Appalachian Thursday – Hurricanes

flood1

Our coastal home following Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Talk about wanting to head for the hills!

Having lived on the coast of South Carolina I’ve had more experience with hurricanes than I like. We actually moved to the mountains of western North Carolina in large part because of flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

But the mountains are not immune from the ravages of hurricane weather!

In The Sound of Rain, I centered the story around Hurricane Hazel, which struck the coast near the NC/SC state line in 1954. Thus far, it’s been the ONLY category 4 hurricane to hit North Carolina. But that’s far from the only thing that made Hazel exceptional.

She hit at high tide during the full moon causing an 18-foot storm surge. There are harrowing stories of people stuck in trees, in attics, and swept away never to be seen again. But that wasn’t the worst of Hazel.

Most storms lose their steam after they make landfall. Hazel made her way north, hugging the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Wind gusts near 100 mph were felt as far north as New York. It was also an incredibly fast-moving storm, making landfall in the Carolinas the morning of October 15 and reaching Canada the following day.

The storm wrapped up the worst of her rampage in Toronto where she still had the strength of a category 1 hurricane and caused catastrophic flooding and destruction.

In The Sound of Rain, Judd Markley helps survivors in Myrtle Beach, SC, before heading home to West Virginia to help his family with damage there. While a purely fictional account, it was accurate. My home state was dramatically impacted by the storm–especially in the southeastern part of the state.

I hope, wherever you are, you’re safe from the storm. And I pray Florence isn’t one of those storms we’re still talking about decades later!

Appalachian Thursday – Sang Hunting

ginseng2While in West Virginia last weekend my brother showed me some ginseng plants. He was checking them to see if they had seeds he could plant to spur future growth. He gathered up the red fruit with seeds inside and sowed them in a new spot. Seeds need 18+ months to germinate so if we’re lucky, they’ll sprout in the spring of 2020.

Ginseng is not for those in a hurry.

The native plant is prized for all kinds of curative properties from preventing the flu to acting as an aphrodisiac. In the Orient, the fact that the root is often shaped like a man with a body, arms, and legs, makes folks believe it has all sorts of body-related benefits. Another name for it is manroot. It’s relatively common in Appalachia, although the fact that you can get $500 or more for a pound of the dried root has caused over-harvesting.

Enter sang hunters.

There are lots of regulations around how and when the roots can be harvested. Plants should be five years old or older before they’re harvested. If you plan to export the root, it has to be 10 or more years old. How do you know how old a plant is? The first year, there will be just one, compound leaf typically with three leaflets. After about five years, the plant should be at least a foot tall and will have four or more leaves each one with five leaflets. The plant pictured above with three leaves, each bearing five leaflets is probably three or four years old. Not ready for harvesting.

If you look closely, you’ll see a wee crown right in the center. That’s where tiny flowers gave way to red berries with two seeds each inside. They’ve been planted now.

Ginseng is going to find its way into my stories one of these days. It’s ripe with potential–poaching, stealing, the solitary act of hunting through the woods, the art of digging the plant so as to keep the root undamaged and intact . . . it’s an art and a mystery.

Just the sort of thing I love to write about.

Appalachian Thursday – Pawpaw Season

Pawpaws-with-spoon

Earthy Delights offers pawpaws by mail along with a blog featuring pawpaw (and other wild food) recipes. Check them out at http://www.earthydelightsblog.com.

No, it’s not a pet name for your grandfather.

September is when pawpaws–also known as Appalachian bananas–are getting ripe. A pawpaw is a large, greenish oval that’s the largest, edible native fruit in the U.S. Folks say it tastes like a cross between a mango and a banana with a pudding-like texture. I’ll confess I’ve never had one since I really, really, REALLY don’t like bananas.

They’re beginning to show up in farmer’s markets and some folks are even growing them commercially. They haven’t really caught on at grocery stores, though. They don’t last long once picked and bruise easily. And, of course, our current food system depends on being able to ship huge amounts of produce long distances. Hence rock hard peaches and cardboard tomatoes. (Don’t get me started!)

In the 1800s, Agronomist E. Lewis Sturtevant described the fruit in his book “Edible Plants of the World” this way: “… a natural custard, too luscious for the relish of most people. The fruit is nutritious and a great resource to the savages.”

