Sunday, April 27, 2008

Kentucky Writer's Day at Penn's Store

This weekend is part of the Kentucky Writer's Day celebration at Penn's Store in Gravel Switch, Kentucky. In the United States, Penn's Store is the oldest continuously operated store by the same family since 1850. It is a small wood building with a front porch and a metal-clad shed roof, typical of most older stores around here that you can often find used, or abandoned, on old country roads. The main part was the store and the smaller room under the shed dormer was often the local post office. The difference with Penn's Store is its continuous family history and preservation of most of its original features, including its settled wooden floor with old black linoleum on it.

The store is located in Casey County but right at the juncture of two other counties. It was built facing southeast and right near a creek. Behind the store is a steep bank and a spring and right now the wild delphinium are blooming, followed soon by a mountain poppy (neither of which I've ever seen in the wild--Kentucky wildflowers will never cease to amaze and delight).

Jeanne Penn Lane and her daughter, Dawn Lane Osborn, are keeping the store going today. Dawn is a singer and Jeanne has had a diverse career spanning from songwriter for Chet Atkins to art teacher in the local schools. Jeanne is the life and blood of the place and a visit there would not be complete without pulling up to the counter and having a good chat. She is both welcoming and interesting to talk with, a rare combination but not unusual in Kentucky. Two years ago she was one of the first people we met down here.

Last year Temple and I both spoke at the store. He wove a few Yankee yarns and I read from The Pantry, which had just been printed and was about to be released by my publisher, so it was hot off the press. We were glad to participate (although we were both a bit nervous) but this year wanted to help out behind the scenes and just enjoy the day (especially as, apart from blogs, I had nothing written or published this year). Next year I will have some new things to read that I've been working on.

Catherine and Blaine Staat, Temple Pond & Joberta Wells
share a laugh and some pie from T.N.T. Barbecue in Lebanon, Kentucky

Our friends Blaine and Catherine Staat read from one of their columns in the local weekly paper, The Casey County News, called "He Said, She Said." They moved here two years ago, and like us, were drawn to the region for a simpler way of life off the fast track. Cat's magazine, Making It Home, now exclusively a blog and website, appeals to the kind of lifestyle about which some women might want but are afraid to ask. It appeals to another era and time which is what I like about it as I balance my own interests in the past with the modern world. She still keeps a blog, as does Blaine, who has recently become the director of the Liberty-Casey County Chamber of Commerce. Another local columnist, also for the Casey County News, Joberta Wells, brought the house down with her talk of underwire bras, having too many cats, and poorly made butterscotch pies, to name but a few topics of resonance and humor.

Some of the group that comes each year, the writing students of Dr. H.R. Stoneback at SUNY/New Paltz and Elizabeth Madox Roberts Society Members, were down a week earlier so Jeanne accommodated them with a special day last week. Today there is another afternoon of writers and performers (who also perform as part of the weekend at Woody's in nearby Danville). Moderator, since its beginnings, Terry Ward is humanities chair at St. Catharine's College in Springfield. Behind the scenes is Jeanne Penn Lane, quite comfortable behind her counter talking with people who come into the store for a cold drink, bologna sandwich or souvenir and not really wanting to be the center of things outside.

Jeanne Penn Lane handcrafts and paints many of the items
sold at Penn's Store, including these charming outhouses

Like Penn's Store itself, including the infamous Great Outhouse Blowout held each September (this year on September 6), Kentucky Writer's Day has become a tradition and an annual rite of spring in knob region. As with so many places off the beaten track, Penn's Store is well worth the journey. It is just several miles from the town of Gravel Switch, off Route 68, amidst the historically savvy community of Forkland. Don't expect anything cutesy or "real old timey shoppe" type stuff. Penn's Store is the authentic deal--it is what it is--and that is what makes it so precious and worth preserving.

Speaking of writing, I will not be blogging for a while--perhaps just a bit over on Cupcakes--as I need to hit the garden, office, and prepare a presentation (not necessarily in that order!) and am forcing myself to have a self-imposed blog-a-torium for a time. Check back sometime after May 9th. As they say here on the ridge, in lieu of goodbye, "you all come back when you're ready."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Lilacs in me because I am New England..."

