Archive | August, 2014

From the Backwoods to the Backstory

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Last week, I treated myself to a birthday run along the Appalachian Trail (AT). While traversing a steep switchback, I slowed to a walk and began reflecting on the past. My mind played a revolving slideshow of frames, memories, photographs and experiences. During the nostalgic tour, it dawned on me that the historic trail has been part of my life for 50 years!

I was seven years old when I took my first step on the trail—a wonderful beginning to a life-long relationship with the outdoors. That day, my friend and I rode on horseback above Georgia’s Vogel State Park through a beautiful cove forest. Years later while in college, I spent weekends day-hiking sections in north Georgia. After I graduated, I started section-hiking the 2,100-mile trail in 1982. My future wife, Candace, and I tackled the climb along the strenuous approach trail in the dark. We camped at Nimblewill Gap and we hiked up to the AT’s southern terminus on Springer Mountain.

Thirty years later, I’ve covered more than 800 contiguous miles through four states. On my recent reflective journey, I rambled along one of my backyard hikes along the Tennessee/North Carolina border. During my two-hour adventure, I ran through an open meadow adorning Turks Cap Lily, Wild Bergamot, Queen Anne’s Lace and Great Lobelia. A rufous-side towhee sang in the thicket, and a ruby-throated hummingbird hovered above.

turks

Even though it was early August, I could detect the early signs of a changing season. At 4,000 feet above sea level, the constant breeze revealed the sizzling sound of drying leaves. Birch and cherry trees began to turn, and their yellow leaves littered the ground beneath them. Earlier in my run, I had seen bear scat chock-full of cherry pits, their fruit providing the mammals with one of summer’s last natural sweet treats. Food becomes scarce for bears between the berry and mast season. During this transition, bear sightings in backyards become more common as they search for convenient food sources such as bird feeders and trash cans.

Whether I’m on the trail for a couple of hours or a few weeks, the AT always treats me well. After all, the trail, whose path travels through 14 states, ultimately led me to my 25-years-and-counting side trip to Asheville. Like many others, I find the journey more interesting than the destination. But sooner or later, we all have to settle down long enough to generate funds for our next great adventure, build an abode, raise a family or grow a garden.

Next month, Asheville Pocket Guide is introducing an exciting series entitled The Backstory. We’ll share the entertaining lives and stories of others who have landed in Asheville after a life-changing adventure, personal quest or an intriguing cross-cultural experience. In some cases, these sensational exposures and experiences have inspired local Ashevillians to open up boutique nurseries, outdoor adventure businesses and exotic teahouses. Others have committed their lives to making a difference in the region they live in. Some have become community leaders, directors of nonprofits or successful professionals in their field. What they all share is a vagabonding spirit and a deep-rooted sense of adventure. Come join us for these fireside chats, storefront discussions and heartfelt testimonials.

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Leave it to Beaver

Beaver swimming - creative commons photo

Beaver swimming – creative commons photo

We’ve watched birds dive, glide and wade in and along the French Broad and we will surely watch more but for now we would like to turn our attention to some of the furry critters that one may happen upon in and along the river.

The American beaver, Castor canadensis, was common along and in the rivers, streams, bogs, swamps and marshes of the Eastern United States before European settlement. But for trappers they were just swimming bundles of money – an easy target. Legend has it that the last native beaver in North Carolina was trapped in Stokes County in 1897.

The state of North Carolina, at the urging of trappers and other wildlife enthusiasts, began reintroducing the giant (35lbs.–55lbs.) rodent about 40 years later. In the absence of large predators like red wolves and cougars – and the presence of good habitat the beaver population rapidly expanded and they can now be found across the entire state.

This compact, rotund rodent is covered with luxuriant brown to black fur and can reach lengths of 2–3 feet plus another 12-18 inches of flat, hairless, paddle-shaped tail that propels them in the water and serves as an alarm. When a beaver feels threatened or senses danger it will slap the water with its tail creating a thwack that can be heard at great distances both above and beneath the surface of the water. Their hind feet are large, webbed and clawed. The front feet are smaller and not webbed. Its four large yellowish-orange, ever-growing and ever-sharpening incisors provide the perfect tools for felling trees for food and shelter. The beaver is awkward and clumsy on land but in the water – sublime.

