Surprises on the South Shore

((I’m reposting a travel series from a couple of years ago. If you’re like me, you are patiently (or maybe not so patiently) waiting for a safe return to the road. If so, how about traveling along with me on a virtual road trip. To read about our Nova Scotia travels from the beginning, start here.)

Our original travel plans included another very short trip, this one theoretically a ninety-minute drive from Lunenburg to Shelburne. We knew it would take longer since we wanted to peruse every nook and cranny—and there are a lot of them among the coves and harbors of Nova Scotia’s South Shore.

Shelburne interested me because it’s home to the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre. I learned about Black Loyalists from watching the series TURN, available on Netflix. (If you haven’t seen it, you may want to. Not only is it riveting, but educational—and surprisingly true to historian Alexander Rose’s book, Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring.)

As the British were facing the loss of the Revolutionary War, its military leaders offered freedom and land to anyone who escaped slavery and came over to the British side. It was a big risk, but some 30,000 successfully made it to the British lines. As the war ended, about 2,000 Black Loyalists were evacuated to Nova Scotia, most of them landing in Shelburne, which became the largest settlement of free blacks outside the continent of Africa. Shelburne was home to other British Loyalists, moneyed ones, and many of those homes are still intact today.

However, a few weeks before our trip began, we got a phone call from the Nova Scotia area code. Our Shelburne Airbnb host told me the well had run dry so we’d have to find another place to stay. We decided our best bet was the ‘Lobster Bay Loft’ in Lower Argyle. (Don’t you just love that name?) It was on our route and only added another half-hour to our driving day. We figured we had plenty of time to take in Shelburne and all its sights and still arrive at our final destination by 3:00 pm, the earliest time we could check in. I was thoroughly exhausted and looked forward to a few relaxing afternoon hours in our Airbnb.

But . . . within minutes of leaving Lunenburg, we came upon a sign for The Ovens Natural Park, another place on our must-see list with its cliffside walking trail and sea caves, aka ovens.

We turned off our scenic highway route toward the park. The young woman who took our admission fee explained about the sea cave trail and said most people make the round trip hike in about forty-five minutes. She must not have had many photographers pass through. It was a good two hours later when we returned to the parking lot, chilly and windblown (it was so windy)—but exhilarated.

Can you see the wooden rail way up there where there’s a gap between the trees? That’s how close we were to the rocky cliff on most of our walk through the park.

Trailside view

I got a new spiky hairstyle thanks to the wind.

So far down

Beyond the platform (in that dark hole) is yet another set of steep, narrow steps into Tucker’s Tunnel, a natural cave that was extended during the gold rush era. The Gnome went down there; I didn’t.

View  from inside Tucker’s Tunnel

Looking into an oven, or sea cave, from above

I did venture down many, many steps into Cannon Cave. When waves enter this cavern, you can both hear and feel the resounding boom. Eerie!

After we returned to the parking lot, the Gnome was intrigued by the folks on the beach below searching for remnants of gold that may have been left from the 1861 gold rush. He climbed the ladder down to the rocky shoreline. I stayed up top and had a delightful chat with a couple of Scottish fellows.

I’m so glad we put The Ovens on our itinerary. In spite of the high winds, the sometimes frighteningly-close-to-the-cliff trail, and the zillions of steps to get to and from the astounding views, our time there was worth every moment. And when we saw some of the waters-edge campsites, we immediately began planning a return here with a tent— just so we can watch the sunrise over the ocean just outside our tent flap.

Now, the only thing that lay between us and Shelburne was the Kejimkujik National Park Seaside near Port Joli.

Every community in Nova Scotia, no matter how small, seems to have a community hall. Wish we’d timed it to make one of the cakewalk or bingo or fiddle-playing events. Oh, well–something for next time.

We didn’t realize quite how far off the main road we had to travel to get to Keji, how slow the going would be, nor that we’d still have a 3.2-kilometer hike (one-way) to the coast when we reached the park’s parking area.

Sometimes it was a challenge interpreting Canada’s highway signs. We found out soon enough that this one meant we were leaving the paved road for a far bumpier and much slower gravel road.

We really wanted to make that hike—after all, we might get to see seals at the end of it. But we would barely have time for a quick drive-through at Shelburne in order to get to meet our Airbnb host at five o’clock—two hours later than we’d originally told her.  Thank goodness for cell phones.

