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Bear Sightings….and racoons too

Bear Sighting …and racoons too

We live in a world of animals. Our Inn is located on 57 wooded acres, just a mile and a half from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  So, we are surrounded by animals and were not surprised when our neighbor informed us last week that there was a small family of bear living along the ridge above our inn.  We were not surprised because they lived up there last year too.  Two days later, we discovered one in our backyard.  He stayed around for a couple of hours, getting into mischief before leaving. 

Black Bear sightings always attract interest.  Elk have now been reintroduced into the park and herds are beginning to spread throughout the whole area. But there are many other species to be found including deer, raccoons, opossums, fox, coyotes, many species of birds and even more species of insects.   They are just part of our environment. It’s the nature of the mountains and our inn.   

But when we get a bear sighting on the property, it is a big event.  Black Bears are usually non-threatening and if we leave them alone, they will eventually meander away.  But not always.  Sometimes a bear will decide to stay awhile like our friend a few days ago.   

A few years ago, a good size adult black bear wandered our property, probably lured by the aroma from our trash cans. The nuts and berries in the park were not plentiful yet and she was out foraging for food.  Once she discovered our trash cans, she became a regular visitor once or twice a day.  She would first come just after dinner when she could smell the aroma of food in the air.  She would creep up to the back of the kitchen area and make her way the garbage cans.  If we were lucky, someone would spot her, and we could shoo her away.   But she would return in the darkness of night, get to the cans, and make a terrible racket and mess.  The next morning, we had to clean up not only around the cans, but also in the surrounding woods where she had dragged bags of leftover food.  She became so regular that we started taking guests to the deck to watch her approach. She was a beautiful animal.  However, I once tried to shoo her away from the cans and without thinking took an apparently threatening step towards her.  Well, she didn’t like that at all.  She stared me down and her ears stood straight up.  I know better than to turn my back on her or run away, so I just yelled for a cook to come help.  He showed up with a pot and a large spoon, clanging away and eventually the bear left.  It was then I realized she was more than an attraction; she was a nuisance and we needed to discourage her from coming back.

I asked a neighbor for advice, and he suggested I electrify a metal trash can so when the bear tried to get in it, she would get a small jolt of electricity, not enough to hurt her, but enough to keep her from returning.  So that afternoon, I found a metal can and connected some live wires to it.   I was careful to tell everyone around what I did so they would not fall prey to my little surprise…except the morning cook. I went into the kitchen the following morning and was immediately confronted by a clearly shocked cook asking what was going on.  He got a little jolt, but the bear didn’t.  I decided it was time to move on to plan B.  We started hauling off all the garbage every night, especially the food.  It was time consuming, but finally worked.  Once the food source disappeared, so did the bear.

Getting rid of a pesky raccoon was not so easy.   One raccoon was especially difficult.  At the time we had a dog and cat that stayed outdoors all the time, so that is where we fed them.  The raccoon discovered this and started to feast on their food.  We tried changing food locations and the time we fed the pets, but nothing worked.  So, I set a trap.  I had bought a live trap sometime earlier for the purpose of catching smaller animals so I could relocate them without harm.  I went to the place where we fed the cat and set up the trap.  I set the entire bowl of cat food inside the trap. When the racoon would come in the trap after the food, he would trip the cage door.  I was about halfway through the set up when I turned around and saw the raccoon watching the whole process.  In my heart, I knew my plan was doomed right then, but undaunted I completed setting the trap.  I didn’t hear anything all night and the next morning checked the trap.  It was exactly like I left it the night before except all the food was gone.  I still don’t know how that raccoon got in the cage, ate the food without tripping the trap door.  But I realized I had three options.  I could shoot the raccoon (which I didn’t want to do), I could continue to try and catch it (that didn’t seem to be working), or I could just name it.  So Rocky and I had a relationship for a while until he finally found someone else to bother.  I suspect he got tired of my brand of cat food.

I have successfully caught a few opossums over the years in my live trap.  These are ugly looking critters that also like any kind of pet food left out.  They can also get into any trash can you have.  It is always a startling sight, to open a can to throw out some garbage and see an opossum sitting at the bottom staring up at you.  I once caught one in my live trap just before it was time to leave for one of my sons’ little league games.  I put the trap, opossum and all, in the back of the van and went to the game.  I figured I would find some secluded spot along the way and release it.  But it was still in the van when we reached the game and word got out that I had it.  It stopped the whole game, while all the players ran over to see the varmint.  The coaches weren’t too happy with me, but I have seen a butterfly or helicopter stop a game too, so I didn’t feel too guilty.

