Tag Archives: WNC

The Planets….Revisited

I originally wrote this post in 2006 for the World Pantheist Movement Community list.  I have just recently learned of the death of one of my friends mentioned here, and, in fact, two of them have now died, so I’m re-sharing this post, with a couple of corrections and a comment at the end, in memory of Sherry Austin and Rod Skogen. It was one of those special evenings I will always remember.

Last night I went to see a repertory symphony production of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” at the Brevard Music Center in Brevard, NC, located in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina.

As their own website states: “…the Brevard Music Center (BMC) has been providing young musicians with the opportunity to develop their talents for sixty-eight years…Each summer more than 400 students, ages 14 through post-college, join professional musicians to eat, breathe and sleep music for seven weeks. In addition to a rigorous schedule of instruction, students collaborate with faculty and guest artists in more than eighty public performances…The combination of studying with distinguished professional musicians and an intense performance schedule sets the Brevard Music Center apart from other summer music institutions and gives students the opportunity to understand the world of a professional musician.”

This performance was done in conjunction with the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute of Rosman, NC (PARI).  PARI provided images from NASA and the Hubble telescope of the planets and space on a big screen during the performance. Yes, I wish the screen had been bigger (I had pictured the planets swirling around overhead, but I understand that would be distracting to the musicians), but even so, it was a great performance. The music was beautiful (I love Jupiter) and the images beautiful also,  and fascinating.  Our universe is unbelievably breathtaking when seen from the telescope.  I also know that other orchestras are doing this now, combining musical performances with visual scenes, but it was a first for Brevard and a first for me.

What made this event even more spectacular in my mind (besides the dinner at a huge Chinese restaurant and better yet, the good company) was the fact that it was held in an auditorium that’s actually more of an amphitheatre, two sides completely open, the stage totally protected.  It had just come a whopper of a  thunderstorm and was still drizzling rain, with lightning flashing in the distance, the late-evening sky was darkening, and all lights were turned off except the lamps that lit up the music stands on stage, and a bit of moon was starting to shine through clouds and tall trees.  This is an area so beautiful and natural, full of a variety of native trees and shrubs,  singing crickets and other night sounds, and the aroma of summer scents.  Our seats were right on the edge of outside (fortunately, the rain and lightning didn’t get too close), and the effect was truly awesome!  A bit of a cool breeze, too.  Yes, it would have also been amazing to have had a clear dark sky full of twinkling stars, but somehow the misty rain, slice of moon, and distant lightning streaks seemed perfect.

One of my friends thought we had gotten bad seats, sitting on the edge like that, and my response was, “Hey, I’m a pantheist, remember? I love this!” It was truly perfect for me, nature at its finest accompanied by the stirring music.   Dare I say it? Corny, I know, but music and nature in lovely harmony.

Comment:  As I re-read this for the first time in years, I’m struck by a couple of things.  The storm started while we were in the restaurant, one of the worst thunderstorms I’ve seen, and the mountains get some good ones, but with perfect precision, the worst of it had passed by the time the show started right as darkness set in, coming a little earlier that night with the cloudy sky.  The bittersweet part?  The memories and how much things have changed.  I’m no longer a member of that Pantheist group, and as for the friendships, well, they seemed to be on a path to long-lasting, only to slowly drift apart, and years later discovering that two of those people have passed on, way too young.  The internet is so good at bringing people together, as it did with these two friends and me, and we were able to spend time together in person on several occasions and have several good conversations face-to-face and on the phone, but how many online friendships never move past the computer keyboard, making it easier for people to put distance between themselves, often without knowing why, or where they are, or even if they’re still alive at all.  Some of these online relationships become deeper, but I think many of them are really pretty superficial.  Regardless, these two people, Sherry and Rod, touched me.  For a brief time, we shared pantheism (via a local  pantheist group) and nature together in these beautiful mountains we call home.  They were intelligent and witty and clever, and I’m still remembering them nine years later.  Things they said and taught me, ways they talked and thought and shared, helped make me who I am today.  It was a perfect night that has lingered with me and I remember it quite happily, but now tinged with a little bit of sadness, too.


Copyright (c) 2015 by Raindrop Ridge Press

The Burning Bush

crepe myrtle

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.”

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

 fading laurel

The  spring and summer bushes of western North Carolina are more pastel than the fiery autumn ones….they’re all lovely and colorful and  express the essence of God in their unique ways.  I don’t think it’s about one special bush at one special time…..here are just a few I’ve had the pleasure to know, and remember, all ground is holy ground.


