Hearth and Heritage: A Tale of Family Bonds and Nature’s Beauty in the Appalachians

Discover the beauty of Appalachian heritage in this blog post, blending daily life with nature's wonders. Experience a heartwarming narrative of family, tradition, and the serene landscapes of Sunburst and Balsam Grove, infused with reflections on history and nature's timeless lessons. Perfect for enthusiasts of storytelling, history, and the great outdoors.
A young girl sitting at the base of a large tree on a forested hillside with a dog on her lap, gazing out over the misty landscape of Balsam Grove, NC.

A Morning of Warmth and Memories

“Honey, wake up, I’m back. Heading out to work now,” murmured my husband this morning, his voice a gentle interruption as he changed clothes after running an errand. I rolled over, my protest a soft moan, while he readied himself for the day. “It’s bitterly cold this morning; you’ll need to build a fire.”

A serene dawn at Black Balsam Knob, NC, with a trail winding through a misty forest.

The Cold Embrace of Dawn

“Can’t you, do it?” I pleaded, cocooning myself in the covers up to my neck, emulating our dog Pixel, who had already nestled in his warm refuge.

“No time, love. I’ll see you this evening.” JJ’s kiss was a fleeting warmth on my cheek, a contrast to the room’s chill, as he left for work and I lay there, grappling with the fog of sleep. Lately, my nights have been long, editing sessions stretching into the early hours, disrupting my sleep schedule, especially with the sun now setting at 5 PM. It’s been nearly ten days since I’ve managed to sleep before 2 AM.

Igniting the Hearth

But wakefulness washed over me the moment my feet hit the cold floor. The house was frigid! The wood stove, our winter ally, had let its fire die in the night, leaving us with a stark, chilly morning.

Autumn leaves in focus against a soft, blurred background in Pisgah National Forest.

Nurturing the Flame

Dressed swiftly, I donned my vest and stepped outside, the world glazed in ice, searching for kindling. For a moment, the frost made me doubt my ability to coax a flame from such cold. Yet, urgency prevailed, and soon I was back inside, shivering, rolling up newspapers to nestle under the wood.


Five minutes later, I sat by the mini wood stove, feeling the warmth seep into my bones. Pixel nudged my arms, seeking comfort in my lap, his small body trembling from the cold. As I helped him settle, the smoke from the fire reached out, tendrils like fingers of branches in the cold air, reluctant to rise, seeking warmth as desperately as we were.

A Day in the Mountains

At that moment, a thought struck me – nurturing. This fire required attention and care to spread its warmth throughout our home. A single spark could ignite a piece of wood, providing comfort or setting an uncontrollable wildfire. The flames flickered, not yet secure in their hold. Leaning forward, I shielded Pixel and blew gently on the coals. Instantly, they burst into life, erupting in a dance of warmth and light. Sitting back, I watched Pixel, his eyes heavy with sleep, reminiscent of our recent drive home from an adventure with Gracie.

A child walking with a dog on a misty mountain trail amidst autumn shrubs.
Gracie and Pixel Wandering Through a Meadow

Exploring Sunburst and Balsam Grove

On the 10th, craving a break from my relentless work, I took Gracie and Pixel for a day in the mountains. We explored Sunburst, adjoining the Blue Ridge Parkway, along with Balsam Grove. These areas are so breathtakingly beautiful a woman could spend her life exploring them and never discover all their secrets. Starting at Black Balsam Knob, we found a new trail, enjoying solitude in the off-season quiet.

A joyful dog in the backseat of a car, eagerly anticipating a hiking adventure.

Bonding with Gracie

Gracie’s joy was palpable, her chatter ceaseless as we moved from spruce-fir forests to heath meadows. Just days before, she had shared how much these adventures meant to her. Despite not being my biological daughter, Gracie’s happiness and calling me ‘Mom’ have become sources of profound joy and honor in my life.

A fallen moss-covered tree on a tranquil forest path, filtered by the soft light of dawn.

Nurturing Nature's Love

That day in the woods, I engaged Gracie differently, nurturing her newfound love for nature. “What differences do you notice as winter approaches?” I asked her enthusiasm for her surroundings blooming before my eyes.

A serene stream flowing over rocks, framed by fallen leaves, leading into the tranquil area of Angel Rock.

