Thursday, November 20, 2014

Exploring Cherokee, North Carolina

Our first day out of the cabin, we did some exploring....We wanted to see the town of Cherokee, home of the Eastern band of the Cherokee Indians, town population of about 2100. Not a big town, but BIG in the sense of the cultural history of the Cherokee. The area is rich in history, song, dance, native regalia and of course stories--the stories of how things came to be, fascinating stories.......The city offers the Harrah's Cherokee Casino, an 18 hole Sequoiah National Golf Course,  a large arts and crafts cooperative called the Qualla Center, along with the town being the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with over 800 miles of terrific hiking trails. There's a LOT to see and do here in Cherokee. The Visitor's Center is staffed by members of the Cherokee tribe.

One of the first things that caught Sparky's eye were the bilingual signs everywhere, in English and the Cherokee language. And then, she saw the bears.....they were all over town. Sparky wanted to see REAL bears, and that never happened this week, but that's ok, these Cherokee bear sculptures done by native artists, were very cool....There were quite a few up and down the main street from the visitor's center, which had this cool decorated van parked there. It was very interesting to learn about the Cherokee Bears...
The brown bear with all the symbol markings is called the Pottery bear. The bear with the red hat is the Sequoah Bear, who represents the Cherokee leader named Sequoyah, who was a Cherokee silversmith. He completely created a Cherokee syllabary, which made reading and writing in Cherokee possible. This was the only time in recorded history that someone designed a system that was effective in creating a group of literate people from previous illiteracy and Sequoyah was the man responsible. The Cherokee quickly adopted this system and became more literate than their European counterparts in the area! The black and white bear with the turquoise stripes celebrates this syllabary. He's called the Language Bear. There are approximately nineteen bears located throughout Cherokee, NC....You can find out more about the bears at the visitor center. 

There's a wonderful Museum of the Cherokee Indian in town....Sparky went and saw that this week...
You need a Kleenex to walk through the museum-- the stories of the treatment our native Americans is appalling and upsetting, and not covered very well in American history. A very dark time in the history of our country, and Sparky learned a LOT about what happened in the course of events that led to the Trail of Tears, the eviction and march of the Indians to the west.

The Qualla Arts Cooperative was just beautiful....Cherokee arts and crafts (right up Sparky's alley, explains E.), finger woven scarves and belts, wood and stone carvings, dramatic masks, and beautifully woven baskets of all shapes and sizes. NOTHING made in China, it's all authentic. It's one of the oldest and leading Native American arts cooperatives in the United States. The showroom and gallery are free and open to the public.

Cherokee has two big events that are open most of the year. One is the Oconaluftee Indian Village which depicts life in the 1760's for the Cherokee. It's open from May 1 thru early October, and this year it closed October 18th, so we didn't get to see it. Performances there called "A Time of War" demonstrate the struggles between the Cherokee and European settlers. Bet that would be interesting! Another special event is called "Unto These Hills". It's an outdoor drama that depicts 11,000 years of Cherokee history. It was also closed for the year.

We walked around town...got a bite to eat at the local Burger King...And saw this guy in there...Now that's something you don't see every day in your local town Burger King!
Cherokee does their best to bring native American stories, dance and regalia to the public if the public doesn't choose to go visit some of the sites. They have story tellers and dancers on the main street in several different mini stage locations ready to regale you with stories and lore. There are also many native, touristy shops along the main drag. We didn't go into any of them, that just wasn't our interest while we were there.

As we continued out of town, we headed to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park to explore the park, something we did almost every day we were there..Sparky quickly picked up some GREAT books at the visitor's center...Hiking books, waterfall books and more....More about our NC travels next time...See you on some beautiful trails and waterfall sites!



Monday, November 10, 2014

A Beautiful Place to Rest.....A Tribute to Our Military

Sparky started this post before we went on a trip to North Carolina and between subbing and the trip, it accidentally got posted as a partial post. Oops! Here's the final version with the beautiful photos to accompany it. Thought this might be an appropriate post to put out in honor of Veterans' Day.

Over the summer, we had heard about the new Patriot Plaza over at the Sarasota National Cemetery, which was dedicated this summer, so we decided to head over there to see it.....The National Cemetery is relatively new, started in 2007. It's a pretty 295 acre park in Sarasota county, along state road 72, and 4 miles east of interstate 75. It's along the way as you are driving towards Myakka River State Park from exit 205. The cemetery is open from sunrise to sunset and there's no admission charge.

