Hiking with Puffins – on the Appalachian Trail?

Would you hike with these guys?

If you are an Appalachian Trail hiker, you might be able to do just that if the International Appalachian Trail, a multinational committee, gets its way!

Would you hike with these guys?

If you are an Appalachian Trail hiker, you might be able to do just that if the International Appalachian Trail, a multinational committee, gets its way.

And, if they are successful in extending the path from Maine to Iceland, the additional miles will raise the bar considerably for through-hikers.

At 2180 miles, the AT is already one of the longest footpaths in the world.

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Beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia, it traverses the crests and valleys of the entire Appalachian mountain range which meanders through fourteen states before ending in Katahdin, Maine.

Geological evidence suggests, however, that the mountains that are home to Appalachia were once part of the Central Pangean Mountains – back when North America and Western Europe were one continent (about 250 million years ago.)

With the break-up of Pangaea, the various mountain ranges drifted apart, eventually becoming different continents and countries.

Fueled by the desire to build mutual understanding between people of different nationalities, IAT enthusiasts propose an extended hiking path that would hop scotch along the ridges of the former Central Pangean Mountains, passing through Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and into Iceland –

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before continuing on through Norway, Denmark, Scotland, and beyond.

Which means, that in addition to looking like this…

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the AT will now also look …

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like this.

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And, in addition to black bears, elk, moose, porcupines, snakes, foxes, and salamanders –

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IAT hikers may also be sharing their trek with puffins and wild Icelandic horses.

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They may even have to scramble across a glacier or two – and camp out on beds of hardened lava.

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But one advantage of having the IAT run through Iceland is the opportunity for 20-hour long hike days –

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because this is what midnight looks like in Iceland – at least during summer months.

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Is this a good idea? Let us hear your thoughts!

It Takes An (Appalachian) Village

Most days, late in the afternoon, my dogs and I take a several mile ramble through the neighborhoods of Asheville.

Sometimes we walk with friends and sometimes we’re on our own,

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 but we almost always run into dogs and people we know.

We walk past bungalows and castles,

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and up and down the mountainsides.

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And if something is ever bothering my brain, or if I just have the blues, a mountain walk with the pups seems to take care of it –

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thanks to the fresh air and the conversations along the way.

Last summer, my aging (but spritely) mother moved in with me,

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and I found myself taking these walks a little more often.

She moved in at my invitation, and I had the best of intentions when I suggested it, eager as I was for her to experience the wonders and delights of life in the southern highlands of Appalachia.

And so…

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I took her to my favorite coffee shops, wine bars,

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restaurants and book stores – all of which quickly became

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her favorite coffee shops, wine bars, and restaurants.

We went out to hear live music whenever we could.

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She liked one band so much, she grabbed their tip jar and worked the room –

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much to their delight.

On weekends, we drove out through the mountains to nearby small towns.

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She marveled at,

and enjoyed,

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everything.

In order to accommodate this new world order, however,

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Casa Mia had to go through some necessary repairs and renovations.

Likewise, my lifestyle had to take a major shift.

Every day was now “take your mother to work day” and I sometimes found myself with a less than perfect attitude about it all.

Ideas for positive solutions were all around me, however, and although it took awhile for me to notice it –

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Zach, a chef down the street, listened patiently in his garden one day as I stressed about the goings-on at Casa Mia.

When I paused to take a breath, he looked at me and smiled gently.

“This too,” he said.

“Shall pass?” I asked hopefully, finishing the sentence for him.

“Nope.  Just ‘this too,'” he said.  “Everything that is already going on in your life, and now – this, too.”

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“It’s a Buddhist mantra,” he explained with a benevolent smile.

I thanked him politely and moved on, feeling less than consoled.

But his words stayed with me (dammit) – taunting me to accept them.

A few days later, I ran into another neighbor and once again,

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 my concerns came tumbling out.

She listened, then said kindly, “You don’t have to do this,” giving me the idea that change might even be possible.

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More walks and more ideas.  Help was springing up everywhere.

