Jumping Into Fall

Ahh . . .fall.  Every year I am surprised to discover summer truly is over.  More so since moving to Chattanooga where the temperatures stay summer-like longer and then catch you off guard with sudden dips that remind you you’re no longer used to temperatures in the 30‘s.

I laughed at myself the other day when 26 degree weather in the early morning caused me to put on both a down sweater and a mid-thigh down jacket over it.  I couldn’t help thinking back to Ohio where I once rode my bike 13 miles to work in pitch darkness when it was 19 degrees.  I have been southern-fied.  I suppose that is better than southern-fried!

Having discovered my new sensitivity to cold, I realized I was pre-maturely cocooning this fall.  I liken the feeling of cocooning to the feeling of dread I get right before jumping into a cold swimming pool.  There’s that pause, that moment of hesitation when I ask myself “is it really worth it?”  The colder the weather, the shorter the days, the harder it is to get out and get into the water.

Today, I reminded myself that every time I’ve ever jumped in a pool, I was always glad I did.  Much like I remind myself every Friday morning when the alarm goes off at 5:15 that as much as I want to roll back over, I’ve never once regretted going to yoga class once I’ve gotten myself there.

It was this reminder that caused me to say to Pat, “Let’s go hiking” today.  We headed over to Raccoon Mountain, a combination Tennessee Valley Authority power station and recreational area.  It sounds like a strange combination, but the pump station makes a scenic lake and the surrounding woods provide miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.

I was surprised to realize we had almost missed the fall color.  The top story of trees were all but bare.  Fortunately, the understory was still going strong.  With temps back into the 60’s, we didn’t mind the tiny sprinkling of rain and the foggy, overcast skies.  In fact, the leaves seemed only more brilliant against the drab backdrop.

Tisen romped along with us, charging down the trail to catch up whenever we got ahead of him.  His wagging tail and high spirits did my heart as much good as the woods.  His recent improvement with his allergies and skin issues has made all of us wag more.  (Of course, Tisen is the only one who doesn’t look insane doing it.)  This was the first time he’s been able to run free since he started feeling better.  He’s snoozing soundly by my side now–I think he wore himself out.

As did I–the fatigue of a little physical effort reminds me how little movement I’ve gotten in the past several months.  It feels so good to get out and move!  I don’t know how I’ve lived so long without it!

Nickajack Lake

Roadside view of Lake Nickajack

Roadside view of Lake Nickajack–I needed a hedge trimmer

On Sunday, our journey through the Tennessee River Gorge ended when we got to the portion of the river where it becomes Bennett Lake.  This corner of what is nearly a 180 degree bend in the river marks the first time a major road intersects Mullins Cover Rd, the road we were on, after a lot of slow miles.

We opted to stick to major roads at this point.  In part because we’d had enough sitting in the car and in part because we were starting to get low on gas and we hadn’t seen a gas station for many miles.  We worked our way back to I-24 and headed back towards Chattanooga.  We were surprised to discover we were in the Central time zone and on the Nashville side of Nickajack Lake.

I decided we should stop and get some shots of Nickajack lake since we hadn’t managed to get any really great shots from down in the gorge.  Unfortunately, I didn’t decide this until after we had passed the best exit for views of the lake.  We went down several dead ends trying to find a road to the lake.

Another roadside view

Another roadside view

We ended up driving up the ridge around the lake a ways when just by chance I saw a break in the trees.  We parked down the road and I walked back to the spot.  It wasn’t much of a break in the trees, but it at least provided a view of the lake.

Driving through (the highway literally goes right over the middle of the lake) Nickajack lake is one of my favorite parts of the drive to Nashville (or the West end of Cumberland State park), although almost all of the drive is full of great views.

