That Great Smell

The Mountain TV

You know, my mother started me on my love for fires. We had a huge fireplace in our house growing up and at the first sign of cold weather, my mom would ask my dad to build a fire as she decorated the house for fall. My mom was the ultimate entertainer and to her, the house was a stage. My dad used to get firewood cut to 36″ to match the large fireplace and grate. He had some real blazes in that house.

Going forward, I had that appreciation for fires as I made my way through ski lodges, and anytime I had a moment to stand by a fire, I would do it, and take in the warmth and the great smell of wood smoke. In Colonial Williamsburg, one of my favorite destinations, they build fires on the street corners in the winter and the period actors discuss the merits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness warming themselves in front of those ” army stacked” blazes.

I took matters into my own hands when we built our last house and had Teddy Hall come down from the mountains and build a 30’retainer wall, fireplace and bench all out of stone from the mountains. I learned what a shiner was. It is the flat facing stone that is strategically placed amid the dry stack of the stones that give some texture to the stacked stone. Teddy deposited 18 ton of stone in our yard and began his magic culminating in what I always thought was a spectacular fireplace.

My son Jack and I would scour for deadfall with my chainsaw and load up my Jeep with free firewood. He was a bit concerned as a young kid about my sources but I explained that we were doing a favor to the environment. At least that is what I told him. LOL!! Anytime I saw wood that was available, I grabbed it and did whatever I needed to do to get it cut and split. All part of the process of building a great fire in a great fireplace. We had fires all year long as it is a great bug zapper in the summer and a warm place in the winter. Many nights I spent in front of that fireplace contemplating what was next in our lives. When my folks passed, I used to sit out back and look up at the stars wondering where exactly they had gone. I saw heaven in those stars and planets and thought about what my folks saw now? Did they see me looking for them? I drifted off to sleep many nights in front of that fireplace. My brother in law, Duke, called it the Mountain TV as it provided entertainment for many guests to our house for many years.

The suspect Christmas wreath.

Duke would build fires so large in our fireplace that he would catch the Christmas wreath on fire many a night. The remnants of that wreath were a reminder of Christmas and a tradition that lasted many years. If the wreath didn’t catch fire, Duke didn’t build it big enough and Christmas was not complete. We had some other funny times in front of that fireplace. Like when my friend Dean melted the soles of his shoes onto the hearth. I peeled them off the next day and mailed them back to him. I have seen some other amazing things at other fireplaces. Like ski boot shells melting or gloves smoking as they hung to dry with the owners frantically trying to salvage the boots and gloves. People don’t realize how hot a fireplace can get.

The other day, I was riding my mountain bike and I smelled wood smoke coming from the house in the valley below. I can pick up that smell from far away and it always brings a smile to my face and a reminder that my favorite time of the year approaches- the fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas and winter. Probably one of the things I miss the most in moving from my former house to our current one is the fact that I had to leave my fireplace. No more wood smoke, no more sitting out back, but my neighbor Tim has a nice fireplace and when I smell the wood smoke drifting my way, I am thankful that he invites us to come up and enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I like where we live but it was tough to leave the Teddy Hall masterpiece.

Laurel Mountain Outdoor Fireplace

If you have a nice fireplace- use it. And if you visit ski areas, lodges, or other places where fireplaces are lit during the season, take the time to sit and take in the smell, the warmth, and the quiet time reflecting in front of a roaring fire. Thanks for reading and RIP Teddy Hall. You made our life rich indeed. Thanks for reading.

Change

So my wife and I were hiking the other day up in the Laurel Highlands and she said to me,” It took 32 years ,but I finally am hiking with you up in the mountains in the woods.” We both chuckled as I recounted all the times I told her how peaceful hiking is and how beautiful it is especially at this time of the year. The colors are vibrant as the changing of the leaves ushers in the fall season here in Western Pa. As empty nesters now, we are taking advantage of a lot of opportunities even in this restricted time.

As a byline, she also told me not to take her to any trails that might have rattlesnakes and I agreed seeing that I know ground zero up there for those sightings. But we did see bear scat and she was amazingly calm when we discussed black bear in the area. All in all, Janet is becoming an avid day hiker and when I approached the subject of possibly camping out and sleeping under the stars, she was not ready for that………..yet. But day hiking is relaxing and in this day of rapid fire change, it is nice to see a calm, peaceful changing of the leaves with a relaxing activity like hiking.

