Summer Dog Days

Working on a few projects this weekend. I love this photo taken last night:


Somehow Max manages to make it into almost every photo I take.  He’s such a character. Our friends were staying here last week and every time I turned around he was sleeping in their suitcase. He looks a little guilty here:



While Brett worked on some rocking chairs I worked on a project I’m just starting with Lowe’s…transforming the old train depot over the next few weeks:


Funny, I went for a 2 mile run in Deep Creek. When I got back Brett had finished mowing the lawn and showed me his Suunto GPS watch:


He walked 4.16 miles pushing that mower. I didn’t check the elevation change…but I’m sure it was more than my workout all together.  Maybe I should mow the lawn sometime!


Take a Picture in Your Mind

Last night as we drove home the sun was this huge glowing orb as it set. I was trying to get a photo of it when Boo piped up and said:

I’m going to take a picture of this sunset in my mind.

Every day Max and Diesel hurry out into the sunshine. When I ask them to come back in they simply ignore me, pointing their faces up to the sunshine:



I love how content they look. It makes my heart swell up every time. Funny how much I learn from them.

“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”
-L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables


If Books Could Talk

I opened up a book at the used book store and found this plane ticket…from Cairo to Amsterdam. I love when that happens:


A few old books that have come into the Bryson City store recently:



I found a book by Henri Nouwen published in the 1970’s on prayer. It is just full of gems, like this one:



And then this…a 1953 copy of The Catcher in the Rye…with a depiction of Holden Caufield. I wonder who read this book 50 years ago and where it’s been since:

“This unusual book may shock you, will make you laugh, and may break your heart, but you will never forget it.”


If you haven’t seen the Salinger documentary I recommend it. While it’s a little dramatically-overblown-tabloidish it paints a good picture of why he probably became a recluse in his later years. He stopped publishing in 1965 and the most fascinating thing I think is how he very carefully set up the trust that his remaining works are in to control his copyright. Actually I think I’ve written about this before…or maybe I dreamt that. Either way my memory is bad.

A Wagging Statue

Sometimes there’s just too much to digest all at once. A few friends passed away suddenly. Two funerals later and then another sudden passing. And while my family has been out of town I’ve just enjoyed the alone time with my dogs, and my books and my yard work. And then today was a great day for so many of my friends. Yay for equality. Now I really wish it would rain. I have nothing more to say today except here is a photo of Max meeting a cat for the first time:



He tried to be a statue but his tail kept wagging like it always does. I wish humans had wagging tails too. Bark less. Wag more.


Honoring and remembering all who have died serving our country, fighting for our freedom, sacrificing everything. I don’t even have words big enough to express the oceans of gratitude. It never seems like enough. So in small words: thank you. 

Boo at the Vietnam Memorial

Excruciatingly Intricated

I’m determined to know everything about every wild plant I come across in the Smoky Mountains. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book The Signature of All Things inspired me. On walks I’ve been collecting samples and figuring out what they are and whether they are edible etc. and the origin of the names. Keeping notes and sketches in a journal with the pressed flowers to be added in at some point.


In an 1897 bird book I found last week at the used book store John Burroughs wrote in the intro:

We must in a way earn what we have or keep. Only thus does it become ours, a real part of us.


This I’m determined to do: to earn this piece of earth I live on. And I love the process of it all. Like yesterday morning, on a walk in Island Park: I found ferns uncurling, or unfurling I think is the correct term. Doesn’t this look like something down the rabbit hole:


While I was taking a photo of the fern this little guy crawled out waving all his little legs. He kept moving too fast for me to take a photo of him. Anyone who walked past would have seen my on my knees talking to a few piles of leaves. I did a little research and found out that it’s a Nantahala Millipede. That probably translates to: millipede that lives near the Nantahala.


