Category Archives: The Mountain House

Lost in a dream

Time passes slowly up here in the mountains
We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains
Catch the wild fishes that float through the stream
Time passes slowly when you’re lost in a dream

I remember saying to someone a while back that I was considering getting tickets to a Bob Dylan concert and she commented, “Doesn’t that only encourage him to sing?” I woke up with this songworm today, for no apparent reason and considered pulling it out and putting it on the turntable.  But then, I think because of all the lovely condolences about McCloud left by friends on FB, I started mulling over how some of those friends go back such a long way  and we began here in the blogging neighborhood. Time for an update.

I remember when I published this photo of McCloud right after my mother died and it was in the context of his being such a comfort when I was grieving. Yesterday we said our goodbyes to McCloud, splendid cat that he was. He was Rich’s “big-boned” friend (not to be confused with obese, mind you) but in the past 18 months the big bones were becoming more and more apparent as he would ever more slowly lower himself down for a nap. Most recently, his life was one long nap under the deck punctuated with interludes of digestive distress and incontinence. His hearing and vision were seriously impaired. He had taken to coming up to us and tapping us on the leg and when we would look down and ask, “What do you want? You have food. Water. Pats. What? ” and he would give a silent meow. Even his voice had left him, all except the purr. We talked it over and felt that he was confused and uncomfortable enough that he wasn’t sure what he needed but he hoped we could help. In the end, after a feline lifetime of mutual love and affection, we’ve done the best that we could.

When I arrived here at my page after not even looking for a month I found this from Bonnie:

Humbly, Ms. Bennett, I must presently beseech thee:
Compose a new post before mold grows on my French brie.
For you to write something new, must I create a silly poem?
(You’ll drive me to drink wine by the jeraboam!)
Lastly, from me (I can be such a pistol):
For Heaven sakes, Vicki, update, Sistah!

How can I not post? Facebook is making bad bloggers out of a lot of us, as we take the cheap and easy way out with little snappy one liners, but I realized this week as I enjoyed following Mary getting her room together for her first graders that it’s really not fair to simply eavesdrop on your friendships. A big part of what I struggle with is taking the time to sit and communicate with people I can’t see and or hear as we share our stories, but it’s still true that in the debate over “real or virtual” friends, I have meaningful and strong friendships with people I can’t snuffle up live.

Ain’t no reason to go in a wagon to town
Ain’t no reason to go to the fair
Ain’t no reason to go up, ain’t no reason to go down
Ain’t no reason to go anywhere

Here on the mountain, we’ve made new good friends. A day doesn’t pass that we aren’t happily surprised all over again by the good news that we find ourselves in such a beautiful place among such a wonderful group of interesting people. It’s a true neighborhood here. Everyone knows and cares about everyone else but no one’s porch light is hindering your view. We have musicians and artists and woodworkers and authors in our small neighborhood. We have the best farmers in the world, educated and experienced and young and so full of hope they have many beautiful tow-headed babies and children. We have conservationists and environmentalists and educators. Most of all we have new and good friends. We really feel as though we’ve turned around and come down where we need to be.

One my friends, Sydney, works with Molly to raise and milk goats and then turn the milk into soap for Farmer Jane Soap. I work with them now, felting some of the soap for sale at two tailgate markets each week. (Felted soap is extra special, don’t you know, because it’s a loofah and soap all in one with no slime and no waste! When I felt bars of the “itch witch” goat’s milk soap with jewel weed extract it’s the perfect gardener’s soap, kind of like your own Felt Naptha. And so forth and so on, with you getting the idea that I am now thoroughly ensconced in the practical esthetics of life here on the mountain.) Sydney was recently linking to a short film about people choosing to become farmers here in Western North Carolina and she made a comment about why she chose to leave her previous lifestyle to come make goats milk soap. She wrote, “Over time the importance and the beauty of living close to the land and letting go of the things I could not change became my dream.” I can’t imagine a clearer or better articulated statement of how I had been feeling since ending my practice as a psychotherapist. During my professional life I worked with people to affect change but at some point the overwhelming parts of life that I can’t impact started to get to me in a serious way. Narrowing my focus has been a good change; now I’m happy just to be living locally, shrinking our footprints, enjoying the view, helping out in small ways where I can.

