Trees with a Twist of NaNoWriMo

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North Carolina Arboretum (11/4/2017)

I hope this opening sentence doesn’t make anyone click away, but I’m not quite done posting fall photos. Remember how I’ve taken more than 400 fall photos this fall? I wanted to share a few more. This is likely to be my last “fall photo” post, so please come back if, like my son, you find fall color a bit ho-hum. If you like fall color, this post is dedicated to “Fall Color around Town.” When I couldn’t resist, I would snap a photo or two of a particularly brilliant tree. The reds were remarkable at the end of October; the oranges were slower coming along, but they got there.

Originally, I had thought of doing a series of posts on fall in different locations: fall at the Carl Sandburg House, fall at the Biltmore Estate, fall in the neighborhood—you know the kind of thing. Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I delayed it until the first day of November, and I made no plans whatsoever for this novel that I was planning to write. But I did commit to NaNoWriMo, and, much to my astonishment, I am still “in the game.”

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Waynesville, North Carolina (11/2/2017)

What kind of person commits to writing a full-length work of fiction as part of a game? Yet the worldwide count for NaNoWriMo participants in 2016 was a staggering 384,126. Even the language on the NaNoWriMo website speaks of it as a game: “How do I win NaNoWriMo? What are the prizes? Is there an entry fee?” There’s a WikiHow article on how to win NaNoWriMo (I ought to bookmark that). It may be hard for WordPress readers to believe, but there are people who don’t know about NaNoWriMo. I had to explain this writing phenomenon to a woman at my son’s basketball game on Monday. She had never heard of NaNoWriMo, but she was curious as to why I was sitting in my van, typing furiously away on my iPad, during the 30 minutes or so before the basketball game started. (The coach likes players to arrive 45 minutes ahead of time. Thanks to my son’s choice of a less traveled route that GoogleMaps advertised as nine minutes faster, we did arrive 45 minutes early on Monday—which gave me more time for NaNoWriMo.)

To my surprise, she seemed very impressed that I was writing a novel. Were she to read my draft, I suspect she would be less impressed. I find little that is impressive about pursuing this objective: I did it more out of peer pressure than anything else. Last year, my daughter, along with a few of my nieces and nephews, participated in NaNoWriMo. I advised her against it, but she persevered anyway. We have this strange relationship in which she encourages me to do things (some creative, some housekeeping-related) and I discourage her from doing things: she knows I need encouragement, and I know that she tends to overdo. On the whole, I have been helped more by her encouragement than she has by my discouragement—okay, I haven’t seen much improvement in the housekeeping arena, but that has taken on the status of a lost cause, so I am not surprised.

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Biltmore Park (11/3/2017)

She has “won” NaNoWriMo twice, but I have not been allowed to read her novels. This saddens me, as I feel that my gifts really lie more in the editing department than in the creative department. (You won’t be able to tell that from this post, into which I am determined not to put much time, since I am supposed to be busily at work in the housekeeping arena today. A prolonged dentist appointment changed my mind: I felt that I deserved a reward for having an unexpected procedure. What better reward than writing an impromptu post? But the housekeeping needs aren’t going to go away just because I’m ignoring them. The piper must be paid eventually.) My daughter’s novels belong to the potentially lucrative genre of science fiction, and she is a good writer. Maybe one day I’ll persuade her to let me have a look.

Now that I’ve written a third of my own novel, though, I can see why she doesn’t want to let anyone read hers. I am literally making it up as I go along, and I find it difficult to believe that anyone could be edified by a perusal of my 15,881 words to date. Technically, I haven’t quite reached the one-third mark: 50,000 words is the official goal. Here’s the teaser from NaNoWriMo’s site that got me hooked:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

Three phrases did it:

  1.  “seat-of-your-pants.” I am the original fly-without-an-outline writer. I can make outlines because my high school teachers forced me to, and my writing is better when I do, but I so much prefer to hit the ground running.
  2.  “goal.” I doubt if I would play the piano today if my mom hadn’t offered me the incentive of a new Nancy Drew book if I practiced every day for a month. I cannot seem to successfully meet my own goals, but I have a decent success rate of achieving goals that others set for me. Sad but true.
  3. “anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.” My thoughts of writing a novel have mostly been motivated by my desire to earn filthy lucre. I much prefer writing essays, but I never heard of anyone who made money writing essays. (Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’d even make outlines if that would help my essays make a bit of money. I did submit an article speculatively to a magazine back in my college days and received a small sum when the article was printed, but that was a fluke. I tried that blind submission tactic a few times as a new mom and met with rejection.)

