Saturday, February 25, 2017

After the Fire

A string of forest fires across our western North Carolina mountains struck fear and dread into our hearts last fall. The worst my house got was the smell of burning wood, but my heart ached for those in the direct path of destruction. Fires don't discriminate. They choose whatever is before them. Only the forest service firefighters stood between the all consuming wall of fire and the next house on the list, or the next nest on the list. Squirrels have homes in the forest, too. And deer. And foxes.

Walking outside during one particular week was not only smelly, but also dangerous for those with lung issues. My eyes burned as well, tearing up often and not necessarily in sympathy for the losses. I had written about these South Mountains in my Lesson's Learned book, so I felt a kinship to this land abundant with stories for a story catcher to catch.

Finally a week of rain stopped the onslaught and the nearest fire to me was pronounced contained. So I forgot all about it, as people often do about tragedies when they aren't directly affected. Until last week.

I had a chance to join up with the Foothills Nature Conservancy. and hike their property bordering the South Mountain State Park that just so happened to back last fall's Chestnut Ridge fire line.

That would be me closest to the camera, listening to directions

The hike was three and a half miles uphill all the way. Well, it seemed like that anyway. The plot of land where we hiked followed the watershed up the side of the mountain, although we hiked along an old logging road, the very one firefighters followed to battle the fire. Where we were was in the back-lit area, the part that was intentionally set to burn out any fuel that the encroaching fire would need. 

What I saw was a bit of burnt wood and a whole lot of spring trying to reclaim its rightful place. Things had been purified by the fire. The brush had burned away leaving the sturdy plants there.

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Bark on healthy trees is thick enough to withstand a tremendous amount of burn, the man explained.  I could see that for myself. The crown in the trees were beginning to waken after their winter dormancy. Green will soon replace the charcoal. Life was returning, of that I felt assured.

Except for one thing. Other than our footfalls and acorn crunching, there was no noise. None. No birds chirping. No squirrels scampering up the sides of oak trees. No lizards scurrying away. Nothing, not even the cry of a hawk or a crow in the distance. When we stood still, we stood absolutely still. That's an odd kind of silence that is noticeable to those of us from modern civilization not accustomed to dead silence. Dead. Silence.

Maybe on top of that hill my brain felt reassured that life would go on, but my heart ached for the creatures that were displaced. Come back, come back, I wanted to shout. It's over. It's gone. The ground has been purified for you and it's better than ever. It is safe now. Bring back your children. There are plenty of untouched acorns waiting for a woodsy feast. 

It's all part of nature's plan. Life goes on.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, February 18, 2017


Yesterday I put in a few hours at an art co-op called My Happy Place Gallery where my books are for sale. I do appreciate this group and their decision to include my work as art, because, indeed, there is a creative process to what I do.

There I stood, surrounded by beauty, talking with others, basking in things grander than me, when I heard the oddest sound, a soft, rolling in the throat kind of noise, gentle yet so out of place in the shop. I thought the stereo system was on the blink since the music for the first time that day had ended allowing me to hear this oddity. My co-volunteer noted my scrunched up, questioning face.

"It's the birds," she explained. "Doves. Pigeons, who knows...They coo. That's what you're hearing."

Now a good storycatcher doesn't exactly take something like that as fact without investigating, so I went to the alley outside to find out for myself.

I searched for the birds. 

I found them.

They have found their happy place.

And a zoomed-in shot:

I look so forward to establishing a distant relationship with these two turtledoves...okay, pigeons. To think they chose the one spot on earth called My Happy Place Gallery to call home.

How poetic!

Catch of the day,


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Valentine Romance

Valentine's Day 2017 will be a bit different this year. Now don't get me wrong, I'm still hoping for the candy, even though I'm eternally on a diet. I'll no doubt get a card from my husband like I have for every year since we've been a couple. That's even counting the lean years, the times we shopped for cards together, standing in front of the red and pink array, privately picking out the perfect sentiment, handing our selections to each other, reading what the other chose, giving each other a peck on the cheek, and then returning the cards to the slot. That's romance.

This year will be the most romantic of all time, even though some will wrinkle their noses and question my definition of romance, if they haven't already.

My husband and I have taken the next step in volunteering for our local Caldwell County Habitat for Humanity. We've been donors for years, not major donors, just small time contributions that, added to other small time contributions from equally minded folks, make big time impacts.

He's helped out at times hammering a few nails, carrying shingles up ladders, those kinds of things. I've taken food for volunteers on-site.

Then the phone call came. Would you become family advocates, the voice asked. We thought. We prayed over this. We questioned our capability between ourselves and then to the committee. After a couple meet and greets and training sessions, we took the plunge.

This Tuesday, on St. Valentine's Day, we meet our family for the first time. We did meet them earlier at the Christmas reception, back when we didn't know who would be assigned to whom. I hope they are as pleased as we are.

We'll spend a year with them, standing by their sides as they go through the home owner's process, no easy task. They have volunteer hours to accumulate, and after so many hours of theirs, they can begin to collect our work hours as well. To think my bringing snacks to on-site workers will draw this family closer to becoming home owners. When they meet their point goal, their name is placed on the house list and they can begin picking color themes and flooring and appliances, the fun part after all their sacrifices of time and sweat.

Habitat for Humanity is not a give away government program. It is an independent, international organization that helps selected families become home owners. Is there a more romantic way to spend Valentine's Day than to volunteer for others? I think not.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, February 4, 2017

It's All Over Over Here

I write memoirs for other people. That sentence breaks down one aspect of my writing into the basic pitch, Preserving Local Stories.
A reject from my designing the back of my business card.
The rock wall behind the words is from the school
in my latest book...soon to be released.
On the other hand, probably the other side of my brain, I write children's books. The two overlap on occasion, but usually I compartmentalize them during my working habits. Survival technique, I suppose. For now, I'm doing what I love most, meeting new people and listening to their stories...catching them so to speak.

Yesterday was one of the doozies. What fun I had. Two gentlemen, brothers, one a hundred and three years old, one ninety-eight. When I walked into the house of the ninety-eight year old, my eyes were drawn immediately to a portrait hanging on the wall. As I interviewed him, I couldn't keep my eyes off it, off its meaning and its simple joy. I contained myself as long as I possibly could and after a few growing up stories, I popped the question: Is that you?

He smiled as if he couldn't contain himself either. "Yes," he answered. "Want to hear the story?"

This is what storycatchers dream of. Could I take a picture of your picture? "Yes, It'd be an honor."

He scrounged around, not an easy thing for him to do considering his yards and yards of oxygen hose dragging behind him, until he found the correct picture album, the World War II album. He opened it to a well-worn page. He's done this before, I could tell.

"Florence, Italy. I was tired. I sat on a wall to read the Stars and Stripes newspaper, the one that told us the war on the Italian front was over. All I could think about was going home, because the war is over. A man came up, took my picture, sent me a copy."

He showed the photograph over and over and over until his son painted it and gifted it to him one year. Norman Rockwell himself couldn't have done a more poignant job. 

Sometimes a storycatcher is fortunate enough to find a gem worth blogging about. This is one of those times. I need say nothing more. The picture says it all.

Catch of the day,