Thursday, June 20, 2019

Ten years

For the first time in the history of the blog, I am late with an anniversary post. However, I have a good excuse - Roberts and I were on our honeymoon! After the wedding there were so many friends and relatives in town that had traveled so far to celebrate with us, that we didn't want to leave; we spent a few days hanging out with everyone and enjoying it all. We put the honeymoon off, but as things tend to happen, a year later Lauris was born, then we moved to France, and in the blink of an eye ten years had passed. 

And so, we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary and honeymoon all at once, last month, in Hawai'i! I'm only now sorting through photos from our week on the Big Island, so it might be a few weeks before you see a post. In the meantime, I would like to share this photo from the wedding - us with a few of our closest friends and family. 


How quickly the ten years have flown by, but how rich they have been. Daudz laimes kāzu jubilējā manam vīŗiņam! I think we make a great team. 

Now, to figure out where to go on our babymoon....

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Little River Canyon

For millions of years, the Little River has flowed down from the top of Lookout Mountain to Weiss Lake, carving a canyon that is one of the deepest and most extensive canyon and gorge systems in the eastern US. The canyon and surrounding areas became part of the National Park Service in 1992, the 15,000+ acres in Alabama forming the Little River Canyon National Preserve.


We had crossed the border into northern Alabama the previous evening after a stop at Kennesaw Mountain, opting to stay the night in Fort Payne for easy access to the Preserve the next morning. The drive had in fact taken us up and over Lookout Mountain. For most of its length Little River actually flows along the top of Lookout Mountain, making it one of the cleanest and wildest rivers in the southeast, undammed aside from an old hydroelectric project at DeSoto Falls on the West Fork near Mentone, Alabama. Before it was the Little River Canyon NP, most of the canyon was part of DeSoto State Park, and after breakfast we opted to begin our explorations of the Canyon in the State Park, at DeSoto Falls.


DeSoto Falls is named for Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto. The A.A. Miller Dam and upper falls can be seen from the parking area, but to view the 104-foot waterfall, visitors must descend stairs to the overlook.


From the DeSoto Falls Picnic Area we drove south about 16 miles, passing through DeSoto State Park and then climbing back up the Cumberland Plateau to the Little River Canyon Center. The LEED-certified building is a Jacksonville State University public facility with programs, events, gift shop, classrooms, movie theater and National Park Service offices. From the Center there is a trail that connects to Little River Falls picnic area.


45-foot Little River Falls marks the beginning of the canyon. A short boardwalk leads from the parking area to an overlook with a view of the waterfall. Being that a storm system had passed through the previous evening the falls were considerable, and we took a moment to enjoy the view before continuing on ¾ mile Little Falls trail. The trail winds south along the east rim of the canyon, with a final steep descent to the river at the end.


The bottom of the canyon was once the floor of a shallow sea during the Paleozoic Era, while the sandstone cliffs consist of sandstone and conglomerate shale, siltstone and coal. It was interesting exploring the rock formations along the river at this point, with the sound of Little Falls (also known as Martha’s Falls or Hippie Hole) accompanying our examination.


Having returned to the car, we drove over the bridge and then turned south on Little River Canyon Parkway. The first 12 miles drive along the rim of the canyon follow State Road 176, while the next 9 miles make a steep descend on Canyon Rim Drive. The Parkway features multiple overlooks and trailheads, while Canyon Rim Drive is mostly a connector to Canyon Mouth picnic area on the south end of the Preserve. While 176 is curvy and steep, Canyon Rim Drive is considered impassable to trucks, trailers and RV’s; I would suggest asking at the Visitor Center if you are unsure about the state of the road and suitability of your vehicle.

View from Little River Falls Overlook

The first overlook is Little River Falls overlook. Having seen the falls from a much closer vantage point, we took a look but then headed to the next one, Lynn Overlook. A sandstone rock glade stretches along the length of the parking area, allowing easy access to the eight rare plant species that live there. One of those is Elf Orphine, a small red plant about an inch tall. We were lucky to spot some blooming, and the kids enjoyed catching glimpses of lizards as we explored the rocks.


