Monday, November 18, 2013

In Our Backyard

From my dining room window on a recent Saturday morning, I watched titmice, chickadees and cardinals flitting back and forth between our two bird feeders in the backyard. Suddenly a titmouse flew toward the window, landing on a lower limb of our Japanese maple tree just a few yards away. He was holding a seed in his beak. He glanced swiftly this way and that, searching for the perfect spot to break open his treasure. 

Before he could complete his task, my attention was drawn to a second titmouse that landed in the very top of the tree. He too, was carrying a seed. “Oh what a perfect photo,” I thought. But I didn’t dare move. We were exactly eye level with only a window and six feet of distance separating us. I guess he wasn’t comfortable with me watching, though I stood still. He swiftly made a dive and was swallowed up by the tree leaves and branches.

Photo: Titmouse holding sunflower seed.  Taken a couple years ago.

I was about to turn away when a movement caught my eye. Sitting where the second titmouse had been, sat a striking handsome bird. My brain was working fast; too fast to recall specific thoughts. It was searching through my memory bank. “What bird is this?” I didn’t recognize it.

My mind quickly reviewed similar birds I’d found in my North Carolina bird book. This handsome fella had a trim black beak. Just above the beak and across the top of his head was a brownish to dark gray color. A similar color covered his back and the top side of his wings. Beneath the throat and down the breast was a bright white that blended into a gorgeous soft pastel yellow. Maybe it’s just the way the light hit him. What I saw through the window was beautiful to my eyes. From a distance I wouldn’t have noticed. Perhaps the reflections of light was ideal on such a gray, overcast day.

Suddenly I had it. “Yes! That’s it.” I grabbed my book and quickly flipped through the richly colored photos. The bird had vanished from the tree now, but there it was in the book. There on the page sat an eastern phoebe. Very similar to the one I had just seen. 

Next, I ran a quick google search and there it was again; a lovely eastern phoebe was identified in many photographs, several taken by National Geographic photographers. According to one resource, this bird displays a soft yellow breast during the fall of the year.

Cold weather is just around the corner. This is one of many reasons I love our Japanese maple tree just beyond my dining room window. I can enjoy nature from the warmth of home if I pay close attention.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Brevard Festival 2013

My husband and I spent a recent weekend in the North Carolina Mountains, at Brevard. We were there for the Brevard Storytelling Festival and were a part of the volunteer team.  Angela Lloyd and Bobby Norfolk were the featured tellers. Our three regional tellers were Alan Hoal, Dorothy Kirk and Donna Marie Todd who represented the NC Storytelling Guild. NC storyteller Gwenda LedBetter served as MC. What a grand festival!
Angela, left      Bobby, above                                                                                                                                             
The Transylvania County Library hosted the festival and served as co-sponsor. For the seventh year, the NC Storytelling Guild teamed up to co-sponsor with them. It’s a joy for our organization to work with their Friends of the Library and library staff.

There was an eclectic mixture of stories from the five storytellers. I traveled back into history with comic, Bobby Norfolk and visited mystical places as Angela Lloyd wove her whimsical stories. Donna Marie Todd held me in stitches as I learned ‘how not’ to prepare food in a concession stand during a high school football game. I identified with Dorothy Kirk as she told how she discovered her true voice. Closing out the final session, Alan Hoal carried me back to my teen movie-going days with his hilarious and sometimes frightening experience at a triple feature horror movie.     
Donna  Marie, above                                                                           Dorothy, above                    
We are like family and rarely see one another, other than at storytelling gatherings. As is the usual custom, Guild members and storytellers spent the weekend at a local hotel. This was an opportunity to have a “reunion of sorts,” to visit, have fun, strengthen our friendships, and to catch up and learn from one another. 

After many goodbye’s Sunday morning, my husband and I spent time with two good friends. We had lunch near the hotel, followed by a leisurely walk around town on a beautiful sunny day. Colorful leaves twirled past as we wandered from shop to shop. By late afternoon a cool wind set our teeth to chattering which sent us in search of hot coffee and dessert. This tasty treat turned out to be our dinner, filled with laughter and fellowship. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
Alan, above                                                   Donna Marie, Sylvia and Lona, above

Hope to see you next year at the Brevard Festival.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Oldest Town in Tennessee

I recently took a two-day "girl's" trip to Jonesborough Tennessee.  The weather couldn't have been more perfect. Temperatures were in the mid 80's accompanied by a lovely breeze.

It’s funny.  I’ve made many treks to this little historical town over the years.  Most trips take place during the National Storytelling Festival when the town is filled with hundreds of people, including well-known storytelling professionals who are invited to be featured tellers during the festival.  Many additional storytellers (and listeners) learn from the masters and enjoy a delightful three-day weekend filled with stories.

