Spruce Pine is a little town in the mountains in North Carolina.
They have Oak St, which is the main street.
But off of Oak St is Low Street, which is just what its name implies, lower down the mountain slope.
And even lower than Low Street is the Riverside Park.
We were there in Riverside Park on a Friday, and stumbled upon a drum circle. I guess they were inspired by the famous one in Asheville. I have seen the Asheville one once, years ago, but I didn’t really like it, actually. It was super crowded and loud and it was quite late at night. At least, this is true if the big commotion I saw actually was the drum circle, and not some other frantic conclave that Asheville likes to do.
The Spruce Pine version, on the other hand, is just a group of people, sitting on wooden beams, in a gentle park, on sunny afternoons, and tapping out rhythms. Everyone brings their own drum; or actually, some people brings lots of drums, so they have extras to share if passersby want to join in.
Everyone just drums to their own beat, but it still sounded really nice! I think their ears are all attuned to listening to each other, and they seem to moderate and speed up all as a unit.
They call themselves the Riverside Rumble, and they asked me to share my photos on social media. So here I am!
Riverside Park in general is very nice. There’s a very high thin bridge over it — you climb a giant staircase to get to it, and then it takes you across the valley with the river and the railroad station, and when you get to the other side, you are “high” enough to be on level with “Low” Street 🙂
The bridge is quite romantic. But we also thought that maybe it could benefit from some of Biden’s infrastructure funds.
We went to the Dellinger Mill. It’s “in the middle of nowhere” but nowhere is very beautiful, very lovely. It’s in the North Carolina mountains close to Tennessee; it’s on a long winding road and nestled in trees. And it’s been there since 1867.
The man who owns it, Jack Dellinger, is 94 years old and was standing in pride of place at the very spot where corn meal pours out from a chute, explaining all about it. He held onto the wood beams around him as he stood there and reminisced.
I always thought that a mill would be a huge enterprise, but no, this one is so small and simple. And it’s the exact same structure, the exact same tools as when the mill was first built by Jack’s granddaddy Reuben in 1867. Or was it great-granddaddy? Mr. Jack pointed out to us a beam running under the platform — it was huge, and it came from an American chestnut tree — a species that’s now extinct. He said that once, a man showed up and offered 140,000 dollars for that beam, but Mr. Jack wouldn’t part with it. It would ruin the mill.
The mill uses still the same grinding stones as it did in 1867; and the same wheel; and the same belts to pull the wheel. The water is diverted from the Cane River, slipping through a wooden path built over our heads like an elevated avenue. It’s really cute, like a little roller coaster track, or like a secret tunnel (except we can all see it) where Cinderella’s mice go scurrying in the night. The mill wheel — which is really big — just needs a little bit of water in order to turn it, so the avenue for the mice is not watertight — underneath the chute it goes drip-drip-drip all along in rivulets.
Mr. Jack said that his great-granddaddy Reuben was married to Mary Jane. There’s an entry in the diary of Reuben’s brother, who lived just next-door, dated from 1869. It goes, “Mary Jane was smashed flat.” What happened was, the millers’ wives all had to help their husbands with the work, and as Mary Jane was working, her long skirts got caught in the grinding stones and she couldn’t get loose. She was only 31 😦 What an awful end.
Mr. Jack himself was always good in math at school, but he didn’t pursue that right after he finished with high school. Instead, he joined the army. They sent him to Alaska, where they could see Siberia upon take-off or landing of the Air Force plans (this part reminded me a bit of something Sarah Palin once said) and from there they sent him to Japan. This was during the Korean War.
When he was out of the army, he went to NC State to study electrical engineering on the GI Bill. And when he was done, I think he maybe went back to work in the army. But the army was paying 110 dollars a month, whereas an industry engineering job got you 5000 a year — and some engineers, depending on which company they worked for, got over twice that. He got an interview to be part of a submarine outfit, but he realized he didn’t fancy being in a tiny cabin underwater. So he passed on that, and it was lucky, because the next place he got an interview at was IBM. They told him, “we like your record, but we don’t have an opening for an electrical engineer. How would you like to be a computer software engineer instead?”
