My growing up home place was in the Brushy Mountains outside Wilkesboro and N. Wilkesboro, N.C. Keep this city name in mind for there is a treat at the end of this blog.
After high school, I left with my parents to live in Florida. I never expected that I would one day go back to the mountains. Since Fall is my favorite season and unfortunately, in Florida, we only get a few brown leaves in mid-winter, we have to be in the mountains to enjoy that season. Don’t misunderstand for I’m not complaining about the beautiful green, citrus fruit, or warm weather in Florida. It’s still a great place even with the frequent hurricanes.
Riding just a little further up the mountain to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, my husband and I felt it was a wonderful place to enjoy at least for a few months of the year. Winter is a little too cold for us “flat-landers”, as we are sometimes called. The time we stayed on after the Fall to see the first snow, we bundled up like we were in Alaska to take our dog, Gracie, out for her final evening bathroom break. She would stand and stare into the woods, sensing the deer were close by. Their eyes would sometimes shine in the dark…and the wind biting at our noses sent us racing back inside the house.
Nevertheless, I think that the “country girl” was still in me. Coming back to Virginia and North Carolina, it was evident that I had a great affinity for the way of life and the people of these mountains.
Why do I say this? I only know that the people have a warm disposition and a sense of humor that I have not found to such a degree anywhere else around the world. I have been fortunate enough to visit or teach in places like Mongolia, Guatemala, Ukraine, Switzerland, France, and Japan. Still, these hills and the valleys, where a person can look deep into a ravine, keep calling me back. Fourteen cousins and my Uncle John still call the VA-N.C. mountains and foothills their home…so it’s probably a genetic “family thing” as well.
The Blue Ridge has it all…steep mountain cliffs and valleys, rolling hills filled with vegetable crops and orchards of delicious fruit.
The bear, deer, rabbits, and other “critters” also make it their place of residence. The humming- birds fly to the sweet-smelling sugar water put out in the gardens and the rabbits help themselves to whatever… wherever. Speaking of bear, one came up to our front porch to push over and have her fill at our feeder. No longer do we provide such a delicacy.
From my window, I can hear the cows, donkeys and lambs in the fields. At night the stars are clear and brilliant. When the moon is full, the coyotes roam about making their distinctive sound while looking for something to bring back to their little ones in the den.
The Spring along the Blue Ridge Parkway is filled with wild-flowers and the white and pink rhododendron bushes line the road. Small barns, churches, and family graves stand as a testament to those who have lived here in generations past. Some mountain people with roots back to the Civil War, still proudly fly their Confederate flags and dare anyone to tell them that they can’t. They also just as strongly hold to their “guns and their religion.” They are a proud people, that I have found, will come to one’s help at anytime or any hour.
Someone may ask why I am writing about the Fall when it’s Spring and Summer is just around the corner? Perhaps I’m giving an invitation to make your plans now to see this glorious place. Not so long from now, the leaves will flutter about and turn to a deep orange and red. The pumpkins will lay over acres and acres of the hillsides turning the farms into a special hue of gold. The tractors will slowly make their way from the fields to the barns. Sometimes those same tractors take family or friends on flatbeds to enjoy the countryside. Visitors from far and wide stop and take in the breath-taking views of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
It’s also the Fall that brings the people to these mountains.
Maybe my next book will be for all these visitors who come this way … to give them heads up and a little advice to what it’s like to visit or live in the mountains. I’m thinking it will be titled, “What Everyone Needs to Know Before Visiting or Planning to Live in the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
This might be a part of this new book.
“Don’t come thinking that you’ll be treated like in New York City…or Paris…or somewhere. You’ll have to slow down, enjoy English laced with a warm, Southern drawl, and be greeted just like you are family. When you go to a small, family-run restaurant, walk right in, greet the people sitting there with “Hey there. How’s everybody? Got anything good to eat in here?” (Not “Hi There”…for it’s N.Y City sounding to their ears..and remember this is “Rebel” territory.)
They’ll know you aren’t from the Blue Ridge, but they’ll be friendly- like and greet you with some jolly response. Don’t worry if someone comes over to your table and asks your name or finds out what brought you to these parts. When you finish eating, look around, wave and tell everyone, “Goodbye…see you next time!” They’ll appreciate it.
