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.

Should I Pray for Power?

crosswordWe saw some storms blow through late Friday afternoon knocking out the power just before five. Our landline went down as well, so I loaded up Thistle (who is FREAKED OUT by power issues) and drove about a mile and a half to where I can get a cell phone signal.

Called it in. Of course, they’d had about 400 other people call it in by then, but hey, it’s something to do. Word was that 1,700+ folks were without power in our outage and crews were assessing. They’d text me once they had news.

Well, good luck with that. I went on home where I:

  • Listened to a battery-powered radio,
  • Read a book,
  • Wrote a thousand words or so of my new book (laptop was charged),
  • Worked on a crossword puzzle, and
  • Pondered what I could eat that wasn’t refrigerated.

Then, around 7 p.m., the power blinked back on and I proceeded to cook the chicken breasts marinating in the fridge. No problem-o.

And honestly, other than not having access to the internet, that wasn’t much different from what I would have been doing anyway.

Neighbors called at 8 p.m. to see if the power was back on. They’d gone out to eat after the electricity had been off for about an hour and were faced with crowds of other people doing the same thing.

I told them we’d had power since seven and they asked if I’d said a prayer for restoration. Which kind of took me by surprise. Well, no. I didn’t. It didn’t even occur to me to pray about the power being out. And while I don’t think God would have minded a chat about electricity in the least, I’m pretty sure he and I can come up with better stuff to talk about.

Sure, power outages can be scary. For people who depend on electric medical equipment. For hospitals and nursing homes. For people living in extreme heat or cold. But for me on a cool, rainy Friday evening? It was a minor inconvenience at most.

We talk about taking a “break” from things like Facebook or our cell phones. We take vacations from work and sometimes give up food or drink like sugar, alcohol, caffeine, or wheat when we’ve been overindulging. Maybe we should start taking breaks from electricity. Eat peanut butter crackers, go for a walk, play cards, read books, and talk to each other.

Hmmm. Maybe the power should go out more often . . . I think I know where the breaker is.

 

Vinegar & Char

vinegarThis seems to be my year for collections. While I don’t have a full-length novel coming out in 2018, I do get to be part of two collections releasing on October 1st and 2nd.

I’ve already written about The Christmas Heirloom novella collection releasing 10.2.18, but Vinegar and Char is something else altogether.

When it comes to writing, my first love has always been poetry. I’ve published a few poems here and there–in magazines like Appalachian Heritage and Now & Then, but my very first poetry publication was in a 2004 book titled Cornbread Nation 2: The Best of Southern Food Writing compiled by the Southern Foodways Alliance. It was a proud moment.

That first poem about fried catfish, bourbon, and cotton gins in Mississippi still reads well to my ear. Cornbread Nation 5 (2010) included my all-time favorite poem about funeral food.

So I was absolutely delighted when I was contacted by Sandra Beasley about submitting a poem for the Southern Foodways Alliance’s new poetry anthology. While I don’t write poetry as regularly as I used to, I still enjoy stringing words together in that succinct way that makes a poem. So I submitted a piece called, “The Sacred and the Bread,” that was accepted for publication.

I’d love to share it with you now . . . but no. You’ll just have to wait for October.

Appalachian Thursday – Which Winter is This?

redbud

A sure sign of redbud winter.

We’ve been complaining lately about the weather.

I know, I know, everyone does that ALL the time. But spring this year has really been a roller coaster ride. Windows open. Windows closed. Coats off. Coats, hats, and gloves back on.

I was thinking the weather really is getting crazier. Then, this past weekend, I noticed that the redbud trees had bloomed almost overnight. Suddenly there were all these gorgeous sprays of deep pink in the edges of fields and neighbors’ yards.

Which reminded me. This warm, cold, hot joy ride is nothing new. As a matter of fact, it’s so not new, there are several old-time names for the various bouts of cold that crop up after that first taste of spring.

Like redbud winter. Which is what we had last weekend.

Now, let’s see. There’s also dogwood winter, locust winter, blackberry winter, britches winter, and whippoorwill winter.

Some of these are pretty self-explanatory, but here’s a primer:

  • Redbud winter – When the redbud trees bloom
  • Dogwood winter – When the dogwood trees bloom
  • Locust winter – When the locust trees bloom (see a pattern?)
  • Blackberry winter – When the blackberry brambles bloom
  • Britches winter – Wait. What? This one is more fun. The full name is linsey-woolsey britches winter which means it’s the last time it’ll be cold enough to wear your long underwear
  • Whipporwill winter – (I smell a book title) This one is barely cold enough to call winter, but it’s when the whippoorwills migrate north from Mexico

So, turns out the now-warm-now-cold craziness we call spring in Appalachia really isn’t anything new. It’s been around at least as long as long underwear.

Dreaming Big – Once Upon a Prince

upon a princeWhen Rachel Hauck released Once Upon a Prince, I hesitated to read the story. I was afraid it was going to be just another reinterpretation of Cinderella. And while I LOVE Cinderella, did we really need another, modern version?

Boy, was I wrong!

Oh, there are echoes of Cinderella, but somehow Rachel has managed to craft a surprisingly believable commoner falls for royal story with a wonderful faith theme woven through.

And now, it’s being released as a Hallmark movie.

The thing is, shortly after an author’s book is released, friends and readers start saying things like, “This would make a great movie.”

And your job, as the humble author, is to thank them and say things like, “Oh, well, it’s tough to get a movie deal.” Or, “There are so many great stories out there–who’s going to notice mine?”

But secretly you’re thinking, “Yes! It would make a great movie. When’s that going to happen?”

Well, for Rachel, it’s happening this coming Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern on the Hallmark Channel. Which could easily lead to things like comparison and jealousy.

But here’s what I know about Rachel. She’s written 30 or so books. Lots of them have won awards. Some haven’t. She’s incredibly active in the world of Christian and romance writing. She teaches. She mentors. She endorses books by new authors. She sits across the table at lunch and listens with her heart.

And now, for Rachel, her dream of a movie is coming true. I, for one, can hardly wait! Check it out this Saturday at 9 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel.

Stories All Around Us

SummerMy husband and I went to dinner Sunday. We enjoyed a lovely meal and headed out into the mild evening to make our way back to our car.

I think I’ve mentioned that I can’t resist a dog.

Well, there was a girl sitting on the sidewalk with a puppy dancing around her. I handed the takeout box to my husband and crouched down to say hello.

Oh my. Four months old and all feet. His name was Bemis.

I petted and played with the puppy and chatted with his person. She looked like she was late teens or maybe twenty. Neat and tidy if a little offbeat. She had some small sketches set out beside her with a sign that said, “Buy My Art.”

She said she travels from city to city, hopping trains and hitchhiking. I told her to be careful and she assured me she’s very careful. I bought a piece of art (a pencil sketch of a dragon–quite good!) and told her I’d be praying for her.

I don’t know her story. I don’t know her history or her dreams. But she touched my heart. Her and that adorable puppy.

But I know God loves her just like he loves me. And he loves you. He has a plan for her–and I hope she learns what it is.

So today, I’m asking you to join me in praying for Summer and Bemis. Pray for a girl with a backpack, a puppy, and a knack for drawing pictures. Pray that she’s safe and that she finds whatever it is she’s looking for.

She has a story and I pray that she lets God direct each chapter.

 

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.