Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (14/19) — Chapter Fourteen, Iris (1/4)

OUR FIRST IRIS of the spring was this white bearded iris that bloomed exactly a month ago at our house in Morganton.


BOONE, N.C. (April 27, 2020) – Life is full of irony. Exactly a month ago today—on March 27, 2020—our first iris bloomed in Morganton. Though the Rolling Stone-lipped flower is named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow and also shares its name with the colored part of the human eye, our first iris of the year was pure white, with only a touch of yellow from pollen around the blossom’s so-called beard.

Since then, the bearded irises that have bloomed in our yards—all of them in Morganton, none here in Boone yet—have been bountiful and beautiful in at least four colors of the spectrum, five if one counts the green of stems and leaves. Our two-toned, violet irises blossomed a week after the white one. Then came the yellow-and-white ones, the light violet ones, the light blue ones and the violet-and-gold ones.

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Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (13/19) — Chapter Thirteen, Azalea (3/3)

TRANSPLANTED IN RUTHERWOOD, our wild azalea is the last one to bloom each spring at our house on the mountain. We found the plant at the Biltmore Estate nursery near Asheville.


BOONE, N.C. (April 22, 2020) – I was right a couple of weeks ago when I predicted that our azaleas here would bloom by Shakespeare’s birthday tomorrow—well, our azalea, anyway, one of them. We call it “Little Nat” after Timberley’s dad because he let us move it here from the Morganton house when he lived there. “Little Nellie,” a small white azalea named after my mother, came here the same way. She hasn’t been doing too well.

April isn’t usually the cruellest month in my book, despite what T.S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land. Flowers are always blooming. Several people who have been so important to me through the years—Timberley, my late brother, my late father, the late William F. Shakespeare, and my first girlfriend, who was late for most of our dates—were born this month. Any other year, baseball season would be well underway by now. And today is Earth Day, for goodness sakes. But this April is all about death, in numbers.

Like on April 19, 1995, when I came home from the beach to visit Dad at Grace Hospital, turned on the TV in his room and saw the Special Report on the Oklahoma City bombing that claimed 168 innocent lives. Or like on April 20, 1999, when 13 innocent lives were lost in the mass shooting at Columbine High School. Like on April 16, 2007, when 32 innocents died in the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Or April 15, 2013, at the Boston Marathon; April 30, 2019, at UNC Charlotte; or April 20, 2020—that’s right, two days ago—in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (13/19) — Chapter Thirteen, Azalea (3/3)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (13/19) — Chapter Thirteen, Azalea (2/3)

THIS PINK ENCORE AZALEA blossomed last September in our front yard. Our other Encore azaleas bloomed last fall as late as November. Encores were hybridized in the 1980s. They are advertised as ‘the world’s best-selling reblooming azalea.’


MORGANTON, N.C. (April 11, 2020) – Like everything else this past week, our Encore azaleas aren’t doing too well. They bloomed their hearts out last fall, but this spring they must be feeling puny, as my grandmother used to say. Life in a pandemic is sort of like that, right? Good thing we got them on sale.

I know this has been Holy Week, and yesterday was Good Friday. I’m usually really happy when Lent ends and I get back whatever I gave up on Ash Wednesday. But this year I don’t feel too good. We have given up so many things since this quarantine began that I’m losing track of what all we’re doing without.

(Maybe that’s a good thing. And maybe the few blossoms on our Encores aren’t all that bad after all.)

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (13/19) — Chapter Thirteen, Azalea (2/3)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (13/19) — Chapter Thirteen, Azalea (1/3)

A FEMALE EASTERN TIGER SWALLOWTAIL visits one of the pink azaleas in our front yard on Palm Sunday.


BOONE, N.C. (April 5, 2020) – The azaleas are so, so beautiful on this last Sunday of Lent, this Palm Sunday—in Morganton, not in Boone just yet. I’ve noticed that flowers here bloom some 2-3 weeks later than they do off the mountain. So all the colors—all the pinks, purples, reds and oranges—that foothills residents now enjoy will wash westward across the High Country like a sunset by Shakespeare’s big day on April 23. That is, unless we have a late frost.

