• Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Meta

Who Inspires You?

I first noticed him about two years ago.  A heavyset young guy walked briskly past my house in the middle of the day.  He wore a long sleeve black shirt and dark shorts and he walked the loop around the neighborhood a few times, but I didn’t recognize him as a neighbor. Not many days later as I ate lunch, he walked past again, wearing the same clothes.

            After several months, his walk became a slow jog and he jogged past our house, not around the neighborhood loop, about midday. During the winter months, he wore a black knitted cap and traded his shorts for long dark colored pants.  Monday thru Friday, he jogged past and I wondered what was his story.  Some warm days, I’d eat lunch on my front porch and could have yelled to him, but he was focused on the street and I hated to intrude. 

            Now, his jogging has turned to running and he isn’t heavyset – he’s almost slim.  His black shirt is faded, but the knitted cap looks the same.  On a sunny winter day, as I walked the neighborhood loop for exercise, he ran near me so I called out to him. “I’m impressed that you run every day.  Do you have two minutes to talk?” I asked.

             He stopped and said, “Thanks,” and I realized he wasn’t as young as I had thought, maybe almost 40? After introducing myself, he told me his name which sounded familiar.  Thinking he might have been one of my children’s classmates, I asked where he went to school.  He attended Capshaw Elementary and graduated from high school in a neighboring county.  When I said that I’d taught at Capshaw, he told me that didn’t remember all his teachers and they probably didn’t remember him, but most people remembered his twin sister.

            I asked what inspires him to run every day.  “I’ve got a five-year-old son and I want to keep up with him.  I thought I’d just walk during my lunch hour,” he said and he explained that he works less than a half mile from my neighborhood. “Then I speeded up a little. It’s surprising what your body can do.  I never expected to run,” he said. 

            “That must be your lucky running shirt,” I said.  He laughed and said, “Yeah, I take these clothes to work and put them on to run, and I take them home to wash every night.”

            I searched through Capshaw Elementary School yearbooks and found brother and sister, 6th graders in 1992 -1993.  Neither were in my homeroom class, but I remember two twelve-year-old kids who smiled often and were well-behaved, hard-working students.             Now when I see him run, I silently cheer him on.  This runner’s determination to keep up with his son inspires me to keep moving, keep exercising. Maybe my body will surprise me. And my brief chat with him reminds me that my path often crosses with good people and taking just a few minutes to talk can be a blessing.

When Kids Draw

Erin posted a picture on Facebook of her two-year-old daughter’s drawing, a lop-sided circle with lines crossed where Azalea’s marker began and stopped.  Erin wrote, “I spy a heart.  This is the first intentional shape that I’ve noticed Azalea draw, and I couldn’t be prouder.” 

            If Azalea is like my Grands, she’ll soon be drawing circle people.  Micah was almost four when he drew my portrait.  Using an orange marker, my Grand drew a lop-sided circle with three small dots in the center and a short, straight line under the dots.  He drew four lines that began inside the circle and extended far outside it.  The dots were my nose and eyes; the line under it was my mouth. Two lines beginning near the eyes were arms and two lines pointing down were legs.  A scribble at the circle’s top was hair, and dots immediately above the arm lines were ears.

            Micah was 5 ½ when he drew a picture of himself, his Pop, and me, and we were the same height in his drawing . We had circle heads with oval eyes and upturned one-line mouths.  Atop our heads, he portrayed hair perfectly: spirals for his curly hair, straight lines for mine, and none for Pop.  He drew stick people with one long line for our bodies and crossing lines half-way down the body for arms and very short inverted letter v’sfor legs. We’re holding hands, and I’m holding a heart-shaped balloon – one that flies, my Grand told me.  

            On another page, Micah drew several faces and he asked, “Gran, which one do you like best?”  I asked him to explain each face.  Most expressed an emotion: anger, surprise, happy, sad, disappointed.  One face yelled, really loud, and one was nothing, just there.  We talked about what might have happened to cause someone to have each face.  Micah gave some serious and some silly explanations.  Then he insisted I choose my favorite, and when I chose the smiling person, he said, “I knew you’d like it best.”

            At age six, Micah used every color in the box to create a stick figure drawing of his Pop.  An orange face, open purple mouth, round blue eyes circled in red.  The body, arms, legs and feet were all different colors.  The head was huge, but the arms and legs lengths were real life proportion to the body. My Grand was proud of his work and said that I would probably want to keep it.  

