Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I Appear to be Surviving December

It's only the third day of Christmas, but the big day, of course, is over. And I've survived. I made it through all the Girl Scout stuff, Anne's birthday, her birthday party a week later, and Christmas. There were a few teary, crazy moments here and there, but overall I appear to be doing well.

This is such a big deal. The me of five or ten years ago would be a depressed mess curled up in a corner, scared to leave the house. It's been an extremely social past few weeks; we've had a lot of people in our house between the Girl Scout float project, Anne's birthday party, and dinners with friends. There were three times in December that we had over 15 guests at a time. This, friends, is an introvert's nightmare. But ...

I've been okay. I know I'm not turning into an extravert, but it's been okay. I'm not sure why, but I'm not going to think about it too much.

So, Christmas. It was such a good Christmas for our little family. Santa was quite generous; Anne asked for books, crafts, and stuffed animals, and she got some of each. She also got several games--Battleship, Clue, Mille Bornes, and a chess set. The big present was an air hockey table that converts to a ping-pong table. That's down in our basement, which Dan and I have decided to convert into a game room. Not that we had any games at the time, but the table and an electronic darts set are a good start.

My big present was a guitar. Miraculously, I remember a lot of what I learned back at my week-long guitar class at Singin' River Ranch in the mid-80s. (That would be a D chord, an A chord, a G chord, a C chord, and an F chord, along with a few minors and dominant sevenths--enough to play several hundred songs!) So yesterday I started toughening up my fingertips, playing "This Land Is Your Land," "You Are My Sunshine," "Magic Penny," "Rock My Soul," "Puff the Magic Dragon," and several other songs that make me dream of folk-singer stardom.

Dan got some good stuff, too, but nothing too exciting. I think his favorite thing is the ping-pong table. We played two out of three last night and I whupped him. I think we have a lot of fun ahead of us with that table.

So it was a good Christmas. Dan and I are happy, which isn't something I've been able to say the past few Christmases. It seems like a lot of people who were unhappy earlier this year--people whose marriages have crumbled, people who have lost their homes to fire and flooding, people who have had serious money problems--had good Christmases, surrounded by family, living in borrowed homes, benefiting from the generosity of friends. That's been good.

This is just a check-in since I left my journal at the office, which is why it (like many of my recent posts) is pretty ho-hum. Not that I need to apologize for my three readers. but there it is. I hope all three of you had a good Christmas and are enjoying your holidays. More later. (Maybe I'll even do a "year in review" post next week!)

Monday, December 5, 2016

December Stress

These past few weeks I've been feeling increasingly stressed. There are several situational/environmental reasons for this, but it hasn't helped that physical exercise has been sporadic for me, and quiet timejust me and my notebook in a coffee shop or libraryhas been nonexistent.

So, I'm going to write out all the stressors in my life of late and hope that it helps to see it all in front of me. This is something I'd normally do in my journal, but if I'm going to revive this blog, I need to post every now and then. Now seems as good of a time as any.

All right. I'm just going to blurt everything out, and then pick through it all and add details.

Anne's birthday Christmas work knee pain hip pain groin pain money fires politics work money sleep too many people no quiet time can't exercise pain

Whew. There. That doesn't look so bad now does it.

Time for details and headings and all that.

Anne's Birthday

This kid. I just love this kid. I want her to have a fun birthday party that she'll remember for years to come. I remember my seventh birthday partywe went to Frumbrussel's ice cream in Baton Rouge. It wasn't an exciting party, but I remember it, and I remember having fun. I want that for Anne.

So why am I stressed? Hm. I think it's time for a subheading.

The Guest List

For starters, the guest list, which is too long. I've already arranged to have a mini-party at her school on her actual birthday, so that she can celebrate with her school friends without feeling obligated to invite every single one of them to our house for her birthday party the following Saturday.

She still has a million friends, particularly if you add Girl Scouts, family, and her neighborhood friends. (And then there are the moms and kids whose feelings may be hurt because we invited this one and that one but not the other one.) We have 25 people on the list. I tell myself, "Well, we can invite everyone, and half of them probably won't show up since it's the Christmas season, they're on Christmas break, etc." Which could happen. But we've always had good attendance at her birthday parties in the past, so I expect we'll get most if not all of the kids we invite. So. We must cut the list by at least five, and preferably ten, people.

The Location

We're having this thing at our house. Our modest-sized house in our cookie-cutter neighborhood. I'm not embarrassed by the house or anything like that—it's just that it's not a very big house, and a party of even 15 kids is going to be crowded. We also have a tiny driveway in a cul-de-sac, so there's nowhere to park. People have to park at the neighborhood community center a block away and walk. I hate having to tell people this. There's one perk to it, though: Parking is easy. I even reserved the community center so people could use the parking lot. I just hope it isn't, say, 30 degrees and sleeting on the day of her birthday.


I have put exactly zero though into what I'm getting my dear child for her birthday. And do you think I've even started thinking about Christmas? Ha! I've bought a couple of small presents here and there, but I haven't put much thought into Christmas at all. Which brings me to my next heading ...