Rose of Sharon


blue hydrangea







Copyright (c) 2013 by Raindrop Ridge Press

updated (c) 2015

“Every walk to the woods is a religious rite, every bath in the stream is a saving ordinance. Communion service is at all hours, and the bread and wine are from the heart and marrow of Mother Earth.”

~ John Burroughs

(Oconaluftee River, Cherokee, North Carolina)


Copyright (C) 2012 by Raindrop Ridge Press

Saturday Morning In My Town

I love Saturday mornings in my little southern town of Sylva, North Carolina, especially in the summer. That’s when I do errands like checking my mail at the post office, taking garbage to the recycling center, or going to the grocery store. But it’s so much more than that. Saturday mornings have that pastel haziness of a day still waking up and the promise of magic that only weekends can hold. My world seems to be in a good mood.This morning I stop in at Annie’s bakery and buy a dozen chocolate chip shortbread cookies and debate between a big golden lemon square or a perfect apple-raisin mini-Bundt cake. The cake wins out today. It smells so good in there and people are having pastries and coffee and chatting. Main Street is busy this morning with walkers and bikers and window shoppers, the restaurants setting up for lunches, outdoor tables, and delicious smells starting to fill the air (sometimes I have lunch out on Saturdays but not today). Across the railroad track near the new pavilion at the Bridge Park, tents are set up for the regular Saturday morning fresh market where anyone can bring their homegrown produce to sell, or there’s always Terry’s local produce stand to choose a fresh cantaloupe or some peaches or a juice tomato. Some days I wander into the bookstore or the library (or their associated used bookstore), and then ride on down the road to pick up a couple of homemade snacks for Dag at the dog bakery in Dillsboro and chat with the owner for a few minutes. Businesses have baskets of bright red geraniums and pink begonias hanging out front, and the crepe myrtles have truly outdone themselves this year with their splendid magenta blooms.
On the way home I pass by the swimming pool with a few early swimmers already there before it gets really hot this afternoon and one of the county ball fields where a softball game is in progress. Finally, I stop at the hospital auxiliary to drop off some clothes I want to donate that I can no longer wear, then it’s back home. At the bottom of my hill I see my first Joe-Pye weed of the season. It may be called a weed, but to me it looks like a flower, the tall familiar herald of school starting back soon and autumn not too far behind. This is just real life in my small town and a whole lot more than doing chores, and I’m sure the same kinds of things are going on in many other places all over the world. Saturday mornings make me feel good.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Raindrop Ridge Press

Family Reunion

Yesterday, I took my parents over to the Sandy Mush community of Buncombe County, North Carolina, for the annual Reynolds family reunion (my dad’s side). I don’t know many of them, a lot of cousins and aunts and uncles, and great-aunts and great-uncles, etc., but my dad sure seems to enjoy it a lot. It was a potluck lunch held at the community center behind Big Sandy United Methodist Church, and the food was plentiful and wonderful! My uncle stood up and gave a blessing and I silently added my own prayer of thankfulness, too, for a chance to get to meet and know more family members and to break bread with them, and for all the time and love that went into preparing various wonderful dishes of food, including lots of fresh homegrown veggies,   Oh, and my mom has incredible luck at winning the door prize at this family reunion for two or three years in a row, and this year was no exception.
Anyway, we rode back across the mountain to Canton and on home to Sylva; part of it’s paved; part of it’s gravel and can be kind of rough as it climbs up and up until you reach the gap and start down the other side, but they had smoothed it down in preparation for paving it. It’s beautiful country all through the Sandy Mush area – mountaintops and gorgeous views, opened-up valleys and green pastures, woods, and lots and lots of corn fields, like an endless sea of it. Roads with names like Turkey Creek and Willow Creek and Bee Branch. My grandparents many, many years ago, before my dad was born, went by wagon over all those mountains and hills to move their small family from Buncombe County over to Murphy in Cherokee County, where they then lived out the rest of their lives. It would take close to 3-1/2 hours to make that trip now by car with interstates and 4-lane highways for part of the journey. I can’t even imagine what a rough and long trip that must have been physically in a wagon, with at least a couple of children already, and emotionally, leaving their families for a new place and a new life, and it wasn’t like they could just easily visit each other for dinner on a Sunday afternoon. I think they were really brave.
…the old homeplace…
…Willow Creek…

