Frog Footprints (Or Not)

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A spot by any other name …

Galls and other leaf oddities have intrigued me lately. On an early evening walk with my mother a few weeks ago, I picked a bright-colored leaf from the lower limb of a nearby oak tree. I wondered out loud about the light green spots on the surface.  My brother’s sweet and observant four-year-old grandson, who had just presented me with some tiny yellow, roadside flowers, said, “I’m pretty sure it’s frog footprints.”

Those of us in the grown-up world might think those spots are actually a kind of leaf blister called Taphrina caerulescens. But, for now, we’ll keep that information to ourselves.

For a four-year-old, there’s plenty of time to learn about botany and plant diseases and factual reasons for green spots. Frogs and their footprints are the reality for now.

Water Meditation

 For Meryl, on a very special occasion:

                                                     Ocean. Rain. Candle Ice.

Plants: How to Woo a Woman

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When my son Greg met his soon-to-be wife, he was obviously smitten. I knew this for several reasons, but it was the energy he put into a gift for her upcoming birthday that confirmed it for me. He considered several options, then settled on a plan: he would assemble a menagerie of houseplants for her sunroom/office and keep everything secret until the Big Day arrived.

After many trips to buy greenery and other supplies, Greg spent hours mixing soil, matching plant to container, and potting each specimen up. He added some divisions from his collection and mine. To make sure the plants were kept secret and, also, watered and cared for in the interim, he brought them to my house for safe-keeping. You can see them above, in all their diversity of texture, pattern, color, and form, spread out in the driveway on delivery day.

I know I’m partial as a judge, but I think this is one of the sweetest, most from-the-heart gifts I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s the thoughtfulness — not the gift — that made an impression. Either way, it’s not a bad way to impress a woman.

On Turkeys (and Blogging)

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Wild turkeys on a late, Carolina morning

Mom looked out the window last week and saw a flock of wild turkeys picking at the dormant grass in the front yard. The birds were oblivious to the humans standing behind the glass just a few feet away. By the time we’d stopped fiddling with cameras and technical mishaps (dead batteries,etc.), the flock had proceeded to the end of the driveway, just beyond the rough-scaled ‘Heritage’ river birch on their left.

The birds headed across the road to the field (it becomes full of Queen Anne’s lace and sweet peas in summer), then veered toward a dilapidated old barn with a metal roof that threatens to fly off into the sky every time the wind blows hard. As a child, I helped the neighbor boys set up a general store in that little barn. We had old glass bottles, clunky tin cans, and small boxes with lettering muted by dampness from the building’s dirt floor.  I always wanted to be the shopkeeper. The boys bought some of my make-believe groceries and goods to humor me.

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I’ve been a bit of a turkey with my blogging recently — wandering, picking at things, keeping my head low to the ground. Blogging requires commitment and time, and the ante gets upped pretty often, I think. An example is how many photos to provide for a posting. When I write about gardening, I feel compelled to include a lot of images, following the trend.  But it takes a lot of time to sort, re-size, and prepare photos for the web, then write a story, and do the behind-the-scenes work that makes the blog come together technically. Then, every few weeks a new app or social media platform surfaces, compelling bloggers to join in order to be relevant, or searchable, or whatever. So far, I’ve resisted, though I admire those who use those resources well.

For now, I need to be relevant to the social circle that’s in the flesh, needs my help, and doesn’t care if I’m search-engine optimized. In other words, blogging needs to take a back seat to parental and other responsibilities in the coming months.

When Meander Mountain first started, my goal was to have a very simple blog. For each posting, I wanted to show one or two photos that were nature-or-garden-related or that illustrated something  compelling or offbeat about traveling or life in Southern Appalachia (mostly east Tennessee and western North Carolina).  I want to re-commit to that approach, and also post more frequently — just without too many shoulds in my brain.

Too, I want to reach out more, to readers/other bloggers, who have made the past three M. Mountain years so enjoyable and worthwhile. For you, and for those who have made it to the end of this epistle, I am grateful. I look forward to staying in touch!

Cheers — to blogging and to wild turkeys,

DJ

Snowed In With Gardenopoly

Pass Grow and Collect $200

For the Mogul Gardener

Yesterday I heard a poem on the radio, “Monopoly 1955” by Barbara Crooker. It got me thinking about a game I  bought for my mother in May of last year.

I’d spent the morning volunteering at the Botanical Garden of Asheville and noticed a colorful box displayed on a top shelf in the gift shop. GARDEN-OPOLY, the box said in floral and leafy letters. Two of Mom’s favorite things — gardening and playing Monopoly. How could I lose for a Mother’s Day gift?

