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

Posts tagged ‘seasons’

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 In my yard, the sweet birdsong of spring and early summer has been replaced by the raucous cawing of crows.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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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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Into the light. . .

spring-forwardBlustery cold wind and the threat of snow the first week of March, sun and unseasonable warmth predicted for the second. This weather whiplash makes a body do a double-take. But if you find yourself feeling out of sorts in the coming weeks, it may not be the weather. It could be the time change.

Yep, it’s that time of year again–the time to SPRING FORWARD into Daylight Saving Time. In the wee hours of Sunday, March 10, you will lose an hour of sleep. But for the next eight months or so, you will have gained an hour of light each day. (Well, I suppose it all depends on when you get up, doesn’t it? Your life may not change at all, but the clock will.)

We owe it all to an Englishman who made the first real push for Daylight Saving Time (not “Savings”) in the early 1900’s. He was an avid golfer who wanted to be able to take advantage of an extra hour of light. His DST idea never really caught on.

Saving-DaylightThe real beginning of DST was in 1918 during World War I–for the purpose of saving energy–but it wasn’t a popular idea. It faded away only to resurface in World War II. During the ‘50s and ‘60s, different regions could do whatever they wished as far as observing DST or not.

Because of this freedom of choice, at one point in history, a 35-mile trip from a small town in West Virginia to another town in Ohio meant resetting one’s watch seven times! Finally, in 1966, DST became standard practice legally.victory--daylight-savings-time

Most areas of our country observe the time change. Some have been granted exemptions: Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and much of Arizona.

Be that as it may, DST is an annual fact of life for us, whether or not we want to spring ahead. Another given is that the change will probably affect most of us physiologically. Science has proven this conclusively, so get ready. I’ve always noticed that I feel draggy for a few days after the change, a little “out-of-sorts,” somewhat lethargic. I’ll bet some of you feel this apathy and exhaustion, too.

One explanation is that our bodies have their own clocks—something called our circadian rhythms. When the body’s clock is interfered with, bodily functions will naturally be affected. Take heart–the first few days are usually the worst. However, a disruption in our circadian rhythms can cause problems for a few weeks or until the natural rhythms of our bodies are reset and humming along in the new beat of life.

Princess Bride--daylight-savings-time-15355The time change can even be dangerous. Studies show that there is an increase in heart attacks immediately after we spring forward, as opposed to a decrease when we fall back in November. The number of traffic accidents also jumps up for a few days after the time change in March. (Once we acclimate to the switch, traffic accidents actually decrease, studies say.)

Here are some good tips I have found that help me adjust, since my body seems especially affected by changes in light. For some reason, standing in bright light early in the morning speeds up the regulation of the body’s clock. Some experts recommend limiting strenuous work for a couple of days after the change. (I’m okay with that; how ’bout you?!) Keeping a light schedule and driving less are also smart ideas.

Just think–it won’t be long before we should be sweet and energetic again after a few days of orneriness and slothfulness! And the added advantage is that we can stay outside longer at night after a hard day at work! YES! I am a DST kind of gal.daylight-savings-time-cartoon1

But just why do we need to make the time change each spring? I’ve always heard that we make the switch to conserve energy. In reality, studies haven’t proven conclusively that this is true. In fact, DST may increase energy use. People tend to do more driving with the extra hour of light. They golf and shop more. They even grill out more often. Just because we may not have to turn on the lights until later at night doesn’t mean we aren’t using more gasoline and/or power.

Despite the indications that DST may not avail us in the energy realm, I must admit that I heartily anticipate the extra hour in the evening. Isn’t it thrilling to be outside at 9 p.m. in June while the sun is still up? Yes, I always dread losing that hour of sleep when we make the switch, but it seems worth it to have the light. And when autumn comes, I never look forward to going back to “real” time.

In a sense, though, it’s all an illusion. Moving the clock forward seems to increase the light, but technically that’s not true at all. We still have the same number of daylight hours as if we had left the time the same. It merely increases our time frame–and therefore our opportunities–to enjoy the light.

