Hey. Look.

IT IS QUIET on this mountain, something that won’t surprise given that our gate is locked, our roads aren’t paved, and the nearest neighbor, of which there are only a handful, is acres and acres away. Add to this the fact we never turn on the television (but for football or evening binging) and you probably are getting the picture.

It is a gift, this silence, a mighty force that holds my introverted, introspective heart in balance.

WHY JUST LAST WEEK we arose to a particularly gentle day. It had rained during the night and the sun, still hidden by clouds and fog, created a beautiful, serene surround. The birds were singing, yes, but the meadow glistened like it had been perfectly cast to create a soft, atmospheric glow. Or not a glow, exactly, more like a wash that left it new, positively glistening.

I walked up the steps to my studio as I do each day we are here, and I got right to work. Throughout the morning I trekked those stairs down and up what must have been a thousand times. I needed my laptop; I’d forgotten my camera; where was that charger, as the dang Ipad on which I was proofing a manuscript will not hold power. On and on it went, up and down, more coffee, a scrambled egg, a cold drink of water.

Long about eleven I ran into Tim who was busy busy scraping and cleaning all manner of wood as he is spending his summer painting this house and its endless decks. You see all those spider webs? he said. This surprised me as, relatively speaking, we see fewer spiders up here than you might well suppose.

No, I said. Where?

Everywhere, he said. They are everywhere.

And sure enough, they were.

He pointed out one strung between deck railings, and then another, one railing down.

Then two more.

Up, look up, Tim said.

In the trees.

And I saw in the tall fir there were three, maybe more, no ten, no fifteen webs. Maybe twenty! On and on they went, as if the great force that had come in the night that had so perfectly adorned the meadow as a bonus had added these.

A quiet collection,

a convocation, if you will, of delicate, intricate,

breathtaking works of art.

It was something to behold, something I almost missed.

I must remember to look, I reminded myself.

I must remember to always, always look.

XXOO

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Remembering Sully and smiling.

JULY 2011. Our sweet, sweet next door neighbors, the Copes, had just put in a pool. This thrilled their tiny children (who are nearly grown—how does this happen) to no end and still the joy of those kids hardly compared to the joy of their dog. Sully swam lap after lap every morning, perfecting the corner turn and ultimately shedding 15 pounds!

SULLY SWIMS. (Check out how he maximizes every square inch of that pool.)

We lost precious Sully on Monday.

His swimming days may have been long past, but the happy he brought to all of us who loved him never wavered.

We will miss you, precious friend.

XXOO

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The Rhythm of Life

IT IS TRUE LIFE IS DIFFERENT high on this mountain. Neighbors are few and the primary consideration is not traffic or the news or even the Jeopardy champ (although that is discussed) but is, instead, the weather. We check the forecast before we go to bed at night; we check it again immediately upon rising. I suspect this is how it is for those who live a farming life, who depend on rain and soil condition and air temperature for their livelihoods as well as their daily activities. And although we don’t have so much as a vegetable garden (we go and come too much for proper maintenance) I believe what we share with them is a deep, deep connection with the land.

Part of it, for us, is simply our positioning. The sun rises each morning over the Black Mountains to our left and our bed and bedroom window face east. We leave the blind up with the great intention of waking at first light and properly greeting the day. This time of year it is a very early rising and without fail, we face it with the joy and anticipation of eager children. This is our fourth summer on this mountain and I swear to you every single sunrise is different.

Often there is rain, or clouds, or we are completely “socked in” like the peaks you see in romantic photographs. Even those days are fascinating. Every moment offers the chance for change: wind blows or fog rises and for a moment the meadow below or the ridges beyond show through. Cover will come again, or not, and still we watch with ever-present oohs and aahs.

THEN THE DAY comes. While we neither farm nor head to the city for work, we are busy. Tim, for instance, always has a big project or two over which he is fully committed. He hustles to maintain a semblance of order on the property–good heavens you simply drive into Asheville for dinner and by the time you return nature has taken over, every living green thing gaining height and girth and insistent wildness.

