NJ Visit and Empty Sky Memorial

I enjoyed a short but lovely visit with my son in Jersey City, NJ over the Christmas holidays.  A bit of culture shock for me to stay in the city, after living out here in the Daniel Boone National Forest.  On Christmas day, with temperatures incredibly in the mid-50s and the sun shining,  we decided to visit Liberty State Park and walk off our dinner.  Amazingly, even though I was born, raised, and lived in NJ until 1995, I’ve never been there or even close to the Statue of Liberty.  And, I had not been anywhere close to the NY Skyline since 9-11.

They’ve built a beautiful memorial in Liberty Park, called the Empty Sky Memorial.  It was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2011.  You can read more about this park here.  The two walls are as long as the Towers were wide and direct the visitor to a view of Ground Zero, just across the water and a little more than a mile away.  The names of NJ residents lost on 9-11 are inscribed on the walls.  The Freedom Tower is filling the empty space where the Towers once stood.

Under Construction - the Freedom Tower


Old train station

The old train station is still there, and I realized my father probably came right through here after Ellis Island.  We drove around to the other side of the park and then walked again, for a closer view of  Liberty  and Ellis Islands.  From this vantage point we were behind the Lady, but that didn’t matter.  I couldn’t help but think of my father, my grandmother, my aunt and uncles who came to America in the early 1920s, passing through this place – and tried to imagine what they were thinking and feeling.

Statue of Liberty

Ellis Island

I’m sort of ashamed that it’s taken me this long to get this close, especially having grown and spending most of my life in NJ. I suppose, living a little over 50 miles away, it was either too far, or we just never found the time.  Or,  quite possibly, we just took it all for granted.

But I think getting closer to it, seeing it in person – is something every American should  do.  You’ll understand why when you do it.


Full Circle

Last Sunday, we took my 90 year old father-in-law out of the assisted living/hospice care facility for a change of scenery. Dad’s health is failing and his short-term memory isn’t quite so sharp anymore, but his eyes teared up when we drove the 45 minutes to the Big South Fork area and the Barthel Mining Camp where he was born.

Dad always told people he was born under a rock in the mining camp – and now we understand what he was talking about. He was born in one of the cabins that clung to the cliff under this rock wall. The cabin Dad was born in is long gone, but he says it was very similar to this one, which is part of the restoration in Barthel.  The camp and nearby Mine 18 are now a historical site in the Big South Fork National Recreation Area.

Dad was born and raised here and like his father, worked the coal mines.  The only way out was to hike up the mountain or scale that rock wall.  Dad said they didn’t get out much.

This is the view looking from where the cabins and store buildings are, toward the only way in to the camp other than the railroad.  The road (now paved, of course) comes in along the side of this mountain of rock.

It’s difficult to get the perspective from this photo, but it’s several miles from the camp to the top of the mountain.

There were about 45 houses in the camp when Dad lived there.  This row of restored buildings were the camp store, the bath house, and on the end, the motor house.  The mines were located behind the buildings.

Barthel is open to the public now as a historical site and in the summer, a steam train tour takes visitors from  nearby Stearns into the mining camp. We couldn’t really tour the buildings or the mine because Dad couldn’t leave the car, but I will go back and have another look soon.

In the meantime, we have a new appreciation for what life was like for this man and his family.  We’ll try not to grumble so much anymore about little inconveniences like no cell phone signals or slow internet service.  Life is good.

Bearly There (sorry)

 NJ Black Bear – photo by Rob Socha

A few ‘bear aware’ flyers and posters are beginning to appear around town – especially in sporting goods stores or places that sell feed. A bear population in KY is a relatively new thing – which seems rather odd considering the amount of bear habitat here. But the bears have been gone since around 1900.  The wooded habitat was severely logged, and the bears hunted without laws or limits.