Here on the mountain in Sugar Hollow I stay inordinately busy. I grow a large garden. I teach felting. I work at my own feltmaking. I observe the snakes and bears and birds and coyote and insects. Last week I was flipping the lid on the grill and felt something under my finger that I knew in my heart I did not want to be touching. Even before I saw it, I shrieked and jumped back and then, there she was: a wolf spider with her entire brood on her back. To the degree I was working on my arachnophobia, this was a major setback.

We’ve had lots of our not-so-new good friends come to visit and we enjoy showing them around. This summer, in the course of exploring our area, we’ve discovered some great waterfalls and one of them has a jump off into an ice cold mountain stream. It’s pretty scary, to stand on top of that high shelf contemplating a leap- first and foremost the leap of faith that you won’t end up in a vegetative state by crashing onto the rocks below. I did it, finally, and since then have taken pleasure in goading others. Actually, it felt like quite an achievement; I try not to compare it to the times I kayaked the Inside Passage or scaled the Tetons or hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back. Things change.

Time passes slowly up here in the daylight
We stare straight ahead and try so hard to stay right
Like the red rose of summer that blooms in the day
Time passes slowly and fades away


Wordless Wednesday, cat’s-eye view

I was going batty, now I’m going birding

The transition to life in Asheville has kept me going full tilt. The cats made it with ease: Sophie helped me drive by sitting in my lap and digging in her claws if I went over 79 mph or changed lanes too quickly and now they are both happy to be here watching the constant cluster of hummingbirds who appeared the moment I hung their feeder. We unpacked two cars worth of stuff, mostly wool, before I sprained my ankle running up and down the mountain ala “Sound of Music.”  I love it here and the view from every window is of native azaleas, dogwoods, daffodils, poison ivy…I’m thinking there’s a market for felted bars of Fels Naptha. I could call it Felt Naptha, yes?

The first week I rushed to finish some birdhouses for the Grove Park Inn Annual  Bird House Competition. First place went to a master wood carver and his bird house was absolutely fantastic. I was pleased with my entry other than one minor issue that arose the night before during assembly. I had done a series of four barn swallow nests and Rich and I went off in search of a suitable piece of barn siding on which to mount them. It was all completed and just before going to bed I went out to photograph my entry sitting on the dining room table. I was at first annoyed and then alarmed to see ants crawling about and it took less than two minutes to figure out that we had constructed the support base with a termite-infested 4 x 4. Midnight found me in the garage spraying the backside of my artwork with “Mountain Fresh Scent Raid” and gnashing my teeth as an entire colony of winged insects staggered out of a crack in the board. I was thinking that no matter what, Raid smells like Raid but when we delivered it the next day to the competition the woman at the desk exclaimed, “Beautiful! And it smells so nice!” Since then I’ve had a couple of recurring nightmares that the historic arts and crafts era Grove Park Inn is being consumed by termites and it’s all my fault.

(This was the first place winner. Well deserved, I think. I would like to live in this house!)

The next big project was to get some felting batts ready to market at Friends and Fiberworks and Asheville Homecrafts. I’m excited that these two great shops are going to be carrying my fibers. I’ve dropped off one big batch and another is being delivered today before I leave for a week to go birding. Rich and the cats will stay here in a house full of wool bunnies; that much drum carding makes a lot of tumblin’ tumblewool and there’s no time to clean before I head out.

(Do I still think of my Ann Arbor peeps? You betcha. Every day.)

Birding, you ask? Yes, I am one of those lucky ducks heading for New River, West Virginia for the Birding and Nature Festival. There I will tsay in a farmhouse with some of the best birding bloggers (The Flock) and go on daily birding hikes with some of the nation’s leading ornithologists and biologists. I’ll send a post, with photos of some bird I think you’ve never likely seen. The camera, binocs, knitting, iPad with iBird application downloaded, and rain suit are all packed. New waterproof hiking shoes have been broken in. Today is pack, oil change and plant all the herbs purchased yesterday at the Asheville Herb Festival.

