In December Jeff had a business trip to Colorado, so the rest of us tagged along to enjoy some time in the mountains before my travel ban set in. The altitude of our usual stomping grounds is a bit too high for my nauseated state, so we explored new territory in the Grand Lake area, which borders the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. Let me tell you: 8,500 feet feels so much better than 9,500 feet and above.
Lucky for us, one of my sisters and her family live in Denver and joined our adventure. We rented a cute little cabin together, which worked out well...once the neighbor came over to help us thaw the frozen pipes. The girls were quite taken with my nephew, Theo, whose 1st birthday is approaching more quickly than I'd like to believe. (Remember his birth announcement? Wasn't that just yesterday?)
Since downhill skiing wasn't exactly an option for some of us (me) this year, we spent the weekend snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking and building snow forts. And drinking a lot of coffee. And eating a morning-long brunch at the legendary Fat Cat Cafe, where the cinnamon rolls sit firmly on the entree table, not the dessert table, so they don't count as treats. My only regret of the trip was not capturing a photo of the brilliant red fox we watched bounding through the snow outside the cabin one morning.
We might try to squeeze in another day trip or two this winter—a beach visit, perhaps—but mostly I'm hunkering down now, fixing up the nursery and trying to accomplish those challenging tasks like taking a full breath and fitting food into my stomach.
I'll admit it. All the snowy photos from the Rockies that are filling my Instagram feed this week are making me a bit heartsick for the West. But I can't complain, because we've got it pretty good here too; fall goes on forever. We spent a cozy, drizzly Halloween in Asheville with my sister and her family. One of the best parts of the weekend was having an entire apple orchard to ourselves the morning after Halloween, which we deemed "the introvert's dream activity." What could be better than bright leaves and a silent, misty, mountainous apple orchard?
The girls' favorite part of apple picking? Finding the tiniest apples.
The Blue Ridge Parkway wasn't looking too shabby this time of year either. I love to drive it while the littlest one is napping in the car.
I couldn't get enough of this gorgeous amaranth in my sister's yard either.
It's been a while since I've posted anything under the "Around the House" category, but I have a few ideas to rejuvenate it. Our new house sits on a beautiful wooded lot packed with a variety of trees and wildlife. I haven't had much time to explore yet, but I thought it be fun to share what I find throughout the different seasons.
Fall color is variable in our area of North Carolina. Some years the leaves disappear after subtle changes. Some years the trees provide bright color but stagger it across several weeks, so we don't experience a true peak. And then other years are spectacular, like what you'd find up north. (It's hard to compete with the fall colors of my childhood in Minnesota.) The week before Cricket was born five years ago was the most beautiful fall I've experienced since living here. I won't ever forget it, since I spent that week walking and walking and walking around the neighborhood trying to convince her that it was time to make her big debut.
I have high hopes for fall color this year. As you can see, we're off to a splendid start.
I'll admit I'm happy (overjoyed?) to say goodbye to this summer and welcome a fresh season, my favorite one. The humidity is waning, the temperatures are, hopefully, finally down from the 90's for the year and we're settling into our new house. It doesn't quite feel like home yet, but with every box we open and picture we hang, we're getting closer.
My blog has suffered big time this summer, and I regret not documenting our five weeks of travel here. I love having a record of our year, so I may backtrack a bit and post some trip photos this fall. Or maybe I'll just move on and start showing you the new house. Now that the girls are back in school a few mornings each week, I have some creative time back on my hands and I'm just going to see where it goes.
In the meantime, here are a few snaps from June in the Outer Banks (which will be forever known as our own personal shark week). You won't often find me in front of the lens, but I took some portraits with Jeff's side of the family and snuck in one just of our little crew (thank you tripod and Triggertrap—love this device). These people make me happy.
As we've been dying eggs and prepping for brunch, I've been thinking about last year's Easter in Asheville and can't believe I never got around posting these photos. They capture something magical; my sister, niece and I woke up early, drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and watched Easter sunrise over the mountains. Whether you're celebrating this weekend or not, I think you'll enjoy these landscapes. They remind me: always we begin again.
Fog over the French Broad River with moon still in view.
And then, out of the fog, emerged...cows.
I snapped this photo of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Hillsborough, NC, on Good Friday as we randomly drove by. I couldn't believe the sun was catching right on the cross at that moment.
When we're planning outdoor adventures in North Carolina, we tend to think about the beach and mountains. But, oh my. We've been missing out on something else that's been just under our noses this whole time. The Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula is the piece of land that juts out toward the Outer Banks, bordered by the Albemarle Sound to the north and the Pamlico Sound to the south. It consists mostly of pocosin marshlands and is divided between soggy farmland and several wildlife refuges. We drive through the northern edges of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on our way to the Outer Banks every summer, but had only stopped a few times at the visitor center at Pocosin Lakes to stretch our legs along its boardwalk.
Then Jeff and I read "The Secret World of Red Wolves" and got sort of obsessed with the idea of exploring this area. The peninsula is the only place in the world where red wolves live in the wild; they became functionally extinct and were reintroduced here through a captive breeding program. It also sits along the Atlantic Flyway and hosts hundreds of thousands of birds that migrate south for the winter in some of the state's largest natural lakes, called Carolina bays. And it has, depending on the source, the highest concentration of black bears either on the East Coast or in the Southeast. Plus the landscape is amazing and unique.
There aren’t really places to eat or stay on the peninsula, so we decided to pack a cooler and take a long day trip.
Above: The Mattamuskeet Lodge. This structure was originally a pumping station, then a hunting lodge and now it's uninhabitable but listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If the state can ever find enough money, they may convert it back to a lodge.
