neighbors

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.

 

 

XXOO

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the sweetest gift(s)

We were talking about birds fledging and my hope to someday catch the action as one or two or five jump from the nest the first time. What it must be like to be that young and tender, to summon that courage, then to (quite literally) launch your own body out into the big world.

He mentioned Phoebes had nested near their place, and he’d captured the babies in a photo just after they’d made that scary first flight. They’d scattered a bit. But the parents called them in and in very short order had them all lined up–OneTwoThreeFourFive–for feeding.

 

photo by Russ Oates

 

It’s such a miracle how nature works, how babies fly, how parents know just what to do.

It’s such a gift that as humans, we can bear witness simply by stepping outside to watch.

 

XXOO

Thanks to my new friend, Russ Oates, for the use of his fantastic photo. His work with Audubon North Carolina is fascinating; you can read about their work to protect the Golden-winged Warbler here.

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Relief.

photo: David LaFuria

 

Full-on summer is here with the South Carolina temperature soaring to nearly 100 degrees most every afternoon. It’s the kind of heat you can literally see in the air: your eyes hurt, your lungs burn, your spirit feels the proverbial finish line is way over there on the other side of a giant vat of syrup.

No wonder I keep thinking about this photograph. Dear friends had come to spend the July 4th weekend with us high in the (much cooler) North Carolina mountains and Sunday morning headed to the North Toe River for sweet bit of fly fishing. David snapped this shot on their outing and was gracious enough to share it with me.

Relief. Oh, yes.

Here’s hoping the folks who landed there found just that. (Although it does feel like a long shot from the look of things.) And here’s hoping you find some, whatever it is you feel bearing down on you in this oppressive summer heat!

XXOO

 

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the sweetest reminder

Friends are coming for the long holiday weekend and so we ran down the mountain to get the necessary supplies. On my list before groceries was a stop for new yarn and needles.

I need to teach these girls to knit, you see.

Not because they asked, exactly. But because, well, I might have–sort of–insisted.

It was my first time in this sweet yarn shop and the selecting of fiber/color/yardage took a bit of time. When I was at last ready to check out the precious owner, who’d shared a bit of the winding road that had led her to this place, offered two sets of free needles. She understood I would be teaching and therefore setting loose into the world two new knitters.

It was a most gracious offer.

Still I refused, suggesting she needed to make a living.

No I don’t, she said. Then she smiled.

I am making a life.

 

XXOO

 

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in the column of love

He said so many things that landed on my heart, little comments here and there that wrapped us in love and goodness and mercy. Boundless mercy. Mercy divine.

It left me changed, I’ll tell you that.

And it came as a surprise. He was, after all, a man who’d come to whip the adult choir into shape.

Tom Trenney did so much more.

 

then sings my soul

 

There’s so much music, and so little time for rehearsing at Montreat Music and Worship. Each moment is precious. We gathered twice a day and the reminder we were a bunch of strangers singing unfamiliar compositions with a concert Friday was never far from our minds. Then Tuesday as time ticked by we were mid-learn (and really concentrating) on a difficult section of a new piece when a fire truck passed our open windows. Its sirens filled Anderson Auditorium.

I bristled thinking of the interruption of this harsh, unexpected sound, of the inconvenience.

Tom Trenney, on the other hand, stopped his conducting, dropped his arms in the most gentle way, and clasping his hands in front said softly,

Let’s have a moment of prayer for the people suffering this emergency.

Three hundred of us bowed our heads together.

 

beautiful Anderson Auditorium

 

I think now of that silence, that prayer, that moment, and I am overwhelmed.

Jesus taught by example.

Tom Trenney reminded me nothing is more powerful than that.

 

XXOO

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The Bear Who Came To Dinner

It was a pretty grand anniversary dinner, I won’t lie about that.

But then there was a great deal to celebrate. Thirty-two years for them, fifteen for us, and our wedding days butting right up next to each other. That’s what brought us for this long weekend together high in the  Appalachians where we knew time would move slow and the air would be sweet.

We were right.

rhododendron and flame azalea in bloom

And so we made a feast. All four of us contributed to the prepping and the roasting and the grilling. Amos Lee played loud above our laughter. And because there was steak and salmon and garlic scape butter potatoes, and yummy smells floating out from the porch, we kept a keen eye for bears.

Sure enough one came to join our party.

He was a little guy, interested but timid, and he stopped short in the driveway the minute he noticed us gathering for a look. Then he turned and walked away, no doubt concerned he’d brought the wrong vintage or worn the wrong sweats to fit in with this rather distinguished group. 

We felt sad for him, Leslie and I. But Tim and Scott even more. And so without so much as a word they set out after him.

That bear was nowhere in sight. 

And so the boys returned, and we dished up the feast, and we toasted to love, and marriage, and life. And to friendship, the very best kind: ancient, and easy, and deep.

XXOO

 

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love at the beach

 

 

It  was kind of miraculous, I guess you could say, the way we had this spit of beach with so few people running about on it.

It was a holiday, after all.

And not just that, but Memorial Day weekend. Prime time for those who like to kick off summer in a most dedicated way.

And not just that, but a resort. A lovely resort positioned right on Amelia Island where the canopies of the Live Oaks create a world so private you feel protected, sheltered, hidden away.

 

 

We made the most of it, I’ll tell you that, the fifteen of us gathered there. We’d come from all over, a family spread north, south, west, our ranks growing up and moving out, moving on in different directions, inevitable, really, as this is what life demands.

