Sunday, December 13, 2009

One of life’s lessons that many people have learned by the time they reach my age is that there is a very thin line between courage and stupidity. Last night, Asheville Community Theater collectively leapt across that line in their production of The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris.

This is a play that Matt, Amy and I had all seen before as well as having read the original essay Sedaris has published in more than one of his books so we had some familiarity with the material. Amy approached me a couple weeks ago about seeing it together and I was excited about it. The last time I had seen a production of it was at Sacramento Community Theater (SCT vs. ACT) and that was at least 6 or more years ago so I felt like I was due.

A couple days ago we received an email from the company manager saying that Tom Chalmers who has traditionally played the lead role has had to drop out of the production for a few days due to a family emergency and that his understudy, the director, would be taking his place for, among others, the performance for which we had reserved seats. They were, in fairness, offering a choice of keeping the tickets or exchanging them for a performance after Mr. Chalmers returned to the production. Innocently enough we elected to keep our tickets and see the play performed by the substitute performer. Since he had been described as an understudy and was also the director, it stood to reason that he really knew the material and would do a good, if different, job.

That didn’t turn out to be the case. What we witnessed last night was, I believe, the worst night of theater I have ever had in my 61 years of life, and that includes some pretty dreadful children’s theater and other amateur material I have seen over the years.

The company manager came out onstage at the beginning of the performance to reiterate the information in the email and to tell us that the performance the previous night had been pretty dodgy at best. Consequently, she informed us, Crumpet, the lead character, would be performing with a script in hand. Interesting. He is the understudy and director but needs a script. She then ushered in a short video parody of A Christmas Carol in which both the original lead and the person we would see essentially promoted the ongoing annual productions of Santaland. It was, by far, the highlight of the evening.

As soon as Crumpet appeared onstage in a rather odd costume consisting of black pants and a tee-shirt painted to look like a dress shirt and tie, things started to degenerate. He broke from character so many times at the beginning that I was having trouble distinguishing what was the play and what consisted of an aside to either complain about his problems or comment on the difficulties of his performing in someone else’s costume. The costume clearly was a problem since he had to stop probably close to 10 times to reattach Velcro that was barely keeping the pants closed. No one knew quite what he was doing until later when he undid the Velcro and ripped the pants off revealing red underwear that was entirely too tight. Mercifully the underwear was covered up in short order by the coat he put on although it kept opening up because it was way too tight. Suffice it to say, audience members now know whether or not this actor had been circumcised.

Even after shedding the distracting pants, this man couldn’t stay in character because his familiarity with the piece was so poor that even reading the script, he couldn’t maintain any kind of continuity. The asides were almost constant. Cracks about jokes that Tom Chalmers had inserted that weren’t funny or at least weren’t getting laughs in this performance peppered the delivery. Many times he misread a line or lost his place on his script and had to start over on a line. Frequently when a page of monolog was finished he wadded it up and threw it into the audience saying “I won’t need that page anymore”.

Then there was the mincing effeminate stylized performance that I guess was intended to imply David Sedaris’ unconcealed gayness. It didn’t help. In my opinion the whole performance, and particularly this gay caricature was way too broad. When Sedaris wrote this piece and when he performs it at readings, he is dry and sarcastic. This performance was a dumbed-down farce and an insult to any self-respecting effeminate gay man. David Sedaris, incidentally, while he doesn’t conceal that he likes men, doesn’t make a particularly big deal out of it in this or most of his writings. He certainly hasn’t written or performed this work in the offensive and obviously self-conscious manner we witnessed last night.

In the end, the play came across as so disconnected that it was difficult to follow even for three people familiar with the work. I can’t imagine what someone who had never seen it or read it before would have thought.

In my opinion, ACT should have cancelled these performances. They do a disservice to their theater group, the play, the work of the man who normally performs this role, and the reputation of the poor man who has, I think, courageously but very unwisely stepped in as a replacement. As inexpensive as the tickets are, I believe everyone who paid to see last night’s performance was defrauded.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Moving day was August 25th and nothing has been the same since. Actually, a few things are the same as they once were.