            I love kids’ drawings.  Simple and expressive.  Studies suggest that one can know a child’s home life, his intelligence, his ability to handle stress, and so much more by looking at his drawings, and that’s probably true.              But here’s my thoughts.  Let kids draw whatever they want, even arms where ears should be.  Let them explain (without criticizing or suggesting changes) what they drew.  And keep a few drawings, like a lop-sided circle that looks like a heart and a picture of Pop.

Finding Joy in a Plant

A tall snake plant sits in the corner of our dining room, and that simple plant makes me happy.  Recent weather forecast for frost signaled the time to bring potted plants indoors.  It felt good, almost soothing, to wipe the dust and grime off the long, narrow, strong leaves.  Partly because when I clean, I want to see a difference and this plant was dirty. But mostly, because it once belonged to my grandmother.

             A tall snake plant in a white pot always set on Grandma and Papa’s front porch.   She called it a mothers-in-law tongue, and her mother gave it to her.  As a kid, I didn’t really like it. The pointed, sharp leaves hurt when I brushed by arm or leg against them and I didn’t think it was pretty.  After Grandma’s death about thirty years ago, my aunt moved the plant to her house and shared two starter plants with me.  Grandma had few material things to pass on so I was really glad to have something that was hers; something she had nurtured.

            Snake plants require little care.  In fact, leave them alone and they grow well.  In the summer, I sat the pots outside and prided myself that the leaves were green and healthy.  When frost threatened, I moved the plants into a garage corner for the winter.  After many weeks, I noticed the tall leaves were limp. So, I set the pots in a bucket and poured water around the soil and left the plants in water all day. In fact, I left them for several days, and the leaves began to turn yellow.  I’d broken the #1 rule about care for snake plants: don’t overwater.

            Root rot killed one plant. Aunt Doris gave me detailed instructions to save the other one and she offered new starter plants, but I was determined to bring my small plant back to life. And I did, and now truly appreciate it as Grandma did hers.  

            The long, narrow, strong leaves earned this plant the name snake plant and prompted other names. Mothers-in-law because we mothers sometimes struggle to hold our tongues.  In Spain, it’s known as Saint George’s sword.  It’s also called viper’s bowstring because the stiff fiber in the leaves are strong. 

            Snake plants are succulent plants and their leaves retain water, similar to a cactus. I finally learned to water mine only when the top few inches of its soil are completely dry and to never pour water on the leaves.  I just learned that snake plants clean the air better than most plants because not only do they give off oxygen, they absorb high amounts of carbon monoxide and filter toxins in the air.  I’m sure Grandma didn’t know her plant helped to keep her healthy. 

            Now, the tallest leaf on my snake plant is about 40”and there are dozens of leaves, so many that it must be divided.  Next spring, I’ll give starter plants to my children.  Who knows how many generations might enjoy a simple snake plant?

So Many Putnam Counties

In this column last week, after praising Library Friends for its support to our public library and encouraging everyone to become a Friends member, I provided a link to Library Friends for Putnam County, Indiana.  The correct URL for our Putnam County Library Friends is https://pclibrary.org/PCL%20Friends.html.  I hope many of you join.

Ten years ago, when my friend Jennie encouraged me to write for publication, she said, “Just look around. Observe. There’s an idea for a story or column in almost everything you see and do.”  She’s right. In fact, my mistake provides two ideas: Putnam County and mistakes.

Do you know nine states have a county named Putnam? Counties in Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, New York, and West Virginia are named for Israel Putnam.  It’s not certain if Putnam County, Ohio is named for Israel or his cousin Rufus, and Putnam County, Florida could be named for Benjamin Putnam, an officer in the first Seminole War and a Florida politician.  And two states, Connecticut and New York, have cities named after Israel Putnam.

What do you know about Israel Putnam?  He was born in 1715 in Massachusetts and died in 1790 in Connecticut.  As a young man he moved to Pomfret, Connecticut, where he became a prosperous farmer.  He served in the French and Indian War (1754 -63), was captured, and gained the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1759.  Putnam most distinguished himself as a major general in the Continental Army when he fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolution in 1775.   He deserved recognition across our country.

The next time you go the Putnam County Courthouse stop and read the tall silver sign about Israel Putnam to learn what year our county was established.  All nine Putnam Counties were named between 1807 and 1849.  Tennessee’s wasn’t the first or last.

So, there are nine Putnam Counties and nine Putnam County public libraries and most have a Library Friends webpage.  On my last revision of last week’s column, I cut words to rewrite the last paragraph because I wanted space to include the Friends group webpage link and that’s when I goofed.           