  A former geriatric nurse volunteered to come sit with my mother whenever I needed a break.  Others shared their loving (and often humorous) experiences taking care of their elderly parents.

Retired missionaries living across the street and the women from the shelter next door (the ones remaking their own lives!) all kept an eye out for her.

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One reason I had taken the elderly (but spritely) mother in was to show my kids this is how we take care of one another.

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But it quickly became apparent – as I watched my kids fence and parry her quirky ways and limitations with their gentle teasing and humor – that they were the teachers, not me.

Over time, walk by walk, piece by piece, words, advice and suggestions began to come together, forming a framework of support and ideas.  The answers were all around me, the village was responding.

The final piece in the puzzle turned out to have actually been the very first piece – I just hadn’t realized it at the time.

Several months before my aging (but spritely) mother had arrived at Casa Mia, the almost always patient Tom had taken a detour one day (a not unusual occurrence) so that he could show me the retirement home his grandfather had lived in for many years.  It was already dark out and I humored him, but didn’t pay much attention at the time.

By magical coincidence, it turned out this same village within a village was also the home of another mother –

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belonging to one of the craftsmen currently working on the transformation of Casa Mia.

And so, my aging (but spritely) mother and I went to see this home for similarly aging and spritely elders and discovered

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 it was the perfect solution!

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, the aging (but spritely) mother moved back out, and into her very own garden apartment on a neighboring mountain.

Last weekend, I took her out for the afternoon and after a tasty tavern lunch, we strolled around her new little town, looking at the shops.

Eventually, we wandered into a local art gallery and there, in the back room, leaning up against the wall, was a small framed painting by Ashevillage plein air artist Colleen Webster

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the exact scene from the wine bar where my aging (but spritely) mother had, just months earlier, passed the tips bowl for the musicians.

It was the perfect souvenir of our months living together 🙂

Gorilla in the Mist ~ Kayaking Appalachia

You can hear the Gorilla long before you see it. It has a mighty roar, as if waiting to claim its next victim.

For hikers, there’s only one way to reach the Gorilla –

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a not-for-the-faint-of-heart scramble down 1600 feet of steep mountainside, clinging to exposed roots and frayed ropes –

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in order to reach the “Garden of the Gods” and the Green River Narrows, through which Gorilla flows.

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And that is how I spent this past Saturday, scrambling down a steep mountainside in the company of good friends.

But hikers like us have it easy compared with what awaits kayakers.

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Just 35 miles south of Asheville, the Green River Narrows was first successfully navigated in 1988. One of the most extreme kayaking runs in the Eastern US, it is now a rite of passage for serious paddlers.

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Because for kayakers, the opportunity to “huck” themselves off the Gorilla – a Class V rapids with five segments (Pencil Sharpener, The Notch, The Flume, Scream Machine, and Nies’ Pieces) –

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is just irresistible.

So irresistible, it made National Geographic’s Ultimate Adventure Bucket List in 2014.

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The source of the Green River Narrows’ ferociousness is the Tuxedo Power station, which lies upstream. The Tuxedo periodically releases water at a rate of up to 216 cubic feet per second over this canyon of ancient Appalachian bedrock, creating a fierce playground for paddlers.

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Gorilla, one of the “Big Three” rapids on the river, is perhaps the most visually impressive.

It starts with a narrow 4-foot slot that is immediately followed by two waterfalls –

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“The Flume” and the “Scream Machine” – for a total drop of 28 feet.

A famous training ground for extreme kayaking, the Green River is legendary and the pinnacle of many kayakers’ careers.

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Each November, many of the world’s best paddlers descend on the Green to participate in the annual Green Race, considered by many to be the most competitive and coveted whitewater race on the planet. Kayaker Grady Kellog describes the experience:

“The Green is a river where anyone can have a bad day –

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(but) it’s a magnificent run that will have you high on adrenaline for days.”

For hikers, the adrenaline rush is also there –

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and can be safely appreciated (and photographed) from solid ground.

