It's that time of year again. If you squeeze your brain hard enough, you'll be able to smell a wood fire, taste fresh apples, feel the steam of a mug of hot chocolate. Oh, but unfortunately, there's more living (and southern sweating) to be done before we get to indulge in these beauties that fall offers.
Len and I are gearing up for another season at Blue Ridge Country Magazine. You didn't know? Well, you should and you have to come along. Not only does Blue Ridge Country provide amazing photography and stories about this mountain stretch, but our bi-monthly column has become a travel go-to for many who are traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway (hence our many trips north to, ourselves, discover gems in the woods). Just click this BUTTON and you'll see where we've been. More importantly, you'll know where we going and how to find us come September.
This photo was taken when an adventure took us to Gatlinburg - not for the snow, not for the mountains but for the history. Gatlinburg Inn is now in the hands of family, and they plan on keeping it that way. You'll hear all about the grandparents and their legacy within this mountain city. We'll also carry you to the Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee; meet Nik Wallenda in Clayon, Georgia; and even uncover all that feuding of the Hatfields and McCoys in the Tug River Valley in West Virginia. Plus, we're planning a very personal love letter to Carlos Lovell as a "thank you" for allowing me to tell his story in North Georgia Moonshine.
So, needless to say, I'm a word factory, pumping out words and phrases of detail and description - working at full speed, brewing numerous daily pots of coffee, researching on travel sites, editing photographs and weaving stories. I'm exhausted! Exhausted, but so enriched and blessed to have met such wonderful people along the way and have the opportunity to be their storyteller.
We all need a storyteller. Someone who looks into our life with an unfiltered lens and shares authentically, the life we have lived. No judgement; just a clear picture (much like that of my camera) of who we are, where we came from and what we will leave behind.
Gotta go. . . .the factory (and another story) calls.
Who flipped on the wind machine?
I'm on the second floor of an early 1900s farm house. It's almost midnight and I swear, the house is going to fold around me. I tip-toe out of bed (like that will make a difference), peep out the window -- the barn is still standing even though winds are whipping at at least 50 mph (my conservative raging hormone-driven estimate). That's a good sign. Even though I'm in Northeast Georgia, I have visions of Kansas and flying houses and little people swirling through my head. The last peep I took was around 2 a.m. If I hear one more sharp swirling sound piercing through the rafters, I swear I'll put on my wool socks, grab a blanket and snuggle up on the downstairs sofa - B & B or not! I pull the covers up to my chin and pray. The next thing I know, it's sunrise; the barn is still there, and I can't wait to inhale coffee.
Now, I can't guarantee that much energy flowing through the mountains when you stay at Mountain Laurel Farm in Cleveland, but for sure, I can guarantee this: a majestic view, a tasty breakfast and a delightful innkeeper who has many stories to tell.
Melody is my new best friend. No, really. That's a perk of this job; you get to fall in love with everyone you meet (those you like anyway), tell their story through photographs and words, and always be able to call them friend. All of this you get instead of the big check at the end of the month. I like my form of payment, thank you very much.
It was merely by happenstance that I stumbled upon this farm. Looking for a place to rest and research, one that wouldn't break the bank (for I knew it would be the beginning of a multitude of stays until April), I found Mountain Laurel. Never mind I loved the name which conjured up a lifetime of memories at the Mountain Laurel festival in Clarkesville, but after seeing pictures, it looked surreal -- complete with the proverbial cherry to top - a red tin roof! A tin roof PLUS stories of Cheryl Tiegs, castles, contra dancing, jasmine, egg bowls, Vietnam, husbands and children. All that in the course of three days. My heart - and my idea notebook - are full.
There's more to come but on the Saturday morning after a week of squishing ideas into my head, I had to let a few out and share with you some jewels. I'm surrounded by my world this morning - Bear, my lovely husband, and my new Mark of the Potter mug - and life is good. When you least expect it, you are reminded just how rich you are.
Tonight, I am pondering Georgia or North Carolina. Which one is it?
