Archive | January 2014

Writing and Reading

Why can’t I instill the same enthusiastic wonder in my writing about vacation destinations, as I did when the locations were part of a longer journey?  I have given it some thought, and I think it comes down to questions of theme and audience.  Put less literarily: Why do I keep writing this blog at all?

Addressing the audience first: I started composing this for my friends and family, but most original readers stopped visiting when I suspended my writing for nearly a year.  Then, with frequent posts on what I hoped were interesting subjects, and following the recommendations for increasing readership, I found myself with a whole new cadre of followers, mostly strangers.  It was exciting – getting dozens of views per day, trying to beat my records, getting creative to keep all those folks entertained!  But eventually I got busy with other things and the writing fell by the wayside, my followers dropped away and I no longer popped up in search engines (how does that even work, anyway?).  So when I posted occasionally about my small-time adventures, I only got a few visitors, and they didn’t engage with the site.  All of this begs the question: For whom am I writing this, and why?  Is it for readers, or for myself?

Yes, writing about my experiences helps me to process them.  Knowing that I will write about a place or event helps me to look deeper than I might have otherwise.  I enjoy developing the natural and historical facts of a place through my own experiences there.  It is a creative outlet, both the writing and the photography.  Sometimes I consider whether I should try to write professionally after all, and putting words down a few times a week is a good way to stay in shape.

Obviously, though, it isn’t just a writing exercise, or I would be doing it in a journal.  Part of me likes knowing that others are looking at it.  The infrequent positive feedback is always wonderful to see!  The reader-getting-game is entertaining when it pays off, and having ten or more visits a day does make me feel like I’m actually part of the larger world.  It is gratifying to know that I do have regular followers who enjoy what I have to say, just as there are those writers whose work I follow with interest.  However, I wouldn’t say that I have enough readers to have a “readership.” Which brings me to the conclusion that even the part of my writing that is “for my readers” is really for myself.  The egotistical, attention-getting, praise-seeking part of myself? Or at best, it is because I write better when I consider the interests and opinions of my readers.  This realization isn’t helping to renew the excitement that I used to find in my writing.

And yet… having them there, having you there is what puts that enthusiasm into my narrative.  I have heard from some who have been excited and inspired by my account of a place or an adventure.  Others may stumble on my words while research a location or journey of their own, which is equally rewarding.

So, O Dear Reader, help me out here!  Why did you happen to read this today?  What are your interests, and will you visit again?  Just this once, leave a comment and let me know.  You could make the difference in whether I continue or not.

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Obligatory Century Meta-Blogging

Last week I posted my 100th episode in this blog.  Am I surprised that I got that far, or wondering why I didn’t get there sooner?  Proud?  Questioning whether any of it matters?  Maybe a little of all of that – it is a milestone (three digits!  Two zeroes! A century!) that begs for some reflection, something that I’ve been doing quite a bit of these days.

This blog started as a means to document and recount my travels during a specific journey.  I wanted a way to keep friends and family apprised of my adventures without bombarding them with emails.  I thought I’d like to get back to writing more.  As I continued on my extended cross-country road-trip, I found myself framing my experiences, as they were occurring, by the blog post to come.  What pictures would best explain what I was seeing, or best capture the moment?  What would readers be interested in, and where should I focus my activities and attention?  Themes began to develop within the larger narrative, as I found myself following the west-bound trail of Lewis and Clark, or comparing ecological characteristics across thousands of miles.  West, then South, then East, then back North.  In the end, the writing helped me to process what I was experiencing, and turn it into something more than an isolated, individual experience. 

After I returned from that journey, I settled down in a new home, with a new job, in a part of my state that I knew very little about.  It was a year after returning when I completed the story of my cross-country adventures.  Because of the delay in documentation, this blog has also helped me to remember my travels, forcing me to bring them back to mind, and pull out the best parts.  Time has proven to be very effective at distilling those features worth recalling and retaining!  I continued to write about my new, if less wide-ranging adventures, documenting the weekend adventures as I explored my new setting, and for a while the “nature” aspects of this blog superseded the “travel” portion.  Rather than finding wonder in historically-important sites or strange new scenery, I looked more closely at the wonderful plants, rivers, birds, and light around me every day.  I explored the depth of the world, leaving behind the breadth. 

