Moments of Grace

308Kind of a goofy story: I happened to spot this Cyripedium pubescens or Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid while I was having a bad moment during our trip to the Smoky Mountains this spring. The sight of it changed my day for the better.

As we were driving out to bike at Cades Cove, I suddenly had to GO. Funny thing about being in the mountains: there were no restrooms anywhere nearby or even any good stopping points. Too bad. I made my husband pull over and I just bounded out of the car before it had even come fully to a halt and bolted off into the woods like a startled and slightly frantic deer. (Which basically sounds like the setup to a not-so-creative horror movie and is not a course of action I would generally recommend! It’s easier than you might think to get turned around or lost in the woods when you aren’t on a trail.) I was  feeling frantic, embarrassed, and worried that I was ruining our planned schedule for the day,

At any rate, seeing this flower stopped me momentarily in my tracks and changed my whole mood/mindset. I noted where it was, bounded much deeper into the woods to take care of business, made it back to the car, we did the bike ride, it was great, and then afterwards, I somehow navigated us back to this flower so my husband could see it and we could take some pictures.

You see, this variety of lady’s slipper is fairly rare. I’ve been to the Smoky Mountains about a dozen times, have hiked miles and miles of trails, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen one. They are fussy about the elevation they grow at, they need exactly the right amount of moisture (not much), and they like acidic soil. They aren’t found in gardens because they don’t like to be disturbed and they are nearly impossible to propagate. They also don’t tend to grow in big masses or clumps, aren’t very large,  and have a fairly short bloom time.

273Seeing one so unexpectedly was a quiet moment of grace. I can be prone to running around in the hamster wheel of my mind. The sight of this pulled me out of my head and put me right back into the moment. It made me stop and appreciate the simple wonder of a flower blooming in the forest. I felt very fortunate to have the life that I do, and realized how lucky I was to be there at that moment.

271May your upcoming year be filled with such moments. Remember to slow down enough to take them in when they come to you!

Twinkling

imageOkay, so I suspect Christmas lights are probably about as hard to photograph well as fireworks are. How could I resist trying, though?

Driving around and looking at everyone’s lighting displays has been a treasured Christmas Eve tradition for as long as I can remember. I enjoyed a twist on the tradition this year: this pic is from the town square in my husband’s hometown. After a yummy dinner with his side of the family, my husband drove his parents and me around to gawk at the lights. So good!

The only problem with Christmas lights? They come down much too early! How much better would, say, the average February 2nd be if there were still twinkly lights strung about all over the place?

I also love the tacit social contract wherein all normal definitions of good taste are just pretty much chucked out the window when it comes to holiday lights. (I hate to break this to any folks sitting there thinking that their white-light lawn reindeer things are somehow exempt from the preceding statement. Erm, no. Sorry. It’s all tacky, and that’s great!) Anything goes. Maximalism?  Even better!

The lights add that bit of magic to the mundane. Plus I just love seeing whimsy on this kind of scale. Gawking at the lights will always be one of my favorite parts of the holidays. What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Holiday Spirit

005I don’t know about you, but I’m finally feeling the holiday spirit. I’ve been a bit slow to get there this year! Cards have been mailed, a bunch of presents have been wrapped, and I’m looking forward to seeing family. For various reasons, we didn’t end up decorating our house in a big way this year. One decoration I made sure to get? A live wreath hanging from the china cupboard in the dining room. (I added the bow and the straw ornament myself.)

Alas, live Christmas trees don’t really appeal to me…the amount of effort to keep one looking nice combined with the constant risk it would be under from our 5 small dogs are factors that just don’t win me over to the real tree side. Plus, I don’t know. Killing a whole tree just so I can gawk at it for a few weeks in my house? Ehh.

But a real wreath? It smells divine, adds some holiday pep, is easy to customize, and I can at least hope that an entire tree didn’t die to make it all happen. (Right?)

Anywho, wishing all a peaceful, happy, and healthy holiday season! 🙂

Cades Cove

Bucket lists. Creepy and unattainable, or optimistic reminder to live life to its fullest? I don’t personally have a formal one, but I certainly have ideas about things I’d like to do. This spring, I did one:SmokyMts2014 001My husband and I biked the loop at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park! During the spring and summer, the park shuts down the 11 mile auto loop that winds through the cove to all motorized traffic twice a week for about 3 hours in the mornings. For those precious hours, only pedestrians and bicyclists are allowed. We got up very early, rented bikes, and biked it on the first day it was closed to cars during the 2014 season. It was awesome.

SmokyMts2014 101With views like this, it’s easy to see why the auto loop is very popular. During high season, the one-way road through the cove often resembles a parking lot with cars inching along it, lined up bumper-to-bumper. Which sounds miserable, but even with all of that, I’ve always managed to see a stunning variety of wildlife the times I’ve been viewing the cove from a car. There are old homes, churches, and barns from back when folks lived in the cove that can be toured, and there are plenty of places to park so you can access the several trail heads found along the loop at various points.

But from a bike? What a difference! It was so peaceful and beautiful. We saw several black bears, lots of deer, wild turkeys, and heard so many song birds. It was just magical, biking along as the fog that gives the mountains their name began to clear.

SmokyMts2014 104 SmokyMts2014 123And look at all of these empty parking spaces!SmokyMts2014 112I’m ready to do it again. 🙂

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