This blog is where I can pour out my heart with my longing for God.

Posts tagged ‘nature’

The Old Paths: It’s Snowing in Pinnacle!

**This was originally published on Thursday, July 14, 2011, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

southerners-and-snowIt’s snowing in Pinnacle. Those were magic words when I attended South Stokes High School. Even now I get a childlike, anticipatory feeling when I think about that phrase. Funny how some things become so etched in your psyche that years later they can still unconsciously elicit a certain response from you—like passing through the Mall and smelling a particular cologne which makes you suddenly remember your 11th grade summer romance and the boy who wore that scent. Or hearing a certain song on the radio that transports you back to junior high days when that song was in vogue.

“It’s snowing in Pinnacle” does that to me—brings back a feeling of being at South Stokes High School, laboring through the post-holiday January doldrums, seeing the school year stretch endlessly on with no break in sight—Easter vacation merely a dim mirage on the monotonous horizon.

Then suddenly the bell rings, you head for the lockers and someone whispers as you pass by, “It’s snowing in Pinnacle.” The involuntary response is immediate—a rush of adrenaline, increased heart rate, goofy smile to the lips, a new spring in the step. You want to dive into the collective pool of eager anticipation, so as you undo your combination lock, you turn to the member of your homeroom just next to you. “Did you hear it’s snowing in Pinnacle?”

Pretty soon the buzz is swarming through the crowded halls. You go to your next class, and the poor befuddled teacher wonders where the sudden hyperactivity came from. Everyone is joking and laughing, just waiting for the intercom to click on and the principal to say that school will soon be letting out. It was a given—snow in Pinnacle, early dismissal.

snow-school-cancellation-ncSometimes people started the “snow in Pinnacle” rumor just to be funny, which wasn’t funny at all. Don’t mess with a bunch of bored high school students who have just completed two glorious weeks of Christmas vacation at home—sleeping late, watching TV and snacking on holiday goodies. Don’t tell them it’s snowing in Pinnacle unless you know for sure that winter weather is definitely in the area. You know what happened to the boy who cried wolf.

I distinctly remember the letdown on the occasions when we realized, “It’s not snowing in Pinnacle after all. You won’t be able to get out of that biology test in fourth period. You are stuck here for the long haul.”

But more often than not, the “snow in Pinnacle” rumor was true, and it was only a matter of time before the county office made that longed-for decision to close the schools for the rest of the day. As the Scarecrow says in The Wizard of Oz, “What joy, what rapture!”

You see, when snow was sighted in the northwest portion of Stokes County—namely Pinnacle—it didn’t matter if it was 70 degrees in Pine Hall or sunny in Walnut Cove. The powers that be had to make a decision based on the safety of each and every student, so the well-being of the Pinnacle students had to be considered even if the weather was clear in Germanton. There were times I went home early with nary a flake of snow where I lived in the far southeast corner of Stokes. I envied those lucky Pinnacle people who were probably sledding down their driveways, but I was still glad to be out of school nonetheless.

(When I write a column like this, I imagine the wrath of school officials who will say that I am encouraging children to dislike school. On the contrary, I personally loved school—so much so that I went on to teach it. But come on, people, admit it. Early dismissal for a weather-related purpose, as long as everyone stays safe on the roads, is an exciting thing for kids. Bear with me, and pretend you are 10 years old again!)

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For years, I’ve randomly gone up to fellow South Stokes alumni, especially in the heat of summer, and said, “It’s snowing in Pinnacle.” Almost always I get a laugh and a comment that they, too, remember those magical words.

I’ve wondered for a long time just how far back this “snow in Pinnacle” thing goes. So, this past summer, I decided to take matters into my own hands by conducting an informal poll at Lion’s Park in Walnut Cove. I found people as far back as Class of ’72 who remembered the comment. I located some as young as Class of ’95 who chuckled along with me in remembrance. This distinctly South Stokes phenomenon spans many years.

I wonder if the North Stokes people had a similar phenomenon. And do the West Stokes folks have any such tradition? Is “It’s snowing in Pinnacle” still a relevant statement in the county schools today? When winter weather creeps in from Surry County to Pinnacle, I figure we still have to close all of the county schools, regardless of tropical weather in Sandy Ridge.

And so to all of you current Stokes County students, may your snow days be just enough to give you a needed break every now and then (but not so many as to tack on extra days in June), may your travels home after weather-related early dismissals be safe, and may you always feel those butterflies in your stomach the way I did when I heard the whisper, “It’s snowing in Pinnacle.”

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The Old Paths: Late Summer’s Lament

**This was originally published on Thursday, September 4, 2014, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

summer-wiped-out-by-waveIt was the red leaves in late August that got me. All around, the landscape screams, “SUMMER!” but there is something in the atmosphere that whispers, “Fall.” The green leaves that abound can’t quite screen out the occasional reds that are appearing. Golden flowers are flourishing on the roadside—a sure sign of summer’s last hurrah. In my yard, the sweet birdsong of spring and early summer has been replaced by the raucous cawing of crows.

I don’t like it.

Go ahead and tell me how much you love autumn. Try to convince me with the promise of community chicken stews and church Brunswick stews. Tempt me with the lure of vivid blue skies free of summer’s haze and a morning nip to the air. I’ll even agree that I love the fall foliage, football and hot spiced cider.

But I always miss summer once its swan song is sung.

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Perhaps it’s that touch of claustrophobia that sometimes threatens me. It makes my toes cringe to think of surrendering their flip-flop freedom to the confined spaces of boots and tennis shoes. My skin does not want to give up the bareness of shorts and sleeveless shirts for the smothering enclosure of thick jeans and heavy sweaters.

I guess I just don’t like to be confined in any way—not even in my house. Due to my career as a writer, I’m already chained indoors to my computer too much. At least in late spring and summer, I can occasionally retire to the lawn chair on my deck, the trees providing me with shade as summer’s breeze brings relief on all but the hottest d
ays.

