Appalachian Thursday – Autumn Treasure

I didn’t think we were going to have fall this year. The weather stayed summer so long. I figured we’d get a few mild days and then winter would pounce. And as for the autumn color? The prediction was that we would go from green to brown to gone.

Which just demonstrates how bad our ability to predict what nature will do really is. While autumn has lasted maybe two weeks instead of four to six, it has been SPECTAULAR. I was fortunate to spend some time at home in WV just as peak color was hitting. Which meant I got back to NC just in time to enjoy it here.

I love fall. The tobacco, caramel smell of the woods. The russets and golds of the trees. The incredible blue of the sky. Crisp, sunshiny days. Ahhhh. This year all of that seems to have been condensed and intensified. Here’s a sampling for you:

 

Appalachian Thursday – Glad for Montana

MontanaNo, not the state.

I often brag about how the people of Appalachia are pretty fantastic. Well, this week, a young man named Montana helped prove my point.

I’ve mentioned before that my Dad has Parkinson’s Disease. Every six months or so I head home and we go visit his neurologist at the WVU Medical Center. That was this past Tuesday. As we were headed out of town, Dad suggested stopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Well, sure!

Dad used to be quite the gun collector and hunted all his life. Activities that are more challenging these days. Still, it’s fun to look.

We made our way to “The Lodge” and there was Montana, a clean-cut college-age guy wearing a cross on a chain, ready to wait on a customer. Dad started talking guns with him. Montana pulled out rifle after rifle for Dad to admire. They talked guns, hunting, and worked around to sports. Montana played golf and Dad used to coach golf, so they compared notes on just about every course in the state.

It was wonderful.

Finally, another customer approached and Montana, who mentioned somewhere along the way that he’s studying nursing, moved on.

Dad and I browsed the store and as he headed for the exit, I circled back to thank this incredibly kind young man. Turns out his grandfather had Parkinson’s. He passed away two years ago, but Montana spent a lot of time with him and recognized the symptoms in my Dad.

I wanted to hug him, but settled for a thank you and a shoulder pat. Montana is doing my home state proud. He’s doing that cross around his neck proud.

I have a feeling he’s going to be an excellent nurse.

Taking a vacation–of sorts

This week I’m taking the closest thing to a vacation I ever do. It’s a week off from work to spend time with my family. It’s not exactly a trip to the beach, a cruise, or a European getaway, but it’s what I love–being on the family farm and hanging out with the people who have been part of my life since the day I was born.

In light of being on vacation, I’m giving myself a day off from the blog. No deep thoughts today. No peeks into history. No interesting tidbits. Instead, here are a few photos of my West Virginia home. I’m betting by the end of the week I’ll have a few more to add to the gallery . . .

 

 

Appalachian Thursday – Shin Rippers

shinIf you follow my blog and/or my Facebook page you know that I spend time tromping around in the woods almost every day. In theory, I’m taking Thistle for a walk, but I also just love being in the woods.

Which is not to say they’re a perfectly safe place to be. It isn’t the bears, the snakes, or other critters that give me trouble. It’s more the flora than the fauna tripping me up. Turns out there are plenty of plants that will challenge you if you go off trail in this part of the country.

Last week I headed up the mountain behind our house. There are some critter trails back there that we’ve trimmed back enough to allow human passage. Mostly. I hike these trails mostly in the winter when the leaves are down and the undergrowth is minimal.

I jumped the gun going up there in October. While the poison ivy had largely died back, the shin rippers were plentiful. What’s a shin ripper? It’s a briar or other prickly, vine-like plant growing low across the trail. You’re tromping along, you catch one of those briars, and it rips across your ankle or shin. I ran into several. As you can see. And I had long pants on!

Other prickly Appalachian flora challenges include:

  • Hollies – these are basically just prickly, although if you step on a leaf barefoot, it can be pretty awful.
  • Stinging nettle – what looks like tiny hairs on the leaves and stem are actually needle-like tubes that inject chemicals onto and even into your skin. It will burn, itch, and maybe even cause a rash. The best thing you can do is NOT touch it. If you do, DON’T RUB IT!
  • Chestnut burrs – these will be from the Chinese chestnut rather than the American chestnut that died in blight decades ago. Again, BAD to step on barefoot. Also, tricky to open the burrs with your hands without getting stuck. We pried them open with our well-shod feet.
  • Wild parsnip – what looks like a friendly yellow flower has a photosensitive chemical on its leaves. Think chemical burn.

Still, I say it’s worth the risk to get out into the woods where I can enjoy the beauty of even prickly things.

