There are so many things I love about the new friends we’ve made since buying a mountain place high in the Blue Ridge. First, and it is so true, we lucked up with the most interesting, intelligent and generous neighbors a couple new to the area–and the lifestyle–could imagine.

To which I would also like to add: It is genuinely a surprise because the location is remote, the houses are few, and the land between each equals acres and acres.

Still there is something about the place that attracts folk whose values resemble a new-to-me hero, Wendell Berry.

I had the immense fortune of hearing Berry speak in July when I attended the Appalachian Writers Workshop in Hindman, Kentucky. I’d never read Berry until learning he was offering the keynote; may I just say Hannah Coulter, my introduction to Berry’s fiction, has taken residence in my heart in a sweet and lovely way.

That story of farming and neighbors and community, with its quiet, gentle voice, shifted something in me.

It also made me keenly aware of the value of neighbors who not only live close but who take care, who watch over and help out.

I have been fortunate at every phase of my life to have this type of neighbor. God realizes I am a needy human and has provided support beyond belief, from sweet Ree who practically raised my child (and made her eat vegetables) when I was a crazy Single Working Mom to the Copes who give and give and never ask anything in return.

But the point is on this remote mountain, where life centers around the land and our caretaking of it, the gift of neighbors who love and guide and support and teach and share…well, it is a gift beyond measure.



Two weeks ago I had a conversation with resident flora and fauna expert Leon during which I mentioned my intention to learn about the wildflowers growing on the mountain. There is a new crop every time we’re there–I am not exaggerating–and it is one of the great joys (and challenges) of this property for me to not only learn their names but their folklore.

Leon knows about such things. So he rattled off a comprehensive list of the native flowers and bushes and shrubs I most need in our meadow. And then–because it wasn’t enough to simply suggest–he and Gus and Greg spent a good bit of time stomping through the woods digging up varieties for Tim and me to carry over the ridge and put in the ground at our place.



Then yesterday I got this text from Jessie (of the Ramp Hunt and garlic harvest, among so many other gracious things):

There is an area of wildflowers in our meadow where all the butterflies come together. As hard as I try I can’t get a good shot of it. Come over sometime if you are up for the challenge!

I’m glad I went.



There are a thousand examples, from the time our sweet little dog escaped from the driveway and Sue stomped through scary Narnia in search of; to Tsa dropping off Burnsville Literary Festival info because she thought I might be interested; to Vicky’s gift of a book on the history of the Black Mountains; to Linda graciously serving up Happy Hour (time after time) with absolutely no notice.


Wendell Berry said this.

A viable neighborhood is a community, and a viable community is made up of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common.


Yes, I have learned. Oh yes.




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November’s Promise

I cannot come to a peaceful conclusion–that is the truth–when it comes to trimming the wildly growing trees and bushes in our yard.

A hardy cutback can be a very good thing, this I know. It’s a part of life in all its most responsible forms. And still I love the wild beauty of a thing left to its own devices, blooms and branches reaching hither and yon with no regard for conformity. No regard at all.

Tim was in the yard with gigantic trimmers this summer. He was going about his work with typical Tim-like methodisicm. (That is, in fact, a word–at least as it pertains to my hyper-organized husband.) It’s something I love most about him, this commitment he has to keeping our lives in order. Still I ran to him with fear in my eyes. “Don’t trim the Sasanqua,” I said. “I love that it’s tall enough now to reach above the big kitchen window sill and peek in. It makes me happy.”

He obliged.

So early this week I looked out and saw this.



The reward of one premiere blossom. One bold blooming flower, there in the primary window position saying, Well hello there Cath. You asked and here I am!  That brilliant flower was surrounded by a multitude of buds all waiting their turn, waiting until the lead bloom and I had had our moment.




Three days and then the bush burst forth in glory.






Winter is fast approaching. But the Sasanqua serves to remind me in every season, every age, every time–there is remarkable beauty.