Although autumn in the South still provides enough nice weather for outdoor activities, the barefoot early mornings on my deck will soon be a memory. The late nights of lying on the trampoline to stargaze with my little boy will be relegated to the old paths as autumn’s chill gradually sneaks in. I start to see myself searching for a coat to wear even to the mailbox, my warm breath making “smoke” in the frosty air.summer-over-charlie-brown

I suppose one facet of why I hate to say goodbye to summer is that I know autumn is just a brief fling with cooler but still-comfortable weather before the harsh winter cold sets in. It’s hard to enjoy the good magazines in the dental waiting room when you know you’ll soon be called to the back for your root canal. What awaits us often mars the joy of what currently surrounds us.

“But the autumn leaves are so pretty!” you say to me, thinking this will convince me to welcome fall with open arms. Why, yes. Yes, they are. But they last all of two weeks before they litter the ground with what will become winter’s compost pile—their vibrant reds, oranges, yellows subdued into one monotonous brown to be trampled underfoot.

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Then we stare at bare trees for months….and months….and months.

Spare me your speeches and “Lion King” songs about the circle of life. I learned that in Mrs. Mildred Cromer’s first-grade classroom. I get it—I really do….not that there’s anything I could do about it if I didn’t. The cyclic seasons are as muchme-in-snow a part of this life as the gravity that possibly sent an apple hurtling down to Sir Isaac Newton’s head.

I accept that, and I honor my Creator’s marvelous plan. And contrary
to what you may think after reading this column thus far, I DO appreciate the beauty of every season and am thankful for it. My Facebook friends especially know how I love snow; when they are tiring of it, I am hoping for yet another snowstorm.

I realize that sometimes things must change for us to appreciate what we had/have. Even I would tire of a constant spring or an endless summer. “Variety is the spice of life,” they say. Well, THEY are certainly correct.

So I roll with the punches of the ever-fluid calendar and know that I will more richly revel in the resurrection of nature in the spring BECAUSE I have been through the barren winter. I will savor summer’s warmth in June BECAUSE I remember the frigid cold of January. Bare feet in newly-plowed garden soil, green shoots springing up from the ground, new leaves unfurling on hitherto bare branches—these pleasures are more poignant because of their long absence.

summer-where-did-it-goBut for now, please humor me in my lament for the passage of summer. As long as the calendar says August, I can still imagine that I’ll finally make it up to Hanging Rock to swim, that I’ll take that tubing trip down the Dan River, that I’ll head to the beach once more to sunbathe. But as soon as I turn the page to September, I sense the finality of those unmet goals. Summer’s slow, lazy pace lulled me through June, July and August, fooling me into thinking I’d have time to relax and do summertime things once my busy schedule calmed down.

I fell for it again. And now it’s time to get out the school supplies and put away the bathing suit that I didn’t swim in a single time this summer. Let me revamp Jimmy Buffett’s song and say, “It’s my own dang fault.”

I’m making the transition from Seals and Crofts to Sinatra—from “summer breeze makes me feel fine” to “my fickle friend, the summer wind.” Summer, you have less than three weeks left, so I bid you adieu and hope to see you next June 21. I will console myself with hot chocolate, steaming chicken stew and warm hoodies, but remember, you still have my heart.

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The Old Paths: A Manic March

**This was originally published in a similar form in The Stokes News on March 21, 2013. When the publishers changed websites a few years back, all links to archived articles were tragically lost. I am attempting to republish in my blog all of my columns that once appeared in the newspaper. I have updated this column to reflect life in 2016.

March--hello--spring

I have always told people that June was my favorite month. Yes, yes, I’m biased because June is my birth month. But I’m wondering if I might have to change my favorite month to March. With the madness of March, you wouldn’t think it appeals to me, but it does.

March madnessThe term “March Madness” is technically a reference to the intensity of the NCAA basketball tournament and the conference tournaments that lead into it.
But the phrase also pretty much sums up my life in March for the past several years.

In fact, this year’s March is downright manic. There is so much going on that you barely have time to breathe and sit a spell. (You, too, huh?)

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Easter comes in March this year. Most of us identify Easter with April, but every so often it hits in late March. That makes for a much busier month.

Add to that the fact that it’s time for my hubster’s adult baseball team to start practicing. Since my son is now on that team—having graduated from high school baseball—you will probably find me headed to practices as I did on the old paths of his childhood baseball career. Opening Day of the season is in early April, so March is preparation month. (My sportswriter friend Dennis says the sanctity of the first day of the Major League Baseball season demands proper-noun-like capital letters: Opening Day. I have taken the liberty of using the caps for my family’s season-opener as well.)

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My son Elijah batting for the Twins adult baseball team in 2015.

Let’s throw something else into the mix—Daylight Saving Time. On the old paths, DST started the first Sunday in April. But the U.S. government passed an energy bill in 2005 which changed all of that. Since 2007, DST has begun the second Sunday in March.

That may not seem like such a big deal, but since it takes a few weeks for most people to physically acclimate to the time change, it is an especially huge deal this year with such a busy March. Many of us may feel draggy, blah, sleepy, even sick once we spring forward on March 13. Yes, our bodies’ circadian rhythms are so delicate that a mere hour’s change affects us in myriad ways—even resulting in more heart attacks and auto accidents the first few weeks after the time change. (Let’s don’t claim that—okay?)DST--Frodo

So just when we need that extra energy—to start running the kids to baseball, softball and soccer practices; to fill out our tournament brackets and get pumped over “one-and-done” basketball games; to start dying ye old Easter eggs and plan the family Easter gathering—we are zapped, slammed, run over by a time truck that took an hour of our sleep.

