Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Winding Path

On Thanksgiving after the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, butternut squash, green beans, succotash, seven layer salad, curried fruit, deviled eggs, three types of pies and rolls, the family was in desperate need of a walk. So we wrapped ourselves in layers of coats and gloves and hats and headed down to the river. I haven’t walked with children in several years and I had forgotten how they wander. From cow pile (“Hey this one looks like a hurricane seen from outer space”) to rock pile (“Daddy, can you show me how to skip this one?” asked by child with twenty pound rock in hand) to leaf pile (“This leaf is a fairy hat, and I am the fairy queen.”)

I am ashamed to admit that when my children were young and we were headed down the driveway to fetch the mail, I did not have patience with meandering. Why was I in such a hurry? Those years flew by fast enough without my help. But, meandering with nieces and nephews was marvelous. We admired every rock and every color. We played with the dog. We splashed rocks in the river until Pop Pop outdid us all with a thirty pound boulder bomb! KERSPLOOSH! We took note of red winterberry against silver tree limbs, and gold ribbons of sun streaming from cloud to mountain.

A meander is a small creek that winds around touching one bank and then the other. If you let it, a meandering walk with a child will wind around your heart touching one side, and then the other with joy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Girls Gone Wild

Darkness drops from the sky like a stone now, and as the shadows creep up the sides of the mountains, hunters in bright orange caps congregate on the steps of the Stonewall Grocery. They are there to check in deer or grab a can of Vienna sausages before they head back to camp. Some of the hunters are strangers to the county, but many of them are family members, who’ve come home for one of our richest traditions—hunting season.

The Ruritan clubs in the county put on great feasts to tempt the hunters to leave some cash behind for college scholarships and their other community service programs. So, in the spirit of fund-raising, Joe and I sup on oysters and turkey in the gymnasium of the old elementary school where we see former students and friends in the newly refurbished hall. Lori and Steve eat with us. When we drive them home, their neighbors, Dale and Sandy, are inspecting the bed of an old truck pulled up in the light of the back porch. Anyone who’s lived here very long knows that means there are deer on the back, so we walk over to say hi and check it out. Two freshly killed deer are sprawled in the truck bed and Abby, Dale’s feisty red-haired grand-daughter, is tugging on the head of the largest one.

“Look what I got!” she screeches.

Her daddy laughs as Abby jumps up. “She’s been dancing ever since she shot it,” he says. “She and Paw Paw were hunting back on the old home place when these two slipped into the field. Abby got her doe with one shot.”

I congratulate her and ask if she gutted the deer herself, or if her Paw Paw did it for her. Abby proudly thrusts her bloody hands, into my face. “I did it myself,” she squeals. She has officially joined the club of the providers.

Before I moved to Highland County, I had never seen meat that wasn’t wrapped in cellophane. My grandfather was an avid bird hunter and I knew he occasionally ate doves, but I don’t remember ever being at the table when they were served. I certainly had never heard of girls hunting. In fact when Joe offered to take me hunting with him, early in our dating career, I went, but scared the deer away so he couldn’t shoot them. He never offered again.

But, in Highland, hunting is a rich family tradition. I have female friends who hunt and many of the girls in my middle school classes come to school during hunting season full of stories about button bucks and big does. I am happy to see young girls participating in the act of putting meat on the family table. Abby’s dad tells me that they are almost out of venison, so the whole family is looking forward to putting this one in the freezer. Deer is their favorite meat.

Not too long ago, I was driving my sons and some of their friends to Marlinton to a soccer match. One of the passengers, a curly haired cutie named Lily, was staring out the window while we traveled through the rolling hills. All at once her five year old voice rang out, “Look, a deah, a deah.” I was just turning around to comment on how pretty the field of does was, when she lifted her hands and aiming an imaginary gun screamed, “Bang! Bang! Bang!”

Unlike my five year old friend, I haven’t even pretended to shoot a deer, but I do love the meat. It is low-fat and free range. My freezer is stocked with deer roasts and my cellar boasts several rows of canned venison. Fast food in Highland is defined as dumping a jar of venison into a pot with barbecue sauce. Add some coleslaw and green beans and supper’s ready in less than fifteen minutes.

I am not such a city girl anymore. Now, when I see a field full of deer, I anticipate a healthy, low fat meal. One day, I hope to become a full-fledged country woman. When I shoot my first deer, I will remember Abby dancing in the bed of the old truck with her red hands thrust to the sky. And I, too, will dance a small jig (appropriate for a woman of my age) as I celebrate joining the oldest club in the world. The club of the protein providers.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Lights of Home

A filigree of sky and tree
has caught an evening star
and if the wind doesn’t blow
and if the branches don’t let go
it might be there tomorrow.

