Saturday, October 24, 2020

Creeping Along

I checked off one event on my bucket list, and did it without sore muscles or open wounds, a blessing in itself! I went bicycling down the Virginia Creeper Trail, and wow, what an autumn experience. Note I didn't use the word fall, not a word to use when describing a bicycle trip down the side of a mountain. 


That's me with my Florida friend, Sara, who makes a yearly pilgrimage to see the colors the trees bless us with here in western North Carolina. We're at the edge of one of thirty-five bridges along the trail. It was once a train trestle, and therein is the history connection I so love.

In the early 1900's the Virginia-Carolina Railroad was constructed to transport logs from timber operations on the mountainsides to the mills in the lower levels. It was also the life line for local passengers heading out of the hills, and for materials brought to sell in the few stores that cropped up along the path. Because of the steep incline and slow going around curves, the train was forced to creep both up and down the high hills, hence the name Virginia Creeper. Because of economic collapse, the train's last run was March 31, 1977. 

I was interested to come upon one of the stops, a station a few miles into the ride. Fortunately for posterity, but not for the storeowner, the general store in the station was left intact, owner walking out and leaving everything as it was that last day in 1977. It is there, as it was that day, a moment in time frozen for us history buffs to view. Unfortunately for today's pilgrims along the trail, however, the CoVid Corona Virus safety guidelines forced the station to be padlocked against germs and pilgrims. 

I did hit a lucky streak. I happened upon the station when the forest rangers were checking it out. They refused to allow me to step in, but I stood at the door and took a photograph. For posterity.



Through hard work to accomplish the impossible, volunteers converted this bit of heaven (I'd bet some bit of hell during drastic weather events) from rail to footpath. It is now open for hiking and nonmotorized vehicles. In fact the Appalachian Trail piggybacks for several miles. 

Some people chose to hike or bike ride up. Not me. I went down. I crept down is more like it. Never did I have to pedal uphill, although toward the end of the eighteen miles, the trail went through flatlands and I found myself pedaling more and more. 

There were too many scenic views to capture along the trip down the mountain, after all, we're talking leaf peeping season. 

We came upon a beaver dam complete with sign telling us it was a beaver dam. Otherwise, I would have mistaken it for a log jam.

Thanks to the forward thinking of several visionaries, this trail is now a precious national treasure. Its preservation guarantees this slice of beauty will exist for generations to come. Meanwhile, if you are so inclined, check out Damascus, Virginia and all the varied bicycle rentals. Along with the bicycles, they supply helmets and a bottle of water. They drive clients to a drop-off point at Whitetop Station, a thirty minute van ride away, uphill, and bang, you're off on an unimaginable trip, downhill all the way. 


My friend and I went with Blue Blazes, a company recommended by several people who have gone before, but there are many others, believe me. They will close November first, but reopen after the winter in March.

Well worth the thirty-four dollars we spent.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen




Saturday, October 3, 2020

Democracy Heroes

 During this age of corona I have been cautious about being out and about since I my doctor reminded me I am in the "at risk" population. That doesn't mean I stayed home. Far from it. When the gym where I was a member closed its doors, my husband and I took up walking, a good social distancing exercise. We hiked in places not on my radar a year ago. Fortunately the golf course where I am a member remained open and we walked the course. There were a few rule adjustments, like no touching flags in the greens or no raking sand traps. (No hitting out of sand traps, either...as if I was upset). We walked the course to avoid touching golf carts others might have used. 

Meanwhile the world went on. Medical professionals saved lives. Educators taught my grandchildren online. Garbage collectors showed up on a regular schedule, as did the newspaper deliver man. People adapted and kept going best they could. My daughter's job in a veterinary clinic required adaptations as well. Meet my beautiful daughter:


She's a hero. She shows up to work every day despite all the threats around her. In fact, all those professions I listed above are made up of heroes in our time. I've driven past various establishments decorated with lawn signs reading "Heroes work here." Yes they do.

And there I am. Hunkered down. I never felt like a hero... 

Until this past week when I went to election training for poll judges. I've held this position for several election cycles, and didn't hesitate when I was asked to do it again this year, despite CoVid. I sucked it up and decided this evil virus would not hold me back from doing my civic duty. The training manuals assured us all steps imaginable have been taken to keep us safe...social distancing, face masks, face shields, plexiglass between us and the voters. The voter is even given an ink pen to keep, no seconds on touching the pens.

The Board of Elections director called us judges "Democracy Heroes." My shame at all those times I felt like I wasn't doing my part faded away. Those who will work the polls on November 3 and during early voting in the weeks before are definitely heroes. 

Despite all the risks, people will show up to vote. Hallelujah! And we will be prepared. I hope they wear masks, but in case they show up bare-faced, we will not turn them away. We will offer them a mask, but in the end, we will not deny anyone the right to vote. 

On election day when you walk past campaigners keeping their fifty foot distance from the polls, or before that even when you see signs for various candidates placed by dedicated party workers, know they are participating in one of the greatest creations humankind has come up with. From sea to shining sea, officials are in the process of preparing for this year's election, and while I can't speak for any other precinct, our little place in the world will be ready. 

I can proudly now join in to say,

"Heroes work here."

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Return

 Since North Carolina Governor Cooper imposed the stay-at-home order, my husband and I have been attending church by facebook in the comfort of our living room. It was different, but it was still the body of Christ meeting with each other. I learned that "Church" does not refer to a building. The church I attend is the meeting place of the congregation. We are the church.


Here's Littlejohn United Methodist Church where I am a member. It's a small, family oriented church with a storied history dating as far back as 1775. 

