Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (14/19) — Chapter Fourteen, Iris (4/4)

OUR INDIGO PRINCESS, a most beautiful “bearded” lady, bloomed in our yard for the last time three years ago. I’m glad I took this photo of her while she was in her prime.


BOONE, N.C. (May 17, 2020) – When I googled “iris” before starting this chapter, many of the search results dealt with IRIS, a non-profit organization based in Delaware that studies earthquakes. The name IRIS stands for Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology. Its website address is

IRIS defines itself as “a consortium of over 120 U.S. universities dedicated to the operation of science facilities for the acquisition, management, and distribution of seismological data.” After reading that, I wondered if one of our state universities—N.C. State, for example—is a member of IRIS, so I googled that and learned that Iris is the UNC School of Medicine’s art and literature journal, published online.

Also at the Chapel Hill flagship university, IRIS is the Institutional Research Initiative for Students, “a partnership between the Office for Undergraduate Research and the Federal Work-Study Team.” Oddly enough, IRIS’s logo is a Duke-blue eye along with the motto “Come see the future of student research.” And it also appears that UNC-Chapel Hill, not N.C. State, is linked to IRIS, the earthquake network.

Even when I ask “gotcha” questions of Google, the answers I get often surprise me. I figured that if I typed “” into my Chrome browser, I’d get a website promoting the colorful, curvaceous flowers and their bulbs. But what popped up on my screen was the snarky statement and request in all lower-case letters, “ is still not for sale. please stop asking.” OK. Thanks for the information.

THIS INDIGO SEAS bearded iris bloomed again for the third or fourth year but has seemed to lighten in color each spring.

Getting answers that belie expectations is true throughout nature, not just where earthquakes in divers places are concerned. Remember me saying that I was waiting for our dark purple iris to blossom? Our irises in Morganton started blooming in late March and were still putting out a few blossoms this past week. A dark purple iris called Indigo Seas—one I photographed three years ago—did, in fact, bloom a couple of weeks ago, but it wasn’t the Indigo Princess that I had in mind, the especially photogenic one.

Whether it was the angle and degree of sunlight or some mutation in the flower itself, the photos I took this year of the Indigo Seas irises showed lighter-colored blossoms than those of three years ago. The sizes and shapes of both years are identical; just the shade of purple is different—maybe from the light, as I said. And the Indigo Princess? She didn’t bloom this year at all. Timberley says voles are to blame. She, Iris, didn’t bloom last year, either. It was three years ago, I think, when we had such a big vole problem.

I just googled “voles” a few minutes ago, and now I’m thinking that maybe what we have is a problem with shrews—or maybe moles—not just voles. Oh, who cares. Something is eating our roots and bulbs. Maybe we’ll have an earthquake soon that’ll collapse all their little tunnels with them still underground. Maybe I should consult IRIS—the seismology organization—and see if we’re due an earthquake soon. IRIS would know.

The only significant earthquake I remember occurring in North Carolina during my lifetime was on a Wednesday evening in late November 1968. My family was at prayer meeting—remember, my father was a preacher—and all of a sudden the church building started shaking. I don’t remember what Dad had said or maybe if he were praying right before the trembling started, but the first thing he wondered out loud when the five- to ten-second tremor ended was whether the oil furnace were about to explode.

Now, at a time like that, wouldn’t you expect a church full of Baptists during Wednesday night prayer meeting to look heavenward, not toward the furnace room? I guess that said something about our faith, maybe that when God’s house got to rockin’, we didn’t think it was the Lord who had come a-knockin’.

Being a practical-minded people, we pushed supernatural explanations out of our minds for a minute and decided that perhaps the simplest explanation that we could fathom—a mechanical malfunction—was more than likely the correct one. But we were wrong. The actual explanation—an unpredictable, natural event beyond our control—was even simpler. According to IRIS, earthquakes here in western N.C. aren’t that unusual. We’ve had so many earthquakes I had a hard time finding documentation of the one I remember.