There is so much going on! Last year we took Anne to The Nutcracker and I wanted to make it an annual thing, but we're not going to have time this year—there's just too much other stuff to do. Tonight is her "Lessons and Carols" Christmas program at school. (It's also Girl Scout night, but we'll miss that.) Then we're getting a Christmas tree Wednesday evening (weather permitting), I have voice Thursday, and then Friday we'll have some Girl Scouts and their parents over to finish up the Christmas float they're riding in the Christmas parade on Saturday. Sunday I need to play Monday's Girl Scout meeting. Oh, and Monday's the day I'm going to her school to have the mini-party. Then I need to get ready for the real party, which is the following Saturday, but first we have my company Christmas party, and have I mentioned that I still need to do Christmas shopping for my co-workers? Oh, and my family? And then the following Monday is the Girl Scout Christmas party and awards ceremony ... so I feel tired just looking at this schedule. And it's not like I'll have time to prepare for any of this because I'm at work all day. So let's talk about ...


I love work as much as ever, but it's gotten busy, as in no-time-for-lunch busy. It's probably the least stressful thing on my list, actually, because there is some semblance of order and expectation at work. Still, I have a full schedule this week—fuller than usual—and too many errands to try to run during lunch hours. I'm also having to miss some work here and there over the next few weeks—Friday for Anne's gingerbread house project at school, Monday for her mini-birthday party, the following Friday because she has a half-day, and the following Monday because I have a dentist appointment. Plus I need to leave a little early today so I can get her dressed up and at Lessons and Carols in time. So it's not work that's stressing me out—it's the way life is encroaching on my work time. I put in extra hours at home, but it still doesn't look good.

Let's Talk about Pain

I want to run. Running makes me happy. I can't run. I've been working the last few weeks to build myself up, walking and running alternately, and then yesterday I jogged three miles. Three miles is easy. I could run twice that if I were counting on aerobic strength alone. But I've developed so much pain in my knees, hips, and groin that even three miles puts me out for a few days. My walk/runs have not resulted in a great deal of pain, so I had hope for yesterday's run: Maybe I'd built myself up enough, worked slowly enough over several weeks, that I wouldn't have pain. No. I hardly slept last night from the pain, and this morning I'm limping. Today's pain is right hip and groin, and left knee. The left knee is the worst. It's an injury I first had in my late teens or early 20s, and it flares up every now and then and sidelines me until it decides to go away a week or a month or several months later. So I'm sad. Not only does it hurt, but I can't exercise. Even just walking or lifting weights hurts. Push-ups and sit-ups are about the only thing I can do without pain.

Current Events

There are the fires in western NC and Tennessee, which are mostly contained by now, but have brought a great deal of stress over the past couple of months. Of course there was the big Gatlinburg fire that killed 14 people and counting, and then there are thousands of acres of forest burned. We breathed smoke for weeks from fires that were miles away. It's a huge relief that we've had rain for several days now, but the stress of so many fires has taken its toll on everyone.

And then there is the election. I was not a Hillary fan but was even less of a Trump fan, and the thought of him being our president just depresses me. I also hate how this election has torn so many people apart. I haven't lost any friendships (that I know of), but that's probably because I (1) never talk about politics, and (2) practice tolerance of those who disagree with me (which leads to why I never talk about politics). But you know what? Practicing all this tolerance can be stressful, too.

And then there is my alma mater, Mary Baldwin University (originally Mary Baldwin College), announcing that it's going to go co-ed. I haven't been happy with some of the changes at Mary Baldwin, but I realize changes have to be made if it's going to survive. It's been stressful seeing the uninformed rants of some of the alumnae on various Facebook pages. A popular hashtag now is #notmyMaryBaldwin. I read their rants and think, "They are #notmyMaryBaldwin."

Too Many People

This is a weird one because I have enjoyed so much of my life lately, particularly regarding the friends that Girl Scouting has brought into my world. We have meetings every Monday and I'm in charge of the Daisies, and I honestly look forward to those meetings with great eagerness and anticipation. We had everyone to our house this past Saturday to work on their Christmas parade float. We all had a blast. I told Dan later how much I enjoyed being able to host everyone, to share our little cookie-cutter house with 20+ people.

But even as I'm still feeling the good-hospitality vibes, I start getting bitchy. I came close to yelling at my kid several times yesterday when all she did "wrong" was try to talk to me while I was making dinner. And it's not just my introverted nature being cranky from too much socializing--it's that, plus not exercising, plus not sleeping (because my leg hurts), plus having too much to do with Anne's birthday and Christmas. All of it.

I think if I could just have maybe four or five hours of alone time at a coffee shop, writing, I would be okay. I know that would help. It's what always helps. It's when I have alone time to write that I can remember all that needs to be done, schedule it all, and then let myself to what I love to do: think and write.

