It’s all in how you look at it.

 

You know I do love my South Carolina birds, the bluebirds in particular. They are elegant, tasteful, devoted.

 

 

But let me tell you, up here in these North Carolina mountains the world is quite different. We’re learning a great deal about a lot of new things, a new collection of feathered friends among them.

Take this guy, for instance.

 

 

He’s a house wren, of course, but since we’re more familiar with the gentler Carolina version, I didn’t know much about his…ummm…habits. Then a friend (who happens to be an ornithologist) stopped by. I excitedly pointed to the nest and he was quick to explain these are not great neighbors. They make a mess, are not considerate, and they make a practice of visiting other’s nests and poking holes in their eggs (oh my). As if that were not enough, there are lots of shenanigans that go on between the Papa and the Mama which are generally unbecoming.

 

may not be the brightest bulb in the box?

 

It all just broke my heart.

 

 

We didn’t disturb the birds, of course, and we’ve returned to the mountains to find they’re still right there. But these days the Papa is spending his time hopping hopping hopping all along the top of the nest box, here, then there, belting out a beautiful (albeit insistent) tune.

 

 

He’s fiercely defending his territory, is the truth.

 

 

 

But I’ve decided I will look at it differently.

I’m going to let the sweet song bring me joy.

It’s his heart that’s overflowing, that’s what I think,

and in this happy state he can’t help but share

his own joyful news

 

 

the babies have been born!

 

XXOO

 

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War. And peace.

 

 

I was moved to tears.

I don’t say this lightly. I also don’t say it for dramatic effect.

I say it because as I stood there looking east over the gentle, vast, peaceful fields of Gettysburg–the spot held July 1, 1863, by the Northern Army of Virginia, before 50,000 of our nation’s boys lost their lives in three days of horrific, bloody battles–deep sadness overtook me in a heartbreaking, guttural way.

 

 

Those fields go on forever.

 

 

 

As do the 1,328 memorials, monuments and markers.

 

 

They are there to remind us

 

 

of the unimaginable price our forebears paid,

 

 

and that we should never, ever forget.

 

 

XXOO

 

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Here, and There

It is a fascinating thing to experience spring in South Carolina’s midlands, then to climb high into the mountains of western North Carolina where nature reveals herself in a completely different way.

What I mean is here at Bickley’s Pond–where the land is flat and the days are already scorching hot, the golds are gone and world is lush with every green imaginable. The earth bursts to life with an immediacy and an intensity that demands you sit up and notice, right away.

 

It is different high in the mountains. The changes come not only later, but more slowly, the earth revealing her beauty in tiny, quiet bits, taking her time, giving you the chance to relish every sweet moment.

 

 

There’s something lovely about that pace and the space it allows for dreaming;

 

 

for watching the green climb slowly up the mountains;

 

 

for spotting one wildflower, then two, then three.

 

 

How lucky Tim and I are to get to experience both.

 

 

How lucky we all are (aren’t we?) to live in a world where seasons go,

 

 

and come.

 

 

XXOO

 

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winter, and spring, and winter

It’s a funny thing to spend time in two locales and to experience a mix of seasons. We left South Carolina two weeks ago in full-on Spring: shorts and tshirts, blooming trees and flowers, birds all a’flutter with loving on their minds.

We arrived in the mountains of North Carolina to full-on winter. In fact, we’ve been completely delighted to achieve our dream of “snowed in” not just once, but twice.

The temperatures have hovered in the teens and twenties (it is seriously cold, y’all) and our response to that has been to bundle up, go for a hike and then huddle before a roaring fire in the big stone fireplace.

It has been dreamy.

Today, the sun is shining and all twelve inches of snow have melted. And right there at the top of the meadow, beside the steps, just about where we spotted the bunny tracks,

was this.

 

Isn’t the earth beautiful?

 

 

Isn’t this life remarkable?

 

 

Isn’t it awesome to always have something to look forward to?

 

sunrise 3.16.18

 

XXOO

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Fear and No Loathing

I’VE TOLD YOU BEFORE what a scaredy cat I am, a situation that seems to be getting worse with age. This is not categorical fear–just to be clear–but rather a defined, easy-to-spot, anxiety-producing one that seems to center rather neatly around things and situations that have inherent potential for bodily harm.

To demonstrate.

Start a new business? I’m your girl.

Speak or read or sing in public? Count on me.

Try something new that I am sure to be terrible doing? I am all in.

Zipline in a jungle? Kayak in a shark-filled ocean? Go for a hike where there are Black Bears* and Rattlesnakes** and Long Dark We’re Lost Nights***? I will respond, categorically: Yeah thanks, but no.