Interestingly, the outdoors has become a refuge for a lot of people in this Covid age. Many of my friends across the country are also making use of the time hiking, camping, and enjoying their native surroundings near their homes. From camping near the coastal mountains in California, to camping and riding mountain bikes up in the Bend, Oregon area, to hiking the Green Mountains of Vermont, my friends for the most part are staying close to home and enjoying nature at its finest. Recreation is becoming regional until things become a little more certain.

No matter where you live, there are opportunities to get outside and enjoy the change of seasons right in your own backyard. The fall is one of my favorite seasons and as I think about what has happened to all of us over the last several months, it is encouraging for me to see that active people are out and about. Even a lot of people who were not necessarily outdoors people, have taken the opportunity to buy a bike, a kayak, hiking boots, camping gear if they can get it. It’s nice to be in a remote place without a mask, right?

With change comes the knowledge that the winter season is approaching and people like me are looking forward to that change as well. Not sure exactly how the ski season will be in 2020-2021, but we are prepared with ski passes, trips planned, and a general positive feeling that being outdoors in the winter will be good for all of us. Keeping positive and hoping for the best. But at the very least, there are outdoor activities that can make winter fun and a lot of people might be trying snowshoeing, winter hiking and camping, and cross country skiing for the first time. We can all encourage them and join them to get through all of this together.

In this changing world, we have to stay positive and know that the only thing that is constant these days is change. When we see the colors fade and the leaves falling from the trees, we know that soon enough they will be green again and another season will be upon us. But in the meantime, enjoy each season near to your home and take advantage of spending time with friends and family in the outdoors. It does wonders for your physical and mental health. Thanks for reading.

” To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven”

– Ecclesiastes 3

Seasons

To paraphrase an often used cliche’,” The only thing constant these days is change.” That is for sure in life and also with the seasons, as we are starting to see with the radiant colors bursting forth with the fall foliage. Whether you are hiking a mountain trail or just driving in your car, you can’t help but notice that the leaves are starting their annual conversion to brilliant hues brought on by cooler nights and dry sunny days. I love everything about the fall. The cooler temperatures, the sweaters and wool hats, that cool crispy morning air that hits you in the face as you make your way out the door in the morning. We are blessed with the daily changes in the foliage which are noticeable for weeks at a time until the spectacular color show ends in late October. Then another change occurs. But what about change?

As I sit in my car and admire the show, I also think about how many fall seasons I have seen in my life and how each one is different and should be appreciated in its own way. I reminisce with scenes in my head of grade school fall soccer with my son. Hikes with him in a backpack and naps in the car afterwards. I go way back and think about my grade school football days where I knew absolutely nothing and just ran around to get my uniform dirty. I think about those first classrooms and the changing kids each year both physically and otherwise. New kids, old kids, kids that had become friends as we played in the piles of leaves that my dad raked in the lawn. Yes the only thing constant is change for sure and it happens more rapidly as the years go by.

Riding my mountain bike in the fall and hiking is another way to see natures portrait and when I am alone, I have more time to think about change. Things have happened in my life that have taught me lessons. Sad changes like death and illness for people once loved and now in their eternal reward. Disappointments, heartaches, and changes that have made me sad……….and happy. Let’s concentrate on those for a moment.

Perhaps the biggest change in my life has been my marriage to my wonderful wife Janet. Today we celebrate 31 year of marriage and though our years together have provided changes full of laughter and tears, the important thing is that we weathered the storms together and continue to do so. We also have had our share of laughs,many laughs,and as they also say in true cliche’ form, ” every pot has a lid.” And Janet has certainly been the lid to my pot of boiling, roiling, mixtures of angst, strain, humor, laughter, heartache,crazy thoughts and outbursts, and miscellaneous issues and feigned solutions all bubbling in that pot. Janet tends to be the level headed and strong personality in dealing with me as I tend to be like my mother with emotional solutions and impulsive and at times impetuous behavior. Trying to fix everything and be the peacemaker. Janet tempers that with thought, and taking that much needed deep breath before she takes the lid off and stirs the mixture into a recipe that can be palatable for our family. I am not the easiest person to live with and she has done it with grace far beyond what I deserve.

As you think about change this fall season, think about whether you have received grace from that special person in your life. Think about how you have given grace and been even tempered and loving in the midst of change in your life. Think about those leaves and how they react to changes in the weather. Are you a colorful light to your spouse, significant other, friends, family, older person? I find myself thinking a lot more about those things as the years go by and the changes that constantly occur in my life. And how absolutely blessed to have someone to share those things with throughout this lifelong season of ………..change. Happy Anniversary dear. God Bless ya!! You are quite the lid to my pot.

” To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”
-Ecclesiastes 3 1-8.

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