But I can't get there. As I just wrote, "remember all that needs to be done," I thought, "Email Kristin. Call Jonathan. Pay Verizon bill. Do Christmas cards. Remind Dan to call the heater repairman. And oh yeah, I forgot to include a 'money' heading in this post. Etc., etc., etc.,"

Next Time

By the time I post to this blog again, all of the events I mentioned above will likely be over, and maybe my stress level will have gone down a few notches. I don't like being stressed—I'm not one of those people who thrive on it. At least I don't want to thrive on it.

So Merry Christmas everyone. May your holidays be as stress-free as you can make them!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Coming Up: Woods Therapy

I sat down to write this blog post a couple of weeks ago, and then again this morning. Each time, something happened: Anne needed something, or I remembered something I had to do that was more important, or at least more urgent, than blogging. So this post has sat in my little Draft area, wondering if I'd ever come back. I feel something like anger about this--anger that my writing time, which has always been sacred, keeps getting ousted from my schedule by stuff--some of it sacred, most of it not so much. So now that I have exactly nine minutes to write something, I'll go ahead and write something. I'll publish it and be done with it. It'll be short and sweet, but at least it'll be done. And maybe I'll write something more later.

My family will soon be leaving for several days of "woods therapy," which, as you might imagine, consists of time in the woods. We'll be staying at a campground in a National Park, hiking and leaf-peeping during the day, and sitting around a campfire and sleeping in a tent at night.

Several months ago, I reserved this tent-only, walk-in site at the campground.

I made the reservation back in our primitive car-camping days, when we used a backpacking tent and had no real accoutrements for camping, beyond a couple of ice chests and a few old bins for packing stuff.

Over the last few months, though, we've accumulated some stuff. We now have a hammock and a fold-out kitchen. We bought a 10' x 10', seven-foot-tall tent--a luxury tent compared to anything we've had before. So now I'm concerned that our little walk-in site, which is 30' long by 20' wide, is going to feel crowded. It's a dumb thing to worry about, but my mind has been in "worry mode" for a while now. It's all because I haven't had any quiet-time in weeks; I don't remember the last time I took a few hours on a Sunday afternoon for some alone-time.

I'm feeling angry as I write this, and I'm hoping that anger will dissipate once we are in the quiet woods, in our small but generator-free camping area.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"On the Go"?

Several days ago, an acquaintance made this observation:
You're one of those women who always needs to be on the go.
I promptly started crying, right there in the restaurant.

I didn't know why I started crying. It was quite embarrassing, really; it's not like me to begin weeping inexplicably in a public place. And inexplicably is the right word. At the time, I didn't know what had triggered the tears, which kept coming for several minutes. I made some lame, half-humorous excuse and managed to contain myself long enough to finish lunch, but I cried even harder once I was back in my car.

When you've suffered from major depression for much of your adult life and your unmedicated self burst into tears for no apparent reason and those tears won't stop coming, you start to worry. Am I getting depressed again? Do I feel suicidal? Should I call my therapist? What's wrong with me?

I wanted time to sit and write in my journal to think about what was going on, what had made me so unexpectedly emotional, but I didn't have time. I went back to work and did my work.

While I was working, though, my brain kept digging at the problem. And I think I figured it out. First, I'm not depressed. I know depression, and this isn't it. The trigger, instead, was that one little observational comment, made in passing:
You're one of those women who always needs to be on the go.
Why would an innocent comment like that drive me to tears?

Because that's not who I am. I'm one of those women who hates to be on the go, who hates to have a full schedule. Who hates to be that dreaded word, busy.

But that is who I am, these days. My calendar for the next few months is chock-full of stuff: Girl Scouts, physical therapy appointments immediately after or before work, trips, multiple nights per week that Dan is gone and I get all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, childcare, etc., to myself. Just normal stuff, but still stuff.

I was sick last week, stuck at home and not feeling good enough to go anywhere. Still, the weather was beautiful, so I dragged my butt out to the Blue Ridge Parkway a few times and hiked a quarter-mile or so on the Shut-In Trail. I didn't see any animals; I'm sure my cough scared them away. But because I was alone, I could sit on a rock for ten or fifteen minutes and just watch. Notice bugs skittering over dead leaves and follow them with my eyes until they disappeared under another leaf, or rock. Catch sight of a mushroom that I didn't notice the first few times I looked. Find a late-summer wildflower and take the time to look it up in my wildflower ID book, even though I already knew what it was. Stop to look at a spider web. Pick up a fallen leaf that's just starting to change color and marvel at the veiny network that no longer carries the green chlorophyll to the leaf's extremities.

That's what I love to do. That's not being "on-the-go."

If I'm not outside, I want to be practicing a couple of measures of a piano piece, playing them dozens of time in different rhythms, "laying the tracks" so they're sturdy and dependable the next time I get to practice--which may be a month or more from now.

Or I want to be working on a story, preferably one I've already written so I can focus on the sentence flow, and on picking out the perfect word to express, perfectly, what I mean.

Or I want to be on a long run, covering eight or ten miles on a quiet road, enjoying the sound of my own feet hitting the ground. Perhaps the closest to "on the go" that I ever want to be.