They were tobacco farmers and grew corn and raised animals and chickens, gardened, canned lots of fruits and vegetables, and gathered eggs, churned butter – I can remember the animals and helping get eggs and churn butter and seeing it come out in decorative mounds, so unlike the stick margarine my own mother bought from the store; it did taste a little different, of course, but I kind of liked it. For a long time they had an outhouse but eventually did add a bathroom with a bathtub; that bathroom had to be one of the coldest rooms I was ever in in my life! I would drink wonderful cold water from the big kitchen sink out of long-handled metal pans or dippers (I thought that was the coolest thing), or sometimes I would get homemade grape juice if I was lucky. If I didn’t ask for the grape juice or water soon enough, I would get stuck drinking whole milk – I hated milk anyway and drinking fresh whole milk was torture, so I would tilt up the little fat glass and drink it down in one long gulp just to get it over with, holding my breath so I couldn’t taste or smell it, and then ask for juice please. My grandfather died when I was around 9 or so. I remember him, but not really well. He was nice and I remember him being kind of quiet.  My grandmother lived to be quite old and worked hard both inside and outside until the last very few years of her life. I never was really close to my grandparents, something I regret now – they had many grandchildren, and I didn’t see them all that much (I spent more time with my other grandmother over in Asheville), but of course through the years we did visit Murphy and I saw my grandma and Uncle Carlton, would try to play the old piano that was so out of tune and the keys would stick.  That’s just one of those things I always remember, and Uncle Carlton’s laugh.  I liked him.  My grandma was a nice woman, soft spoken, strong, and hardworking, a churchgoing lady, a good cook and cookie maker, and a schoolteacher at one point early in her adulthood before she started what turned out to be a big family. She was very thrifty.  My dad used to kind of laugh about how she would save even just one bite of food in a little bowl to have for the next meal; I would help clean the table and put the food away in the corner cabinet.  I understand how they had to be thrifty through all the years, though – they had lots of mouths to feed – my dad was one of 10 children!  I loved swinging out on the front porch swing, the columns of the porch covered in ivy and almost closing me in.  You could see the highway in the distance and I would sit and swing on a hot summer day, swatting flies away, and daydreaming about where that road could take me.  There were always lots of chickens around underfoot, too.  My mom, the “city girl,” didn’t like them too much, but I loved the chickens!

My grandma wore her hair in a bun. Her hair was kind of a yellowy white color and long – once when we spent the night I saw her combing it out, but she always wore it in a little knot at the nape of her neck. She had a look of kindness about her.  Out of her 10 children raised in a poor part of NC in depression times – my dad was the next to youngest child, born in the early thirties – seven of them were college graduates and became teachers (one only briefly but the others for long careers), including my dad. When he was in elementary school, his oldest sister was his schoolteacher. They were quite an amazing group!  When we’d visit we would take walks down the road; sometimes one or two of my cousins would be there, too, but I never got to know them well; I just didn’t seem them often enough; and, of course, who could forget the old shaky swinging bridge that both scared me and fascinated me at the same time?
Anyway, family reunions can bring up all kinds of memories and thoughts and discussions and feelings (warm ones and also a little sad, nostalgic, and maybe regretful for not being closer, not learning more, and knowing it’s too late now), but they’re always interesting, getting to see relatives I never knew about, seeing the places where my grandparents lived when they were younger and imagining their life there in those beautiful mountains, and did I mention, the food is incredibly good! I wish I could have sampled it all. There’s nothing quite like good Southern cooking at a church dinner or a family reunion.  You go home full as a tick but still wishing you had just one more little bite of that sweet creamed corn or fresh tomato or the best pound cake you ever put in your mouth.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Raindrop Ridge Press

View From a Train

Riding a train in familiar territory makes me look at my home in a whole different light. Saturday, a special person in my life and I rode the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (the one featured in the movie “The Fugitive”) from the Bryson City depot over to the Nantahala Gorge….actually the train goes past the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC – a Mecca for whitewater rafting and kayaking in the area) up to near Nantahala Lake, where they then switch the engine from one end to the other, then it starts its journey back and stops for a 1-hour layover at the NOC for lunch, a walk, stretching, relaxing, enjoying the river, taking photographs, etc. At the turnaround, the passengers switch sides with their neighbors so that going back we get to see the view from the other side. There were lots of couples, families, and children, and the train was full of chatter and laughter and a few quieter ones (like us) and even some sleepers. Everyone is pretty friendly and seems in a good mood, full of anticipation as if this were a 5-day cruise instead of a 4-1/2-hour train ride.