Deer are fairly regular visitors to our field and our guest love to watch them.  Fortunately, there is plenty of grass for them in the field and they have never wanted to eat our plants or shrubs.  We watched an entire family of turkeys grow up on the property. We even had a family of fox take up residence under one of cottages for a short while.  But all in all, we love the wild animals of the area, and we let them be.  They are God’s beautiful creatures.

All these animals are native and wild to our surroundings. But there are two other types of animals that have provided us with some tales, adventures, and even entertainment. These are our pets and strays. I’ll deal with them in the next post.

Looking Forward While Looking Back

Looking Forward While Looking Back

I guess most of you know of our big announcement by now.  This year will be our last at Hemlock Inn. Our oldest, Andrew, and his partners will be taking over operations in 2024. There will be some changes of course, but a lot will stay the same.  We’ll be sharing much more about the transition all year.

But interestingly, I find myself looking backward as much as forward as our new season begins.

Lainey’s parents, John and Ella Jo Shell, had been “suggesting” we move to the inn for several years and at the same time “hinting” that they might even sell. They had been innkeepers for 20 years and just wanted to slow down.  I was a banker at the time and Lainey owned a teddy bear/chocolate shop in Hendersonville. We were happy and content, but also kept wondering if we would have regrets if we didn’t move the inn just to “give it a try”.  We also didn’t want to see the inn leave the family. We decided to make a leap of faith and moved in the winter of 1987.

I came into the family business during our 5th year of marriage.  Andrew was just one year old, and the day we moved, we discovered we were expecting our second child, Steven.   Lainey was excited about being a fulltime mom.  I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive about the move. I had no experience in innkeeping and I quickly discovered that life was about to change in a big way. 

I considered myself a competent and somewhat intelligent person, but I quickly discovered I didn’t know what I was doing.  The plan was for me to follow John around and slowly learn all the nuances of the inn.  That worked for a while, until the unexpected happened.  Lainey’s mom, Ella Jo, was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, treatment was unavailable in our small rural mountainous counties.  Her treatments, almost daily, would be done in Asheville, an hour away.  For John, his priorities changed.  He would not be able to train his son-in-law, his attention understandingly turned to caring for his wife, Ella Jo.  I soon began to really understand what being an innkeeper entailed. 

The big concerns were obvious.  Meals must remain delicious and plentiful.  Guest rooms needed to be cleaned and ready daily. We must keep good staff and that requires daily involvement.  But I also quicky discovered that details matter. If the small things are done right, the better things run.  And there were a lot of small little things.  

I haven’t even mentioned the most important aspect, and the one that would be surprisingly uncomfortable for me…..simple Hospitality. This is the quality where John and Ella Jo and Lainey excelled.  Defined as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or even strangers”, it was not one of my stronger attributes.  Truth is I was a bit quiet and even shy. And the guests noticed.  One very regular guest once told me later that she wasn’t sure “…I was going to make it”.  Another exasperated guest fumed when I failed to take care of something in his room, “I don’t know how you have kept your job”. 

I considered myself friendly, but not very engaging, comfortable with conversation, but not at initiating it, pleasant but not especially outgoing.  I always assumed that the really friendly, outgoing, communitive folks were just born that way. It was their natural personality.  But I discovered something differently and it came in an unexpected way.  When we sat with guests for dinner, I began to notice the guests would often defer to me when the conversation started.  I then realized that as the innkeeper, they were interested in what I was saying. For heaven’s sake, they even laughed at my often-corny jokes.  I began building a bond that grew and grew. It no longer became a uncomfortable to talk with them, I enjoyed our times together and was interested in what they had to share.  They became friends. We developed a relationship and, in the end, that’s what really matters. 

John Shell has repeatedly stressed two important things to remember: First, Hemlock Inn is more than a place, it’s a feeling.  It’s the atmosphere and friendliness, and comfort the guests feel that really sets this place apart from others.   Second, the secret of Hemlock Inn is taking care of the guests.  Don’t ever take them for granted.  Take care of them, listen to them, share with them.

