Monday, February 8, 2016

January 29, 2016 The Road to Beech Mountain

Highway 221 stretches all the way across South Carolina from the lakes of the Savannah River into the mountains of North Carolina.  Eleanor is driving. I am in the shotgun seat and Mathew is in the backseat covered in sleeping bags and quilts against the cold.  It is 25 degrees in Beech Mountain today.  Last weekend the snow fell for three days. Highway 221 goes through my town, then Chesnee, SC, Rutherforton, NC, Marion, Linville and then we take 105 briefly and then 184 left at the stoplight in Banner Elk.  The mountain towns converge here.
Grandfather Mountain and only 17 miles to Boone.

We see the quilt squares painted on barns along the route. Rhododenron is braced against the ice, but the road is good. Christmas Tree farms are all along the way, perfect little green cones dotting the mountain sides.  In a field is a life size tin sculpture of a soldier mounted on a tin horse. A red Confederate Flag is draped across his chest. We call him "the Confederate Zombie".

After Eleanor negotiates the winding roads with frightening drop offs (which terrify us), we find Beech Mountain Parkway and make a right. We stop at Fred's on the left for a rest room and supplies. Downstairs there is a cafe and grill thronged with skiers and tubers. After Fred's we go 2 miles down and a right on Pine Ridge, left on Teaberry and the 2nd left on Rhododendron, a final left on Poplar Drive. It is the second house on the left.

The cousins are sledding down the driveway. The uncles are watching them.  They are dressed in thick snow clothes and boots, warm knit hats and gloves.

Eleanor and I take a hike around the neighborhood at twilight, up and down the  winding roads. Houses glow in the dark with warm lighted yellow windows.  This is a mountain paradise.  Michael and Asha took the children on one of the two hiking trails recommended on a map, but the snow was knee deep and they had to turn back.

In the yard of our house, deer are eating corn at a feeding station built just for them.

Asha and Michael have made vegetarian chili with rice and sides of cheese, yogurt, and cucumbers.

Tomorrow will be snow tubing and ice skating.

All is well.

Always a Bridesmaid Chili

Original recipe with which I won 2nd place in a Texas Pete contest. Asha and Michael modified it and won first place in an elementary school cookoff. It can be vegetarian."

In a large iron pot, saute 2 lbs fresh ground chuck or ground turkey (meat optional)
1 large onion, chopped
4 to 5 cloves crushed garlic
1 grated carrot
1 grated yellow crooked neck squash or 1 grated zucchini
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 or 2 chopped jalapeno peppers (also optional)
1 tsp cumin
3 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
stir until meat is browned,
add 2 Tbsp sugar
To this mixture add:
2 cans black beans drained
2 cans pinto beans, drained (cook beans yourself is better)
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
1 can tomato diced or pieces
Simmer for at least an hour
Add generous chopped cilantro
Serve with homemade salsa and sour cream
and grated Monterey Jack cheese.

Cornbread is the best accompaniment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

January 26, 2016 On the Gervais Street Bridge

Snow, rain and ice for the last three days in the Upstate.  Escaping down I-26, a dark green Chevrolet van, close to the ground and covered with the detritus of sludge, salt and dirt from frozen Wisconsin sails past me on its way to the coast.

The Saluda and the Broad converge at the fall line in Columbia to make the wide Congaree.  The Columbia Canal Walk and the River Walk through Cayce have been closed since the flooding in the fall.

It is 10:30 am and I am standing on the Gervais Street Bridge watching gulls careening over the rocks and three Canadian Geese dipping and diving in a quiet pool near the banks of the wide Congaree.

A voice beside me says, "Isn't it beautiful?"

A young man, bright blue eyes, white T-shirt and jeans asks me the name of the river. He wants to know if you can kayak there. He tells me his father saved the life of a girl who fell into a river from a kayak once.
He is from Syracuse, NY, but was born in Columbia.

As he walks away, he says, "The Holy Spirit will lead you."

The sky is a powder blue with milky soft clouds spun through it.  The sun is shining again.

You Are My Sunshine

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You'll never know dear,
How much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away.

The other night, dear,
When I was sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear,
I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried.

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You'll never know dear
How much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away.

* sung by the blogger at gatherings all around Rajasthan, India, a long time ago.

Monday, January 11, 2016

January 10, 2016 Belted Kingfisher Over the Wetlands

The Cottonwood Trail has mud puddles and big pot holes all along the way from the heavy rains that have pelted the region.  Finally, the sky overhead is blue. Clouds drift slowly, puffy and white.

