Archive for April, 2008

Season Compare: McAfee’s Knob

McAfee’s Knob was featured in my very first Season Compare post, so I wasn’t planning on doing another when I hiked there Sunday. But half way through the hike, PassionPhish said (paraphrased), “Do you know what my favorite part of your blog is? Those before and after shots you do.”

That inspired me enough to look through my March 2003 trip and I did find some similar shots. Here is McAfee’s Knob over 5 years apart:

McAfee’s Knob – March 22, 2003

McAfee’s Knob – April 27, 2008

This next set is a little weak, but I like looking at the trees in the bottom right corner:

McAfee’s Knob – March 22, 2003

McAfee’s Knob – April 27, 2008

With this next set, the tree underneath the famous ledge is visibly taller. I also like how the puddle is still around:

McAfee’s Knob – March 22, 2008

McAfee’s Knob – April 27, 2008

This side of the mountain looks just as bare on April 27, 2008 as it did on March 22, 2003:

McAfee’s Knob – March 22, 2003

McAfee’s Knob – April 27, 2008

More pictures of McAfee’s Knob in 2003 and McAfee’s Knob in 2008 can by found on my Flickr site.

April 30, 2008 at 1:19 am 1 comment

Open Source Wedding Photography

Two weekends ago was the big day from my friend Deanna and I. Armed with over 6 gigs worth of memory cards and two cameras, we took photos for Larry’s youngest daughter’s wedding.

As with any wedding, there were last minute unexpectancies. The mother of the bride was hemming bridesmaid dresses in the morning. The groomsmen forgot to put on their boutonnières for the ceremony. One groomsman only showed up minutes before the wedding and right as the procession began– it rained! But guess what, future brides, none of it mattered!  Even the rain! Guests brought umbrellas and the bride’s father held an umbrella over the couple. The rain, I think, added to the character of to ceremony. That’s one less thing you have to worry about when your big day arrives.

Rain is not the end of the world.

The father of the bride holds an umbrella over the couple

As for the photos… late in the evening, after the reception had ended, I was looking at the pictures on a laptop when suddenly warm lips pressed hard against my cheek. I had NO idea who it was. My skin was woefully unequipped to determine whether these were male lips or female lips kissing me. I looked up and it was the bride.

“Thank you!!!” she said.

I guess if you are getting kissed by the bride, that’s a good sign. I think it helped that this time, I actually got photos of the bride and groom.

The bride is about to kiss the groom just hours before she kissed me.

This was Deanna’s and my first run at this kind of task. I’m “open sourcing” our approach. For better or for worse, here’s what we did:

Splitting the Shots
A couple weeks ahead of time we reviewed and split up the suggestions in “Photography: 85 Great Photo Suggestions” from For example, prior to the wedding, Deanna captured the groom and his buddies getting ready, while I got to hang with the bride and her bridemaids. After the ceremony, while Deanna did an amazing job getting the formal family shots, I handled the cocktail hour at the reception.

Hubba hubba. Deanna got to capture groomsmen undressing!

Meanwhile, I shot the riveting adventures of hair curling. 🙂

Embracing Diversity
Deanna and I took a lot of photos. A lot. Well over a thousand.  Still, at the end of the evening, we noted other people armed with digital cameras as well. So we went around and borrowed their memory cards and using a multi-card reader, downloaded them all to a laptop. This added additional perspectives to our collection and frankly, gave us some good shots. This effort was such a success, that I wonder if people really need an official “Wedding Photographer” anymore. Maybe position of the future is a “Wedding Photo Coordinator”– someone to get the data from all the memory cards and consolidate them and organize them.

This shot came from a guest

Usage of Flickr
Speaking of consolidation, Deanna and I decided to use Flickr as the storage point for all the photos. We liked the idea that Flickr would give the guests easy access to the photos (a URL was handed out at the reception) and if they were inclined, they could make comments, notes and download the full size version for their own use.

At first, we thought we would manage it all through a Flickr group. But then we went ahead and bought a Flickr Pro account dedicated for the wedding. Having a dedicated account meant that Deanna and I would not have our own Flickr photostreams overrun with wedding photos. This is important because I like to overrun my Flickr account with dog hiking photos instead. 🙂 But more importantly, the dedicated account gave us the ability to create Sets. The Flickr group just had one big photostream. At $24.95, a Flickr Pro account is an easy addition to any wedding budget.