If I could only know one flower on this Earth it would be the lilac. The purplish indigo kind, the most fragrant of their varieties, of which there are many. Lilacs were brought to this country from Asia in the mid 1700s. In New Hampshire the lilacs bloom for about a week or so in late May, sometimes earlier now with the often warmer winter. They remind me of the end of the college year when I'd return to our farm for the summer and they'd be blooming in abundance around the barn. They are also a nostalgic flower for me because they were out at the time of year when I first started dating my future husband and they have always grown around his family home, eventually ours together.

You could always count on lilacs by Memorial Day in our part of New Hampshire and will see hedges of them along roadsides and around old farmhouses. Sometimes you can identify a foundation of a former house by the lilacs around it. I have always wanted a longer lilac season. This year, because they are blooming in Kentucky in late April and will be blooming in New England when we return in May for a time, I will.

When we came to Kentucky I did not think I would see one in spring again. But I was wrong. There are two bushes in our yard, planted by Miss Lillian who was an excellent gardener. They aren't as prolific in this region but they like it if planted here.

Yesterday our largest bush was alive with yellow swallowtail butterflies. I have never seen this before back in New Hampshire and the colors of the yellow wings, the deep blue and clear sky and the detail of the purplish indigo blossoms was as intoxicating as their fragrance.

Understandably, lilacs have been the subject of some famous American poets. Here is a stanza from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed by Walt Whitman (for the complete poem, click here):

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-washed palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle -and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-coloured blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.

Emily Dickinson also mentions lilacs, her home in Amherst, Massachusetts likely surrounded by them as most New England home sites are, in this from 342:

The Lilacs — bending many a year —
Will sway with purple load —
The Bees — will not despise the tune —
Their forefathers have hummed.

One of my favorite poems is called simply Lilacs by Amy Lowell. Like Whitman's poem it is a long ode, and has similarities to his style, but it is not quite as epic. It was included in her Pulitzer prize-winning book of poetry that she was awarded, posthumously, in 1926. I like this stanza especially (for the complete poem, click here):

False blue,
Colour of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,
Lilacs in me because I am New England,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Flippin Towards Bugtussle

Now for anyone who used to follow The Beverly Hillbillies, the character of Jed hailed from Bugtussle (I had not remembered that fun fact, but my husband certainly has all of these years and he corrected me in saying that Granny, Jed's mother-in-law, came from Tennessee). There is no actual place in that state but Bugtussle, Kentucky is right on the north central border of Tennessee and is, allegedly, the origin of the place name selected by the show's writers and presumably where the character of Jed came from, too.

Regardless of where Jed, Jethro, Ellie Mae and Granny really hailed from in their fictional hills, as with all of the zany rural sitcoms of that era, stereotypes abounded. But wasn't it fun to watch? I always thought Mr. and Mrs. Drysdale and his sidekick, Jane Hathaway, who defined the female version of "lock jaw" elocution, were bigger rubes than the hillbillies themselves, and perhaps that was the point. If this program were to be recast today it should have hedge fund managers in McMansions paired with genuinely down home country people (which they are in comparison). Mike Huckabee could even make a special appearance and cook some squirrel and dumplings that, one of these days, we plan to try here at our house.

So imagine our surprise a few years ago when we first came to Kentucky to look for a place to live, immediately bought our first Kentucky Atlas & Gazetteer, and found Bugtussle. As it happens it is on the way to my Uncle Bob's in Lafayette (pronounced LaFAYette), Tennessee and we drove through it last Saturday. Because I had forgotten to bring my recharged camera battery, we went back today. [Have camera, will take a lot of pictures ~ just ask my long-suffering family who has to a hear a regular, "turn around! I want to stop!"]

At the Bugtussle General Store, which is all there is in downtown Bugtussle, we enjoyed talking with Shirley the store keeper (yes, Cupcakes, it's true--I believe I've found the real Shirley!) . Originally from South Dakota, she told us she is starting a Hen gathering once a month at her store: "no roosters and no chicks under sixteen" is her rule. Like me, she's found that it can be hard for country women to get together, especially when people are more dispersed here. [I am enjoying Bunco, thanks to the kindness of a new friend.]