The next pull-off is for Beaver Pond Trail. The easy 1.24-mile loop trail is a favorite for bird watchers, winding through the woods to an area that used to be a pond dammed by beavers; be warned, the pond is no longer there. We opted to continue on to Mushroom Rock. This rock formation cannot be missed – it is literally right in the middle of the road. Legend has it that the road crew constructing the original scenic drive refused to remove the giant mushroom, and instead built the road around it. On the rim side of the road is a series of rock outcrops, and the kids had fun climbing and exploring before we continued on.


There are three trails that lead from the Parkway down to Little River. The first is Lower Two-Mile Trail, up next after Mushroom Rock. Although the shortest of the three, it is proof that the quickest way to the bottom of the canyon is straight down. We opted to skip these trails, no matter how short, as we had already descended into the canyon on Little Falls Trail, and were planning on a second exploration at Canyon Mouth.

View from Canyon View Overlook

Subsequent scenic overlooks include Hawks Glide, Canyon View, Wolf Creek and Crow Point. At Eberhart Point we took the left turn onto Canyon Rim Drive and immediately saw some steep, winding sections of road. There is really only one turn-off on this section, which is for Powell Trail. We continued down to Canyon Mouth Picnic Area, paid a parking fee, and pulled into the parking lot to discover we had the entire place to ourselves.


Canyon Mouth Trail was a quick 1.6-mile hike that led us up the banks of Little River to the point where Johnnie’s Creek flows in. There was quite a bit of poison ivy, we saw a snake or two, and the trail kind of petered out with no particular scenic view. On the other hand, there were a couple of sandy spots along the river that made for a nice place to sit and enjoy the river, and we spent a considerable amount of time there just listening to the sound of rushing water.

Little River, near Martha's Falls

Overall, Little River Canyon was a nice surprise. An excellent visitor center combined with a variety of trail options and the scenic drive make for an easy one-day exploration. The Preserve could be combined with time (and camping) at DeSoto State Park, and it’s only about 4 hours from the Upstate – doable for a long weekend. For us it was just day two, as we continued west across Alabama into Mississippi…

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The ascent of Kennesaw Mountain

At over 420,000, the population of Atlanta is more than seven times that of Greenville. Occasionally we’ll make a stop in the 'big city', such as on our recent trip to see Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the High Museum of Art, other times it’s just a race to beat the traffic as we follow the brake lights through to Florida. Most recently it was a combination of both as we bounced around the perimeter to Marietta, and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield.


Union and Confederate forces maneuvered and fought near Kennesaw Mountain from June 19, 1864 until July 2, 1864. Today, the 2,965-acre park is managed by the National Park Service, and features a visitor center and a driving tour, as well as monuments, historical markers, cannon emplacements, and 22 miles of hiking trails. The visitor center is a great place to start your tour of the park; a short film, exhibits and knowledgeable staff will help you get oriented.

Trail to summit of Kennesaw Mountain

Although there are trails that ascend Kennesaw Mountain, we opted to take the shuttle bus to the top of the mountain. On weekends it is not possible to drive to the top; visitors have to either hike the road or trails (ranging from 1-2 miles to the mountaintop), or take the shuttle. The fee was $3/adult, $1.50/kids ages 6-12, and we felt it was well worth due to the time we saved and utilized on a couple of later hikes. From the shuttle stop near the top of the mountain there was an overlook with a panoramic view of Atlanta, and a short trail to the summit.

Atlanta, just the way I like it - from a distance

The driving tour of the battlefield includes seven major points of interest, each with parking and wayside exhibits. After descending from Kennesaw Mountain, we loaded up the car and headed on to stop #2 on the tour, the 24-Gun Battery. Located on a small, wooded rise facing Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill, this Federal gun emplacement is called the 24-Gun Battery because it housed four batteries, each one with six artillery pieces. From their location the Federals bombarded Confederate forces on Kennesaw Mountain for 10 days. Although it’s less than 1.5 miles from tour stop #2 to the visitor center by trail, we opted to park at stop #2 and walk in to the battery – it was less than a mile in and out. Some cannons have been positioned along the trail to assist in visualizing the emplacement.