Curious to know more?  Check out the following videos and websites ~

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsHMeGDpxQk

http://alltrails.com/trail/us/south-carolina/green-river-narrows

In memory of Boyce Greer of LiquidLogic ~ friend & kayak enthusiast.

© dating appalachia dot com & kristin fellows photography

A Woman Named “Hello”

 Not long after I moved to Asheville, I met an extraordinary and courageous photographer named Moni Taylor, who shared with me not only her insights into Appalachian ways of being and culture, but also her unique (and many!) perspectives on life.

We met one another at a coffee shop just down the hill from my house and right away got to talking about photography.

At the time, Moni lived in a charming cottage that was the architectural and handcrafted embodiment of her own personality –

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she called it her little”hobbit house.”

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A few days after we met, she invited me over to her house to show me some of her latest work.

Shot primarily in black and white, the subject matter was so upsetting, I could hardly bear to look at it.

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At the same time, I could hardly look away.

Moni was working as a neonatal nurse at the local hospital when I met her.  And that was where she captured her most moving photographs.

With love and great compassion, Moni Taylor had documented the tiniest of lives – the ones that lasted only moments.

What began as a gift of memories for one set of grieving parents grew over time into a series of portraits of lost babies, a collection of photographs she eventually put together in a book with the poetry of her thoughts on loss and remembrance.

Moved by her work, I wrote a feature article on Moni and her photography for Mountain Xpress, a local paper.

In addition to our talks about photography, I learned a lot about life from Moni.  I loved our coffee shop chats.  I loved the hours spent sitting curled up in an easy chair at her place, or mine, sipping tea, listening to her stories.

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 I could listen to her thoughts on people and men and life and the world for hours.  She has a colorful manner of speaking that is unique, even by Appalachian standards.

But by the time I’d met Moni, she was growing restless with life in our small town.  Her kids were grown and she was ready to get back to traveling as much as possible.

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She was ready for new adventures.

After some thought, she decided to join the Peace Corps.

“I had been thinking about a life change and the Peace Corps was definitely on my brain.  I thought about it when I was younger and then life stepped in,” she told me.  “But now it’s a perfect time for me to wander.”

Much to her surprise, Moni was assigned to Malawi – the third poorest country in the world.

The idea of a nurse/photographer from Appalachia setting out to help people half way around the world seemed to me like a great storyline for a documentary film.

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And so, with the help of friends, we began documenting her life in the weeks leading up to her departure as she said goodbye to friends and family.

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Before leaving Asheville, Moni did something people around here often do,

but that she herself had never done before –

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She got a tattoo.

And not a small one either.

A devout Catholic, Moni had the likeness of the Virgin Mary inked into her skin, along with the names of her four children.

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“So the Blessed Mother will always have my back,” she said with a grin.

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And then, Moni set off for two years in Africa with her backpack, her camera and a heart full of good intentions.

“When it comes to travel and adventure, I am fearless,” she said, shortly before leaving.

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“I took my daughter to see the Grand Canyon when she was ten, just because I wanted her to see it.  And we drove.  And people said, ‘Why didn’t you fly?’  And I said, because I wanted to see the earth between here and there.  And it was fascinating and I loved it.

“So as far as being fearless and doing things, I’ve always had that.”

“And I never have ever regretted one dime I’ve ever spent on travel.  It just feeds your spirit, it adds layers to your soul.  And adds layers to your whole life that nobody can take away.”

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“And so I’m convinced I will come back richer and fuller.  And it’s going to be okay.”

After she arrived in Malawi, one of her first discoveries was that her nickname – Moni – means “hello” in the local dialect.

What a perfect name for the film on this rare bird from Appalachia, I thought –

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“A Woman Named Hello.”

I started making plans to visit her in Malawi to continue documenting her story.

But the emotional and physical realities of a Peace Corps life in one of the world’s poorest country took their toll on her spirit.

“I miss all that wonderful stuff that is the complete support of the best friends…” she wrote in the journal she kept of her experiences there.  “I need it like air these days …..

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This environment is so different than any I could ever imagine myself living in ….. I have thought a million times, ‘why was I sent here?'”