This summer he is also painting the house, the studio/workshop, and all 3500 square feet of decking.

soon it will all be putty gray

It is a massive job.

I write. I take my coffee across the deck and up the steps to my newly feng shui-ed studio (thank you, Mary!) where I stand in the filtered morning light and spend the next eight hours immersed in the world of my second novel. I marvel that this lifestyle allows me to be three hours in by the time I typically would have just made it to the office. I know, now, I am at my best the earlier I start (thank you, Maria!) and so I forgo every other responsibility or diversion until I have taken care of this one. I do not eat first. I do not exercise first. I do not even shower first–no one cares, so why waste my personal prime time on something that can be done later? Or not at all?

What a gigantic gift that is.

DAY PASSES, OF COURSE, the sun moving high in the sky and traveling across the ridges where it casts changing light that illumines and shadows the mountain faces. It, too, is an ever-changing show and a constant visual (and visceral) reminder that time moves on. Evening comes. It is late this time of year, soft, a slow release from the work of the day. We don’t see the orb of the sun as it sinks in the west but we do benefit greatly from the magnificent light it casts, the colors always a surprise, the hues shifting, deepening, then fading to dark.

day is nearly done

WE ARE GREATLY BLESSED to have this place, this time, this remarkable vantage point. And it’s something about which we are keenly aware every single minute. We give thanks and rejoice in the gift, in our having the youth (relatively speaking!) and the strength and the health and the stamina to make the most of all this change in geography and lifestyle offers. We never take any of that for granted. And still when the time comes to pack up and leave and we return to our regular lives–when we drive down the mountain and head for home and all it has waiting for us: work and mail and meetings and bills and decisions and appointments and Things That Must Be Dealt With–we somehow cannot seem to carry with us the beautiful awareness of the great passing of days. We are delighted to be home, of course; we love and are grateful for our equally blessed, beautiful flatlander lives. Still when we are there we once again rise with a pre-set alarm. We complain about traffic. Tim manicures the overgrown lawn and I buy things at Target.

We do not watch the sun rise or set; we rarely take time to sit together, outside, watching, waiting, listening.

THERE IS A DIFFERENT RHYTHM on this mountain, I suppose that is my point. It is one established not by us but by the earth, the sun, the moon. The critters large and small who move through our meadow.

The tall, wild grasses that grow and swing and sway in the summer breezes, the winds that pass over this rugged, ancient land.

XXOO

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Morning Song

The sun gets up early this time of year, peaking over our mountains just after 6 a.m. So if you want to catch the prettiest light, you best be standing on the deck, coffee in hand, 5:40, 5:45 at the latest. It’s well worth the early rise for me; the show is magnificent most days, and very shortly thereafter I can be settled into the studio, happily writing the morning away.

It is my favorite time of day.

As it is for this sweet friend,

who meets me there rain or shine, nearly every morning

each time heralding the glory of the new day

in song.

Joyful, unbridled song!

XXOO

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Moving on.

This pesky little wren (whom I can’t help but love) made a home last year in the bird box on the east side of our mountain home. He/she built a nest, laid a batch of eggs, and best we can tell, successfully birthed a new generation of babies that grew and fledged and ultimately moved on to establish their own grownup lives in bigger, more exciting cities.

Atlanta, or Charlotte, is what I’m guessing.

The children gone, the parents nonetheless kept watch over the box, checking in, keeping claim.

Then this spring, nest building commenced again. We watched, and marveled, like always. Then we went and left them to it, heading home to South Carolina for a week or two.

We returned to the mountains to (GASP!) discover this.

A bear, Tim and I agreed, what else could have stripped the wood and left the nest box in pieces/parts on the ground below?

Oh little wren, I thought, seeing/hearing/seeing it flit about, hopping around on an old decaying log, chirping/singing/chirping the desperate sad song of its heart.