Jack said, “what’s that?” But he got the job anyways. This was 1958.
A few months later, he found himself up in Poughkeepsie, New York, freezing cold through the winters, working for IBM. His first assignment was working for a spy outfit. He needed a top level security clearance for that, so the FBI showed up in the NC mountains and interviewed everyone that Mr. Jack had ever known. They didn’t say why they were asking nosy questions about him, so everyone assumed he must be in trouble. We knew he’d come to no good.
Back in Poughkeepsie, Mr. Jack kept talking about how much he missed the South. His bosses didn’t understand what anyone would miss about the South, but to placate him, they finally transferred him to the Maryland office (that was the furthest south they could imagine anything being).
Maryland was not much better, though, with the cold winter, and the DC traffic was a nightmare. He kept asking his supervisor about an opening even further South, and finally, one day, a notice went up. It said, “volunteers wanted.” Usually when they asked for volunteers, that wasn’t good, but in this case, it said that IBM had won a 25 million dollar contract to help NASA land people on the moon (it was 1961 or 1963.) And they wanted people to go to Huntsville, Alabama, in order to work on that. Mr. Jack ran into his supervisor’s office right away, and right away, he was put on the team. He ended up on a team of seven engineers, and they wrote the computer program for the spacecraft that landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. According to Mr. Jack, after it was all said and done, he had four Sprites with Neil Armstrong (it wasn’t actually Sprite, I’m just sanitizing.)
So that is the story of the Dellinger Mill in the North Carolina mountains.
Union Street is the main street of Concord, North Carolina. It’s been partly closed off the past few months because they’re doing construction. But on Sunday, both sides of the street were blocked from traffic. So towards sunset, we set off to see what the occasion was. Maybe some kind of street festival, now that COVID is (hopefully) waning? I dropped my books off at the library, and then we walked further down the street. The street was indeed closed off — jammed up as it was with old cars.
‘Look!’ I said. ‘Maybe they’re going to a have a parade.’
It looked like a large outdoors museum. We were about to nestle ourselves among the cars and get a close look, when some men, heady with their authority and yet not as alert as they ought to have been, noticed we’d gone further than what was allowed.
‘Excuse us, you can’t go any further, you have to remain behind there, this is all closed off.’
‘A movie set.’
I nearly rolled my eyes. I supposed it was some rinky-dink group of high schoolers, or maybe a college project, filming with their cell phones, and because their dad was friends with the mayor, they’d managed to get downtown blocked for their own private uses.
But then we found out it was a famous book — a Judy Blume book — and with famous actors — like Oscar-level actors — Kathy Bates and Rachel McAdams. You know, the girl from the Notebook and from Mean Girls, everyone kept telling as, just in case you didn’t know who Rachel McAdams was.
Here in downtown Concord???!!!
We crossed to the other side of the road, and behind some orange cones, there were about 15 or 20 people. Kids, parents, everyone.
I asked a nice-looking older lady, wearing a mask (and I was also wearing a mask!) if she’d seen anything, been there a while? She pointed at two teenagers or young twenty-somethings and said, they’ve been here since 7:30. In the morning. (It was 8:20 pm by this time!). So they were able to tell us everything. First, who the actors were (Rachel McAdams, you know the Mean Girls girl), and they had decided to film here because they wanted to re-create New York City in the 1970s.
Imagine that! Downtown Concord being chosen as a fair copycat of New York City.
How, out of all the towns and cities in America, was Concord even on the radar of the movie people? I wondered out-loud.
No one knew, but then they told me that a few days ago, the movie had gone filming at the Moose Drugs in Mt. Pleasant. Ahahahahahahahahahaha — Mt. Pleasant — and Moose Drugs — is going to end up on movie screens around the country???? It’s literally a pigs-can-fly scenario. Granted, Moose Drugs does have a very old-timey feel — I’m sure it’s going to be perfect. But how in the world did Mt. Pleasant get on anyone’s radar for anything? Except if it’s Trump rallies, of course.
Any case, then they told me what they’d see throughout the day. First, the producers show up; then the extras come; and last come the main actors. So yes, they had seen Kathy Bates and Rachel McAdams and everyone, and the little girl who is starring as Margaret (“she was in the Antman”).