This trip was different.  It was a friend’s first visit to this lovely historical town.  We planned to enjoy a storyteller-in-residence concert and take in some of the essence of historical Jonesborough. 

It’s easy to become engrossed in the town’s history minus several thousand people gathered for a storytelling festival.  I didn’t need to worry about rushing off to one of many storytelling tents around town, afraid I would miss out on a good story or favorite storyteller.  Instead I concentrated solely on appreciating a few of Jonesborough’s own stories and significant architecture preserved from the past.   

We took in the 'storyteller-in-residence' concert with Liz Weir, a great storyteller from Ireland.  She was delightful, as I knew she would be.  It wasn’t her first trip here.  I enjoyed her a few years ago when she was featured during the National Storytelling Festival.   

We enjoyed a free music concert (held each Friday evening) on the square, in front of the old courthouse.  It was amazing the number of people who turned out to hear the music of Blue Mother Tupelo.  I can only imagine the crowds this concert must draw before summer vacation ends.  
Thanks to the kind ladies at the Visitor’s Center, we took a self-guided walking tour of historical buildings in the main part of town, followed by a personalized tour led by local storyteller, Jules, as she told us local stories from the past.  

I look  forward to returning next year.  I yearn to absorb another weekend of small town culture and history.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What Happened to Summer?

  Summer just began or so I thought.  There have been so many places to   go and things to do.  It seems only yesterday my husband and I         packed our car and headed off to Ocracoke Island.  A place we love to visit.  It’s   so relaxing.We thoroughly enjoyed the Ocrafolk Music and Storytelling  Festival, where one of our favorite storytellers, Donald Davis (right photo), held  a captive audience.   
 We walked along the clean uncrowded beach, hiked Hammock Hills

 and Springer’s Point nature trails, walked down the
 little ‘back in time" dirt streets (left  photo)

 visited shops and many other fun activities.  

  After returning home, we had just begun to catch 
  up when it was time to head to the NC Mountains 
  for Storytellers Wild Week at the Wildacres 
  Retreat Center in Little Switzerland, NC  

  It was an uplifting week, crammed full of    
  storytelling and learning sessions led by Michael 
  Reno Harrell. 

                                 (Michael, above photo)
There was great fun, camaraderie, learning and  laughter with my special storytelling  friends.                       
It's one of my favorite summer get-a-ways.

Most of  us couldn’t resist staying up ‘til midnight or later, sharing our deepest thoughts, ideas and stories with one another.  Despite the fact that rain poured from the sky during the entire week.

I was beginning to think the entire mountain had developed into a gigantic waterfall!   

The Wild Group (left photo) 

Tip: click on individual photos and you can enlarge them for viewing. 

With just four days back at home to regroup, wash clothes and repack, we were off again, driving to
Minnesota.  My husband’s cousins invited us to join them for a memorial service for their parents, followed by a wonderful reunion.  He hadn’t seen his cousins in 40 years!         (above photo: family gathering)

As you might imagine, since the past 40 years the family has multiplied many times over.  It was a warm and joyous reunion for him and even for me, though it was my first time to meet them.  I felt as if I knew a few of them from stories my husband has shared over the years.   

During the family gathering many stories were shared - fond memories of old friends, relatives, neighbors, grandparents, aunts and uncles, getting into trouble, grandparents’ favorite grandchildren and the old neighborhood that had mostly disappeared.  Ah, the good ‘ole days. 

Younger cousins and siblings shared stories as well.  And there was lots of quality time with the children from ages 15 down to toddlers and the cute 9-month-old baby.  There were 30 of us in all, spread out in three lovely cottages side by side. 

Some us visited nearby Two Harbors Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls.

There was time to relax on the deck, watching the fog roll in and out over Lake Superior (left photo above), listening to the foghorns echo into the night, enjoying campfires by the lake, eating yummy smores, listening to the water lapping against the rocks, admiring the glistening moon beaming across the water and 
seeing the eerie round reflection of ghostly light off to the side of the moon’s reflection.  Oooooo!  We never determined the source of that spine-chilling reflection of light.    

(right photo: Split Rock Lighthouse)

By the way, I returned home filled with love and story ideas.