There’s a place in the park, the north end of the island, where a large wall in the shape of a “V” has been built to break the river around the island:


If you peek over the side it is covered in secret moss, secret only because you would have to kneel down and lean carefully over the side that faces the river to see it. And when I spotted these little pods…I almost keeled over the side….what are these incredible looking things?!


There’s this passage in The Signature of All Things where Alma is explaining why she admires mosses so:

Their dignity. Also, their silence and intelligence. I like that -as a point of study- they are fresh. They are not like other bigger or more important plants, which have all been pondered and poked at by hordes of botanists already. I supposed I admit their modesty, as well. Mosses hold their beauty in elegant reserve. By comparison to mosses, everything else in the botanical world can seem so blunt and obvious.

No thank you to Mr. blunt and Mrs. obvious. I spent a lot of time photographing the hidden side of a wall trying to capture it pieces of it, mostly because I have the worst eyesight and I can enlarge photos.

I mean, is this Narnia?!


I didn’t notice this spider until later. He was doing a great job camouflaging himself. Creepy little bugger.


Look at these teeny, tiny little ferns taking hold in a vertical wall. Ferns for ants. If I was an ant I’d set up a little camp site on that tiny little ledge and spend lots of time there roasting miniature marshmallows on a miniature campfire reading a miniature book.


Nature’s carpet, full of seed pods and dandelion wisps.


Gosh, this:

But sometimes I fear that my world has become too detailed. My books on mosses take me years to write, and my conclusions are excruciatingly intricated, not unlike those elaborate Persian miniatures one can study only with magnifying lens. My work brings me no fame. It brings me no income, either – so you can see I am using my time wisely!

Am I using my time wisely? I guess so, and I guess we all struggle with how we are supposed to use our time. I am always working. Working from the second I wake up until the second I go to sleep. Collecting, writing, reading, and filtering. One day hopefully it will all translate into the end result I want it to. The castle in the air, right? When people ask me how my writing is going I tell them fine. And every once in a while all of that writing is packaged into a nice little package that may someday be used…or not used.  I recently had a chapter workshopped in a group of writers. As they critiqued my work, and I listened on mute, I cried. I mean I bawled. Because they got it. And I’d been in such fear that maybe I was not getting it. One writer said “this is a big existential piece” and I had to go and look up existential. And I thought maybe I should start learning and adding some bigger words to my vocabulary.

Our pastor’s wife Jodi (who you’ve read before here) shared this verse last Sunday:

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14


A vanishing mist. I love that. According to Boo’s NatGeo magazine: the amount of water on earth never changes. What?! A constant? Last summer on Mt. LeConte I watched a delicate mist turn into a roaring river:

“The mist begins to condense onto the vegetation and then it begins to drip and then a trickle turns into a stream. As it’s filtered through moss and rock it gets funneled into tiny waterfalls across the trail…which eventually compound into the larger streams below.”  from High and Far Off Places

How to Get to Mt. Le Conte Lodge

This ranks high up there with the time I found the place where the river meets the lake. I never even imagined that there was a beginning and end to a river. It’s like the mystical end of a rainbow.

 Moss is inconceivably strong. Moss eats stone; scarcely anything, in return, eats moss. moss dines upon boulders, slowly but devastatingly, in a meal that lasts for centuries. Given enough time, a colony of moss can turn a cliff into gravel, and turn that gravel into topsoil. Under shelves of exposed limestone, moss colonies create dropping, living sponges that hold on tight and drink calciferous water straight form the stone. Over time, this mix of moss and mineral will itself turn into travertine marble.

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics. It also grow on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. -Page 169, The Signature of All Things


Moss just needs time.

My friend author Patti Digh has always given me the greatest advice, I wrote this down recently:

We care too much about what people think. Your job is to write. Write what is true to you. We jump too quickly to putting our work out to other people.

