The Bluest Sky, the Greatest Service: Veterans Day


The gently rolling hills of East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery. A bucolic fall landscape.


Redbuds: Tame and Free on I-40

Last week-end, looking for an early morning biscuit fix, I took the Biltmore Village exit on my way from east Asheville to Knoxville. To my left, I saw a grouping of what seemed a shorter, more stocky cultivar of the native Canadian redbud, Cercis canadensis.

Roadside grouping of redbud

Roadside grouping of redbud

The effect was striking in the morning light. But this mass planting didn’t evoke the same emotional response as the native redbuds that appear on hillsides this time of year.


Canadian redbuds along I-40, WNC and East Tennessee

Back on the interstate, I saw miles and miles of the graceful branches and downy, lavender-pink flowers of species Canadian redbud, randomly interspersed among native pines and hardwoods. It was an uplifting sight. I just wish the flowers weren’t quite so fleeting.

Easter, Spring, childhood memories: these wispy redbuds evoke them all.

Running Toward 2015, With Hope.


Chattanooga, December, 2014.

Wordless Wednesday: Back in the Water

Going With the Flow

Going With the Flow

Simple Greens, Honoring Veterans


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.

Fall Impressions: Trees In My Tennessee Garden


Nature’s paintbrush only. No color enhancements here or below.

Maybe it’s just me, but the trees seemed different this fall — the colors more vibrant and, at the same time, impressionistic and softly layered. Before the rains came and the leaves started swirling down, I saw hues and combinations I hadn’t noticed before.


I wouldn’t purposely pair shades of peach and red, but that’s how things ended up as leaves transitioned this month.The leaves in the foreground belong to a well-loved Japanese maple, a very dominant tree in our backyard. Behind the maple is a Stewartia koreana, which has been spectacular all year. I wish I’d planted it a little closer to the house, but it’s nice to view it from a distance, through various angles in the yard and from the windows indoors. There’s a Ginkgo biloba across from the stewartia, but it’s hard to distinguish among the other trees. It was topped several years ago when a very large tree (oak, if I recall) fell onto it from the neighbor’s property across the road.


The maple is one of my most treasured trees. I got it as a five-or-six foot specimen from a sweet man who grew unusual trees on his family farm. The tree has moved with me two times and I’m thinking *big* digging equipment (just dreaming!) if I ever move again. Somewhere, way back in the plant files, is the name of this tree. I keep thinking I’ll try to find it, and someday I will.


In this photo, the maple leaves on the west- facing side were still burgundy. Gradually, they took on the crimson hue of the ones in back . The purple/green leaves to the left are ‘Summer Snowflake’, an upright doublefile viburnum. In the distance: Acer saccharum, sugar maple, which competes with the many tulip poplars throughout the backyard.


A beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) lights up the hillside. Thankfully, I get to look at this magnificent tree every time I pull into the driveway.


Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’, fullmoon maple, is the vividly-colored little tree to the right in this photo. In the middle (still green): Parrotia persica. The grayish sticks, bottom left, belong to a huge bottlebrush buckeye. Sadly missing from this year’s fall line-up is the ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud that was planted on the hill to the right of the parrotia. I believe the voles finally decimated its roots this summer. The redbud leaves a blank space that will need to be filled sometime in early winter.


An earlier view of the fullmoon maple shows the leaves looking stressed. There was some dieback on the top of the tree this summer, which is a concern. Voles have been very active this year and the root structure is becoming unstable. I know, because the voles almost got my Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) this year. It was a close call. We had to dig up the pine and put it in a huge pot until we determine a new (less vole prone) location for it.


Here’s another odd color combination — kind of interesting, I think. In the foreground, left, is the purple foliage of ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod, followed by the billowy yellow Amsonia hubrichtii, a dark green falsecypress, a blue spruce and finally the coppery-orange leaves of American beech in the distance.

Now, the color is almost gone. It’s time to rake … and rake some more, remembering that the oaks and the beeches will hold out for a long, long time.

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.


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.

*         *         *         *         *

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.


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.


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


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


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.



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


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


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

Lights out!

Tennessee Homecoming

The leaves are just beginning to color in East Tennessee, soon to burst into those glorious, vibrant shades that make autumn so memorable here. The enduring heat and humidity are a little jarring, though — definitely not the cool, energizing weather I still associate with October in the mountains and foothills.