Shirley also mentioned that Buddy Ebsen visited Bugtussle in the 1960s before filming began on The Beverly Hillbillies and that Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, often featured on the show and who sang its theme song, had played nearby with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys and then suggested the name for Jed's hometown to the writers.

The general store sells a variety of bulk foods and other products and is not touristy in any way, which is part of its charm. [I wanted a t-shirt or some such that said, "I Got Bit in Bugtussle" but they aren't marketing the place, and why should they? Besides how many nuts wander in because of making an obtuse association with a now 40-year old television program?] Nearby is Bugtussle Farm, an organic farm and CSA. We want to go back to that another time.

Along the way to Bugtussle is the community of Flippin. Well, I had to take the photo of the church sign because it was too irresistible. Whatever your religious preference, I hope you find the humor in this sign as we did. Country churches and chapels are everywhere here in Kentucky (we have three on our ridge in Nancy) and their names are often the only indication that you are in a certain place. I find it somehow comforting to see so many along the way and a fair diversity of denominations at that. I know, even for the agnostic among us, that the Bible Belt harbors a great deal of well-intentioned thought and prayer. It is "Spring Revival" time here in the hills and hollers and, while baptisms are no longer held down in the rivers and creeks, it is a time of renewal for these small congregations.

Kentucky place names are perhaps the most enchanted names I've encountered in the United States. Reading through the many names in the Gazetteer is like seeing through the "Magic Mirror" of a geographical Romper Room. There are over 12,000 named places (including features like knobs and hollows) in Kentucky and each seems uniquely inspired. I am not making fun --I am amazed by these locales as if some cosmic writer found the best and most unusual name for each of these special places: small hamlets and larger communities, knobs and ridges and hollows and creeks that have harbored homeplaces, memories, and personal histories. As I learn of these places or experience them firsthand, I want to know everything about them: their landscapes, their buildings, their histories. So I start by soaking it all into my visual and geographic memory.

You have your animal names: Raccoon, Pig, Possum, Fox, Wolf, Black Gnat, Black Snake, Bee, Beetle, Honeybee, Crowtown, Butterfly, Spider, Whippoorwill, Blue Heron, Turkey, Trout, Fish Trap, Cowcreek to name but a few.

Places with fruit or plant names: Berry, Mulberry, Cherry, Crab Orchard, Apple Grove, Peach Grove, Plum Springs, Mint Springs, Ginseng, Pumpkin Chapel and many more garden-related. [A chapel devoted to pumpkins? Isn't that the most marvelous image?] There is every tree name imaginable in every combination with a knob, grove, hill or creek.

There are first names or derivatives represented: Cynthiana, Eli, Elias, Elihu, Henry Clay, Patsey, Judy, Thomas, Charlotte Furnace, Bill Hollow, even Bobtown and NoBob (and Temple Hill), all of which have my immediate and some extended family and friends almost covered. Then there are surnames: Guy, Powell Valley, Mack Hollow, Daley, Manton, Willard, Johnson Crossroads, Pondsville etc. which all have friend and family associations. If your name or surname is English in origin it is likely to be in Kentucky.

For the foodies who I know read this blog, imagine living in these places: Lick Skillet, Beefhide, Big Bone, Chicken Bristle, Butcher Hollow, Mash Fork, Honey Grove, Mint Springs, Teaberry, Tea Cup Cliff, or Marrowbone? Imagine a home in Summer Shade, Pleasant Valley, Harmony Village, Happy, Bliss or Beauty? Or one in Cyclone, Hazard, Quicksand, Greasy Creek, Poverty or Penile? [Perhaps my favorite--and I haven't even gone through all of the names yet--is Glade. To me that has always been one of the best words in the English language. It rolls off the tongue and I imagine a cool, woodland, even magical, place.]

On the way home we stopped in Glasgow to check out some antique shops and didn't find anything we needed, which is just as well, although Temple found a decent copy of The Hole Book for which he'd been searching (an old children's book with a hole right through it that is incorporated into the story), and then took a more winding way through Columbia and back again into Casey County. [Along one several mile stretch in Adair County we drove through the settlements of Christine, Ella and Eunice. I wonder if they were sisters? Between two of these hamlets is Purdy.]

