Appalachian Thursday–The Bees are Angry

Tis the season.

Yup, September is the month when the stinging insects are mad at the world. And who can blame them? Killing cold is right around the corner and this is the time of year when bears and skunks are raiding their hives, eating larvae like popcorn.

On Saturday we walked past FOUR recently dug out ground hives. Two were abandoned and two still had stragglers milling about.

This is something I pay a great deal of attention to after having experienced a serious allergic reaction 15 years ago. A 911, emergency room reaction. I spent seven years getting shots and still carry an epi pen. Which I am NOT keen on using.

hand sting
Sting #1 was in the first knuckle of my middle finger. A little swelling was a small price to pay!

So it was just plain foolishness on my part when I saw a bear thumping around not far off the trail last week. I KNEW to look for a disturbed hive. But I didn’t. And I got stung FOUR times.

Turns out I can run and pry a Benadryl capsule out of it’s bubble pack at the same time. I really had NO plans to ever test how effective my allergy shots had been. I especially didn’t want to test it while alone in the woods with a little less than a mile to go back to the car.

And that’s the thing I want to tell you. I wasn’t alone. (And I don’t mean Thistle, who was sticking to me like glue–she doesn’t like bees either.) Even though I was frustrated that I’d been stung and I was concerned that I might have some sort of reaction, I wasn’t in a panic or overwhelmed with fear.

And I finally understood that whole, “pray without ceasing” business.

This is why I have faith. It’s not that God keeps me from getting into sticky situations, it’s that I can feel his presence when I dig myself a fresh hole and fall into it.

Being reminded that he’s with me no matter what almost makes getting stung four times worth it.


Appalachian Thursday–After the Storm

storm damage2Mountain people are good in a crisis. Maybe it has something to do with how many grew up hardscrabble. Or if they didn’t, their parents and grandparents did.

It’s not so much about being prepared in case of an emergency, it’s knowing if there isn’t an emergency now, there will be soon enough.

These are the people who drive around in trucks with a come-along, jumper cables, and a chainsaw in the bed. There are probably some empty beer cans, too. And maybe a dog.

These are the people you want living next door when a hurricane turned tropical storm tears up your neighborhood.

We woke Tuesday morning to no power and a yard that looked like, well, like a hurricane had hit it. The rain was less than expected and the wind more. Proving my point that the only thing you can trust about the forecast is that it’s wrong.

The reason for the power being out was immediately evident. It was the same reason none of the folks further up our dead end road would make it in to work that morning. Several large trees right in the edge of the power line right-of-way had tipped over taking down the power lines and blocking the two-lane road.

But not to worry. In short order, every volunteer fireman in the vicinity was out with chainsaws taking care of the scariest downed tree on our road. And by the time they were done, locals on up the road had cleared everything between there and the end.

Which means Thistle and I were able to go for our usual hike in the national forest late that afternoon. Or not so much hike as scramble and dodge. There are a LOT of trees down in our corner of NC. But thankfully, we’re in the mountains where a crisis brings out the best in folks.

Anyone need some firewood?storm damage

Appalachian Thursday–Summer’s End

Laurel Fork
Laurel Fork–the creek we were meant to stay out of.

Can you believe tomorrow is September?

My grandmother was right when she told me time picks up speed as you age. She was right about a lot of stuff.

When I was a kid, Labor Day weekend meant it was time for the annual wiener roast at Toad and Berle’s. Yes, his name was Toad and no one thought it the least bit odd. Toad and Berle lived in what had been the community schoolhouse when my dad was a kid.

The wiener roasting happened over an open fire using sticks with sharpened ends. (I can only imagine what those men and their pocketknives would have thought of manufactured, metal hot dog sticks with wooden handles.) The women would bring every side dish you could think of and some you couldn’t. And oh the desserts! My goodness the desserts. Plus marshmallows for toasting on the hot dog sticks (a taste sensation, indeed!).

The creek was nearby and we were meant to stay out of it but never did. There was also a cliff over on Uncle Willis’ land (not nearly as high as I remembered). We were meant to stay away from there, too. Of course we didn’t.

After eating, folks would sit around smoking cigarettes, talking, telling stories (otherwise known as lies), and playing music. We kids would set fire to the hot dog sticks and write our names with burning embers against the night sky. Until someone made us stop. And then we’d do it anyway and sometimes we’d get in trouble and sometimes we wouldn’t. We’d go to bed late that night, smelling of smoke and hot dogs, hearts and bellies full.

I guess people still have picnics on Labor Day weekend. I guess they might even have hotdogs. But I’ll just bet they don’t cook them on a sharpened stick over an open fire outside an old schoolhouse while dusk settles like a soft blanket and the voices of just about everyone who’s ever cared about them hums in the background.

This Labor Day I might have to build a fire out back and roast me a hotdog. But I have a feeling it won’t taste the same. Not even a little bit.

The Curse of Free Time

cropped-tapestry-quote.jpgEveryone’s busy these days. Busy. Busy. Busy.

Remember free time? Remember complaining about being bored when you were a kid?