If I posted more routinely you would see some interesting things here because most of my days on the mountain I encounter new and beautiful things and make great discoveries. Like last night in bed, when I went to fondle affectionately pat Rich goodnight and he squealed, “Don’t give me that poison ivy!” we had a eureka! moment and realized out is was that we are both getting it in exactly the same places, on the bases of our thumbs, near our wrists. This despite constant hand washing, wearing gloves and long sleeves and so forth. It’s those damn cats! They hang out under the deck where there is a lot of the stuff, walking around in it and rolling about and then they come in and nuzzle our wrists for attention and feed, especially as we work on the computers. Sophie, especially, is one to plop down and grab your hand at the wrist and start rubbing and treading. Arghhh. I never thought RoundUp would be in my life but lately I wouldn’t mind winning a enough to clear a football field.

Instead of photographing my poison ivy which looks pretty gross, I leave you this image (which some of you have seen on my Facebook page already.

We went into Asheville and these two were “doing it in the street” as my grandmother used to say (referring to hippies, not turkeys) and stopping traffic. We watched for about 3 minutes until someone honked and ruined our fun. But he was determined and chased her down the sidewalk.

I’ll put up bird photos and see you on the other side of a week of birds, nature, interesting and learned folks and a whole new adventure. Have a great week at your place.

Wordless Wednesday: It’s hard to talk with your mouth full

Everything’s coming up tulips

(Whenever he’s in baseball mode, he looks like a happy kid)

After that last whine, the only sensible thing was to fix as much as possible and leave the State. We did stay long enough to go to the Half Century League baseball banquet. It’s hard for me to know how people can talk about nothing but baseball but that’s what they do, endlessly re-living home runs, injuries, won and lost games, bad plays that someone else made. Still, it was fun, mostly because Rich just loves playing baseball with these guys and it’s good to see him so happy. He was so happy he almost cried when they surprised him with the biggest trophy of the evening: the Sportsmanship Award. He gets to have the trophy on our mantel for a year and then it gets passed on but he has a little one, also with his name engraved on it, that he gets to keep. Rich really is a good sport about just about everything and I know that is especially true on the baseball field. I watched his team play the Pennsylvania Amish All-Stars a couple of months ago and as he’s the catcher he made it a point to welcome everyone personally as they came up to bat and wished them all a good game. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team.

The next morning I couldn’t get in the car fast enough to drive north and at the Florida/Georgia border, when the car told me it was 96 degrees outside, I felt like I was fleeing that unbearable heat and humidity. We do love our neighbors there and I miss them terribly and I love my felt classes and the birds at Boyd Hill but that harsh sun is just too hard on this pale complexion. Also I have discovered that I really crave, need, long for Spring and autumn. Without living with the clear demarcation of seasons I’m just not right. We drove as a caravan and I got the best of that deal; Rich was missing the Masters and I’m fairly certain he would have found a sports bar and stopped to watch if not for McCloud who was fussing and panting. Sophie settled down right in my lap and spent all but the last 18 miles there. She’s a great driver, tensing and relaxing in tune with the traffic and digging her claws into my thigh if I go above 79 mph or change lanes too quickly. Mostly she purrs, bathes and naps. We exit hwy 26 at Mountain Home. I kid you not, that’s the name of our exit and at that point Sophie is up, on high alert and at the windows. She goes to whichever window is in the direction of the house so for 18 miles there is a lot of dashing back and forth across the front seat. Watching her is like tuning in to a little satellite or GPS system and I don’t wonder a bit at tales of animals finding their way home across vast distances.