We always go the back roads if we have the time and I am the atlas or gazetteer reader while my husband drives. Young children--and adults--should learn how to read a map. Take a Sunday drive again with your family or loved one. Even in this time of higher priced gasoline, it is a way to reconnect with ourselves and each other. Forget your satellite tracking devices: open a map and explore your world, the place that you live. Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

All is calm, all is bright...just about

Field on the Knob with Mennonite Tractors

This week has been interesting here on the ridge, and beyond it. Last Friday we lost our dog in a violent thunderstorm (and found her again, two days later, thanks to some neighbors we had just met while searching for her). That day I had been transplanting tomato seedlings at a friends' greenhouse, Hillside Greenhouse at Sunny Valley Foods (in Casey County--formerly Nolt's--one of these days I'll stop saying that!) and had left our dog Lucy out when I left that morning. She hates storms and I had not anticipated one. Well, didn't we have "a humdinger" mid-afternoon as my father used to say--complete with a tornado warning.

Ida's barn and red buds

Aside from the scare and anguish of almost loosing Lucy, we have been watching the glorious pageant of redbud unfold on the land. That has been some comfort amidst the worry.

Red bud and Green River Knob

I was glad to get a photo of Green River Knob, the highest point in Casey County, with a lovely redbud in bloom in front of it. Redbuds seem to like semi-open spaces and are most common along fields and roadsides. The wild dogwood is just beginning to bloom and I was pleased to see lilacs beginning to open in northern Tennessee.

Yesterday we stopped in Bugtussle, Kentucky, right on the Tennessee line, on our way to visit my uncle and his wife (of course, brought camera, forgot recharged battery pack--more about this destination, too, after we return there next week). We also saw a fair bit of damage from the tornado that hit Lafayette, Tennessee in early February and hopped along a track up towards where we live, approximately 2 hours northeast in Kentucky. It was humbling to see what these storms can do.

This evening a neighbor brought me an intriguing gift: a mason jar partially filled with a clear liquid with a piquant odor. Let's just say it is a good "recipe" in the old tradition, something I've never tasted. I'll write more about that another day, too.

All is calm, all is bright now on the ridge as evening slips in. The cooler night air is coming in the window after a warm afternoon, but it is 8:45pm and still not quite dark (who knew how I would benefit from being on the very western edge of the Eastern time zone?). The night sounds like summer with birds nesting and that not-quite-crickety sound, but no longer are there peepers. Our neighbor to the north is having his nightly holler to the elements (can't quite explain that ritual but he's harmless enough). There, he is done now (well, not quite, a few more hollers at nothing in particular).

Tornado watch on Carter Ridge

Tomorrow the boys and my husband are going squirrel hunting with a neighbor. Temple has had squirrel and dumplings in the past. I'm willing to try just about anything but they'd better not bring them to me to skin! No doubt our boys will find this to be the highlight of their spring vacation--and I'll bet they'll taste great with cornbread (squirrel, that is, not boys!).

Better Living through Lard?

When this ad came in today in an e-mail from my friend Edie I thought that it couldn't possibly be true. Well, of course not--but a great laugh all the same. The pseudo-ad originally appeared in a British satire magazine called Viz.

I found the image of the healthy woman running through a field on the FatBlokeThin website. She has no doubt just eaten a "Lard Bar". Written by a British man who has been chronicling his battle of the bulge for the past several years, the site seems worth returning for another look. [And how refreshing to have a man's viewpoint on these concerns for a change.]

But I digress. The point of all of this is that when I received Edie's e-mail I realized that I had been wanting to blog about fried chicken for some time. I've made it three times now in the past two months. I soak it in buttermilk, dredge each piece by hand in a flour-paprika-salt and seasoning combo that I mix together, and fry it in a deep lidded skillet in Crisco oil. The second time was the best, the first time so-so, and the other night a bit rushed. The trick is to get the oil hot and sustain that heat without burning it. This is no easy thing to accomplish without screaming at your kids and husband to stay away from the dangerous stove environment while juggling the rest of dinner, too. And another side effect is that the house stinks of fat for a day or so afterwards.