And how we love the light! I believe that God–who is the Light of the World–created us to be creatures of the light.

Light works wonders for the body. Many people get SAD when the light begins to decrease in the fall. And that has a double meaning: sad as in despondent and SAD as in Seasonal Affective Disorder—a negative physical/mental disturbance caused by the loss of daylight. So doesn’t it seem logical that an increase in light would make our bodies react positively?

It sure works out that way for me. Can you deny the lilt in your step when the March days begin to tease us with springtime? Don’t you feel even more joyful to be alive on such days? It makes me think of a Robert Louis Stevenson poem I have often read to my children. It’s called “Happy Thought” and is very short: “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

As the Cowardly Lion says in “The Wizard of Oz,” “Ain’t it the truth? Ain’t it the truth?”

That’s the way I feel, and I hope you do, too. The economy may still look dismal and politics are a mess, but when life gives us lemons, join me and let’s make some collective lemonade. We have eight long months ahead of us to enjoy an extra hour of light each evening. And spring arrives in just few days. I say, “Bring on the light!”spring is coming--purple

The Old Paths: Kenny Loggins was right–the heat is on!

Photo taken by my friend Billy Payne of Sandy Ridge (Buffalo Ridge Imaging on Facebook)

Yep, Kenny Loggins could’ve been singing about us here in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina this week. No, I don’t believe he was talking about record-breaking July weather when he sang “The Heat Is On,” but nonetheless, if the song fits, sing it.

It officially hit only 96 today (the “only” is in reference to the 100+ degree heat we had a few weeks back for a string of days). My friend Ben just posted on Facebook that the heat index in Raleigh where he works is 107 degrees. Tomorrow, it should be about the same–“Same song, second verse, a little bit louder and a whole lot worse.”

When I walked outside a while ago to talk to my friend Lori on the phone, the sultry summer atmosphere assaulted my senses. When I re-entered the house, the cool air felt like a Colorado mountaintop.

For a few minutes.

Then my body acclimated itself to this inside air that is not cool enough despite the AC system that runs incessantly outside my window, ensuring that Duke Energy will feast on many of our hard-earned dollars next month. Now I feel uncomfortably warm even inside my house. Another friend of mine complained that her thermostat is set on 72 but that the temperature inside her house is 83.

Photo taken by my friend Michael Mullins of King

I personally love the heat of summer, but is that because I don’t work outdoors? My father-in-law fights this heat while working outside building houses, putting on roofs, etc. I feel guilty about daring to complain about the heat when I think about him or those I’ve seen recently doing highway work on freshly poured, steaming asphalt. Makes even my tobacco priming days seem tame.

And I also must question if I’d love this heat in the absence of air conditioning. What did we do in the pre-AC days?

I asked that question in the Danbury Public Library one day. A lady I didn’t know, Sharon Brown Craddock, said that growing up, she went swimming in the river nearly every day up in Sandy Ridge off Amostown Road when the heat was on. Nora Lankford, the Danbury librarian, chimed in that they swam in the river, too, on hot days but only after the day’s work was done.

I don’t even like heating up the oven on days like this due to the intense heat it generates. If I had been raised with my friend Mable Booth of Westfield and her nine siblings, I wouldn’t have gotten hot food on a sizzling summer’s day. Booth recalls how her mother would get up at 4:30 a.m. each morning to fire up the old woodstove and cook a big meal.

The large family would work all morning in the fields before returning to the house to eat whatever their mother had cooked in the early dawn hours, even though it was usually cold by then. Supper would consist of lunch leftovers, with perhaps a new pone of cornbread added.

You see, using the woodstove in the middle of an oppressively hot summer’s day created entirely too much heat in a house with no AC other than occasional breezes through open windows and doors. Sharon remembers that her family often cooked out at the river for this very reason.