Here, it is beautiful. Sunny mild afternoons and cool nights. We are seeing this home for the first time in Spring and it is more beautiful than I had hoped or imagined. The mountains are all shades of light and brilliant greens with the mountain tops still bare in places. At the foot of our long drive there are a dozen mature white dogwoods in full bloom and all around the house there are pink and red dogwood, azaleas and all manner of bulbs. Clearly, a lot of the daffodils that have lived in the woods for years had already come and gone but all of the 1000 bulbs I planted last fall are up and in various stages of bloom. (okay. The 1000 bulbs Rosario planted last fall)  The daylilies that were given as a gift from a stranger mid-summer last year have emerged strong and thick and I’m excited to see them flower.

The first day back I went with friends over to Madison County for a book club meeting. Talk about Appalachian Spring! Many of the houses look as old as the hills and show generations of character, with silvered wood and mud for grout between the logs. It’s hard to know how things like the economy affect people who have been living, literally off of and with the land for their entire lives.

The second day back I was giddy at the prospect of putting leafy greens in the garden, perhaps a bit too giddy because I wrenched my ankle flat sideways in the mud and heard a dreadful noise. My first thought was that I had cracked the same ankle I broke 24 years ago but after a couple of minutes of gasping and deep breathing I decided that it was the sound of ligaments giving way rather than a break. I did exactly as the doctor would have ordered, if I’d gone to a doctor- iced it and bound it and kept it up. It was miserable for about 48 hours, both because I couldn’t be up and down the hill, plus it hurt like the dickens but it is much better now, on day four. Still colorful, still braced but mending.

The bears are here- we see evidence of them in our woods and the neighbors report that their feeders are being raided and destroyed. We have ours filled and it is covered all day long with all manner of birds but we take it down at dusk. I had just downloaded iBird Pro in anticipation of the trip to the New River Birding Festival the first of May and now I find myself ticking off bird after bird right here at home. Sophie is not so fond of the audio feature on the application, especially when I try out raptor calls.The hummingbirds are back and all the feeder birds are busy nest building. (A good use for odds and ends of wool and silk. I stuff them in empty produce bags and hang them from the trees. They are a big hit right now; sometimes there is a bit of a set-to over who will get the scrap of sari silk. Luxury living for baby birds, yes?)

All day long they are flitting about with construction materials; the goofy Carolina Wrens have built a nest in the eave near the downspout where I fear it will wash out with the next hard rain. I put up this little felt house this afternoon and within an hour the chickadees started flitting in and out. I’m fairly cautious at the moment and not quick enough to snatch the camera and focus fast so I’ve been missing some great shots. Yesterday in the late afternoon a very playful red fox was in the yard pouncing on things- bugs?- and then chewing them up. (S)he took time to roll around and at one point made a great leap at a butterfly. The shots I did get were pretty blurry. I was hoping the fox would be back today but I got busy hammering a project together so that was a deterrent I think.(Our lawn would be good as a  “before” shot for a Chemlawn advertisement. With the acreage we are content to let the meadow portion run to violets and dandelions and grubs for this lovely (blurry) creature.)

So, we are happy and the cats are happy and it’s both peaceful and humming with life here at the mountain house.

It was a long tunnel. I was going to the light.

And the jack-hammers banging. Where were we? Oh, yes. I had just had an MRI on my brain and was waiting for the results. I guess it doesn’t take a therapist to interpret how it was that I lost my cell phone that I had been carefully clutching all day right when the doctor was due to call to discuss the results.

I had the MRI early in the morning just before leaving Florida for the mountain house where we are now until the end of the year. I had it because I’ve had some unilateral hearing loss in one ear that, upon further investigation, made the neurologist (a whiney little guy who mumbled into his left shoulder words like “tumor”  and “brain scan” while I kept saying, “what? huh? WHAT?”) think that he would like to see what was going on in the far reaches of my brain. MRIs of your brain are miserable hour-long affairs that don’t hurt at all, beyond the needle prick of dye being injected but they surely are uncomfortable. Don’t move, don’t move, don’t move, don’t blink, don’t lick your lips, don’t move and oh, btw, don’t mind the claustrophobia. I wasn’t even going to get the test because I like living in complete and total denial when it comes to things like the possibility of a brain tumor, but then we got notice that our insurance deductible for 2011 is 5000.00 per year. Per person. I was apoplectic.

