Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Getting Real-- Dealing with Substance Abuse in Families. Advice for Coping and Healing.

   Getting Real--Dealing With Substance Abuse in Children & Families

   I have written in past blogs about problems that have touched my life, and the life of my family.
No use trying to sweep it under the rug now. Matter of fact I refuse to do that.  AA has a sobriety saying "You're only as sick as your secrets."  That is true for families and codependents as well as
addicts and alcoholics.   We are finally in a great place after many years of struggle.  Our son and daughter in law are clean, sober, recovered, maintaining sobriety, healthy, and their son returned to them.   I give God the credit for the miracle of recovery. I give thanks and honor to the family, friends, social workers, law enforcement officers, court officials, who have helped us along the way.
Thanks for the support, prayers, encouragement, acceptance, and the endurance to stay the course.

   I am writing this blog for several purposes.  One is that I personally do not feel it is right to cry out
to others in crisis, then fail to share the joy of answers and progress.  You should always come to those people later and share gratitude, updates of a positive nature with them.  This is supporting your own support system! It brings hope and goodness to all.   Another reason is to avoid the secrets, lies, stigma of substance abuse in families.  Today there is hardly a family or person who has not been touched by addiction or alcoholism in some form.   No sense being ashamed or hiding it.  I also do not want to glamorize it or make it seem "normal".  It is neither of those things.  A final reason is to
provide practical advice and planning options for those who may encounter situations like what we have faced.  I refuse to let the lessons we've learned be wasted.

The Beginning of Addiction--When It All Starts

   Our son was around fifteen when he began using drugs. It began with smoking pot which to him was "not a big deal." It is in fact a very big deal for a kid that age or younger to start using marijuana.
It leads to stunted emotional development. It results in actual physical changes in the brain that will have to be overcome later once and if they ever quit.  It is worse depending upon the age of the child, their size and weight, the amount used and the amount of times it is used.  One time now and then use is not going to produce as many harmful effects as daily or more than once daily use. 
For our son marijuana was a definite gate way to other, harder drugs later.  

      As a parent if you have a gut instinct that something is not right please heed that inner voice.
You are the parent.  The child is living under your roof. Do not feel bad about "invading privacy". 
Do room searches, Check on them to see if they are really where they say they are.  Keep up with their friends and the friends parents!   Check cell phones.  Check vehicles.  Check computer communications.  Check gaming systems.  X Box and some game systems can be used to communicate online.  Our son's X Box had a secret compartment in the back we did not know about.
It was where he kept his stash of weed.   Lastly drug test them randomly and regularly if you find out
they are using.  It is not real expensive to drug test and it is a deterrent. It helped for a number of years to staunch the behavior.   

     Really find out not only who their friends are and what they are about.. check up on their friends parents too.  We had a kid Jared ran around with whose living situation was very poverty stricken.  I foolishly refused to judge them based upon their finances.  It is wrong to be prejudiced against people because of their poverty.   The problem here was that they were in poverty because the parents were bad human beings.  I did not REALLY know who they were.   The dad was a pot grower and drug dealer.  Both of those parents put on the appearance of being very nice people. Once we were not around they were permitting our kid and theirs to smoke pot in their presence because they were 
users and dealers themselves.   If the situation looks funky............ keep your kid out of there.
Believe yourself when the sketch factor is up there.. your kid doesn't need to be in that home.
Another seemingly very nice and supportive man and woman were addicts themselves.  Users and dealers. The dad was a fence for stolen goods.  It doesn't matter how it seems on the surface. 
Check around and find out from people you really trust if the parents and kids are what they seem to be.   Even with all that said and done you may still get snookered.  

   Love your kid.  Don't give up on them.  We kept Jared from getting too messed up from age fifteen until he turned eighteen.   Get help and support for yourself starting now.  Get involved in Nar Anon, Al Anon, Celebrate Recovery or some twelve step support group for the family.   Work the  twelve steps daily.  Pray and ask for prayer from others. Encourage your child or require your child to go to such meetings as NA, AA, Celebrate Recovery and things that give them the tools to get and stay clean.  They may not like it, but you are not there to be popular.  They may also not really avail themselves of it, but it is free and it cannot do
any harm.  Be careful to avoid NA and AA groups which have a high percentage of people attending who are required to do so by the law!  Chances are those folks are not serious at all about recovery and are only doing so to stay out of jail.  Do your homework before taking your kid to those. You may be taking them into a situation where they are just getting additional tips to become a better addict.  
Progression into Harder Drugs

    Our son graduated with honors.  He scoped out colleges and trade schools. We were very supportive. He was holding down a job part time while going to school.  We had gotten him involved in a recovery program and a church basketball program.  He got really into Young Life which was great.   He was on a waiting list for a trade school for auto body repair.  He started a good job at a local grocery store while he waited to start school.  During this time period he went from bad to worse. He was working with a friend from high school who ended up leading him further down the road into more serious addiction.   He ended up on pain pills and really really liked them.  Reader's Digest condensed version he went from marijuana to pain pills, to whatever he could get his hands on, to black tar heroin before it was all over.

      He was dealing drugs to support his habit.  He lost his job. He had a series of wrecks.
He was having regular run ins with the law.  It got so bad I was afraid to shut my eyes with him in the house.  We had to eventually kick him out.  I was so stressed out by this point I could not lay down and shut my eyes without waking up screaming.  My hair was falling out by the fist full.  I went for counseling. I got to the doctor. I got on medication for a diagnosis of depression.  It turned out not to be depression and the medicine and the doctors and counselors were not helping me.
I had PTSD just like some Vietnam vets I had cared for.    I had one of them tell me what was wrong with me and he had more sensible advice and help than my doctor.  I got into Al Anon.
I found a supportive group of women who really helped me. God sent lots of different and unexpected people my way to help me recover.  I worked for a long time on my own codependency.
I fought back from my craziness but it took a long time to get right.  We tried moving him to
Virginia to live with family because of death threats toward him and our family by his associates.

      It seemed for awhile to help.  It was not better.  Finally we just moved him home again.
I enrolled him in rehab at the Life Center at Galax.  He went and started rehab there.
It was good for him and good for us.  He transitioned from there to a halfway house program in Asheville, North Carolina.  It was marvelous.  He was healthy. He was functioning.  We were healthy as a family again.  Prayers were answered.  Little by little over a course of two years Jared lost his sobriety.   The difference this time?  We were not the same two parents who started down this road with him.   Now we were two stronger, more resilient, resourceful parents with a united front.
My mom was amazing in all this.  She has been my rock through the entire ordeal. I thank God for her love, support and wisdom.

          The Long Haul --Relapse as Part of Recovery

   We knew Jared surely was not clean and sober any longer.   He could not hold down a job. He
looked sickly.  He was living with roomies that were just awful.  They were nearly as bad as him.
We went over to the house where he was living to visit him.  He was not home, yet his car was there.
I walked around that dark, depressing house. I looked out on the back deck and saw trash bags waist deep covering the entire thing.  We talked that day and got real honest. He had been using heroin.
He had gotten to the point where he knew he could not continue.  He got off the stuff and into a suboxone clinic.   He had a friend take him to the clinic that morning for his dose.   He was already admitting he had a bad problem. He was ready to come home to us.  We were ready to bring him home.   No more anger. No more resentment. No judgement or criticism.  Just love and acceptance.
He could not come home with us that day. He would have to work out the logistics of how to transfer
his care from the clinic in Asheville to the one in Knoxville.   A few days before Christmas he moved home.   He was very sick. We were downhearted over the setback, but this time we had a grasp on the fact that relapse is part of recovery. It happens.  The good news was that he wanted help and was willing to come home and get sober again.   A setback like this doesn't mean everything you've done up til now was for nothing.  Don't give up. Don't despair.  Get up and try again.

