Appalachian Thursday–Signs of Spring?

GE DIGITAL CAMERAEvery year a few hardy daffodils jump the gun and bloom in February.

Every year we act surprised.

Somehow it seems too soon, but I’ve looked back at notes from five years ago and this is nothing new. Every February the daffodils unfurl seemingly fragile yellow petals. My hostas send tightly furled leaves poking up through the soil and sometimes there’s even a buttercup  or dandelion smiling up at me from the dead lawn. I can’t help but think about how we often have at least one snow in April and I want to warn my flowers to take a steadying breath and wait.

At the same time, I love seeing signs of spring. I love getting hints that soft, warm days are right around the corner. Soon enough, I’ll be getting my daily dose of Vitamin D from the sun again. Of course, there can still be icy, wintry, northern days as well. More than once I’ve seen apple blossom bitten back by a late frost. The old timers look at the daffodils and shake their heads. “We’ll have winter, yet,” they say.

I have a terrible habit of looking for “signs” in every area of my life. All green lights on my way downtown? Good sign. A rainbow as I’m on my way home to the farm? Great sign! Dead bird in the road when I walk Thistle? Bad sign.

The catch is, I spend too much time looking for signs and not nearly enough living in the moment. I’m too busy trying to guess what comes next. Planning and anticipating can be good things, but they can also become debilitating. Spring and the future will both come when they’re ready.

In God’s own, good time.

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.

Appalachian Thursday – The Swimmin’ Hole

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It’s getting HOT in Western NC. Oh, not like out west with temperatures over 100, but we have been in the 90s and we are NOT used to that. Of course, we have the perfect antidote to hot, summer days in the mountains of Appalachia.

The swimmin’ hole.

At home in WV, Laurel Fork runs like melted ice over coal ledges, rocks, and boulders to pool in a shady spot behind my Sunday School teacher’s house. Everyone in the community went there to swim–unless they went to Alton, but that was further away and you might run into someone you didn’t know.

The swimmin’ hole had a large boulder on the far side perfect for jumping off (so long as you knew where the submerged rocks were) and one on the near side perfect for sitting in the sun. The flat, coal ledge that spilled water into the pool was a good place to sit in just a couple of inches of water and watch what went on below. A sort of kiddie pool.

We would go there after working in the hay fields. Nothing was better to get the sweat and itchy chaff out of all your nooks and crannies. Mom brought Ivory soap (it floats) and Prell shampoo to kill two birds with one stone. It was heaven.

And it’s legendary. One story tells of how a kid jumped in and peeled a chunk of his scalp back on a submerged rock. The water was so cold, it slowed the bleeding and Aunt Bess just patted the skin in place and sewed it back on. Then there was my dad’s cousin who at sixteen jumped in the cold water when she was overheated and died. I’ve seen her marker in the Laurel Fork Cemetery. And I, along with many others, was baptized there.

It’s a magic place, the swimmin’ hole. Last time I was there, it was oddly smaller than I remembered. But I think in this instance I’ll trust my memory more than my eyes.

Because there are times when your heart knows better than your head.

Appalachian Thursday–The Outhouse at My Wedding

Dad at church
When we say it’s a one-room church, we’re serious.

We celebrated our 20th anniversary yesterday, which seems impossible since we only just met, fell in love, and decided to spend our lives together! But here we are, a chunk of LIFE under our belts. I think you could say our wedding was pretty uniquely Appalachian with some special, “rural” touches. I say it was perfect.

We got married at Laurel Fork United Methodist Church in West Virginia. I’m the fourth or fifth generation in my family to attend the little, white church on the hill and it was where I wanted to pledge my heart to my husband for life.

We invited our friends and family, but didn’t expect many to make the trek to Nowhere, WV, for the nuptials. Those who did travel from SC (where we lived then) were encouraged to use the facilities at their hotel before coming to the church 30 minutes away in Laurel Fork.

Ha-ha, they thought, a West Virginia joke. Nope. Even today the only bathroom is an outhouse. Of course, some adventurous souls might have enjoyed the experience, but I’m pretty sure everyone held it until the reception back in town.

When I was a kid, we actually had TWO outhouses at church. One for the ladies and one for the gentlemen. The ladies had two stalls (fancy) each with a separate door for privacy. It was painted white and tucked back in the trees behind the church for discretion. Unfortunately, it’s leafy, protected eaves seemed to be prime spots for wasps to build their nests, but you often have to sacrifice something for the sake of your dignity.

The men’s outhouse was a much roomier one-seater with an open end that served as an, ahhh, urinal. It was closer to the doors of the church, which often made it preferable when I was young. The wooden seat was worn remarkably smooth and there was always a stack of church bulletins in place of toilet paper. Waste not, want not.

