I recently had an essay published at Entropy Magazine online. Feel free to check it out: The Birds: OLD SCARS, NEW WOUNDS | ENTROPY
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.)
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.
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
(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 email@example.com.
Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing. For details, visit Lhayesminney.net.