The other night I made four meatloaves, from The Amish Cookbook--Recollections and Recipes from an Old Order Amish Family (this was one of the best meatloaf recipes I've made and I've tried a lot of meatloaf recipes over the years), my third attempt at fried chicken, buttered noodles, green beans, and cornbread. I also served applesauce on hand (made two falls ago) and tried a new cornbread recipe. Rhubarb cobbler for dessert (sort of make shift and I've done better).

We had three Mennonite men to dinner who have been putting our 45-acre field back into hay (after many years in soybeans with the former owner). They have it limed, tilled and planted now, just in time for more spring rains on Saturday. Our neighbors Larry and Josh also joined us. The food was a hit but I don't think I'll be deep frying for a while! Just too messy (and I'm fairly mess-tolerant). But we had a jolly time around the table and I was the only woman among six men and our two boys. Farm livin' is the life for me, gals.

I was pleased with the cornbread, an easy recipe from The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery, compiled by the people at Foxfire. [I have the Gramercy Books edition published in 2001, but this cover with the pig on it is much more appealing.] This recipe--one of seven in the cookbook for cornbread and one of many using cornmeal--requires lard. It is the first time I've used it, apart from years ago when I made my great-grandmother's German Christmas Cookie recipe as a treat for my father (I'll post that at the holidays).

Corn Bread
by Annie Long [for Foxfire]

• 2 cups cornmeal
• 1 teaspoon soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 egg, beaten
• 2 cups sour milk (I used fresh buttermilk)
• 2 tablespoons melted lard

Sift cornmeal (or stir) to get bran out (I didn't do this). Measure the cornmeal, soda, and salt and sift together (I just stirred it--I also added about a tablespoon of sugar). Mix in beaten egg, milk and melted lard. Pour into a hot greased iron skillet and bake in a 425 degree oven (until done--about 20-25 minutes). Serves 6-8.

Catherine's NOTE: Melt lard in your skillet on the stove top, then pour and stir quickly into the cornmeal mixture and pour back in again to the same skillet to bake in the oven. Bread is moist and flavorful, but not too moist, not too dry.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Appalachian Homeplace

In the past few years since we first came to Kentucky, I became aware of an interesting term: homeplace. This word is used in reference to the place where a person or remembered family member was born and raised or as, "that was Margaret's homeplace over on Tick Ridge". I have also learned that it can be a term of reverence. Homeplaces are more often than not abandoned houses, left to time and circumstance, exactly as they were when the last occupant lived there. [See also my blog entry from last April on our neighbor's farm, Another Homeplace]

A fine old manor, now ruinous but just as lovely as in its hey-day.
Devoid or pilfered of their contents, all that remains are the weathered clapboards and other architectural fixtures. They are ruins on the landscape, almost a part of the land, and there is a haunting beauty and sorrow in their remains. The English landscape gardeners on the great estates might have appreciated them and the Romantic poets would have certainly immortalized them.

The house is now part-barn and hay storage.
I also sense that these places are left as much as through benign neglect as for their associations. This is where the reverence factor enters in: the houses are often left alone, unoccupied, because of those who lived there. We know a family who picnics each year at their family homeplace, now empty of furnishings, and used for their annual family reunion, never to be rented or sold. Around it are fields and forests, still in the family (in fact, purchased back by a daughter). Otherwise, it is an abandoned lonely place, likely never to be inhabited again.

My husband and I are drawn to these places, which is ironic because we sold the New Hampshire farm that was in my family for almost sixty years (the land is all now being preserved with conservation easements) and have listed for sale our large Federal home, Whitcomb House. [But these are other stories, complex and varied, and often detailed in this blog--see one of the entries on my family farm, Home Place.] Once common in New England during the Depression and earlier decades, well before the era of village improvement societies, older homes there are restored, and sometimes inappropriately. Finding a homeplace in its original unaltered state is like Mecca for me. It is preservation in its most rudimentary sense which is preserving something in its pure form.

Last week we "foraged" around a particular house that we had passed before. Not seeing any "No trespassing" signs or an adjacent owner's house to ask permission, we poked around and took nothing but photographs. Any house foraging can be dangerous, if not illegal, especially as the floor was treacherous and the place had been used recently as a hay barn. Exploring these buildings any later in the season can also be encumbered by the emergence of snakes, often poisonous. [I do intend to find and contact the owner to tell them we were there and to perhaps get some oral history on the house.]