And honestly? It wasn’t unpleasant to use. Oh, it wasn’t great on a January morning, but in general, it served just fine. It smelled of worn wood as much as, well, what you’d expect, and members of the church maintained both outhouses well. MUCH nicer than any port-o-let I’ve ever been in.

Outhouses have become something of a redneck or hillbilly joke, but I’ve used them and they’re no joke. They’re just the best way to deal with a necessity in a place with no running water. And trust me, if your power went out (along with the well pump), you’d be glad to have one.wedding day

Appalachian Thursday–Ramp Season

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My brother digging ramps on the family farm.

Flowers are blooming, afternoons are warm, the sun moves more slowly across the sky . . .

It’s the time of year when the old folks start shunning preserved foods for something fresh. Something green. Poke sallat. Fiddleheads. And ramps, which are somehow getting to be downright mainstream.

My great-grandmother would be thrilled with the chance to add all this chlorophyll and vitamin C to her family’s diet. And I, too, could be dining on fresh, wild produce. I know what it looks like. I know to pick dandelion greens in wild places where they haven’t been treated with chemicals. And I know where there’s a mighty fine patch of ramps.

But I’m not planning to head out with my foraging basket any time soon. Honestly, I’m just not that fond of these fresh, wild greens that were basically a matter of survival for my ancestors. Maybe I need another generation or two between me and this not very glamorous foraging–not for delicacies–but for sustenance.

I have a friend who took a cooking class in France. They prepared creasy greens and rabbit. Hmmm. So. They cooked plants my grandmother would have gathered in the ditches with meat my grandfather would have shot or trapped. I’m sure it was delicious, but it seems incongruous to me that this is haute cuisine.

I’m all for home-grown foods; for native foods indigenous to a place. But ramps make you stink. Poke turns poisonous later in the season and fiddleheads? Well, I prefer to just look at them.

Bon appetit.

Appalachian Thursday–Castles, Forts, and Playhouses

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I don’t suppose the childish instinct to build playhouses is unique to Appalachia. But maybe our materials are.

When we were kids with the run of a 100-acre farm, we had quite a few castles, forts, and playhouses. There was just something about building our OWN structure where we could hide out, store childhood treasures, and play to our hearts’ content. Here’s a sampling of what we came up with:

STUMP HOUSE
Yup–it was the stump of a tree. Maybe even an ancient chestnut, although I’m not sure. This stump was HUGE and HOLLOW. There was a gap on the uphill side that made a perfect door and inside there was a sort of lip around the upper edge that was perfect for storage. I wish I could remember exactly what we kept there–it seemed like precious stuff.

MOSS GLADE
This was just a small clearing in the woods above the house. There was a stump there–a smallish one–that felt like furniture. We harvested and carried sheets of moss to transplant here until we had a lovely, green carpet. Funny. These days I’d probably be worried about bugs . . .

THE HAY FORT
In the winter, when some of the hay had been fed out and there was room to maneuver in the barn, we’d build forts and tunnels. We’d stack bales into walls and even ceilings to form cozy, little dens. Toasty and oh-so-quiet! Of course, this was also dangerous, as my mother liked to remind us.

The funny thing is, we had plenty of barns and outbuildings (like the one pictured above) that would have made fine playhouses. But we preferred to build our own. Somehow a barn or shed was too ready-made. Took too little effort. It must have been the pleasure of shaping something of our own using our hands and muscles and imaginations.

Appalachian Thursday–False Spring

While folks living further to the north have no illusions about winter being over and folks further to the south rarely get the full-on winter experience, we here in the middle–the Appalachians–are suffering that in-between season.

We just had a major hit of snow and while we KNOW spring is a long ways off today is . . . warm. It’s downright mild. The sun’s been shining, the snow is mostly gone, and those fool robins keep dancing around in our yards.

It’s enough to give a person hope. At least for a minute.

FALSE SPRING

The yard is full of robins.
Fat and quick they flutter
like snowflakes falling before
the storm really arrives.

Just enough to draw my
attention—to make me look.

A frog is awake in the pond
below the house—he sounds
like a chicken clucking, like
children squabbling, like spring.

Just enough to turn my head—
to make me listen.

A neighbor works in his yard,
moving rocks and dirt and sticks.
He stirs the soil like plowing, like
planting the first promise of the year.

Just enough to tickle my nose—
to make me breathe . . . again.

But the calendar doesn’t lie the way
a day in February can. Those tips of green
will soon send their regrets and bow down
under the weight of stillborn hope.

And the robins will scatter to the wind.