Tuesday, January 26, 2010

UU Arboretum

Under the Tulip Poplar Canopy

I have been cooped in the house for longer than I care. The other day there was a break in the cold and wet weather and I had a chance to escape outdoors. Around here winters are wet, humid, and gray. My escape happened in a wonderful sunny day but as I drove the piles of snow still lay in corners of parking lots and underpasses from our December storm.

Memorial bench overlooking garden and wilderness

I joined a friend and her two pooches in an adventure around the grounds of the Cherry Hill Unitarian Universalist Church. Located in an otherwise busy and developed area of Cherry Hill the church grounds offer a 17 acre oasis of wilderness and cared gardens to its members. Conceived in 1962 and cared for by volunteers the growth has been slow but constant and there are wonderful plants and vistas.

Camellias plumping spring blooms

The exotic Blue Chinafir (Cunninghamia lanceolata "Glauca")

I was truly surprised how such a parcel of land could have survived the bulldozers in this part of New Jersey. The reality of course is that nothing much survives unless there is no value to the land or not allowed for development. Given that State and Federal parks have claimed and protected much of the great sites, smaller parcels that remain in our communities undeveloped are left because they are wet.

Stewartia Bark

Wetlands protection started occurring in the US in the 1970’s. Before then, only prominent shore destinations had been filled and claimed for construction before governments realized the importance of these wonderful natural filters. Areas away from the coast were always the last to be reclaimed for development because of the cost associated with draining or piping the water.

Mahonia bealei

Today, wetlands are highly protected by governments and represent most of the open space we see. This is because builders develop every square inch of land they can get through the development process and declare the land they can’t develop as open space for the “benefit of the public”. If I sound cynical, it is not surprising, given the balderdash I have heard from developers in all my years trying to guide and produce sensitive development.

Staghorn Sumac ( Rhus typhina) decorating the grounds

While waiting for my friend I was looking at the tree canopy and came across a large bird that proved to be an eagle. It was a golden or immature eagle. Later I saw a multitude of birds including a hawk with a rabbit in tow for lunch. I was told that there are foxes, and large owls about. Truly a wonderful spot with incredible and rare plants that are used for education and background to garden events of the UU community.

Two of my walking companions waiting for their treats and a ride home

Our walk was amazing and relaxing for me. I was in good company and I was ecstatic to be outdoors, not only amazed at the beauty and wilderness of this remarkable tract of land but all that was in it. The arboretum is guided by a very knowledgeable Landscape Architect, Ken Arnold who with a few volunteers has been subtly introducing new plantings in the garden areas and ensuring that the wilderness wetland remains untouched. Kudos, Mr. Arnold!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


A little Gingerbread anyone?

Once upon a time there was a very rich family by the name of Vanderbilt. In 1889-1895 George Washington Vanderbilt built a little Chateau that would become America’s most sumptuous residence. The estate of 125,000 acres of land was laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s foremost landscape architect. Following the wishes of George Vanderbilt, upon his death, his wife sold 87,000 acres to the government for the creation of the Pisgah National Forest. Today, the legacy of Biltmore is all felt all around the region. The family still owns approximately 8,000 acres of the original estate and manages it in multiple ventures. The original town of Best was purchased by the Vanderbilt family to house the staff and the commercial center of the estate and is today known as the Biltmore Village.

Biltmore House after the blizzard

A little stone work facade in Asheville

Asheville, was known as early as the late 1790’s as a place to go for a tuberculosis cure. George’s Uncle had died from tuberculosis and this fact may have been a reason for locating the Biltmore estate in this area. Asheville grew from a sleepy little town into what can be described as a modern glamorous east coast city with commerce, industry, fine architecture, restaurants and culture. The Great Depression affected Asheville like all other places. The demise of the mills in the region brought about a new depression of the region that started receding when Asheville’s charms were rediscovered by many, but retirees in particular in the 1980’s.

One of the trendy outside eateries, but not today!

Today, Asheville’s charms are many. Funky artist, like retirees have also discovered it and are making it home. The place is alive in spite of its small population. People walk or cross country ski on its streets, as appropriate, and certainly huddle in warm places during the cold. This blizzard seemed to have added to the normal hubbub. New trendy restaurants sit next to old grand ones and galleries and antique shops seem to cater to every taste.