But lest we become despondent, let’s look at the joy that is March. The energy-sapping time change has given us more time in the evening after work to throw ball with the kids, start tilling up the garden spot, sit out on the porch and feast our eyes on the forsythia.

Then there’s St. Patrick’s Day—a holiday I am particularly partial to, given my love for Ireland and for St. Patrick, that phenomenal man of God who evangelized the Emerald Isle. We don the springlike green clothing and playfully pinch party-poopers who refuse the wearin’ o’ the green. We eat corned beef and cabbage followed by doughnuts or cookies decorated with green icing. Some drink green beer and Irish dance in parades and Celtic festivals.

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My kids and I at our 2014 March 4-H meeting!

And if that’s not enough joy for you, there’s that most excellent and bodacious day of the year—the vernal equinox. Before you wrinkle your brow, let’s put it in simpler terms—THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING!

I would lobby to make this a government holiday and give everyone the day off. We should celebrate the day we cross the line into more light than darkness. “Equinox” is the word for the day of the year that the periods of daylight and dark are equal. “Ver” is the Latin word for spring, so we arrive at the “vernal equinox” when hours of light begin to outnumber the dark…..until the autumnal equinox in September.Spring--1st day

We should all wake up rejoicing on this day—the cold winter has ended, buds are sighted on the trees, early flowers are blooming, days are steadily warmer on the average. We need a day off to drink in this nectar of nature’s new life, to sip this ambrosia of nodding yellow daffodils and cheerful red tulips, to lap up every last morsel of morning birdsong and evening peeper sounds from the creek.

Who’s with me? Let’s march on Washington! (It’d be nice to see the cherry blossoms anyway, wouldn’t it?)

And this year, we get the added bonus of Easter in this manic month of March—a celebration of spiritual resurrection paralleling nature’s resurrection. In the midst of it all, we figuratively hold our breaths for the beauty that is to come: azaleas, redbud trees, dogwoods, lilacs and more. No wonder I have spring fever all winter long!

Yep, March is closing in on June as my favorite month. I could do without the chilly gales and blustery breezes, but there’s much else to be thankful for.DSCN2611

I have always said spring is such an evanescent and fleeting season that we must savor every second of it before it’s gone. The British poet A. E. Housman was only 20 when he realized the poignancy of how quickly spring is past. He penned a poem called “Loveliest of Trees” in which he speculated that he may only have 50 years of life left. And so he wrote:

“And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.”

No matter how busy this manic March finds you—watching basketball, perfecting the Easter cantata, practicing baseball—don’t forget to get out into the woods and imbibe the essence of spring before it’s gone.DSCN2609

The Old Paths: Walnut Cove’s Communist Training Camp

(First published in 2007 as “Walnut Cove past leads through shady territory” in The Stokes News under the name of “Leslie Bray Evans”)

Me with a small portion of Mrs. Binkley's daffodils which still bloom on the property.

Me with a small portion of Mrs. Binkley’s daffodils which still bloom on the property.

One of the “old paths” in the Cove leads through some pretty shady territory. I never promised you all sunshiny paths, did I?! Did you know there was a Communist training school in Walnut Cove in the 1940’s and ’50’s?

In the late ’30’s, William and Eleanore Hoagland Binkley purchased around 50 acres of land off Pine Hall Road. Mr. Binkley, affectionately known as “Bink” to his wife, was a lawyer from Lewisville who occasionally substituted at Pine Hall School. Mrs. Binkley, a very proper lady educated at Strasbourg University in Russia,* hailed from the Chicago area. It was speculated that this childless couple came to Walnut Cove because its rural location was an excellent hiding place for their agenda–to promote Russian-style Communism in the U.S., in hopes of a complete takeover.

The Binkleys lived for approximately four years in first a tent and later a slab building while improving their property. When J.D. Bray (my grandfather) moved his family next door in ’44, the Binkleys were well-established, living in a cozy log cabin and later in a comfortable modern home. Mrs. Binkley worked at Pellcare Nursing Home in Walkertown and would honk the horn of her vehicle–in later years, a yellow ’57 Chevy–as she neared her property each afternoon. Neighbors whispered that this was a signal to let her husband know it was she and not a stranger.

According to a decades-old article from a Greensboro newspaper, which detailed an FBI investigation of the alleged Communist complex, the Binkleys were conducting Communist training seminars at their farm, with perhaps 10-20 people in attendance at each session. My uncle Sam Bray vows to this day that Mrs. Binkley once introduced him to a young man who later became a much admired leader in the national spotlight. “The Little Red Schoolhouse,” as the training school was called, included singing, as heard by the Bray family as they worked in the fields nearby.

According to Mrs. Binkley’s father, who occasionally visited, the training agenda even included how to kill someone with a simple lead pencil. After he leaked information to neighbors about the the Binkleys’ Communist ties, Mr. Hoagland was never again seen, thus leading to unfounded gossip that he was “conveniently disposed of.” Bink himself was often gone to Tennessee for months at a time; locals speculated that he was a Union organizer, working for the AFL-CIO.

My husband in the bamboo forest planted by the Binkleys.

My husband in the bamboo forest planted by the Binkleys.

People of different races visited the Binkleys, and supposedly Bink held meetings at a Walnut Cove church in a failed attempt to organize area minorities. It was a common Communist practice in the mid-1900’s to reach out to oppressed minorities in an effort to recruit new members.

My daddy, Tom Bray, remembers a book that stood on the Binkley bookshelf–Why Russia Won’t Attack This Year. A picture of the Russian Revolution emblem–the hammer and the sickle–hung nearby. Once Bink was helping dig a grave in the Forest Chapel United Methodist Church graveyard when an area funeral home director drove up and loudly asked, “Where’s that ole Communist who lives around here?” Neighborhood men pointed down into the grave where Bink stood, shoveling dirt.