24-Gun Battery cannons

The third point of interest is the Wallis House, dating back to about 1853 and abandoned upon the approach of Sherman’s armies. We continued on to stop #4, Pigeon Hill (where a trail leads to Confederate entrenchments where one of Sherman’s two major attacks was repelled), and then to Cheatham Hill.

View from the 'Dead Angle'

The mounds at Cheatham Hill are the remains of earthworks defended by the Confederate army; 11 miles of these defenses stretch through the park. At Cheatham Hill (tour stop #5) Confederate Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham created an angle in their lines that due to the high casualty count came to be known as the “Dead Angle.” We hiked ¼ mile along the earthworks to the Illinois Monument, then looped around back to the parking lot, stopping to read the markers. The Illinois Monument is the largest monument on the battlefield, and near its base is a monument at the entrance of a tunnel constructed by Union soldiers intending to blow up a section of the Confederate defenses.

The Illinois Monument

Stop #6 on the driving tour is the Sherman/Thomas Headquarters where the two Union generals met to discuss the assault on Confederate Gen. William Hardee’s troops on Cheatham Hill. And finally, at stop #7 is Kolb’s Farm, where on June 22, 1864, Union soldiers repulsed Confederate General Hood’s attack. The Kolb house is not open to the public, although there is a small wayside with a placard adjacent to the Kolb family cemetery.

The Kolb Farmhouse, restored in 1964

Kennesaw Battlefield provided more than we had envisioned when we first planned our stop. Not only does it preserve a historic Civil War battleground of the Atlanta Campaign, but it interprets the events of those two years and presents it as part of the larger Civil War story. Kennesaw also provides a valuable greenspace in a what is densely populated urban area. The wildflowers and forest we saw there provided a glimpse into what the woodlands of this part of Georgia looked like hundreds of years ago.

Fire pink, found along 24-Gun Battery trail

Luckily, we were headed west, and so wouldn’t have to fight traffic once we concluded the driving tour of the battlefield. As we continued on our journey, Kennesaw Mountain shrinking in the rearview mirror, we followed the sinking sun into Alabama and another adventure. 


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

On reading, hiking and bread-baking my way through the new year

We’ve always been an ‘outdoors’ family, but in the past year – new schools, new responsibilities – I noticed the car was racking up increased mileage, while I was becoming more sedentary. Carlines to get kids picked up, shopping trips to feed three hungry boys, time at the computer to manage the mundane chores of a mother’s life.

Blogging has long been a release for me, but in recent years has taken on a life of its own: a tribute to the outdoor spaces in the Upstate and a diary of one family’s travels in the Southeast, but also a huge commitment of time and energy. Upon our return from France I felt I had reached a crossroads – what would become of Femme au Foyer? While the transition from expat abroad to Yankee hiker in SC happened without much thought, with the recent arrival at what feels like another fork in the road, I feel that I have to be a bit more deliberate with my time – there is just less of it. While writing about these natural places gives me great pleasure, I enjoy the exploration of them even more, and while I will not be abandoning the blog entirely, I will be shifting focus, and blogging less often.

With the New Year, I set about with new priorities for personal growth: hiking, reading and baking. My goal is to hike 365 miles this year, read 10 books a month, and bake bread once a month. Inspiration was drawn from cookbook club, my cousin Kaiva's Instagram feed, a 'daughters who like to read' message thread, and the dozens of trails within an hour's drive still unexplored, even after some 15 years in the Upstate. Instead of writing about places I will be out in them, all that time spent in the carline will be put to good use, and the taste/smell of home-baked bread will hopefully be more common in our hectic kitchen. With March drawing to an end, I can announce that it has so far been a successful endeavor; I’ve logged 97 miles of trail, baked four different breads (baguettes, rupjmaize, cornbread and scones), and read 32 books – and there are a few days left in the month!

