Saturday, December 28, 2013

Chop Wood Carry Water

Warning: This essay may contain philosophical material that some may find unwarranted.

I'm sure as humans, we all find ourselves at times questioning decisions we have made and, probably at times, the nature of our existence itself. As a dweller in a modern industrialized society with access to a plethora of technology and the illusion of infinite possibilities, I find it strangely difficult to sort through all the input and dig my way down to the bottom line. What is important to me? What are my values and is my day to day life reflecting a practice of cultivating those values? It's a bit embarrassing to admit it, but I find life in our world at times downright confusing.

I'm probably just overthinking things, as I am wont to do.

Let me provide a little context to my philosophical rambling: The check valve on my ram pump gave out on Christmas. It cracked in 3 places, possibly due to the temperature dropping into the low teens on Christmas eve. When I returned home from my sister's on Christmas afternoon to check on the house and water and such, I discovered no water in the house. Thinking the pipes had frozen, I exclaimed, "shit" to myself and crawled under the house. When I discovered balmy temperatures and unfrozen pipes under there, I proceeded to the next stop, ram pump system. I walked up to the ridge and opened the lid to the 600 gallon buried reservoir, and to my surprise the reservoir was empty. Guess what. I said "shit" again. Sorry, baby Jesus.
I gandered down, down, down the hill to the pump itself to discover the pump still pumping, and with every hit, three sprays of water squirted every-which-a-way from the plastic casing of the check valve. All around me lay the enchanting sight of 600 gallons worth of icicles, glistening like Rihanna's diamonds in the late afternoon wintry sunlight.
Eat your heart out, Rihanna
I am a lucky girl to have a very accomodating and helpful ram pump man, HL (he built the pump), who called me on Christmas Day within minutes of receiving my email. We talked through it, and he was willing to get two spare parts for me in the priority mail the next day. What a guy. These parts are custom built for these specific pumps, which HL builds as a business, and, dare I say, a labor of love.

Flash forward to the day after Christmas. I spent the day with a loved one, helping her with the gory details of a stomach virus likely contracted at one of the many small town Christmas events which were attended by many. I came home late, feeling tired and queasy, and set to work splitting enough kindling to build a fire to warm my house to a comfortable temperature, since I had been staying away for 2 days. I had enough water in the house for drinking, tooth brushing, and morning tea and washing, due to the bucket I carried up to the house after having discovered the 600 gallons of icicles. This morning I woke, still queasy from the resistance of the norovirus, with the first task of the day on my mind- carrying more water up to the house for the next few days. I figured I would need 5 gallons for drinking/ cooking, 5 gallons for a bucket bath, 5 gallons for toilet flushing and an extra bucket for whatever.
I set to work and spent a good part of the morning scrubbing out grimey garden buckets with grit from the spring in order to clean them enough to haul water up to the house. And then I carried several loads of buckets, by hand, up the hill to the house, with a queasy stomach and a tired body. I have to admit, I wondered, somewhere along the way, ' is this worth it?'

Blue barrel marks the location of the spring. The house is that brown thing up that hill in the distance.
Not just the effort of carrying the water to the house while feeling gross, but the non-electric water system that needs periodic (but intensive) attention, and, while we're at it, the life style in general. The rural remoteness. The acreage. The big garden. The piecemeal income plan. The hiking in and out when the driveway is frozen solid. The woodstove. The firewood. The physical and theoretical quasi-separation from modern American pop culture at large.
Are my daily tasks reflective of what's important to me?
I had to sleep on that one. This morning, the light is fresh, and the ground is frosty. The house is warm and cozy from wood that I cut and a fire I have kindled. I am drinking tea from water I carried up the hill. My hair is clean from that same water. My answer is yes.
The ram pump water system meets three goals:
1) To carry a portion of the righteous and abundant water of this watershed up to my house
2) To position my personal reservoir in such a way that overflow can be shared with neighbors
3) To keep the branch wet so as to protect the sweet diversity of branch life below the spring.
The pump only pulls 10% or less of the spring water up the hill. The rest splashes back out into the branch for the salamanders, crawldaddies, snakes, deer, coons, pole cats and water loving plants. The pump is powered by water and gravity. It provides cold clean water to me, my next door neighbors and sometimes even the next neighbors down. It is free of charge to operate. It pounds like a heartbeat. It is, in essence, a song and dance of the elements, and I am bound to this dance by the nature of its function in my life here.

Yes, this dance is reflective of what is important to me: for the duration of my life on this planet, to marry myself to the laws of its elements, to commune lovingly with members of my own species and others, and to foster generosity whenever possible.

The fruits of labor: water for washing heating on the woodstove
This is but a tiny window into the musings of one earth dweller's thought process. Of course there is so much more to consider than one's water system of choice. Like what to wear to the Grammys. Speaking of which, I would absolutely love to read Rihanna's discourse on her personal water system.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

night hike, full moon

silence much louder in the dark
rustle of beech leaves an announcement of a breeze not felt
shooting star and great horned owl a welcome home
no light needed

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The day my sister read my mind at the river

The day my sister read my mind at the river

Many things have been lost and gained in the last ten years since her traumatic brain injury. Some things remain untouched. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


First snow finds me baking pumpkin pies from my first pumpkin harvest here in the cove, rendering a sample batch of deer tallow, watching does forage snowy brush and Chinese herbs from my kitchen window, and marvelling my most recent significant accomplishment.

First, the pies. The variety used was "Long Island Cheese," a small-medium sized flattish tan-colored eating pumpkin. These actually did better than my butternuts this year, for some reason. The yield wasn't extremely high, but enough for me to eat on through the winter, and satisfactory for something that I just plugged in little starts of in gaps in the herb beds as an afterthought. The pies they produce are delicious. I know this because I have made 9 this week, and had enough left over to make a miniature in a ramekin and taste of it.
The tallow rendered nicely- yielding a half cup from the scraps I scraped off of a deer hide I recently cleaned up. The color was an amber when liquid and a creamy white as a solid. The smell is rather gamey, and I am unsure as to whether I will be able to tolerate it as a base of a balsam poplar bud salve I want to make with it.

pumpkin pies with tiny jar of deer tallow

Now for the recent accomplishment: Monday of this week I planted my gingko tree in the yard. This in and of itself is nothing noteworthy, as the hole was not particularly difficult to dig, and I plant trees regularly enough for the task to feel somewhat commonplace. However, it is the transferrence of the plant into the ground from its home in the pot where the accomplishment lies. It is an arrival of sorts. A benchmark no doubt. You see, I have had the gingko tree in a pot for 15 years.
I purchased the wee seedling from one Mr. Eidus for $5 back in 1998. I just couldn't pass the little guy (or gal) up- with its commanding singular presence in its very own division of organisms- its ancient DNA gracing our modern existence with ancestral dreamings and beauty of by-gone eras. I knew that it was less than ideal to purchase a tree as a transient youngster in my early 20s, but I remember thinking, 'I will probably have my own land in about 3 years, 5 at the most, and I can take good care of a tree in a pot for that long.'