Lately, I haven't had much time for any of that. I flit this way and that, cleaning house, picking up stuff, running errands, working out schedules, taking my kid to birthday parties and play dates and school functions, resenting my husband for working so much and not being home more to help, and going to work myself, eight hours a day, plus an hour or so of commuting.

I love being a mom, and I love my job, and I love so much about my life ... but I'm bone-tired from all the running around. So when someone saw my life from afar, someone who doesn't know me well but can only speak from what little she's seen, she understandably thought I was "a woman who always needs to be on the go." And that stung--not because she was being insensitive, but because she had every reason to make that assumption.

I don't know what the answer is at this point. I know I have a pretty good life if my biggest complaint is that I don't have more time for leisure activities. And I'm happy right now that I got to grab a few minutes in the early morning to write this little blog post. But I do wish I had more time--to exercise, to read, to think, to work on some "real" writing. The "quiet time," the exercise, the time spent in nature--those are what keep me from falling back into depression.

I'm not sure how to slow down. I want to slow down. I want more time in the woods. I want more time at the piano. I want more time to make up stories and read poems. So for now, I'll take a deep breath, close my laptop, and start my day. And maybe, just maybe I'll get up a little earlier tomorrow morning for a walk outside or a few minutes of reading or writing. Or perhaps I'll take some time at lunch to practice Chopin. A few minutes of here and there of focused quiet time--that's the goal for now.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

First Foray Back into Running

Today I went on my first run since October of last year, which I injured my knee. The knee injury would somehow turn into a hip/groin injury that rendered me unable to walk normally, much less run, for months.

I've been in physical therapy since last spring, and I'm ready to start running in small bits again. I'm not training for any kind of a race, though I'm tempted to sign up for something short and far in the future--a New Year's 5K to ring in 2017, perhaps.

But I'm scared. I'd love to think of today's workout as "my first day of being a runner again," but I'm scared my knee will pinch again, or that my left leg will suddenly freeze up with the hip/groin pain that has plagued me all year. I've been hiking up and down hills for a couple of months with very little pain, but ... running? That's a whole 'nother ball game. I love running, and I love what running does for me--my health, my sense of well-being, my emotional balance. I know that one day I'll probably have to say, "Okay, no more running" ... but I was hoping that day would come when I'm 85 or 90. Not 45.

So I'm going to take it slow. Today I did a simple, 30-minute walk/run workout with a five-minute warm-up followed by intervals of two minutes walking and three minutes jogging at a 10:55 pace. I finished up with a five-minute cool-down and ended up going about two and a quarter miles.

Not bad for the first run. I felt good. My hips and knee felt good. Following my PT's instructions, I focused on not letting my pigeon-toes point inward and making sure I use good form. I was able to run three minutes each time with no problem; nothing wrong with my aerobic health.

The plan for tomorrow is to do core work, and then another easy walk/run again on Tuesday. And then weight training on Wednesday. And then ...

Yep. Today is my first day of being a runner again. Or at least it's the day that I start getting myself back into shape.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Waterfall's Wanderings: Indian Pipe

I recently read that Indian pipe isn't commonly seen. I wonder, I thought to myself: Is that why I get so excited when I see it?

I shook my head. Nah. In truth, it’s rare that I take a hike without seeing these exquisitely ghostly flowers, standing four to ten inches high, singly or in clumps, on the shady forest floor. I think I get excited about them because ... well, they're just cool.

Indian pipe grows primarily in summer, but its appearance and nicknames are more likely to conjure up images of Halloween: ghost plant, ghost pipe, dead man's fingers, fairy smoke, corpse plant, and, in the words of one imaginative childhood friend, ghost-flower.

Although it looks and acts more like a fungus (a saphrophyte, it lives on dead or decaying organic matter), Indian pipe is a wildflower, its single flower the nodding, open end of the “pipe.” When it fruits, the flowers turn upright. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of an upright Indian pipe, but I do have this image of a related flower Monotropa hypopitys, commonly known as pinesap or Dutchman's pipe:

Pinesap is an interesting plant in its own right, and I'll be writing more about it in a future post.

Indian pipe produces no chlorophyll, which is why it isn't the familiar green of most plants. It doesn’t require leaves; its “leaves” are scale-like structures along the stem.

It doesn’t have to make its own food; like fungi, it gets its food from elsewhere, benefiting from the symbiotic relationships between mushrooms and trees. In this relationship, mycorrhizal fungi typically attach to tree roots via mycelial cords. Through those cords, the trees provide the mushroom with sugars and other nutrients from above, and the mushroom provides the tree with minerals from below. The Indian pipe reaches its own little roots into those cords and takes nutrients--both sugars and minerals for itself.

If all those nutrients were emails going back and forth from fungus to tree, then Indian pipe is the hacker who taps into the line. Or whatever hackers do to access other people's information.

