Tag Archives: botany

Autumn in Tennessee

Autumn opened its eyes, smiled, still half asleep, and rolled over.

At least, that is what it felt like.

We had a spell of cool weather, unseasonably, bizarrely cool, but lovely. Right on its edge, I thought I caught the scent of Autumn. There is no smell like it, no smell that quickens my blood that much. It is like the breath of God entering my lungs and enlivening the spirit He once breathed into me.

August, in my hometown, is hot, oppressive, and usually muggy (though we are in a mild drought this time). 30+ years living here, and indeed, further south where it is worse, have not helped me to like summer weather.

There are things I like about summer. The food is great, the greens of the landscape are rich, some of my favorite wildflowers put on a show and there are awesome insects and migratory birds everywhere. The other day I saw a clearwing moth, and just yesterday, I watched two female ruby-throated hummingbirds compete over coral honeysuckle, native salvia and a feeder.  And cicadas. I revel in summer cicada-song! But the heat and humidity wear me down quickly, and I run inside to escape.

The three other seasons, though, make up for the heaviness. For one thing, our seasons are pretty evenly spaced, around 3 months apiece. Spring, instead of being a brief link between winter and summer, is a long stretch of flower successions, greening, warming, and rain. It smells of sap and clean earth and breaks through the grays of winter with sharp, vibrant splashes of yellow, purple and white. Then, as the green begins to show, red, orange and blue mix in with the first colors, like a Fauve painting.

Winter, here, has little in the way of snow or persistent ice (though we always get some) but it is filled with opalescent grays, fawn-browns, and frost. A hillside covered with mostly deciduous trees looks like the speckled flank of a sleeping beast with a long, soft, gray-brown winter coat. It is subtle, and yet beautiful, like the many grays of the limestone sky. And in the morning, as I go to work in the dark, the street-lights set lawns and leaves sparkling with frost. It is as if every surface of the world is covered in glitter, and the smell of frost quickens the cold air.

But autumn. It leaves the rest behind. For some reason, the season of dying is life-giving to me. Sumac is the first to turn, a brilliant scarlet, brighter than flame or blood. The sugar-maples, perhaps the most spectacular, create a spectrum that runs from green, through yellows and oranges and into red, all at the same time. They look like shards of living rainbow. Sweetgums turn dark crimson, purple and black. Each tree species (and sometimes each tree) has its pattern and its method, and we have well over 100 species here. Some non-evergreens even retain their dead leaves to whisper through the winter, shedding them only when the new growth arrives in the spring.

One of my favorite species, eastern red cedar (which is actually a juniper) is an evergreen, though it takes on a winter sheen of dark bronze.

But if it were just about visual wonder, Spring and Autumn would be equally loved by me. They are not.

Spring breaks into winter just when I am weary of the gray. It is welcome and enlivening. But there is something about Autumn air. It blows across my mind, causing the embers there to redden, dusting away the white ash until flames flicker to life. It sparks my creativity, my well-being, my life. The taste we had recently whetted my appetite for that rare wind. I am never satisfied, it is never enough. Even in this place, that has a long autumn, it is too brief.

But for that short time, every year, I seem to touch something beyond myself. Perhaps it really is a time when the boundaries between worlds grows thin. I do not fear fairies, or the dead. What I feel coming near is different from that. It is the Christian song. I feel like I breathe in eternity, that eternity that is already here, present within me, but that I do not fully understand. Not yet. Not yet, but one day. Until that day, I have the contradictions, the mystery, a keyhole through a door.

Autumn, dying and living, curling up to sleep, comfort in fear, but not a vulgar fear as of being afraid. I am not afraid, but my heart is racing. It is so hard to express.  I think C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are right about that desire. The desire I feel that is soothed a little in this world, but never satisfied, the hunger for the excitement of adventure coupled with the comfort of coming home, that contradiction in my soul during Fall, fear and comfort, excitement and peace, thrill and balm.

I think of Bilbo Baggins. That journey at my feet, the road tugging at me, that song in the wind. Maybe that is why Bilbo’s song always brings me tears, good tears, and makes me think of Autumn.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

-J. R. R. Tolkien: From Bilbo, in The Hobbit and (the last stanza) Lord of the Rings.



*I’ve been told that this post can easily be taken as disrespectful to other beliefs. If you find it so, I apologize. That was not my intent.


