Thanks to the Female Friends of My Youth

I am very grateful to the girls and young women with whom I shared the first twenty-plus years of my life. You meant a lot to me during that time. You contributed much to my development. You had a tremendous impact on my beliefs, my attitudes, and on the person I have become.

Many of you were my closest and most special friends during the years we were together. I bonded with you. I respected you. We worked and played together. We helped each other. We challenged each other. We could share strengths and weaknesses, admit them in ourselves and point them out in each other, and maybe help each other to use that knowledge to build upon.

You demonstrated that you were intelligent, self-confident, caring, sensitive, articulate. We could talk about ideas, cares, concerns, hopes, dreams, sorrows, plans. As you grew into young women, those important characteristics grew as well.

The community where we lived and the schools we attended were major factors in the attitudes we developed and the nature of the relationships that followed.

An important part of the lives of many of us during those earlier years was Park Circle and the variety of programs offered by the community center located there. The playground sports programs which were a popular part of the activities at Park Circle were available for both boys and girls beginning at elementary school age. While the leagues were separated by gender, the girls’ programs were given equal emphasis and were well-supported and well-attended. The girls’ athletic abilities were respected. Boys attended and cheered for the girls’ competitions and the girls did likewise for the boys. When we moved from playground to high school sports, the girls continued their participation and received the boys’ enthusiastic support.

The schools also had a profound influence on our development and our attitudes. North Charleston Elementary School and North Charleston High School valued and encouraged educational achievement. In classes both girls and boys were among the best students. The same group was usually together in most classes, girls and boys together, learning together, challenging each other, helping each other, respecting the abilities and accomplishments of each other. We enjoyed each other. Outside classes both girls and boys were involved in leadership and support roles in school organizations and clubs. The successful functioning of all the school activities depended on the contributions of girls and boys working together.

Because of these and many other early experiences, I never had any question about the equality of the sexes. I knew that females were at least as able as males. Sometimes boys came out ahead at something and sometimes it was girls who were ahead, but usually it was a mixture. It wasn’t one’s gender that made the difference in performance; it was one’s individual abilities and how they were applied that mattered.

When the women’s movement became a prominent force in the 1960s, there was no question in my mind that the changes sought were, of course, long overdue. Too frequently our society has relegated females to second-class status and has made it more difficult for girls and women to gain the recognition, respect, and rewards they merited. I knew that girls and women deserve to have their abilities, achievements, and value acknowledged by all of society. The importance of the girls and women with whom I had lived in North Charleston had always been abundantly clear. And in the years since my youth in North Charleston my spouse, my daughter, my granddaughters, my daughter-in-law, and numerous other girls and women have reinforced the lessons I learned during those early years.

While talking with some friends recently I’ve had the opportunity to tell them about the special relationships I shared with girls and women during my early years in North Charleston. I’ve not been in contact with most of the people I knew back in North Charleston, but I really wanted to tell my female friends and acquaintances from those days how much you have meant to me. I thank all of you and am forever grateful for the influence you have had on my life. I expect you have continued your development into even stronger individuals than you were during the years I was with you in North Charleston. And I hope that you have received appropriate recognition for all your achievements and true respect for your abilities and your contributions to those around you.

Spring Is Coming, Just Not Yet

The weather this day is not especially unusual for mid-March here at our homeplace. It’s not extremely cold (19 degrees overnight and 21 degrees at noon), but we do have about ten to twelve inches of newly fallen snow on the ground and it’s still coming down steadily. Wind gusts tonight and tomorrow are predicted to be in the 50 to 60 mph range. The birds were attempting to get the few remaining seeds from the snow-covered food bowls, so we cleared containers, replenished the food supply, and moved the bowls to a slightly more sheltered location on the deck. We just made a path to our car, cleared snow and ice from the doors and windows, and drove the three-tenths mile to our mailbox to retrieve a package, making a bit of a track through the snow with our tires. The snow is incredibly beautiful, but it seems this might be a good day to post some non-snow photos. I hope you enjoy them. Remember, spring officially begins just six days from today.

