Monday, March 18, 2019

Little friends

On Friday March 1, 2019, when I arrived in Nashville after that taxing drive through the northwest Georgia mountains I noticed that our golden cat Cody had not been eating his wet cat food.  The cat sitter had come the day before and his food was still there.  Our other cat, the grey Mitsouko, only eats dry cat food.  Seeing that Cody barely ate or moved I took him to the veterinarian for tests.  The tests showed that he was going through acute kidney failure with poor prognostic.  Unfortunately he died on Wednesday 6 March, 2019.  We loved that cat very much.  At the end of my husband's illness he would sit for hours with Cody on his laps.  After my husband's death 5 months ago having Cody also leave has been very hard.

People who do not have pets may not appreciate how particularly difficult it is to lose a cherished pet.  A pet is an integral part of the family, someone we see every day - and for Cody it had been every day for fifteen years.  My husband and I adopted Cody from the Cobb County animal shelter in Georgia in 2004 when he was 2 years old; he passed at 17 years old (about 84 years in human life.)  He was a special and beautiful cat with soft fur and limpid green eyes.  He was very affectionate and would purr constantly.  The first few days after his passing I did not do much, could not do much, did not want to do much but feel sad at the loss of my furry friend.  I have no friends in Nashville yet and after my husband's death my two cats brought me emotional support.  I know Mitsouko misses Cody as well because she meows more and keeps looking for him.  Not long ago there were four of us, two humans and two cats - now there is just Mitsouko and me and the house feels so empty.

Cody has been shown in my posts often.  I even wrote a post about him in 2009 "Cody: my post helper."  Every morning he would meow loudly for his food - I shall miss that.  The bond between Cody and me was deep - he was my little friend.  Last Friday, March 15, it was time again to drive to Georgia.  This time I brought Mitsouko with me.  I was afraid she would be too lonely without Cody in Nashville.  Here I have many old print photos still.  I decided to ease the pain by looking at all the little friends I have had among the years - a way to celebrate them.  As far as I can remember there always was at least a pet close by.  When I was a little girl growing up in Paris, France, we had a dog - here with me when I was four years old, shown below.  Then it was our boxer, who went with me for walks in the forest, below with me when I was eleven years old.  In San Francisco in the apartment I could not have dogs or cats, so I had pet birds.  My parakeet, Dimitri, could talk and flew freely in the rooms.  After I married we had a cockatiel, Diego, seen below on the shoulder of my yellow outfit.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

When we moved near Philadelphia, in Ardmore, for my husband to study for his master's degree in environmental planning at the University of Pennsylvania, we adopted our first cat, Pearl.  She was a chocolate point Siamese.  Our little girl dotted on her.

We also had dogs.  Our first was a Kuvasz, a white sheep style breed from Hungary.  He was not well socialized and bit our youngest daughter, so we gave him away.  We then had a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a hound from South Africa.  He was a sweet dog but destructive.  He tore up all the linoleum floor in our kitchen, the draperies in our den, our daughters coats, shoes and stuffed toys.  He was sent to a farm in Hiawassee in the North Georgia mountains for more open spaces.  Then a Doberman Pinscher adopted us.  She came to our door one winter and did not want to leave.  We tried to find her owners, but no one claimed her.  We kept her for many years and called her Sheba, she is on the bottom right, with our youngest daughter.

When we moved to Cobb County, Georgia, the house had a little barn with chickens - the results of a 4H program worked on by the son of the previous owner.  We knew nothing about chicken and borrowed a book from the library on chicken rearing and breeds.  We added to the flock with some special breed chickens, like bantams.  They became the pets of our daughters.  I had to watch the girls because in winter they would try to sneak the little chickens into their bedrooms so they would not be cold ... We kept the chickens for a long time and distributed surplus eggs to many of our neighbors.

After Pearl we had several other cats.  I don't have all of their photographs.  We had a Manx, a Maine Coon and others.  Our daughter Celine adopted a Himalayan cat, Alphie.  He was offered for sale at a cat show we attended in Montgomery, Alabama, and Celine fell in love with the little ball of fur.  He is below on the roof of my Fuego Renault, then with our youngest in the black dress, and its owner, our eldest daughter in the blue top.

When I flew back home to Paris to visit my mother I also would see her pet cat Minou.  Mother suffered from Parkinson's disease and Minou was a great companion for her.  Although I had to be careful as she was always trying to hide into my suitcase...