The forest habitats have largely recovered from excessive logging, and black bears are now finding their way into eastern Kentucky from Virginia and West Virginia, and in southern KY, from Tennessee. We’re sort of between the two, in south-central KY very close to Tennessee in the Daniel Boone National Forest, and only 20 miles from the Big South Fork Recreation Area.  Plenty of prime bear habitat – but we have heard of only one or two sightings.  I can’t believe that there are no bears here, so I’m thinking the lack of sightings may be due to the fact that, unlike overpopulated New Jersey (a few old posts  here and here) the bears in KY simply have plenty of open space and don’t venture near or stay around people long enough to be seen.

The current bear situation in KY reminds me of NJ when I was a kid in the 60s.  I’m sure there were a few around, but we never, ever saw them. I saw my first bear in NJ in the mid 80s, only because I was with the bear biologist and we were tracking a radio-collared female. Come to think of it, we never did actually see her – she kept moving away whenever we got close.

According to the Fish and Wildlife authorities here, the number of bears in KY is unknown.  There are enough, however, in three eastern counties that there’s going to be a short bear hunting season this December. Of course there is.  I won’t say any more about that….

For now, having come from NJ where bears are commonplace, I’m enjoying not having to worry about them being in my face.  But the truth is, I miss seeing them.  Surely, they belong in woods as vast as these, and I’m certain they are out there. I”m hoping we can continue to enjoy this natural balance, where they remain wild and in the woods instead of parked in my yard.

I have all this new-found freedom!  I can hike here and be outside without constantly watching for bear. I can put up my bird feeders and suet without imposed restrictions from the authorities. I can leave my birdfeeders out overnight. Still can’t leave the trash, but that’s due to coyotes, feral cats, raccoons, opossums, neighborhood dogs, and other mysterious nighttime critters.

So far, my suet and bird feeders have been molested only once by raccoons.  I’ve hung them out-of-reach on a wire line now, so the raccoons will have to scrounge for leftovers on the ground. When my hanging suet and sunflower feeders disappear, and when I find my cross wire ripped out of the poles and on the ground, I’ll know there’s been a bear in the yard.  Or maybe Bigfoot.  Cain’t never tell around here….

Toads and Old Trees

Oh, come on!  How could I not change the banner and background?  Look at that face!  And finally, a nice subtle background color, and lots of room for photos, and everything works.  But mostly…it was that face!

In other news, it was a beautiful day today and I took a drive to the nearby Mill Springs Battlefield, of the Civil War era.  It was interesting, if not a bit depressing, as most battlefields are.  But then I found this old tree, close to the place where well-known General Zollicoffer was killed. I’m not really a follower of the Civil War, like some folks are.  I was more attracted to this tree, which I’m betting a lot of visitors to this area probably don’t even notice.

I’m not positive what species it is, but I intend to go back again for a closer look and try to find out. Most of the heartwood is missing – instead there’s a huge hollow in the main trunk.

What caught my eye too, was the scarred swirly spot where there most likely used to be a limb. Not to mention the fact that although much of the heartwood was gone, there was new growth toward the top of the tree.

The view of part of the battlefield from where this tree stands. I didn’t take the full driving tour today, but it’s close enough to home that I’ll go back soon and have another look.

Old Wagons and New Goats

Hunting season is underway here so I’m not in the woods as much as I’d like to be, but there’s plenty to explore close to the house, since we’re in the deep woods anyway. On the gravel road behind our place, for instance, is this abandoned something or other.  I thought it was a wagon at first, but there’s evidence that it was some type of mechanized thing – a harvester, or something that had chains and moving parts.
I didn’t walk up on it this time, since the warmer days are bringing out the ticks again, but I remember looking at this a couple of years ago. It’s been there a very long time – there’s a tree grown right up in between the floorboards.

The one right behind the wheel – you can barely see the trunk if you look through the wheel spokes.  There are chains running down the side of this thing, and it looks like there once was an engine of some sort toward the rear.  There’s an old cemetery nearby too – no buildings left at all. Some of the locals say there used to be a small town that was destroyed by a tornado.  What I see is how Nature takes over once the people go away.