Of flowers and world-building

I am no J.R.R. Tolkien. The thought of even trying to create something as deep and profound as his Arda makes me want to give up.

Still, world-building is important even when one is not writing about a fictional world. If I write about my home city, I still have to build it into the story for the benefit of people who do not know it.

But the truth is, I am not writing about my home, or even my world. A while back I made the decision, rightly or wrongly, to not fear using elements from Earth. This may cause confusion (and a major re-write) later on, but my thought-process went something like this:

I am writing in English, with the characters speaking English, which means I am already acting as a translator (because it would make no sense for these people to speak English).

Moreover, these people are human, which begs all kinds of questions on a world which is not Earth.

I borrow from cultures around me (one must begin somewhere, and “write-what-you-know” applies to fantasy and sci-fi, too).

It makes sense to borrow ecology, weather-patterns, geology and other world aspects, as well, for two reasons: 1. I am not clever enough to come up with a working world whole-cloth  and 2. if I manage to make it all up, I lose all of the rich symbolism and cultural significance that already exists in our world (and therefore needs a lot less explaining).

Ok, then, I will go ahead and write the story around what I know and go from there.

My reasoning might be quite flawed. I would love for you to chip in and discuss it with me, if world-building interests you.

So, what has this to do with flowers?

Floriography is a word for a tradition found in several cultures in which plants or flowers are used to convey meaning or even a message. It’s fascinating, though not very reliable. Even in the same culture, some flowers have very different meanings, and when a flower’s meaning relies on its color or variety, things get even more complicated.

In the cultural history of my home state, both indigenous and colonial, this symbolism sometimes reaches the level of belief or superstition. Instead of symbolizing something, a flower or plant is thought to be a vessel of the thing itself. That kind of superstition has bled into my writing and is becoming a significant thread in the narrative.

The thing is, I don’t agree with many of the “meanings” given to flowers in the past. That isn’t an indictment of tradition, but a mere matter of taste. For my story, different significances and superstitions may be needed, and to that end, I am creating a new floriography as I go along. If this ever happens to be published, such a list will probably be in Appendices for those who are interested.

So, you see, my world-building is rather haphazard. Some things echo Earth (oh, hey! There’s an oak-tree and some raspberries, and is that person singing Wildwood Flower?) and some things diverge (there are several fictional plants already, plus, you know, mythological beasties and stars and more than one moon…).

Why am I telling this to the internets? Well, I am looking for thoughts and opinions on this matter. I can’t make a good, informed decision on anything without input. So, what are your opinions and preferences when it comes to world-building? Are you a stickler for consistency? Do you try to science out if the place you are reading about is Earth (past, present, future, parallel)? Do you like fictional worlds to be completely new and interesting? Do you like familiarity? Do you even notice when there’s an oak-tree in T’naké’lorilin’arpa’liél?

For me, I think what is most important is whether or not the world, in and of itself, makes sense/works. I am not above or beyond changing my opinion, though.

While I Ruminate

There are several posts brewing in my brain. A couple focus on my experiences writing and my opinions on writing theory, one on my current theological study, my thoughts on the recent Tolkien Fanfiction film, and perhaps one on recent personal experiences.

None of them are ready for perusal, and so I plan to share a few random things and then bore you with my plant-nerd ravings. It is winter, here, and the coldest we have had in some time. In short, it is the time when gardeners dream.

But for those who are indifferent to plants, I will leave that until the end and offer you a few new links in my sidebar.

The humorous: From the makers of that Wolverine Music Video I posted, I give you Glove and Boots! If you need something light and silly, filled with puppets, and made for nerds (especially those spawned in the 80’s, like me), then you will want to spend some time watching.

Art: In the last post, I also linked a post about Joel Cooper’s Origami masks, but I failed to link his blog. It is filled with astounding!

For Writers: I’ve had the link to this rabbit-hole on my sidebar for a while, but one of my upcoming posts will focus on the subject of tropes and cliches, so it is worth pointing out. This is a very useful post for writers, storytellers, and story-lovers everywhere, but I warn you, it is highly addictive. Another useful link for writers and curious minds, a blog by someone in my own profession of Government Information Librarianship, is the Writer’s Guide to Government Information.

For Linguaphiles:  My fellow word geeks, I offer a link to the Online Etymology Dictionary and the Phrase Finder, which has more than just phrases.