Despite the heat, it felt like an authentic fall day last week-end in the little town of Clinton, Tennessee as we joined hundreds of other festival-goers, stepping back in time on the grounds of  the Museum of Appalachia. This is the thirty-fourth year the museum has welcomed visitors to its annual homecoming, a beloved celebration of pioneer life and Southern Appalachian culture. Historic buildings, artifacts, animals, and crafts evoke the past and help assure the old folk ways are not lost.


There was lots to appreciate last week-end:  bluegrass music, homemade ice cream, buck dancing, antique farm equipment, women in long dresses, men with long beards and overalls, old-timey mountain crafts, the smell of food on the fire. There was a relaxed, content feeling in the air, as if people were connecting with deep memories, and yearnings for a time long past.


People brought their lawn chairs and set up in the field for a lazy afternoon with bluegrass/gospel band Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. Other bands were playing simultaneously at other places on the museum grounds. Nobody was in a hurry and there was plenty of neighborly conversation between strangers.


It’s hard to believe this dear little face started out as a new, shiny apple. Apple head dolls are classic examples of folk art in Appalachia.


Quilts and other fiber arts were on display or for sale in one of the museum’s many old cabins.


After buck dancing was over, some folks stayed around for the more sedate Tennessee Waltz.


All day,  groups of (mostly) men stood around, reminiscing, and admiring old farm implements and equipment. Tractors are such iconic symbols of working life and culture on mountain farmsteads.


Polkberry and Virginia creeper grow on an old stacked wall.


Young meets old and the circle continues.


Old barns and other buildings dot the landscape throughout the sixty or so acres entrusted to the museum.


It was an all-around good day: meeting people, being outdoors, connecting with my rural, mountain heritage.

Country Road (Take Me Home)


Biscuit Festival, 2013


I’m overdue on a post about the 2013 Biscuit Festival in Knoxville. The event was several weeks ago and I’m still sorting through photos. Every image reminds me of intoxicating tastes and smells. I keep thinking I need a snack, when really I just need to get back to the blog.


The second day of the Festival was rainy, but thousands of people ignored the weather and came downtown anyway. Some spilled onto adjacent Krutch Park.


The idea was to get in line and buy a general ticket which would be shown to each of the twenty or so participating vendors. Then, you’d get a sample  of the vendor’s interpretation of biscuit goodness. We didn’t want to wait in line, then stand in the middle of the street and eat biscuits for several hours, so we ducked into Tupelo Honey Cafe for brunch. After that, we did some people-watching on the festival end of the street, and shopped for herbs and vegetables on the farmers market end.


These biscuits, from the innovative and enduring Tomato Head Restaurant, were made with smoked cheddar and onion. They made me wish I had bought a ticket after all; maybe TH will publish their recipe someday!


Tupelo Honey, which originated in my hometown of Asheville, opened a Knoxville branch in 2012.


There were plenty of things to buy (or sample) besides biscuits.  Moonshine cake was an example. Eat responsibly!


Vendors on the farmer’s market side of the mall had vibrant displays of vegetables. The grower of these luscious-looking radishes told me he likes the D’avignon variety (third from the left). He recommends slicing them thin (oblong side) and putting them on a buttered baguette. Real butter — not margarine, mind you.


Could you stop by this booth and not feel a surge of health and domesticity coming on?


I liked these t-shirts and graphics, displayed at the farmers market booth. If there was a sales/information booth dedicated to the Biscuit Festival organization, we didn’t see it.


These young women were happy to smile for a photograph and answer questions about Napping Cat Flower Farm, source for the gorgeous array of cut blossoms all around them. I bought a sweet mixed bouquet that was arranged in a simple tin can. Napping Cat has one of the prettiest Facebook sites I’ve seen. It’s full of flowers and nature photographs and, of course, cats. The owners say they’ve adopted a lot of cats over the years, but always spay or neuter them. In their words, they don’t grow kittens. Only flowers.


I think herbs are essential in a garden, even if you live in an apartment and have a tiny patio and a few pots. They’re great hosts and pollinators for butterflies and bees, they smell good, and — oh my — what they can do to jazz up a biscuit!


Dogs of every breed, mix, and size were at the festival. I loved seeing them, but don’t know how they withstood the olfactory overload from food in various stages of preparation: bacon and ham frying, cheese bubbling, biscuits baking, onions sizzling, and more — it must have set their canine mouths to frothing!


The biscuit festival has ended, and I’ve decided to try my hand at making biscuits again. I’ve never been much good at it — mine always have that hockey puck quality. You have to make them regularly to get  those light and fluffy ones, I think. At any rate, I’m dragging out my tattered recipes, with an eye to jazzing them up with some fancy, special ingredient. We’ll see how it goes. Old dogs can learn new tricks, right?