Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

A Grand Day Out

March 13, 2013

Biltmore Diana and her dog (2) (513x800)

Now, I could tell you that this is our REAL house.  I could say that our doublewide trailer is just a decoy to hide our incredible wealth and that I never mentioned this house because, well…*sniff*…it simply doesn’t do to flaunt one’s riches.  But then you’d probably think, “Hmm…looks like Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl has been watching a little too much Downton Abbey, haha.”   And, haha…you’d be right.

Besides, if this were OUR house, why would all these people be here?

Biltmore from the hill (3) (800x617)

The truth is, a very kind friend (thank you, kind friend!) gave me two tickets to Biltmore, and Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I had a grand day out at a very grand house surrounded by an even grander expanse of rolling hills and mountains.

We were a little worried when we approached the house, and the first thing we saw was this fellow:

biltmore statue (2) (600x800)

We couldn’t help but be wary of someone with a cross in one hand and a big, scary sword in the other.  Talk about mixed messages!  But we felt much better when we saw his sweet companion:

Biltmore Joan of Arc perhaps (2) (600x800)

And better yet when we saw this friendly lady waving, “Hey!”  It’s so nice to be welcomed!

Biltmore friendly statue (2) (599x800)

We politely averted our eyes and pretended not to notice that…ahem…her dress had slipped.  Bless her heart!

And look!  Her companion even unfurled a lovely bough of flowers for us!  Aww…you shouldn’t have!

Biltmore statue with flower bough (2) (800x593)

biltmore looking ominous blog

As you might expect, we didn’t spend much time in the Big House.  In fact, we were rather relieved to walk away from it and the foreboding clouds gathering over it.  Even in all its extravagant glory, it paled in comparison to the glory outside:

Biltmore trail (2) (800x633)

Like this path, where we could see both our beloved mountains and the beautiful French Broad River that flows near our own Doublewide Ranch.

And the stately, ancient trees that were everywhere, including this cypress and the knees gathered, like a quiet and worshipful congregation, at its base.

Biltmore cypress knees (2) (800x599)

And this climbing ivy, that looked almost as though it were painted on the tree:

Biltmore ivy climbing (2) (600x800)

The bamboo was a bit of a surprise, but lovely in its own way:

Biltmore bamboo (2) (800x649)

But I think perhaps one of my favorite things were these little hemlock cones that hung like little bells in the tree.  These were in a secret garden that we found when we sought to get away from the crowds.  My favorite places have always been those that have  little green sanctuaries like this.  Places where you can quiet your mind long enough to remember where the real riches are.

Biltmore evergreen cones (2) (800x599)


Captured Curiosities #1

October 30, 2012

Most of you already know that forsythia blooms in April, sending out bright yellow flowered spikes, then the green leaves turn red in fall. Ours have several yellow blooms now which contrast nicely with the purple-red leaves. Odd, but lovely, I think.

I still seem to be having a hard time expressing myself these days—not because my head is empty, but because it is too full!  But better a full head than an empty one, I suppose. 🙂

Meanwhile, I thought you might enjoy the sights here at the Doublewide Ranch.  Even when I feel flattened by my own crazy thought train, I am always mindful of the loveliness of the changing seasons and the beauty of the peculiar.  By peculiar, I mean our extended warm weather, which means that zinnias, cosmos, and cleome are still blooming and that we even had fresh summer squash this week.  And snow peas!  All quite strange in almost-November, but all quite welcome just the same.  And, of course, subject to change (since I first wrote this) as it did this very morning with the coming of snow.

So I thought it’d be fun to have a new feature called “Captured Curiosities” where I share with you the things I see that might be slightly out of the norm.  No aliens, Bigfoot, or even zombies here (though if I happen to encounter them, I’ll be sure to get a shot)—just the things that surprise me and make my eyes widen in amazement or delight.

These are snowpea blossoms—we just had snowpeas for supper two nights ago. Very appropriate to show SNOWpeas because…

…alas, snow this morning shall put an end to the bright flowers and fresh vegetables in the photos above (taken only days ago). But, of course, the snow is lovely in its own cold and crystalline way.

Grateful Praise #1: Queen Anne’s Lace

October 17, 2012

Bug walking tightrope is NOT a chigger.

I really enjoyed doing Thirty Days of Grateful Praise, and some of you seemed to fancy it as well.  So I’ve decided to make it a regular feature (called simply “Grateful Praise”), except this time, I’ll take it one day at the time. 🙂  I don’t find it difficult at all to find things I’m grateful for—-every single day, it seems, I see something ordinary with fresh eyes and recognize how blessed I am.

It’s been a wonderful year here at the Doublewide Ranch for Queen Anne’s Lace.  I’ve always loved this commonplace flower (which some unenlightened souls call a weed), but have taken particular notice this year of all the lovely forms it takes throughout its long growing season. It’s been a delightful distraction in my daily walk down the driveway to fetch the mail.  It’s pretty obvious from my pictures, I suppose,  why some call it “bird’s nest.”  Growing up, I heard folks call it “chigger weed” because they claimed it was chock-full of chiggers, but I think as long as you don’t loll about in a large field of Queen Anne’s Lace, you’ll be okay.

