Life is a beach

It’s been a while. I could explain, but I won’t. At least I won’t/can’t today.

Oak Island collage - www.alliepottswrites.com

Oak Island, North Carolina

Taking a break from the heat (and maybe a few other things I am beginning to associate with June) I went to the beach with my family and my sisters’ families for some much-needed rest and relaxation (or as much rest and relaxation as you can expect when you are traveling with seven kids 10-years-old and under and three dogs).

We’d picked out the home shortly after the new year. That had been a whole stressful process in and of itself, requiring lengthy negotiations and more than a few compromises, but it checked the major boxes. It had beds for us all (or so the ad claimed) with a pool as well as an oceanfront view and beach access.

On paper it was perfect.

In reality, not quite. The beach access was not directly across the street as it had appeared in the photographs and at some point, the owners had replaced bunk beds with queen-size meaning several of the kids would have to enjoy even more cousin time, but it served its purpose.

We arrived in mass with cars loaded up like the opening credits of the old show Beverly Hillbillies. All that we were lacking was our family matriarch riding in a rocking chair up top (she’d wisely driven separately). We divided rooms and filled the cabinets with a week’s worth of groceries while the cousins darted around and attempted to keep watch of the various canines.

The first day went great, the second too (the nights on the other hand – not so much). However, storms rolled in mid-week and the combination of early-week sunburns, over-tired small people forced to share beds, a flare-up of a stubborn ear infection, and more than one instance of a pup bolting from the house very nearly become a decorative hood ornament on a passing car, caused my sisters to consider calling it a week early.

Sunset over the dunes - www.alliepottswrites.com

Sunset over the dunes

I chose to stay and volunteered to watch a couple of my nieces on the beach while their parents packed. Sunglasses on, book nearby, and beach chair out, I prepared the soak in the last rays of stress-free (or at least stress-lite) living. It didn’t last long.

A niece marched up to me crying. Her eyes stung. Hastily applied sunscreen had mixed with saltwater, rendering her blind, and in pain. She couldn’t see or swim. The sand was no fun. She wanted to go back to the house and she wanted to go now.

I looked over my shoulder. I could see the house over the dunes. We hadn’t been gone nearly long enough for my sister to pack their stuff away and clean. I did the only thing I could. I handed her a towel. She complained her eyes still hurt. I grabbed a bottle of freshwater and instructed her to tilt her head, while I splashed her face.

“Now dab,” I said.

“Dab?” she asked.

“Yeah dab,” I said again, gesturing at the towel in her hands.

“Okay…” she replied. But instead of drying her eyes, she lowered her face and swung both arms out, parallel to each other, in pure celebratory fashion.

In short, she dabbed.

I couldn’t help it. I cracked up. Leave it to the younger set to take a perfectly good simple instruction and interpret it in a way you’d never see coming.

It might have been the freshwater rinse. It might have been the trendy move, but in either event, the smile returned to my niece’s face. She turned and the others where they built sandcastles in the surf until noon.

It wasn’t a perfect trip, and it’s been far from the perfect summer, but moments like these prove that there are still plenty of reasons to laugh, even with things aren’t as expected.

chasing the tide - www.alliepottswrites.com

chasing the tide

It also illustrates one final universal truth, which is:

A day at the beach beats a day in the office almost every time.

 

Camping ahead of a subtropical depression – what’s the worst that could happen?

Camping ahead of a subtropical depression - what's the worst that could happen? - www.alliepottswrites.comThe crunch of gravel in between pelts of rainfall. That’s what woke me up. Dawn was still far away as evidenced by the lack of light that penetrated through the thin fabric of our tent.

Though the hour was late, my eyes were wide open and sleep would not be returning soon. Had the noise outside been only a dream? I strained my ears.

Crunch.

The sound of rocks being turned underfoot was unmistakable and could only mean one thing – our campsite had an uninvited visitor.

Careful to not make too much sound, I shifted while I recalled the grounds manager’s warning from earlier that day. “Make sure you put your foodstuffs in your car and lock them up at night,” she’d said. “A bear has been hanging out not too far away.”

Had we not secured it all?

The patter of rain on the tent’s rooftop increased, though a second tent frame, covered by a tarp, hung over the campsite’s picnic table. The storm wouldn’t be driving our uninvited guest away.

Or is it guests?

The view behind Moore Cove Falls, NC

The view from behind Moore Cove Falls, NC – If only I’d been listening to this

Her Royal Highness, who had rolled her body into a ball next to my knees snored. If something dangerous was out there, she’d know it, right?  I told myself, followed by Some guard dog she’s proven to be. Still, I was glad enough for her lack of consciousness at the moment having no desire to invite any more of the wildlife’s attention than we already had with an over defensive response.

