Country Roads

The wilderness trail, formed by buffalo and ax cut through primal land skirts creeks and rivers. It is a twisting trail overhung by trees. Kudzu is eating the hardwood forests along the road. Wrapped in grey green tentacles, tree skeletons stand as sentinels along the ridges. The lands trapped by an invader remind me of the forests in Oregon decimated by fires. Now bare sharp ridges point heavenward as if begging for attention. On the way to waterfalls that tumble over basalt, logging trails trespass through Doug fir trees. I’ve walked the Mary’s Peak paths, plucking August blackberries or, when a scuff of snow dusted the ground, searching for the perfect Christmas tree.

On a recent trip winding through Appalachian hills, we took to back roads that skirted rocky streams. Maybe it was the worn barns tilting with age or the houses clustered near the road that made me think of smoke curling from my grandparent’s chimneys. Country roads take me to places of memory. Places where dreams were spun and music filled the air.

My forefathers had cut roads west from the Shenandoah Valley through Kentucky then on to Oregon. They were searching for a place to tame, to stretch out and plant a family, a life, a hope.

Twisting dirt roads to my Hermiston grandparents’ farm brought the familiar scent of sage and dust. Tumble weeds chased our car as we turned left at a tilted sign pointing to town. Often, we’d come in the summer when dad could help on the farm and mom’s teaching schedule allowed. Grandmother’s cushiony hugs and ready smile welcomed us. It was what a family home was for me, laughter, grandfather’s teasing wink and the smell of spice cake waiting to be shared.

In the broad Willamette Valley, my mother grew up in a log cabin. My great grandfather had cut the logs, put them in place and made the original one room cabin into a haven. The pungent scent of dairy cattle or the privy on the Lebanon farm are more easily remembered than the odors emanating from Grandmother’s wood stove. Theirs was a place of making do with little, for the family had been stripped of their wealth in the wheat crash after WWI. Moving from their house in town to the farm on the muddy road above the Santiam River tried my grandmother’s soul.

Here, with only table lamps to illumine the dark wood rooms, grandmother added a sparkle of color to the beds. Covered in quilts made from grandfather’s shirts and grandmother’s aprons, the handwork now covers my grandchildren, for they are treasures of time and love.

Perhaps that is what I’m saying. The family treasures are the memories of a tender word, a larger piece of cake for teenage boys, grandfather kissing grandmother’s cheek when he came in from milking. Our family’s wealth was love, wrapped in kindness.

Stitches

Delicate feather stitches seal edges of fine handwork and remind me of the scent of my grandmother’s floral perfume. Other worldly. The stitches themselves are of ancient vintage and the thread used can be of single strand embroidery or a glitzy golden metallic one. I’ve been known to use slinky silk ribbon to surround a heart. The thickness and texture of the threads tell a story. So do startling verbs or the silky description of a children’s blonde curls.

I long for my readers to ‘feel’ the story, to have a visceral reaction to the villain’s eyes narrowing as he stalks his next victim. When a protagonist meets the woman who will change his life, I want the fingers on the pages of my novel to tense with anticipation.

Creating stories on fabric and with words seems to be my calling. And I see the mistakes, the thread that is too loose or an adjective that distracts. Paring down is not acceptable in over-the-top Victorian quilts, but a necessity with words. Verbs need to grab the reader, perhaps throttle them. And words have texture on the tongue when read aloud. Riki Tiki Tavi by Kipling dances in my mouth when I read it to my grandchildren.

What do the words, creamy, smooth, friable, conjure up in your mind? Can you feel the creamy custard slid across your teeth from my description? Drawing a finger along a silk shirt, for me, erupts memories of my mother in pearls, dressed for an evening out with my dad. Inviting people into the time and place of a tale takes the magic of word choices that don’t hinder their journey. I’m a learning at the craft. Is there an end at the learning tunnel? I hope not. It is an adventure, this love of words is like cotton patches nailed down with thread.

Chestnuts

Chestnuts roasting by an open fire.

Jack Frost nipping at your nose.

Not quite yet,

 but I must be prepared.

I should wear a hard hat and leather gloves when I walk out of our door. It is chestnut season. The nut is wrapped in a prickly casing that makes porcupines look benign. Their spines can even penetrate shoes. The green-brown spheres fling themselves off the large tree by our deck with the abandon of trusting children.

It is time to take control of the nut’s desire to share their wealth with our gymnastic squirrels and my ravenous grandchildren. Roasted, flavored chestnuts are a treat. And free, not counting the Band Aids and the triple antibiotic used on my fingers.

Ever feel that way? That life is tossing hand grenades your direction? Many of those who have gone before us have had to juggle things we’d duck. “I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in Me. You shall have suffering in the world,” said the Master. He also told his disciples, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Aramaic Bible in plain English.

Matthew 10:38-39 “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow Me on the narrow road, then you are not worthy of Me. To find your life, you must lose your life—and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”    

We are gleaners in God’s fields. Reaping the harvest takes the right equipment from leather gloves to the wisdom to know when to pick the fruit or, in this case, nuts. I actually let them tell me. When the chestnuts plop in front of me I know I can dig out the shells for roasting.

This, of course, is when the analogy breaks down. But, do we know when hearts are ready to hear the words of the gospel? When the fields are ripe for harvest? When sharing His grace to others, I’ve been stabbed by their words, been forsaken, betrayed, cheated, and robbed. Yet, I’ve seen God’s hand of grace through it all. Can I offer to those who flee from the word Christ that God will be with you through the pain in our world? That He alone offers hope?

May this be a season of reaping the harvest of souls searching for peace in our troubled world. As you dodge the ‘nuts’ and the fallout from their ‘attack’, may His grace be evident and may you walk in His love.

The seasons rush upon us.

As usual I’m not ready.

The silk arrangements are in place,

My tea cup is filled,

But, is God in my haste

To plan ahead and embrace

The coming of winter?

And what does winter hold?

Peace

As icy winds rattle the bare trees

Or fear

When the unknown knocks at

My door?