Fifteen years, 8 moves, a few thousand cookies and about 500 gallons of Barry's Tea later, here we are, the gingko and me, with a piece of earth and a sweet cold spring to call home. I planted the tree in front of the western corner of the house, where its lovliness can be showcased, it has ample room to grow, and maybe someday in 15 more years, if we are both still here, he or she can shade me and my living room from the hot afternoon summer sun. What a thought. Just as I had absolutely no clue as to how the past 15 years would unfold at the time I first met the gingko, I realize now as I step into the next 15 that I am just as clueless as to what is to come. You just never know what is going to happen. Ever.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Picks of the day: my fine, fine sister and honey locust seed pods.

The combination of the two: a daylight savings jam session in the sun to the Jackson Five's Rockin Robin, using bean pods as shakers.

Rating: A++

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Noon on Wednesday the 30th of October found me neck deep in the hot mineral water of Tub 8 down at the Hot Springs spa, overlooking the cold running water of Spring Creek. I was spending the day with my sister, and as she had a little bit of a minor cold, we bypassed the notion of venturing out into the warm woods for a hike and opted, rather, to soak in the healing waters of the town's namesake.

The sun was about as high as it gets this time of year, which is still angled sideways in the southern portion of the sky. Our tub was nestled in amongst a grove of naturalized clerodendron trees, the top halves of which were brown and frost-killed, but the lower halves of which were still adorned with the magnificent, jewel-like fruit pods- fushia petals encasing a bright blue berry. Oh, the plants China comes up with! Spring Creek ambled by, with its bone-chilling waters descended from the generous contributions of Meadowfork, Little Creek, Long Branch, Panther Branch, Roaring Fork, Hopis Branch, Baltimore Branch, Caldwell Branch, Woolyshot Branch, Puncheon Camp and numerous other tributaries. Squirrels comfortably foraged an array of nutritious wild fare- hickory nuts, walnuts, mushrooms. The bright mid-day light trickled through neon filters- bright yellow hickory leaves, popping amarantine sourwood, firey sugar maple and green gold beech. The hickory leaves, their yellow more yellowy than anything I can describe, flittered and hovered around in mid-air over the creek in the warm breeze, milking every last glorious moment before settling on the surface of the cold, flowing water- Tennessee bound.

The intensity of the colors was beyond the mind's comprehension, and the warmth of air, light and breeze in tandem with the hot soothing mineral water tempered the tensions of the mind and body and caused my eyes to relax. Squirrels chirped. The waters flowed. I knew J and I were sitting in Tub 8 at the very peak hour of this year's Fall.

Rachel says that when you are in the peak of Fall, you know it without a doubt. You know it like you know someone will die within the hour. There is no wondering "is this peak?" It is undeniable. Glorious. Momentary. The icon of impermanence. It is like the sweet last breath of Life before Death. And like Rachel says, how can you not notice the last breath?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Asheville Bike Taxi

Cool October eve in Asheville. Children playing in the front yard after school. Parents jogging or speed walking, one at a time. Clouds shifting. Leaves turning. Air chilling.
One Jessie Lehmann catches a dream. Fly in a web. Spinning spider.
Her short legs pedal to full extension. Seat high. Ponytail swaying. Freak Show on the Dance Floor blasting. Fist pumping.

I take my place on the clean, new seat of the freshly awn-covered, golden sunflower hued Asheville Bike Taxi. I feel the chilly breeze on my face and the smiles of the neighborhood children and joggers as we cruise. The peace sign Jessie is flinging to passersby is no joke. The smiles are flowing like the waters of the French Broad. True. Simple. Elemental. I can't stop laughing and clapping to the beat. Unadulterated fun.

We tote a couple of groups of kids up and down the road. A 3-year-old rides on her older sister's lap, mouth hanging open in awe. By the end of the ride she is dancing with her head and grinning. An 8-year-old boy runs alongside the bike taxi, attempting to high five his budding riding. The funk is perpetuated. Fists are pumped in the air enthusiastically. People love this yellow pedal and sun-powered mobile!

After a while the ride is over, and the taxi gets safely tucked into the shed. Smiles all around. "Welcome to my new life," I am told.

There is magic in America yet. Don't let them convince you otherwise.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Tuberose in unicorner

I'm no artist, but I know something awesome when I see it. I was stopped in my bustling tracks yesterday morning by the glimpse of ths tuberose shadow on the wall of my Unicorner, which is at the top of the stairwell, and, yes, is a place for unicorns. My friend SM gave me the tuberose bulbs earlier this year, and I planted 3 of them in a small planter in the greenhouse, with the hope that they would bloom and I could bring them in the house to perfume my room with their nightly aroma. This here is the shadow of the first bloom. Its scent is infinitely reminiscent of things dark and hidden and magical, its thick sweetness almost too heavy to bear. It smells like hope and loss and serotinal moonlight. It smells like the stuff dreams are made of, finding a perfect residence in the Unicorner.

Monday, September 30, 2013


It's been a while now since I met a very nice gentleman at the Depot in Marshall who, in a roundabout way, first introduced me to what has become a favorite wild food of mine. There was a night, back when I lived in the infamous garage apartment on Hickory Flats (The "G.A."), when I sat in my neighbor's Kia, slapped on a little red lipstick with her, and we rode over to the Depot for a memorable night of dancing, cakewalking and people watching. Oh the people watching that could be done at the Depot then...They just don't make em like they used to; I'll leave it at that. Anyways, after the Depot we headed back to her house where I propmtly got drunk on her husband's homemade wine, and we sat in the kitchen telling stories and laughing and carrying on. My mind is just a wee bit fuzzy from that night (clear throat awkwardly), but I think that was the night that particular neighbor friend sent me home with an Ingles bag of paw paws given to her by her friend at the Depot. (Disclaimer: it is possible that I am getting two different nights confused here, possibly even from different years.)

Regardless of the nitty gritty details of the timing of which Depot night what happened, one of those nights back then I experienced my first paw paw ever. And it came from the trees of a very nice gentleman from the Depot, who has sinced moved from those trees, but the trees remain. And year after sweet year, I drive over to those trees in mid to late September and let the warmth of the angled autumnal sun remind me of all that is simple and precious about communing with a place in real time. A year passes. Time for another visit. The yard with the paw paw trees lies in front of an old farm house. No human inhabits this place anymore, and the weeds are taller than me in places. There is an old rose surviving next to the house, its aroma sweet and sad and emitting memories that I have no place in, but long for nonetheless.

I have not read Michael Pollan's book, The Botany of Desire, but I read the introduction. This year when I was reaping the harvest of the almost forgotten aforementioned paw paw trees, I couldn't help but think these trees really are having their way with me. I collect their fruits without fail each fall, and then I distribute those fruits far and wide, aided by my petroleum fueled modes of transportation and my generous nature. I am a seed spreading machine for those two trees- making sure portions of the bounty end up in various counties all over these mountains. And each recipient of the harvest in turn consumes the sweet alluring flesh and then does exactly what the trees want it to do- deposits the seeds in new fresh soil, thus enhancing the gene pool of the range of whatever nighttime fly or beetle paw paw pollinator might inhabit this particular place. I think I am looting some mad paw paw booty for myself and my people, but what I am really doing is spreading the seed of this strain of Asimina tribola to places much farther than the tree possibly ever dreamed of. Badass, Michael Pollan. Badass.

