Thursday, August 18, 2011

Guest Blogger: ELIJAH MORGAN

Today's guest blogger is Elijah Morgan, son of Sara and "Tater" Morgan.  
Elijah was in kindergarten at Cullowhee Valley School when he wrote this poem for
 the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest 75th Anniversary Celebration in June.  
His mother has many photos of him, and after taking a look at a few of these,
you'll see why.


The Tree Seed of Love

The trees grow by seeds
They drink by root

They are ALIVE
They enjoy the sun

They are nature
They love it and they like rain

They drink by root
Sunbeams make them grow

That is the tree seed of love

The Southern Appalachians are often called "the vegetation
cradle of North America." I like thinking of
these mountains as a cradle of life. They hold so 
many different species of trees that I love simply 
saying the names of them over and over. Scarlet Oak. 
Sassafras. Tulip Tree. Hemlock........  
Too many of our trees are disappearing, though, victims of 
pollution and insects that feed on the weakened trees. Young Elijah has already learned an important lesson about
protecting our natural treasures. Through "the tree seed 
of love," we can find the heart and energy to take care of the world around us.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Sarah Kucharski

Glenda Kucharski

First guest blogger is Sarah Kucharski, who grew up here in our mountains, attending Smoky Mountain High School.   Sarah  is, despite her last name, a born and raised Southerner. Her writing has earned awards from the South and North Carolina Press Associations, as well as the National Newspaper Association. In her spare time she is pursuing a master’s of liberal arts degree. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and is completing her master’s at UNC-Greensboro. You can find more about Sarah at her own blog.
 Recently she has translated her skills to the teaching profession. Her work as a remedial English instructor aims to enable students to communicate effectively and inspire them to pick up a book by choice on occasion. Kucharski lives in Canton, North Carolina with her husband, Travis, three cats — Atlas, Nelson and Penelope — and hound dog, Bruce.
     Sarah's poem took me right back to my childhood place in the kitchen, peach juice running down my chin,  summer ripe as  the peach in my hand.  This poem, by the way, is for her mother, pictured above.


standing over the kitchen sink,
knife gently held in my right hand,
summer ripe peach in my left,
I score the fruit through its middle,
blade slicing along the cleft
through sweet flesh down to the rough pit.
halves separate and stone removes,
sticky palm cradles quarters cut
towards my thumb, pushing against steel,
skinning the prize brought to my lips
taken from between edge and thumb
in assured and fluid motion.
I think mostly of my mother
her hands taught me, her mother hers,
this movement born of hearth cooking,
potatoes, tomatoes, onions
sliced straight into heavy stock pots
heated by wood or coal stoves.
we talk not of food but through it,
beef stew and potato pancakes,
sliced strawberries, little green peas,
nourishing love with nourishment
our kitchens are never lonely
for we will never be alone
standing over the kitchen sink eating peaches. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011


The following account is from the book, Stories in the Land, which you can download by going to the Resources page at the top of this post.  The teachers who took their students to the woods had arranged for older 9th graders to lead the first graders through this experience.  Here's their introduction:

When we took our students to Peddie Woods and to its 
surrounding lake,we saw awe in the 
eyes of the first graders.  Our students were showing them 
ducks, fiddleheads, lily pads, red maple trees, and crab-apple 
blossoms.They pointed out poison ivy and explained its dan- 
gers.They swung from Virginia creeper vines and made leaf 
rubbings of oak, maple, and birch trees.  With the use of home- 
made puzzle pieces, they learned about food webs and the 
interdependence of living organisms.We were amazed by all 
that our students taught their younger buddies.  Everyone was 
engaged and extremely excited about sharing the natural 
world.  We were rendered speechless.  As the day progressed,we 
watched our students embody the meaning of stewardship. 
They had instilled the wonder of the landscape they had come 
to know so well into the minds of these first graders.

Here is a response from one first-grader after this experience.

I have never been alone in the woods with my 
friends able to do whatever I want....You cannot 
know this feeling until you have seen the vast 
acres of pine. When I looked to the ground,I did 
not see trash, instead I sawpine needles and 
maple leaves covering the rich soil. Even though 
the leaves were dead, I could still see a spark of 
life in them, a spark that cannot be found in a 
city or a town, but only in a forest. It was the 
effects of the silence, the way you could see tree 
after tree, it seemed as if the scenery would never 
end. All I could smell was the pine and no pollu- 
tion. Now, I don’t just think of the outdoors as 
bugs and mud, I think of the beauty and the 
freedom of the landscape. 

(early morning hike in late March, Great Smoky Mountains)

If more and more teachers and parents took their children to the woods to see, smell, touch, and hear the life there, we could look to the future knowing that the places we--and they--love will be in good hands.


PS, here's one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver

Sleeping in the Forest 

I thought the earth remembered me,

she took me back so tenderly,

arranging her dark skirts, her pockets

full of lichens and seeds.