Greenhouses Instead of Hotels

Pass Grow and Collect $200

Instead of hotels and houses, the game has little greenhouses and clay pots to place on real estate acquisitions. Just like Monopoly, the more “development” you’ve done, the more you can charge anyone who lands on your properties.

Greenhouses are worth more than pots. Mom put up greenhouses on Regal Rose Way and Orchid Estates. I was hoping to buy Hydrangea Haven but, instead, ended up with two pots on Poison Ivy Way and one or two on Dandelion Drive. (How does this game know my garden?)

As the game progressed, both of us acquired more properties. I learned that my 88-year old mother is very competitive when it comes to the nuances of building an empire with a board game. She bought everything she could and I kept having to Go To Weeding (Jail). I also seemed to land on Aphid Infestation a lot, further depleting my supply of money. Mom kept a poker face throughout, but I could tell she was scheming in her mind the whole time.

It took us over two hours to finally finish and we were pretty well wiped out at the end. Much as we liked the game, we decided the short version was our choice for the future. But then, we weren’t snowbound, or we might have looked at things differently.

Blessings of Light in the New Year

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All good wishes for 2014, starting with the Irish toast below!

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May the blessings of light be within you,

Light without and light within.

And in all your comings and goings,

May you ever have a kindly greeting

From them you meet along the road.

Simple Greens, Honoring Veterans

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East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery, Knoxville, Tennessee

It’s a moving sight as you crest the top of a nearby hill. Hundreds of newly-placed holiday wreaths, backlit by the evening sun and shadowed by giant oak trees, rest against the names of military veterans etched on stones that are evenly-spaced in the grass.

Every tombstone is alike — every wreath the same, simple design. Uniformity makes the scene more beautiful, yet belies the complexity of the lives of the men and women laid to rest here. While I don’t know anyone buried on this hillside, I still wonder where these people served, how old they were when they died, what their families were like.

Memories of my father — a World War II veteran (U.S. Army Air Corps) and gruff sentimentalist when it came to Christmas — are a big reason this scene gets me every time I pass by. These memories put the last-minute holiday scrambling in perspective, bringing with it a certain kind of peace.

Soon, the wreaths will be gone, leaving the hillside bare of ornamentation. The buds on the trees will start to swell and a whole new cycle of life will begin. I’m looking forward to it — fully aware that winter just started and there’s a good long time to wait.

Camping: Last Fling of Fall

One of my last times camping was in a pristine, secluded spot in the Smoky Mountains. We pitched our tent near the creek, and settled in for a quiet weekend in a natural, unspoiled environment, free from the everyday troubles and noises of the “civilized” world.

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The daylight hours of the first day went really well. Good food, some hiking, the traditional wade in the wide, rushing creek. Then, lulled by the crackle of the campfire and the sounds of flowing water and tree frogs, we extinguished the campfire and prepared for sleep.

Around that time, two men in a beaten-up truck with Florida license plates drove up and started untying the mattress they’d strapped to the roof of their truck. They set up camp on a site near us and were soon joined by several other men. Before long, they all started drinking. Their voices got louder as the night went on.

A park ranger made several visits to our camp area before daylight. By the next morning, the men and their mattress were gone. Needless to say, neighboring campers were very relieved (and sleepy). We stayed over another night or so. It was blissfully quiet.

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Camping was a lot more peaceful this October when we met up with my son and his fiancee at a small campground near Tellico Lake in East Tennessee. Instead of a tent, we slept in a relatively-roomy pop-up camper. Some of our neighbors had pop-ups, but most had small RVs with elaborately decorated “yards” indicating they were semi-permanent residents in all but the coldest winter months.

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As far as we could see, views from the shore were of trees and vegetation. Surprising, since so many of the coves of East Tennessee are ringed by big houses and boat docks.

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A young native dogwood, Cornus florida, provided bold color and screening from neighbors.

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Companions and soon-to-be life partners chill out by the fire.

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A river of Japanese stilt grass or Microstegium  flows through part of the campground. It’s a highly-invasive weed, now rampant through the southeast and beyond. We ignored its presence, focusing instead on the view of the lake, good conversation, and wonderful smells of food cooking on the campfire.

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A huge poison ivy vine enmeshed in the trunk of a cedar tree.

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Our camper had a funky, diner-style vibe after dark.

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A peaceful, quiet campground. Friendly neighbors. No late night carousing.

Lights out!

Fencerows and Fond Memories

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Every time I go back to the Carolina home place, I notice subtle changes outside. The fences have held up well, but after decades of weathering, many of my dad’s well-crafted posts have either tilted or fallen. The barbed wire is loose and not a steady perch for birds. Sometimes a scraggly shrub can serve equally well, though, judging from this artistic, long-sustained, bird posing.