We started out about 10:30 a.m. armed with drinks and a backpack of peanut butter and jelly burritos, chips, homemade (sort of) chocolate chip cookies, and my camera. We had the windows open and it was a beautiful day. Some of the pictures I took were terrible and blurry, thanks to most of them being taken from the moving train. Although it wasn’t moving too fast, it was kind of bouncy and shaky (but actually very soothing, kind of like a big rocking chair). On the way back after lunch I almost fell asleep. Some people slept through most of the trip. We got to cross a high trestle across Fontana Lake. We saw houseboats and skiers and boaters, and then once we entered the gorge and the track runs alongside the Nantahala River, we saw lots of rafters and kayakers. Everywhere the train goes, along the river, rafters, picnickers, walkers, and in cars at crossroads, people waved enthusiastically to us, and some of us waved equally enthusiastically back.

Some of the time I knew where I was compared to how the road runs, as I’m quite familiar with the road along this route, but then sometimes we were far off from the road and seeing views and houses and camps and little driveways that I had never seen before, though I had been all over this country dozens of times over the years. I don’t even know how you drive into some of those spots, no idea where the roads are, but some of them were really charming, with the train riding almost through their front yards. One old rock house was built so close to the tracks that you could touch it out the window. I realized yet again what a beautiful place I live in, how amazing it is, and how big the wilderness area is, how little I really know about it. I try to imagine it through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time and I wonder what they feel. I can see it day in and day out and I’m still awestruck by the beauty of the rushing white water and the vastness of the lake, the trees and the blue mountains and the flowers and the smells. But if you ever feel bored with familiarity and can’t afford to go away on a long trip, take a trip through your own area, take a different route, ride a different vehicle so you see the familiar sites from a different vantage point. It made me appreciate it more and take less for granted. Come to think of it, that might be a metaphor for dealing with lots of things in our lives that get boring or too familiar, to look at them a different way, through different lenses.

I saw ferns growing in huge groups that I never really remembered noticing in the woods so much before, and beautiful wildflowers that inspired me to go buy a new wildflower book so I could identify the beautiful shades of pinks and purples that were unfamiliar to me. The air smelled sweet and felt so good, the sun was warm on my arm as it stretched out by the window, and the movement of the train was like a noisy lullaby.

Then we rolled back into the depot past houses and sawmills and stores and more waves as people in town welcomed us back as if from a long long journey. We got off and walked back to the car, then rode over to nearby Deep Creek for a brief wade in the cold creek, because by then the mid-afternoon sun had gotten hot once we were no longer riding and getting a breeze. Lots of adults and squealing children were tubing down the river trying to cool off in the cold water on a hot summer day, and the smells of grills and charcoal wafted through the air and made me feel so cozy and hungry again too! It made me miss my old camping days.

Each season of the mountains has its own unique specialness, its own feel and character, and its own charm. I would love to ride the train again in the fall when the colors are so bright and the sky such a rich blue and the air with just a little bit of a chill so a sweater feels good.

It was a relaxing and wonderful day.


 Copyright (c) 2006 by Raindrop Ridge Press

A Trip Down Memory Lane……On Memorial Day

Today, my parents and I shared a nice day. For quite a long time my dad had been wanting to ride over to the area where he grew up near Murphy, in Cherokee County, North Carolina.  It’s about 2 hours away, but he doesn’t really drive that far anymore, just mostly around town here.  It was a holiday weekend, we had no plans (and besides, yesterday was his 75th birthday), and I thought it would be a nice time to do something a little different and make that trip.

We started out around 11 a.m., stopped and picked up some chicken dinners to go, and rode over to the Deep Creek area in the town of Bryson City….about 35 or 40 minutes from home. They were having a Memorial Day festival so the normally lazy little Southern town was full of hustle and bustle. I noticed new restaurants had opened. There were booths set up selling various crafts and items. The train depot was spruced up for the Smoky Mountain Railway. We made our way past downtown to the the Deep Creek recreation area….home of trails and hikers, waterfalls, campers, picnickers, horseback riders, people watchers, and tubing down the cold waters on what turned out to a very hot late-May day.  We ate lunch and took a little walk, and I took a few pictures, then we got back in the car and headed on down the road through the Nantahala Gorge, famous for its whitewater rafting, stopped briefly for a couple of more pictures, then through Andrews and on to the Tomotla and Murphy area.