“They were filming the scene where they are moving out from their apartment in New York City, you know, that part in the book,” said the mom.
I nodded, though I’ve never read this book. (Though I’m planning on it now!)
“They spent five hours just filming the part where the Dad is closing the trunk of the car after they’ve packed everything up,” said the teen boy.
He said that they’d watched all of that happening, and then the actors had all retreated into another of the stores, one with a green awning or something, which was set up as a ‘green room’ (is that a real term or did I mis-hear) and that’s where the actors could recharge during the filming downtime. They were supposedly all in there at that very moment, as the sun was setting behind us.
The teen boy had on a hat with the logo A24 on it. He explained that it’s the parent company or something of Lionsgate — it’s Lionsgate that’s producing the film (that’s the one that also did Twilight and the Hunger Games). And that it was his dream to meet the producer who is the head of A24, who was also on set.
‘Did you see him?’ I asked.
‘I did see him,’ he said. ‘He was walking past and he came within this much of me,’ pointing at a spot 5 feet away.
And the mom added that at the end of the day, when the filming is all done, there’s a chance the actors and producers and everyone will come to to the little crowd avidly watching every move behind the orange cones, and that the guy with the hat was hoping to get it signed by the producer at that point!
Apparently, this all has been in the works for a while, because all week they had been transforming the look of Union Street to match with 1970s New York City. The sign for the ‘The Bistro’ is gone, replaced with a pizza parlor, and a blue phone booth as been installed. The teen girl showed me the picture she’d taken, earlier in the week, from when she’d gotten into the set as it was still being constructed and snapped a photo of herself in the phone booth.
I don’t know if they’ll be filming again in downtown Concord, but according to this casting call site, they will be filming somewhere else in Concord this coming Thursday.
And the family I was speaking to said that sometime in June, they’ll be filming in Southpark Mall.
One day I was riding around in the mountains, and we passed a sign for “Crossnore, 5 miles.” I sat and thought, Crossnore, Crossnore … where have I heard that before?
The only thing I could think of was reading the book “The Suitcases” in middle school, which I had really, really loved, and re-read many times. But I don’t think I’ve re-read it now for many years. It’s the story of three girls who are half-orphans. Then their father abandons them in the middle of the Great Depression, and they have to make their own way after that.
I loved that book so much that I wanted to have three dolls, or three girls, or three something, that I could also name Betty, Anne, and Caroline.
Any case, in the book, the girl Anne ends up going to a boarding school for orphans. Except I couldn’t exactly remember if this was truly the case, because I remembered for sure that the three girls finally end up with a good and protective foster mother … and if that was the case, why would Anne have left and gone off to a boarding school? Plus, I was getting confused because there’s another book I’ve read, long ago — also re-read many times — which also involves some sort of neglected girl and she ends up at a college in Kentucky — I’m pretty sure it’s Berea College. And OMG — I can’t even remember what the name of this book is at the moment! Any case, I was certain that Berea College had figured in stories about neglected girls — so was there room for another at Crossnore?
We ended up driving through Crossnore and what gave it away was the big sign saying “school and children’s home.” I also later looked it up and yes, indeed — Crossnore was where Anne went to boarding school. I couldn’t believe it. It was a book I’d loved so much, and here I was seeing the place where Anne spent a few years of her girlhood (Anne is a real person).
And I saw not just the school …
but also the church …
and this beautiful set of statues of children:
It’s a really cute village. They have art installations, apparently, and a bookstore and coffee shop and a second-hand store, and I would have gone into them all but for COVID.
There is one intersection in the town, and then the school is set up the hills behind. In the middle of the intersection is a stone fountain and a bench. Isn’t it sweet?
First, I found this really nice website that has pictures of flowers. I was able to identify some that weren’t in my book using it.
Partridge pea — this made me really excited. It’s a very beautiful yellow flower, and it has taken over the area where the yellow whorled-leaf coreopsis was earlier blooming. It was so pretty and so profuse that I feared it was invasive; and also it wasn’t in my book. But then I found it online. It is native to this area.
