Life On a Blue Ridge Farm – Arrival

I was born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and spent my first three years there. My father decided it was time to move back home and so we packed our small-family belongings and headed back to Abingdon, Virginia. My father was born and raised in Abingdon and my mother was from Beckley, West Virginia, only a two hour drive from there. The move worked out well for everyone, especially me.

You see, we moved back to my grandfather’s dairy farm and settled in a refurbished log cabin at the edge of the 300 acre property. Abingdon is located in Southwest Virginia, a place of gently rolling hills buttressed by the mountains of the Blue Ridge. The farm consisted primarily of acreage dedicated to either pastureland or cornfields. There was, however, a sliver of forest where the woods of the Knobs, as the locals called a section of steeper hills, spilled over onto the farm.

I don’t remember too much of my first year there, a three-year-old’s memories stick only briefly , but I do recall an overwhelming sense of wonder. The visual dance of blue and green and white as clouds raced across the blue afternoon sky that was propped up by the gentle green hills. Or the dark grey covering of a stormy afternoon, occasionally ripped open by the slash of a lightening bolt. At night there were the stars. Oh, the stars! A vast array of bright points that defied counting. In Ft. Lauderdale the street lights and humidity veiled all but the brightest stars. Here there was no light pollution and the cloudless nights were stunning! The night sky rippled with bright and dim like the land below rippled with high and low.

The Knobs would spit the moon out and it wandered the bright heights and dark valleys of the night sky, finally finding rest somewhere in the hills of the neighbor’s farm. Back again the next day though, ejected from the Knobs, a bit thinner or fuller, a little earlier or later, but back again.

The quiet of the place was also astounding. Of course there was the occasional droning of a tractor doing farm business, but most often there was only the call of a bird or a dog barking punctuating the soft whisper of a breeze.  The night was almost completely silent. If you happened to be down by the creek you could easily discern the various small critters of the marshy banks by their noise, but silence overspread the creek rukus as you moved away. The only exception to the quiet came at milking time. As the “girls” were herded into the small lot preparing to do their part to contribute to the calcium needs of children, they would sometimes vocalize their joy or displeasure.

Then there was the wonder of freedom! Not just a small patch of yard bounded by pavement and concrete, no, there were fields and forests and creeks and barns to explore. Yes, there were fences, but those were there only to keep cows in, they were no obstacle to boys. I quickly learned to navigate barbed wire with speed and blood-free agility. Our play time consumed the hours like the land we roamed drank in the rain. The time was not lost though, it was invested, invested in memories and beauty and peace.

The best thing about our move to the farm was that I gained a friend and companion. My cousin, Mike, was my age and lived “just up the holler” and so we became best of friends. Seldom were my farm excursions solitary ones, Mike was usually with me. If Mike’s travel plans were constrained by farm chores, I would stay in my own yard and engage in battle and conquest with G.I. Joes and plastic tanks. Mike was a son of he farm. He knew more of the ins and outs of dairy farming at the age of 7 than I know now. I lived on the periphery of the farm, Mike lived in the center. Yet we both knew the lay of the land and how to squeeze the most from each farm day.

Our family’s move to the Blue Ridge farm opened to me a world of wonder and joy.

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Home Before the Storm

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When a storm comes to the Blue Ridge its approach is heralded long before it arrives. The peals of thunder reverberate off of the mountain slopes in a maestoso performance.

If the storm is close and of moderate intensity not only does the ground shake at the first clap, but also with each round off the mountain sides. The rumble and frequency of the vibration dissipates with each slope bounce. It is not unusual for a second thunder roll to begin before the first one ends. The interplay of peal and echo is a performance that demands the opening of doors and windows, at least until the rain comes, to experience the full auditory majesty of mountain weather.

The nature of the Blue geography is such that there are often pockets of weather. It could literally be raining on the neighbor’s house and my roof will still be dry. It’s a tough area for weather forecasters to get a handle on. A local professor of meteorology has taken student volunteers on summer treks to mount small weather stations on a number of mountain peaks in the region. The goal is to try to develop a more accurate computer model for regional forecasting. His project is still too new to measure the results, but he and NOAA are anticipating a more accurate model for us mountain folk.

