Sunday, March 31, 2013

Furry and Feathered Friends

These are the rest of our photos, continued from Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Part 1. 

One of our favorite spots was the bird observation hut in the Native Plants section. (They had, by the way, 900 species of native plants alone, all labeled with tags in the ground. And that was in only one section of the 4-section garden, to give you an idea of the scope of this place. Incredible.) 

Scratching squirrel! 

We sat and watched the birds for a long while. We didn't even need the binoculars here because they were so close. We were treated to a pair of Golden Finches, several pairs of Cardinals, a Red-Headed WoodPecker, and many more happy birdies, along with the squirrels who have equal love for the bird feeders. 

We also enjoyed the large pond in the Asiatic garden, populated by geese and a wide variety of ducks, who all honked and paddled happily after the rain, and turtles, who happily lazed on the rocks. 

Also, I feel the need to share this, because I learned it relatively recently and it seems like many people are unaware. Don't feed bread, crackers, or other snack foods to ducks, geese, or other water foul. It has very dangerous consequences: changing the PH balance of the water, damaging the intestinal systems of the critters, and eventually killing them. There were signs posted around the pond asking people not to feed bread, but I overheard many people talking about wanting to bring bread back another day. It's amazing how often people don't read signs, or care. We are part of nature, too, and its irresponsible to ignore rules like these that protect the wellbeing of the critters and nature. You can buy duck food, or even bring lettuce, if you'd like to feed the animals, safely. Pass the info on to your friends and family, too! 

Quack quack! 

We have special love for the geese. 

We had already seen most all of our favorite critters-geese, ducks, squirrels, birds, and turtles- when we got one final treat: chickens. Tucked away in a corer was the entrance to the exploratory gardens, which was essentially a homestead in the middle of the gardens. They had honey bees, an edible forest, gardens, rain collection systems, compost, and, of course, chickens. Chickens make me the happiest and I can't wait to have our own, so seeing them always makes me squeal with glee. They were the perfect finish to our lovely garden walk. 

After the gardens, we hopped over to the Ackland Art Museum at UNC, which also had free admission. (The gardens were free, too!) We spent the last hour or two browsing their permanent collection, which featured a lot of neat ancient pottery, and their current exhibition, More Love. 

So, today was pretty much perfect: nature, birds, meditation, chickens, and art. It was a great last day of free roaming before we enter about 2 months of work exchanges, beginning tomorrow at the vineyard. Can't wait! 

Sarah P. Duke Gardens- Part 1

We woke up today to the soothing pitter-patter of rain on the van, but it kindly cleared up by mid-morning before we went to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Like everything else at Duke, the gardens were huge. We spent 4 hours there, and only saw half of the gardens! Of course, we were walking slowly and stopping to watch birds and wildlife, but still, the gardens are huge; they contain over five miles of walking paths. 

Pine needles had falled and were draping over the remaining leaves on this tree, which looked like they should have fallen off in the fall. From this angle, it looks like a natural mobile. 

This was my favorite reflection pond. With the tree matter that had fallen and was floating near the surface, it hardly looked real. It was serene. On the pagoda next to the pond, there was a group of people meditating. All of the gardens had a peaceful, meditative quality to them today, especially after the rain. Nature felt fresh and calm. From a distance, we could hear the Easter bells chiming from Duke chapel, and, filtered through the trees, the effect was very relaxing. 

Stepping stones across the pond. 

A neat walkway in the Asiatic garden section. 

Blooming Japanese cherry trees complemented the red bridge, also in the Asiatic garden section. 

Dave found a quiet meditation spot of our own: a perfect tree stump in a secluded section on the gardens. 

We loved being at the gardens today. It was one of those days when just being in nature feels like a meditation in itself, and it was wonderful. I will post our pictures of birds and other wildlife next; there were too many photos to fit all in one post. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

So many books! (And the rest of Duke University)

Statue of Mr. Duke himself, with the chapel in the background. 

Started in the late 1920's and finished seven years later, the Duke chapel is imposing, impressive, massive, and awe-inspiring. It did not look like something that belongs in America; it seemed like we had momentarily been transported to an ancient European cathedral. 

Organ music was being played inside. The sound was so deep and saturating, it vibrated every particle of the air. 