Flame azalea (wild)

Bleeding heart

 

Bee on goldenrod

Fritillary butterfly on coneflower

Daisies (wild)

Turk’s cap lily (wild)

Bees on sunflower (planted by chipmunks)

Flame azalea (wild)

They May Be Small, But They Can Be Fierce

We have four varieties of squirrels living around us: flying squirrels, fox squirrels, gray squirrels, and red squirrels. The first two types have been seen by us only rarely. The flying squirrel has visited only once on a night a couple of years ago; it moved so fast snatching food on our deck that we barely saw it then. The impressive fox squirrels (about twice the size of gray squirrels) live primarily in the piedmont and coastal regions of North Carolina, but a small, growing population lives in the three county area which includes our homeplace. Still, we’ve only seen this rare creature twice and never before two years ago. Our most common encounters are with the familiar gray squirrels and the perhaps less-well-known little red squirrels, both of which are frequent daily visitors.

All of the squirrels are amazing to watch. I admire their agility and daring in moving from tree to tree, finding a path through the maze of interconnecting branches, sometimes leaping great distances or dropping from one tree to another. They climb the posts and beams on the deck, clamber down wires and chains to reach hanging feeders, and then hang upside down by the toes of their back feet while helping themselves to the seed or suet that was mostly intended for the birds. I can’t help but marvel at the intelligence and determination they apply to their pursuit of food, as anyone who has birdfeeders knows very well.

I enjoy observing all our wildlife neighbors, but I’m especially fond of the little red squirrels. It’s difficult to imagine an animal cuter than these characters. And the poses they strike appear so friendly, tiny paws clutched in front of their chests and big, dark eyes seeming to beg, “Can I please have some more sunflower seed now?” Who could resist such a plea?

Who wouldn’t be charmed by this cutie?

The little red squirrels (notice that I usually add the adjective little; it just seems a natural part of their name) don’t appear particularly disturbed by my presence when I am near them on the deck. As long as they can continue eating, I can go about my activities; they are not bothered by me and I’m not bothered by them. They will actually come up to the food bowls while I am still adding sunflower seed or corn. Occasionally when I have been attempting to shoo one off a suet feeder so the birds can get something to eat, I’ve had to poke the little squirrel with my finger to get it to yield its place.

Other animals and birds aren’t tolerated as well by the little red squirrels, at least when it comes to food. We usually have at least two containers (bowls, trays, and pans all work) with sunflower seed or cracked corn available on the deck. Many times we see a squirrel enjoying its meal while sitting in one of the two food containers. Several feet away is the second bowl with plenty of food available for another squirrel to come and dine. Yet, if another red or gray squirrel approaches, it is likely to be charged by the fierce little red squirrel who was on the deck first. Back and forth they go, first contending over possession of one bowl and then the other. If the intruder is another red squirrel, it is likely to be persistent enough and fierce enough to eventually win a grudging truce that allows each squirrel to eat from its own container. However, if a gray squirrel is involved, it’s much more likely to give up and go elsewhere looking for food, even though it is twice the size of the little red squirrel.

The standoff

Recently we’ve observed several encounters with crows competing with the red squirrels for their share of the food. Crows also like sunflower seed and corn (and just about anything else that might be available) and are frequent visitors on our deck. Crows are surprisingly large birds. They also are very wise, very observant, and very cautious. But when they see a good serving of food waiting to be taken, they are willing to risk a confrontation. The bravest crow will land on the far end of the deck, usually backed by several of its companions. Gradually and cautiously the crow will begin edging its way toward the food, its zigzag path allowing it to check that we are not coming out onto the deck to interfere. It also keeps its eyes on the little red squirrel sitting in the food bowl, assessing the potential threat from the much smaller creature. A few steps closer, a few steps back, approaching first from one direction and then another, the crow moves toward the food. But eventually the squirrel makes its charge and the crow jumps away. The red squirrel is such a tiny little thing, but fierceness is not necessarily determined by size. No doubt the crow will eventually get some of the available seed, but only after the little red squirrel has its fill. What fun it is to watch their dance around the food bowl. 

Sorry, but the little one ate it all this time.

Cold Mountain Spring Water

When we found the property that was to become our home here on this mountainside, we were delighted to discover that there was a year-round spring in the woods near our proposed homesite. Hopefully we would not have to drill a well with all the uncertainty and expense that might involve. The spring did not produce a huge amount of water, but after making a crude dam across the spring’s outflow and measuring the average volume of water produced per minute we figured it would be satisfactory for our needs. So we had a potential source to supply our water needs, but that didn’t mean we would have free water. Both physical effort and financial input would be needed before we could make use of our spring.