The years have passed.  We now have three sons, all married, all in ministry. We have seven grandchildren. And we have countless friends made over our many years at Hemlock inn. It’s all about hospitality.

Over time, I will share some more stories of our time here.  Be on the watch for my next blog.


More Than a Place

I imagine we all have places that are special to us just for its beauty, unique architecture, perhaps its setting, or just plain comfort. Then, there are places that transcend that notion into something else, something more meaningful, peaceful, or even emotional. The place gives us warm thoughts and a deep connection. Thinking about it makes us smile. Perhaps it is a place of our childhood, where we were married, where we worship, a garden or nature spot, or place of special meaning involving our children. That’s when that place becomes a FEELNG.

I have places I go that gives me a sense of peace and relaxation and where the worries of the world seem so far away. I think clearly, things are more in perspective, and helps me make better decisions.

When I came to Hemlock Inn over 30 years ago, John Shell, my father-in-law and innkeeper, told me “Hemlock Inn is more than a place, it’s a feeling”. I admittedly had no clue to what he was saying at the time. But it wasn’t long that message became loud and clear. I learned that while our guests wanted and deserved comfortable rooms, and a decent meal, what they really wanted and needed was a change of pace, welcoming and friendly hosts, companionship of other friendly guests, and peace from stress, schedules, and tension. They sought a relationship where they were treated with genuine kindness, real southern hospitality, and where “everybody knows his name”.

I hope we have achieved that at Hemlock Inn. If you read our Trip Advisor reviews and comments in our notebook we leave open in our sunroom, you will rarely see comments about the PLACE, but you will see many about the FEELING. One guest recently wrote; “I remember distinctly on the second day of our stay when the special spirit of the Hemlock Inn descended upon me….It was a great FEELING that is difficult to describe but those who know really know what I mean. The Hemlock experience is one-of-kind…” Another guest more succinctly told me that his blood pressure went down 10 points when he drove up our driveway.

We open for our new season on Wednesday, April 20. We want you to enjoy our place, but really hope even more that you can experience the FEELING.


A Reason to Smile

I was sitting on the front porch of the inn this past Sunday afternoon.  I was enjoying the beauty of the spring flowers including the daffodils, yellow tulips, and a forsythia bush.  The lawn was fresh green and the new growth on the boxwoods was evident too.  I could even see some early blooming dogwoods in the nearby woods.  It was spring at its best, and it was welcome.  Just a few days earlier, we had a cold spell that dipped below freezing for three nights.  I don’t know if it was dogwood winter or blackberry winter, but it was an interruption.  Sunday, on the other hand, was perfect. 

Sunday, of course, was also Easter, the most sacred day for Christians.  The resurrection of Christ is the validation of our entire faith.  It is a day that brought hope and promise that circled the globe.  It changed everything. 

Hope is a word used a lot lately, mostly in the context of the pandemic.  While it is still active, the situation is improving. With the vaccines and the warmer weather, the spread is not as threatening, and the future seems brighter. There is, for the first time in a year, a glimmer of hope

It all came together for me on Sunday as I sat on our porch.  Spring had returned, vaccinations are up and infections are down, and it was Easter.  I felt a renewal of spirit, a bounce my step, and a reason to smile.  There is HOPE and PROMISE.  There is a reason to get up and get out, a desire to reconnect, and joy in the prospects of the future. And it begins now. 

This is going to be a good year.

We hope to see you. We open April 21


A Ray of Sunshine

I just got back home from taking John Shell, Lainey’s dad and my father-in-law, to get his first corona virus vaccine shot. It was a ray of sunshine in what has been a challenging year.  It  boosted our spirits and for the first time in a long time and we feel encouraged and hopeful about the future.  A new day is dawning.

To say that 2020 was an aberration is an understatement.  Soon after the virus began to rapidly spread last winter and spring, we knew our year would be different.  We set three goal for Hemlock Inn:

                First was to provide a safe environment our guests and staff. Before we were allowed to open, we established guidelines for sanitizing, overall cleaning, contact spacing, mask and all the other protocols we  know so well.  Our real challenge centered on our family style meals.  Knowing we could no longer place large groups around our lazy susan tables, we followed the restrictions mandated by North Carolina and reduced the number of guests we could serve at 50%. Once we reached that level, we stopped renting rooms.  We also stopped accepting outside guests for dinner only.    We did what was reasonable and safe

                Secondly, we chose not to panic when cancelations came.  We realized some of our guests would be cautious and not travel until things stabilized. We needed to be understanding of their concerns.  Our numbers were down, but we never tried to talk anyone out of canceling their reservation.  We wanted the guests to return when the time was right for them.  Only they could decide.

