RUTHERWOOD; or, LIFE ON THE RUN — Personal Essays on Nature and Society

Sunflower, the 2020 Most Valuable Plant in the Adams gardens.


Table of Contents

1. Thrift – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

2. Bean – 1/4, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4

3. Crapemyrtle – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

4. Aster – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

5. Mum – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

6. Rose – 1/4, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4

7. Boutonniere – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

8. Wreath – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

9. Garland – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

10. Camellia – 1/5, 2/5, 3/5, 4/5, 5/5

11. Dogwood – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

12. Forsythia – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

13. Azalea – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

14. Iris – 1/4, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4

15. Rhododendron – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

16. Lily – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

17. Dahlia – 1/3, 2/3, 3/3

18. Sunflower – 1/4, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4

19. Jack – 1/1

Rahn Adams, on April 15, 2019 (Photo by Timberley Adams)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (19/19) — Chapter Nineteen, Jack (1/1)

JACK IN THE PULPIT, at Rutherwood, Watauga County, N.C.


MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 30, 2020) – Imagine gathering in person with a group of people—some you may know, some you don’t—on a Saturday afternoon, maybe at 3 p.m., if that’s convenient, in the Aldersgate Chapel of the First United Methodist Church on King Street. You can park for free in the church lot behind the building or in the public lot across the street behind the News Herald building.

Though it isn’t handicapped-accessible, the church building entrance nearest Aldersgate Chapel is on Queen Street. The church’s main entrance—in front on King Street—includes a ramp that handicapped individuals may use for access through the narthex to the church sanctuary. If you enter that way, walk down the aisle toward the chancel, notice the cross on the far wall, then exit the sanctuary to the right.

Walk down that hall (you’ll pass restrooms on your right, if you need to take care of biological needs), then turn right and continue a short distance past the Queen Street door to the chapel, where a limited number of chairs will be turned toward the chapel’s permanent, wood-paneled altar and green stained-glass windows from the old Methodist Church building. Notice that there’s no pulpit. I’ll bring my own.

Now, keep in mind that all of this that I’m getting ready to describe is imaginary. It hasn’t happened yet and won’t happen until the time is right. And then you’ll see the announcement in The News Herald and be given time to clean yourself up a bit, throw on something comfortable—don’t forget sensible shoes—and plan to spend a couple of hours with some old and new friends. No need to worry. It’ll be painless.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (19/19) — Chapter Nineteen, Jack (1/1)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (18/19) — Chapter Eighteen, Sunflower (4/4)

ON MONDAY, AUG. 17, our lone sunflower — or mulberry — rises 10 feet into the sky. We did finally notice some buds this morning.


MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 17, 2020) – Well, tomorrow is my 61st birthday, and our lone sunflower—or whatever the heck it is, a white mulberry, maybe—hasn’t bloomed yet. We’ve been watching it grow and grow and grow all summer, and we’ve noticed that its big, green, heart-shaped leaves do follow the sun’s daily golden arcs across the sky. But no blossoms have popped open yet to solve the big mystery.

I’m going to assume it’s a sunflower—kind of like assuming that Schroedinger’s cat is still alive in that infamous sealed box of the popular thought experiment. I mean, why not? We make assumptions about more important things every day—that we haven’t contracted the Covid-19 coronavirus, that our elders locked away in nursing homes are OK, that American voters will make the right decisions on Nov. 3rd.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (18/19) — Chapter Eighteen, Sunflower (4/4)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (18/19) — Chapter Eighteen, Sunflower (3/4)

‘GIVE ME YOUR ANSWER, DO; I’m half crazy all for the love of you,’ according to the song ‘Daisy Bell.’ In the sunflower family, the simple daisy is elegantly beautiful.


BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 13, 2020) – “American Pie” is playing on the 70s on 7 satellite radio channel right now as I start this essay. I couldn’t have planned it any better. Singer-songwriter Don McLean, who also scored Top 40 hits in the early 1970s with “And I Love You So” and “Vincent,” was the first successful recording artist I ever bought a ticket to hear in a bar. He played old P.B. Scott’s Music Hall in Blowing Rock one hot summer night in the late ’70s. I left annoyed because he stopped after playing just one set.