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Barn at the Carl Sandburg House (10/14/2017)

But, sure, I’ve thought about writing a novel. I had no idea how difficult novel-writing was until November 1. I lifted a plot from a suggestion a Facebook friend had made and tweaked it a little, but finding ways to advance the plot has not been my problem. My difficulties have been technical. How do I move my character from the commuter train (which I stupidly set in a real location), down the sidewalk, and into the Boston Public Library? (Oops, I gave it away there. Yes, a visit to Boston and its suburbs would help me right now, but there’s that filthy lucre problem that I mentioned earlier.) Do I need to tell every thought she’s having? Every text she’s receiving on her phone? What if the owners of the actual house that I’m writing about have a problem with their address appearing in my novel? I’m getting ahead of myself there and assuming that this assortment of words will be published. Why would it be?

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Asheville, North Carolina (11/5/2017)

Also, I find myself borrowing from every person or situation I’ve ever experienced. I’ve always wondered how novelists manage not to alienate their family members or friends. There is Thomas Wolfe’s well-known example—and he was a resident of Asheville, North Carolina, too! It would be a little too neat if the book that offended people from Wolfe’s past were You Can’t Go Home Again; that book was published posthumously, so it didn’t matter how many folks he offended. Wolfe’s earlier book, Look Homeward, Angel, reportedly resulted in his receiving death threats from residents of Asheville, which he had fictionalized in his novel. As an Asheville transplant, I am aware of the angry local reactions to Wolfe’s novel. Perhaps that’s why I chose Boston and its suburbs instead as the physical setting for my “novel.” (The quotation marks are necessary.) But, oh, how much time I am losing, zooming in on maps of Boston and images from the library, looking up schedules on the MBTA’s website—and all for what? So that I can claim to have won a game at the end of November?

For the moment, I am trying to ignore all the reasons that I shouldn’t keep writing and forcing myself to try to meet the daily quota of words. (Even my encouraging daughter told me that I shouldn’t expect to “win” the game on my first try. I think she’s concerned about the cluttered condition of the house. Or maybe she’s concerned about my sanity.) But, if you see me here on WordPress a little less for the next couple of weeks, you’ll know why.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, if I disappear until December 1!

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East Asheville (10/18/2017)

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So Many Fall Photos, So Little Time

I take too many pictures. This is an indisputable fact. None of my children would quarrel with this statement. If I even start to say the “p” word when I’m on a walk with my older daughter, a frown creases her usually amiable face. Her brothers are more tolerant—two of my sons will obligingly take photos on request if I’m driving or lacking sufficient room on my phone. My younger daughter has a natural eye for a picture—much better than mine—so she’s tolerant of picture-taking, as long as it doesn’t make her late.

If you live in the mountains and you take too many pictures, what happens in the fall? You wind up with way too many pictures. Rekindling my blogs this fall has worsened the situation: I bet I’m not the only person out there who takes photos speculatively, thinking, “Oh, this will make a great blog post” or “I bet my readers would like to see fall at the Biltmore.”

From a statistical point of view, I thought it would be interesting to see just how many pictures I have taken this fall, but that information has proved elusive. I searched for all files in my “Pictures” library taken between 10/1/2017 and 10/31/2017; fall starts on September 22, but the date range proved difficult to set between months. The resulting search showed 713 pictures taken in October alone. However, not all of those photos were unique: I’ve started resizing (or “optimizing,” to use WordPress’s term) photos that I insert in blog posts. At first, I resisted optimizing, but I’m trying to make my storage space last; at least 50 of those files are resized photos. Some photos are scans and have nothing to do with fall color. Other photos are associated with events like my son’s birthday, the Highland Games, or Halloween. Still, my conservative estimate is that I’ve taken at least 400 fall photos this year. Wow. What was I thinking? So much frowning for my daughter cannot be good. (She wasn’t with me on most of my fall-color excursions—fortunately for her.)