Old house with paw paw trees to the left
This time of year, you will find me busy trying to find all sorts of ways to enjoy North America's largest native fruit. Blended with whole milk to make a paw paw smoothie (my favorite), eaten plain as a snack with some wild nuts such as chestnuts, combined with other fruit and liquor to form a paw paw colada (watch out) or just eaten straight up plain as is for breakfast. Countertops, dashboards and refrigerator shelves are all lined with paw paws in varying degrees of ripeness. And also, you will find me geeking out on reading and quoting things that other paw paw aficionados have written about this bodacious Appalachian berry. Check these for some most interesting info!:
Turns out, paw paws are quite nutritious. Apparently they are quite old too- the second link talks about 50 million year old paw paw fossils!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This year's May pole in September

Standing vigil:
Courtships of bunting and turkey
Fledgling of pileated woodpeckers
Sipping of honeysuckle
Flooding of terrain, Thor's handprint
Foraging of deer and honeybees
Unfolding of angelica
Blossoming of lobelia

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Parallel Stalking

Ha. Got your attention. Now I can tell you about birds some more. (I rub my greedy little hands together here.)
This morning I went on a brisk walk up Sapling Mountain. I had intended to get a really early start and be part of daybreak, but apparently I slept through my alarm. I headed out at about 7:15 with my mind set on walking to the crossroads (up on Sapling Mtn.) and back for the purpose of cardiovascular exercise. I enjoyed the feel of the cool, damp morning air as I huffed up the mountain, and I enjoyed the warming of my body and the quickening of my heart rate. I walked with my thoughts.
Well, I got up to the crossroads, turned around, and was bopping back down the mountain. About halfway down, I finally remembered that a morning walk in the woods is a fantastic opportunity to pay attention to my suroundings and inhabit the present moment. There are so many other opportunities to walk around with my head part way up my ass- like in Asheville or at Ingles, but being in the woods calls for some good old fashioned awareness, mainly because there's just so bloody much happening to be aware of. And interesting stuff too. Flushing fungi. Foraging fowl. Puddling butterflies. Troublesome turds. Tricky tracks. Creative adaptation. Natural cause and effect.
And relevant too! How could studying the rest of nature ever be considered merely a hobby? Our human community and individual selves are just as subject to the laws and patterns of nature as the next guy, be that next guy a lichen or a female luna moth.
So I finally remembered to pay attention, and it was like someone flipped on the sound switch. There was a two-note high pitched bird sound coming from the top of a 6 foot embankment that bordered the road I was walking. I didn't recognize the sound, so I stopped and looked for the bird. The call sounded over and over. I stalked closer and closer to the embankment, each time stopping to recalibrate my depth perception of sound and trying to narrow in on the exact location of its source. (Oh, to have ears at different levels like an owl for this very purpose!) It drives me crazy how a bird can just hide right in front of my eyes in some foliage. I stalked closer, determined.
In the meantime, on the other side of the embankment, all manners of birds were going crazy sounding their best birdy alarms. A male cardinal frantically swooped down to an overhead branch and absolutely went apeshit. Woodpeckers downhill were warbling out some dramatic alarms, and left and right could be heard a symphony of random "cheeps" and "chirps" and "buzzes." I confusedly wondered to myself  'is all that racket because of me?'
My silent question was answered a moment later when a bobcat's cat and forebody came slinking up to the top of the embankment from the other side. Dark, gritty, wild. That cat took one look at me and manuevered a silent and seamless 180, hightailing (or rather bob-tailing) it back out of there toward Juanita Stump's place.
Well, I'll be.
With the help of some sturdy exposed tree roots, I hoisted myself over the embankment to look for the bobcat, which I knew I wouldn't see again. I could hear the path it was taking down the mountain through some underbrush by the traveling treetop parade of interspecies bird alarm noises. I discovered a sort of parallel 4 wheeler road on the other side of the embankment. Also from that side I could easily see the source of the mysterious 2-note bird call- a fledgling cardinal sitting helpless on the ground at the top of the embankment, its little undeveloped head tuft fluffing up as much as birdly possible as it hollered out.

Or maybe not helpless. Somehow that little guy's life was spared by my remembering to pay attention in the woods. Not that I favor the life of a baby cardinal over the life of a bobcat, but a hunt was intersected there. Two cats at the top of the food chain met on an embankment from parallel stalking experiences. And I got the bird, which I consider just a random stroke of luck because there is no doubt in my partially unaware mind who the better stalker is.

The rest of the walk was spent getting rained on and enjoying the spectacular beauty of the scenery. Old cabins and barns hint of dusty memories of a time when the human residents of this mountain paid attention to the woods as a way of life. An old store sets on top of Chapel Hill, making a home for spiders and birds. Deeply hued ironweed blooms in its time, setting the stage for the fall of another summer.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Bird Update

August 10. My morning wake up call these days is comprised of the gentle blanketing drone of crickets with the lonely, haunting accent of the occasional hooded or black throated green warbler. Their serotinal dawn expressions are often just a portion of their full reportoire, a phenomenon that my local naturalist hero Pete D. claims is a result of post-mating decreased testosterone levels in the males. Gone are the early- and even mid-summer symphonies of long-winded indigo buntings, trilling parulas, and melodious wood warblers in full effect. I used to not be able to sleep past 5:30, but now I can doze until at least 7:00 if my schedule allows.

Days in the garden are marked by the routine visits of 18 wild turkeys. Two hens are showing the ropes to 16 half growns. They waddle from one wooded bank of the cove, forage in my dang gui, bo he and buckwheat for long enough to scratch up freshly spread wheat straw mulch and nibble insects and what nots, and then they disappear into the deep, thick green. Their feeding here causes occasional minor damage and annoyance but is enjoyed overall.

If I am out and about in the holler at dark, I am lucky to experience the bizarre range of vocal capacities of the Eastern screech owls. Sometimes they sound like human babies, sometimes like cats, sometimes like aliens, and sometimes just like owls. About a month ago, Susie, Kristen and I watched one fly back and forth across Kristen's yard, perching in low branches between flights. It allowed me to approach closely as it sat and watched from a sumac. Brilliant clay reddish brown. I don't know what sex.

Due to the July 1 flood, Guntertown Rd is still closed as half of it broke off and washed down 100 feet of steep mountain. The detour has me communting to Hot Springs many mornings by way of Cedar Cliff, which is much more pastoral than this wooded dingle where I reside. Often I will encounter interesting bird activity as I slowly cruise the one lane gravel windy road. A cooper's hawk snatching a morning dove and the subsequent commotion. A pair of bobwhites (trying to make their Cedar Cliff comeback from a recent decline) crossing the road hurredly. A trio of curious domestic turkeys begging the truck for tasty morsels.


The pair of young yellow shafted flickers that Pete D. showed me last week in a fence post nest has probably fledged.


The osprey who lives on the Laurel between the old Gahagan house and Belva is thriving, healthy and gorgeous. I saw it the other morning (sex undetermined) with a freshly killed 12-ish inch long trout. I stopped the car to get a good look, and the osprey vocalized at me with raptoral gusto- first a series of high pitched emphatic whines, then some low, gutteral grunts. It grasped that trout tightly with large talons.


Other summer bird highlights:

Good One: I got to see a kingfisher (likely young and in training) up very close earlier in the summer. It was sitting on the ground between the road and the Laurel River, a little down stream from this ospry photo. I approached it almost close enough to touch it. Another kingfisher flew overhead, vocalizing and perched on a wire. Finally the one on the ground flew up toward the other one. They are beautiful birds. Maybe next year I'll go kingfisher nest hunting- they burrow in high river banks to nest!

