Tag Archives: WNC

Family Thoughts

This is a post about family.  My Aunt Nell died today.  We weren’t close; I hadn’t seen her in quite a few years.  I remember her as sweet, kind, and soft-spoken.  She was the eighth-born child (out of ten) of my grandparents, widowed, the mother of five sons.  My dad, her youngest brother, was the ninth child in the family.  My grandparents grew up in rural North Carolina, and after starting their family together, later moved to the farthest western part of the state.  This was in the early 1900s, so I can only imagine what a rough and long trip that must have been over mountainous terrain with young children.  My grandmother graduated from college to become a teacher; I don’t know if she actually ever taught or not before they made the move, began their life on a farm, and expanded their family more.  They raised tobacco, had chickens and cows, and grew a lot of their own vegetables, grapes, and had apple trees.  They lived by the river, and the kids fished, hunted, and worked around the farm.  It was a hard life, and they were poor money-wise, but they were somewhat unique for their time and place living in a poor rural southern county.  Seven of the children, including my dad, including Aunt Nell, eventually went on to graduate from college and become teachers, six of them for their whole working adult lives. 

I think my love of outdoors and nature came from my dad and from my grandparents, taking walks, the mountains and the river, the swinging bridge and the porch swing, fresh eggs and homemade grape juice.  I know my love of cats started on their farm, too.  But something else came to mind as I thought about family today.  We can’t make assumptions about people based on where and how they grew up, or what they looked like, or what hand-me-down and homemade clothes they wore.  Looking at the pictures of my dad when he was a little boy living in Appalachia, barefoot and wearing his overalls, you wouldn’t guess he would later become a math professor at a university, or that he and several of his siblings would be awarded recognition for all their years given in service to education.  It says a lot about family, perseverance and hard work, love, sacrifice, humor, faith, and support.

I know, you might be wondering what this has to do with pantheism.  For all their outdoor activities and love of Nature, my family certainly wasn’t pantheist.  They were Methodist growing up (many still are), and their Christian faith was quite important to them, but it’s not about that.  For me, pantheism isn’t just about science and the great outdoors.  It’s about life, beautiful and messy, family, everyday things, and death.   It’s also about memories and lessons learned, traits inherited, traditions passed down (some embraced, others discarded), and connections.  It’s really just about everything.

Aunt Nell was the last living child of my grandparents. It’s the end of an era for my family, but for my five cousins and their families today, it’s the loss of their mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law. As one of my cousins said, “It’s a sad day.”

That’s what I’ve been thinking about today.



I hope you are enjoying your Sunday and get to spend some time out in Nature today.


A New Perspective

A few years ago, a friend and I took a day trip on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad here in the mountains of western North Carolina, riding through woods beside the Tuckasegee River, then through the Nantahala River Gorge, and alongside Fontana Lake. Riding that train in familiar territory helped me see my home and my life in a whole different light.


Armed with a picnic lunch and a camera, train windows wide open, we started our journey on a beautiful sunny day. The train didn’t go fast, affording us plenty of time for sightseeing and picture taking. We saw kayakers navigating the river, house boats dotting the lake, waving picknickers and hikers on track-side trails. I’d made this trip on many occasions over the years by car over on the highway, so I knew where I was during much of the ride, but at times we were far off from the road, away from its view, seeing mountain scenery, river bends, and houses and camps I’d never been able to see before, and it was like being in a whole different place. I don’t even know how to get to some of those places by car. They had a certain charm, though, including one old rock house surrounded by colorful flowers, built so close to the tracks that you could touch it out the window, and at one point we rode on the trestle over the lake rather than merely alongside it. I realized yet again what a beautiful place I live in and how big the wilderness area is, yet how little I really know about it. I see some of these views most days, yet I’m still awestruck by the mountains and the hold they have on me. While I never really get tired of living here, sometimes it’s easy to take it for granted, but seeing it in another way, through different eyes, both mine and my friend’s, changed my life.