                Thirdly, we just wanted to survive.   

We met our goals.  I am thrilled to report we had no Covid cases at the inn.   We have not received reports of illness from any guest and none of our staff was infected either.  We were blessed beyond measure!  Secondly, while we did have many cancelations, we still had a good number of our regular guests visit ( and we are so appreciative of each one of them) AND a fair number of new guests as well.  They were looking for a safe and remote place to vacation and Hemlock Inn fit the bill . We made many new friends as a result.  We were even able to host a small, reduced wedding, held completely outdoors; meals and all.  And we have survived. With the help of a PPP loan and some creative budgeting,  we made it through a tumultuous  year.

We now turn our attention to our next season

2021 is our year of HOPE!  Covid still rages for now, but we are closed for a few months and are enjoying our quiet isolation.  The availability of a vaccine provides light at the end of a time of darkness.  The vaccination process will take some time, but we expect to safely reopen on April 21; our usual time.   

Like many of you, Lainey and I are waiting for our turn to get the vaccine. We are also smiling as we wait in anticipation for our new season.   

We look forward to seeing you. Blessings on each of you


Elroy, Chip, & Dale

There is not much positive we can say about the pandemic that has impacted our lives so much over the past few months.  But there is one thing that has caught the attention of environmentalists and nature lovers.  With business closed and “stay at home” orders in place, people have not been out very much.  As a result, air pollution is down and wild animals have been spotted all over the place….including at Hemlock Inn.

As many of you know, our property covers 57 wooded acres just a little over a mile away from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  It is not unusual for us to see squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, deer, turkey and even an occasional bear or fox.  Birds are filling the trees with their melodious cries and chirps. Mr Shell loves birds, so we put up several bird feeders on the deck right outside his window. 

But my attention has been turned to other “critters” lately. 

Elroy is my name for our local ground hog.  He, or his father, has been around for a few years.  We first saw him stick his head out of his burrow in our field a couple of winters ago when the grass was low and he was noticeable.  We would occasionally see him amble around the property and thought it was an amusing site. He even had a mention in an earlier blog I wrote about sitting on the inn’s front porch admiring a beautiful spring day. He nonchalantly ambled right in front of Lainey, Mr Shell, and me. We thought he was the symbol of a lazy spring day and just laughed at him.   

I’m not laughing anymore. Turns out, groundhogs like to eat flowers, at least Elroy does.  He has been know to eat everyone of the blooms off a gardenia bush and lay in the middle of our butterfly garden resulting in a large area of destruction.  Recently, he  ate the only bloom of a peony flower  and romped among a whole batch of ferns we had just bought to hand around the inn.   Elroy has become a pest.  I decided it was time to use my large live trap, catch him, and humanly release him far far away.  I researched just enough to find out that if I used cantaloupe as bait, I could lure him into the trap.  I put the plan into motion and set the trap in a location we often see him.  A few hours later, I check it and was disappointed to see it had not sprung.  But upon closer inspection, I also noticed the bait was gone.  I put out more bait and moved it to a location where I had just seen him.  A few hours later, the same result…no Elroy, trap not sprung, and no bait. Since I knew Elroy was too big to get to the bait without springing the trap, I knew something else was afoot. 

That brings me to Chip and Dale.  As you probably already guessed by their names, they are chipmunks. They are cute little critters always running around. In some ways, they are like watching a cat or a goldfish.  Peaceful, relaxing, comforting. … and mischievous. It didn’t take me too long to figure out these very light and nimble critters were able to get the cantaloupe out of the trap without setting it off.  Just like the cartoon characters they are named for; Chip and Dale were fouling my master plan to catch the nuisance Elroy.  To be fair, I had warning. Remember the bird feeders we put out?  They were specifically designed so squirrels wouldn’t be a problem.  One was a finch feeder the other was filled Safflower seed, which squirrels won’t eat. But apparently Chipmunks DO!   It didn’t take me long to discover Chip and Dale hanging from the feeder enjoying a feast.  They were consuming a full 7 pound bag every week. 