The governor announced recently that North Carolina would be moving into phase 2.5 of the CoronaVirus safety measures. Our church chose to reopen, although under strict guidelines.

We didn't greet each other at the door. I missed that most of all during the six months absence. 

We didn't pass the peace of Christ to each other.

We didn't pass the collection plate either.

The choir didn't sing. 

What we did was sit in pews that were designated as socially distant from one another. 

We waved at each other.

We wore masks. Strange how I could tell someone was smiling even if the mask tried in vain to hide all emotions.

The congregational hymns were played from the minister's personal sound system. We could not touch the hymnals, but that didn't matter. The songs we sang were the old familiar ones, comforting us all. Okay. A mask might muffle the noise, but let me tell you when Victory in Jesus started playing, none of us could resist joining along. The result was a quiet, prayerful sound that I will always remember.

Years ago I interviewed a man a hundred and five years old. His grandmother, a former slave to a family in our same congregation, raised him. She told him many stories that he passed along to me, but the one that stuck in my mind was the blanket singing at the little black church back in the woods. Once a year the congregation of slaves and freed blacks draped blankets outside the church building to make a path that circled around. Then the congregation walked around the church seven times, as in Biblical Jericho when the walls came tumbling down. I thought the blankets were to delineate the path, but no. He explained they were to muffle the sound of their singing as they marched.

Slave owners, fearful that secret messages were being passed by the slaves in the fields singing as they toiled, would not permit any singing. None, and that included Sundays. 

The human spirit can adapt, and these people did. They sang on and on and on, only they sang into buckets, or blankets. Faith can move mountains.

So last Sunday when I was singing into my mask, I thought of those who had their songs muffled nearly two centuries ago. What God has set in place, let not man put asunder!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Mountain Memories


 In 1923 my husband's grandparents went on their honeymoon to Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. 


Yesterday, my husband and I went on a 52nd anniversary jaunt to the same mountain, probably the same rocks.


I don't know if this is the identical view as the one nearly a hundred years ago, but I'd like to think that this young couple with so much promise in store for them stood at the same spot as we did and were blessed with the same beauty spreading out before them. In the century since then, so much has changed, yet so little is different. Rocks and mountains are steadfast in that unchanging way, but number one change, the photography available. They would have never imagined a selfie like we took.


Nor would they have imagined the social distancing of the corona virus era, although they both endured the pandemic of 1918. Working the corn fields kept them away from germs. Hiking the footpaths across North Carolina has kept us away from the newest version of germs. Here's my husband ahead of me yesterday on the trail overlooking the knob, and then me at the end of the trail beside the pinnacle.



This mountain is a can't miss landmark not all that far north of Winston-Salem. It is a tall mountain crowned with a distinctive knob. 

           A photo from the visitor's center. 
     Flag lowered in honor of September 11.

I love making memories that are special to the heart. This was one of them. 

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Foothills

Every writer needs a support group. That's a given, especially for those who are just developing the craft. Let me tell you about one of the groups I belong to that has really stretched my writing abilities. We call ourselves the Foothills Writers. We meet weekly, in person for a year at the library, then by zoom for months and now in the fellowship hall of a local church, spread apart, an eight foot table per person. Yes, we do write, there, on the spot with topics thrown at us by devious prompt finders who snicker as they read the assignment of the week. Six minutes later we share our results. I am humbled at their responses. So creative. So polished. A complete story, plot, characters, dialogue. Six minutes! 

A year ago we self published a booklet filled with examples of our writings. By self published, I mean, Self. Published. As in run off, folded and stapled at one of our meetings.

This year we've had time to investigate a little more about self publishing and have moved up to independently publishing a book through a company. It's still in the works as each of us finish our particular submissions. We chose broad topics like sports, poetry, history, even sci-fi. (yes, me! See what I mean about stretching my writing.) The theme that ties those together is The Foothills with the majority of our entries somehow featuring the Foothills of North Carolina.

At our meeting a couple weeks ago we discussed how we would present the technical term of Foothills to the reader. We want to clarify exactly where on earth we are located. Since I am a former fourth grade teacher who taught North Carolina social studies for years upon years, I was tasked with writing a succinct definition of the Foothills using all our input. Easier said than done.

Fourth grade basic lesson here: North Carolina has three regions, the Appalachian mountains to the west, the Atlantic coastal plain to the east, and sandwiched between them, the Piedmont Plateau. Word derivation is one of my interests, so of course I taught my children a little Italian/Latin background, pied, pie, pede (foot) mont, montium (mountain). We even discussed the connection with the derivation of the word "pedicure." That, my students could relate to. 

In North Carolina the Piedmont Plateau is higher in altitude than the coastal plain and made up of rolling hills leading westward to taller foothills at the base of the Appalachians. The Blue Ridge Escarpment makes a definite cut out of the ancient mountains that clearly shows where the foothills end and the mountains begin. It can be seen in county after county along interstates 40 and 77, mountains in the distance, hills between.  
The Piedmont of the eastern United States
File:Piedmontmap.png
That's a bit TMI for our purposes. We want to show through our writings how hills have influenced the three counties making up our writer's group - Alexander, Caldwell and Burke to be exact. The reader is in for a treat! 
A sample of what our Foothills Writers see every day

I'm still writing and rewriting a definition of the Foothills to go in the introduction of the book. I'll keep you posted as to the progress of the book. Meanwhile in writing as well as in real estate, it's all about one thing:

Location. Location. Location.

Catch of the day, 

Gretchen