Friday, December 16, 2022

2022: Watching the Seasons of Elderberry


January 2022

I have fallen in love with the view behind my house: an old barn, fenced fields, sometimes horses, and always, the "gumdrop" tree. 

After my first full year at Elderberry, I decided to document this beautiful rural setting throughout 2022. Here are twelve images taken on the first of each month. I think of it as a slow motion story revealing how our seasons change in small and subtle steps. 

December 2022. We have come full circle. I hope you enjoy the world I have watched, as leaves appear and disappear, dramatic skies and the ever changing morning light.

February 2022 

March 2022

April 2022

May 2022

June 2022

July 2022

August 2022

September 2022

October 2022

November 2022

December 2022

Tuesday, December 6, 2022


We are so lucky to share, with our neighboring community Potluck Farm, 140 acres of rolling woodlands, fields and streams that are criss-crossed by 11 different meandering trails.  

In the spring, we are surprised every day by a different wildflower, as they take turns peeking out from winter quiescence.  

In summer, we are awash in green - the woods becoming a lush, almost tropical place.  

In fall, the sourwood brag the first burst of red, and are soon joined by the brilliance of the maples, soft yellows of the beech, and deep reds of the oaks.  

By November, with the flowers, foliage, and colors waning, some folks choose the warmth of homes over a chilly trek on the trails.  But winter is my favorite time in our woods.  The nippy air is energizing;  the bugs are gone;  the parchment beech leaves won't let go;  sunlight shoots laser beams to summer- shaded spots of beauty; and the topography of the land, previously hidden by screens of vegetation, shows itself.  

And it's surprisingly green.

The brilliant Christmas Fern adorns the woods all winter
Meg on Sacred Circle Trail among the Christmas Fern

Mosses are everywhere and are not bothered by being trampled on the trails


Below, three smaller bursts of green delight the observant hiker.  The wild ginger shows it's heart, and the rattlesnake plaintain is a pop of delight.  The greenbriar earns its name.... the briars are despised in summer for their thorny tangles, but the leaves are admired in winter just for being green!

Holly shows itself in many forms.  Gorgeous creeping cedar blankets huge patches of our woods,

Creeping cedar and holly green-up the Creek Bottom Trail

So much WinterGreen beauty!!

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Quiet Times: Walking on the trails


The forest creates its own sculpture

The air is tinged with autumn

cool wind is blowing

the forest summons

I must go.


Turn right onto the perimeter trail

charmed by little painted rocks

tucked here and there

down the big beech trail

where I linger in fern alley

scan the big trees for beech nuts

then cross the sluggish stream on rocks.


I’m on my way to the sacred circle

which I haven’t seen since April.


The wind blows

the trees sway and creak

crows are raucous today

I pause at the sacred circle then up the hill and left

back onto the perimeter trail.


Pass the concrete chicken

then tread through a conifer stand

steps soft on pine needles and listen

the wind blowing through the pines

is enough to bring me to a standstill

for a moment I am a child again

sitting on a fence-top beneath two big pines.


Now across the old road, and what is THIS?

It is one-two-three seedlings of sassafras!

My great grandmother taught me

three shapes of leaves

roots that make a delicious tea

I have not seen a sassafras in the woods here;

surely there is a big one around


but I cannot find it.


Onward downward I make the turn

cross over the wooden bridge

back up the perimeter trail

pausing to rest on the bench.


As I begin the final uphill stretch

I notice mold around a beech tree

then –

what are those white furry things covering the branch?

Could it be dancing aphids?

They are motionless until I smack the branch with my walking stick

they all start to dance

waving their tiny white furry selves

both fascinating and revolting

so I take a video

and do my own delighted dance

out of the forest.

Did I hear someone ask, "What's a concrete chicken?"

Friday, September 30, 2022

Quiet Times: Mushrooms dot the forest


Can you find a rhyme or reason for mushrooms?

Can you even define them

the fleshy spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus

that’s Wikipedia for you.


Do mushrooms appear after it rains

in the autumn

when there is a dead tree

after fairies have danced?