Layers of old wallpaper in the hallway.

Inside were original features from the late 19th century, including seven visible layers of wallpaper in the entry hall, its own visual chronology of time and taste proclivities, spanning from the Aesthetic period in the 1870s or so, to a flocked Gothic paper, to pink and gray Edwardian grandeur, to 1940s ivy, through 1950s Colonial Revival townscapes.

Former pantry cupboards...or hay barn?
Built-in kitchen cupboards, probably painted in the 1930s, seemed to be the only evidence of a pantry, as the original footprint of the house had remained. Inside the cupboards there is the distinctive utilitarian green paint from the Depression era that has made a comeback in recent years and the surrounding kitchen was ample and spacious. Except for the ell, the house was reminiscent to us of the one that was originally on the location of our doublewide, that a former owner recently told us about: it had 2 large stone end chimneys, was one room deep, with two large downstairs and upstairs rooms and a "dog trot" hallway between them.

This particular house that we photographed also had an ell with a large hall dividing the main house from the kitchen, probably for additional air and ventilation and to keep the heat away from the main house in summer. A double entry porch, a common vernacular type in Kentucky, was also added at one time (we did not dare go upstairs for fear of falling through the floor). Outside is an old smokehouse, a common outbuilding still found in this region.

Another possible reason for the old homeplace phenomenon here in Kentucky is that, unlike in the Northeast and other parts of the country where property taxes are so high, these buildings are not taxed. So they can be more easily left where and as they are. The land around them is primarily used for agriculture or you might see a newer home built beside the old (or a trailer plopped in front). I wonder, also, if because most people did not have cameras or any other means to document their lives in these houses, that this visual record is a timeless reminder of the old home. One of our neighbors still has his parents' homeplace on another farm and he keeps it as it was. "Sometimes I go in and it still smells as it used to when they lived there." I, too, have a powerful scent memory of the places I have lived and that I often haunt in my dreams. There is also the unavoidable reality: that crushing poverty and an inability to afford to restore these houses has allowed their preservation, however ruinous.

An original hearth in the main room.

There is sentiment in speaking of these places, but there is no dwelling in them. The homeplace lingers as a remnant of a past. In their preservation they slowly return to the land. There is beauty in that, at least for the newly transplanted outsider who also happens to be an architectural historian. In our culture today, where families are separated by states and sometimes continents, there is also something reassuring and familial about them. They are the domestic remains of our nation's farming history and stand resolute against the McMansion era in which we live. The ruinous old homeplace is the antithesis of the vinyled, Mansarded, overblown suburban home of today. Where those houses are incongruous on the land, like jarring gewgaws, the decrepit homeplace seems a natural part of its environs.

My friends Susan Daley and Steve Gross, who shot the principal photography for The Pantry, are soon to release their new book, Time Wearing Out Memory: Schoharie County, with W.W. Norton & Company. Almost twenty years ago, I met Sue and Steve at a shoot for the Gibson House Museum, a Victorian time capsule in Boston, for Victoria Magazine.

Over the years our friendship has strengthened over a love of old places, especially the delight in discovering old houses (and working together for my own book). Like me, Sue had never quite understood the term "homeplace" before, even though that is what they often document in their photography. She did, however, refer me to a classic photograpy book by Wright Morris called The Home Place.

Their latest book documents the architectural remains of time in upstate New York, in many ways another place of forgotten Appalachian existence. They see places for what they are and as they are and I look forward to discovering more of their photographic excellence and discerning eye for historic--and often haunting and ruinous--architecture. Check out their Schoharieology blog on their new book, featuring images from Schoharie County, New York and other information. In many ways, that beautiful region of upper New York state reminds me of the knobs and hollows of Kentucky. Kindred places, kindred spirits.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Appalachian Spring

One of the delights of moving into a new home in winter is that you don't know what to expect in the spring. When we first saw our home beneath its very own knob (Kentucky speak for big f@#$ing hill) it was at the end of August during one of the worst droughts the region has experienced.