As those of you who read this blog on a fairly regular basis know, I was eager to get out of downtown and was very pleased to be moving to a quiet residential area about 8 minutes drive from the center of town. Somehow, though, I had forgotten, in the brief year and a half since I had moved from Normandy Road to the downtown condo, how utterly unpleasant moving is. Truthfully, unpleasant really doesn’t do it justice. What I had forgotten is that packing for a move takes weeks to do and requires a small fortune in materials and assistance. I had also forgotten that during the weeks one is packing, one must live with, in the case of the resident of a small condominium, literal walls of boxes separating spaces that formerly had been usable as one.

Making this particular move even more harrowing was the fact that it took 57 days to get my loan approved and that meant that if I wanted to move, I would have to begin packing before even knowing that the deal was going to go through. I worked with a mortgage broker by the name of David Kanis and I have to say, this is a man who earned his commission. As described earlier, the process of getting financing for any purchase bigger than a bag of groceries is a daunting task these days. Getting it when you haven’t had a job since 1976 and have been primarily retired from self-employment for almost 5 years is way beyond daunting. What I came to realize during this process is that David had to serve multiple functions in this market. He really ended up having to do the job of an underwriter from the lender’s perspective in addition to the work normally done by a loan broker. Everyone appears to be scared to death to write a mortgage loan for anyone with a financial statement weaker than Warren Buffet’s. What David ended up having to do was guess what issues would cause the real underwriter to panic and be prepared to provide answers and documentation for things before they were requested. When I consider all the loans I have obtained on many pieces of real estate over the years, I have to say, no one assisting me ever worked as hard as David did. If you are in the Asheville area and need a mortgage, find him.

So the house was appraised for more than the sale price (I gather that simply doesn’t happen anymore), the loan was approved, and all my packing wasn’t wasted. It actually was a little easier this time since so much of what I had packed up for the previous move lay untouched for 18 months at my self-store unit in West Asheville. I tried to hire the same people as last time to assist with the art packing and moving but they were unavailable so I tried a new guy who turned out to know his stuff as well. We packed and moved the art a couple days in advance of the big move on the 25th since hanging the larger pieces required space to move around in and free access to the walls. Once the furniture and boxes were all here it would have been impossible. Art day was a long one but we finished as much as we decided either of us could stand around 7:30 at night and I went back to packing my few other possessions that were remaining unboxed. Toward the end, there is so little left that even living in the old place is a challenge. When you are down to paper plates and a glass and a coffee mug, there isn’t much you can prepare for yourself to eat other than a cup of coffee.

Moving day wasn’t exactly smooth. I retained the services of the same firm that moved me the previous time and was optimistic about the outcome because I figured it was just the mirror image of the previous move. We had moved the contents of one house to a condo and a storage unit and now we were going to be moving the contents from those two locations back to a single house. If anything it should have been easier since the new house has most of the primary living space on one floor.

Things started off fine. One of the guys who came was part of the crew that had moved me the previous time and there were two others, as there had been before. Unfortunately, the truck they arrived in was 7 feet shorter than the one used for the previous move. After about an hour and a half or two of packing furniture and boxes into this truck it became painfully obvious that there wasn’t going to be nearly enough space. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that we were almost out of padded blankets by about 10:30 in the morning and they had arrived without the allen wrenches needed to take the beds and dining table apart. The head of the crew called the office to send a second truck and more packing materials but we spent almost an hour and a half doing virtually nothing waiting for the impending arrival. The guys kept calling to find out what was going on and the office kept saying that another driver was on his way with a backup truck, but no one came.

When he finally did show up with the truck and needed tools and materials, it was time for their lunch break. I had filled my car and the rooftop storage box with small objects and loose items and did a run to the new house while the crew ate their lunches. It turned out that it was a good thing I had done so. After lunch they finished loading the truck and followed me to W. Asheville to the storage unit. Loading up the stuff that was there turned out to be a challenge, even with the spare truck. It was a small panel van type that didn’t have the height or volume missing from the 7-foot difference in length on the big truck. Consequently, I once again filled my car with small stuff from the storage space in order to not have to come back, but still we were not going to make it.

