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’.
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.
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.