Grandpa Bray was eventually enlisted by the FBI as an informant, logging license plate numbers of visitors to the Binkley farm. It was usually after dark when FBI agents would quietly arrive at the Bray farm, parking at a nearby tobacco barn. Grandpa Bray would walk up to meet them and sit inside their car to give them information he had collected. A family friend who worked as a secretary for the FBI’s Washington, DC office, confided that she once stumbled across the file of an FBI operative with the name “J.D. Bray” on it!

I would love to know when and why the Binkleys planted bamboo in the mid-1900's.

I would love to know when and why the Binkleys planted bamboo in the mid-1900’s.

The Binkleys were ahead of their time in many ways. They advertised their shrub farm in The Progressive Farmer magazine. The exact name has been forgotten, but it was reminiscent of “Tulip Poplar Farm.” The Binkleys recycled, reusing everything they could–long before “going green” was hip. Mrs. Binkley warned people that white bread was a carcinogen–long before health enthusiasts popularized that claim.

The Binkleys were always kind to the Brays. Mrs. Binkley once cared for my daddy when he had a backset of the measles. When Bink saw Daddy shooting down at the creek one day, he called him “a regular Nimrod.” My cousin Tana and I would play dress-up and walk down to visit Mrs. Binkley, who would welcome us as if we were the grandest of ladies and suggest we all have a tea party!

Whichever family got the mail first from the top of the long driveway would put the other’s mail in a notch in a huge oak tree still standing in the Bray yard. How the Bray beagles would growl when Bink walked up to check for mail! Even after years of seeing him daily, those dogs never befriended Bink, so he carried a stick to fend them off.

This old tree--under which my family still holds cookouts and covered dish dinners--is the very one the Binkleys and Brays used to put their mail in the mid-1900's.

This old tree–under which my family still holds cookouts and covered dish dinners–is the very one the Binkleys and Brays used for their mail delivery in the mid-1900’s. The notch has now closed up and is very high on the tree trunk.

The Binkleys were, however, very fond of animals. They had trick goats, rabbits, red hogs, tame squirrels, geese, etc. Their dozens of cats ate out of the owners’ plates and were free to come and go into the house via cat holes that would slam loudly as the Bray dogs chased them! The Binkleys did not allow hunting on their property but did occasionally kill a goat to eat. The graves of two particular pet goats, Billy and Nancy, are still visible on their property. Neighbors called Bink “The Rabbit Man.” It was rumored that he put secret messages into the ears of his rabbits then shipped them all over the country.

More plantings from the Binkleys in the mid-20th century.

More plantings from the Binkleys in the mid-20th century.

When Duke Power began buying land in the ’60’s, they bought out the Binkleys. Before they moved out of the county, the Binkleys told Daddy to feel free to take whatever they left behind, including papers that detailed their beliefs. Duke Power used the Binkley home to house workers while building their steam station, but in the early ’80’s, the Binkley complex was bulldozed to the ground–destroying all evidence of a Communist training school that once existed down a shadowy old path in the Cove….**

*Strasbourg University is located in France, so perhaps the family’s memories of Mrs. Binkley’s education are faulty. I assume she attended the University in France and perhaps did some traveling in Russia during that time.

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Mrs. Binkley’s periwinkle now covers acres of ground on her old property.

**Editor’s Note: Today the Binkley property still adjoins the Bray farm, which is now owned by my parents. It still belongs to Duke Energy but is leased by my daddy for recreational purposes. The property is especially beautiful in springtime when Mrs. Binkley’s daffodils still bloom–the old-timey ones that give off such a fragrant perfume. Some even have double blooms. The periwinkle she planted perhaps more than 70 years ago has spread to cover the woodland ground with its delicate bluish-purple flowers. My family takes walks down there to see the beauty of the blooms each spring.

My children especially love the bamboo forest. Yes, it’s true–a small forest of bamboo, towering high into the sky, grows there where the Binkleys planted it long, long ago. Magnolia trees still flourish, along with the pampas grass the couple planted in the mid-1900s. The old animal graveyard is invisible to my eyes, but my daddy can still locate it. The beautiful cabins and outbuildings are gone, but both Daddy and Mama can take you to where the steps to them were located.

Who knows what plots to take over the United States were hatched on this very property?

Who knows what plots to take over the United States were hatched on this very property?

I am haunted to this day by the tragic loss of the painstakingly-built structures on the Binkley property. Duke Power made the heartless decision to raze it all to ground level for no reason that I can see, except to clear themselves from any liability. When they first bulldozed it, I assumed they were going to use the land for something. Yet 40 years later, it lies unused by that company–just as uninhabited as it was when the Binkleys took their last look at their little haven deep in the woods–a waste of what was once beautiful.

I long to find someone who can tell me more about this mysterious couple who were tried in a court of law for their Communist sympathies and activity. Google will take you to the documents from the court proceedings. (Type in “Junius Scales,” “Communist” and “Binkley,” and the records should show up.) But not much else exists to verify that William and Eleanore Binkley ever existed. My family and I, however, can assure you that they did.

***Here is an article detailing Mrs. Binkley’s death in Florida in 1991. This makes her sound like a hero. I figure that I would’ve liked her ideals a lot—aside from the Communist stuff.

https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19910417&id=TTgeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Pb8EAAAAIBAJ&pg=6688%2C1474107&hl=en

***Here is a short article about the Communist training camp held on the Binkley farm. It is in the bottom lefthand corner and is about a Mr. Scales.

http://fultonhistory.com/Newspapers%2023/Jamestown%20NY%20Post%20Journal/Jamestown%20NY%20Post%20Journal%201955/Jamestown%20NY%20Post%20Journal%201955%20-%201206.pdf

Daffodils spread for acres on the old Binkley property.

Daffodils spread for acres on the old Binkley property.

