It is hard to believe that it has been over a year since I have posted on this blog. 2016 has been a good year. It was back to school for me in January and I had a load of classes since I had been on sabbatical during the fall semester. Linda and I had two art exhibits this year showing new work. In February we had a show called “Journeys”at the Bea Paine Gallery in downtown Bluefield West Virginia. In October we had a show called “From Here to There” at the Ellen von Dehsen Elmes Gallery on the Southwest Virginia Community College campus in Richlands Virginia. We did not do a lot of traveling this year although we did go to Wash D.C. for a few days to pick up some Chinese guests who would be visiting Bluefield College for a month. I also got to go on a last minute trip during the summer to Yosemite National Park with my friend Joe Kirby. We just had a wonderful week with Forrest and Laura who were able to come home for Christmas from Malawi. We all went to the Biltmore House for a one day visit for a treat. We had not seen them in over a year and yesterday we took them to the airport to fly to Dublin, Ireland to spend 10 days with her family. Yesterday Michael drove to Virginia Beach to see Chrissy for Christmas so Linda and I are in a new phase of our lives, no children home for Christmas day. We opened our presents on Dec. 18th.
A couple of weeks ago, as part of my sabbatical, I was able to visit with two of my ceramic professors from Penn State University, David Dontigny and James Stephenson. I had not seen them in about 22 years and it was great visiting with these two graduate school mentors. Dave and his wife Lorna let me stay with them which was nice. They both are so kind, I remember when I first met them they let Linda and I store all of our belongings on their screen porch for a few weeks while we were waiting to move into our apartment on campus. They are wonderful giving people and would give you the shirt off their backs. Last year Dave had by-pass surgery and he looked like he was doing well. They recently moved to a condo in State College where they don’t have to do any yard work. Dave has a studio in the basement where he continues to make pots using red clay, slips, and glazes. He gave me several small pots that he had made along with some of his Cone 10 glazes. He also gave me a bunch of his handmade wooden molds that he used to make trays and platters with.
The first morning I was there Jim came over and along with Dave gave me a tour of the campus showing me some of the changes that have happened since I have been away. We stopped by Jim’s studio in town where he showed me his recent work. He has stopped doing ceramics and is now working on wall sculptures using sticks and branches. With some he leaves the natural wood and others he is painting with bright colors. Some are shaped like a buffalo skull that he had in his studio that was from Montana. Afterwards we went to his house where his wife Linda had lunch prepared for us. Jim had several of his wood sculptures on the walls and many old decorative ceramic tiles. While in college at PSU, Linda and I had gone to his home and seen his tile collection. This inspired us to collect many tiles over the years. Later that night, we all went out to dinner in Boalsburg at an Italian place near Jim and Linda’s home.
Dave and Jim are both from Montana and went to the University of Montana and studied with Rudy Audio getting their MFA in Art (Ceramics) from there. Dave came to Penn State first in the late 60’s and Jim came several years later. They helped built a great ceramics program at PSU and Dave later had the vision to do the Supermud conferences at Penn State. After I graduated in 1983 Jim became Chair of the Visual Arts Department at PSU for 11 years.
One of things I noticed about them on this trip was how kind they were. Dave seems to always have a positive outlook on life and gives others the benefit of the doubt. He laughs a lot which shows his humble kind disposition. Jim seemed to always be concerned about others often talking about one of their friends who was sick. He kept telling Dave that they needed to go weekly and visit a person in the hospital. I don’t think I ever saw this side of Jim. He was always pushing me to see his vision and we sometimes would butt heads. We were both stubborn back then. I remember once we had a long dragged out discussion in my studio. After that night I thought we both left with an appreciation of each other. Here are few photos I took of their work.
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Last week I had the privilege to spend a few days with one of my mentors Ron Meyers from the University of Georgia. I first met Ron in 1974 when I took his beginning pottery class at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia. I was an 18 year old freshman having just started college that summer. I don’t remember any specific revelations about his class but I knew I loved working in clay even though my major at the time was Forestry. In Ron’s class I remember we made a coil piece, a slab piece, and that we had to make a piece that had to tell a story. I remember one critique Ron was giving constructive criticism about my work and that I was surprised later that I had made a C on the assignment. I remember I was upset but at the same time it made me want to work harder, improve, and listen more closely during critiques. A year and half later I changed my major from Forestry to Ceramics and Ron became my advisor. What a wise man he was then and what a wise man he is today. I remember he treated you with respect and kindness. He made college fun where we used to have pot luck get-togethers getting to know Ron better and the other ceramic majors. I remember once going to his house and I was looking at some of his work and I saw a covered jar and I told him I liked it. He said, “You can have it.” I was shocked that he would just give me something he had made. I have since tried to have this same giving attitude with my students by giving them pots I have made. Another thing Ron did was when Linda and I got married he gave his a large platter with our names on it for a wedding present. I have done the same for many of my students.
