Cook’s Wall, Hanging Rock State Park Photos

While hiking at North Carolina’s Hanging Rock State Park this past fall on the Cook’s Wall Trail, I was struck by the dramatic clouds in the sky–and the raptors riding the thermals along the cliff-faces. In these photos, I like the way the vultures silhouettes are in sharp contrast to the the amorphous shapes of the clouds–and how the clouds add drama to the mountain views.

Clouds and Raptor Raptor and clouds

Raptor with Sauratown Mountains in background Pilot Mountain and Sauratown Mountain viewed from Cook’s Wall

Clouds over Hanging Rock Hanging Rock viewed from House Rock

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N.C.’s Stone Mountain Photos

While N.C.’s Stone Mountain is a long ways from Yosemite’s Half Dome and El Capitan in terms of both size and distance, they do share something in common. Granite! Stone Mountain, an outlier of the Blue Ridge, is a geological feature known as a pluton, a large mass of granite originally underground but long since eroded to the surface. Like El Capitan and Half Dome, Stone Mountain is a favorite with climbers who like the variety of routes provided by the massive 600-foot cliff face. Also, hikers are drawn to the popular Stone Mountain Trail that traverses the summit, offers views of the cliff face from a meadow at the mountain’s base and includes a large waterfall. I photographed Stone Mountain in black and white, which emphasizes the texture and striations of the granite, in tribute to one of my favorite photographers, Ansel Adams.

Stone Mountain in the distance

Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

Center section of Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain with tree in the foreground

Center section of Stone Mountain with tree in foreground

Stone Mountain with a crown of trees

Just right of center section of Stone Mountain

–Mark Caskie

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Hidden Falls and Window Falls, Hanging Rock State Park

Hidden Falls and Window Falls are two of the most visited falls at N.C.’s Hanging Rock State Park. That’s due to their proximity to one of the main parking lots and picnic areas. It’s less than a half-mile to Hidden Falls and less than three-quarters of a mile to Window Falls from the trailhead. While neither fall is large, both are scenic and worth the short walk, and Window Falls has some unusual features that deserve special mention. Because the water there free-falls off a large overhang, you can walk behind the waterfall (or even stand in it when the weather is warm). There is also its namesake window, a hole in the rockface just to the left of the falls, no doubt carved by the water in the distant past. But there is something else that is not so obvious. If you go up the left bank and around the end of the rockface, you will find a dark ravine that leads to another hidden waterfall. Think of it as a bonus waterfall (no signs will tell you that it is there), and the view out the window is much more interesting from this direction as well.

Hidden Falls

Hidden Falls

Window Falls

Window Falls

The window

The window

Bonus waterfall just above Window Falls

Bonus waterfall just above Window Falls

–Mark Caskie

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Until the War Ends

Spice

“Deprive me of a husband, but he would deprive me of kindness as well,” Laurel confided in her best friend Summer, barely suppressing her anger.

She didn’t dare speak the king’s name for spies were everywhere. So long as she didn’t speak his name then she could perhaps deny her words–say she was speaking on an overattentive suitor, blame such actions on the shepherd or the village blacksmith.
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“You must run away,” replied Summer. Her face colored as she suppressed the name of Laurel’s fiance, but his name “Hunter” hung in the air nevertheless. She know the dangers of speaking too freely of this matter.

It was an impractical suggestion. Where would she run to? How would she find Hunter on the distant battlelines where thousands of men fought and died daily? But she loved her friend Summer all the more for the indignation and defiance that ran through her veins on Laurel’s behalf. And one day she would run away, she told herself, but not until she could do so with Hunter.

She remembered the sudden appearance of the young king in her humble cottage in the late spring while her parents were away tending the sheep in the mountain pastures. His crown had bumped against the doorframe as he entered, and, unlike the young men of the cottages, his skin was as fresh and unmarred as a baby’s.

She had been so flustered by his unlikely visit, that at first she didn’t catch the drift of what he was saying. He patiently repeated his assertion of the divine right of kings, she understood that all right, but it was the part about bestowing the “blessings of God” on her upcoming wedding that she didn’t fathom. The “right of Primo Noctur,” he called it.

When she finally figured out his meaning, she had been terrified and humiliated. “I love Hunter and only him,” she declared, before fleeing into the nearby forest. She had hidden in a small clutch of fallen trees, her heart pounding along with the pounding hooves of the king’s horses as they criss-crossed the forest searching for her. By morning, the king and his men were gone, and she wondered if she had simply dreamed the strange events.

But that same day the king had suddenly sent Hunter off to the battlelines. She barely had time to say good-bye to him, much less tell him what had happened.

Then the rumors started. Rather than sympathy, her neighbors blamed her. She found herself ostracized by the village for somehow tempting the young king, though she had barely laid eyes on him before that night. It was difficult without Hunter or her family to support her. Only Summer had stood by her. They would met in secret and talk without naming names. She was determined that Hunter would return to her to find her as chaste as the day he left.