I've spent the last week immersed in North Carolina's Yadkin Valley, the lush green soy-beans/grapevines/tobacco mecca of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rolling hills which obviously furnish these plants with the nutrients required set the stage for a simpler way of life that many have left the Fort Lauderdale's and New York's to find. Walk in any shop in Elkin or Mount Airy or Dobson and you'll understand the excitement which propels these shopkeepers on a daily basis. They laugh. They smile; no, they grin - that lippy grin that can't suppress the joy that lives deep down. They've found it here. Miss Angel and Ed Harris and Tony Bowman understand and hope you will, too, once you eat the freshly prepared heavenly treats, sit upon a hand-carved leather saddle, and praise God in person while thousands listen out there in radio-land.
That was yesterday; tomorrow begs the question, Georgia or North Carolina?
Georgia whiskey or Carolina moonshine? The war of words and spirits has raged since prohibition reared its ugly head in the early 1900s and continues today while the now legals still allege their dominance. Then, there's cars . . . Which one raced cars lightning fast around those snaky mountain strips of road and escaped the suits? Which is the purest? Which is just rot-gut crap? It all depends upon who you talk to, I imagine. Tomorrow, I'll get to meet another legend, Junior Johnson. We'll talk and he'll know quickly that my allegiance lies within the peach state; I'll give North Carolina a chance, but you'll never out-shine my Georgia.
No matter where you leave your heart, we do have this in common: it lives in the South. Our deep abiding, soul-inspiring, can't get enough of my South. It's a place where pumpkin pie ice cream is a reality, and it is so good that you'll forget about all the rest; where sonker makes sweet ice tea seem rather ordinary; where French, American or Italian grapes are the choices and they are all correct; where you perfect your mama's skill of monogramming and change the lives of an entire generation; where you can make history simply by what you choose to do with corn, water and sugar.
And these stories are only the beginning. On warm summer evenings like tonight, I can't believe how lucky I am.
Every place we visit leaves behind its mark. The tourist draws, the foodies havens, the pillows we rest upon, the ornate churches and once thriving bridges. We snap our photos and we jot down notes, revisiting and recollecting the moments when we upload photos and review the words upon arriving home. Most of the time we get what we seek, but every now and then we find a shocker of a photo that tells more narrative than our quick expected activity demands.
She sits along the banks of the Savannah River by the playground where children climb and squeal in the background. Across the river sits multi-million dollar homes like dominoes, one practically sitting on top of another, all with a history that might be just as unbelievable as hers. However, neither grabs her attention as she stares at her feet, covered on this 100- degree summer day with tattered striped socks and no shoes in sight. She could be any person, in any city, on any day, sitting on any peaceful riverbank.
But she finds herself here. I assume she is homeless and this is a stop before the next stop before the next . . . She slumps in thought as she surrounds herself with natural and man-made beauty. She is attracted to the very opposite of her life. She isn't caught up in the buildings or the slides, but she takes comfort in knowing they are close. Helping her to belong. To cope. It helps her breathe.
And for a brief moment, everything flows, just as the river, to a more beautiful ending. She is me. More than likely, she is you. If we surround ourselves with beauty, we tend to forget the unlovely. Even for an afternoon . . . .
Peace is always beautiful.”
"You're a travel writer?" she said with an elevated voice. "What an amazing job."
Yes, Nessa, it is.
When we get really lucky, we get to lay our heads at B & Bs. We dine at the breakfast table with strangers from who knows where and talk about mostly unknown things and more than likely, we'll never ever see them again. We have one moment to uncover a lifetime.
Nessa Pettyjohn and Nihshanka Debroy from Gwinnett County celebrated their one year anniversary, and at breakfast, we celebrated, complete with candle-topped banana bread. After an amazing casserole, intense coffee and our own slice of banana bread later, we discovered they were IT people. I could tell. It was like looking in a three way reflective mirror - Nessa, Nihshanka and Len. Triplets. I, on the other hand, was the elephant in the room, but that's alright. We learned about Nihshanka's love for rare books and Nessa's skill at preparing Indian food; we wanted to go home with them.