If I were the tree or the mushroom, I'd be pretty mad, but neither seem to mind, as far as anyone can tell. We don't know who all of these good-hearted forest-dwellers are, but we do know of one mushroom family that doesn't seem too bothered by its Indian-pipe parasites: Russulaceae, which includes Russula and Lactarius. These mushrooms have mycorrhizal relationships with various trees, mostly oaks, but also including pines and American beech.

I’ve only recently taken a big interest in mushrooms (beyond just marveling at how cool they look) and have started taking note of their caps, gills, width, length, and habitat, among other things. Still, I've yet to notice whether certain types of mushrooms grow in the vicinity of Indian pipe, or whether Indian pipe grows near only certain types of trees. I think I have a few Indian-pipe–hunting expeditions ahead of me, and I’ll be sure to report anything new (to me) that I observe here!

The Indian pipe has an interesting name. Its scientific name, Monotropa uniflora, literally means “one turning, one flower.” I’m not sure whether the “turning” is meant to refer to the single turn of the stem a the flower; the fact that, in a clump of Indian pipe, all the flowers nod in the same direction; or the single turn from nodding to upright that occurs in fruit.

The common name, Indian pipe, refers to its appearance, which is similar to that of the Sacred Pipe, or “peace pipe” used by many Native American tribes. There is a Cherokee legend about the Indian pipe that says the flower came into being as the result of selfishness: tribes didn’t want to share their fishing and hunting grounds, so they quarreled. The chiefs came together and smoked the Sacred Pipe, but the tribes continued to quarrel. This displeased the Great Spirit, as the Sacred Pipe was only supposed to be smoked once peace was achieved. As a result, the smoke hung over the Cherokees’ mountains—known by all as the Smoky Mountainsand the old chiefs were turned into the colorless Indian pipe.

Monotropa uniflora is known to have some medicinal qualities. Native Americans used it to treat sore or inflamed eyes and for general aches and pains, but it is somewhat toxic. You can read about its medicinal uses all over the Internet, but I think I’ll pass on this one. Visine and Advil for me, please!

When and where can you find Indian pipe? Well, in the southern Appalachians, of course; as I mentioned previously, I see it nearly every time I hike, regardless of the season. It’s primarily a summer wildflower, flowering from early summer to early autumn. It grows in most parts of North America, excluding the desert southwest and the central Rockies. You can find it growing in Canada as well, though it’s not considered common in most places. It’s usually white, but keep in mind that it sometimes has black flecks or a pale pinkish hue.

For my next Indian-pipe sighting, I’m planning to take more pictures (of course) and to notice more about the area these ethereal flowers inhabit—including the trees and any nearby mushrooms. If you’re reading this and have seen Indian pipe on your hikes, please let me know in the comments. I’d also love to know what time of year it was and where you were hiking.


Allain, Virginia. 2015. Indian Pipe Plant: A Ghostly Wild Plant. Summer in New Hampshire. July 6. Accessed September 10, 2016. https://summerinnh.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/indian-pipe-plant-a-ghostly-wild-plant/.

"Monotropa Uniflora." Wikipedia. Accessed September 10, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monotropa_uniflora.

Needham, William Donald. n.d. "Indian Pipe." Hiker's Notebook. Accessed September 10, 2016. http://www.sierrapotomac.org/W_Needham/Indian_Pipe_100405.htm.

Newcomb, Lawrence. 1989. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Pelletier, Tom. 2001. "Indian Pipe: A Plant with a Way." Curious Nature. October 19. Accessed September 10, 2016.

Turner, J. L. (2016, 08). Parasitic plants of New York. New York State Conservationist, 71, 20-23. Retrieved from http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1813500095?accountid=11370

william. n.d. "The Cherokee Story of Indian Pipe (a lesson in humility and peace)." wsharing. Accessed September 10, 2016. http://wsharing.com/WSphotosIndianPipe.htm.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Waterfall's Wanderings: Black Snakeroot

Note: This is part of a never-ending series I'll be doing on the various plants, animals, insects, mushrooms, etc., that I happen upon while hiking. This first installment is on a summer wildflower commonly known as black snakeroot.

Back in early August, Dan and I took a hike in the North Mills River area of western North Carolina—the source of good hiking trails that is closest to our house. I hear that the recreation area gets lots of use, particularly from mountain bikers, but we’ve rarely seen other hikers on the trails that lead through this northeastern portion of the Pisgah National Forest’s Pisgah Ranger District.

For this hike, we planned to take Yellow Gap Road to the Pilot Cove/Slate Rock trailhead and hike the Slate Rock trail to the eastern leg of the Pilot Cove Loop and back down to Yellow Gap Road for a short road-walk back to Bucky (my van). Instead, we missed a left turn across Slate Rock Creek and headed up a well-traveled but unmarked trail to eventually meet the Laurel Mountain Trail. We didn’t know we were on the Laurel Mountain Trail at the time; we didn’t realize we’d missed the turn until later, when our 4.5-mile hike stretched to 5 miles, then 6, then 7 …

Eventually, after 9 miles and much map-checking and head-shaking (and listening to the traffic on the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway) (What? Did we seriously hike almost all the way to the Parkway?!?), we emerged back onto Yellow Gap Road, but at the Pilot Rock trailhead, where Ariel, a very nice stranger who'd recently moved here from California, provided the four-mile hitch to Bucky.

