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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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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I see you.

WE SNUCK OFF to Nashville for a quick-turnaround trip, something I mentioned in my whirlwind-that-was-December post. A little thing happened there that’s hung in my head, tugged at my heart, that wants to get worked out and put away in a neat little reconciliation package. But try as I might I haven’t been able to make that happen. I’m wondering if writing about it here will help.

The morning was cold (it being December) and we’d gone for a brisk walk: Leslie, Jan, Bonnie and I. We were staying downtown so a couple of blocks and there we were on Broadway. We moved along, window shopping a little, stopping once to look at a dizzying array of boots. But mostly we just walked, getting our blood pumping, doing our best to keep our winter bodies warm.

There were a number of people on our route making their homes on the streets. Each was huddled, it being cold, it being early, still two or three spoke as we passed, asking low for money. There is nothing comfortable about this situation for the passersby and, I expect, for the asker. “Do not make eye contact,” is the thought that came to mind, “it’s better to not make eye contact.” And so I breezed past, as if he/she was not there. As if in my world, he/she did not exist.

(I will pause here briefly to state the point of this post is not a debate on the complicated plight of the homeless, nor on the protocol that is most helpful, or not. I hope you will forgive me that.)

Still I want to say I found it difficult to simply walk by. Not because of the ask or the money; personally I believe it is a better practice to financially support the organizations that are dedicated to providing meaningful help to people in such challenging situations. I’m talking about the practice of walking past without so much as a tiny bit of human-to-human acknowledgement. “Whatever circumstance has brought you to this,” I want my eyes to say, “you matter.”

I did not do it, though. I moved on by, my eyes looking another direction, feeling that type of contact was too much of a risk.

THREE BLOCKS LATER we came upon a couple of well healed young men who were clearly at work, taking a sidewalk survey or hawking a tour or promoting product or business. I watched them as they did their delightful best to get the attention of anyone within earshot, hoping for a stop, hoping for an audience that might result in a purchase. There was exactly zero chance any of us were interested in doing this, so as we got closer once again I turned my attention away meaning to sail past, meaning to Not Make Eye Contact. I did not want to extend an invitation, or–worse yet–agree to a closed deal before I even knew what I was buying.

Down went my head. Brisk moved my legs. Then I thought:

No.

Heck no.

I will not act impervious. I will not walk past and ignore.

I raised my head, looked right to the eyes of the young man (which were quite beautiful, as it turns out) and offered a quick good morning. And I kept walking, as we all did.

It was as if lights flashed all around him. Ding, ding, ding, you could hear the universe say, and he moved fast to catch up, relentless in tracking us–and me in particular–with his offering.

I turned to him, even more curious now.

“I’m not interested in buying,” I said. “I was just curious what would happen if I made eye contact. They tell you not to, you know.”

The young man picked right up on this, saying, yes, what I want is your eye contact because that gives me an opening. Then he moved right on into his spiel.

“Don’t you think it’s a shame?” I said, as soon as I could break into his pitch. “Us being conditioned that way, I mean? Believing that in the world today, to make eye contact with a stranger is to offer some sort of unwritten contract.”

Again he used this to further his pitch.

I, myself, was getting on a roll. “I think it’s part of what’s wrong with our culture,” I went on. “We walk down sidewalks believing the best thing we can do–the responsible thing, in fact–is to ignore each other, to remain as detached and distant from strangers as possible.”

(He was not giving up.)

“Anyway,” I said. “I hope you have a nice day.”

“Are you sure I can’t interest you…” he said, and our group moved on.

LIKE I SAID, I keep thinking about this dilemma. It has lines that are black and white. It has lines that are gray. And it extends to most everyone on the street, people (just like me, or you) who are simply moving from Point A to Point B, who pass each other by without so much as a glance because it feels too risky, too invasive, too…what, exactly? I keep thinking about that young man–enterprising and determined as he was (which I do respect). I wonder. Is there a way? Can we look at each other, and see?

I don’t know. But I hope it’s something I will have the courage to test even in tiny, tiny ways. We are human, after all, each and every one of us. And at our core we all, I believe, long to be seen, and heard, and known.

XXOO