Celine adopted a grey Persian, Caj, and our youngest daughter adopted a stray kitten, Miles.  At the time we also had a cat I had rescued from outside a bookstore as a tiny kitten, Miska, then a Burmese, Khali and a Somali, Puma.  I scanned the old print photos but they are not very clear.

Our family loves animals.  On trips my husband and I would often stop to pet animals we would have enjoyed as pets, but could not take home, such as those below.  My late husband is below at the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina and at the Berry College farm of Rome, Georgia.  My pictures were taken in Taman Buaya, Indonesia, with a wild little friend.

Our daughters took their pets with them when they moved into an apartment.  Our youngest daughter is more of a dog person though and has had many dogs.  A couple of years ago she sheltered several puppies for a while.  We visited her at the time and my husband was overjoyed to play with the puppies.  My daughter kept the little white puppy, shown in the center bottom photo below.

In 1997 I adopted a little Korat - a breed from Thailand.  They are a living symbol of luck and prosperity there, often given as a wedding present.  I named her Mitsou.  She was a sweetheart.  Here she is as a kitten below with my husband's Somali, Puma and also with me.

The Somali are long haired Abyssinian cats.  Puma came from Baltimore.  His family moved to Atlanta and could not keep him so we adopted him, as an adult.  He formed a special bond with my husband.  When Puma died my husband was grief stricken.  Several months later we visited the Cobb County animal shelter where we saw Cody.  Cody had the same coat color as Puma so my husband was keen on taking him home.  We did so and he lived happily with us for fifteen years until early this month.  When Mitsou died I was also heartbroken and a year later I adopted another Korat from a breeder in Atlanta, who I called Mitsouko after my original Mitsou.  She is six years old now and is here with me in Georgia. (Below Cody and Mitsouko in the Georgia house last year.)

Pets have been great companions for me all those years.  They have added a lot of happiness and love to our family.  Even with the pain of losing them I can't imagine living without a cat - they love you unconditionally.  Each one has its own individuality and is a joy to watch.  My life would have been empty without my cats, such great little friends bringing so much joy.  Here are three quotations on cats -

"Petit à petit, les chats deviennent l'âme de la maison" - Jean Cocteau, French poet, artist, writer, film maker, 1889-1963/ "Little by little cats become the soul of the house."  Below Le Chat, 1959, by Jean Cocteau

"Le temps passé avec un chat n'est jamais perdu"  - Colette, French author, 1873-1954 / "Time spent with a cat is never wasted."

"When I am feeling low, all I have to do is watch my cats and my courage returns."  - Charles Bukowski, German-born American poet and novelist, 1920-1994.

Cody, 2002-2019

Monday, March 4, 2019

A foray in a northwest Georgia wilderness area

Last Thursday it rained in Georgia.  I postponed my drive back to Tennessee by one day as the weather forecast indicated some drizzle and fog on Friday.  I thought it would be fine.  I had an early start on Friday and felt good.  My car was full of bags of things to take back with me as well as another 150 books for the bookstore in Trenton, GA.  Traffic on I-75 was light and I made good time to my exit ramp for highway 136 going toward Trenton.  Starting in 2010 when our youngest daughter and family moved to Brentwood in suburban Nashville, we made the trip to Nashville often.  We would use interstate I-75 all the way.  But as my husband enjoyed side roads I was able to avoid Chattanooga by going through the Chattahoochee National Forest via highway 136.  I found maps and marked them to give you an idea.  As you can see on the bottom map, hwy 136 is a curvy road going through Villanow, LaFayette and Trenton.  Then we would take I-59 back up to the main highway between Chattanooga and Nashville, I-24.

We would drive through a section of the Chattahoochee National Forest. This is a large forest that comprises 750,145 acres (3,036 km2) and covers 18 north Georgia counties.  In 2011, in the little town of Villanow, we noticed a sign indicating a "Georgia Scenic Byway" and turned into it.  This took us to the Johns Mountain Wilderness area.  It was truly a lovely ride with no houses, cars or people - a genuine wilderness.  Although numerous animals can be found in this wilderness - hawks, owls, ducks, beavers, river otters, bobcats, deer, weasels, foxes, American black bears, coyotes, eagles, geese and more.  I took some pictures and wrote a post about our ride, see my post of November 2011 "On the road again in Tennessee and Georgia."   Below are some pictures I took of Johns Mountain Wilderness area in 2011.