It may not seem like that big a deal, however, localized downpours can be quite severe. Landslides and bank erosion are particular problems. I have lost a fair amount of my yard as my small creek struggles and ultimately fails to contain the water from a flash flood. That doesn’t bother me too much, less to mow.

It is an issue for the DOT. We have had several instances of slope sides deciding to head to the valley floor and as a result, taken sections of mountain road with them. A hard rain often means road closures, detours and the clank and clamor of determined earth movers.

Although more accurate forecasting won’t help the DOT, it might help keep us mountain folk drier. The best place to be in a hard rain is indoors with a good book or enjoying a good nap, thunder permitting. In a sense, the approaching storm clouds herd us into our houses like cattle into a barn. Priorities are reorganized with the echo of thunder and a few drops of moisture. All of a sudden the main goal is to get home before the rain.

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A Balanced Life

Blue_Ridge_Pilgrim_Butterfly-1

Doesn’t exist. Just ask the guy above.

Now don’t get me wrong, often our good and bad experiences sometimes average out, but balance is a rare thing. Adapting to limitations and using those adaptations as stepping stones is more of the nature of life.

Take Good King Three Wing. His life will always be a downward spiral to the left. Gravity, aerodynamics and a frustrated bird dictate that the King will never have balance, but he survives and thrives. Barring another meal attempt, his reign will continue until his season is complete. Long live the king!

So do we adapt and progress or do we spiral down to a wasted life? I watched the King for a time and noticed that even though he could no longer rise with his past strength and grace, he learned how to judge the breeze and small updrafts and always ended up where he wanted to go. In our summer yard in the Blue Ridge there is always a meal stop for a Monarch, even one short a wing.

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A Trip To South Holston Lake

I spent the early part of my teenage years around South Holston Lake and I believe a little bit of that lake water still flows in my veins.

South Holston is a man-made lake created by the Tennessee Valley Authority for flood control and power generation. It is a serene lake buttressed by the Holston Mountain range to the East and some smaller hills on the Western edge. The beautiful rolling countryside of Southwest Virginia and upper East Tennessee create the tapestry into which this blue-green gem is woven.

We rode across the dam on a recent trip to South Holston and the crisp blue of a cloud punctuated sky and the greening of the mountains demanded that I make some photographs. Here is the result.

South_Holston_Lake_1_Blue_Ridge_Pilgrim South_Holston_Lake_2_Blue_Ridge_Pilgrim South_Holston_Lake_3_Blue_Ridge_Pilgrim South_Holston_Lake_4_Blue_Ridge_Pilgrim

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Good Morning!

Morning Glory One Morning Glory Two

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River Walk

I spent part of an afternoon at a small park along the French Broad River in Asheville, NC and made a short film about the couple of hours I was there.

Several other folks were also enjoying the warm November afternoon at the park.

 

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Strolling With the Queen

This is the time of year when Queen Ann  establishes her rule in pastures and by the country thoroughfares. Her dominance is evidenced not by ostentatious garb and bright finery but by a subdued wisp of lace.

Those in the kingdom of botanicals refer to her as “Daucus carota”, but us commoners will have none of that. Me thinks she would also find that title distasteful. Queen Ann’s Lace it is then.

So without further delay here are some images of ‘er Majesty’s presence:

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Welcoming the Autumn

Fall has arrived and with it the twice-yearly balance of day and night – 12 hours each. In the Blue Ridge the day occupies fewer hours because of the height of the surrounding mountains. Sunrise at 7 in the flatlands to the east could be anywhere from 8 to 9 by the time ol’ Sol summits the obscuring eastern peaks of these hills.

It’s comfortably cool now, the oppressive heat that drove us to the air-conditioned comfort of our houses and cars has drained from our valleys, replaced by early morning fog and mist. Long-sleeved shirts are plucked from summer storage and their spots now occupied by their short-sleeved brethren. Fine with me, I hate to sweat.

To mark this day I’ve found some Autumn quotes that I’ll share:

“Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor.” – Irish proverb

“Trees snapping and cracking in the autumn indicate dry weather.”