Peace in the Valley

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My front yard is not really a yard at all, but it’s lovely!

My heart is overwhelmed on this late June evening to be sitting on MY deck–not the landlord’s deck anymore, but OUR deck. The journey to this monumental day of home ownership started about six years ago….

It was 2008. I was a struggling mom–separated and headed toward divorce–who lived from paycheck to paycheck on my meager salary as news editor of our county newspaper, The Stokes News. I was desperate to find a place to live that would be appropriate for my children. One day after covering a county commissioners’ meeting for the paper, I went up to Commissioner Leon Inman, who is also a realtor, and said, “Leon, I need you to find me a house.”

Helpful as always, he smiled kindly at me, “Tell me what you’re looking for, Miss Leslie.”

At first, I simply said, “A place big enough for my kids and me.” Then almost unconsciously I shared my heart, “And I’d like a bigger-than-normal lot with a creek and woods.” I was taken aback by my very specific and idealistic request, but then I thought, “Why settle for less? Ask for the best.”

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The entrance to the property

The VERY NEXT DAY, Leon called me to say, “I have just the place for you.” I drove to Danbury where he took me to a little house, sitting on about 2 1/2 acres with a creek in the backyard and big, beautiful trees everywhere. He admitted to me that the house was rough and needed a ton of work, and boy, was he right! It had been in the hands of his realty company for quite a long while and had not sold yet.

It was nothing to look at really, but somehow I took a “violent fancy” to it. That is the phrase Almanzo Wilder used to describe what his “Little House on the Prairie” wife Laura Ingalls Wilder felt when they first spotted the deteriorated farm they later bought and turned into a paradise in Missouri. Almanzo said, “. . .coming from such a smooth country, the place looked so rough to me that I hesitated to buy it. But wife had taken a violent fancy to this particular piece of land, saying if she could not have it she did not want any because it could be made into such a pretty place. It needed the eye of faith, however, to see that in time it could be made very beautiful.”

When I saw the property in Danbury, I felt like Laura, one of my favorite people who ever lived. I had “the eye of faith” that she had; I saw that the property had the potential to be a veritable paradise. I could even visualize what the rundown house could be turned into.

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The meadow I look at every day!

One thing that struck me was that the house had an exquisite view of a lush green meadow where a beautiful black horse roamed. One meaning of my name “Leslie” is “from the meadow.” I thought in amazement, “My name even fits this locale.”

Yes, I’m a Walnut Cove gal–that is my hometown where I have been called to minister primarily. But I was born in Danbury, our county seat, and have always been captivated by that quaint little “Gateway to the Mountains” town. For years, when we’d ride down Highway 89 through Danbury, I’d point over to the general area where this beat-up house was located (couldn’t see the house from the road) and  say to my family, “Man, I wish I could live over there!”

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Tucked away in the valley!

So here I was with a chance to live by that very meadow, and I couldn’t afford to buy the little house, even though it was a steal of a deal. In desperation, I found a way to get the owner’s name, and I called him, asking if he’d consider a “rent to own” deal. He said he would’ve, but that the house was in the hands of the realty company. My heart sank, yet I held onto the faintest silken strand of hope.

At the end of many county commissioners’ meetings in Danbury, I’d ride down to the deserted little house, sit in the driveway and let the peace of the valley it nestled in overtake me. I watched the leaves turn brilliant colors all around it. I watched its bare trees caress the winter-blue sky. I watched spring begin to awaken in that valley all around the little house that seemed as vacant and lonely as I felt some days. The longing in my heart to live there was overwhelming.

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Guineas from the meadow paying us a visit!

Months went by, and then one day, the phone call came. The owner contacted me at The Stokes News office and told me the realty company’s contract on the house had run out and he was willing to rent to own. Overjoyed, I leapt at the chance. My daughter Meghann was now a college graduate with a full-time job, and she wanted to move into the downstairs area and pay part of the rent.

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My personal “Rivendell”!

The landlord, being a very conscientious and super guy, put new carpet in two rooms upstairs, painted the walls and replaced some of the ceiling tiles, so the house didn’t look quite as bad as it had originally. We moved in on July 1, 2009. The house had a multitude of issues, as any house that has been sitting vacant for a long while does. But nothing dimmed my enthusiasm for it.

I remember the thrill of seeing the golden late-summer/early fall flowers burst into bloom all around the perimeter of my new yard. Opening my windows and hearing the pleasant gurgling of the creek was pure pleasure for me. The black horse grazing in the velvety meadow became known as “Jet” to my daughter Abigail. When spring came, I didn’t even mind push-mowing the huge yard, because the lush green grass was full of yellow dandelions and purple violets to feast my eyes upon. From my yard, I could see the curvaceous mountains we Stokes County folks call “The Three Sisters.”

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You can grow some good watermelons down by a “crick.”

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The hubster’s garden spot!

I finally remarried, and the hubster moved in on Sept. 1, 2010. My daughter Meghann gladly relocated to another rental house with my other adult daughter, Chelsea; Meghann had never been fond of my little house since we found a black snake and assorted lizards in the downstairs area where she slept. The hubster, however, quickly fell in love with the place and teasingly used Almanzo’s words to describe me: “The wife took a violent fancy to it.”

We tried unsuccessfully over the next few years to buy the place, but no mortgage company would touch it, despite our good credit and accumulated savings for a hefty downpayment. The house was indeed built very oddly, like an eccentric and unusual vacation home; therefore, no comp values could be found for it. In other words, nothing comparable to it was selling in the area during the recession, and comp values are absolutely necessary in this era of new and stricter mortgage laws.

There were times I felt downright desperate–realizing we were futilely throwing money down the tubes via monthly rent payments. I felt angry as well–agonizing over how unfair it was that two people with good jobs, good credit and a nice savings account couldn’t get a loan just because their house was a strangely-built one with no comp values to be found. I still owned half of a house from my first marriage which I had the right to move back into, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to live there again after all the heartache of the broken marriage.