For history and story-telling geeks, like me, there is a website (one among many) with collections of American folklore and stories. It is further broken down into sub-categories, and yes, it includes all of America, not just the United States of.

Do you like critters? What about photography? At work, I keep my desktop cycling through beautiful images, and I get a lot of them here, at the National Wildlife Foundation. A bit of plant nerdiness… If you like animals and want to help them survive the constant changes in our landscapes, consider turning your yard into a certified wildlife habitat. If that is too much for you to bite off, then you can still do little things, like keeping a clean bird-bath, adding some native plants (which do a better job of supporting wildlife than exotics) to your garden, or building a brush pile, which supplies both food and shelter for many.

Plant and story nerd combine: This is a book on the Folklore of Plants.  Fascinating stuff, at least to me.

Now I start talking about plants and gardening.

My interest in gardening (late to develop, even though my mother is a brilliant gardener) was born out of my fascination with my local ecology and the native plants it rests on. Thus my current obsession with the cooperative blogs Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens and Beautiful Wildlife Garden is no surprise.

This is what has me daydreaming.

You may or may not know that, apart from roofs and pavement, a lawn is one of the most barren areas created in our developments. It’s close-woven, often exotic, and is shorn to where it offers little food and no shelter to anything.

Basically, more lawn = fewer animals, arthropods, and birds. It’s a sad equation.

I’m not saying we should eliminate all lawns and cropped fields. I like playing on a lawn as much as the next girl, and my dog does, too. However, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t use much of my lawn, and that unused part could easily be turned into something prettier and more useful to critters.

So, this summer, I am going to start the process of eliminating my front lawn.

In order to prevent my neighbors from having a conniption, I have to keep things under some control. I am going to build a path and be very mindful of what I plant where. Both for beauty and wildlife-value, I need a succession of blooms. I want some things that look nice in winter, too. It’s easier on birds and bugs if I don’t cut down my plants for the winter, so things that look particularly messy are probably not the best choices.

I want mostly native plants, because my birds and beasts and bugs are adapted to them, but I have my favorite non-natives as well. Daffodils, cultivated iris, crocus, a peony and even a non-native morning-glory (there are native varieties).

I want to attract birds of various kinds, including hummingbirds (which, by the way, eat insects), and cedar waxwings. Also, I want to provide not only adult food, but larval food for various butterflies, moths and bees. I’m the sort of person who also loves spiders, snakes, lizards and other creepy-crawlies, so the more the better.

To this end, I have some things already planted. A southern wax myrtle, black-eyed susans, butterfly weed, false indigogoldenrod, Mistflower, and native honeysuckle among others.

My list of plants to acquire is long. I want more kinds of milkweed, for butterflies, yarrow, and most of all, yaupon hollies.

Hopefully, in a few years, I will have many more critters to see and enjoy in my yard, the good, the bad and the ugly. Then, I will turn my furious attention to my back yard, where I hope to install a small pond and a bat-box.

One more thing. If what I am talking about is all Greek to you, maybe this post will give you a little idea: Vivian’s Meadow.

I will now stop tormenting you with my musings. I hope you found something interesting in this post. Peace be yours!

Five things

My delightfully contentious blogging friend, Sharon, recently posted 5 things that she had run across recently that she wanted to discuss with people: 5 things  that I’d like to talk about.  Shaking people up and making them think is an excellent action and very necessary to the growth and health of individuals and society. It’s hard work, thinking, and sometimes we have to have a fire lit under our toes to make us do it.

However, Sharon and I see eye-to-eye on a lot of topics from the love of God to issues of feminism (yes, I am a feminist. I promise it’s not a bad word if you understand what it means. Ask me!). I’m pretty sure she and I would come down on the same side of any of those discussions, and some of them involve listening to people or reading things that would only make me angry. Given what I said above, about thinking, I should probably put forth the effort.

The truth is, I am weary, physically and mentally. I feel a little guilty, that little voice in my head is calling me “coward,” but this time I am giving myself leeway. 2013 was a bit of a marathon for me. I need to recoup. I’ve barely been here for the month of December, and my friends on e-mail probably wonder if I have fallen into a sinkhole.

So, somewhat selfishly, I asked Sharon to share something different.

I feel that the best response to her kindness would be to post five things that have made me feel better over the past few weeks.

