with thanksgiving

We’d planned it for a while, this trip to the mountains for Thanksgiving week, and we both knew it would do our souls well. It always does. There is a sweet gravity in these hills that anchors me, that sets my feet on solid ground and holds them there, working as a poultice on whatever ails me. It is the same for Tim who finds peace in a place where, as he says, the earth is just as God intended. We are mighty blessed to have this pretty spot where most everywhere we look our eyes take in North Carolina’s Black Mountains. The entire range lies before us like an accordion fold pulled open. It begins to our left, east–then spreads wide, knob to peak to gap to peak for 15 miles. It descends just in front of us via Big Butt (meant to be Butte, locals say) having intersected the Great Craggy Mountains just behind, which roll on to west.

The view this offers is spectacular, changing from month to month, hour to hour, minute to minute as the weather shifts or light passes across. We find ourselves endlessly fascinated. And deeply humbled, I will tell you that, with a profound yet grounding reminder that life goes on, that seasons change and plants and animals carry on doing what they do day after day whether we are watching or not, whether we are here or not, that it has been this way for thousands of years.

It is not difficult to feel small here, and to count that a blessing.

It is not difficult to feel all the blessings, every time you’re here.

IT’S THE SAME, I know, for folks when they make the long trek up the winding road to visit. There are so many reasons I find these to be some of the most joyful times of my life. For one, once you’ve traveled up up up the unpaved road–wondering more than once if this can possibly be right, if you’ll ever, ever get there–you find you are as removed from proper civilization as it felt you might be. It is a strange sensation when what you are used to is traffic and noise and lights and activity. You step out of the car, here, and the sound that greats you is wind. Or nothing, if it is a calm day, but for the birds or the buzzing bees if they are about. (Until I come running, that is, inevitably squealing YOU ARE HERE! with delight.) You catch your breath then catch the view and breath leaves again, it requiring every molecular space in a body to take it in. And that’s just what happens–I swear. You stand quiet on this mountain for a nanosecond and it will pull you in–no, no that’s not quite right–the mountain comes to you, is more what happens, you feel the glory and close your eyes and before you can open them no space divides, no boundary separates as you become one in the same with the beauty, all the beauty that surrounds.

It is a feeling both lovely and overwhelming, at least for me. Because at the same time you feel the beauty, you also feel wild, the native, the unrefined.

The unspun truth.

AND SO WE are here for Thanksgiving, for which I am thankful, and for which I am roasting a turkey and making dressing and my mother’s gravy (I will stir like hell) and my world famous Bourbon Cranberries. Dear friends are driving up following their own family gathering and have graciously agreed to eat Thanksgiving Round Two with us tomorrow night. I will miss having Eliza and her sweet Preston this time around but who can complain as we now live so close? And there will be football and fires and hiking (motivation pending) with just enough of a chance for snow to keep things interesting.

AND SO. WHEREVER you are, however you are marking this let’s give thanks holiday weekend, I hope it is filled with people and experiences that bring you joy, that make you feel wonder, that remind you blessings and beauty abound. And that grace will find you–always, always–grace will find you if you give it space, if you allow your soul room to breathe.


Day 8: Coming Down by Going Up



WHEN YOU EXPERIENCE a week as beautiful as Montreat Music and Worship, you do well to plan a soft landing into daily life. You are filled to overflowing, yes. And you carry with you joy, of course, smiling without effort as you hum this phrase and that, the words occurring without thought and somehow matching the mood and grace of the moment. Without even knowing it we had designed our re-entry perfectly, our plan to extend this mountain time through the weekend at our own place, 2500 feet higher but still surrounded by North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest.

(Oh, the singing did carry on.)


WE ARRIVED LATE FRIDAY, Cindy and Eddie, Tim and I, and we headed straight for the back porch. We looked up to find the night sky clear and dotted with stars and constellations and whirling planets so bright it brought from all four of us a grand, gasping awe. And then there was silence, each of us standing in that darkness lost in the brilliance of it all: the vast possibilities of an endless universe, the sober perspective of our tiny place in it, the unfathomable promise of a God who sees and knows and cherishes our loving hearts, each and every one. And then we looked at the clock and in spite of the past-midnight hour, we poured a toast to the music, the mountains, the stars, and to the great blessing of friendship.