“American Pie” wasn’t in my own repertoire back then, but McLean’s other two blockbuster hits were, especially the one about Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh that opens with the haunting words, “Starry, starry night / Paint your palette blue and gray / Look out on a summer’s day / With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.” Accompanying myself on piano, I played weddings, banquets, school functions, even a reception at the N.C. Governor’s Mansion and an open-mic night at a famous Myrtle Beach bar.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (18/19) — Chapter Eighteen, Sunflower (3/4)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (18/19) — Chapter Eighteen, Sunflower (2/4)

IN THE MIDST OF THE PANDEMIC, this yellow black-eyed Susan and purple echinacea outside Levine Cancer Institute were just two of the colorful coneflowers in the beds near the front entrance in late May.


BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 5, 2020) – Three years ago today, on Aug. 5, 2017, Timberley and I drove from Charlotte to Morganton at the end of her third hospital stay in just over a month. We had set up three webcams around the house to keep an eye on the place—well, actually, on our trouble-making kitten, Scout—while we were gone. Her brother, Jem, always behaved and still does. Scout was aptly named.

The other day I was looking through the photos and videos on my phone, and I happened to run across all 12 of the 30-second clips that the webcams recorded that day. In a number of those clips, the motion sensors were simply tripped by flashes of light from the street that reflected in the window and bounced off the living room walls—at least, I hope those were headlights. I don’t know. Maybe they were haints.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (18/19) — Chapter Eighteen, Sunflower (2/4)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (18/19) — Chapter Eighteen, Sunflower (1/4)

OUR FIRST DANDELION of the current growing season in Morganton revealed itself on Feb. 14th, Valentine’s Day, after a mild winter and what looked like an early spring.


MORGANTON, N.C. (July 31, 2020) – All my life, I’ve felt like a dandelion in a field of sunflowers. So about a year ago—it was in early August—I ordered two packets of dandelion seed from Amazon and decided to become a dandelion farmer, as if anyone needed help to grow the little yellow buggers.

Now, I knew better than to plant those seeds right then. Dandelions are spring wildflowers. But that’s how I am. I start thinking ahead, and then I begin gathering all the supplies I need to do whatever I’m planning to do. When the time’s right, I want to know I can meet whatever deadline I’ve set for myself.

Last summer when I started this book, I had big plans—besides growing dandelions and then feasting on dandelion greens and dandelion wine. I’d also bought some dandelion tea from the supermarket—it was supposed to do wonders for me—but one cup was all it took to quench my thirst for dandelion tea.

Timberley and I were also going to buy fishing licenses and go trout fishing once winter passed and the weather warmed up. We planned to dust off our golf clubs, shine our golf shoes and play regular rounds of golf. But then the pandemic hit and shut everything down, and we got to know life under quarantine.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (18/19) — Chapter Eighteen, Sunflower (1/4)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (17/19) — Chapter Seventeen, Dahlia (3/3)

‘MIDNIGHT DANCER’ was the first of our dahlias to bloom in May. The opening of its burgundy blossoms is as perfectly choreographed as a Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly dance routine.


BOONE, N.C. (July 21, 2020) – Mango Madness’s first fiery blossom of the summer opened Sunday in Morganton. As I’ve said before, that dahlia was our Most Valuable Plant last year off the mountain. He bloomed from July to November, and all his mango-colored blossoms were photogenic, catching rays of light just right no matter how he lined up to the sun. But this year he’s playing catch-up in the AFL.

Yes, that’s the Adams Floral League, which opened in March despite the novel coronavirus quarantine. The AFL’s Dahlia Division took the field in May with the blooming of our burgundy beauty, Midnight Dancer, who finished out of the money last year in fourth place behind Mango Madness, The General and Yellow Star. This year a newcomer, Crazy Love, has taken an impressive lead in our garden.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (17/19) — Chapter Seventeen, Dahlia (3/3)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (17/19) — Chapter Seventeen, Dahlia (2/3)

WE’RE STILL WAITING for our ‘Mango Madness’ dahlia to bloom this year. This plant was last year’s MVP, putting out large, fiery blossoms from July to November.