It's a beautiful, active cemetery....We were especially interested in the Patriot Plaza, a 2,800 seat amphitheater with outstanding sculptures, structures, artwork, historical photographs and amazing mosaics and interrelated symbolism of the military and their families. It's amazingly beautiful, as a cemetery should be......We studied each part of the plaza carefully, as there are many stories and themes throughout...Here are the sections of the plaza and a little bit about them....

The Main Mosaic--Night to Day, Here and Away.....
The mosaic is located at the front of the stage inside Patriot Plaza...Made of hand cut glass and ceramic mosaic, it is 50' by 3' and is an imaginary landscape of earth, air and water. It symbolizes all five branches of the military carrying out their work around the world. The landscape changes from night to day and then back again to night. It's a symbol of the time differences many military families experience. Sparky can relate to this very personally as her daughter is on her second overseas tour of duty and when it's daytime here in FL, it's night where she is. It's always a struggle to be able to find the time to talk.....

There is a line of military ribbons that runs the whole length of the mosaic, ribbons that are awarded to distinguished service men and women--The Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross and more. There are blue stars and gold stars...The blue are for the service members currently serving, and the gold stars for those who die in service. These stars are seen in the main mosaic and on the two mosaic towers that are near the center stage.

There is more symbolism....Laurel leaves signify valor, courage and achievement. Near the stage are two mosaic towers that repeat the themes of the stage designs.

The Guardian Eagles at the West Entrance....
The two bronze eagles welcome visitors at the west entrance to Patriot Plaza. They look like they are standing guard, and they represent the military's role as guardians of our freedom. They are seven feet tall and quite impressive! There is one at each side of the wall, here is just one.

Testimonies.....
These are Cherokee white marble from Tate, Georgia....They consist of 16 white marble tablets that are 8'6" tall and 8" deep. They are very personal stories about being in the service and/or what it's like to have a family member in the military. Each tablet has a window cut out, and a thick glass plate imprinted with a photographic image. Below the image, there is an engraved drawing and text of a personal story. The stories span generations of military service implying that the military has always and will be a life challenge for families.

Witness to Mission.....
Forty-nine photographs are mounted on 22 rectangular pieces of white Georgia marble. These are like a photographic collage or collection of sorts of the military experience since the Civil War. The photographs were culled from over 1,000 military subjects since the camera was invented. The final 49 are all about ordinary people who served and made sacrifices for their country. The way the columns are arranged with intimate spaces in-between invites you to step in and truly become more involved.
Throughout these marble panels are the themes of conflict, rituals of burial, celebrations, technology through time, military life and work, how the military has changed over time, the US military around the globe, and the family circle of support.

"Home"....Two curved walls...One has a nest with an adult American eagle and an eaglet...The nest signifies the soldier's home, and although it is understood the eagle learns to protect its home, it may have to leave some day in order to protect freedoms. Did you know the eagle became our national symbol for its loyalty and courage to protect its family?  From the cemetery website, Sparky learned that while in their nests, parent eagles "ball up" their talons so they won't hurt their young. They use their wings to protect their young from harm. There is more symbolism in the empty nest on the other wall, but you'll just have to come to the Patriot Plaza to learn more about the rest of these marvelous and beautiful installations....

This is truly one of the most beautiful cemeteries we have ever seen...And if you are ever in he Sarasota/Bradenton area, this is something you shouldn't miss.....Thank you to the Patterson Foundation who funded and sponsored the construction of this beautiful ceremonial amphitheater. It's a treasure we are lucky to have here in Sarasota.....

God bless all who served and are currently serving......Thank you.....

Friday, November 7, 2014

We Gotta Get Out of This Place....

"If it's the last thing we ever do...." The Animals.....

It's been a long, hot summer....hotter than normal they said...Sparky decided after hearing all about the Georgia Mountains and the lovely summer temperatures from Karen and Al, that we needed to take a trip. For some reason, she wanted to go to North Carolina really badly after having brief exposure to this beautiful state last spring. It wasn't too far of a drive, according to Eldo--about 10 hours, so we decided to look for a rental cabin in the mountains.

