Ten Years of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine

When we created Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine ten years ago, I had just spent a little over three years as a newspaper reporter in Calhoun County. For that time, I was up to my ears in news, events, controversy, and opinion. When we started Two-Lane Livin‘, I had two main guidelines for the magazine: nothing controversial, and no copies of past issues piling up around the house. I wanted the magazine to entertain, to educate, to have something to interest almost anyone, to leave the reader feeling satisfied and perhaps uplifted or refreshed.

For the past ten years, it has been no problem getting rid of copies and not having leftovers pile up in the house. But ten years–120 issues–without getting too controversial-that’s a challenge. It was almost impossible (and quite exhausting, I think, on the columnist) to present a column on the environment. We ran a piece on Global Warming once, and lost an advertiser. Over the last ten years, there were so many times I wanted to share my thoughts on an issue, but felt restrained by our mandate to remain non-controversial.

I know in the past ten years, I have written often about my garden or what I might view from our back porch. Sometimes, these are the only topics I can think of that don’t carry a controversy. But even then it’s easy to wander into the issues relating to our food and our lands. For ten years we have worked with other columnists to celebrate our lives here, to educate and empower readers, to look on the bright side of our lives. Folks seem to have no problem continually complaining. But try putting on a happy face for an entire decade. That, my dearies, is difficult.

When celebrating a milestone like a ten year anniversary, you have to look back and wonder if what you have been doing has made any difference. Can we celebrate our lives by ignoring what is happening around us? Or is it important to provide a venue that allows us to briefly take reprieve from the frustrations and controversies of our lives? I have been chastised more than once for not using this magazine as a venue to take a stance on life-changing issues in our state and our nation. Controversy is easily more intriguing and dramatic sometimes, but I still believe that we need venues that allow us to disconnect from all the negatives, and focus on the simpler, happier things in life.

It’s difficult for me. Over the past years, I have developed a love/hate relationship with West Virginia, and I have discovered that self-reliance and farm life are hard work. Running a small business isn’t a picnic either. My people skills (or lack thereof) have managed to get us blacklisted by a small city, a festival committee, and a college. We’ve blown motors in two vehicles hauling the magazines home from the printer, and I’ve gone from no glasses to reading glasses to bifocals. In February of this year, our web site was hacked by terrorists in Indonesia. I am amazed at the things that can happen. Sometimes it’s hard to stay happy.

But I still believe, after ten years, that Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine is needed. There needs to be a medium available that isn’t plugged in, isn’t linked, isn’t news, isn’t opinionated, isn’t manipulated, isn’t spouting hate, violence, controversy, disaster, politics. A venue where lessons are linked to memory and story and simply making use of what you’ve got. A place where I (and others) can remind myself (and you) of some of the great features and stories and possibilities of two-lane life.

I watched the snapping turtle having lunch yesterday, slowly rising up out of the water to bite the stems of the plants at the water’s edge, then pulling the plant under water to finish it off. I watched a young hawk roost in a dead tree this morning in the rain, feathers all ruffled up with crows cursing him nearby. Last night the crickets and katydids and bullfrogs filled the blackness of the valley and I looked up to see the Milky Way, intricate and multi-dimensional and immensely beautiful above me. I wonder how often that glory is there above me and I simply don’t look up to see it.

Here’s to ten years, insect song, snapping turtles, the hills, and the stars above. Thanks for reading and sharing Two-Lane Livin’ and joining us on this two-lane journey.

Two-Lane Livin’: What Does That Mean to You?

(This post originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine.)

The lake out back has been red with pollen as of late, and higher along the banks from recent rain. Without a garden this year to force me out into the hot sun, I have spent extra amount of time this summer sitting in the glider on the back porch. An osprey stopped by last week, circling over the water, then diving straight down to splash and clasp a fish in its claws. On one dive, the fish must have been heavier, or deeper than expected, and the bird struggled in the water for a good bit before managing its return to the air. It lifted itself above the water a few feet, wings flapping full and hard, and came right towards me, rising just enough to swoop above the back porch roof and rise over the house. I could see the bird’s black eyes; the fish wiggling in its tongs.

On another afternoon, I watched two fawns splash and chase among the adult deer in the shallows of the water on the far side of the lake. Their legs still spindly and weak, one of them seemed tormented by a deer fly, jumping and turning in the air, then simply flopping down in the mud. A few days later, when a cool downpour came in the midst of a hot and sticky afternoon, I looked into the sheeting rain to spy one of the fawns prancing and kicking along the bank of the lake in sheer joy and refreshment. I considered stepping out in the rain for a little dance myself, but remained in the dry and smiled at the dancing baby deer instead.