These Sherburne buildings date from 1785 or so. I love the doorways.

Sherburne, as well as virtually every other fishing village, has a monument to its fishermen and other seafarers who have been lost at sea, sometimes in only the last couple of years. It gives one pause.

Not only did we have to nix the Black Loyalist Centre, we regretfully left the scenic route in favor of the faster highway for the remainder of the day’s trip.

We had the whole place to ourselves in the loft of this former museum dedicated to all things nautical. Oh, how I looked forward to falling into this inviting bed after our busy day . . .

    but not before sitting on the deck with a glass of ginger wine and wrapped in quilts (there was a real brr factor that evening) to watch the sun set across the bay.

Next up: Yarmouth, the Annapolis Valley, and more. Come back next week, won’t you?

Along Nova Scotia’s South Shore

(I’m reposting a travel series from a couple of years ago. If you’re like me, you are patiently (or maybe not so patiently) waiting for a safe return to the road. If so, how about traveling along with me on a virtual road trip. To read about our Nova Scotia travels from the beginning, start here.)

It’s not every day the Gnome and I plan an overnight stop just an hour from the previous night’s lodging, but that’s just what we did on much of our Nova Scotia journey. It’s a good thing we did, because a one-hour drive anywhere else easily turns into an eight-hour adventure of the senses in this maritime province, especially when you decide to take the slowest, most scenic route, traveling out to this cove and that one, and stopping at every photographic opportunity you see. That’s approximately one per minute along the South Shore of Nova Scotia!

We had already made a sunrise visit to tiny, picturesque Peggy’s Cove on one of our Halifax days. Peggy’s Cove was one of our most delicious memories from our first visit forty-nine years ago, even though we were shrouded in fog. We could barely wait to see it again. It did not disappoint.

Our destination today was Lunenburg, stopping at the villages of Chester and Mahone Bay along the way. Chester’s waterfront is nothing less than stunning.  (Click on images for a larger view.)

The village sports a small park with a couple of stirring war memorials. One features a Nova Scotia Highlander atop a monument honoring the 54 area soldiers killed during World War I. The other is a thank you from Norway. During World War II, more than 1,000 Norwegian merchant ships were at sea when Nazi Germany invaded the country. The ships sailed to the nearest allied ports. Thus, Chester’s Hackmatrack Inn became a convalescent center for the sick and injured Norwegian seamen who headed for safe harbor in Nova Scotia.

We wanted to stop in Mahone Bay to see its photogenic ‘Three Churches.’ Though we never found the best spot to photograph them, we still enjoyed their beauty—along with three or four tour busloads of other folks. DSCF3596

Quite by accident, we happened upon other visual entertainment, as well. The village was preparing for its annual Scarecrow Festival, which was set to begin in five days. Everybody gets in on the act from families to churches to dentists. (Look closely—can you see the braces on the dentist’s patient, bottom right. These characters were, of course, in front of a dentist’s office.)

We discovered a small nearby beach for a picnic lunch where a couple of folks from the area recreation department had set up shop encouraging residents to visit this little-known treasure. (Nova Scotia has few sand beaches, but this is one of them—sort of.) 

They invited us to fill a jar with sand and shells as a memento of our trip. And here is where we found, as we did over and over, the very best thing about the province—its people. They asked where we were from, commiserated over Hurricane Florence (which was on every Nova Scotian’s mind), found out where we were headed, and filled our heads full of not-to-be-missed places to visit on our journey. It was great fun meeting them.

Next on our agenda was Blue Rocks, Lunenburg’s ‘answer to Peggy’s Cove,’ even tinier and just as much off the beaten path. 

Downtown Blue Rocks

And, finally, just around suppertime, we made it to Lunenburg, whose Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. In spite of its tourist appeal, this fishing village has managed to retain its authenticity since its founding more than 250 years ago. Quite a feat.

Lunenburg streetscape

Old Town Lunenburg’s buildings are not reproductions. These are the real deal.

Detail, detail, detail!

A 1870s shipbuilder’s home

Nova Scotians sometimes refer to themselves as Bluenosers and here’s their proud reason why, I’m told: the Bluenose schooner, launched in 1921, raced undefeated in international competitions for 17 years. The Bluenose II, a faithful replica, was born and lives in Lunenburg just like her predecessor.