The area around the spring was very boggy, so we had to do a lot of digging before we could isolate the main spot where the flow of water emerged from the hillside. We built a concrete catch basin to contain the water with an overflow pipe to carry the precious liquid to a 500-gallon reservoir about thirty feet away. The water could now be collected, but unfortunately the spring was several hundred feet from the planned house location. It also was situated at an elevation about fifty feet lower than the house would be, so there could be no gravity-fed water supply; we would need to pump our water uphill to the house.

Whenever we could install a pump in the reservoir we would be able to send our always-cold mountain spring water through a pipe (buried three feet deep to prevent freezing in the winter) to our house. But it would be another year and a half before we completed installing our house wiring and plumbing and received the inspector’s final approval. Once that happened we finally had our spring water on tap in the house, to enjoy at the turn of a faucet.

Enjoy it we do! Cold mountain spring water on demand, naturally chilled to about 40 degrees (the average year-round temperature of the earth through which the water flows to the spring). People pay a dollar or more per liter for spring water in the grocery store. We’re able to use it for watering the garden, washing clothes, showering, cooking, and best of all for drinking.

The work involved in accessing our spring water is not completely behind us. The spring has never failed us during almost 39 years living here, even during drought years. Pumps on the other hand have failed all too frequently. Sometimes the pumps have suffered from lightning strikes, but usually it’s just been wear and tear. Unfortunately, the equipment failures seem to occur during the night, rainstorms, winter, or all three. Correcting the problem usually requires multiple treks down the hill to the spring and back, carrying tools and replacement pump, working by flashlight, communicating by walkie-talkie to turn electricity off and on at the house, and checking to see if everything is working yet.

It may not be what most people would consider the perfect setup, but we believe it’s been worth the effort. At the end of a hot day working in the garden or whatever project we’ve been involved with, we can sit and enjoy a nice cool glass of our mountain spring water. Plus we have the satisfaction of knowing we made it happen.

The History of Places

I love coming home to our place here on the mountain. Whether I’ve simply been to town for a few hours or have been away for several weeks on an extended trip, I feel joy as I get closer. The familiar shapes of the mountains silhouetted against the sky tell me I’m almost there. The house appears as I crest the final curve in our drive and I’m home.

We had similar feelings of delight when we first stepped onto this land almost forty years ago. We had come to North Carolina searching for property for what we hoped would become our forever home. None of the places we saw during the week we had available for our search were quite what we wanted. Before we packed and headed back to Kentucky, the realtor thought of one more place to show us. We came and looked and knew: this would be our home. As in the John Denver song we had listened to and thought about for several years, the country road did indeed “take me home to the place I belong”.

We have now lived the biggest part of our lives on this homeplace. We’ve worked and played, built and rebuilt, struggled and rejoiced, reared our children and sent them off into the world, and done so many other things. So many of our most memorable experiences have occurred here. All are attached to this place on our mountainside.

The events which have happened here and the memories associated with them have become bound up with the place itself. They give a history to this place. They make this spot come alive for me. I feel sure other people have experiences similar to mine. When we are in places where significant events have occurred, see images of those places, or even think of them, memories are stirred. Sometimes our recollections may rise into our consciousness; sometimes there may simply be a subconscious feeling that this place is important—something special happened here. I wonder whether in some unknown way the history and our memories and feelings become attached to the physical places themselves. Is there a memory within the place? Is it possible that a sensitive person coming to such a place might be able to sense those feelings and memories and tap into the history attached to the place.

Some years after we moved here we got involved in genealogical research. We started learning more about our ancestors: who they were, where they lived, what their lives were like. My parents’ families had lived in Georgia for generations. My parents moved to South Carolina after they married and that is where I grew up. Contrary to what the family might have believed, I discovered that my dad’s ancestors had not always lived in Georgia. In fact some of them had lived in North Carolina before heading further south. Over two hundred years ago a fifth great aunt of mine (the sister of my fourth great grandmother) lived less than three miles from our current homeplace on the very road we travel when we go into town. The mountain we see less than a mile to our east bears her family name. Perhaps even my fourth great grandparents visited them here as they were traveling to settle in Georgia.