Despite the trail mixup and the extra mileage, we had a good hike and took many pictures of mushrooms and a few summer wildflowers. One such flower was the black snakeroot (Cimicifuga racemosa), a tall plant whose showy white flowers bloom from late June to August.

We didn’t get close enough to smell the flowers, and I wish we had; my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide says it’s “ill-scented,” but some gardeners disagree; one blogger even uses the phrase “fantastically fragrant” when describing it.

Apparently, bugs aren’t crazy about the scent; it belongs to the Bugbane genus, Cimicifuga—which literally translates as “bug-repellant.” (Cimex is the generic name for bedbug, while fugare means to repel or drive away; you can see it in the English words fugitive and centrifuge.) When this genus was first established, it was for a particularly stinky European herb that was used to drive away insects.

The species designation racemosa refers to the raceme, or spike-like structure of the flower.

The leaves of this plant are trifoliate—i.e., each “leaf” is actually three leaflets.

As for the common name, black snakeroot, black refers to the color of the rhizome, while snakeroot reflects its historical use as a cure for rattlesnake bite. This is indeed a medicinal plant, called "black cohosh" in medical/healing circles. The roots and rhizomes are particularly known for their effectiveness treating symptoms of menopause and PMS. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center's page, “More than two centuries ago, Native Americans discovered that the root of the black cohosh plant … helped relieve menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, irritability, mood swings, and sleep disturbances.”

(Hmm, maybe I should done some digging and harvested some while I had the chance …)

Cohosh, by the way, is an Indian name used for medicinal plants, but the original meaning is unknown, as far as I can tell.

So, when and where can you find black snakeroot? I’ve already mentioned that it’s a summer wildflower that grows late June through August. You can find it in the rich woods of the Appalachians west to the Ozarks and north to the Great Lakes. You might find growing naturally as far northeast as western Massachusetts, but it's rare in New England. Because of its beauty and medicinal uses, it’s cultivated in various places, and it also springs up in cleared areas, on wooded hillsides, and in woodland pastures. It's most common in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Black snakeroot is hard to miss; in addition to the noticeable flowers, the stem can grow four to eight feet high!

You’re not likely to see this flower anytime soon, though, and neither am I; August is past, and only the must stubborn of last summer wildflowers are still hanging around. I’ll keep an eye out for it on next summer’s hikes, though … and take a whiff when I get the chance!


EmpoweringSites.com. n.d. EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. Accessed September 10, 2016. http://www.enhancemyvocabulary.com/word-roots_latin_6.html.

Kress, Henriette. n.d. Henriette's Herbs. Accessed September 10, 2016. http://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/dmna/cimicifuga.html.

Land, Leslie. 2010. Leslie Land In Kitchen and Garden. September 9. Accessed September 10, 2016. http://leslieland.com/2010/09/cimicifuga-actaea-snakeroot-bugbane-no-matter-what-you-call-it-i-love-it/.

Newcomb, Lawrence. 1989. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Erlich, Steven D., NMD. 2016. Black Cohosh. February 3. Accessed September 10, 2016. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/black-cohosh.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cades Cove, Labor Day Weekend 2016: Bugs

I'm going to write several posts about our long weekend in Cades Cove. Cades Cove is located in the northwestern (Tennessee) portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We live close to the North Carolina part of the park and have explored quite a bit of it, so it was nice to cross the border this time. This was our first-ever visit to Cades Cove, but it won't be our last.

I have lots of nice pictures of views, family, mushrooms, and activities, but today's post focuses on bugs. We saw lots and lots of bugs! At night, the katydids were all over our campsite.

Katydid - I believe this is Microcentrum rhombifolium - greater angle-wing katydid.
Katydid - another angle

We didn't do much hiking on this trip, but we did hit the 0.8-mile nature trail at the campground. We got a few good mushroom pictures (mushroom post to come!) and this cool one of a spiderweb.

Spider web - seen on the nature trail at the campground

Speaking of spiderwebs, there was a spider outside the bathrooms at the campground who built/repaired the most elaborate web each night. We stopped to look at it every time we went to (or walked past) the bathrooms.

Our spider friend outside the bathrooms.
We admired her webs for two nights until someone destroyed it. :(

Unfortunately, some spider-hating tourist ripped off the top half of the spiderweb. Our final morning at the campground, we went to see it but it was gone.

Anisomorpha buprestoides (Southern two-striped walkingstick)?

We weren't sure what to call the bug above. I figured it was some kind of walkingstick, but I wasn't sure because it seemed a little fat for a walkingstick. And each one we saw had a second, much smaller walkingstick on its back. I called it a "family bug," as I wasn't sure if it was (1) a mama carrying a baby, or (2) a daddy and a mama making a family. I looked it up when I got home, and it looks like it was indeed a mama and a daddy. It seems to be a Southern two-striped walkingstick, though I don't remember seeing stripes (and I can't tell if there are any in this photo).