Wolverine the Musical

Ok, so, yes, I discovered this a while ago, but I still return to it when I need a good laugh. Glove and Boots!

Origami Masks by Joel Cooper

Mask inspired by ancient statuary, shaped from folded paper.  All I really have to say to this is ‘holy raving Jabberwoky.’ I love making masks, but artistry like this is beyond me. I love it!


The American Chestnut

I am a plant-nerd, so I care about such things. Feel free to roll your eyes at me and move on.

In the early 1900’s, a blight from Asia was accidentally introduced to the U.S.A. Over the next 30 or so years, it all but obliterated what was then one of the dominant trees of our Eastern forests, the American Chestnut. I won’t bore you with details, but the result was catastrophic to humans and wildlife alike.

In 1983, the American Chestnut Society was formed. Since then they have worked with the few remaining American Chestnuts and the blight-resistant Chinese Chestnut, attempting to breed an American Chestnut tree that can survive the blight. Recent progress has opened the possibility of my seeing American Chestnuts growing in our woods in my lifetime.

In a world where many of my favorite native plants and animals are under serious threat, where exotic-invasives, pollution, and thoughtless development present seemingly insurmountable obstacles to my local ecosystems, the prospect of an actual victory is like a lantern in a cave. It makes me so happy I could cry.

Stranger in a Strange Land: Ender’s Game, its controversial author, and a very personal history, by Rany Jazayerli

This article is somewhat controversial, and very long, but thoughtful and worth the read. I discovered it through my brother and it made me think, but in an encouraging way, and I will tell you why.

There are a lot of issues wrapped up in this. How people change over time, how it is not wise to condemn everything a person says or has ever said because part of it goes against your own views or beliefs, that the most important part of anything said or written may lie in the interpretation rather than the intent, and that people are flawed. Jumping on the rage-button really is counter-productive. It circumvents thought.

But what I found encouraging is something of a rabbit-trail.  I am flawed. Yes, I know, everyone is, but I live with my flaws daily and sometimes they loom very large in my vision. This article reminded me of something that is, I think, important for writers to remember:

I and my work are two different things.

Maybe my flaws will manifest in my work. That does happen. Hopefully my strengths will,  too. But maybe, God willing, people who read my work will find things there, hopefully good things, that transcend me, my flaws, and even my strengths. Writing depends on the reading. There’s cause for fear. Fear of being misunderstood runs deep in me. But not all misunderstanding is bad, I guess. There is encouragement in that thought. ‘


Finally, I give you the singing light:

Sometimes we just get lucky and catch the light. I wish I had a better copy of this picture on hand. I may try and update it later.

Singing light


The other day a fellow blogger payed me a compliment. Referring to the blip on my gravatar profile, he said that I am “not merely ‘another tree in the proverbial forest.'”

I am honored by his opinion.  Yet I do not agree.

Where most folks notice deer, or birds, or even people, I notice trees. Persimmon mosaics, scarlet oaks like frozen lightning, sycamores like living bone, loblolly pines with their spicy scent, some old, some young, twisted, smooth, and each with an intricate story. They remind me a lot of people.

Thinking I am like a tree, then, is no false humility. It would be base pride, save that the people in my life remind me, constantly, that there is a vast forest around me. This forest is amazing, wonderful and terrible. It contains horrors I cannot wrap my mind around, and feats of love and bravery (large and small) that astound me.

The tricky thing about being a “tree” is trying to figure out where you fit in the forest. A maple trying to be an oak won’t get very far, and will commit the crime of failing to be a maple.

My friend Emily Landham and her friend Lauren Carpenter recently had the courage, when faced with the overwhelming horror of modern-day Slavery, to ask themselves what they could do. They have the wisdom to know that they are not prepared, equipped or called to do all that needs to be done. So, instead, they sought out a way to use their own strengths in the fight. I will let them speak for themselves:

t-615 is our response to join and advance the abolition of modern day slavery. The victims must remain silent to survive, so we must do the shouting. We will use our creativity to share their story. Specifically, we will wear their story. We invite you to do the same. Twenty-five percent of our profits go to safe houses around the world where rescued victims are loved, protected and empowered to embrace their freedom. Together we can be a voice for those forced to silence. We can raise funds for those who are equipped to rescue, to protect, to heal, to council.  –t-615 website

I will only add this: I see integrity and dedication to the cause in my friend. She is diligent in seeking the best way to make the funds raised by t-615 directly impact victims of human trafficking. She is using her gifts, and I am supporting her with mine.

