I really like the photo posted on The Daily Post at Word Press today for the photo challenge. The single, blooming red tulip in a field of budded yellow ones is an immediate visual image of what it means to be unique. Outstanding in your field, the only one of your kind, different from all the rest. Snowflakes. People. We’re all unique like that…so does that make being unique – not so unique? Tricky concept, really.
I’ve been spending a lot of time this week photographing vintage games, toys, and books from an estate and putting them up for resale on e-Bay. Part of that time has also been spent researching the object to find out if other people are selling it and for what price. Manufactured goods are not so unique. They’re usually mass produced. But after 50, 60, or 70 years, they begin to be more rare. Others of their kind have been destroyed or lost for good. They begin to show wear in unique ways: non-duplicated tears, rubs, bumps, scratches. But usually, there is another one of that item’s “siblings” out there, somewhere. I guess what I’m learning is that differences and similarities are rather fluid. We are the same AND we are different at the same time. We are connected in mass and atom and substance in numerous ways that we only dimly understand. Categorizing and separating is something that we like to do because it narrows the overwhelming complexity of the world into an order that our little brains can comprehend. But it’s all a game, really. The truth is closer to wonder, the moment when you see something and exclaim “Look at that!” not because it’s necessarily different or special or anything else but just because it IS! Wow! There it is being the way it is and isn’t it marvelous!!
Okay, with that in mind, here’s something I picked up at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, and I didn’t know what made it the way it was, but it seemed familiar and strange at the same time.
My best guess is that these leaves are from the tulip poplar tree. The lobes are not formed in the typical way on these individuals. Mutants? Perhaps. I only found one that was like a perfect heart. The yellower one was a relative, sort of the link to the “normal” tulip poplar shape. I examined the edges very carefully to determine whether someone had shaped them on purpose. They appeared to be completely natural. (oh, and the acorn is just for composition and because it had a really sexy luster!)
Variety, diversity, uniqueness. “And I think to myself…….what a wonderful world!”
After camping for 2 nights at Mammoth Cave, we headed east toward the Daniel Boone National Forest. We stopped at a public library to use the internet to get directions to a campsite, and were pleased to see that there were free campsites in the area. This is one of the great ideas from the Forest Service. Someone had the foresight to save public land through the federal government, meaning that everyone owns it and everyone can use it. Of course, working out how it’s used and by whom is an art in balance. There are rules of use intended to foster respect between different parties. There are hunting seasons, there are trails for ATVs and trails for hikers only. And there are shared trails, shared lands, shared campgrounds. Hopefully, we can negotiate and live side by side. Sometimes, that breaks down. We got to S-Tree campground and found that it is maintained in part by an ATV club and has many trails where motor-powered All Terrain Vehicles are permitted. There was no fee to camp there, and aside from two trailers in the campsite on the other hill across the forest road, we had the place to ourselves. We set up our tent across from the pit toilets, gathered firewood, and went into town for some groceries. The only thing on my list I couldn’t purchase was beer. I found out later that Kentucky has 40 “dry” counties and 49 “moist” counties in their total of 120 counties, meaning that the sale of alcohol is not permitted or is restricted in those counties. In other words, they still practice prohibition. That doesn’t mean that you don’t find Jack Daniels bottles and cans of Bud Light in the woods. Still, the weather was warm, only a little damp, and the place was quiet. The wind, the birds, the rustle of leaves on the ground and in the trees, the starlight and the slim sliver of moon were perfect companions.
We decided to do an extended hike on Friday, hedging our bets against an onslaught of weekend ATVers. We did encounter one group of 4 vehicles while we were resting beside a concrete creek crossing. We were following the Sheltowee Trace (a trail named after Daniel Boone’s native American nickname, meaning Big Turtle) for about 4 miles west along the Racoon Creek, and then planned to take an “unimproved” trail south through the woods, pick up a forest road there and loop back to the east. The “unimproved trail” was so covered in leaves that it was indistinguishable from an erosion gulley that went straight up to the top of the ridge. We ended up on top with no trail in sight. So we did some basic orienteering and blazed south, thinking we’d hit the forest road eventually, which we did, but not before I went through every survival scenario I could imagine. I was a Girl Scout for 12 years and a leader for 3, so I have practical skills. Steve has no sense of direction at all, but he also has no anxieties. Together we actually make a reasonable and happy pair of adventurers. By the time we got back to camp and started a fire for supper, we were pretty pleased with ourselves and pleased with Kentucky. We planned to stay one more night and then make camp in a different area of the Forest to hike up the Rockcastle Narrows. While we sat at the picnic table, we saw an SUV hauling a trailer and a pickup truck following it up the campsite road. The road was narrow and gutted, so the guy in the trailer had his wife get out of the pickup and help him navigate. They managed to pull past our site and set up about 100 feet away in another slot. Then they left in the pickup. So, we had company, but on a Friday night, that was not unusual. They looked like an older couple and hadn’t any ATVs with them, so we figured they would be good neighbors. They returned at about 8pm while we were snuggled up in the tent talking. A little while later, we heard the noise of a generator coming from their site. It was impossible to ignore it. It droned on and on. Quiet hours in the National Forest are posted for 10pm – 6am. We figured they were running their generator for a few hours before turning in. But maybe not. At 9pm, Steve decided he would go over and ask them how long they intended to keep the machine running, as we were trying to sleep. The old man was in his pajamas; he said he planned to run the thing all night “for heat”. Steve tried to suggest that went against the rules for quiet hours, but the man said that he’d never had an issue before and that we could simply move. Steve is calm and gentle and polite, so he came back to the tent to discuss the situation with me. We both felt bullied by the man’s refusal to negotiate, and we decided to pack up and head out. We pulled out at 10pm and waved to the man as we left. He was standing outside his trailer in his nightclothes. (How cold was it, then?)
So, we learned some more about Kentucky. Finding a hotel room along the Interstate on a Friday night is not easy. In London, they were booked up due to a Civil War Reenactment event. In Richmond, they were booked up for a University football game. Finally, in Lexington, we found a “smoking Queen” available. It was 1 a.m. The next installment will tell you how we made up for our disappointment. Here are some photos:
After two days in Shawnee, we struck camp and headed out south and east. Steve suggested Mammoth Cave National Park as our next destination. He’d never been there, and I hadn’t been there in over 40 years. We took our time getting there, having decided that we would eschew interstate highways as much as possible. Kentucky countryside in October really took our breath away and just about won us over. We felt right at home…for a while. Reminders of Wendell Berry and Barbara Kingsolver colored our interior landscape, but our exterior sightings began to speak urgently in other voices. Every quarter mile or so, there was a Baptist Church with a slogan on its marquee or a Romney/Ryan sign in someone’s disheveled yard. The National Park and National Forest boosted our faith. The rangers were intelligent, articulate, and friendly. Their awareness is broad-based; they can discuss archaeology, geology, history and the present with ease. We stopped at two different public libraries to get information as well. Scanning the “Kentucky Section”, we hit such landmarks as Bluegrass Music, Edgar Cayce, Muhlenberg County, Daniel Boone, and The Kentucky Derby. As we drove along the Green River valley, I was singing in my head, “Daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County/Down by the Green River, where Paradise lay?/ Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in askin’;/ Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.” Gas stations and barns had signs posted: “We Support Coal”. Questions: Why are we here? What are we looking for? What are we doing? What do we want to learn on this trip? More about that later. For now, some photos of Kentucky…