When It Dawns On You

I’ve placed this photograph in this blog post I’d say…oh, 10 times or more. I’ve taken it out. I’ve put it back in, smaller, taken it out. Put it back in, made it larger, made it smaller, walked away.

And here it is now. Large.

Why the angst, I wonder? Why the need to get it just right?

Perhaps it is because the moment I snapped the photo felt so right, so perfect, so awe-filled. Perhaps what I want is for you to be there, too, to step with me into the early morning cold, the world dark and still, the mountains starting their glow. I want you to feel and see and know, as I did, in that moment.

 

 

My dear friend, Jay, is there, too. He doesn’t say a word, just stands there with me while I take it all in. Then he says, oh so quiet, See the star? I look again. I look closer.

Sure enough there it is, up and just to the right. A star.

 

 

I turn to the left. West, toward my beloved Mother tree.

There is this.

 

 

Good heavens, I think, how beautiful is the gift of another day.

How awesome it is to be reminded in such a beautiful way.

 

XXOO

 

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In Space

I WON’T BE ROCKING the universe when I make a statement about travel’s profound ability to broaden horizons. (There is so much wrong with my decision to keep that kitschy sentence but there it is.) Park yourself some place new and wonderful things happen. Your view changes. Your thought patterns are interrupted. Your priorities shift.

It happens to me regularly these days as Tim and I spend pockets of time at our weekend place high in the Blue Ridge. The contrast between that rural lifestyle and the urban one we enjoy in the flatlands of South Carolina is pretty dramatic. When we are in those mountains we find ourselves considerably more focused on the land, on each sunrise, on the sheer passing of time.

(None of this comes as a great surprise as I’ve written about it here and here and here on The Daily Grace.)

But the last time we were there something new happened that I’ve thought about a good bit since. We weren’t long before bed when Tim suggested we plan to get up a little earlier than usual the next morning. The International Space Station would be crossing the sky over our house just before dawn, he said, and this would give us a great chance to see it.

Yes! I said, with so much enthusiasm you’d think I’d been waiting my whole life for just such an opportunity. (I sort of knew there was a Space Station flying around up there. Maybe? Kinda?)

Rise we did.

 

watching and waiting

 

THE VIEWING OF THE THING was not as dramatic or impressive as you might imagine. It was a bright little white dot that appeared just where Tim said it would, lifting right out of the trees that stand over the chimney and our roof. It moved at rather a quick clip north to south finally disappearing from view over Big Butt ridge and the Black Mountain range just behind.

 

There. Over the trees.

 

the International Space Station moving across the sky

 

We observed and marveled and I questioned. Were there people aboard? (Yes.) How many? (Six.) How long have they been up there? (Varies, depending on the astronaut, but the space station has been manned continuously for 16 years.) How far away is it? (220 miles) How fast does it go? (17,227 miles per hour)

What were the astronauts doing right now? Were they looking down at us, commenting on the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains?

I also found this little tidbit particularly interesting: We could see the Space Station in the sky at this moment because it was positioned such that the sun reflected off its surface, thus making it look like a fast moving star in a dark-enough sky. Then it disappeared from our view before it actually went out of sight because it slowly disappeared into the earth’s shadow.

 

the space station, gone from view in that pretty orange sky

 

And just like that, in less than two minutes, the entire thing was done.

We stayed put to watch the sun rise, we surely did, then we went back inside and I immediately jumped into an online search for photos in reverse: the earth from the Space Station. There are many incredible collections, like this one. But I was most fascinated by those from Commander Randy Bresnik, a Citadel grad who posts on Instagram as @astrokomrade. He had just given us a from-Space view of Charleston, post Irma, on which he wrote:  After #Irma. Charleston, I have swum in your streets before, I know you will recover quickly again to the city we all know and love.

That there is powerful stuff, my friends.

 

THE EXPERIENCE HAS STAYED WITH ME, I’ll also tell you that. I think about the fact that Space Station (with its people) circles the earth 16 times a day. It has done this every single day for the last 16 years. And all that time I have been right here, fully and completely not paying attention.

It’s the kind of thing a person should know, is what I think. It’s the kind of thing a person should know and celebrate and from time to time stand back from, in awe.

How happy I am my husband–and those mountains–made sure I did just that.

 

XXOO

NOTE: If you are interested in the International Space Station, NASA has an app that will tell you when the best viewing times are for your location. Click here for more information.

 

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heart lights

WE WERE GATHERED around the dinner table, our feast consumed, our wine glasses refilled, when Linda brought out the box. She moved casually, nonchalant, the action drawing no attention at all. Then it sat there–just sat there, that box–seeming so insignificant as to have hardly been worth the effort it took to get it to the top of this mountain.

We carried on unknowing, the eight of us, caught up as we were in some other silly story about some ridiculous situation we found ourselves in thirty, forty, even fifty years ago.

We’ve known each other that long, you see. We are women who grew up together (in every sense of that phrase) in the 60s and 70s in a tiny mountain town on the remote southwestern edge of Virginia. It was a place buffeted from the world by ancient ridges that both nestled and isolated us. We did not realize the significance of this geography at the time, our worlds extending only as far as away high school basketball games required. We had little sense of a big world beyond that, in the years since, has flung us from South Florida to Louisiana to Maine–and many, many cities, large and small, in between.

And still we come together once or twice a year to reconnect and recharge and re-establish our roots. It’s a vital practice that brings light and love and nourishment to our souls. It makes me think of that scene in ET where the sweet creature’s chest LIGHTS UP when he is in silent communion with someone he loves, a soul connection with another who understands. It  happens when we are together. Our heart lights glow.

 

the ancient oak on the mountain we call Mother

 

SO ANYWAY the thing is sitting there, the very quiet box, and by some miracle there is a tiny, tiny break in the conversation, and I think it was Julie who said, What is that, Linda? What have you got there?

Oh, this? Linda says. I was clearing out some things. Wondered if you guys want them.

This got our attention, you bet it did, and all of a sudden that little vessel became a magic box from which an endless supply of memories came flooding over and around that table.

Oh, my, the stuff that box held.

 

(There was this much joy.)

 

PERHAPS IT WOULD BE more accurate to say the memories had to be excavated, because lord have mercy it took every one of us working together to reconstruct what may or may not have led to and resulted from the memories that box contained. For instance Linda produced two letters I wrote to her when I was a senior in high school and she was a freshman in college. I’m not kidding I have no memory of ANY of the things I wrote her about. Suffice it to say there was a great deal of detail and Every Single Sentence revolved around one boy or another, or what some girl said about one boy or another, or how I felt about what the girl said about the boy who may or may not have had anything at all to do with me. In a million years I’d never have believed that’s what we found significant in our lives back then. Sixth grade, yes. But seriously, not at 18. (Let me state for the record Julie was a bit more profound in her letters than I.)

Good heavens did that stuff make us laugh.

 

Case in point.

 

(We were also quite pleased we actually wrote each other letters. By hand. On paper. That we then had to go to the post office to mail.)

 

IT WAS a glorious weekend together, time filled with so much love and laughter I am still trying to recover. And I’m thinking hard about that hidden-away world in which we twirled batons and hosted sleepovers and knew every word to every Eagles song ever recorded (which we sang at the top of our lungs).

How grateful I am for the blessing of a happy, happy childhood.

 

Amy, Vickie, Cathy, Sharon, Lisa, Suzann, Linda, Julie

How grateful I am for these women.

XXOO

 

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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

 

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here.

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

 

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!