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.
This spring, Frank went out and purchased a new zero-turn riding mower. Mind you, he’s not the one who mows around here. But with that male “bigger is better” mentality, he wanted to purchase something that would cut down on the time his mom and I spend mowing. We mow acres every week.
The first day I attempted to use the zero-turn, I was livid. This new contraption had turned one of my Zen processes into a challenging new game I was not familiar or comfortable with. I ran over rocks, broke a flower pot, damaged things just trying to get the thing in and out of its storage space.
Because the zero-turn has no steering wheel and instead has… What to call them? Toggles? Steering arms? Handlebars? I don’t know. At any rate, after mowing this land for more than 20 years and knowing I could do it with a drink in one hand and the steering wheel in the other — the zero-turn mower created a whole new ball game. Mowing was no longer an automatic thoughtless process.
I don’t like change. Especially in routines I have down-pat and can accomplish without thinking. One reason I like mowing is because my mind can wander without having to give the task at hand very much thought. The zero-turn steers differently, turns differently, rides and handles differently. I have to pay attention. Focus. Concentrate on what I’m doing.
In other words, it wiped out all that I love about mowing.
The wider mower deck is nice, yes. Very nice. It seems as though I can cover twice as much ground in half the time. Less time out of the house in the sunshine, away from housework, ringing phones, internet notifications. I might just be riding around the yard, but mowing is often the closest I can get to running away from my life. Mowing was my excuse to just sit and let my mind muddle, a time-out disguised as work.
The zero-turn cut down the time spent, but turned mowing into work again. I pouted about it. Fiercely complained. This financed man’s mower and I were not going to be friends. No sir. I spent the first month of the summer doing all the lawn and yard edges with my old steering-wheel mower, and only mowing the middle of the yard with the zero-turn.
And then the mower belt on my old mower broke, and Frank didn’t fix it.
Gah. Well, I’m not about to replace a mower belt myself.
So I have spent the last two months of this summer getting accustomed to that zero-turn lawn tractor.
Frank did make adjustments to the handlebars so I could manage it better, and I have learned since how to mow very slowly to handle the trimming around the edges. But I can’t quite set in my mind where the exact pivot point of the zero-turn is beneath me. I’m often pivoting too early, or worse yet, too late.
And reverse? Frankly, I’ve never been that good at reverse even with a steering wheel. I’m not good at reverse on my own two feet. With the zero-turn, if I just need to back straight up, I’m okay. But maneuvering or turning in reverse still causes me to curse under my breath. I have to do it at the slowest possible speed just to make sure I’m not flailing around like a landed fish.
So, I am growing a relationship with this zero-turn contraption that I cursed in May and bitched about on social media. It’s a fine machine, but we’re not friends yet. It’s damn near impossible to drive it one-handed, which means I have to actually slow down or stop to take a drink, slap a fly, or wipe sweat from my brow. That frustrates me. It breaks the groove.
I also have not yet come to grasp how a “lawn tractor” could or would have bald wheels in the front. Bald. Zero tread. Are they even tires? I don’t know. Hard, slippery things that they are. Because our yard is nowhere near perfectly flat, those tiny smooth front wheels are often spinning in the air. I can see where tread on the front might tear up the lawn in certain zero-turn situations, but come on! This girl needs tread. Uphill, downhill, across ditches, dimples, and pockets. How can you have two treadless tires on a lawn tractor? What’s up with that? Even if it’s just for some kind of show to make me feel better, something decorative if there’s some sane reason for having none. Smooth tires in the country are just — wrong.
There are two places in the yard where the new wider mower deck won’t fit. Spaces which I now have to weed-eat in addition to all the other weed-eating we do. Frank got me a new weedeater this year as well–a man-size, gas-powered creature to supplement my small battery-powered baby I’ve been working with for nearly a decade now.
I am so proud to have my work included in Mountains Piled Upon Mountains: Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene.
Available from West Virginia University Press, Mountains Piled upon Mountains features nearly fifty writers from across Appalachia sharing their place-based fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. Moving beyond the tradition of transcendental nature writing, much of the work collected here engages current issues facing the region and the planet (such as hydraulic fracturing, water contamination, mountaintop removal, and deforestation), and provides readers with insights on the human-nature relationship in an era of rapid environmental change.