Okay, enough bugs! (In hindsight, I wish I had taken more bug pictures. We saw and admired many more than you're seeing in these photos.)

My next post will feature mushrooms, or view, or family ... or something.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Two Walks in Two Days!

I can walk normally again, and it feels good. It feels good not to have to hobble because I'm in constant pain. It feels good to move. Dry needling has been a miracle for me.

On Monday's walk, a brief stroll around a park, I started using my MapMyRun app again.

And then last night was a three-miler in my neighborhood. For the three-miler, I pulled up an old Spotify playlist titled "Brisk Walk." And man, was it a brisk walk! I covered the first mile in just over thirteen minutes! With that playlist, I was able to walk three miles in less than and hour and get back to the house to spend quality time with my family.

Of course, I'd love to start running again, or at least jogging, but it will still be a while before I can do that.

So, there's my update. Not much to tell, but it's nice to be able to share news that I can walk normally again!

In case you're interested in a 13.5-minute mile, click the image below to see some of my "brisk walk" songs!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Yellow Jackets ... and Some Mushrooms

Yesterday morning, as I went to rock-hop a small, flowing stream, I suddenly felt tiny needles sticking into my skin. Bees! I thought. I began running and yelling as the stings continued to come. My husband remained on the other side of the creek, and by the time I stopped a quarter of a mile later (I'd tried to stop a few times but was still surrounded by bees), I started to think the worst. Did he fall into the creek? Perhaps he got stung and had an allergic reaction?

I slowly began to walk back toward the stream. He finally came around the bend, sting free, but worried about me. The bees were still following us, so we didn't stop to talk but waited instead until we got to a campsite another half-mile down the trail.

We were next to a cold stream, so I grabbed a bandanna, wet it, and put it on my stings. It felt heavenly. But then Dan started yelling and waving his arms. More bees! We raced out of the campsite and back down the trail. Finally, a mile and a half after we first encountered the bees, we were able to stop. One of the evil insects was on my shoe, and Dan identified it as a yellow jacket--not a bee at all, but something much more sinister.

We eventually counted my stings: twelve. Eight on my legs, two on my right hand, one on my stomach, and one on my back.

Yellow jacket sting on my back
A sting to my thigh, approximately 24 hours later.
This one is about the size of a golf ball, but others
are more like baseballs.

We still had five miles to hike, and I wasn't about to go back the way we came, so we kept hiking. It turned out to be a nice hike (despite the severe pain of the twelve stings I got). We didn't get many pictures because we didn't have a lot of time--I had to be at a meeting at 2:00 that afternoon. But we did get a couple.

Mushrooms - I think these are boletes.
Whatever they were, they were BIG!
Here is a view of Pilot Rock. (The bump on the left)

Another view of the rock.
The yellow jacket attack qualifies as being one of my worst hiking experiences ever. It's now a day later and the stings are hot, red, swollen, and itchy. I'm taking lots of Benadryl and also putting ammonia on the stings, which seems to help with the itching (even if it does make me smell like a nursing home).

According to Seattle Children's Hospital (and many other sources), "Severe pain or burning at the site lasts 1 to 2 hours. Normal swelling from venom can increase for 24 hours following the sting. The redness can last 3 days and the swelling 7 days."

So it's not over yet. The swelling has definitely increased over the past 24 hours, so I'm hoping it will level out soon (and it will, if it's normal). I'm very thankful that I didn't my daughter with me, and that I'm not severely allergic. I'm aware that people can die from yellow jacket stings, and I'm grateful to still be here!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Wash Creek and Trace Ridge Trails, North Mills River Recreation Area

Here are some photos from our recent hike in North Mills River (8/27/2016). It wasn't a great hike for viewing mushrooms, as it had recently been logged (2014) and most of the trail was sunny and dry. Still, we got a few good pictures.
The Trace Ridge Trail, located in the North Mills River Recreation Area,
near Asheville, NC

Much of the recently logged area was dry and sunny.
Not a great hike for mushrooms, but we did see some
nice late-summer wildflowers.

I'm not sure what kind of mushroom this is,
ut I enjoyed finding a slug hanging out underneath it!

Hi, Mr. Slug!

Rattlesnake plantain - scary name, but beautiful leaves

I thought this was an interesting-looking mushroom.
I looked it up in my mushroom field guide, and
it looks like a painted suillus (Suillus pictus).

A lovely late-summer wildflower, southern harebells

Sassafras leaves!

Another mushroom. Looks like this one might be
the same kind that was housing the slug earlier.

Mushroom gills - I'm not sure what kind this one is.


I think this is a golden aster.

