life has been busy. time online is limited for me right now. i was originally planning to post my final “part 2″ of our trip to the smokeys over the weekend, but yard sales, date nights, and life in the great outdoors beckoned.
i also happened to read an article out of my parents’ copy of yankee magazine on july 4th and wanted very much to share it here. you see, yesterday, july 6th, was the first anniversary of an astounding tragedy that struck Lac-Mégantic, Québec. i found out when i sat down to peruse Yankee Magazine a few days ago that i had never even heard of this tragedy. it happened so close to New England. and not only did it happen so close to New England, it’s something so appalling and saddening that i’m shocked i managed to not learn of its occurrence ever before. had you heard of this story?
From Yankee Magazine:
“In the early-morning hours of July 6 last year, a train carrying more than 10,000 tons of crude oil derailed and exploded in the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, just across the Maine border. What happened in that moment claimed the lives of 47 people and changed the town forever. The aftershocks continue to be felt everywhere in New England where freight cars rumble past.”
The article, written by Geoffrey Douglas, attempts to capture the heart break of this small town and the astounding impact the crash had on its culture. I heard NPR matter-of-factly refer to the anniversary of the explosion on the news yesterday. The facts are cold and distant. This article thrusts you into the dirty mess of it all and attempts to sit with and digest the reality of the aftermath.
I want you to read it. The whole thing. It’s so important to hear this story and to know that it’s a part of all of our stories. The story of our collective society and culture. That we depend on oil, that we search for more oil domestically, and that our expanding dependence on this oil can and will lead to catastrophes such as this. If you prefer not to flip through the pages of the website, like me, then pick up a copy at the store, or read it as a PDF that I made using Safari and Adobe: LacMéganticTragedy_YankeeMag
(all photos are mine from a few years ago. they don’t have anything to do with Lac-Mégantic, but they are quiet and calm and from a summer I spent on Isle Royale in northern Lake Superior.)
our first full day in tennessee was spent moseying about our friends’ place tucked away right on the edge of great smoky mountains national park. there’s a stream that runs from right out of the mountains and meanders through the property. we enjoyed the warm sun and complete lack of mosquitoes by poking around in the water and seeing what we could find. lo and behold, Darin found an eastern box turtle! i waded over to it and stood very still until he or she ended up floating right by my feet!
later in the day, after a brief and exciting thunderstorm, we took a drive along the nearby foothills parkway and caught a glimpse of the “smoke” from the rain lingering in the valleys.
on our second day, we ventured into the throngs of tourists exploring cades cove and experienced our first “bear jam”! a “bear jam” refers to the traffic jam that ensues on a one-way road in the park when someone has spotted a black bear. soon enough we came upon the scene. a poor little black bear was up in a tree less than 200 feet from the road and tourists were snapping photos much too close. we hoped a park ranger would come by soon and tell folks to move along.
the meadows in the area were very scenic, though, and we enjoyed stopping and exploring the historical features. we even looked for old family names in the graveyards by the churches, but didn’t come across anything familiar. it’s crazy to think that people who lived in this area for so many years either had to leave or stay with restrictions to their way of life once the park was established. in one sense, i appreciate the landscape that exists today – the “wilds” of nature that we are free to explore and savor. i’m also thankful that the park hasn’t erased its human history. however, i feel regretful that many of our national parks pushed people out – whether it be settlers or native americans – and by doing so reinforced the idea that “nature” and “people” aren’t meant to co-exist in a productive way. so much of our thinking about nature has changed since then, but the purpose of the parks, to preserve, remains everlasting. i guess i’m outing myself as a non-preservationist in the environmentalist-spectrum, but it doesn’t stem from a disregard for what the park system created. it simply comes from a disagreement in what’s worth preserving: “unimpaired nature” or a more complex view of “the wild” that also includes productive, sustainable human culture and life.