The rain continued to fall. Thunder rolled in the distance. I held my breath – and listened.

Drip. Drip. Drop. The storm began to taper off without a recurrence of the gravel’s crunch. Had our guest moved on? I couldn’t tell.

Her Royal Highness woke and went to the edge of my sleeping mat where she began to cough and make a retching noise sure to wake the other sleepers. The mountain air must not be agreeing with her tummy.

I looked at the ceiling. Tap. Tap. Would this rain ever end? I looked at the window. I hadn’t dared unzip the flap before. My husband shifted – fast asleep – oblivious to it all.

Her Royal Highness’s retching continued.

Was I willing to risk taking her outside or was I willing to sleep in a tent one more night christened with her sick-up?

Her Royal Highness moved to the tent door, facing away from the picnic area, and touched the corner with her nose. She’d cleverly managed to figure out how its zippers worked earlier in the day to the delight of our children and appeared to be willing to do so again. Perhaps the choice wasn’t entirely mine to make after all.

Her Royal Highness Goes Camping - www.alliepottwrites.com

Her Royal Highness enjoys camping in style

Hoping to hope not to bump into our uninvited guest (who’d only grown larger in my imagination by the second), I ran out with her into the night’s storm, staying close enough to grab her shoulder and force her back inside if I so much as heard a twig snap from the area on the other side of the tent. Rain soaked my shirt as Her Royal Highness stopped coughing and began to sniff around.

I waited.

She took a few steps forward, squatted, turned around and ran back inside.

All that fuss for that?

I followed her in a flash and zipped the door and its flimsy protection closed once more. I huddled under my blanket as Her Royal Highness sprawled out across my legs.

Drip…Drip… The drops of water fell softer – lighter – and somehow sleep managed to find me once more.

Even so, I was the first to wake the following morning. I opened the flap and stepped toward the picnic table – sure and yet uncertain of what exactly I might find.

A box of pre-packaged brownies lay on its side with the corner of the box ripped open and much of its contents removed. While we had taken our cooler to the truck the night before when the rain began, we must have missed it under the table.

I heard my stepdad, who had camped with us, tell my boys the damage was from a raccoon. That was smart thinking on his part, I thought. The boys wouldn’t make us leave our vacation early for a raccoon. I whispered to my husband. “I heard it last night. Sounded big. Like a bear.”

I started picking up. A pile of paper plates, still in their plastic wrapper, had been turned upside down. Something had tried to open the package. I took the plates to my husband to show evidence of the visitor’s claw.

Except that’s when I noticed it was not one claw mark, but two.

Two tiny holes from claws attached to finger-shaped paws.

Paws belonging to creatures who like to wash their food.

Creatures who must like to eat their snacks on plates too and animals who had most likely experienced the fright of their night when Her Royal Highness and I suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the middle of a downpour. I guess my stepdad hadn’t told my kids a story after all.

We joked about the party those raccoons must have had that night while we spent the daylight hiking. When evening came, we made sure to do a better job of securing our belongings. We’d learned our lesson. If the raccoons did come back they would find their party hosts much less accommodating than their native surroundings.

We had a great time and thanks to all that rain the waterfalls were spectacular. Had the lack of sleep, the late night visitors, or storm put me off camping again like this in the future? Absolutely not – we’re not exactly backpacking. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Looking Glass Falls, NC - www.alliepottswrites.com

Can you imagine having this in your backyard? (Looking Glass Falls)

The AllTrails App: How one simple tool helped me discover hidden paths and secret trails in my backyard

How one simple tool helped me discover hidden paths and secret trails in my backyardThe temperature was a comfortable, albeit cool, 61 degrees F as we reached our destination – a log cabin located in North Carolina’s high country, which my dad and stepmom had rented for the week. The cabin’s interior was a gorgeous open floor plan featuring exposed wood from floor to ceiling. The exterior … well, the home’s exterior was fine, but the view? Not so much.

After driving on a dirt and gravel road around the mountainous hillside, we couldn’t for the life of us figure out why the cabin was built where it was. It wasn’t for the isolation. There were at least two other homes that shared the same drive with porches visible from any of the cabin’s windows. It wasn’t for the vistas. This was Christmas Tree country and rows upon unnaturally orderly rows of Fraser Firs filled much of the landscape, although even that view was blocked by the cabin’s position on the slope. It wasn’t for the late night dining either as we learned that most of the nearby restaurants closed between eight and eight thirty.

Still, it existed for some reason, so we figured we might as well utilize it the best we knew how – as a launching spot for the always memorable family waterfall hunt. The only problem was we also weren’t near some of the more well-known trails scattered throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains, but we were still in an area with a cell phone signal.

I discovered the AllTrails App.

