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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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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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 snow moon

 

The Snow Moon comes tonight.

Still I can’t help posting these photos from last night.

 

 

Because for the first time in many, many years, I happened to be where snow fell all day long.

 

 

 

 

Then as day began its slip to night, 

 

 

temperatures dropped to the low 20s

  

 

and a big ol’ moon rose bright over the tree tops.

 

 

I love February.

 

 

 

XXOO

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Mother.

 

 

 

I’d like to introduce you to Mother, the grande dame of our mountain property. From the moment I saw her I knew she would be a fierce spirit guide for my adjoining studio.

How grateful I am for her abiding presence. I am awed by her fortitude; fascinated by her wizened shape; amazed at her faithfulness as she continues to sprout tender green shoots each Spring.

Even now, in this harshest of seasons, Mother stands by. Resilient. Proud. Unrelenting in the face of winter here in these ancient mountains. 

 

XXOO

 

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Gifts of a New Day

 

It’s one of those things you wonder how you made it a lifetime not knowing.

~~~~~~~~~~~

We’d come to the mountains for a long weekend just the day before, arriving late and promising that since it would be Saturday, we really were going to sleep in. But morning came and our eyes opened and before you could say October we were out on that deck, coffee in hand.

There was the tiniest thread of light just along the ridge line.

 

moonrise1

 

We inhaled, exhaled, and gave thanks for another day.

But then I looked closer. There was also a rising crescent, a sliver so slight I wondered if my eyes were playing tricks. There, just above the mountain. What is that? I said to Tim. It looks like the moon.

I think it is, he said.

But it’s morning, I said. And that’s about where we expect the sun to rise.

I got my big lens, and this happened next.

 

moonrise4

moonrise5

 

It’s difficult to tell since the zoom changes from image to image, but just as the moon began to disappear, sure enough, right behind it (and just slightly west) came the sun.

 

moonrise3

sun1

 

sun-2

sun3

 

It was the New Moon, I’ve since learned, one that all these years, from the beginning of time, has risen with the sun.

Wow. And thanks and praise!

 

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