So, I still have Elroy, eating and destroying flowers and flower beds, and Chip and Dale eating the bait to prevent me from luring Elroy into a trap, as well as emptying our bird feeders at an alarming rate. As I sat pondering my next move, I felt I had only one option.  I went back inside my house where I felt safe and put on my mask.


            As our country was torn over the prospects of declaring our independence from Britain, Thomas Paine wrote a series of articles that were printed in pamphlet form urging support for the revolution. The most well-known was entitled “The Crisis”.  This pamphlet began with these iconic words….

                            “These are the times that try men’s souls”

          We are facing our own crisis these days. The pandemic is affecting all of us in some way. Some are sick, some are out of work as their businesses close, most have had their lifestyles affected as shutdowns and forced self-quarantines become common place. 

My thoughts this morning turned to all of you, wondering about your heath and how all of this may be altering your lives.  I just needed to reach out and let you know we are thinking of you, praying for you, and eagerly waiting until we can see you again. Please let us know how you are.

We also wanted to pass along an update of our status.

Personally, we are fine.  Mr Shell, Lainey, and I live in virtual seclusion all winter long.  We are well and without any symptoms.  In fact, our whole area is without a single case of the virus. We feel blessed that we are well and safe for the time being

             Since the inn is seasonal, we are fortunate that our facilities have not been subjected to any infection. But we know that can all change in a heartbeat.  So, we will continue to be vigilant!  WE HAVE TO BE VIGILANT!

            We are scheduled to open April 22.  While this is still over a month away, we are fully aware that may change.  We are not going to take any risks; we are not going to put anyone in danger of infection, and we are going to voluntarily follow the guidelines and restrictions placed on us by the federal, state, or local authorities.  We will keep you advised as things develop. 

            Charles Dickens began his book “A Tale of Two Cities” with these well-known words:

            “It was the best of times, the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was a season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”

This is a time of trial, no doubt.  We have a serious situation that needs serious attention.  It is going to take all of us to make sacrifices and adhere to advice of medical authorities.  But this will pass.  Our lives will eventually return to a sense of normality.  The issue is the interim and how we approach it not only physically, but emotionally as well.

            Can we find good in this “worse of times”?  Where is the best during this uncertain period of time? We can certainly use this time to reconnect with our families; spending time with our kids, playing games, doing puzzles, and just talking. If they are older and not in our home, we can use FaceTime, email and even old-fashioned telephones to keep in touch and encourage each other.

 I think it would be helpful if we turned the TV news off for a while.  That includes the financial networks reporting every little detail of the stock market turmoil.  The news will always be there if you feel the need to catch up. The drone of bad news is discouraging. 

Instead, how about reading a good book, catching up on long put off tasks.  How about finding a good movie on TV instead?   There are some old jewels on AMC or TCM.  The selection is even larger if you have HBO etc. My family watched Secondhand Lion, a fun uplifting movie two nights ago.  The point is to do something useful and productive.

I pray we can make this season a time of wisdom, belief, light, and a spring of hope instead of foolishness, incredulity, darkness, and despair. It’s up to each of us

When the time is right, Hemlock Inn will open this year, and we will be ready for you. We can share details of his turbulent time and we can celebrate our new opportunity to embrace life in a different and enlightened way.

We’ll be waiting….




                 Lainey and I made a hasty trip to Knoxville last week for the birth of our 6th grandchild and first grandson.  Hudson Scott White joined our growing family on Tuesday evening, January 14.  Mom Alli, Dad John Thomas (JT), and baby are all fine.  Lainey and I are just thrilled. 

            We have come a long way since that evening in 1982 when I nervously proposed to Lainey under trees at Hendersonville Country Club.  We have three sons, Andrew, Steven, and John Thomas who married three extraordinary ladies, Jeanette, Sarah, and Alli.  We now beam with pride over our 6 grandchildren, Madelyn, Nora, Clara, Anna Lewis, Olivia, and now Hudson.  We are so blessed.

            We visit each individual family whenever we can, but we always gather at least once a year, either at Thanksgiving or Christmas.  This year, it was at Christmas and our table of 14 was filled with laughter, joy, and love.  Lainey’s dad, John, was there too, which meant we had 4 generations all together.  It was a special time.