Moments that take your breath away.


We were sitting out on our big screen porch not doing much of anything, mostly just looking out at the yard, talking over the sweaty work we’d done there during the weekend. We’d spent some time in my much-neglected patio herb/flower garden pulling weeds and transplanting the orphan zinnias–now in the third or fourth year since the first planting, they had scattered their own seeds hither and yon and so brought a rather haphazard appearance to my (originally) well-planned garden. In fact, several danced way beyond the borders, their unbridled enthusiasm contagious if unkempt. I knew I needed to tidy up a bit. (It was getting out of hand.) Still it seems to me a flower that hell-bent on growing deserves every chance at success. Thus, the transplanting.

Anyway, I was sitting back in my white wicker armchair with a chilly Blue Moon when out of nowhere it started to rain. Just a sprinkle, at first, the kind of pitter patter that had us looking at each other saying Where did that come from? And then it came harder, more intense. The sky to the east was dark, a large bank of clouds spreading tree line to lake. To the west, though, was sun, pouring over and into our little portion of the earth like it was the very last chance it’d have to shine.

I’ll bet there’s a rainbow somewhere I said to Tim, loving this time, relishing the ordinary-ness of these moments, grateful there was not a big problem to be discussed or solved or managed. Just us, looking out over this yard, together.

Then just like that a rainbow appeared! Majestic and magical, arching over Bickley’s Pond.

Look at that! I said. And we did, counting the colors in the spectrum.

Then a bright yellow canoe paddled out from behind the trees at the bend in the cove, taking remarkable to extraordinary.

You couldn’t have planned that I said, and Tim agreed, and we sat there, looking at the pond, thinking how gorgeous it is to be alive, to live here on this pond, to be a witness to everyday miracles.


May 31, 2015 on Bickley’s Pond


Strawberry Fields Forever (I wish)

Lexington County strawberries
the taste of spring


I’ve been doing a little more post-surgery rehab on my shoulder, which means I have a new driving route as part of my routine. At least three times a week I now pass an unassuming little farm stand that sells buckets of just-picked, locally grown strawberries.

How happy I am I took a moment to pull over. What a delightfully sweet week this has been!

BONUS: Just came across this link from one of my faves, @CamilleStyles. Oh, yeah! !


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the mighty azalea

It is a risk, I know, to reveal I am not a devotee of the South’s beloved Azalea.

May I tell you why? I find the plant to be rather homely, all in all, 364 days of the year.

Still I must admit on its one glory day–when the shrub bursts forth with color, and every bloom is perfection–the mighty Azalea puts on a show like no other.


Tiger’s Azaleas

Today is that day!


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Stepping Up

Winter is waiting in the wings, and still these zinnias hang on.


They are prolific bloomers, their seeds spread hither and yon. It’s always a delightful surprise to see where they show up.


I love their determination, their spirit.


They never hold back.


Instead, they stretch their necks to the Autumn sun, joy-filled and glorious,

yellowthankful to be here on this Earth, and ready to step boldly into another new day.

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Thunder Moon


Isn’t it lovely to live in a world in which you can walk up your driveway, turn around and discover this surprise? It’s just what happened to me yesterday, and the wonder of it all nearly took my breath away.

Then I learned from my friend, Cindy, it’s called the Thunder Moon. Native Americans gave July’s full moon this designation because it appears in the month of storms. It is also known as the Buck Moon, since male deer sprout new antlers during this season. Making it all more magical, this year’s moon is at its closest point in its elliptical rotation around the earth, making the moon appear bigger and brighter–particularly when viewed close to the horizon. That makes it the first of three Supermoons this Summer.

What a grand gift it is to have a great seat for this remarkable performance of nature. What a demonstration of the miraculous.