A Belted Kingfisher soars high over the boardwalk, screaming its rattling cry and alights on a limb of a bare tree.  I can see its powder blue underside, its white neck band, its big head with shaggy crest and long thick bill.

I hear the chorus of frogs singing.  This can't be. It is far too early.  But it is.

They are singing the AIR by J.S. Bach from Orchestral Suite No. 3 as performed by Yoyo Ma and Bobby McFerrin.

HUSH  Yoyo Ma and Bobby McFerrin recorded at Dreamland Recording Studios, Woodstock NY on August 22-25, 1991

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

January 4, 2016 Hamilton Branch: A Washout and a Road Trip

Nine a.m. and driving down Hwy 56 with black cows in green fields,  red horses lined up in a pasture, dark ancient cedars lining the country roads, flamingo colored flowering quince already in bloom.   It is cold and we are expecting our first freeze tonight.

Past Belfast Plantation, a church sign reads:
"Tell someone you love them
While you have time"

I pass Persimmon Hill Golf Club with a sparkling pond and across from it in a field, a beautiful palomino, tossing its mane like a movie star.

I am in Edgefield County, the birthplace of Strom Thurmond, the embodiment of the southern contradictions of his time. There is Strom Thurmond High School, the Strom Thurmond Tech Center, surrounded by acres and acres of peach orchards.

In Edgefield, there is a pink and purple Japanese Magnolia with thousands of blossoms preening against the sky.  The town square is shining with Christmas decorations on the lamp posts, a tall bejeweled  Christmas tree in front of the county courthouse. A statue of Strom Thurmond reaches out toward it and behind him is the Confederate Memorial obelisk.  On the sidewalk, a colorfully painted four foot tall turkey.

I stay on Hwy 23, bear right at the Westwide Volunteer Fire Deptment towards Modoc, into the Sumter Forest and over Stevens Creek. Suddenly Hwy 23 ends and in front of me is the Modoc Thrift Store, a place of all manner of dusty objects.  The sleepy proprietor dressed in hunting attire tells me to turn right on Hwy 221 and Hamilton Branch State Park is two miles on the left.

So it is.  The gate is locked. There is no way to get in but walk around it.  I walk to the Ranger's house and he tells me that the park is closed indefinitely because it is flooded. The Army Corps of Engineers say that the Upcountry lakes of Hartwell, Jocasse and others are brim full and have yet to release more water downstream.  I beg him to let me walk the trail, but he says it is ankle deep in water.

Returning on Hwy 221, I can see Lake Thurmond (of course) is overflowing  its banks. The park is on a peninsula.  I pass Catfish Creek Peninsula and Dorman Creek Ramp and come to the town of Plum Branch. It has a yacht club.  I have never passed this way before.  It is an adventure, no hike, but an adventure still.

I am astonished to discover Eden Hall Plantation on my left, facing Long Cane Road, a two and a half story soaring brilliantly white house established in 1854. Nearby is Tranquil Church and later Hwy 10 shoots off to the left and it is called Promised Land.

How the early settlers dreamed of their new paradise.

The sky is cold, clear and blue. The year is full of promise.  I am listening to Joe Diffie on the car radio:

"Prop me up beside the jukebox when I die
Lord, I want to go to heaven
but I don't want to go tonight.
Fill my boots with sand
Put a stiff drink in my hand

Prop me up beside the jukebox when I die

Just let my headstone be a neon sign
Just let it burn in memory of all my good times......

Prop me up beside the jukebox when I die..."

Saturday, January 2, 2016

January 1, 2016 Rose Hill Plantation, First Day Hike

Driving into Union, SC on 176, I pass the dying mall. The Belk's sign is down and a banner proclaims "Gone Out of Business".  Only the Fogata Mexican Restaurant remains.

It is eleven miles after turning right on Sardis Road to the Rose Hill Platation built by William Gist.  It has finally stopped raining and tonight it is to turn cool, a normal cool for this time of year. It has been so warm and wet, the the hills and grassland pastures are bright green, the early forsythia is blooming its' yellow bells. Crab apples and even early cherries have pink blossoms. At one sheltered spot, daffodils are in bloom.
Hardwood trees are bare so that the big clumps of miseltoe are visible.  Along the road are mobile homes, trailers , cows and goats in pastures eating the green grass. Here and there is a large newly built home down a long tree lined drive.  On the left is O'Shield's Deer Processing and then Fast Al's Oil Change. Fast Al also has a sign advertising PIGS FOR SALE with a picture of a pink pig.  Soon I am in Sumter National Forest with pristine woods of tall pines, crossing the Tyger River over flowing its banks far into the forest, then over an old narrow red bridge over Fairforest Creek, also overflowing far and wide, past a shooting range and a Wildfowl Area.  It is still hunting season and small pickups are parked nose first on dirt roads.

