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.

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.”

The Best Laid Plans

BearI like to make plans. I like for things to fit neatly together–preferably in an attractive pattern. For example, over the weekend I bought fried chicken at a deli for a church event. I really, really, REALLY wanted to suggest to the clerk that he should put the breasts and wings in one container and the legs and thighs in the other.

It would have been more equitable.

But this is NOT how life works. (In case you didn’t know.)

I took Thistle for a walk up Bartlett Mountain on Saturday. The road starts out paved, switches to gravel, and then becomes a dirt track. If you’re determined, you can go all the way to the top of the ridge on a bear trail.

We went high enough to get a good view of the mountains with their first tinge of autumn color, then turned around and headed back down. I was walking along making it a point to notice how delightful life was right at that moment. It was a soft, misty afternoon with the smell of autumn in the air. I had my dog and an evening to do as I pleased. Idyllic really.

That’s when Thistle spotted the bear. Thankfully, she’s a smart dog, so she just sat in the road and waited for me. I called her back, leashed her, and proceed to encourage the bear to move along. The bear wasn’t being aggressive, but neither was she leaving. Mostly, she seemed curious about us. While I wasn’t afraid, neither was I eager to satisfy the bear’s curiosity. So we backtracked, found a bear trail through the woods (ironic, right?) and pushed our way through the trees down to the gravel section of the road.

Bear behind us, it occurred to me that my afternoon idyll had been disturbed. There I was, appreciating a simple pleasure, when a bear threw a wrench in the gears.

And ain’t that like life.

You’re on the downhill, coasting along, taking in the scenery and–wham–bear. Talk about unplanned. Talk about a piece that doesn’t fit the pattern.

I think God is working on me in this area. I want Him to lay out His ten-year plan for me (twenty would be even better) so I can check each item off my list and feel the satisfaction of a to-do list that is DONE.

But bears keep popping up. They’re not necessarily scary, just unexpected and often inconvenient. But maybe, just maybe, they’re meant to push me toward the path I should have been on all along . . . And maybe, just maybe the unplanned path is the better one.

Appalachian Thursday–People Like These

goldenrodThistle and I often hike in the national forest near our house. I never know who we’ll run into up there–hikers, hunters, cyclists, foragers–there’s quite a variety of folks. Yesterday, though, was unique.

We pulled into the gravel lot and I noticed some people poking around in the tall weeds. If it were July, I’d assume they were picking blackberries, but this time of year I couldn’t think what they’d be after.

Thistle hopped out of the car and headed straight for the closest human being, since human beings are her favorite thing. Next to treats. I followed and saw that our neighbor was a young man, hair in a topknot, cigarette dangling from his lips. And he was . . . picking flowers.

And not just picking flowers–he’d assembled a gorgeous little bouquet of blue and white asters, goldenrod, thistles, and ferns. It was straight off of Pinterest. I exclaimed over how pretty it was and commented on the thistle, telling him that was my dog’s name.

He got excited and called out to his two friends, exclaiming over knowing the name of the flower that was the same as the name of the dog. Now, his friends were also, um, not stereotypical flower pickers. T-shirts with no sleeves, cigarettes, a beat up cowboy hat–and a handful of purple asters.

They greeted me, cocked wary eyes at Thistle, and climbed into their car. Three good ole boys and their perfect nosegay of autumn flowers.

I wanted to ask them who the flowers were for. Someone’s mother or grandmother? A girlfriend? Their own pleasure? I wanted to take a picture of a redneck boy holding a bouquet suited to a flower girl at a wedding as ash fell from his cigarette.

But I didn’t do any of that. I just tucked the image away in my heart. Because those were my people. Mountain people. Contradictory people. People who will bring you flowers, but would rather you didn’t ask any questions.

Appalachian Thursday–Black Bear Adventures

Mama and her cubs two years ago.
Mama and her cubs two years ago.

The black bear is the state animal of West Virginia, therefore I’m a fan. And yet, in all my 18 years of living on the family farm, I never saw one. There was a big, rolly-polly bear at the Game Farm who loved to drink soda through the bars of his cage, but he was hardly a REAL bear.

Then we moved to Western North Carolina which is apparently one of the top ten coolest places for bears to live. One day last summer we saw SEVEN different bears over the course of a single day. We’ve seen cubs playing in the trees, we’ve spent far too much money on birdseed (which we eventually learned NOT to do), we’ve named bears that came back season after season, we even had one bear who knew who to turn a doorknob (that back door STAYS locked).

And the funny thing is, while I have an incredibly healthy respect for bears, I’m not afraid of them. This came home to me just yesterday.

Earlier in the week Thistle and I were hiking and encountered two ladies who mentioned their dogs disturbed a yellow jacket’s nest along a trail we’d just hiked. I experienced a little jolt that I had so narrowly avoided danger (I had an allergic reaction once).

Yesterday while hiking a different trail, Thistle and I walked up on a black bear indulging in a blackberry feast (I’d just been doing the same thing). Thistle froze and watched the animal–a mid-sized female I’m guessing–from about 30 feet away. I called her back to me (thank goodness she’s never chased a bear), snapped on her leash, and made enough noise for the bear to hear.

The bear jumped like she’d been stung by a bee and hightailed it into the high brush to our left. We could hear a second bear crashing through the brush off to the right. We gave them a few moments to clear the area, then went on down the trail. I loudly talked to Thistle until we were well away lest we sneak up on any other snackers.

And I wasn’t scared. I was cautious. I was alert and careful, but in my book yellow jackets are way scarier than bears. Who, by the way, eat stinging insect larvae.

I guess all I have to say to that is, “Go Bears!”

Take Me Home, Country Roads

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The view from the deck off the dining room. Perfection.

I just spent a spontaneous weekend at the farm because my Dad is having some health issues. It’s tough, seeing my once invincible father age and face challenges that I’d give almost anything to spare him. But I was blessed to be able to go home and put my arms around his neck and tell him how much I love him.

Over the course of the weekend, he told me I’m wise and brave and he’s proud of me. I’m not so sure I live up to that, but it’s awfully good to hear. We also talked about how the things of this world will pass away, but our souls are eternal. It was good to talk with him and we’ll get through this tough time one way or another.

My husband and I spend some time walking the family farm (with a very happy dog chasing groundhogs and deer). I thought I’d take you with me on that walk, so you can catch a glimpse of the place that inspires me. This IS the Phillips Family Farm.

farm
The pond that supplies water to the house. I nearly drowned here when I was four.
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An outbuilding from my grandparents’ days.
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The house my Dad grew up in sat near these holly trees.
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The beginning of the loooong driveway–the bit of fence marks the entrance.
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Thistle having a rest after chasing critters.

Appalachian Thursday–Say it with (Wild)Flowers

While autumn has long been my favorite season, spring is a close runner-up. Those first days of open windows, greening trees, peepers, and even the smell of freshly cut grass just make me HAPPY.

My husband will attest to the fact that hiking with me this time of year is a veritable treasure hunt. And just because I saw a hummock of dwarf, crested iris a few yards back doesn’t mean the next one is any less thrilling.

So here’s a sampling of the glory of Western North Carolina’s forest in April. Come walk with me!

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Wild Oats
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Violets
wildflowers
Nodding Trillium
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Trillium
iris
Dwarf Crested-Iris (with a Thistle cameo)
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Jack-in-the-Pulpit
lady slipper
Lady Slippers (about to bloom)
orchis
Showy Orchis