Maybe We Can’t Do It All; Maybe We Just Need a Change of Plans

About eighteen months ago I posted some thoughts about my lifelong love of learning to do things for myself in a post entitled We Can Do It—And We Did.

Beginning at an early age, I have spent countless happy hours randomly browsing library bookshelves, magazine articles happened upon in waiting rooms, old encyclopedias in family homes, and in more recent times the treasure trove of information (and also much misinformation) found on the internet. Sometimes I had one of my many particular interests in mind to guide my searches. At other times my quest relied on serendipitously stumbling upon books, articles, ideas, and bits of information that I had not been expecting to find, but that I knew were important to me, if not immediately, then at some unforeseen time in the future. As I wrote in that post:

That early experience of mine set the stage for a lifetime of learning and doing. I knew that information about everything was readily available. I could find details on any subject, study it, absorb it, think about it, and make it a part of me. I came to see that I could learn about anything and to believe that I could learn to do anything I really wanted to do. I didn’t necessarily think I could do everything as well as an expert or professional could do, but I did believe I could do the things I wanted adequately and satisfactorily for my purposes and needs. I also knew that doing things for myself would bring great satisfaction, the joy of seeing the finished project and knowing I had accomplished that.

That experience and the things I have learned over the years have served me well, especially since we moved to our place here on the mountainside. Except for tasks that required specialized equipment like bulldozers, dump trucks, or backhoes, we’ve pretty much done everything ourselves on our homeplace. We’ve frequently told people who ask about our home and our life here, “If there’s anything you can see here, we did it”. Many things we’ve done ourselves because we couldn’t afford to have someone else do it for us or we didn’t want to deplete our limited resources by hiring the job out. Sometimes we wanted a project completed in some unconventional manner and didn’t trust that a contractor would be willing to depart from their standard way of doing things. Much of the time I simply wanted to be sure that I knew the task was done the way I wanted it to be done. And after years of doing all this work ourselves, there is a sense of pride (some would call it stubbornness) that makes me not want to give up the ability to say, “We did it all”.

I know the time is coming when my ability to do many of the tasks around our homeplace will decline with the limitations which will result from physical changes as I move beyond my current seventy three years of age. Sometimes the inability to handle certain tasks isn’t the result of aging, as I was reminded a few days ago. While there are many things I have learned to do, I’ve never had much success in trying to deal with small gasoline engines and the tools they power (mowers, weed eaters, and chain saws), tools that are much needed with several acres of field and forest to maintain.

Various projects and trips recently had taken time away from routine mowing and related activities. One of the features we love about our home here is the fact that we are surrounded by the abundance of nature. That same abundance can very quickly result in grass in our misty meadow reaching knee-high levels, blackberry briars popping up everywhere, and locust and other tree seedlings claiming their place in the sun. When I went out to try to deal with the situation, I knew that neither of our two riding mowers would be available, one having quit functioning at the end of last summer and the other never having started since we acquired it for free, used but non-working. Several push mowers had either become unstartable or had died when I had pushed them over a hidden rock or tree stump. The remaining push mower (new a year ago) sputtered for a few seconds after pulling the starter cord several dozen times, but refused to start no matter how many times I went through that process. Deciding to resort to mowing with a weed eater, I tugged the starting cord repeatedly with no hint of the least positive response from the engine. I realized there was a second weed eater I had forgotten about and was delighted when it leaped to life on my first pull. It ran great for about fifteen minutes, but never started again after I refilled its fuel tank.

I had run out of options on my gas-engine tools, so I decided it was time to try an alternative I had used in a few other situations: an electric hedge trimmer. It’s sort of like the sickle bar hay mowers used on farm tractors, except it’s much smaller and for grass cutting requires the user to bend over, holding it parallel to the ground while moving it back and forth. After a few minutes of that uncomfortable bent-over position, I decided it was much better to sit on the ground, cut the section that was reachable from that spot, and then slide over a few feet to cut another section. A few hours later I had finished a couple of sloping banks that I had been particularly eager to get cleared. The hedge trimmer was willing to continue as long as there was electricity, but I was pretty well worn out.