A colony of fairies must live in my yard.


Fungus we are told is an underground tree root communicator

some people can tell edible from poisonous

toadstool denotes the latter

I would never try!



mushrooms light up the forest 

white cream yellow orange red

one day a little ball

the next a full umbrella

or other fantastic shape

maybe a clumped colony

or something that looks like ocean coral

on the forest floor on a dead tree 

higher up where you don't think to look

some tiny unremarkable

others dramatic showy

look at the size of that thing!

They vanish quickly.


Fungi appear to be (mostly) friends of the forest

our friends too

in ways we do not yet fully comprehend.

Fairy ring in my yard

Poetry and images by Cheryl Lawrence

Friday, June 3, 2022

Quiet Times: The forest turns toward summer

Afternoon temperatures rise
more hot days are coming
the air muggy buggy
not just butterfly bee dragonfly ladybug
but spiders flies mosquitoes red bugs ticks
still the forest calls to me
to seek a balm within its green depths.
It has only been a few days since last I was here
yet everything has changed
the green of leaves deeper fuller
the forest darker.

Wildflowers gone now
mountain laurel the last stanza of that symphony
ferns tall and lush
the creek bubbles on
disturbances in the water
of water strider or tiny fish.

So much photosynthesis!
Trees are swaying titans of energy oxygen music
birds join the chorus in the canopy above.
I seek woodland solace in the mornings
the air still cool
dewy spider webs drape the path
I carry a stick to clear the trail.
Afternoons I sit inside and work
as the temperature roars skyward
too hot to go anywhere!
Still the forest beckons
cool and green.

Poetry and image by Cheryl Lawrence

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Quiet Times: Tree Glory

When I walked the trail in winter I noticed the tree

tall, dark, and skeletal against the sky

with a strange twisted trunk.

An old one this, I thought

so easy to tell apart from the other trees

it quickly became my favorite.

I watched it all winter into the spring

when delicate airy green began to paint the forest

the twisted old tree remained barren

its branches still dark against the sky.

Someone said it is a walnut they leaf out last.

Finally a touch of green at the very top

a few weeks later so adorned in leaves of springtime

you can hardly see its twisted trunk anymore.

Now it seems a grand and vibrantly alive father tree

or maybe a mother

leaves ruffling in the breeze

bright against the sky.

Poetry and images by Cheryl Lawrence

Friday, April 15, 2022

Quiet Times: Ferns Emerging

Ferns Emerging

This morning on my walk in the forest at Elderberry, the rustling of leaves alerted me to the swift and smooth sprint of a wild turkey across the length of my section of the woods. Of course, the turkey had seen me first. It was a nice surprise. 

Another wonderful surprise in the forest here has been the number and variety of ferns emerging from their winter sleep. The woods are full of spring fiddleheads. Fiddleheads look just like the word sounds – they are unfurling fern fronds that resemble the top of a violin.

Because I began walking these woods last winter, I was familiar with the evergreen Christmas ferns, so named because they are still green at Christmas. In fact, I sometimes accidentally call them “Christmas tree ferns!”. We have a deciduous forest at Elderberry – most of the trees drop their leaves in the fall, turning everything brown and gray. There are a few pines, cedars, and holly trees, but what puts a vibrant splash of green in the bleak landscape are the Christmas ferns and the running cedar ground cover, both of which blanket the ground in some parts of our forest.

I expected to see plenty of Christmas fern fiddleheads emerge this spring from the center of the old flattened fronds, and I have not been disappointed. However, it has been enchanting to see the delicate fiddleheads of other woodland ferns spring up everywhere – from the ground, from decaying logs, at the base of trees, and from between rocks.

I used to consider myself somewhat of a “fern lady” because I grew many different kinds of ferns in my former soggy, shady backyard. I knew each one by name because I had purchased them at the garden store. Now, however, I find myself delightfully baffled. I can maybe tell a wood fern from a lady fern, but that’s about it. This morning, I discovered a royal fern which looks different enough from the others to identify. I have no idea what the name of most of our forest ferns here are. Even the same fern looks different from day to day as its fronds spread wide, grow tall, and turn a deeper shade of green.