The problem was that we barely got everything into the two trucks and my car and we still needed to pick up my refrigerator from Jason Marshall’s garage where it had been sitting for two years. The fridge is 7 feet tall, 42 inches wide and 24 inches deep and must weigh a ton. We clearly needed the big truck and a couple people who aren’t worried about their spines snapping. The head of the moving crew started to suggest ordering still another truck at which point, I jumped in and made my suggestion. Since things had been something of a cluster-fuck up to this point, I didn’t want to complicate it further with another driver and truck and different people going all over town, so I suggested that we do a run to the house, drop half the contents of the big truck, as well as leaving the small truck and one or two workers who could unload it, and then go get the refrigerator with the big truck and a few guys.

This seemed to meet with everyone’s approval, so off we went. Unloading was spirited and surprisingly fast. I had my list of boxes with numbers cross referenced to rooms so I could tell everyone where each thing they removed from a truck needed to be in the house. While the sun was still out, we set off for Jason’s for the fridge, leaving one guy at my house to unload things and put the beds together.

After missing a turn on the way to Jason’s place and taking the great circle route to get back we finally found the house and my fridge, which was loaded pretty quickly and without too much fuss. Heading back to my new house took a bit of time since trucks aren’t allowed on the Blue Ridge Parkway. . .the fastest route to my house. Nonetheless, we made it back but with the sun setting.

The final process of unloading the fridge and getting it into the kitchen (no mean feat as it turned out) followed by the emptying of the remaining contents of both trucks took a couple more hours. By 9:30 I was exhausted, hungry (having not had a bite of food all day) and demoralized. Peter and Sandi had kept Abner for the day (thank God) and brought him over since they didn’t want to stay up until 11:00, which would probably have been when I would have made it downtown. Seeing the state I was in they took pity and raced off to the store to buy me some food to eat that night.

What I thought was the final blow of this unpleasant process was settling up with the driver. He presented me with a bill that was almost exactly double what his boss’ estimate had been and I informed him that I wasn’t going to pay it. Most of the reason things had become so costly (long day, multiple trips, extra personnel and an additional truck) were caused by the estimator having written up the job as being smaller than it was. All they had to do was go back to the records of the earlier move. Had they duplicated that and added a small amount for the extra stop at Jason’s we could have been done hours earlier and for a price within 10% over what the earlier move had cost. I paid precisely that amount and told the driver I would discuss any additional payments with his boss.

They finally left at close to 10:00 at night, 14 hours after we had started, and I was in my new house with my dog, all my crap, and the task of unpacking and putting things away in front of me, but still I was relieved.

I found a box with bedding, and another with towels. I took a shower, made the bed, climbed in and went to sleep for my first night in the new place. Ahhhhhhh…..

The next couple weeks blur at this point. I had a lot of organizing and unpacking to do in a comparatively short period of time since I had to leave for Fort Wayne and my nephew Jonathon’s wedding to Erin O’Leary in early September. Since I had numbered all the boxes I had a pretty good idea of what to unpack and where to put it, although it became fairly clear quite quickly that while the new house has a lot of room, there isn’t much in the way of built-in storage. . .particularly for clothing. I have purged my wardrobe three times since vacating 2500 Donner Way almost 5 years ago but I still have more than I wear. The process of organizing all my crap is even more difficult because now it is all here so I had to figure out what I really want out and accessible vs. what can stay in boxes in the storage room downstairs.

In the course of all this unpacking and organizing, after about a week or so, it became apparent that at least one box and possibly two were missing. This is a distressing and seemingly inexplicable situation to start with but it became worse when I realized that the box I knew was missing contained the ashes of my two previous dogs and about $1,200 worth of Ovadafut socks. I will not try to explain either my affection for this particular brand of sock nor why I had the number of pairs I had, but suffice it to say, this was not a box I was comfortable just giving up on.

I called the movers I had used and spoke with the manager of the company as well as both the head crewman and one of the guys who had worked the move, and no one could come up with an explanation. They conducted a search of the warehouse and the trucks they had used but nothing showed up. After several days, the only explanation anyone could come up with was that possibly the box(es) had remained on the larger truck and were inadvertently missed, buried under piles of packing materials. Perhaps the woman whose move was conducted in that truck 3 days later had ended up with my missing articles in her pile of boxes.

They contacted her and explained the situation. Apparently she was very sympathetic but said it was going to take her awhile to unpack since she had a lot of boxes and was doing her unpacking alone. And so I began to wait. By the time I left for Fort Wayne nothing had been found but the movers were still in contact with the woman who maybe had my stuff. I was on pins and needles waiting but had no choice, so Abner and I headed off to Indiana for the wedding.

