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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).

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.

The Mammoth Sunflower

Over the weekend, on a break from the world of small business taxes, I filled out my seed catalog orders. In the end, the full flow of garden dreaming excitement never hit me. I didn’t find myself attempting new challenges outside our norm (like eggplant) like I usually do. In catalog orders of the past, I’ve been eager to at least try some new things. Not so much this year.

Last year, I went to our seed stash before placing my orders, taking inventory of saved-over heirlooms seeds, and filling in the gaps or supporting certain varieties. This year, I didn’t do that either. I pretty much know what’s there — nothing from last year, and only remnants from the year before. So, I figured I’d just stick to the basics, and basically start from scratch. Other than pumpkin seed, we pretty much needed all the basics.

The list started with a pound on Gray Mammoth Sunflower seed, which I grow and harvest for our hens and feathered friend feeders. They have huge blooms that make harvesting a little easier, but I have a second use for these towering stalks — fence reinforcement and bean poles.

Two years ago, I happened to just pick up a pack of this seed somewhere while shopping. The garden was already started, and so I just stuck some seed in around the new fence line at the end where we’d just expanded. The fence there was shorter than the 8 foot fencing we have around the original garden plot, so I figured the sunflowers might help.

They were helpful – to a point. A row of 12 foot tall sunflowers each a foot apart from the others, just inside the fence did deter some deer from just leaping over the short fence into the garden. When dealing with deer, any deterrence is a good thing. The problem is, I can only plant the sunflowers along the fence on the north side of the garden. Planted on the southern side, they’d cover three rows of carrots and onions with shade.

I also have been known to use the sunflower stalks (that get up to 3 inches thick) as support poles in the green bean rows. Instead of bean poles, we run fencing down the rows of beans, so they can just climb the fence. But we’ve always had a problem with the fence sagging as time passed, the more the beans grew, the more the fencing sagged. So last year, about 2 weeks before we even planted the beans, I laid out the rows and planted a sunflower seed about every eight to ten feet. Two, and then four weeks later, we planted the beans, and put the fence down the row. By then, the sunflowers had a good head start, and looked as though they would offer the additional support needed later in the season — but then the big wind storm came and flattened them, fence, flowers, beans and all.

I’m going to try that again this year.

Some may think it odd that we grow these huge sunflowers to harvest and we really don’t eat the seed ourselves. The hens and birds get the seed, the fence and beans get support from their stalks and we — well, we get to enjoy the beauty of foot-wide blossoms towering high above our heads all summer. That’s good enough for me.