Villanow is an unincorporated town in Walker County (one of the most western counties in the state.)  There is a country store there that is listed on the National List of Historic Places.  It opened around 1840 and served the community for many years.  It holds the record as the longest operating stand alone country store in the entire state of Georgia, but it is closed now.  I drove by it and thought I should stop next spring and take another picture on a sunny day.  Then driving on I was stopped by a truck parked across the highway.  People were motioning me to take a left as hwy 136 was closed.  I just went back to look on Google map to find out the names of the roads I used.  The first little road is named West Armuchee Road, a country road with farms and old houses along it.  I then had to turn on an even smaller unpaved road, Smith Gap Road.  At the corner was a very old cemetery.  I was tempted to visit it but did not know how long this detour would take, so I went on.  Later I found a picture of it - it is called the McWilliams cemetery.  Below is the start of Smith Gap Road, the graves of Elizabeth Lillies, 1826-1867, Spencer Bomar, 1810-1884, Martha B. McWillaims, 1815-1891, William McWilliams, 1818-1878 in the McWilliams cemetery and the Villanow country store.  Click on collage to enlarge.

The road was getting narrower with more gravel and rocks.  Then I was stopped by a small river without a bridge.  I just stopped there, looked at the river and took a picture with my cell phone.  A big SUV came behind me and could not pass me.  I went out and asked the driver what to do.  He told me to go ahead and drive across the river.  As I was apprehensive he said not to worry, he would push my car if I were stuck in the water, or get me out if my car would not move out of the river... I went back in my car, took a big breath and drove across the river - it made a lot of noise as I went over rocks.  You can't see from my cell phone picture below, but there was a small waterfall on the left.  I found out it is called the Greenbush Branch river.  I also attach a picture of the map with the accident on hwy 136.  I penciled the detour I took through Johns Mountains wilderness.

The dirt road then kept going up the mountain with big holes full of mud, fallen branches, rocks and more.  I have pictures of the road when the weather is pleasant, but at the time it was not at all.  Below photo in center of collage and the two lower left photos show the road in good weather.  As I was driving up and around the mountain the fog was getting denser.  I was going slowly as I could not see well and was afraid someone would drive in the opposite direction, as there is room for only one car.

I think it was a 4 miles (6.5 km) journey to the end of the detour but it felt like 20 miles!  As I drove higher around the mountain ridge I knew that the sides went sharply down below.  Earlier I had come to a dead-end into a fork and made a left.  The local SUV behind me made a right.  So, I carefully backed up and went on the right (later after checking the map I realized the left dirt road went on and on all the way to Alabama.)  By then the SUV was way ahead out of sight.  It was a scary ride.  This is part of Johns Mountain Wilderness area after all and it is a 24,849 acre (10,057 ha) area in Walker, Whitfield, Gordon and Floyd counties.  It is located inside the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.  It's not a place where many tourists venture and even less in winter.  The few people living close to the wilderness area are families going back generations as seen in the cemetery.  In summer Johns Mountain Wilderness is lovely, but it was not then.  Below are photos of the wilderness area in better weather.

I kept driving, turning around sharp curves and finally it became a small paved road.  There were still no vehicles, houses or people.  I was pleased that I had just bought 4 new Michelin tires and had a full tank of gas.

I came to the end of Smith Gap Road and turned on Old Alabama highway 151, passed Homestead Hollow and was back on hwy 136!  I was very happy that my foray into the wilderness was over thinking I was OK then... I drove through LaFayette (named in honor of the Marquis of LaFayette) went on the switchback roads on the next mountain and finally arrived in Trenton, GA, located in the foothills at the Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee line.  John, the owner of the Trenton bookstore, was happy with my 4 large bags of books.  I told him about my adventure in the mountains.  He assured me that there are many scenic areas and I should stay several days in summer to take a look.  I may do that.  He added that I needed to still be careful driving as there was more fog ahead and a year or so ago a pile-up on I-24 destroyed 30 vehicles and several lives.  After crossing the large Tennessee River I stopped at the rest stop for a bit of lunch and rest.  I walked around and took pictures of the mountains I had left on the other side of the bridge, pleased that this was over.

The Monteagle Mountain grade in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee was still ahead.  It is the "white knuckle" highway mentioned by truck drivers.  I talked about it in my post of January 21, 2019 Stops along the way..  Indeed as I came up the steep hill the fog was thicker and thicker.  In a short while I could barely see the front of my car and could only hear the trucks without seeing them.  The higher I drove the heavier the fog became.  The visibility was terrible.  I knew there was another rest stop at the top near the Monteagle exit.  As soon as I came to it I entered it and stopped the car.  I took a picture of what I could see.  It was a bit better than on the freeway - picture below.

