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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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.

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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When Trees Are Not Our Friends

A couple of weeks ago, my feelings about trees underwent a change. Trees have always seemed like friends to me: I liked to climb them and to sketch them, to sit under their shade and read or to stroll beneath their branches. I’ve thought about changing the name of my blog from time to time, but I like the fact that it gives a nod to Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees.” Heck, I’ve even made the pilgrimage to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Then Irma came along.

Oh, I know I have nothing to complain about, compared to the folks who lost homes, boats, vehicles, livelihoods, and even their lives down in Florida. Still, the morning that we woke up to this sight in our driveway, I began to realize that Tall Trees + High Wind = Potential Catastrophe.IMG_0157 (1280x960)

The night before, violent winds had tossed the trees surrounding our house. After two hours of flickering lights, we were relieved at 12:15 a.m. when the power finally went off and stayed off.  I’d been trying to print my son’s homework (air printers aren’t always our friends, either): every time the internet connection was nearly complete, the lights went out. We armed ourselves with flashlights and went to bed, but sleep was slow in coming.

Most of the trees around our house are hardwoods, but that didn’t matter to Irma. Limbs struck the roof, and mysterious objects crashed to the ground. My husband, who isn’t the worrying sort anyway, wasn’t much comfort: he was trying to sleep in case he got called into work. Drowsily, he told me that hardwoods don’t fall and went back to sleep. Thrashing branches and howling winds with gusts up to 31 mph kept me awake for a long time, but my efforts to see into the dark yard were useless.

Around 4 a.m., the winds died down, and I slept. The next morning, we didn’t even notice the tree in the driveway: a limb had hit my son’s trampoline, but we didn’t see any other damage. Suddenly my daughter, late to her work, dashed in to ask if someone could move a car so she could get out. And there it was, a majestic red oak, no longer destined to shade our yard or provide refuge for squirrels: down it had been thrust by those vicious winds, and down it would stay.

When I looked around at all the trees that could have hit our house, I knew we had dodged a very large bullet. Even the two cars parked in front of our house had escaped. Gazing around uneasily, I realized that we were surrounded by threats: tulip poplars, white oaks, red oaks, sourwoods, maples, and pines glared menacingly at me. No longer did our wooded yard seem a friendly place.

And what to do with this large obstacle blocking our driveway? My husband doubtfully said something about chainsaws and getting his dad to help, but, given his schedule, we agreed that professional help was the best solution. Happily, he knew a guy to call: two hours later, Element Arbor was tackling not only the large oak (wish I’d measured it!) but also a hemlock. The air buzzed with the sound of chainsaws, since our tree was not the only one to fall in the neighborhood.

As my son and I cleaned up the fallen leaves and branches that afternoon—his class had been cancelled, so the unprinted homework was not a problem—I heard the wind from time to time. And I trembled as I would not have the day before.

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Yet there was beauty even in the broken limbs, especially of the oak trees: never had I seen acorns so fresh and green. What will the squirrels eat this winter, I wonder? Surely the acorns fell too soon, and many will be carted off when the neighborhood crew clears away the brush. IMG_0160 (960x1280)Something about the red wheelbarrow, the crumpled leaves of bright orange and yellow, and the aching green of the new acorns caught at my heart.IMG_0162 (960x1280) After the rain—the ground was drenched, saturated with Irma’s angry tears—everything looked fresh and clean. My son had voluntarily gone out and started clearing leaves from the driveway: he hadn’t done it quite the way I’d have liked, since he’d pushed the leaves to the side rather than sweeping them up and dumping them in the wheelbarrow. But he and I were both busily working outside, feeling industrious, drinking in the cool air that had a nip of early autumn. And how could I be sad any more?

Although Irma brought destruction—in a small measure—to our yard, she also forced us to step out of our normal lives. No orchestra practice that afternoon, no boy scouts that night, no computer to tempt us back inside, and still no power, so my mother-in-law graciously invited us over for dinner. How pleasant it was to sit around her lovely dining table, eating spaghetti and talking of past storms and future plans. My in-laws were happy to share the leftover blueberry pie and softer-than-usual vanilla ice cream that we’d brought over, and we were happy to have a place to charge up all our devices. (I wish I could say that a day without power had cured us of the desire to check our devices, but that would be a lie.)

