Sunday, August 21, 2011

Old Rag

There's a hike in Virginia...many hikers call it the best in the Commonwealth.  And, though I'm no professional hiker, I enthusiastically agree.

Old Rag Mountain is in Madison County, of the more beautiful counties I've visited (both from a historical and geographical perspective).  For our Webelos day hike to complete the boys' Arrow of Light requirement, we decided to tackle Old Rag.  It's about an 8-mile hike round trip...and just enough of a challenge to make it adventurous for 10-year old boys.
We were at the trail head by 6:30AM.  Next time, I want to be at the summit for sunrise.  Even though the sun rose as we scaled the mountain, it was early enough to still get this view mid-way:
There is something about the rising mist in the Blue Ridge mountains that really stirs my soul.

Old Rag is definitely not family-friendly.  I would hesitate to take anyone younger than 10 years old.  In addition to needing some amount of strength to pull yourself up and through various parts of the rock scramble, long legs and arms are certainly a plus, too.  I've hiked a lot of trails in my life, and I don't recall a trail where I was more dependent on the markers than I was with this one.  Once you reach the rock scramble, there are blue arrows painted on the granite to indicate where the trail is and, at times, which direction to go.  Here's one spot where Alex (one of the Webelos) got ahead and was unsure of the next direction:
So it was critical we kept an eye for the blue paint:
Yes, we fit through that crack in the picture above.  It's a little bigger than it looks.  And as you can see in the picture below, trees grow anywhere...even if there's nothing but rock (so it appears).  It's really quite amazing.
If you lose sight of the blue paint, sometimes the best thing to do is to look both ways...
So look through these photos and see if you can find the blue paint to keep us on the trail!

I love this next picture.  Garrett is just lifting Mark by his backpack to provide him a little more assistance.  Are we still on the trail? 

Do you see the blue paint in this next picture?  What direction do you think we went from here???
And if we had had no blue paint along the trail, we still would have had our guide - Garrett Dudley.  I love this man.
He was always one step ahead and always in a position to lend support or provide assistance.
Garrett knew when to stop and just chat.  And when to press forward.  He shared experiences he has had rock climbing and hiking in general.

This picture summarizes it well.  Garrett is a good good as they come.  And the boys are fortunate to have him.
Garrett is the one who suggested we have a prayer before the hike.  And, while I'm still unsure of what actually happened, I know Mark was protected as a result of that prayer.  The venom of a copperhead is relatively mild for adults.  But I'm glad we didn't have to learn how serious it could have been for a 10 year old.  This copperhead was actually on the trail at one of the switchbacks.  Mark was in the lead and the first to reach that particular switchback.  He's convinced it fell out of the tree.  The adults think the sound he heard was actually the copperhead striking at Mark.  Either way, there were numerous factors that made this a little miracle for us.
The rock scramble was certainly the most fun.  A solid mile of nothing but granite.  We went up and down...we had to suck it in and maneuver through tiny cracks...we had to find the right hand hold...and even jump on occasion.  It was everything a 10 year old boys loves to do (and the adults enjoyed it, too)!

This was the very beginning of the rock scramble.  We had no idea what was up ahead!  Good thing we took this quick break to enjoy some scenery.
We quickly learned that we needed both hands free for this part of the hike.  The dad's couldn't carry their sons backpack during this time.  And you couldn't hold your water.

At times, the boys would stand back and watch Garrett work his magic.  Then they tried their best to follow his footsteps.  You definitely don't want to misstep on these rocks.
The views were incredible - even near the beginning of the hike.  This picture was taken during our first of many breaks.  We found a nice flat piece of granite in the middle of the forest just a short walk off the path.  The morning sun was just beginning to rise.
As we got a little higher, the views became more breathtaking.  

And the rock formations are amazing on Old Rag.  I would love to see how they have been formed over time.
During our lunch break, Scott Sims found a nice spot to sit alone and enjoy the scenery.  Even in the late morning sun in the middle of August, the temperature and breeze were comfortable and refreshing.  It was a perfect day.
The boys - Steven, Alex, and Mark.  Steven is no longer officially a Webelos, but he's good friends with Mark and Alex and we thought he and his dad would enjoy the hike.  We certainly enjoyed the extra company.

See how strong these Webelos are?!?  They kept the rocks high enough for us to pass through. :)

Mark found some shade at the summit.  The boys enjoyed some exploration when we got up there.
Me and Mark at the summit...4 miles from the parking lot.
Here's a nice shot of Mark, Alex, and Steven.  They are good kids.
And here's the group - Steve and Steven, Scott and Alex, Garrett, and me and Mark.  It was a great hike and we couldn't have asked for a more perfect day.  And it was a great way for the boys to complete their Arrow of Light.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's Only a Bird

But it's a domesticated bird...and it was just born today.  Yes, our cute little Zebra Finches laid two eggs a couple weeks ago.  One hatched today and the other will probably hatch in the next day or so.  It's rare to have the nest void of both mom and dad right when I saw both of them out stretching and eating, I decided to grab the camera.