The wedding weekend was a chance to see family members and some people I hadn’t seen in many years like my sister Jan’s ex-husband. I think it had literally been close to 15 years since our paths had crossed so it was fun to catch up. My nephew’s wedding went pretty much as family weddings go. In general, a good time was had by all but the weekend had a share of dramas and conflicts. What would a wedding be without them? I suspect that people who really want things to go smoothly get married by a Justice of the Peace or a Judge and call it a day.

Upon my return to Asheville, I was eager to hear of my missing boxes so I called the movers again only to find out that they hadn’t heard anything yet. Meanwhile, I had scheduled an afternoon with one of the guys who had helped me with the move. The plan was for him to come over and assist me with attacking the boxes in the storeroom. Since rupturing a lumbar disk about 5 years ago, I have been advised by my docs to limit my lifting to 5 pounds if possible. While that is an unrealistic goal, it made no sense for me to throw around a bunch of heavy boxes so I had arranged with Cameron, who is 25 and lifts boxes for a living (as well as weights because he likes to) to help me sort things out.

Cam was scheduled to come on a Thursday but the previous Tuesday, Duane (the 4th guy from the original crew) was scheduled to go to the home of the woman whose unpacking I had been monitoring from a distance and the plan was that he would determine whether or not my boxes could be at her house. On Wednesday, when I hadn’t heard anything, I called the office of the moving company and was told that my boxes weren’t at this woman’s home but that Cameron had figured out what he thought had happened. In thinking about the move, and all the problems with the truck’s being too small, he remembered that a box or two from the condo had been put into the smaller truck, which was then crammed with boxes from the storage unit. His theory was that whoever had unloaded that truck had assumed all the boxes had come from storage and needed to go to my store room, and perhaps, the missing numbered boxes from this move ended up buried somewhere in what looked like the Great Pyramid in my basement.

Armed with this new hope, I looked forward to attacking the storage room as soon as Cam arrived. Without going through laborious details, sure enough, about 2-1/2 hours into the project, the box with my dogs’ remains and my socks (among other treasures) did appear beneath 3 other layers of boxes. It had taken three weeks to locate but I finally had my stuff and was greatly relieved

By this time I was only two weeks away from the arrival of my friends Faye and Jay Stone, whom readers will remember, Abner and I visited in Aptos, CA last summer. I have known Faye and Jay for 20 years but last summer was really the first opportunity I had ever had to do anything with them separately from all of our mutual friends. We had such a great time I was really looking forward to their arrival in Asheville.

Their trip out went without a hitch other than having to suffer through a layover in Houston, which as those of you who have experienced it know, is a very large and unpleasant airport without a place to get a decent morsel of food. Faye and Jay were spared the offense of walking by the gigantic statue of George HW Bush with aviator’s scarf (in bronze) blowing in some imaginary wind. The statue always reminds me of Snoopy imagining himself as a WWI air ace battling the Red Baron. Since the Bush family is also rather cartoonish, I guess it is appropriate in an oddly vulgar sort of way.

Anyway, the Stones arrived on a Thursday evening and of course, the first order of business was finding a place for dinner. This ended up being a frequent occurrence over the course of the almost 6-day visit. I have noticed that with people who are visiting here for the first time, the days tend to get so full of activities that cooking at home is rarely an option. We did, however manage to get in a wide variety of Asheville’s great local restaurants.

As with most visitors, we toured Biltmore, hit the major art galleries, managed to squeeze in three studio visits with local artist I know (Alex Gabriel Bernstein, Sylvie Rosenthal, and Hoss Haley), and hiked in the Arboretum and a bit around Mt. Mitchell on a surprisingly chilly day. But the highlight for all three of us as well as my friends Amy Musser and Matt Vande was the day we did a Segway Tour at Biltmore. I suspect most of you have never done this and truthfully, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I have, over the course of the last 3 or 4 years, seen hundreds of people of every shape and size (apparently up to 250 pounds as it turns out) riding around on these things in the Arboretum, Biltmore, and downtown Asheville. In the back of my mind there has always been this little voice wanting to try it out, but the opportunity never seemed right. Matt and Amy and I had talked about trying it at Biltmore for a couple of years but this seemed like it was finally the perfect circumstance.