SHALL WE GET UP for the sunrise? I asked a bit later, the hour so advanced it seemed a ridiculous, yet somehow important, offering.

Cindy smiled a slow, broad smile.

How can we not? she said.

And so we did.

We were rewarded, too, with Day 9’s fun surprise.




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Rumination on Home

I LEFT VIRGINIA’S APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS late in the summer of 1978, my car pointed south toward my freshman year of college. I didn’t know it then but that date signaled more than my transition to adulthood. It also marked the start of a changed geographic life for me, a beautiful one spent in the midlands of South Carolina for the better part of 38 years. It surprises me to realize how much of my life has been lived where the land is flat and piney, with long, straight two-lanes dotted by the quintessential small towns that color so much of southern literature.

Not so in the mountains. In the mountains, life is choppy and rugged, the landscape itself the show, all forests and peaks, hollows and rocky ledges, shifting light and weather that’s ever-changing. It’s like the good Lord knows what a remarkable seat you have, positioned up high, and so puts on a spectacular show.


sun rise in north carolina
Saturday’s sun rise in North Carolina


MY HUSBAND AND I WERE JUST IN HAWAII where we marveled at the geography there. Born of volcanoes that still create earth mass today these landforms make a spectacular statement, those severe rock cliffs that try to contain a wild, insistent sea. The entire scene is made beautiful and transcendent, somehow, because the water is a gorgeous, clear, incomparable sea glass blue.


Hawaii's rocky coast
Hawaii’s fierce coast


We were dressed in summer clothes then, Tim and I, the temperature hanging around a rather perfect 80 degrees. And here we are now, not two weeks later, joyful, giddy really, watching the snow fall on North Carolina’s Black Mountains. It is a high elevation storm, one that blew in late this afternoon after we’d already been given a day pretty enough for an exploratory walk.


Little Bit and Eliza get some air, 2:30 pm
Little Bit and Eliza get some air


How thrilled we are to have Eliza with us. How surprised we all are to watch the weather change so fast.


the meadow, 5:30 pm


IT IS OUR FIRST OFFICIAL overnight stay in these mountains, did I mention that? We’ve finally bought a weekend cabin after several years of searching. My husband promised to get me back to the mountains when we married nearly 14 years ago and this is the fulfillment of that lovely pledge.

My heart is happy.


I think Eliza's heart is happy, too.
I think Eliza’s heart is happy, too.


ALL THIS GEOGRAPHY has got me to thinking about home and the many shades that color it, the things that make a place yours, just as you feel part of it. There are the people, of course, the first and most important consideration of all. I remember Robert Frost said Home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in. True that, as Eliza would say.

But there’s more to it than people. There is geography, a kind of gravity that pulls you to a place and holds you close to the ground when you are there. It’s like a force meant to keep you from the bobbling orbit we are all prone to–we humans who figuratively and quite literally spend our lives trying to find our way. Home, I believe, is the place that settles us down, tidies the ravel of frayed ends, whispers gently in our ear You belong here.




For me, that place is the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am captivated by the kaleidoscope as light moves across the ridges and valleys, colors shifting, day moving on. I love its tall trees and deep forests, the streams that rush and tumble, the life hidden within.

For my dear friend, Teresa, it is Edisto Island. The moment she passes beneath those ancient live oaks, gets a whiff of that earthy pluff mud and a look across the broad, breathtaking marsh, she melts right into the landscape. It’s something you can see, I swear. Walk with her out to the ocean’s edge and there is simply no doubt about it: This girl is home.


T's edisto
T’s edisto


I BELIEVE THIS CALLING is more than legacy, I want to be clear about that. It’s more than coming to roost in the place of your birth, even if there are parallels in the examples I’ve just given. It’s soul connection I’m talking about–person to place, and place to person in a way that allows the grand grace of exhaling. It’s forgetting for a time the difficult daily work of making your way and simply being.

But not just being. Being there.


my mountains
my mountains


WE LIVE IN A BEAUTIFUL WORLD. How amazing it is that we can move about in it, discovering, exploring, falling in love with one place, and then another. How marvelous it is we can also go home–truly, joyfully, soulfully home.



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