AllTrails Review - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #appWhat I liked about this app (aside from the price) was the ability to filter out the trails to those that:

  1. contained a waterfall – as it wouldn’t be much of a waterfall hunt without that element
  2. allowed for dogs on the trail – as Her Royal Highness really hates to be left behind during royal tours of her kingdom
  3. are kid-friendly – okay let’s be honest – I needed the trail to be Allie-friendly

A few taps of the filter pane later several trails were suggested within a short drive away and there was even a map to the trail entry point as well as an elevation map of the trail itself and reviews by other hikers so I had a general idea how the hike might go before we found ourselves in the middle of the woods.

What I didn’t like? When I selected my filters, the list of resulting trails didn’t automatically refresh as one might think it should, but I realized the error as soon as I saw a trail marked as HARD still on the list, so it wasn’t too difficult to fix with a manual refresh.

I narrowed the list of options down to two potential trails – one moderate and one described as more of a wooded walking path than hike. We packed lunches, piled into the car, and soon were on our way.

Our first destination was the Crab Orchard Falls trail which begins behind a church and historic mission school near-ish to the North Carolina and Tennessee border. Thank goodness for the GPS with the app or we might never have found the trail’s entrance.

I’m glad we decided to do this one first as the entire first half of the trail was at a steep incline, which wrapped itself around the mountainside. But then, just as my calves were beginning to complain, we heard it. The unmistakable roar of water crashing.

Crab Orchard Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travelCrab Orchard Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travel

It is amazing how much easier it is to complete a difficult task once the goal is in sight.

We spent time among the moss-covered rocks at the base of the falls, snapping photos while ensuring that none of the younger set (including Her Royal Highness) decided to go for an impromptu swim while tossing leaves, rocks, and branches in the current if only to see how fast they can travel.

After returning to our car and eating our packed lunch we made our way to our second destination – the Cascades Trail located off the Blue Ridge Parkway. This time the path was easier to find as well as easier to walk, sloping gently away from one of the parkway’s scenic overlooks. A narrow creek babbled to our side. The creek widened. Water cascaded over the rocks creating tiny rapids. We stopped to take more pictures figuring this had to be the area that gave the trail its name.

It was beautiful to be sure, but hardly impressive after seeing Crab Orchard Falls. Still, we kept going knowing that the trail would loop around and eventually put us back out at the parking lot. We crossed a wooden bridge and saw stairs made out of stone. And that’s when we heard it again. The unmistakable roar of crashing water.

Cascades Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travelCascades Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travel

A thin but massive fall with a near vertical drop to the valley below. Gorgeous, wild, and a complete surprise to us all.

It may be easier to achieve a goal when you have it in sight, but it is even more rewarding when you still manage to reach it based on good-faith and follow-through alone.

Fear and Loathing in the Hot Days of Summer

ocean courageI took an extended weekend on the beach with a handful of friends. We’ve known each other a long time and they pretty much know everything there is to know about me. Including my near irrational fear of getting added to a shark’s sampler pack as I dabble my toes in the water.

“If you get eaten by a shark, I’ll be sure to take everything I’ve ever said back at your funeral,” one would say before diving head first into the breakers. Because equal parts support and ridicule are just what friends are for. I watched enviously from the shore as they floated on their backs, looking oh, so, carefree. I’d forgotten to pack my shark repellent. Shame on me.

A battle launched in my brain. My logic side shouted – Just go. My creative side rolled its imaginary eyes.  Don’t you know what can happen out there? One accidental nibble and it will be open season on us.

The chance of that happening is next to nil and you know it.

But not zero.

Not zero, but still. . . Go on. What’s the worst that could happen?

I get bitten. Duh.

Is that really so bad? Think about it. Most attacks this close to shore are survivable. Sure, you might not be all in one piece, but you’d have a story to tell. You could get on the news or even the talk show circuit. Imagine the improved visibility. That shark bite could be just what you need to launch your writing career into the stratosphere.

Yeah. Um. I think I’ll stick to my existing plan.

Bah. Well, then we have a problem to solve then because it is only getting hotter out here.

“A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.” – Michel de Montaigne

Pressured by my body’s aversion to excessive heat, my brain got to work. I tried to look at the problem differently. What was it that usually sent me running back to the shore while my friends passed beyond the breakers. My friends aren’t dummies. They are fully aware of what calls the ocean its home. What did they do differently? They don’t look down, I realized. They look at the top of the next wave or just out ahead.

I always looked into the waves, looking for a shadow to appear, and once spotted, my imagination filled in all the terrible things that could be that shadows cause (other than a cloud). My imagination, that thing that works so well for me most other times, was holding me back. So, stop looking down, I told myself.