Mostly, my photos aren’t that good, either. Occasionally, I’ll get out my son’s DSLR camera, and then—if I can remember how to use it—the photos might turn out well.  Primarily, I take photos for three reasons: 1) to capture the “thrill” of glimpsed beauty; 2) to capture a moment in time; 3) to have fodder for blog posts (sad but true). Occasionally, there’s a fourth, practical reason: to streamline life. It’s quicker to take a picture of a recipe than it is to write down all the ingredients; it’s quicker to take a picture of my insurance card than to copy down the info. And it’s handy to take a picture when I’m choosing between two dresses, particularly if I need fashion advice from my daughters.

I’m borrowing the word “thrill” as a reaction to beauty from L. M. Montgomery’s beloved book about an orphan girl who finds a home on Prince Edward Island. Yesterday my son and I started listening to Anne of Green Gables on our way to his out-of-town basketball game. (Please don’t tell his middle school buddies.) I may have waited too long to share this book with him; he was rolling his eyes occasionally. My eyes, on the other hand, filled with tears as I listened to Anne’s excitement about finding a home at last and to the details of her loveless existence prior to arriving at Green Gables. When I first read Anne of Green Gables, I was a child, so the pathos of her situation was lost on me.

My son came up with one of his one-liners as we were nearing home. We had to pause the book, and I said reassuringly, “You know that she gets to stay, right? After all, it is called, Anne of Green Gables.” His response? “Yeah, I mean, it’s not called Anne of Asylum.” Anne of the Asylum might be a slightly better title, but I see his point. Even Jane Eyre, part of which is set in an asylum for orphaned children, avoids the word “asylum” in its title. Authors have to think about marketing.

I bring up Anne of Green Gables because taking a picture is my instinctive response to the “thrill” that I get when I see a particularly beautiful tree or view or sight. The word “thrill” appears 37 times in Anne of Green Gables! The first time Anne uses the word “thrill,” Matthew is driving her from the Bright River station to Green Gables; Anne sees one beautiful sight after another—apple trees in bloom arching over the road, a lovely pond at sunset:

Below them was a pond, looking almost like a river so long and winding was it. A bridge spanned it midway and from there to its lower end, where an amber-hued belt of sand-hills shut it in from the dark blue gulf beyond, the water was a glory of many shifting hues–the most spiritual shadings of crocus and rose and ethereal green, with other elusive tintings for which no name has ever been found. Above the bridge the pond ran up into fringing groves of fir and maple and lay all darkly translucent in their wavering shadows . . .

“That’s Barry’s pond,” said Matthew.

“Oh, I don’t like that name, either. I shall call it–let me see–the Lake of Shining Waters. Yes, that is the right name for it. I know because of the thrill. When I hit on a name that suits exactly it gives me a thrill. Do things ever give you a thrill?”

Matthew ruminated.

“Well now, yes. It always kind of gives me a thrill to see them ugly white grubs that spade up in the cucumber beds. I hate the look of them.”

“Oh, I don’t think that can be exactly the same kind of a thrill. Do you think it can? There doesn’t seem to be much connection between grubs and lakes of shining waters, does there?”

Later, Anne uses the word “thrill” to describe how she feels about the poetry in the Fifth Reader, about puffed sleeves, about the upcoming church picnic, about having tea with Ms. Barry, about acting out a romantic scene, and many other experiences. Marilla, a spinster who has had few children in her life, is “thrilled” when Anne kisses her on the cheek. “Thrills” are few and far between as we get older, but the beauties in nature can be counted on to thrill the most stoic among us. Last week, even my oldest son, who describes himself as “not a nature person,” posted a photo of a particularly beautiful Japanese maple on Instagram.

