Appalachian Thursday – Watch Out for Deer

deer at table

A normal afternoon behind my mom’s house in WV. Photo by: Jean Clark

I saw a Facebook post earlier this week sharing how to speak “Appalachian.” Some of the phrases weren’t exclusive to Appalachia–they definitely overlapped with the south. But one was 100% Appalachia.

“Watch out for deer.”

And what’s the translation?

“I love you.”

It sounds odd at first, but let me explain. In WV it’s hard not to trip over deer when you walk around outside. When we porch sit at the farm, it’s just a matter of time before the deer start drifting through the pasture. When we drive up to the house after dark, the headlights almost always pick out several deer as we come around the last turn. And the photo above speaks for itself.


Which means people are forever hitting them on the roads. Most people I know from back home can tell you about the time they hit a deer. Or were hit by one. Sometimes the poor animals misjudge and leap straight into a moving vehicle.

It’s awful and it’s dangerous. (For the driver AND the deer.)

So, when someone from Appalachia says to you, “watch out for deer,” what they mean is . . . I care about you. Be safe. Keep an eye out and don’t get in a wreck. Be careful. Come home to me.

Which really does mean, “I love you.”

So for all my friends and readers out there . . . watch out for those deer!

Appalachian Thursday – Southern States

growing chicksNo, not the states below the Mason Dixon Line. I’m talking about the cooperative store started by farmers in Virginia.

When I was a kid, we’d go to Southern States to buy things like cattle feed, bulk dog food, bag balm, seeds, medicine for cattle, and SPRING CHICKS. Mostly, going to Southern States wasn’t all that exciting. The store had a kind of chemical/sweet feed smell and there wasn’t a whole lot to interest an eight-year-old. Until the spring chicks arrived.

We’d walk in the store and hear them. A chorus of tiny cheeps. There they would be, moving balls of yellow fluff, walking around, pecking at feed, sipping water, and pooping (it wasn’t ALL adorable). We could hold them as long as we were G-E-N-T-L-E.

Back at the farm, the box of chicks would go out in the barn with a light to keep them warm and we’d visit and cuddle as often as allowed.

But here’s the problem with adorably, baby chicks — they grow into chickens.

And it happens much more quickly than you’d expect. One day some of the fluff has been replaced by rough feathers and soon the adolescent chickens are as awkward as any teenager. Then, next thing you know, they’re just plain old chickens waiting to peck the back of your hand when you gather their eggs.

But isn’t that the way with so many things? Nothing stays the same. Nothing lasts. Seems like Robert Frost had something to say about that when he wrote Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Yep. Baby chicks don’t stay adorable very long. But the memory of them . . . oh, that lasts and lasts. I haven’t gone with my dad to pick up spring chicks in nearly forty years. But I can close my eyes and hear their cheeps, feel the softness of their down, and smell the must and dust of their warming box.

I think Robert Frost was a little bit sneaky. When he captured a bit of gold on paper, he made it stay. Here’s hoping I can do a bit of that myself.

Appalachian Thursday – Signs of Spring

crocusEvery 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. Crocuses appear like someone scattered them in the night while we were sleeping. Sometimes there’s even a buttercup or dandelion smiling up at me from the dead lawn. And this year, the temperatures have veered wildly into the 70s trying to make us think spring is well and truly here.

But I try not to get TOO excited. I can’t help but remember 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. The ultimate Appalachian harbingers of spring is, of course,  peepers. For a week now I’ve been hearing them each morning and evening in the swampy spot down by the creek. A chorus cheering spring on even if it IS too soon.

Because we’re still going to have some icy, wintry, northern days before it’s time to complain about the heat again. 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. 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 – Burning Brush


Just a baby brush pile. This one will need to get quite a bit bigger before burning!

Last week I wrote about how we burned much of our trash growing up. Then, on Saturday, we had a soft rainy day with no wind–a perfect brush burning day!

Brush piles were simply something that had to be dealt with periodically on the farm. Clearing the pasture, trimming trees, picking up deadfall–there’s just a lot of bits of wood and branches that need to be gotten rid of.

Burning a brush pile is an art. And I like to think it’s one I’m pretty good at.

Now, most of the men in my life prefer the gasoline accelerant method of burning brush. My technique is more subtle. First, I rake the area around the pile clean so there’s less danger of a spark catching something close by. Then I make a sort of cave or opening in the bottom of the pile and add cardboard and some newspaper. Next, I drag out my hose, water bucket, rake, and a hoe so I’ll have the tools I need to keep the fire in check. And my work gloves, of course.