Complete with passengers

Just as we expected, our ‘one-hour’ trip turned into a long and busy day, and we were definitely ready for an early bedtime before the next day’s activities. Stop by next week to see what we discovered next.

Touring Halifax

(I’m reposting a travel series from a couple of years ago. If you’re like me, you are patiently (or maybe not so patiently) waiting for a safe return to the road. If so, how about traveling along with me on a virtual road trip. To read about our Nova Scotia travels from the beginning, start here.)

Nova Scotia redux began for us in Halifax, a fitting first stop. The province’s capital and by far its largest city, Halifax is vibrant and cosmopolitan, but with a cozy feel. It never felt overcrowded—at least as the first stop on our provincial travels. After a couple of weeks touring the coastline and running into people in only twos and threes, even a city as welcoming as Halifax might have seemed jarring.

We were surprised at how easy it is to navigate Halifax. Though we were staying in an Airbnb condo in a residential area, a short one-block walk took us to a large grocery store (liquor store, too); we found numerous local restaurants in easy walking distance; and we were never more than a five-minute drive from anywhere we wanted to visit.

Our days in Halifax were by far the most ‘touristy’ part of our Nova Scotia visit. Our first stop was the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, a star-shaped fortress first constructed in 1749 to protect the harbor. The Citadel was never engaged in battle. It didn’t need to be; its mere presence was deterrent enough to would-be invaders. We watched the hourly sentry change, as well as cannon and rifle-firing demonstrations, all performed in full military regalia of the era. With the national parks passes we purchased prior to our travels, this was a freebie.

As avid gardeners, we could hardly pass up the sixteen-acre, Victorian-era Public Gardens, occupying a large city block in the heart of downtown. We took our time exploring its fountains, bridges, statues, pond, and its massive floral displays including exhibits like these

and carpet beds like these.

They even have tropical plants on display. How do they do that?

Not every public library is a tourist destination, but Halifax’s new Central Library certainly is, with its five-story, 112,000 square foot award-winning architecture. It even boasts a green roof, a cafe where patrons can buy coffee or a meal, and a rooftop garden for enjoying their purchases. The library is even LEED-certified, a high-performance green building designation.

Among its many sustainable features are a green roof sustained by rainwater, electric vehicle charging stations, rainwater harvesting for flush features, solar heating, and use of recycled, local, and low-emission building materials. All that and stunning, too. So stunning that in 2014, CNN named it one of ten ‘eye-popping’ new buildings of the year. I wonder why.

Photo attribution: Citobun [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

While we knew we didn’t want to spend our precious time in Nova Scotia inside museum walls, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Canada’s last ocean immigration shed, was a notable exception. I was humbled to find myself in the presence of other visitors who were ‘veterans’ of Pier 21, people who themselves had come to Canada by boat via Pier 21. (I’ll be writing more about this phenomenal experience in a future blog post, so stay tuned.)

(Speaks for itself)

She doesn’t know it, but a primary reason Halifax was one of our destination points was folk artist Shelagh Duffett, whose brightly colored, playful prints (mostly of cats) adorn our walls. The weekend we were there, she was selling at the Maritime Makers’ Market. We were excited to meet her in person and to purchase even more of her smile-producing fanciful artwork.

Typical of Nova Scotians, Shelagh was genial and generous, giving us tips on vegetarian restaurants and an important site to visit, one we weren’t familiar with. We went straightaway to the historic Hydrostone District, a lovely neighborhood with a tragic history. (I’ll be writing more about that in a later blog, too.)

The tree-lined boulevards in Halifax’s historic Hydrostone District feature wide, grassy strips for community use.

But the best part of our stay in Halifax was strolling, whether through parks, neighborhoods filled with lovely Victorian homes, shopping districts, or the boardwalk at the harbor, a place we found ourselves every day of our visit, sometimes more than once. Day or night, it was safe, relaxing, and yet spirited, filled with people, public art, and a few surprises—like the hammocks just waiting to be used by anyone. What a delightful way to pass the time: swinging in a hammock while reading, watching seagulls, or gazing at sailboats on sparkling water.

Yes, Halifax was a good place to start our journey. Stay tuned for more about our Nova Scotia travels.