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Life at “Deer Creek Cottage”!

In the meantime, my kids had also fallen in love with the little house by the meadow. My teenage son begged me to stay there, saying he had grown immensely fond of it and enjoyed its proximity to the 4-H office, somewhere we spend a lot of time. My little boy also said he wanted to keep living here. My teenage daughter was a bit more reluctant about it, mainly because her cousins live next door at the former house. Eventually she too admitted how much she loved what we sometimes called “Deer Creek Cottage”–after a Thomas Kincaid painting and because multitudes of deer frequent our creek.

For nearly two years, I was petrified to apply for yet another loan–to be approved until the end, only to hear the underwriter say, “No, we don’t want to take a chance on this weird house.” I was paralyzed by a fear of being disappointed yet again.

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Paradise even in winter!

Finally, in the summer of 2013, I wrote on a piece of paper, “Buying our house,” and put it in the big family Bible at “The Well,” our ministry house in Walnut Cove. I placed the little note strategically at Psalm 55:22–Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” I literally cast that burden on the Lord, and I determined not to worry about it any more–to simply trust Him with the house situation.

AT LAST, we found a company that agreed to finance, although they made us jump through what we felt were crazy, unnecessary and aggravating hoops (expensive structural inspections and all sorts of extra stuff). My poor hubster earned even more of my respect as he dealt with the issues singlehandedly. He handled every bit of the financial side of things and the loan application which was all-consuming for many months. There were constant delays, due a dishonest appraiser who seemed to delight in coming up with complaints about the house, which made the mortgage company delay the closing time and time again as they nitpicked about trivial things that ended up not even mattering at all.

The stress of it was wearing on Alan, although he kept telling me to not worry about anything. But I knew he was eaten up with the burden of it.

My turning point came one day in May as I stood barefoot in the morning sunshine in our garden near the creek. I turned to look at the little house, and my heart felt positively pinched with love for it. Suddenly, I felt Him comfort me, and I said aloud, “The Lord will provide.” A peace settled over me, and I repeated that phrase for the next few weeks….until at last, the loan went through, as satisfactory comp values were finally found in the area.

Today–June 27th, 2014–we closed on our little house. Despite a respiratory virus that was trying to attack me, I felt a deep joy all day long. Now we could begin to repair the little house. Our wonderful landlord had done some great things while we rented–even put on a new roof. But there is much more yet to be done; we hadn’t wanted to spend money on something we didn’t own.

I may not stay here forever, but why pay rent when you can own and resell one day if you choose? And if I ever decide to sell out my half of the other house I own, the hubster and I will use that money to pay off this house that we got for WAY under tax value. Then we will pretty much be debt-free. We would be able to travel extensively if we so chose and live out our dream of visiting every MLB stadium in the country, God willing. Not many people our age can already be debt-free.

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Our frequent visitor to the creek

More than one family member has said they have no idea why we would want to buy this fixer-upper house. I simply reply that the hubster and I adore it, the kids have BEGGED us to buy it, and the house isn’t as important to me as the lovely lot on which it sits. Several of my friends, when they drove down here for the first time, breathed deeply and said (and I paraphrase), “Wow, I feel such peace down here in this lovely little valley.”

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Jet has provided much viewing pleasure for us, particularly Abigail!

Yep, tonight it’s peace in the valley for me. We are homeowners at last–in a historic and picturesque town with a gorgeous state park just minutes away and the mighty Dan River within walking distance. But I’m content most days just to stay here and listen to my little creek meander merrily along and watch Jet graze in the sunshiny meadow. My beloved Walnut Cove is just 12 minutes away down a beautiful highway, and I’m there nearly everyday at another house I love–“The Well.”

Doubly blessed? Yes, I am. And I thank God for it all. You think He won’t give you the desires of your heart? Think again, my friend. Delight yourself in Him and watch Him work!

My "front yard"--growing richly in the blessings of God that hover over us!

My “front yard”–growing richly in the blessings of God that hover over us!

The Old Paths: The Sap Is Rising

*This was published in The Stokes News in 2009 in my regular column, “The Old Paths.” Due to the fact that all Internet links were broken to our old articles when Civitas Media switched websites, I am slowly but surely posting all of my old columns in my blog so that they will be archived as they SHOULD’VE been on the newspaper website.

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Photo by a former student of mine, Angel Smith Jones, of Madison.

The ground beneath my Bradford pears in the front yard looks as if it is covered with snow. The blooms are already gone, although spring is only a few weeks old. My sunshine-yellow daffodils are holding on valiantly, perhaps knowing all the while that multicolored tulips are waiting in the wings to upstage them.

Redbuds next doorI hold my breath, waiting to exhale when the redbud trees burst into full bloom in the still shorn and forlorn forest. The dogwoods will be close on their heels. It’s not hard to spy the infant leaves still curled up in the arms of tree branches all over the woodlands of Stokes.

You might say the sap is rising.

If you attended South Stokes High School during the reign of Principal Vernon Kimbro, you’ll never again hear that saying—the sap is rising—without thinking of him. Just like “It’s snowing in Pinnacle,” the sap is rising evokes a reaction, a grin and perhaps, fond memories.

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I went into “The Red Rooster” back in the fall and there sat two South Stokes alumnae, Kim Harger Christie and Felicia Cooper. They told me I should do a column on “The sap is rising.” I assured them I already had it planned for spring.

After “Snow in Pinnacle” was published, I attended a county commissioners meeting where my old pal Jimmy Via, now a principal himself, and another friend, Keith Jackson, encouraged me to write a “sap is rising” column. Others followed suit in an attempt to relive a collective memory. Shannon Fenner, my general manager, even told me that Principal Sherrill Doby continued the “sap is rising” tradition after Mr. Kimbro was gone.