When you drive back to where you are staying and a truck rounds the corner giving you a “one finger wave,” (NOT the middle)… just wave back. They aren’t flagging you down…but saying “Hello.”
Want to know more? Be looking for my book title sometime in the near future on the internet. As I close this blog, I think I will let the Kruger Brothers sing what it’s like to be in “Carolina in the Fall”….and I would also add… Virginia. Hope to see “Y’all” up this way someday.
VIDEO (Turn up sound)
Robert Frost penned this poem, The Road Not Taken. We share it with our readers today as we have just come from a three-hour hike up to and down from the top of Buffalo Mountain in Virginia.
Spring is showing the first light green leaves delicately coming through the branches, leaving a view of the Blue Ridge below. A gentle breeze blows and when finally we reach the peak, the great boulders of rock greet us and make a place for us to rest our weary steps.
The path is filled with little blue flowers as they grow amid the rocks.
It is a path less traveled for most, but one we are glad we found even if our parting words, just like those of Frost, meant that we probably would not be there again.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Robert Frost is a famous and an oft-quoted poet. During his lifetime, he was honored with several prizes which include four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. Frost was born on March 26, 1874. (Wikipedia)
Even though our path today was one filled with the beginning of Spring, the mountains here in the Blue Ridge will fill with lush, summer green and finally make their way into a beautiful Fall…until the first snows begin to drift down onto the paths and roads. Mr. Frost must have, like us, also loved the seasons.
VIDEO credit (Turn up sound) by John C. Catlin
It is my delight to announce my new book, Spencer’s Mill. This last Spring and Summer I began writing this fictional story of the people in the Blue Ridge Mountains who endured the closing of mills both in Virginia and North Carolina. Spencer’s Mill made baby booties and employed many people in the Blue Ridge.
The story is one of suspense and drama, but the setting is of real places along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The people that I interviewed were delightful and interesting in their memories of what it was like to have the mills move away to far away places like Honduras for cheaper labor. They endured the trials and found new ways to survive in the mountains. These are strong people and the characters in the story reflect their culture and values.
I hope you will enjoy my new book. SPENCER’S MILL is the 3rd in a series on the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is now available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon
TAKE A LOOK AT THE PAPERBACK and KINDLE VERSION
From the first time I rode up the steep mountain from North Carolina to Fancy Gap, Virginia, I knew it was a special place. It took, however, living here as a “flat lander” to get to know the mountain people. One may ask, “What is a flat lander?” Those are the people who come from places far south…like Florida.
This “flat lander” had grown up in the Brushy Mountains of North Carolina and later in the Winston-Salem area. I was blessed with a big family…about 15 first cousins and many aunts and uncles…in that area, but my parents moved away from the cold of the mountains to the warmth of Florida. It took me over 50 years to return to my roots…even if for a few months of the year.
I found more than I had expected….a whole way of life that I now call the “Mountain Way”. It first became clear to me when my husband and I were looking for a second, get-away place in the Virginia area. The realtor who showed us around drove us in a 4-wheeler up a steep mountain that leveled out onto a pasture land with a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge. (In case the Blue Ridge is new to any of my readers, it is a stretch of mountains running over 400 miles through several southern states. The building of this wonderful place is another story, but briefly it was to give the people work during the depression. The wonderful rock bridges; scenic overlooks and miles of blooming rhododendron is worth the trip. Dogwoods blossom in the spring and there seems to be waves of trees and flowering bushes that make their entrance to the place known as the Blue Ridge Parkway.)
Back to my first introduction to the mountain way. The realtor stopped the car and a farmer who was bailing his hay made his way up slowly in our direction. No one introduced us, but the farmer and the realtor began an extensive discussion about his land. This conversation seemed to be quite long about almost nothing to those of us flat landers who like to get things done quickly. We sat quietly and listened. Finally something was mentioned about my early years down the mountain…in N.C. and all of my relatives there. There was a complete change of mood…and accepting smiles. We found out that the realtor knew what he was doing because in the mountains it is customary to “visit a while” before getting down to business.
Family relations mean everything to the mountain people. I was to find out that many of the old farms date back before the Civil War. One young man told us that his family was given hundreds of acres by the King of England, before the Revolutionary War. This land remains in his family until this day. One can see scattered around the hills little family cemeteries.