(*seen em **read about em ***had nightmares about em)

I write it off to rational thinking, you bet I do, a realistic approach for someone who Loves Life and who wants to hold on to as much of it as possible.

Still.

It is a rather limiting approach, as a rule.

 

AND SO I HAVE BEEN WORKING on some of these fears, a little at a time, working my own plan in baby steps. (I will not bore you with the litany of things like that night I walked in the dark from the studio to the house, or the three times I took the dog out at 3 am by myself. THERE ARE COYOTES IN ADDITION TO THE BEARS, YOU GUYS.

And then last weekend Tim asked me to go with him on a real-live, on-a-trail, up-a-mountain hike. And I said yes, and I carried through, and I did it.

Swear.

“The mountain to the climber” and all that. We hiked the peak there, Big Butt.

 

the innocent looking trailhead

 

Up and up and up we climbed!

 

following the white diamonds

 

A selfie for Eliza! (She was duly impressed.)

 

view to the smoky mountains

 

back down again!

 

We went a mile up and a mile down, 1000 feet in altitude each way, and we experienced exactly ZERO bear sightings and ZERO snake encounters. Plus Big Butt was not nearly as scary up close as it is from a distance. (You may be thinking bears and snakes hibernate this time of year, and yes, yes they do, I’m no dummy.)

Still it was a big giant step for me. And it was a really fun one.

So now it’s got me wondering:

What

will

be

next?

 

XXOO

 

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Day 24: Hope Against Hope (a post for Clemson and non-Clemson fans alike)

WE’VE JUST RETURNED from a weekend in New Orleans, a long haul trip we made to watch the college playoff Sugar Bowl between my beloved Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide. It was a high expectations matchup between the two contenders in last year’s high drama National Championship–suffice it to say there was a lot riding on this game. There was also a lot of time in the car (1300 miles) and a little bit of time on Bourbon Street (lunch+) which I have to say was quite the blast.

bourbon at bourbon on bourbon
It was just exactly as cold as it looks.

The game’s outcome, though? Not so much.

Still the experience was a powerful way to kick off a new year because it set my feet squarely on the ground, reconciling giddy, hopeful, the-world-in-bright-colors possibility with loss and disappointment and the sobering gray of acceptance; because sometimes your heart feels battered and beaten* and then something happens that fills it with the joy of an even more brilliant light.

(*Lest you think I am being overly dramatic I should tell you there was a fan in front of us who turned and taunted and insulted so obnoxiously officials ultimately removed him from the stands. Believe you me, my heart felt stomped on.)

BUT THEN THE JOY came, unexpected as it was, and it happened like this.

There was that awful late game moment when in a single play the hand wringing stops and your husband (usually the optimist) turns and says, “That’s it, baby. That’s the game.” And you know it’s true but still you can’t grasp it, still your hope holds on to hope in spite of every single available odd.

The clock clicks on, and time expires, and a giant lump forms in your throat. It’s surprising because it’s not so much for the “L” but for every senior on that team, for every player of every age who has spent so much of the year–and years before that–doing the gut-wrenching physical, mental, and emotional work it takes to be a great competitor. It’s for the men on that field who just yesterday were boys and through commitment and grit and tenacity brought happiness and pride and a collective spirit of one to the greater Clemson family.

You stay on your feet. You watch them cross to midfield where, helmets tucked under arms, they meet the victors for good sportsmen handshakes and “good game” acknowledgements over and over and over. Then they turn back, facing their disappointed fans, and make the long, painful walk toward the locker room.

You can hardly take it. You want to wrap your arms around each and every one, hugging them tight, thanking them, remembering the season and the fun wrought purely from their hard work and dedication. Holding their tender hearts in your gentle, grateful hands.

And then they do this.

arms wrapped tight

That team, standing together in loss, swaying and singing the Clemson alma mater.

IF YOUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL loyalties lie elsewhere I hope you haven’t given up on this post, for I don’t mean it to be one about Clemson, per se. Fans of every team have experienced the same proverbial thrills and awful, dreadful defeats. It’s the stuff college football is made of, after all, this pendulum intent on proving we never know what will happen season to season, week to week, play to play. We ride the wave, we fans, and we hang our hopes–hang them high–on the backs of student athletes all across the country who game after game shoulder what must be a smothering burden.

And then they do something that demonstrates an understanding that the game itself is actually the least of it, that it’s showing up, and supporting each other, and being people of substance that matters. That winning feels fantastic and is glorious (believe me, I am NOT knocking winning, which I celebrate thoroughly) but that victory can also come through hard work, dignity, character, loyalty.