Can you guess what building this was? This, and all the buildings surrounding it, were dorms. Imagine living here for college. It looks like a castle or fortress! And very much like something out of a movie. In fact, the entire campus seemed like something from an old movie, where there are a bunch of collegiate boys walking around in letter jackets, someone is in love with the pretty girl in the plaid skirt from the girl's school near by, and life is idealistic and populated by philosophy professors and club meetings. 

I love the detail at the top of this building. 

This was taken from the top of the staircase in Perkins Library. Like everything at Duke, the library was on a massive scale. It blows my mind how different the college experience at Duke must be from the college experience I had at Rollins. Our entire library could have fit, literally, onto one floor at Perkins! The library had two wings, two floors under ground level, three more above ground, a roof top, a cafe, and a labyrinth of staircases and elevators. (And though this was the main library, there were about 5 others on campus!) We managed to get lost and wandered around for about 15 minutes looking for an exit out of the building. I love being in libraries, and this one had so much goodness, it was overwhelming. I'm thankful my college was so much smaller and on a manageable, human scale. I never would have made it at a school like Duke...I would have gotten lost somewhere between the library and the cafe and never made it out. Rollins was just my size, but I'm very grateful to know that places like this library exist to house such amazing collections of books, manuscripts, and knowledge. As much as I resent about the red-tape of the college system, colleges and their libraries are wonderful treasuries of culture. 

Simple Pleasures

We spent the day exploring the Duke campus, which is huge and quite impressive. 

It was the perfect day for walking around...almost 75 degrees out and sunny! The first warm Spring day we've had. The dogwood trees are really blooming here now. 

We got to walk right down onto the Duke baseball field. 

Dave having some fun. 

I love all the contrasts in colors here. 

Dave finally got to see his beloved Cameron Indoor Stadium, home of Duke basketball. Unfortunately, the doors were locked and we couldn't go inside, but it was still cool to see. 

Well, every door was locked except one! The door into the baseball locker rooms had been left unlocked. I'm sure visitors weren't supposed to be in there, but we poked our noses in just long enough to snap a picture. 

Duke football field. 

To get that great view of the football field, we climbed up this ladder into the press box where camera crews would usually record the game. Sometimes I forget that I get scared of heights, and when it was time to climb down the ladder, I got stuck and panicked. Obviously, it wasn't very high up at all, and when I finally made myself climb down the ladder, we got a great laugh out of it. Dave even climbed back up to take a picture of me, victorious at the bottom after conquering the ladder. 

After walking around campus for a while, we were enticed by the delicious smell of burgers being grilled, and decided to follow our noses. To our incredible joy, there were hot dogs, burgers, iced tea, cookies, and all the fixings being served for FREE outside of the women's tennis match. It was such a delightful surprise. We got plenty of food, and wandered over to watch some tennis, which was also a free event. Watching women's tennis was surprisingly fun, much more fun then watching on TV. Duke played very well, and it was fun to cheer them on from the bleachers in the sunshine, iced tea in hand. 

This was one of those days that reminds us of the simple pleasures of this trip. It is so nice to not have anything you specifically must do, and just be able to wander about and run into things like free food and tennis matches. This trip has been such a great study in how to live well, and cheaply. We've literally spent under $10 today (bagels for breakfast, cup of coffee, and some fruit at Trader Joe's), and it's been such a magical, wonderful day. Having money often makes you feel like you need to spend it to have fun and enjoy life, but that's far from the truth. Having very little money is leading to so many great, rewarding days. 

I also find that this trip is leading to us slowing down and taking time to enjoy each thing we are doing. After eating bagels outside this morning, we walked over to a store called WomanCraft, which was a co-op where local artists can sell their wares. As we were browsing, we began talking to two of the ladies working there, and had a great conversation with them. When you're not on a strict time schedule, conversations like this become much more common. We learned that both ladies, probably now in their 40's, also traveled across the country once. One had done her traveling in an old converted school bus! It seems people usually have one of two reactions to this trip: they are jealous and wish they could do something similar, or they have tales of their own travels. I'm so glad we're in the latter category. It is so neat to meet such a diverse network of people who have done trips across the country, living out of their vehicle...there are so many of us! 