When looking for poems about Queen Anne’s Lace, I found a poem that wasn’t specifically about the flower, but I liked it so much that I decided to include it here.   It could almost be a poem about me, except for the “long after midnight” part.  I’m an “early-to-rise” girl, for certain, up at the crack of dawn. But the part about “walking up the walk Like a woman in a dream”(people used to call me a “dreamy” child and I don’t think they meant it as a compliment) and leaving the clover and Queen Anne’s Lace standing when mowing…well, I’m afraid that’s right on target. 🙂


Before she has her floor swept
Or her dishes done,
Any day you’ll find her
A-sunning in the sun!

It’s long after midnight
Her key’s in the lock,
And you never see her chimney smoke
Till past ten o’clock!

She digs in her garden
With a shovel and a spoon,
She weeds her lazy lettuce
By the light of the moon.

She walks up the walk                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Like a woman in a dream.
She forgets she borrowed butter
And pays you back in cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
And the Queen Anne’s lace!

Edna St. Vincent Millay

(29) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Happenstance Flowers

July 30, 2012

Zinnias, cosmos, garden phlox, morning glories, and even a little cleome that hasn’t bloomed yet

It’s probably pretty obvious that I love flowers.   So much so that I’m willing to endure the inevitable pain that comes from the bending, kneeling, pushing, pulling work that gardening requires.  However, because of that pain, I do tend to choose flowers and shrubs that are easy to grow and that require a minimum of upkeep—flowers that aren’t particular.   In other words, I like hardy, sturdy plants that take care of themselves, blooms that don’t expect to be coddled.  Here at the Doublewide Ranch, we expect plants to pull their own weight.

So I have a particular fondness for plants that self-sow, flowers that toss their seeds extravagantly to the wind—-botanical spendthrifts.  And so it is around our place.  I have pots and flowerboxes that I merely have to water and occasionally fertilize because the flowers perennially reseed themselves.  Every single one of the flowers in these pictures were accidental blossoms.  The zinnias in the top picture I did round up and corral into the bed on the right after they ran amok in the walkway.

This always seems miraculous to me, although I know it can be rationally and scientifically explained.  Doesn’t matter.  Sometimes it’s enough to just to revel in the wonder of it and to be thankful.  I am so grateful for my lovely, self-sowing, fortuitous, happenstance flowers.

Good ol’ reliable petunias—these self sow every year.

These cleome grew right in the middle of the path. We were happy to step around them.

(20) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Birds

July 21, 2012

Here’s a rather bedraggled and disheveled-looking cardinal holding an unidentified avian food item in his beak. He’s still beautiful, though. I think he’s a young fellow.

In my last post, I used the phrase “songbird sanctuary.”  I meant, of course, that I like to think of the Doublewide Ranch as a refuge for songbirds, where they are loved and appreciated and where I plant shrubs and flowers specifically to provide berries or seeds for their dining pleasure (plenty of juicy bugs, too!)

But when I think about it, it’s a sanctuary for us, as well.  When the ways of the world don’t make sense (and they’re really not making sense these days), I can think of nothing more soothing and peaceful than wandering about, watching my avian friends.   I know I’ve written about it many times, but It’s worth mentioning again since there’s no way I can make a list of Thirty Things I’m Grateful For without acknowledging the joy and tranquility that birds provide. And I think the word “sanctuary” is appropriate in more ways than one.  There’s nowhere I feel more of a sense of the holy than outside watching birds dart and soar in the heavens.

I’m going to miss my fellow bird lover, Benjamin, when he leaves eight days from now.  Not only does he share my pleasure in watching birds, but he can almost always name the bird we’re seeing or hearing.  And since I gave him my camera, he has taken some amazing shots and videos.  Here’s one he made of two pileated woodpeckers in our back yard. (No, that’s not our house you see in the background—wish it were.  And, by the way, the “Mr. B” who composed and played the “Woodpecker March” was none other than Mr. Benjamin himself).

I am grateful to the songbirds who make the Doublewide Ranch a sanctuary for us, where our spirits are revived and where we find peace and solace for our weary souls.

(19) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: The Fierce Courage of Animal Parents

July 20, 2012

A very brave mockingbird

Here at the Doublewide Ranch, we often hear the loud, raucous caws of many crows and look up to see them chasing away a hawk that’s dared to venture into our songbird sanctuary.  Occasionally, a few mockingbirds and even bluejays will join in to chase off the intruder.

We recently heard the sound of crows and mockingbirds in an uproar and looked out to see that a broadwing hawk had landed on the bamboo bean poles in the garden next to the grape arbor.  We were astonished to see two mockingbirds bravely dive-bombing the hawk.  We  took a couple of pictures before it dawned on us that the mockingbird’s fierce courage in facing down the hawk very likely meant that they had some babies nearby, perhaps in the grape arbor.  I could see that the broadwing wasn’t going anywhere and the mockingbirds seemed more and more distressed, so I put down my camera and ran towards the grape arbor with my mightiest and most savage roar.  Benjamin said I sounded like a Viking warrior.