Disheartened and ill, Moni left Africa and the Peace Corps before I could get there.

These days, she continues to travel and share her nursing skills, her passion for photography, and her Appalachian-rooted world view with people in different cultures and countries.

Periodically – and always without warning – Moni will appear on my doorstep

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 and tell me all about her latest adventures.

[All photography by Kristin Fellows with the exception of the black & white photo, which is by Moni Taylor, and the one of Moni in Malawi, for which I have no photo credit]

The Mystery of the Grave Is Revealed!

“I came to tell you she is NOT buried in your backyard!” said the man standing in my front garden.

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I work from home and there are few things more annoying than having people drop in unexpectedly, especially when I’m on a tight deadline.

But when a stranger starts a conversation with those words … maybe it’s time to take a break and hear what he has to say.

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“Are you the owner of this house?” he asked.

“Who wants to know?” I responded, cautiously.

“I’m Harry Giezentanner!” he said.

I knew the name. The Giezentanners had owned my house many decades ago.

Giezentanner was also the name on the gravestone in my garden.

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When I bought this old house, no one warned me it came with a grave. Even the next door neighbors seemed taken by surprise with its discovery.

My daughter promptly googled the little girl’s name for more information and came up with a different grave for the same little girl – same names and dates, but in Tennessee. Further research revealed a third gravestone with the same information, but now the birth and death dates were both off by a year.

We were puzzled. Where was she? Who was she? And what had happened to her?

Fragments of information came slowly to light.

A neighbor’s former wife – also in the Giezentanner family – had told me what she knew about Mable Ruth the day before Harry appeared in my front garden. She assured me that Mable Ruth’s parents, the Nannie Lou and L H Giezentanner on the gravestone, were living in Marshall, a half hour up the river from Asheville, when their little girl died. Harry confirmed that.

During our conversation, I noticed he often looked past my shoulder, curious about the house.

So I invited him in.

It had been decades since he’d seen it. As if in a dream state, he wandered from room to room, sharing memories of his grandparents.

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Some time after Harry’s visit, I came across a newspaper write-up with the full details of the tragedy.

On the 13th of July, 1928, The News-Record in Madison County reported the story of Mable Ruth’s death. It was front page news.

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“The community was greatly surprised and terribly shocked Thursday afternoon to hear of the sudden death of little Mable Ruth Giezentanner, who was stuck by a Buick roadster Thursday afternoon and fatally injured…. The accident occurred … where Mr Giezentanner, who holds a position with the Southern Railway as telegraph operator, works.

“Mrs Giezentanner and the child had gone to Rollins in a taxi driven by Mr Romeo Ferguson, to carry Mr Giezentanner’s lunch to him. Eye witnesses said that the child stepped from the taxi and walked around in front of the roadster which struck her, the accident being declared unavoidable. It is said that the roadster was traveling about 15 or 20 miles per hour.

“The driver of the roadster stopped and picked up the child and came back to Marshall with the parents. The driver of the car was accompanied by his wife, both being from a North State, and they were both nearly prostrated with grief by the horrible occurrences. The child was carried to the Marshall hospital where she died shortly after.

“Little Mable Ruth was a sweet, pretty little girl, much beloved around Marshall, and she will be greatly missed by all who knew her.”

Harry assured me that little Mable Ruth (who would have been his aunt) was actually buried in Tennessee, and the marker in my garden is just that – a memorial stone placed there by grieving parents.

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Bears Everywhere!

You don’t have to be able to outrun a bear, Tom once told me –

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you just have to be able to run faster than your friends.

He threw his head back and laughed. (He often finds his jokes a lot funnier than I do.)

Here’s another piece of advice: “It’s important to be able to distinguish the difference between the skat of black bears and the skat of grizzlies,” he says. “Black bear poop has nuts & seeds & smells like berries.”

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“Grizzly bear skat has little bells & smells like pepper spray.”

Mountain humor.