The big day arrived with somewhat crappy weather. Jesse Ivan, whom I have mentioned several times before in this blog, is one of the Biltmore Outdoor Center staff who conducts these tours and since I know and like him and have great respect for his knowledge of local wildlife, I had arranged for him to be our guide. Jesse called me about an hour or so before we were scheduled to depart the Outdoor Center to ask if, since the day was looking gray and possibly drizzly, did we still want to go. I had already talked to Faye and Jay and they were game. Delaying was not an option since the Stones were headed back to California the following day. So, at about 9:30 on Monday the 5th of October, we set out for Biltmore and our rendezvous with Segway destiny.

Matt and Amy met us there and once everyone was weighed and signed in, we headed down to a small grassy area below the Historic Horse Barn for the beginning of our lesson. We all had to agree that we had neither been drinking or consuming drugs, and that we were willing and able to take instruction from Jesse (yeah, yeah, whatever), and that we could step up 8” and be on our feet for a couple hours. The drinking and drugs part were probably the only tough requirement since it was already 10:00 in the morning and we were all used to being stoned by then, but this was important.

The lesson is pretty straightforward but each person is taught to use the Segway separately and then sent off to practice. Faye wanted to go first since she felt she would need the most practice (oh puhleeze), followed by Jay, Amy, myself and finally Matt. When you first get on these devices it is a little awkward but it is amazing how quickly you pick up the whole balance and control of them. It becomes pretty instinctive quite rapidly. There are two speed settings (turtle and rabbit) and the whole lesson is taught in the turtle mode. Once we all had finished the rudimentary skills Jesse led us to a sloping area near the beginning of the trail we would be taking and we practiced going up and downhill, and stopping. By this time we were all feeling pretty good about our skill levels and were ready to mount an assault on Kilimanjaro.

Finally, once Jesse was confident in our abilities we started off on the trail. After a relatively short distance (perhaps ¼ mile) he pulled off into the grass and had us all dismount, whereupon he reset all our Segways to the rabbit setting. Oh momma. This was where the fun began.

Once everyone was reset to the faster mode and we started moving again we all realized that it is actually easier to control a Segway at somewhat higher speeds. There was still a speed inhibitor (I think Jesse told us we couldn’t exceed about 14 mph with their equipment set as it was) but we really felt like we were moving. The rest of the paved section of the trail, which Matt, Amy and I had all done countless times on foot with the dogs, was nonetheless great fun from this new perspective. Faye and Jay had not been to this part of the estate at all, so it was new and exciting for them. The weather was cool and occasionally a little misty but it never actually rained on us so that was good.

When you reach the north end of the lagoon the paved trail ends and you go on dirt and gravel. With the big nubby tires with which Biltmore has equipped their Segways, going off road was almost as easy as on the paved surfaces. We paid a little more attention to where we were going so as not to head straight into a pothole, but it really seemed natural by this point in the tour. We stopped at the boat launch on the lagoon. . .a spot with the best view of Biltmore House of any location on the estate. Jesse took pictures of all of us standing on our Segways smiling like idiots on a joy ride.

The remainder of the tour is a gravel and dirt trail that takes you to the top of the ridge that Abner and I discovered almost 5 years ago when we started hiking the Ambler’s trail. The view is beautiful and it is a nice stopping place before the ride back to the outdoor center.

The return trip is on the same route so we pretty much rode straight back. At one point Faye, who was in front of me, was hauling ass so fast I couldn’t catch up with her. Whatever tentative feelings she had begun the tour with had evaporated.

After turning in our gear we decided to have lunch together at the Bistro since Amy had only an hour before she had to do an inspection close to downtown. About 20 minutes into the meal, Faye turned to me and said, “I want to go back and do the advanced tour this afternoon”. . .and I think she was serious. Matt was up for it as well but since he and Amy were in the same car and she had to get to her inspection we had a good reason to put it off to another day.

The next day Faye and Jay had to leave for California and amazingly enough, even though their return trip was on Delta, they made it home in one day with no huge delays or hassles. This is virtually unheard of with Delta.

From the time the Stones left for California, I had 11 days before I left for New York to meet John Ballenger for a long planned trip together. I was getting to the point where I felt like the house I had moved into in August was becoming a place to do laundry and pack. Nonetheless, on Saturday the 17th of October, I left for New York.