Bad One: I watched a nest of wrens fledge from Susie and Todd's porch. One of the fledglings got caught by their cat, and I immediately intervened (I'm on the bird's side- hands down- can't help it). The bird was unharmed by the cat, but had holes all in its head that maggots were boring their way out of. I held the bird for about 10 minutes, observing the head because I had never seen anything like it. The skin of the head was wiggling with the sub-q movement of maggots, and in that amount of time I watched 7 maggots work their way out of the tiny wren head. It was disgusting. I don't know how on earth the bird was still alive, and I wished I had let the cat kill it. I let the bird fledge again, and hoped for its quick painless death by predator. Jeez. Perhaps it was a result of the moist, maggoty summer we've had.

I hate to end on a gross note so here's one last Good Bird Highlight of the summer: I watched black and turkey vultures soar above Hot Springs, and reviewed some of the differing characteristics of each. For your vulture identifying ease:

Black Vultures: short tail; dark with white patches near wing tip when in flight; smaller and shorter wingspan than turkey vultures, flaps wings more in flight. Also, "Black Vulture has heavier wingloading than Turkey Vulture, requiring stronger thermals for soaring, so usually becomes active an hour or more after Turkey Vulture." (quoted from Black Vulture species handout sheets from a course I took called Natural History of Southern Raptors at the Carolina Raptor Center in 1995.)

Turkey Vultures: most common American vulture; wings narrower than black vulture; in flight wings held in a slight V shape; tail is long; adult's head is small and reddish; soars on thermals; sways and rocks from side to side during flight.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Medieval Woman

Jennifer Bennett turned 35 at Shaman Hill in Alexander, and unfortunately I don't have a good picture of her doing such. What I do have is fonder than average memories of the birthday party that she and the generous folks at Shaman Hill included me in. Memories of arriving just in time for a group spear throwing tutorial by Alex, the owner and instructor of the horseback-centered medieval style combat skills training center. I was immediately smitten with the place as I joined the small but high quality eclectic group of spear-throwing novice birthday attendees. After a comfortable length of time with the spear practice, some of the group, myself included, moved over to the hatchet targets and were introduced to the art of throwing hatchets from various distances, making the hatchets turn a 180, 360, or 540 degree rotation before wedging its sharp edge into the wooden target.

good posture, Susie
Next was a delightful ride on the back of the tallest and most massive horse I have ever seen in my life. Tecola welcomed my presence on his wide and high back like it was nothing and graced me with a lovely and casual jaunt about the arena and general area, stopping to visit with other guests and horses and enjoying the hazy heat of late July.

Following the horse ride, I mosied over to the archery range, and within minutes found myself grossly engaged in a session with the most gorgeous hand made Hungarian bows and "Jennifer Bennett specialty" arrows. Surprisingly, the entirety of my mind and body was hungry for the level of absolute focus required in shooting these arrows nicely. The posture, movement and balance of the act of shooting was indeed a beautiful dance of aerodynamic meditation that I could see myself getting really into if I allowed the time for it (which I am not saying I will not do).

Finally came the moment I was waiting for. The destruction of a Dora the Explorer pinata by means of midevil weaponry (and by some on a galloping horse) is the stuff my dreams are made of. Both Jennifer and Alex went at it on Tecola's back, with swords and lances. Then some other guests and I threw spears and hatchets at the thing until it was shredded and the horse treats fell to the manure-enhanced black soil of the sunny arena. It made my week when my spear jabbed into the pinata and stayed! I cannot describer to you, dear handful of readers, how fantasically delighted I was at this moment. I was fist pumping all the air in my vicinity.

Alex, the owner/instructor, riding Tecola and lancing Dora
A delicious seasonal potluck ensued in the nighttime hours at Jennifer's sweet little hilltop cabin overlooking the French Broad River and the sky. The people were relaxed and unpretentious, intelligent and interesting- the exact portion of humanity whose company I desire to keep. I hope to go back.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Moment When Everything Seems Fallen into Place

Jenna laying out her peach harvest to ripen

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wet Weather Chronicles, part 1

Jill and Larry sat on the back stoop of their single wide. Larry fired up a Pall Mall stub that some guy in gold-rimmed sunglasses and a clean, white wife beater had chucked out a truck window into the thigh-high grass last week. As he puffed the rest of its damp nub, they both silently reveled in their luck. Ever since those weird people failed at their stupid attempt to paint the singlewide like a log cabin and make it into a mountain retreat, the place had stood empty and had acquired that stale, musty, abandoned mountain house quality. It smelled of mold and mildew and animal urine, but no raccoon that I ever met minded those things a bit. Jill and Larry were tickled as could be to have stumbled upon such a castle.

And stumble is literally how they arrived a year ago. It was a week to the day after their mother had died suddenly, electrocuted on top of a transformer to be exact. Jill and Larry were shell shocked, young from a freakishly late in the season birth into a wet Appalchian summer. They were too young to be left alone, not yet weaned from their mother's teats and untrained in hunting and foraging for themselves. Either because of the trauma of the event or because of their young ages, neither of them acutely remembered their mother. They shared foggy shards of memories of the sonic buzz that blasted their mother into blue and white flames and the subsequent week of stumbling through the epic rains, cold and starving, just narrowly missing several flash floods. They don't remember arriving at the abandoned trailer or the unlikey feverish victory over a young black snake, which not only provided their first meal in over a week, but also eliminated the competition for the endless buffet of small rodents and other critters thriving in the vicinity.

Now, a year later, they sat, fat and comfortable, listening to a distant rumble and watching the sky darken. Any human who might have happened upon them would probably have been amused at the sight, two overweight raccoons lounging around, one smoking a cigarette and the other filing her claws on a torn off scrap of sand paper. They would have assumed them to be a mating pair, although the truth was that due to the childhood trauma, neither of them was inclined to reproduce yet. And the truth of that was that, while all their neighbors were busy parenting their younguns this 4th of July, Jill and Larry actually found themselves quite bored. Fat and bored.

They had already gorged on the Rice's cat's food just before dawn, just for fun. They took turns- one holding off the wailing cat with a fly swatter, while the other demolished some of the Laura Lynn brand cat food. They didn't even like the dry, cardboard-textured sorry excuse for food- it gave them the bloat and mild constipation- but they found the mangy, cross-eyed tabby's effort to claim her territory just amusing enough to make it worth the trip across the creek and the quarter mile down the windy road.

After a somewhat gassy nap, they had entertained themselves for a few hours at the creek, snatching up crawdaddies and making them fight. When they got bored of that, they ate the poor fellers and lazily loped back to the trailer, escaping the wet heat of the afternoon in the shade of the crooked, half rotten back porch.

Larry deeply inhaled the last draw of the moldy Pall Mall. "Hey sis," he said, "Reckon it's 4th of July tomorrow." He leaned over his groin, snapping at a flea but missed. "It'd be funny as hell if we put up a flag. Sons of bitches wouldn't know where the hell it came from. They'd be ghost stories all up Sodom in no time flat about some tragic dead patriot haint puttin up flags on abandoned buildings."