We are still parsing through and uploading pictures, but we do have our organization system in place. For each major event of the wedding (like “Ceremony”, “First Dance”, “Cutting the Cake”) we made two Sets. One set contained what we deemed to be the best shots. Since you never know what small detail may be of interest to someone (especially the miscellaneous dancing and reception shots)– we created a “Repeats/Outtakes” set for the activity as well. Guests and family who just need an overview can peruse the “real” set. Meanwhile, people like the bride and groom who have a little more interest can access every shot that was taken. Since the happy couple was given the login to the Flickr Pro account, they have the ability to “promote” a shot from the “Repeats/Outtakes” set to the real one and vice versa.

Screenshot of Flickr Sets

A Lesson from the Movie Ronin
In 1998, the movie Ronin was released and ten years later, people still rave about the car chases in that film. But, I barely remember those scenes. There is only one scene that has stood the test of time in my memory– The Coffee Ambush. In that scene, Sean Bean‘s character suggests that the team place gunmen on either side of a street to ambush a car as it passes by. Robert De Niro‘s character ever so delicately points out the flaw in that placement.

Coffee Ambush Scene in Ronin

When rushing to catch our shots of the Father-Daughter Dance, Deanna and I inadvertantly took the Sean Bean approach.

Whoops— Vicky in Deanna’s shot

Whoops — Deanna in Vicky’s shot

So my advice to first time wedding photographers– you might want to Netflix Ronin. 🙂

April 30, 2008 at 12:02 am 6 comments

Lecture: Hiking with Dogs

Five years ago, when I struggled on the 1872 foot ascent of Rock Castle Gorge, Tony Airaghi encouraged me to take my time and then he said something that I expect to remember for years to come:

We aren’t here to kill ourselves. We’re here to have a good time.

I think about Tony’s statement almost every time I take a break and at times I paraphrase it to struggling strangers. And today, I declare with great conviction – That goes for dogs as well.

This weekend at McAfee’s Knob, we encountered a hiker with a female dog that was obviously struggling. Slow and stiff, she was not enjoying the ascent.

“How old is that dog?” I asked.

“Fourteen,” the owner replied.

Apparently, the owner could tell what I was thinking.

“It’s okay,” the owner added, “I gave her two [painkillers] this morning.”

First off–just because you drug a dog does not mean it is not injuring itself. Second off– what does it say if you drug a dog and it is STILL hurting?!?

Just a little while later, we could see this poor dog try to call it quits. Not once, but TWICE, the dog crawled off to the side of the trail and tried to lay down under the shade. Even from my vantage point, I could clearly see its legs shaking.

Both times, the owner became very frustrated, yelled at the dog and yanked it back up.

Dogs go out of their way to please their owners. If a dog is trying to lay down while you are walking, it is DONE.

Even though the owner and the dog eventually made it to the top and probably did not need to have the dog carried down the mountain on a stretcher, it is my personal assessment that they should have turned around. The moment it was clear this was no longer fun for the dog is when the return trip should have commenced. You got out, you enjoyed the day, summon the strength to wuss out, for goodness sake.

A different, but as miserable, hiking dog.

As Jimmie and Henry continue to age, it is a very real concern of mine that I will push them too far. So I’m constantly assessing (aka worrying about) their readiness. I’m already accepting that both dogs may have made their last trip up to Dragon’s Tooth. Anything six miles or over, I make a call about Henry (who has some back problems) on a case by case basis. He hasn’t done anything over ten miles since 2006. He’s sat out my last two birthday hikes. Even smaller hikes, like Pearis Mountain in the snow, I leave him behind if he seems sore. Henry did join us at McAfee’s Knob this past weekend. With him in mind, we took the less strenuous fire road for the first 2.5 miles and watched him for signs of soreness.

Now, it’s never easy to leave either dog behind. They are well conditioned to know what the hiking boots and the backpack mean and get extremely excited when those items emerge (for my last birthday hike, I actually hid my boots the night before so Henry wouldn’t see me get them in the morning). When I do leave either one behind, I can hear a lot of crying as I get in my car. It makes me sad. They want to come along so badly. But you know what? I know where we are going– they don’t. I know the ascent, the length and typically have an idea of the terrain. They don’t.

