Rules are Rules

Speaking of trails: our “lake” property doesn’t actually touch any portion of Center Hill Lake. Almost all of the shoreline is owned and managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The closest point to the shoreline from our property is a cove between 150 to 500 feet away, depending on the level of the lake. With Center Hill Dam undergoing repairs it’s generally closer to the latter. The Corps allows public use of most of the land it manages, but it’s a bit of a challenge to make it all the way down from the house. It’s even more of a challenge making it back up.

The Cove at 632'
The Cove at 632'

As I was working on my trail, I discovered the Center Hill Lake Shoreline Management Plan which describes the availability of a “land-use permit … to allow pedestrian access to the shoreline”. I was thinking that would be pretty nice if we could extend the trail all the way down to the bottom, but the description of what this permit allows was a bit vague so I contacted the Corps for clarification. The grade of the slope is as much as 50% which necessitates a bit of cutting and filling to create a safe path, though I attempted to route my path in such a way as to minimize this as much as possible.

The Corps responded to my inquiry with the following: “The Corps does allow for four feet wide meandering paths by permit on Center Hill Lake. However, the ground itself cannot be disturbed, as the permit only allows for the removal of briars, brush, and debris by hand trimming.” This was pretty disappointing. And a bit silly to be honest. I understand the motivation is to preserve the aesthetic and the environment for the wildlife, but this black and white application of the rules will probably have the opposite effect of their stated aims. By disallowing any sort of modification of the ground, which would confine foot traffic to a limited area, we’ll instead have to make our way down following no particular path which runs the risk of having a greater overall impact on the landscape. There is no real understory to concern ourselves with in that area so hand trimming and what not is of little use and would not serve to delineate a path.

The Cove at 645'
The Cove at 645'

I responded the I understood the motivation but was disappointed nevertheless. I also mentioned that “our intention is to be good stewards of the land we now own and any resources you can direct us towards in furtherance of that goal is appreciated”. Sadly there was no response to that email so I guess we’re on our own. It also makes me wonder if there’s any real enthusiasm there for promoting responsible land management and a mutually beneficial relationship with their “neighbors”.

Okay, I’m sure there are good and passionate people working for the Corps, but at an organizational level it has a bit of a mindless bureaucracy vibe to it. Eventually I suppose we’ll probably wear a path down just by walking back and forth across the landscape. In the meantime we’ll just have to accept a bit of slipping and sliding over that last couple hundred feet. Maybe we should have taken the Alan Jackson approach and tried to get forgiveness instead of permission. But then I’m not rich and famous so things probably wouldn’t work out so well for me.

A Rainy Weekend

Streaked Trillium
Streaked Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Rain kept us indoors most of the weekend sadly. But I could look outside and see that spring was inching its way closer to us and I was anxious to get a closer look. In the meantime I had to keep myself busy with inside projects like painting our orange bathroom. We ended up painting over that with a sort of sky blue color. Turned out pretty well. I didn’t take any photos of it so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

On the line
On the line

Early Sunday afternoon the rain finally decided to move on. The sun even peaked out a time or two. I convinced Susie to join me for a stroll down the trail to see how it’s changed over the last two weeks. And this time I planned on taking my old D40 with me to see. First I wanted to see if I could remember how to use it. Second I wanted to see how it compares to the photos I’ve taken with my phone. Turns out I only vaguely remember what I’m doing with a DSLR. You’d think I’d remember something of what I learned during my year of photography, but you’d be wrong. Still, even though it’s a little long in the tooth, the D40 makes for much better photos than my iPhone I think.

Anyway, as we made our way down I was again amazed at how much things can change in such a short period of time. There were new wildflowers growing but the Trillium have really started to pop which distracted me for much of our walk.

The creek down the hill
The creek down the hill

As soon as we entered the woods you could hear the water rushing down the stream at the bottom of the hill. Normally it’s just a trickle, but after a good rain there’s quite a bit of flow. And noise. I was hoping to get a decent photo (assuming I remembered how to work my Nikon). The photo on the right is the best I could do. Apart from letting my photography skills atrophy, it was still mostly overcast which didn’t help with the lighting. Ah well, I expect I’ll have more chances in the future.

I took a few more photos, but not as many as I hoped since my battery was not quite as charged as it led me to believe before leaving the house. I put those that were halfway decent into an album on flickr. I have some others from around the house over the last year that I plan on putting in that album as well at some point. It’s on my list.

Backyard Trail

Shale Station
Shale Station

For those that haven’t been following along on Facebook and elsewhere, Susie and I bought a place overlooking Center Hill Lake last year. Right now it’s our weekend getaway but eventually, hopefully within a couple years, it’ll be our permanent home. The house sits on a about 1.25 acres of very steeply sloped land with three quarters of it being woodland. The northeast portion is bounded by property owned by the Army Corps of Engineers which runs down to a cove on the lake.

Trail Guide
Trail Guide (red = very steep!)