A month later, the king had made it known by secret messenger that one day he would come to her cottage again, and this time he would stay till sunrise, welcomed to her bed.

“Don’t worry,” she said reassuringly to Summer. “I don’t think he will come, after all,” she said as she took out a small pouch from the folds of her dress. “Men don’t like it,” she whispered hurriedly.

Summer gasped at the sight of the pouch. Laurel thought for a moment that Summer might be imagining that Laurel planned to poison the king. He might have wronged me, but he is still divine, she thought. To clarify she said, “Wives don’t like it either.”

It had been relatively easy to sneak into the king’s castle disguised as a scullery maid and sprinkle the substance from the pouch onto the king’s dish. She had done it nightly for three weeks now. The truth was that the pantries in the bowels of the castle were largely unguarded, if you knew which passages to take. And the pedlar had not lied about the substance’s properties.

“Rumor is that she sleeps alone,” Laurel said. “And he avoids her at every turn.” Laurel leaned in closer to her friend. “I fear theirs will not be a happy marriage until the war ends.”

–Mark Caskie

Note: The closed captioning on my television occasionally freezes on a random line. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to use these lines as writing prompts. The rules of my writing game are that I must write a short-short story in a single sitting.

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Lower Cascades, Hanging Rock State Park

Lower Cascades at North Carolina’s Hanging Rock State Park, near the town on Danbury, is sometimes overlooked by casual visitors because it lies outside of the main park, but the short detour to see the falls is well worth the trip. (Turn right on Moore’s Springs Road just before the park entrance, then left on Hall Road. The falls’ parking area is a short distance from the second turn.) After descending a series of elaborate stairs perched on the side of the gorge, you will find yourself at the falls. While it isn’t especially high (perhaps 35 feet), there is usually plenty of water and a lovely bowl-shaped pool at its base. To the left of the falls a massive rockface creates a dramatic contrast to the flowing water. A series of stepping stones across the pool will allow you to get close enough to the falls that you can feel the waterfall’s spray. In warm weather, you may find yourself tempted to go for a swim in the cool water.

Walkway to Lower Cascades

IMG_0517

lClose-up of Lower Cascades

–Mark Caskie

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Sisters in Shadowland

teacup2

“We are sisters in more ways than you know.” The words ran through Liz’s mind as she walked along the city streets of midnight, hurried from one pool of light to another fearing the darkened stretches in-between.

What could Jen possibly mean? She was always so ridiculous with her oracular pronouncements. It was something in the way that she looked Liz straight in the eyes and leaned in, arching her eyebrows. It was as if she had access to all the secrets of the cosmos. It was a little trying, but Liz had always found Jen’s mannerisms tolerable because she had known her, at least distantly, since childhood.

They were from the same small town in the coal country of West Virginia but had not been close. Liz remembered sitting near Jen in third grade and how weird she had thought it was that Jen drew pentagrams, goblins and monsters all over her notebook.

Years later, they had met again in this distant city. Liz had just finished art school and was in a post-college malaise of under-employment, unsure of what direction her life was taking. She had bumped into Jen at a mutual friend’s party, and there had been an immediate connection because of their shared roots, Liz supposed.

Liz pulled her black, wool cape tighter around her shoulders to keep the brisk fall air out. It had been a gift from Jen last Christmas. Jen had bought it for her after Liz had complemented her on the one she was wearing. It was an exact match, right down to its silver buttons. It was a thoughtful gift, really. Totally unexpected. It had become Liz’s favorite. They liked to joke about their appearance when they found themselves both wearing the capes at the same time.

Somehow, Jen had managed to get a college degree and a law degree in just five years–and was now working for one of the major firms in the city. It was a revelation because as children Liz had always assumed, like the other girls in her school, that Jen was not particularly smart or gifted in anything. Jen had been a loner, sometimes subject to taunting by the other children. Liz remembered her own indifference to Jen, more afraid of being taunted herself than willing to speak up against the class’s injustice to the sullen, quiet girl. Children are so mean, sometimes, Liz thought. That goes for me too.

And now, Liz was going to apply to law school. She had spent many an evening with Jen discussing if it was the right fit. If she got in, it would be expensive, but Jen had already offered to let her rent a room at her row house, just blocks from the university.

So Jen tried to not let it bother her too much when Liz intimated that she had supernatural powers and insights. Jen would fix weird concoctions that she would serve her, while reciting a list of their magical properties. OK, so Jen has swallowed this new age crap hook, line and sinker, thought Liz. It’s just herbal tea for God’s sake, and Liz is a good friend. And indeed, the concoctions while strange and unrecognizable were always delicious.