As I write this, I have been in my “new” surroundings for three years, and it has been three and-a-half years since I started writing “Unsettling.”  Over time I have lost some of the everyday wonder in what I see around me.  I still find beauty around every turn, and learn new things constantly, but without the amazement I felt when it was all brand new.  Occasionally I will take vacations for a week or so, to places where I do get to explore those new things.  You may have noticed that it takes months for me to get around to writing about them here, if at all, and that when I do there is a little something missing compared to that narrative of my epic wanderings.  Passion, excitement, enthusiasm, wonder – for some reason I just can’t seem to channel it when recounting those get-aways.  Why would that be?

Buffalo Trace

IMG_1523_2Though the Jack Daniels tour was a great experience, I thought I might get something else out of a smaller distillery, and I still had a hankering for a sip of bourbon.  On the last day of my trip, barely following a breakfast of tea and donuts, I arrived at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in the capitol city of Frankfort, Kentucky.  It was a foggy Tuesday morning, but the 10 am tour had ten people on it nonetheless.  Buffalo Trace, as a brand, has been around since 1998, but the distillery has been in continuous operation longer than any other in the United States, since 1870.   That’s right – “continuous.”  The OFC distillery was one of four in the US that continued to distill spirits during the nearly 14 years of Prohibition, as a medicinal product!  Although the Buffalo Trace label is considered a small batch, there are many other bourbon products produced there, some at a more premium level (Blanton’s, Eagle Rare), some slightly less so.  They also bottle a wide variety of other products that were produced elsewhere, including vodka, rum, tequila, etc.  As a result, though Buffalo Trace is certainly produced on a smaller scale than Jack Daniels, the size of the operation is not noticeably different.

Seen through the fog, "Warehouse C" is one of the oldest buildings on the Buffalo Trace campus, bearing the initials OFC at the top, which stands for Old Fire Copper, the original distillery name.  It is full of barrels of tasty bourbon whisky... so tempting!

“Warehouse C” is one of the oldest buildings on the Buffalo Trace campus, bearing the initials OFC at the top, which stands for Old Fire Copper, the original distillery name. It is full of barrels of tasty bourbon whiskey… so tempting!

The standard (free) “Trace” tour includes two half-shot samples, a couple history stops, a visit to a small

Our tour guide turned bartender at the end, pouring us half-shots of various products distilled and bottled on-site.

Our tour guide turned bartender at the end, pouring us half-shots of various products distilled and bottled on-site.

warehouse, and a walk through the smallest bottling room.  There is also a self-guided walking tour of the grounds, with identification of the historic buildings.  Seeing the bottling room was pretty cool, especially since it was in normal operation when I visited on a weekday.  I didn’t really miss seeing the production facilities, but that was partly because I had seen them at Jack Daniel’s.  Based on my extensive visits to breweries, I surmise that the basic production does not change significantly from one facility to the next.  If this is the only place you plan to go, though, you should make reservations for the “hardhat” tour which will take you through some of these other buildings, or even the history tour which will go more into architecture and history.  As for me… maybe next time!

The bottling room... very cool part of the tour!  They were bottling single-barren Blanton's that day.

The bottling room… very cool part of the tour! They were bottling single-barren Blanton’s that day.

The one thing that I wasn’t able to photograph in either location was the scent.  If you like whiskey, that might be your favorite take-away from an in-person visit.  In the warehouses, the leaky barrels fill the old buildings with intense whisky fumes, known in the industry as the “angel’s share.”  Outside, the pervasive smell of fermenting corn mash is reminiscent of a sweet, extra-flavorful bread or breakfast cereal.  Mmmm.

The Falls

It goes to show that change is good, every cloud has a silver lining, etc. I may have had to alter my travel plans, but they wound up leading me instead to the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States!

Fall Creek Falls, at 256 feet, the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States.

Fall Creek Falls, at 256 feet, the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States.

Fall Creek Falls is striking not only because of its proportions, but also as a result of its beauty. I’m glad that I got to see it in the fall of the year, with low water levels. I find that it brings out the facets of falling water best, when there isn’t too much rushing over at once. I loved seeing the different shapes of the rocks, the cracks and troughs that the water had formed and flowed through.