"Hee hee, " snickered Jill. Though she was but 5 minutes younger than Larry, she looked up to him with as much adoration as a little sister could look up to a big brother. She fancied him a genius and knew that deep down, he relied on her approval about as much as he relied on the next meal. It just worked out that way. The two of them spoke surprisingly little due to the silent bone-deep comprehension of each other. They knew each other in the way that conjoined twins do, practically sharing a psyche.

A fly droned its way around the porch area. It landed on a little gash on Jill's back that she had acquired a few days prior while shimmying her fat self under a chain link fence. Larry dropped the cigarette butt, and swiped at the fly with his paw.

"Ouch!" Jill complained as Larry managed to miss the fly and whack her cut.

The fly buzzed about, and everything else was quiet for a few minutes. After the next rumble of thunder, Jill spoke, "You reckon Brice and them's AC in that Jetta's still out?"

Larry pondered a moment, "Yeah, I reckon."

"You reckon they prolly left their windows down again?" Jill asked. Jill and Larry had taken refuge in the Brandon's car during several sudden downpours in the past couple weeks. They learned from the scolding of his wife, Kristen, that Brice frequently forgot to roll the windows up when he got home from his daily trips out. Larry and Jill still hadn't figured out exactly where Brice went every day. His departures in the Jetta seemed to hold no kind of schedule or reason, and his returns, though always on the same calendar day, occurred at various hours of evening or night.

Larry looked at Jill a good few seconds before a big, classic toothy raccoon grin broke out on his face. "I see where you're going with this. As of about a half hour ago he hadn't left yet. I bet wherever he's goin we can find us a right nice flag and be back with plenty of time to get that thang hung. Let's ride, sis!"

It was mid-afternoon by the time Larry and Jill were comfortably hidden under the passenger seat of the Jetta in Brice and Kristen's driveway. Fortunately, as the groans of thunder became louder, the sky darkened and a breeze from the west drove some of the stuffy hot air from the car, replacing it with the kind of charged, cool air that preceeds a mountain storm. They had curled themselves amongst some clutter under the seat- a mildewy towel and a tee-ball jersey shirt. They folded themselves together to make a surprisingly small bundle of hidden furry softness, which would very likely go unnoticed by even the most observant of humans. Lying there like that, still, they waited.

It wasn't a quarter of an hour before Jill and Larry heard the house door slam and the sound of a female voice approached the Jetta. " You can just drop me off at Ingles real quick and I'll get a few things for tomorrow while you go deal with Farm Credit." Then a male voice, "Whatever. I just hope we miss this storm. I'm damn sick and tired of driving around with this AC broke."

As Kristen seated herself in the passenger seat, Jill and Larry stiffled groans. They hadn't accounted for the possibility of a passenger, much less a 9-month pregnant one. What was a tight squeeze to begin with became a nearly impossible fit. The mid-summer weight of mother and baby sagged the seat so low that the underneath seemed to compress the raccoon siblings to the size of opossums. Neither said a word, but the discomfort was tangible. They were both silently astounded that neither human could sense the presence of suffering mammals in such close quarters. Brice fired up the Jetta and commence up the pot-hole infested driveway.

That bumpy ride under the pregnant woman's seat in a tiny sedan riveled Jill and Larry's orphaned childhood in pain and misery. It seemed to go on FOREVER, and they were both sitting there squished into an impossible wad of raccoon believing that they were in the gruelling process of being smothered and crushed to death. Once the Jetta hit the blacktop 90 seconds later, the siblings found themselves not only alive, but relatively unscathed- Jill's tail had been broken and one of Larry's teeth had punctured his lip. He frantically attempted to lick the blood back into his mouth as it flowed, terrified that it would pool up and slosh out onto the visible portion of the floorboard. Of course it didn't, and in a few minutes the puncture had clotted. He thought to Jill, "Don't even be thinking about that joke about how I probably just gave myself rabies." She always made that joke whenever he accidentally bit his lip, which, he was just noticing, he did with annoying frequency.

The duo of humans and of raccoons travelled down the paved road with such relative smoothness that all four of them experienced the illusion of comfort and spaceousness. It was just about the time that Jill became aware of the throbbing pain in her tail and that Larry was starting to privately wonder if it was possible that he had indeed given himself rabies that Kristen suddenly let out a startling cry. Brice swerved as he exclaimed, "What the crap!!" He had been quietly daydreaming of a design to build Madison County's first eco-friendly putt putt course using only foraged and salvaged materials.

A warm delightfully scented fluid began dripping down in front of Jill's nose right as Kristen declared, "I think my water just broke!"

He was beginning to say, "Are you sure?" when Brice glanced down at the small pool beginning to accumulate around Kristen's Birkenstocks. Instead he asked, "What do you want me to do?"

Kristen was silent for a few moments before replying, "Well, I don't feel any different. Let's just go get the stuff at Ingles and you can do your stuff and we'll go back home and get organized before anything really gets going."

The Jetta rolled down Lonesome Mountain, cool breeze whipping the Brandon's hair and giving Larry a tickle in his whiskers. It was all Jill could do to refrain herself from lapping at the puddle in the floor. Suddenly, she was very hungry and thirsty. She wasn't sure if the whole flag prank was worth this miserable trip. Just then, Kristen yelled out in what surely must have been some sort of primal human pitch. "Aaaaaahhhhhrrrr!" Then she started panting like a coyote. A few moments later she howled like a wolf. Brice engaged the petal to the floor and exclaimed, "Crap! Hold on honey. Don't you have the baby in this car, ya hear! I'm-a get there in no time flat!"

A half hour and about 1,000 primal screams later, Brice screeched the Jetta into the Emergency Room drive loop, and as he was half lifting, half hoisting Kristen into a lone curbside wheelchair, Jill and Larry crept out of the driver seat and scuttled underneath some dense shrubbery nestled against the building. Once no one was around Jill turned to Larry and said through clenched teeth, "I'm gonna.." Larry interupted her, "You'd never kill me, sis. Now let's find us a flag."

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Excerpt from "Dula Weekly," Volume 1, ep. 1

For Back-To-The-Landers Tony "Dula" Mary and Sheila May Mosser, each day on the homestead offers opportunities to expand their consciousness and behold the wonders of Life on Spaceship Earth. Amongst fairy flowers and organic vegetables, free range animal companions and clear flowing mountain spring water, Tony and Sheila tread with a gentle footprint on Mother Earth.

"My work as a dula allows me to not just witness life, but also to perceive it fully," Tony Dula explains. "I remember back in the 80s when I was a thug. I was like just waiting for that next train, man. I was so spiritually dislightened that I didn't even realize my yang was disrupted. It had been torn from me like the breast is so often torn prematurely from the suckling kindergartener- weaned before its time."

"My work as a dula has illuminated to me the miracle of repairing my disengaged yang through the engaging of my inner yin. If that makes any sense."

Typically, Mary's work as a dula finds him supporting mothers in the age-old business of bringing forth new life. Pre- and post partum, eco-friendly lamaz, lactation consulting, kegels- Mary's dula skills are finely honed toward those blessed moments before and after childbirth.

Today, however, Tony's work threw him a cosmic curve-ball, so to speak. And he caught it.