John and I had done New York together a couple times in the past but there are things that always have to be done. He stayed at the Essex House on Central Park South. The hotel has recently been redone and is contemporary and quite lovely. I stayed with my old college friend Charles Klein who lives on 67th and CPW so the walk between the hotel and where I slept was short and pretty.

The highlights of this trip were seeing the phenomenal Kandinsky show at the Guggenheim and revisiting the Metropolitan. It has been through still more construction so it is always an adventure to return to it, but there was also a show hanging there called “American Stories” composed of 19th century romanticized story paintings of idealized American life as seen by American and European painters. It is a large fascinating show and is well worth a stop for a couple hours at the Met.

We also shopped and gallery hopped but more than anything else, we ate. I would have to say the best meal I think we had this time was a memorable evening at David Burke Townhouse on E 61st Street. The space is lovely, the art very interesting, the service impeccable, and the food was superb. I would return to this place in a heartbeat. If you go, try the “Lobster Steak”.

I did get to see Ann and Bowers Espy one night and dined at a neighborhood place in Chelsea called Red Cat that was also excellent. I am always amazed at how many great places there are to eat in New York.

For those of you who are going to be in New York in the near future, do not miss the Roberto Torrens show and Bernarducci Meisel Gallery as well as the “40 Years of Photorealism” show at Louis Meisel Gallery.

Coming home was a little different this time since I have no plans for another trip or visitors soon. I actually have had a chance to start enjoying living in my house. I don’t think I fully realized how ready I was for this lifestyle change prior to the move, but the contrast is amazing. The new neighborhood, while only 8 minutes drive from downtown, is quiet and private. My house faces into a forest of mostly hardwoods. Before the leaves fell, you really could barely see any houses at all from mine and what you could see was far enough away and at a sufficiently different elevation that it didn’t matter in terms of privacy. Even now, with the leaves mostly gone, when I look straight out the back, across my decks, I see nothing but trees. I understand that the property behind me is a 32-acre parcel with a single house on it, but it is far enough away that I can’t see it. I do see other houses in the neighborhood a little more now; particularly at night if lights are on, but all are far enough away that I don’t feel compelled to close window coverings.

While I don’t really think of this place as being out in the country, there are little reminders of it being sort of remote. One rainy Saturday afternoon about a month ago, I was sitting at my desk working on the computer and looked up to see what initially looked like a big black dog walking up my drive. Thing is, it didn’t have a dog’s gait. I quickly realized that I was being visited by a black bear. He (or she. . .not sure how you determine gender without getting close than I wanted to get) was pretty casual for 2:30 in the afternoon but I guess because of the rain and lack of people around this little guy was pretty unthreatened. He nosed around some shrubs and then came right up onto the front porch. I was so excited I grabbed my camera and tried to get a good picture of him. I will post what I got, but because the screens on my windows confuse the auto-focus on the camera, the shot is a bit blurry. Still, you can tell that he is a bear. He was really cute but positively drenched from the weather.

Once he finished snooping around my front porch and shrubs, he headed down the hill to some neighboring houses. I got a call the next day from a well-meaning neighbor who thought I should be warned about a bear sighting since I have a dog who is outside sometimes. He told me that the little guy got into the garbage cans of one of the people on his street. I told him about my little encounter and asked how often he sees bears around here. His answer was never. In 25 years in his house, which is probably less than 200 feet downhill from mine, he has never personally seen a bear, and he was envious that I got to see one up close after only about a month here.

Another pleasant surprise was how beautiful the seasonal color change was here. I still have maples in front that have spectacular color on them, but the day I came home from New York, it was gorgeous everywhere you looked. The downside is that about a billion leaves have fallen on my decks, into the little pond, and all over the lawn and driveway. Stuart Smith, who took care of my yard at Normandy Road, is back working on this place for me, and he and his helpers have been here twice already to deal with the huge volumes of leaves. I think one more good blowing session in another couple weeks will take care of the last of them.

Anyway, it is now November and Abner and I are settling in pretty comfortably. Since he doesn’t have a dog door yet I let him out into the fenced area of the back yard when he wants to be outside. When he wants to come back in he walks up to the highest deck level he can get to and barks once, and then waits for me to come get him. Seems to work for both of us.