Hosts, or innkeepers, are rare breeds we are told. There are ones that are nice and do their job well. Then, there are those who could be your Aunt Sally or Uncle Frankie. Family, in other words. You hear it in their voice, see it in their eyes, in the little touches - like complimentary this-and-that, fresh baked cakes always available tempting and calling your name, exquisite "I never want to get out of bed" sheets, binoculars for bird watching, or smiles no matter the time of day. And if they accidentally lock you out of the Lodge at bedtime, you know deep down they really didn't mean to. And when they say, "Come back," they expect you to.
Janet and Ric came to Blue Ridge by way of Key Largo and Colorado. "This [Aska] makes us happy," Janet says with a visible sense of contentment radiating from her face. Calling them adventurists would be an understatement - climbing Mount Rainier and Mt. Hood, caving, scuba diving - and this little piece of heaven, satisfies their longing to be close to nature. They have even changed roles; Janet who once handled all the cooking now serves as sous chef for Ric and his morning masterpieces.
my uncle ivet, my mama's brother, was my hero, or my second daddy, depending on which day you asked me about him. he was a teddy bear, towering over me and his norwegian wife, sophia, and his hugs enveloped me so that i couldn't breath. i loved them and as i climbed up the steps to his living room, i would barely get in the door until he had his arms wrapped around me. the logan family never said the "i love you" phrase or held much affinity toward public displays of affection, so i craved this moment.
he was what you would call today, a picker. he had every do-dad imaginable. those 'dads' weren't just small either. they were bird houses, cars, even mountains. he told me of one auction where he purchased land in north georgia, a mountain, an entire mountain. crazy, i thought. then he told me of his dream to build an underground house on the side of his mountain. warm in the winter, cool in the summer - heaven in his eyes. then, he told me he had never seen it, but he was certain it was a good deal. he died still believing in that deal and wishing for his underground house.
lost without him, his wife sold most of the mountain, but gave me a lot as a gift. he would want you to have it, she told me. he knew the mountain girl that lived within me, and she would be always be at home here. this would be my resting place. whenever time came.
time has come. it's time to change the possum hollow sign to population 22. not sure the time frame, but everyone has to start somewhere. today, we start with a dream, a goal, and the dream of ivet pushing me and this mountain girl to make my mountain retreat a reality.
thomas wolfe said, "you can't go home again." for the most part, i think he's right. right in your twenties, your thirties and even your forties. but in the high noon of your life, when you find yourself alone in a big house and it's the memories that must offer contentment, you remember. however, yesterday, i got out of the big house and took the green jeep home.
my current project took me to mt. airy, a small town near clarkesville where i grew up. mt. airy and its sidekick cornelia were always where the rich kids lived, so needless to say, most of my friends were not from here. but, habersham was a small county with one high school, and clarkesville, cornelia and mt. airy kids were heaved together in the new habersham central which today has been replaced by a newer habersham central - conveniently located across the street. at one point, cornelia turned into mt. airy before you could shift from third to fourth gear. it's the home of lake russell, where my daddy (kimsey) and his brother (lamar) spent their last afternoon together, fishing. on the way home, lamar's heart gave out and daddy recovered the truck just in time before the huge oak took his own life.
this is the time to visit the north georgia mountains. they are especially beautiful in the fall with the leaves on the verge of turning. some have let go and whip through the air. i'm not sure what melds with the leaves in the wind, but i know it's enchantment and my memory explodes.
i hopped in the car with susan, headed to a girls halloween party at the lewallan's house way back in the woods. i tagged along with daddy to the trout stream after he watched the county truck go by to stock the river. i played baseball with ricky in the front yard, often opting to be the cheerleader so i could run (my first dramatic role) to him when he was hurt. i watched mama skillfully sew my newest dress on her mama's pedal singer and then turn the reigns over to me so i could learn, too. i walked behind daddy in the fields, dropping corn as he guided besse the mule in the straight-and-narrow. i ran up and down the front sidewalk after daddy added it so mama wouldn't have to get her feet wet walking to the mailbox. i helped daddy plant the magnolia by the garage apartment and wondered how in the world that little thing could possibly be a tree.