      Jared & I attended a Celebrate Recovery meeting .. a new Christian based twelve step program
at the Methodist church.  We went to a meeting and he got a white chip.  He told me he had something to show me.  He rolled up his sleeve and showed me his arm.  He had a horrible abscess.
I was still working as a nurse in a big hospital at the time so I knew what I was seeing. I also knew what it meant was coming for him.   Yet God is good and He had given me the tools and the peace I needed to cope with it.  I never batted an eye. I just said "Son, we've got to go to the emergency room now to get you treated."  I knew he'd be admitted and he was.  They did the surgery that night to drain the abscess. They were wonderfully compassionate and caring.  They did not judge him or mistreat him the way I'd seen some nurses do in the facility where I worked.  They were an example of Christlike love and care.   Say what you want about Blount Memorial Hospital but they were awesome too him and to me.   Our pastor Rev. Tom Waring was right there the next day.  He was
as supportive and encouraging as he could be.  Jared loves him and so do we.  His guidance and wisdom helped a bunch for all of us.   Little did I know that two days later I'd be hospitalized myself in the same facility.

Don't Hang onto Things That Hurt You

  God had put it on my heart more than a year earlier that I needed to leave my current job. Yet I was 
still there. Still holding on.  Afraid to let go.    It is unwise to work in a trauma center caring for a patient population where a high percentage of them are substance abusers if you are dealing with an addict in your personal life.  It took having my head blown up by Miller Fisher syndrome to get my attention. I was hospitalized with an illness that could have killed me. It could have left me with serious and lasting deficits.  Yet I recovered thanks to God's healing power.  
I was ready to be obedient now.  I prayed and asked God to please help me learn the lessons He was teaching me the first time. I asked Him to help me not to struggle against it anymore. He heard my prayer and answered.  Long story short I got out of the hospital, but had it not been for Jared being at home working on his own recovery from illness and addiction...... I'd not have been able to be discharged home. I'd have had to go into a nursing home type facility for rehab until I was better able to care for myself.  I could not drive. I could barely walk.   Yet here I was with this sweet son of mine caring for me very tenderly.  I needed him. He needed me. He was inspired to work harder at sobriety because he was needed!   I did go back to work in time and stayed in a different position same facility for five months.  I quit when I knew it was absolutely time. I could not get out of there fast enough.
Being out of that environment was more healing for me and  my family than I could ever have imagined.   I did not realize the extent it had harmed me until long time later when I got healthier. 
I got some perspective on the true nature of it in my body, soul and emotions.  Just as the substance abuser needs to get rid of the drugs.. I needed to get rid of a noxious stimulus in my own life.

                    Just When You Thought Things Couldn't Get Any Worse

   I spent a lot of time with that "waiting for the other shoe to drop" feeling.  Once I had gotten rid of
my job and become a full time homemaker I lost some of that. I also lost much of that feeling of constant worry once Jared got sober again.   He met the woman who would become my daughter in law.  It was a God thing for sure and we all knew it. This was good. She was a recovering addict
herself with some sobriety under her belt at this point.  Just about the time I let go of that feeling of constant dread and anticipation of the next bad thing....... the next bad thing did show up on our door step.   I knew Jared looked bad when he was hospitalized, but he had an abscess. He also was on suboxone which can itself give the patient a strange pallor.   He was jaundiced.  A few weeks after his hospital visit he was informed he had Hepatitis C.   He told me and he also told me there was a cure for it.   It used to be more or less a death sentence. It was not a matter of IF but WHEN.
Now there are meds that can not only heal the damage but totally cure the patient!

     The total cost of the cure we figured would come in at $90,000.  Now I'm not working and neither is this kid. He has insurance, but it was not going to cover the cost of the drug.   I was devastated at first trying to figure how we were going to save him?  I did a lot more praying.  God is faithful to answer.  Our insurance company rep told me what steps to take to get the medicine.  I followed her instructions. Jared's gastroenterologist was very helpful in knowing how to navigate the waters of Big Pharma.   Blount Discount Pharmacy out on Hall Road moved Heaven and Earth to get the medicine for him at a greatly reduced cost.  We ended up paying about $600 out of pocket.   The makers of the drug while they charge a high fee are willing to sell it for less and eventually give some of it away for free.  He was cured! Viral load 0.   With the help of the Lord we had overcome another hurdle.

Hold On.. This is Gonna Hurt Like Hell

     It is not always a wise move for two addicts to marry, but marry they did!   We loved our 
daughter-in-law dearly.   We were proud of them and could see they clearly loved each other and were meant to be together.    They got their own home.   I prayed that because of all the things they had dealt with that they would not try to have children.  I just could not see that it would be a good thing.  I felt sure it would be disastrous.  At some point a year or so into their marriage they did
get pregnant though.  What I did not know then was that they were both still going to a suboxone clinic to stay clean.   They were not 'clean" and sober by working the steps.  I was not happy about
the use of the suboxone to stay off street drugs, but the alternative was worse. I was not going to sweat it.      The trouble I knew was coming was that now you've got a pregnant mom on this stuff.
That means you can't go off it during the pregnancy without risking a miscarriage or still birth.
It also means that you're going to have a baby in NICU detoxing once it is born.  It means Child Protective Services is going to be up in your business for a spell.  It is not going to be pleasant.
I had worked NICU and IMCN with drug babies so I knew what to expect.   I also knew Lydia was taking the least subutex she could get by with.   She was doing this deliberately so it improved the baby's chances of a shorter detox.   

   June 4, 2016 Gabriel came into the world.  He was beautiful and healthy and perfect.   A few days after his birth she was discharged home and he went to Childrens Hospital NICU to detox.   I was at that hospital nearly every day to hold him.  I think I missed two days out of two weeks.  He went through the shakes and spitting up.  No seizures though.  He was nowhere near as bad as some babies I'd cared for in his withdrawals.  Child services was indeed called and we were all involved in this process of trying to ensure this baby would be safe at home with his parents.  For any grandparent who has ever gone through this I'm preaching to the choir.  If you thought that the pain it caused you to have your own child addicted was bad.... the pain of knowing an innocent grandchild is affected by this mess is far worse. The position addicted children put their parents in when they reproduce is 
exquisitely painful.  They have you over the proverbial barrel.  You are going to love this child. 
What they do not count on though is that your focus in worrying about them is now gone. 
You love them, but you cannot fix them and you know it.  The child however did not have a choice in this and you are going to do whatever it takes to care for that baby.  

     They successfully completed their probationary period at home with the baby.
They were both still going to the clinic to stay sober. Using suboxone to stay off the street drugs supposedly.   At some point after the three months CPS was involved both me and Lydia's mom began to strongly suspect something was wrong in the home.   No proof.  Baby seems ok, but
both grandmas instincts are firing off warnings.  We both spent a lot of time caring for Gabriel
because we were fearful for his safety and care.   I had a feeling  something was coming. I just wasn't sure what.  Jared came to pick the child up one evening and was staggering in my living room.
He was so impaired he could barely walk.  I told him he would drive that baby home in his car over my dead body.   I went to put on shoes and grab my purse to take them both home.   I had called Lydia and knew she was home and was straight.   He had too much to drink and got behind the wheel.
I was livid.   The next day I prayed about it and called Child Protective Services.  I did not want to, but I had no choice.  CPS views grandparents or family members who know there is a problem but don't report it or lie to cover it up to be worse than the parents who are messing up.  I could not see that I had any choice but to call.  I was not going to lie. Given a choice between seeing my grandson taken out of the home and given into foster care versus seeing him killed in a drunk driving accident guess which one I'm going to choose every single time?  I went through a period after that of being told I was "out of Gabriel's life forever".  I thought I would die of grief.   It did not last long. About a day thankfully.  It was just another flavor of pain.

