Spring break for Madison County Schools was this past week, so I decided to go on an adventure for a few days at what’s supposed to be Tennessee’s loveliest state park. This was Falls Creek Falls State Park about two hours SE of Nashville in a wilderness known as the Cumberland Plateau. We were actually closer to Chattanooga and probably could have gotten there in an hour if one drove fast on the back roads.
Our first full day there, we explored the various waterfalls in this park, some of which came with delightful swinging bridges that frightened Veeka to death but fascinated me. She eventually got used to them, I think. We hiked about two miles through forest and around to various overlooks. None of the parks in that region have any barriers at these overlooks, which means that if you stray too close to an edge, it’s a 100-foot drop to the forest below. It was in the low 60s, so not THAT chilly although the clouds made it seem colder than it was.
The next day was also gloomy, so we spent it driving two hours each way across the countryside to the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, due south of Nashville. But – whoa – in the middle of nowhere. Still, the parking lot was packed on a Friday morning. Jack Daniels is known as sour mash Tennessee whiskey and the highest-selling of its kind in the country. The visitor’s center – and it is a very nice one – gives you an hour-long tour where you first see workers burning stacks of sugar maple wood to make charcoal. Meanwhile, the local spring water is mixed with corn, rye and malted barley, then distilled in copper vats. We got to smell the gloppy mess as it fermented. The liquid this produces is filtered through a 10-foot stack of the aforementioned charcoal, which gives it its flavor. It’s then mellowed for several years in specially-made oak barrels. Veeka was likewise fascinated with the process, although she was sad to not be able to taste the whiskey on the spot. We both learned what various parts of the barrel (staves and bung holes) are all about and she got to see how they are made. I’ve since learned there’s something called the Tennessee Whiskey Trail and that there’s lots of other distilleries in the state.
One thing I picked up while there is how the Jack Daniels folks are very good at branding. This article in the Atlantic explains how it was done and how certain can-do American values were entwined with what the whiskey business was all about. There’s quite a debate over whether Jack Daniels is the best whiskey, but it clearly has the most distinct labels and bottle shape and some legendary stories about its founder. Speaking of branding, that’s what we are now learning about in my social media class. Permit me to engage in a small detour into a discussion about metrics; that is, how to determine who or what is clicking on your web site and how to get them to come back for more. First, there are page views (how many times a web page was accessed). The first time I got excited about page views was in April 2012 (2 years ago this month!) when my WSJ piece about 20-something serpent handlers got more than 37K page views over Easter weekend. Which is a lot. And that is before Drudge picked it up.
Then there is ‘unique visitors, which means the number of different people who click on a site. You can have, say, 50 page views but some of those 50 might be the same people who went back and forth from your page. Everyone wants their number of unique visitors to go up.
Then there is ‘time on the site,’ which means pretty much what it says. What you want is a low ‘bounce rate’ of people who look at one page of your site, then ‘bounce’ elsewhere. Then there is ‘sources of traffic,’ which tells you how people found your site. Then there is ‘keywords,’ which are actual words hidden in the metadata (HTML code) of your site so that if someone is looking for ‘singles’ and ‘adoption,’ they will hopefully pick up the same key words embedded on my site. They are the words people use to search for me or…whatever.
I took a look at the WordPress stats for my blogs. The singles/adoption one gets almost no visits, but then again I’ve not promoted it much. The most visits it got was on March 8 at 41 views. Most of that probably came from my social media class! As for my juliaduin.com blog, I get very few referrals from other sites. That is, people don’t google something, then click on my site. That site gets a lot more traffic. For instance, I got 29 visitors to the site and 62 views. That is, 29 people visited the blog and they clicked on more than one page. Maybe I need to run more pieces on whiskey?
The following day, I drove 90 minutes to Sewanee to meet up with a hiking group from Jackson. The weather was so deplorable, we spent the morning at the Blue Chair, a famous local hangout, and then each went our own ways. I drove to Chattanooga, then north on Rt. 27 until I reached Dunlap, where we found the Cooke Jar Cafe, a most fetching country-cooking restaurant in the middle of absolute nowhere. You have to drive down a few farm roads to get there but the cooking was good. As we headed back to the state park, we passed on the road a Basset Hound walking down the side of the road. Again, it was the middle of nowhere. I swung around, jumped out of the car and threw the wet dog into our car and tossed Veeka’s unfinished hamburger towards it, which it gulped down.
After telling Veeka to stop shrieking (she’s not a dog fan), I called 911 and got switched to several sheriff’s departments. Finally a deputy from Van Buren County told me they have no animal control and that I might as well leave the pooch where I had found her and maybe she’d find her way home. Yeah…right. It was raining, the temps were sinking into the low 40s and it was past 4 p.m. on a Saturday. I started going down driveways to see if I could find any local residents. I encountered one couple in a pickup who said people abandoned their animals on the highway all the time but there was a neighbor who kept Basset Hounds and maybe he might know to whom this dog belonged. Meanwhile, the hound, who had a leather collar but no ID, had fallen asleep in the back of my Subaru. I found the neighbor’s home and a barn but no one seemed to be around.
Now, the lodge at where we were staying did not allow pets so taking the dog with us was not an option. So I woke up the dog and put her (or him, I am not sure which) in that neighbor’s barn where I knew she’d be at least fed and kept dry. She was not happy about being left there but I didn’t have a great range of choices. And on our way back to the lodge, I explained to Veeka that being a Good Samaritan can involve helping dogs too.