While I’m proud of each mile that I’ve charted, I’m feeling especially accomplished looking at my reading list. While my usual fare tends towards mysteries (extra points if it’s a game warden solving a murder!), I’ve ventured outside the boundaries of suspense into everything from social commentary and poetry to short stories and nonfiction – here they are, in the order that I read them (and I've added amazon links that have reviews and more complete descriptions for those interested): 


1. Where the River Ends – Charles Martin
2. A Delicate Touch – Stuart Woods
3. Squirm – Carl Hiaasen
          Hiaasen’s book for young readers are just as lively and entertaining as his adult fiction!
          Exotic bird trafficking, fly fishing, and the 2009 heist of 299 rare bird skins from a British natural history museum… a surprisingly fascinating read…
5. The New Iberia Blues – James Lee Burke
          James Lee Burke is one of my all-time faves, and although maybe not the most striking, the newest Dave Robicheaux novel was no different from his usual.


6. The Witch Elm – Tana French
          Longing to pack it all up and go… Completely not my usual read, however intriguing look at the growing community of nomads traversing the U.S. between seasonal jobs.
8. The Story of Land and Sea: A Novel – Katy Simpson Smith
9. Birds of America – Lorrie Moore
          A book of short stories that has it all: the funny, the sad, the banal and the grace.
          Struck so many chords with me that I went and bought it after returning the library’s copy. This book vocalizes so many thoughts, feelings and emotions that I’ve heard from friends, family and my own heart over the last 5 years.
11. Bearskin: A Novel – James A. McLaughlin
          “James McLaughlin expertly brings the beauty and danger of Appalachia to life. The result is an elemental, slow burn of a novel—one that will haunt you long after you turn the final page.”

13. The River of Kings: A Novel – Taylor Brown
          I’ve been fascinated with the The Altamaha River (Georgia’s “Little Amazon”) since I read Janisse Ray’s “Drifting into Darien: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River” while living in the middle of nowhere, Georgia. This novel has a good balance of the natural world to mystery to the human heart.
14. The Girl Who Was Taken – Charlie Donlea
16. The Mountain Between Us – Charles Martin
17. Fates and Furies: A Novel – Lauren Groff
19. Crimson Lake – Candice Fox


20. The Library Book – Susan Orlean
          A story of a fire – a big one, mind you – woven into the larger tapestry of the role of libraries in the modern world.
21. The Winter of the Witch – Katherine Arden
          The third book in the Winternight Trilogy, a Russian fairytale that was spellbinding – possibly my favorite of the year so far!
22. The Gilded Wolves – Roshani Chokshi
24. Bad Optics: A Woods Cop Mystery – Joseph Heywood
          The wildland firefighter in me could smell the smoke in this novel, but was also astonished that I hadn’t read it until now.
26. Upstream: Selected Essays – Mary Oliver


27. Alternate Side: A Novel – Anna Quindlen
28. The Victory Garden: A Novel – Rhys Bowen
29. Becoming – Michelle Obama
          Chicago was my home for a quarter of a century, and I enjoyed seeing it from the author’s perspective. DC is about as far from home as it gets, and I enjoyed seeing it from a woman’s perspective. And with today’s political climate, there was insight into the racial divide as well…
30. Bridge of Clay – Markus Zusak



31. Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens
          “Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.”
32. Only Killers and Thieves: A Novel – Paul Howarth
          An epic tale set in the 1880s ‘Wild West’ Australian frontier: brutal, cruel and tragic. Despite the harsh imagery, no regrets – a raw, no-holds-barred, coming-of-age story that I couldn’t put down.

What’s next? Returning to a few mystery series that I’ve not yet finished, new books by favorite authors coming out in the next months, and a half-dozen books on hold from rabbit-hole wanderings on social media. Tell me – have you read any of the titles on this list? If you’ve got suggestions for me of novels in the same vein as these, I’m all ears – I’ve got 88 books to read this year!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Glendale Shoals Preserve

The story of the small town of Glendale is similar to that of Greenville. The textile industry thrived in the Upstate, mill towns flourishing on the banks of rivers such as the Reedy and Lawson’s Fork Creek, until cheaper labor overseas, technology and automation, and international trade agreements led to its demise. Today, the former milltown boasts an Upstate hidden gem – Glendale Shoals Preserve.


