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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Ten (of a thousand) Reasons I Love Winter

AND HERE WE ARE in February, halfway through, heading full speed into March, and spring, and the mayhem that will arrive as May. It will hit with the force of a thousand obligations: end-of-school examinations and sports banquets and graduation parties and business meetings, so many meetings, and all the cram-this-in-before-summer-gets-here appointments that fill up our calendars faster than you can say double-booked.

winter, on cat’s mountain

How did it pass so quickly, is my question, our glorious wintertime respite? Our splendid, whitewashed pause filled to its lazy brim with cold and cuddles and warm fires and mittens?

For I love nothing if not the radiant winter days–all 59–that are January and February.

There are reasons, many good reasons, for my immense devotion. Of which 10 I will share here. Also, if I may point out, there is absolutely no order to the order. (That would have taken entirely too much effort in this civilized, chill out, re-charge season.)

1. SOUP FOR DINNER. Soup for lunch. Soup for breakfast–hey, a pot of soup can last all week and requires nothing more than a box of stock and the random leftovers lounging in your fridge.

2. ANYTHING’S POSSIBLE. Oh, the clean slate that is winter! Make New whatever you choose! Break out that spanking white journal, or head to Target and spend 45 delightful minutes checking every new notebook like it’s YOUR JOB and don’t stop until to find the very most perfect one. It’s grown-up back-to-school time, that’s what winter is, so go on and while you’re at it get the cute pencil pouch, too!

3. ALL THE NEW THINGS. Give-it-a-go with yoga*. Or P90X (god bless you). Or Game of Thrones or Instagram stories or whatever it is that’s been tickling your fancy and got you considering it from afar. You may find something that brings greater joy than you expected (see * above) and if not, I swear there’s a pass inherent in this tiny annual window that allows as many stops and starts as you want. And absolutely no explanation is required.

4. TIDY UP. Of course you know this drill. The phenomenon worth mentioning is the energy we currently have for tasks entirely too daunting the entire rest of the year. So get to that linen closet! Purge those cosmetics! And take time to fold all your panties even the ones you don’t wear into neat little stackable packages that allow you to see every single one all at the same time. Or not, if that is your preference. (You can also just watch the Kondo show to get all the feels as if you have accomplished something great without hitting a tap or arguing with a household soul over how many years of Garden and Gun magazines a person has a right to hold onto.**)

{EDITOR’S NOTE: **The answer is three. Three years’ worth.}

5. BURN THE CANDLES. On a Tuesday. An ordinary, flat winter light Tuesday. Feel your heart glow.

6. HAVE A LONG, SLOW CONVERSATION with a dear friend. With blankets and hot tea and nary a cell phone in sight.

7. MAKE SOMETHING. Knit. Paint. Color. Hand-letter. Stamp. Embroider. Draw. Weave. Photograph. THINK YOU CAN’T? You can, of course you can, but if the mere thought stresses you out grab a stack of magazines*** and make a collage of all the pretty things you see just because it will make you happy.

{EDITOR’S NOTE: Just not the Garden and Gun magazines. Or, save four years’ worth and use the oldest for this very purpose. Now look at you, planning ahead.}

8. FEED THE BIRDS. They are hungry, and food is more scarce, and they will reward you by showing up day after day and entertaining you with the bird version of Days of Our Lives. I mean–the drama!

9. NAP. NO ONE WILL JUDGE. IT’S WINTER.

10. READ ALL THE BOOKS. Read, read, read! Not just the page and a half (you won’t remember) at bedtime, but in the morning, in the afternoon, in a comfy chair with a big cup of just-the-way-you-like-it coffee, or via a reading happy hour where that yummy book takes you right into dinner. Winter is the time for diving in, diving deep, finishing one book and (I AM NOT KIDDING HERE) picking up another without so much as a rise from your chair. If you do this–I promise–you will find it to be the season of your very most favorite books of the year, more so than in summer even, because you’ll choose volumes with a little more heft, a little more weight, a little more depth and challenge. Plus you won’t have the distraction of kids in the pool or the constant worry did I or did I not apply enough sunblock?

Oh, I do love this season! And how perilously close we are to its end! There’s a pretty day just outside my window, as a matter of fact, which has me thinking maybe I should pull on my sweats, head out the door, and pound out a quick little walk. Get my lungs full, my heart rate going.

Or not. Maybe not.

I mean, it is still winter, after all.

XXOO

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The Post That Is Really A Photograph

We have a nearly perfect east to west view at the top of our beloved mountain. Which means as the light moves–which it does every minute, of course–we can actually watch the world around us change.

It makes for some pretty spectacular photo ops. But I have to say I’ve never seen anything quite like the one that presented itself to us at sunset one afternoon our last visit there.

I was busy, busy, my attention elsewhere, just working away when I happened to look up and out.

And there it was: the most astounding alignment of earth / valley / mountain / sun / sky. A breathtaking landscape that offered a perspective I’d neither seen nor considered.

It’s something that comes along once a year, is what I’d guess, and lasts less than a minute.

How lucky we were to experience it. How open my heart feels just remembering through the images!

XXOO

ps: May I also mention it was about 7 degrees when I ran out with the camera but with no coat or hat or gloves? Which makes the fact the scene was rare and fleeting a double blessing 🙂

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When Brrrrr Does Not Describe It

Okay, so we weren’t really supposed to be here. I mean–not really. Winter at 5000 feet can be brutal and that’s why we closed up the mountain place and kissed it goodbye, for a while, at Thanksgiving.

But then January came, and an opening on the calendar. And we looked at each other with the very same thought and before you knew it here we were unloading groceries and bags of thick sweaters and stacks of new books and lickity-split the whole place was DE-winterized and we settled in.

We were delighted.

The views are spectacular any time of year but there is something really special about January. The air is brisk and clear and the weather is constantly changing. Not to mention there is overwhelming joy in providing for hungry winter birds.

Nights were cold, but days were reasonably mild, and we delighted in our wonderful decision.

Then Saturday came, and Sunday, and Monday.

It was not a surprise, I will say that, us monitoring the weather up here like it’s our JOB and also our RELIGION. We closed-off rooms and taped-off doors and hunkered down, ready for the epic freeze.

And it came. Oh, how it came.

First there was wind, then all-day snow, and we watched as the temps dropped to 30, to 20, to 10. It was somewhere around 4 degrees when we went to bed Sunday night, figuring overnight it hit 0 or below.

And that’s not accounting for wind chill which believe you me can get mighty significant up here.

Morning did come, along with eventual sun, and we sprinted from window to window. Is there still snow? Hey did you see this? Come look now! We were kids in a candy shop, kids with a warm roof and a giant fireplace and a backup generator, kids who got to enjoy the spectacle of The Great Weather Event from our warm, cozy inside.

looking toward Asheville
Grandfather Mountain, in the distance
not quite as excited as we are

We even got a quick, cold, magical look at the Super Blood Wolf Moon.

XXOO

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