Archive for August, 2009

Benjamin the Birdman and His Birthday Adventure

August 26, 2009


My children are back at college now. I miss them keenly, but at least they left a bit of themselves behind. Ariel, her wonderful new paintings (if only we had more wall space!).  And Benjamin, a CD of some of my favorite guitar pieces he plays (including Ave Maria that he plays in the style of the late, great Chet Atkins). And, too, I have my pictures from our weekend birthday roadtrips. I smile as I look through them—-remembering a quiet moment shared, a new wildflower discovered, or how red my face got on the climb to Waterrock Knob. The photographs seem almost like postcards I’ve sent to myself from the past.  Having a great time! So glad I was here! Love, Beth

For his birthday roadtrip, Benjamin chose to explore a place we only recently heard about—the Sandy Mush Game Land. It contains 2,600 acres that are actively managed with clear-cutting and controlled burns by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to provide a favorable habitat for certain animals. The best thing is that it is open to the public, and they even provide parking. It’s apparently quite popular with birdwatchers, which is how we discovered it in a wonderful book that recently came out called The North Carolina Birding Trail: Mountain Trail Guide.  It comes in a Piedmont and Coastal Plains version, too.

Long-time readers of my blog may remember that Benjamin is a very enthusiastic birdwatcher. He’s always liked birds and watched them intently even as a baby, but developed an obsessive interest in them around age four. That’s when we discovered he could read (very well indeed, too!) when he started reading to us from one of our bird books for adults. So we bought him bird song tapes and more books, and before long, he could identify most birds by hearing just a few notes warbled from the trees. I recall one sentence in particular from the bird tapes (which I remember because it really caught Benjamin’s fancy and he’d rewind the tape and play the sentence over and over):

The Eastern Kingbird very often sings while sallying forth in quivering flight.

Of course, we all love birds in our family, and Ariel is quite knowledgeable, too (possibly from hearing Benjamin play his tapes over and over). But Benjamin is the real Birdman. When we’re out hiking and hear a bird, I’m likely to say something inane like, “Hey, that’s a real pretty birdsong, isn’t it?” But Benjamin will stop, cock his head to the side (looking a bit like a bird himself) and say, “Hey, that’s a warbling vireo!” And then I’ll nod my head sagely, as though I knew it all along. Not that I fool anyone. 🙂

We didn’t really see any unusual birds on our trip—just an indigo bunting or two and a galaxy of goldfinches on the gossamer seedpods of the bull thistle. But no matter. We had the forest and fields and mountains and birds to ourselves this time. And we had each other. And that’s a gracious plenty.

Benjamin and Tom at Sandy Mush blog

(Tom in the drill sergeant hat he got at the surplus store and Benjamin in the Stevie Ray Vaughan hat he got at a yard sale)

partridge pea blog

(The partridge pea flower.  I think.  Please correct me if I’m wrong)

Ariel in Sandy Mush forest blog

(Ariel on the light-spangled forest path)

Sandy Mush Game Lands blog

(We could see remnants of an old farm there)

bull thistle seedpod blog

(The gossamer seedpod of the bull thistle)

Sandy Mush blog


Seeing God in Everything…and Everyone

August 19, 2009


(It seems I’m always bringing up the rear in our hikes. That’s Ariel, Benjamin, and Tom well ahead of me.)

It’s August and that means one thing in the Blue Ridge Blue Collar household—–roadtrips! August is when both our children are usually home from college for a visit, so we reserve the weekends for adventures, mostly of the hiking variety. And since both of our children are generally at college in the thick of exams for their birthdays (which occur in April and May), we celebrate them in August. And since Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man’s birthday actually IS in August, I end up baking a cake every weekend, and August ends up being one long, wonderful cake-eating binge. So it’s a good thing that we all love to hike so we can rationalize all that cake- eating. 🙂

It’s always been a tradition in our family that we get the roadtrip of our choice(within reason and budget)  on our birthday weekend. Since Ariel’s birthday is earliest, she got to choose the first junket (I’ve always wanted to use that word!). We all love the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it’s no surprise that our roadtrips often involve the Parkway. This year, Ariel chose to go to Black Balsam Knob, which is just off the Parkway at Milepost 420.2. For directions and some amazing autumn pictures (much better than mine), go here.

