“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown..."

"...for going out, I found, was really going in.”

I'm sorry I've been so out of touch lately! I've have quite a few busy days and have gotten completely carried away with all the adventures the mountains have in store for me! However, I think I'm finally getting a hang of life and schedules here. So I should be able to post more regularly from now on.

I'm getting acquainted with the geography or the park, as well, so I was confidently driving around without needing a map and was quite proud of that. That was, of course, until this morning, when my drive was cut off with a road closure due to a rock slide. So I embarrassingly slunk down in the seat of my NPS vehicle, pulled out a map, and found an alternate route.

Anyway, I've been up to a great deal the past few days.

This weekend, I took my first of many trips to Cades Cove, one of the most popular sections of the park. It's one of just a few large valleys the Smokies have to offer, and the Cove has an 11 mile road loop around it that offers some spectacular views and some potential wildlife encounters.

Looks almost more like Ireland than the Appalachia.

Speaking of which, I saw my first bear on Saturday. I was expecting my first encounter with a bear to be from across a meadow or a long ways off in the woods, something like that. But to my shock (literally) I was driving along a wooded section of the Cove and looked out my passenger side window to see a black bear less than 10 feet away. I was so surprised my reaction was a rather our of character, "Oh my God!"

I tried to pull over and get a camera out, but by the time I had, the bear was gone. He was fairly small and scrawny overall, looking more like a large flabby cat than a bear. I asked about that and learned that due to our unusual seasons recently, black bears' food supply is fairly limited.

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On Sunday, I decided to go to Andrews Bald. Another rarity in the Smokies, it's one of just a few mountaintops that are fairly treeless. It's not certain what caused these balds, but most believe they were used as grazing areas either by wild animals or farmers.

A unique view without a lot of trees in the way.

On the hike back, I decided to try something a little funny. I've always wanted to try zoom photography, but I've never been able to come up with a good opportunity to do it. This wasn't terribly successful, but it reminds me of a hyper version of what you see after stopping a long run or a tough hike and the world seems to keep moving past you, even though your standing still.

It also probably looks similar to the view from a speeder bike on Endor.

Monday and Tuesday were pretty rainy, so I took the opportunity to get some editing done and to do some research for a larger scale project that I'll be starting here in the Smokies. I won't divulge too much about it just yet, but I'm pretty excited. It was also nice to feel like an academic again as I read old books, reports, and archived documents. History is fascinating.

I also got a chance to meet with some folks from the Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts here in Gatlinburg. There one of the partners that helped get this artist-in-residence program going. They're excited to have a video person around, and it's looking like I may actually do a little work for them as well.

More to the point, though, Arrowmont is an awesome art community that offers a classes and workshops for adults and provides a campus atmosphere for those who need to flex their creative muscles in almost any medium. If you're looking for a different way to spend some vacation time, I highly suggest checking out

Arrowmont

.

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Today I went back to Cades Cove and began shooting a welcome video for the park. It was a lot of fun, and I got to meet some incredible people. At the visitors' center in the Cove, they have a couple of volunteer musicians playing old-time songs and mountain music. I sat down to record a little of it to potentially use as a soundtrack, but I ended up staying almost the entire afternoon! I'm really falling in love with the Appalachian culture.

Rebecca on the fiddle, Carl on the Banjo, and Ranger Lisa on the guitar

Carl is a total stereotype, but in all the best ways. I could go on and on about him, but I'm fairly certain we'll be seeing more of each other, so that can wait...

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That's mostly it for now. I've got a couple of really neat opportunities coming up that include spending the night in a mountaintop park lodge that is usually reserved for visiting scientists and park staff, and getting to experience the elk "rut," the season where the male elk compete for dominance over each other in order to earn a great big harem of females. Hopefully they'll put on a good show!