So I do my very best to use that extra knowledge to make a decision that is best for the dog. It’s not always black and white. One day I very well may make the wrong call. And if I do– I’ll turn around.

I’m not out there to kill myself or my dogs. I’m out there for all of us to have a good time.


April 29, 2008 at 3:33 pm 14 comments

Flashback to Tick Season 2006

Last Tuesday, I received a text message from Sean:

When I woke up this morning there was a tick on my pillow! I blame you!

Before I gave it much thought, I wrote back:

Wow I can not believe ticks are already out.

But now that I think it over, I should not have been so surprised. On April 11, 2006 (ten days earlier), I encountered a whooping 4 ticks in one day!

I actually acquired my companions the day before. I landed in Wichita and with only 25 hours in the state of Kansas I wanted to get some rollerblading and geocaching done. So as soon as I checked in my hotel and dropped off my stuff, I was off! I spent the rest of the daylight hours hanging out in Pawnee Prairie Park.

It was my first time in Kansas and I found myself enamored with the “amber waves of grain”. I navigated the tall grass for some photos. I didn’t realize it, but I made myself the perfect attractive nuisance for ticks.

Me, unknowingly collecting ticks in 2006.

When I returned to my hotel, ticks were not even on my radar. I shed my clothes and threw them back into my suitcase and went to sleep. The next morning, I got my business attire out of that same suitcase and headed out to an all day meeting.

So here I am, listening intently to the proceedings and I feel an itch on my leg. I reach down to scratch it and I find… a tick!!! What should one do in that situation? Do you interrupt the conversation and announce to a room full of VPs and managers, “I HAVE A TICK!” That didn’t seem to be an appealing option. Instead I went with a maneuver that is more socially acceptable in the all-day meeting environment. I grabbed my cell phone as if I had a pressing call, stepped briefly out of the room, and escorted my hitchhiker to the toilet.

Crisis adverted, right? Well a little while later, I found ANOTHER tick on my neck. And then later I found ANOTHER one crawling on my arm. Yup, I got a lot of “important phone calls” that day.

When the meeting ended, I rushed back to the airport. Prior to check-in, I jammed myself and my belongings into a bathroom stall and I switched into my traveling clothes. Where were my fresh clothes stored? Well, in my suitcase, of course!

On planes, I try to always sit in the window seat (The curvature of the plane gives me the perfect head-tilt angle to sleep). I was drinking my Sprite courtesy of the beverage service when I noted yet ANOTHER tick crawling on me. I looked to my left. Two other passengers were comfortably drinking their sodas and relaxing with their tray tables down. I was less than anxious to bother them.

I decided to innovate. What did I have around me? Oh, I know, the Sprite! I took one last sip of the lemon-lime goodness and then I dropped the tick in.

Now I have drowned lots of ticks in my lifetime. They always swim around for while. Even when one urinates on them, those little buggers are not deterred (Yes, I know this from experience). Well, I don’t know what it was about the Sprite– if it was the carbonation, the citrus, or the cold temperature, but when I dropped that tick in, he was paralyzed instantly! He stopped moving on contact. He sunk and he drowned…at 30,000 feet.

Butterflies like Gatorade. Ticks, apparently, don’t like Sprite.

April 28, 2008 at 10:53 am 6 comments

McAfee’s Knob!

One of my high school classmates, Christina, lives in Germany now. From what I gather, she has met other expats through her blog and now they schedule dinners and other events to meet up and visit. I have never met anyone through my blog in person… until today!

I got to meet PassionPhish and MissesPhish from They just moved into Virginia and have not yet had a chance to hike any of the Virginia Appalachian Trail miles. So what better place to take them than the overlook that may very well be on our Virginia AT License plate?

Two bloggers at McAfee’s Knob – Me and PassionPhish

Sean had never been to McAfee’s Knob before so he came along as well. That means I got to expose three newcomers to the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail. The dogs, on the other hand, are old pros. This was their fourth trip. But don’t admire Jimmie and Henry too much. On the way up the trail, we read about a man who hiked to McAfee’s Knob 300 times (200 of those occurred after his 85th[????] birthday).