The little road that you turn on (off the Parkway) is deceptive. The pavement is cracked and overgrown, and it’s easy to believe that no one has traveled the road for a very long time and that you’re going to have Black Balsam Knob all to yourself. Here’s where I should confess that I’m a slightly anti-social hiker, or as I prefer to call myself, a contemplative hiker. Oh sure, I enjoy brief chats with folks we meet on the trails and I love talking to my favorite hiking companions, but I’m really there to commune mainly with the One who makes all that beauty possible—God. And my favorite hikes have always been the ones where we’ve had the place mostly to ourselves, such as our hikes last year at Craggy Gardens, which you can read about here, here, and here.

Anyhow.  As we traveled up the desolate road, my pulse quickened with excitement, thinking of all that lovely solitude. But I was quickly disabused of that silly notion as we rounded a bend and came upon upwards of twenty-five cars lining both sides of the road. Good Lord. So much for my momentary fantasy of a serene and undisturbed hike.

But no matter. I said a little prayer before we started our hike—-a variation of the same prayer I pray every single morning:

 God, please help me to see You everywhere. Not only in the mountains and flowers and sky and rocks, but in every soul I encounter on this hike. Even if, in the midst of all this beauty, they’re talking loudly on their cell phones or their surly children are whining about being bored. Help me to remember that they, too, are Your beloved children. Amen.

And we did encounter a good number of folks. And some of them were very loud. But I was able to silence my inner curmudgeon, and we had a peaceful and lovely time. And I was even able to commune with the One Who made this all possible and to give Him my most fervent thanks for the blue layered mountains that seemed to stretch to infinity and for the clouds that tumbled across the sky and for all the wildflowers growing in a tangle on the bald. And, while I can’t say I thanked Him for all the many people there, at least I didn’t curse their presence.


Black Balsam blog

Bee on Filmy Angelica blog

(Bee on Filmy Angelica)

Bud of Filmy Angelica blog

(The really cool bud of the Filmy Angelica)

Filmy Angelica opening blog

Black Balsam trail blog

ferns blog

Swallowtail at Black Balsam blog

BlackBalsam blog

fireweed blog

(This one stumped me.  Fireweed, maybe?)



This Blog Will Soon Resume Its Regularly Scheduled Programming

August 12, 2009

Gracious.  Has it really been almost three weeks since my last post?  I apologize.

I can only offer a weak defense.  More vegetables screaming to be picked and shared and cooked and eaten.  More pendulous ripe and juicy fruit that can’t wait, begging to be picked and put in salads and cakes and cobblers.  More guests making that last summer trip to the mountains.  And my children are both home for an all-too-short visit, and I want to make the most of it.

Also…alas…more yellow-jacket stings.  This time, one on my right hand and five more on my left ankle.  Did you know that yellow-jackets, unlike honeybees, can sting over and over again?  Yes, indeed they can.  Especially when trapped in one’s pants leg.  And did you know that fifty-one-year-old women can sometimes run very, very fast?   Yes.  Indeed they can. 

So, again I ask your indulgence if I simply post some photos of my life for the past three weeks.  I promise to return soon to writing, once the garden finally surrenders to cooler weather and I once again have time for dreamy reflection.   Meanwhile, here’s more of my ordinary life on the Doublewide Ranch:


Morning glories suspended from jeweled spider web strands

tangled webs blog

Tangled webs wildly woven


Shimmery junebugs on hydrangea

rainbow in the valley blog

More rainbows in the valley

baby wren blog

More baby birds—-here a Carolina Wren;

baby bluebird blog

Here, an Eastern Bluebird.


Yet another shot of the hummingbird moth on petunias

hummingbird and petunia blog

While a real hummingbird indignantly stakes her claim.