It seems like there are other stories to tell, but it has taken me forever to get this much committed to virtual paper, and there is still the matter of the photos, so I think I will finish up for now. We are happy in our new home and looking forward to a quiet winter.

This month I am starting the photos with a fairly extraordinary discovery Abner and I came across on one of the Westover trails at Biltmore. This was the biggest wasp or hornet nest I have ever seen. We encountered it lying on the ground next to the trail we were following. I hesitated to get too close because I didn't know if anyone was still in residence. It appeared to have fallen from one of the nearby trees and from the looks of things, pretty recently. Since there isn't much to give it scale, all I can tell you is that it was probably close to 14 inches in diameter. One big muthah.
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This is the front of the new house. The double window you see is where my desk faces out on my beautiful front yard. As you will see a bit further down. It also gave me a good view of a bear who came for a visit.
The pattern beds in the Walled Garden were ablaze with mums for several weeks this fall, and the Blue Ridge looked as splendid as usual.
Biltmore House looks so beautiful from the Ambler's trail below.
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These are a few shots of Abner's and my new digs. The house is the largest one I have ever owned at more than 2,900 sq ft, but I suspect eventually I will use it all. Abner loves running around downstairs where there is comparatively little furniture. He flings toys and tears across the room just to entertain himself.

There is a pretty decent slope to the lot so while from the front the house looks like a smallish one-story, it is actually a pretty big two.
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The shot above is of Faye Stone and me with Abner after a short but rewarding hike to the top of the Craggy Gardens overlook. Below is the lineup from our Segway tour at Biltmore. From the left the bluecoats are Faye Stone, Matt Vande, Amy Musser, me (I am the one who wore his own rain shell) and Jay Stone. If you click on the photo to see it full size you will note the shit-eating grins. This was so much fun.

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Interesting wildlife appears when the weather starts to turn. Above is a wooly worm on his way from point A to B. There is some theory about the relationship between the bands of color and the severity of the winter to come. Below, is a somewhat blurry photo of a bear that ambled down my drive way and up onto the porch one rainy Saturday afternoon. I was very excited. Abner slept through the whole visit.
Below is a photo from the Big White Dog afternoon hike a couple weeks ago. The humans are Matt Vande, Bruce Daniel, Amy Musser, and Nora Daniel. The white blur are Cara, Madeline, Bear and of course, Abner. I was the one taking the picture.
Faye and Jay Stone visited in early October. This shot of them with Abner was at the top of the Craggy Gardens overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. At an elevation of slightly above 6,000 feet, it was starting to get a little nippy but was beautiful nonetheless.
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Late Fall in the Blue Ridge is characterized by a carpet of fallen leaves and almost blinding color from the maples that hold on longer than most of the other hardwoods.
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The orchid room has had some pretty splendid blooms lately.

Not sure how this mushroom slipped into the mix here but contrary to the implication, I didn't find it in the orchid room.
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The funghi nature produces all by herself outdoors where I spot them on our hikes. In the orchid room at the Conservatory at Biltmore, we get to see some of the fairly amazing flowers Jim Rodgers and his cohorts grow in the greenhouses.
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Photos of this summer's flower carpet. These shots are of the mature carpet. The ones in the post below were earlier and during installation.

My fascination with the many varieties of funghi around here continues unabated. I am positive I see new species each year I am here.
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In late summer, for the last two years, Biltmore has put together a "flower carpet" on the Bowling Green. These shots show it being put together, completed, and matured.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

For reasons I cannot imagine, all the photos from my last post got deleted. I didn't have time to repost them with their captions so I did the best I could with the following collection of pictures. They go with the text of the previous post though, so for them to make any sense, scroll down and read last month's entry.

I have moved and am dealing with the mess of that. I also have a trip to Indiana scheduled in a few days, so my posting will probably continue to be erratic for awhile. Maybe by November or December things will be back to normal, whatever that is.
Wildflowers are everywhere in Asheville this summer. All the rain has worked wonders. Almost every flower you look at has a bee on it.

Below is one of my swallow babies who was staring at me while deciding whether or not to fly. Shortly after I got this shot he/she popped back inside to wait for a better time. One of his siblings had just flown while I was counting the remaining family members. What a trip.
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