              Alternatives to Calling Child Protective Services Yourself? 

   Prior to all this coming to a head I had talked to wise women who had been down this road before.
Two of my daughter's co workers had dealt with this successfully and have been a fantastic support system for me.   I pray for them daily.  I was advised to go ahead like they did and have a plan in place already.  I asked Jared & Lydia to sign temporary custody of Gabriel over to me and Kenny.
I did not want to take him away from them. I just did not want CPS involved. It was so scary to me.
I viewed them as the enemy or going to take our baby away.  They were too drugged out to think rationally and refused to do it.   I don't know why I expected rational,logical thought from two persons who were incapable of it at that time.    If you can get your adult child to do this... do it!
Then if they feel like they are going to mess up....... they can bring you the child and no social services involved.   If they get straightened out again you can give the child back.  This was my plan, but it was not in the cards.  

          I had been informed by someone I trusted deeply do NOT call child protective services yourself.   Speak to your area's trusted deputies or police officers. Tell them discreetly what you suspect is going on.  They'll watch the home closely.   If the parents are messing up they'll get caught.  CPS will be called,but you won't be the bad guy for having done it.    If the parents are mad at you they can tell social services they don't want you to have contact with the child so you don't want to piss them off.   Let someone else do the dirty work.  They don't care to do it. Then you're free and clear to care for your grandchild without a guilty conscience or anger from your adult child addicts.

       I did a lot more praying and watching and so did Nana Debbie.   God answered prayers too.
There are accounts in the Old Testament of the Bible where God caused Israel's enemies to become confused and fight one another or destroy themselves.   God has a great sense of humor.  I think its a bit on the dark side like mine. One night at 2 a.m.  both parents were so drugged out of their heads on something..... they more or less called the law on themselves because they were hallucinating. They believed they saw a man with a rifle outside their house fixing to shoot them.   The deputies responded and I got a call to come get Gabe.   I told the deputy who responded he had that child's future in his hands and he knew what he had to do.  I told him he'd best do the right thing consequences aside.   I was prepared for whatever came after.   He did put in the report and it was back to Child Protective Services involvement.  Now they're going to be up in our business wearing jackboots.  I spent a good deal of time the next day crying.

Dealing with Child Protective Services and Shared Custody 

    The day after the incident I was called to bring the baby in and come to see CPS worker at her office.  She wanted to see that the baby was ok. She wanted to hear from me what went on.
I spent that day very shaken, upset, and crying. I had the feeling of doom that Gabriel might be lost to  our family.   The case worker reassured me and reminded me of something I needed to hear.  She told me that no matter what the outcome was the child was not lost to me.  He was not lost to the grandparents period. We would continue to be in his life regardless of the choices of the parents.
They could either get clean and sober and win their baby back, or continue to mess up.  Little by little I came to understand they really are not the enemy.   I knew it intellectually, but my heart had to catch up.  I wanted custody of Gabe.    She advised me that I did not know what I was getting into.
She said she believed shared custody was the best thing for him.   Legally there is no such thing as shared custody for a child that young.   On paper one set of grandparents or the other will be the legal guardians.  Once papers are in place you can divvy up the duties however you need to.  She told us we were going to need all parties involved to keep it from overwhelming us.  I argued about it and did not believe her, but she was right.  Having plenty of help is way better!  It gives one set of grandparents a chance to rest and recuperate.  No one wants to be a mom again at 52, but it happens.

    Do not lie to CPS. Do not fear them.  They truly do want the best for the child and the family.
Their ultimate goal is to return the child to the parents care.  Kids do better with their natural parents involved.  They know you're not their real mom or dad.   They are not going to want you the way they long for their own biological parents.  We have had some fantastic bonds formed with these folks.  They don't do it because of the money. They do it because it is a calling and an important one.
Gabriel is now back with his parents. They have put on healthy weight. They are off everything.  They are totally clean, sober and substance free.  No alcohol either!   They have turned out to be
one of the best sets of parents you ever saw.  It has been a 180° turn around. I thank the Lord for it.
It has to feel great to social services to finally see a case where things ended on a positive note.

The Ending--True and Lasting Recovery 

    What happens when the addict or alcoholic in your life finally gets clean and sober?
It is different for everyone.  Some family members with unresolved codependency issues will
have unrealistic expectations of the addict, the alcoholic or the family.   When the expectations are not met they become angry and start blaming others.    Some family members enjoy feeling
"sainted" for having such a cross to bear.  Once the addict or alcoholic gets well they are angry
because they are no longer viewed as saintly or pious, dutiful.  They have been using the family problems of addiction to cover for their own failings.  Once they can't do that they can become
resentful.   Don't let that be you. You have to learn to adjust to the new "normal" and enjoy life again.

    I am having to adjust to being a grandmother again and not "mama".  I am doing fine and making
the most of this time.  I tell people there is no pleasing me.  I cannot get much done with Gabriel here, but when he is not here I miss him and want him here.   It will take time for me to stop feeling
this way.   I never let go of my hobbies and interests, but I did let myself focus intently on my responsibilities parenting a baby.  I am finding my way again. Gradually I will lose that "lost" sense.
What am I forgetting to do?  Where is Gabe?  Oh that's right.. he is not here. He's back at his home.
I am going back to my life, but it is not going to be my former life.  This one is better than ever.
I don't have to worry or wonder anymore if Gabriel is truly safe and cared for. He is.  I will lose that sense of being duty bound, but knowing me it will be a little while before it goes away.  I am a care giver and it is just my nature.  I am trying to be sure not to "borrow trouble" and allow myself to
fall into old anxieties.   So far so good.  I am realizing that my kids now have jobs to go to.  They are making healthy choices about activities they want to be involved in. They are going to church where they choose.  They have their own healthy, vibrant life to live.   I'm happy about that. I don't have the sense of wanting to control them, but I do have to remind myself not to be surprised or interfere when
they have plans.  

       I had to work hard on recovering from co-dependency.   I will always have to make sure I don't go back to being that way.  One reason is for my own health and sanity.  The other reason is for the health, sanity and sobriety of the addicts.   My unresolved co-dependency could potentially be the very thing that sets them up for a relapse!  I have to work on me!

   One tool to maintain my own recovery is to continue to pray. I need to attend support meetings such as Celebrate Recovery   Another is to continue to work the Twelve Steps.   I  need to keep in mind the words of the Serenity Prayer.  I will continue to maintain my hobbies and activities that bring me enjoyment.  Such things are important to the family members health.  They are what Stephen King calls "hedges against the night". It is out of a passage from his book Duma Key.   The main character in the story has been through a hellish life experience and very nearly died and nearly lost his mind.
His psychiatrist tells him he needs" hedges against the night" . These are things that bring us joy
and do not depend upon others.   It helps keep out the "night" of depression and despair. This is also true for the addict.  They need to use their free time to develop some hobbies and interests if they do not have any.  If they do have them they need to set aside time for them.  Depression and despair are unpleasant emotions that can overwhelm.  This could trigger a relapse.