Then, light that baby up!

I prefer a slow, steady burn. I burn from one side of the pile to the other, slowly raking and pushing to keep a decent sized fire that’s not so big it’s likely to get out of hand. There’s a pleasure and a peace to watching flames reduce wood to ash. The best is when it’s a chilly day and I can enjoy the contrast of the cool air on my back and the fire on my face. A few snowflakes add to the ambience.

My most memorable brush pile burn was when I still worked for Biltmore Estate. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was leaning on my hoe, watching the fire die down when my husband called me inside for a phone call. My supervisor wanted me to get out to the estate to meet a VIP guest who was taking pictures on the front lawn of the house.

It was Andie MacDowell.

I didn’t have time to shower.

Somewhere, there’s a picture of Andie MacDowell and me with my hair shoved in a ponytail, wearing minimum makeup, hoping I don’t smell too much like smoke. I didn’t ask for a copy.

I hope they burned it.

Appalachian Thursday – Snow Day!

Snow DayWe had a snow day yesterday–a couple of inches of the white stuff, hardly anyone venturing out, bacon for breakfast, and a good book to read (not to mention one to write!). Ahhhhh.

When I was a kid, of course, snow days were a bit more exciting. And in West Virginia in the 1970s, they seemed more dramatic, too. I remember missing almost the entire month of February one winter. It was so cold that a skim of ice would form on the top of the pail of milk in the time it took Dad to walk from the barn to the house.

Poor Mom. Stuck inside with three kids day after day. And it was too cold to play outside. At least Dad had livestock to tend.

I remember the power going out during a snowstorm once. Dad stoked the fireplace and we got to sleep in the living room floor in sleeping bags. Mom made us wear knit hats since those were the days when we still believed you lost most of your heat through the top of your head.

There was tomato soup with grilled cheese. Card games and board games. Sledding and the building of snowmen. We played in the hayloft, which was a smidge warmer than outside. Mittens were soaked through. Chapstick was applied. And woe to the child who realized she had to pee while wearing a snowsuit too far from the house.

We also fed the cattle. The winter my older brother had appendicitis, I got to ride on the trailer, cutting the twine on bales of hay, and pushing it off for the cows. Bart, our Black Angus bull, would steal bites of hay from the trailer. He was a sweetheart, though, and I’d scratch him behind the ears anyway.

It got dark early those days and in my memory the house was the coziest place in the world. A nation unto itself. A place where the snow and cold could never reach.

Now, snow days frustrate me–make me wish I could get out and work on my to-do list. Maybe I need to go back in time and embrace what I can’t change. Make a snow angel. Throw snowballs for Thistle. Snuggle under a blanket inside and, instead of being frustrated, give thanks for the reprieve of snow days.

Appalachian Thursday – Raw Water


Abandoned spring or gold mine?

I thought it was a joke. I’d seen a few internet-type things referencing “raw water,” but paid them little mind. Then, on the morning news, they did an entire segment on this new trend.


The idea is to drink spring water that hasn’t been filtered or chemically treated. A company in California is selling decorative, 2.5 gallon dispensers of the stuff for $60.99.


They say raw water has minerals that are good for you. Like drinking raw milk (which I love). Well, sure. That’s probably true.

Of course, the naysayers also point out that raw water could contain dangerous bacteria or pollutants that could make you seriously sick. Well, sure. That’s probably true.

The funny thing is, I’ve drunk plenty of “raw” water without thinking twice. We drank from wells where the water was drawn straight from the depths of the earth in buckets and then lifted to our lips in metal dippers (which add to the flavor!). We drank from the cold spring on the back side of the cow pasture. From the spring we passed as we walked up the hill from the school bus stop.

I’m not advocating for or against raw water. I’m certainly a big fan of NOT consuming anything that could leave me miserable in the bathroom or worse.

It’s just funny to me. Like the friend who went to France to learn how to cook wild rabbit and creasy greens. Apparently, Appalachia has been waaaay ahead of the trend curve for a long time.

Raw milk, free-range chickens, antibiotic free meat, and now raw water. My great-grandmother would just shake her head and take another puff on her corncob pipe stuffed with dried mullein. Which will probably be the “new,” “safe,” way to smoke in another five years.

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 . . .