When one of my plans gets overly complicated or doesn’t seem to be working out as anticipated, Carole and I have agreed that a valuable service she can perform is to say, “Isn’t there an easier or simpler or better way to do this?” Unfortunately Carole was away from home at a meeting, but as soon as she got home, we started thinking to find a better way to get the work done. Possibly we could find a way to get everything done that we wanted to do, but did we really need to? Maybe we don’t need to attempt to maintain all of the grassy area of our yard and meadow; after all, when we first saw our place, the non-wooded area was a gorgeous open meadow filled with daisies, black-eyed Susans, wild strawberries, and tall grasses waving in the breeze. Maybe we can allow our meadow to be a meadow and only clear a few pathways through the grasses to facilitate strolling through its beauty. Maybe we can rent a mower once a year to help keep out the briars and trees and not have to bother with mowing everything and keeping a functioning mower thoughout the year. Maybe we can get rid of all the non-working pieces of equipment we have kept around, feeling the necessity to try to get them working again one of these days. And if we don’t need to frequently work at maintaining the whole area, maybe a smaller electric mower would be sufficient to keep up the area closest around the house. We bought the electric mower the next day; it started with the push of a button and did a great job of cutting the grass in our prime target area.

So we made a new plan which appears to have solved our immediate problem. But this situation has raised another question for us. What are the things that are really important to us, the activities that we most want to spend our time and energies on during this latter portion of our lives. We have no intention of becoming morbid and fixating on the prospect of death as it seems many people in our age group tend to do. Instead, we want to focus on life with the intention of making full use of our time whatever it may turn out to be. We both have sufficient interests to keep us occupied for another fifty years or more, but in all likelihood we won’t be able to accomplish all those things. Even if we could, we would probably come up with another fifty years of projects to follow those. So we’re going to do some re-evaluating, see if we can figure out what we need to do and what we want to do and what can be set aside for the next lifetime.

We’ve already done many of the things in our lives that we’ve wanted to accomplish. But I can’t imagine anyone being able to do everything they might want to do in a lifetime; there are just too many interesting things out there to experience. So we’ll plan to make more time each day for those special activities that are most important to us. What better way could there be to spend all the wonderful moments we have?

Look Who Came for a Visit

We don’t frequently have guests visiting at our homeplace for meals. Our children and their families live a few hours drive away, so their visits happen only a few times each year. Other relatives and friends are scattered far and wide around the country and find their way to our mountainside home rarely to share a meal. However, we do have lots of friends and neighbors who stop by daily for a visit and a snack as I’ve written before.

Yesterday we had a new visitor, though some of our guest’s family members have come to share our food on other occasions. When we looked up from our computers, where Carole was working on writing her book and I was busy drawing plans for a home addition, we saw this youngster standing at one of our bird feeders enjoying a snack. She/he may have been here the night before; one of our feeders had tumbled to the ground overnight, but we thought that the weight of a fat raccoon might have caused the worn support wire to finally break.

Looks like this could be a snack

This young bear examined the almost empty feeder for a while and then decided the seed I had spread on the ground was much more accessible. Settling down into a comfortable position in the grass, the bear proceeded to eat as much sunflower seed as it could find. Meanwhile, I had grabbed the camera and Carole and I moved out onto the deck for a clearer view of our visitor.

The feeders are thirty to forty feet from the deck.

The bear was only about thirty to forty feet away from our position but it was undisturbed by our presence. From time to time it looked around to glance at us, but quickly turned back to the snack at hand—or rather at paw. What a beautiful, gentle animal, its thick fur lustrous in the bright sunlight. We would watch it for as long as it would choose to stay with us.

It’s nice and peaceful here.

Occasionally it rose and moved to a different spot to find more seed, moving slowly on its big, padded paws. When the bear had finished eating all the seed there was, it turned toward us, moved a couple of steps closer, and studied us for a few moments. Perhaps it was wondering if the two beings eyeing it from the deck had provided it with this afternoon snack. Then our visitor headed up the hillside and off into the woods, moving quickly, but loping as if in slow motion—an incredibly graceful movement for such a large animal.

Are you the folks who put out this food?

Thanks! I’ll come again some other time.

The bear probably came back again during the night, though we were not aware of its presence. This morning we found that the metal bird feeder pole from the previous day was now bent at a forty-five-degree angle. And the larger feeder which normally hangs about three feet in front of our living room window and at least six feet above the ground was lying amidst the periwinkle vines. The feeder and the lightweight chain holding it had been pulled down, the metal mesh was crumpled and showed two holes about three-eighths of an inch in diameter—perhaps tooth marks. It surely would have been interesting to have witnessed that episode.