            Several years ago, we planned a reunion for my family.  We needed to get together and chose a special occasion. Both my parents are deceased, but we decided to celebrate what would have been their 100th birthday (they were born within weeks of each other in 1916).  Most of the family made it and many brought old photos and memorabilia.  We had an ancestry chart which took us back several generations.  We wanted our children and their children to know the history of the family and their heritage.

            While we were planning , I came across a magazine article about family reunions.  One of the topics discussed was the decline in family gatherings.  The article pointed out that some considered technology was replacing the need for get togethers.  The authors suggested that folks can obtain any information about their family with an ancestry App.  FaceBook, Instagam, photo sharing, and face time can provide all the access necessary. But I’m old fashioned and have to believe those programs, as convenient and helpful as they are, can never replace getting together, sharing a quiet conversation, laughter around a table, and most importantly, a hug.

            Being a member of a family keeps us connected and grounded that no remote device can provide.

            Hemlock Inn is a family business, operated by our family for 50 years.  Our meals are served family style, which means they are communal meals around large round lazy susan tables.  The table is filled with home cooked food evoking memories of grandmother’s house. Some call it comfort food.  Experts tell us that the mealtime is the primary time family members communicate. Our tables provide that time not only for families, but also friends, old and new.

Family Reunions are also a big part of our operation.  Every year, we host numerous reunions of all sizes.  For some, it is a yearly tradition and we love hosting them.  In fact, we look forward to them. Catching up with our Hemlock families is fun. And it goes both ways as we share our stories as well. 

            It’s all about relationships.  With us, it’s more personal relationships than business.  We eagerly share stories, news of graduations, marriages, births, children’s achievements, retirements, and even passings. 

            Many years ago, one of our boys came into the house after playing with some of the kids staying here. He asked Lainey, “Are they our cousins?” We get to know guest so well, that it became confusing to him.  But in reality, you are part of our family. We have a bond deeper than just innkeeper/guest.  We love to see you arrive and hate it when you leave. 

            We open April 22. We hope to see you. Bring your family. We’ll be around to show you pictures of Hudson….and Olivia….and Anna Lewis….and Clara…and well you get the point.  We are proud grandparents after all


Feet in the Sand

                The 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings will be celebrated this week in Normandy, France, and all over the free world.  I have always been fascinated by significant events of history and, in my opinion, there are few that rival what happened June 6, 1944. 

                I have had the privilege to visit France on several occasions and once, on our return flight out of Paris, we flew over the beaches of Normandy.  When the captain announced the beaches could be seen from the right side of the plane, I quickly jumped up from by seat on the left side of the aircraft, hobbled through a set of empty seats reserved for the flight attendants, just to grab a glance of them.  I apparently caused some commotion because I was chastised by the attendants and asked to return to my seat, where I was banished for the remainder of the six-hour flight.

                I told Lainey at the time that I would love to visit those beaches someday.  If I have learned anything in my 36 years of marriage to my wife is that she does not forget anything.  I have also learned that she likes to celebrate “special” birthdays.  For my 60th birthday, she hosted a dinner for family and friends and the Grove Park Inn.  As my next big birthday approached, I warned her I didn’t want a special party.  I didn’t get one.  What I got instead a dream trip to Normandy with my three sons, Andrew, Steven, and John Thomas. 

                This past March, we flew to Paris, rented a car, drove three hours to Normandy and spent two very full days visiting the 6 landing sites of June 6, 1944

                It was both a wonderful and educational yet sobering and emotional experience.  It was wonderful because it is a beautiful rural area of France with spectacular view of the English Channel with beaches and steep cliffs merging with the sea.  It was educational because of the many museums and displays that informed us of the size, scope and complicated logistics of the landings.  It was also wonderful because my sons were there to experience it with me.

                It was sobering due to the tremendous sacrifice of life that took place that day.  Thousands of young men died just on Omaha Beach that morning.  The beach is wide and deep and there was no protection from the relentless gunfire of the well-fortified German bunkers lining the shoreline.  It was sheer carnage. Yet they persevered and ultimately captured it.  As I walked on Omaha Beach, my sons backed off a bit and let me take it all in quietly and alone.   I was suddenly swept with emotion.  I couldn’t help wondering if I would have had the courage those young men exhibited that day.  I looked up and down the beach almost as far as I could see, visualizing that morning and wept.

                Later that day, we visited Pointe Du Hoc where the US 2nd and 5th Rangers climbed 100 foot cliffs to capture crucial gun emplacements.  60% of them did not survive the day.  Honor, duty, commitment ruled the day as they succeeded. 