Asiastic dayflower — from the name, you can kind of tell this flower is really from Asia. So it’s not native. It was nestled in with the partridge pea. The flower blooms for one single day. I didn’t know I was looking at something so fleeting until later. It was not in my book, but it only has two blue petals atop a yellow fuzz, so it was easy to search for.
I found this string of light purple flowers … and they kind of look like the ‘everlasting pea’, but I don’t think that’s actually it. I saw them two days ago, nestled in among the partridge pea; and today it’s gone!
Same with these small white flowers spreading out of a bell shape: so pretty, but I’m not sure what they’re called either.
I have such a nice book: A field guide to wildflowers of the Eastern United States by Tom Gold Knight. I think I bought it in the mountains somewhere, at one of the pretty gift stores they have at the national or state park rest stops.
But sadly, even though I’ve been looking hard, I haven’t found a lot of the flowers, even this spring and summer when quarantine gave extra time for just that. There’s so many flowers, and I would like to find them all. I think sometimes I come across a flower that’s in the book, either it’s actually not in the book at all, or I just can’t find it.
So when I actually identify something with surety, it’s exciting:
1. Whorled-leaf coreopsis. This one was very exciting. It’s a very new flower for me.
2. Wild quinine — another new flower, and very exciting. They are all along the roadside since the end of June.
3. A type of daisy called Daisy fleabane. This little patch is now faded (about a month after the picture). This daisy is not the ‘real’ daisy we all know of. This one has feathery, thin petals, but a lot of them.
4. Also, the more regular type of daisy — Ox-eye daisy. With the thick, fat petals. It’s nice to know the real name, but of course, every one knows what a daisy is.
5. Spotted knapweed — this was a nice find — on the roadside — it’s like purple fuzz — but I didn’t get a clear picture.
6. Queen Anne’s Lace and Black-eyes Susans — everyone knows these, too. They are all over the banks of one of the roads we drive on. And they are on some roadside slopes we can walk to.
7. Hop clovers — tiny tiny yellow flowers matted into the grass
8. Canada goldenrod — these have just started blooming now in July. They’re feathery and yellow. Also a new flower for me.
Well, this is not a lot of flowers at all. And I’ve gone tramping in the forest, and looking among thickets and everything. Where am I to find the dozens other flowers in my book?
I’ve found some unknowns:
Like this purple flower. It’s so nice. But since it’s not in my book, does that mean it’s something invasive?
A lot of the unknowns are purple. There’s this star-like flower: (update! I found out this is the Carolina horse nettle, and it’s native to this area)
And finally, this flower that looks like a purple Medusa’s head. I found something similar in my book called a Heal-All, but I’m not convinced that’s really it.
I also found this really pretty leaf. I thought it might be ginger. But then I didn’t see any ‘brown jugs’ under the leaf.
But I ran into a problem this time around at the summer camp. There was a super annoying buzzing sound in the hall where I started animating. It came from the light fixture. I had already recorded the voices of about 5 kids before I noticed it. We migrated then into the empty room next door, but the buzzing followed us, and I didn’t exactly want to close the door, because it’s not a super good idea for an adult to be alone with the child. So I kept the door cracked.
I didn’t finish recording all the kids that day, and when I went back later, I had an action plan: I decided to record the leftover kids outside. It was nice and quiet out there! I went home and listened to all the recordings, and the outdoors recordings definitely won the day.
So, when it came time to do the recordings for the second film, I strolled outside with each kid, out the front door of the church where the summer camp is held, off to the side a bit where there’s a nice slab of pavement to sit on past which our feet dangled into bright green grass, and warm summer sun all around us. And I felt very fresh and pleased that I was both getting the project done, and getting some outside time.
Sadly, though, it did not turn out for the best. The mosquitoes must have been out in full force that day, just to spite me, I suppose. I heard them buzzing about but I thought — the other day, we recorded outside and it sounded just fine. Surely it’s not possible for mosquitoes to vary how loud they’re being from day to day? Well, apparently it is possible. I found that out later. I had, in good, responsible time, done the necessary animation edits to stitch the kids’ work together. I had it all completed so that there wasn’t a crunch and flurry of work necessary the day before the family viewing party. Instead, though, I had left all the audio wrestling for the last day. I had been at a workshop a few weeks ago where they told us: Guess what! If your audio has a weird buzzing noise, it’s easy to fix it! Just load it into this program [one of the Adobe Creative Suites] and you click the button that says ‘reduce buzz’ or ‘reduce background’ or something like that.