No excuses, just facts, I was tired and wanted to finish quickly.  When I first googled Putnam County Friends, I noticed the headline banner read Florida so I tried again, and I didn’t notice Indiana on the second one.  I copied and pasted and said to myself, “Done!” 

Isn’t that often what happens when we make a mistake?  We’re in a hurry or tired or both.  Then we have choices: fix it, if possible, or hope no one notices.  My mistake was fixed on the Herald-Citizen online edition and corrected in the next printed issue, but I wanted to ‘fix it myself’ as my young Grand says.  Winston Churchill said, “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.”   It’s true that everyone makes mistakes, and yes, I learned from mine.  And now I’m collecting more stories about mistakes for another column.

Listen to the Children

A mother and son sat on their front porch steps. He rolled his red Matchbox car across the concrete porch while they counted the days until his first day of kindergarten: seven more days.  “Will the corona be gone then?” he asked.

            “I wish, but no, it probably won’t be,” the mom replied.  This young one clutched his car in both hands, lay on the porch, curled into a ball, still and silent. When I heard this story, I wondered what other children were saying and doing so I asked Facebook friends to share.

            A five-year-old girl sat in her mother’s lap and sipped from her drink, but when her mother wrapped her arms to hug, the mother was pushed away.  “Moooomaaa!  Six feet apart!  Remember, the corona?” the girl said.

            “This virus is a trouble maker!” said a four-year-old when he was told that because of the COVID-19 his nursery school had closed.

            My Grand, age six, told me to not touch a spoon he’d just touched.  “Gran, you’ll get the CORONA!”

            Another young one used kitchen tongs to hand her mother something and said, “Now you don’t have to worry about corona virus.” Laster she asked, “Is it always gonna’ be like this?”  She was assured things would change.  This child misses her good friend, but doesn’t want to talk to her on video chat. “It will make me sadder,” she explained.  Her older sister, age eight, wanted to buy a litter picker-upper for $1 to protect herself from touching things. Her mom wasn’t sure this purchase was logical, but since it gave her child peace of mind, it was a good investment. 

            While watching an episode of Peppa, a preschool animated television series, a four-year-old said, “MOM! They’re too close to their friends!”  He was assured it was filmed before March.

            A nine-year-old kid girl said, “We can’t do anything fun with the COVID going around.” 

            A little girl was playing with her dolls.  She set the table for them and served lunch and told her grandmother the names of each of her babies.  Little brother, age four, was drawing with crayons on paper, and he held one finger over his mouth and whispered, “Shhhhh! I’m in a meeting!”  His sister and grandmother continued talking.  Again, brother whispered, but this time more loudly, “Shhhhh!  I’m in a MEETING!”  When asked what kind of meeting, he said, “Drawing!  Shhhhh.”

            The daughter, age 6, of a nurse practitioner reminds her mother to put clean clothes in their garage so after work her mom can change out of her scrubs in the garage and not take the corona in the house.

            A four-year old often asks, “Is the sickness gone yet?  This is taking ages!”

            “Is the quar-um-team over yet?” asked a three-year-old.

.           A pre-school age girl prays, “Dear God, please help all the people get well and the virus go away.”             Will young children remember this pandemic?  Yes.  How they remember it is determined by how we adults respond to their words and actions.  And by what we say and do when we think they aren’t listening and watching.

As School Begins

Every year when school begins, I feel a tug be in the classroom. Even after being retired from teaching for ten years, I miss elementary-age students.  I miss morning greetings and young brains ready to take on the day.  I miss the gleam in students’ eyes when they understand long division or master the challenge of writing a persuasive essay.  I miss sitting in a circle with a few kids as we take turns reading aloud and then talk about a story.  

            No two days in a classroom were the same. Daily schedules for lunch and recess and math and Science were constant and weekly schedules for music and physical education classes rarely change and often the state grade-level curriculum didn’t change.  So, what made each day different and fun?  The students. 

            I really like retired life so I think just a few days with twenty kids could be fun, but not this year. Not when COVID19 threatens. I’ve even said that I’m thankful I’m not teaching and if I were in charge of the world this school year would be a do-over, a transition year

            When I taught 4th and 6th graders, we studied a poem entitled, If I Were in Charge of the World by Judith Viorst, and students wrote their own poems.  If I were in charge, this school year would be a transition year like T-1 classes between kindergarten and first grade. A year as a T-1 student helps six-year olds who’ve spent a year in kindergarten, but aren’t quite ready for first grade.  This extra school year helps young students be strong learners, strong readers.This could be a Transition Year for all students, but I know that’s impossible so how can I and others help teachers and students?