We need your strengths, too.

I am number 82. My mother is number 8.

I am a number, I am a tree, I am a person.

Photo by Harry K. Whitver

Photo by Harry K. Whitver

p.s. I didn’t realize until I published it, but this is my 82nd post. Wow.

Ottawa around Parliament

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Round two of my pictures from Canada posts! This is going to focus on Ottawa, in the area around Parliament. Other sights of Ottawa will appear in the next post.

My first impression of Canada’s capitol city is that it is very beautiful. It has an open feel to it which I like.  I was constantly distracted by interesting architecture, only some of which I am able to share here.

The above photograph is my best shot of the locks of the Rideau Canal, next to the Bytown Museum. None of my pictures of that old building pleased me, therefore I give you a link to their website. I enjoyed the museum, but the best part was the interaction between my party and a staff member taking surveys.  I won’t bore you with the story (it was funnier in person) but my friend and I met up with an Australian couple we know (and later with another friend from the U.K. who lives in Canada), which caused some surprise and confusion throughout the rest of our trip.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012
I took this one for you, Mom. Be amused!

As one might expect, there are some royals around Parliament. Here is Queen Victoria in the most ornate statue arrangement I saw. There is a lion and a lady with garlands at her feet.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012
And this one’s for you too, Mom! ;)

The current monarch, Elizabeth II, has a more subtle (and awesome) representation. Does Queen E. II ride? I am fairly ignorant of the doings of current royalty.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

There are many statues of Canadian leaders as well. Here, we have Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of the Fathers of Canadian Confederation, and a victim of assassination.  Gulls do not care about such things.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

The young lady below, however, is on the case. She is primly trying to inform McGee that he has something on his head.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Sadly, I have no idea what this delightfully round building behind Parliament (and facing McGee) is, but I love the colorful stonework, and am a sucker for anything that smacks of Gothic Architecture.  Pardon me while I drool over the arched windows and small flying buttresses.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Being Canada, there were members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police around, though few in formal attire. I felt a little bad for these gentlemen, as they were constantly stopped by tourists asking to have a picture taken with them. …and yes, I was one of those people. I am duly ashamed.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Parliament! The sky makes a gorgeous background, no? Again, Gothic arches and decorative stonework (though no flying buttresses).

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

I honestly did not notice the street performer until after I took this shot, but what a perfect touch! Luck of the camera, I guess. I was trying to capture the metalwork on the roof of this bit of the Parliament buildings. It is light and lacy, a strange contrast to the heavy stone structures.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

And here is a poor shot of a gorgeous door. I need to sit down with my camera’s manual and figure out the settings. I know I am not using it to its full potential.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Now I will delve into the stonework on the Parliament buildings. Here, over the main entrance, we have the national animal of Canada, the beaver. Below him, on the posts of the door, are the lion and the unicorn. If it hadn’t been for another carving I will show, this would have been my favorite.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

This guy speaks for himself.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Almost every niche and nook had some interesting carvings. Being the plant-lover that I am, I was thrilled by the variety of flora depicted.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Weird, but great.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

And this. This is the piece that transfixed me! I literally obsessed about getting the perfect shot of it. Just ask my bemused friend. This snail, so beautifully textured, was near the main entrance. I am so glad my friend was with me, because she allowed me to drop briefly out of the line for our tour in order to take this picture. Thank you, my friend, for putting up with me!

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

I took few good pictures inside. Again, I need to figure out the settings on my camera. I cut off the bottom of this picture because there are people in it. I like to avoid posting pictures of random strangers without their permission. This will give you an idea, though, of the beautiful architecture inside. There is also much stained glass.

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Halberd window. Need I say more?

Photograph by Jubilare, 2012

Last and smallest but not least to me. Some stonecrop amid the stones. I took this at the tail end of the changing of the guard ceremony. It takes a ridiculously long time and a lot of formalities to change the guard before the Canadian Parliament; too long to hold my deficient attention, I fear. The tartans were great, though.

Mountain Song

When I die, if I do so before the coming of my Lord, bury me in the sandy loam of the Smoky Mountains.