We don’t make an effort to feed the black bears or to attract them close around the house. We realize it it is much better for their well-being and for their safety to stay mostly in the woods and not venture too close to their human neighbors. But we do delight in observing them and all the other creatures around us whenever we can. Many years ago we twice got to see a bear enjoying the contents of our bird feeders while lying among the flowers in our front yard in the middle of the night, only about fifteen feet from the house; we watched excitedly from an upstairs window. And there was the time a bear and I surprised each other when I turned to see it on our deck about ten feet away on the other side of the sliding glass doors of our living room; we both quickly moved to different locations.

Some people have wondered whether we are afraid of the bears and whether we should be doing something (I’m not sure what) to keep them off “our property”. But the bears aren’t bothering us and we have no intention of bothering them. We each go our own way and do our own things, respecting each other’s presence, but not attempting to fraternize too closely. Regarding the question of “property”, it seems that we humans are the intruders here. The ancestors of these bears and all the other creatures of this place were here long, long before we showed up and, unless we and others really mess things up, hopefully they will continue to be here long after we are gone. In the meantime we’ll enjoy seeing each other from time to time and we’re happy to provide a snack or a meal during a visit.

Here are a few more photos from yesterday’s visit:

I know you’re watching me.

You might prefer this profile for a photo.

I think I hear something in the woods.

Maybe it’s time to leave now.

Brief Encounters on a Saturday Morning

We made a short trip to town this morning to get a favorite breakfast and take care of a few errands. We were gone for about three hours, not enough time for much to happen.

Along the road new patches of daffodils were opening, seemingly around every curve. Pairs of doves were searching for food on the roadside in many places. In recent years many doves have found their way farther up the mountain to treat us to their gentle cooing calls and the whistling of their wings as they fly.

The driver in a red pickup truck was in a great hurry today as he pulled up no more than twenty five feet behind me. He stayed there all the way down the six miles of curvy mountain road until we got closer to town.

At the local Waffle House, our favorite place for a wonderful breakfast, the familiar staff were as delightful as always, working quickly in crowded quarters, all the while smiling, laughing, and enjoying each other and the customers.

At the next table were a father and two young teenage girls, one with blue eyes sparkling even more than her excited conversation.

At the local big box store I proceeded to pull a shopping cart from the mass of waiting carts. A woman even older than I am had gotten out of a car at curb and walked with difficulty into the store. I passed my cart to her and was greeted with a big smile and a surprised, “Oh, thank you”. I heard her later inside telling her companion, “I had wanted to get a smaller cart, but I didn’t see any.” Hopefully I didn’t keep her from getting the cart she wanted.

The next cart I pried loose had a noisy, wobbly wheel. As I was putting it aside, I told a woman who was getting her own cart, “I got that wheel last time. I’m not gonna take it again”. She cheerily responded, “I always get the worst one”.

Seeing a college-age woman coming into the store with a worried look on her face, I wondered whether she was troubled about something or just deep in thought. That made me imagine what might be the concerns of each of the hundreds of people in the store at that moment.

Traveling to our next stop we passed an ancient oak tree, its gnarled branches twisting outward in every direction. It stood alone in the edge of a pasture, drawing our attention and a comment, “That’s a great tree.”

Driving the road from town to our homeplace we passed several old, abandoned houses along the way, several collapsing into piles of decaying lumber. One somewhat leveled spot in the edge of the woods had a small clump of bright yellow daffodils marking this as the site of the long-ago house of a long-ago family.

We noticed a new fence in the back yard of a house that had been vacant for several years after the child moved away and the parents died. The large shaggy dog lying in the yard was gazing off into the distance across the creek. At that moment the Carrie Newcomer song “Learning to Sit with Not Knowing” was playing on the car CD player. That reminded me of a drawing depicting “mindfulness” which showed a man and a dog walking toward a wooded landscape with the sun setting beyond. The thought bubble above the man showed his concerns about all the tasks he needed to be doing, problems with work, money worries, etc. The bubble above the dog showed the scene before them: the trees and the setting sun.

We passed a neighbor’s young dog who seems to spend all his time chained outside a small shed beside the road. He was probably a rescue dog, skinny and fearful-looking when he first came to this place. He’s more robust looking these days and always appears happy to see us when we pause to greet him. Today he was lying outside his shelter, basking in the warm sunshine after a few cold, wet days.