"Ever since the Year of the Dragon, I have been dedicating myself to expansion. Expansion in the sense of everything real, man. I'm going for a total Big Bang of the 7th chakra, man. My meditations have been crucial."

Tony goes on to explain, "When the supermoon happened and then like 3 days later Mercury went into retrograde, I knew it was coming. I told Sheila, I said 'Honey, it's coming. The lightening is gonna strike.' I totally didn't know how serendipitous those words would be."

It was a few minutes before 5 o'clock Saturday that Tony noticed the chickens squawking. "Those hens are normally so peaceful," he said. "Like Sheila always says, 'they remind us to believe in angels.'" As quickly as he could resurface from the trance of his afternoon meditation, he made his way over to his avian companions. What he found there was the essence of one of his mortal challenges- a raccoon skulking around the birds' enclosure, coyly devising an entry plan.

"We always find predation to be a real challenge," Mary admits. "We consider our homestead to be a sanctuary for all living things, and we speak to all mainfestations of Life here with equal respect. We have an agreement with the predators that they might walk freely upon this land, including in the house if they wish, in return for their honoring our No Kill policy."

"I fear that this racoon must have wandered onto the sanctuary from another territory."

Tony watched with practiced unattachment, his yin and yang forming an energy field of a figure eight. He picked up the hose and offered the raccoon and spray of sacred water to gently remind him of the non-violence pact. "As we all know, water transmits purity of thought," Tony explains.

But rather than heed the gentle reminder, the raccoon took an unexpected course of action. She scurried up the nearby power pole and in an effort to seemingly attempt to take refuge atop of the transformer. Moments later, there was a "sonic buzz" and flames of white and blue leapt from the site of the raccoon up towards the sky. The raccoon, in its moment of reincarnation, toppled slowly to the earth, and her body lay there smoking.

"I heard it all the way from the cage-free creamery!" exclaimed neighbor Rosemary Michaeux. "Our lights flickered off, and then came right back on- totally hit my psychic reset button!"

Sheila looked up from her work in one of the zinnia patches in time to see the fall of the raccoon and hear the thud as she hit the ground below. "I heard the sonic zap, and I thought to myself, 'I can't believe it.'" After she realized what had occurred, she was able to simply and eloquently explain, "It was Karma in action- right before our very eyes."

After allowing some time for the smoke to clear and the reincarnation to complete, Tony Dula Mary gloved up, and delicately delivered the electrocuted raccoon to her final resting place. The whiskers were singed into little ringelts, and most of an ear was burned off. Even the contents of her final "elimination" were charred. "I realized I was like midwifing this Karma-stricken creature into her next life. Far out!"

Later that evening a clutch of chicken eggs hatched out as the wheel of Life made another turn. When asked if he had any further insights into the events of the day, Tony winked, slowly shook his head and said quietly, "They don't call me Tony 'Dula' Mary for nothing."

-Starla Nigel is a freelance new age writer dedicated to bringing light to stories that are in jeopardy of remaining in the dark.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Everybody rides out the storm somewhere

Hopey sneaks upstairs to snuggle with the pink fluffy 3-legged unicorn during a particularly scary thunderstorm.

Notice the body language and eye signalling in the above photos that reads: "Leave us alone over here on this rag rug."

Friday, June 14, 2013


Summer storm flares up my perception of danger. The elements are absolute in their dominance over the course of things here below. Thor has a strong say in things. The dark sky, the driving rain. The wind gusts with such force that we feel our mighty automobiles of steel and petrol wobble like cardboard on the road.

Old man Clifford, old buddy, tells a story of an real real old man who could read the weather signs in the sky. A direct contact with Thor- like they shared a walky-talky set. It was mid July and the old weather man told everyone to pick all their tomatoes, whether they be green or not, because it was going to come a freeze. Most folks wrote him off as a crazy old man over-heeding superstition. Clifford and a few others following the warning and brought in bushels of green tomatoes. Sure enough, it came a hail with such force that it shredded most everything in the fields. What was not dessimated by the hails was kilt by a thin sheet of ice over the tender green early the next morning.

Last summer I was driving home from my grandmother's house by the river when a mighty storm blew in. (Snap) like that. Suddenly. The wind blew a dead standing locust down across the road, and it missed hitting my truck by inches. It was a horrible place to wait out a storm, and several cars accumulated on either side of the fallen tree. Finally two other ladies in flip-flops and I hoisted the tree out of the way so cars could pass. The lightening was almost up our butts, and the driving rain was like a power washer of ice water coming from every direction. I woke up the next morning sick, the force of the storm having driven something either in or out of my person- it's hard to say.

When the rumble grumbles and the sky darkens and the wind whips the treetops on the mountain, it's funny how my perspective goes elemental. No more grass to mow. No more laundry to dry. It's get out of the way of falling trees and rivers jumping their banks and pray for mercy. Gather the children in the folds of your apron and watch the wash out from the safest place available. Talk pretty to Thor and hope for the best.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Man, oh, man

This is me, smiling as broadly as possible with my little mouth, holding a GIANT SIZED three-prong reishi (Ganoderma tsugae) that I found not a 2 minute walk from my kitchen door on the root of a dead standing hemlock. It's on its way to becoming a double extraction (extracting first in grain alcohol and then in boiling water) to serve as a health and longevity tonic for me and my clan. I admit, I am having a hard time taking a knife to it because it is so absoultely bizarre and stunning in its entirely fungal glory.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"The Thing" Resolved: It's a Boy!

After a six month gestational period of sorts with mysterious, "The Thing," a miraculous emergence has occurred here in this cove of many wonders. He emerged delicately, neon wings limp and crumpled, antennae alive and charismatic. The flippin' sweetest antennae I ever saw, their fern-like perfection tinted with a hue that resides somewhere over the rainbow, between 'mustard,' rust' and 'sable.'

And while I am on the subject of hue, allow me to emphatically relay to you the neon effect of this handsome guy's wings! The neon pops! Bright dusty yellow shoulders make way for one of the livliest greens I have ever seen in the natural world, and the entire upper wing system is cloaked in a scarf of deep majestic purple. The lunar markings on the wings are aptly reflective of our night sky, with insinuations of the moon in its different phases.

I've been living with him in pupa form since November. I found his cocoon out in the yard in some leaves under the hickory. I brought him up to the house, and with some investigative worked deduced that he was probably a luna moth in the making. He lived in a box on the covered porch with some leaves and lichens for the winter, and I brought him inside a few days ago and put him into a giant 4-gallon Ball jar so that I could see him when he emerged.

With wings crumpled and hues popping, he chilled out in the Ball jar last evening while I showered and ate my dinner. I then gently secured the Ball jar into the passenger seat of my town car with the seatbelt, and we rode down to Susie and Todd's for a session of admiration. They too have been waiting for the emergence. Along with George "why do they call him Jorge?" Cooper, we shared a perfectly lovely, lightening bug lit cool mountain evening on the porch of the shack, nibbling on chocolate and watching The Big Lebowski. Just the 5 of us.

I got to give it to the guy. He must be hearty stock because after all that handling and being moved indoors and outdoors again and being put on the table to be watched bumping around in the cocoon all winter, he still had the stamina to complete full metamorphosis. When we got home late last night, I spent some quiet time with him, and ultimately placed him on the porch post just before midnight. He needed to hang like that for a while to let the blood fill his wings before he launched into the night sky. May he fly off into the hardwoods and find a special lady friend to help conceive. Good night sweet prince*.

