Archive for May, 2007

June Plans

Tomorrow the month of June starts and it is going to be a busy one.  I’m already booked up for the first four weekends.  So I present to you, my madhouse month of June.

First Weekend (June 2nd and 3rd) – Charlotte
Sean, the dogs and I are traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina.  On Saturday, we’ll be attending a party at Brian and Jodi’s house to celebrate their daughter’s first birthday.  Sunday while Sean is golfing, I’m going to take the dogs hiking at Crowder’s Mountain State Park.

Second Weekend (June 9th and 10th) – Mount Rogers Backpacking
Bill C and I are planning on backpacking at Mount Rogers.  Last year, we were a week early for the peak blooms on Rhododendron Gap.  So this year, we are going a week later.  A lot of details still need to be hashed out, but if you are interested in joining us, let me know.

Third Weekend (June 16th and 17th) – Relay for Life
Then it is time for the Montgomery County Relay for Life.  I’ll be trying to walk 20 miles during the 16 hour event.  I’m not even half way to my fundraising goal, so if you are feeling charitable or even if you just want a deduction for taxes, please visit my online donation page

Fourth Weekend (June 23rd and 24th) – Family Reunion
This weekend is a family reunion for Sean’s mother’s side of the family.  It is in a convenient location – Roanoke, Virginia.

Phew.  And between all those weekends I have a number of deadlines to hit for work.  June is definitely going to be busy. 

Wish me luck.

May 31, 2007 at 10:50 am 6 comments

Noble Trashmen

My father found a passion early in life– cutting wood.  Being a practical minded boy (also demonstrated by the fact he requested a sledgehammer and chisel for his Christmas present), little Lowell had a fall back plan.  Here’s an excerpt from a family history written by my paternal grandfather, G.I. Sawyer:

By the time he was six [Lowell] … developed an extreme interest in sawing and cutting logs. … As soon as he was able to handle this cutting tool, he spent a great deal of time sawing and splitting logs which he collected in the nearby Rock Creek Park. For his 194[9?] Christmas present, he requested a sledge hammer and chisels, which he later found under the Christmas tree.

A year later, Lowell, who had a difficult time learning Latin as an altar boy, inquired of his parents if he had to study Latin to become a woodsman. When he was told that most trees are identified by Latin names in horticulture, he immediately asked, “Does one have to learn Latin to become a trashman?” Thus, Lowell showed his second aspiration in the event he failed to become a log cutter.

As a teenager, I found my father’s second aspiration as a “trashman” to be downright hilarious and I made no secret of my amusement.  Once, my father defended his dream and told me that the job title in his day meant something different. 

“It was more like a junk collector,” he said which served only to fuel my laughter more.

Despite my father’s best efforts, he failed to convince my young mind that trashman was a noble profession.  And now at 32 years of age, I can see just how admirable it is. 

In 1999, Ken Noguchi climbed Mount Everest and was surprised to find the elusive peak covered with liter.  Since then, he has been organizating clean-up expeditions on Everest.  In 2001, his group brought down 1.6 tons of waste including 84 empty oxygen bottles and 50 tents.  His latest expedition brought down 1,100 pounds of garbage.

Noguchi’s work makes me smile and it makes me realize.  Perhaps my father wasn’t such a silly little boy afterall. 🙂

May 29, 2007 at 10:27 pm 4 comments

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad – Tuckasegee River

Sunday, Sean and I took a trip on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.  They have a number of excusions to choose from.  Sean and I took the Tuckasegee River train which left Dillsboro at 1:00 PM and took us to Bryson City and back. 

The Fugitive Wreckage
One of the interesting sites of the trip is the wreckage from the movie The Fugitive.  For the scene where a train collides with the Department of Correction bus, the film makers arranged an actual train wreck outside of Dillsboro.  To make the train to appear like it derailed but to keep it somewhat controlled, they built a second set of tracks and concealed them in dirt.  The wreckage still remains in place where it ended up.

Remains of the Department of Corrections bus and the “Illinois Southern” train

The trip also took us through a tunnel through over 800 feet of rock that was dug manually with pick axes and shovels.  Throughout the journey, the ride provided us wonderful views of the surrounding area and the nearby river.

Our train and a sample of the scenery

Farmland as seen from the train

Rapids from the train

Bryson City
Our journey did include a layover in Bryson City.  Sean and I enjoyed the toy train display, but other than that, Bryson City didn’t entertain us that much.  We walked around town to explore the eateries and stores.