Even if you didn’t attend South Stokes under the headship of Mr. Kimbro or Mr. Doby, I’ll bet you can identify with the subject matter. I guarantee you the “sap” phenomenon is universal and occurred at King High School, the Walnut Cove Colored School and up at Francisco School as well as Timbuktu High and Moscow Prep.

The sap rises everywhere.

One of my favorite old baseball movies is “It Happens Every Spring.” Yes, baseball happens every spring, but so does something else. The male of most species begins looking toward the female of the same species with that speculative look in his eye. The female begins to notice that she’s being noticed and lets it be noticed that she notices the notice.

young man's fancySprings turns a young man’s fancy, the old cliché goes. The actual quotation is “In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love” and comes from a poem called “Locksley Hall” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Ole Lord Al sure knew what he was talking about.

And Mr. Kimbro obviously agreed.

Some time around late March or even early April, students at South Stokes inevitably awaited the click of the intercom which would bring our principal’s voice. It wouldn’t be the Student Council president or school secretary but the big man himself.

And then we knew. And we giggled. And we eyed each other furtively and with some embarrassment as we sat primly at our desks. And we listened to the traditional springtime speech.

Mr. Kimbro would remind us that the sap is rising, not only in the trees outside but in young hearts all over the school. He admonished us to be careful what behavior we engaged in behind the lockers, in the bus parking lot, in the front lobby. He warned the young men to keep their hands to themselves and the young ladies to make sure that the gentlemen did.

There would be no smooching at the smoking area, no cuddling between classes, no liplocking in the library, no caressing in the cafeteria. Mr. Kimbro knew that Emma Racine deFleur was correct when she wrote, “In springtime, love is carried on the breeze.”

Let me tell you about the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees the moon and the stars and a thing called loveNature has always been a point of reference when it comes to love. “Let me tell you ‘bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees and the moon up above. . .and a thing called love.” Mr. Kimbro definitely took the tree analogy and went with it. He was right.

In late winter/early spring, the sap begins to make its run up the tree. This nourishing liquid of stored sugars is carried by a specialized vascular system up, up, up the tree to the leaves to help them mature.

As the wood ages, it doesn’t transport the sap anymore. It is called heartwood and gives support to the still-growing part of the tree, helping to hold it upright. The actual wood that carries sap is called sapwood and surrounds the older heartwood. The sapwood seems to be the most active wood, but it could never function if not held up by the solid, stable heartwood.

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Mr. Kimbro was our heartwood, giving us solid advice to benefit us and keep us safe when all we headstrong “sapwood” teenagers could hear was what comedian Robin Williams heard when he said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’”

Christopher Morley, a writer in the early to mid-1900’s, penned, “April prepares her green traffic light and the world thinks GO.” When April arrived on the South Stokes campus, it was we students who were thinking GO and Mr. Kimbro who was wisely saying, “STOP!”

It’s April again, and the sap is indeed rising. We may be older, but the siren song of spring beckons to us all. May we all enjoy the beauty and hope that the season brings even as we fondly remember the words of our esteemed principal, Vernon Kimbro. What I’d give to hear the click of the intercom and his distinctive voice telling us all, “The sap is rising!”

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Staycation #2: My beach retreat at Seahawk Inn and Villas!

DSCN1301I love the beach. No, you don’t understand. I LOVE the beach. Some of you are identifying with me right now. Yeah–VIRTUAL FIST BUMP! Others of you are saying, “I like the beach, but I prefer the mountains.” Well, I blogged on the mountains last time; today I’m going with beach. (Ironically, today I am sitting at my home in the Sauratown Mountains area while dreaming of the beach.)

Yes, I’m dreaming of the beach–particularly the Crystal Coast of North Carolina, my very favorite area. You can have Myrtle Beach and the wall-to-wall people and amusements. Give me the much less crowded and wider beaches of the Crystal Coast.

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The beach area just in front of the Seahawk–spacious and lovely!

For us, the problem is that now that I have given up my salary as a newspaper editor to be home with “da kids,” money can not be as freely spent as in days of yore. So renting the lush beach houses is a rarity these days. Thank God for my brother who “just happened” to mention a place I might want to check out at Atlantic Beach on the northern end of the Crystal Coast.

After checking them out online at http://seahawkinn-villas.com/, I decided to give them a try. After three trips there, I have never regretted it. It has the feel of a “Mom and Pop” place right on the beachfront in a great area. And I must admit that the color scheme grabs me–a vivid turquoise and glowing yellow that cheers the soul somehow.

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Check out that uniquely-shaped pool at the Seahawk! And the part of the building jutting out to the right is a villa for rent. There is a matching one at the other end of the Seahawk.

My first trip was with some of my children, and we requested the first-floor room closest to the lobby due to my need for Wi-fi. (At that time, Wi-fi did not extend hotel-wide; today that is not an issue as it is accessible throughout the entire property.) How convenient it was to simply open my sliding glass door and walk straight out to the beach!

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My babies at the beach!

When my hubster and I went to the Seahawk for my second trip there, we also stayed on the first floor. Every room is oceanfront and has a little concrete patio with plastic table and chairs. I will forever treasure a memory of sitting with the man I love at the outdoor table in the noon sunshine, eating food from my favorite beach joint–Dairy Queen!

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The hubster and Dairy Queen–two of my favorite things!

What my kids loved on their trip there was being so close to the pool which was right outside of our room. It wasn’t the typical small, cheapo-looking, rectangular motel pool. It is oddly-shaped (kidney-shaped maybe?) and pristine. (We moms like the fact that there are plentiful lounging chairs surrounding the pool–kids swim, moms tan!)