I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,

nothing between me and the white fire of the stars

but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths

among the branches of the perfect trees.

All night I heard the small kingdoms

breathing around me, the insects,

and the birds who do their work in the darkness.

All night I rose and fell, as if in water,

grappling with a luminous doom. By morning

I had vanished at least a dozen times

into something better.

from Sleeping In The Forest by Mary Oliver

© Mary Oliver

Saturday, August 13, 2011


"We need to find a way to imagine the lives of animals, of all nature, not in a purely romantic or purely scientific way, but in ways where they intermingle with our own wild lives."    (David Gessner)

But, what's happened to our own wild lives?   Are they hiding out somewhere in the shadows, in the bushes, stamped down into the leaf mold where they wait for us, mewing or floating wolf-cubbish howls into our dreams and nightmares?  Waiting for us to shut down the laptop?  Waiting for the moments when we look around and wonder where we've been all these years?  As if we've been asleep at the wheel or in the kitchen preparing supper on automatic pilot. Waiting for the computer to load, waiting, waiting.

How long will that wolf cub  have to wait?

Go outside, I tell myself.  Just sit.  Listen to that bird singing, "pretty, pretty, pretty."  Watch the clouds swell like yeasty bread dough.  You don't have to pack up and go hiking the Appalachian Trail (though that would be pretty illuminating and enriching, if not exhausting).  What was the life of that mole like, the one my dog snatched from the blackberry bushes?  I held the small velvet body for a long time, but it soon grew cold.  I stroked its fur.  So soft.  Beautiful, really.  Strange little creature, why is it here at all?
What does nuzzling through the soil feel like?  Taste like?

That jade lizard that darts out from behind the stones of my backdoor ledge, what's his take on things?  Pissed off, probably, that I disturbed him yet again, watering my morning glories. Clanging around with my watering cans.  He would make a gorgeous bracelet or necklace.  I could wear him to Ingle's this afternoon when I  gather up more groceries.

Our days go by so fast.  We're infected with timesickness.

 Stop the clock.  Leave the house, the car, the classroom.  Just go......

Let me know what you see.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Few poems speak to our love of place and the way it can enrich and enlarge our spirits as well as Mary Ricketson's Lost in the Roar of Big Santeetlah.   When we fall in love with a place, as Mary  reveals in this poem, we want to carry that love with us, giving it away generously to the world at large.  This is how we will save our places from degradation, this is the legacy we will leave to our children.  

Mary's poem recently won the poetry contest sponsored by the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, itself a legacy of what remains of the old growth forests that once flourished in our mountains.  Only a few stands remain now.  Big Santeetlah Creek runs through this beloved landscape.  Mary's poem is a fine and appropriate way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Kilmer Memorial Forest.  

Mary lives in Murphy and has been an active member of the Writers Network West for years.  She published a chapbook, I Hear the River Call My Name, with Finishing Line Press in 2008, which I featured on my North Carolina Laureate's Writers & Books site.  You will find out more about Mary there.

Lost in the Roar of Big Santeetlah

I cross a wooden bridge.
A stand of dark red trillium
waits for my attention.
White violets and crested dwarf iris
sit quietly at trail’s edge.  Birdsong begins.
Butterflies dance. Jack in the Pulpit presides.
River birch, pine and poplar stand tall.
Rippling water stills my thoughts.
I can taste the wind.

Soon pink lady slipper will bloom,
then purple rhododendron.
I know every season at this forest.

I fell in love here long ago,
found comfort on this path,
met parts of me I did not know,
told secrets never spoken.
Trees made promises
then asked for mine.
I fill myself with peace and hope when I am here
then give it all away when I am gone.


Thursday, August 11, 2011


Walking to my car outside City Lights Bookstore a few nights ago, I glimpsed through the hillside branches a half-moon, bright as a wafer.  Or a rice cracker.  Begging to be grabbed and nibbled.  Or gobbled.  The full moon can stir up appetites that lie dormant,  just waiting to be roused from slumber.

The natural world always throbs more audibly when there's a moon in the sky.  Maybe the moon is night's heartbeat?
The moon is magical, especially when it floats on the surface of ponds or water pails.  Imagine washing your hair in moonwater.  Years ago I imagined a mountain woman doing just that.  Hearing the hounds baying.  Her own heart beating.  Something wild stirring inside her.

Caught in my basin, the moon
shimmies.  She must feel low
down tonight, floating there
like some big-city show

girl’s silk underwear,
daring me stir up her lather
and scrub till I’m crazy
with moon shine, the better

to see my way clear
through the thick of my mama’s
keep, thirsty for what makes
my teeth ache.  This summer

I’ve nothing to dream on but dirt
roads, my mouth full
of singing that swells like the creek
jumping bank at the pull

of the honky-tonk season.
I’m game to go prowling
the backwoods with every bitch
loosed for a dozen miles, howling

at first sight of Her rising
over the pine scrub of Hell’s
Thicket, where in the last
eyes of wolf I hear tell

of, she still
burns, closing in for the kill.

from Black Shawl.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


This scene reminds me more of summer evenings in South Georgia, where I grew up, but here in the mountains we linger on our porches as long as we can, the dark surrounding us, kept at bay by our stories and music.  Our memories.

