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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