Although winter is still officially a month off, the end of daylight savings time has brought an early onslaught of dark skies. The stars are vivid, but my favorite lights are closer to home. As Joe and I head down the six mile stretch of country lane that connects our house to the small village of McDowell, the blackness is occasionally broken by lights shining in the distance. Each one belongs to someone we know. There’s the farmhouse tucked against the mountains with just a single light showing from a downstairs window. The woman who lives there is very frugal and never burns more than one bulb at a time.

The next farm is closer to the road and every window upstairs and down is a glowing jewel. There are four children in the house and it seems to laugh at the darkness. As we drive by, I can see one small face peering back at me.

We travel at least a half a mile before we see another house. The eerie blue light of a television dances against the curtains in the front room and there is a string of laughing orange jack o lanterns draped across the front porch. In two weeks, they will be replaced with the beautiful red, orange, gold and green of Christmas decorations. I look forward to these each year, especially the ones wrapped around the twenty foot tall spruce tree in the side yard.

Across the road, a big old barn glows in the light of a mercury vapor bulb. If I roll down the windows I can hear it humming in the crisp night air. Most of lights we’ve seen come from tungsten bulbs. They cast a welcoming gold light. But, the barn is garishly blue and gray beneath the industrial fixture. The hay wagons are parked in deep black shadows cast by its one large bulb.

The next house is up on a hill. There is a beautiful bay window, and I can see the five family members seated around the dining room table. That means the twins are home from college. Beyond their house, a recently built log cabin dominates the sky line. It has a modern set of floor to ceiling windows and they are festive against the velvet black night. I wonder how Christy keeps them so spotless.

Two more curves and we will be in our little village. The houses are closer together now, but they still don’t light the night sky in the same way as the city of Staunton which is four mountains to the east. On a clear night, the sky in that direction is orange. I am so glad to live in an area where the sky is dark and each light belongs to someone I know.

Finally, we pull into the yard of the homeplace. Joe's mom died six years ago and the house has been empty. Now Justin lives there. The porch lights are on and the house looks happy again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


There’s something peaceful about chickens. Joe’s out of town for a couple of days so I have inherited egg duty. After slipping on some old clothes, I grab the battered pail that serves as our egg bucket and walk across the back forty to the hen high rise. The end of daylight savings time means that the sky is silver and pink by the time I get around to this chore. Most of the hens are inside on the roost because they are smarter than humans. They don’t stay up past their bedtimes watching TV.

The door to our chicken coop has an old fashioned peg latch on it. I slide the latch to the left with a soft snick and push the wooden door open. The hens chuckle and snuggle against each other, huddling against the intruder (me). A stray feather drifts to the floor. In the subdued light, the hens look like fluffy brown pillows tossed onto the thin sticks that make up the two corner roosts.

I turn to the nesting boxes and feel around in each one for the five or six eggs the hens have taken turns depositing there. The eggs are smooth like river rocks and the last few to be laid are still warm to the touch. I check to be sure the chickens have some food and water and then walk over to rub my hands through the feathers of the closest hen. She squeaks a little, but lets me ruffle her head. Chicken feathers are silky, and the hen and I mesmerize each other as I run my fingers down her back. Her bottom eyelids rise up to meet her top ones and she relaxes.

I thank the hens for all their hard work, and admonish the rooster to take care of his girls. On my way back to the house I say a little prayer of thanksgiving for the simple places and rituals on a farm that provide sanctuary from busy days.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Finding Your Inner Dog

Last Saturday, the skies were blue and the sun was friendly. I sat on the lawn with my rabbit beagles-- Gus, Lady and Duke. The three dogs took turns crawling onto my lap for a good ear rub. In between they chased each other, tumbling and growling until they collapsed in an exhausted heap next to my knees. They were totally relaxed and living in the moment. That’s when it hit me. My dogs know some things that I need to learn.

Here's what they taught me:

Take time to do nothing. Instead of mowing the grass, lie on it and enjoy that bright blue sky overhead.

Kiss people even if your breath smells like garlic, peanut butter or dead ground-hogs.

If you find something you like, allow yourself to completely enjoy it. Roll in it if that makes you happy.

Wag your entire body when you see someone you love.

Sing to the moon or the sun whenever the mood strikes you.

Eat when you’re hungry even if people are watching you.

Don’t be afraid to let people see your round belly. Maybe they’ll be charmed by it.

If someone rubs your back or ears, grin with appreciation and move around until they’ve gotten all your itchy spots.

Make everyone you meet feel special.

From now on, I’m going to pay a little more attention to my inner dog and a little less attention to my inner critic. Woof!