Making Time Away From Clocks

As I make my way down the long wooden staircase that leads to the base of the falls I’m mentally transported to a different world. A place where there are no time cards. A world where the only clock is the arch of the sun and the day belongs to the one who lives in it. That’s really the trick isn’t it? To have a little more life in the day? As the water flows over the rocks at Blackwater Falls the roar of cascade overtakes the noisy parking lot on the canyon rim and the modern world is pushed farther away. It’s easy to see why the ancient world explained creation as being made from only four elements of Earth (The stone cliffs), Wind (The breeze coming off of the falls), Fire (The warm sun beaming down) and Water ( The river itself). These things were the most powerful forces in existence outside of God himself. I recently read a headline that said that doctors in Scotland were now prescribing exposure to nature as a medicine. I definitely concur with them. God in all of his love and wisdom created a perfect world for his children. Even in it’s current fallen state it still exists to nurture and sustain his children. It stands to reason that in order to be healthy we need a certain amount of unspoiled nature in our lives.

Once more I’m fully invigorated by my time out from the world of ticking clocks and constant bombardment of ads on T.V. and whatever other media is encountered in the modern era and it’s time to make my way back up the mountain.

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Time Uncluttered

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is accredited with saying that “Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished”. In our high maintenance society of modern day planet earth we seem to be constantly on the go. Our lives are constantly governed by the ticking of a clock. Or in my case the prompting of my Google assistant reminding me to check the laundry or change the furnace filter. My smartwatch is constantly buzzing in sync with my phone to remind of one minor task or another. All of this perfectly timed organization allows for us to keep all the balls in the air. But is there an important difference between a full life and a busy life? Lao Tzu’s observation leaves it open to imply that we might be missing something if we are constantly being hurried. Yes Google will help you keep on top of all the important things but only if you remember to set the reminder in the first place. Is it all just cyberneticly enhanced rushing?

I suppose that the answer is in making time for that sense of peace. Sometimes that means that the laundry in the dryer gets a little wrinkled. Sometimes it means that one of the balls that we’re juggling has to be tucked into a pocket for a little while as we enjoy the graceful spiral of a snail’s shell found on the edge of a trail that we really hadn’t planned on walking that day.

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Memories Of The Hay Fields

When I was very young putting up hay was a way for most young men to make a little spending money. A person could drive through the country at certain times of the year and the fields were lined from one end to the other with rows and rows of square bales of hay. The farmers would be seen with huge stacks of perfectly compressed blocks of cut and dried grasses of various types towering over tractors or pickup trucks on their way to a barn. It wasn’t really uncommon to a couple of the older boys riding on top of the stack as the vehicle drifted carefully across the fields while two more boys tossed more bales up to add to the stack. The unloading process was just as laborious with the boys on top of the stack tossing the bales back down or directly into the barn for storage.

Sometime in the late 70s or early 80s I started seeing the large round bales like you see in the feature image. My grandfather began remarking on how his poor cows wouldn’t be able to have a square meal. The iconic large stack of square bales disappeared into the past. ( I’m sure that there’s still some around however I haven’t seen it for decades). The crew of three or four teenage boys was replaced by a tractor with a fork lift attachment. The round bales turned out to be a be a better deal for the farmer because of the labor costs but every time I see the round bales I get nostalgic for the view of acres and acres perfectly lined up rectangular blocks on contour with the landscape.

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A Matter Of Perspective

The Kanawha River is often turbulent in this spot. There’s days when it climbs up out of it’s banks and threatens to wash away everything and we would be powerless to stop it. But every other day it’s calm and peaceful. Most days it’s a great place to sit down and enjoy life. You can fish or if you’re observant you might spot a bald eagle or an Osprey in this spot. In the Spring violets dot the landscape with blues, purples, reds and yellows. The songbirds are abundant here as well. As I look towards the distant shore beyond the falls it’s hard to think about the raging waters that have been here and will come again. It would be easy to look at the little park at Kanawha Falls (or any other body of water) and live in fear of the next stormy day and the rage of nature but then we would miss the beauty on the good days. Life is all about perspectives. We can focus on the good times or the hard times. Both are going to be present. But if we are focused only on the hard times will miss out on beautiful times in between the storms.