I love Anne’s reaction to some birches she observes while at church one Sunday: “‘There was a long row of white birches hanging over the lake and the sunshine fell down through them, ‘way, ‘way down, deep into the water. Oh, Marilla, it was like a beautiful dream! It gave me a thrill and I just said, “Thank you for it, God,” two or three times.’” Last week, my son and I sang the Doxology in the car as we drove along a particularly beautiful stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It seemed the best way to respond to the “thrill” we felt.

October was a beautiful month at Green Gables, when the birches in the hollow turned as golden as sunshine and the maples behind the orchard were royal crimson and the wild cherry trees along the lane put on the loveliest shades of dark red and bronzy green, while the fields sunned themselves in aftermaths.

Anne reveled in the world of color about her.

“Oh, Marilla,” she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it? Look at these maple branches. Don’t they give you a thrill–several thrills? I’m going to decorate my room with them.”

Now that it’s November, the brilliant leaves are fading and falling. The austere beauty of winter is insinuating its presence, although a few trees still valiantly fly the red and orange battle flags of fall. Scattered leaves tumble and scurry over the street outside the coffee shop where I’m typing. Winter will be lovely in its barebones way, but there is a thrill in autumn’s glorious colors that I’ll miss.

One-Liner Wednesday: Fall Beauty Overload?

After a slow start, the leaves have turned brilliant. I often drive the Blue Ridge Parkway as I shuttle my son around. Since mid-October, I’ve been gasping in wonder as we round each bend of the parkway. With my hands on the wheel and my eyes mostly on the road, I’ve begged my son to take pictures of the fiery orange, vivid red, or glowing golden leaves. He’s a good sport, so he takes them.

Last week, I oohed and aahed over the leaves as we drove along. My son was silent. I said, “David, don’t you just feel overwhelmed by all this beauty?”

He thought for a minute. “Growing up in Asheville, I’ve been spoiled in fall splendor.”

Here’s a taste of Fall Splendor 2017 (photos taken 10/27/17 at Montreat College):

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nf-badge-1linerweds-2017This is my first stab at the One-Liner Wednesday event, hosted each week by Linda G. Hill. To read the rules—which I’ve bent by including an intro to my son’s one-liner—click here. You can read other “One-Liner Wednesday” posts by clicking on pingbacks in the comments on Linda’s post.

One Misty, Moisty Morning

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One misty, moisty morning

When cloudy was the weather,

I chanced to meet an old man

Clothed all in leather.

He began to compliment,

And I began to grin,

How do you do? And how do you do?

And how do you do again?

I’ve been storing nursery rhymes in my mental warehouse since I was a little girl. Two Mother Goose books stand out from my childhood: one was “Baby’s Mother Goose,” the cover of which featured a sobbing child (Lucy Locket?) and the Rock-a-bye Baby; the other was a Little Golden book entitled “Nursery Rhymes,” and I particularly remember the pretty pastel illustration for “Lavender’s Blue” in that book: perhaps I aspired to be Queen? As I recall, my older brother and I were allowed to watch only one television show —The Flintstones—so I had plenty of time for looking at the pictures in nursery rhyme books. Like many parents, my mom and dad read aloud to us; being read to frequently was one of the perks of being an older child in a family with six children, or so my mother tells me.

Not only did my parents read nursery rhymes to us, but we also had a record—an LP, vinyl, call it what you will—of nursery rhymes being sung. Our Nursery Rhymes album was released by United Artists in 1962, so I suspect that it belongs to my older brother. (Want it back, Tom?) An extensive series of Tale-Spinners for Children albums was produced in the 1960s. While searching for the Tale-Spinners’ Nursery Rhymes on YouTube, I came across this wonderful Tale-Spinners’ Robin Hood featuring a young Robert Hardy, whom I first encountered on the BBC’s All Creatures Great and Small.  Alas, we didn’t own any of those exciting Tale-Spinners storybook albums, but I was content with Nursery Rhymes (probably because I didn’t know about the storybook records).

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The Famous Theatre Company and the Hollywood Studio Orchestra performed the songs.

