This morning we went on an outing with some of the summer staff to Gabe’s Branch Falls. The falls are one of those hidden spots that only the locals know exists. To get there, you drive four miles on a gravel road. The stopping spot is unmarked. Then you walk down a bit of a path until you spot the falls. I had been there in my 20’s but had forgotten the beauty of the place. From the top, the pool of water looks quite deep.
After gazing at the water for a bit, we hiked down to the bottom. Someone has built wooden handrails and steps, for which I was grateful because of the steepness of the incline. Even so, the descent was a bit slick due to the night’s rainfall. Upon arriving at the bottom, the water did not look as deep. Although if it had been hot, swimming in it would have been refreshing. Coming from the mountains, I’m sure the water is quite cold.
The children soon found amusement in trying to skip rocks or just plain throwing rocks in the water.
Choosing sticks, collecting unique rocks, and adding to a small rock damn were also interesting activities.
The rush of the falls, the coolness of the air, and just being out in nature was refreshing.
This time of year, blossoms, both wild and domesticated, can be seen declaring the glory of God. Every week, there seems to be a different type of flower in its peak. In the woods, the wild azaleas are displaying their brilliant orange blooms; and by the lodge, the delicate purple flowers of the hostas have pushed up above the leaves.
I am always struck by the flow of plants through the spring and summer. In the vegetable garden, the peas are nearly finished producing; but this week, the beans and tomatoes began to blossom, promising more produce in the weeks to come.
What is in the box that has captured the attention of these children? It’s a box turtle rescued from the trail. The creature provided wholesome entertainment on a rainy day. The next day, a ring neck snake in a box caused quite a stir among the kids.
One evening, the sun was a bright fire ball slowly sinking behind the mountains. A camera cannot fully capture its beauty.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” -Psalm 19:1
Cherries are a beautiful fruit and a rare treat. It was a blessing when our neighbor on the trail offered that we could pick cherries from her trees. My husband and I picked the first time. The fruit was so ripe that many of them left their pit behind when plucked from the tree. While we were picking, the birds scolded us, reminding us they were waiting for their turn. After removing the seeds, I put away four quart in the freezer; plus we ate about a pint mixed with plain yogurt. Later in the week, the children and I picked again. This time I managed to slide all the way down the hill on my bottom while holding the bucket and not spilling any cherries in the process! We gained another quart and a half to make two pies for our summer staff supper.
After two weeks of hosting volunteer groups with several very cold days, it felt great to get out and work in the soil and soak in the sunshine. The children and I planted both shell and snap peas, carrots, beets, and radishes.
This is our second season of gardening with wood chips. First we pulled back the wood chips to expose the dirt. The soil was improved from last year, darker and richer.
Two of the children discovered an earthworm to observe.
We planted the pea seeds six across each foot-and-a-quarter section.
Then we pulled the wood chips back over the seeds.
Our third child captured our daughter and I planting carrot seeds together.
In the midst of planting, our daughter discovered in the ditch what I think are frog eggs.
In January, we tapped three maple trees at the camp. We knew this would be an experimental year for us but were optimistic that we would be able to produce some maple syrup for our use. Thus far in 2017, there have been several days with weather that is conducive to a sap run which is below freezing temperatures at night with above 40 F during the day.
Of the three taps, only one has produced any sap. After consulting with friends who are more experienced, we learned that some trees produce more than others. Some trees do not produce at all, and even different locations on the same tree can produce different results.
One day, we did collect a cup or so of sap; so I decided to boil off the water just to see what the results would be. After cooking on low for several hours, about a tablespoon of syrup was left. We all enjoyed tasting a bit of the sweet stuff. I think I should have removed the pan from the heat sooner, as the syrup was pretty thick. While we may not end up with much syrup this year, it is fun to realize the potential for producing a valued product.
Gray days have been plentiful this year in Appalachia. I have to admit, unless snow covers the bare hillsides, winter is not the prettiest season here; but every once in a while I catch a glimmer of beauty that speaks of God’s goodness. On a warm day, we drove up the trail and glimpsed the majesty of the mountains.
On my Main Street walks, the classic details of the houses on the left and the way the mountain sits over the downtown catch my eye.
Today, when I came out of the office, I heard a sound like icy snow falling; but I knew it was too warm for that. When I glanced up, I was amazed to see what appeared to be hundreds of birds fluttering around a tree. The sound of their wings is what I was hearing. They fluttered and flitted, snacking on red berries from the tree. Every once in a while, the birds would fly off as a flock to a nearby tree. In a bit, they would swoop back to the tree for seconds. The creatures were a lovely gray with a bit of yellow on their heads. I think maybe they were yellow finches in their winter garb, but I am not sure. Pretty soon, a red-headed bird joined in the frolic. After about an hour of gorging themselves, the tree was stripped of all its berries; and no more birds were to be seen. On the picture it is hard to see, but this tree was covered with birds. The sight was a welcome winter diversion.
Here in the mountains of Kentucky, all in one week, the weather has swung from colder than average and snow to spring-like temperatures and rain. During the below-freezing days, we were using the woodstove to heat the house; so I decided to try my hand at cooking on it. I was amazed at how fast I was able to prepare our supper.
Using the “Autumn Vegetable Soup” recipe from Simply in Season, I sautéed onion and garlic in butter on the woodstove and then added the other ingredients which included cabbage, carrots, kale, turnips, tomatoes, black beans, barley, broth, and herbs.
Cornbread seemed like a nice complement to the soup, so I searched the Internet for instructions on how to prepare it on a woodstove. Surprisingly I did not find much information, but one person had tried it; so I gleaned some tips from her. First I melted the butter in a frying pan on the woodstove, then I added the cornbread batter and put the lid on the pan. After cooking for a few minutes, I put a cooling rack under the frying pan to keep the bottom from getting too brown.
When I returned to the house after about an hour, the aroma of soup greeted me; and the cornbread was finished. The texture of the bread was smoother than usual, and the flavor was delicious. Curiously, the taste reminded me of homemade communion bread.
The family savored simple, but hearty food on a cold evening; and I was gratified to know that, were we without power, we could still prepare a meal.
The winter that has thus far been a mild one has brought us a cold snap. The first snowfall for 2017 gently sifted down over the last three days. This morning, we awoke to a covering of white and temperatures in the teens.
My husband took the kids and dog up to the camp to tap some maple trees and for some sledding fun. Tapping maple trees is a new venture for us. As a gift, we received a starter kit with enough equipment to collect from three trees.
While I would have loved to participate, I am trying to recover from some cold symptoms; so instead, I stayed home and enjoyed the warmth of the fire. For a number of years, we have dreamed of having a wood stove; and we feel blessed to have one in our new home. The heat is certainly warmer than a heat pump. I am hoping to try a bit of cooking on the top, and the crackle and pop of the fire are cozy on a snowy, winter evening.