         On the topic of emotions being a trigger :There were two things the court required Jared & Lydia to do that turned out to be excellent. 1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sessions.  It helps you learn to process and teaches coping strategies for dealing with emotions. ALL emotions but especially the negative ones that cause distress.  2.  They had to attend parenting classes. The bonds formed with the instructor and the other parents was very supportive and positive.  It truly did help.
All of it helped.

      Remember that while long term sobriety is the goal relapse can happen.  Don't allow yourself
to get caught up in thinking if it occurs that this is it. We're done for. It's all over with now baby blue.
Relapse may just be a brief bump in the road. The sooner the addict or alcoholic reverses course and does something positive to cope with it the better.   If you are maintaining your meetings and steps you won't be overwhelmed if relapse comes.  The top ten most common triggers for relapse into drug or alcohol use are:

1. HALT-- hungry, angry, lonely, tired.  Do not allow yourself to become too much of any one of these.

2. Emotions--perceived negative emotions help return the user to that intolerable state in their life
that lead to use to begin with.

3.Stress-- loss of job, divorce or romantic relationship break up, death in the family,  increased responsibilities, health problems.

4.Overconfidence. Thinking it can't happen to me.  Be confident, but remain humble and do the work.

5.Mental or physical illness surgery, injury and use of prescription pain killers even for legitimate reasons must be done very carefully and options weighed. Seeking alternatives to opioid pain killers is wise if it can be avoided.

6. Social isolation-- failure or reluctance to reach out or connect with others.

7. Sex and relationships-- sometimes it is best to wait to get into one for the first year of sobriety.
In our family's case it was too late for that.  They were already married with a child toward the end!

8.Getting a new job or promotion-- even positive changes can be triggers.

9. Remembering and glamorizing past times of use.  Major red flag here.  Get to a meeting ASAP.
Talk to a sponsor as soon as possible. ( I have personally set a boundary that I will not listen to talk about drug use even from the past. )  Now that they are healthy, clean and sober it is never discussed!

10. Social situations like parties or hanging around places or old friends where drugs or alcohol are available.    
Few Last Words of Advice

   Thanks to all the people in my life and the life of my family who have supported us staunchly during what has been the most hellish time of my life.   I love you all for it and I am thankful for you, for God's gift of recovery.   I would not wish any of this upon my worst enemy.  No one should have to go through this.  Reality is that our county is regrettably number one in the nation for drug use and open child welfare cases because of it.   I pray for our county to become the one with the LEAST drug use.  

        Parents one of the things that I had to come to terms with is that it was quite possible Jared
was never going to get well. I had to make up my mind that I was going to be okay regardless of
what he chose to do.   I had to come to terms with the reality that he might well overdose and die.
I started praying way back there that God would send him to the bottom fast so he could turn around
and start back up.  Don't hold back the hands of God. Be careful what you pray for.  Pray for HIS will and you won't ever go wrong.  

     Narcan is the antidote for overdose.  There is a wonderful movement in this country to make it widely available to fire, ems, law enforcement, or even to family members like me who have an addict in the home.   I realize drug use and abuse is a personal choice to start with, but I do not see the good in allowing a bad decision to be a final decision.  I plan to talk to my pharmacist about
purchasing some and training me on the kits.  I hope I never need it. Look into it if you are in a place where this could happen in your life or home.   You'll be glad you did.

           If you have a child who is driving and you have given them a vehicle and they are
getting behind the wheel impaired...... make certain that car is not titled in your name.
I had a fellow I knew whose daughter was impaired on opiates and wrecked.  She killed her
boyfriend and another woman and injured someone else.   He had the car in HIS name.  The insurance pay out was not enough to cover the cost of the civil suit lodged against him .  He ended up having to refinance his house to pay for it.   Here he is retired and having to pay a second mortgage!
I learned from his mistake.  I made sure Jared's vehicles were in his name.  Just because you have
car insurance doesn't mean you are covered.

     I watched this Ted Talk video by Johann Hari ,and it really enlightened me.
Take fifteen minutes and watch it.  It costs a fortune to go to a TED talk, but these are free.
You will be shocked at the statistics and your mind blown at the revolutionary way the country of
Portugal is coping with addiction.   Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong

     Once you've watched this video think about ways you can become more "Portugese" in your thinking and dealing with the addict in your life.  Love and social connection and strong bonds
to society, family, friends are a huge part of bringing healing about.  Bringing about the desired
and hoped for changes.   Give them what we all want. Love, Acceptance. Support.
It doesn't cost anything to do those things.   Until we change our attitudes we are not going to see
results.    I know it because every thing we went through during this last phase worked on those
principles!  We forged strong social bonds in caring for Gabriel as a team. As a family!
You better believe that was part of causing Jared and Lydia to come round.  I can tell you from personal experience what this man is proposing is both true and effective!

           I  once heard from Jack Canfield that in a survey of many near death experience
survivors they were asked two common questions by a Higher Power.  1. What have you done to increase your wisdom.  2. What have you done to increase your capacity to love.  I know
that what I have been through and what we have been through as a family has done both those things. Teaching us to love the unlovely in one another.  Teaching acceptance.  Teaching about life.
If that isn't increasing wisdom I don't know what is.

     I cannot fix your life for you if you are dealing with this. I wish I could.  I can be a listening ear.
I can pray for you.  I can love you. I can sit with you if you live relatively close.
you can reach my by email dkoogler@gmail.com


Friday, May 5, 2017

Black Mountain Loop Hike--Exploring Cumberland County

Close up of Pink Lady Slipper bloom

Black Mountain Loop Hike--Exploring Cumberland County 

Dana Koogler

Friday April 28, 2017

Black Mountain Tennessee Pix

    I had been saying for a long time I wanted to get up to Black Mountain to hike solo.  
The reason was that while there one Spring with Kenny I found loads of wildflowers.  I wanted to go back by myself so I could spend as much time as I wanted wandering around taking pictures.  We did make it back last Spring, but it was with the entire family.  It was not the day to go ambling around taking loads of wildflower pictures.  We had fun, but had to get the kids back to civilization at a decent time and feed them.   I did not see a lot of the previous wildflowers, but since I did not have time to really look I was not surprised.  I got up on what was supposed to be a pretty day to carry out my plans.   I got an early start so I could have all day to explore.    

       I got there around 9 a.m. central time.   I saw only one other car in the parking lot. 
I stopped wherever I pleased on the drive up the mountain to take flower pictures.  I started seeing Carolina pinks along the edges of the road.   They were eye catching hot pink.  I later saw some 
deep purple dwarf larkspur.  I also saw lots of yellow trillium.  
yellow trillium was common
Also saw lots of purple dwarf larkspur

Carolina pinks were plentiful

    I studied the banks along the road on the way up the mountain. I drove very slowly. I had found a spot along there in the past where I saw fairy bells, and so many beautiful trilliums. I had planned on parking the jeep at the nearest pull off and wading around the mountainside just taking pictures of flowers.   I was disappointed to see that the stuff I found on the previous trip were not there.  
It appears that a mowing and weed clearing operation has destroyed those flowers.  I have a feeling that unless they quit mowing that area these flowers are finished permanently.    It was very disappointing.  I understand some brush clearing must be done, but there is no way the small wildflower plants are going to be getting mixed up in the power lines.   They need to find some way to leave them alone. I finally got to the parking area and stopped. I gathered my gear leaving my camera out hanging round my neck. I knew I'd need it very soon.   

A piece of the Cumberland Trail atop Black Mountain.

Two pink lady slippers. I saw lots of these today, but they are only getting going! 