“Never fear shadows. They simply mean there’s a light shining somewhere nearby.” -Ruth E. Renkel

I focused on the horizon and not at the waves around me, a trick my dad had taught me years ago to combat seasickness and took a step. Then another. The water hit my knees. Then my waist. Then my shoulders. I lifted my above me and dove into that blue-green water and swam.

I only managed to stay out there a few minutes, but it was longer than I had the day before.

But apparently, not everyone’s weekend was as relaxing as mine. While I was away, there had been an incident at the shopping mall near my work. My neighbors, a family of four, were lunching in the food court when they heard a “thunderous sound.” Crowds of people began rushing to the exits in a panic. A man reported seeing a gun. Others reported shots fired, but no casings were found, nor victims of a shooting. However, that doesn’t mean that no one was hurt. At least eight people were transported out of the mall with injuries, likely caused by falls and or the press of terrified people as they tried to make their escape. In this case, fear was the more destructive weapon.

My neighbors were not among the injured, but instead now have to explain to their sons, one of whom is only as old as mine, why any of this could happen. Why things like this (and worse) keep happening.

Fear. That’s what it comes down to.

Fear is what kept me from enjoying my time with friends fully. Fear is what causes me to see danger in each unexpected shadow. Fear drove ordinary people to push their neighbors. Fear is a root cause as well as an end result in a seemingly never ending cycle. Seemingly. It doesn’t have to stay that way.

“F-E-A-R has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise.’ The choice is yours.” – Zig Ziglar

I am so tired of being made to feel afraid. So while I am aware of my surroundings and recognize the things their shadows may hide, I will try to keep my eyes on the horizon, of what can be, and not look down. And maybe, just maybe, if you join me, we might just get through these breakers, one step at a time.

quotes attributed to http://www.tinybuddha.com. photography is my own.

A day at the gallery / How to have fun with Prisma

Ah, darlings, so good of you to come. I am so very glad you were able to attend my showing. Please help yourself to a glass of cheap wine located at the bar in the back of the gallery. There is also a platter of cheese circulating around here somewhere. I’ve even used the fancy toothpicks with the colored tape on them.

Before we get started, I would like to express as special thanks to Helen Jones of Journey to Ambeth for inspiring today’s event, an event I have entitled How to have Fun with Prisma.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

For my first piece, I decided to start with the lighthouse at Cape Lookout, NC. The North Carolina coast is also known as the graveyard of the Atlantic, and for good reason. The shifting sands of the outer banks have ruined many a ship, not to mention we enjoyed more than our fair share of piracy back in the day.

There are at least six coastal light stations you can climb along the shore, but the lighthouse at Cape Lookout is one of my favorites.

Here, I’ve tried to capture the importance, as well as the strength, in providing light to others.

Sunset on Lake Norman

For my next piece, I chose to focus on one of North Carolina’s many lakes. I decided to go in a more impressionistic brush, as there is nothing quite like the rainbow of colors that dance across the sky as the sun sets over still water.

The figure in silhouette coming from the pier walks with confidence, and yet takes up only a small portion of the composition. The figure has plenty of room for growth. A flag flies high but is limp. Like the figure, it too is proud but requires a strong wind or other unseen support to reach its full potential.

It is a piece about the beauty of age and the promise of the future.

Topsail Beach

Keeping with my theme of water, I have a piece entitled Two Boys and the Sea. The sea in this piece is detailed in tones of red and white rather than the traditional coastal color schemes. It challenges the viewer to reconsider preconceptions.

In it, one boy stands boldly, ready for the onset of the incoming wave, while the other runs away leaving footprints deep in the sand.

There is fear of the unknown in this piece, but there is also joy and acceptance. It all comes down to perspective.

Topsail BeachThis next take on the ocean highlights the ever-changing nature of the sea. Each slight variation of color has been highlighted in curvature.

The colors in this piece are faded as if this moment in time has already be relegated to nostalgia and memory.

A dog leaps into the waves while the other figures watch on.

This is a piece about noticing the small details and living in the moment as it reinforces how fleeting those moments can be.

Summer dogFinally, for my last piece, I broke away from the themes of water and the great outdoors.

The dog is alert as shown by the open eye and perked ear, although the sprawled position on the floor would suggest she might not be for long. The rainbow hues and frantic brush strokes suggest she has been revitalized by her recent journey, yet at the same time, the subject is clearly exhausted from the travel.

This is a piece that reinforces the refrain (for at least one weary traveler): be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.

Allie PottsAbout the Artist

While I do appreciate the nuances of composition, color selection, brush thickness, and stroke in art, I am in no way, shape, or form, a professional painter, photographer, or art critic.

I simply just wanted to share some of my recent photos and had way too much fun with a new phone app.

I hope you enjoyed your free virtual cheese and wine and thank you for your continued patronage.