* The sex of the luna moth was guessed by the large antennae and the yellowish green hue of the wings.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

For Kieran

I ran over a toad today with my lawn mower. I didn't even see it there, which is slightly odd because I am always watching for things not to kill with my machines and movement. I just looked down, and there was a strange small pile of guts and organs, with two perfectly gorgeous little intact toad's feet. I got down and closely watched the eviscerated pile for a while, turning it over a few times with a stick. I completely expected the little toad heart to still be beating. But death must have settled very quickly because all that was there was stillness. How quickly Life can cease.
I am grateful for every dead animal I have studied over the years, and there have been many. Handling, smelling, taking apart, eating, burying, preserving, admiring. I have gained much respect and familiarity for the animal kingdom through experiencing the death of it. I still hang out with dead animals whenever I get the chance.
Perhaps it is precisely from learning just how quickly Life can end that it has come how much I favor studying living creatures these days. I am learning how to observe an animal in the action of living its brief and precious Life. I sometimes can't believe how long it has taken me to notice some of the incredible things that are occurring around me all the time! The pileated woodpecker slamming its spectacular face into trees all day to eat, to breed, to rest. The luna moth spinning its coppery cocoon out of leaves and what surely must be some sort of awesome bodily fluid to make that shimmery effect. The indigo buntings fighting for mating rights with that special female. The naked cicada subterrainously waiting for the moment when the stars are lined up and the fish are bitin' to emerge from the earth and climb a tree.
The first time I experienced a massive cicada hatch was 17 yrs ago, when I was living in Virginia. One evening or morning- I forget which-I was walking in the woods, and I stopped to just stand still for a few moments. I got the odd sensation that the earth was moving all around me. I looked down and refocused to discover that the earth and all the trees were covered with thousands upon thousands of cicadas in all stages of hatching and shedding. Imagine my surprise. They were absolutely everywhere. For the next several weeks, all you could hear was their hauntingly prehistoric-sounding chorus. "Pha-roah! Pha-roah!" is what they were singing. Or so said my favorite neighbor, Hobart Shiflett. He said some of the best things. The song of the periodical cicadas was the soundtrack that ushered me into the very beginning of my adult life. I turned 20 to this song.
They say this year is going to be another big one on the cicada front. Has it really been 17 years? Are these cicadas that are hatching out starting now the offspring of those thousands that crept around me that day in the woods17 years ago? They've been feeding on creepy crawlies down there in the belly of the earth while I have been up here coming into my own at my own special slow, 17-yr pace. I was standing on them the whole time.
Excuse me for saying this, but that blows my fucking mind.
Happy cicada emergence, Kieran.

**Author's note: The periodical cicadas (Magicicada) are a group of several species, which remain underground for 13 or 17 years, depending on the species, emerging in large broods to breed and lay eggs in tree branches in the early summer of their year. To be exact, I do not know which species I experienced in May of 1996, but for the poetic sake of this essay, I am assuming they were one of the 17-yr species.

Monday, May 20, 2013

He chuckled and chortled...

He chuckled and he chortled and loped around the perimeter of the Maypole gatherers, their faces freshened with the kiss of springtime and their breaths relaxed with the passing of another Winter. He grunted and groaned and stared with diamond blue eyes out of a mask of lichen and fern, a creature of the forest- Man with the wooly coat of a Beast. He inspired fear in the children and bone-deep familiarity in the rest of us, his face a primordial recollection of sorts.

Playing this dance out, facing the Man from the Wood, greeting each dancer time and again as the ribbons are woven to the music- these things are worth taking the time for. They are as crucial as eating the green shoots of asparagus and the precious brain-like morel. The psychic reset for the coming season.

May fertility and abundance reign over this mountain cove in 2013.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Jazz Hands for Angelica

The maypole is wrapped. The hoophouse is nearly full. The garden is weeded. The dang gui is germinating.
The rain is falling. Spring is, once again, bringing forth wet, green, irresistable life. The frogs are mating: a little ole bitty boy frog on the back of a big ole fat frog mama. They don't care. Life begets life. The dang gui are growing.
The dang gui are growing. The Chinese people are drinking the dang gui. Their blood is nourished.
The reishi are pushing their way out of dying hemlocks. The Chinese are drinking the reishi and living forever.
The spring is flowing with great forth.
The season is arriving.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mystery Plant

Who knows what this is? I found one singular specimen near my house. It is very strange. I stem with no leaves at the bottom. Whorled leaves? (Or perhaps what I think are leaves are part of the flowers, which are tiny and a chartreuse green. Stem is smooth and has some purplish tint to the slight vertically striped effect. It appears to be somewhat hollowish. The entire plant is about knee high. Growing in the woods in a fairly moist but not soppy spot- in the company of wood nettles, mixed deciduous and coniferous trees, rue anemone, bloodroot, various ferns, grapevine and morels.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Follow Up

It has been a week since I wrote the post entitled "Random Until Proven Otherwise." The morning I wrote that essay, it was raining. I was scheduled to work at my place with my temporary helper in the garden. It was too wet to do the things I had planned, so early that morning I lay in bed thinking to myself, 'How can I make this day into a productive day here?' I thought of the next big poplar tree I wanted to take down and how it was leaning one way, but how I wanted it to fall the other way and how there were blueberry bushes nearby so it needed to fall just right and how that was out of my skill zone. I lay in bed wondering if there was an experienced tree cutter I could call for some help because it was the perfect day to do something like that. I didn't come up with any answers in my mind, so I went to writing that Random essay.

After I finished the essay, I got to making biscuits and I heard a "rap rap rap." I went to the door, and no one was there. I went back to biscuit making and heard it again. I happened to catch a glimpse of the bathroom window through the open bathroom door and saw a man standing there. It was "P," a man who I had met a couple of times, but who I didn't know well. He certainly had never come to my house before. I invited him in for biscuits, and he apologized for interrupting my morning but just wanted to know if I had any trees that needed cutting down. Well.

P is a professional tree climber and cutter. He hails from the Amazonian jungle and is one of a kind. He can climb a tree like a monkey and have that tree land precisely where he wants it to land in no time flat. Typically if some dude showed up and wanted to cut down trees here I would give him a biscuit to go with a side of "hell no." But in light of my early morning thoughts and essay, I just couldn't resist. I let P cut that poplar, which he did with about the speed of lightening or a tornado, one. I tried to take a picture of him climbing, but my camera literally didn't function quickly enough to keep up with the brother. It was mind-blowing. He landed that tree perfectly, and after I fed him lunch and paid him with herbs and a little stump vice, he was gone. As I set off to begin cleaning up the limbs and carnage of the tree with MS ( the awesome helper), I laughed and marveled at how it was so random, but not really, that P showed up. I guess my good mood got me singing because before too long I was pulling one out of the archives and singing Bitchin Camaro (by The Dead Milkmen). The last time I heard that song was probably in high school. Don't know where it came from, but it popped out as we began sorting through the grapevine and poplar mess. Random.

But of course not really. Not 10 minutes later, I heard a car coming. "That's strange," I thought- "Who could it be this time?" I looked up in time to see a shiney black, tricked out Camaro, COMPLETE WITH A VANITY DESIGN ON THE SIDE pull up the driveway. I shit you not.