Return to Nova Scotia

Two years ago, we had just returned from a long-awaited trip to one of our favorite place—Nova Scotia. That was back in the long-ago when we could go places. Since most of us are stuck at home these days, I thought you might like to take a virtual fantasy tour with me in this ‘classic’ (or rerun) travel series of words and pictures. 

Forty-nine years later, the Gnome and I have fuzzy but memorable impressions of our first visit to Canada. They go something like this—Ottawa: old-fashioned officialdom; Toronto: sleekly professional with more traffic lanes than we’d ever seen; Montreal: sophisticated, Euro-cosmopolitan; Quebec City: old-world charm; rural Quebec: rolling green farmland; New Brunswick: waves of amber; Prince Edward Island (PEI): verdant romanticism.

And then there was Nova Scotia, a place I’d seen in my dreams, a place where the mountains meet the sea, a place of blues and greens, a place that inspires the imagination, a place of calm and peacefulness.  I’d always imagined living someplace where I could open my front door to the ocean and my back one to the mountains. I assumed it was a mythical place, attainable only through my fanciful visions.

Yet, here it was, right before my awestruck eyes. But our trip was at its end. We only had a fraction of two days to soak in this magic. Still, Nova Scotia managed to grab a little piece of our hearts.

So, how come it took almost fifty years for us to return to this bewitching land? We’d managed to revisit some of the other provinces and explore them further, making a five-hour, 186-mile train trip to (what we thought was far north) Moosonee, Ontario, on the Polar Bear Express. (Rail is the only way to reach Moosonee by land.) And we camped on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, home of Forillon National Park and the Chic-Choc Mountains, a continuation of the Appalachian chain.

Maybe we stayed away so long out of an unconscious fear that reality couldn’t possibly measure up to our happy memories. Or maybe we instinctively knew the longer we yearned, the more phenomenal it would all be when our dreams finally turned to reality.

And so it was that in mid-September we made our way back for a long-planned and even longer-imagined visit to the place that had held on to our hearts for so long. A twenty-six-day road trip, eighteen of those in Canada’s second smallest and second most densely populated province (coming in after PEI in both cases).

Eighteen days, especially compared to the barely two of our previous visit, should be enough time to get to know a place so small that it’s a mere 360 miles from tip to tip, so small that nowhere in the province is more than 42 miles from the ocean, right? Hardly. That was clear after only a couple of days.

We weren’t so much interested in visiting museums and traditional tourist sites, though we did take in a few. Instead, this time around we wanted to get to know the real Nova Scotia—her people, places, and culture. We didn’t want to just see the place; we wanted to feel it. We thought we could accomplish that by visiting community after community. But each locale has its own unique story and demands more than a quick pass through. Before we knew it, we were busy planning our next trip, one that keeps us in fewer places, but for a longer period of time in each.

Was it all we’d imagined? Oh, yes! In the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about some of the special places we saw, people we met, and things we learned. In the meantime, to tantalize you, here are just a few of the 3500+ pictures we took along our journey.

Long-awaited welcome

So many colorful houses everywhere–you’re as likely to see red, purple, or orange as you are white.

Early morning in Peggy’s Cove

Beautiful Cape Breton

DSCF5984

We even got to see the beginning of Cape Breton’s fall colors.

DSCF3865

Looking out from a sea cave at Ovens Natural Park

DSCF4047

So many striking homes. So much detail.

Annapolis Valley

DSCF4332

Example of an 18th century  Acadian home

Oh, Canada!

The Landscape of Grand Pre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

And here are a couple of Nova Scotia factoids: The distance from Nova Scotia’s southernmost tip to its northernmost is 360 miles, almost two hundred miles less than the distance across my home state of North Carolina. In land area, it is closest to, though smaller than, West Virginia, which is ranked 41st among our 50 states.

To join me on my journeys stay tuned for more stories and pictures.

Mom’s Life in Pictures

Well, that’s  not right. Mother’s life was much more than can be depicted in these few photographs. This is more a through-the-years photo essay–a snapshot of snapshots, limited by what has been scanned and is readily available and not in any particular order. (And unfortunately, misses her middle life altogether–maybe another time.)

Pam Dillard Coates: 10/11/1923-7/7/2020

Circa 1936–sisters (l-r) Bobbie, Jeannette, Phyllis, Mom.

Circa 1937 family photo: (front) Bobbie; (center) Mom with a teenage smirk, Grandmother, Jeannette; (back) Granddaddy, Phyllis, Bill.