Rose Hill is on the right, a beautiful yellow stucco framed colonial home with brick underneath.  I park my car and get out wearing my orange vest so that the hunters will not think I am a deer.  The ranger office is in the back of the old kitchen separate from the main house where according to the ranger, squirrels come in to try and eat the fake vegetables on the shelves. E. Moses signs  us up, just me and 7 others and we take the trail behind the picnic shelter (there is a 2 mile trail which shoots down to the Tyger River which today is partially flooded).   We walk to the constant sounds of gun shots from the shooting range two miles away. Ranger Moses will take visitors on three tours of the home in the afternoon, but for the trail, she tells us about the land, how the early American Natives were mostly nomadic at least 12,000 years ago or more. Later they cultivated very small gardens of berries and herbs. When the Europeans came, they planted cotton in this hilly space. They just plowed downhill and the water ran off the nutrients. Today, lydar, a kind of ground X-ray, is being used to find out more about the history of the land.

She tells us some spicey tales about the Gists and the Bobo family who had a similar mansion at Cross Keys on Highway 49.  The brother in lawof William Gist, Samuel Rice, shot and killed one of the Bobo men just as he was sitting on the street in Union. Over a woman, they say. William gist was with him. Gist was in several duels one  where he killed a man.  Nothing was done about these killings.  Of course, William Gist was the governor.

It was the Wild Upstate.  Now and then, it still is.  Today no one was shot by deer hunters.

Monday, December 28, 2015

December 10, 2015 Where Are You Christmas?

I am glowing in the dark, radioactive from Ultra sounds and Ct Scans.

But I have a reprieve.  The breast lump is probably OK.  Dr. D., the surgeon is treating me without surgery.
It's not cancer.  He gives me a hug.

I will be here for Christmas.  I will cherish life.

I will walk the last  park trails.

December 25, 2015  Where Are You Christmas

Faith Hill, from The Grinch

Where are you Christmas
Why can't I find you
Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me
Why can't I hear the music play

My world is changing
I'm rearranging.
Does that mean Christmas changes too

Where are You Christmas
Do you remember
The one you used to know
I'm not the same one
See what the time's done
Is that why you have to let me go

If there is love
In your heart and mine
You will feel like Christmas all the time

I feel you Christmas
I know I've found you
You never fade away

The joy of Christmas
Stays here inside us
Fills each and every heart with love

Where are you Christmas
Will your heart with love

We are gathered around the table once again.  We take turns reading verses from Amazing Peace, the Christmas Poem read by the poet Maya Angelou, at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on December 1, 2005.

...we clap hands and welcome the
   Peace of Christmas
We beckon this good season to stay a while
   with us
We, Baptist, Buddhist, Methodist, and
   Muslim, say come
Peace....
Peace my brother
Peace my sister
Peace my soul.


November 23, 2015 "It's Howdy Doody Time"

Buffalo Bob:  "Say, kids, what time is it?
Kids:  "It's Howdy Doody Time"

It's Howdy Doody time
It's Howdy Doody time
Bob Smith and Howdy Doo
Say Howdy Doo to you.
Let's give a rousing cheer
Cause Howdy Doody's here.
It's time to start the show
So kids let's go.

Dr. S. looks truly upset as he tells me that I have a large mass in my abdomen and a lump in my left breast.
I am stunned.  He gives me a hug.

I go home to settle my affairs.

The next day is Thanksgiving and I look around the table at my much loved children and grandchildren and wonder if I will see another Thanksgiving.

On Black Friday I buy all the Christmas presents, put them in separate large cheerful Santa Claus bags for each family in case they have to pick them up because I am going to be in the hospital.  Maybe they can have Christmas dinner in the cafeteria when they visit me, I think.  I take nine boxes of books to the Goodwill. For some reason, I feel a temporary rush of happiness and exhileration. I am singing the Howdy Doody song in my head.

My father bought our first TV when I was in elementary school. We watched Kukla, Fran and Ollie and the Howdy Doody Show.  There was a transitional screen on Howdy Doody, round like a kalidoscope which would spin around and around.  One night I dreamed of that spinning screen and awakened, knowing what the meaning of it was: I was dead.  I jumped out of my bed and ran to my sleeping parents, announcing that I was dead.

"No, you are not dead" my startled mother said feeling my forehead, "You are burning up with fever".
My father called Dr. Bundy and he came in the middle of the night and gave me a shot of penicillin. I slept peacefully under my soft quilt.

I have three more hikes to go and I will have hiked each of the forty-seven states parks.  I wonder if I can do it.