I waited in the car for a while, then walked out and took more pictures as the fog was diminishing.

I was hesitant about continuing driving and anxious about going down the steep Monteagle hill.  But then I did not want to get homichlophobia and had to move on.  So I did, carefully, and once down the hill the fog had almost dissipated.  Now the ride would be much easier.  It had been an eventful foray in the wilderness then in a dense fog.  At least I had seen some pretty spring blooms at the first rest stop.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Destrehan Plantation's trees and more ... trees

Rain, more rain and fog - until next week maybe.  I thought I would write a post on one of the sunny days we had in New Orleans, Louisiana, last December.  We drove out of the city to visit Destrehan Plantation.  I started a post recounting the visit there but then noticed that I took many tree pictures.  After writing about the trees at the plantation and, as usual, being sidetracked and talking about other trees, the post became too long.  I re-started the post to focus on trees and shall write about our visit to the plantation later.  The trees at Destrehan are hard to miss as they are gigantic and numerous - they are the southern live oak trees (Quercus Virginiana) covered with Spanish moss.

 It seems that I always had a visceral attachment to trees.  As a wee child I loved to play under the plane trees in the square near our home in Paris.  We lived in a flat but mother would take me most afternoons two blocks up to the Square d'Anvers.  This square was opened in 1877 with a bandstand, a statue of Diderot (a French philosopher,) a column to Victory and many "platane" trees - plane-trees.  Parents would sit on benches and little children would play in sand boxes under the trees.  During WW2 the Germans melted the statues for metal.  Later in the 1970s an underground parking was built and the plane trees were cut down.  Other trees were planted but it does not look the same anymore.  Below are vintage postcards that show the square in the early 1900s.  When I used to play there in the mid to late 1940s the trees were even bigger than in the center postcard below.  I took pictures of the rebuilt square several years ago.  It is two blocks down from the Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre basilica.

Because of food rationing during and after WW2 (mother obtained one egg per week for me by doing some sewing for a farmer's wife) my health was not the best.  The doctor told my parents that we should move to a place with fresh air or I would have to be placed in a sanatorium for a while.  My parents bought a house in St Leu la Foret, a small town about 13 miles (20 km) from Paris at the foot of the large Montmorency Forest, but we still kept the Paris flat.  In St Leu I would take my dog (shown below) walking on the trails in the forest, or I would also ride my bike deeper in the forest.  I loved that forest.  I knew it so well - all the best high spots to see Paris in the background and the special areas where wild hyacinths would grow in spring.  This is a large forest of about 2200 hectares or 5440 acres.  At the end of the Middle Ages the Montmorency Forest was planted with chestnut trees for the manufacture of wine wood barrels and also for heating; some of these chesnut trees became very large.  I placed a red cross on the map below to show where our house in St Leu la Foret was located.  Click on collage to enlarge.

In Georgia my husband and I bought our house mostly because it was surrounded by trees.  The house stands only on one acre but there are many acres of trees around us, so it feels very secluded and we only see trees.  We never had a garden because the tall pines created too much shade, but we planted annuals in pots.  My dear blogging friends who have been reading my posts for a while have seen many pictures of the trees around the Georgia house.  Here are some views below showing the front, sides and backyard with the lake behind our house.

This house is located in West Cobb County, between 3 towns: Marietta, Kennesaw and Acworth (about 30 miles or 50 km northwest of Atlanta.)  There are more trees near our house because our road is very close to the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.  This park is a 2,923-acre (11.8 km2) National Battlefield that preserves a Civil War battleground (the battle took place between June 18, 1864 and July 2, 1864) of the Atlanta Campaign.  Every day I drove through this park to go and come back from work, and there are many trees along the route.  My husband and I often walked on trails around the park.  We also walked to the top of Kennesaw Mountain.  You can see by the photo panorama below that the mountain is covered with trees.  At the very top of the mountain there are rocks as well; do click on collage to get a better view.

Neighboring houses also have pretty trees - our neighbors on the right have flowering trees in spring.  On the left is a farm with a large tree standing in the center of a meadow.  In winter you can easily see Lost Mountain behind the meadow.