I still have the record, so this morning I listened to the now-scratchy chorus singing classics like “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush,” “Oranges and Lemons”—a childhood favorite—and “Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be?” (Listening to children’s songs sung by classically trained adults was not on my agenda today, but authoring a blog will consume your time in strange and mysterious ways.) I was surprised at how well I remembered every inflection, although I had not remembered the jazziness of certain songs or noticed the musicianship of the Hollywood Studio Orchestra; the creativity of “Humpty, Dumpty, Dumpty,” “Pop Goes the Weasel,” and “Three Blind Mice” must be heard to be appreciated. On the other hand, the upbeat style of “Three Blind Mice” was a little disturbing, given the subject matter,  and “Rock-a-bye, Baby” sounds almost like a dirge (which, in a way, it is).

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Lovely morning glories brighten the misty morning.

Fortunately for my children, I didn’t have this record in my possession when they were young; today I played part of the album for my youngest son, and he pronounced it “scary.” My husband and I continued the tradition of reading aloud to our children, particularly when they were little. Like my parents before me, I read nursery rhymes to my children: I wonder if people still do that? Even if I hadn’t grown up loving nursery rhymes, I would have read them to my children because experts have suggested that listening to nursery rhymes is good for developing minds. (I’ve always been a sucker for parenting advice.) Happily, my mother had kept the books that we had as children, so in some cases I was reading to my children from the very books that were read to me. That turned out to be another perk of being an older child: inheriting books and toys from my parents’ overflowing attic. Since nursery rhymes were read both to me and by me, I can rattle off Mother Goose verses when the occasion calls for it.

Friday morning, as I took a constitutional walk around tiny Lake Tomahawk in Black Mountain, the occasion definitely called for a recitation of “One Misty, Moisty Morning.” The Weather Channel has been referring to this unseasonably warm weather as  “Augtober”—a mixture of August and October—so perhaps the confluence of some weather systems resulted in the very humid conditions on Friday. “Misty,” “moisty,” and “cloudy” all described the scene perfectly.

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Do I always look so serious when I walk at Lake Tomahawk? I hereby resolve to smile on my next walk.

The conditions weren’t ideal for a walk, particularly since I’d forgotten my rain jacket, but thinking about how well the poem fit the occasion helped keep my mind off how damp my hair was getting. I kept opening up my umbrella and then taking it down again (it interfered with picture-taking, and it really was just misting, not raining outright).

While I didn’t meet an old man clothed all in leather, I did meet these gaily adorned ladies:

Lake Tomahawk adjoins a retirement center, so I also met a number of older men and women out for morning exercise, and I encountered mothers pushing strollers and young adults riding skateboards. It’s only a half-mile around the lake, so I tend to run into the same people repeatedly as I’m trying to get in my two miles. I’ve never been sure whether it’s correct to walk clockwise or counter-clockwise around Lake Tomahawk; as the Scarecrow says in The Wizard of Oz, “People do go both ways.” At any rate, it’s polite to smile or make eye contact with people as you pass them: “How do you, and how do you do, and how do you do again?” Sometimes I’ll even make a remark about the weather, but, mostly, we grin and nod.

On Friday, I chanced to pass a woman whom I know—another homeschooling mother who has two kids in college and several still at home. The first time that I encountered her, we smiled and nodded. The second time that we met up on the path, I decided to do more than smile and nod; I stopped to ask her how her kids were doing, and we had a lengthy conversation about homeschool tutorials and dance studios. Meanwhile, the mist and the moist kept coming and going: I put my umbrella away for a while, but then the drizzle started again.

It’s been a strange fall here: warm weather, leaves late to turn, more fog than I remember typically having. But I enjoyed my misty, moisty walk, particularly the spiderwebs glistening with raindrops and the geese and ducks who plunged into the water the moment they saw me approaching with my camera.

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My fascination with “One Misty, Moisty Morning” did not end when I left Lake Tomahawk. This morning I listened to both sides of the Nursery Rhymes LP (and making an almost inaudible recording of Side 2), but I did not find what I was seeking: an older man’s voice reciting “One Misty, Moisty Morning.” I knew that I had heard that nursery rhyme read aloud, and I was stumped when I didn’t find it on the record. I racked my brain, trying to remember other records we listened to as children, when it came to me: Kindermusik! Kindermusik was another one of those activities that were supposed to be good for children, so I spent years taking my kids to Kindermusik classes and playing the CDs. A recitation of the poem is on the Village DewDrops CD, which I own because I participated in the Kindermusik class with my two youngest children. Mystery solved!