Friday, March 29, 2013

From China to Durham

We left Dave's grandparents' house this afternoon after spending a great week there. We really enjoyed spending time with them. Thanks guys! :) 

We were very sad to leave China behind. Dave's grandparents took her in recently, but they are looking for a new home for her since she doesn't mix well with their other pets. We certainly would have taken her if we were not traveling right now. It was so sad to leave without her; she even tried to climb in the van with us. We hope this baby goes to a good home. 

We are on our way to our first work exchange in Ruffin NC, near the Virginia border. We don't have to be there until Monday and the drive ended up being a shorter distance than we had thought, so we decided to detour towards Chapel Hill and Durham. We walked around the UNC Chapel Hill campus for a while today, and found this cool horn outside of the music building. We've been chuckling about how much of this trip we've spent at UNC so far, since we spent a lot of time on their Asheville campus, too. 

Poor Dave is a Duke fan and has felt traitorous with all this UNC time, so tonight, we are in Durham to watch the big game, and we're going to hang out at Duke tomorrow. Hopefully the weather stays as nice as it was was 64 degrees and sunny. Perfect weather for driving with the windows open. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Beaches, Antiques, and Grassy Pastures

Since yesterday, we've been spending time at Dave's grandparent's home in Holden Beach, NC. We took all back roads again from Georgia, and turned the trip into a great two-afternoon cruise. It was rainy and dreary out (the entire country seems to be under some spell of terrible weather right now), but we turned up the music and had a great time. 

On the drive, we saw some incredible landscapes. There was some sort of orange-ish grass growing here...

And the most lush, green grass you'll ever see growing here. I like the strip of brown and regular grass also in the photo, because it gives some perspective as to just how green this grass actually was. 

We took a walk on the beach by Dave's grandparents, which turned out to be like taking a walk in a hurricane. It was SO windy! The sand was literally whipping across the beach. These pictures give a little perspective on it. You can see the lighter color on top of the darker color sand...that's the camera's attempt to catch mass amounts of sand in motion. Though we were freezing, the appearance of the blowing sand was magical. 

It's also quite a change from the mountain scenery we've been used to lately! 

Today, we went out with Grandma to visit the antique store she runs, Squires Antiques. What a great place! We also went to several thrift stores and spent the day hunting for great bargains we couldn't live without. We now have an amazing handmade Peruvian throw ($7.50), a tweed jacket ($2.50), and a paisley scarf for Dave, who finds it makes him look "dashing" ($2.00). We also have some gifts from Grandma's antiques store, including some National Geographic's from the 1930's, and a wedding band for Dave, something we've been searching for. This one was a perfect fit, and was just what we wanted. I'm glad we waited and held out for this, which was clearly just meant to be! 

We also went to Calabash, NC, where we bought huge shrimp at the docks, literally fresh off the the boat, followed by a trip to the Farm Market, where we got acorn squash, potatoes, and yellow squash. We brought everything home, and cooked up a mouth-watering, fresh dinner. Pretty much a perfect day! 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tennis Rackets Falling from the Sky

Yesterday, we left Asheville for Athens, Georgia, to see one of my oldest and dearest friends, Sam. It was a little sentimental leaving Asheville. We'd grown attached, but I'm sure it won't be the last time we see Asheville. 

We took the scenic route, mostly on the Smokey Mountain Expressway. It was a foggy and overcast day, and the mountains looked like something out of a Greek epic, rising into the fog and appearing to continue beyond the clouds. Despite the dreary day, we had a blast stopping at several thrift and antique stores. Poor Sam. We realized how out of touch we are with having a schedule or a set place to be. It took us over 4 hours to make a drive that should have taken us only 2 and a half. 

Our detour turned out to be productive, though. A few days ago, we blogged about playing tennis without rackets because we had found some tennis balls, but I had given away our tennis rackets in the yard sale before our trip. We enjoyed our made-up tennis/handball game, and joked that rackets would have to fall out of the sky for us if we were ever going to play the real game. Somewhere along the Smokey Mountain Expressway, between Asheville and Athens, two tennis rackets fell out of the sky. 

We had stopped at a community thrift store in the middle of nowhere and were browsing around. We found a few issues of old Life magazines, which we collect, and some cheap clothing. While we were browsing, the lady who owned the store, dressed in grey sweatpants, approached us with her excitable, high pitched voice. 