Since we’ve been here I’ve had a notion that I’d eventually like to create a trail down to the bottom of our property. Originally that was going to be something to pick at after taking care of a million other more important projects “up top”. Part of that was trying to de-bramble / vine a section towards the top where the previous owner had opened up a view by cutting down a bunch of trees and leaving them where they fell. Once I started to get that cleared away I found myself thinking more and more about a trail.

Little sweet betsy (Trillium cuneatum)
Little sweet betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

Another thing that happened was learning a bit more about the geology and topography of this area of Tennessee, especially as I found myself on Chuck Sutherland’s web site over and over again. Chuck has some pretty amazing maps which got me wondering if I might be able to use the GIS data from the State of Tennessee to create my own map which I could then use to guide the path my trail might take. After discovering QGIS I was able to do just that. The trail doesn’t follow the path I drew up exactly, but it ended up being pretty close.

Blue phlox (Phlox divaricata)
Blue phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Armed with my map, hoe, bowsaw, and pruner I spent the last few weekends making my way down the hill. As I did I started to notice the wide variety of flora down there. Spring having arrived probably made this much more noticeable, but as I encountered each interesting new plant I’d take a picture and look it up later. A buddy of mine was visiting a couple weekends back and showed me an app he uses to identify plants called PictureThis. PictureThis makes plant identification so much easier!

Well, yesterday I finished the trail! Okay, there are several places that could use a little more work. Some old logs that it would be nice to cut through, some widening, and, if my wife has anything to say about it, some sections that are still too steep that need to be de-steepened. So maybe not finished finished but you’re about 100 times less likely to break a leg trying to get to the bottom now.

This morning I took all the photos that I made as I was creating the path and threw them in an album on flickr. It includes all my best guesses of the plants I found along the way. And a couple other things I found along the way. Now to start thinking about the 2 or 3 spur trails I’m thinking I might need.

MarsEdit 4

Finally got around to updating to MarsEdit 4 this morning. Not that the update isn’t worth it, rather I’m just really good at procrastinating. In fact I plan to try and get even better at procrastinating one day!

I’ve been using MarsEdit to help compose these posts since forever it seems like. It’s a great piece of software maintained by a great software developer, Daniel Jalkut. Daniel’s continued to work to improve MarsEdit over the years and is very responsive to feedback. If you do any kind of blogging I encourage you to give it a look. You can try it for free by following the download link at

Coming Home

The whole Facebook / Cambridge Analytica thing has been on my mind a bit lately. Really all of social media. Apart from these privacy issues, Twitter and Facebook seem to have become the place to visit if you want to learn who’s horrible for having / not having a particular belief, gender, skin color, etc. I just want to know how everyone’s doing, what’s going on in their world, maybe something to make me smile. But it generally takes less than 10 minutes before I stumble across something aggravating. And more often than not I really want to respond but I know it’s not going to help. Generally just the opposite. So I turn away and hope I don’t spend the rest of the day contemplating what my response would have been if I’d allow myself to post one.

There’s still good stuff on Twitter and Facebook, if I can manage to skim past those posts that leave a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve been reluctant to give up on them completely since it’s an easy way to communicate with friends and family. But, given that I can go days without checking in, I can miss out on a lot that’s going on. Facebook is particularly annoying since it wants to organize your timeline according to a seemingly arbitrary set of rules instead of just showing me what’s happened since I last visited. I’m sure there is plenty of news that I miss completely if Facebook feels it’s not important enough to appear in my timeline.

And then there’s all the history. I joined Twitter in January of 2007 and Facebook in July of 2007. Over ten years worth of memories scattered across these sites that I’d like to hold onto. I can (and have) downloaded archives of my Facebook and Twitter history so I could make it available elsewhere but I’d lose a bit of context since I’d not have links to those that participated in those conversations over the years. That would be a bummer. So anyway I’ve not done anything about the situation other than slowly withdrawal from participating in most forms of communication the internet.

I found myself thinking about all these things again this morning and wondering why it is I don’t simply revert to my roots? That is, posting here on my poor neglected blog. Here I’m in control of my data, for the most part. I don’t have to worry about who’s tracking my activity and I don’t have to be bombarded with the divisiveness I find elsewhere unless it’s self-inflicted. And blogging is how I came to know so many of the people I’m now friends with on Facebook and Twitter. There certainly a lot less friction to firing off a quick post to Twitter or Facebook, but then I’ve also been trained to cram my thoughts into 140 characters or less. That doesn’t allow for a lot of nuance.

If I look back at the time before social media (2003 – 2007) I averaged about 75 posts a year. From 2008 on that drops to 10 posts a year. Since 2015 I’ve posted here 10 times. With zero posts in 2016. It’s a real shame. Yeah there’s a plenty of silly stuff that I’ve posted here over the years, but there’s a few thoughtful pieces as well. And maybe if I come back home that thoughtfulness will return.

I know I’ve threatened to revive this site on more than one occasion in the past, so I’m hesitant to make any predictions. But either I come back here or I keep backing away from the internet in general and I think I’d rather give the former a try first.

As for the fate of my Twitter and Facebook accounts, that remains up in the air. I can’t quite bring myself to delete them yet. Maybe things will get better there somehow.