“One misty, moisty morning” engraving by Alexander Anderson in Illustrations of Mother Goose’s Melodies

Still, my memory had played tricks on me, confusing my childhood with my children’s. However, I feel reaffirmed in my commitment to Kindermusik: aside from “One Misty, Moisty Morning,” many other nursery rhymes and folk songs were on the DewDrops CD. Folk music is another thing that I loved as a child, and Kindermusik exposed my children to songs from around the world. I decided to quiz my youngest son on his knowledge of nursery rhymes: he said he didn’t know any, but he was able to recite more than he had expected. One day, he may even read nursery rhymes to his children. I can dream, can’t I?

A Day without Butterflies

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A light mist hung over the brilliantly colored maple by the parking area.

Last Saturday wasn’t a good day for a hike: my college son, who isn’t a fan of hikes (probably because I dragged him on too many during his formative years), was home for fall break; a football game that my husband and sons wanted to see was on TV; and the sky had been overcast all day.  But I knew that this week wasn’t going to be good for hikes because of my husband’s work schedule, and I hadn’t been on a walk of any length since Tuesday.

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Skipping the North Carolina-Notre Dame game proved to be a smart play for this UNC fan, since UNC lost.

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To the right of the parking area an overlook shows the valley, filled with clouds. A trail on the right leads to the site where George Vanderbilt’s hunting lodge once stood.

Leaving the boys at home with the football game as a temporary bond—their ages and tastes are quite different, but college football has the power to draw my sons together—my self-sacrificing husband and I drove off on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with the summit of Mount Pisgah as our destination. (My husband was divided in his loyalties, but I take it as a compliment that he chose me over the game.)

Although we’ve camped at Mount Pisgah several times, I can only recall hiking to the summit twice before. In 2001, our youngest daughter was only three, but she handled the 1.5-mile hike up to the summit AND 1.5-mile hike down with amazing determination. (That should have clued me in to her strength of character and her physical stamina. She is now studying ballet in college.) In 2011, we hiked to the top again. By then, our youngest son had joined the family, although my middle son was off at Boy Scout camp, so we still lacked a full roster. On both occasions, what struck me even more than the view of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains were the beautiful butterflies that swarmed around the wildflowers below the observation platform.

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Hard to believe a three-year-old went up and down that trail on her own, but she was determined to keep up with the older kids.

It’s not logical, but somehow I expected to see those butterflies on Saturday, despite the mist that draped heavily over every tree and stone on the trail up to the summit. We’d seen cars with their lights on before we got to Mount Pisgah, but my husband figured they’d forgotten to turn off their lights after leaving one of the tunnels; it wasn’t raining, and there didn’t seem to be a National Park Service ranger on the prowl for speeding vehicles. Silly us: we got to the Mount Pisgah trail lot, looked around at the creeping fog, and said, “Oh. That’s why.”

Still, the sun was peeking through the tiniest bit as we started the climb upward. We’d only been on the trail for a few minutes when we ran into someone we knew: a teacher who was gamely shepherding her two young cousins on the way down from the summit. We exchanged greetings but didn’t think to ask her whether you could see anything from the observation platform. She was scrambling to keep up with her energetic cousins, so she didn’t have time to chat.IMG_0385 (480x640)

You can see where this story is going. After an arduous climb—more arduous than it might have been because we’d forgotten to bring our trusty hiking sticks—we encountered a woman and her daughters coming down from the platform. An unspoken law of hiking is, “Let the faster person pass you,” so we’d stepped aside to let them pass several minutes before. “There’s nothing to see,” she informed us, as we headed towards the creaky wooden steps.

She was right. No butterflies. No view. Just a large antenna, some brown wildflowers, and dense white clouds as far as the eye could see. Frosted with fog, red-oak trees waved their leaves mockingly at us.