   It was such a sunny, cool day.  The sky was blue and the breeze fresh from the rain.   It felt good to be outdoors.   I decided to leave the main trail and go round to the rocks first.   I started seeing other pretty and interesting things.  The rocks themselves are fascinating in their size, shape and texture.  
Lots of cinnamon ferns sprung up along the trail near the spring house and between the rocks.  Cinnamon Ferns are some of my very favorites.   Lots of history here atop this mountain. Two home sites exist with their chimneys still standing and parts of the walls.  The spring house constructed of rock is a neat addition.   I also saw pinkster azalea blooming.  
Chimney and ruins #2
 Pinkster azalea
Historic spring house
Home site and chimney #1

   I wandered around the old home sites first and the rocks. I had some memories come back to me 
of things long forgotten.  I recalled a guy from the past who used to take his daughters here to this place to learn to climb and rappel.  It would make an excellent place for it.  I wonder if folks are still doing that here from time to time?   We used to be big into the climbing thing, but not for a long time.
I remembered there being cinnamon ferns here, but I didn't know how many!  Lots of them. They are beautiful and my favorite fern species.  I cannot help thinking about how the landscape might have looked thousands of years ago or even further back.  It would have been something to behold the time when the Cumberland Plateau was an island in the midst of a sea.  

Row of cinnamon ferns at the base of one of the rocks
Massive rock in the Spring sunshine.  Love those new green leaves. They are dazzling!
View out among the boulders.

    I reversed course and went to the actual trail and hiked out to the south overlook. I had not encountered a soul up here so far.  I wondered where the person was who owned the other car? They had arrived just ahead of me.  I saw them pass me as I was pulled off the road taking pictures.  I never saw or heard them all day.   The view from the overlook was clear and breath taking as usual.  It is 
a grand stand view out across Grassy Cove.  Grassy Cove is one of North America's most notable sinkholes.   It comes in at around 5 miles of surface area.  All the streams that drain it go subterranean before they leave the cove.  The state of Tennessee now owns Devil Step Hollow and cave to the west.  It is where the underground water from the streams of Grassy Cove comes back out.  They did not even need to do a dye test to figure this out? Why?  Long ago the farmers in the area could tell when the folks in Grassy Cove were harvesting corn because the shucks would come floating out of the stream at Devil Step Hollow Cave. It is only open once a month at this time. We were fortunate to catch it open and go on a guided hike in the past.  I hope in the future they open it more often.
I'd love to do more exploring there especially for wildflowers.  Today sitting here at this overlook
under clear skies with the breeze blowing and listening to the birds sing was a little slice of Heaven.
I watched as the buzzards soared near the overlook.  They are scavengers, but in the air they look graceful.   The breeze was pretty stiff and I was glad I had on a jacket.  I soaked up all I wanted of the beauty and mosied on to see what else I could find.  


View from the South Overlook across Grassy Cove and toward Brady mountain.
Click the link to watch the video South Overlook Video

    I rejoined the trail and continued the loop hike. I went out to where the Cumberland Trail departs and heads toward Windlass Cave.  I hiked down the steps constructed between those massive boulders.  They are the size of rooms or houses!  It is always impressive to me. They are beautiful in their own right.  They are adorned by moss, lichens, ferns and various wildflowers.  It was apparent that some of the wildflowers were not yet blooming while others were finished.   I was a little disappointed in the amount and type of wildflowers here. The ground among the boulders was filled with mayapples in bloom. They smelled sweet!  I took in all the various holes and crevices of the rocks.  I turned on my GPS unit and had it tracking me to "Black Mountain Rocks".  Before I knew it I was like Brer' Rabbit in de briar patch.. his laffin' place.   I was getting clawed up by blackberry briars.  I was also not able to see my feet in some spots thanks to the underbrush.  The ground was extremely rock with holes and soft spots. The GPS said I had another 527 feet of this.  I decided I was not going to risk getting snake bit and I was not willing to get clawed up over it.  I'd pick a better time. I need to wait til it is cold and the snakes are asleep and the briars and brush are dead for the season.   Work smarter.. not harder.   I turned around and went to complete the loop hike.

Down the steps between the rocks!
You walk right under this boulder covered in the prettiest deep green moss and ferns!

      I  continued the loop hike. It is very flat with hardly any elevation change.  I passed the big weather station up top.  I had hiked this before, but it was long ago. It really is pretty.  Ferns and yellow trilliums grew everywhere. I saw more pink lady slippers.  I saw yellow birch in quite a few areas here atop the mountain.  Black Mountain is a quirky place. You can find mention of the population of "disjunct northern species " here on this mountain. One of which is yellow birch.
Another that is mentioned is the Showy lady slipper.  I have read that back decades ago they existed here, but I have also read more recent publications that state experts feel it may be extirpated at the site.  Apparently it has not been found here in a long while. I have read in an individual's blog and
on a campground website the same words about the yellow birch and Showy Lady Slippers.
It reads identically so it seems to me neither of those sources of information is credible. I'd say they are parroting back things they've read elsewhere.  I wish they were right for I'd love to find it here.
I have looked several times without any luck.   Yellow birch trees grow from Canada all the way down into North Georgia.  The further south you go the less of it you see.   We have hiked to high elevation streams in the Great Smoky Mountains and seen these trees a plenty.  While hiking to Upper Ramsey's cascade we saw loads of them. It was so wet up there the  yellow birch trees had water running out the ends of their branches!  I've never seen that before nor since.
Yellow birch tree bark and photo below is the leaves.

  I remembered there should be an overlook on the back of the loop.  It was not long until I came to it.  The forest on this side of the mountain is very beautiful.  It is deep and green and filled with bird songs.  The view is not open here because the trees are still standing and it is only a partial glimpse into the valley below.  The up side to that is that the birds sing more sweetly because they are nearer.
Their homes are all around you.  Looking out through the forest at the valley below from this vantage is like looking at an old post card.  The soft subtle tones of the earth, sky, vegetation are easy on the eyes.  The setting is soothing to the ears and senses in general.   I passed great patches of velvet green moss. I passed amazing fins of rock jutting from the mountain side. I also saw a geocache!  I entered my name in the log book which has been going continously since 2001.  I did not take any objects out, but I did put something in.   Fun!  
Back side of the loop trail on Black Mountain
 carpet of moss on the rocks around the North Overlook

Two fins of rock just down over the mountainside.  

Geocache found near the overlook! 

View from the North Overlook.  Click the link to see the video and hear the bird songs!

    I enjoyed the quiet of the overlook and finally pulled myself away to finish my hike. I completed the loop hike and leisurely strolled back to the jeep.  I saw a few other wildflowers on the way. A few fire pinks, golden alexanders, and a little bit of blue phlox.

Fire pink

Glade phlox <br />
Phlox bifida spp stellaria


   Back at the jeep I still saw only the one vehicle aside from mine.   I had brought lunch with me, but was too excited to eat right now.  Instead I got a sip of something to drink and started driving down the mountain very slowly.  I continued to scan the banks as I went in hopes of seeing the fairy bells I'd been treated to years before.  I never did find them. Yes, I CAN identify wildflowers going down the road at 35 mph. Shoot, I can ID them going down the interstate at 70 mph depending upon the plant!   I did see one cluster of great white trilliums hanging on way up a steep slope.  I will give it some thought and decide if I am giving up on this area for good botanically or if I am just taking a hiatus.  It frustrates me to try to gauge when stuff blooms here.  I come one year and it is too early. I come another year and I'm too late for other things.  I believe if I do come back to botanize here I will make it a study area and visit monthly from mid March through September.  