The area has changed a lot since I was a kid and we would visit my grandparents. The old 2-lane road has been replaced by a 4-lane one, and the rough gravel road that my grandparents lived on is now paved and has a campground at the beginning of it. It’s beautiful country, a wide valley built up around a river called, appropriately, the Valley River, with steep mountains to the sides. The old swinging bridge is still there – I remember crossing it with my cousin many years ago and feeling a little queasy even though it’s not too high or too long, but stretches precariously and nauseatingly across the river. My dad said that’s how they used to walk to school, and several times a year heavy rainstorms would wash the swinging bridge away and it would have to be repaired. My grandparents’ old house, where my dad and his 9 brothers and sisters grew up on a farm, raising tobacco, gardening, and raising animals for eggs, milk, and meat, looked pretty delapidated. I could hardly believe it was the same house. It’s kind of sad to see that happen and know that people still live in there, what you could see of it through all the wild overgrowth. Some of the other property inherited by the children has been sold and developed with attractive new homes. It’s truly a beautiful place and I realize now that when I was younger visiting over there I just didn’t appreciate the natural beauty of it. There are things I remember about my grandparents’ house – drinking cold water out of a long-handled pail, an old butter churn, the steep steps down to the concrete cellar, my first kitten, chickens that would be all around your feet when you went up to the door.  I loved sitting out on the front porch in the swing, playing with all the cats that were on the property, and eating my grandma’s special chocolate oatmeal boiled cookies.  She even let me help make them and that was the first recipe I remember being given especially for me. The thing I hated the absolute most?  Whole fresh milk!  By the way, I still don’t like milk to this day.  I would drink down the whole fat little glass of milk in one long gulp just to get rid of it, holding my nose the whole time, so then I could drink water or maybe even homemade grape juice if I was lucky.  I remember helping clean off the big table after a meal and my grandmother saving even the tiniest bite of beans or corn in a little dish in the corner cabinet for the next meal.  She didn’t waste anything and I understand that.  They were hard workers and raised a big and thriving family in some hard times.

We then went by a couple of houses where my aunts and uncles had lived, now occupied by strangers, then to the church and cemetery where my grandparents and several of my aunts and uncles are buried. It has been a long time since I had been to that church and I hadn’t even seen some of the gravesites before. The cemetery was as neat as a pin and really pretty and peaceful. Every grave had fresh and colorful flowers. You could tell this is a place well loved and cared for. My dad wrote down the birthdays and death dates of all his relatives on an old envelope he found in the car. He tried to get in the church – it was locked. I just think churches should keep their doors open like they did when I was a kid for people who need it, but sadly times have changed and it just isn’t realistic any more.  The old cinder blocks had been replaced with white siding and the doors painted bright red. It was really a picturesque scene, that little country church and cemetery, all bright and shiny in the sunlight, full of whites and reds and yellows. I took pictures of all the graves.  I think it meant a lot to my dad to spend some time there, and he wrote down the information about where you could make a donation to help with upkeep for the cemetery.

After that, we went on through the town of Murphy, which has grown a bit since I was last through it, and stopped for a brief visit with a couple of my first cousins, sisters who live next door to each other, settled back on their property next to their own home place after living and working for many years down in Atlanta. We sat on the covered front porch and enjoyed a wonderful breeze, just talking and laughing and catching up a bit. It was fun.  I hadn’t seen them in a long time.

Being a person who always likes to return home by a different route if possible, we continued on down to Hayesville and then back past Lake Chatuge, across Chunky Gal Mountain (I love that name), past Standing Indian and where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road, to the town of Franklin, where we stopped for dinner, and then back home.

My dad really enjoyed his trip, remembering lots of things about his family as he grew up – there are only four of them alive now – and I learned some new things about my relatives I didn’t know. I think it has bothered him a little bit that I haven’t been closer to his family. Today, I regretted that myself. Sometimes fairly simple things, like this trip, mean so much and can bring a lot of pleasure to someone’s life. I’m glad I could do my part to give my dad a good day. It was another one of those long days that’s a little tiring, but totally and wonderfully satisfying.


copyright (c) 2006 by Raindrop Ridge Press