“If, in the fall of the leaves in October, many of them wither on the boughs and hang there, it betokens a frosty winter and much snow.”

“Spring rain damps;
 Autumn rain soaks.”

“Of autumn’s wine, now drink your fill; the frost’s on the pumpkin, and snow’s on the hill.”
- The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 1993

“Autumn has caught us in our summer wear.” – Philip Larkin, British poet (1922-1986)

Now I’ll savor the cooling breeze and the changing colors that herald frost and bare trees. The cycle abides.

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Sparks of Majesty

Sparks of Majesty

When we moved to the Asheville area twenty-some years ago I decided to build a fire pit by our small creek. As the yearly wood supply permits I will set campfires blazing over the course of the Spring, Summer and Fall.

Last evening I once again shouldered my responsibility as the “keeper of the flame” and gathered up my combustable materials to enhance the evening’s ambience (and also to promote the production of s’mores). With my supply of twigs, scraps of paper and dryer lint in hand I proceeded to build my small-scale towering inferno. Materials laid, match applied and in short order a fine starter fire was kindled to encourage the larger logs to throw in with the light and heat expo.

There is a soul-soothing harmony to the warm glow of the fire and the sounds of the blazing wood crackling, the flow of the creek and the intermittent call of a bird in our woods. As the twilight approached we impaled our marshmallows and set them browning while we laid a solid foundation of graham cracker and chocolate. Massive carbohydrate intake quickly ensued as the melting marshmallows were applied to the cracker base and were promptly disposed of.

The evening passed much too quickly, as all evenings wrapped in the companionship of friends and family invariably do. By the time darkness had fully invaded, our friends had returned to their home and my family had retired indoors. I’m a campfire addict and I’ll stay until the last ember is spent, ever-attempting to coax one more flame from the coals. The fire and I passed the next couple of hours in peace and solitude.

When the evenings festivities started the sky had been hidden by a light overspread of cloud. Not enough to threaten rain, but enough to obscure the revealing of the stars. The clouds accompanied my friends and family when they left and now the sky was clear, save for the typical summer’s eve mists in the Blue Ridge and a transient cumulus cloud or two.

Then I saw them. Sparks that sprang from the dying fire, sparks that lit the tails of the lightening bugs as they eased their way over the lawn and flew through the woods and the spark of stars that sprang from behind passing clouds. The physicist may ask how I can compare a spark from the fire to a star. The biologist may also question comparing the bio-electric glow of a firefly with the same star. As is all too often the case in human interaction with reality, it is a matter of perspective. The problem is that we measure the universe against ourselves rather than against the greater reality of itself.

Placed against the measuring line of eternity, even the billions-of-years life of a star is nothing but a spark. The 4 or 5 month twinkle of a firefly would be inconceivable to a fruit fly whose life span maxes out at a paltry twenty-four hours.

Or consider degrees of complexity. I am neither an astrophysicist nor a biologist,  and I wonder, is the physical intricacy of star’s burning greater than the biological involution of a firefly’s glowing tail? Greater mass for sure, but greater complexity? I can’t say with certainty, but I doubt it.

This night, however, such questions require far more cerebral neuron-firing than I care to engage in. I’ll enjoy the myriad twinkles of light and realize that every one of them are sparks of majesty from the Maker’s heart aflame.

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Campfire Fuel Resupply

I sent my 20 year-old chainsaw to the great forest in the sky this year. Poor thing ran for 10 seconds, died and never restarted. That’s been a problem for me recently because of untimely tree deaths and wind-falls on my property. My little bit of Blue Ridge has started to get cluttered and there was nothing I could do about it.

I started to revert to the “good-ole-days” and tried disposing of the mess with a small hand saw. I quickly realized, however, that this would be a life-long project and abandoned it.

In the nick of time good fortune happened by in the form of a cooperative-effort Father’s Day gift from my daughters and wife. He he, a new chainsaw! Freedom! Power! Danger!

For the next couple of days visitors might want to wait until after dark to come calling or they could come face-to-face with an adrenaline-saturated blind man wielding a sharpened chainsaw! Felled trees beware!

 

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