1942–college sophomore photo, Western Carolina Teachers College (now Western Carolina University).

1940–Mom (right) high school senior, with friends at Sylva High School.

Sometime in the early ’40s–maybe senior yearbook photo.

Braxton and Pam Coates wedding

November 14, 1944.

1945–war workers in the Secret City (Oak Ridge, TN)–standing in front of their flat top home, one of thousands  brought in by truck and lifted into place by crane, fully finished and furnished.

1946 or 47: Mom with firstborn (me) in front of her parents’ home in the Addie community, about four miles from Sylva, Jackson County, NC.

Fall, 2004: Family reunion, Asheville, NC,three months before Dad died.

 

Circa 2006–Mom basking in sunlight in front of Olympic fountain, Atlanta, GA.

Circa 2007: Mom (r) with sister Jeannette, Blue Ridge Parkway.

mom 95

October 2018–Mom’s 95th birthday.

1950–Mom flanked by my brother Alan and me. She made all the clothes, probably including Alan’s cap and my pocketbook.

November 2019 (age 96)–Mom checking out a hot-off-the-press copy of my book about her life.

Circa 2010 at home in Fairview, NC. (Thanks to brother Curt for this one. He is the BEST photographer!)

circa 1938.  Mom as a teenager standing by the rock pillars in front of her home in Beta, NC (just outside of Sylva, Jackson County)

Circa 2005. Mom at home.

Circa 1990–in the woods at home, Fairview, NC.

1924, with her siblings, cousins, and grandmother. Mother is the baby, front left, fascinated with something on the ground instead of the person behind the camera.

Circa 1939. Mom at Swannanoa 4-H camp, Swannanoa, NC.

Circa 1943. Dad and Mom courting on the mountainside at her home in Addie, NC (near Sylva, Jackson County).

 

Circa 2015. Mom and Dad’s youngest brother, Bryan, are reminiscing.

Circa 1954. Mom holding her youngest, Curtis, at home, Florence, SC.

1994. Mother and Dad celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary when she was 71.

Circa 1944. A big smile for her boyfriend.

Circa 1942. Sisters: Barbara, Jeannette, Phyllis, Pam (my mom)

Found Poetry, Part VI

Each line of the first four poems is the title of a musical piece. I have put the titles together to form minimalist poetry, or as my cousin says, Almost Haiku. (For more found poetry, click here, here, here, and here.  Leave a note below to tell me what you think.

sea dreams
dancing on the water
on silent wings

 

incandescent voyage
water droplets
whisper of a stream
across the river

 

bathed in moonlight
on the edge of destiny
like smoke through a keyhole

 

tranquil dreams
in the stillness
deep peace
flowing into formlessness

 

 

The next poem was ‘found’ in a different way—personal observation at the edge of a field while watching a paragliding competition.

Swallows and swallowtails
graze the blossoms of chicory,
clover, and Queen Anne’s lace
in a wide meadow
beneath the cloud-dappled sky
where paragliders sail.

 

 

 

 

 

Modern Homesteading Update and Recipes

When I started this blog (a little over three years ago!), one of my main goals was to write about modern homesteading. Since then, however, I also  began blogging for Mother Earth News. (You can connect to many of those posts here). Since I couldn’t put the same posts in both blogs, Living on the Diagonal began to focus on personal essays, poetry, a philosophical musings, while modern homesteading got short shrift.

But I miss sharing that topic over here, and it feels a little like I’ve abandoned my original blogging idea. And if that’s what you were looking for, I have some good news. I think I finally figured a way to get back to it without encroaching on my Mother Earth News blog posts. My plan is to share modern homesteading tips, my modern homesteading philosophy, and my own learning experiences on this site, dropping them in every month or so. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to delve into single topics in more depth over at Mother Earth News.

To start (since we’re now officially in the winter season), I am linking you to several of my favorite soup recipes (previously printed here and on the M.E.N. blog) along with this perfect go-with, my prize-winning cornbread recipe. Simple and perfect for chilly winter nights.

We use home-ground Painted Mountain corn for this recipe, but store-bought cornmeal works just (well, almost) as well.

And while you’re heating up those winter delicacies, I’ll start getting my modern homesteading writing act together.

