Rock on

I’ve recently returned from a trip to North Carolina, and my experiment with posting from my phone wasn’t a particularly resounding success. The pictures looked fine on a three-inch screen, but blown up in all its PC glory, the blog came off a bit puny.

So now I’m subjecting you to the afternoon I spent with my two boys in Chimney Rock, NC, which is moderately famous for having been the location for many of the scenes in Last of the Mohicans. (The main attraction of this film, though, as every red-blooded American woman knows, is Daniel Day-Lewis. Sooo much sexier than Abraham Lincoln, and I’m speaking as someone who almost majored in history.)

Anyhoo, juicy Hawkeye notwithstanding, the scenery of Western North Carolina is beautiful, and equipped with camera and offspring, we ventured out to view some of it.

Here is the aforementioned Chimney Rock, around which a state park has been constructed.

It’s large, don’t get me wrong, and somewhat more impressive than this picture presents.

Of much more interest to the members of our little party, though, was the Broad River, which runs alongside the road leading to Chimney Rock Park and behind the row of shops and tiny tourist cottages that line it. (Not to be confused, by the way, with the French Broad River, which sounds as though it were named for a character in Moulin Rouge!)

The trees may be bare but the weather was warm, and much time was spent hanging out on the rocks and skipping stones.

Also posing for photo ops. He was, he informed me, sitting as he would for a school picture, but with a real backdrop.

Older brother decided to go with a Mohicans stance.

It might have been only early spring, but there was quite a bit of evidence of new life along the river. Here we found some lamb’s ear growing wild. Though I didn’t include anything in the photo to provide scale, you’ll have to trust me that this was about the size of a cabbage.

Nearby was a bush struggling with some new growth.

Speaking of growth, growing boys need to touch, jump, run, and otherwise terrify their mothers around rushing water.

I know this doesn’t look all that scary from your safe vantage point there in front of your computer screen, but trust me, he’s running.

After some quality time on the river, we crossed this actual rock bridge (not a particularly unusual sight if  you’ve been to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, but still, this was a nice example) and made our way to Cutseyville.

Here is one of the sights you may behold in Chimney Rock, instruments of torture!

I lie; they are pieces of antique rock-climbing equipment. Nobody expects the Spanish Rock-Climbing Equipment!

We stopped by Chimney Rock Gemstone Mine, a nice little store featuring rocks of all sorts, some wrought into jewelry, others laying about for the simple admiring. Now, Trassie, when he’s not scaring me to death by leaping across uneven terrain, can be found playing Minecraft, an interesting single- or multi-user game that’s been described as “Legos for adults.” As the name suggests, the Minecraft world requires a lot of mining, in addition to building, so naturally Trassie is interested in rocks and gems.

He is the proud new owner of a hunk of emerald calcite, which he paid for with his Own Money. (Amusingly, at least to me, that link goes to a site called Kids Love Rocks.)

Not to be outdone, Christopher also made an Own Money purchase, but I didn’t have a presence of mind to document his acquisition of a deadly weapon, er, pocket knife. Is is, however, an “assisted open” knife, which as best I can tell is a polite term for “legal switchblade.” He’s been mockingly threatening to cut me ever since, and every time he says it, I hear Rocky saying “cut me, Mick.”

Documentation of this trip wouldn’t be complete without some evidence of my presence, so here for your admiration is a shot of me loafing on a rock, clad of course in my most comfortable boots.

As it turns out, they aren’t a particularly good choice for sure-footedness on slippery river rocks but who cares? I LOOKED GOOD.

And no trip with two sons would be complete without snickering at something. In our case, it was one of the stores in the village, which proudly presents, in cartoon form, a happy Chimney Rock. As I began snapping away for this photo, Trassie started to ask why I was taking a picture of the store, but the words died on his lips and he collapsed into a fit of snickering worthy of someone who can’t say “balls” or “nuts” without extended periods of mirth. Yes, we all three stood in the street laughing like 15-year-old boys, and only one of us had an excuse.

Yes, I am the mother of boys.