I WISH THE GAME had turned out differently. Of course I do. But as I make my way through this shiny new year filled with hope and promise, every time I face adversity or am forced to deal with disappointment I will remember the example set for me by the band of brothers on that field in the Superdome.

And I will raise my head and sing.

XXOO

30 Days of Joy

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Day 1: Gathering

And so it was his birthday, my sweet husband’s, the big 6-0. And his greatest wish was to spend it at our mountain retreat, 5,000 feet of altitude and 200 miles from our regular, beautiful lives.

But we’ll be all alone, I reminded him, something that suits the introvert in me just fine but that might not be what his big extroverted heart actually desired.

And before you knew it our dear Richmond friends agreed to come for the birthday and the holiday, and our precious mountain neighbors said yes to an invitation for turkey dinner, and Eliza and her sweet beau agreed to make the long drive from Atlanta, and Tim’s brother, John–one of the Island Monettis–made plans to fly from Florida to Asheville creating the greatest, most joyful birthday surprise of all.

It has been one beautiful week, that’s my point, one of those times in which you can hardly hold it all, the gorgeous moments coming so fast and furious.

 

Proof John can, in fact, find sunshine anywhere

 

our giddy Thanksgiving crew: Doug, Jim, Tim, Preston, Jessie, Vickie, me, Eliza

 

And then we had this sunrise, one I want you to see and feel and experience with me, one that took my breath away.

 

 

AND SO DAY ONE is a big one, bursting at the seams–a cumulative, week-long celebration of the best things in life: love, and family, and friends, and food; of God’s great reminder, new every day, that every moment offers the chance for great, surprising joy.

30 Days of Joy

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it’s always there

IT’S ONE OF THOSE TIMES that makes you realize you never really know the joy life will bring, one moment to the next.

First there was the fact we had a slew friends staying with us in the mountains for the weekend. Then others were to arrive late Saturday afternoon, our plan some happy time out on the deck, followed by a big, casual, family-style dinner.

Then Jessie called.

“You can say no,” she said, “and I will totally understand.” She totally meant it, too.

But I said yes, and that’s how it came to be on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in October I was standing, camera in hand, just up the way in a lovely mountain meadow photographing the prettiest wedding I’ve ever seen.

I am not a real photographer, let me be clear about that. Plus there were three or four guests intentionally snapping away–each of us aware the professional had cancelled at the last minute and that surely–surely between all of us there would be enough good shots for a proper album.

Still. It was a wedding.

None of this is even the point of this post. I merely want you to understand how it was I found myself in a meadow on a mountain on a picture-perfect afternoon in October, a witness to the sweet, sweet wedding of a couple I’d never ever met. And I want you to feel the surprise that experience–unexpected as it was– brought to me. Turns out it was one of the most love-filled, light-filled, joy-filled afternoons of my life.

 

FIRST MY FRIEND and soul brother, Jay Coles, was visiting and offered to give me a ride up to the wedding. He knew I was anxious (!!!) and graciously agreed to hang around, bringing his camera as a backup. The two of us fussing around getting our “gear” ready so tickled our crowd that someone demanded a photo.

Thank heavens I am not sporting a camera in this shot!

 

Then Jay and I arrived and went to work, doing our best to capture each thoughtful detail.

 

IT’S AN ODD THING to attend the wedding of a couple you don’t know, even more so when it is an intimate gathering of family and dearest friends. I felt removed but also all up in it, every unknown face coming to me through my camera’s zoom lens. It gave me the opportunity to look and see and experience the color and shape of every emotion in a heightened and powerful way.

There was so much love.

Sister and sister.

Mama and daughter.

Father and bride.

Brother and brother. And brother.

Bride. And groom.

Oh, this bride and groom.

Their joy overflowed in a way made manifest, I swear, by the wide open setting, the colors of autumn, the October sky. They blushed; they laughed; they cried. As did the Justice doing their marrying (who I think may have been the groom’s brother). As did everyone else in attendance (but for those ADORABLE children).

As did I.

I stood there, my lens trained on the love-filled faces of these strangers, and tears rolled down my cheeks.

 

LOVE IS ALL AROUND is the point I’m trying to make, love is present and moving in a hundred trillion ways you never see or even know. Love is flowing, good and strong and remarkable, all across the globe, in every country, three states away, just a little ways up Ogle Mountain.

Even when we forget it. Even when forces divert our attention elsewhere, and we’re unaware.

Love is all around.

 

XXOO

 

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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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