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

Appalachian Thursday–Rubber Boots

bootsMud boots, gum boots, rain boots, rubbers, wellies, or, you know, plain ole rubber boots.

I don’t suppose they’re uniquely Appalachian, but they certainly are ubiquitous to every mountain farm I’ve ever set foot upon.

Some evenings, when I’m short for time, instead of taking Thistle for a tromp in the national forest, we simply cross the creek behind the house, follow a critter trail along the water’s edge, and come out in a neighbor’s pasture where we happily trespass. I wear my rubber boots for such excursions for most of the reasons someone invented rubber boots.

  • They keep my feet dry if it’s been raining or is a dewy morning.
  • They’re ideal for crossing creeks that aren’t too high, but lack strategically placed rocks for hopping.
  • They protect against mud and other squishy stuff found in pastures.
  • They keep the poison ivy at bay.

Plus, they make me happy.

There’s just something about clomping through the pasture with my blue jeans tucked into a pair of rubber boots that makes me feel, well, countrified.

Tuesday I donned my boots on a perfect, early-October afternoon for just such a walk. The forest was cool and shady still, the creek gurgled happily along, and the sun slanted throuCreeksidegh the trees into the pasture in a way that made me glad to be alive. A soft breeze played with my hair and Thistle chased squirrels, real and imaginary. Goldenrod nodded in the edge of the field while the birds sang God’s glory.

I have an author photo of myself sitting beside the creek in a dress, wearing rubber boots. That, I think, captures my Appalachian brand and my books. Even fancied up, there’s an element of practicality–of the everyday–that keeps everything grounded. Just like walking in the beauty of the woods and the grasses and the waters in my rubber boots.

Appalachian Thursday–Fall’s Last Flower

It’s officially autumn. October arrives this weekend. The days are cooler, the nights make an extra quilt welcome. I love this time of year.

Maybe it’s the bittersweet way nature fades from lush green, to russet and gold, and then to brown and grey. And, of course, knowing that it will all start again in the spring!

If you follow my Facebook author page, you know I post pictures of wildflowers I’ve seen during the week on Wednesdays. I’m a wildflower junkie and this time of year they’re especially precious since they’re fading away.

So here, for my last post of September, is a bouquet of fall’s last flowers.

Appalachian Thursday–Stinging Insects

hornetsIf you read Monday’s post, you know why stinging insects are on my mind this week. Late summer and early fall in Appalachia is prime time for running into yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, and bees. First, their hives (hence their populations) have been growing all summer. Second, the bears, skunks, and other critters consider their larvae candy. And third, they’re going to die soon.

I might be running around looking for someone to sting, too!

But as you may have realized, in my world, everything is fodder for words. So here’s a poem from a few year’s ago that came to mind this week.

HORNETS’ NEST

After the leaves fall and the cold comes
I see the fragile, grey houses
of wasps and hornets high in the trees.
Empty nests hang like ripe fruit,
so obvious, so apparent, so safe
now that winter has come and only
the queen remains, tucked away
somewhere warm—somewhere else.

I have walked this path again and again,
spring, summer, and early fall,
without sensing the activity above,
without knowing the danger
humming just over my head.
But now it’s clear— both the nest
and the danger that faded with
the first hard frost and I feel bold
for having braved this gauntlet.

I feel grateful for having failed
to know a gauntlet was ever here.