The little butterfly dances through the air and nearly lands on my shoulder before continuing on to the Japanese Honeysuckle. I was reminded of a tale told to me on my first real job in Rock Hill, South Carolina. I worked with an older man who really should have retired from the job long before I was hired. We were ditch diggers. Our job was to keep the ditch on grade and make sure that the it was ready for the pipeline that was to be installed. The hot southern sun and high humidity kept us covered in sweat. For heat safety we took frequent breaks with plenty of water and Gatorade. During a break on a particularly hot day a little skipper like the one in the feature image kept landing on my wet shirt. (Presumably it was after the salt I lost through sweating. ) My workmate looked at me with wide eyes and congratulated me on getting my wish. I was a little confused and asked him what he meant. He explained to me that these butterflies were really angels in disguise and that if one landed on you it means that they were bringing back the wishes that you had made on a dandelion. The longer we worked that day the more the little skippers landed on us and eventually we began to make guesses about which of our wishes was coming true. By the time we finished our shift we figured that we were getting everything that we’d ever wished for. I had never heard of that superstition before but all that guessing made the day go by quickly. It was fun to think about getting everything that we’d wished for.
The older man passed away at the end of that summer and I went back to college. Every time I see one of these skipper butterflies I’m reminded of the man I worked with one summer and all the wishes that were granted by his angels.
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Nothing brings to mind the carefree days of childhood than skipping stones. Before cable tv, before the internet and before Fortnight we would hike down to Collison Creek where the stream was just wide enough to make a flat stone bounce and skip along the water’s surface. It wasn’t really wide enough to go for long distance. Making it to the other side of the creek was fairly easy so we got creative. In some spots the water flows around large rocks that made perfect bumpers. The object was to play the bank shot by skipping a stone into the bumper and making it land in a certain place. Sometimes we could get one to skip on the rebound after bouncing off of the bumper stone. Other skipping stone games involved landing a stone on a sand bar and a second player would try knock it off with his stone. This one lead to another incarnation that we called “soldier’s fort”. We would wade out to the sand bar and stack rocks like cairns. Usually the stack was only 2 or 3 stones high. Then twigs were gathered from the forest floor and stuck in the sand like a palisade. The object was to crash through the wall by skipping a stone into it until you could knock down a stack of rocks. We never really kept a score. It was all about finding something to do in an age where you had to create your own fun.
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There are days that are absolutely awesome. The birds are singing, the clouds are big and puffy, and sun is shining. A balmy breeze rushes through and seems to give you a hug as it passes on beautiful days like that. Warm summer days are days that are custom made for creating memories. A quick trip to the park or the lake and nothing to do except be with a loved one and hold hands while taking a leisurely stroll. I wouldn’t need a camera to have the image of such a day forever in my heart.
But, today is definitely not one of those days. Today we have a visitor to our wild Wonderful West Virginia. The the last tropical storm to make landfall on the Atlantic coast has decided that we need to enjoy it’s presence. The wind has been relatively quiet but the rain bands have pushed their way past the natural barrier of the Blue Ridge Mountains and are planning a few days of fun. In truth it means that those who have come to enjoy the white water rafting and kayaking will have a great time with our rivers swollen from the rain. It’s something that happens quite often this time of year. The sky is dark and foreboding and for a while every stream coming off the mountain is a miniature river. These are the days when I take the sunshine out of its bottle in the form of a photo. I’m instantly drawn back into that perfect sunny day. I can even smell the dinner being made on a grill.
We can’t expect that every day will be awesome. Rain has to fall and like everything else there will be days when we have more than we need at the moment. That’s life. On other days we’ll see more than out share of beautiful weather. My whole life I’ve been told to look on the bright side. As I’ve grown I’ve discovered that looking on the bright side is much easier when you carry the sunshine inside of you.
The deep forests are an easy place to get lost. You start out on a dirt road and you just keep walking when you run out of gravel. Eventually the mud transitions into leaf litter. The moss grows thick and the gnarled undergrowth fills every available space. Just beyond these trees are the cliffs I used to play on as a kid. There’s a rocky ledge with a large overhang that one can sit on and observe the forest floor below. I’m guessing that it’s only about twenty or maybe thirty feet in hight but to a young man in his early teens it may as well had been the edge of the world. I would get all garbed up to the point where it looked like I was going on a major expedition down the Amazon. I carried a large Bowie Knife on my belt for survival. The only thing I ever used it for was to mark trees by cutting out a patch of the outer bark and being careful not to damage the live bark underneath. (If done right it in no way harms the tree). I would sometimes take a slingshot along. ( called a catapult by many of my international friends). I would try to pick off individual leaves with a small stone. The stones are not nice and consistent like the fancy ammo in the stores today. That made hitting anything consistently quite a challenge. Sometimes I would pick up acorns or hickory nuts for slingshot ammo which was better for accuracy but didn’t really impart much impact to the target. I’d bet that if I made my way to the ledge today I’d find a pile of small stones in the back of ledge waiting to be used during the zombie apocalypse. Other days I would trek down into the valley below. I would pick out a sapling to craft into spear. There was a particular rotten stump below the cliff that was just the right consistency to allow the spear to stick. I was actually better at throwing the spear than I was with the slingshot.
The road in the feature image was one of my favorite childhood memories and a way of escape from the mundane world and a gateway to a primeval adventure.
Some of my most cherished memories are the long walks with my grandfather. He was World War Two veteran who walked with a cane due to shrapnel that was embedded in his leg but that never seemed to slow him down. He would come over to our little house trailer which was next door to his house and invite me to help him check on the cattle. He was also a survivor of the Great Depression and on our walks he would teach me about the things that they used to do to stretch the budget. One their best resources was the wild edible plants that are found in abundance in Appalachia. Pictured here is Chicory. All parts of the plant are edible. The leaves are eaten as a salad green and the roots are roasted and then ground into a coffee substitute. ( no caffeine). The blue petals if Chicory are a natural litmus test. When exposed to an acid they change from blue to red.
In the background of the image is Queen Anne’s Lace. ( the white flowers). Now, you have to be careful about collecting it because there’s also poisonous look-alikes such as hemlock. Queen Anne’s Lace usually has one tiny little blood red flower in the center of all that white. How’s it used? Well, I’m pretty sure that most of the world already knows because it’s simply a wild carrot. The root doesn’t really look like what you buy in the store or raise in your garden. It is small, white and kinda bland. But, it is a carrot none the less.
Most people look at the plants that grow without any help from humans and all that they see are weeds but I see the province of God and hear the voice of my grandfather.