Appalachian Thursday – Wild Critters

Spring 12 bears 051There are people who have never seen an animal in the wild. Oh, maybe a city squirrel or some pigeons, but I’d argue they’re not really wild.

My mountains are a veritable zoo of wildlife. Just yesterday Thistle and I encountered a teenage bear on our evening hike. She was easily persuaded to abandon the trail for the deeper woods where she melted into the rhododendron like she’d been a dream. Thistle knows better than to give chase.

But she will chase squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits all day long. As well fed as she is, I suspect it’s just for sport. We’re also knee-deep in turkeys and see the occasional deer. Back in WV you can’t NOT see a deer. They’re frankly too plentiful.

We’re also treated to sitings of raccoons, possums, groundhogs, foxes, skunks, coyotes, and the truly rare bobcat. I saw more skunks back in WV where we had one living under the back porch for a while. He would come out after dusk and see if there were any scraps left in the dog dish. We’d stand behind the screen door, watching, and he’d squint at us (I think skunks may not have the best eyesight). Adorable, but we knew better than to go out there.

I suppose there are folks who would rather NOT encounter wildlife every time they go outside, but it’s one of the reasons I love these mountains so much. Bears on the back deck can be a bit of an inconvenience, but they’re also a living, breathing example of God’s miraculous creation–a reminder I’m glad to have.

Time to Complain About the Heat

Ah, June. Those days of complaining about how cold it is are well behind us. Mild spring days have wound down. Some afternoon it’s even getting . . . hot.

While the first true day of summer may not be until June 21, school is out this week, I’m going bare-legged in skirts and dresses, we’re getting produce at the farmer’s market, and I say this is summer.

Which means it’s time to start complaining about how hot it is. Except I’m trying to learn a lesson from my dog. She doesn’t complain, she just gets cool. And here’s her favorite way to do it . . .

How Real Should Writers Get?

We’ve all read those novels. You know the ones.

  • The heroine has been riding in a covered wagon for two months when she meets the dashing cowboy who saves the wagon train. He finds her lovely in spite of the fact that she hasn’t washed her hair since late winter and it’s now well into spring.
  • The heroine is lost in a storm in the English countryside. When the hero finds her the rain has made her hair spring into ringlets that cling to her cheeks and her gown is, err, also clinging to her curves.
  • The modern-day heroine is volunteering in a community garden where she ends up working in the mud with at-risk children. When the hero encounters her he can’t resist swiping a smudge of dirt from her adorable cheek.

And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with all that. Often, it works. As readers we don’t necessarily want to think about going to the bathroom, sweating, or having a really bad hair day. I don’t know about you, but I’m reading to escape much of that!

yikes~And yet. Here’s how I look after taking Thistle for a hike and helping my own personal hero with yard work. I went into the bathroom to start washing up and couldn’t stop laughing. Let’s see . . .

Her skin glistened while errant curls sprang from her brow. Her cheeks exhibited a rosy glow of health and Joe Dashing simply could not take his eyes from her.

No, I guess he couldn’t. Thank goodness my husband was working in another part of the yard and I was able to get myself into a semblance of order before he saw me.

So as a reader, how real do you want writers to get? I wrote a heroine who was fuller-figured than her peers and was absolutely covered in freckles. But she was still attractive–especially to the hero. I’m writing a character now with a significant birthmark who is otherwise stereotypically lovely.

What do you say? Do you want more physically flawed characters? Or would you rather preserve the illusion that there’s such a thing as someone who looks good all the time?

I think I’ll go with minor flaws, but I’m not giving any character I write hair like . . . well . . . like mine after a stint in the yard in the heat!

Appalachian Thursday – A Spring Walk

We’re fortunate to live just a mile from Pisgah National Forest. Almost every day after work I head to the woods for a hike with Thistle. On the weekends, my husband comes along and we go even further afield.

Hiking not only provides Thistle and I with exercise, it also gives me a break from the world, a chance to enjoy nature, freedom to mull over story ideas, and to ponder life.

So, in case you can’t go for a lovely hike most days, I thought I’d share mine with you. Come along . . .

We have toad shade trillium, redbud, dwarf iris, painted trillium, showy orchis, stone crop, phlox, and the elusive morel. I still love fall, but spring is steadily growing on me. In spite of the pollen . . .

Helping to Rescue Smokey Bear

SmokeyIn The Sound of Rain my hero, Judd, is shown a 1950s poster of Smokey Bear. His boss–who is also my heroine’s father–wants Judd to serve as a sort of liaison with the forest service in their efforts to preserve forests. Although I only mention the poster and Smokey in passing, it was fun to do a little bit of research about a childhood icon.

For example, it’s Smokey Bear, NOT Smokey the Bear. And he’s named after “Smokey” Joe Martin, assistant chief of the New York City Fire Department in the 1920s.

And now Smokey has entered my life once again!

On New Year’s Eve I took Thistle to the national forest near our house for her daily hike. As I pulled into the parking area I noticed something over in the trees. Upon closer inspection I discovered a full-size Smokey Bear sign leaning against a tree.

Odd, I thought. It seemed like a pretty remote spot for Smokey to campaign about the danger of forest fires. Especially since he wasn’t bolted down.

Then, that evening, I checked a local news site because our weather had turned downright awful. And what did I find but a piece about a Smokey sign being stolen from a local fire station!

Anyone with a tip as to his location was asked to contact the Sheriff’s office or the fire department. So I did. Turns out it WAS the missing bear. He’s back home now and being reattached to his post more securely.

I was even interviewed by the local newspaper.

Helping get Smokey home was the highlight of my new year’s weekend. Who needs champagne, countdowns, or midnight fireworks when you can be part of getting Smokey home?

Appalachian Thursday – Moonshiners!

springI love it when I describe something in one of my novels that I can clearly picture and THEN find that what I described actually exists. In Miracle in a Dry Season Casewell cleans out an old spring with a catch basin. Guess what my husband found in the woods on the mountain behind our house?

Just such a spring with basin.

It’s a steep hike to get to the place where water flows from the side of the mountain, but clearly someone had been there before us. They dug out a spot and shored up the edges with stones set in place. It’s lovely.

And, of course, we wondered why someone would create such a spot so far from any sign of a house. Our answer was further down the mountain, near a neighbor’s house, in the form of a cast concrete cistern with an outflow pipe.

The spring flows there to fill the cistern. We asked a local fellow who’s lived in this valley all his life about our discovery. He gave us the name of the fella who used to live in that house. The fella who kept his still close so that the smoke could be mistaken for smoke from his own chimney.

You need good water to make good moonshine . . . or so I hear.

Casewell didn’t make moonshine, but his son, Henry got mixed up in that business. Guess I didn’t need to look too far for inspiration for either story!

I love living in a part of the world where such discoveries are waiting in my own backyard. Where an afternoon hike can turn into research. Or maybe verification of a past tale . . .

cistern