“It reminds me of West Virginia,” Sean said and in case I couldn’t intepret his meaning he expanded, “And that is not a compliment.”

One of the many model trains in Bryson City

Senior Citizen Center
We did stumble on a pretty cool building.  It turned out to be the Senior Citizen Center.  Later I found a postcard for the town with that building on the front representing the entire town.  In the past when we respected our elders more effectively, it may have been a different story.  But nowadays, it is not often that your best building in town is a Senior Citizen Center.    

The Rooster
Still needing to kill time for our train, we listened to a band play.  They played a Johnny Cash song and then they performed another song that was quite catchy.  Families were eating it up.  Parents were taking pictures and kids were cheering and clapping.  I wonder if they were listening to the words.  The whole song was about a rooster going around a farm and raping everything.  Hornet the duck would approve, but it’s not quite The Wiggles or Barney.  🙂

By the time the rooster rape song was done, it was time to board and head home.  The return trip was even more scenic than before.  We could have used less time in Bryson City, but overall, we had a splendid time and felt the fare was money well-spent.

More pictures from our Great Smoky Mountain Railroad trip are available on my Flickr site.

May 29, 2007 at 12:33 am 4 comments

Biltmore Estates

Saturday afternoon, while the dogs were disturbance-free in the hotel room, Sean and I visited Biltmore Estates.  Biltmore was built in 1895 by the Vanderbilt family and believe it or not, with its mere 250 rooms it still remains America’s largest home. 

Let me put the Biltmore’s scale in a hiking perspective.  Last weekend, I hiked 12.2 miles with great enthusiasm and no physical side effects.  This weekend, I had only walked through only 1/10 of the Biltmore rooms (about halfway through the tour) and my feet already hurt and my interest was wanning.  Of course, that was before I reached the basement and discovered this home also had an indoor pool and a bowling alley.  My interest did perk up again at that point.  Some other impressions from our visit follow.

The Triumph of Charity
This place was extremely extravagant.  Extremely.  Italian leather lined the walls of one room.  Another room featured Napolean’s chess set.  Thousands of expensive first edition books lined the hallways.  One room’s walls were dusted with 14 carat gold.  Room after room after room featured frivilous items.  And then we come into the Tapestry room.  In the Tapestry room hangs three giant, very old (I think 15th century) tapestries.   One depicts the “Triumph of Faith”, another “The Triumph of Prudence” and finally the third one, “The Triumph of Charity.”

The Triumph of Charity?  You’ve got to be kidding me. 

I think the creators of the audio tour (well worth the extra four dollars by the way) may have anticipated my skeptical thoughts.  Two floors later, when we were looking at the servants’ modest quarters a woman curator pointed out that the Vanderbilts gave back to the community and that they (possibly paraphrased) “took every opportunity to share their wealth.”

This home had 31 guest rooms, 43 bathrooms, 125,000 acres of land and held 70,000 gallons of water in their indoor pool.  Yeah, I think they may have missed some of those opportunities to share their wealth.  And with Sean and I having to pay over 90 dollars to get into the estate, it seems to me, there are some modern opportunities available to share the wealth as well.  🙂

The Triumph of Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel
The house may have made me feel awkward, but I fell completely in love with the grounds.  There is a deliberate three mile approach to the house.  You wind through what appears to be a very indigenous area.  Blooming mountain laurels and rhododendrons lined the way. 

“I like that they kept all this instead of bringing other stuff in,” I told Sean.

Blooming Mountain Laurel

Later on the tour I found that vegetation was just as deliberate as everything in the house.  Frederick Law Olmstead planned the landscaping and used area plants so that it would appear natural to future generations.  Kudos to him.  He did his job well.  On a side note, Olmstead has quite an impressive resume of landscaping accomplishments… including New York City’s Central Park.

My Second Favorite Portrait
I don’t think portraits are a favorite medium of mine.  Off the top of my head, I do like that one of JFK reflecting.  My favorite portrait would be one that was done of my mother when she was a high school student.  I’ll always remember Jeremy Turner looking up at the portrait and declaring my mom hot.  Now, I have a second favorite!  Hanging in the Biltmore, a portrait of a man caught my eye.  He was surrounded by mountain laurel and rhododendron.  The fact that he chose to be depicted in that setting capitivated me.  It turns out it is Frederick Law Olmstead– the very man whose landscape work I had been admiring outside! 

