Spring and coming alive from winter.

2019©Photo by Alicia Randolph. Used with permission.

It’s that time of the year that brings joy to our hearts. Though we joke about the schizophrenic weather, we are really happy to see sprigs of green coming up through the muck and mire of winter. After the gray, wet, snowy blandness of winter colors, I especially want color. I want sunshine and flowers. Though patient with the process, I am also eager and excited.

 

Growing things has always been something that excites me. New friendships and old need growth. Gardens are a great place to be in touch with the growing and dying cycles of life inherent in nature. Since moving to Beech Mountain, I no longer have a garden. Though they are hard work, the work is rewarding and I miss it. Luckily for me, my friend Steven is writing about his garden and his greenhouse. This allows me to participate in the excitement of planning the garden as well. If we lived closer I would be over at his house asking to see its process.

The first garden I planted that was my very own (not mom or dad’s or my grandparents’), I was so excited I went out every morning to see if anything sprouted. That didn’t make things grow any faster of course.  I decided the same rule applies to gardens that applies with a watched pot waiting to boil. My excitement about seeing the first sprouts of beans or flowers or squash never lessened. It’s just that I found a way to pace my watching. Then one day I would walk up and it was as though the beans had sprouted up overnight.

 

Our lives are full of cycles. There are times we forget how cyclical everything is in life. Being able to get outside helps. Any growing activity helps. Maybe even mowing grass helps, but I’m not a fan of grass or mowing. Yes, it’s pretty but I won’t get on my soapbox about how our desire to create weed free green grass (that has little helpful purpose) has harmed our beneficial insect population. I am also biased because I’ve always been allergic to grass and with the allergies moving from just being itchy to causing asthma attacks, well, I am not fond of it. Though, as I look at articles, I am reminded of its benefits too when it comes to run-off areas. Maybe if we learn to step away from the chemicals and move towards a healthy permaculture.

 

Somewhere I said that I wouldn’t get on my soapbox about the environment. Believe it or not, I haven’t

Caterpillar from a long-ago garden.

yet. There’s still a part of me that turns to soil and thinking about our birds returning; our beneficial insects that will be returning. How can we prepare a place that’s welcoming so that we can share the bountiful treasure of food which their hard work produces? We cannot do it without them. Our lives depend upon a symbiotic relationship with plant, animal, soil, water, air.

In the Lutheran Church (ELCA), we talked about how this type of living is good stewardship of the land. In our Episcopal congregation the other day, I was pleased to hear of that similar way of looking at the land and our place as caretakers of a big garden rather than being a master of the house who can take anything wanted at any time. That is exploitation.

So maybe I am a little on my soapbox as well as just wishing I could plant something. Planting takes planning and my neighbors have already told me what to avoid unless my sole wish is to feed the deer. We have deer here that are almost tame. It is their land before it was ours, so it doesn’t bother me. There are no predators up here, so nature is off-balance in that way. I can’t say I wish for predators though. Each time I find a deer standing at me and looking through me with her soulful eyes (it’s usually a doe), it feels as those Psalm 42 has come alive into my presence or I have walked into a Psalm.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.

Psalm 42:1 (NRSV

Until I know what to plant, I also cannot plant. The sun is shy on this north facing porch. Even with morning light, there’s not a lot. There’s foxglove that’s beautiful, but I’ve not found seeds yet in the area. Fred’s General Store has hanging boxes that have my attention. I keep asking, learning, planning, and in my own way growing into the spring out of winter in this year. Until I know for sure, I will keep waiting, watching, and learning.

2018 JRobin Whitley, Mother and fawn walking through the neighborhood.
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Beech Mountain and a May Rain

The morning is rainy, but it is a pleasant May rain. The smells are the earthy smells of a summer rain. The birds still sing as though the sun still shone. A kettle for tea boils on the stove. The dog sleeps on the couch. Swishing sounds come through the open window as a car passes far below. The month of May moves quicker than usual it seems. Though, if I am honest with myself, so has this entire year. Not that I’ve lived on Beech Mountain an entire year yet, but if time continues to click by so fast, the anniversary of my move will be here in a flash and not a tick or a tock.

At this writing, I am pleased to have made it through my first winter in the East Coast’s highest town. The below zero temps and copious snows made it the best winter in many ways, and the worst in others. It wasn’t the worst winter I’ve lived through though. Tecumseh, OK still holds that record in my life. This winter, as I made a fire to keep pipes from freezing, I gave thanks for that winter in Tecumseh because I had learned how to keep a fire going.

The trees are finally greening out here. It seemed to take longer than when I lived in Sylva, but that is hours South of here and which means it’s much warmer. Even the Southern Appalachians got snow this year. Beech Mountain had a snow in May in 2017, so there’s still that. I’m not worried though. My Fiat made it through the winter without ever having to use the tire chains.

 

When I first traded my 4WD Rogue for the Fiat 500, my friends made fun of my choice and warned me it would always be in the shop. The joke wasn’t going to be about my car, because it is a new Fiat. They had to be thinking of the old ones. My way of debunking their joke was to change the meaning of FIAT to this, Fine In Any Terrain. I have had to replace my windshield wipers, but they did a ton of work in the short time I’ve lived here.

A view from my Fiat this winter.

Beech Mountain is a dusty place. Partly it is the fact that there are a lot of dirt roads up here. The dirt roads are well maintained, but they are still dirt. Add the wind to the mixture of elements and even if one didn’t live on a dirt road like me, dust is bound to swirl. The dirt road in Tecumseh, well, that prepared me for the worst case of anything. This dirt road near my condo seems like a dream road.