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A very Tolkien-ish tree on the trail

But you know what? We had the platform to ourselves. In fact, we didn’t see another person the whole way back down the mountain. I’ll admit I was disappointed that there were no butterflies. I’m no naturalist, but butterflies have been seen as late as mid-October in this part of western North Carolina. Earlier in the week I had seen a blue butterfly at the Arboretum, but the elevation here was much higher. Maybe butterflies only come out when it’s sunny? This could be a learning opportunity.

What we did have on Saturday was atmosphere. The golden leaves glowing through the haze made us feel like we had stepped into a different world. We’ve just finished listening to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so Lothlorien, the golden realm of the elves Galadriel and Celeborn, came to mind immediately. Sure, I’d have preferred to see a brilliant blue sky and blue mountains glazed with the golds and oranges of fall leaves instead of a blank whiteness at the summit. But the effect of flaming leaves against the pale mist was stunning. Magical.

IMG_0389 (640x480)Some sunny day, I’d like to try Mount Pisgah again. But mist in the mountains creates its own beauty, particularly when the leaves are golden and brown and the only sounds you hear are the birds calling, the wind blowing, and your feet tramping down the path towards home.

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Retreating to the Trees

IMG_0308 (480x640)Trees and I are on good terms again. On Tuesday, I even went on a walk at the Arboretum, which is literally “a place with trees.” The North Carolina Arboretum, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, features many plants besides trees. Its attractions include (but are not limited to) a quilt garden, a greenhouse, outdoor artwork, native plants, a model railroad, a cafe, an outdoor ampitheater, 10 miles of hiking trails, and a bonsai garden (more trees but tiny ones). You get a lot for your yearly membership fee at the Arboretum, which is how my husband justified renewing at the end of September.

To get to the trees, my husband and I took the path on the other side of the Baker Exhibit Building. Immediately, we were shaded by friendly evergreens and hardwoods, which was helpful since it was warming up. We both regretted not having left our jackets in the car. Most of the leaves haven’t changed color yet, although this sassafras sapling is getting into the act. sassafras saplingYears ago, we used to take our kids on the “tree trail” at the Arboretum, which featured 10 trees with a number nailed to the bark. The goal was to identify what kind of tree each was, but an even more important goal was not to accidentally miss one of the 10 trees: if we skipped one, that meant turning around and going back til we found it. I can’t fault my children for being obsessive about things like that, since I am myself. Aside from being one of those activities that gives you the pleasure of checking off tasks, the tree trail (officially called the “Carolina Mountain Trail”) taught me something about trees. I can usually identify those ten types of trees without much trouble: red oak, sourwood, tulip poplar, maple, pine, dogwood, white oak, mountain laurel, sassafras. . . . Oh, well, I remember most of them!

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On Tuesday, our destination was not the Carolina Mountain Trail but the Bent Creek Trail, which meanders alongside a pleasant little stream. Last time we took this trail, I startled a snake sunning himself on the path, but today the only wildlife that we encountered were an elusive blue butterfly, some busy squirrels, and numerous birds. I wish I were better at identifying birds, particularly since my father is a birder who keeps a lifebook of all the birds he’s seen. Still, we enjoyed listening to their calls as we got deeper into the woods.

It was good to be outside on Tuesday: I sometimes think if I could spend a couple of hours walking in the woods every day that I would be a better person. (I would be a happier person and a more fit person, but what would happen to home and hearth and homeschooled child?) Like most of us, I have been struggling to come to terms with the unthinkable tragedy in Las Vegas. On Monday, I was hardly aware of it and happily penned a fluffy piece about missing September. Then, after I’d posted it, I started scrolling through the Reader and browsing on the internet. I began reading more details and trying to fathom what could have prompted such an evil act. How can the world be such a beautiful place and such a terrible place at the same time? But it is.