We stay committed though. Even as distance and new responsibilities make it feel more impossible. This family reunion mattered so to Dottie, you see, the mother and grandmother who those many years ago started it all, the matriarch who asked us to promise the summer gatherings of the family would continue.

We did.

We do.

For now it is us, our generation who guides. We feel her presence with every conversation, every giggle, every hug. Every story retold for the hundred-thousandth time. We feel her pleasure as the siblings reconnect and the cousins bond and the daughters- and sons- and grandsons-in-law meld into a family that is every bit theirs.

As we hold each other close.

As we toast the miracles.

As we share the joy that is another year together.

We are grateful.

 

little cousins, big cousins

 

lingering dinners

 

crazy kids, crazy filters

 

magic moments

 

XXOO

 

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A-Ramp-Hunting We Will Go

MY SWEET ELIZA is home from her California adventure, and we whisked her away for some well-deserved R&R following two years of working a job that asked so much. A few days in the mountains–where rest and relax are the exact formula–seemed just right. 

We’d hardly unpacked our soft-cothes-only wardrobes when I got this joyful text from our mountain neighbor, Jessie.

Ramps, you say???

Oh, yes.

 

I’VE KNOWN OF RAMPS all my life, them being regular mountain food in the part of the world where I grew up, where many folks lived from the land and made the most of whatever was available. In my mind it was akin to Poke Sallet, made from pokeweed, although I must say to my knowledge neither of these ever graced my mother’s dinner table. (Rather than anything fresh or leafy green we were much more likely to be eating Kraft Spaghetti–the box kind. Or frozen pot pies.)  So although I have long had an awareness of ramps, I am certainly not fluent. 

And heaven knows, I’ve never gone in search of.

But today these plants are a different thing entirely. Now the lowly ramp–which is sometimes called a wild leek, or spring onion–is a delicacy made so by swell young chefs of the foodie movement who’ve refined their preparation and feature them on specialty menus during their super-short growing season. Part of the appeal, no doubt, is due to this limited window during which ramps can be harvested and eaten. Look for the trillium to bloom, I have heard, and you’ll know: Ramp Season is on.

 

AND SO OUR neighbors planned an outing, and because they’re thoughtful they invited us to come along. They’d gotten permission from the landowner–a very important detail as many experts agree the elevation of the ramp’s status has resulted in a great decline in its population. So up that mountain we went.

My little heart beat fast at the sight of them, I’m not gonna lie.

 

 

We got on our hands and knees and dug.  

 

Gus, the pro

 

Gingerly, we dug.

 

Eliza, going strong

 

Then as the pretty white ramp bulbs emerged, Gus took a close look and made the call they were too small. Our friends needed a little more time to grow.

 

what a happy ramp

 

We did not despair but walked all around, looking at the early spring beauty right where we were, the miracles happening all around us right there in the woods.

 

 

 

Then we loaded up and headed for home, making one more impromptu investigative stop at the pond.

There are salamanders that live in that pond, you see, but only for a short time during early spring.

Might as well give it a look.

 

XXOO

 

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When the morning comes.

 

Most nights we are in the mountains I awaken two or three times just to check for light at the foot of the bed. It’s something we didn’t realize when we bought the place, the fact our bedroom faces east. Which means we can leave the shade open at night, and when it’s time to rise God nudges us up and out with the most gentle, spectacular show.

 

 

I mean.

 

 

My first words each day are: Is it get up time yet?

 

 

Tim always says yes. Which is perfect because every day is different–and we don’t want to miss a thing. 

 

 

XXOO

 

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The Gigantic Life Truth I’d Forgotten

IT’S A PITIFUL EXAMPLE for a gigantic truth that’s parked itself right alongside me like one of those huge roadside boulders in Southern California.

I was in my pilates class, and Jan–our superhero instructor– introduced a new, more difficult move that involved stretching forward to push down on a weighted bar while extending a leg behind you. It takes incredible strength and balance to create this horizontal body position, and it didn’t take long for me to determine I couldn’t do it.

I tried.

But then I decided: This is too hard.  This is too hard for me, given my weak shoulder. Considering my age. How tired I am. That rib thing. (I could go on and on.)

Then a whisper came that had already presented itself to me twice this week, insisting again:

You can do hard things.

 

MY DAUGHTER, ELIZA, has spent the last seven weeks 2000 miles from home. She’s there working with a beautiful, amazing child who spends every moment of his life doing things that are hard. Born with a tiny single genetic mutation, the simple control of his arms and legs requires enormous energy and concentration. He can’t talk or stand or walk, but spend five minutes with this seven year old and your very definition of determination will be changed. He fights for every movement, willing his body to do things it simply cannot do. He strives to understand, and to be understood, communicating in innovative ways that make the mere act a holy one. And he laughs. He laughs with such ease and with such boundlessness that joy fills all that is around him, all color and light, all pure, sacred goodness.

He stole my heart, this remarkable child, and I don’t ever want it back.

 

AND THERE IS ELIZA, who moved boldly into a new life in a new world, who gives so well in a job that asks so much of her. She is brave and strong, and I admire her willingness to step out and step up, taking it on even when it’s hard.

We can do hard things.

I will strive to remember this the next time I face down something that requires more of me than I want to offer, the next time my inclination is to quit or to turn and run toward an easier path. 

 

 

We can. We can. We can.

XXOO

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