Ferns love damp shade, particularly near water like a creek, which we have in the woods at Elderberry. They do not bloom but spread by both airborne spores and underground rhizomes. It’s clear the forest here is a perfect habitat for them to spread both ways.

Let me show you one of my favorite fern locations in the forest at Elderberry. Click to watch the video

Words, image and video by Cheryl Lawrence

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Quiet Times: Walking Softly

I fell in love with the forest at Elderberry before we moved here. Can you fall in love with a forest in the winter, when all you can see is the bare bark of trees, roots, rocks, some rustling beech leaves, a few stunted holly trees, and some green groundcover? Oh, yes.

Since last November when my husband, Keith, and I discovered Elderberry, I’ve walked through the forest when the trails were almost hidden by fallen leaves. I’ve walked through it after a sleet storm when everything was frozen and slippery, and then again after a snow fall. I’ve walked through our Elderberry forest after a heavy rain and during a slow, drippy rain. Now that spring is here, I am falling in love with the rainbow of blooming wildflowers.

I have walked these woods in winter with one of the botanists who lives in Potluck Farms nearby, who showed me how to distinguish a sourwood tree from an oak by looking at the bark and the shape of the tree; how to identify an ironwood tree by its trunk; and how to tell apart white oak leaves from red oak leaves even when they are dead and lying on the ground. She showed me the living leaves of the tiny crane-fly orchid: green with purple undersides. She showed me a vast expanse of running cedar – green overcoming the fallen brown leaves as far as the eye could see.

There always has been a deep desire inside of me for the woods – but I was too afraid to walk by myself in the public trails near our former home in Durham, NC. If Keith or a friend didn’t come with me, I didn’t walk. I feel safe now! I can walk alone if I’m feeling meditative, or there are plenty of walking friends here at Elderberry to walk with me.

Just the tips of the trees are showing green these days, but soon there will be an explosion of green in the forest, and I will fall in love all over again. This walking in the woods is ME. This is what I love. I want to continue to walk in this forest every day, and now that Keith and I live at Elderberry, I can do that.

Words and image by Cheryl Lawrence

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Captured! Images of Elderberry

The early morning view behind my home.

I started creating blogs to share my experiences through images rather than words. Every morning I’m outside walking Finn (napping above) and photographing my community. Some of these images you might have seen already (favorites!) and some are new. I hope you enjoy the past year as seen through my eyes. 

Elderberry has a perfect location for viewing spectacular winter sunsets on the west lawn of the Hive. Someone will send a message to the community to bring a favorite beverage, a chair and come gather. It’s a favorite winter social scene!

Our Memorial Day parties always include lots of games. Mary and Karolyn are an unbeatable team, definitely not cooperative culture!!!

Jamboween, a long standing Potluck tradition now shared with Elderberry, includes live music, dancing, pumpkin carving, hay rides, fresh cider, barbecued pig and several tables of potluck dishes. Everything happens on a big pasture at the end of Potluck Community Road!

Mike occasionally hosts a bar on his tiny house patio, where everyone really does know you name!

For one year now I’ve been heading out each morning at first light with Finn. These early mornings have changed the rhythm of my life — watching light change, clouds slide across the sky, listening as birds awaken and call to each other. If you want to change the focus of your day, follow a cat outside and experience his world at dawn.

I’d always considered myself an introvert. However I believe I’ve become more of an extrovert since living in at Elderberry. Most everything done with good friends is more fun. I spend a lot of time with my fellow gardeners weeding together (and covering/uncovering the winter garden) with laughter and lively conversation. Our roots of friendship grow along with our garden!

Joanna’s son Rees recently came to visit, and we learned that one of his passions is renovating old buildings. At Elderberry we’ve been slowly renovating several of the old farm buildings on our land, so were thrilled when he volunteered his advice, expertise and labor!

Brave souls tending our burn pile on a very cold and windless morning in December.