We never did make it to the boot store; a closed Harley shop promised it had another store somewhere along the (one) road through town, but I never saw it. Which means of course it doesn’t exist, for can you believe there was a shoe store within a few hundred yards that I couldn’t smell out? Of course not. So no new boots or boot yearning for me. Although I did notice, upon our return to Lexington, an billboard advertising a boot store with a gorgeous pair of Luccheses about a mile high.

But I digress.

I took more silly pictures of the boys.

And a little more scenery.

We got some cokes at the Ye Olde Store and we felt we had DONE Chimney Rock.

Let me tell you: We had a ball.

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I’ve eaten squirrel

Way back in the 1980s, when Madonna was new and Lady Gaga was only a noise you made in the privacy of your own bathroom, I was the editor of a weekly newspaper.

It was a turbulent time in my life; at 23 I had aspirations of big-time journalism but was hampered by things like having to write on an electric typewriter and supervising an editorial staff of two, which included myself. The job was enlivened by the fact that I was presiding over the sole publication of the town where I was reared, and by spending much of a summer covering a grisly murder trial, the defendant in which was a member of my high-school graduating class.

Mmmmmmm

None of that has anything to do, however, with the fact that during this year, 1986, I consumed fried squirrel.

One of the things I miss desperately about being a reporter is all the interesting and unexpected things you get to do. In no particular order, among other duties both savory and unsavory, I’ve —

• Interviewed and photographed Cheryl Ladd

• Toured a dairy farm

• Covered a wedding between two carnival workers, on a Tilt-a-Whirl

• Profiled an all-senior citizen jazz band

• Interviewed a World War I veteran

• Written about a pet cemetery

Any one of these items would make an interesting blog post, and of course each made an interesting story published in an actual newspaper. Since my foray into television, I’ve also profiled a llama farm, the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, and ostrich burgers, as well as written scripts on subjects ranging from Melungeons to a Kentucky Derby winner.

Of course, along the way, you attend a lot of meetings of planning and zoning commissions, city councils, school boards, and just plain boreds. You wait outside in the hall during a lot of executive sessions, and you go to bed after four-hour meetings that end at midnight, and then get to work by 7 a.m. to write three stories based on that meeting for publication that afternoon.

But you also get to eat fried squirrel.

Rodents aren’t the only thing I consumed in the name of rural journalism; I once was the delighted recipient of a pound of home-churned butter. The lady who churned it had served as a “correspondent” for a neighboring town’s weekly for — oh, I don’t remember now — maybe 50 years, and I was profiling her and her little homey column. For those of you not raised in rural areas, local papers often published news from little communities about who’s visiting who, births and deaths, and other ordinary occurrences. It’s a throwback to a simpler time, when such goings-on were actually news.

The reason the butter was memorable (in addition to it was incredibly delicious on toasted homemade wheat bread) was that I was able to gaze upon the actual cow who produced the milk that made the butter, as I sat on the front porch interviewing the gracious correspondent. Her husband also plowed using draft horses, an incredible sight to see.

As was the plate of squirrel.

The squirrel actually was tied, metaphorically speaking, to the World War I veteran, whom I heard about from a representative of the local VFW (or Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post. The local post provided a watering hole for veterans, and did good works, too, like getting a WWI vet a hearing aid he couldn’t afford. They thought I might want to “write up” the donation, which I did — but I was much more interested in meeting him. This event is now more than 20 years ago, but even in the 1980s it was still far, far removed from a conflict that ended when women didn’t even have the vote. Hells yes, I wanted to interview him!

Which I did, and duly published the story of our meeting, which mainly was conducted via writing the questions on my pad, since he was stone deaf and hadn’t yet received the hearing aid. Yet he recited, from memory, in German, a poem he learned after the war, where he spent a few years doing something with German industry.

And then, I was invited to the VFW Post to dine on squirrel.

It was, as I have mentioned, fried, so I can report it was delicious — inasmuch as anything batter-dipped and deep-fried is. It also, as I always report when relaying this tale, tasted like nuts. I absolutely am not making that up. Nuts. Yes, indeed, fried squirrel tastes like nuts.

That’s just the sort of education rural journalism will provide, along with murder trials, meeting movie stars, politicians — and other celebrities, like butter-producing cows grazing in the pasture off the front porch, and Great War vets who will recite poetry for a rapt audience of one, in a tiny town in rural Kentucky.