The One About The Mallards

I’m not sure I have the heart for all this wildlife monitoring, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to. There’s more drama than a reality television show, and believe me, this drama is way more real. There’s the story of the Mallard nest and the giant snake, which I’ve promised. There’s an update on Bluebird Nest #2. There’s news of the cardinals and the little brown rabbit and the lone Canada goose hatchling that is suddenly not so little. And of course there is my baby, my real baby, the one in Spain or Amsterdam or Portugal, depending on the day. Depending, most certainly, on the availability of WiFi.

(The good Lord is making sure I have plenty to distract me while she’s gone, that’s for sure.)

You will remember the bluebird nest and our beloved Harry, who fledged just three weeks ago. It was just about that time that we began to notice the mallards. The female (in particular) was hanging around our yard in such an insistent way we began to think something is up.

I think she has a nest in the Daylilies I said to my husband, who walked with me the five steps it takes to reach the spot from our brick patio. He reached in to part the flowers and sure enough, there on the ground, was this.


We kept an eye on that Mama after that, noting from her coming and going she must still be laying eggs.

After four days she disappeared. The male Mallard continued to hang around, down by the water’s edge. She’s on the nest! I said with great excitement. And then a very strange thing happened.

We had been in the day all yard, Tim and I, mowing, pulling weeds, working in our little garden. It was late afternoon when made our way to the shade of the downstairs porch (site of the bluebird nest) for a Job Well Done cocktail. We had hardly settled in when the female Mallard paddled in from Bickley’s Pond and beelined up to the Daylilies.



She crouched low as if to go in, then retreated. She moved two feet to the left, then back to the right, then back to the left again. She started in again, this time very tentatively ducking (no pun intended) under the bright yellow blossoms before disappearing into the bed’s foliage. In no time at all she was back out again.

I think she’s being coy because we are here I said. She doesn’t want us to know the location of the nest.

With that she did the tentative dance again, finally going back under the flowers. Within seconds she came flying out, in a rage this time as she took off for the water.

There’s a snake in there I said. There’s a snake on that nest.

Tim went to the garage for a long-handled broom. (He’s so smart.) I stayed back on the porch (I’m so smart, too) while he  v e r y   c a r e f u l l y  parted the mass of flowers.

THERE IS A SNAKE ON THERE he said. Quickly followed by:


Thank heavens the Canon was already loaded with the big zoom lens because I wasn’t about to get near that flower bed. From my current location I aimed my camera in Tim’s direction. About that time I saw a gigantic slither go around the the backside of the bed. I could see neither the head nor the tail—just the long long long middle, a middle that did not resemble that of the “good” black snake I saw a couple of weeks ago in our driveway.


Tim stood there a minute, thinking what to do, then looked back toward me.

SHOOT IT! I said.

Now Cathy he said in a voice so calm. I can’t shoot it.

WHY NOT I said.

Well, for one, we don’t have a gun.

Dammit, I thought.

A hoe? I said, fully aware time was wasting. Do you want me to go get a hoe from the garage?

I’ll go, he said. You just keep an eye on the snake.

(Yeah, right.)


He did kill the snake, my hero husband, an act that gave me about three seconds of peace. That’s about the time my friend Jay Coles showed up, my friend who is director of South Carolina Wildlife Center and who knows about such things.


full and still very much alive
the snake, when he was still very much alive (and filled with duck egg)

It’s a King Snake, Jay said, the only snake that actually eats venomous snakes and keeps them off your property.

Oh no I said quietly.


I had a bit of snake guilt, I must tell you, wondering if all of snakedom and the universe would conspire against me for interfering in the natural order of things. But in a few minutes the female Mallard returned to our yard and this time, she brought the male with her. She was clearly surprised to find the snake gone and she returned, cautiously, to the nest and the eggs.


IMG_8628 IMG_8629 IMG_8630 IMG_8633


What courage.
What courage.


Five days later, my curiosity getting the better of me, I asked Tim if he’d check on the nest. I was most interested to know how many eggs had survived and if, by chance, any of them had hatched.