Shakespeare’s big day? Yeah, 4/23 was the day he was born and the day he died—or, rather, the date of the two important events in Shakespeare’s life, as he was born in 1564 and died in 1616. That’s William Shakespeare, by the way, the Bard of Avon, the Sexy Wordsmith of Stratford, the Perennially Punishing Poet of Perpetually Perplexed Pupils, not the inventor of level-winding fishing reels and Ugly Stiks.

But in his sonnets and his better plays, William Shakespeare has the final word on the fairer aspects of life. “’Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand laid on,” says Viola, the cross-dressing castaway, about her admirer Olivia’s natural good looks in Twelfth Night. The two beauties and Orsino comprise a love triangle that piques the interest of even a Shakespeare hater like me.

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Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (12/19) — Chapter Twelve, Forsythia (3/3)

I HAD FORGOTTEN how beautiful and how seductive a double daffodil or narcissus can be until this one appeared a couple of weeks ago in our front yard.


MORGANTON, N.C. (March 29, 2020) – It’s the fifth Sunday of Lent, a period of somber reflection before Good Friday and Easter, the two most important days on the Christian calendar—not everyone’s calendar, mind you, just that of particular people who believe a particular story from a particular book.

Having been one of those particular people my whole life, I know that word particular probably pisses people like me off—and particularly other people who just pretend to be pious, like poll-minded politicians and other posers.

And a pootie-grabbing president whose surname ends in p—a pusillanimous prick and potty-mouthed pantywaist who cares more about pushing stock prices ever higher, than about protecting poor people.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (12/19) — Chapter Twelve, Forsythia (3/3)

Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (12/19) — Chapter Twelve, Forsythia (2/3)

THOUGH THEY WERE DYING, our forsythia bushes still bore a few living branches and buds. What used to be healthy and beautiful “yellow bells” lining our driveway were basically killed by a wet-weather spring that had inundated a section of our yard.


MORGANTON, N.C. (March 22, 2020) – On the first day of spring this past Thursday, Timberley and I cut down the row of dead and dying forsythia bushes at our Boone house and burned them in the fire pit we bought four years ago but have lit only a few times. We bought it the weekend after we retired, with visions of bonfires and Blue Moons dancing in our heads. But it’s been used mainly to burn brush.

Now we drink mainly LaCroix, though there is an aging, unopened 12-pack of Belgian White ale in the fridge. It’s waiting for a special occasion, I guess, like living from one weekend to the next.


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Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (2/19) — Chapter Two, Bean (4/4)

THIS BEAN PLANT doesn’t seem to be suffering too much because it has had to spend all winter and so far this spring indoors at our house. It will be back outside soon enough.


BOONE, N.C. (March 15, 2020) – With this essay, I’m traveling backwards in time, as I return to August 2019 when I was working on this book’s “Bean” chapter. Remember last August? That seems like years ago, not seven months ago. And we will be traveling back to the future with my next installment.

Last August, I was just turning 60, so I wasn’t quite “elderly” yet, as health officials say I am now with the current concern over the coronavirus pandemic. Timberley and I went out to eat downtown several times to celebrate my birthday month, at Root & Vine, our “special occasion” restaurant in Morganton, and at Kin2Kin, our local “go-to” restaurant, where I lucked up and got two fortune cookies in the same package. Also, I finished planning this project, and I wrote its first two chapters, each with three parts.

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Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (12/19) — Chapter Twelve, Forsythia (1/3)

FORSYTHIA BUSHES BLOOMING now are also called yellow bells or golden bells for obvious reasons. This healthy forsythia reaches for the sunny sky from my mother-in-law’s yard near Morganton.