            Reach out. Pray. Be tolerant.

            Reach out to someone you know or someone who is a friend of a friend or anyone. Send encouraging hand-written notes and post positive comments on social media. Tell teachers that you know their jobs are difficult and you appreciate their efforts.

             Pray. Teri, a retired principal asked on FaceBook, “Anyone else Parking, Praying Everyday?” She was referring to the PPE campaign,Park & Pray Every day. Driving past a school?  Pull in, park and pray for the children, the teachers, the staff. Driving past a school bus lot?  Park and pray for the bus drivers. Driving near the administration building?  Park and pray for the leaders.  Park and Pray Every day or just voice a split-second pray as you drive past a school.

            Be tolerant as teachers experiment with new ways to teach.  No kindergarten teacher ever expected to lead five-year-olds in rhymes remotely. Science is best learned hands-on; not watching a video.  While teachers often welcome opportunities to try new teaching methods, there are usually best practices to follow.  But not this year.

            This school year beginning is unique. Nothing – not college classes, not in-service programs, not experiences – has prepared anyone to teach in the middle of a pandemic.  Let’s let teachers know we support them. #####

            No two days in a classroom were the same. Daily schedules for lunch and recess and math and Science were constant and weekly schedules for music and physical education classes rarely change and often the state grade-level curriculum didn’t change.  So, what made each day different and fun?  The students. 

            I really like retired life so I think just a few days with twenty kids could be fun, but not this year. Not when COVID19 threatens. I’ve even said that I’m thankful I’m not teaching and if I were in charge of the world this school year would be a do-over, a transition year

            When I taught 4th and 6th graders, we studied a poem entitled, If I Were in Charge of the World by Judith Viorst, and students wrote their own poems.  If I were in charge, this school year would be a transition year like T-1 classes between kindergarten and first grade. A year as a T-1 student helps six-year olds who’ve spent a year in kindergarten, but aren’t quite ready for first grade.  This extra school year helps young students be strong learners, strong readers.This could be a Transition Year for all students, but I know that’s impossible so how can I and others help teachers and students?

            Reach out. Pray. Be tolerant.

            Reach out to someone you know or someone who is a friend of a friend or anyone. Send encouraging hand-written notes and post positive comments on social media. Tell teachers that you know their jobs are difficult and you appreciate their efforts.

             Pray. Teri, a retired principal asked on FaceBook, “Anyone else Parking, Praying Everyday?” She was referring to the PPE campaign,Park & Pray Every day. Driving past a school?  Pull in, park and pray for the children, the teachers, the staff. Driving past a school bus lot?  Park and pray for the bus drivers. Driving near the administration building?  Park and pray for the leaders.  Park and Pray Every day or just voice a split-second pray as you drive past a school.

            Be tolerant as teachers experiment with new ways to teach.  No kindergarten teacher ever expected to lead five-year-olds in rhymes remotely. Science is best learned hands-on; not watching a video.  While teachers often welcome opportunities to try new teaching methods, there are usually best practices to follow.  But not this year.

            This school year beginning is unique. Nothing – not college classes, not in-service programs, not experiences – has prepared anyone to teach in the middle of a pandemic.  Let’s let teachers know we support them. #####

Born to be Grandmother

Ann Ray was born to be a grandmother and Grandmother was the name she chose when she was 47 years old and her first grandchild, my daughter, was born.  For the next 45 years, until her death last week, Husband’s mother lived and loved as Grandmother.  Her last fifteen years, she cherished being a great-grandmother and she smiled biggest when she hugged one of her great-grands.

            When I asked many years ago why she chose to be called Grandmother, because there are so many other name choices, she said, “Grandmother is the name on all the cards.”  Greeting cards were treasures.  She kept them close on the table beside the couch, displayed them on the fireplace mantle, and would say, “Did you see the cards I got?”

            Sending cards gave her even greater joy than receiving.  She knew the ages and interests of all twelve of her great-grands so she chose the perfect card for each.  When she said to me, “Look at this card I got for Samuel,” I knew she’d searched for a card with a picture of a boy and a basketball.  That’s how Grandmother loved. 

