Birthday Hikes….Chocolate and More
By Rachelle Siegrist
Fred, Barb, Pat, Frank, Wes and I at Melting Pot
We started my birthday celebration a couple of days early with a short trip over to Pigeon Forge with dear friends, one evening this past week. Fred and Barb took us to Big Daddy’s Pizza for a yummy pizza supper! Afterwards we headed over to Gatlinburg to the Melting Pot for dessert. Of course we got the salted dark chocolate fondue and friends Frank and Pat choose the bananas foster. We had a splendid time taking turns dipping the assorted goodies on our plates into the luscious rich chocolate filled bowl. Although we liked the bananas foster too, the chocolate was definitely the favorite and obviously gone first! The air was filled with “Mmmmmmm’s” and laughter, as we all had a great time! After a nice walk back to the car, we felt a little less guilty about our delicious calorie laden indulgence, but I couldn’t resist when we walked past this creative and cute photo-op, especially after all of the chocolate I had just eaten!
Yesterday we joined friends for a hike in the nearby Elkmont area. Since they had not been to the Avent cabin, we thought that would be a nice place to visit. Off we went shaded by the canopy of the surrounding tall trees, and after some distance, we crossed the foot bridge leading to the old cabin. Sitting on the porch of the oldest cabin in the Smokies, we enjoyed our picnic lunch, while watching and waiting to catch a glimpse of the snakes hanging out up in the rafters, who occasionally would peek down at us.
We soon realized that is was to be a weekend of “firsts”, as Paul and David convinced Wes and I to try pickled eggs for the first time. Although we were a bit skeptical at the sound of it, I have to admit that it was actually pretty good! We hiked our way back to the trailhead, then spent time walking through the old summer cabins that still remain in Elkmont. One of the best finds of the afternoon was a huge old Tulip Poplar, which I of course had to hug and encouraged others to do as well. We ended our fun day with dinner at our local Mexican restaurant, where Wes and I were entertained royally with hilarious and amazing stories of our friends’ childhood while growing up on a farm in Indiana!
Today, my morning started with a beautiful version of Happy Birthday being sung to me over the phone, by my parents and precious niece Haydyn! After that we headed to our destination today, Andrews Bald, which I had suggested strongly, since none of them had ever been there and it’s a favorite trail of mine to do on my birthday, because it’s when the Flame Azaleas are blooming. I love the trail leading out to the bald, with the surrounding Fir and Spruce Trees and dense fern covered forest floor, all nestled among decaying large, old logs! It always makes me feel as if I should see a Velociraptor come screeching and charging out of the woods!
After hiking some time, we could see light pouring in through what appeared to be the end of the tunnel of this enchanted woodland setting. Soon grass appeared in the distance and we left the seclusion of the shaded woods behind as we walked into the area which gradually grew more open as we went along. I was delighted to see that several of the Flame Azaleas as well as a few of the Catawba Rhododendrons were blooming! No matter which way I looked, clustered groupings of small orange flowers could be seen on the wild Azaleas scattered all across the bald.
Before . . .
We soon found the perfect spot for our mountaintop picnic, so we spread out a blanket where the guys started piling their assortment of edible goodies and in minutes had created a hiking buffet! The “first” for all of us during today’s lunch was trying a freeze dried ice cream sandwich . . . that’s right . . . I said freeze dried ice cream! The texture was a little weird, but if you let it sit in your mouth and melt, it pretty much tasted just like an ice cream sandwich, and we decided it was yummy! David had kindly thought to get some Swiss Miss chocolate rolls, which made the perfect mini b-day cake!
After relaxing while being entertained with more great stories for awhile, and watching the Cedar Waxwings and Slate-colored Juncos nesting nearby, we decided to explore the bald a bit, finding many more beautiful blooming azaleas and rhododendrons.
The entire gang . . . me, Tanakee, Paul, Michael, David and Wes
As always I hated to leave the bald behind, but alas it was time to start heading back. Hiking back out was just as beautiful, and even more so when I was serenaded by the melodious song of a Veery, sitting in a tree, mere feet above my head. It was the most beautiful and enchanting I’ve ever heard their flute-like song sound, as the notes descended! I stood there for several minutes completely mesmerized by the amazing concert, and couldn’t believe my good fortune when the lovely song of a Winter Wren joined in! How delightful to be sung happy birthday by these two amazingly talented singers!
We ended our adventure with David finding several Red-cheeked Salamanders, and showing us where to find them. Since we are big admirers of salamanders, that in itself was a real treat!
We got back home later this afternoon in time for a visit from a special little friend, Sean and his dad, Bob. Sean’s parents are dear collector friends of ours, and we’ve enjoyed watching Sean grow over the past few years and always enjoy talking with him about our critter friends. So he was delighted to get to meet my wren, Peedeepeeps in person after hearing me tell him stories about him. He also got to see numerous other birds and squirrels, and had great fun taking photos of them, which he thought would make great subject matter for our paintings. We so appreciated his help, and really enjoyed our visit with them both!
Paul and Mike head back to Indiana tomorrow evening, so we’re all going kayaking at Chilhowee Lake in the morning, and are expecting another great adventure and perhaps another “first”!
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~ The latest paintings off of the Siegrists’ Easels ~
This past week I finished my commission of two very adorable and precious little rescue doggies, named Holly and Petunia. These girls are “sisters” of the other totally adorable little dog I painted named Petey. They were certainly as much fun to paint as their brother was, and brought a smile to my face every time I looked at the painting! Wes finished his miniature landscape painting of a beautiful scene right here from our own Smoky mountains, which features him in it, taking the photo to paint it from!
Until next time . . .