When we got home, yellow lights were gleaming in more than one window. Hooray for the power workers who had been pushing themselves since the wee hours of the morning to restore power! Aside from the ice cream, everything in the refrigerator seemed okay; even the milk was drinkable, according to my son. And, when all was said and done, the enormous oak tree hadn’t hit our house.

But I do feel sadder, if not wiser. Wisdom would be for us to call in a tree expert some time and have him check the remaining trees, especially those likely to fall on the house. I hate to lose any more trees, but I remember the menace in that howling wind.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

–William Carlos Williams

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!

A Swarm of Trees: “Till the Wood of Birnam Rise”

The folks at Photo 101 are forcing me to get creative with my camera. Photograph a “swarm” in late November? An old poem about swarming mentions only the months of May, June, and July:

A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay;

A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon;

A swarm of bees in July isn’t worth a fly.

I might add, “A swarm of trees in November is worth a photo.” Looking along the Blue Ridge Parkway for “something that overruns your scene,” I was forcibly struck by the bare trees seeming to march towards me, line upon line of bark-clad soldiers with outstretched arms.

Encroaching trees (Coolpix L320)


Parkway trees prepare for attack! (Coolpix L320)

Parkway trees prepare for attack! (Coolpix L320)

Was it looking through the narrowed view of my camera that made the trees appear to move? Trees without leaves seem threatening, somehow — although trees with leaves can be hostile, like the apple trees in The Wizard of Oz. But bare-branched trees, thronged against the sky, create an eerie effect:

Trees on the Blue Ridge Parkway

After I posted this photo, my brother made it into avideo of swarming trees for a joke — I think it was a joke? While not high quality, the video is unnerving. (Panasonic Lumix)

As I sought “swarming” trees to photograph, I began to think about literary examples of trees that moved. The most famous instance of moving trees occurs in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The witches hint that a moving forest will precede Macbeth’s defeat: “Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him” (4.1.91-93).

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Panasonic Lumix photo, edited in PicMonkey

Confidently, Macbeth asserts:

That will never be:

Who can impress the forest, bid the tree

Unfix his earthbound root? Sweet bodements, good.

Rebellious dead, rise never till the wood

Of Birnam rise, and our high-plac’d Macbeth

Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath

To time and mortal custom. (4.1.93-99)

Macbeth’s arrogant optimism is ill-founded. In Act 5, soldiers camouflage themselves with tree branches cut from Birnam Wood as they march on Dunsinane Hill, creating the illusion of “a moving grove” (5.5.37). The “forest” that advances on Dunsinane is, in reality, an army of men who overwhelm the castle and force Macbeth’s downfall at the hands of Macduff.

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Treebeard leads an enormous army of bonafide trees to the Battle of the Hornburg. This time, the trees can walk — vengeful Ents and Huorns, who uproot themselves to aid the desperate men of Rohan at Helm’s Deep:

The land had changed. Where before the green dale had lain, its grassy slopes lapping the ever-mounting hills, there now a forest loomed. Great trees, bare and silent, stood, rank on rank, with tangled bough and hoary head; their twisted roots were buried in the long green grass. Darkness was under them. (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers)

Haw Creek Valley Overlook (Panasonic Lumix)

Aroused, Tolkien’s Ents and Huorns decimate the terrified Orcs at Helm’s Deep. The next morning, the mysterious forest of Huorns has vanished, leaving instead an enormous mound of dead Orcs.

A moving forest does not have to be fantastical to cause destruction. In Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children,  trees suddenly begin swarming down a rural hillside toward the railroad tracks. Had it not been for the quick thinking of Bobbie, Peter, and Phyllis, the landslide might have caused a tragic railway accident:

And, as Peter pointed, the tree was moving — not just the way trees ought to move when the wind blows through them, but all in one piece, as though it were a live creature and were walking down the side of the cutting.

“It’s moving!” cried Bobbie. “Oh, look! and so are the others. It’s like the woods in Macbeth.”

“It’s magic,” said Phyllis, breathlessly. “I always knew the railroad was enchanted.”