When we got back on the freeway to make our way rapidly towards food, we soon found ourselves in a traffic jam.  I started taking pictures from the car.  It’s always a bad sign when I start shooting through the windshield, but it gives you an idea of the kind of scenery that unfolds as you drive through this part of Tennessee . . . uh . . . Georgia?  No, this was Tennessee.  Barely.  We crossed the Georgia state line about a mile after this image was taken.

Scene from the actual road--a "through the windshield" image

Scene from the actual road–a “through the windshield” image

That’s another interesting thing about driving from Chattanooga to Nashville–you have to go through Georgia to get there–at least if you take I-24.  I-24 dips across the state line for about 3-4 miles as it winds it way through the mountains.

Every time we drive down I-24, I am amazed that such spectacular scenery surrounds the freeway.  Having grown up in flat Columbus, Ohio where you could drive for 2 hours in either direction and barely see a bump in the landscape, the ancient mountains of the Southeast make my mouth drop open.  I used to always think I preferred the Rockies.  I do love the Rockies, but the gentler slopes of the Appalachians have equal, if different, charm.

The moment Georgia entered my mind

The moment Georgia entered my mind

Renaissance

Looking down the sidewalk that runs along the long side of The Ramp

Looking down the sidewalk that runs along the long side of The Ramp

Renaissance Park is appropriately named.  The riverfront on this side of the river was lined with large manufacturing facilities.  I am having trouble remembering what exactly was where Renaissance is–I guess I need to stop and read the signs in the park again.

Whatever was on the 20+ acres that now make up the park, it left a mess.

Looking up at some of the brightest blooms backlit by the sun

Looking up at some of the brightest blooms backlit by the sun

Rather than haul the mess off and dump it somewhere where it could be someone else’s mess, the people who designed the park (which is apparently this firm, who has posted some cool aerial photos) created a way to “store” the waste that supposedly prevents toxic waste from reaching the Tennessee River.  According to the signs in the park (which, yes, it’s been a long time since I’ve read), the mounds we regularly refer to as “the Sledding hill” and “the Ramp,” were created as part of the program to encapsulate and stabilize the industrial waste.

I always find myself particularly tickled when I think about the kids sledding down a hill that’s simultaneously protecting them from the pollutants it houses inside.  I just hope we don’t learn sometime down the road that it’s having ill-effects on anyone.  I have to imagine the ill-effects are less than if the pollutants were continuing to leach into the Tennessee River.

A mixture of bright flowers and native grasses rises up to a deep blue sky

A mixture of bright flowers and native grasses rises up to a deep blue sky

In any case, the thought of an industrial dumping ground being turned into park that’s not only lovely, but also effective at removing pollutants from the water that flows through the property is pretty inspiring.  It truly is a renaissance.

The hill we call “the Ramp” is particularly clever innovation.  It’s landscaped as a cleanly angled plain running up the front, planted in grass and kept mowed short.  It’s one of those things that you see for the first time and wonder what on earth it’s for.  Then, you walk by when there’s an exercise class out on it and you realize someone really did have vision.

The ridge the runs up the spine of backside of The Ramp

The ridge the runs up the spine of backside of The Ramp

The popularity of outdoor fitness classes in the park is amazing.  There is not one thing that appears to have been purpose-built for fitness classes, yet the giant steps down to the wetland, the Sledding Hill, the Ramp, and even the concrete bases of park benches all provide great equipment for the most ambitious exercisers.

But it’s the other side of the Ramp that caught my focus on this day.  Or, the other 3 sides.  The Ramp is only a ramp on one end.  The rest of the hill is long and rounded and covered in native flowers and grasses.  Many of the plants produce bird seed, making the hill a favorite for many seed eaters like Goldfinches and House Finches.  It’s also a favorite for a large collection of voles who like to torment dogs passing by.

Right now, the Ramp’s backside has burst into blooms.  Looking up its slopes at the flowers backlit by the evening sun makes me think every spring is its own renaissance.

