers and streams cannot keep up with this much new water.  The Deer Creek Reservoir, near our house, is full,  whereas it has for several years been way below normal.

It is amazing to see nature at work close-up.

Lighthouse Birthday

 On Thursday we had a very special celebration on Ocracoke: our lighthouse was 200 years old! Built in 1823 and in continuous operation sinc...