When you need a fresh perspective, but can’t afford that big vacation, consider taking a trip, even for an afternoon, through your own neck of the woods, on an alternate route, on a different mode of travel (it could even be a boat or canoe), or with a new companion, so you see the familiar sites from another vantage point, from the “other side.” Explore side roads you’ve never been on, meet people you’ve never seen. For me, a simple train trip made me appreciate my home and my life so much more, and many of the details are still fresh in my mind…..ferns growing in huge clumps that I never remembered seeing before, wildflowers in shades of pink and purple, inspiring me to buy a new book so I could identify them, the sounds of the rushing river, curiosity about the people living in houseboats, the desire to learn more about the history of this land where my ancestors settled. The air was sweet and refreshing, the sun warm on my arm out the window, the train itself noisy yet soothing. Even my simple sandwich and chips tasted better than I’d ever known. My senses were reinvigorated, and I was overcome with gratitude and a new reverence and appreciation for life in general and my life in particular.

I realized that my train trip is a metaphor for dealing with life when we’re in a rut. We need to look at things (or people, ideas, or issues) in a different way, from another side, getting excited and inspired, and learning something new. I never actually feel that I’m bored, because in this universe with so much to experience every minute, every place, I’m not sure that’s even possible, but, again, sometimes I think most of us have gotten into a bit of a dull routine at one time or another, doing the same things day in and day out, almost mindlessly, needing something to shake us up a little bit, renew our zest for life, and help us to pay attention!

Recently, I found myself in one of those ruts. After a few stressful months, I felt burned out, like I was just sleepwalking through my days, with not a lot to give. My safe and familiar routines, while comfortable, were no longer satisfying. I didn’t look forward to them any more; I even began to resent some of them. I remembered that afternoon on the train and knew it was time for a change, and I backed off of social media and online groups for a bit. I sat on my porch and enjoyed nature, rearranged my work schedule and my furniture, found new ways to interact with distant family, walked, changed my diet, made future travel plans, and just took a little break away from some of my responsibilities, giving myself time to look at my life through a different lens and get excited about it again. Like before, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and inspiration, and realized there are many everyday adventures ahead, new experiences to have and people to meet. I was ready to wake up and feel the seasons change from summer to fall, to enjoy the colors and smells of autumn, to share again with my fellow pantheists. That act of stepping back, looking at things differently, and paying attention, my inward journey, also led to a new appreciation for Pantheism, my philosophical and spiritual path, and for the pantheist community that nurtures me in so many ways. I’m thankful for some good advice from supportive people who gave me that time to regroup.

Whether it’s ordinary days or extra-special ones, routine experiences or one-of-a kind, an afternoon ride on an actual train or a virtual excursion through introspection and changing habits, life is one exciting journey.


(originally published in Pantheist Vision)

National Parks

I recently read and enjoyed an article about someone’s experiences in two of our national parks. I haven’t been fortunate enough to visit our national parks, except for one. I have lived much of my life in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina side. Over the years I’ve done hiking, picnics, day rides, camping, leaf looking, and even tubing once upon a time in the Smokies, and I feel they’re always watching over me and protecting me. In fact, on occasion they have protected us from severe weather, tornadoes, thunderstorms, big snows. I’ve seen bears and deer and watched the elk that have been fairly recently reintroduced here; gazed at mountain vistas for miles; listened to the music of creeks and rivers; and admired old historical buildings from long-ago lives, from the Cherokee Indian reservation (Qualla Boundary) up to Clingman’s Dome and over to Gatlinburg and Cades Cove in Tennessee. There are a lot of memories in the Smokies.


I love these mountains, and we have quite a few national forests nearby, and also I’m just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, so a beautiful place for a pantheist to live! I’ve never taken the park for granted, and I think most people around here feel the same way. It’s a wonderful and special place to us, and I never get tired of the mountain views, the trees and flowers, streams, waterfalls, and all the critters that call it home.

I don’t do so much hiking as I used to, don’t have the time right now, but maybe in the future I’ll be able to again. Regardless, even if I move away to be nearer to children and grandchildren, I know these mountains will always be a part of me. It’s hard to explain, but the feeling is real, that feeling of connection that goes so deep, that oneness with nature, with all of life. This talk of privatizing and selling off some of these lands and using them for development or drilling/fracking makes me both worried and incredibly sad. I can’t imagine western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee without the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the history of it, and having children growing up without knowing the beauty and specialness of such a place that we’re fortunate to live so close to and that so many people visit. Hopefully, that will never happen and it will be here for many, many years to come just like it is now.



(previously published in Pantheist Vision)