Golden sand worn from the peaks fills gaps between fallen leaves and makes  patterns in impatient creeks. Touch the stones, run the sand through your hand and you will hear them whisper in the language of mankind before the Tower of Babel, the tongue from before the breaking of words.

I have heard it said, usually by folks from the West where young, fractious mountains reach skywards, that the Smokies are too low, too unimpressive to be “real” mountains.  I can only laugh. Certainly the Rockies, the Cascades and their western siblings possess the energy and power of youth.  Just so, the Smokies once were young, volatile, and dramatic. In the way of all ancient things, they traded the glory of youth for the majesty of age.  Aeon echos in the hollows and the coves, and shows in the sand and on the smooth-worn stones. Mountains endure.

If slanting, many-hued boulders, chunks of quartz, caves and sand were all of the Smokies, the mountains would awe, but not renew me. Far from withering in their age, they are covered with life as with blizzard snows, layer on layer. As I walk, a hemlock tree dusts my shoulder, a pine rises, scaly and straight, and an  oak holds its branches, like frozen lightning, over me. Mosses and lichens coat stone and soil, save where mushrooms break through, or leaves lie too thick. A dogwood spangles the understory, answered by a partridgeberry creeping across the loam. Aster, firepink, trillium and indian-pipe hide around corners to surprise me, while dark rhododendrons and laurels weave their branches into nests for the ghost of Noah’s raven.

I can sit with my back against the fossils of the long-lost sea and watch an island colony of grasses and flowers thrive on a boulder mid-stream. Across the water, a low cliff recalls the violence that tore it from surrounding bedrock and left it tilted with its flank bare. That flank is veined with quartz and streaked with iron and coal. The gravel of the stream below looks like sunken treasure with rocks for gold and bronze and fish for silver and jewels. Then there are the dragonflies.

There are footprints of animals in the muddy places, feathers and bones here and there. Often enough, the creatures themselves can be seen, despite their wary quickness. The birds converse noisily and the streams are quietly full of life. I know of a place where an old truck lies moldering, doubtless used by log-poachers venturing into the park, and abandoned for reasons forgotten. There are bullet holes in the cab, but whether from target-practice or a shoot-out, who knows? The engine sits beside the truck, rusted and covered with leaves. There is a bird’s nest in the cavity of one headlight.

That is one part-hidden thing about the Smokies. Their history is interwoven loveliness and brutality. Human suffering has not been absent, nor the ravaging of beauty and plenty in ignorance or greed. Both have visited often, and visit still. The mountains shrug. The signs of anguish and destruction are assimilated. For all our destruction, even smashing the mountains’ heads with explosives (what crimes humans commit for profit), Time is on the mountains’ side. Perhaps their history is so long and deep that our short time on them encompasses only a few lines in a book of many volumes. Insignificant.

The mountains have a brutality all their own, the natural cruelty of the natural world. Their allure would shame Helen of Troy, their gentleness comforts many a forlorn heart, and their caprice has often broken and killed. Many believe that there are ghosts in the mountains. If so, there is good reason. Yet I love the mountains enough to haunt them myself, at least while I live.

There are secrets as closely hidden as ghosts. I have learned some, and shall never learn all.  In a certain season, under right conditions beneath the thick trees at night, the blue-ghost fireflies wake. They are will-o-the-wisps, faint points of steady, cold light drifting a foot or two above the forest floor.  I have seen them more than once, and every time I feel I am in a world between worlds and beyond time.

And then there is the world below, with graceful creatures born in profound darkness. Into narrow passages, muddy pits, cold depths and palaces of lonely glory, life has made its way. The mountains are so riddled with holes and running water that it is a wonder they stand. No one knows the full measure of those caverns, caves and chasms.

There are as many secrets of the light. Flowers, rarely seen, bloom along the high trails and in what remains of the old-growth forests. Trees with more character than the most colorful human are not difficult to find, nor are rock-faces that bend and buckle to make mosaics more fascinating than the Byzantines.  Salamanders in jewel-colors hide among the rocks and leaves. There are sheer walls thick with colonies of moss and flower, and streams that curve and tumble through labyrinthine channels in long-suffering boulders. I know a place where reindeer lichen and thick moss wage a quiet, endless war.  In short, there is no inch of sameness, no possibility of monotony.

Old and young are seamlessly interwoven in these mountains, and memory and present life merge.  But in the end, they are just mountains, aren’t they?

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