Planting by the Signs in Appalachia

When I was a kid my father and one of the more mature ladies of the church would have pretty much the same “discussion” every spring. She believed strongly in planting by the signs and Dad was determined to convince her it was not only silly, but un-Christian to do so. As far as I know, neither one ever came around to the other’s way of thinking. I suspect it would have spoiled the fun they had talking about it every spring. There are still plenty of folk who plant by the signs in Appalachia. As I finish up the first round of edits on Miracle in a Dry Season I may even get Casewell to plant by the signs. He’s not superstitious, but it was very much a way of life in 1954 West Virginia. Here’s a quick primer, in case you want to give it a try: Plant ABOVE ground crops when the moon is waxing (getting bigger). Things like peas, lettuce, tomatoes, squash, etc. Plant BELOW ground crops when the moon is waning (getting smaller). Things like potatoes, carrots, turnips, etc. That’s the BASIC rule. Now, let’s look at the signs. Each month, the moon passes through each of the 12 signs of the Zodiac, which can be divided into four elements: Water – Cancer, Pisces, Scorpio Earth – Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn Fire – Leo, Ares, Sagittarius Air – Gemini, Aquarius, Libra Water and Earth are FERTILE elements while […]

Read More →

The Language of Place

Chuck's Mama's Place

Earlier this week when I wrote about going out on the Hogback on our family farm to think, read, and write, I realized not everyone knows that word. A hogback is simply a hill that slopes like the back of a hog, but on our farm it’s a specific place–The Hogback. It isn’t just any hill of that type–it’s a specific hill. […]

Read More →

Appalachian Fine Dining–Wild Greens

a mess of ramps

It’s that time of year. That time when the old folks would be shunning preserved foods for something fresh. Something green. Poke sallat is tender and green. Fiddleheads look like belated Christmas ornaments. Ramp dinners are raising money all up and down the Appalachians. My great-grandmother would be thrilled with the addition of all this chlorophyll and vitamin C to her family’s diet. […]

Read More →

Inside the Rhododendron Hedge

I took Thistle for her morning walk yesterday along the same side road we take most mornings. As we headed up a steep bit, she stopped to nose through the leaves on the side of the road (whew–puff, puff–suits me!). As she poked around, I noticed an opening in the mass of rhododendrons growing there. It looked almost like a passageway. I started to tug on Thistle to get her moving again, but then I hesitated, and followed her through the gap in the leaves instead. It was like entering a leafy, green cave. There was a sort of room there, banked in by branches and I thought how I would have LOVED this when I was a kid. The ground rose steeply to the back with a more or less level area in the opening. It was perfect for playing house, for hiding from brothers or parents, for reading or writing or drawing, for baking mud pies, for holding secret treasures, and for dreaming. We had places like that leafy bower when I was a kid. The giant chestnut stump that had rotted out leaving a perfect, circular fort. The little clearing where we transplanted moss to make a”carpet.” The tunnels we built in hay bales in the barn. Little havens of escape. So why don’t I have places like that anymore? I used to pack a bag with an apple, a book, a pen, and a notebook and […]

Read More →

Introducing . . . Appalachian Wednesdays

Bloodroot in bloom

My books are set in Appalachia–primarily West Virginia (the only state entirely in Appalachia). I chose that setting because it’s where I grew up and because I have a passion for these mountains–these soft, well-worn, Eastern mountains. So I’ve decided to devote one blog post each week to something Appalachian–food, fauna, folklore–the good stuff. Maybe I’ll include stories from my […]

Read More →