BOONE, N.C. (July 15, 2020) – Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams and old coaches—in my case, a handful of good men who molded me as we pursued our shared goals.

As far as dreams go—I’m referring to sleeping dreams now—I remember only one that seemed to deal with life goals and, in fact, has guided my decision making at various crossroads. To paraphrase the old Yankee catcher, coach and philosopher Yogi Berra, whenever I came to a fork in the road of life, I took it, but I kept an eye peeled for a good roadside diner where I could put that eating utensil to its best use.

The Yankees were, in fact, the first sports team I was aware of as a child, probably around age 5. I liked the names Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra for obvious reasons, as I’m part of the TV Generation weaned on Mickey Mouse and Yogi Bear cartoons. Weaned? I ate all my meals off a little Hanna-Barbera plate bearing the image of a pic-a-nic at Jellystone Park with Yogi, Boo-Boo, Ranger Smith and their friends.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (17/19) — Chapter Seventeen, Dahlia (2/3)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (17/19) — Chapter Seventeen, Dahlia (1/3)

KNOWN AROUND OUR HOUSE as ‘The General,’ this dahlia was one of our Most Valuable Plants last year in Morganton, putting out its purple-and-white blossoms for six months.


MORGANTON, N.C. (July 5, 2020) – Like everything else this growing season, our dahlias bloomed early—about two weeks earlier than in 2019. Beginning in late May and blossoming until the second week in November, our dahlias outdid themselves last year, especially the purple-and-white one that I refer to as The General, two glowing yellow, spiky-petaled ones that I call Crack Dahlias, and a flame-colored beauty that consistently yielded perhaps the most photogenic blooms. Our dahlias were prime.

Actually, prime probably isn’t the right mathematical term to describe dahlias. I’d never heard of what’s called the Fibonacci sequence until a couple of weeks ago after I posted on Instagram a closeup picture of a new dahlia called Crazy Love that Timberley planted last fall and some other flowers from our yard here. A friend liked the post and commented simply, “Nice. Fibonacci.” I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know what that term meant, and, therefore, I wasn’t entirely sure which photo he was referring to.

I looked the word up—yes, on Wikipedia—and read some articles on Fibonacci numbers, the Fibonacci sequence, the Golden Ratio, and the Golden Spiral. I won’t even try to explain it all—I’ve always hated math—but, basically, the Fibonacci sequence of numbers deals with a pattern of growth or construction that results in an ever-widening spiral, something that is seen everywhere in nature and often mimicked in art and other man-made things. I guess my friend saw it in my closeups of the dahlia and coneflower.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (17/19) — Chapter Seventeen, Dahlia (1/3)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (16/19) — Chapter Sixteen, Lily (3/3)

THIS BUNCH of delicate rain lilies grows next to our driveway in Morganton. They’re also called fairy lilies.


BOONE, N.C. (June 30, 2020) – I’ve mistakenly called them mystery lilies over the years, but they’re actually rain lilies; or, zephyranthes. Other names are zephyr lily, fairy lily, magic lily and rainflower. Timberley corrected me the other day as I was babbling about them. She’s my own personal Wikipedia. I’m always asking her what that pretty flower is and what those nice plants are, and she always knows.

Like our bogus mystery lilies in Morganton, I’m treading on dangerous ground or thin ice or eggshells or whatever writing about one’s spouse for public consumption is called. Those lilies grow in a single, unlikely spot in a thin strip of earth between our asphalt driveway and stone retaining wall. It sure is a mystery to me how they survive from one year to the next, but they pop up each June, like clockwork.

Here in Boone, our daylilies are just starting to bloom. For the past decade or so they have been, by far, the most prolific flowers in our Rutherwood yard, especially the common orange variety that Timberley says some folks call ditch lilies, a fact also supported by Wikipedia that she noted as we traveled to and from Morganton this past weekend. We also have yellow and purple lilies, and Turk’s caps at our house.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (16/19) — Chapter Sixteen, Lily (3/3)