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.

Bees, Rattlesnakes, and Bears – oh my!

rattlesnakeYou know it’s a doozy of a hike when the least scary thing to happen is a bear thundering off through the brambles.

That’s how my hike with Thistle started one evening last week. And we weren’t much alarmed. After all, the bear was leaving. Then Thistle ran on ahead and in short order came streaking back past me.

While hiking with my husband that morning she’d gotten into some yellow jackets (bears crack those nests open like pecans this time of year). I thought, surely that hadn’t happened again. I called her to me and two yellow jackets flew from her fur. Okay, it had. We ran down a side trail where she wallowed in some tight brush, divesting herself of any insects. Which was good since I had that MAJOR allergic reaction 15 years ago. (I’m theoretically cured after 7 years of shots, but who wants to test that?!?)

We made our way to a stream and gathered our wits. The bees were quite a bit scarier than the bear. Even so, we had hiking to do, so off we went, taking the long way around. As we came back down the mountain on a nice, wide trail, we stumbled across the scariest thing yet.

A rattlesnake.

A yellow phase timber rattlesnake to be specific (I only learned this later). And when I saw it, stretched full length in a sunny spot on the trail, Thistle was standing tail to tail with it. Or tail to rattle. My dog had no CLUE there was a snake in the world.

I convinced her to come to me with some treats and we stood there for a moment, marveling. (I did–Thistle just wondered why she had to wear her leash and might there be more treats?)

Then we went the even longer way around.

One of the themes in my upcoming novel, The Sound of Rain, is how we’re never really safe. No matter how many precautions we may take, bad things will still happen in the most unexpected ways. It’s just how this fallen world works.

My first thought after such an eventful hike was that maybe I should give up hiking until the first good freeze. But honestly, I love walking in the woods. It’s my freest, most creative time. And it’s something my husband, dog, and I love to do together.

So, I’ll keep hiking with the bears, the bees, and the rattlesnakes. Because, as my characters also learn, we may not be safe, but we are secure. Not because of any precautions we’ve taken, but because of who we trust.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me.”

An Abundance of Riches–Vacation

Rain galleysI know lots of folks who plan wonderful, far-flung vacations to exotic locales. I’ve never been one of those folks. Vacation for me means time to do whatever I want. Which typically includes eating some really good meals (cooking in and going out), extra dog walks, watching a movie or two I’ve been meaning to get around to, reading, and WRITING.

Oh, the luxury of writing without having to squeeze it into the margins. Now that’s my idea of a good vacation.

And this week, as I take my own little summer break, I not only get to write, I get one last chance to edit The Sound of Rain (releasing in November). The galleys arrived on Friday, as if I’d planned it.

And if I need something else writerly to do, there’s the back cover copy of The Sound of Rain to be finalized, and the first draft of a novella to read before submitting. An embarasment of riches, indeed!

I’m almost giddy with the pleasure of an entire week to focus on doing one of my favorite things.

So how about you? What’s your idea of a great way to spend some time off?

Appalachian Thursday – Foraged Food

morel2
Found this beauty last weekend and brushed the leaves back for someone who will be delighted by a fresh morel.

Spring is prime foraging time in the woods where we hike. We often see folks out with baskets or net bags and I know they’re looking for tasty tidbits to add to dinner.

Personally, I’m more of a catch and release forager. I love finding things I could eat, but I’m not really all that interested in actually consuming them. Plus, I know just enough about wild mushrooms to realize there’s a fair chance I might poison myself. I just take a picture and move on.

But I often think about my ancestors eating these plants not because it was cool or trendy, but because they were hungry. Especially for something green after a long winter of preserved foods.

Wild foods are so popular these days that there’s actually a company here in Asheville, NC, called No Taste Like Home Wild Food Adventures. You can call them up and book a guided foraging trip. I haven’t had any dealings with them (although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen their groups in the national forest where we hike), but I like the disclaimer on their website, “You can’t learn to forage from a website. Always learn from an expert, preferably, your parents.”

Which is a little bit ironic, because while my great-grandmother knew all about foraged foods and remedies, she would have taken pride in having children and grandchildren who didn’t need such knowledge.

Last weekend, I called Dad and asked him if he ate that stuff when he was a kid. Not really, he said, although there was a great aunt who did. Folks ate poke sallat, creasy greens, and ramps, but they didn’t brag about it. As a matter of fact, if they ate ramps, they’d skip church that week for fear of being too stinky.

As a seventh-generation Appalachian, I’m glad to have some idea about the sorts of things I can eat in a pinch, but mostly I’ll be sticking with the farmer’s market and grocery store.

Appalachian Thursday – 2016

I’m not a fan of looking at the turning of the calendar as any kind of clean slate. I figure most every day is the perfect time to begin doing whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. But in the spirit of the New Year, I took a moment to look back over 2016 in Appalachia. Whether at the house in North Carolina or the Farm in West Virginia, I don’t like to stray too far from my mountains. And flipping through a year’s worth of images reminds me why.