That large flat tail is both paddle and rudder in the water making beavers powerful agile swimmers. Valves seal their ears and nose while underwater and a clear membrane closes over their eyes giving them built-in goggles. Their lips close behind those incisors allowing them to gnaw underwater. They can stay underwater for as long as 15 minutes.

The beaver is second only to Homo sapiens in its ability to manipulate its habitat. And as the Bard would say, “…therein lies the rub…” The beaver’s hard-wired penchant for damming running water can sometimes flood low-lying areas, both agricultural and residential. And its tree-felling abilities sometimes put it at odds with landscapers and/or timber concerns.

But this same penchant makes the beaver a keystone species and its dams create more, ever-decreasing, wetlands, boosting biodiversity by creating habitat for a host of critters – fishes, reptiles, amphibians, birds (wading birds, waterfowl and others) and other mammals like river otters, muskrats and minks. Beaver ponds also help control erosion and sedimentation plus recharge groundwater resources.

Beavers live in these dams but in other situations like deeper lakes and larger rivers (like the French Broad) they build lodges and/or burrow into the banks. All beaver domiciles have underwater entrances that lead to dry

Beaver lodge - creative commons photo

Beaver lodge – creative commons photo

living/nesting chambers.

These nocturnal rodents mate for life. They live in colonies that include the adult pair, kits (newborn) and yearlings. The yearlings are driven away usually after a year or so and left to establish territories of their own. The size of the territory depends largely on suitable habitat and food supply and can range from a pond of a few acres to a half-mile or more of riverbank.

Next month we will talk about the river otter another semi-aquatic mammal that has made a comeback in the rivers of North Carolina.

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Go For the Food: August Events in Asheville

Asheville Wine & Food Festival

Looking for Asheville food events to attend this month? You’re in luck: August is so jam-packed with them I can’t even begin to list each one here. In fact, let me not waste any more time and just get right to some highlights:

Mountains to Sea Market Supper

On August 19th, West Asheville Tailgate Market will host their 11th market supper, a family-style meal primarily sourced from tailgate vendors. Chefs Eric Kang and Dan Silo of The Admiral will prepare the multi-course, mountains-to-sea-inspired meal, with locally crafted microbrews and beverages included. All proceeds benefit the growth of the neighborhood market. Details: westashevilletailgatemarket.com.

Asheville Wine & Food Festival

Don’t let the singular sound of its name fool you: The festival is actually three events rolled into one. ELIXIR, a Prohibition experience, kicks things off on August 21st. In true Prohibition fashion, the location will remain a mystery until just days before. The menu isn’t a secret, however. It promises cocktails of the era featuring the region’s premier spirits and created by the region’s premier bartenders—who’ll be competing in a mixology competition that you get to watch.

SWEET comes next, on the 22nd. Asheville’s bakers, chocolatiers, pâtissiers, wine vendors, brewers and distillers will line the corridors of the Grove Arcade and offer sips and snacks. And the Grand Tasting caps it all off on the 23rd. More than 125 wineries, breweries, restaurants and chefs, farmers and others will serve up samples. When you want to take a break from sampling and shaking hands with famous foodies, you can watch the Asheville Scene Chefs Challenge Finale, which crowns the festival’s top chef. Info: ashevillewineandfood.com.

BaconFest

The name says it all. Attend on August 30th to enjoy and vote for Asheville’s best bacon dishes, and to try an exclusive bacon-infused beer from host Highland Brewing. There will also be music and activities for “little piggies.” Is your mouth watering thinking of all the meaty goodness? Don’t delay in purchasing tickets. Last year, the swine soiree sold out in only 10 days. Tickets: 1059themountain.com. PS: Bacon-inspired dress is encouraged.

Culinary Tours

A number of guided dining and drinking tours give you a plate’s-eye and pint’s-eye view of the city called Foodtopia. While Asheville food tours take place year-round, I thought they were worth a mention here, since August is the last chance to take your summer vacation or staycation. If you’re not familiar with the guided experiences available, exploreasheville.com has a great list. While you’re there, check out the whole Foodtopia section of their website, which got a facelift last year.

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