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The pond in the background — hidden by the goldenrod and dying foliage — is low this year, even though rain has been plentiful. The crawfish have been busy carving out the dam, I suspect. My dad would not be happy and would be getting his tractor out to repair the bank about now.

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A few spindly Russian sages appear every year despite some stiff competition from weeds below.

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There are mountain views all around the house, but I often end up looking at quirky combinations on the ground. Old-fashioned obedient plant, iris, and bits and pieces of other plants (including weeds) make an interesting vignette. Mental note: I like this limey-green, maroon, lavender, and grey color palette and want to use it more in designing.

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Concord grapes and morning glories grow side-by-side. It’s an iconic look/memory from the past.  (Note: there are multiple containers of Concord grapes in my refrigerator. If I can stop eating grapes, there will be jars of Concord jelly this week).

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An un-named yarrow amidst echinacea and other plants, including the very unwelcome Glechoma or ground ivy. It’s everywhere — in the grass and lots of beds. It’s impossible to eradicate.

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Every year my mother’s neighbor shares either red or green apples from her trees. They’re the old-fashioned kind that don’t get pruned much or produce big, unblemished fruit. Last year, this red variety was almost bare, so my son missed out on a long-held, annual ritual at his grandmother’s.

This year, the tree was full of apples. All of us, including the woodpeckers that hovered in the upper branches, were grateful. Going to the grocery store and buying apples is just not the same, even if the specimens are big, shiny, and perfect (albeit tasteless).

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The neighbor’s cat is watching something in the grass, not giving us the evil eye for being near the apple tree.  His pal, Stella, disappeared several months ago, possibly the victim of one of the many hawks we’d seen flying over the house.

The rituals of nature play out and the fenceposts keep holding on.

Oak Tree Down

Stressed but still standing

Stressed but still standing

One night last week I went to sleep in my old bedroom at the Asheville home place. I woke up around four a.m. to the sound of a great energy in the air. There was a heart-stopping splitting and cracking sound, followed by the resounding sensation of a tree hitting an immovable surface. In my groggy state, I thought the house might be splintering outside my window. (Sensory signals go haywire in the middle of the night; one imagines a lot of things).

The morning light revealed the full extent of the night’s disruption. A very large tree — scarlet oak, I’m 90 % certain — had succumbed to the cumulative effect of a range of insults and maladies over the years. The oak has been struck by lightening several times, its shape was not balanced — most likely due to some tree-topping decades ago — and there was rot, both on the interior of the tree and where two limbs crossed and merged, very early on.

Now, there’s really no way to save the tree, Quercus coccinea.  There is so much damage, structurally and aesthetically, that it will have to be cut down. It’s really heartbreaking, especially since all the oaks surrounding the house are declining and under a lot of stress. They all seemed to get worse after the last and previous years’ heat and drought.

View from the window

View from the window

One of the limbs on the tree was hanging in a very precarious position. It was twisted and barely attached to the main trunk. It had a circumference of nearly six feet at it’s largest point. We were greatly concerned that the limb could twist loose and fall after a big gust of wind.

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Clean-up

My husband and my brother had dueling chainsaws as they cleaned up the hanging limbs and the logs on the ground.

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Hanging on

I would’ve been a nervous wreck, if I didn’t trust my husband’s chainsaw skills, but even so…… it was worrisome to watch the process. They had to take a section down at a time and watch for even the tiniest movement. It was definitely one of those Do not try this at home! situations.

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They tied a heavy-duty nylon sling or towing strap around a limb adjacent to the main one. Then they hooked the other end to the towing bar of an SUV. The nylon strap is rated 8,600 pounds vertical capacity. In the above photo, the limb has been dislodged by pulling the strap; it’s on its way to the ground.

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Finally, the limb was safely down. We all breathed easier, especially my mom.

Gingko : collateral damage

Gingko : collateral damage

Unfortunately, the Gingko biloba I gave my dad in the late 1990s was destroyed by the falling oak limbs. Nearly dormant for years, the gingko had a big growth spurt last year. It had a funky shape, but I’m sorry to see it go, partly because of the memories involved.

The only other damage was to a nearby shumard oak (Quercus shumardi) that I got from a University of Tennessee Arboretum plant sale. A few of its branches got clipped.

Next time I’m at the home place there will be a huge void in the backyard, just outside my old bedroom window. But, other trees are growing, ready to fill the oak’s spot someday. I guess the little shumard can use the extra sun.