As I chatted with the local folks one day about the old paths of summertime, a lady I didn’t know joined our conversation. Linda Gallagher of Brooklyn, NY, interjected that when she was growing up in a row house in the big city, her mother wouldn’t dare use the stove on midsummer days. She would make salads, often with fruit, to feed her family and preserve what little coolness they had in their house.

Photo taken by my friend Eric Barr of King

I remember working in tobacco on these kinds of days–the sheer exhaustion that would result after hours of pouring sweat like running faucets while suckering or topping the ‘baccer. Mable told me that on such days, her older relatives would pick oak leaves and layer them inside of their hats to provide further insulation from the heat. Once the day’s work was complete, they would sit out under the shade trees in the yard.

Photo taken by my friend Michael Mullins of King

Nora, too, recalled that everyone simply hunted for whatever shade they could find. That might explain why most old homeplaces have stately trees in the yard–unlike these suburban wasteland lawns with merely grass. Indeed my most vivid memories of Grandpa and Grandma Bray involve them sitting out under the massive oaks, shelling peas, shucking corn, talking to neighbors. Sometimes, they even sat out there after the blessed darkness dropped a veil of relief over the heat-oppressed land.

Back in the day, not only yards were different due to heat, but also houses which were sometimes built differently. Nora remembers reading and/or hearing how very old houses often had a hallway running through the middle of them, from the front door to the back. This would ensure that, with both doors open, a draft would pull moving air from front to back to provide a natural AC system for our ancestors.

On stiflingly hot days now, I notice that, as a rule, houses are shut up tightly with all windows and doors closed. We wouldn’t have seen this 50 years ago. Windows and doors were thrown wide open on hot summer days to allow for a current of air. Shutting up a house in those days could mean certain misery, and even danger, for indoor inhabitants.

Some still walk those old paths today. My neighbors Steve and Olivia Shelton of Danbury live in an older home that they have remodeled and which has no central AC. An attic fan and ceiling fans help to keep the rooms cool, while a gazebo graces their lawn to provide a more comfortable place to spend summer evenings.

Still, Olivia says, there are summer days when she has to take a fan even to the gazebo.

Photo taken by my friend Peggy Woody of McLeansville

We’re talking electric fans–not those funeral home fans that we used during summer church services when I was a youngster. Nora recalls making her own accordion-pleated fans out of paper when all else failed–anything to get the air moving when the heat was on. But the problem with all of these manually-operated fans was that it took energy to wave them back and forth–energy which created more body heat and sweat.

“Can somebody please turn off the heat?” you plead.

Perhaps I’ll remind you of our complaints when December’s cold is bold, January’s gales assail and February’s chill is shrill.

Photo taken by my friend Denise Coe of Walnut Cove

For now, I’m going to enjoy the sizzle from inside my somewhat air-conditioned house, wishing I was shucking corn under the old oak trees with Grandma Bray once more. . .when the heat is on.

Spring done sprung

The poet Joyce Kilmer said in 1913, “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” If he was talking about the lovely dogwoods in my home state of North Carolina, he was right!

Yes, yes, I know my title is grammatically bad, but somehow it just perfectly sums up the feeling I have in my heart right now. Spring done sprung, and I pert near (“almost” in Southern lingo) missed it again.

How does this happen year after year? I spend my winters longing for spring, dreaming of green and gold days, eagerly watching for the crocuses to decorate the winter-brown landscape.

Some people find the overpowering smell of wisteria cloying, but I find it delightful. I feel guilty for loving this beautiful purple vine so much because it is parasitic and will kill trees if left untended, but I find it to be a lovely plant. (Photo by my friend Billy Payne of Sandy Ridge, NC)

Then late winter finds me becoming engrossed in more and more activities–the culmination of my kids’ basketball season, NCAA March Madness, sign-ups for Little League, practice and even games for my son’s high school baseball team.

Suddenly I look around and the crocuses are gone. The daffodils and forsythia are already fading, and tulips are about to burst on the scene. Where have I been? I lament the passage of the earliest days of my favorite season.