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Very of surrounding bluffs from the Fall Creek Falls overlook.  The trail back to the visitor's center offers a "challenging" variant, that will allow you to walk out to the edge of the bluff near the middle of this photo!

Very of surrounding bluffs from the Fall Creek Falls overlook. The trail back to the visitor’s center offers a “challenging” variant, that will allow you to walk out to the edge of the bluff near the middle of this photo!

The falls, along with several others, are located within Fall Creek Falls State Park, which offers a ride range of recreational amenities and lodging options.  If you just want to see the water and move on, you can park in a parking lot which is approximately 300 paved feet from the falls overlook. I recommend the somewhat rough 1-mile walk from the interpretive center, though. A waterfall as impressive as this one can be appreciated even better if you work for it a little bit! Though, I admit the hike would be easier if I hadn’t done 12 boulder-strewn miles the day before!

Holly bedecked with berries helps to make the Tennessee woods a beautiful place in autumn!

Holly bedecked with berries helps to make the Tennessee woods a beautiful place in autumn!

Rock doves seemed to enjoy flying around and perching behind the cascading water - fun to sit and watch at the mid-way point in the hike!

Rock doves seemed to enjoy flying around and perching behind the cascading water – fun to sit and watch at the mid-way point in the hike!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are even more adventurous, or a glutton for punishment like myself, you can take the half-mile hike/staircase down to the bottom of the falls. It was lovely, and a great workout! Perfect preparation for the trip home – fourteen hours of sitting in a car, eating gas station food. I earned every bite!

View from the bottom of the trail down to Fall Creek Falls; I chose to rest rather than clamber closer on the rocks.

View from the bottom of the trail down to Fall Creek Falls; I chose to rest rather than clamber closer on the rocks.

The park contains several more waterfalls, including this one, which fell as a mist and was only visible as it hit the pool below

The park contains several more waterfalls, including this one, which fell as a mist and was only visible as it hit the pool below

 

Savage

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Though my goal had been to get to the Smoky Mountains, I never made it… but had great fun exploring the Cumberland Plateau instead.  Covering much of central Tennessee, this plateau is nearly 1,000 feet above the height of the Cumberland River (to the southeast), and contains an incredible diversity of plant and animal species.  It has been carved over millenia by many creeks, and the geology of the area is apparent at every turn.

I decided to take a short backpacking trip (one night… though now I’m convinced to go back for more), and decided on the Collins Gulf sector of the Savage Gulf State Natural Area, which covers nearly 16,000 acres on the western edge of the Plateau.  On a longer trip, I could have traversed the area, which is cut through by several rivers and creeks, giving it the aerial appearance of “a giant crowfoot.”  If you are handy at reading a topographic map, you’ll find this one quite impressive.

Despite the topography, I figured that a twelve-mile hike in one day was do-able, if potentially exhausting. The volunteer at the ranger station had told us that in the drought and late fall conditions, there was “no water” on the trail, so we packed in all we would need.  It turned out that there was enough water to filter in several places, so I will do my research better next time.

View from the top of the plateau, with shortleaf pine in the foreground, and hardwoods blanketing the hillsides

View from the top of the plateau, with shortleaf pine in the foreground, and hardwoods blanketing the hillsides

Twelve miles should have been do-able... if several sections of the trail hadn't looked like this!

Twelve miles should have been do-able… if several sections of the trail hadn’t looked like this! On several signs and in the park brochures, we were repeatedly admonished, “No hiking after dark.” Foolishly, I didn’t think much of it until we started encountering sections these rickety boulders!

Blazes marked the trail to keep us on track, here winding between trees and rocks in the upland

Blazes marked the trail to keep us on track, here winding between trees and rocks in the upland

The trail traverses the edge of this cliff, which would have included "the spectacular triple waterfall of Rocky Mountain Creek" in a wetter year.

The trail traverses the edge of this cliff, which would have included “the spectacular triple waterfall of Rocky Mountain Creek” in a wetter year.

The author, on a trail switchback along rock wall terraces, built by early settlers to provide areas flat enough for grazing livestock!

The author, on a trail switchback along rock wall terraces, built by early settlers to provide areas flat enough for grazing livestock!