The Ramp makes for an awesome display of wildflowers

The Ramp makes for an awesome display of wildflowers

Hope and Clover

Fleabane (I think) filling a small meadow

Fleabane (I think) filling a small meadow

I have been taking the time to try to identify the flowers in my images.  It’s a little hard to tell because the images I’m finding online do not have good size comparison.

That said, I’m fairly certain that the tiny flowers with the fringe of petals in white are fleabane.  It’s a native wildflower in the aster family (which perhaps I am the last person to learn).  I found its photo on the uswildflowers.com website; the image was taken in downtown Chattanooga.

Tighter view of fleabane

Tighter view of fleabane

I was able to find many photos submitted on the website by the same photographer and even one image in a local Chattanooga newspaper.  However, I was unable to locate a website.  I find myself curious as to whether I have met this photographer or not.  Not that I have met every photographer in Chattanooga, but I have run into quite a few now.

I digress.  The final flower I identified was, I believe, the oxeye daisy.  It seems quite a bit larger in the image on the website than the ones I saw in person, but I can’t find anything else that looks like it.

Oxeye Daisies?

Oxeye Daisies?

These are not native.  They were introduced and are now becoming invasive–they’re officially listed as invasive in quite a few states now, although Tennessee is yet to be one of them.  Fortunately, only a few clumps of these appear in our little park.

They have been working to gradually remove the invaders and seem to only plant natives in the park, so it’s been fun to watch the transformation.

I wish there were a way to send romantic young couples seeking flowers after the invasive species.  The young couple I caught picking evening primrose (see 2 posts ago) might have been put to good use neutering oxeye daisies!

Follow the curb

Follow the curb

As Tisen and I slowly made our way past the meadow of fleabane and daisies, I stopped to catch an angle that interested me looking back at the aquarium.  I didn’t quite get what I wanted, but maybe a little later in the evening when the sun is low enough to light the front of the aquarium would be better.

On our final stretch towards the more landscaped part of the park, after crossing the wetland, we paused to look up the stairs at the sledding hill.  I couldn’t help but notice with surprise that the sledding hill is growing large clumps of clover all over its Eastern face.  This struck me as both improbable and fascinating.  After all, it’s a sledding hill.  Not a northern sledding hill, but a southern one that gets slid upon, climbed up, skated down, run up, slept on, and even bicycled on every day of the year with very few exceptions.  That clover had found a purchase on the side of this hill and somehow evaded cardboard sleds, trampling feet, and rolling children seemed quite an achievement for a living thing bound to the earth by its root.

Stairs lining up with the sledding hill--clover clumps just barely visible on right side

Stairs lining up with the sledding hill–clover clumps just barely visible on right side

The clover made me feel surprisingly hopeful.

Birdathon Awards

The winner with the most observed birds in the elementary age group celebrated with his family

The winner with the most observed birds in the elementary age group celebrated with his family, but his sister wasn’t so excited

Our first annual Birdathon to raise money for the Chattanooga Audubon Society came to close this Saturday when we gathered together to award prizes.  Due to the fickle weather that fluctuated between sunshine and pouring rain every half hour or so, the event was moved into the visitor’s center.

This little one wasn't a birder, but she sure enjoyed modeling

This little one wasn’t a birder, but she sure enjoyed modeling

The event kicked off with hot dog roasting over the fire.  However, the use of the fireplace had to be timed carefully–the Chimney Swifts nesting in the chimney are only out so long in the evening and we wanted to make sure we didn’t asphyxiate them with smoke when they came back to roost for the night.

AU0A0915

We didn’t have to worry about the heat–the fire didn’t get hot enough to roast the marshmallows at the end of the evening.  This was probably for the best.

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It was a lot of fun to meet the kids who participated and discover how much they and their families had learned about birds in the process of Birdathoning.  They had a similar experience to what I think most birders have when they get started–the sudden realization that we’ve been missing an entire world of incredible creatures that surround us every day.