Do you want to come and bring your camera? he asked.

Um, no thanks I said.

He took the trusty broom, parted the foliage, and guess what he found?

There on top of the nest, coiled and feasting, Big Snake #2.

This time, we left it all alone. We’re not sure what kind of snake it was (hoping it was another King), but we do know the nest was completely wiped out.


Even though the nest was a fail, the Mallards have been hanging around. I am always happy to see them: they’re quite a devoted pair.


I hope there will be new nests in safer locations. Nesting boxes, perhaps?

For now, I’ve got all I can say grace over with the second set of bluebird eggs. I haven’t seen the Mom in a while—something that is of great concern to me. But that’s a different story for a different day.


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For Love of Hydrangea

I might as well say it: I am a failed hydrangea gardener. I have dug and watered and fertilized and believed and after at least 100,000 attempts, I finally, in 2012, threw in the trowel.

I am an obsessive hydrangea lover, that’s what makes it all so sad. And I can’t even tell you why except to say it most certainly is not a sentimental attachment. I grew up in Virginia, after all, with a mother who was committed to that more sophisticated bloomer, the (red only, please) Geranium. So year after year, summer after summer, I earned my ice cream money weeding beds that didn’t hold a single pink or blue blossom.

Then I became a South Carolinian and the colorful world of hydrangea opened up to me. Suddenly there were big mophead blossoms EVERYWHERE, multiplying with great nonchalance against abandoned barns, surrounding grandmothers’ porches, dotting friends’ back yards.

Easiest thing in the world to grow, and the cut flowers look great whether in a Waterford vase or an old mason jar, I heard more than one friend say. And so over the next 20 years, I planted hydrangea bushes in every yard of every house I owned.

Bryars Court: Fail.

Ashley Oaks: Fail.

Bickley’s Pond: Fail. Fail. Fail.


I was surprised how much flowers comforted me when my mother died in February of 2012. We had all gone home to Virginia for her funeral and we gathered to receive friends the first night we were there. I moved around the room in a state of hazed disbelief, first looking at my mother’s casket, then walking past the flower arrangements that lined every wall. They were massive and many, which was probably to be expected as Mom was so loved. Still, somehow it was a surprise to me. The groupings of roses and lilies and orchids shown brilliantly against the backdrop of that sad winter day.

Tucked quietly among them, over in the corner, was a pretty pink hydrangea. Well hi there it seemed to say, and I smiled and leaned down to touch its familiar green foliage. I see you little friend I said. When the services were over, I wrapped my arms around that chunky pot and loaded it in our car bring back to South Carolina.

I worked hard at keeping that plant alive. Finally Spring arrived and Tim and I got it safely in the ground. While I have to say I held out little hope the shrub would actually survive, I chose a shady spot just to the right of the garage doors where I would see it several times a day. All that summer we watched and waited and watered, and by Fall, we had seen no growth and exactly zero blooms.

Winter passed. Then another planting season approached. As we made our plans, I announced to my husband (with great conviction): I am done with hydrangea. It has broken my heart too many times. 

He didn’t question it, believe you me.


Just last week, we had a violent summer storm here in Lexington, the kind with whipping winds and oppressive, torrential rain. When it finally passed and Little Bit and I ventured out to the side porch, I saw the surging water had dislodged a bird nest I’d watched all Spring. The birds had built it just above the gutter that lines the roof above our garage—a position that concerned me—and my heart sank to see the nest face-down on our driveway. I leaned down to carefully lift it from the concrete when out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of an incredible deep fuchsia.

It was the hydrangea, Mom’s hydrangea, finally in bloom.


I must tell you now it is still a tiny plant and there is no indication other blooms are to come. But how can I not rejoice at this surprising turnaround, this one beautiful, dramatic love display?

Oh, hydrangea. How you have brought me joy. How you have restored my faith. How you have made me believe, once again, you never know what might happen.



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