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Bears are everywhere in Asheville, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Mike Carraway was recently quoted in the local paper as saying. “If we gave you a map showing the bears’ movements, it would be a solid map of Asheville. The east and northeast and south have more bears, but there are pretty much bears everywhere.”

But running into one often happens when you least expect it.

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Like the afternoon I happened to glance out my living room windows and saw a large black shape that wasn’t normally in the garden.

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A black cub had sauntered into my yard to snack on fallen apples. I grabbed my camera and sat on the back deck, listening to him as he snuffled and munched contentedly, taking photographs with shaky and cold fingers.

Or the time I was gardening, and happened to turn around in time to see a large black dog run down my neighbors’ driveway. But then I realized, oh right,

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they don’t have a dog.

Watching out for bears is something to ponder here when you ride bikes – just ask Tom, who once had to fend one off while out riding along a mountain ridge.

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Or jog on the local roads.

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And even when (and how) you put out the trash.

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You may even need to yield to a family of bears when driving.

But folks around here weren’t always that accommodating. Years ago, bear pens were built in areas or gaps where bears had been seen. Bear hunters would stack up logs and rig a trip line attached to bait. When a bear pulled at the bait the logs would fall on the bear, killing it.

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These days, bears are, for the most part, respected and tolerated and many of these areas have since been put to better use as scenic overlooks and trail heads. People have learned to give bears a respectful amount of distance for co-existence and “a lot of people are pretty much OK with it,” Carraway says.

So has Asheville become a bear mecca?

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“We have bears moving in and bears moving out,” Carraway says. “Some are staying in a small area, and some are moving around.  And “some young bears born in the city wind up leaving.” Pretty much like human offspring.

This recent bear study – a collaboration between NC State University and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission – also found that town bears generally are healthier and better fed than their country cousins because they are supplementing their natural food with food from human sources.

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But then, anyone who’s accidentally discovered that Asheville bears like coconut water,

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 already knew that.

© dating appalachia & kristin fellows photography

Christmas in Appalachia

For several weeks now, I have been on the lookout for moments to photograph that (at least to me) show the customs, culture and spirit of “Christmas in Appalachia.”

But so far, all I’d been able to find…

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 was Santa and Mrs Claus breakfasting at the Moose Café (a popular farm to table restaurant),

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an aging elf trying to transport wrapping paper on his bicycle,

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and a young mermaid surprising Santa – none of which were what I had in mind.

The days passed and suddenly Christmas was upon us. Tom and I drove up to his parents’ farm for dinner.

They live in a picturesque holler, a small valley that lies between mountains in Yancey County.  This wasn’t my first visit here, but I had never before seen it at dusk.

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 Their home, with the windows glowing and smoke coming out of the chimney, set against a backdrop of mountains, looked like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting.

Tom is a fifth generation Appalachian and this entire valley was once owned by his great-great-grandparents. Over the years, the land was subdivided and then subdivided again among the siblings of each successive generation.

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Family descendants still live in homes and on farms throughout the valley.

During the 45-minute drive up the mountains, I saw a few possibilities for the photographs I’d been after. But it wasn’t until we walked inside the family farmhouse

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that I realized I had finally found exactly what I had been looking for.

Each room was decorated for the season and table was beautifully set with Tom mother’s Christmas china.

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Mouth-watering smells filled the air and pretty soon, a feast of ham, garlic cheesy grits, sweet potatoes, and oyster casserole was laid out before us.

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And for desert, there was a delicious homemade fruit cake (made with applesauce) – a recipe from Tom’s great grandmother.

Farm, family, food, and celebration – it was all right there.

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And it had been all along.

Want a taste of Appalachian Christmas?  Try Tom’s great grandmother’s recipe!

Granny Young’s Applesauce Fruit Cake

  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 quart applesauce
  • 1/2 lb butter, melted
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup figs, 1 cup dates, 1 cup nuts – chopped
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp cloves
  • 3/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 3 tsp soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Mix nuts, fruit, sugar and spices together in a large mixing bowl.  Stir melted butter into mixture, then flour and soda. Mix well. Pour into a well-greased and floured tube pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for one hour and 15 minutes (or until done.)