Green herons, gray herons, kingfishers—they are all common occupants here, as are the blasted Canada geese, filthy noisy creatures we curse under our breath. I can tell the difference between the snout of the soft shell turtle and the snapping turtle when they peek up through the surface of the water. I know a wild duck attempted to raise young on the lake this year for the first time in years. She started with six ducklings, and she is now down to two. Our cat was responsible for the demise of at least two of her young, bringing them to the back porch to show off to our beagle. I’d say the snapper got the others. Or perhaps the local raccoon.

I know the Canada geese abandoned her nest and eggs just a few days after she began setting this past spring, and the raccoons came and ate the eggs.

I know the humming of the hummingbird when it comes to visit my hostas, and the buzzing of the persistent wood boring bees when they are captured in our bee trap. I know the roar of rain approaching across the hills as the drops beat upon the leaves of the forest—closer and closer. I know the high-pitched whizzing of the daggone deer fly, and even higher-pitched whine of the mosquito. I hear them all from the back porch.

I cannot decide if my favorite time is in the morning, filled with birdsong: the wrens, the sparrows, the warblers, the thrashers. Mornings are filled with the whistles of the titmouse, the “birdie birdie” call of the cardinal, the “wichity wichity” of the yellowthroat. But as we enter late summer, evenings just after dark are just as lovely. The night is filled with the “ch-ch-ch-ch” of the katydid, the droning of the cicada. The crickets spout their high pitched trills and chirps, and the tree frogs sing alto. Bass is covered by the bull frogs, and the barred owl occasionally asks, “Who cooks for you?” A friend of mine recently told me she had three whippoorwills on her farm, and I was decidedly jealous. We haven’t heard a whippoorwill at our house for years.

These songs of summer make me nostalgic, thinking of the afternoons and evenings spent on the porch of my grandparent’s cabins in Blue, West Virginia. The birds are not all quite the same, as the cabins were in the fields, away from the forest, but at the fork of Blue Creek and Middle Island Creek. We used to whistle back to the whippoorwills, to sing back to the barred owl, “And who cooks for you?” As I child I could only recognize the birds with easily recognizable songs, and I didn’t give the crickets a second thought. But now, these are the sounds I miss when winter comes. As I have aged, I’ve learned to sit in the back porch glider and enjoy.

In a few weeks, school will start again, then the next thing we know, we will have Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Come winter, all we will hear is the caw of crows. But the silent stars will shine crisp and sharp, and I’ll look up to admire the Milky Way.

There are times. There are times when the beauty around me literally touches my soul. And some times, I wonder if the beauty is enough to overcome the piling list of West Virginia downfalls.

Of course, if we read or watch the news, we are all aware of West Virginia’s statistics. Second lowest household income of the 50 United States, 49th in unemployment, and one of the highest gaps between the wealthy and the poor. West Virginia citizens rated themselves as being more miserable than people in all other states – for five years running. Our education system, one of the most expensive for taxpayers in the nation, has some of the lowest rankings. West Virginia, ranks either last or second-to-last in 20 health categories, including cancer, child immunization, diabetes, disabilities, drug deaths, teeth loss, low birth weight, missed work days due to health, prescription drug overdose, preventable hospitalizations, and senior clinical care.

Our population is expected to dwindle by another 19,000 by 2030, at which point we will lose one of our three seats in the House of Representatives. Thirteen years can fly by in no time.

This issue of Two-Lane Livin’ is the last issue of Volume 10. With the September issue, we celebrate our 10th anniversary. I have been looking back over some of our early issues, when I thought self-reliance and simple living could overcome the downfalls of our state’s statistics. When we started, I knew I wanted the magazine to be positive, empowering, entertaining and educational. I was determined the magazine would remain non-controversial, and we have tried remain so.

In the beginning, ten years ago, we asked readers, “What does Two-Lane Livin’ mean to you?” What is it about this rural life that soothes your soul? What is it that keeps us here in a state that faces so many challenges? I really want to hear from you, and hope to run some of your replies in the next issue. You can discuss Two-Lane Livin’ the lifestyle, or Two-Lane Livin’ the magazine, but I want to know what Two-Lane Livin’ means in your life.

Please write to me at Stumptown Publishing, 2287 Rosedale Road, Stumptown, West Virginia, 25267, or at info@twolanelivin.com.

There is comfort and beauty in the birdsong I hear on my back porch, in the sight of the Milky Way in the sky. I hope you still find comfort and beauty in Two-Lane Livin’, and I would truly love to hear from you.

We Are Nature: July 2017 in Two-Lane Livin’

(This appears in the July 2017 issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine.)