Harmon Knob: named for my ancestors’ family over 200 years ago

Did the history attached to this place help to draw me here. I certainly wasn’t aware of that attraction at the time and don’t suppose I can ever know for sure. But I’d like to believe it did. I’ve sensed before a sort of communication over time and space. It’s similar to the communication which occurs when experiencing the works of writers, artists, philosophers, mystics, and others who lived in earlier times. Something touches us in those moments of contact and says, “This is something special. Pay attention”.

The soil, rocks, plants, and animals are all part of our land. We become part of the land as well if we allow ourselves to truly connect with it. I have become a part of this place as surely as it has become a part of me. Someday I expect to physically become part of the mountainside as my ashes are allowed to mix into the soil. I will have become part of the history of this place. Home. It’s always a good place to be.


A couple more photos of Harmon Knob at various times and seasons

 

The Mountain Ash Tree

The wind roared through the trees on our mountain homeplace today. It wasn’t as strong as a few days ago when gusts were above forty miles per hour. Such winds can be rough for weaker trees when the frozen soil is thawing and wet from melting snow. One of our mountain ash trees has been declining in the past few years. Some of its several trunks had begun showing signs of age (we planted the trees more than thirty years ago) and a number of its branches had already died. The wind was too much for this tree. When we saw it the next day, it was leaning at a forty-five degree angle, partially touching against the side of our little barn and threatening to fall across part of our garden fence.

Reluctantly, we acknowledged it was time to take action; the tree had to come down. We hated the prospect of losing this tree. It and all of our mountain ashes have been favorites, both for us and for the many birds who visit. It sits about thirty feet from our deck, a good distance for the birds to grab a few seeds from a feeder and fly to a nearby ash branch to eat in peace. The tip of the highest branch has also been a choice perch for one of the hummingbirds. It sits there and watches for another hummingbird intruding into its territory and then swoops down to assert its claim. This ash tree is also clearly visible from our windows and deck, its bright red clusters of berries particularly striking in the fall and early winter. The berries are also a favored food for migrating robins, cedar waxwings, and evening grosbeaks. We’ve had flocks drop in suddenly and consume the entire crop in a day, a real treat to see.

But today we had to remove this tree. Perhaps it can be replaced by one of the seedlings that had sprouted from berries dropped beneath its branches in past years. I pulled up twenty or so last fall and transplanted them to a small bed with the plan to plant them when the older trees died. We’ll see how that works out when spring hopefully brings the new growth.

Cutting and removing the tree was not the easiest of tasks today. It wasn’t nearly as cold as it has been during the past couple of weeks, but the temperature was still not much above freezing and the wind was brisk. The snow still on the ground made the sloping hillside slippery and the slush created by the brief period of sunshine quickly made boots and gloves wet and chilly. It also wasn’t the best of conditions for climbing even a short distance up the ladder, the base of which was resting on the previously mentioned slippery snow. But there were no mishaps.

Since the tree was leaning against the barn and partially overhanging the fence, I didn’t want it to continue falling in the direction it was headed. I secured a heavy rope around the two trunks and another rope around one of the foundation posts of our deck. Between the two ropes, I fastened a come-along, a hand-operated winch that enabled me to put some backward pressure on the tree trunks. I didn’t want the tree to fall farther toward the fence. Climbing the ladder with chainsaw in hand (never something I feel comfortable doing), I cut off the topmost branches that were the greatest threat to the fence. One branch landed partly across the fence but the heavy taut wire along the top of the fence supported the weight until we could move the branch. After the top branches were gone I cut sections farther down the trunks, a much simpler job since some of it could even be done from the ground.

So the tree is gone. Its familiar spot looks awfully empty after being occupied all these years by our beloved mountain ash. Memories remain—and pictures. I didn’t take photos of the process of cutting the tree, but I did take many of the tree itself, as a memorial to the tree and all the life forms it supported. I delight in the intricate patterns in the bark of our trees and the lichens and mosses which grow on their trunks and branches. These things are some of my favorite photography subjects. Here are a few of my photos of our beautiful mountain ash tree. They may appear to be abstract designs, but all are completely natural—nature in its amazing wonder. I hope you enjoy them as I do.