I’m very cozy in my little world and all its details. It’s not glamorous or flashy or fame-filled, but it’s excruciatingly intricated, and full of moss and ferns and centipedes. And it may take me a million years to finish my castle in the air, but I can see it. I’m turning a cliff into gravel. With my health history you might think I’d be in a hurry, but quite the opposite. When the mist vanishes, it turns into another trickle. I think that’s kind of existential. Dictionary please.

And so, with that I am going to go and keep writing. Right after I do our taxes.

P.S. I did not spell check or grammar check this post. Sorry for any typos. And any incomplete thoughts.

Train Signals

Walking downtown this evening through the train tracks:

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City

I don’t set an alarm clock in the morning because the train starts blowing it’s horn each day around 8:45am. It’s a much nicer sound than waking up to a blaring beep. I’ve been noticing the trend in the horn, there’s a pattern to it. Obviously there’s a train horn language I’ll need to learn now that we live so close. I think I’m figuring it out without looking it up:

three short blasts = backing up

That’s all I’ve got right now. The horn blows so often that I actually have to focus on paying attention to it, otherwise I really don’t hear it.  Because of the winding roads around here some people have to cross over the tracks a few times to get home, that means more than once…and there isn’t always a little gate doohickey to come down. You actually have to PAY attention, especially in the summer when it comes in and out of town twice a day.

Boo has a new pair of overalls…she could fit right in behind the scenes of the railroad. The hardware store ordered me a pair too. I haven’t had a pair since I moved out to California. I might just wear overalls all the time…when I’m not wearing flannel shirts of course. I’ve come to the conclusion that you really only need 2 good pairs of jeans, a few t-shirts, a few flannels, and a pair of overalls to get along just fine. Oh and maybe one or two nice shirts to wear to a wedding. (that’s for you Harper, I’m not going to wear my overalls to your wedding.)


Boo and I went to the thrift store to see if she could find anything for Easter. Instead we found this old phone. Who wants to wear an Easter dress anyways…I never did. I told her she could wear her bunny t-shirt instead. I’m not wearing a dress…I’ll probably wear a t-shirt too since I’ll be handing out drinks at the big Easter event afterwards (that EVERYONE is invited to btw, The Grove on Franklin Grove Church Rd).  Oh, this phone has one of the old plugs…I wonder if I could get it converted. Funny, around here phone numbers are still only 7 digits. No one ever gives the area code. I’m not used to that yet, and when I ask what the area code is I get strange looks.

Vintage Rotary Phone

Boo had her first piano lesson last week. We can walk there…her teacher lives above the old drugstore where his antique shop is. He collects old clocks and they all chime at different times which I think is fantastic. I can’t even make this amazing stuff up.

Small Town USA

An old friend from high school asked if I wanted to do an art swap. I paint a few of my 3″ paintings for him and he’ll paint something in return. I didn’t expect this huge painting to arrive in 4.5′ x 3.5′ box!  How awesome is this painting of the depot by my friend Alex:


I might send my tiny paintings back in the same box he sent the painting in. Just to be funny.

Bryson City Outdoors opened this week! It’s only been open a few days but it’s been a great success so far with lots of visitors. Our friend Sarah made a huge detour on her way back home to DC to come and take some store photos. They came out with a new “Elk” t-shirt today too. If you missed what all that’s about read about the big renovation project here.  Here’s a photo of the building at night before opening day:


If you make it to Bryson City this summer make sure to stop by and say hi to my hubby Brett! Boo will probably be running around too…and I try and stop by at least once a day, usually towards the end of the day.

Oh, and it’s National Poetry Month. I wrote about that in my weekly letter today. (if you missed it you can find it in the archives)

Have a great weekend!





Walking Away to The Outdoors

So this is a long overdue Brett update. After the post I wrote last year about walking away from everything the most perpetual question I get from people is: What will your husband do?  I think people might have assumed he retired? Some thought we bought the inn we were staying at.