I love the way thunder rolls across the sky, how it rumbles in our bones at the first boom, then ripples, grumbling past the eastern hillside and on across the horizon. When I was young, we would watch for the flashes of lightening, like watching for fireworks, and count as we were taught to determine the distance to the strike. One, one thousand. Two, one thousand. But now, I am happy to listen to the rain and the thunder as the sky chastises the earth.

Today, a storm crossed overhead, with consistent rumbling for nearly half an hour. Instantly, the heat of the afternoon was erased. Rain fell steady, but not pounding, and ground drank it in. I spent as much time as I could on the back porch in the glider, as porches are made for storm-watching. You can experience the storm and be exposed to it, but remain dry and relatively safe.

After the storm passed, wisps of fog swirled up from the valley, moisture drawn up into the system, just to be dropped back down somewhere else. From the valley to the hilltop perhaps, to keep the cycle turning. Once the storm moved on, its grumble fading as it wandered across the atmosphere, the setting sun raised temperatures again, and new wisps rose and swirled. The orange light shone more than usual, heightened by the moist reflections of everything just washed clean.

There are no evenings to match a summer evening after an afternoon thunderstorm in the hills of Appalachia. I feel as though I am inside a terrarium, the moisture dripping down from a giant glass dome above. Sometimes, life here feels sealed inside a bubble, secluded from the rest of the world. Sometimes stifling hot and sweaty, sometimes baking, parched and dry, sometimes fresh and clean and sparkling.

As the skies cleared, and the water temperatures on the lake out back balanced, I watched the green duckweed expand again across the face of the water, no longer compressed by rippling waves, and a mother deer appeared on the bank of the island, and a fawn that had to be out for its very first walk it was so wobbly. With the rumbling over, bird song started again, and the chickens and the robins pecked in the saturated yard for earthworms and bugs. And in that moment, the fields around me and time itself seemed to expand, and the concerns of the world shrank to a pittance.

I felt relief. Relief from the heat of the day, relief from the stress of the week, relief in knowing there are still magical moments in this world–the way nature can make us feel small and immense at the same time, connected when we are or feel alone. Humans have forgotten that we ARE nature. We are hardwired to benefit from exposure to it. We get Vitamin D from the sun (statistically, the average American is Vitamin D deficient), and multiple studies show that 20 minutes in nature can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, depression and anxiety. We are not technical, mechanical creatures. We are (or were?) natural creatures. Writer Laurence G. Boldt says, “a society at odds with nature is a society at odds with itself.”

* * *

I recently attended the WV Writer’s Inc. annual conference at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, a weekend of seminars, readings, and networking. One seminar I took was how to remain focused on your life as a creative existence. Deep down, I hoped there might be a magical pen or technical device that would keep me in creative mode, impervious to the restrictive mentalities we all encounter in our culture and societies today. Perhaps a creativity pill I could pop every morning. Of course, these things don’t exist.

During the seminar though, I was reminded of many things I already know, but do not regularly practice. Stretch upon waking. Meditate. Be grateful for the little things. Be positive. Be open. Don’t get on the computer first thing in the morning. Limit exposure to social media and digital devices. Turn off the TV. Take a walk. Breathe. Immerse yourself in nature.

After the recent summer storm passed, I contemplated why that moment was reassuring, comforting. How that moment “outside” of society, disconnected from man but connected to nature, could soothe my spirit so. And again I was reminded of something Boldt says in his book, Zen and the Art of Making a Living. He said, “Society can be interested in a man or woman only as a political or economic entity; a culture is interested in more… Cultures care for their peoples as natural, spiritual beings and not simply as workers or consumers.” In other words, humans are not just political, economic beings. We were meant for more than work and consumption. We are nature, spiritual, but we live in a society that neither acknowledges, values, nor endorses us as such.

Boldt says, “Our whole effort is to gain and hold, acquire and defend.” The American approach to life and living is a mindset typically used for warfare. We are focused on getting–striving, consuming, keeping, maintaining–status, power, reputation, cars, houses, etc.–no matter the cost to our own well-being or the natural world around us. Americans live with a mentality to conquer and defend. No wonder we’re so stressed.

I believe this is why time in nature is so soothing to the soul. Nature is the ultimate level playing field. Nature doesn’t care about status, reputation, shoes, or the latest cell phone app. Social media, television series, all our little rat race games and power struggles are irrelevant. Our narcissism, prejudices, irrational judgments, daytime dramas, are insignificant. And if anything, that’s a relief.