      Down at the bottom of the mountain I decided I'd get back on I-40 and drive round to Westel Road.  I wanted to check on some things there in the area.  I was not in the mood to go to Ozone Falls today. I had other stuff I wanted to do.   Instead I took a back road and went round to see Umbrella Rock and Fall Branch.   
I first saw Chris Oliver's photos of Umbrella Rock and wanted to visit.  I am glad I did, but my pictures are nowhere near as good!
Umbrella Rock sits right by the road.   It is covered in ferns on top!

Above and below..Fall Branch toward the bridge and upstream toward the cascades.  What a lovely spot!  Umbrella magnolias hung across the stream and yellow butterflies flitted.  The forest here is deep and dark hemlocks.

Below is a video of Fall Branch. The color of the water is that aquamarine that I love!

    I did not hang around Fall Branch long.  I saw lots of posted signs and began to be uneasy.  I was not sure if they pertained to the entire property or if it was just the land on the far side of the stream?
Once I saw them I decided I'd best move on until I knew more about the situation.  I did not see anyone out while back in there to stop to ask.  It is a residential area and I was uneasy being alone.
I did some more checking once I got home and I will tell you what I found out in another blog entry soon to come.

        I wanted to go back round to where we used to ride the four wheeler.  I had not been there in three years.  I had such fond memories of good times there with Kenny. I believed I could find it and walk back there.   I did find it back Dogwood Road, but once again I encountered posted signs.
I did not remember if these had been here before or not?  I was committed now and had no choice but to continue to the road's end so I could at least find a spot to turn around.  Once at the end of the road I could see tracks and it was apparent someone is going back there in a four wheeler.  I decided to chance it and just walk down the dirt track into the woods.  I walked down the red dirt road with water trickling everywhere.   I hoped I'd see wildflowers. I did see lots of dwarf crested iris, but nothing else.   The forest was still pretty.  I came to a nice little stream under the deep gloom of hemlocks.  It hit me then that my memory of the trail was sketchy at best.  I realized it was probably quite a lot further back in the woods to where I'd seen all the good lady slipper orchids in the past.
I turned around and went back.  I enjoyed the peace of the forest. I never saw a soul back here today.
 Stream crossing. I loved all the colorful pebbles along the bottom.
 Dwarf Crested Iris
 Hemlock woods.. we'd better look while we can for they are ailing.
Below is a short video of the creek in the woods. It is "quiet" except for the sloshing of my boots as I tromp through the stream at one point.  

  I hiked back to the jeep and stowed my backpack. I was tired and happy. I had the drive home to face so I decided to get going before getting hung up in rush hour traffic.  I'd had a pretty good day and did not want anything to harsh my mellow.  I already had plans to return here with Kenny as soon as possible.   It did not take anything to convince him we needed to go back.  Lots left to explore!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Exploring Lost Cane and Big Piney Creek

White form of Trillium sulcatum

Exploring Lost Cane and Big Piney Creek

Dana & Kenny Koogler

Monday April 24, 2017

30.5 mile ride

Pictures are here starting with frame 152
Lost Cane and Big Piney Pix

Hearing from my Muse 

     Before I begin to write this trip report I am going to briefly touch on a subject I've
mentioned before.  I have referred to "following my muse" or "listening to my muse". I have referred to something "calling me".  I do not pretend to understand it, but
I do have some insight.  It is the internal gift of inspiration that is part of my spirit.  It is also intuition. I am a dreamer, creator, seeker.    My gifts in this life are imagination, intuition, creativity, faith, and the ability to march to the beat of a different drum.
When it calls me I heed the call as soon as possible. Sometimes that means getting up out of bed and writing, drawing, reading, researching.  Sometimes it means silent, still thinking. It can mean dreaming.  It can also mean following with faith the voice inside that leads me.  I don't know how I know some of the things I become aware of.  I'm just glad it happens. 
I have learned that several things help promote this gift of inspiration and knowing.

  •  Learning to recognize the call
  • Knowing to always heed the call
  • Writing down moments of inspiration to bottle them for the time they are intended for (not all inspirations are meant for that precise moment, but can be for a time in the future)
  • Not questioning the leading I feel but trust it and follow 
  • Tell another and trust them to believe me when I know I'm supposed to 

  Why is this relevant to this trip report?  Because it  is yet another example of a time following that call  proved true, beautiful and rewarding.  Part of me wishes all people would experience this, but I know it is not meant to be. It is a gift and not something you can learn or bestow on others.   I am very grateful to be married to a man who believes me, who understands me, and who I can believe in. I'm thankful to share these adventures and moments of wonder with him.
I am also blessed to have made  friends who "get it" and who believe in me. 
I have met very few persons over the course of my life who truly connected with me on this level.   To have a gift of vision or intuition, have another understand it and believe in it and you..... is a rare thing indeed. To the ones who understand and believe in me.... you know who you are.  I love you for it.  I always will.  

Something is There-- Lost Cane 

   I had become aware of that call telling me  something more was there in Lost Cane.
On March 3, 2015 we were in this area and took the Upper Bill's Creek trail to head  to the truck.   I remember that evening  looking to the left and seeing a trail take off sharply downward.  I had that spark of recognition in that brief second and knew "that's it. "  I did not know then what "it" was, but I knew it mattered.  I was at home later and took a look at the map realizing that to have taken that turn would have brought us into a part of Lost Cane we had not visited before.  Kenny had been looking for a trail he saw on Google earth.  He explained to me telling me what he wanted to  do.   It hit me shortly after I knew where it was. I looked at the maps again and there it was.  The turn I had spotted a few years back was the one he was hunting.   I also knew  something was there and we needed to go find it.    March 24th this year.. I was on a ridge with Kenny when I heard that little inner voice again. I looked across the ridge and down to the stream below us through the bare trees.  It was as plain as someone standing over there shouting to me "I'm here."  I told Kenny we need to go up that creek and back into that holler regardless how we have to do it.  He never questioned me, but grinned and agreed.   

    Our plans finally worked out to go back to Fentress County to explore this past weekend.
The weather did not cooperate and it poured rain all weekend long. Kenny had a follow up appointment on Monday to get his staples out.  It was going to be the first sunny day in awhile. 
He decided to take the day off work so we could play.  I was joyful at the idea of an extra day with my best friend and exploring partner.   We set off as soon as he was done with his doctor visit.  We stopped to visit with Sharon. We had planned on meeting up with Nelson Matthews to all visit Will Wright Tunnel.   He had come down sick and so we would wait on that.  We'd go straight to the two places we knew something waited for us.  Lost Cane first. Big Piney second.   We tore out the dirt road toward Bill's Creek to start our ride.  
Bill's Creek after leaf out. Lots of water in the stream.
 Getting to Bill's Creek I was thrilled to see the stream with water in it.  I was disappointed  to see  the usual display of colorful Spring wildflowers was done.   I admit that every place we went that morning seeing the wilting, drooping trilliums made me sad.  Yet the day was cool, sunny, blue skies with puffy clouds and the streams everywhere were flowing!
Butterflies filled the air in one spot along Bill's Creek.   How can you stay sad when the world greets you like this?  On a very positive note.. the Nature Conservancy now has possession of this area.  The logging that has chewed up the slopes of the mountains is over for good. 
Logged area along Bill's Creek.  I believe timber companies or land owners should have to clean up their messes and replant trees and shrubs just like coal companies are supposed to.

           One of the better looking T. grandiflora... aged to pink, and wilting. 