(left photo:  It's so hard to say "Goodbye")

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Springing for Storytelling

Subtitle: Spring Retreat

May brought storytelling experiences filled with enthusiasm and fun.  I enjoyed a stimulating weekend at the NC Storytelling Guild annual spring retreat.  Dr. Charlotte Hamlin led the workshop.  It was a time of learning, exploring and reinforcing various ways to engage in storytelling. 
For me, one of the most challenging activities was viewing storytelling through the eyes of a Massachusetts delegate to the US Constitutional Convention, Nathaniel Gorham.  Workshop attendees were each given different Constitutional Convention delegates. 
 I love history, but after reviewing the material I was given for Mr. Gorham I was stymied.  When I came to the front of the room to take on the persona of Delegate Gorham, I had no idea of what to say.  I don’t have any idea what happened.  I suppose I may have received inspiration from others in the group.  When my mouth opened to speak I felt the adrenalin pumping.  Whatever poured from my mouth wasn’t me.  Apparently it was Mr. Gorham who spoke with a strong self assured voice, rather than my frightened inner self. 
Now I realize this was indeed something to strengthen my storytelling and to help me to think on my feet.  Though I was forced beyond my comfort zone, I now appreciate it.  I’m happy to have had this challenging experience. 

Subtitle: Tales Under the Mill Moon
I’m thankful to have been invited as one of four storytellers to entertain at the Catawba County Museum Historical Association’s fundraising dinner, Tales Under the Mill Moon.  The dinner was held on the grounds of the historical Murray’s Mill in Catawba County, NC. 
We storytellers strolled from table to table after a main dinner course of hobo buffet barbeque, baked beans and fire-pit roasted potatoes.   After the guests enjoyed a delectable desert of fruit cobbler topped with freshly made ice cream, they were ready for more stories.
Next, with full stomachs, everyone gathered into a large group.  All had a grand time while we storytellers topped off the desert with more stories.  It was a magical evening.  The final hour and a half was filled with a wide variety of stories.  You could have heard a pin drop as nearly 100 guests hung on and savored each and every word. 
    At the end of the evening my storytelling friends, Cynthia Brown, Trish Dumser, Terry Rollins and I regrouped to catch up with one another and our  excitement of the evening.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Vance County Storytelling Festival

       Tuesday, April 23, 2013 was an exciting day as 12 storytellers gathered in Henderson, NC for the Vance County 17th Annual Storytelling Festival at the Perry Memorial Library.  During the course of the day fourth grade students arrived from around the county to enjoy a feast of folktales dished out by these storytellers.  The festival concluded with an evening family story concert, filled with energy and audience participation. 
        I was invited as one of those storytellers.  My alarm was set for 4:30am.  Ordinarily, I’m not conscious at that time of morning.  But if I wanted to arrive in time for the first session at 9:30am, I had to get going.  After a fun filled and gratifying day I returned home at 11:30pm.  I was so tired and sleepy I felt as though I was on a drunk.  I’ve read this is what happens to our bodies when we are facing sleep deprivation.  I crashed into bed and slept most of the next morning.  Crazy you say?  No, it was a fun, worthwhile kind of ‘tired’ and I'd do it again in a heartbeat!  
        Sadly, within the past several years I‘ve witnessed a number of storytelling festivals fall by the wayside in my area of the country.  After talking with organizers of the Vance County festival, I wonder, is the declining number of festivals due to a lack of funds during a time of recession, or is it simply due to lack of strong community interest, leadership, conviction and support?
        I applaud the Perry Memorial Library for their strong leadership, conviction and dedication to preserve the ancient art of storytelling.  This would not be possible without help from their local community.   They are able to do this with help from local organizations.  The Vance County Arts Council and the Friends of Perry Memorial Library gave their generous support, in addition to the NC Arts Council.  It’s all a part of literacy and historical preservation.      
       It was a great honor for me to participate in this event.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring Has Arrived

   Yesterday was a beautiful day with the perfect spring temperature, 73 degrees.  I appreciate the beauty spring brings; I felt the soft breeze and paid attention to the birds’ songs.  My husband and I completed some much needed yard work.  
   Every year I forget about our little dogwood tree.   
The beauty of fresh blossoms goes unnoticed 'til they’re past their prime.  This year I decided to keep

a close eye on the buds.  For the first time I found new enjoyment from our dogwood tree.  A week ago I saw a sign of white unfurling.  Each day I noticed more and more white visible.  Three days ago I noticed blossoms had formed, yet small and tender.  I decided yesterday was the day to play.  I'd had enough back breaking work from digging up dandelions.
I pulled out Jim's little ladder that converts into a bench and placed it near the tree.  Up I climbed, armed with camera, and began to shoot away.  Trying to get different points of light from various sides or angles of the tree.  As I zoomed in for close-up shots, I noticed the intricacies of God's handiwork, which gave me 'joy in the moment.'  Singing birds flew in
and out of the tree, ignoring my presence.  Little chickadees flew in and out, returning again and again.  My attempt to capture them on camera was fruitless so I returned my concentration to dogwood blossoms. 