Boldt says, “We cannot be fully awake, fully alive, fully human–and remain indifferent to the world in which we live.” The costs of denial and suppression are devastating to human happiness and creativity. Boldt notes, until our society changes its consideration humans as nothing more than workers and consumers, “it will continue to take uncommon courage, strength, and perseverance for individuals to realize meaning in their every day experiences.”

When we stop and take a time out with nature around us, Boldt says, “the mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing… the contemplation of beauty eliminates selfish desire.” In turn, “Ugliness depresses and diminishes life–sapping the creative spirit of the individual and weakening the character of society.” Did you get that? Ugliness saps creativity and weakens our character. No wonder the beauty of the hills after a storm provided me with such relief. How lucky we are to live where the natural beauty around us can soothe our souls.

Are you grateful? Do you take time to just sit and experience the natural world around you? What things do you do to keep your creative juices flowing? Send me an email with your thoughts and suggestions at info@twolanelivin.com.

Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing. For details, visit Lhayesminney.net.

Lying Fallow: June 2017 in Two-Lane Livin’

(This is my 2017 installment of “Two Lane for Life” from the June issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine. You can view the entire issue as a digital flipbook via twolanelivin.com.)

As we grow near to Two-Lane Livin’s 10th birthday, I have been looking back through our early archives. And though I am old enough to reflect on nearly five decades of life, only the last ten years have been recorded in a monthly publication I can look back upon.

When we launched the magazine, I was so excited about gardening and canning, learning how to be healthier and more self-reliant. I was thrilled to welcome chickens and bees to our family, was stockpiling seeds and lamp oil and teaching myself to sew and crochet.

Somehow, I thought this “back to the land” mindset was going to simplify my life. I look back at all that now and laugh.

When it comes to farming and gardening, I have found that it is quite easy to over do it. I have learned, truly, moderation is key. But baby chicks can be purchased in bulk, in fact, when ordering, you must purchase at least a dozen.  One more tray of spring plants can produce another thirty or more pounds of tomatoes. One more row or seed packet of beans can double or triple the bushels of beans that need strung in the fall.

A ten year old oregano patch can spread to cover more than eight square feet. Mature perennials need divided. Fences eventually need mending, spades sharpened, hives and pens need maintained.

All the projects I was so excited about ten years ago, I now know, are work. Work, and time. And though I knew back then and was not afraid of the work, I sorely underestimated the amount of time truly required.

Gardens, bees, chickens, fields, these things do not wait. They do not wait until you have time, do not wait until you are ready. Weeds need pulled, beans need picked, hay needs cut. Bees swarm. Eggs, water, and feed need dealt with more than once a day.

There was a time when we had more than 30 chickens, and planted more than 100 tomato plants and six rows of beans.

For two people? Insanity is what that is.

These days, my sewing machine is packed away, as are my crochet needles, my pressure canner. And though June is upon us, we have not planted a garden this year. The pantry is still filled with jars from previous years, and we still get near a dozen eggs a day from our small flock of aging hens. We have four bee hives, but three of them are swarms we caught this spring.

We can certainly take a break from gardening this year, but it feels shameful to not have a garden. I feel shame, and I feel a loss. A loss of a chance to fill more jars, a loss of the mornings pulling weeds and smashing stink bugs. A loss not to wander out again in the evenings sweating in the late day sun and swatting at deer flies. In many ways, gardeners are slaves to their gardens–you weed and water when it’s needed, pick and harvest when it’s ready. But at the same time, a garden is nourishing, not just to the body, but to the soul.

In some ways, I feel like we’re taking the summer off. Like we’re cheating, or being lazy.

Of course, we still have asparagus, garlic, horseradish, mushrooms in the perennial beds, and thyme, oregano, lemon balm, sage, and chives in the herb garden.

Won’t we miss fresh produce? I don’t think so. I have learned that someone will inevitably grow too many cucumbers and squash, and will bring some to the library or the local mom and pop store. Heirloom tomatoes will find their way to the local farmer’s markets.

What will I do with the extra  summer days that for the last ten years have been spent tilling and canning? I hope I don’t waste it on facebook. I hope to work on other things, like moderation and maintenance. My approach to simple living ten years ago wasn’t simple at all. I was so excited about getting started, I didn’t really think about the upkeep. But you have to think about upkeep, or you won’t be able to keep up. Over the past ten years, we have fallen behind.

Where to store empty canning jars, or tomato stakes not in use? Do we really need all those plant trays? I’m going to sharpen my hoe before I ever use it again, and I’m going to spend more time in the back porch swing, watching the grass grow.