         We had been trying to decide which route to take to our destination.  Seeing the usual great wildflower display was past I was  ok with taking Upper Bill's Creek trail.  I hoped it would yield a few wildflower finds seeing that it was at a higher elevation. I also hoped it would be cleared of all the downed trees by now.   We started up  and I was immediately struck by how I had forgotten just how pretty it was. We climbed up the rocky red dirt grade with the forest falling away on our right.   We crossed a lovely spring that cascaded down the mountain side.  It formed baby waterfalls as it dropped across limestone rock.  The trees shushed in the breeze and rustled their new green leaves.   The air smelled wonderfully clean and clear.  A nice break from the drought and the tons of pollen we'd endured lately.
         I did see a few wildflowers in spots.  Yellow trilliums, a few Southern red trilliums, rue anemone, and now and then a fading great white trillium.  Weedy clumps of multiflora rose and blackberry brambles dotted the woods.   The roses may be the varmints of the botanical world, but they still smell sweet.
Humble pasture roses are still pretty and smell fantastic

    We ambled through the woods and finally the forest changed slightly.  The area seemed more green. The ground was damp and the slopes were starting to have a few more wildflowers.   We came to the first place a trail headed down in the direction of Lost Cane.  We tried it.  It split a short way down.  I told Kenny I believed it went on, but that it was below Frank's Flume. We'd be stopping short of the area we were trying to reach.   He walked down the hill and we could hear water below us.  We cut a few trees and moved them out of the way.   We'd have to clear more if we planned to continue.  We decided since this was not it we'd go on ahead and come back to finish clearing  if we had time.    We rolled along and could see the ridge narrow. We could see off to our right and I knew we were close.  We came to another trail leading down. I gave a shout to get Kenny's attention. "Thats it!"  He was not sure he believed me and continued a bit further. He had to turn around and go back.   We went down the sides of the mountain with the temperature dropping as we went.  The mountain  below us was terraced beautifully.  It grew greener, shadier, wetter, and more lush as we proceeded.   We would again have to clear some downed trees to continue.  It was not bad though.  Kenny walked ahead to see if the trail continued and was it worth starting to cut it out?  I used the opportunity to walk around and take pictures and see what was here.   The forest was filled with magnolia trees, buckeye trees, and the mountain side above me had the thickest growth of blue cohosh I had ever seen.  It was past peak bloom, but the plant is easy to recognize.   Interspersed with the cohosh plants were wilting white trilliums way past peak.  

 Trillium luteum --yellow and red form of Trillium sulcatum
 Cluster of Southern Red Trilliums amidst masses of blue cohosh plants! Bruce Roberts does this prove your theory or what?!
Yellow Trillium luteum and two very faded white trilliums.  

T cuneatum vignetted
I have only seen this color of Trillium sessile in one other place.. Maryville College Woods.
It is very pretty. 

     A very odd greenish bronze shade of trillium cuneatum.   

Kenny was not back yet so I kept prowling.  Something caught my eye among the flowers.
It was a white trillium sulcatum!  I was seeing it for the third time ever and the second time this Spring.  I was tickled to find it.  I saw a couple of them.  One was wilted. I had found at least one thing that was here waiting on me.  

White Trillium sulcatum

Faded prairie trillium.. Trillium recurvatum.  

I found six different types of trilliums in this one area!  

  I walked over and looked down the slope below us.  I could not believe how the mountain was shaped. It looked like it had been terraced on purpose.  The topographic maps show the slopes being extremely steep.  We saw places on down where that was certainly true, but not here.
Below us was a vernal pond created by all the rain and the seeping springs from up the hill.
Springs were flowing pretty much everywhere today.   

The glimmering white in this image is the shine of water on a seasonal pond.  Great places to 
look for salamanders, frogs, frog eggs. 

 Kenny got back and I had to help him clear some of the logs across the trail.  It did not take long.  We got under way again.  The trail was surprisingly good. It was rather open, but you can tell it is not being used much.   It curved around the end of the ridge and started down along a holler with a side stream coming out.  It was very pretty. Milky water with lots of dissolved minerals in it flowed down the creek.   It joined with the main creek at the bottom.  A small cascade dropped into the main stream.  Kenny stopped and got out to eat lunch and while he ate he prowled looking for which way the trail continued? The map showed it going onward, but it was hard to spot.   I went walking along taking pictures and soaking up the scenery.
This is the REAL Lost Cane Creek.  The stream coming down off Skinner Mountain with all the waterfalls on it is not it.   Lost Cane Creek flows probably six months out of the year.
Frank's Flume empties into it and flows year round, but that is down near the point where the stream disappears underground.  

Lost Cane Creek bv 1
  I stood looking at the incredible beauty of this mysterious, seldom visited stream.  Green leaves filling the forest.  Sun shining down.  The clarity of the water flowing over a chalky white stream bed was surreal.  The stream bed is nearly flat in most places.   I had found yet another something that waited for me here.  I felt a pang go right through my heart just from the sheer beauty and wonder of it.  The sound of the stream murmuring by was so nice.  The woods down in this area had more wildflowers, but nothing that I had not seen on the mountain above this. 
I stood watching the water for a long time.  Finally I made myself walk back to the RZR and eat lunch.  I get so excited about the trip I forget to eat.  

     Kenny had reached the conclusion that the only way out of here was to stay in the stream itself and drive the 1/2 mile down to Frank's Flume.  He told me he had walked it all the way up to where we were now and there should not be any impediments to our getting through.  I saw some logs laying across the stream and he seemed to recognize that as a landmark.  I believed him.  Below is a photo of the three logs across the creek.  It is the multiple trunks of one tree! 

Below is a short video of Lost Cane Creek Part 1 

     We got in the RZR and crossed the stream.  I helped cut more logs out of the way.  I realized this might not be fun and that quite possibly we'd have to clear trail for 1/2 mile until we got to Frank's Flume.  From there down we'd have open trail though.  We had no idea what we were in for.
The drive in the stream started off pretty regular.  We came to another spot a tree had to be cut from across the creek, but that only took a minute or two.   We kept going and came to a bend in the stream. The creek banks got high and rocky here and the stream had a deep hole of water. I could initially see the bottom all the way across it.   Kenny still got out and took a long sapling and checked the water depth.  It was only 2 1/2 feet deep all the way across.  We could do it.  Water would come in the floor but we'd be ok.  We made it through that and it was kinda neat. A little bit of excitement.
The stream banks continued to be narrow, taller and steep.  We came to a more open part briefly.  We then came to another tree to be cleared and a deep, rocky hole to go through.  It took some doing, but we got through it and proceeded.  Kenny tested the depth of water here too.  We went a bit further and came to a beautiful waterfall cascading in from the side.  We pulled out of the creek onto the stream bank where it was flat.  Kenny walked on ahead of me and I took photos of the side waterfall.  He came back pretty quickly and indicated I needed to bring the camera.  I got closer he laughed and said "This is the end of the line for us."  A ten foot waterfall with steep sides was next.  It was pretty. It was yet another something to find down in here.  I was gathering treasures as I went.   I enjoyed the sight of the new falls while Kenny scouted a bit more to see if any of the side trails we'd passed would let us work around this?  The side trails ended and the slopes to either side were too steep to do anything with them.  We'd have no choice but to go back the way we came.  I was dreading it.
I wondered if we'd be able to make it back past the obstacles?
Below is a video of the second part of the creek ending with the waterfall.