Some of these soups take almost no time to prepare and some require a slightly larger time investment—mostly peeling or chopping, but all are simple, simple, simple.

The Gnome and I came across this favorite soup recipe way back from our earliest interest in twentieth- (now twenty-first-) century homesteading. We found it in the 1973 Mother Earth News Almanac, when it was a brand new publication.  The recipe is so easy that it’s embarrassing, but, boy oh boy, is this Cheesy-Potato Soup, the perfect stick-to-your-ribs meal after a day of chopping firewood or cross-country skiing or whatever your favorite winter outdoor activity is.

This little volume has gotten a real workout over the last forty-five years!

It was during that same era when we discovered this delicious and healthful Lentil Soup. It’s also easy to make, still hearty but lighter than the others I’m posting. Best of all, one brief cooking session provides us with several hearty meals.

More recently, we’ve discovered the joys of soups made with winter squash. Either of the following recipes can be made with your choice of winter squash—butternut, pumpkin, hubbard, whatever. And the chili is equally delicious with sweet potatoes.

The yummy Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Cinnamon Croutons could almost be dessert. You’ll need to cook the squash ahead of time or use purchased canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix).

This Slow-Cooker Winter Squash Chili is another real winner. You can start it mid-morning or after lunch, depending on which temperature setting you choose. Perfect for when  you have a busy afternoon ahead. In this case, you start with raw potatoes or squash, peeled, and chunked.

Let your slow cooker do the work for you.

Happy soup-making—and eating!

Country Roads

Alongside the country road I drive most days, I’m sure to find—depending on the time of year—trillium, wild irises, fire pinks, flame azaleas, rhododendron, mountain laurel, Japanese meadowsweet, bee balm, daisies, evening primrose, black-eyed Susans, Turk’s cap lilies, Queen Anne’s lace, wild blackberries, Joe-Pye weed, touch-me-nots, ironweed, snow, and ice. All strikingly beautiful and all worth slowing down for.

 

On a cool but sunny day, I’m as likely as not to find a lazy dog dozing on the asphalt, in no hurry to get out of my way.

It isn’t rare to find myself behind a farmer driving his slow-moving tractor from one field to another. Other times it may be a load of Christmas trees or a flatbed groaning under the weight of too many rolls of hay puttering along in front of me.

A deer, raccoon, possum, chipmunk, squirrel, rabbit, or even a fox or bobcat might scamper—or mosey—across the road any time of day or night.

I often come upon a car or truck at a dead standstill, the driver having stopped to catch up on the latest community ‘news’ with a neighbor. Usually, they’ll look ahead and wave me around; they’re nowhere near ready to move on themselves.

It’s only right to roll down the window for a “Howdy” when couples are out for a morning jog or an evening stroll. Those moments, too, may turn into drawn-out conversations.

One should never be in a hurry on a country road.

Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer

They call them the dog days of summer, these days of July and August, usually the hottest and most humid of the year (for those of us in the northern hemisphere). But I can already feel fall. The air has grown slightly less moist, hinting at autumn’s dry coolness, even when the thermometer doesn’t agree.

I hear it in the sounds of insects—different from early summer bug buzzes and chirps. And I hear the occasional thump when a premature nut hits the ground.

I see it in the trees. Their leaves grow simultaneously darker and paler, and occasional ones waft to the ground. I see it in the flowers, too, whose colors have changed from bright summery hues to the softer mauves, lavenders, and golds of fall.

Yes, we may still officially be in summer’s dog days, but fall is in the air. There’s something slightly wistful about these times when the old begins to fade and the new is just beyond the horizon. We become nostalgic for something not yet gone. While some of us bemoan the loss of barefoot days, summer picnics, tubing down a river, others are perking up at the prospect of football, fall foliage, apple cider, and hayrides.

By the way, do you know where the term ‘dog days of summer’ comes from? I always thought it had to do with the way lethargic dogs laze on country roads or under porches during our annual heat waves. I guess in a roundabout way that’s not far off. In fact, the ancient Romans called the hottest, most humid days of summer ‘dog days’ because they associated them with the star Sirius, the dog star. Our most sultry days coincide, more or less, with the time each year when Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, appears to rise just before the sun.

At this time in my life, the change of seasons brings a question to mind. It looms larger with each cycle—what changes lie in store with the next season? But, whatever is in my own future, my head knows that each season brings its own gifts. My challenge is to embrace them while they are here in all their fullness and, when the time comes, to let them go lightly so I can do the same when the next one rolls around.