So this summer, our garden will be lying fallow, a term used to describe land tilled and plowed but left unseeded. Some farmers do this to raise the fertility in the soil. I wonder what lying fallow will do for us, the humans that tend the garden, what fertility might rise in our lives and souls–if any. Perhaps I will find a way to combine simple living and self-reliance. But it hasn’t happened so far.

Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing.  For details on her workshops and speaking availability, visit Lhayesminney.net.

The Sounds of Spring

(Published in the May 2017 issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine.)

Oh, how I enjoy the sounds of spring. After months of winter silence that was interrupted only by the rumble of traffic or the caw of crows, the cacophony of spring is truly a celebration of song. First, of course, the spring peepers started. Spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are tan or brown with a dark cross that roughly forms an X on their back (thus the Latin name crucifer, meaning cross-bearer).

I cannot see the frogs, much less their x, without my glasses on, but no one can miss their insistent peeps. Just a few at first, those who awaken too early, the ones who are subdued by the early spring nights that dipped below freezing. Then, as evening temperatures warmed, more and more join the spring call, until their voices are beyond counting, beyond the individual, morphed into an amphibious chorus that lasts all night long. Here, beside the lake, the peepers get so loud they could keep you up at night. For me though, the sound is so soothing, they help me fall right to sleep.

Then, the ducks return. Wood Ducks, Mallards, Bufflehead, Coots, Mergansers. They have little to say during the day, too busy diving and dipping and puttering about. But when they gather on the lake around dusk, zip-lining from the sky to the darkening water’s surface, their coos are comforting, yearning, soulful, and serene. Once they return, I begin timing my days so I can wander out onto the back porch at dusk, just to eavesdrop on their conversations and enjoy. Languishing calls in the darkness from one feathered family member to another, coddling calls that seem like sounds of settling, of ruffling off the trials of the day.

German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “A birdsong can even, for a moment, make the whole world into a sky within us, because we feel that the bird does not distinguish between its heart and the world’s.” On the porch glider in the dark, listening to the quibbling ducks, I feel I am a part of their conversation, unable to distinguish between their hearts, the world’s, and my own.

The Canada Geese calls are different. Their honks are loud, caustic, annoying. They argue and fight with great frequency, especially when they gather on the water at night. They WILL keep you awake at night, fussing and shouting at each other. Chattering. By the time the matriarch of the flock sets her nest on the island, the bull frogs are out of hibernation and add their bass barking to the blend of the spring music. Their voices push from their throats against the water into the sunlight of the day, into the stillness of the night. Pushing, throbbing, again and again, seeking their mates for the season. Next, the turkeys start mating in the fields, their sporadic gobbles echoing through the valley intermittently throughout the day.

And as if these sounds weren’t enough, come May, the spring birdsong truly flourishes. We are in a prime location-near water, in the fields, but not far from the edge of the woods. I celebrate the return of each spring bird as thought my friends: the robin, the bluebirds, the red-winged blackbirds. The woodpeckers (red-headed and red-bellied), the American Bittern, the Belted Kingfisher. Shrike, nuthatches, killdeer, titmice.

I sat down one afternoon to simply listen to the song of the catbird, and am always listening for the seldom-heard call of the Bob White or the Whippoorwill. Rumi, Persian poet and Sufi master, once wrote, “Birdsong brings relief to my longing. I am just as ecstatic as they are, but with nothing to say.” For me I feel I have too much to say, but cannot find the words. Birds don’t need words; they have their songs.

The birdsong at my friend’s house in the forest is made up of different songs. The towhee, the vireo, the thrush. She learned the birds and their songs as she grew up here in West Virginia, and she knows them well. I have my grandfather’s binoculars, a field guide to birds, the lessons she has taught me, and I try to spy the singers in order to match them in my book. Slowly I learn the birds who tweet, those who warble, those who chit, those who sing.

The last to arrive are the ones who hum, the hummingbirds who come to dive into my iris and spring lilies. They rest briefly in the sassafras tree, shimmering green and aquamarine. As long as I have flowers blooming in my gardens continuously all summer, I have no need to put out a feeder. The hummingbirds visit all season long.

Autumn, I think, is West Virginia’s most beautiful time of year visually, but Spring is the most lovely, musically.

Buzzing will come and carry us through summer. The buzzing of wood boring bees, determined to hollow out the beams of our back porch roof. The buzzing of flies, of gnats, of mowers and weed-eaters. The buzzing of fans, air conditioners, the rumbling of tractors and tillers, the rip-roaring of ATVs. But, for now the world is filled with song, glorious music, from brisk mornings into the earthy night. I lie in the lounge chair on the porch in the evenings and just listen, remembering to be still, to be grateful, to breathe.