Fortunately my late husband loved trees as much as I do.  I remember that for one of his father's big birthdays - either his 70th or 75th, my husband thought that the best gift would be to offer him a small tree.  We purchased a Ginkgo Biloba for him as it is a hardy tree - it stands strong against pollution, soil compaction, disease, wind, drought, fire, cold and pests.  The first winter in our house in Georgia we bought a living Christmas tree, a hemlock, which we planted near our mail box.  After 39 years it was very tall and lovely.  Unfortunately 3 years ago the Water Commission cut it down to install a water main pipe for a town near us.  In the early 1980s our friend gave my husband a black walnut tree and to me a fig tree.  Both were planted and grew well.  I made fig jam every year, but not long ago during a hard freeze my fig tree died.  Then last June 2018, during a strong wind storm, the black walnut tree fell down.  It was like losing friends.  Below is a Ginkgo Biloba with its fall foliage, top right is our hemlock tree, then a branch from my fig tree, and lastly the fallen black walnut tree.

When my husband's memory was fading I would remind him of places by mentioning trees.  For example I would not say "the restaurant facing the Shell gas station" but "the restaurant that has 3 maple trees up front" or "the garage that has the huge oak tree at the corner" or "the doctor's office where there are many redbud trees in the parking lot" and he would remember where they were located.  When we had to place him in an assisted living center I searched for one with free access to a garden with pretty trees.  We found one in Franklin, TN.  When I visited my husband he would be sitting there, or working on the plants.  Then when we had to move him to a Veteran approved nursing facility, it took me a while again to find one with a garden and trees, but I did.  It gives me comfort to know that 3 days before he died my husband was walking in the garden and sitting on a bench under a lovely tree.

Along the years I have taken a multitude of tree photographs.  Often while driving if we passed an interesting tree I would stop the car, turn around, and we would look at it and if I had my camera I would snap it.  Yesterday I gathered some of the tree photos I have here in Georgia, just a small sampling, because my old film photos and my newer photos are in Nashville.  I have taken photos of trees in all seasons, in all different locales, close to home, far away, in cities, woods, mountains, swamps and parking lots.  From top left below: Central Park, NY, Riverside Park, NY, Golden red tree Governor's Mansion Atlanta, North GA Fairgrounds parking lot, Fall color Ellijay, GA, tree in front of Marietta antebellum home, woods and stream in N GA Unicoi State Park, trees from Montmartre in Paris, Alcovy swamps east of Atlanta, fallen tree after storm and walking with my grandbaby in Columbus, OH, trees in Buttes Chaumont Park in Paris, pine trees viewed from train in the Yukon Territory, Canada.

I have taken photos of trees with full foliage or trees that have lost it, or just trunks.  Below tree in San Antonio garden, Texas, bare tree limbs in Marseille, France, tree trunk and bare branches on trees in a Kauai park, Hawaii.

I wished I could have picked up an orange from that bushy orange tree in San Juan Capistrano, California shown below the lanky palm trees on San Clemente Beach, California.

Tree branches over dramatic skies are always exciting.  Below are trees over a stormy sky from top of Kennesaw Mountain, GA, and a tree over sunset from Del Cerro Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

So you can imagine what a delight it was for me to view the monumental live oak trees when we arrived at the Destrehan Plantation.  I hurried up taking photographs because the tour was 10 minutes away then after this last tour the plantation would close.  The brochure says: "Established in 1787 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Destrehan Plantation remains the oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi Valley."  And "Located on the historic River Road, this antebellum home with its lush green grounds and moss draped Live Oaks watches over the banks of the Mississippi River just minutes away from New Orleans."  These live oaks trees are over 230 years old at least and have grown very large, not too tall but some of their limbs are enormous and their spread is wide around the trunks.  Some of their branches are so heavy that they have to be supported with metal holders.

Many trees have been named.  The Henderson Live Oak is 45 ft (14 m) in height and up to 111 ft (34 m) in width.  It is shown below in center top of collage.

Just to view these majestic, tortuous and extraordinary trees would have made me happy to have been on Destrehan Plantation, even if I had not been inside to tour the antebellum plantation house.  What an exceptional array of wonderful ancient trees there.  These trees have also inspired artists, such as the painting of a live oak by Louisiana painter George Rodrigue (American 1944-2013.)

I had fun drawing my own little live oak trees.  Which one do you prefer?  I think I like the colors in the bottom left one.

Arbres de la foret, vous connaissez mon âme! …
…Vous me connaissez, vous ! – vous m’avez vu souvent,
Seul dans vos profondeurs, regardant et rêvant...
- Victor Hugo, Aux Arbres 1856

Trees of the forest, you know my soul! ...
...You know me, you!- you have seen me often,
Alone in your depths, watching and dreaming...
- Victor Hugo, To the Trees 1856, French poet and novelist, 1802-1885
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