Interesting how things go in cycles.  Just down the road from this relic, not more than a few hundred yards, neighbors from closer to the lake have purchased some land in the woods, cleared it to the former farmland that would have been present when this piece of farm equipment was in use, are building a cabin and are raising goats.

 I would have preferred horses, but OK. Goats are good too.

That’s Some Rock!

arch1Saturday, Oct. 3 was one of those really perfect fall days – crisp, cool, sunshine and blue sky – so I decided to visit the natural arch that’s about 13 miles from our home.  I love rocks, and this one is impressive.

Wind, water and ice eroded the softer stone and left this hole in the hard cap rock, creating an arch that measures roughly  50 by 90 feet. The area around the arch is now a park within the Daniel Boone National Forest.  There are several hiking trails, including one that takes you down under the arch itself.  There’s another arch somewhere on one of the trails, but this is the major formation and I haven’t hiked all the trails yet, so I can’t comment on the other.

arch3According to the Park brochures, the area under the arch was considered sacred ground by the Cherokee and the Native people that were here before them.  It isn’t difficult to imagine that it was, or that it still is.

This has quickly become one of my favorite places to visit, conveniently close to home, but so magnificent in what it has to offer that each trip is a new experience. I’ll no doubt be posting more about my explorations there.

It probably took me longer than most to hike to the bottom, only because I kept being side-tracked by other things to see, like this flowing rock with the straight line of pebbles caught in the motion. How did that happen?  A trip to the library for some books on Kentucky geology is in order…


I was also impressed by this forest of moss and lichen under the cedar trees on top of one of the rock ledges.  I’m not sure what the red hairy plant is – more books required!


The remaining photos are the area under the arch, and the last one is the view of the woods looking out from the rock shelter.  I have no doubt that this was, and still is, Sacred Ground.


The shelter area under the arch



Lake to the River

lowlake1We live about half a mile from part of Lake Cumberland, in the Daniel Boone National Forest.  Lake Cumberland is a Tocks Island dam that happened.  In the early part of the 1950s, the Army Corps of Engineers built the Wolf Creek Dam across the free-flowing Cumberland River, resulting in the 63,000 acre, long and narrow Lake Cumberland.  The historical riverbed settlements were lost.  The town of Burnside (our closest town), which used to be along the river bed, was moved up the mountainside and out of floodwater range.

The river’s rock walls lent themselves well to holding lake water – the lake is almost 800 feet deep in places.   Or was.

Seems like the Wolf Creek dam has been leaking, and about 2 years ago the Army Corp started lowering the water level to ease strain on the dam and to address repairs.  They tell us now that the repairs are going to require at least 7 years to complete, to the tune of more than 300 million dollars, and that if they can’t fix certain ‘geological problems’ that we could soon be living half a mile from the Cumberland River.

That suits us just fine, though I’m sure it will have some negative impact on the houseboat and recreational boating industry around here.

lakewalls1We have an old, ugly little motorboat that isn’t much to look at, but it floats, has a small engine and trolling motor, and gets us to the fishing holes.

I personally don’t fish, but I love going along for the ride because I get to see up close some of the amazing ‘geological problems’ that make up this river. Lake. River. Whatever.

swallownestOn our last fishing trip, I managed to find a swallow nest, up high on one of the ledges.  Probably a cliff or barn swallow, but without seeing the birds or a closer look at the nest, hard to say for sure.

Lots of poop on the walls below indicated the nest was probably successful – and why wouldn’t it be?  Few predators except for possibly a rock-climbing snake or very adept bird-of-prey could get near.

My next project is to study some of the geological features around here and learn more about them, because I like to know what I’m looking at.  I can recognize sandstone and limestone, but those intricate shapes, holes, caves, and all that goes with them, need some explaining.  Life is good.

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