Mama Told Me Not to...Life Up the Holler

Up on the hill, one of the babies ventured out alone to nibble some corn.  Mama probably warned him, but he was hungry and decided the prize was worth the risk.


And then the stranger came along...


scared baby



scared baby2

He's a brave little guy. 


scared baby3

In this case, rumbly tummies won out.

scared baby5

But like all good siblings, the opportunity to scare your younger brother is just too good to pass up.


"Hey, Verdery, come here!" he called.  "Look what I found!"

"Mama said we're not supposed to wander..."

"Aw, come on, Verd! What are you, a 'fraidy cat? There's corn just a layin' all over the ground up here. Come on, I dare you!"

scared babies

Notice who's getting to eat all the good stuff while Verdery gets the stuffing scared out of him.

scared babies2

Family relations don't seem to change much across species.


Franklin County's Tax Department- Now That's Customer Service!



I arrived at the little cabin up the holler this afternoon and found a stranger lurking in the driveway.

It hadn't been a good day. My hairdresser turned my hair purple and for the first two-thirds of the trip toward the mountain, I indulged in a bad case of the Unlucky in Love, Lookin' Like Lyle Lovett Blues.

Just as I remembering that I own my destiny and that even purple hair can't keep a good goddess down, I saw the stranger and thought, great, a serial killer.

Ever the City Girl, I was on guard right away.  When he got out of his white SUV and started walking toward me, I got out of my car thinking, if he's psycho, I'll unleash Bailey Monster and Psycho Schnauzer on him.

He had a clipboard, black pants, button-down shirt and short, dark-brown hair.  Worse, he was smiling- a thousand-watt, brighter than my laundry, big, toothy grin.

I revised my opinion of him instantly. 

He wasn't a serial killer. He was a proselytizing, door-to-door, walking revival come to save my immortal soul and that made him worse than a serial killer.

He stuck out his hand and said "Hi, I'm Ben Whatever Followed this...I wasn't listening past the name and the words "Tax Department."

Great. Purple hair and a big, fat tax bill. The Goddess in me was fading fast...until my brain caught up with what the boy was saying.

"So they sent me out to re-assess you because we think we might've overcharged you."

Excuse me?

I thought they'd overcharged me, too. I'd looked at the map online and figured there was no way my tee-ninsey cabin had two stories and a basement like the site showed. But then I figured, the property map looked wrong online too, so it was probably just outdated. I mean, everyone's been saying the taxes were going up by a lot...but...

"Well, I did get a letter from the mortgage company saying my monthly payment was going up by $100 and I did think that was way high," I offered hesitantly.

He nodded. "That's why I'm here. One of the other guys in the office sent me out. Said he was in the neighborhood and thought your place didn't look like the valuation."

Now I'm looking around for the hidden camera. I'm being punked, right?

But no.

So, I invite him inside.

I show a total stranger all over my house. I even insist that he come upstairs and see my bedroom.

And in return- My house gets thoroughly assessed and I have the loveliest conversation with one of the county's sweetest men.

To Ben, the world is an open book- a smorgasbord of people all waiting to be greeted and welcomed. Exploring differences is what makes his world richer and savoring the seconds he gets to spend with his young family all the reward he needs in life.

We talk about child-rearing, philosophy, life in Roanoke, relationships, heritage, the future of the world, why people look so dead every and unhappy when he stops by the supermarket on his way home. I even tell him about the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory and talk about why his type loves to talk to people about feelings but hates to make decisions.

In short, we discuss the Entire World and I catch a bad case of Ben's unbridled enthusiasm for life.

The man could charm snakes out of trees. 

"I guess not everyone looks forward to your visits," I say at some point.

His eyes widen and he nods vigorously. "No, Nancy,they certainly do not." But he is still smiling.

I imagine the poor tax assessor popping in unannounced on a gun-toting moonshiner and wonder how in the world...After all, they don't call Franklin County the Moonshine Capital of the World for nothing. Bad things could happen.

But as I watch the boy carefully measure my front porch, and listen to him talking about the wonders of his baby boys, I realize this kid's truly never met a stranger.

Hostile landowners would be no match for the young tax assessor's sincere interest in their lives. He'd have the moonshiners laying down their weapons and telling their life stories in no time- And all the while he'd be quietly making notes on his clipboard and sketching out the lay of the land.


More Doins Up the Holler

The little cabin up the holler is feeling much better thanks to a fresh coat of driveway gravel and the kindly help of our brother neighbors, Glen and James.


With some of the brush gone, it's easier to find old logging trails and follow deer paths up to the top ridge line.

This picture doesn't do the old tree justice, but I believe it's one of the oldest on the mountain- probably 8' around.



But all is not sweetness and light.  A few of the denizens are right unhappy to have their quiet winter morning breakfast disturbed by the humans.


One of the little ones decided to take the matter up with the black box on the tree and made quite a case for her claim to the mountain.


The mud turtles weren't too happy about the disturbance either.



I feel the same way when my nap's disrupted.

But once some of the corroded tin shards and logs from the burnt down third cabin got moved out of the way, the branch began to flow, bubbling up from the ground with a soft gurgle of relief.

In the Spring, when things green up and the peeps return to the pond, I believe the wildlife citizenry will forgive me.