Well. First of all, it is not that simple, between having to load the files, and do some extra clicking about. And second, and saddest, it didn’t really do a good job 😦 I could still hear that stupid buzz from the light fixture, and the mosquitoes. And in fact, the mosquitoes were the hardest to overcome, I guess because the stupid light fixture buzz was a steady and narrow sound, while the mosquitoes blared their song up and down the octaves and blazed forth and dove down. Any case, so the sound is not that good in these two movies, even though it took me forever to try to fix them. And in fact after the family viewing party, and before uploading to YouTube, I spent like a day trying to further fix up the audio. I uploaded and then removed, and then re-uploaded the movies like three times, adjusting the sound each time. And before that, I had rendered the movies about 5 times already, adjusting the sound and volume in between.
I was pretty sad to think that I had the animated parts mostly ready to go, and here was the audio to trip me up.
And here are the movies: “A bird story” is the one where the weird buzzing was in the background. “A lesson on nurdles” was the one which was recorded a lot outside.
Two of my favorite pieces of software are QGIS – used for making maps on a computer – and Blender 3D – used for 3D animations.
Both of these pieces of software, furthermore, are open-source. That means they are free for anyone to download.
Every time I make an animation with a group of kids, I make sure to tell them that Blender is a free software, anyone can download it, and that thousands of computer wizards across the world have contributed to making it free and available for all of us. And that maybe they can be one of those computer wizards one day.
I’ve always wanted to tell the kids about QGIS being free as well, and I finally got the opportunity. The story that underpins the second animation for this group of kids has a lot of geography in it, and mentions making maps on the computer. It was the perfect context for doing a whole lesson on QGIS with the older kids (fourth grade and up). I told them about how I first learned about latitude and longitude when I was in sixth grade; and that I didn’t really see what was all that special about it, until I went to college and I saw a presentation on the use of computer maps to track endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda.
The context of our geographic lesson was “nurdles”. I happened to see a story about “nurdles” on Twitter, and went with that. I made up some nurdles data, put it together using R and QGIS, and showed that to the kids. The person who wrote the nurdles story is a young Muslim woman in Texas, by the way. It feels good that the two of us are actually feeding into and supporting each other’s work in this way.
I re-created, as best I could, the computer map onto a poster-board map. I threw a gird over it. And I showed the kids how you would find the location of nurdles contamination on various points on the map.
I’m very proud of that lesson, because it actually involves a lot of Algebra, and whenever I remember learning it in school, or trying to teach it when I was a math teacher, it was always somewhat of a disaster. A lot of kids wouldn’t get it. But this time, I had volunteers come up and practice finding a latitude-longitude, and they all got it – except for the kid who wasn’t paying attention. They would find the lat/lon, and then stick a post-it note there with a datapoint about the number of nurdles at that site. I had a whole fake data collection campaign going on.
The computer mapping will continue to be a theme throughout the story, and it’s very cool to combine two of my favorite pieces of software together like this.
Is there a minimum age-limit when it comes to computer animation? Well, I’m sure there is for toddlers and babies, but in the summer camp I’m in, there’s three little kids that are entering kindergarten in September. They’re all five. They reach out their hand for me to hold if I chance to walk them from room to room. They skip a little bit as they go. They have little baby-kid voices. When I first heard how little some of the kids were at this camp, I thought: maybe I’ll just have the big kids animate, and the little kids can at least then watch the final movie. They’ll participate by being spectators.
But then I thought, what the heck. I’ll try it with them all. And the five-year-olds are doing really well. Two of them are a little hesitant, and stare at me with big adorable somewhat clueless smiles before they dare to touch any of the keys on the laptop. The third is super sharp and does the ‘G’, ‘S’, and ‘R’ keys of Blender 3D (‘go’, ‘size’, and ‘rotate’) like she’s a boss, and with the biggest, most excited smile, and the most eager look on her face.