Tag Archives: rural

two-lane lifestyle

Indian Summer (a poem)

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,
falling,
dance their way to death.

Back to Blogging

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).

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.

Dear Pen Pal – I’m “On Break”

Dear Pen Pal,

I turned in my final portfolio for this semester yesterday – I’m sure you remember what that was like.  I sent if off around noon, and spent the rest of the day wondering What do I do with myself now?

Of course, the answers are obvious – everything I didn’t do while I was doing my homework.

So, yesterday afternoon I cleaned off the porches, and cleaned up the herb and flower beds. I’d like to mow one more time, but it’s not really necessary.

If you recall, I was freezing whole tomatoes from the garden as the season passed to process later – and later has come. They are thawing on the counter and I have jars in the sink water, the squeezo set up on the counter.

I also straightened the pantry, taking inventory of jars there. Looks like I’ll be making spaghetti sauce and/or chili sauce. There’s plenty of soup, salsa, sloppy joe sauce, juice, V8, pizza sauce.

I have an abundance of strawberry and watermelon preserves, rosemary and chocolate mint jellies. I keep thinking one winter I’ll teach myself to make tarts. If I don’t find some use for them, I’ll have them until the lids start rusting.

I’ve also gotten in my mind to sew me a new book bag for my next residency in January. The one you saw was measured to carry my lap top, which I did not carry so much after all. I’ve also realized there is a need for a pocket just to hold scarf, gloves, hat, etc when the temperatures drop to 4 below. Hopefully it will not be quite so cold again this year.

Canning, cleaning, sewing. All things that allow your mind to wander. I would be happy to not pick up a book at all for the next few weeks. I’ve heard again and again that writers should write every day. I try to be creative every day, but it may not always be through writing.

Of course, writing and publishing work still continues. We’re working on the December issue, our 100th issue and the Christmas issue. Magazine layout is like a big puzzle, and there are more pieces in the Christmas issue puzzle than normal. Also, more pieces and parts come in at the last minute, so there’s more pressure.

Planning work continues for the writing and creativity workshops we’re planning to launch next year. I hope to have a minimum of two next year, expanding to perhaps four different themes a year, depending on the response. I think I told you I have a poet friend working with me now – I value her input.

The garden may be finished, but our shiitake logs are producing well right now. They are so yummy when sauteed in sunflower oil and butter. We had intentions of selling the mushrooms, but like so many of the things we’ve learned to grow and produce, they’re so good we’re reluctant to part with any.

My teaching continues, as does yours I am sure. I cannot imagine carrying the load you currently are and I would not dare complain about mine knowing you are carrying three times as much. Won’t be long before Thanksgiving break, then finals.

I have not received a letter from you recently, but do hope to hear from you soon. I enjoy finding them in the mailbox, love the fact we’re keeping a lost tradition, letter writing, alive. Don’t worry, these online messages will never replace my snail-mail letters.

I was just thinking of you today, knowing you would understand this done with the semester burst of energy.

But now I’m off to deal with those thawed tomatoes, and to thread the needle on the sewing machine. And the sun has come out. I may mow the yard after all.

Real Writing Jobs! Click Here!

The Prancing Pariah

A few years ago, I was flamed by a long-time (former) friend on social media, who noted that until I met his family, I was a pariah.

(Don’t feel bad. I had to look it up too.)

A pariah is an outcast, an undesirable, a non-person, persona non grata.

The flaming covered a variety of questionable attacks, but the pariah label is one that sticks with me, all these years later. Not because it hung true, but because it hinted at a truth bigger than the both of us.

It is true, at the time in reference, I was socially secluded. I had recently moved to a new town, returned to college, and had specifically chosen to be a recluse in order to focus on my studies and my homework. Had I not been lured from my seclusion, had I not started following someone else’s path, how different my life would be today.

Yet the term pariah denotes being ostracized, banned. That the seclusion I endured was not my choice, but instead set upon me. How could I have been banned from a community I had not even met yet? Had I been rejected before I felt I had even arrived? And yet, in retrospect, in rural West Virginia, it could have been possible.

Today, my husband and I are still in rural West Virginia, and we are still socially secluded. We know the community now, and we just… prefer to do our own thing. In my 20 years here, I’ve been through periods of social overdose and seclusion, and I am by no means saying we don’t have any friends. But we are busy people, and when we do make social time, we choose to spend it with a few close friends or in special ways.

So, are we pariahs? Outcasts? We have spent 20 years in a community and learned we prefer interaction with a few, and not the many. Does this mean we’ve been outcast? Rejected? Has this seclusion been forced upon us by our experiences with the community or has it been a choice of our own? Has this lifestyle come from a proactive stance to spend time wisely, or is it a reaction to two decades of local interaction?

I wonder, as West Virginia ranks number one in shrinking population, if I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life as an undesirable without knowing it? Someone being pushed out slowly over time by passive resistance?

You’d think someone would have told me.

I guess he did –

from his perpective.