A friend recently commented on Facebook that she was bored and asked for suggestions to end her boredom. I didn’t comment, but my first thought was that any time you’re bored you should just sit back and enjoy it.

All too often in the world today, we treat free time like a disease to be cured. Free time is an empty container that we can’t stand to see empty so we start looking around for things to put in there. Entertainment, activity, busy-work . . . don’t let the container sit empty long.

Of course, some of what we put in there is good stuff (and some isn’t!). But I wonder what might blossom in that empty cup if we let it sit a moment. It might even be worthwhile to plan time when there’s nothing pressing. Nothing that has to be or ought to be done. What might grow then?

When we were kids, boredom was the mother of invention. Free, unscheduled time was when we came up with our best (and sometimes worst) ideas. We played games. We used our imaginations. We built stuff. Sure, we also fell out of trees and got hit in the head with rocks (who threw that?!?), but those were important lessons, too.

I know I’m guilty of feeling like I have to do something useful with free time. That I need to accomplish something that I can point to at the end.

My challenge to you as summer winds down is to give yourself the gift of free time with no plan or agenda. Take a day, an afternoon, or even an hour and give yourself the freedom to experience this disease we call free-time. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be contagious.

When the world’s going to Hell in a hand-basket

I’m writing this in case today’s eclipse isn’t the end of the world.

While hardly anyone seems to agree with anyone else about anything these days, I think there is an almost universal sense of good-grief-what’s-the-world-coming-to?? Politics, terrorism, violence of all sorts . . . there’s a great deal of ugliness out there these days.

So what can you do?

First, consider history.

Turns out the world has been going to Hell in a hand-basket for a very long time. Think Christians being fed to the lions in Rome, the Bubonic Plague in the mid-1300s, WWI, something called the Holodomor when Stalin caused millions of people to starve to death in the Ukraine in the 1930s, and, of course, Adolf Hitler.

That’s not to make you feel better about the current state of the world, it’s just to remind us all that evil has been with us for a looong time.

Second, do something about what you can do something about.

If you’re like me, there are opportunities all day every day to do the right thing. Wave to the neighbors while walking the dog (and pick up that piece of trash while you’re at it). Show up to work on time ready to give it your all. Bring a co-worker a cup of coffee. Smile at strangers in the grocery store. Tell the couple with the well-behaved kids at the local restaurant how great their kids are. Resist giving the couple with the kids acting up a hard time.

Remember what your mother told you–two wrongs don’t make a right and treat others the way you want to be treated.

I probably sound naive, but this isn’t my advice. It’s from someone much smarter, kinder, and more generous than I am.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Giving Kids HOPE (you can help!)

grads 2017In addition to being an author, I do fundraising for a children’s ministry near Asheville, NC. We serve foster care youth from birth to college graduation. Currently, we’re developing an Apprenticeship Program that will provide hands-on training and work experience for older youth. This is such a critical need when it comes to breaking the cycle of violence and poverty so many children are caught up in.

State Farm is offering an opportunity for 40 non-profits to win a $25,000 grant. We’re one of 200 finalists and need lots and lots and lots of VOTES to climb into the top 40. (As I write this, we’re #135 . . .)

If you want to help us change children’s lives for the better, please click on THIS LINK, share some basic information about yourself, and then vote (up to 10 times EVERY DAY) through August 25.

Thank you!

And if you want to learn more about the ministry, go to

Appalachian Thursday — Meeting Wendell Berry

Wendell BerryI’ve never been what you’d call on the cutting edge when it comes to famous people and pop culture.

My first concert was the WV Symphony Orchestra conducted by Henry Mancini when I was in high school. My second was Glenn Yarborough when I was in college. That time I asked to go backstage and meet the man. He seemed confused as to why I was there.

And when it comes to wanting to meet celebrities my top choices have been Gregory Peck (who is gone–sigh), Jan Karon (met her twice–she’s delightful!), John Hagen (the cello player in Lyle Lovett’s band), Francine Rivers (still hoping!), and Wendell Berry.

So, when I saw that Mr. Berry would be speaking at the Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky as part of their Appalachian Writer’s Workshop, I signed up for a ticket (which was FREE!!).

I sat in the front row and when Wendell Berry came in and sat just down the way from me, I couldn’t stop grinning. There he was. My literary hero. I first discovered him when I realized Dad’s copy of Farming a Handbook was NOT an instruction manual but rather poetry. Really amazing poetry about, of all things: putting up hay, sowing clover, wild geese, trees, rivers, the land and very being of Appalachia.

I had no idea such poetry existed. And then I discovered his stories and his essays and I was hooked. I even wrote him a letter 20 years or so ago, which he very politely answered.

Honestly, it’s largely Wendell Berry’s fault that I’m a writer. Reading his work gave me permission to write about what I know best–the people in and the place where I grew up.

He was a delight to listen to and meet. Humble, thoughtful, and patient with the long line of fans waiting for his signature. I brought him a new copy of Farming a Handbook for his signature and explained that it had been a sort of handbook for me–teaching me, encouraging me to write.

And then I gave him one of my books and said it was the fruit of the seed his book planted. He thanked me. And while it’s possible he was just being polite, I got the feeling he really did mean, “thank you.”