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.
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.
MORGANTON, N.C. (June 20, 2020) – I kind of wish PGA legend Tiger Woods and LPGA rising star Lily Muni He would get together despite the difference in their ages and procreate a supergolfer for us. They could name the child Tiger Lily, and he, she or they could take over the golf world and Instagram.
Like Lily Muni He, a 22-year-old Chinese model with a sexy backswing, 44-year-old Tiger Woods has stood in the worldwide spotlight and been the focus of media photographers since his youth, as a golfer and as a product influencer, as He—that’s Lily Muni He—is called now. I’m even one of her followers.
I’m not entirely sure what product Lily is selling—well, besides her good looks—but you can bet I’ll be watching the next LPGA event that’s televised on Free TV. Timberley will probably be glad that I (may) stop yelling “Creamer!” every time veteran golfer Paula Creamer, my former favorite, comes on-screen.
BOONE, N.C. (June 15, 2020) – “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin” (Matthew 6:28, KJV). That verse is in all red letters.
Even though that’s the translation preferred by most evangelical Christians, I’ll go ahead and interpret it for folks who have heard the verse all their lives but don’t really understand what Jesus was saying in it.
Why are you worried about what you wear and how you look? Think about the lilies that are blooming everywhere now—how they grow on nothing but sunshine and rain, maybe a little fertilizer. Lilies don’t work for money to buy a wardrobe. They don’t even make their own clothes.
BOONE, N.C. (June 10, 2020) – Things aren’t always what they seem. Take that rhododendron-like shrubbery outside our basement door here in Rutherwood, for example. As I’ve said before, I initially thought it was a regular rhododendron and then a variety called punctatum before I did some research and found that it’s actually mountain laurel, in the same heath family but of a different genus.
In everyday terms, that’s like saying you and I are both American, but, say, your ancestors came here from England, so you’re British, while I’m Scots-Irish. My mother’s ancestors were Lowland or Ulster Scots, Protestants who moved to Ireland to escape the Church of England, then emigrated to America for religious freedom. Twenty U.S. Presidents, including Barack Obama, were at least part Scots-Irish.
In case you’re wondering, Donald J. Trump is of German ancestry on his father’s side. In 2017, CNN broadcast published reports that “Trump’s father repeatedly sought to conceal the fact that he was the son of German immigrants.… [He] sought to pass himself off as Swedish amid anti-German sentiment sparked by World War II.” So the Donald’s phony heritage is consistent with everything else in his life.
But I’m getting off track. I was talking about our mountain laurel, at least the one that didn’t get crushed by a neighbor’s tree a few winters ago. When I was telling that story a couple of weeks ago—about that ice storm—I noted that the row of bushes consisted mainly of Catawba rhododendrons, but last week when their blossoms finally started popping open, I saw that the most damaged shrub is actually a mountain laurel.
By their blossoms and fruit we shall know them, right? And we can also consider their leaves and bark.
MORGANTON, N.C. (May 31, 2020) – Rhododendrons have been the laurels of education throughout my life. Ever since grade school days, my visits to one particular university have had as a backdrop this evergreen, even though its bright pink or purple balls of blossoms may or may not have been in season.
Appalachian State University was the main reason that Timberley and I moved from Ocean Isle Beach to Boone back in the summer of 1997. We had a history with the institution—Timberley had graduated from its College of Business in 1982; I had dropped out as a junior with a 4.0 GPA in 1980. Yeah, I did.
MORGANTON, N.C. (May 24, 2020) – I’d been wondering about all the rhododendron bushes already in bloom. Here in the Morganton area, the big pink, purple or red balls of blossoms have been showing off for the past several weeks. The rhododendron at the lower corner of our Rutherwood house finally blossomed nicely before this past week’s four-day deluge started, but two others are still only budding.
A huge rhododendron in our side yard—actually several bushes that have a flame azalea, two regular azaleas and a jack-in-the-pulpit growing within them—was broken down in an ice storm two winters ago by a tree that fell from a neighbor’s property. Another shrub at the basement door that we have for years mistakenly called punctatum, or Carolina rhododendron, is actually mountain laurel, like in hell.
That’s what laurel thickets in our mountains are called—laurel hells. Back in my youthful backpacking days, I had to literally crawl through one or two of them after I wandered off trails in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. They’re called laurel hells because that’s what it’s like to get through them, especially when something large is crunching the dry leaves behind you, and you’d just seen a bear sanctuary sign.
And you say “oh, hell” a lot until you find the trail again—like, “Was that a bear I just heard? Oh, hell.”
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 www.iris.edu.
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 “www.iris.com” 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, “iris.com is still not for sale. please stop asking.” OK. Thanks for the information.
MORGANTON, N.C. (May 10, 2020) – Memory is a funny thing. I remember my mom always talking about her “flags” blooming in the spring, but I had no idea she was referring to irises. Maybe it isn’t my memory that’s the problem. Maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention to everything going on around me.
But I swear I don’t remember Mom’s flags or irises or any gorgeous white, purple, yellow or blue flowers with curvaceous blossoms like the ones that have been growing in our yard for the past six or seven weeks, about as long as we’ve been quarantined.
Having at least two close blood relatives with memory issues, I’ve been concerned for some time about whether or not I’m headed for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease myself. I didn’t play football beyond Pee Wee League, and I didn’t have any major collisions sliding into home plate that resulted in concussions. No one dropped a big rock on my head. As far as I know, I was never dropped on the old bean as an infant.
MORGANTON, N.C. (May 3, 2020) – We take pictures of everything these days, don’t we? Thanks to the technology at hand, we photograph everything we see and do that we fear might be forever lost, as if our memories are only as long as the sleep settings on our screens. We make pics of our food, drinks, dogs, cats, old folks, youngsters, landscapes, seascapes, and—my favorites—flowers, mountains, sky and clouds.
Like many of you, I share my best photographs on social media—or maybe that means I’m donating all those images to Facebook, Instagram, or the Cloud that captures everything, not just water vaper. Or, if you prefer conspiracy theories, all of my pictures may be going to the Deep State so that they, whoever they are—Google, I guess—can track me until Kingdom Come (Donald Trump’s second term in office, right?).
Sorry about bringing up politics so early in this essay. It’s just that I’d made the mistake of mentioning social media and couldn’t help but make the leap—well, the baby step, rather—to the topic that again dominates our discourse, if I dare call it that, on Facebook and Twitter, in particular. I’ve come to view Instagram as an oasis in the desert of hate and lies that is social media. But that will change too, sure as shootin’.