On this recent visit I was able to spend three days with him and his wife of many years Hester. Hester, like Ron, is a kind soul. I told Ron I just wanted to hang out and gain some wisdom. He said that he wasn’t sure if I could get that in three days. I think I did. Ron let me stay at his home. He has a beautiful space where he has an extra bed above his art studio. There is something about sleeping above his studio that is special. He has finished pots everywhere. I counted fifty pots just in the sleeping area. He must have had another 200 in his studio from coffee cups, to large and small platter’s, bottles, and covered jars. Outside his studio was shelving filled with another 50 pots. He even built a little building close-by called the Museum of Hester where he has many more of his pots and pots from others he has collected over the years. Looking at his richly decorated pots for these three days was inspiring. I saw rats, birds, rabbits, naked women, fish, owls, frogs, etc on richly colored backgrounds staring back at me. They were all drawn and painted with energy and expression. He calls them his “suspicious characters” kind of like from a story in a children’s book. They all have unique facial expressions. For two days Ron made me a breakfast consisting of a piece of bacon and an egg put in a torn out hole of a piece of rye bread. He calls them “Toad in a hole.” I told him it was like a gourmet chef had made it. He first made Linda and I one of these on our honeymoon when we stopped by to see him at his summer home in Irving, NY. You see that is Ron, come by and visit us on your honeymoon. I can’t thank him enough for being a great mentor and treating me like one of his family.
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This summer I completed hiking the Appalachian Trail about 2179 miles. It took me 18 years to complete. I first had the desire to hike the entire Appalachian Trail when I was 15 after having gone on a church youth AT hike in North Georgia. When I moved to Southwest Virginia in 1991 I realized I was only 30 minutes from the trail and I started organizing day hikes with the Appalachian Trail Club at the college where I taught. On one of these hikes I took a colleague named Mickey and she fell in love with hiking. She said to me one day, “I want to hike the entire AT.” I told her that that was a goal of mine also and she said “let’s do it.” We started our AT hike in the summer of 1997 at Springer Mountain. During the winter we trained by daily walking to and from school together which was about 4 miles. Our first hike we did was with her dad Frank who turned 70 on that trip. Later Mickey and I hiked all of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts by taking one car doing day hikes. We would do a section by hiking towards one another and pass the keys off. At the mid-point of our hikes we would eat lunch together. She always hiked with her golden labrador retriever named Sandy. We would camp together near trail heads or at local campgrounds. In 2005 I had planned on hiking most of Maine with Mickey but on my second day out I stepped on a wet root and fell and broke my wrist. Mickey completed the trail that year. My youngest son Forrest hiked most of Vermont with me, hiked West Virginia and Maryland with me and later a lot of New Hampshire. He also went on many Virginia hikes with me. My oldest son hiked this year with me as I finished the AT with a hike our final day hiking Mt. Katahdin. Summiting Katahdin took us 3 ½ hours with only one 10 minute break. I think the adrenaline was flowing with us that day. One summer I could not go because I spent a month in China and another year I build an art studio over the summer. Since Virginia has almost 500 miles I was able to do a lot of Virginia during Christmas and Spring Break with friends. I did not hike in the years 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2013. Mickey hiked with me 530 miles, a friend named Dan 650 miles, and Forrest 442 miles. It took me 189 days to hike the entire trail averaging about 11.5 miles a day. I have some incredible memories of the AT and kept a journal for most of my hikes. It felt really good to finally touch the sign on top of Mount Katahdin.
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Recently I read the book and saw the movie Unbroken. It has made me think more about my father who passed away about 10 years ago. I dug out some old files he had on World War II. Here is a photo taken of him on July 4th 1945. It says it was taken by Warren Smith on the Island of Maui in the Photo Bldg. I also found a letter he wrote to his parents and I have included it here. He never really talked about the war. I think it was just too hard. This letter was written after he was wounded on Iwo Jima.
April 1, 1945
Here it is Easter Sunday and April fools day. I heard church services on the radio all day so I could tell its’ Easter but I didn’t hear any April fools jokes – so let’s just say its’ Easter. I went to Sunrise services this morning out here at the rest camp. We went to a Navy camp across the road from our camp. There were civilians at the service, soldiers, sailors and we Marines. A chaplain from each group participated in the service too. The civilians had a nice choir and took charge of the service.
I didn’t do much today but just fool around the beach and getting quite a bit of swimming in. There is a wonderful beach here with guards looking out for us. We are supposed to get some fishing tackle in so maybe I’ll do some serf fishing before leaving here.