The fruit has been growing in notoriety since NPR did a piece in 2011 and again in 2017. You can even order frozen pawpaw pulp pretty much year round with the whole fruit available in season.

I’m hoping pawpaws don’t become the next ramp for the local food scene. The last few Aprils in the Asheville area have seen ramps worked into the menu of every trendy restaurant. I kind of like the idea that pawpaws resist being mass-marketed. There should be at least one food that really, truly is seasonal. You may be able to buy strawberries in October and asparagus in January, but here’s hoping pawpaws remain a foraged delicacy of early fall.

Pawpaws on NPR

 

Appalachian Thursday – Reclaiming “Hillbilly”

view 7-4-18There’s been some talk lately about how hillbilly is a derogatory word that shouldn’t see the light of day. So I’m going on the record to say I not only don’t mind the word, but that I think we should reclaim it.

Consider the word’s origin (or etymology if you prefer): hill + Billy. So basically, taking a really common name for a person and linking it to hilly terrain. I know–I was hoping for something more highfalutin.

Here are two of the earliest known uses of the word in print:

“I would hate to see some old railroad man come here and take my job, and then, I don’t think it is right to hire some Hill Billy and give him the same right as I just because he was hired the same time I was.” – The Railroad Trainmen’s Journal, July 1892

“In short, Hill-Billie is a free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires of his revolver as the fancy takes him.” -New York Journal, April 23, 1900

That second one actually makes hillbilly-ness sound pretty appealing–or at least free-wheeling. But derogatory? Well, I guess that depends on who you are and how you mean it.

Pretty much any word can become derogatory–I’ve certainly heard folks use the word “Yankee” in a way that didn’t convey admiration. But if you visit Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Lesage, WV, I think they’d tell you that word–and it’s stereotypical connotations–have worked out just fine for them.

I don’t mind it a bit if someone suggests that being from a farm in West Virginia makes me a hillbilly (maybe I’m a hillbetty). I’m proud of the place I grew up and the people who shaped me. Sure, there are problems–just like everywhere else. But there are also plenty of amazing stories of people overcoming, sticking it out, and staying true to their heritage.

So I say let’s ignore those folks who think hillbilly is a dirty word and reclaim it. In my book a hillbilly is someone who loves the hills and hollers of Appalachia; someone who has some knowledge of living off the land; who holds family close; who will step up to help a neighbor in need; is a creative problem-solver (do a search for hillbilly air conditioner); who knows how to laugh and makes a habit of doing so often; who plays hard, eats hearty, and loves deeply.

In short–some of my very favorite people in this whole world.

#hillbillylife

 

Appalachian Thursday – Summers in the Yard

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Learning to blow a piece of grass between her thumbs to make a honking sound.

Of an evening, I often sit out on the front steps and watch the daylight linger. As the fireflies rise and Thistle nibbles grass it’s fun to think about what a fabulous playground the front yard supplied when I was a kid.

There were endless yard games with siblings and cousins–all kinds of tag, Simon Says, and made up games with balls. We generally played barefoot and would get all sweaty and breathless then there would be that prickling feeling as the sweat dried and the cool of the evening settled in. Mom sometimes only washed our nearly black feet before bed. I think the prospect of bathing three tired children helped her prioritize.

Of course, we also caught fireflies and stowed them in Mason jars with holes punched in the lids. We were occasionally allowed to bring these in to flicker in our rooms as we drifted off to sleep. When the June bugs came (in July), we’d sometimes tie a thread to a leg (a tricky job) and have a bug on a leash.

Then there were all the things you could do with what grew in the yard. Pinch a blade of grass between your thumbs and blow on it to make a wonderful, honking sound. Tie flowers together to make chains for your hair and neck. Chew on sweet clover.

It was easier in those days to be drawn outside. There were only two or three channels on TV, no video games or electronics, and even our toys paled in comparison to the wide world of summer outside the front door. I sometimes see neighbor children outside on summer days and it makes me glad. Maybe I’ll stop by and show them how to tie flowers together, how to blow on a blade of grass–these are skills worthy of being passed on.

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.