Just beyond the pool area–between it and the beach–there is a grilling/picnic area. Although I haven’t taken advantage of it yet (ME?! Cook at the BEACH?! Uh, no.), I have seen many guests availing themselves of it. And we’re not talking cheap grills from your local five-and-dime; we’re talking heavy-duty, high-dollar grills.

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Perhaps I’ll talk the hubster into grilling out for me next trip. Men and grilling go together!

As for us, when we go to the beach, we frequent restaurants for supper and do snacks for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch. So it behooves us to have a refrigerator in the room–something that is standard at the Seahawk. What else would I do with my inevitable takeout boxes from every restaurant I visit?!

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Do you think there’s a partially-eaten DQ Blizzard in the freezer? If you said yes, you would be right!

The location of the Seahawk is also very convenient when it comes to food. There is a DQ close by and then a larger one over the bridge to nearby Morehead City. A very well-stocked Food Lion grocery store is just down the road, too. On our third trip to the Seahawk this past May, the hubster and I tried out a little dive down toward the bridge to Morehead–4 Corner Diner. Incredible food and real local atmosphere.

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The Sound is very close to the Seahawk since the Crystal Coast is a narrow island really. Here I am after we ate at “The Crab Shack.”

There are many other great eating places within a mile or two. And if you want even more variety, the drive down to Emerald Isle is a pleasant one or you can go the couple of miles into Morehead City and find ANY type of food you can imagine!

While we’re out and about, we usually like to check out the typical beach shops of the “Wings” genre. Well, rest assured, there are PLENTY of such shops a short distance from the Seahawk. Your flip-flop/bathing suit/beach towel/hermit crab/salt-water taffy needs will be met. There’s even a movie theater nearby with the latest flicks showing.

But when I’m at the beach, I don’t like to do too much running around. I prefer to stay close to the shore at all times. Lazy? Perhaps, but isn’t that the point of a beach vacation? I don’t get these folks who go to the beach to spend the whole time shopping/golfing/visiting amusement areas. (No offense to you if you’re one of those people!) But I want to REST on vacation.

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Okay, so I DO occasionally get out and enjoy the amusements on the Crystal Coast. There is much to entertain you!

So the Seahawk appeals to my restful side, too. How? By the numerous hammocks and the swings on the edge of the dunes overlooking the ocean. Yes, folks, THIS is one of the big selling points for me–HAMMOCKS! I LOVE these things!

Already I have made lifelong memories there–gently swaying in the hammock with my little boy snuggled up next to me under my NY Yankees blanket (we were there in early October), watching the stars in the clear night sky. Or sitting in the swing with my little girl as the sun set in a gorgeous pink and orange evening sky. Or lying in the hammock late at night smooching (yes, smooching) with the hubster as the nearly full moon cast its ivory moon-trail across the calm seas.

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The sunset view from the hammocks at the Seahawk!

My two adult daughters were so taken with my description of the Seahawk that they went down shortly after the hubster and I did. My Chelsea said that she spent much of her time in the hammocks, reading/writing/meditating. A girl after her mother’s own heart!

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I spent a lot of time in that hammock and that swing! So peaceful. . .

Another thing that means much to me on a beach trip is a good view of the ocean. As much as I enjoyed the convenience of the first-floor room, I must admit that I believe I liked the second-floor room best. Last month, I got to experience that for the first time and LOVED it! Each room has a private balcony with table and chairs and a TERRIFIC view of the mighty Atlantic rolling endlessly onshore.

Oh, the time I spent sitting/standing out on that balcony simply watching the ocean in its various hues of blue and green! It was worth having to walk down steps to access the beach just to have the constant view of the sea.

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Nightfall at the Seahawk. . .

As much as I loved the balcony experience, I did occasionally come inside the room to watch TV with the hubster. (Yes, there is a nice flat-screen TV with many channels available–a crucial amenity for my hubster!) I like the bright and cheerful decor of the rooms–simple yet pleasing. And the beds and pillows are comfy, which is a crucial amenity for ME!

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Our room each time had two double beds. Here is one of them nearest my favorite spot–the balcony!

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The bathroom is rather small, but who needs a big bathroom anyway? It was cheerful and clean.

One day I’d like to check out the cottage in the front of the Seahawk and the two villas at either end. But for now, I’m content to go down a couple of times a year and simply get a room. The prices are very reasonable, especially when winter rates go into effect. And lest you think, “Brrr! Who wants to go in winter?”–remember that winter rates begin on Oct. 1 and run through March 31. We’re talking lots of warm weather at those times!

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The cottage in the background is available for rent at the Seahawk.

So if you’re looking for a place to take a great “staycation” this summer, consider my favorite beach retreat–Seahawk Inn and Villas. You’ll find the people who run it to be super in every way–professional, courteous, ever-ready to help. They even offer some pet-friendly rooms now for the pet-lovers!

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The classy lobby at the Seahawk has a microwave for your use, as well as other nice amenities. And Kim, Christy, Tabitha and other staff members have been ultra-helpful and friendly to us!

On my first trip when I had just spent nearly three years as a divorced single mom trying to eke out a living on the tiny salary of a small-town newspaper editor, I was supremely upset when I got all the way to the beach and realized I had forgotten my beach chair. I happened to mention this in passing to Kim, the manager of the Seahawk. Before long, a nice beach chair showed up at my door, with a note telling me to enjoy it. Talk about touching my heart!

I still have that beach chair. It reminds me constantly of the kindness that still exists in this world, how God takes care of His people no matter what (no detail is too small!) and that there is a blue and gold retreat down on the Crystal Coast where the hammocks swing in the salty breeze, the sand is warm on the spacious beach and the white-capped waves continually caress the shore. Can’t you hear it calling my name? I do. . .

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The lovely view from the Seahawk lawn. . .

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Looking back toward the Seahawk from the beach. . .

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