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Merry Christmas from Appalachia!

The Road of Good Intentions

Sometimes I get the crazy feeling that Appalachia is speaking directly to me.

Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it seems (at least to me) pretty obvious.

Like the wrong turn I took while driving out in the countryside just days before the end of the year that brought me unexpectedly face to face with a very unexpected street sign.

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Why on earth would someone name a road ‘good intentions,’ I wondered (when I wasn’t wondering where the heck I was.)

But then I got to thinking about the past year and decisions made – based perhaps more on good intentions than good sense.

On the first day of a brand new year, maybe it’s time to simply appreciate that positive thoughts had been at the root of them all, let it go, and move on.

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Thank you, Appalachia – I can’t wait to see what surprises you have in store for me the next time I lose my way.

© dating appalachia & kristin fellows photography

Mistletoe Misadventures

When you live in the southern Appalachian mountains, you don’t buy mistletoe in a store.  You go out in the woods and blast it out of the treetops with a shotgun.

“Seriously?!” I asked Tom when he told me.

“Yes,” he said, seriously.  “It’s called harvesting.”

Mistletoe is a lazy and opportunistic plant.  It’s capable of creating its own food through photosynthesis, but it much prefers to wriggle its roots down into the bark of a host tree and freeload nutrients, often harming or killing the tree in the process.

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Once I learned this, I didn’t feel so badly to hear that it sometimes gets shot out of the sky.

Mistletoe is most often found in the top branches of apple and oak trees.  And while it tends to be more common in the Piedmont and low-country of the Carolinas,

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 Tom says he sees it from time to time up in the mountains.

“Oh, please take me with you to find some!” I begged him.

This is exactly the kind of Appalachian adventure I am always looking to capture in photographs. Tom wanted an excuse for kissing and so the hunt for mistletoe was on.

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By now I have lived here long enough to know that life in Appalachia can be a tease – any time you assume you are in control of your own adventures, you may quickly find out how very wrong you can be.

You may discover, for example, that the search for a seemingly innocent plant leads you down a trail that instead reveals a romantic encounter from your boyfriend’s past.  (This should hardly come as a surprise, though, considering Celtic Druids thought mistletoe represented the oak tree’s heart or soul and Greeks considered it a symbol of sexuality and fertility.)  But to get back to the story –

Tom began looking for mistletoe each day as he drove around for work.  On the weekends, he scanned the trees in the mountains surrounding his parents’ farm.

Nothing.  No luck. The upper branches held nothing but the occasional squirrel’s nest.

So the Sunday before Christmas, I decided to drive out through the countryside myself.

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Rural areas surround Asheville and it takes only a few moments to find yourself in a completely different world.

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A world where you still see mailboxes piled up alongside the road, like baby birds waiting to be fed.

A world where you might have to be a little careful if you are an outsider who happens to wander onto someone’s property….

Just as I was rounding a curve, a bundle of green hanging on a nearly porch caught my eye.  Was that a bunch of mistletoe, I wondered?

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I pulled the car over and got out to take a closer look.

(Upon closer inspection, as you can see, it turned out to be a fuchsia plant.)

But it was a pretty scene and I had already taken a quick photograph when I heard the front door open and a gruff voice say, “Can I help you, ma’am?”

I froze.

The man attached to the voice was perhaps in his early 70s.  His piercing grey eyes looked at me from underneath his cap, sizing me up.

Trying to think fast, I introduced myself, then asked if he knew where I might be able to find any mistletoe.

“Charlie might have some up the road,” he said at last.  His house was near the mailboxes and the intersection of several rural roads.  I had no idea where he was suggesting I go, much less who Charlie was.

“Up Bear Creek Road,” he added helpfully.

I was still in the dark, but somehow we got to talking.  We talked about life.  We talked about raising kids.  He told me about his grown son and daughter.  I told him I lived in the old Giezentanner house, hoping it would help him to see me as someone interested in local people and history.  In turn, I heard stories from the old days in Asheville (stories about his life that I can’t even repeat here.)  After an hour or so, I got up to leave.