     We got back in the RZR and back tracked.   We had two places that worried me. 1. the hole with the rocks and 2.  the deep hole with the steep sides.  Long story short we got to that first bad spot and got the RZR hung up on some rocks.  Time to winch out of here.  Kenny crawled out and hooked it up to a big beech tree.   I was sitting on a slant with the creek gushing past me murky and brown now.  He hollered to me to hit the IN button on the winch.  I did and nothing happened.  He cursed and crawled back over there and messed with the button under the dash.  It was supposed to reset it or something.  He got out and tried messing with wires under the hood. Nothing. " Keep trying the winch button" he said.  I did.  Nothing happened. He asked me to get out. I climbed out and stood on the bank. He was going to have to try to get it out and did not want me in there in case it turned over in the creek.   Without me in there he was more aggressive and it came on out.  I admit I thought we would end up having to walk the 3.3. miles out to the main road to get help.  It  hit me that there was no way on earth he had walked this or he'd have remembered the waterfall and that we could not go down that way.  He only thought he'd walked all the way up from Frank's Flume.

10 ft falls on Lost Cane Creek

Ten foot un-named falls on Lost Cane Creek.

   We had gotten past one obstacle. Now the next deep hole of water knowing the winch was not functioning.   We made it through without a problem thanks to Kenny gouging on it!  I was relieved to be back on a trail which would be open from there back.  Once we were back up on the next to the top terrace I looked overhead and was surprised by what I saw. I got Kenny's attention asking him to stop. Above my head was a small tree with deep maroon blooms.  Pawpaw blossoms! I had looked and looked down along the Hiwassee River for these. I found them in the innards of Fentress County.
They were so pretty.  Yet another something that was waiting for me.

pawpaw blossom

Pawpaw blossoms! Pretty maroon flowers that grow into fruits in the Fall.

Something is There-- Big Piney

 We made it back to the top of the ridge and headed toward Manson Road.  I was glad to see it. I figured if we did not get out of there in some reasonable amount of time the rest of our day was shot.
We still had time to visit Big Piney.  I knew there was something there waiting also.   I wondered as we proceeded toward the trail head to go down into the gorge if we'd find it gated?  We were thrilled to find it open and no trees down across the path.   We did have to push through heavy hemlock boughs in several spots, but that is just getting your hair brushed.   The woods here are different.
We came to one point where there is a huge two level rock house on the right.  I thought I'd make myself go over there and walk up to it.  Lathern Hull had warned me about how snakey that place was so I thought better of it.   I'd do my exploring of the rock house in cold weather.  It did not form a waterfall coming over it the way I thought it would.   We went on down into the gorge and beside us a stream gathered volume and strength.  I asked Kenny to stop and let me listen.  I could hear waterfalls just about where I thought they should be.   I walked down the bank and could see one smaller falls.. it was about twenty feet high and not much flow. The other one I could barely glimpse. It was a prettier one with lots more water. It was about twenty-five feet.  It was choked with rhodo around it and there appeared to be no way down without vertical rope work.  We did not have the time or equipment for that today.    I had found one of the somethings here, but they'd have to wait for another time to be fully appreciated and photographed.

        We kept going past an old cemetery.  We wound our way down, down, down.  The trail got steep  and the view of the plummet below you was really something.  It made me gasp.  Once we rounded the bend and the terrain softened a bit we stopped.  I wanted to take pictures and enjoy the scenery.
Everything down here was wild and wooly. Covered in deep green moss. Vines hung over many places in the forest.   Prairie trilliums, great white trilliums , yellow trilliums, wild geranium, appalachian bug bane, blue cohosh, nodding mandarin, bloomed around me.  
This nice cluster of four prairie trilliums was the best ones of the day.  They were freshly opened and their colors still bright.  Trillium recurvatum.

     We kept going until we reached the creek level.  I had wondered if we'd even be able to cross Big Piney Creek today?  Upon seeing it you could barely see the bottom all the way across because the water was so clear.  It was running really well and the color of it was gorgeous.  It had that aquamarine snow water cast to it.  The rapids were foamy and fast.  The slower spots in the stream showed off the many colored smooth pebbles in the bottom.  The pea green new Spring growth and deep black green hemlocks made the woods charming. Sun shone down into this deep gorge.
All in all it was one more something waiting for me.  It was worth the trip down here just to see this place. Just to see the stream itself.  IMG_1674
Upper portion of Big Piney Creek just above the ford.

Below is a video of Big Piney Creek in different spots along it. Once more I felt a tug on my heart strings.  I am glad that I can see and experience places like this. I am also glad I can experience it with the person I travel this planet with.  Seeing him enjoy it and revel in it does me a world of good.
Seeing Kenny healthy again after being sick and facing surgery is great.  I could tell that today was exactly what he'd needed. We both did.  I cannot imagine being married to someone who looked at places like this and it was wasted on them.

     We crossed the stream at the ford and once on the other side the terrain was just as pretty and flat.
I knew we didn't have a long ride down here, but I could not remember exactly how long it was or how many creek fords.   I got out and looked for wildflowers. I checked out the stream entering Big Piney across the river.   I sat down on the forest floor in the sun and had a snack.   It was quiet except for the stream and bird songs.   I saw some lilies down here that make me determined to come back to find out what they are when they bloom?

   Kenny had been fixing a fender flare while I rested.  We talked a little and then went on down the stream.  We forded twice more. Both fords were pretty.   Once past the second creek ford the terrain gets rugged and the trail goes up and out of the gorge steeply.  The trail was a side stream today with a pretty cascade on it.     We walked down to the main river and looked at the color of the rocks and water.  So clear.   So blue.  
Second ford of Big Piney Creek

Second creek ford of Big Piney Creek.  I did nothing to change the water color. It is just that way.

     A small side stream flowed down here and was mossy and beautiful.  It had a pretty round baby falls on it.

Yet another pretty small cascade today.

   Finally we had made the last ford and were just checking out the scenery and wandering around.
We don't get down here much so we were in no hurry to leave.   We got back in the RZR and hadn't gone any distance til I looked up and saw a dot of bright yellow ahead of me.  It was a pretty yellow lady slipper all by itself.  We stopped and walked over to it to admire its beauty.  It was freshly opened and perfect.   I'd found another something waiting and I was quite aware of what a gift I was being given.   I felt fortunate indeed.    
While I took photso Kenny walked around and soon called to me to come to him. He found another yellow lady slipper!  We found three spots in all today and six plants. Three of them blooming. 
YLS with a view of the creek

  I wanted to take a different photo of a lady slipper  besides the usual closeup.  The scenery here is so great it seems as if it has a front row seat to the view!  
Below is a closeup of the final one we came upon today.  

The trail out is steep and wet today.   It is pretty though and it is not a long ride out to the dirt road.

   We saw one more pretty cascade today on the way out.  It was small and picturesque.  I'm sure it doesn't flow year round.  

Cascading down into Big Piney
Un-named wet weather falls. 

          I was feeling mighty fine at all the treasures we'd been  privileged to see today.
Kenny was too.  It was good to have his company in the woods.  He takes care of me like all husbands should take care of their wives.  He makes me feel safe.   We made it back round to Skinner Mountain to where the ugly logging had taken place.  He was concerned the loggers had messed up the trail where it would not be open, but it was alright.   It is always a longer ride back across the mountain top than I think it will be.   We came down off the side toward Woo Hoo Holler. We stopped to see Sharon again.  I did not want to leave, but we had a long drive home and were tired and dirty.   I hope we get to go back soon to spend some time or they come over to see us here in Murval.   :-)  We had brought along dry clean clothes but tonight it was McDonald's fast food wearing our mud and dirt and leaves up in my hair.  Fentress county is used to me by now.  

        I left knowing that I had found the things I was meant to find.  I do not believe it is over though. 
I am sure there is more and that is a great feeling.  When the time is right we'll be back and find whatever it is.  

First Ford of Big Piney Creek
One final look at Big Piney Creek at the first ford.