MAGPIE TALES , Edward Hopper, 1947

Three years after I was born
this couple leans against the porch railing,
brought to life by the artist
who must have known how the air settled
around them and stirred again,
how behind the door,  the canvas,
the paint, and the vision,
a window fan sings like the universe 
stitching together its matter and anti-matter,
man and woman,
day and night,
a summer evening in which the 
moment stands hushed,
like the woman to whom the man's face
turns, as if he is almost
about to speak. Silence hangs
heavy as heat almost about
to break.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

August in the Mountains: Late Bloomers

Late bloomers struggling for a last glimpse of sun, my zinnias make do with not quite enough sunlight and not quite enough space at the edge of the garden.  Our lush spring greens --mustard, lettuce, collards, chard--are long gone, and I haven't yet seeded my  fall garden.  This time of year leaves me looking at bare garden soil and tomato plants that have once again disappointed us.  But the cucumbers are coming on strong.  Pickles!  Oh yes.....

Hearts a'Busting open their seedfire, their audacity giving me hope for busting out of my own late summer lethargy.

A lone butterfly clinging to ironweed makes an apt metaphor when I feel time, and summer, slipping away.  Hang on, golden wings!  Soon you will turn into golden leaf hanging onto the branches atop our ridge, then lingering awhile in flight before settling like golden and russet wings to the leafmeal below.

Time's arch, a swish of leaves presaging fall, makes me stop to catch one nano-second of late summer light with a shutter click.

Ironweed, I love you more than Joe Pye Weed, though both of you stand tall against the coming  autumnal transformations, determined to come back again when the timing's right, late bloomers
who never give up, sturdy homesteaders staking your claim to the places you've sunk your  roots into,
your stubborn roots.  May my roots hold fast, as stubborn as yours.   

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dark Turn of Mind

Turn around and there outside, through the window just over your kitchen sink, you see the sky turning dark, the trees stark against it like bony fingers.  Your mind turns and turns, from one dark place to another.  The candles gutter out.  No moon.  Swallowed up in the dark window, your dark turn of mind.

What do you do now? What pulls you back from the edge, gets you through the night, through that dark turn of mind that always leads to a dead end?

You finger the fraying edge of a quilt, the one passed down and down, the one with a name like Winding Way or Carolina Lily. Or maybe you walk out to the porch if it's summer and fondle the morning glory vines climbing up the trellis. They keep reaching  with their pretty blooms, these flowers, these quilts, these dried sprigs of lavender a friend gave you. That little touch of lace at the hem of your nightgown. That little ribbon of song you sing.

Your pretties.  You hold them fast against theft.  You hoard them against dark hairpin turns. Switchbacks
that scatter a woman's thoughts if taken too fast.

Your own thoughts.  You gather them up for safekeeping.

You keep them warm against your breast, like the bird lying dazed on the grass beneath your window. You cradled it a long time until you felt the wings stir. You opened your hands. There it sat, gathering itself, getting ready. And then it flew ...

Thursday, August 4, 2011


The summers are getting hotter here in the mountains.  That's no surprise.  Call it what you will, global warming or climate change, something is going on with our weather patterns, so we'd better get ready to survive whatever those changes bring.

Let's start with an easy recipe for peach sherbet!  No grand political and environmental solutions this afternoon.  Just a cool way to get through the midday heat.

Doesn't that look delectably cool and elegant?  I added a sprig of basil from the pot I keep outside my kitchen.

Here's the recipe, with some creative suggestions.  It's a lot like the ice cream, or "junket," that my grandmother and mother used to make before we turned to the ice cream churn.

Two cups peeled, sliced or chopped peaches.  (Sometimes I add leftover strawberries, even cantaloupe to this.  Or whatever leftover fruit needs to be used.)

Half a cup of sugar

8 ounce carton of plain yogurt.  I've been using Greek yogurt mostly, but one day I found only Light and Lively strawberry/banana in the fridge and added that.

Couple of tablespoons of orange juice. ( I've also added cranberry juice. )

Put ingredients in food processor or blender and process till smooth.

If you can keep from drinking the delicious mix down to the dregs, pour it into an 8 by 8 in. pan --or whatever you have handy--and place in the freezer for 5 to 8 hours.

 Just make sure it's nice and frozen.  Once it is,  break it into inch-size chunks and dump into the food processor.  After a couple of minutes in the processor, or whenever it's turned into the most fabulous looking soft sherbet you''ve ever seen, wait--don't eat it yet.  Pour it into a container with lid and return it to the freezer for 3-5 hours.  If you can wait that long.

Serve in a crystal dish with the garnish of your choice.

There all sorts of other variations you can try.  Let me know how they work out!   Enjoy!