 

 

A House Open to the World

The kitchen window makes a perfect frame for this winter scene.

When we go into town or travel to cities around the country, we are struck by how different our daily environment is. The close proximity of other people and houses and streets necessitates different living conditions for city dwellers and even those living in closer rural communities. Obviously different people like different things. Many people would not care to live at the end of the road here on our mountainside, but this is just what we were looking for. I can understand the many reasons why people choose to live in cities, but I’m always glad when we get back here to our homeplace. One of the main reasons is that I love the openness of our house compared to the much more closed nature of many houses and other buildings, shut off from natural world, isolated from the occupants’ surroundings.

Our house has lots of windows. With the exception of cold wintry days or blowing rainstorms the windows are usually open. We have shades on most of our windows, but they are hardly ever pulled down. Living where we do at the end of our driveway at the end of our road, we have no reason to block the outside world. We can only see one other house from our location and we can barely see that when the trees are leafed out. We have no traffic passing by; the rare vehicle that appears is either for a delivery or someone who has taken a wrong turn.

The openness of the windows allows us better to see and experience the natural world in which we live. We are open to the sounds and scents that surround us. We hear the winds blowing over the ridges and through the trees. Dogs and coyotes bark and howl in the distance, cows moo in the pastures, and owls call in the night. The birds, squirrels, raccoons, and other animals come onto our deck or pass through the yard. The deer and turkeys move through the edge of the woods or walk down our drive. The clouds move across the sky and their shadows play across the mountains. We are aware of these things because our windows are uncovered. We delight in these experiences. They bring joy to our daily lives. We are so glad to be here.

Here are a few views from within our home.

Rhododendron in full bloom viewed through our living room window

Some visitors watching another visitor and vice versa.

It’s best to stay indoors to look out at this picnic table on our deck.

Rabbit and chipmunk enjoying lunch on the deck.

Eastern phoebe babies viewed through our porch door. Adult phoebes have used this nest for several years.

We look out at the snow because we can’t open the door.

Even our dear cat enjoys observing the outside world through the door.

One of our skunk friends. Some visitors are best viewed from inside the house.

We look out the window while this deer looks in.

Cloud Hidden

Valley filled with clouds

Some years ago I read a book by Alan Watts entitled Cloud Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal. He began with a poem about a hermit, a zen master. When a seeker asked the location of the master, the reply was, “The master’s gone alone, Herb picking somewhere on the mount, Cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown.”

Many days here on this mountainside, we also find ourselves cloud-hidden, surrounded by fog so dense that our whereabouts might be unknown even to ourselves were it not for familiar landmarks identifying the place.

People tend to think of fog and clouds as different entities. Fog is found at ground level while clouds are high overhead in the sky. Yet here in the mountains we have frequent opportunities to see that they are the same thing; it’s just a matter of location (or more accurately, elevation) that makes them different.

Most of the time we might indeed see the clouds high above, moving across the sky ahead of the winds. Other times they seem anchored to the tops of the mountains, sometimes not appearing to move for days. Travel higher up the mountain though and it is soon evident that the cloud and the fog are the same; the drop in visibility makes it obvious.

The mountain beyond the trees has disappeared in the fog.

On other days here at home the sky is clear and blue with not a cloud to be seen anywhere. On such days we can see for miles. But travel less than half a mile to a place from which we can see the nearby valley and we see a solid mass of clouds 2,000 feet below. The people there are locked in dense fog, the bases of the mountains are hidden, the tops of the mountains rise into the clear air above those low-lying clouds.

Observing clouds in the sky above can be endlessly fascinating with their myriad types and constantly changing shapes. Looking down into the valley and seeing the familiar mountain landscape transformed by the carpet of clouds brings forth gasps of wonder no matter how often the sight has been seen before. Being in the fog, actually inside a cloud, also gives rise to different feelings. There is a sense of mystery. Perhaps being deprived of the abundance of visual stimuli which usually surrounds us, enhances the remaining sensations. Walking through the meadow or the woods when fog limits visibility to ten feet or less focuses attention onto a smaller world. The budding branch of a favorite wild azalea comes slowly into view. A bit farther on, a familiar rock helps me place myself in my surroundings. The spring peepers calling from the bog along the creek, a clump of daisies passed a few days ago, the oddly bent limb from the ice storm last winter, the scent of honeysuckle growing on the bank at the side of our road, the change in the slope of the ground, all give clues to where I am at this moment. All stir memories of the times I noticed these small things before. They make me glad that I did notice them.

