Wednesday, January 30, 2019

7 Quick Takes - Polar Vortex Appalachia Style

When you have a rhododendron plant outside your window, you don't need a thermometer.  This photograph was taken this morning when it was about 19 degrees Fahrenheit.  The colder it gets, the tighter the leaves curl.  By tomorrow morning, they'll be curled up so tightly, they'll look like drinking straws. Nobody fully understands this natural phenomenom and why the leaves curl the way they do, which is part of what makes it so amazing. Needless to say, the curling of the leaves is the Rhododendron's most desperate attempt at surviving yet another polar vortex passing through Appalachia.

We have yet to get any real snow this winter.  My children are so disappointed to not have had a "snow day" yet.  We came close this past week, with a forecast of 3 inches predicted, but alas, this is what our Kentucky blizzard looked like.  Those of you in the Midwest, feel free to laugh! Our governor raised quite the ruckus today when he referred to Kentuckians as "soft".  I agree.  We're kinda pathetic compared to all those hardy souls north of us.  Hang in there, Midwesterners! We're praying for you.

What we have been getting instead of snow is rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  Sunny days have been a rare treat, but when we get one, we all head outside for some sun-bathing. We have a south facing barn covered with sheet metal, and the sheet metal absorbs and reflects the sunlight.  It makes the perfect place to catch a few rays.. Plus, all the "junk" around the barn makes for lots of creative inventions for little boys, too.  Here's John in the recliner he built while we were getting our Vitamin D.  I thought it was pretty creative and doesn't it just scream Appalachia??  I love it!

Although we've had no snow to speak of, it's been plenty cold.  All the rain combined with freezing temperatures has made for some great ice formations on our clifflines (aka, bluffs).  The boys have been asking me to take them on a hike to see icicles so a week ago, we ventured down a trail that I hadn't hiked in years.  I vaguely remembered it having a pretty little waterfall so off we went to explore.  As we hiked along the top of the ridge, we could look down into the gorge below and see long rows of icicles lined along the cliff.  The trail turned and took us down into the gorge, and we were fascinated by the hundreds of glistening icicles hanging on the rock walls.  As we walked a little further, stone steps took us under the cliff and behind a cascading waterfall that was partially frozen.  It looked like a scene from the movie "Frozen".  The boys delighted in having their own little "ice cave" to explore and it has now become one of our favorite winter hiking places.

Speaking of hiking, it's my favorite winter past time.  I seldom hike in the summer because it's just too humid/buggy/hot/crowded. I hike infrequently in the spring because it's planting time, and I hike only occasionally in the autumn because it's harvest time. So, January and February have become my favorite times of year to get out in the woods.  No bugs, no humidity, no poisonous snakes, unlikely to see bears, and most of all, no people. We have the forest all to ourselves.  For me, it is the best antidote to cabin fever, seasonal depression, and the random flu-like viruses always lurking around.  Plus, I'm a big believer in getting kids outdoors, especially during the time of year when our society tends to discourage them from doing so.  God's playground is never closed!

Tomorrow is the feast of St. John Bosco, one of my favorite saints!  You can read a post I wrote about him a few years ago here.  As a mother of boys, he's been a source of inspiration to me, especially in regards to how I see my own sons, who can be reckless, unruly and undisciplined.  Today, boys like mine are labeled ADHD.  In St. John Bosco's time, they were simply labeled as the "bad boys", the ones that got into trouble and caused trouble.  In both cases, these are the boys that get pushed to the margins, isolated from others, and stereotyped before they even have a chance. But John Bosco saw past the labels and into each boy's heart, giving them a loving home and a focus on Christ. The fruit that came from St. John Bosco's approach is still being born today, and it gives me hope that the same will happen in my children if I can only follow his model.  Thank you, St. John Bosco.

We'll be taking down our Christmas lights and nativity this weekend and replacing them with candles as we celebrate Candlemass.  I've loved having the Christmas lights up during the dark evenings, but as the days grow longer, we look forward to spring, Lent and Easter.  It makes so much sense that the liturgical year follows the four seasons of the natural world.  I know this isn't a coincidence but I wonder just how many people notice it today. As we bear through another winter, I am trying to focus on the light and warmth ahead and thinking about the inevitable resurrection that is already slowly underway. Today, the rhododendron leaves are curled tightly in a spontaneous act of survival but soon enough, they'll be raised high towards the sun and celebrating another winter gone by.


  1. I learned something new! I've seen the rhododendron leaves curl, but I didn't know they got tighter the colder it gets. With it -4 degrees today, ours should be like those drinking straws you mentioned.

    Your hikes by the cliffs look awesome. The icicles are beautiful.

    I hate that young boys are so quickly labeled as ADHD! They're boys. They have lots of energy. It's good to see them run and jump and explore. Those will be some of the best memories that they have.

    1. It *only* got down to 14 degrees here last night so I didn't get to see the soda straw leaves. Would love to see a photo of yours! Yes, I love our clifflines. We have hundreds of miles of them and so many waterfalls and natural arches. And you are right, boys are so misunderstood. I know ADHD is real (and we live with it daily) but so much of it can be helped by a lot of exercise outside and a new approach to parenting (not that I've got it all figured out). Stay warm!