Cabin Life- Big Doins Up the Holler

My log cabin and it's forgotten little sister were built before the Civil War...In the intervening years, the original family remained in the holler, farming, raising cows, making 'shine.

The last of the family has gone and since I've owned the cabin, I've spent untold hours researching the first owners and wondering about how things must have been once.

I've wondered how the land looked all those years ago, found clues and strange things- like teapots attached to fence posts and old irons wired into trees.

It's all been a mystery.


And then the neighbor and his brother, who grew up here and know everything there is to know about almost every mystery, volunteered to help.

One thing led to another and voila! Look!


This morning they called to say, come look.

I couldn't go but Mert ran up to spend the day working and enjoying the buried treasures that were unearthed...like a handcrafted wagon rim.


And a hand-carved paddle for stirring the clothes that sat in the wash pot over a low, smoky fire in the side yard...


Around back a beautiful stone walkway was hidden for years beneath a thick cover of leaves and dirt. 

Inside the cabin, stuffed between two boards, was an old apron. Mert brought it back and I'm washing it as I write.


Making changes like this may have felt right. My instincts may have whispered "Clear out that scrub.  Those boxwoods are dying off from the bottom up. Yank 'em out," but still I couldn't quite commit to actual change. Part of me wondered what Old Posey would've thought.  Would I be forever destroying an important part of the land's past?

I feel so connected to the holler, as if I've been entrusted with the care of a legacy that while not rich in traditional, historical value is nonetheless important. It is the story of a simple family's journey. My family may make a bit of a history in this place, but I am the curator of its past, too.

When Mert got back to town and reported overhearing a comment one of the brothers made, I realized I could relax a bit.

The two men were outside next to the Little Sister Cabin. James, the younger brother, sat perched on his big, red excavator, smoking a cigarette.  His older brother, Glen, leaned against the huge machine but both two brothers were staring up at the old home place chimney, now visible on the hillside.

James exhaled slowly, a stream of smoke that followed the arc of his disappearing cigarette.  "There now," he said, his voice a soft, deep murmur of satisfaction.  "Looks like it used to, huh?"



I looked at the pictures Mert took and imagined the ghost of Maggie standing on the back porch, peering into the old mirror as she straightened her straw hat and ignored Posey honking the horn as he tried to hurry her along.

"Come on!" Posey'd yell.

She'd start off the porch and notice at the very last second, she'd forgotten to take off her apron.

Flustered, she'd cry, "Hold yer horses!"  She'd fumble with the strings knotted behind her back, wad the apron up and stuff it hurriedly behind the shelf just inside the back door.

"I'm coming!" she'd say as she ran awkwardly to the old Pontiac.

Maggie'd be happy, I think, to see order returning to her little corner of the holler. 


Mysteries Solved at the Little Cabin in Virginia

It was a beautiful weekend to be up on the mountain. With the leaves down, it's easy to discover new trails and parts of the property we'd never seen before.


One of the neighbors who grew up in around the holler stopped by to talk about the old days.  He remembers a time when half the way up the mountain was pasture and before that, tobacco.

His brother's wife remembers the day Posey planted the boxwood hedge around the old abandoned cabin.  She said he did this by cutting slips from an existing boxwood, sticking each branch into a potato and then planting the potato and cutting in the ground.

Now look at them-



I think I've finally got a handle on the trail camera setup. This past Friday when I went back to check, there were well over a thousand pictures waiting.

Remember those hauntingly large tracks we found heading up the mountain?


The paw that looked like Abominable Snow-creature tracks?


We caught him.  Just like the professional tracker and the neighbors said...It was Otis...


The Blue Tick Coon Hound...and one of his pals- a part-beagle, part-shepherd mix.

Oh well.

But our other neighbors are a family of deer who live in the woods surrounding the cabin.


It seems the girls run in one pack, while the guys go stag.


Of course, the girls are always the first on the scene.  Once they've secured the perimeter, the let the boys know it's safe to come on in.


Some things just never change...


Here's Lookin' at You, Kid!



Remember the big mystery poo?  The bumps in the night?  The huge tracks across the way?  Well, we certainly were curious about the source of such large, um...deposits, so we decided to put up a trail cam.


We hooked the little black box up to a tree, trained the eye as best we could to overlook the trail, scattered some tired apple quarters about and drove back to Greensboro.

Six days later, we rode back up to check and climbed the frozen ground up to the old home place. 


We were sooooo excited!

We were just certain our Yeti was waiting for us, safely captured on the camera's memory card.  I pictured him squatting on hairy haunches, oblivious to the infared flash as he gobbled dirty apple pieces, all the while darting furtive glances over his shoulder.

I imagined the headlines in the Roanoke paper when we captured the first absolute image of a cougar in Franklin County.

There was no end to the wildlife I just knew we'd snared with our huge 4 Gigabyte memory.

I know.  The suspense is killing you.  Look closely...See him?



Yeah. Me either.



But we did catch a couple of fellers, the ones who managed to escape the SWAT team of hunters who surround us up there.



So we did the only thing we could...We bought deer corn, cut up some more apples, readjusted the cameras and headed on back.  Maybe, with any luck, we'll have better luck.

I might even catch another one of these...





Can you see me now?