To the casual driver passing through,
the hills might still look green.
But I see yellow in the poplar,
brown in the sumac,
tinges of rust around the oak.
The chestnut and ash are absent.
There used to be music,
but the summer songbirds
have all gone.
The cacophony now of
cricket chirps and katydid trills,
the fluttering wings of
dragon and horse fly.
Calendars claim it is summer still,
Indian Summer they say,
those warm days and cool nights.
Nothing blooms now but goldenrod,
ragweed, and untrained morning glories
the hummingbird no longer visits.
A crow calls out what’s coming in
the distance, and several friends reply.
The breezes are far too slight
to make the wind chime sing,
but plenty powerful enough to
loosen withered leaves who,
dance their way to death.
One of the authors on a writing web site I follow noted that she doesn’t believe in writer’s block. She says, we block because we don’t know what we want to say next.
Come the end of November, it will be two years since we killed Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine, a monthly publication we produced for a decade. When we ended the magazine, we were at the peak of our readership, reaching nearly 40,000 readers monthly with 18,000 print copies circulated around central West Virginia. We never could print enough copies.
Of course, I had a monthly column in the magazine, a continuing conversation I had with readers for ten years.
And when the magazine ended, I lost that audience and lost that conversation. For two years following, I did not know what to say. Who would I be talking to?
Perhaps I was reluctant to admit we failed the magazine. We could not rustle up enough advertising revenue to keep it alive. Perhaps I didn’t want to admit that I felt trapped by the business–its monthly deadlines, the routine of it, the box I had put around myself as a writer and career woman. I knew, for the last two years of the publication, that the magazine I had once dreamed of creating was something I didn’t want any more. The simple country Iife I had toted and promoted for ten years was feeling restrictive, limiting, and too much of a struggle.
I had hoped to create a publication that readers would love, and we did. That was the fun part. Keeping it financially viable with advertising income in an economically depressed region was a huge pain in the ass. That was no fun at all.
I did not realize until we discontinued the magazine, how much of a burden it was on us. Nor did I realize, until the deed was done, how much I would miss our readers. How much, as a writer, I needed that audience. I needed that conversation. (One-sided as it was.)
I was recently interviewed by an artist working on a project that she waited 30 years to start. We talked about how Two-Lane Livin’ started (an idea in a bubble bath) and how it ended (with phone calls to this day from readers who miss it). We talked about my graduate school writing experiences, and then she asked me, “What do you want to do with your writing now?”
And the question that’s been percolating in the back of my mind for two years finally answered: I’d like to have an audience again. Not facebook followers, not sporadic literary journals, not a book (although that’s coming). I don’t want to deal with writing as a business right now, I don’t want to scour submission guidelines, subject my work to an editor, consider marketing tactics, web site SEO, cover photos, paper stock, sales tax.
I just want to write and be read. I want to start that conversation again, between me and the world out there, whoever cares to participate. For a writer, what other goal is there but to write – and to be read?
I have been blogging off and on, for 16 years. The archives on this site alone go back to 2006. Sixteen years. Good lord. That goes back to before I was a newspaper reporter, before I was a columnist, before I was a magazine publisher, graduate student, college professor, librarian. Who knows what is in those archives? I don’t. Who knows what new will be added? What’s this blog about? I don’t know that yet either. The photos I’ve put in the page give a review of some of the main points of my recent life — porch sitting, caregiving, library life, creative play, pictures of Daisy, our beagle. This is my space for expression — I cannot predict what is to come.
Blogs, they say, should have a niche. They should use photos, SEO, keywords, hashtags, make regular entries, include external links — there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. I may or may not adhere to those guidelines. I’m an Amazon Affiliate and have a Google Adsense account, so I might put those in play at some point, but the point here is to put the words out there, and hope folks read it.
Blogs should allow commenting… Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to moderate comments or take crappy criticism from strangers. (I’ll post links to these entries on my facebook page and profile. You can comment there if you’d like.)
Since it already has nearly 400 subscribers, I’m also reviving my email newsletter. It was originally intended to be monthly, but I think seasonal/sporadic is a more realistic description. Highlights folks might have missed. Favorite entries, work published elsewhere. You can sign up in the form in the right-hand column–I’m preparing the fall issue to send out some time next week. You can also sign up here.
So, here we go again–writing via the blogosphere. I hope you’ll join the conversation (one-sided as it may be).
(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.
When I decided to get hens, Frank resisted. He had kept chickens in his life, I had not. He knew what responsibilities came with having chickens, I did not.