As I moved away from the dogwood blossoms, I walked toward another little tree in our side yard, a plum tree.  As I drew closer, tiny bright pink blossoms contrasted against deep burgundy leaves took my breath away.  I realized I wasn’t finished.  I had to take a few more photographs.  As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  And I don’t have the appropriate words to describe the handiwork of God.
     Each of us should slow down occasionally to drink from our Creator's handiwork.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Awaiting Spring

    I’m definitely awaiting spring!  Particularly following a beautiful weekend of early ‘April like’ weather.  I’m ready to grab my camera, rush outside and explore nature.  I’m reminded of several butterfly photos I took last year.  Actually, I’ve been chasing butterflies for over 25 years!
      I remember the fun last year on the Outer Banks.  I spotted and photographed a number of them on a nature trail.   One was the monarch.  They were everywhere.  They were attracted to a large clump of flowering bushes.  There was also another type of butterfly there.  I recognized it as one I saw several years ago along the Gulf coast of Florida.  I was more than intrigued.  “Why on earth is it here in North Carolina,” I wondered?  I had never seen so many large butterflies feeding or fluttering over blossoms in my life.  
 Back in the motel room I conducted a butterfly identification search.  According to Wikipedia, I discovered this beautiful butterfly was a Gulf fritillary.  It is also known as the passion butterfly.  The ones I’ve found so far have a brilliant orange color.  Months later, I conducted more research and determined they are sometimes called the passion butterfly, simply because they are attracted to the passion flower - a flower that grows on a vine.

 In North Carolina, Gulf fritillaries are fairly common along the southeastern coast in fall.  They are also found from Argentina, Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Florida to the Outer Banks of North Carolina; sometimes further north.  They’re also found on the United States west coast along the San Francisco Bay area.

 Further down the trail I spotted a butterfly with strange shaped wings.  “This butterfly must have gotten its wing caught and torn,” I thought.  But, after chasing it, I got a closer look.  Both wings appeared to be unusual.  I stood on my tiptoes.  I managed to snap one photo just before it flew away.

 I hurried my pace.  I rounded a curve and saw what I thought it was a dried leaf.  I stared.  I noticed a similarity to the shape of the butterfly I had just photographed.  It made a slight movement.  “Hummm”, I mumbled to myself, “another peculiar butterfly.  Wonder if this is a butterfly in disguise?” 

 Again, I did more research.  I typed ‘butterfly leaf’ as my subject.  Finally, there it was.  There were photos of both the top and underneath side of a butterfly that was an exact replica of the one I found on the trail.  Sure enough, the underneath side of its wings created a perfect disguise.  It was my first sighting of an Eastern comma butterfly.

 I hope spring soon arrives, bringing with it spring like weather.  My camera is ready.  The batteries are charged!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Storytelling Workshop with Tim Lowry

Recently I was among 24 storytellers who attended a storytelling workshop at the Ft. Caswell Baptist Assembly, just south of Wilmington.  Our workshop leader, Tim Lowry conducted an educational, yet fun workshop, complete with many helpful exercises and activities. 
Tim's telling of two historical stories was absolutely fascinating.  He explained that he incorporates them in his school residencies to teach students the importance of history and the understanding of history.  In addition, he emphasized how the two World Wars continue to affect our lives as they are today.  
As he told the stories he invited several of us to play the parts of various world leaders.  Each of us wore a different guise to signify the specific country we represented.  I quickly saw how this activity involving students could enhance and enliven history for the classroom.  My boring old textbooks would never have compared to learning history through lively, exciting storytelling like this. 
Another group activity involved all workshop participants.  Tim directed us to pay attention to how we use our voice by taking part in a play.  He selected a couple of acts from three plays with enough parts for everyone.  This activity demonstrated how important it is for storytellers to understand feelings of emotion portrayed in a story when performed on stage. 
The more my group practiced we began to perceive first hand the meaning of this exercise.  After each practice session I realized how we became more and more comfortable with our parts.  Each person’s speaking part was beginning to sound more and more real, as if the scene was actually happening.  The highlight came Sunday morning as our three groups took turns reading, acting and feeling the emotion of our parts in the company of the entire group.  We were amazed at how powerful each play had become. 
      When I returned home I was so inspired by the workshop that I selected two history topics and began to research them.  I’m presently researching ‘powder monkeys’ and ‘German U-Boats along North Carolina’s Outer Banks’ during World War II.
I may decide to change the focus I have in mind, but I’m having an exciting time as I work on this new material.  If the research leads me down an unintended path, this was meant to be.  My goal is to write and add two engaging stories of North Carolina history to my repertoire for use in the classroom.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Teach's Hole

     I have been intrigued with Ocracoke Island since my first trip there nearly 25 years ago.  Visiting Ocracoke is like being in another time; so quiet and peaceful in a well-preserved place.  The island is a part of the North Carolina Outer Banks.  Most of Ocracoke Island is protected as part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

      On past visits, time was spent exploring the quaint little Village of Ocracoke itself.  There was no time left to explore the island; it was always time to pack up and return home again.

