Down to the Bone

or maybe just the bare skin.  Since we made the decision to move to West Virginia (and in some ways before that, while we were contemplating), we had been stripping things away.

The summer before we retired, once we knew we were selling our house, we packed away all the knick-knacks.  We have tried not to accumulate things.  We try to get local and useful things to take home from a trip rather than souvenirs.  But we like having visual reminders of family, friends, places, history, so there were fossils, shells, sticks, driftwood, rocks and pebbles, knick-knacks from our parents and grandparents, art by friends and our children now grown.  We packed them all away.  We went through everything else and made many trips to Goodwill.

When we first came to the new old house, we brought a minimum of stuff.  A table, four chairs (the kids were coming for Thanksgiving), sheets, towels, and old wool comforter, a few old pots, an iron skillet, a set of dishes and a few glasses.  I mixed the buckwheat pancakes in a mug.  We slept on the floor for two months while we pulled up the carpet and had the floors stripped and refinished.   Since we moved the furniture and books in January, we haven’t unpacked the art or the knick-knacks.  The windows and the floors are still  mostly bare.

We spent the winter stripping the wallpaper in the library (6 layers) down to the plaster so we could put up the bookshelves and unpack the books.   Now we have a multi-media closet in the 1920s room, with the stereo, file server, albums and CDs.  Only the television is visible.

Last spring, the writing and most everything else gave way to pulling English ivy and garlic mustard.  Robert spent weeks picking up sticks and trash and consolidating the brush and log piles from everywhere on our half-acre. We uncovered an ornamental pond surrounding by a stone path.  I found and uncovered a three-foot bluestone path at the bottom of the yard, along the retaining wall.  The yard felt like The Day of the Triffids but we kept it beaten back.  The city yard trash pickup guys honked every time they went by – we must be the only ones keeping them in business.

By July, I had tendonitis in both hands, and was saying “There are not enough hours in the day, and I need a vacation ;-)”

So we rested.  Having  stripped away our old stuff, and taken the house and garden down to the skin, we have been stripping way some old thoughts, too.  We spent the summer with visitors and with ourselves, enjoying the mountains and our new home, not doing much, but contemplating the possibilities.

More Grappling

Lao Tzu, the Taoist sage, says that a whole and decent life can be lived in a small village. Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, spent nine years living in a cave without bustling about. To be worried about making money, expanding, developing, growing cash crops, and shipping them out is not the way of the farmer. To be here, caring for a small field, in full possession of the freedom and plenitude of each day, every day — this must have been the original way of agriculture.

From Hermit’s Thatch


We liberated a small shadbush from the side of a dirt road up above Pickens (between there and Holly River) last weekend. Also a rose bush from a different place along the road – old homeplace, no house left – there were lots of them growing in the ditch. And a bloodroot. I want a redbud (we have a very old one, but it is behind the hemlocks at the far end of the property and only the downhill neighbors can see it) and a dogwood. Yesterday coming back from Flatwoods, we took Route 5 up to Burnsville (which is looking very sad – melting away but my great-grandparent’s house is still there and kept up) and finally found a place where we could get a branch of the snow-ball-looking shrubs or small trees which were blooming everywhere.

They are blackhaw viburnum (cultivated snowballs are Viburnum, but European imports) and have edible fruit good for wildlife and form thickets. Now I want some for along the driveway wall to block the view of cars coming around that curve (and some of the sound would be good).  Also trilliums and all those other wildflowers – ooh – trout lilies, which carpeted the entire picnic area at Kumbrabow State Forest – just starting to bloom.

Yes, I got up this morning to rain (thank goodness we went ahead and mowed last night after we got back – it was just dry enough – and I rooted up most of the largest dandelions – a wheelbarrow full) – but the valley and distant hills were misty and there are all those shades of green which look even bright against gray – we are so lucky to have found this – it is like being in the country, the woods, and town all at once. We had a pileated woodpecker in our yard early one morning this week – we were on the patio and watched it for about 5 minutes.