August, or Walking Through the Field Before Work

Light in August is too playful
To sit, dust-crusted, on a shelf.

Balmy, pink glaze between trees, not
The holy darkness Faulkner saw.

Longish shadows portend autumn,
But clenched humidity lingers.

It adds up to the need to go
Walking through the field before work.

Musky August light hits snakeroot,
Joe-pye, and rabbit tobacco.
Chickadees wheeze, partridge-peas tease
Bees, goldenrod, and ironweed.
Deer rise, turkeys take affront at
Tangled steps through dewy grasses
When that same soft light casts my frame
Walking through the field before work.

Image: Walking through the field before work, Chattanooga, Tenn., August 2018.

Into the Woods: Domestic Appalachia

Even as a lifelong Southerner, I wilt at the first signs of the heat & humidity our region is famous for. Fear not: there is an out.

When I was 14, our family managed to settle in the one place where Southeastern culture intersects Northeastern weather–the High Country of Western North Carolina. That July day we pulled out from the little Georgia town that had been home for the previous 9 years, it was 107 degrees. In our new driveway (500 miles later and 3,800 feet up),  it was a heavenly 62. Thanks to that move, I grew up with barbecue and blizzards, sweet tea and skiing, fried okra and fresh air.

After college, the need for employment opportunities and affordable living led to putting down roots in my wife’s hometown of Chattanooga (where we still live and which we still love). When days start nudging past 80, though, my thoughts head for the hills. Thanks to my folks’ ongoing homestead (they built a house in 2006 on 23 acres “down in the valley”, at 3,300 ft. in Deep Gap), we can act on that impulse and be feet-up in the front porch hammock in five hours’ drive.

The older two girls and I made one of our escapes from summer this weekend and were handsomely rewarded with perfect weather and the full array of spring flowers. Our kids don’t know yet just how blessed they are to have access to this as a routine part of life, but they do know how much they love to visit Grandaddy and B-Ma any time of the year.

Plants hold a special place in my heart, so visiting home means I also get to visit some amazing plants (weird perhaps, but we’re all a bit off at some level or another). I worked four summers at a nursery and landscaping business during college. One of the perks was getting all manner of amazing plants at a steep discount. When my parents built their house, they asked me (and my employee discount) to do the initial landscaping. Whenever we go back to visit, I love seeing how those few trees, shrubs, and perennials have filled in over the past 9 years (owing much more to my mom & dad’s ceaseless care than any work I did in picking and planting them). As they’ve grown in, covering the bright red fill dirt that first surrounded their place, the house looks more and more like it’s always been there in that little bowl.

This series is supposed  to be about hikes and assorted adventures in the wilderness, but sometimes a trip “into the woods” feels a lot like home. There will always be more to say about the vast beauty of the Appalachians, and people with more time on their hands than me have written and photographed enough to document every good hike around. This little corner of the world is all ours, though.


A little corner of rhododendron varietals


You can seriously grow everything up there…


Mountain Laurel are everywhere


Lupine is an old favorite


They have several patches of Pink Lady’s Slipper around the land


Even the weeds are pretty: Cow Parsnip


And so are the grasses…


This Bigleaf Magnolia (not native to high altitudes) moved with me twice, but it seems to be thriving in the last place I planted it…20′ tall and about to bloom


The creek bottom down the hill from the house is covered with Skunk Cabbage and Cinnamon Fern

Into the Woods: Sitton’s Gulch

As often as I get the chance, I’m out in the woods.

Fields, forests, and mountains indulge my inner botanist, provide the peace and quiet for “active rest”, and clear my head of the  confining realities of city life. What better venue to dial down distractions and focus prayer or creative thought than a good stroll under a dense canopy?

Few would accuse me of being an “avid outdoorsman”–I fish a little and camp a bit, but generally draw the line at activities involving expensive gear or a high risk of death and dismemberment. Mostly, I enjoy walking, and the fewer people around, the better (though the kids are getting old enough that they get to tag along frequently now).

My dear wife graciously recognizes that look I get when I’ve been stuck in town for too long, and willingly takes on extra time watching the kids every so often so I can get out for a solo hike. I sing her undying praise, but she enjoys the benefits of a sane husband that come with the deal. =)

When those chances come, I’m more than a little ebullient, which often spills over in my telling everyone I see for the next few days about the trail I found. Recognizing the counterintuitive move of inviting more people to find my place of solitude, I just can’t help but share a good thing. Hopefully this can work its way into becoming a recurring feature here…we’ll see.

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