                We visited St Mere Eglise,  the small inland town emblematic of the paratroopers that were dropped behind enemy lines overnight to disrupt communications and prevent enemy reinforcements.  Again, there were heavy losses as the paratroopers missed landing zones and were met by heavy resistance and losses. 

                The same could be said of Utah Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach, and Sword Beach where American, British, Canadian and some French forces landed.

                The significance of D Day is enormous.  In 1944, Germany ruled Europe and had its sights on Britain and beyond.  The world was in turmoil and serious danger.  The only option was to physically invade Europe, drive into the heart of Germany and defeat Hitler’s regime.  It was not going to be easy, it was going to require serious commitment and planning, and it was going to cost many lives.  But there was no other way. 

                The events of that day changed the course of history. We enjoy the many freedoms we too often take for granted because thousands upon thousands of young men and women from all over the globe were willing to take a stand.   

                Most of you probably familiar with the quote from philosopher George Santayana “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it” and I believe it is true.  We must always be mindful of our history, even our past failures, as we look to the future.  We must remember to value good over evil and to stand with our allies over anyone who seek absolute power and domination.   Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese went unchecked far too long and it almost cost us everything dear to us. 

                David Burnett is a photographer for National Geographic.  He has been going to Normandy since 1974 capturing moments of D Day Celebrations and remembrances.  He wrote a piece in this month’s issue.  He closes with these words:

                “History has a way of receding. Our recollections become secondhand, then thirdhand, and eventually just words in a history book. But I’m not sure the same fate awaits Normandy. I’ve never met anybody, young or old, who walked on Omaha Beach and didn’t feel the history of that place. There’s something very powerful about putting your feet on the sand”

                This March, I put my feet in that sand.  I have also “put my feet in the sand” at battlegrounds of Gettysburg, Appomattox, Pearl Harbor, and even Cowpens in South Carolina.  It is not just emotional; it is a reminder that we never forget what history has taught us.

 I pray we never have to make such sacrifices again.

It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This……

It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This…………..

It was the perfect afternoon.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the temperature was in the low 70’s, and there was a slight breeze blowing across our face. Lainey, her Dad John, and I sat on Hemlock Inn front porch early yesterday afternoon admiring the successful planting of a few new trees in the inn’s front yard, replacing aged one we had taken down over the winter.  We were satisfied with our selection of the trees, Autumn Flame Maples,  and the location we had them placed.  They promised to be great shade trees in just a few years and would provide vibrant fall colors.

As we sat in the rocking chairs admiring our work, the birds were chirping and singing from the surrounding trees. We were particularly taken by a pair of blue birds, actively circling the area, only landing to rest occasionally on the lamp posts overlooking a birdhouse filled with their family of young newborns.  The newly hung hummingbird feeder was an active spot for one particularly hungry hummingbird, obviously grateful we finally put up his refueling station.

From the porch, we looked across the freshly mowed lawn, happy we had finally found the right yard service to keep our place neat.  The freshly planted flowers and hanging baskets were the finishing touches to adorn our outdoor area, but they could not match magnificent views afforded us by the surrounding mountains.  The recent cool front had cleared the sky of any clouds and haze leaving only breathtakingly clear views of the mountain ranges to the east and south.

We were given a final surprise when a fully-grown ground hog nonchalantly ambled directly in front of us heading to the safety of our pasture below.  He seemed comfortable as he passed and we sat in amusement.  The whole afternoon was one of peace and contentment.  The world seemed so far away and we were not eager to search for it.  News of the day was of no interest.

Eventually friends and guests joined us on the front porch to add a new dimension to an already perfect day.  The porch was suddenly filled with soft gentle voices sharing stories and laughter.  I thought to myself…It doesn’t get any better than this.

I admit that all days are not  perfect at Hemlock Inn.  We do get rain, a necessity if we want to keep green grass, beautiful flowers, and healthy trees.  Things break and malfunction and need repair.  Unwanted events may mar a day.  Those things are normal wherever we are. But Hemlock Inn also offers an escape from stress, relief from a tiring routine, comfort food, and a beautiful setting. It may not always be perfect but sometimes, maybe even many times, its good….very good.  You may agree, “ It doesn’t get any better than this”

                We still have some rooms available Memorable Day weekend.  Come join us.