The loop trail we took crossed the "Gulf" (a local term for ravine or hollow) twice, on suspension bridges.

The loop trail we took crossed the “Gulf” (a local term for ravine or hollow) twice, on suspension bridges.

We took a rest where the trail encountered Fall Creek, the waterfall a trickle of its springtime glory, layers of geology exposed to our autumn view

We took a rest where the trail encountered Fall Creek, the waterfall a trickle of its springtime glory, layers of geology exposed to our autumn view

Though the sun still shone, it got harder and harder to see our way in the evening, under the shadows of cliffs and trees.  We crossed our last boulder field after the sun had set, but just before all of the light was gone.  The last mile or so, though, we hiked in the dark, returning to camp to make a well-deserved supper by our headlamps!

Though the sun still shone, it got harder and harder to see our way in the evening, under the shadows of cliffs and trees. We crossed our last boulder field after the sun had set, but just before all of the light was gone. The last mile or so, though, we hiked in the dark, returning to camp to make a well-deserved supper by our headlamps!

A Delectable History Lesson

When planning this road trip to Tennessee, I soon came to the conclusion that a stop at a historic whisky distillery would have to be on the itinerary.   It turns out that one could plan an entire vacation around top-of-the-line bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey.  I’m partial to bourbon, but Jack Daniels is…well…Jack. The trip wound up including two separate visits – one to Jack Daniels in Lynchburg TN and the other to Buffalo Trace in Frankfort KY.  Both were excellent, though different.  And I’m looking forward to that whisk(e)y-centric tour someday!

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IMG-20131026-00676_2The Jack Daniels distillery is located in historic Lynchburg, TN, at the south-eastern end of the farm country that extends between Nashville and the Cumberland Plateau. It is in Moore County, which was originally part of Lincoln County.  All of this geography matters more than you might think.  I won’t give everything away, just put it in context.  The fine whiskey produced by “Mr. Jack” was a result of having an excellent source of water from the limestone spring coming out of the hills, a ready source of grain nearby, white oak and sugar maple trees for the barrels and charcoal-filtering, and temperature fluctuations to mature (or “season!”) the spirits.  Of course, there were plenty of stills, legal and otherwise, in these hills, and they all used the “Lincoln County Process” of filtering the raw whisky through charcoal before barreling.  What really made JD into the brand it is today was the pride of its founder and subsequent owners and master distillers.  It all started in 1866 when Jack Daniels became the first man to register a distillery in the United States.

I had originally planned to visit Jack Daniels on a Sunday, but plans changed and I wound up arriving there late Saturday morning.  On a typical October weekend, this might not have been a problem, but this particular day was the annual meeting of the World Barbeque Invitational.  Everything took a little (or a lot) longer than would be typical.  Word to the wise: check the events calendar before you go!  I got registered for a “sampling” tour, then walked around the historic town square, fighting my way through crowds in the gift shops, for a while.  Moore County is a dry county.  According to the story we were told, the population of the county was too low to achieve the minimum number of votes needed to vote themselves “wet” after Prohibition ended.  When, a few years back, the law was changed to allow a percentage vote, residents decided to maintain the status quo, in order to keep Lynchburg and its surroundings a family-friendly environment (aka tourist trap).  Nonetheless, a small amount of whiskey may be consumed during the sampling tour, in the interest of educating visitors about the aging process.  Other stops included the fermenting vats (wow, that mash smells strong!), seeing the original stills, witnessing the filtration process, and a small barrel warehouse.  Most of these are also included on the standard tour, which probably would have been sufficiently informative.  In either case, it is definitely worth the trip.

The tour started with a visit to the "Rickyard" where white oak is cut, dried, and turned into charcoal for the filtering process.

The tour started with a visit to the “Rickyard” where sugar maple is cut, dried, and turned into charcoal for the filtering process.

The pure water used in the Jack Daniel's distilling process is drawn from the creek emanating from this cave.  The dam and channel were built to control water levels in times of flood and drought.

The pure water used in the Jack Daniel’s distilling process is drawn from the creek emanating from this cave. The dam and channel were built to control water levels in times of flood and drought.

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The Jack Daniel’s grounds are on a hill, with buildings on different levels, overseen by the Sugar Maples that give Tennessee whiskey its distinctive flavor.