My third and second favorite portraits – JFK and Frederick Law Olmstead

The Gardens
After the tour, Sean and I walked through the gardens and took a stroll to the Bass Pond.  Here are some of my favorite shots:

A cool tree helps cover a terrace

Brick bridge over the bass pond

This red holly leaf makes the plant more fitting for Christmas

Canadian Goose looking back at me

I may have balked at the price, but Sean and I had a great time and did end up getting our money’s worth.  More pictures from our Biltmore visit are available on my Flickr site.

May 28, 2007 at 11:36 pm 2 comments

Dogs: Plus 2 States and the Etymology of “Beagle”

It turns out the dogs doubled the number of states they were in this past weekend.  Our route to Asheville took us through Tennesee.  Here are two photos documenting their passage:

Jimmie in Tennesee
Jimmie in Tennesee
Jimmie in North Carolina
Jimmie in North Carolina

As you can see, the different states had a profound effect on Jimmie’s demeanor.

When I checked into the hotel, they had me sign a pet disclaimer.  The very first thing on the list read, “There is a $50 charge if you leave your pet unattended in the room and your pet causes a disturbance to other guests.”

Obscenities raced through my mind.  In horror, I recalled that I have a beagle.  Beagles are synonymous with disturbance!  Skeptical of my claim?  Look no further than the etymology sections of these common dictionaries:

[Origin: 1490–1500; perh. < MF beegueule one who whines insistently, equiv. to bee, 3d pers. sing. of beer to be open, gape (by-form of bayer (see bay2) + gueule mouth (of an animal); see gullet]

-Random House Unabridged Dictionary

[Middle English begle, possibly from Old French bee gueule, loudmouth : beer, to gape (variant of baer; see bay2) + gueule, gullet (from Latin gula).]

– The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

c.1475, possibly from O.Fr. becguelenoisy person,” lit. “gaping throat,” from bayer “open wide” (see bay (2)) + gueule “mouth.”

– Online Etymology Dictionary

Luckily, I happen to have a rare wuss strain of the breed.  Henry is so fearful of new environments that he is literally scared straight.  He doesn’t have accidents in new environments (especially lucky for Kevin Ledman) and it takes him a day or so to feel comfortable enough to resume barking at every suspicious sound.

So…it turned out to be okay.  Timid little Henry watched reruns of Man vs. Wild and The Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel and apparently refrained from any disturbance-making.  Sean and I skated through without any complaints or extra charges. 

This weekend, it seems, Henry did not live up to his breed’s name.

P.S. A couple of years ago, I was so amused by the etymology of “beagle”, I made myself Beagle Etymology T-shirts and stickers thanks to

May 28, 2007 at 9:16 pm 3 comments

Early Morning Send Off

This morning I woke up at 5:30 AM in order to drop Mike E off at a trailhead for the Appalachian Trail. Mike’s starting point was VA-652. Going southbound on the trail from VA-652, you cross a bridge and then take on a small hill. That modest hill provides some splendid views of the surrounding area. It’s an excellent return on investment. Remembering that, I walked with Mike up the first hill. I took some pictures and then we parted ways.

Mike on AT
Mike embarking on his journey. For some reason a hot air balloon is in the sky.

I went back to my car where the only thing I had to think about was dodging cow poo. Mike is going to continue southbound for 140 more miles and has more substantial things to worry about– water, food, shelter and the likes. In my defense, I was wearing sandals, so stepping in cow poo would have been remarkably unpleasant.

Mike will be posting regular updates of his journey from his cell phone to Twitter. Zooomabooma probably wouldn’t approve of this continued destruction of society, but if you have no objections to cell phones you can keep track of Mike’s progress on his Twitter site.

I’ll part with some pictures:

Stile on Appalachian Trail
Stile on the Appalachian Trail at VA-652

Cows and Field
View of Cows and Fields from the Appalachian Trail

Tower of Virginia Creeper
A tower of Virginia Creeper doing what it does what it does best.

Blazed Bridge
Blazed Bridge on the Appalachian Trail

As always, more pictures are available on Flickr.

May 26, 2007 at 9:02 am 3 comments

Walking Tree Wanna-Be

A few weeks ago, Brian Vandervort sent me this picture he took in Costa Rica.  It’s of a “Walking Tree”.  By adding and subtracting roots, this tree actually moves itself to better sunlight and soil!