Reflections from "The Common Lot"

Reflecting on the nurturing women in my life – my mother, grandmothers, and creative sisters – I realized the seeds of love for nature they had planted in me now being sown in Gracie. Emma Bell Miles‘ words from “The Common Lot” echoed in my thoughts, a reminder of the fleeting nature of childhood and the enduring beauty of the mountains we call home.

“It was a white-flaming mass of azaleas, delicately rosy as mountain slopes of snow splashed over with the pink of dawn. In the midst sat a girl, drinking the overflowed sweetness of that dripping and blowing blank of flowers: now fingering single branches that lifted into the tender foliage their crowns and pompons, and now drawing all together down against her face in a sheaf of cool, pure petals—drowning her young senses in perfume. She had taken off her coarse shoes to plunge her feet into the dewy freshness of those ferns that, in such maple-shaded hollows, keep the azaleas company. Easter was too old to go barefoot, but not too old to delight in the feel of the ancient soil beneath her feet, and in the shining dewdrops on her instep’s blue-marbled satin. In after years, when the burden of responsibility bore heavily on her shoulders, she remembered that intermission among the flowers as her last taste of care-free pleasure, her last moments of childhood.”

In the spirit of Easter, I too found solace in the whispering woods, a sanctuary I continue to cherish. Unbeknownst to me, these solitary wanderings were sowing seeds of the same affection in Gracie. Fortunate to have had a mother who fostered my appreciation for the natural world, I now joyfully perpetuate this legacy with my daughter.

A natural rock basin filled with water reflecting the surrounding forest, amidst a bed of scattered leaves.

Our ancestral journey to the Appalachian wilderness is a story of stark contrasts and unwavering courage. The women who came before us, pioneer souls, stepped into a world wildly alien from their sparse Scottish landscapes. Here, they were met by towering chestnut trees, a wilderness teeming with life, paths untrodden, marked only by the faintest trails. This land, which my daughter Gracie and I explore, is a faint echo of what those formidable women encountered.

Ancestral Journeys: The Courage to Embrace the Unknown

Yet, amidst this unfamiliarity, the native Cherokee women thrived, their spirits intertwined with the southern Appalachian woodlands. Their intimate knowledge of the land, its cycles, and gifts was a testament to their deep connection with nature.

Imagine, then, the resolve it took for our foremothers to follow their husbands into this unknown, to leave the shores of their birthplace for the distant coasts of North America. To journey inland, carrying the heavy knowledge that the faces of their kin might never grace their eyes again. Such a thought is almost unfathomable to me, a leap of faith and fortitude I can scarcely comprehend.

Gentle cascades of the Living Waters Center waterfall, surrounded by forested tranquility.

Legacies of Resilience: Walking the Paths of Our Forebears

These stories of our past are not just tales of survival; they are lessons in courage, a legacy of resilience. As I walk these paths with Gracie and watch Aidan discover our land’s wonders, I am reminded of the strength that runs through our veins, a gift from those who walked these woods before us. In passing these stories to my children, I hope to keep alive the spirit of those brave women, anchoring our future in the rich soil of our past.

A dynamic view of water flowing over the smooth rocks of a forest waterfall, framed by autumn leaves.

The Silent Mystery: Unearthing History's Quiet Treasures

This journey prompts me to ponder the unseen seeds of discovery that await us as we delve into history’s depths. Borrowing Emma’s words again, “But here broods a vast wild mystery of silence,” she spoke of Tennessee’s mountains in November’s embrace.

A rushing stream cascades over smooth rock ledges, surrounded by autumn leaves, in a tranquil forest setting.

Embracing Our Heritage: The Quest for Historical Connection

Much like Emma’s portrayal of the silent, wintry forest, I see our endeavor. A treasure trove of archives, journals, letters, books, poetry, crafts, and music lies in quiet anticipation. They await our curious minds, yearning to be unveiled with the same wonder and eagerness that Gracie showed in her exploration of the woods and waterfalls.

A child embracing a dog, sharing a moment of affection and companionship in the forest.

The Call of the Past: A Path of Reverence and Zeal

We are at the threshold of an exploration into the past, and admittedly, I am daunted. There are moments when the magnitude of this task obscures my vision, much like not seeing the forest for the trees. Yet, witnessing the youthful vibrancy in Gracie and Blainlee rekindles my determination to pursue this path.

This endeavor transcends mere work; it is a calling, a duty I embrace with reverence and zeal for the future.

More Images From Our Hike


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