When they tell you to go jump off a bridge in WV . . .

cropped-gedc0169.jpg

Summertime view from the New River Gorge Bridge overlook.

On October 22, 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, WV, officially opened. At the time, it was the world’s longest single-span expansion bridge at 3,030 feet across. That’s 390 feet more than half a mile.

When you’re driving across, it seems further.

Each October the bridge is open to pedestrians for one day–Bridge Day–which is this coming Saturday. They actually close the bridge for most of the day, which means if you want to drive from one side of the gorge to the other it will take 20 minutes instead of 30 seconds.

People celebrate Bridge Day by doing fun things like listening to live music, competing in a chili cook-off, taking tours down into the gorge, and jumping off the bridge.

Yup, you read that last one right. It’s 876 feet from the middle of the bridge to the river below and people are allowed to rapel and base jump. They sign up way in advance and vie for the chance to do this. Seriously. Jumpers need to have training and experience, but anyone can do a tandem jump with a group called Tandem Base. Well, the first 16 people willing to pay $1,275 for the chance can.

If you were thinking about surprising me with this as a gift, that’s okay, I’m good.

This year event organizers have also added a high line–no experience required–that allows adventurers to ride a zip line 700 feet from the bridge to a road below.

Phew. I’ll just have a pepperoni roll, listen to some music, and enjoy the view.

Here are a few more crazy facts about the New River Gorge Bridge:

  • It weighs 88 million pounds. Held up by a single arch.
  • The Washington Monument would fit under the bridge with 325 feet to spare.
  • Throughout the year there are Bridge Walk tours offered. They guide you on a stroll of the full length of the catwalk under the bridge. People pay to do this.
  • When the bridge was opened in 1977 it cut the trip across the gorge from 45 minutes to 30 seconds.

If you want to learn more about Bridge Day or the bridge itself, click here. I recommend a visit. Although I can’t advise you about jumping off of it.

Appalachian Thursday – A Poor Harvest

applesI’ve mostly given up trying to grow our food. I keep a pot of herbs and this year I grew a cherry tomato in a pot near the front porch. Based on what I paid for the plant and the number of tomatoes I picked, I’d say I broke even on that one.

But, like the local bears, I’m opportunistic when it comes to harvesting food. Blackberries, raspberries, apples, pears, grapes, and nuts tend to be plentiful in our area. We pick them wild and have neighbors who are glad to share.

This year, though, there just wasn’t much to harvest. I made an apple pie last weekend and had to supplement with store apples. The walnuts are few and far between. Even the hickory nuts are less this year.

Growing up on the farm, we had walnuts, chestnuts, and filberts (hazelnuts). Walnuts turned our hands (and clothes) black. Chestnuts could be removed from their prickly casing by pinching them between the soles of our boots and pushing them out. Hazelnuts we just let dry a bit and then whacked ’em good with a hammer.

Mom probably made things using nuts, but mostly the pleasure was in just eating them straight from the shell. And eat them we did! Chestnuts in particular were an easy target and the crisp texture and flavor of that buttery, yellow nut was SO good. You can score them and roast them briefly to make them easy to peel, but we just bit ’em until the shell cracked.

Hopefully 2018’s poor harvest is just an off-year–a down season in the cycle. And since there’s not much out there, I guess I’ll leave most of it to the critters. I kind of like it when the squirrels sit on the back deck methodically eating nuts that leave smears of black, walnut leavings.

Reminds me of how God provides for squirrels and growing children just the same. And how what he provides nourished my body back then and my heart today.

Appalachian Thursday – Fleeting Summer

I’ve loved Robert Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay since I first saw The Outsiders movie. I think that’s the hardest I’ve ever cried at a movie. The poem is so gorgeously bittersweet. To me, it’s always spoken of that moment in autumn when nature is at it’s most perfect. You just want to seize the instant and somehow preserve it. Well, Robert Frost did and every time I read his words my throat tightens and my eyes mist.

I love autumn in the mountains. The temperatures cool; the lush, summer green of the woods begins to thin; leaves change color; sunset comes earlier; and you wear sweaters even when it’s too warm for them.

And the flowers fade . . .

If you follow my author page on Facebook, you’ve likely seen my Wildflower Wednesday posts. I’m such a wildflower fanatic, I take pictures all summer. But there are fewer flowers as summer wanes. So, I thought I’d take a moment to look back at a summer’s worth of nature’s glory before we step fully into another Appalachian autumn.

NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY

Nature’s first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf’s a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay. 

-Robert Frost