Walking Tree
Walking Tree in Costa Rica

Last week at Apple Orchard Falls, I saw a tree that looked like it aspired to its Costa Rica relatives.

Weird Tree at Apple Orchard Falls
Walking Tree of Southwest Virginia?

I’m not sure what caused this unique root structure (other trees had their roots firmly underground, so I don’t think it is an erosion issue), but this tree sure looks like it wants to go somewhere.

Additional Links
Thinking Like a Tree article from MIT
Google Answers Thread on Walking Palms

May 25, 2007 at 9:25 pm 3 comments

Home… for about 36 Hours

I’m back in Blacksburg for the moment.  Tomorrow morning, I depart again.  But this time the trip will be different–  Sean and the dogs are traveling with me!  We are going to spend the weekend in Asheville, North Carolina to sightsee. 

I highly expect to love Asheville.  Before he moved to Hawaii, my brother had considered moving to Asheville.  I did a few Google searches at the time and thought it looked pretty darn cool.  Heck, they even have a mushroom hunting club.

We aim to visit the Biltmore Estates tomorrow, take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad on Sunday and take the dogs around Chimney Rock Park on Monday.  It should be a good adventure for all.

This will be Jimmie and Henry’s 3rd state.  They’ve only been in the Virginias (and the District of Columbia if you want to count that).  At the end of our journey, the Herrala Household State Count should look like:

Name # of U.S. States
Vicky 31
Sean 26
Jimmie 3
Henry 3
Stench 1

May 25, 2007 at 7:10 pm 1 comment

Wildwood Park – A Taste of Home

Today my colleagues and I stopped by Wildwood Park in Marshfield, Wisconsin.  We parked and decided to talk a walk on the Ecology Trail.  Right at the trailhead I spied some familiar friends– Trillium and Virginia Creeper.

Trillium and Virginia Creeper
A trillium bloom and Virginia Creeper

Just like our group hike last week in Southwest Virginia, the trillium almost 1000 miles northwest are in full bloom.  That wasn’t the only familiar faces.  I also saw some Mayapple and Wild Geraniums in bloom as well.

Wild Geranium
Wild geranium blooming

Trillium Bloom
Trillium blooming

Forest Floor Full of Blooms
Forest floor full of blooms

Wildwood Park also contains a free zoo of wild animals- elk, deer, buffalo, wolves, turkeys.  Our favorite was a completely white whitetail deer.

A shedding male elk with beautiful antlers

Whitetail Deer
Whitetail deer


White whitetail deer
A completely white deer

More pictures from Wisconsin and Wildwood Park can be found on my Flickr site.

May 24, 2007 at 12:05 am 6 comments

Cell Phone… as Versatile as Duct Tape?

Welp, maybe there is a little thru-hiker innovation in me yet.  Today during the second time we waited at Detroit Airport (some pipes on the original plane burst so we had to get off and be shuffled to another plane), Larry and I opened up a bag of trail mix which we did not finish.  I needed a means to seal the bag.  Usually this task is reserved for the hairband or scrunchie I keep around my right wrist.  But on this particular day, that hairband was already fulfilling a duty– keeping my impromptu french braid tethered.  So like the thru-hikers, I had to improvise.  My cell phone became one of the more expensive bag clips out there:

Expensive Bag Clip - An LG EnV 
An Expensive Bag Clip — an LG EnV

It actually worked quite well.  Not a single nut, raisen, date or yogurt piece escaped.  This is not an unique occurence.  My cell phone has risen on many occassions to fill a variety of needs: 

  1. Phone (Duh)
  2. Email
  3. Instant Messenger
  4. Camera (All the pictures I took at Vail were from my phone)
  5. Flashlight (Used it numerous times to navigate my dark garage)
  6. Alarm Clock (our actual clock radio hasn’t even been set for years now)
  7. Key Finder (I occassionally attach my keys to the clip.  If I lose my keys, I just call my phone)
  8. PostIt Note (I send text messages to myself with reminders)
  9. Mirror 
  10. And now….. Bag Clip

I haven’t even tapped into features like MP3 player or videos!  The cell phone has proven to be quite versatile, but it probably would not be an effective blaze on the Appalachian Trail or any good at blister prevention or mending tents.  Then again, I’d like to see duct tape communicate between me and my husband while we are hundreds of miles apart.  Shall we call it a draw?

May 22, 2007 at 12:02 am 11 comments

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