Hiking to White Oak Sinks

Come walk amongst flowers with us!

by Rachelle Siegrist

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Surrounded by Pink Lady’s Slippers

There was a slight chill in the air as we started hiking up Schoolhouse Gap trail early one morning this past week. We were delighted to have the trail mostly to ourselves as we walked along, stopping occasionally to admire wildflowers as we hiked. Soon we cut off from Schoolhouse Gap trail and headed toward the lovely White Oak Sinks area in hopes that the phlox were still blooming.

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The delicate blossom of Stonecrop

After spotting a few small patches of the delicate lavender flowers blooming along the way, my hopes greatly increased! I was thrilled to see a couple of Yellow Lady’s Slippers blooming, and then absolutely delighted when we saw one hillside covered with Pink Lady’s Slippers blooming, scattered about.

Yellow Lady’s Slippers blossoms

Wes had recently read about their wonderful fragrance, so I carefully buried my nose in the small opening and quickly discovered they were right! The overcast skies provided perfect conditions for photographing them, and soon we hope to paint a miniature painting or two of them!

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A gorgeous clump of Pink Lady’s Slippers
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What an amazingly stunning blossom!

We also noticed numerous Yellow Trillium blooming, and several other wild flowers as well. Soon we started making our descent into the peaceful meadow area where several sink holes are located, and quickly noticed splashes of lavender from the fragrant phlox.

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The lovely meadow filled with phlox and trillium

By this time we were hiking with three fellow hikers, whom we had just met. They decided to join Wes and I as we hiked some distance to a sink hole surrounded by Virginia Bluebells. As we hiked along the narrow, flower-lined trail, Wes happened to notice a large Copperhead, coiled up in the trail! Thank goodness our guardian Angel was with us, as he saw it and told us to “Stop right there!”! Having not noticed it, Wes could’ve easily stepped right on it, thus most likely getting bit, or it could’ve went for my bare ankle and leg . . . Yikes!

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Trillium Grandiflorum turns a beautiful shade of pink towards the end

After admiring it from a safe distance, we carefully continued on our way. Winding our way along the unimproved path, I heard a loud rustle nearby and looked up just in time to see a large mamma Black Bear and her cub! Off they went deep into the woods, but what a wonderful sighting for us! Then we came up on large clusters of Shooting Stars in full blossom, as well as Larkspurs showing off their deep purple flowers! It was a beautiful sight indeed!

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A Bumble Bee visits the Shooting Star blossom

Sometime later we finally found the large sinkhole, where one lone Bluebell was still blooming. Then while hiking back, Wes spotted something large flying through the woods and we caught a glimpse of a Barred Owl! Minutes later he called out his “Who . . . Who . . . Who cooks for you” and was instantly answered by another one! It was beautiful music to our ears indeed and we listened as they chatted back and forth for a several minutes.

 A Larkspur blossom and a Virginia Bluebell

The day just kept bringing more surprises and when we sat on a moss covered log amongst the flower filled meadow to eat lunch, I was thrilled to spot a Cecropia Moth, whom was just starting to fill his wings. Relaxingly, we sat there watching as its wings unfolded and slowly grew.

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A Cecropia Moth fills it’s new wings

Our newfound hiker friend, a very kind and knowledgeable gentleman visiting from Michigan, returned in time to see the beautiful moth, and tell us of a gorgeous Red Trillium bloom he had spotted nearby. He hiked with us the remainder of the day, which we greatly enjoyed and loved his ability to tell us what birds we were listening to, since he knew most of their songs! Our trio was thrilled when we saw a Black-throated Green, and watched as she gathered nesting material at a close proximity, before flying off!

A Red Trillium (Stinking Willie) and A Black-throated Green Warbler

We watched butterflies flit along and listened to the melodic sound of springtime birdsong, accompanied by a gentle afternoon breeze, while hiking back. But our unique finds were not over, as I spotted a black snake eating something, and upon observing it a wee bit closer, realized it was a salamander it had in its clamped jaws! It was agreed that it was the first time any of us had ever seen that before and concluded it would probably be the last!

Encounters with things that fly

Soon we were back at the trailhead, where our day of adventures had started early that morning, and said goodbye to our friend, hoping that we’d all have the chance to hike again someday!

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Wes stands by ruts created by wagon wheels traveling the stream bed many years

 ~ Currently On the Easel ~

I’m currently painting on my latest dog commission of an adorable Havanese named Hugo. Just like the many other totally cute dogs I’ve painted, he is great fun to paint! I’m also currently painting a miniature landscape of one of my favorite swimming holes! Wes is currently painting on a goose photographed during our recent visit to IN.