            She loved by doing.  Like making an extra recipe of strawberry fluff for family Christmas dinner so my daughter could take it home.  Daughter loved that fluff of Jello, Cool Whip, and crushed strawberries when she was young so even when she was the mother of five, Grandmother made extra.  Husband once said that he remembered eating salmon patties when he was a child so the next time there was a holiday family gathering, Grandmother served fried salmon patties along with the traditional turkey and ham.

            All who loved her have gifts that Grandmother chose or made just for us.  I treasure my cross-stitch sampler.  It’s black with pastel flowers and states: 1983, Susan Ray, Her Sampler.  We in-laws were hers just as her four children who she had diapered and burped.

            Two weeks ago, while Grandmother and I sat rocking on her carport, she said, “Susan, I didn’t think I’d ever be like this.  Not able to get up and do what I want.”  She paused, looking at the sky. “But I guess I’m doing pretty good.  I live by myself.  I can get dressed and talk to people on the phone.” 

            A widow for eleven years, Grandmother lived alone in the home where she and Grandfather raised their four children.  Until a few months ago, she drove to the grocery store and to her hairdresser’s shop every Thursday and to church on Sunday mornings. 

            She was determined to not be, in her words, ‘a problem to anybody.’  Even in death, she wasn’t. When she didn’t answer her phone, her daughter went to her home and found Grandmother sitting in her favorite corner of her couch and holding a TV remote, her head resting on her chest.  That afternoon she appeared to have fallen asleep and taken her last breath.              Grandmother blessed with her love, her gifts, her cards, and she chose the perfect name. We all, sometimes even her children, called her Grandmother.

Don’t Leave Home Without It

“Bring a folding chair and we’ll meet outside and sit safe distances apart,” my friend said.  As I walked out my back door to join five girlfriends for a backyard visit, I did a mental checklist to be sure I had everything I needed.  Keys. Phone. Purse. Sunglasses. Water bottle. A mask and chair, which stay in my van. 

            Pulling out of my driveway, I thought about the mask and chair – two things I never needed until the COVID-19 pandemic. A mask hangs from the windshield wiper lever and a fold-up chair lays in the trunk. 

            As I drove, I thought of all the many other things that I keep in my van.  In every vehicle I’ve ever owned there’s been a flashlight, maps, and an emergency bag, supplied with jumper cables and a first aid kit. I know I can get directions using a GPS or a maps app, but I like paper maps.  Currently, there are fold-up maps of Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky and a United States Atlas.  And I have a magnifying glass to read the tiny print, but was used recently to see a splinter in a finger.

            Wet wipes, aka baby wipes, a roll of paper towels, disposable diapers, and small plastic trash bags were staples when our children were young decades ago.  I no longer carry diapers, but those other items still come in handy.  As the kids got older, I added a blanket and plastic tablecloth for times when someone was cold or we wanted to have a spur-of-the-moment picnic and needed something to sit on. Last week when I hauled bedding plants, the plastic cloth kept the van floor clean and was easily wiped off.  I rolled up the blanket to brace a rose bush in a gallon-size pot.

            When my Grands began riding with me fifteen years ago, I set a bottle of hand sanitizer in a cup holder and have had one since, and it is refilled often.  A few books, including search-and-find-picture books and riddle books, are in the backseat pockets.  Pencils and paper are always available. 

            Arriving at my friend’s driveway, I wondered if a mask and a folding chair would become forever travelling supplies, like wet wipes did. Because my back is happier when I sit straight, I like a director’s chair with canvas back and seat. Maybe I could switch to a folding chair that fits inside a small bag; it’d take up less space and be easier to carry, but not as comfortable.

            When I arrived at the meeting place and opened my van trunk, I was surprised my chair wasn’t there. Thankfully, I had my plastic tablecloth to sit on so I didn’t have to sit on the ground. I put on my mask and joined my friends.              Back home, I found my chair leaning against the garage wall, right where I’d put it the day before when I took it out to haul boxes, and I put it back in the van.  No one should leave home without a mask and a folding chair.

Everyone Knows Someone

Everyone knows someone.  We know people who are grieving because they will never again hug someone they loved.  They mourn the death of their child or parent or niece or cousin or friend.

            Everyone knows someone whose home was destroyed.  Whose home was blown away.  Who walks among the rubble where their house once stood.  Whose beds and pillows and pictures and Bibles were carried miles away.  Who have said, “I’m okay. None of us are hurt. We are blessed.”  

            Everyone knows one of the first helpers.  A neighbor whose home was left standing and gave immediate shelter to others. Who wrapped towels around bleeding wounds.  Who held a frightened, crying child.  Who put shoes on bare feet. 