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Today, as I sit at a bookstore and wait for my son to finish his chess game, I am surrounded by the tranquil beauty and normalcy that I often take for granted. It helps me to recall the lovely woodland scenes that my husband and I saw on Tuesday. You don’t get impressive vistas at the Arboretum; there are a few places where you can glimpse the mountains, but mostly what caught my fancy was down in the forest: a funny red mushroom, a place where the foaming bubbles in the creek had formed something that looked like a mushroom, the flaming red leaves of a slim sapling that caught my eye, an oddly shaped wildflower, the twisted trunk of a mountain laurel in the middle of the path.

At the end of our walk, my husband and I had lunch in the cafe, where the food was better than I had remembered with lots of yummy options. I went with the veggie muffaletta while he had the chicken salad sandwich with apricots, almond, and basil. No pictures of the food, though: I’m trying to cut down on my incessant picture taking, at least if I sense that it is annoying other people. But pictures help me to remember and to relive beautiful moments, so I’m not going to stop altogether. In the foyer of the Education Building, I saw a lovely arrangement of fresh flowers: something about the formality of the arrangement and the predominance of purple flowers, which I associate with mourning, made me think again of the 58 people whose lives were ruthlessly truncated on Sunday.

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Beauty helps to distract us from the horrors, although it doesn’t make them disappear. It doesn’t erase the evil, and, in some ways, it acts as an ironic contrast to the ugliness of life. An acquaintance of mine posted a poem recently that captures that sense of disjointedness: how can the sky be so gorgeous when there is such grief in the world? Yet I hope on, trusting to the providence of a God whose ways are mysterious and inscrutable. He is creator of the beauty and comforter of those who mourn.

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Purveyor of Beauty

img_8740As I circled beautiful little Lake Tomahawk for the third time (four times around is approximately 2 miles, I’ve learned), I paused yet again to snap a picture of the gorgeous red leaves against the blue sky.img_8743 Simg_8754ure, the picture-taking limited the effectiveness of the exercise, but who cares? Given the glory of the scene before me, how could I not take a picture? How could I not try to share the rich colors of the fall foliage, the smell of sun on pine straw, the glimmer of light on the water?

“Are you a camera person?” asked a friendly man who watched me interrupt my walk to clumsily frame a scene. I said yes, but, really, I’m not much of a photographer, and my iPhone 5s is showing its age. What I am, I decided, is a purveyor of beauty.

I liked the sound of that phrase—”purveyor of beauty” —but later, seated at the coffee shop with my café au lait (I liked the sound of that phrase, too), I looked up the meaning of “purveyor,” just to be on the safe side. What a blow: “purveyor” didn’t mean what I thought it did! I had confused “purveyor” with “surveyor”—someone who takes stock of the situation or assesses the value of something. “Purveyor” actually means someone who is endeavoring to sell or trade something: it can also mean someone who is trying to promote a view or idea. Reveling in my felix culpa, I realized that the real meaning of “purveyor” fit much better.

After all, if I wanted to soak up the beauty for myself, would there be a need for picture-taking? Maybe: I don’t trust mere memory to capture experiences. Memory is fickle and tricks me up with dates or blurs similar experiences. How many falls have I lived through now? How many achingly beautiful autumn scenes have I tried to pin down with camera, verse, prose?

So I suppose I am taking the pictures to remind myself of what a wonderful walk I had, smiling pleasantly at the other folks doggedly rounding the lake along with me, some with dogs in tow. But, even more, I want to share the beauty with you, dear reader—with you, who couldn’t be with me to watch the ducks dabbling in the water near the bridge; with you, who couldn’t count the peaks of the Seven Sisters off to the right.img_8744img_8751

Because beauty kept to myself feels like hiding a joyful secret from someone. Beauty shared is so much better, especially if the other person gets as excited about trees turning from pale-green to vivid yellow as I do. Strangely, though, I kind of like my morning walks alone (alone, with a dozen other people out for their morning constitutionals). If I’m walking with someone, I’m talking or listening. If I’m walking alone, I can let my thoughts float free. Or I can try to notice details that might escape me: the watercolor brush of colored leaves on the lake’s surface; the leaves slowly somersaulting to the ground, the little island with its air of sanctuary, the cross-section of shoe prints in the dirt trail, the half shorn tree hinting at the season’s progress.
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Enjoy the beauty of fall in Black Mountain–and purvey it along!