Tonight, it had been a concoction that would summon the “wraiths of the underworld.” It was always unsettling when Jen said things like that. And her smile seemed vaguely menacing, as if she knew more than she would say.

Liz tensed now as she turned the corner onto Shadowland Avenue. This part of her walk always made her uneasy and led her to curse herself for not taking a cab at this time of night. Yet she had walked it a thousand times without incident. It was just that the street seemed somehow darker, more cramped and without the occasional traffic found on the other streets. Then there was the story of the art student who had been murdered on this street many years ago while walking home. It creeped her out, though she didn’t even know if it was true.

The wraiths of the underworld. Now, it was that phrase she found herself mulling over. She quickened her steps as she thought she saw a figure of a man in the shadows at the mouth of an alley. Had she imagined it? As she walked on, her peripheral vision told her he was real and now walking along behind her.

Just two blocks to go, she reminded herself as she chided her paranoia. On the other side of the street, another man appeared out of nowhere and was walking along on the other side of the street at the same pace. It was unusual to see so many people out this late, but we were after all near the college–and college students were likely to be out anytime of night, she told herself.

At last she was in her block, still reciting in her mind the phrase, the wraiths of the underworld. Was it her imagination that the men had been drawing slowly closer? Her shoes rang out as they struck the sidewalk.

Just as she reached her porch, a third man stepped out of the darkness. She realized the danger around her was very real. She could feel that the other two men were now standing very close behind her. Without saying a word, the man in front of her drew out a knife.

What happened next became sort of a blur. Later she would remember how the wind suddenly kicked up with a mighty gust. Streams of fog that somehow looked like galloping horses with cloaked figures riding them seemed to fly in from all directions. Her cape filled with the wind and seemed to lift her off the ground.

Then, she found herself standing in the bay window of her apartment looking down at her street. The fog swirled for a moment below her like a tiny swirling galaxy, going faster and faster. When the fog cleared suddenly, the men were all gone.

Liz continued to look out the window for a long-time at the spot were she might have died at the hands of the men. It was a good thing to be alive, but how had it happened?

“We are sisters in more ways than you know.” Liz’s heart beat fast as she realized the meaning of the words. How had it happened that she had become a witch? She didn’t know. She needed to calm down and think. A cup of herbal tea from the mixture Jen gave me just the other day, she thought, will soothe my nerves and help me make sense of my new-found powers.

–Mark Caskie

Note: The closed captioning on my television occasionally freezes on a random line. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to use these lines as writing prompts. The rule for my writing game is that I must write a short-short story in a single sitting.

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River Bluffs Trail, Hanging Rock State Park

While the newest addition to the trail system at Hanging Rock State Park isn’t a long trail (1.3 miles), it does add an entirely new river experience for hikers. Branching off of the Indian Creek Trail, just a few hundred feet from the park’s Dan River access, the trail makes a loop that features about a half-mile stretch along the river. (Turn right and you’ll be at the Dan in less than five minutes.) The river section is especially scenic because of the rock bluffs that are visible on the opposite shore. It’s a rugged and picturesque area. Near the end of the trail’s river section, a rapids runs just beneath the cliffs. Take the side-trail here down to a sizable beach for a closer look at the rockface, the rapids and the colorful river rocks. This is a great spot for a picnic.

A cliff along the Dan River

Crevice in the cliff

Tree growing in the rockface

Line of rocks in the river

Colorful rocks

A cairn along the river

–Mark Caskie

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The Untimely Death of Mr. Quizzical

Red Parrot

“We should offer our condolences, right?” she asked.

It was a harder question than you might think. When a person dies, certainly condolences, flowers, casseroles are all expected. The social rules are prescribed. But what to do or say in the case of an animal? Longtime pets often require a kind word or a moment of reflection with the understanding that the animals were indeed a part of the family. But graveside services are rare.

It’s mammals mostly that get the attention. Then what to do in the case of a parrot? What was Mr. Quizzical to his owner Sly? Something more than a pet. More of an alter-ego. The way Sly carried him around on his shoulder everywhere, and the way that the bird always said the most inappropriate things.

We all knew Sly was coaching the bird on his pronouncements, although he played innocent, pretended that the bird came up with his comments on his own. But it was easy to forget that.

That’s how the tragic events of that day were set in motion. It happened down by the lake where a bunch of our friends had gathered to picnic, ski and play guitars. Sly never worried about Mr Quizzical flying away because he kept his wings clipped. In retrospect, that move probably cost Mr. Quizzical his life.

The gang was all there, including a few others who also have exotic pets of their own. Wanda the snake lady with her pet boa draped around her neck; she always loves to dress up like a performer in a circus. Winston with his snow leopard, walking in a black chain collar behind him. To this day, I don’t know where he got such a rare and endangered animal. Winston claimed he was harmless because he always kept him on a heavy dose of sedatives. Indeed, the animal had a kind of torpor about him, but it might have just been depression at being in captivity. Finally, there was Daniel with his dingo Darwin. While most people were satisfied to own dogs, Daniel had to import a wild dingo from Australia just to be different.