So Eldy started researching and researching. This actually started months ago. Sparky and Eldo wanted to be in a cabin in the mountains, in the Great Smokies or the Blue Ridge Mountains. Know how many cabin rentals there are out there to peruse? A bazillion! Ok, not a bazillion, but there were an awful lot of conditions, requirements, deposit information, fees, photos and other "stuff" to wade through and that's where Eldy excels. Sparky would look at one set of photos, and say, "Oh, yeah...let's get that one!" (She would settle for the unknown and probably end up hating it if she settled for the first one, explains E.) Eldy would say, wait a minute, it's too far from the park, or the photos aren't clear enough, or babe, it costs too much....Ok.....We kept looking....or rather, Eldo kept looking and looking....We looked at a TON of cabins, and finally started narrowing it down to the Cherokee/Bryson City/Asheville area, and the northwest corner of the state. We worked with Yellow Rose Realty Company, a smaller rental outfit than most in North Carolina out of Bryson City, NC,  but the level of service and accommodations were outstanding and we would prefer to work with them again!

We found a cabin called "Nelson's View". Eldy said he wanted to be in the mountains with a view, and boy, were we! We were four to five thousand feet up and the drive was up a narrow winding gravel road that was one lane wide. It took 20 minutes to get up to the cabin from the main road. Another 20-25 minutes to get to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Reviews said you needed to have four wheel drive, and since our CR-V has all wheel drive, we had no problems. We used first and second gear a LOT this week! Here's the thing...if you want to rent a cabin in the woods, you just can't see it all on the website...There are pictures, but there is so much more involved with whether you are going to be happy with your choice! You need to know what kind of roads lead to the cabin, gravel or paved, whether they are steep roads or gentle inclines, how far the nearest grocery store is (not an essential in the Sparky/Eldo realm of travel, haha) and you have to try and get a feel of the layout of the cabin just by a few photos on the internet. How far are you going to be willing to drive to the destinations in the area? All these things need to be considered. We thought while we were in the area, we would go investigate some more cabins and were glad we did...More about that later....

The view from our cabin was probably one of the best in the area. This was the view every night off of the upper deck.

The cabin was so "up north", Sparky loved it. It was decorated heavily with "stuff"...vintage cookie jars up high on shelves in the kitchen, native American artifacts, the shelves and bookcases were decorated to the max---very rustic. Exactly as we pictured it might be....

The furniture was overstuffed lounge chairs and couches and had the definite cabin look. Knotty pine
paneling was the standard everywhere. (Sparky LOVES knotty pine paneling.) Unfortunately, the furniture, lighting and furnishings were a little outdated...one analog TV, for example, but hey, we didn't come to watch TV, right, Eldy? (Right!)

It was comfortable and livable. There was also a wonderful wood burning fireplace, and the excellent seasoned firewood came with the rental. The cabin had a little woodshed out back with plenty of firewood. We had a fire almost every night. Temperatures were in the fifties and forties some nights. Day time temps were in the sixties and very low seventies. Sparky was in 7th heaven!

All bedding was furnished along with towels....Here's the master bedroom with a queen size bed...

There was another bedroom with twin beds on the same upper floor and a third bedroom and bath downstairs. It had a very complete kitchen with everything you could possibly want to cook with...
HahahahahahahahahHHAHAHAHAHA...What's so funny about that, you ask? as Eldy is rolling on the floor laughing so hard... Anybody reading this blog knows Sparky HATES to cook. Sparky was forced to cook a few meals as it was quite the trek down the mountain road to get to the grocery store.

The cabin was clean and neat, we were very happy with it. And that view.....sigh......

Time to plan some activities for this week! We will spread out the blog a little bit and tell you the highlights in the next few times.....




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Anna Maria Island City Pier and Other Sightings

We love the city pier. We go there once a week just to see what wildlife we can spot and what possible fishing stories we might hear....An old codger today made a quick comment about the fishing while we were standing and watching boats come in and seeing them scoop up HUGE amounts of bait fish into their boats, which were idling next to the fishing pier. And then he launched into the coolest thing he had seen in the 40 years he's been coming to the pier to fish and people watch. And that story was......

There was a boat that came in near the pier (this took place quite a few years ago, but it's still the old codger's favorite memory of the city pier) and it was obvious that the fishermen were novices and the boat was severely underpowered. A small freshwater motor and too big a boat. Well, the guys on the boat landed about a 450 pound hammerhead shark right near the pier. They hauled it in the boat with some kind of grappling hooks and the shark got MAD. He started thrashing so hard all over the deck of the boat that all their gear went flying overboard, and one of the fishermen went flying overboard along with all the stuff. The guys on the pier were laughing their heads off!

He said he saw a pair of dolphins one time catch a decent size fish and play with it, tossing it into the air, rolling over on their backs and just have a grand old time with that fish. The game lasted for quite awhile, he reported.