MORGANTON, N.C. (March 12, 2020) – I’m writing this installment on my phone as I wait for Timberley at the Burke Literacy Council this morning, so if it seems more disjointed than usual, that might be why. But maybe this half-fast, thumb-driven essay will be everything you’ve always wanted in my fare, and less! More taste, less filling? I hope not—the latter part, anyway.

I used a Miller Lite allusion there because I read an article online this morning about golfer Rory McIlroy saying that playing a golf course designed by Pete Dye is an acquired taste, like being turned off by one’s first-ever sip of beer before learning to tolerate it and then finally liking it maybe too much. A lot of things are like that—acquired tastes … and bad stuff we like too much.

Sometimes I think golf itself—not just a Pete Dye course—is one of those bad things. I never played the Pete Dye course at St. James Plantation near Southport when we lived in Brunswick County, but I’ve been watching too much televised golf on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for the past few weeks, and the Masters is still a month off. I’m itching to hit the driving range, even though I can’t roll over in bed or hop into the driver’s seat of our van without hurting my back.

But I can’t help myself. I want to cast off the winter blues and revel in the green of springtime by smacking a bucket of little white balls across an open field. I’m tired of being cooped up indoors. I want to go outside and soak up some sunshine, work up a good sweat, maybe even rub a little blister on the fleshy part of my ungloved index finger. Sunburn, sweat and blisters. Spring can’t come a moment too soon.

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Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (11/19) — Chapter Eleven, Dogwood (3/3)

IN OUR BACK YARD this Japanese dogwood once struggled to live, but it survived and is covered with white blossoms in the summer.


MORGANTON, N.C. (March 8, 2020) – I’ve mentioned before that we’ve lost several dogwood trees over the past few years in our front yard here—two white ones along the street that we replaced with a single crapemyrtle and a pink one on the side that Timberley’s dad had strangled with Christmas lights, as if he had been trying to stunt its growth the way a bonsai artist would wrap a tree with copper wire.

Nat, my father-in-law, liked blue twinkle lights for some reason and had wound at least a dozen strands of them around the trunk and every sizable branch of that pink dogwood. That was 25 Christmases ago when the tree still had some growing to do. We inherited the tree about 12 years ago and over the next five years or so watched it lose one diseased branch after another until we finally had Grady Rose, the best arborist in Burke County, take down the whole tree and a similarly ailing white dogwood out front.

The other white dogwood had already been destroyed in an act of God—a thunderstorm that lashed our side of town with heavy rain and high winds. That was in the old days when my back was still OK, and I could wield a chainsaw like a lumberjack all day. We cut up the dogwood and left it for the city brush truck to haul off. Before disposing of the tree, we did manage to save the string of solar-powered lights like Chinese lanterns that Timberley had hung in the low limbs. Yes, I know. Like father, like daughter.

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Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (11/19) — Chapter Eleven, Dogwood (2/3)

OUR PINK DOGWOOD is still a few weeks from blooming, but memories of last year’s blossoms are crosses worth bearing.


MORGANTON, N.C. (March 1, 2020) – Like the dogwood’s beauty, religion should be simple—and it is when one’s path on this challenging course called life is true. Not necessarily smooth. Or straight. Or wide. But true, as in the right path that leads the traveler to a meaningful coexistence in this wild world.

Today is the first Sunday of Lent, so I’m going to use the break (Sundays aren’t counted in the 40 days of Lent, the period of reflection leading to Easter) to think about religion in general and Christianity in particular. We’re currently “taking a break” from church—giving it up for Lent, I guess, maybe longer.

Two months ago, the church we had attended for years changed its main worship service to a time that was too early for us to attend. We were going to attend a later Sunday morning service until the pastor announced that he wouldn’t be preaching at that gathering, just at the earlier, more contemporary service.

Alrighty, then. But I’m getting off track here, off the right path. Maybe staying on course isn’t easy after all.

Continue reading Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (11/19) — Chapter Eleven, Dogwood (2/3)