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Homebound

The road home can be a steep climb. Sometimes there’s unexpected twists and turns. Some days the journey is through wind and rain or ice and snow. Some days are full of warm sunshine and the trees are full of singing birds. The journey home can be long. Blessed is the one who is joined by companions who encourage you to continue on. Even if they can’t travel along beside you every day. The warm smile in greeting and the voice that speaks gentle words of encouragement was a greater gift than you ever knew. It shouldn’t come as a shock that you made it home first. You should know that those encouraging words will echo in my memory until the day that I also approach that gate that marks the end of the journey. I won’t be surprised to see your smile or listen to the excitement in your voice as the gate opens up to welcome us home.

In honor of Billy. I’ll see you when I get home too.

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Winter And Wild Teas

In the natural world winter is a time for rest. The animals tend to stay in their dens. The hardwood trees are in a deep sleep as are the bears. Even the deer find a nice place in the deep woods where they can shelter from the cold. The days are still short and the cold nights are long. Just perfect for deep rest.

The giant elm tree in tonight’s feature image is just as beautiful in the winter as it is with its leaves on in the warmer months. One of the special treats of the colder months when I was a kid was bark teas. I’d be careful about where I harvested the bark (see note below) but elm actually has a nice spicy flavor. Several years ago I was able to try it for the first time. Traditionally it’s used for sore throats and colds ( I’m not a doctor or a certified anything so this is historical statement and not medical advice) due to the gelatinous fiber it yields. The flavor is similar to the Balsam Poplar that grows in higher elevations. In just a few months the buds will begin to swell and they make a good tea as well. In the old days, the Basswood (Linden or Lyme in Europe) buds were a source of winter food for my ancestors. Winter hikes in my teens always included stopping by a grove of black birch for a handful of wintergreen flavored twigs to nibble on. Sassafras was also a wonderful bark tea with an aroma that filled the house. There’s also the Carolina Spicebush who’s twigs provide a very lemon like flavor and the red berries of the stag horn sumac which has to be filtered well but gives us a pink lemonade in winter.

Perhaps that’s why I like this big old elm tree so much. It’s not only because it’s awesome to look at but it reminds me of all the cool stuff that the Appalachian forests provide even in winter.

(NOTE: WHILE THE TREES AND FOOD USES MENTIONED IN TONIGHT’S POST WERE TRADITIONALLY USED IN APPALACHIA THERE ARE HAZARDS AND FOOD ALLERGIES TO CONSIDER. FOR EXAMPLE, THE ELM IN TONIGHT’S POST IS GROWING NEAR A PLACE WHERE HAZARDOUS SOIL CONTAMINATION IS A RISK AND THEREFORE I WOULD CONSIDER THIS PARTICULAR TREE UNSUITABLE FOR CONSUMPTION. IT’S A SAD REALITY OF THE MODERN WORLD AND JUST NOT WORTH THE RISK. MCHM IS IN USE IN THE REGION AND LOCALS KNOW ALL TOO WELL THAT BY THE TIME A SPILL IS REPORTED IT’S ALREADY TOO LATE TO PREVENT CONTAMINATION. )

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The Shaking

The small Virginia Pine stands out in a sea of Broomsedge. The open ridge line invites a harsh wind on most days. The winter here in this spot is ruled by freezing rain as well as blizzards. The wind has come through with enough rage to shake my big blue truck from side to side and knock down the power lines but still the crooked little Virginia Pine continues to flourish. I have watched it for several years now and it’s growing stronger with each storm. While it’s obvious that wind shake can damage trees it’s also true that a certain amount of wind is necessary for the trees to grow strong. If the tree isn’t shaken as it grows it never develops the mechanisms to deal with storms.

Often in our spiritual life we become distraught when troubles come and our faith is tested. But, it’s in these challenges that our strength develops to our full potential. Without them we never develop the coping mechanism that that gives us the strength to survive the storms.

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