      After I returned again last fall, 2012, a thought suddenly hit me; “Why, this place is saturated with history.  Why wait?  Let’s get busy and explore the rich history.”  And that’s exactly what I did.  

     If I had to select the most exciting event of this trip, it would be my visit to Teach’s Hole.  “Why hadn’t I thought of doing this before?  It will happen this time,” I promised myself.  I decided to visit the well-known spot where the pirate, Blackbeard, anchored his ship, The Adventure.  And the very spot where he fought to his death.  His final battle was just beyond Ocracoke Village.  It was there Blackbeard was captured and literally lost his head thanks to Lt. Robert Maynard of the British Royal Navy.  That was nearly 300 years ago.  One legend has it that Blackbeard’s body continues to swim around the island searching for it’s head.  

      It rained several days during the time my husband, Jim, and I spent on the island.  Somehow we were constantly rearranging our plans for my much desired adventure.  Midway into our trip I announced, “We should go to Teach’s Hole today.”  Jim tried to talk me into waiting.  Intimidating black clouds were gathering overhead.  Well, I had seen similar clouds before when there was very little or no rain.  And I was anxious.  I didn’t want to delay it another day.  So off we go on foot from our motel.  To reach the entrance to Teach’s Hole we must hike through Springer’s Point Nature Preserve.   

     The entrance to Springer’s Point is at least 30 minutes or more from our motel.  And here we are!  Just as Jim takes a photo with my new camera, I felt raindrops.  He glares at me.  “Let’s go under cover beneath the bushes and trees,” I suggest.  We do, yet the drizzle continues. 

     Jim makes a suggestion, “I think we should turn around.”  I finally give in.  We turn around and head back toward the main road.  Now the rain is more than ‘just a drizzle.’  Thank goodness I carried my waterproof hooded windbreaker with me.  We hasten our pace as I wrap my windbreaker around the camera to keep it dry.  I am thinking we’ll never reach Highway 12.  Just as we do, I notice the massive black rain clouds have grown.  They cover the sky as far as I can see in every direction.  They release their holdings and I have never been so wet.  “Where is that umbrella when we need it?” I wonder.  “Well, of course!  It’s back at the motel.”

     I don‘t dare put on my hooded windbreaker.  Protecting my new camera is much more important!  Here we are in our short sleeve T-shirts, Jim in his jeans and I in my shorts.  I decided, “We can’t possibly get any wetter.”  But we do! 

     After what seems like hours, we are dodging huge water holes, even mud holes along the roadside.  Cars and bicyclers drive past.  They splash muddy rainwater into our path.  Eeeew!  Out of breath we finally reach the motel. 

     It’s two days later.  Our drenched clothes and tennis shoes are still drying out.  With a few uncertain clouds overhead, we enter Springer's Point on foot for a second time, both of us carrying a camera.

     “This is my lucky day,” I think to myself.  We are experiencing a most interesting hike through this quite peaceful forest. We see interesting little surprises along the path, a private cemetery, a blossoming bush, purple berries, even a little shell sitting on the path’s edge.  I think to my self, “Ah, here’s an interesting shell.”  Curious I lean down to pick it up.  “Yeeow!”  Its sudden movement frightens me as the little crab scurries off the path.    

     As our path nears Pamlico Sound I stop, slowly drink in the loveliness and take a photograph.  Who might imagine this peaceful area as the place where ole' Blackbeard met his demise? 

     My imagination drifts far, far away to a different time; nearly 300 years ago.  I spot Blackbeard’s ship, The Adventure, anchored just beyond this live oak forest and marsh grass.  As I stand quietly I hear the voices of Blackbeard and several ship mates as they head across the beach toward the forest.  They step on the path just beneath the protection of the beautiful live oaks.  My arms are covered in goose bumps. 

     “It’s time we step out into the clearing now,” comes a voice from behind me.  My heart stops, I catch my breath and jump.  As my feet return to the path someone taps me on the shoulder.  I realize it’s just my husband.  I return to the present time with the thrill of a lifetime.  And a new story.