during the last week of May, Darin and I took an honest-to-goodness vacation to Southern Appalachia. i was so excited to see a part of the country i had never before explored, but a little bit less excited about the 16+ hour road trip from New Hampshire to Tennessee. one way that we typically battle long drives is by streaming podcasts. our favorites include radiolab, the moth, grantland, and ask me another, just to name a few. in planning the trip, we came up with another strategy to keep sane on the journey: take an extra day to *not drive* and instead, explore Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
we explored mostly the southern half of the 100-mile park. in just 24 hours we had enough time to explore the Big Meadows visitor center, do a couple beautiful waterfall hikes, pass over the AT, which weaves its way all through the park, and have a relaxing camp evening and breakfast. we arrived on Memorial Day, so the first waterfall we explored was BUSY. i don’t mind seeing a lot of people on hikes every now and then, though. it’s fascinating to see the diversity of people that visit national parks and hike their trails. i like to just observe what other people do and say, and for the most part, it’s kinda sweet to see folks from all walks doing their own thing.
that night the majority of the tourists had already left the park to go back to work. the few of us that were left set up camps at the various campgrounds. we stayed at Loft Mountain, which is the largest campground in the park, but still has beautiful and private sites. A19 is a gem and supplied us with the most beautiful sunset view!! we had fun trying to identify the birds hanging out in the area and staring into the campfire for what seemed like hours, all the while appreciating the complete lack of mosquitoes!!
our second waterfall hike was spectacular. we went the next morning to stretch our legs before getting back into the car for 7+ hours of more driving. we only saw three other people on our hike, and got to enjoy the sight of the waterfall all by ourselves. i was really taken away by how beautiful Shenandoah’s deciduous forest was. for many people, it seems the big sights are the many overlooks on Skyline Drive, or the “wow” factor of the waterfalls. we really just loved the trees, the sounds, the smells, and the critters. coming from a late New England spring, i was energized to feel warm air and see lush airy green forest everywhere. the large ash trees at our campground were especially mesmerizing. we just don’t have that up North!
… more to come on our adventures in Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains!
i’m now convinced that if we didn’t have black flies and mosquitoes in new england in the spring, this season would just be too wonderful and too perfect for people to stand it. no one would go to work. we would ALL be out in the woods all day every day enjoying the warm days, cool nights, fresh rains, rushing streams, chirping birds, and late sunsets. i mean, why would you do anything else? but, alas, our bug friends arrived in force and will be sticking around for quite a few more weeks. they follow me wherever i walk. if i stop to take a photo, they are on me light lightning. they find their way into our cabin and buzz in my ears at night. oh, how they can drive me crazy.
maybe, just maybe, they’re around just to keep out everyone but only the most dedicated and determined. even if it’s warm, shield yourself with long sleeves and pants and layers. bandanas, hats, or the ultimate – headnets – go far to keep you sane. if you aren’t very allergic to bug bites, even forgo the bug spray, but use it in dire circumstances. the worst mosquitoes i’ve ever experienced were in a patch of woods behind alaska pacific university in anchorage. worst. ever. and that’s saying something. our new hampshire woods in late may and june aren’t anything to scoff at either. or try camping in the interior of isle royale national park in june, too. it was crazy. but nothing compares to alaska. alaska wins this contest always and forever. it’s really about perspective though. just seek out the forest of your dreams and meet the bugs head on wherever you go! it’s 95% mental, 5% coming prepared.
the other night i went for a walk on my usual route around the pond and back. this exact moment of time is wonderful for a number of reasons. the black flies wane as the sun sets and the air cools. the mosquitoes, while out and about, are by and large still biding their time. i sat myself down on a rock on the pond and waited for the sunset. while sitting quietly i had the chance to see a few birds up-close and personal, which was a treat. for the last month i’ve primarily been learning to identify birds by their songs and calls alone, so it was nice to be able to simply watch a few birds just go about their business like i wasn’t there. i saw a song sparrow, a pair of common yellowthroats, and a pair of bank swallows. meanwhile, the view of the pond was about as peaceful as i’ve ever seen it. i felt like i could have been far away in the great north woods on a solo camping adventure. however, after the pastel colors began to fade, i meandered back along my well-traveled trail, instagrammed on my phone as i walked, and arrived at our little cabin at dusk, with warm lights glowing from inside.