 

How can a dirt road be a dream road? First you have to know that I was raised in the country. I learned to love dirt roads growing up. The first best dirt road led to my

Parking for the Orchard Falls Hike.

Grandma and Grandpa Whitley’s farm. During the summer when things got dry, even rolling up the windows (before air conditioned cars) to keep from dust getting into the car became an adventure. Dad wouldn’t drive to fast, but he also didn’t want dirt in his cars.

 

My second favorite dirt road led down behind the house where I grew up. As kids, our parents and the Thompson family would often walk that dirt road to my Aunt Imogene’s house in the summer. There were times we rode bikes and when dad could hitch the pony to the cart, some would ride in the cart. Down that dirt road lived the Hatleys. They always had a dog that scared the daylights out of me, but they were always so nice and it was the only place I was brave enough to go sell items for school fund raisers.

My sister and I loved to ride bikes on that dirt road. Once we learned how to get past the Hatley’s dog safely, we kept that road busy. My sister and I both loved nature and bike riding. We would ride to the Bull Hill area or to Aunt Imogene’s and back. We often raced down the last part of the hill as though we were motorcyclists in some race. After my sister had a bad crash (this was before bicycle helmets), we were more cautious in the downhill races. We still loved this dirt road and took it anytime we could.

Barn – Watercolor by JRobin Whitley 2014

 

The thing I love about the dirt roads here is that in addition to being well kept, they are good for walking. As a person who is in constant pain, one of the most recommended activities for such disabilities is walking. Yet, walking on concrete or asphalt worsens the pain. In Sylva, I tried to keep physical by walking up and down our road near the house. The asphalt only aggravated the pain and there wasn’t enough of a shoulder to walk on the shoulder of a road.

 

Here on Beech Mountain, in add

Deck of the SkyBar at 5506′ Beech Mountain.

ition to copious dirt roads, there are copious trails. There are places I could still bike if I had the balance to do so. There are mountain bikers and touring bikers who travel regularly on the mountain. The Beech Mountain Resort changes the ski lift to a bike lift in the summer. This week I found a way to get up to the SkyBar so I can attend one of the Mile-High Yoga classes.

 

There are many ways I can stay active and healthy here, while also being in tune with the ways my disabilities limit me. Just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean I am dead. I keep saying that to remind myself that there is still a lot I CAN do. I’m so excited to live here as the year begins because I want to hike more trails as I can. The beauty of living here full-time means that I can hike on my good days, but on days when I must stay inside, it’s like staying in a tree-house. There are always many ways I can just BE here on the mountain in peace.

 

Falls Trail

 

Rain is falling down my chimney and hitting on something that sounds like a bell chiming. It is raining hard now, but not a downpour. The birds have tucked into their nests and houses, only chirping randomly. The clock ticks peacefully on the wall. I pick up a book and a cup of coffee. Then, as I walk past my guitar, I change my mind and decide to sing a song of the blessing of warm rain.

 

יַעֲרֹ֤ף כַּמָּטָר֙ לִקְחִ֔י תִּזַּ֥ל כַּטַּ֖ל אִמְרָתִ֑י כִּשְׂעִירִ֣ם עֲלֵי־דֶ֔שֶׁא וְכִרְבִיבִ֖ים עֲלֵי־עֵֽשֶׂב׃

May my discourse come down as rain, my speech distill as the dew, like showers on young growth, like droplets on the grass (Deut. 32:2).

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What should I keep? Books, Letters & Friends

Pile of projects

Things keep piling up. No matter how much I clean, give away, or throw out things continue to accumulate. Thousands of photos stored. Coats that I still might wear. Books I might read again or I might not. The books become friends and we all need friends even if we must dust them off now and again.

Paring down bulky items, I donated two music trophies to Goodwill. They were probably antiques because I hear trophies are no long metal. I took off the plates with what the trophies were for and I put them in some drawer. The purpose in saving them, only a reminder that I once won awards in music. The softball trophy I keep on my shelf still. Most people know about my music and how I used it. Few people know I was once good at softball. It felt important to keep the sports trophy as proof of my identity as a dyke. Silly isn’t it…or sad.

What do I have to prove at my age? Who will care about my memories or accomplishments when I’m gone? My diplomas hang now in the music room at church, my icons of hard work and dedication. My fellow musician, another childless person, is excited for the opportunity to hang her credentials with mine. At least one day perhaps someone will see our contributions as vital to the life of the church.   bookshelves

This is not self-pity to think on these things.  My family is still sifting through the junk accumulated by my pack rat of a dad. He’s been gone a year and a half, almost two. My mother seems to have just as much stuff. When it’s my time to go, I want it not to be a chore for whoever must empty my remaining space. Can I leave treasures instead? Handwritten notes from friends and family. Books that speak of the goodness of life. Things that might matter to a stranger as well as a family member?

My life is strong and I think on these things because I never want to hoard, but also because I live with a 94-year-old who continues to distribute her possessions to the proper family member, someone who would appreciate an item for its history or use. She’s not being morbid about it, only practical. Still, when it’s her time to go, there are things that no one will want; things that are too painful to see and remember loss or things that only she liked anyway.

PorchWhat should I keep in this transient life? I will keep love remembered and forget the pain. I will keep the joys, but also the sorrow for,wherever there has been sorrow, Joy eventually took its place. Sorrow is also a teacher, even if the lesson is not one we wanted to learn. I will hold on to my friends and family members and embrace forgiveness. I never needed those grudges any way.

 

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