Sometimes we need help to be able to focus, to pay attention to what really matters. Perhaps that’s why the zen master went walking on the mountainside. Maybe when the cloud blocks out that which appears to us most easily, we are then able to see other things more clearly. Thanks be for the fog.

Work: Then and Now

Several years ago when we were planning to retire from our in-town occupations, many people would ask, “What will you do? Won’t you miss having your work to come to each day? Won’t you be bored?” The answer was always that we might miss the daily contact with customers, co-workers, or the general public that had been part of our daily routines for so many years, but we would definitely not miss having to leave our homeplace each day to go work at projects determined by someone else according to a schedule set by others. What to do was no concern since we had enough ideas for several lifetimes of things to do both separately and together. And please don’t mention that word “bored”; I can’t understand anyone with even half a mind ever having reason to be bored.

There is always plenty to be done around here, both work and non-work. I started to say play, but some of the non-work activities (writing, designing and planning building projects, photography) are more serious than play. Entertainment doesn’t cover it all, though we do make time for going to bluegrass jam sessions (as audience, not performers), listening to audiobooks, and traveling to attend grandchildren’s plays and concerts and sports events. Leisure sounds too much like sitting and doing nothing, which we sometimes do, but usually it’s more a matter of resting after some other strenuous activity. So there is plenty to do and we usually have pretty full days.

My best friend/partner/spouse usually (actually always) gets going faster in the mornings; I’m more of a slow starter, but once I get busy I often go straight through for eight to ten hours.

There has been lots of hard physical work in the years since retirement. There was hard work before retirement as well, but now there are more hours at home to devote to the physical tasks of construction, gardening, mowing, tree cutting and clearing, winter snow shoveling, and others. I realized recently that my weight fluctuates significantly from winter when I’m less active to summer when most of the more demanding work comes along; then I’m fifteen to twenty pounds lighter (about ten percent of my usual body weight).

Some days when I’m working I’m reminded of my days playing sports in my youth. I started team sports when I was six or seven years old and continued throughout high school. I worked hard at both practices and competitions, trying to always give it my all. The coaches were always pushing us to go harder and I did my best to do what they asked. I was usually worn out at the end of the day. Memories of those times come back to me as I work for hours digging to make planting beds, climbing up and down the ladder to put siding on the house, cutting trees and physically moving heavy logs, carrying fifty-pound bags of soil down the hill to the garden and then climbing up to do it over and over again. Thoughts keep going through my head, “Push harder. Keep going. You can do it.” There wouldn’t seem to be an obvious connection between childhood sports teams and the things I’m doing now, but apparently I learned a lot from those early efforts that is still with me today.

Sometimes CeCe worries about me working too hard, not taking enough breaks, wearing myself out. I’ve learned to be sure to take better care of myself, to not push myself unreasonably. The physical changes that have come with aging also help to remind me that maybe I’ve done enough of a given task for this day. But I’ve also said and continue to say, “If I should keel over in the midst of working one of these days, I want you and the rest of the family to know that these were things I wanted to do and that I enjoyed doing even though they were often physically difficult. I have been happy as I have been working. It wouldn’t be a bad way to go.”

Sitting Quietly, Doing Nothing

I can sit quietly and observe what is there in front of me for a long time and be very happy. I can sit and think of many things; don’t ever imagine that I must be bored or want to be doing something else; I don’t understand how people can be bored when there is so much around us and within us to occupy our minds. Doing something doesn’t have to mean being physically active or always being engaged in some visibly apparent endeavor. I am very much doing something when I am sitting, looking, thinking, remembering, planning, imagining, hearing–all those activities and more are part of being and being fully present and engaged with life and the world around me. That engagement, that appreciation of all that is around me, that being fully within it and a part of it is what brings me joy. When I am quiet, when I am still, when I may appear to be doing nothing, that is what I am most often doing–I am being here and now in this moment, fully experiencing it. That is what I want to do in every moment, whether there is physical activity happening or not.