that sidewalk went on forever years ago; it seemed like that magnolia tree never grew. perception is everything, i suppose. today, i look with grown up eyes and mountains of experience, longing to return to running up and down that walkway, or to become that child whose daddy was superman and the master of my happiness. i miss them so much it hurts. i miss the simplicity that comes along with mountain living. i miss the learning experience i had each and every day of growing up - i wish i realized then how rich i was.
yes, thomas, you can go home again for god has provided mankind with a beautiful memory-machine for moments when yesterday is out of reach. i can go home again, and i will, every chance i get.
once every four or five weeks, my jersey-born husband drives his juiced up trans am into town and pulls over to the only barber shop within miles of our home. right smack dab downtown, on the corner of school and main. he walks in fuzzy and walks out coiffed to perfection. and that procedure includes an air compressor.
after hearty conversation of summer heat and the neighbors found on the police blotter, the cut is done and it all comes down to the 'blow'. she grabs the long blue hose and lets him have it, blowing microscopic pieces of hair from one end of the parlor to the other. people sit and read their papers, unshaken by the blast of air that inevitably whisks right by their ears. they pay it no never mind and wait for their turn in the chair.
the south is an amazing place. i forget that it runs through my veins, sometimes right up until the moment an air compressor becomes part of an unconventional salon experience. we're weird, i get it, and we're solid, too. we carry our traditions out the door and hope no one flinches when we shout our 'y'all' and 'ya hear' on a daily basis. come to think of it, those words warm my heart, just like remembering the aroma of country ham frying in an iron skillet and fluffy cat-head biscuits baking in my mama's kitchen.
i try to convince my husband that he is truly a southerner now. after almost 20 years of being in the thick of our drawl, you can't help but become one of 'us'. every now and then, he'll say my version of 'why' - always a multi-syllable word - and that confirms my suspicions. he'll try to deny it, but i know better.
another reason I know for sure? i'll bet my life that his hair cuts will always include an air compressor.
Once every four or five weeks, my jersey-born husband drives his juiced up Trans Am into town and pulls over to the only barber shop within miles of our home. Right smack dab downtown, on the corner of School and Main. He walks in fuzzy and walks out coiffed to perfection. And that procedure includes an air compressor.
After hearty conversation of summer heat and the neighbors found on the police blotter, the cut is done and it all comes down to the 'blow'. She grabs the long blue hose and lets him have it, blowing microscopic pieces of hair from one end of the parlor to the other. People sit and read their papers, unshaken by the blast of air that inevitably whisks right by their ears. They pay it no never mind and wait for their turn in the chair.
The South is an amazing place. I forget that it runs through my veins, sometimes right up until the moment an air compressor becomes part of an unconventional salon experience. We're weird, I get it, but we're solid, too. We carry our traditions out the door and hope no one flinches when we shout our 'y'all' and 'ya hear' on a daily basis. Come to think of it, those words warm my heart, just like remembering the smell of country ham cooking and fluffy biscuits baking in my mama's kitchen.
I try to convince my husband that he is truly a Southerner now. After almost 20 years of being in the thick of our drawl, you can't help but become one of 'us'. Every now and then, he'll say my version of 'why' - always a multi-syllable word - and that confirms my suspicions. He'll try to deny it, but I know better.
Another reason I know for sure? I'll bet my life that his hair cuts will always include an air compressor.
Whether it is exploring this amazing world or being content on my own piece of real estate near Athens, Georgia, I'm spinning stories and fashioning tales from a Southern perspective. As an editor and writer, I get to meet incredible people and share their stories. As a photographer, I get to cement these moments in time. As a wife and mother, I'm always excited to see what's around the next corner, For it's anything but ordinary.