Archives for December 2011

Birds on the Beach

All Lined Up

It’s been a long time since we’ve been to the coast, and I’ve missed it more than I realized. The sights and sounds are especially peaceful this time of year. These little birds stayed at the edge of the water a long time, bathed in a soft sunset glow on Kiawah Island, just outside Charleston, South Carolina.

Some sights – those involving prey and predator – are not so tranquil. On a morning walk, I saw a woman in the distance, guarding a large black bird that appeared to be injured. She watched over the bird a long time before finally walking away. Immediately, two large seagulls flew down and started their assault on the disabled bird. For someone who debates whether to save a live insect trapped in a spider web, this was a jarring sight.

Bands of Color

Vegetation near The Battery, Charleston

During a walk on a post-holiday vacation in Charleston, I saw this soothing winter canvas of water, sky, and plants. It reminded me that simple landscapes are often the most beautiful.

Wishing You A Peaceful, Reflective Holiday

Christmas in the Mountains


Red Trucks and Memories

Delivering Christmas Greens

Every year, in early December, my mother and I set aside two or three days for marathon sessions of Christmas shopping. Mom loves the holidays and resolutely preserves her tradition of giving everyone in her large circle of friends, neighbors, and family a hand-picked gift (or two) from a proper department store in town.

We travel all around Asheville and take in the sights along the way. One stop was at Clem’s Cabin, where two guys in plaid shirts and a red truck were delivering trees for the next-day’s greens sale.

Back home, we gather the wrapping paper and tape (no bows – we take the minimalist approach) and Mom starts bringing out the presents she’s already gotten, adding to the ones we’ve just bought. I wrap, she writes the labels and checks off the name/gift on the master list.

This year, there were new people to add to the list and sadly, one to take away. The loss of Claude, my recently-departed, favorite uncle, brought pause and sweet reminiscence as Mom and I continued wrapping.

I’m a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to the holidays, but I get nostalgic over memories of good times with family and friends, and old-fashioned sights like red trucks delivering Christmas trees. I’m like my uncle Claude on that.

Kittens: Talk Amongst Yourselves

Every blog gets to have at least one “aw…how sweet” kitten video.

Dusting of Snow: Winter Tapestry

Moss and Galax in Winter

The Disappearing Mountain

You won’t find much ranting on this blog, but this ugly, destructive, monstrosity of a retaining wall deserves one. Located on Highway 74-A near Asheville and built by a developer in Greensboro, the wall was supposed to support a foundation for apartments built within the clear-cut housing complex. During the past year, multiple cracks up to three inches wide have developed in the wall, adding to fears that the entire wall and hillside might slide onto the road below. Aesthetically, environmentally, safety-wise – any way you look at it – the project has been a disaster.

I don’t know why building permits were ever issued for this project, or how it ever got to this point of destruction. I do know that there has been considerable furor from local citizens, especially those who regularly travel the highway below, or live nearby. To them, it’s a safety issue, and a jarring experience to see the land they love carved into shapes so alien to nature.

The hilly section of Highway 74 called Mine Hole Gap used to be a beautiful transition from Asheville to Fairview and Lake Lure and beyond . It was two-lane, with rhododendrons along each side and mature trees whose branches arched over the highway’s edge. The bank on the left was steep – but stabilized – with native shrubs, grasses and groundcovers.

Then, in 2001, the new five- lane road was completed and a beautiful mountain pass-through was destroyed forever. The bank was scraped away and the trees and rhododendron removed. Now kudzu and the invasive princess tree (Pawlonia tomentosa) line the road from the bottom of the hill to the top. Slowly, the land is being lost to commercial development.

This scenario is nothing new: few parts of the country have been spared the loss of habitat, heritage, and natural beauty that comes with “progress”. The loss is just more poignant when it affects your personal memories of home.

The Seed Packet: Harvesting Memories

Sweet Moments: the Family Album

A few weeks ago, I went to the mailbox and found a fat envelope of ageratum seeds from Lea, a cherished friend in North Carolina. Between the day she sent the seeds and the time I received them, Lea lost her mother Zoe to a long, gradual illness that deprived her of most of her memory and the ability to carry out simple, everyday tasks like mailing a card to a friend. As I read Lea’s handwritten note, I thought of how quickly life can change, during what promises to be an ordinary day.

I thought of the day my father died and how he and I had walked the fields behind his house the week before, just enjoying our time together – with no inkling of how soon everything would change. The day was sunny and crisp and I had absolutely no doubt where my dad and I stood in each other’s eyes.

I remembered the time, in Zoe’s later years, that we lingered after a family dinner to talk about the candlelight reflecting on the window panes, and the colors and textures of our food and table linens – all interspersed with flickering bits of her memories about people and gatherings from long ago. It was a different kind of conversation, with someone who was seeing life from a changing perspective. It was magical and meaningful to me, but I knew that it might not happen again.

Lea’s days with her mother were full of daunting challenges that didn’t fall under neat platitudes like ” appreciate the moment”. But I know for sure that she had plenty of tender moments – those that come with being a loving and attentive daughter, and having a mother whose grace and personality would never be extinguished by hardship or disease.

So thank you Lea, for your kindness, and the packet of seeds that set my mind to wandering. And, of course, Godspeed to dear Zoe. She touched a lot of lives, including mine.

Lingering Fall Color: Oakleaf Hydrangea

Last Fling