At home again we put up three bird feeders filled with the black oil sunflower seed we had just bought in town. By the time I got back inside, two young deer who visit frequently were looking quizzically at the feeders and checking some favorite spots for the corn I sometimes put out for them. I quickly got some corn and took it out; the crows found the new treat first but there should still be some left when the deer return.

While putting out the food for our visitors, I noticed that periwinkle blooms are beginning to show in the front yard, small, bright blue flowers on evergreen vines that continue to spread. We have seen periwinkle patches along roadsides or in wooded places where once there were homes. Our plants came from Carole’s parents’ home and from the long-ago homesite of her third great grandparents which we discovered some years ago in the woods alongside a creek named for their family. We’re glad that now they mark the site of our homeplace here on the mountain.

These were our few encounters on this Saturday morning—moments of meeting and moments of meaning.

Running Out to Get a Bag of Flour

We just ran out yesterday to get a bag of flour. But this was not just any flour. It is supposed to be “soft” flour. We weren’t really sure what that meant, but a little research showed soft flour is made from soft wheat which has less protein and lower gluten content. It is generally what is used for cake flour and for great biscuits. We didn’t especially care about those facts. This was a good excuse (as if we needed one) to take a break from several days of writing and house addition planning. It also was good reason to get out into the bright sunshine on a warmer-than-it-has-been day and drive seventy-five miles or so to Boonville, North Carolina to the Boonville Flour and Feed Mill and its companion store, both built way back in 1896.

The store had lots to choose from and we didn’t resist getting more than just the flour, as can be seen from one of the accompanying photos. In addition to multiple types of flour and baking mixes, there were candies, pickles, canned veggies, sorghum molasses, and almost any type of preserve, jelly, and jam one could possibly want. There was even one jar labeled “Traffic Jam”; I meant to check the ingredients on that one, but unfortunately got distracted.

While the flour mill store was great, a trip off the mountain at this time of year is always a treat. We got to see spring working its way up the mountain as we drove to the lower elevation. And when we got down to Wilkesboro and beyond, it was delightful to see how many plants were in full bloom and how much more the trees and shrubs had leafed out in the short time since we had been there on another day out. Of course taking a few pictures is always part of our travels. Here are a few.

Some of our flour selections

We saw Bradford Pears everywhere in splendid bloom.

One of numerous fields carpeted in lovely “weeds”

I can’t resist an old farmhouse.

One gorgeous landscape!

These beauties watched us while we were watching them.

Oh, those lovely dark eyes!

We even found a few ladybugs for the wall of our little barn.

The Robins Have Landed

As I was driving home from town a few minutes ago, I saw several flocks of robins along the way, some within a half mile of our homeplace. These are the first flocks I’ve seen here this year, though I have noticed a couple of isolated individuals during the past week or so. Flocks of robins are a sure sign for us that spring is coming; unfortunately it means that spring is probably still at least a couple of months away. The robins always seem to come too early up here, usually after a period of mild weather and just before some more snow. In fact, as I am writing this, big flakes of snow have begun pouring down and the ground has been quickly covered. Only an inch or two is expected with this system, but many of our biggest snows have come in March or April. There surely will be more winter weather before spring actually arrives at our homeplace, probably sometime in May. Maybe the robins will fly to more hospitable locales not too far away for a few more weeks.

One of the benefits of living on this mountainside is that we get to enjoy the changes of the seasons each time we leave home. While the snow covers the ground here today, there may be no snow at all in Boone which is about a thousand feet lower than our homeplace. We won’t see flowers and leaves on our trees for at least two more months. But when we go into town now, leaf buds are showing red on maple trees, hints of green are visible on willows and shrubs, and even a few flowers are peeking out. We went off the mountain (another couple of thousand feet lower) for a few days earlier in the week and were treated to blossoms of cherry and pear trees, redbuds, flowering quince, and lots of daffodils in full bloom. Returning home we get to enjoy the changes in reverse. In spring we are able to see the greening of the mountains as it works its way from bottom to top. In autumn the changing leaf colors progress from top to bottom. When we want something different, we just go higher or lower.

Spring is truly a delightful time of year, but so are the other seasons. Each has its own unique experiences and treats for us to enjoy. Some people definitely prefer one season over the others and winter is not usually the top choice for most people, especially after long spells of too cold winds and too much snow and ice. But for now I’ll enjoy watching the falling snow. The coming of spring will be that much more spectacular in contrast.

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