However you choose to celebrate our great country this July 4th, I hope it’s fun and festive. Let’s focus on the positives as we join family and friends on this special day. I’m sharing a few shots of our precious grandchildren enjoying Family Fun Day in our wonderful NC mountain community.

Be safe!

To me, nothing is more exuberant than fireworks, these from a past July 4th at Linville Ridge, NC.

I have been absent from posting for the last six months – due to some family health issues. Helping my mother navigate today’s medical system has been a daunting and emotionally draining undertaking – but more on that topic in a future post.

For today, I want to get back to capturing a small slice of what makes life in the North Carolina mountains so special.  Lush mountain landscapes have always enveloped me with a sense of calm and comfort. And the High Country in western North Carolina really checks all the boxes for the perfect summer combination of cool temps, gorgeous scenery, and good potential wildlife spotting.

My husband and I chose to restart our usual summer Sunday adventures with a trip south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Chestoa View Trail. From the parking area (mile marker 320.8) you really can’t miss the steps leading down to the first overlook offering a scenic view across the gorge. The trailhead is not far away, taking hikers on an easy .6-mile loop. Unfortunately, the second overlook is overgrown. Still, we enjoyed the quiet, shady forest walk. Very few other visitors were around. We met one family when we arrived, and they pointed out the snakes just below the rocks at the first overlook (yes, apparently there were several). As we finished up, a cute fluffy white dog was leading her human down the path.

A harmless Eastern Garter Snake warming up on the rocks below the lookout.

It’s a shame so many of the Parkway’s views are now obstructed. Untamed overgrowth has made it more and more difficult to see the vistas from the Parkway and it’s sad to see the state of disrepair to the road itself. I have read that funds have been allocated to do the needed maintenance, but I don’t see results. America’s most scenic and visited highway deserves more; and so do we.

An obstructed viewpoint. At least the bench is still there if anyone needs a break.

South Florida’s Urban Wildlife

Manatee visiting the Keys home of good friends Lloyd & Rae.

I love Miami. The diversity here is what makes it such a wonderful place to live, with interesting people from all over the world, an endless array of activities, and of, course, the incredible weather we have. Well, at least the weather from Nov – May!

Miami benefits tremendously from its geography and for that same reason, is a wildlife haven. I can walk out my door in the Coral Gables neighborhood of Miami-Dade and see crocodiles, manatees, and a variety of birds befitting a zoological aviary.

Recently I decided to do a bit of a deeper dive into what was indigenous versus native and wrote about it for Coral Gables Magazine. The article would not have been possible without the incredible photography by my good friend and neighbor Don Elliott and his amazing captures of birds in action. Don also took the closeup of the croc that is my featured photo for this post. Just going through all his photos was a treat.

I hope you enjoy reading the article as much as I did writing it: Wildlife in the UrbanTropics.

If you want to be reminded about why this country is so great – scars, foibles, protests, societal inequity, racism, and all – pay a visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. New and updated exhibits have done an excellent job of inclusion and haven’t shied away from the darkest segments of our history. Admission is free.

Not to say we are done growing as a nation, we still have much room to improve. But this museum puts our history in context and you can clearly chart positive change. As the Smithsonian PR materials explain this museum, “It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future.” It makes me feel proud to be an American.

The new exhibit, “Entertainment Nation” is just what it says – a comprehensive look at how we have entertained ourselves through the decades and how that entertainment shaped our national conversation. I loved seeing Dorothy’s red slippers (a long-popular Smithsonian offering), the famous directional sign pole from the MASH TV series, the incorrigible Star Wars duo C-3PO and R2-D2, as well as the well-worn chairs used by Archie and Edith in All in the Family. Located in the new Culture Wing, the 7,200-square-foot gallery will feature rotating exhibits.

Our Millennium-aged daughter was looking at the science portion of the exhibit with pics and info about Bill Nye The Science Guy when she looked up and did a double-take. Bill Nye told her, “It’s me, I’m not dead yet!” She laughed and exchanged a few words, then he wandered over to his exhibit where he was promptly mobbed.

Anyone who knows my husband knows the trains in the transportation exhibit were a highlight. It was interesting for us the see the significance of the terminal in Salisbury, NC, where the wonderful NC Transportation Museum is based (technically in Spencer, NC); another place definitely worth a visit.

It was so interesting to see the original Star Spangled Banner. Here we are outside the exhibit (no photos allowed inside).

While walking to the museum, we chatted with a security guard, who told us his job was up in the clock tower at the Waldorf (see below), which he explained has wonderful views of the District. It’s a good tip and we will be sure to check it out in the near future.

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