The chow out here is really tops and ever bit as good as it was in the hospital. Today at noon we had roast beef, string beans, corn, mashed potatoes, and ice cream and sliced peaches, as well as ice tea to drink. For breakfast we had hot cakes. Everything is cooked so good too, since there are only a couple hundred of us to feed.
I seen Forthous out here today and we discussed St. Louis. He didn’t get wounded as you probably know but had trouble with his feet. We were wondering if Smith came through Iwo alright.
Say Mom, I too am surprised that the call didn’t cost more than $12. I don’t think I’ll be able to call again for awhile either. I shouldn’t be over here much longer and one more operation at the most so I think its’ best to let things work out. The old Fourth – that is what is left – have a chance for some surprise which maybe furloughs. Sounds good anyways. I was thinking that if I get home now I’ll be right back over so it would be best to spend my time out. Although I surely wouldn’t refuse a mainland ticket.
Well, hoping you had a nice Easter and are all well with God’s blessings.
Your loving Son,
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This is the journal I wrote for this year’s Appalachian Trial hike. Forrest went with me and we hiked 81 miles in 8 days. We took two days off for rest and it took us 4 days to drive to New Hampshire and back.
July 4, 2014
Forrest and I are sitting in the common area of the Hikers Welcome Hostel in Glencliff, NH. It is raining today so we are going to chill out here and do some sightseeing. We just finished a 2 day, 25 mile hike from Rt. 25A to Three Mile Road. It was a hard hike for both of us with the first day having to hike about a 4000 feet total ascent. The hike started off very hot and humid and then we got rained on for about 3 hours. There was lightning and thunder which we tried to ignore. We saw a few non-poisonous snakes on the trail and in one section lots of moose droppings. The last 6 miles on the second day we ended up slack packing, hiding our gear near Goose Pond Road. After we got to my truck at Three Mile Road we drove back to pick up our gear. After this we ate dinner in Lyme, NH at a restaurant called Stella’s. We both had spaghetti and meatballs. The restaurant was buzzing with lots of people and since there was a 15 minute wait we decided to eat at the bar. Forrest said he thought we were underdressed but there were others in t-shirts. They did have some pricy items on the menu but the food was good.
July 6, 2014
We just got off the AT. We hiked from Kinsman Notch to Franconia Notch, a 16 mile hike taking us two days to hike. Last night we stayed at the Eliza Brook Shelter. The shelter was a beautiful log structure built in 2010. The logs all fit together perfectly. It was right next to a large brook where we could get fresh clean water. Counting us, four hikers stayed at the shelter. One was a south bounder and one was a north bounder named David who we had met at the hostel a few days earlier. His trail name was Problem Bear and he started his hike on January 1 in Key West, Florida. He was from Sacramento, California, age 60, two years older than me. This section again proved a hard hike, especially today. We had to climb up 2000 feet through rocks to the top of South Kinsman Mt. at 4358 feet. Coming down was practically straight down through large rocks and rock slides. It was pretty crazy and a long day. It took me 2 hours longer today than yesterday hiking eight miles both days. People say most hikers only average about 1 mile an hour through the White Mountains, I believe it.
July 7, 2014
We took a day off today. Forrest’s knee was bothering him and he wanted to see what a day of rest would do. Last night we found a great campsite in the White Mountains National Forest. Someone at the shelter the night before had told us about it. It was a first come first serve and as we drove through all eleven sites were taken. Signs said, “no camping anywhere else.” At the end of the forest service road we turned around and stopped at a bridge to consult our maps for another possible place to camp. We hadn’t really come up with a place and as we were driving out one of the sites was empty. When we had driven past we thought the couple were setting up their tent but they must have been taking it down. Not 2 minutes after we pulled in another car drove by slowing down and asking us if we were camping there. We felt blessed to have a spot to set up our tent and we ended up staying there two nights. Tomorrow we are planning a 3 day 27 mile hike. We plan on getting a shuttle with AMC from Crawford Notch to Franconia Notch.