So the question becomes, shouldn’t we look to nature—or, more precisely, to science, man’s systematic study of the natural world—when something quite out of the ordinary occurs? Like a new coronavirus?

Instead, we’re giving credence to the dictatorial and avaricious whims of someone many consider to be the most deceitful and corrupt man ever to hold our nation’s highest office, because a large segment of the American public—the same kind of no-nonsense folks who thought “furnace” instead of “Jesus” or “earthquake” some five decades ago—has bought the bill of goods that God really cares who is president of the United States and that the Almighty—I’m referring to God Almighty, thus the capital A—that He values money more than life.

Just from an American perspective—since I’ve been seeing all the “We, the People” tattoos on armed, anti-government protesters, people who at other times spout Bible verses about respecting government officials and their authority—where in the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution is our unalienable right to accumulate wealth addressed? Thomas Jefferson outlined those rights as being for “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” I guess staying home to save lives does cramp one’s style.

But … but … but … socialism! But nothing. I guess socialism is OK when you’re cashing your Trump check and using the money to hoard toilet paper, hand sanitizer and rubber gloves. Meanwhile, people like us who need hand sanitizer and rubber gloves, not to mention toilet paper, and needed it before the Pandemic can’t find those products now. Protesters who use “socialism” as a rallying cry are hypocrites who aren’t honest enough to concede the indispensability of publicly funded programs and services that they themselves enjoy—paved roads, postal service, fire protection, public education, Social Security….

And then there’s the meme-worthy fact that many of these anti-government protesters also claim to be evangelical Christians, even though their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was undoubtedly a Socialist. Jesus asked his followers rhetorically, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36, KJV). He also noted “how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24-25, KJV). Arguing otherwise negates Christianity.

That shouldn’t be an earth-shaking statement—that putting money before life itself, anyone’s life, is just wrong—but we’re reaping what we’ve sown in modern American politics and society since the Reagan administration and maybe even going back to Eisenhower, with Nixon as our vice president (emphasis on vice) back then. Isn’t it also ironic that conservatives and evangelical Christians beginning in the 1950s fought Russian or, actually, Soviet-style socialism in support of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s eventually discredited Communist witchhunts; now, however, those same groups of people and some of the very same individuals, even, back our morally bankrupt chief executive as he keeps climbing into bed with Russia’s president.

OUR SIBERIAN IRISES grow in our side yard around a birdbath shaped like a putting green. Only birdies, maybe an eagle, count here. No mulligans are allowed.

That last paragraph reminds me of a Russian student in one of my English classes years ago. Julia and her family had moved here from Siberia a couple of years earlier. A pretty brunette, she was gregarious and spoke English understandably but with a Russian accent, not unlike the cartoon villain Natasha on the old Rocky & Bullwinkle TV show. When we were reading Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Julia brought to class her father’s illicit, Russian-language copy of the classic American novel—which might have been why her family had been living in Siberia in the first place, I’m not sure. Anyway, I asked her once if she had liked living in Siberia. Julia studied me for a moment—to see if I were kidding, I guess—then lifted her dark eyebrows and replied, “Mee-ster Adams. No one likes living in Siberia. No one.”

We have some delicate but beautiful blue irises in our Morganton yard that I had called Japanese irises for years. When I did some online research several weeks ago, I learned that those pretty blue flowers aren’t Japanese irises at all. That label of origin goes to the tall yellow, white or purple water irises that once filled the swamp along the creek bounding our yard here in Boone but have now mostly died out. Those delicate irises in Morganton—the only ones still standing en masse—are actually Siberian irises.

Julia was probably right. No one could like living in Siberia. She had lived there. She knew what it was like to live under an oppressive, authoritarian regime. But if we Americans remain on the same Road to Perdition we’ve traveled for the past few years, we will learn those same survival lessons for ourselves.

Actually, that’s an if/then statement—you know, if this happens, then that will happen as a result. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. That’s science. That’s nature. That’s life. That’s what makes our big ol’ world go ’round.