I only wanted four. We started with only four. To this day, I feel that four hens for two people is plenty. Two people really don’t need any more than four hens.
We have twenty four.
It’s too many really, and even so, I agreed to take four from another friend’s shipment.
That’s the deal with chickens, you have to buy them in bulk if you want them shipped.
I would say that we’ll lose two or three hens this summer – we have one, Red, that remains of the original four we bought six years ago. Hens are really only expected to live 5-7 years, unless of course you eat the ones that quit laying regularly.
We don’t eat our chickens.
I do like having hens. We keep family and friends in fresh eggs almost year-round. But there are two things we still haven’t mastered with our flock — keeping them penned in and having to manually let them out in the morning and put them up at night.
There’s a solar automatic door for chicken pens in the Lehman’s catalog – – it’s about $300. I keep telling myself we’ll get one for the new chicken pen we haven’t yet built.
Of course, then wood pen will be bigger than the current chicken tractors we have, and then we’ll have room for more hens….
Within the seed packets that arrive in the mail, so sprout the dreams for this year’s garden.
Of course, we ordered the staples, heirloom tomatoes, sweet peas, half runner beans. The spaghetti squash were such a hit last year, we’re trying them again this year. Pumpkins, peppers, leaf lettuce — all things we’ve done before.
But this year, I’m also hoping to grow more supplemental feed for the chickens. Amaranth, sorghum, lots of sunflowers. I’m even trying peanuts, but I’m not so sure they’ll be for the chickens.
I’m revamping the herb garden this year as well. It didn’t take long for the oregano, thyme and chocolate mint to over grow the original herb garden, and now with so many chickens, rabbits and deer, the herb garden really needs moved inside the main garden fencing.
I’ve spent a small part of the winter researching ways to combine gardening and sewing, two of my favorite creative outlets. I’m planning much of the herb garden for some new aromatic projects from the sewing machine.
Most of the herbs I have established were planted for medicinal purposes – and they’ve matured enough to start some serious dividing and harvesting this year. I have thought about making tinctures, but I think mostly I will work with dried at first. This will definitely be the year to harvest Echinacea, comfrey, horseradish. I also hope to get new starts of lavender, and will attempt to start some from seed. More chives, more parsley – which I put in darn-near everything I cook now.
As for the veggies, I don’t see us trying much new. Some different beans, maybe. What we’re learning now is how much to plant for our canning purposes, and how best to grow it. We need to improve our method for corn, and would like to trellis the cucumbers somehow. More, more, more peas — not quite so many potatoes. Try eggplant – again. Perhaps three times will be the charm.
The one new thing we’re starting this year is Asparagus – to be planted and not harvested for several years to come. I never liked asparagus – until I tried fresh picked, cooked right. It was superb. Who knows what will happen? But if we don’t plant it, we’ll never have our own.
Dreams, plans – some which can’t be harvested for years. All arriving in small packets to the mail box.
I just haven’t gotten the gardening bug yet. I had my seed order ready, and then a friend of mine brought me all of his seed catalogs. Even with all the extra options, I just haven’t been able to get my hopes up.
I thought browsing the new catalogs might do it. But no. I did redo my seed order, for better prices more than selection. I didn’t expand the list any — if anything, I trimmed it back. I just don’t have the garden dreams I had before.
Instead, I’ve been sewing. Frank spent a day cleaning out the hot beds while I sat at the sewing machine or the computer. Perhaps he thought it would inspire me.
Oh, I still want to taste those home-grown tomatoes. Still want those days in the garden under the sun. I just don’t feel the excitement about it I did before. I feel disconnected from something that is (or once was) an integral part of our lives.
It’s a sobering lesson to lose all the work and investment in a garden and come up with nothing, like we did last year.
I find myself investing time and learning in other projects. Chickens, sewing, etc. Last year, by this time, in spite of an actual winter, I already had seeds started indoors. This year, I haven’t even placed my seed order yet, nor have I reviewed what seeds I have in our little seed bank. I’m just not there yet.
Perhaps when spring starts to show itself. Someone in the county reported hearing peepers the other night, and though I know they always freeze their little buns off at least once each year once I hear them, I hope that perhaps spring intends to arrive early this year — maybe that will get me going.
In the meantime, I’ve been sewing garden aprons. I thought perhaps a new garden apron would inspire me to get in the garden mindset. It didn’t. Instead, I ended up inspired to sew more aprons. I made 20 aprons in a weekend. At least I’ll have something to sell besides eggs at the spring farmer’s market…