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Recent progress on my dog commission of Hugo

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~ To Commission A Painting by Us Click Here!

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Until next time . . .

~ Rachelle

Need a Mini Vacation…

Come along for a paddle on the lake with us!

by Rachelle Siegrist

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Surrounded by sparkles while starting our journey

Our good friend Kit joined Wes and I for a morning paddle early last Monday.  After unloading the kayaks at the ramp along Lower Chilhowee Lake, I got into my beloved pink kayak, and a state of complete relaxation instantly fell over me!  The air was still and cool, with crystal clear blue skies above, as we started our journey.  Only the sounds of Red-wing Blackbirds, Ospreys and a few others could be heard, with the occasional call of a frog joining in, creating a setting of sublime peace.  Gliding along, we started noticing big splashes up ahead sending ripples out across the water’s glassy surface.

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Doesn’t it look like glass?

Drawing closer, we soon realized it was the large Grass Carp spawning, bringing them to the water’s surface, leaving cloudy trails of mud as they zipped through the water.  We soon found ourselves in the middle of several of them, and sitting still, they swam directly by and sometimes beneath our kayaks, occasionally making it possible to feel their backs as they went by.

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Watching the Grass Carp spawn

We sat in the still, shallow water for quite sometime, excitedly watching them swim by and splashing about on the surface.  The crystal clear water gave the illusion of gliding along the surface of an aquarium while watching the fish swim below!  Paddling along, I happened to notice a small bird nest in a tree on a nearby island, so I had to get out and carefully peak to see if there were any eggs or babies in it yet.  The nest was empty, but it was a beautiful little nest and quite interesting to see.

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Is anybody home?

The current lower water levels of the river, or what I call Lower Chilhowee, exposed numerous tree stumps scattered throughout, many showing off such interesting shapes and forms, telling of days gone by.

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A natural sculpture

Soon we found a perfect spot for a floating picnic, after Kit announced he had seen an otter . . . twice no less!  So we tied our kayaks together and patiently watched, while hoping to catch a glimpse of this illusive otter.  Wes and I never saw it, but we enjoyed watching a pair of Canada Geese nearby and I personally thoroughly enjoyed basking in the warmth of the sun!

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A truly relaxing lunch at one of my favorite “restaurants”!

This is certainly one of my happy places, and I felt as if I could merrily spend the entire day in my kayak on this beautiful body of water!  I got off to explore another island, where I saw deer tracks leading down to the waters edge.  We also watched as Ospreys flew above and into a large nest located atop an evergreen tree, while Cormorants adorned small stumps like hood ornaments nearby, patiently drying out their wings after a swim.

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Kit decided he likes this kayaking!

Although I could’ve easily stayed out all day, Wes and Kit were ready to head back early that afternoon, so we started our journey back to the ramp.  It was another great day on the lake and a perfect one for Kit’s first time out kayaking with us!  Wes and I unbelievably forgot our cameras, so many thanks to Kit for all of the great photos!

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Wes just chillin’

Meanwhile here at the house, my Carolina Wrens have decided that the prime real estate for building a nest is located directly  by the back door on the porch, with close proximity to the mealworm feeding bowl! They built the beautiful masterpiece over the period of a couple of days, and it truly amazes me to think they did it all with their beaks!  I’m hoping to share their nesting progress over the next few weeks with you on future blog posts.

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The work of true masters!

Spring is in full swing now and the yard is filled with color!  Several things are currently blooming, including my Nelly Moser Clematis, which is absolutely stunning this year, greeting guests with a splash of color, as they walk to the front door!

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Two of my favorite colors . . . pink and purple!

Nellie Moser Clematis

 ~ Currently On the Easel ~

I’m currently painting on my latest dog commission of an adorable Havanese named Hugo. Just like the many other totally cute dogs I’ve painted, he is great fun to work on!  I’m anxious to share the final painting with you hopefully the next blog post.  Wes is currently painting a miniature featuring one of the beautiful white geese he photographed at the Falls of the Ohio, during our recent visit to his parents home in IN. We’re also painting  another Tandem Treasure miniature of three Clown Fish that are too cute for their own good!

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My latest dog commission of “Hugo” in progress

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~ To Commission A Painting by Us Click Here!

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Until next time . . .

~ Rachelle