I am so very, very sorry.

HOWEVER, I REALIZE JUST NOW I have failed to mention the other, newer, more colorful birdhouse we also hung on our previous visit. It came to me as a Christmas gift from the oh-so-thoughtful Island Monettis, and we’d located it on the west side of our home, high above the mass of wild mountain azalea that blooms so profusely in early June.

And you’ve already guessed, I’ll bet. The wrens took the opportunity to relocate!

This time to the beach!

XXOO

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Because. Well. June.

It’s a more gentle life here in these North Carolina mountains when slow, yet sure, comes June. Temperatures modulate, the winds calm (relatively speaking), our meadow comes to life. A wild new green climbs the ridges then settles, making a deep rich carpet, one just the color of the pile that covered the floors in my own childhood home. I wonder now, looking across, if this was something my mother realized at the time she chose it. Was its name “summer mountain green”? Or did the color simply feel familiar? A comfort?

Because I grew up in mountains like these, though I’ve spent the bulk of my grown-up life in the South Carolina flatlands. I watch, now, as the daisies multiply, the rhododendron burst into bloom, the tall oaks spread their distinctive leaves that unfurl (overnight!) and hang and stretch and offer shade to the living world below.

“I need a mountain to rest my eyes against,” said author Lee Smith‘s daddy, a man I never met but one with whom I feel a spiritual connection.

I need a mountain to rest my eyes against.

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happy endings

It’s a wonder he answers his phone at all, my friend Jay Coles, for when I call there is a 100% chance I am in dire need and the situation is an EMERGENCY. Why just a couple of weeks ago I was looking out the studio window when I noticed a bit of a bird ruckus and caught a glimpse of this unusual site.

Then I saw the Mama and Daddy bluebird were all a twitter, and the other birds were making a racket, and Tim came round to say, “I think the bluebird babies are fledging. I saw one on the grass a little while ago.”

“What?” I said. “WHAT? THEY’RE TOO LITTLE. IT’S NOT TIME. THEY CAN’T POSSIBLY BE OLD ENOUGH TO FLY.”

(Can they?)

I grabbed my phone and quickly flipped to the last photos of the nest I’d taken. It was before we’d gone to the mountains, before I’d lost my ability to MONITOR THEIR EVERY MOVE. I checked the date. I could not be absolutely positively certain but I was pretty ding dang sure these babies were not more than ten days old.

“I’M CALLING JAY,” I said. “HE’LL KNOW WHAT TO DO.”

And he would, I knew he would as he is not only a fellow nature lover, he’s head of Carolina Wildlife Center, a local nonprofit that sees to the needs of innumerable small animals orphaned or injured in the wild. Every year among the thousands they care for are hundreds and hundreds of songbirds. Still deep inside I knew my fledging babies (which were neither orphaned nor injured) were hardly worth an emergency visit. Even if he is my dear friend. Even if he does live four doors down.

“I’ll be right there,” of course he said. (Jay is a saint the good lord sent to keep my feet on the ground, I swear. He has been my advisor and friend and protector on a number of important matters all across my life.) Tim and I waited and watched as the tiny baby hop hop hopped right into the daylilies, disappearing beneath the thick foliage.

Then here came Jay. We located the baby who was now standing on a rock perilously close to the edge of our pond.

“HE’LL DROWN IF HE FALLS IN! DO! SOMETHING! JAY!” At which my dear friend calmly walked over, gently put his hands around the sweet baby bird, then walked him back to the birdhouse.

He also explained, patient teacher to too-eager student: Unlike some other animals, birds are not ‘marked’ by human touch. You can safely pick up a baby and put it back in the nest.

“He IS too little, though. Don’t you think? He is too little to fly?”

“We’ll see,” said kind Jay.

Just about then something farther down the lawn moved, and this caught our collective eye, and we looked to see IT WAS ANOTHER BABY BLUEBIRD.