Your intrepid hikers, Waterfall and Sheltowee, a.k.a. Hubster

August 27: A New Year, a New Leaf

It's August 27, the day I celebrate my own little new year. It started in 1988, when I began my college career on August 27 at Tulane University. And then, 364 days later, I finished up my stint working at Yellowstone National Park. That year of my life was perhaps the most transformative, which is not surprising, considering I was 19 years old. But it seemed to neat and tidy, with college starting on the 27th and my Yellowstone life ending on the 26th of the following year. It was the end of a magical year for me, one that led me to the depths of depression and back again. I decided that, every year, I would quietly celebrate August 27 as a time of beginning.

And it made sense. For the next six years or so, I was either a college student or a grad student, and the "new year" always starts in late August if you're in higher education. Even after I left academia, though, I always had a special place in my heart for the new beginning offered by August 27.

So here I am, on August 27, thinking about new beginnings.

And Lord, am I in need of new beginnings, in so many areas of my life.


How cliché is that? It's the new year, and I want to get in shape. Well, of course. Doesn't everyone?

About a year ago, I decide to start running again, and I signed up for a November half-marathon. It felt so good to run. I have always loved running distances, and it wasn't long before I was running five miles, then six, then eight, then ten, then twelve ...

Something happened on one of those long-distance runs, though. I got a pain on the inside of my right knee that wouldn't go away. Soon after, I got an accompanying pain reaching from my left hip/butt around to my groin area. I quickly went from running ten miles at a time to barely being able to walk.

And when I say "barely," I mean it. I was using a cane to get around the house. In public, I hobbled everywhere, and it was torture just to go up or down steps. I couldn't run, I couldn't walk, I couldn't hike, I couldn't do much of anything. I went to an orthopedic doctor and got X-rays, but they couldn't find much of anything. I finally went to a physical therapist early this summer (after eight months of suffering), and it's been a slow recovery, helped much by a process called dry needling.

I'm still not 100% cured, and I think I need to see a manipulative osteopath before all is good, but the dry needling has allowed me to walk and hike again, if not run.

The upshot of all this? I haven't exercised regularly in nearly a year. I've lost quite a bit of muscle. I need to start exercising again. And what better time than the new year? So, for my first new leaf of the new year, I'm going to begin working out four days a week. I'll work my way up to more, but I don't want to push it.

It will be hard not to push it. I miss my buff self from several years ago.


It was a banner year for writing. I took a writing workshop last fall and submitted one of my stories to the Great Smokies Review. Not only was it published, but it snagged the Editor's Choice for Prose award. It's here, if you want to read it.

I also started work on a novel this summer, which went swimmingly until late June. For some reason, I have gotten away from it. It's not writer's block--I have the whole thing outlined. It's not lack of interest--I think about it all the time. But between working full-time, being a mom, and having a husband who isn't home much, I've just been too tired. Where I used to get up at 5:30 every morning to write, I just sleep until the last possible minute. Maybe it's laziness, or maybe I'm legitimately tired. Whatever the reason, one thing is true: I'm not writing.

I'm not sure how to work writing into my schedule. Mornings are best for me, but mornings are also best for exercise ... so there's that age-old dilemma of where to focus my early mornings. I suppose I can write three mornings and exercise four. I also can write during my lunch hour at work (if I'm not practicing piano), and try to snag a few hours on weekends. My resolution for this year is to start another writing routine and use it to finish the draft of my novel.


Oh, piano. Oh, George. I started taking piano again briefly earlier this year, but it didn't last. Again, life's other responsibilities--mainly working and being a mom--got in the way. I was practicing several times a week during my lunch hour at a local church, but I got away from that due to a series of crunch-times at work. I need to play, though. It keeps me sane, perhaps even more than writing does. So my new piano leaf is to practice during lunch three days a week, at minimum. I'm not ready to add piano lessons to that, I don't think, as both the time commitment and the financial commitment are a little out of my reach at the moment (particularly if I end up paying a new monthly fee for the health club).


Yes! Hiking! I have been hiking more. I want to hike even more than that, and I want to start backpacking again. I don't know how many miles I've covered over the past year, but I do know that I've hiked at least one weekend month this year, and some months I've hiked almost every weekend. We've also gone car camping several times--to several areas of Western NC, including Davidson River, North Mills River, and Linville Falls; and to Mount Rogers in Virginia. We currently have trips planned for Cades Cove (Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and Shenandoah National Park in the fall.

So, I don't need any big resolutions about hiking, other than hike more. I do plan to begin posting pictures of my trips here. I've been posting some of them on Facebook, but I'd prefer to include narrative for each, and that doesn't work so well in Facebook format. If you, my vast audience of three, like pictures of mushrooms, wildflowers, and the occasional mountain view, you're in luck!

In conclusion, those are my four areas I want to focus on in this new year: exercise, writing, piano, and hiking. All of that, of course, is in addition to mothering and working. Those are my two biggest priorities, which is a good thing--but at the same time, I tend to let them push some important "Waterfall" things out of the way. Let's see how much I can bring some of those things back in.

Happy New Year!

Blogging Elsewhere

Hi, Strangers! I've been blogging with my friend Anh over at Then a Gentle Whisper . Check it out!