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.

"Monotropa Uniflora." Wikipedia. Accessed September 10, 2016.

Needham, William Donald. n.d. "Indian Pipe." Hiker's Notebook. Accessed September 10, 2016.

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

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

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!

References: n.d. Accessed September 10, 2016.

Kress, Henriette. n.d. Henriette's Herbs. Accessed September 10, 2016.

Land, Leslie. 2010. Leslie Land In Kitchen and Garden. September 9. Accessed September 10, 2016.

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.

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.

Blogging Elsewhere

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