We could not have gotten a better day for this outing. The weather was perfect and regardless if it is your first trip or your 300th, the views of the valley and Tinker Cliffs are stunning.

McAfee’s Knob in the foreground, Tinker Cliffs in the background

I was pretty into Tinker Cliffs today. A lot of my photos shared a common formula – something in the foreground and Tinker Cliffs in the background.

Tree Branches…and Tinker Cliffs

Mountain Pieris…and Tinker Cliffs

Pine Cones… and Tinker Cliffs

Jimmie…and Tinker Cliffs

I wasn’t able to come up with a new and creative McAfee Knob pose. But, we did contribute to the growing collection of people sitting on the edge:

PassionPhish on the edge

Me on the edge. Note how Henry stayed back. 🙂

Mother Nature seemed to going out of its way to make sure I don’t forget about Pieris floribunda. Catawba Mountain was absolutely covered with it. How did I not notice this plant before?!?

Mountain Andromeda/Mountain Pieris/Mountain Fetterbush on McAfee’s

Baby Fetterbush growing on the rocks

PassionPhish reported taking 144 photos. I took 212. As you may expect with such extensive coverage, we did get pictures of people taking pictures.

Jimmie watches MissesPhish take a photo. By the way, Tinker Cliffs is in the background. 🙂

MissesPhish takes a picture of PassionPhish

They snagged a shot of me taking pictures as well.

All the picture taking was certainly not a futile exercise. It was such a beautiful day, even a picture of a puddle that had bloated Goldfish Crackers floating in it came out looking pretty.

Flowers growing in a puddle… which also houses old Goldfish crackers.

Needlesstosay, this was a great outing, filled with fascination and fun. The first people I met in person through my blog could not have been nicer people. It was such a treat to spend the day with them!

Who’s next? 🙂

Additional Links
My McAfee Knob Pictures on Flickr
PassionPhish’s McAfee Knob Pictures on Flickr
PassionPhish’s Post on the Outing

April 27, 2008 at 10:40 pm 7 comments

Meet White-Breasted Nuthatch

The No-Child Left Inside Coalition has a video on their homepage which says “A study found that young people could identify 1000 corporate logos but fewer than 10 plants or animals native to their backyards.”

I promptly tested myself and, phew, I can identify more than 10 things in my yard. Heck, if you count my arbor day purchases, I have 10 in trees alone.

And now, thanks to optical zoom and, I have even more bragging rights over the young people in the study. I can add a new bird to my total!

Since the weather has been nice this week, I’ve been working in the screened-in porch in the afternoons. Thursday, I saw this little bird hopping up and and down and pecking away at trees. I thought he was some kind of wood pecker. Made sense. He was, afterall, pecking wood. But it turns out my new friend is a White-Breasted Nuthatch.

White-Breasted Nuthatch in backyard

It appears that sometimes you don’t even have to hike to learn something new about nature. Sometimes you just have to sit outside [while you play with CSS and drop shadows]. 🙂

April 26, 2008 at 1:04 am 10 comments

Thanks a Lot, Google.

It’s 8:52 PM EST and just now I’m finding out it is the National Observance of Arbor Day?!?

I blame you, Google.  I have become so accustomed to you keeping me abreast of significant days.  Just this year, you’ve changed your logo for New Year’s, Martin Lurther King Day, Lego’s 50 Year Birthday, Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, February 29th, St. Patrick’s Day, First Day of Spring and Earth Day.  I count on you, now!

But, guess what!  Not even knowing it was Arbor Day, I did invest in some trees!!! I’m redoing the landscaping of the front yard.  I’m going with an Appalachian Trail inspired theme.  So today I got:

Even though I recently joined the American Rhododendron Society, I’m not exactly a fan of most rhododendrons you see in yards.  But Rhododendron catawbiense is a species native to the Appalachian Mountains and therefore vastly superior to all its relatives.  🙂

I did look for Mountain Fetterbush, but the closest I could find was a Japanese version (Pieris japonica).  The nursery told me it is pretty hard to find Pieris floribunda. 

But that is okay– I am extremely satisfied with the current shrub combination.  It’s like a mini-Biltmore Estates!