We've seen a school of rays, a mama manatee and her baby swim right under the pier, an aging dolphin swim close back and forth, back and forth along the pier. We've seen all kinds of birds get caught and trapped in the fishermen's hooks, even a ray one day...and today, a pair of dolphins swim so close to the beach, had we been out wading in the water, we probably could have touched them. Sparky couldn't run out to the rocky jetty fast enough to catch a photo as they leisurely swam away....

But she did see a persistent snowy egret trying to get an elusive fish out of a rock hole...
                               "Hey, c'mon outta there. I know you are in there somewhere!"

Sparky saw some cool oystercatchers...Aren't their eyes really distinct looking? Gives a whole 'nuther meaning to "red eye flight"......

We're really excited! By the time you read this, we will be in North Carolina at a cabin in the mountains in the Smokies....Sparky is really excited about going hiking! Eldo will have to take it easy. He took a spill on his bike and fractured a rib a few days ago. One of those things where the tire caught the edge of the sidewalk as he was crossing from riding in the road and transitioning temporarily to the sidewalk to avoid interstate traffic. The tire quickly twisted and down he went, luckily on the grassy shoulder. But still, a rib was fractured from an encounter with the handlebars and he is now recovering. No bike riding for 6-8 weeks, the doctor said.

See you in the mountains next time!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

More Nature...Are We Bored Yet?

Nope! Not only does Sparky see lots of nature USUALLY on her weekly or semi weekly bike rides around Bradenton, lots of other people see really cool stuff here in Florida...

On the news tonight, it was reported that people driving on highway 41, a.k.a. Tamiami Trail, saw two bald eagles duking it out along the roadside. It was a brutal fight over territory, and there was a winner. The injured loser, ended up getting the sympathy vote as LOTS of calls went in to the local wildlife rescue organization. He was captured and taken in to receive veterinary care and then released back into the wild. A happy ending!

Sparky would have LOVED to have seen and taken some photos. Unfortunately, she wasn't there, so we don't have any. BUT---another productive bike ride today...Very early in the morning, on the one day Sparky was not subbing this week. Throughout the neighborhood, there are many many ponds and wetlands. Sparky usually sees quite a few birds and today was no exception. Down at Jiggs Landing, the dragonflies were like sentinels, guarding the marsh grasses. There must have been fifty dragonflies all perched at the very tippy top of the marsh grass stems. This one looked like he was in line for take off at the local airfield!

Jiggs Landing is a beautiful spot to stop and rest for a bit....The clouds were reflected in the water this morning, with not a breeze anywhere in sight. It almost looked like snow on the ground, just for a second. (Sparky is still missing snow and cold, but when everybody up north starts complaining about the bitter cold and the ice storms hit, she will be happy she is in Florida. :-)

The limpkins were out and about today...Sparky apologizes for the dark photos...Not the best time of day for catching the best light on subjects. This was a limpkin and a tri colored heron (?) passing each other on the marsh....

Here's a slightly better photo of a limpkin...A little blurry because he was bogeying down the grass line, worried about Sparky and getting his breakfast at the same time.

Sparky's ride is not complete without spotting a gator....She read just the other day about a guy working in his backyard on a golf course here in Sarasota...He heard a commotion behind him, and a gator came charging full blast out of the pond and after him, getting a grab on his leg! He managed to get the gator off him, and made it to his house, where he then got himself treatment at the doctor for the leg bite. Yikes! Sparky still likes to get a little too close to gators to get photos, but she is becoming more cautious after hearing stories like this. ("One of these days....."---says a worried Eldo.....)

This gator is in the big pond right on our street, just a few doors down. He was out today as Sparky rode by--on the opposite side of the bank. He looks like a decent size, doesn't he? You are supposed to be able to figure out how long the gator is, by estimating how long his snout is to his eye ridge. Sparky wants to know how the heck can you get the approximate "guesstimate" snout measurement without getting a lot closer to the gator?! (DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!! warns E.)

And Sparky passed this one in another pond, keeping cool......She's glad she has a 30X zoom lens.

No spoonbills today, that is a VERY unusual sighting in the neighborhood to see one of those...Usually we have to head out to other parts of Sarasota and Bradenton to find them or we just get lucky like Sparky did last bike ride out. But, the cranes are back in force all over the place in pairs  as they usually are, and drilling the golf course for bugs. This one was beside a pond, busily preening as Sparky biked by...He didn't even blink an eye as she stopped to get a photo.....They certainly can contort themselves around to get at those itchy spots!