Eventually I found my phone and sure enough, had missed the call, but finally my doc and I connected. The MRI gives not a single hint as to why my hearing has gone caflooey on the right side- no tumor there, nothing on the cranial nerve that had the neurologist concerned, sinuses are clear. However. About those two areas of demyelination in the left cerebral hemisphere…WHAT? HUH? Apparently those need explaining. There are several sort of semi-alarming possibilities so I have another appointment in January. Maybe. Actually, I don’t need to go to the doctor because I know exactly what they are. One is the spot that keeps me from finishing sentences and the other is the spot that makes it so I can’t remember which movie I saw last week. Frankly, this is not new news and I’ve been living in this slightly adulpated state forever, just ask my children and there is no other symptomatology whatsoever. Except for the punctuation problem. This is again a reminder of why my father’s advice was good: If you get sick, make yourself well again (preferably by working harder). If you think you might be sick, avoid doctors at all cost.

So now, as it stands, I’m partially deaf and totally blind on the right side. I was considering calling one of those social security disability claim lawyers on afternoon television but instead I ordered Oliver Sacks new book, The Mind’s Eye. He writes about the resilient brain and the process of compensation, how people make up for what they have lost. He’s written several other interesting books that I’ve read, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat but this one he wrote after, fairly recently, losing his vision in one eye. I wonder if he’s noticed yet that no matter how well his brain finds ways to compensate for no depth perception or peripheral vision, he will never be able to appreciate those dot pictures they sell at the mall. If he wants, I can give him a tip on how to cheat the peripheral vision part of the driver’s license test. I can also tell him that, should his spouse snore inordinately loud, diminished hearing in one ear has its benefits. Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading the book with my one good eye.

I have some other news to share. Our grandbaby is here to visit. Kellan is our first; he is Rich’s Anna’s 3 month old. This I will share in pictures. And you’ll be either jealous or really happy for us or both.

I tidied up the house, baked the cookies and put up the tree so there would be lights and shiny things to look at…

I made up the guest room, including the crib that is now holding a fifth generation.

And Rich went to the airport to pick them up and this is how happy he is. (This photo makes me all teary happy. Both eyes, incidentally, cry.)

And it’s a whole new world with so many amazing and wonderful things to see.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life…

... It turns what we have into enough, and more.

(The day started with mist hanging over the mountain but became bright and sunny by 10 am)

This Thanksgiving was the first time we were all together at the mountain house. I had those urchins here for the long weekend- Dan and his Sarah came from Ann Arbor. Abby came over from Duke and Misha flew up from Florida where he is finishing his final few weeks of a business degree before he too moves to Durham. I hadn’t seen Rich for a couple weeks as he’s been in Florida and Melissa also came from Michigan. Lots of snuggling! Added to that our best friends from Chicago, Donna and Larry, flew in especially to join us so, all in all, it was one very grand reunion. And if your Thanksgiving was half as wild, fun and high calorie as ours, you’ll be recovering for days. Nine bodies, three meals a day for four days gave the new kitchen a real workout. Plus, all five starter people graze. Constantly. Always. Never on a schedule. Endlessly seeking food (the goopier or crumblier the better) and drink (the stickier the better). Never ending. And then they slept at odd hours and went out at odd hours.  Just to mix things up they dragged out five giant rubbermaid tubs of family photos and spread them absolutely everywhere, screaming with laughter at each other’s bare-naked toddler antics, weeping over dead cats and chinchillas and whining about who had the best baby book (Dan. Abby’s consisted of a calendar with four stickers: Baby Arrives! Baby Comes Home! Baby’s First Smile! Baby sleeps through the night! Poor Abby. I told her she was the better for the second child neglect.) And then they played euchre, played the piano and watched comedy central on TV and then they got restless and went out to listen to Blue Grass music. And came home at 3am to eat more.

(Making cheddar dill scones for, oh, about a hundred.)