Located just six miles east of Spartanburg, Glendale owes its presence to Dr. James Bivings who arrived in the area around 1830 and started a cotton manufacturing company. Bivingsville Mill was profitable until the late 1840s, when Bivings sold his share and left the area. After the partners declared bankruptcy the mill was auctioned off, and one of the businessmen involved in the purchase later bought out his partners and took over mill operations. In 1878 Dexter Converse (founder of D.R. Converse Co. as well as Converse College) renamed the town & mill Glendale, and the mill prospered until the collapse of the textile industry in SC.


The mill shut down in 1961, and then in 2004 there was a fire (see the Glendale website for photographs); today only ruins remain. The site has been incorporated into the Glendale Shoals Preserve, a 13-acre park that includes a pedestrian bridge, the dam, the shoals, a canoe/kayak launch and nature trails.

Glendale Shoals, as seen from north bank of Lawsons Fork Creek

Parking is located behind the Glendale Post Office, adjacent to the Goodall Environmental Studies Center. Part of Wofford College, the center includes a garden, vineyard, laboratory, classroom/conference center (the restored former mill office), and an amphitheater. When starting your explorations here don’t overlook the “Poet’s Garden” with its hidden view of the dam and ‘take a poem, leave a poem” mailbox.

The garden, vineyard, and former mill office

Glendale Shoals Trail on the north side of Lawsons Fork Creek is about ½ of a mile long. It leads through the mill ruins, past a Labyrinth (built by the Philosophy in Action Living-Learning Community at Wofford College), and through a segment of woods to the border with private property. At this end there is a small seating area, as well as a sandy bank on a section of river that is sometimes used as a swimming hole. There are no trespassing signs indicating the end of the preserve. A connector to the Glendale Greenway can be used for a loop hike that totals about 1 mile from the parking area.

The labyrinth, with a mill tower in the background

Once back at the parking area, head across the Glendale Bridge to reach the trails on the south bank of the creek. The Pratt truss-style bridge was originally built in 1928 to replace an old one-lane bridge, and featured a new pedestrian lane in addition to the two lanes for automobile traffic. In 1977 a 250-foot reinforced concrete bridge was built to replace the structure, rerouting traffic on a more direct route to the west.  The 1928 bridge was recently reopened to pedestrians in 2018 after a full restoration, and has a scenic view of the shoals and to the pond on the opposite side.


In additional to textiles, the iron industry also predominantly features in the history of Glendale. The iron ore along the banks of the creek, limestone bedrock and available timber were all contributing factors to the establishment of iron works on the banks of Lawsons Fork Creek, just west of the park. The iron works were served by one of the earliest roads in the Upstate, "Georgia Road,” an important route during the colonial and Revolutionary War eras. As the iron works were on the opposite shore from the town of Glendale, a bridge was necessary to allow workers to cross the creek, necessitating the 1800s precursor to Glendale Bridge.


Having crossed Lawsons Fork, there is a staircase descending to the creek and the trail that runs just under ½ mile along the south bank. After heavy rains portions of the trail may be inaccessible/dangerous, however the views of the shoals and dam waterfall are better from this side of the river. There are two points of access from Emma Cudd Road; keep in mind parking on this side is more of the gravel pull-off than parking lot variety.


During the summer the exposed rock is a beautiful place for a picnic, while the sandy area off Glendale Shoals Trail is great for building sand castles. (Side note: one thing to remember is that debris and trash frequently get deposited in these flood zones during high water events; glass and other hazards could pose a hazard to children at play.) Progress is being made on the invasive exotics along the creek, and the garden is well tended and interesting for kids to explore.  At just under an hour’s drive from Greenville, Glendale Shoals is well worth a stop while in the Spartanburg area.

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