The flowering crabapple trees in Danbury where I live are spectacular in the spring! And the blossoms feel like a handful of soft pink powderpuffs. (Photo by my friend Monty Stevens of Westfield, NC)

Spring and fall seem to be the most fleeting seasons. Summer’s heat and deep green of the trees appear to linger for months. Similarly, winter’s chill and barren landscape drag on seemingly endlessly.

But the pastel greens of spring and the vivid colored leaves of autumn are so evanescent that you barely blink and they’re gone. So I feel a more desperate need to savor every moment of these two seasons, but especially spring when newness of life in nature brings hope to even the weariest pilgrim taking this earth-walk.

In our lives, we won’t truly enjoy many springs. My theory is that we don’t fully appreciate the first 22 springs of our lives. Children don’t usually feel the poignancy of passing seasons the way time-starved adults do. And teenagers become quickly wrapped up in youthful pursuits and other teenagers. Then comes college and the pressures each spring of trying to cram the rest of the semester into our brains before school ends in early May.

Forsythia and daffodils share the vibrant yellow color that always grabs my eye to cry out, “Spring is here!” (Photo by my friend Billy Payne of Sandy Ridge, NC)

Before you know it, you’re out of college and working a job–perhaps even newly married. Pressures of life mount: new babies, new mortgages, new car payments. Life seems to swoosh by you, with spring after spring tumbling unheeded into summer.

Tulips seem regal and stately to me, as opposed to the graceful nonchalance of the daffodil. Ahh, if they only lasted longer! (Photo by my friend Michael Mullins of King, NC)

The next 20 or so years are spent raising the kids, playing chauffeur to their every activity, building a life with your mate, taking care of aging parents. You turn around and you’re middle aged. Perhaps that’s the time you truly appreciate spring. Your own springtime of life is over, and you yearn to experience once more what you know you never can.

Many-hued azaleas lend vibrant color to the spring landscape and are adored by not only me, but also by the butterflies! (Photo by my friend Melinda Campbell Ring of Danbury, NC)

As old age creeps upon you, often there is failing health, less access to the great outdoors. And so spring may pass by you again nearly unnoticed.

Daffodils, buttercups, jonquils–by any name, the sunny yellow-gold harbingers of spring seem to nod in agreement to the new warmth of the season. (Photo by my daughter Chelsea Evans of Tobaccoville, NC)

Let’s savor every spring that we are blessed with. If you start with the first daffodil exploding into blossom and count the days to the final blooms of the dogwood, you get about 30 days. The calendar may say it’s spring for two more months after that, but by late April to early May here in the South, everything already looks pretty much like summer.

The brilliant palette of spring seems so vivid to our color-starved eyes that have grown accustomed to the drab grays and browns of winter. (Photo by my friend Kathy Flanary Nelson of Winston-Salem, NC)

So you really only get about 30 days each year of the true wonder of spring. Multiply that by 70 years and you get 2100 days. Sounds like a bunch, but in the grand scheme of the days of your life, it’s not.

How can we doubt the resurrection of Christ when spring cries “Resurrection!” on every hand?! (Photo by my friend Denise Coe of Walnut Cove, NC)

And remember that you don’t even recall the first few springs you lived through, so those 150 days or so are gone. By the time you factor in the oh-so-bustling years of early and mid-adulthood and then the later years of life when the quality of life often diminishes, you lose another several days of spring that you never appreciated.

Suffice it to say that the final tally of true spring days that you get to enjoy is very small. Let’s make the most of every spring the Father gives us to enjoy!

God always keeps His promises. Seedtime and harvest will not fail, so spring will continually return until this earth is done. (Photo by my friend Billy Payne of Sandy Ridge, NC)

“My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.

 For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;

 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

 The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2:10-13)

Also check out another of my blogs with gorgeous spring photos by local photographers at:

https://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/springs-pleasing-palette/

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