"Excuse me, Sir? Could I trouble you to help me move a couch? This gentleman has brought it in, but he's older, and everyone else in the store is a woman. No one can move the couch. I'll be more than happy to give you a good deal on your purchase." 

Of course, Dave was happy to help move the couch, and, it turned out, a fridge, off the rental truck and into the community thrift. As they were moving the couch, I poked my nose around the back room, and found a stack of tennis rackets that looked nearly identical to the ones I had given away. They weren't marked with a price. 

"We're ready to check out. We were wondering, though, how much are these tennis rackets?" 

"Oh, those? You can just have them. Thank you for your help." 

So, along with the vase, vintage Life magazines, and clothing we got for $6, we got free tennis rackets. We can't wait to play a few games of tennis! 

Once we finally made it to Athens, several antique stores and scenic overlooks later, we had a blast hanging out with Sam. She is temporarily living in Athens for a Pharmacy School rotation, and hadn't had any opportunities to explore the downtown area yet. Downtown Athens turned out to be way cooler than we would have expected. We browsed through consignment stores, ate delicious food at the Thai Spoon, and caught up over coffee at one of the coolest coffee shop/bar/art display spots we've found. We spent the night at her place and had a relaxing morning today cooking some pretty kick-ass breakfast sandwiches and relaxing on the couch, something that's even nicer when you haven't had a couch to relax on for the past month. 

I'm writing this from Augusta, Georgia, where we've made a temporary stop on our way to visit Dave's grandparents, who live in coastal North Carolina. Following more back roads on the way here, we passed through miles more of rolling pastures and gorgeous farm country. 

These trees are marvelous. The further towards Athens we drove, the more spectacular their blossoms. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Peace, Horses, and Troutlily

When we woke up to snow flurries and temperatures of 27 degrees yesterday morning, we scratched our plans for a hike and spent the morning huddled inside a coffee shop instead. Later in the afternoon, though, the sunshine beckoned us, so we drove back towards Chimney Rock to explore some other places we had spotted along the road. 

Hop on the Love Bus! This gem, modeled after Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters 1960's bus, Further, was being stored at a VW parts lot. In 2012, the Love Bus crew undertook a coast to coast journey to spread their message of heart conscious evolution. You can see highlights from their journey over at their blog, though it is no longer active. 

There were so many fantastic old VDub buses here! It was a mecca. Though we're very thankful for our far more reliable 2013 transportation, owning one of these guys is definitely a dream. 

Usually, "healthy" and "mini-mart" would be total contradictions, but not so at Troutlily, which was truly a great discovery. We splurged and bought a huge jar of delicious Sourwood Honey, but they also had local meats and fish, local veggies, like swiss chard, and a great selection of organic products just like you'd find on the shelves of Whole Foods. 

 We loved this horse! He was so gentle and mild-mannered as he grazed.

Our actual destination on yesterday's drive was the Hickory Nut Gap Farm Store, which was closed last time we drove by. We got the chance to chat with the guy who was working the store, who is currently an intern with the farm. We got the chance to rant about Monsanto, lament America's disconnect with its food, and encourage each other by our shared enthusiasm for sustainable agriculture and good, local food production. Hickory Nut Gap Farm is known in the area for its all grass-fed beef and high quality products. We bought some Sweet Soppressata (a dry salami), and we can attest to its deliciousness! 

Not only did we have a great day, but we've been getting great news for the past two days. We're now all set with two different upcoming work exchanges. Starting on the March 31st, we'll be working at a farm and vineyard in North Carolina where we'll help prune the vineyard for Spring, work on expanding the garden, and help with tasks around the farm. And we'll have the weekends off to fish, hike, and explore the local area as well as being provided with a place to stay and food. Our second work exchange will be beginning mid-April in Pennsylvania, near Philly. The farm is primarily meat production, so we'll have lots of work taking care of the animals, but we'll also have tons of opportunities to visit other local farms to learn about stuff we're interested in, like herbalism, mushroom propagation, and urban homesteading. We're really grateful for these opportunities, and we're also really excited! I'm thankful for the solid knowledge base we're building on this trip to help us with our future goal of having our own urban homestead/small scale farm. 

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