            Everyone knows a paramedic or deputy or fireman who was a first responder, trained to give emergency medical care. Who worked non-stop through the early morning hours, through the day, and into the next night.  Who carried victims.  Those who said, “I’ll never be able to erase the pictures from my head.  It was horrific.”

            We all received phone calls and texts from out-of-town family and friends and were asked, “Are you okay?”  I answered, “Yes. We’re okay.”  More questions led to my explaining that our home and our families’ homes aren’t near where the tornado hit. When I talked by phone with a close friend she heard my deep breath and asked, “But what?”

            Jessica was a Capshaw student and I’ve known her parents for 40 years.  From my teaching days, I remember Jessica as a 4th grader. A happy little girl with a big smile and who was everybody’s friend.  Although, our paths rarely crossed during recent years, I recognized Jessica at city hall where she was the receptionist.  She was still smiling. She served her community as a fair board volunteer and was active in her church.  The tornado took her life.

            Tom and Kay are friends from Husband’s and my college days.  Tom was Son’s first basketball coach.  I taught their daughters and followed their successes through college and now as adults. Every time I’ve said to Kay, as a greeting, “How ‘r you?”, she has responded, “Better than I deserve.” Tom and Kay’s home was completely destroyed.

            Amy was one of Daughter’s junior high school friends.  Once when she was at our house, I looked out our second story window and Amy waved from her perch in a tulip poplar tree.  I forced myself to smile, pointed down, and was relieved when her feet touched the ground. Houses around Amy and her husband’s house were leveled, but theirs was spared so they sheltered neighbors before emergency workers arrived.

            Millard was Son’s school friend.  He was always respectful, always kind, as a young boy and as a teen-ager.  Millard is a paramedic.  On Facebook, he shared the prayer he said while carrying a lifeless child in his arms.             We all know someone who is suffering after last week’s tornado.  That’s why we’re not quite okay and we help whoever and however we can.

Friends Getting Us Through

“It’ll be a short hike,” Pam announced to us twenty-four women.  We were near the Smoky Mountains for a three-day women’s church retreat.  I listened to the Saturday morning options: a hike, shopping at the outlet mall, or relaxing in the lodge where we were staying. 

            Wearing a splint on my right thumb and arm made me even more unbalanced than I usually am, but I really wanted to be outside in the woods.  “You’ll be fine. The park lists it as an easy hike.  If you need help, we’ll help you,” friends told me.  So, on a cloudy 40° F February morning, I put on the warmest clothes I had packed and double knotted my walking shoes.

            We walked across a gravel parking lot to begin the Noah ‘Bud’ Ogle Place nature trail. A small log cabin marked the beginning of the 0.6-mile trail near the Le Conte Creek. The first trail marker indicating the old road from Gatlinburg gave fair warning: rocks and ruts.  Tall trees, barks covered with moss on the north side, sheltered an open space where Bud and Cindy Ogle built a home and began farming 400 acres in 1879.

            Taking in the smell of the woods and stopping to feel the moss, I heard someone say, “Hold onto the rail and be careful. This little bridge is damp and slick.”  The bridge was a worn twelve-inch plank over a six-foot wide creek. The log rail wiggled as I took baby steps sideways over the water.  After crossing the bridge and tip-toeing around water-filled ruts and slick rocks, we twelve hikers naturally divided into three groups.  Those who were sure on their feet.  Those who needed a helping hand.  And those who went back to enjoy nature at the log cabin.

            I wanted to continue, but thought I probably should turn around.  “Come on. You can do it,” Cindy encouraged me. “You can hold my shoulder.” As we walked, Cindy stayed one step in front of me while I looked at the ground to avoid tripping over tree roots and small pointed rocks.

            Large stumps and rotting logs covered the woods.  A sign told us that the largest logs were the remains of chestnut trees, one of the most used trees by early pioneers. Chestnuts were a staple food and could be traded for shoes and household items.  The timber was rot-resistant, light-weight, and strong for buildings.

            Cindy held my hand as together we made our way over and around a pile of boulders.  Standing in the middle of an evergreen forest, mostly hemlock, we felt raindrops. The trail brochure described this forest as a place where souls of people come for renewal of spirit.

            It was a short hike, but not so easy for me. As I began writing this column, I wavered between focusing on my friends’ encouragement and help or the serenity the Great Smoky Mountains. Then I realized that because friends helped, I could enjoy nature.  I appreciate both.