If you are reading this and have never been to my house, I will tell you right now, it is not a place you just happen on. It is excrutiatingly out of the way to the flow of traffic, even in these remote parts.The bitchin Camaro transported two fellers from East Tennesse who were slightly lost, looking for the neighborhood cemetery to find some Civil War era ancestors. Of course. That's not random.

I directed them to the cemetery in question, whilest giggling to myself, and they were off in a splash of mud and randomness.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Random Until Proven Otherwise

Have you ever thought about how random some things seem until they become familiar? I remember the first time I rode out into Laurel, years ago. I hopped in the truck with Dad in Hot Springs and he drove me out to get locust posts from some guy out here. After we loaded the posts in the muggy summer heat he proposed that we take the long way home and see Laurel a little bit. As we drove around 212 and possibly even up Cutshalltown, I remember gazing out the window at the sparsely situated houses and barns, cow pastures tucked between mountains, tobaccos bottoms, lots of land, and thinking "Who on earth lives out here, so tucked back from everything else? And what on earth do they do?" It baffled me to think how people in the modern world could make their lives work all the way out there. How did they earn a living? From farming alone? Did they have to drive all the way to some other established town or city for paid work? How about groceries? These valleys we were driving through just seemed so far removed from every other thing I had ever experienced in my life. It was like coming upon a place truly random.
Ha ha ha. Joke's on me.
What did I know? It was years before I learned the stark relevance of Laurel. During those years, all I caught was tidbits of stories old and no so old about the wild nature of Laurel and the fiesty independent nature of its people, its animals, its rivers. Then one day I had my first trip over Lonesome Mountain and the grandness and seperateness of Laurel really hit me again, but this time it struck a more enticing chord. Randomly, shortly after that experience, I began visiting friends out here on a regular basis, and hints of familiarity began to creep into my psyche as a travelled over the Walnut Mountains and into Sodom or Chapel Hill. The cool smell of the air, the twists of the road, the quieting in my mind.

Was it random the night Susie stopped by to see me those years ago? That same night that I decided that, for reasons beyond the scope of this essay, I could no longer stay in the place I was living. Was it random that she invited me to come stay with her and T for a while? Was it random that during the year I stayed with them they acquired some gorgeous adjacent land that needed to be bought and that I randomly had the means to buy it? The place was becoming familiar.

I am a believer in straight forward evidence and gods of all things tangible. I don't believe that things are meant to be any certain way. What I am saying here is that I don't know a damn thing. What I thought was truly random proved to be my home and the culmination of my dreams thus far in life.

I have no choice but to assume that possibility exists in pretty much everything that seems random, foreign or highly irrelevant. Isn't that something.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Blasting forth from the loins of the mother earth

Spring has ushered me in hurredly as if I were a late guest at a special variety show. This week surrounding the equinox has spun me around in a whirlwind of productivity, bizarreness, business and emotion. Not surprising. It is March; The winds of change are re-activiating the Wood from its winter dormacy. The blood is thinning. The waters are raging. Life is again stirring from the fiery loins of the planet we call home.

Nadine called me Friday night.

All night.
I do not know Nadine. Or rather, I should say, I did not know Nadine before Friday night. She acquired my cell number from "I really do not know where," and she used it. A lot. Despite anything I insisted otherwise, she really and truly believed that I was the ex-wife of some man who I can only assume was her boyfriend. She texted me at least 20 times, four of which were the above picture with various texts to accompany, and the rest were messages spanning from 11:00 pm to 3:42 am, increasing in urgency and conveying the following in a nutshell: You are D Queen, and you have a son. You have cursed your husband and done him wrong, and now you are avoiding both him and his girlfriend. He misses you and his son and wants you back. He has been extremely hurt by you. Even though you say you are not D Queen, you really are. Really. You are the problem- not me.
Do not worry, I turned the phone off when I went to bed. I enjoyed the grand finale of the text saga when I woke up Saturday morning. The last message, which came in at 3:42 am, merely read: Come get your husband.

2) I built a hoop house with the awesome and most enjoyable help of several rounds of friends. Frank T helped with the frame and skeleton. Todd M assisted me in getting the end walls up. Illiana and James W helped me get the plastic over the whole thing and secured very tightly and well. We joked and laughed and carried on. The thing is almost done and ready for some seeds!

Illiana and I topped off the day with a modified two person pyramid

3) As I stood my equinox egg up on the counter top last night in honor of the balance of day and night, a freak snow storm occurred while it was still 45 degrees out. It was crazy weather! The wind was blowing hard, and snow was all of a sudden pouring down heavily and quietly. But it wasn't cold out! The ground was still warm. It was outrageous! I woke up this morning to a beautiful but unexpected white springtime wonder.

Simultaneously, the days are stretching longer and longer into the night sky. The air has the occasional smell of fresh line dried linens. Turkey toms are starting to display, and the vultures are probably mating as we speak, so to speak. Human tempers are passionate and volatile. Sleep is bumped down a couple notches on the priority list, and placing one's body in the direct path of the sunshine is bumped up a few.

We are blasting forth from the loins of the mother earth.

And to top it all off, I find out that March, 2013 is the 30th annual "National Frozen Food Month!" These people are killing me, metaphorically. Every time I purchase frozen food with my Ingles Advantage Card until March 30, I am automatically entered for a 4-DAY FAMILY ORLANDO VACATION! Because frozen food and Disney are like brothers from another mother...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

North Carolina Severe Weather Awareness Week

In honor of the last day of North Carolina Severe Weather Awareness Week, I offer you this ominous looking cloud picture, compliments of Mr. George Cooper of Wilmington, NC.

Apparently the winds were so strong earlier this week, they bent the flag pole of Mr. Cooper's American flag. The winds were also strong here. Large pieces of tin covering stacks of wood went flying around crashing here and there, loudly like artillery. Severe weather is no laughing matter.

More North Carolina news:  North Carolina's state beverage is: MILK.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


I'm so glad I left last year's Maypole up. It turns out a wrapped Maypole is quite stunning in the snow. It still stands in the middle of the garden, erect, last years bright colors faded slightly but not much. Red, yellow, pink, green, white, brown, checkered- all woven tightly to mark human activity in this cove. Are the lovely old depression era country songs of the Twilight Broadcasters, who kept the cadence of the May Dance, also woven in there? How about the smile of Eleanor Gentry (aka "Shorty"), whose old fabric we used for the ribbons? She spent the 40 best years of her life down there in the holler in the now dilapidated house where those fabrics were salvaged and then brought up the hill to be put to work. And the awe and fear of 3-year-old Sylvia Sparrow upon witnessing the Blue Man with antlers emerge from the woods and, silently, encircle the outer perimeter of the ring of dancers with his staff and his kilt, pawing the ground and snorting like a territorial buck?

What does the piliated woodpecker, watching from one of its MASSIVE holes in a nearby poplar tree in the woods, make of me standing in the snow pondering the pole? Will it watch from that hole this spring, as the friends, families, children and lovers wind new ribbons around a new pole? Or perhaps will it lose all sense of self control and fly right over the whole ordeal, laughing and cackling in polyrhythm with its undulating flight pattern?

The snow does not fool me. Spring is upon us.

Angelo beholds the pole