While the animals on past meetings had always regarded each other with guarded respect, on this occasion Mr. Quizzical managed to insult all three of them. No doubt Sly had put in long hours to teach him these comments, which for the first time were directed at the other animals rather than the people who were his usual targets for biting barbs.

Upon encountering Darwin, Mr. Quizzical tilted his head and eyed the Dingo the way he does. (That’s how he got his name.) “A dingo ate my baby,” he cried over and over again, picking up on Pauline Kael’s long-ago movie review of A Cry in the Dark or an ancient episode of Seinfeld, I don’t know which. Everyone laughed except Daniel who turned red and seemed perturbed. “That parrot’s got a big mouth,” he said.

Mr. Quizzical’s next victim was the snow leopard. Upon seeing the leopard he broke into a rousing rendition of “Born Free,” which didn’t stop for 10 minutes. “I’d like to stuff that parrot and mount him on the wall so it will finally stop talking,” said Winston.

When Mr. Quizzical encountered the snake he made a surprising literary reference to the snake’s role in the garden of Eden.

All three insults went over well with everyone except the three pet owners. Mr. Quizzical had really outdone himself this time. Everyone said how witty Mr. Quizzical was, though of course they knew it was really Sly, who was playing dumb about the whole thing.

So the day went on, with the usual dogs and burgers from the grill and potato salad, which I love.

Later, we all decided to go skiing and swimming in the middle of the lake. Sly put Mr. Quizzical on a branch about shoulder height. The boa was returned to his cage; the leopard chained to a tree and the dingo was put in the back of a pickup on a short lease.

We all jumped in the speedboats and went out to the middle of the lake. At least, I thought everyone had come along. There was a lot of celebrating and comings and goings, and frankly I wasn’t really keeping track of who was on the lake and who wasn’t. So it was that when my speedboat returned a couple of hours’ later, we had a genuine murder mystery on our hands.

We found beneath the tree where Mr. Quizzical had sat a few of his feathers.There were also a few of his blood-soaked feathers stuck to the branch. Nothing else. Turns out, someone had released all the animals, but none of them had gone far. The snake was curled up like a smooth, thick rope, the kind you might use on a three-mast schooner. Darwin had jumped through an open window of the pickup’s cab and was sleeping on the seat. The leopard was sleeping in some tall grass.

Frankly we were shocked–and stumped. Who had let all the animals go free? Which one had eaten Mr. Quizzical? Which insult had been the final straw?

We didn’t know, but the recriminations were thick and heavy. And we could all imagine Mr. Quizzical saying in his best detective voice, “Elementary, my good doctor.” It was one of his favorite sayings.

So yes, let’s send a condolence card and have everyone who was there sign it. Maybe, a handwriting expert can tell us who released the animals–the very action that led to the untimely death of Mr. Quizzical.

To this day, we don’t have a clue who the murderer was. Do you?

–Mark Caskie

Note: The closed captioning on my television occasionally freezes on a random line. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to use these lines as writing prompts. The rules of my writing game are that I must write a short-short story in a single sitting.

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Photos: Holden Beach, N.C.’s Intracoastal Waterway

Just a short distance from the beachfront vacation homes at Holden Beach, N.C., you can find the different, colorful world of the Intracoastal Waterway. Along its shores you’ll find a working class experience of the beach. From the boat landing beneath the towering bridge to working fish houses where the shrimp and commercial fishermen still bring their catch daily to a boatyard filled with large boats in dry dock, you quickly get the sense of local life apart from the throngs of beach-goers who happily crowd the beach with their bright towels and umbrellas.

Intracoastal Waterway at Holden Beach, N.C.

Intracoastal Waterway at Holden Beach, N.C.

Beneath the bridge at Holden Beach

Beneath the bridge at Holden Beach

Sign at fishouse

Sign at fishouse

Hook at fishouse

Hook at fishouse

Boat in drydock

Boat in drydock

The massive hull of a boat in drydock

The massive hull of a boat in drydock

The drydock fleet

The drydock fleet

A pirate ship. Aaaargh!

A pirate ship. Aaaargh!

–Mark Caskie

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Photos: Driftwood as a Rising Phoenix

I found this piece of driftwood a few years ago, and I was impressed enough with it to bring it home. In addition to its textured surface, I noticed that it also has a bird-like appearance. I recently set up these photos with the phoenix—a mythical bird who rises from the ashes again and again—in mind. In the final photo, I added a dead flower blossom as a symbolic stand-in for the sun.

Driftwood

Driftwood

IMG_0209

—Mark Caskie

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