Kyle MC'd for the Evening

Kyle MC’d for the Evening

Birding can be addictive.  It creates a sense that someone has been pulling one over on you and you become determined not to let them get away with it anymore.  Like you’ve been part of a big cosmic joke because you haven’t noticed the Hooded Warbler singing over your head or the Scarlet Tanager feeding in the tree tops.

Most Bird Species Identified Award (prize of a bird feeder not shown)

Most Bird Species Identified Award (prize of a bird feeder not shown)

It’s a great analogy for how many of us live our lives–so busy and so worried all the time–thinking, thinking, thinking–that we don’t notice where we are or what’s around us.  For me, listening for birds, watching for birds, spending time looking at them carefully and listening to their songs to really see them, really know them is not just a process of identifying a bird; it’s an experience of seeing and hearing with intention and purpose.  Of seeing with intensity more of the world that is and less of the world in my head.  And being rewarded with wonder and awe in return for paying attention.

The top fund raiser award (who also got a bird feeder)

The top fund raiser award (who also got a bird feeder)

All in all, it was a satisfying first go.  We raised a fair amount of money for a small band of 23 people.  We got 19 children interested in birding and their moms got excited about it, too.  We had a lot of fun in the process and some of us added many birds to their life-lists (myself included).  I got to bird with several talented birders who taught me new things, and I even got a couple of decent shots of birds in the process.

Certificates were also given to "judge" participants who weren't eligible for prizes--Linda identified 123 birds during the event

Certificates were also given to “judge” participants who weren’t eligible for prizes–Linda identified 123 birds during the event

If that wasn’t satisfaction enough, I was given a really nice gift by my fellow organizers for importing the event from Columbus and helping to plan it.  They even gave me flowers.  I felt a little guilty, but it was nice to be appreciated.

 

Marching to the Beat

 

Tisen kept my fellow volunteer busy while I got a shot of the booth, McClellan Island in the background, and some rapidly forming clouds overhead

Tisen kept my fellow volunteer busy while I got a shot of the booth, McClellan Island in the background, and some rapidly forming clouds overhead

Sitting on the Walnut Street Bridge and watching tourists walk by is always fun.  What was surprising to me on Sunday was how many people were not tourists.  The local community showed up in pretty substantial numbers for an unadvertised, unprecedented parade on the Walnut Street Bridge.

As representatives of the Chattanooga Audubon Society, my fellow volunteer and I stopped a couple dozen people and managed to gather a dozen or so emails to add to the organizations contact list.  Of the people we stopped, only 2 of them were from out of town.

The 8-year old drum major led the band down the bridge

The 8-year old drum major led the band down the bridge

I can’t claim this to be a representative sampling of the population on the Walnut Street Bridge that day, but it seems that 90% of the people on the bridge were locals.  When you think about it, it makes sense.  The Howard High School band was performing.  With them, the brought all of the family and friends that support them.  The Chattanooga Ballet company was marching, the brought some more.  And so the list goes on.  I guess that’s what makes a parade a community event–it brings out the locals in masses to support the ones they love who are marching in the parade.  And, of course, the locals who just want to have something fun to do or who support the cause behind a parade.

The cheerleaders kept pace with the band

The cheerleaders kept pace with the band

Whatever brought people to the Walnut Street Bridge that day, the Howard High School Band was determined to entertain them.  After the dancers (see yesterday’s post), their 8-year old drum major led the instrumental section as they stepped in time to a raucous beat–it was enough to get the wood planking on the bridge vibrating.

Following the band came the cheerleaders.  They weren’t quite as wound up as the dancers in front of the band had been–no dances or active cheering as they went past our end of the bridge.

Most parades have fire trucks.  Since they won't fit on the Walnut Street Bridge, the firefighters walked instead

Most parades have fire trucks. Since they won’t fit on the Walnut Street Bridge, the firefighters walked instead

I was impressed by the ballet company’s choice of attire for the parade.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen a ballerina elevated over another dancer’s head while wearing rubber rain boots before.  I’m not sure if they made it the entire half mile across the bridge like that, but it made for an exciting presence in the parade.