Below: First we stopped in the old fishing village of Swan Quarter (where you can catch a ferry to Ocracoke), poked around the harbor and made friends with a group of cheerful 10-year-olds who surrounded us and asked, "Are y'all from out of town?!"
(These photos are a mix of iPhone and Canon 7D images.)
This is what all the farmland on the peninsula looks like: super soggy and carved with drainage canals. Those white dots in the background are tundra swans.
We made several stops for walks and photos at Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. This place is so lovely. The entire lake is no more than "a swan's neck" deep—best expression ever—though it's 14 miles long and 5 miles wide.
We were thrilled to watch this beaver swimming around right next to us...until it climbed up on the bank...without a beaver tail. It turns out it's actually a nutria, or river rat, which is an invasive species of rodent from South America. Nora kept trying to drag me over to pat it. Umm, I think I'll stay clear of those giant orange teeth, thank you.
Tundra swans in the distance in one of the many canals around the lake.
Tundra swans swimming in Pungo Lake at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
Swans over Lake Mattamuskeet.
Swans above, swans below. Lake Mattamuskeet.
Where I grew up, ski team practice was in full swing by this time of the year and the neighborhood ice skating rink was calling to us during every other waking moment. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss an almost-guaranteed white Christmas or a community that thrives on snow and all the adventures it blows in.
But as unfamiliar as a temperate holiday season still feels after all these years, I really can't complain. What's better than the North Carolina coast in the summer? The North Carolina coast in the fall and winter, when the beaches are deserted, the sand is still warm and the surfing is good.
On our most recent trip, I did Cricket's 4-year photo session on the beach at sunrise. And, since we hadn't taken a family portrait in more than a year, I decided we should give it a go...Let's just say the first attempt wasn't pretty, but I dragged everyone out again later in the afternoon and got a few photos that make us smile.
Above: The girls in their natural state: running circles around us.
Below: The girls and Jeff being bribed into sitting still and smiling by their Papa waving a bag of Skittles behind the camera.
We have a tradition of spending a fall mountain weekend with my sister and her family in Asheville, which involves activities like apple picking, hiking and baking. Each year we set the date in hopes that our trip will coincide with peaking foliage. Some years we've hit it on the nose; other years we're off by a week or two. This year we could smell success as we drove west toward the mountains, color erupting around us.
What we didn't anticipate was a freak winter storm that blew in on Halloween night and dropped snow over the brilliant leaves. My sister and I, Minnesota natives, couldn't remember a single time in our lives we had seen snow accumulate over peaking leaves—and certainly not in the subtropical state of North Carolina.
But let's back up a moment. Here is what her backyard looked like on the afternoon of Halloween.
My sister and I took a walk that afternoon. She showed me a slave graveyard, tucked into these peaceful woods. In all the years I've visited her in Asheville, I never knew this graveyard was a stone's throw from her home.
The littles requested that instead of trick-or-treating, we hide the candy around the yard like the Easter egg hunt we did earlier this year. It was a smashing victory for all. Then we went to sleep and woke up to an inch of snow—just enough to cover the ground and add stunning contrast to the changing leaves.
The snow was perfectly sticky for snowballs. Poor Nora had forgotten what it felt like to be cold and started to cry in confusion over why her hands hurt.
We tried to drive the girls up to the Blue Ridge Parkway so we could take in the view while they napped, but we only made it a few hundred feet before finding it closed due to weather.
By midday the snow (and winter) had melted in the valley, and we were back to blustery fall day.
We've been on a fall travel binge with two mountain trips over the last two weeks and a blustery beach trip just ahead. How lucky we are to have family sprinkled across the country in so many beautiful places. Our area doesn't typically have a dramatic leaf peak, so we headed up to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley for some color and cousin time. (You can find posts on our last summer trip to Virginia here and our last winter trip here.)
I've become a serial drive-by photographer. Jeff drives (and rolls his eyes at me) while I take photos out the window with my iPhone. Here are a few shots from our late afternoon drive over the mountains and into the Shenandoah Valley.
The leaves weren't quite peaking in the valley, but as we drove up the mountain to Shenandoah National Park for a hike, we wove through bands of red, yellow and orange. By the time we reached the park's highest elevations, the leaves had mostly fallen.
No hike is complete without getting a lift from your older cousin along the way, right?
I kept walking around a bend to find my niece waiting for me, ready to pose for a photo.
On our way out of town, we stopped at Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville to pick apples. Cricket was so excited she choreographed an apple dance.
We've been on the road and in the skies so much this year that I haven't gotten a chance to post about each trip, but I've been spending a lot of time on Instagram. You can find me at @jsoplop. (You don't need an Instagram account to view my photos.)
No, this post isn't a field dispatch from East Africa. I wish. But for now the North Carolina Zoo will have to do. We visited these (then 8-week-old) lion cubs there last month and fell in love. I spent a lot of my college years studying biology and animal behavior, so watching family groups interact (even just in a zoo setting) makes me nostalgic for a more adventurous time of life. And watching the siblings tussle with each other reminded me that the behaviors—good and "bad”—I see in my own girls are all just a standard and necessary part of development. It amazed me how much the cubs resembled my human children when they played!
Jump! (Next to an incredibly vigilant mama.)
Next time my child bites me, I will remind myself it doesn't hurt as much as it would if my child were a lion.
Cuddling with Mom.
Clockwise: It's so hard to stay awake.
I'm Julia Soplop. I've spent my life documenting the world around me in writing and photography. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.