 

Family Ties

Last year, I participated in a genealogy challenge on social media called Fifty-two Ancestors in Fifty-Two Weeks. You never know where delving into family history will lead you. You end up learning about people you’d never even heard of. It’s not about attaching yourself to fame and glory, at least not for me. But it does remind me that I’m connected to the history I learned about (and didn’t learn about) in school. It brings history to life. Being conscious of that history is not only interesting, but creates connectivity to others. It can teach important life lessons. And were it not for them—all of them—I wouldn’t be here.

For one weekly genealogy challenge, I wrote about my great-grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Creech Smith. Somehow, that post popped up on a Creech family page, and next thing I knew I’d been invited to a Creech reunion. Of course, I had to go.

Columbus and Elizabeth Creech Smith

My curiosity about family and family history far outweighed my strong introvert credentials. I’d never met a Creech, probably because my grandmother died four years before I was born. That, and the fact that I was not born and raised in Johnston County, North Carolina, home to many a Creech and the location of the reunion.

I was anxious about being a stranger in the crowd, anxiety that was much alleviated by the Gnome’s presence at my side. (He’s as interested in my family history as I am.) But there was no need to worry. As the newcomer, I wasn’t only welcomed; I was practically rushed by my previously unknown cousins of various degrees.

What a welcoming crowd! Many of us appeared to be from the same generation, all descended from various of Martha Hare and Worley Creech’s nine children. If I’ve got it right, I’m third cousin to most of the kind folks I met that day.

Worley Creech, our common ancestor

Martha Hare Creech, our common ancestor

I gathered a few interesting facts about my ancestry. For one thing, the Creeches are a seriously musical bunch with a long heritage of vocal and instrumental talent. They played and sang for more than an hour, and it was beautiful. So that’s where my dad and his brothers and so many of my cousins got lots of their melodic genes!

My ‘new’ cousin Charles remembered being in the house where Worley (second-great-grandfather, if you’re keeping up) grew up. Worley’s youngest son, Carmel, lived and died in that house. Charles, just a kid at the time, remembered when Carmel’s body was brought back to the house. While the children played outside, the adults gathered around to watch over the body and to sing hymns, accompanied by the pump organ that had belonged to Carmel. The worn-out skeleton of the house still stands, hidden by a mass of pine trees and overgrown weeds. It remains in family hands.

Unfortunately, stroke has also played an outsized role in the Creech family for generations. My great-grandmother was a stroke victim. According to one of my uncles, “Grandma Creech was bed-ridden for as long as I can remember.” And my grandmother, Lula, died as the result of her second stroke. That’s why I never got a chance to know her. Not such a good sign—though stroke has not claimed anyone in my direct line since.

In addition to Charles, I met cousins Vicki (reunion host), Genie, Jody, Brenda, Steve, Sharon, Susan, Katherine, Shirley, Tap, and too many more to keep all the names straight—sorry.

A highlight of the day was being in the presence of the family’s matriarch—my second cousin once removed. But eighty-nine-year-old Sarah and I are much closer than that. She knew my dad! And remembered most of his brothers. She knew my great-grandparents! I could have jumped out of my skin. She remembered my great-grandfather, Columbus (Uncle Lumbus, she called him), from Creech reunions way back. And she told me a story about my great-grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth. It went something like this.

“There was this corner store our family went to. One day, I was in the buggy with Mother and we stopped at the store where Mother bought a bag of candies. Oh, how I wanted some of that candy! When we came out of the store and got back in the buggy, she said, ‘I want to tell you something. We’re going to see this lady who’s sick [that would be Elizabeth—Sarah’s mother was her niece], and this candy is for her. Now, she’s going to offer you a piece, because that’s what people do. But you are not to accept it.’

“And sure enough, that’s just what she did. And even though I really wanted a piece of that candy, I did just what my mother said, because that’s what people did.”

At the age of seventy-three I sat in the presence, held hands with, a woman who had been in the presence of, and probably held hands with, my great-grandmother. How about that!

Sarah fills me in. (Sarah was also  pianist for all the fine singing.)

I wouldn’t take anything for that reunion day.

(If you care about things like family degrees of separation, you can learn more here.)