July 10, 2014
Forrest and I just got back from our 27 mile hike. We first climbed Mt. Liberty, a 2700 foot ascent, then on to Little Haystack Mountain, another 700 foot climb. Then we got above tree line to reach the summit of Mt. Lincoln, height of 5089 feet. We followed the Franconia Ridge trail to reach the summit of Mt. Lafayette at 5249 feet. This was a wonderful hike above tree line for over 3 miles. We then descended Mt. Lafayette and set up our tent near the Garfield Pond. Someone had told us about the site where the old shelter was located behind the pond. He said, go clockwise at the pond. We found the old trail, found an Ok place to set up our tent, and after getting water and eating we were in our tent by 8:30 pm. About 11:00 the rain came with thunder and lightening. It rained until 2:00 am. The wind was howling for most of the night but thankfully most of the wind blew above us. In the morning the sun was out as we climbed Mt. Garfield. From the top of Garfield we could see bright sunny green mountains as far as you could see. We then stopped and ate lunch at the Galehead Hut where we got a bowl of potato soup for two dollars. It wasn’t that great as it was made from a powder. We then hiked up South Twin Mountain and ended up camping past Thoreau Falls. We were going to camp past the Zealand Falls Hut but it was only 5:45 and we decided to hike until 7:00. This made our hike the next day only 5 miles instead of 7 miles. Today we rested at a campground and drove into North Conway for lunch at the Moat Brewery and stopped at Hannaford’s for groceries.
July 12, 2014
My knees are shot, they need a rest day. Coming down Webster Cliffs yesterday was steep. At one point I was rock climbing and didn’t even know if I was still on the trail. Yesterday, Forrest dropped me off at the top of Mt. Washington and I hiked the 12.5 miles to down to Crawford Notch and Rt. 302. It was a beautiful hike until the steep descent. I hiked on Mt. Washington, Mt. Monroe, Mt. Franklin, Mt. Eisenhower, Mt Clinton, Mt Jackson, and Mt Webster. A lot of the hike was above tree line and you could see in every direction hiking along the ridges. Coming down Mt. Washington to the Lake of the Clouds Hut is one of the most scenic scenes you will see on the trail. It sits next to two small ponds on the edge of an open cliff. This was our last day of hiking for this trip and I now need 82 miles to finish the whole AT. It is amazing to think I have hiked all the way from Georgia to Maine, almost the entire east coast of the US. I am glad Forrest was able to go on this trip and wanted to go. Even though he said it was very hard at times he said it was a rewarding experience. We were going to hike the other half of Mt. Washington today but there was a bike race there today and they said we could not got on the Auto Road until after 1:00. That was too late for me to start our hike and changed our plans, plus my knees needed a day of rest, ha! We ended up hiking 81 miles for this trip. On our way home we stopped in Boston as Forrest needed to talk to his old boss about working on some other projects in Haiti.
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I am sitting here at Jenkins Shelter with three friends from Bluefield. We are out on a day hike from Burkes Garden to Laurel Creek in Bastian. With me are Dale Vance, Dan Trent, and Peter Romano. This is Peter’s first time hiking on the Appalachian Trail and he is having a blast. Today’s hike is about 9.6 miles and it will be the third time I have hiked this section. The last time was probably over 15 years ago. We are eating lunch at the shelter and when I opened my pack to get my tuna fish sandwich I found a bunch of rocks in my pack. Boy was I mad! I had been hiking the last 5 miles with 15 pounds of rocks. Of course Dan, Dale, and Peter were laughing their heads off wondering when I would notice the extra pack weight. To say the least, I did not think it was funny and hardly talked with them rest of the day. In fact, I just ate quickly and headed back to the trail. That just ruined my day.
Well I am really just joking about not talking to them and being mad but Dan did put rocks in my pack. I will get him back one day when he least expects it. Ha!
We have seen lots of wildflowers today and the mountain laurel in the lower elevations are in full bloom. I love their pink umbrella shaped blooms. It reminds me of the time when I hiked at Bear Mountain State Park in New York walking on a carpet of these fallen flowers. There were a few rhododendron plants blooming and the wild azaleas were in full bloom with blossoms from bright yellow to dark red. We have not seen a lot of wildlife, just a few frogs on the trail. The birds are singing like crazy as I sit here at the shelter. I hear them along with the crumpling of plastic and gravel crunched under hiking boots. It is a beautiful day out with temperatures in the 70’s and partly sunny skies.
Our hike is finished. It is 4:30 and we started at 10:30 this morning. We had a great refreshing time in the woods. I am now sitting on a rocky shoal at Laurel Creek. There is a little falls here that the AT footbridge crosses. When I arrived I dipped my hat in the water and placed it on my head letting the cool water drip down my neck and face. Ahhh, that feels good. The sound of stream is tantalizing, mesmerizing, and healing. There is nothing like a cool mountain stream to finish the day at. Dan is sitting on a small island of rock surrounded by flowing crystal clear water. His legs are hanging over the falls and he has a big smile on his face. During our hike Dale told us some great funny stories. He always makes us laugh and helps us get up those steep mountains. I haven’t hiked with him in over 16 years. At that time he told us Margaret was pregnant and they were starting another family. They already had two children who were almost finished with high school. He said the kids were each 18 years apart. Caitlin is now 16 and Andrew 14.
I love hiking the Appalachian Trial and you can’t beat good friendship and Dale and Dan have been gems for me.
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