This book includes a mix of new and recent creative work by established and emerging authors. The contributors write about experiences from northern Georgia to upstate New York, invite parallels between a watershed in West Virginia and one in North Carolina, and often emphasize connections between Appalachia and more distant locations. In the pages of Mountains Piled upon Mountains are celebration, mourning, confusion, loneliness, admiration, and other emotions and experiences rooted in place but transcending Appalachia’s boundaries.
The collection includes my essay, “Shaken Foundations.” An excerpt from this essay was included in the fall issue of “Mountain State Sierran,” the WV Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Shaken Foundations” has also been used in college composition classes as an example of a fact-driven narrative.
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).
In the beginning it felt like a newborn child that needed protected, nourished, defended, promoted. And like any child, it grew in its own way, expanding and developing in beyond our plans and expectations, demanding more and more of our time and attention.
Launching an independent magazine–or any small business for that matter–is much like birthing a child. Your life becomes that child which often demands your constant attention. It surprises you with needs and situations you did not expect or plan for, keeps you up at night often.
This child does not really care about your business plan, or your dreams for its future. She becomes what she will, of her own fruition, becomes a living, breathing character influenced by those who support her, befriend her, embrace her, nourish her.
And like any child, you hope that your creation will grow healthy and strong, will flourish and shine brightly. You hope that she will become a mature, responsible, functioning adult that at some point, will not demand so much of your time.
Ten years can fly by in an instant, but you feel every second of it in your bones, see the life sucked from you in every dry wrinkle and sag. A decade gives you perspective, and time to learn and mature.
With Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine, ten years means hauling heavy loads home from Parkersburg more than 120 times in all seasons of weather. Ten years means delivering magazines over ten Thanksgiving breaks, ten Christmas breaks, ten wedding anniversary weekends. For Frank and I, ten years of Two-Lane Livin’ has been a decade of scheduling our lives around this child’s rigid monthly deadline–me a week every month tied to the desk, him a week every month on the road.
We have loved Two-Lane Livin’ like a child. I birthed her from nine months of planning and from the very first issue she had a life of her own. (All copies were gone in three days.) From the beginning she was more than we had ever hoped for, and quite often more than we could handle. In ten years, we have never been able to solicit enough advertising revenue to produce enough copies to meet reader demand.
Our popular girl wanted to go farther than we ever imagined, into twice the number of counties we originally planned, twice the mileage on delivery vehicles, twice the time delivering. Strangers and friends volunteered to help get the monthly issue circulated into their own areas. Writers from across the state began offering to write for us. We never planned to offer subscriptions, but in response to demand, reached 18 states and two countries outside the U.S.
For ten years, Two-Lane Livin’ has been a bright star shining from, in, and for central West Virginia. I believe that. I truly do.
Bright stars burn quickly.
I have come to believe that small businesses in West Virginia age in dog years–seven years of aging for every year of existence. The amount of energy, dedication, creativity, strategy, problem solving, and work required to get a small business up and running and to keep it running smoothly ages it prematurely.
(This month on my birthday, I hit the big Five-O. Perhaps it’s not the magazine that has aged, perhaps it’s just me.)
I thought retiring Two-Lane Livin’ would feel like killing my child. Instead, I find it’s more like giving up a beat-up but beloved car that has almost 300,000 miles and no longer holds third gear. She’s dented and has a slight oil leak; smells of newsprint, fast food, and hay. But boy we’ve had some fantastic adventures together.
Two-Lane Livin’ has been good to us, and has been a wonderful experience. But our time with her has come to an end. In dog years, she’s more than 70 years old.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for being with us during this Two-Lane experience, for being fellow witnesses to the life of our creation, our child, our dependable car…
Our shining star.
Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine September 2007-December 2017
(P.S. We will be maintaining the twolanelivin.com web site, and will, over time, be making all issues of Two-Lane Livin’ available as flipbooks and featuring favorite articles we encounter in the process. To keep up with those developments, you can sign up for our email newsletter in the form at the right of this page.)