We could tell the landscape had been well tended (Miss Lillian was an accomplished gardener when she was able) and was more "park like" than most. Because of the dry weather we only saw drought-hardy plants blooming: a purple butterfly bush, an orange trumpet vine, and the biggest red hibiscus flowers I'd ever seen. Here and there were some annuals that had self sown on the parched earth, like bachelor buttons and petunias. Our boys were glad to find some moldering tomatoes and melon in the remnants of a small and weedy vegetable garden.

Every day for the past several weeks we have watched the yard and land unfold: glorious prolonged forsythia, a scrim of green on the trees in the woods, daffodils in drifts along roadsides and in fields (often indicative of the location of a former homeplace), and now the redbud is just pinking up on the edges of fields and in the woods. Soon it will be a glorious pageant of pink and green on the land. [I promise more photos to come although I have to say I'm growing increasingly upset with the clarity of my digital CanonRebel images--to the point where I am tempted to go back to film.]

In our own yard we continue to make daily discoveries. Peonies are poking themselves out of the soil, clumps of day lilies have announced their presence, and various other perennials have emerged. On the northside of the doublewide (which sits on the site of the old homeplace that was here--another blog about that to come one day) are several hellebores in pink and white that started blooming early in March. A large rose over an arbor, a Constance Spry according to the tag, is thick and vigorous and needs some trimming (and fish emulsion soon to prompt its blooming). Large mats of grass here and there have declared themselves to be grape hyacinth or what we call "cemetery pinks" and some plants we still don't know if they're weed or wanted flora.

All winter we have had watercress growing at the base of our spring which flows into a small pond. I will have to pick some of our own. I've never tried the wild, natural variety and understand it was a readily available source of nutrients and greens for mountain people. Mistletoe, a parasitic inedible evergreen, hangs in twiggy green balls from their oak tree hosts (I will blog about this in the mistletoe season). Hickory nut and black walnuts abound. Green carpets of myrtle (called "periwinkle" here) bloom beneath barren trees. Ramps and morels (also called "land fish" by the locals) will be coming out in the woods over the coming weeks before the canopy of leaves appears in the forest. Near the end of April the trillium and wild iris and so many other wildflowers will be in bloom in the woods, lush and damp with spring rains.

Today while our oldest son was mowing the lawn, which smells of wild onion after it is cut, we made more discoveries. Two bushes which we think are cultivated blueberries, some sort of indiscernible ground cover which looks like a kind of lamium, and a corner of the old vegetable garden has a grape vine and a mass of strawberries while another has what I think is garlic. I was delighted to see that several bushes that we thought were lilacs indeed are as they announced their purplish buds and distinctive foliage this week and several more appear to be "bridal wreath", both bushes that we have around our New Hampshire village home.

Now our lilac season--and our entire spring--will be extended by several weeks each year as we will enjoy them up there in May. The spring will stretch itself slowly towards New England as we head there ourselves for part of each summer. In New Hampshire, spring is a month of mud, followed by a week of spring, followed by an almost immediate summer. For a few weeks in May, when it is at its most glorious, the black flies emerge and hang about until late June: from Mother's Day to Father's Day we always said.

We have many vegetable and fruit options locally with the Mennonite farms and because we will be back in New Hampshire for part of the summer I am trying not to get too excited about a garden right now. I might plant some beets and other things that we can enjoy upon return in August and that might survive on rain alone. But this longer growing season needs some getting used to, that's for certain. Here they traditionally plant potatoes on Good Friday, early this year. By early May you can have just about anything in the ground. In New Hampshire, sometimes you are lucky to have tomatoes in the ground in the first week of June.

So we will watch our emerging landscape and make needed tweaks in the fall. I have apple mint ready to plant for iced tea, which we've started to make again now that the weather has warmed. Our neighbor Ida gave me a big potted tomato today (with a ripe tomato!) and I will pot that and put it on the porch. I am planting pansies, because I love their smiling colorful faces, for some hanging baskets that we can enjoy before it gets too hot--which it will and they will not be happy then unless tucked into a shady corner.

My husband, excited about the leaves and flowers coming out after a drizzly and dreary Kentucky winter, was talking with our friend and neighbor Larry. "Yes, but," Larry cautioned, "this is the time when the snakes come out." At least we won't have mosquitoes or black flies here, as in New Hampshire, but I suppose every Eden must have its snakes.