Trees Are Approaching Peak Colors and Jam Cake is for Dinner

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NATURE’S FALL EXTRAVAGANZA of Colors is on full display as we leave the mountains this week for the city. In every direction, I see a such a powerful vista that I concentrate on the views, trying to memorize the “now showing” moving pictures to recall during the coming Winter.

NC Mountains -Photo by SMB
NC Mountains -Photo by SMB

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NC Mountains Photo by SMB
IN LATE OCTOBER,changing light signals fauna and flora to orchestrate a final fling,
before rest and rejuvenation. Bright Fall skies light up the mountains
in an annual display, using all the best colors in the crayon box – copper, golden, nehi orange,
burgundy, scarlet and cinnamon.
Last Rays of Sunset on Black Mountains
Last Rays of Sunset on Black Mountains photo by SMB

EARTHY FALL COLORS ARE AT PEAK at 3,000-4,000 elevations bringing parades of tourists to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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THE YANCY TIMES reports bears preparing for hibernation are actively foraging
closer to homesteads, as the 2013 rains in the North Carolina mountains reduced the acorn crop
in higher elevations. We hide the bird feed and feed the dog indoors.

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Photo by SMB

THE WILD TURKEYS are marching again. I edged too close taking this picture in the yard. A second after it was taken, the tom turkey jumped on the hood of the car, fluffed out his feathers and screeched in such an unexpected and aggressive display, that I jumped back in fright.

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WE PASS THE OLD HOMESTEAD of the Honeycutt family as we reach the bottom of our mountain on the way to town. Descendents have built homes near this hollow. The old house is boarded up, sitting nestled in the crook of the hollow at the foot of the mountain. The old house is silent now, but the yard is well maintained by the family.

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Old Honeycutt House, Burnsville, NC Photo by SMB

THE WIND CIRCLES, blowing leaves from the trees,and they drift to the ground in heaps. We walk hand in hand, rustling the leaves beneath our feet like a taffeta skirt.

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I MAKE A LIMONCELLO STRAWBERRY JAM CAKE for dinner, an easy dessert and one of my family’s favorites. My Mother made hundreds of jelly rolls for us when we were growing up – and we loved them for dinner, snacks and breakfast. This is an adapted version of her jelly roll that I can put together faster when time is limited. Today I used a yellow cake mix. I followed the box directions, but substituted 1/4 cup limoncello liquour for part of the required liquid and orange juice for the rest, and added 1/4 cup sour cream. I made two layers, put them together with strawberry jam and dusted the top with powdered sugar. This is good to eat as is, but today, I added a dollop of lemon curd (from a jar) mixed with 1 tsp of limoncello and topped with strawberries.

Photo by SMB
Photo by SMB

I CUT A PIECE TO ENJOY in my chair overlooking the woods and light the fire.

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WHAT DO YOU LOVE about Fall?

Oh, To Be in the Mountains in the Fall

THERE WAS ALWAYS ONE DAY IN EARLY SEPTEMBER when my Mother would say, “fall is in the air” – and we would set out looking for bittersweet, cattails, wheat stalks and other interesting dried weeds and seeds to make into her Fall decorations. We knew fall had officially arrived, when we smelled her first loaf of pumpkin bread in the oven.

I LOOK FOR SIGNS OF FALL, as I take a break on the screen porch, with a second cup of coffee and an English muffin smeared with cream cheese and tomato marmalade. We are in the North Carolina mountains this week enjoying the cool air and gentle breezes.

THE MOUNTAINS are blanketed with trees stretching to the sky, their leaves mostly deep green now at summer’s end. The trees in our woods appear stately and still – as if their sturdy trunks, and all their leaves, are holding their breath – just before they exhale in a fall explosion of color. Fluffy clouds in the sky lay shadows here and there across the mountains in dark stripes, alternating with the sunlit areas, making the mountain range look like a giant head of just harvested broccoli or a boiled wool jacket in textured stripes of sunlit green and olive-black.

IT’S EASY TO IDENTIFY Mt. Mitchell, elevation 6,684 feet (ncparks.gov/visit/momi/main.phb), the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. The climate at the peak is more like Canada then North Carolina, with animals and flora more alpine in nature. Some birds that make their homes on the highest peak do not fly south for the winter, but fly down the mountain to a more suitable climate for wintering.

Black Mountain Range Photo by SMB
Black Mountain Range
Photo by SMB

THE LEAVES ON THE DOGWOOD trees are beginning to turn red and berries are appearing on the branches. So far, only a few trees show evidence of changing colors. Red shows here and there through the woods. Dry leaves are scattered on paths. An occasional yellow leaf tumbles to the ground from high in the canopy.

I HEAR THE RAT-A-TAT of a woodpecker, and finally locate his red head pecking like a jackhammer, on a tree not far from the porch. The squirrels chase each other up and down the trees, stopping to gather nuts and seeds for their winter stash. A doe and two young deer appeared in the back yard again early this morning as we were making our coffee.  The fawn have grown and lost their baby spots.  They scamper and nuzzle each other like the adolescents they are.

Deer on Cane Mountain Photo by SMB
Deer on Cane Mountain
Photo by SMB
THIS AFTERNOON WE SEE WILD TURKEYS emerging from the woods. They are in a rowed flock of 15, playing follow the leader, as they climb up the steep mountainside, in an ascending column of feathers and bobbing blue heads. Blue heads? That was a surprise to me too. Blue as the Carolina sky! I always thought wild turkeys were skinny birds, not fat like the turkeys fattened for our thanksgiving tables.  Not so these birds.  They look fat to me.

A FEW LONE HUMMINGBIRDS ARE busy stuffing their tiny bodies with nutrients in preparation for the long trip south. My herb garden is getting leggy, as are our the geraniums and petunias. I pick the last of the tomatoes. I button my sweater against the cool afternoon. Maybe we’ll build our first fire of the fall season tonight. I make a mental note to arrange for a cord of wood to be delivered.

TODAY’S MAIL BRINGS notices about Fall festivals in the small towns throughout the North Carolina mountains – each one with a unique history – Brushy Mountain Apple Festival, Old Timey Days, Mt Mitchell Festival, Tomato Festival or Wooly Worm Festival. Children love the wooly worm races. Some old timers vow the thickness of the wooly worm’s coat predicts the kind of winter we will have. All the festivals have music,fresh produce, prepared food and beautiful mountain crafts. North Carolina is now 10th in grape production and wine stompings are more common. 

Fall Farmer Market Photo by SMB
Fall Farmer Market
Photo by SMB

AT TWILIGHT, I see the lights in the high school stadium in the valley below. Football season is underway at Mountain Heritage High School. I decide that tomorrow I will bring in pots of rust, orange, red and yellow mums to brighten the house and porch.  I’ll set some pumpkins and bittersweet on the screened porch and decorate the dining table and mantle with colorful leaves and pumpkins. It’s time to put away warm weather clothes and get out sweaters, jackets, corduroy, wool and hats. A good night for chili and apple pan dowdy.  

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A NEW SEASON.  My mother used to say that “each turning of a new season gives a person a lift.”  I understand what she meant because I feel the same way.  As a new season approaches, I feel emotionally uplifted, eager for new experiences and motivated to action. Time to make my action list for Fall.

What are the SIGNS OF FALL you look for?

What MEMORIES ARE STIRRED when they appear?

What FIVE WORDS would you choose to describe your experience of Fall? My choice is: colorful, savory, rich, cozy, industrious

Sue Marquis Bishop
September 2013