“About that mistletoe,” he said, remembering.  “Take a left up Bear Creek and look for the end of the fence.  See if there’s any up around there.”

I found Bear Creek Road and I found many fences.  I didn’t, however, find any mistletoe.

That night, I told Tom about my adventures “out in the counties,” as they sometimes say around here,

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miles and miles away from home.  And I mentioned the name of the gentleman whose stories I had listened to for an hour.

Tom looked at me.

“Old brick house on the right?” he asked after a moment.

“Yes!” I said, incredulously.  “How did you know?”

He laughed, then told me, “I used to date his daughter!”

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“Many years ago,” he added, thoughtfully.

I tried to calculate the odds of Tom knowing the one person I had randomly encountered that day, let alone having dated that person’s daughter.

 One out of the 16,000 possible residents I could have run into.

A man living in the only house I stopped at in the 66.8 square miles area once known as Turkey Creek (that is, until a frontiersman by the name of Leicester Chapman renamed it in 1859 for the Earl of Leicester, for whom he himself was named.)

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Unbelievably unlikely.

I decided to give up on the math, the search for mistletoe, and the opportunity to see Tom “harvest” it.

Who needs a excuse to kiss, anyway?

The day after Christmas, we decided to work off our holiday excesses

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by hiking ten miles through a national forest with a group of friends.

About an hour into our climb, Tom turned around and said to me,

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“Look up!”

And there, high up in the trees, was a lovely lacing of green leaves.

Mistletoe.

These Appalachian mountains have a lot of personality and sometimes it seems as if they are messing with us just for the sheer fun of it.

We couldn’t find mistletoe in time for Christmas, but its location was revealed – on mountain time – the day after.  

I could almost hear the mountains laughing at us….

127 Hours before Christmas

‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the movie house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

That’s because my son and I, along with dozens of other movie-goers, were sitting in stunned silence watching “127 Hours.”

This took place back in 2010, but Christmas still brings back memories of Danny Boyle’s film for me.

And why is that, you might ask?

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Given that we live in the mountains, and often go hiking, I thought I’d use “127 Hours” to drive home a lesson to my twenty-year-old son –

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Never hike alone!

Or, if you do, to at least take the time to file a flight plan with someone – anyone – regarding your anticipated whereabouts.

“127 Hours” is a grueling film, and not for the faint of heart.

Based on canyoneer Aron Ralston’s memoir, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” it’s a biographical, survival drama about five days in the life of a young man whose arm has been pinned between boulders after a fall. James Franco portrays Ralston, making video logs of his ordeal and wrestling with the excruciating decision either to die alone, or cut off his own arm in order to free himself.

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I was fairly certain it might teach both of us an important lesson.

Leif loved how the film portrayed Ralston’s interior mental and emotional journey.  On the way home, he appeared to be lost in thought, as I yattered away about safety issues.

I slept peacefully that night, happy my point had been made.  Another item off the list of the potential perils of living in the Appalachia mountains, I thought.

A few days later, Leif asked me to hang up my Christmas stocking.

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What for?  I asked, unable to remember the last time anything had been put into it.

Just do it, he advised.

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We open our presents, in the Danish tradition, by candlelight on Christmas Eve.

Start with your stocking!  Leif said to me as soon as we gathered in the living room.

I took it down from the mantle and was surprised to feel several small packages inside.

Leif watched as, one by one, I opened them up.

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First, the ever-useful bear bell – a bright and cheery jingle to warn of your approach in the woods, hopefully scaring off any nearby bears before you actually see them.

Next, an emergency poncho, followed by a thermal blanket.

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The forth little package turned out to be a magnesium fire-starter.

I was super impressed by his thoughtfulness, and started to tell him so.

“Wait,” he said. “Open the last one!”

I undid the wrapping.

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Inside was a small commando saw, capable, I noticed, of cutting through bone.

“In case you’re ever stuck between rocks,” Leif said cheerfully.  “You’ll be able to saw your arm off!”

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