Another great day in the neighborhood! Sparky is looking forward to the fall temperatures coming....The rains are diminishing...We had over 10" last week, and Myakka River State Park flooded and closed most of the park. Sparky thinks soon she will want to get back over there to go gator watching....(What is it with my woman that she has this thing about alligators???? wonders Eldo.)  Don't know, dear...they are just very cool looking and so dinosaurish.....And ever since we saw a gator capture his prey and heard the bones crunching as he chomped down while we were watching at the bridge at Myakka River State Park, Sparky wants to go back again and again.....

Until next time.......See ya!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Jackpot Bike Ride Today

It's been a LO-O-N-G hot, humid summer down here in Bradenton...Hotter than normal, more humid than normal, and drier than normal. Sparky has been the lazy one in the family. She hasn't been out on her bike since mid summer, when things started to cook....In the pool once in awhile doing exercises but not as much as she should have been.

So-o-o-o-o....a cool front came in last night..We're talking the temperature was just around 60 degrees this morning when Sparky got up. Woo hoo! Time to get her bike out and get going! Not a cloud in the sky...And here's the very first thing she saw coming out of the back of the subdivision, near Jiggs Landing, the little preserve and waterway to the Braden River. She hadn't even gone half a mile on the bike when she heard lots of high pitched screeching. Hey, that sounded like a bald eagle cry! Not one, but TWO up high in a branch just across the street!

A great start! Headed down the road to Jiggs Landing...Not much going on there but a dragonfly who paused long enough for a photo...Did you know a dragonfly with its four wings can fly as fast as 30 m.p.h.? That 90% of young adult dragonflies get eaten by predators? That they have almost 360 degree field of vision? And, dragonflies are great mosquito eaters!

And a little while later, Sparky spotted this black bellied whistling duck on the left and another family of ducks keeping it company....

A few miles later and it was a great blue heron catching and eating something, not sure what!
Then, a great white heron or egret stalking some fish....Does anybody know how you tell the difference between the two?
Turn around another bend and another pond, and lo and behold.....A tricolor heron doing some fish stalking, too.

And the best saved for last, Sparky's favorite, a lone roseate spoonbill cruising around the golf course right down the fairway. Then he decided to head for the water.....

A fine day for a bike ride, indeed!  Not a cloud in the sky and temps will be moderate this coming week....YAY! About time! Sparky will be heading back out more regularly now, on her bike. She's got to get back to exercising on a regular basis!  See you later!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It's a Quiet Week.....

Sparky is anxiously awaiting the arrival of fall....Oh, yeah, wait a minute, we don't really have a fall...but it's nice to pretend. Temps are starting to come down a LITTLE...like high eighties all next week. Whew! Sparky loves to craft fall things, and when football comes on, that makes Sparky think of fall leaves, crisp fall mornings, and time to start knitting scarves and making fall items...Take a ride over to "Millie's Girls" if you'd like to see what Sparky has been crafting to get into the fall spirit.

In the mean time.....it's our weekly jaunt to Anna Maria Island Gulf Gate Tiki Bar and Grill for breakfast, and then a ride over the Anna Maria Island City Pier to see what's happening there....Always something! Today it was a momma manatee and her baby swimming right in front of us under the pier and off into the distance. Momma had a scar, a small one...We think every manatee we've seen has had a scar so far....some really big, some small. Not sure if that's an encounter with a boat or something else that caused it, but always a little sad to see.....
There were lots of Great Blue herons there at the pier today...Several were on top of the building that houses a restaurant and a bar at the end of the pier.

One had himself situated just so....It's cool to see animals and birds in nature that obviously inspire people to design things---like tripod stands for cameras.

And this one was having a bad hair day!

And what else is new?  Eldy has lit a fire in himself to get in shape. He has gone from being an admitted couch potato, snacking and watching TV for hours on end, to a bicycling' road dude, dieting and whipping himself into shape.  He's lost 13 pounds in just a few weeks, and now cycles and average of more than 12 miles a day. He decided to take this cycling so seriously, he bought himself a road bike, and the biking gear to go along with it.

He is bound and determined to get his blood pressure down and his sugar levels through exercising. Neither one of us has to take medication, and we both want to stay that way. Sparky is really proud of him! Sparky, in the meantime, has sloughed off...The heat really got to her this summer, but she's starting to realize she needs to keep some kind of routine going for her.  Playing pickle ball once every couple of weeks is NOT enough to keep the pounds at bay...Time to for HER to get back to some serious exercise...She's just not sure what, yet...Walking isn't something she enjoys very much. Might take a zumba class, who knows? :-) Stay tuned.....