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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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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.
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.
We even got a quick, cold, magical look at the Super Blood Wolf Moon.
WE’VE COME TO THE MOUNTAINS for a long, slow holiday week. My sweet Eliza is here, a glorious treat, along with Ellie, the dog; Little Bit, the dog; and Tim, husband extraordinaire. We’d hardly gotten the groceries put away (this took a minute–there was a car load) when Eliza announced she was headed for a walk with Ellie and any takers were welcome. Of course I grabbed my boots and coat and off we set, we three.
We didn’t talk about anything in particular. There has been time for that lately, my adult child making the difficult decision, recently, to move on to a new job in a new city. There are new priorities. How grateful I am for the honor of helping her work through that process; what a gift that is to a Mom.
Ellie ran. And ran and ran, in the cold crisp air. We marveled at her strength, her excitement and spirit.
OF COURSE WINTER has come to this high ridge. The trees are bare, the colors are browns and greens and grays. We were making our way back toward home when I happened to glance right, down the old Ogle Meadows Trail. It’s a view I’ve seen a million times, a trail I’ve walked a hundred. But in this moment things seemed different, somehow, the offering something new.
It called to mind a blessing I hadn’t considered in a while.
How lucky we are that seasons change.
That leaves fall and light shifts and a new view opens before our very eyes.
It’s something I want to remember as we move through these last days of November. As we approach the reverence of Advent, and December with its sparkle and expectation. I want to notice as the world offers itself anew in a thousand different ways, large and small, grand and ordinary.
I will keep watch.
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It has been that kind of summer. I have traveled somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,486 miles (I counted up) and that was just getting from city to city. It has been a time of grand excitement, heartbreak, pure exhaustion, and a whole lot of love.
But now it is October. And I am home. Momentarily I am home.
This most unexpected scene greeted me at the airport.
Or for live (albeit jiggly and giggly) action:
How happy I am.
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