The kids have been giddy about it all afternoon.  I think James was the one to discover the egg had finally hatched.  And then those poor birds had to put up with all 8 of us fighting for our chance to actually see the miracle.  I'm amazed at how natural instincts come in to play and the birds just know what to do.  Makes Karen and I look bad as parents! :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It's Only a Deer

And seriously, it is only a deer.  I don't think they have deer at the zoo.  So seeing a deer in the wild isn't that cool.  And in Virginia, it's pretty common to see plenty of deer.  But when they are grazing in your front yard, it's worthy of a picture, right?  We have screens on our that's why the pictures look a little hazy.
Something startled the mom, so the two fawns were quick to follow.  How cute are they?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Knutti Family Reunion

From two people deciding to make a commitment to each other 43 years ago, their love has grown to a total of 48 individuals.  And those individuals comprise one really cool family.  44 of us were able to come together under one roof this past week in Tennessee.  It was a sight to see.  I'll try to share some of it apologies if you're not a fan of pictures (because there are a lot of them).

First, this is where we were and what we could see from the front and back of our cabin (and when I say cabin - it was three stories with 12 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms).
I thought we were going to be a little more secluded and only a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Appalachian Trail.  But the setting did not disappoint.  
Now, here's where the real fun begins when you're talking about such a large family: grocery shopping!
Since marrying Karen almost 12 years ago, I've heard the stories of powdered milk and food storage and apple-picking.  I've heard about the assignments each child was given regarding mass food preparation.  But to see it in action was awe-inspiring.  Glen and Cheryl came home with the groceries (for 44 people for 3 days) and within minutes the car was unloaded.  Almost as quickly, the counters were clean and everything was in its place.  It was a well-oiled machine and no one skipped a beat.  

Once the groceries were put away and dinner was prepared, Grandpa attempted to call everyone's attention for prayer.  It took a little longer than usual, but eventually the room was quiet and a family prayer was offered.  Every family had a responsibility at some point to help prepare dinner and clean-up afterwards (on a different night).  It was so nice to just see it come together.  
While the ladies went through the dinner line first, the boys played their hand-held electronic toys!
Much of the time we were at the cabin, there were small clusters of people throughout the place.  Sometimes they were playing games, sometimes they were just talking, sometimes stories were being told.  It was so fun to go from one floor to the next and see different groups of people...sometimes of random ages...just enjoying each other's company.
This next picture will look a little like a repeat.  You see, there are 5 Knutti girl cousins who were all born in the year 2002.  One of them couldn't make it to the a younger girl cousin stepped in.  The older girls were very accepting.  And I think Brooklyn thoroughly enjoyed being a "big girl" for the week.
Tuesday morning we ventured out for a hike.  Not everyone came...but there were still probably over 30 of us.  We took this particular picture simply because of Aunt Laurel on the Christensen side.  How could we pass up this photo opportunity?
As we were waiting for everyone to gather, we snapped this picture of some of the cousins (and Aunt Nicole).
When we stopped to take breaks, we created traffic jams!  We had lots of little people with short legs (which is always a nice excuse for the adults).
At the top, we took a nice long break.  Some kids climbed the rocks to get higher on the falls, others took their shoes and socks off to enjoy the refreshing water.  There were a lot of people at the falls.  Funny how the place seemed empty when we left!
One afternoon or evening (the days kind of blur together), Grandpa shared a slide show with the family.  He had pictures of the Knutti siblings as babies and kids...and he wanted the grandkids to raise their hand when they recognized their mom or dad.  It was a great activity.
 Later that same evening, the adult kids celebrated the 43rd wedding anniversary of John and Gloria Knutti.  The Knutti siblings had a conference call prior to the trip and planned several mementos that they would share with their mom and dad to illustrate various memories they had of growing up.  There were a lot of laughs!
One afternoon, we held a Knutti family talent show where everyone was both a member of the audience and a participant!  
Some played the piano and some performed skits.  Mark, on a whim, displayed some art he has drawn recently.
Grandma recited the poem "The Touch of the Master's Hand" that she had memorized years ago.
"The girls" spent hours and hours preparing for their own medley of skits and performances.  They sang a little and did some skits they had seen at various activities.  It was really cute.  I wish these girls lived closer together.
I love families...and I love this family.  I gained a greater appreciation for families during this trip.  Everyone was helping everyone.  There was always an open lap for a child who was sad or tired.  The two oldest Knutti cousins (Rachel and Jared) were some of the best parents there.  They were always spending time with one of their younger cousins playing a game or reading a book or helping with a meal or just walking a toddler up and down the stairs.  And it was sweet to see Grandma and Grandpa spend individual time with various grandchildren.  

It was a great reunion and we look forward to the next one!