April 25, 2008 at 8:44 pm 8 comments

Season Compare: Wind Rocks

It wasn’t a coincidence that I went up to Wind Rocks when it was brown. I was seeking out another season compare coupling. 🙂

Wind Rocks – August 27, 2006

Wind Rocks – April 23, 2008

More pictures of Wind Rocks in the Summer and Wind Rocks in the Early Spring are available on my Flickr site.

April 25, 2008 at 10:01 am 1 comment

Is Wind Rocks the Hike for You?

Wednesday, I squeezed in another quick after-work outing. I took Sean and the dogs up past Mountain Lake and Miniball Hill to the Appalachian Trail’s Wind Rocks. I think Wind Rocks is a great return on investment hike. You get a very nice view just 0.30 miles from the parking lot. Because the stroll is so short, I think it is a good hike for children. In fact, when Penn was tiny, tiny, tiny, this was one of his first outings.

TINY Penn on the shoulders of his Uncle Ted at Wind Rocks

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have to admit that Sean was not impressed. Unlike the the valleys we drove up from, on Salt Pond Mountain the leaves were not opening yet. “Everywhere I look, it’s brown,” Sean said. What Wind Rocks lacked in leaves it made up for in flying insects, which all seemed to take a liking to… Sean.

Between the brown and the insects, Sean concluded that this hike “ruined all that is good about a spring day.”

But…uh… I still liked it. So I guess, like a movie, take the varied reviews into account and make the best decision for you. And you should also peruse previews:

[Brown] View from Wind Rocks

Sean’s silhouette at WInd Rock

Dark Ridges from Wind Rock

More pictures of this [brown and buggy] Wind Rocks hike can by found up on my Flickr site.

April 25, 2008 at 9:43 am 2 comments

Meet Mountain Fetterbush

One day after work last week, I went hiking with Phifer. We decided to drive up gravel Brush Mountain Road and make a visit to the Audie Murphy Memorial off the Appalachian Trail. It is only 0.7 flat miles from the parking at the top of Brush Mountain to the Memorial.

I doubt anyone remembers, so I’m going to call myself out. Last year, I said that if I wasn’t with a young child, this particular hike would be “a waste of time.” Welp, I was wrong. Our outing last week was decidedly not a waste. In fact, I ended up finding it fairly educational.

Very early in our journey, I was in the middle of yammering on about something. Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see familiar shrubs pass by. Suddenly I lost my train of thought. I believe I may have even stopped talking in mid-sentence. There was something very unfamiliar about these familiar plants. They had white bell-shaped flowers.

You see, I had assumed it was mountain laurel. And any other time of the year, I probably would have uploaded pictures of those plants and tagged them on Flickr as “mountainlaurel” and never been none the wiser. But mountain laurel has different flowers– little compact stars before they open and then interesting pentagon-y things when they do. There is nothing bell-shaped about mountain laurel flowers.

Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

Mountain Fetterbush
NOT Mountain Laurel

And so, the mystery began. What were these imposters? Well, I did my own frustrating research for a while and after looking at pictures of bladdernut, sparkleberry, a variety of silverbells and doghobble, an answer was still absent. So I pulled in the big guns:

Tony Airaghi (He studied horticulture in college)

I emailed him pictures. His response:

Hmmm, I’m not sure at the moment. It looks the same as the bushes out of my window at work.

I always assumed they were mountain laurel, but now that I’ve paid closer attention to them I don’t think that is what it is because of the small flowers.

Now Tony was intriqued enough to adopt the quest as his own. A few hours later, he had the answer:

Pieris floribunda

It was discovered on North Carolina’s Pilot Mountain on September 16, 1807 by a man named John Lyon. And as any good imposter would, Pieris floribunda has a number of aliases – Mountain Pieris, Mountain Andromeda and Mountain Fetterbush.

I may be 200 years behind John Lyon… but I still found my own discovery fulfilling.

…and definitely not a waste of time. 🙂

Additional Links
My Mountain Laurel Pictures on Flickr (How many of these are mistagged?!?)
More Pictures from our Audie Murphy Hike on Flickr
Smoky Mountain News: Lyon was among [Western North Carolina]’s notable botanist
The Nature Journal: Fetterbush delights with spring blooms, abundant foliage

April 24, 2008 at 1:40 am 5 comments

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