For the past few months Brett’s been renovating a building in downtown Bryson City. Just a little background, last October we were looking at places to live after the inn and we started with downtown Bryson City because we thought renovating some retail spaces that we could live above would be a fun project. After looking at a few places I had second thoughts about living right downtown, I needed more personal space. Right around then we ended up finding the House on Hospital Hill. But after looking at a few places an old building on the corner of Main Street, right in the middle of town square caught Brett’s eye.

When our agent Marty took us to look at it I was like: are you serious?! But Brett was serious. Last summer we got to know two guys, Ben and Dwayne, owners of a web company WNC Interactive. They were helping me change some stuff around on my website.  Brett became instant friends with them. When they weren’t working on websites they were renting paddle boards at the lake under the name Bryson City Outdoors.  Ben even took us out one day so we could try it out.

Brett: I think the building on the corner would be perfect for Bryson City Outdoors.
Me: That building is horrendous.

But Brett, Ben and Dwayne were able to look past the horrendous-ness. It took me a little longer to visualize it, but the more I heard Brett talk about how he thought he could help out this small local company the more excited I got about seeing him excited. Plus, we are all about giving back and the result would be fixing up the building that is always conveniently left out of Bryson City photos. And so we put in an offer and soon we had a deal. Shortly after that Brett became partners with Ben and Dwayne in Bryson City Outdoors.

It’s been an entirely different experience renovating a building downtown, in a small town. The locals stop by all the time to see the progress. Each visitor has an opinion how something should be done. You have to have a little bit of a thick skin for that, and a friendly demeanor: that’s Brett.  Most everyone is glad that someone is finally updating the building that has sat there so long. And everyone just wants to know what it’s going to be. I usually reply: Walmart. 

Here is the building when we bought it back in October:


I don’t want to scare you but here are a few photos:


The first stage of demo to the inside. That was awesome as the guys found secret walls and windows revealing the past history of the building:


The goal was to use as many reclaimed, recycled and locally sourced materials as possible. We were able to salvage all of the large windows from a home our friends were tearing down in Charlotte to replace the old ones in the building.  Below is a photo of Ben and Brett installing the first windows….they had to cut through a concrete wall to enlarge it:


Slowly the exterior began to come off. A friend stopped me in the grocery store one day and said: every time another layer comes off of that building it gets a little uglier.


Making room for a new window out front:


All the new windows put in! But no roof.


Brett had our friend Erik Perkins sketch out and plan a new roof:


The Perkins brothers, Erik and Jaime, took control of this huge roof job:


Amazing what a pitched roof can do for an old building!


Then the awning was added:


See that diagonal walkway in the photo above? I always wondered why that was there, until I found this old photo below of Bryson City’s main square and you can see that the diagonals mark the old intersection. It’s now been squared off.  This photo is from about 1910 I think. The BCO building stands at the bottom right corner where that pitched roof peeks up behind the brick building:


Everyone involved are the hardest workers. They were even out there when it was snowing.

snowBrett(photo courtesy of Brett Hackshaw on Instagram)

 That’s Erik sawing in the freezing cold:


(photo courtesy of Brett Hackshaw on Instagram)

Hemlock siding was chosen because it could be sourced from a local sawmill, which makes it low impact to the environment because it only had to be transported a few miles. Each piece was picked out one by one:


The siding was done in a board and batton pattern, which just means using vertical panels and then covering the seams with smaller strips of wood. The cedar shakes were stained (“Bark” by Cabot) before they started putting them on:


Industrial lighting was added under the awning:

lightingbrett(photo courtesy of Brett Hackshaw on Instagram)

The green door is Bryson City Outdoor’s signature color:

tables(photo courtesy of Brett Hackshaw on Instagram)

The finished exterior. We may have set a record for the amount of reclaimed, recycled, and re-used materials ever used to renovate a building on a shoestring budget. All the amazing industrial lighting inside Ben salvaged from a Buckle Store in Asheville. We even reused the old air conditioner that came out of our house. Just wait until you see the inside!