Too bad you can't get your coffee and trip at the same time

A Deco masterpiece from another era

Popular dining with a player grand piano; your typical McDonald in Biltmore Village!

The grand Grove Park Inn on its towering hillside

The best statement from my trip was at a friend’s party where a young woman was making a case about the collection of people enjoying each other’s company at this party and suggesting that Asheville was like a magnet summoning a new generation to its hillsides. Whether fiction or fact we were certainly a motley crowd from around the country enjoying each other’s company.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Holiday Treats

I gifted one of my Amaryllis; now blooming in Vange's window.

As the middle of January continues to freeze our world here in New Jersey I will continue with another travel blog of my recent Christmas in the Asheville North Carolina region.

With two feet of snow on the ground it made a great excuse for a wonderful Christmas. After the roads had been cleared a bit we made a few escape journeys into town. Asheville was dolled up with all of the holiday cheer it could muster in spite of the snow’s paralyzing effects.

Art Deco Shopping "Grove Arcade"

Griffin guarding "Grove Arcade"

Art Deco Shopping "Grove Arcade and neighboring Battery Park Hotel"

The Grove Arcade, a long time symbol of the style of another era was a major destination to travelers who came to the region. The Arcade was built by Edwin Wiley Grove who built the nearby Grove Park Hotel. In the 1890's Wiley sold A Tasteless Chill Tonic that was meant to cure malaria. It sold more than Coca Cola and he made millions. The arcade was meant to to support a fourteen story tower but as you can see only the base was built. Today the Arcade houses a collection shops and offices in the central commercial area.

Grove Arcade phone booths now serving Christmas Displays

Gingerbread Competition

Gingerbread appears to hold a lot of favor in the region. Two major competitions happen in Asheville. The Grove Arcade and the Grove Park Hotel, both hold a competition worth checking out. Here are some to the winners from the one located at the Grove Arcade.

Some of the Winners: Chewy sticks!

Better than Lincoln Logs

Here's wishing you all sugar plum fairies and gingerbread dreams!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy New Year!

Stuck in freeway off-ramp.

My trip away from home was dual purposed. It was meant to spend Christmas with friends and also to investigate the idea of relocation away from New Jersey and possibility of employment elsewhere. We left a day behind schedule only to run into the great winter storm of last year. My Prius was able to get places that four wheel drives and other vehicles were having issues. As it was, somewhere entering North Carolina when the snow was falling a woman driving an SUV four wheel drive asked me if I knew how to drive a four wheel drive? It proved the point about all these people that drive these SUVs that shouldn’t.

Two days after blizzard Terry made ruts for us to follow to get closer to farm entrance lane

Rescued by Terry with his four wheel pick up truck ( Vori carrying Christmas loot)

The trip to my friend’s house is normally a twelve hour drive with ample stops. The trip in the snow storm took over 17 hours. The last hundred miles took over 4 hours. Getting off the highway we got stuck in the snow and after a couple of hours we got the car unstuck and to a holding place until the snow cleared.

Final approach to Vange and Terry's retreat a few days after the storm

In this part of North Carolina, Christmas is normally cool but not frozen like this year. My friends live on a plateau that is known for its strange warm weather patterns. So much so is the weather strange here that the Community College is named “Isothermal”.

One of the many horse pastures along the road

After a few days the limited number of snow plows managed to clear the main road and we got the car up on the plateau but still miles from the house. Following on the ruts of other cars we got as far as the entry to my friends house still a mile from their front door. Eventually we got the car there. Meanwhile we had been enjoying great food and drink each night with warm fireplaces raging.

Regardless, we were in some of the most beautiful country and clear skies you can imagine. Maybe, living in cities has made us forget how wonderful the country is with its beautiful lanes, vistas, and sunsets. The night sky was amongst the most beautiful I have ever seen with so many stars that it looked strangely unfamiliar. If you don't already live there, find yourself a little spot of country and see what you can discover: you will be amazed!