Ballet Chattanooga displays it's fun taste in footwear

Ballet Chattanooga displays it’s fun taste in footwear

The Dogood organization closed the parade.  This group promotes responsible dog ownership and a dog-friendly community.  They are responsible for getting the bridge open to canines, who were prohibited from crossing the bridge until a few years ago.  Tisen was happy to see them–grateful for the many times he’s gotten to accompany me on the bridge because of their work.  Although, I do think he was jealous of the other dogs’ Cinco de Mayo costumes.

The do-good dogs won best costume

The do-good dogs won best costume

At the end of the parade, the band gathered on the steps leading up to the glass bridge over to the Bluffview Art District.  They performed a couple of songs and then marched across the glass bridge.  This seemed dangerous, but they all made it safe and sound.

The last of the band makes its way across the glass bridge

The last of the band makes its way across the glass bridge

Here Comes the Sun

Tisen getting comfy under the booth--he turned out to be a big attraction

Tisen getting comfy under the booth–he turned out to be a big attraction

Given the size of Chattanooga, I am always surprised by the number of celebrations the city hosts.  Besides music venues, festivals, concerts, and fireworks, there seem to be a large number of parades.  Although, I guess it has been since Christmas that I was aware of a parade.  I’m sure there have been many, none-the-less.  🙂

I didn’t actually know what this weekend’s parade was for until I googled it just now.  I ended up on the Walnut Street Bridge manning a booth for the Chattanooga Audubon Society along with another volunteer.  We didn’t really know what to expect–it was a first for this event.

The parade opened with the rental bikes available all over the city at convenient locations

The parade opened with the rental bikes available all over the city at convenient locations

As it turns out, it might be a long time before there is another parade on the Walnut Street Bridge–the parade was in honor of its reopening as a park 20 years ago.  It’s a fantastic place and one definitely worth celebrating.  Our job, however, was to sign up as many people as possible for our email list, give those who did sign up free passes to the Audubon Acres property, and pass out Toostie Pops to children who showed interest.

Next came a mini choo choo belonging to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Next came a mini choo choo belonging to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga–well, it’s back there behind the bikes

As a sideline, I hoped to point out interesting birds to passers by and had binoculars and bird books set out for that purpose.  As usual, however, we were out in the middle of the afternoon at the worst possible time for birding.  We did see a Great Blue Heron and some Rock Pigeons, but nothing very exciting.

The thing that was the most amazing about sitting out on the Walnut Street Bridge on Sunday afternoon was the sun.  The weather was supposed to be rain all weekend.  When I looked at the weather channel app on my iPhone, the chance for rain dropped from 100% to 90% about noon on Sunday.  When we drove out to Audubon Acres to pick up lunch and load up the stuff we needed for the booth, the rain had slowed to a mist.

I don't know if the sunshine made these dancers especially enthusiastic, but they sure were having fun

I don’t know if the sunshine made these dancers especially enthusiastic, but they sure were having fun

By the time the van was loaded and we were back on our way to the Walnut Street Bridge, the rain had stopped.  When we arrived on the bridge, I pulled on my rain jacket for warmth–the sky was dark and threatening and the wind was blowing hard.  By the time we’d been there a half an hour, I was pulling off my jacket and putting up my umbrella for protection from the sun instead of the rain.

Tisen tucked himself back in the corner under the shade from my umbrella and drank more water than I’ve seen him drink in a long time.

It was like the parade organizers had special-ordered the weather.  This respite from the rain lasted long enough for the parade to conclude, our van to be re-loaded, and for us to drive nearly all the way home before the clouds blew back in and the rain re-started.  I really think I need to get to know the parade organizers better.

The dancers may have been the highlight of the parade

The dancers may have been the highlight of the parade