I don’t know if it was my Viking war cry or the crazed look in my eyes, but the hawk lifted off quickly.  The mockingbirds chased him until he was a small dot in the sky.  It was gratifying to feel like I’d played a part in saving the little mockingbird babies…and it felt pretty good to roar like that, too. 🙂

I was most impressed, though, by Mom and Dad Mockingbird.  I am grateful for our animal parents and their fierce courage.

A future brave mockingbird

(18) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Our view

July 19, 2012

We’ve had autumn, spring, and summer rainbows aplenty. I don’t recall any winter ones, though. We can often see the entire rainbow arc.

When we bought the Doublewide Ranch, I asked the folks we bought it from if they’d miss the view.   “Oh no…not at all,” they said. “Sometimes you just get tired of seeing the same old thing every morning.”

I was astonished.  The view is the reason we bought the place (and paid way too much for it).   Our doublewide sits atop a small hill where we can see, not only the skyline of Asheville ten miles away, but much of the surrounding valley, as well as the tall mountain ridges that rise up from the valley in the distance.  Not to mention the vast, endless expanse of sky.  I have to laugh remembering what she said about “seeing the same old thing” because even though we do see the same mountains and the same valley and the same trees, it is never the “same old thing.”   Even now, in just the last five minutes, as thunderclouds moved in from the northwest, the sky has gone from bright blue to blackish-grey and the mountains are partially obscured by what appears to be a rainstorm about ten miles east.  The colors of the hills, the trees, and the grassy valleys are ever-changing with the seasons, and even the skyline of Asheville is transformed as more high rises are constructed.

Sometimes, I’ll lie awake worrying about this and that, occasionally even thinking of how we spent our nest egg on this place shortly before the economy went bust, and now we’ll never get it back. As it is for so many families, our place is now worth much less than we paid for it.  But at first light, as I stand on the porch seeing Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man off to work (as I do every morning), I am amazed anew at the vista of mountains, fields, trees, and sky before me.  I still sometimes can hardly believe that I get to wake up to this every single day.

Sure, in some ways it IS the same thing every day.  But it’s wonderful to depend on those mountains, those hills, and those trees (for the most part) being there every day.   Really, though, it’s never the same because nature’s many-hued palette changes from hour to hour, from day to day, from season to season.  I am grateful for the ways in which our view never changes, and I am grateful for the ways in which it does.  I’ll never, ever take it for granted.  And I’ll never, ever get tired of it.

I watch the sun rise over the mountains almost every morning.

Sometimes, when the mist is thick, the mountains look like islands in the sea of fog. Here, the fog shines with an almost holy glow.

Full moon sky

In winter, after the rain

Asheville from our porch–late afternoon

From our porch…in summer

(14) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Trillium

July 15, 2012

This is the Catesby’s Trillium that we saw on our hike at Whiteside Mountain.

The first time I ever saw trillium was on our mountain honeymoon just over twenty-five years ago.  It was late in the day when we got to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and one of the first things we laid eyes on was a whole forest filled with trilliums.  The slanted afternoon light illuminated the trilliums, and they shone a radiant white in the gloaming.  They were enchanting, and I was smitten.

I don’t know why I love them so much.  Maybe because of the magical honeymoon association.  Maybe because they’re one of the first flowers to bloom in spring.  Maybe because there are so many kinds—40 to 50 species, I think.

Or maybe because some of them look like little botanical pinwheels. 🙂

I love, too,  trillium’s alternate names–wakerobin, birthroot.  And Stinking Benjamin.  Actually it’s only the red trillium that called Stinking Benjamin.  We saw a lot of it on our spring hikes, and it was fun to tease Benjamin by hollering, “Stinking Benjamin!” every time we saw one.

It doesn’t matter, really, why I love trillium.  It only matters that I realize how blessed I am to live here in the Appalachians, where it blooms so profusely in hidden forest glades.  It only matters that I am grateful for the enchanting, charming, and altogether lovely little wakerobin.

(10) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Just-Picked Vegetables for Supper

July 11, 2012

As plainly can be seen, our green beans are not green.

We planted three kinds of green beans in the garden this year, but only one of them was green.  Yes, not only are there purple green beans, but  yellow ones, too.  I relished the thought of how lovely the multi-hued beans would look in my bright blue serving bowl, but, alas, both the purple and the yellow beans turn green when cooked.  I was quite disappointed, but once I tasted their fresh buttery green goodness, I decided that it didn’t matter.  Besides, green is my favorite color anyway.

I am very grateful to be able to eat vegetables that only an hour before were basking in the afternoon sun.  Somehow, it always seems I can still taste in them the earth and the sun and the rain.  Yes, and maybe even the wind, too.

(7) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Toads

July 8, 2012

I almost stepped on this fellow because he blended so perfectly with his surroundings.  He seemed completely unperturbed by his brush with certain disaster.

This little guy regarded me from our clothesline pole with something akin to wry amusement.  I certainly was amused–and delighted–by him.