Melissa has typically spent Thanksgiving with her mother and family in Missouri. We lucked out having her here with us this year. She works so hard in her life that it was wonderful to watch her relax, sleep, knit, play with McCloud (who is the cat of her teen years) and enjoy the commotion on this side of the family. I still remember her first family meal with us years ago; I think she was sort of shell-shocked with the rambunctious nature of her soon-to-be step sibs. Donna and Larry were our front condo neighbors in Chicago and we miss them constantly. Donna thinks that they may be about all I miss of Chicago. I enjoyed seeing how much they marveled at the peace and quiet and views from here, in contrast to big city life. On the other hand, sans children, they don’t typically have so much indoor noise…(The lot of us, taken with the camera precariously balanced on a mountain of boxes of old photos.)

Everybody went home again Sunday and Rich drove back to Florida with McCloud. (We re-unite in a week when I go down to teach another workshop and then he comes here for half of December  and Christmas and then we return to Florida for the winter, where I will teach at the Morean and get back to those rascally raptors I’ve been missing.) Yesterday I tackled the laundry. Lots of sheets, towels, tablecloths, napkins. I really didn’t mind at all; I used the time folding laundry to reflect on my family and all the life that was in this house over the past few days. This year was a real treat because, although they are all now adults in their own right, they still came together with the energy I loved in them as children. I hope they never flip completely over into the dark side of too-serious adulthood.

(Dan and Sarah. She is so wonderfully calm and a perfect balance for Dan, who sometimes is not. It’s probably because she’s a teacher of children, don’t you know, as well as being a gifted artist. Dan makes her laugh. He makes us all laugh.)

Several things were striking about the weekend, not the least being that my two children are night and day different and yet curiously similar. We say that Dan is completely right brained and Abby left and isn’t it too bad that they each got just half a brain but that is just a joke. They are, of course, well- rounded and delightfully full of personality. Also, intensity. Have I ever mentioned that these two are quite intense? Yes, well, together they almost spontaneously combust as they feed off each other’s humor and wisdom and talents.

(Abby and Misha have spent a semester apart as they continue their educational pursuits and they miss each other a lot. Just a couple more weeks to go and Misha, with English as a second language, 40 hours a week of outside work and credits mangled in transition from Russia, will graduate from USF.)

When Dan first chose the saxophone as his instrument of choice in 5th grade I would often suggest that, really, there was no need for him to practice and if he had to, could he please do it in the garage. I was such a nurturing and supportive mother. I missed this entire episode until I was downloading photos; I must have been down in the garage bringing up more food and drink. When I realized there was a little video on the camera I watched it and laughed and cringed and laughed and cringed. This was so much our life when we all lived under the same roof. With Abby on piano and trumpet and Dan on sax plus anything that he could use to generate sound, there was always a lot of music bordering on noise or vice-versa and I was always on the edge of squealing, “Enough! Stop! Go on! Get!” Actually, not so much on the edge. And yet, despite my efforts to suppress their energy and enthusiasm they appear to have grown up unfazed. And right when I realized they were leaving and Rich fortuitously dropped into my life, that energy and enthusiasm came back. Now, when children and husband unite, it’s a virtual overdose.

The other thing that really hit home was that they have all successfully, happily and responsibly made it into adulthood. They all contribute to making the world a better place as they create music and art, teach children, protect the earth, care for themselves, each other and those in their circles of life. Amazing.

Today it’s raining and gray, the two of us cozy and quiet. Sophie has been sleeping off the commotion and I’ve begun to turn my attention back to my big project of the moment: getting my fiber arts website up and running. I do believe I’m really going to do it within the next few days. Since last we visited, I’ve been to St. Petersburg for a weekend, completed my holiday inventory for the Florida Craftsmen Gallery and turned that over to them. I planted close to a thousand Spring bulbs here in the woods and on the hill. The bears haven’t hunkered down for the winter yet, the birds are lined up endlessly at the feeder and I’m excited to go get a fine North Carolina Fraser fir later this week. Even though I’m not always around here at this haphazard blog (thank you for the nudge, Bonnie dear), life is full and I am too, with gratitude.