Over the years we’ve created numerous gravel paths around the community. Connecting the western entrance of the hive was our last path, and we thoroughly celebrated our labors!

To me, being silly is an acquired joy in life, and Elderberry has many silly moments. To follow are just a few of my favorites. Above, Saint Paddy’s Day! Being a Scotsman, Stewart definitely knows how to find a friend!

I’m still not sure what Karolyn and Richard were trying to accomplish, but whatever it was, they did it with great enthusiasm! This is also one of those perfect examples of a photo that needs a much better caption — any suggestions?

What do you do with a beautiful head of kale? Cecil had a quick answer. 

Gentlemen serving for Monday Morning Coffee? What could be finer?

For Karolyn’s birthday, Mike suggested we create a photo booth (which did look a lot like an unused picture frame). It ended up being a huge hit as Karolyn and Karen demonstrate.

For the second year, Elderberry had an Exchange Table event where any reasonable item could be put on a table and picked up by anyone who had a better use for it. Marge, one of our Common Gardeners, was transformed from diamond in the dirt to the model of sophistication.

Elderberry’s ten acres used to be an old farmstead with huge old trees on a gentle rise. Everywhere I walk there is so much rural beauty. Watching as the light changes with each season, I have endless opportunity to photograph my beautiful surroundings. 

Left, a small copse of trees behind my home in springtime. Right, long golden morning light on the central circle from my front porch.

Left, looking up towards the hive with the south quad on the right. Right, late afternoon light crossing Elderberry Lane as the road rises towards the garden and workshop on the left.

Left, the metal barn where tools and equipment are stored. Right, looking up the pedway from the north quad, as the sun is just breaking the horizon.

As I was working on images for this section, I realized all my images included water. Water has been a huge part of my life. Growing up we had a small boat we kept in Mystic, Connecticut. We would spend our summer weekends swimming and exploring. I find water reflections hypnotic, and sometimes feel more comfortable diving and swimming than walking on solid ground. So I need to be near the ocean and also to have some places nearby to go swimming and boating. Fortunately, the ocean is less than four hours away from Elderberry!

I spend Thanksgiving week on the outer banks in a old beach house with a group of friends from Elderberry and Potluck Farm. Around four in the afternoon a group of us usually heads to Nags Head Nature Preserve. We walk to the western shore and watch the sunset on the mainland across the bay. I was intrigued by the silhouettes created by the setting sun and the completely still water.

My favorite fresh water swimming place is the Quarry at Eno River State Park in Durham. It’s 60 feet deep, edged with craggy rocks and no easy way to enter. You simply dive in and stay afloat. In the summer I swim a mile with three laps back and forth. 

Another beautiful body of water is Holt Lake. About 15 minutes from Elderberry, it’s a perfect location for kayaking and fishing, but no swimming is allowed. With the exception of two or three homes set back from the water's edge, its banks are overhung with trees. It’s a lovely spot for birdwatching as well.

Finn, my 17 pound white and orange tabby, is a familiar sight around Elderberry. I adopted him from a family in December of 2020. He adjusted quickly to leash training and now we explore throughout the community and the woods beyond. 

Let’s just say Finn boldly goes where no cat has gone before, and conquers all!

Every house at Elderberry is a unique and creative expression of its owners. However, not all of us can be quite as inspired with wood, concrete and feathers as Cecil and Vonda. Their home is a delight of details to explore! 

Creativity is expressed in many ways, especially food! On fortunate work days Mary orchestrates fantastic pizzas from our Elderberry brick oven. Adding generosity to creativity, on the day I moved into Elderberry (with very little in my refrigerator) Mary Kay arrived with an amazing meal and all the fixings. She continues to prepare food as gifts of love throughout the year. 

As Richard said, “It is hard to imagine any community where neighbors come outside every night to say goodnight to each other.” And yet our neighbors come out of their homes every night in every kind of weather, just to say goodnight and chat with each other. It’s one of many experiences that has made 2021 a really good year, and Elderberry a warm community.

Words and images by Joyce Hopkins.