(Heavens to Betsy. Good lord. Good heavens they must be fledging.)

Jay collected baby #2 and returned it, as well, to the nest.

“BUT THEY ARE NOT OLD ENOUGH. I swear they’re not.”

“We’ll see,” he said. He smiled his Jay smile, then he and Tim walked off, to talk of other things.

THE NEXT DAY I went to work and was (blessedly) too busy to continue with this obsession. But late evening came, and as good fortune would have it Jay stopped by on a completely unrelated matter.

“Sure would love to know how many babies are in that nest!” I said this casually, just passing by, as he and Tim did whatever it was they were doing. “Sure would be grateful if somebody would crack open that box and take a quick peek!” (I would never do it as it can be a danger to the babies once they are older. But he had the know-how, I knew.) And he did, and lo and behold all four were there, and the following day, another check, and whew still all four!

I was relieved and humbly satisfied. And I left those parents to it.

SUNDAY, THEY DID fledge. (Praise hands!) Five days had passed, and my little heart was satisfied AND happy.

XXOO

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If you want to learn more about the important work of Carolina Wildlife Center, or if you need information about how to properly help injured or orphaned animals, click here. (They also have a wish list and opportunities to donate if you are so inclined.)

big little things

SO MUCH feels uncertain. Economies teetering, the world shaky. Lives changed in the blink of an eye.

Which makes anything of routine all the more welcome.

The hummingbirds returned to our mountain this week.

One, then two, then three, then four. Timid at first, just a quick nip from the feeder. Then more, the nectar sweet after a winter away.

And sunshine, green, and Spring was here once again.

It’s something about which we are keenly aware on this mountain. We watch the seasons like it’s a religion noting every change, every turning, every remarkable bloom.

And every time,

every single time–

we feel grateful.

XXOO

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when darkness falls

It has been a difficult season, dear ones, precious friends facing difficult news and unimaginable struggles. And my own mornings have been shadowed with the recent loss of our sweet, sweet dog. I will write more of that later, when I feel better able to tell the whole of Little Bit’s story; when I can happily share the miraculous grace that (as always) accompanied our immense heartbreak. But in the meantime I will remain in fervent prayer for all my beloveds.

And I will show, rather than describe, a bit of joy that arrived early this morning. We are in the mountains where for Easter weekend we weathered rain, and high winds, and snow.

(Yes. Snow.)
IT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO SNOW ON EASTER.

But this morning winter lifted. The skies cleared, and my heart rejoiced.

So whatever you are facing–whatever challenge is in your path, whatever pain or sadness you may hold–I hope you will remember that seasons change, and darkness subsides, and the sun rises. And I hope you will feel the buoyancy of the energy of those who love you. They are lifting you up, whether near or far away, they are holding you dear, and they are offering a prayer, or a poem, or a word, right here, right now. For you.

Amen.

XXOO

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March Madness.

And now we are racing through March! Where here in South Carolina’s midlands we are blanketed in a layer of pollen so thick it is smothering. Even showering seems a gigantic waste of time.

Has it ever been this bad?

(Do we say that every year?)

But oh, Springtime. With her forsythia and spirea, and the eager green shoots that push through winter-hard ground as if to remind us rebirth is possible. And the green/gold promise of the million baby leaf buds–the billion baby buds–their translucent unfurling the stuff of poetry.

And the birds all a twitter! The possibilities of new love! Courting and preening and feeding, beak-to-beak. Romance all around. Prime spot claiming, be it light fixture, high beam, bird house. Even an old shoe will do.

The building of the nest. One blade, one twig, one feather at a time. One morning’s work, and then another. And more until DONE, there it is, a work of art, a new home, the magical weaving (instinctual as it is) of one little family’s future.

The cradling and nurturing therein.

The risks, the threats, the circle of life.

My, my, my, the drama. It is Spring!

XXOO

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