It really did seem a little like magic. For all the trees for about twenty yards of the opposite bank seemed to be walking slowly down towards the railway line, the tree with the gray leaves bringing up the rear like some old shepherd driving a flock of green sheep. (Edith Nesbit, The Railway Children)

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Panasonic Lumix photo

In western North Carolina, incidents of trees that suddenly begin to move are rare, although there are occasional rock slides along I-40 heading west. While I am being fanciful with the idea of trees that swarm, landslides and mudslides are a real danger in mountainside communities not far from my home. An actual swarm of trees, caused by erosion or earthquake, would be terrifying.

I have made much of the oppressive character of bare trees on a bleak day, but I like to walk in the woods in late fall and winter. Stripped of leaves, the hardwood trees reveal their clean lines and rough texture. Depending on the time of day and the light, row upon row of leafless trees can create a soothing effect. This cluster of trees suggests not a restless swarm but a graceful gathering of grey-clad Quakers.

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Panasonic Lumix


Photos taken November 2014 by Sandra Fleming with a Nikon Coolpix L320 and  a Panasonic Lumix. Text and photos copyrighted by Sandra Fleming © 2014.

Giants of the Appalachians

Given this blog’s homage to Joyce Kilmer, how could I not devote a post to the mighty trees of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest?  Born in New Jersey, Kilmer had no connection with North Carolina, but the 3,800-acre forest within the Nantahala National Forest was dedicated to him in 1936, as a memorial both to his poetry and to his service in World War I, where Kilmer paid the ultimate price for his patriotism.

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My oldest son and youngest son, ready for adventure!

In the summer of 2012, accompanied by my husband and two of my sons, I made the two-hour drive from my house to visit those Appalachian giants.  Alas, the June day was unseasonably warm, so the first part of our two-mile hike through the forest was less pleasant than anticipated–particularly after my oldest son was attacked by a stinging insect shortly after we started the figure-eight trail. (The cheerful photograph on the right was taken at the trailhead.)

Not only were the humidity and bugs an issue, but, on the lower portion of the loop, there was less shade than I would have expected in a famous forest. Later, I learned that in 2010 the United States Forest Service used dynamite to remove many dead hemlocks that had fallen victim to the invasive woolly adelgid and posed a safety hazard to visitors.

Eventually, we made our way through the blasted remnants of the dead hemlocks to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Plaque, which was a good place to take a short break from hiking. P1020716 P1020717

Now that we had entered the Poplar Cove section, I began to understand why this old-growth forest was worth a two-hour drive. While California’s coastal redwoods may be older–and the cool climate more pleasant to the perspiring hiker–nothing makes you realize your insignificance like standing next to a tree that is 20 feet around and 100 feet tall. How long had these trees been here? How many silent-footed inhabitants had they witnessed, before the settlers came?P1020721

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As we worked our way along the loop to the trailhead, something happened that accelerated the last portion of our hike: quite unexpectedly, my husband’s cell phone rang, followed by a call on my cell phone. Since we were out of the service P1020718area, the calls were lost almost immediately, but the number was not a familiar one. At the time, our three middle children were on an inner-city missions trip in another state. Little wonder that we both thought the worst and increased our pace for the last leg of the hike. While I retain a few memories of the enormous trees, of the amazing straightness of the tulip poplar trunks, of the leafy greenness of the woodland, what I mostly remember is intense anxiety as we rushed through the forest that we had invested so much time in coming to see. I did take a few photos of the memorial plaque as we passed it on the return trip; there were also two trees whose curiously intertwined roots had taken David’s fancy, so I spared a few seconds to photograph them.P1020726P1020729

But our enjoyment of the outing had ended with the ill-timed phone calls and their reminder that life was relentlessly being lived outside the boundaries of the forest. As it turned out, neither my husband nor I had cell service until we had driven well out of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, my husband pointing out the road signs in both Cherokee and English as we drove. Eventually, we were able to listen to our voicemails. Predictably, the calls had nothing to do with our children. I still am not sure whether or not we should have had our phones on silent: what if there had been an emergency? Yet our hike was–if not ruined, at least made hostage to the pressingcares of this world.

One day, I hope to return to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest–without a cell phone, with a water bottle, and with enough time to stop and go rafting in the cool, wild waters of the Nantahala River on the way home.
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