And meanwhile the inside was also being worked on. You can read about that here. 

So proud of this guy. And all the guys. And Ben and Dwayne thanks for having faith in us. And thank you to everyone who has been involved from the start. It’s been a lot of hard work. You can follow more of the progress and look for the grand opening at @brysoncityoutdoors, @bretthackshaw and @dwayneparton on Instagram.

Brett Hackshaw


And there’s an awesome outdoor blog too…devoted to one of the prettiest places on earth:


In closing, I would like to send prayers to the family and friends of Mike Jones. He was the electrical contractor that worked on our building, and even more recently our home. He lost his life unexepectedly earlier this week. It was a great shock to everyone.  Our hearts are heavy. I had only met him a few times but I know many of our friends who worked on the building were very close to him. You just never know what’s going to happen in this life. Make the most of it. And like Mike did for me: be friendly and smile to everyone you cross paths with.

Faith Hope Love and Luck

St. Patrick’s Day is my father’s birthday. He would have been 68 today.  I’ll always wonder what he would have looked like as an old man, at 80 years old like my grandfather was. They’d probably look very much the same. He’ll always be forever young now. But I know he sees what we are up to these days!

Did you know that each leaf on a 4-leaf clover stands for something? Faith, Hope, Love and the fourth for Luck.


(click here for the story of these 4 leaf clovers)


Boo is still on Spring break…and it is instantly spring here in the mountains. We left last week to the remnants of snow and today there are flowers blooming.  Boo returning from a walk today with Max:


I love this time of year.


The Vultures

Just like a dream experience, whatever things I enjoy will become a memory. Whatever is past will not be seen again. -the Dalai Lama in Kundun

A few days ago I was walking Max up the street and noticed eight large vultures above us in the trees.  Vultures don’t make any noise, they don’t have a voicebox, so you’d never notice them unless you looked up.  I snatched Max up into my arms, thinking they might be eagles or hawks at first.  Each must have been over 2.5 feet tall.  Huge.  But then I noticed the way that they were sitting, kind of hunched down, and that their heads were bare. Vultures. But these huge birds weren’t a threat, they were just probably hoping I’d keep walking and never look up.

One by one they slowly stood up and in their awkward, bumbling manner spread their large wings out and took off.  I was so taken by them that I ended up in someone’s side yard trying to get a closer look. Although at first glance they might seem menacing, they are actually very gentle creatures. I’d never seen them up close before and I loved their whole demeanor.


I kept walking and saw two more closer to our house, one right above me again, just staring down from a tree just off the side of the road. He kind of reminded me of the umbrella vulture in Alice in Wonderland only he wasn’t glaring.

I love animal symbolism, and studying the spirits of animals. Like when a vulture crosses my path…how could that be anything but good? They never kill or hurt their own kind, and they clean up death from the landscape, they do the job that no one else wants to do.  They are nature’s disease control. How great to know one’s purpose so clearly! And the Cherokees call them the Peace Eagles.

I re-watched the movie Kundun a while back and was reminded of the sky burial that Tibetan Buddhists use at death. The vultures  scavenge the remains of the dead, giving them second life.  There’s a powerful part in the book Last American Man where Eustace Conway’s horse Hobo breaks his leg and he shoots him and leaves the body for a year:

He left Hobo where he’d fallen. He wanted the vultures to eat him. He knew that the Native Americans believed vultures to be the sacred transport, the means by which a spirit is delivered from the earth up into the sky. So Eustace left Hobo there, where the birds could find him. Which means that, even today, whenever Eustace is working outside and sees vultures drifting in the air, he looks up and says hello, because he knows that’s where Hobo lives now.
The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert

(amazing book btw, I read it straight through and didn’t sleep for a night)

A year later Eustace went back for the vulture feathers, to collect them and to put them somewhere sacred.

Every time I see a vulture drifting in the air I say hello too. And thanks.

And as Whitman put it: What stranger miracles are there?