Mountain people, we are told, are glad that the outsiders come to the mountains…enjoy the area…and spend their money to help an ailing economy, but they have “about all the friends they need.” Almost everyone is related to someone…or if they are not, they have grown up with them and know all the family members.
These warm and friendly people are strong in their beliefs…as this is also known as the Bible Belt. Faith is important. When a politician made a remark about people “clinging to their guns and Bibles”. A truer statement could have not been made…even if it was said with some sarcasm. Even recently, we noticed that when the controversy about the Confederate flag made the people of the mountain think that their southern history was being attacked, the few Confederate flags suddenly became many flags being flown from porches or alongside the American flag. “Don’t tell us what should be politically correct here in the south….and don’t even think about taking away our guns!” one might hear a mountain man or woman say. While living here, we have not seen racial bias…which is not to say there isn’t any. One thing is certain. These are a strong people… a proud people…with mountain ways which anyone who plans to live here will be smart to learn and appreciate.
The mountain people have dug their roots deep into the soil. They are unpretentious and comfortable in who they are. It may be the older men who sit around at the local store passing the time or the hefty man in bib overalls talking on his cell phone about getting the cooler ready for a side of beef. Everyone shares their vegetables of corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach and some things I didn’t know grew in the ground. Almost each time my husband returned from choir practice, he had a bag full of the latest items grown in someone’s garden.
Mountain stories and the history of the area tell of tough times when people tackled the cold of winter while raising huge families down in some of the mountain passes and hollows (low place in the mountain known as a “holler”). There are places with names like Buffalo Mountain, Fancy Gap, Groundhog Mountain and more than one can remember of gaps and passes. (*see history books below) The deer roam freely and stop their eating to stare at those of us passing by.
We had only just moved into our Virginia house when a man came down the road asking if we had seen his cow? It appeared that the cow had gotten through the fence…as did a very large, black bull that also came down our road. People in the mountains help each other…even the flat landers. Our neighbors arrived from Florida one snowy day and could not get up their steep driveway. Hearing the spinning tire noise, it was not long before another mountain neighbor came with his tractor to pull them the rest of the way up the drive.
Ever hear of the two finger way? Almost all mountain people use it. This means, regardless of who it may be…the passing driver will raise his two fingers off the stearing wheel to give a little wave as the other driver passes. My first impression of that was, “Do we know them?” The answer of course is “no”…but it is the friendly mountain way.
Music is a wonderful part of the mountains. Tonight we rode the parkway to the Music Center to hear a concert of country music along with the “blue grass” strumming of banjo, guitar, bass, and more. One of the best of the best is a gentleman named Wayne Henderson. Mr. Henderson has a tiny workshop where he makes guitars. These are so sought after that a person may wait years to get one…and at a very hefty price. He is a man of the mountains who has been honored for his contribution and preservation of mountain music…even playing in Carnegie Hall.
Below is a video that I’d like to share with you because this blog may become a book if I continue. The fact is I may write more about my experiences here in the mountains where the August temperature moves easily from 65-75 degrees, with a cool mountain breeze. Today this “flat lander” is glad to be in the mountains…enjoying the mountain ways and the wonderful people here.
Wayne Henderson video:
History books about the Blue Ridge areas found on Amazon.
The Man Who Moved a Mountain by Richard Davids
The great areas of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina have the sound of “down-home” music that they have been playing for many years. The music, through festivals and sing-along jamborees is being passed down from generation to generation. Yes, kids and teens have found it to be “cool”! No, the ones you will see on the video are not southern boys…but New Jersey kids who know how to really play blue grass.
My family has roots in the Carolina mountains. My Great Grandfather not only served in the Confederate Army, but was a self-proclaimed country doctor, who was credited for saving lives when people did not know how to bring down fevers. He wrapped them in wet sheets and many of them lived to farm, sing, and strum another day. For me, personally, there’s nothing like looking out over the blue mountain range…and feeling the breeze in the face. The fog rolls in and the thunder careens back and forth between the bluish, purple hills.
Much of the music stems from faith…tradition…and songs and dances that were brought by those coming to the New World. Below are some videos I think you will enjoy:
First of the fiddling boys and then a history of the Blue Ridge area.
History of Blue Grass Music in Virginia and North Carolina: