By various accounts, the average lifespan of a blogging site may be as short as 100 days–I’ve seen some with much shorter lives. Other reports indicate that most bloggers hang in there for two to two-and-a-half years before calling it quits. Well, I’ve been at it for nearly six years, and over that time I’ve gathered hundreds of followers. That’s plenty for me. Thank you Dear Reader–and I mean that.
Well, you can see where this is going. If you’re a long-time reader, you may have noticed that my blogs have slowly decreased in frequency over time. For the last few months, I’ve been waging a private battle with myself. Do I keep blogging or shut down my site? It’s a tougher question than you might think. Living on the Diagonal has become part of me. Yet, I find other interests moving in to take over my life. I want to get the dirt of gardening under my fingernails again. I’ve developed new passions for collaging and creating altered books.
Something’s gotta give.
I started blogging because I like to write; blogging made my writing feel more real. I never blogged to make money and never hawked anything (other than my own writing). I did it for fun. That’s all. And now some other things have become more fun–at least for now.
So, with mixture of sadness and excitement for new adventures I bid you adieu, though my site will stay live for two or three months in case you want to look back at past posts. Thanks you for allowing me to share my life, my thoughts, my travels, and my photography with you. It’s been fun.
(And speaking of photography, I can’t say a final farewell without leaving a few random images.)
The New River, whose headwaters lie in my part of the Appalachian Mountains, is often considered the oldest river on the continent and even the second oldest river in the world—though not all experts agree. So how did it get its ironic name? No one knows for sure. In any case, I wrote this piece at an August writing workshop at New River State Park a couple of years ago as I reminisced about the many canoe excursions the Gnome and I have shared along this wild and scenic river.
A Lazy Drift Down the August New
Ducklings huddle in bank cuts
resisting parents’ push into the current;
two deer take a soothing afternoon sip
cooling stick-thin legs in mountain-icy water.
Holsteins wade across shallows
to greener pastures, perhaps,
and a Great-Blue stands majestically,
its sharp eyes ever watchful for a tasty fish dinner.
I bump across rocks and glide over riffles,
the sun dappling my legs and arms,
my bottom as chilled as drinks in the cooler;
I wave to splashing children and paddling picnickers.
Trees bear witness to beavers’ work
as swallowtails float above;
sticks of an osprey nest
rest on a boulder ledge.
Thirsty gray-green leaves
and occasional yellows and reds
flutter down and drift along
River’s edge is plastered with signs of autumn—
seed-popping touch-me-nots vie for space
with sunny goldenrod and mauvy Joe-Pye weed;
citrine coneflowers fill every cranny.
Clouds playing across the mountains
produce ever-changing panoramas of light and dark
as they cast reflections of blinding white
on the emerald river surface.
in the late summer quiet
I am lost in the flow of this river
of calming mindfulness.
Second day, seventh month, nineteen and seventy-nine
our family of four arrived for the first time
on our newly-bought mountain land, ours now for keeps.
Massive meadows of nodding daisies greeted us,
the first of many magical moments
in July of ’79.
Like the morning when clouds made a foamy sea of white,
blue mountain peaks peeking through like islands.
Our hearts stood still at the impossible beauty of it.
Like our discovery of wild strawberries and highbush blueberries,
scrumptious snacks and desserts made all the better
because they were ours. All ours.
We slept on the ground, cooked over a campfire,
drank water from a not-so-nearby spring,
made an outdoor privy surrounded by blooming rhododendron.
In that 1979 July
we bathed in the frigid waters of a babbling brook,
our skulls numbed senseless by the cold.
Our music came courtesy of birds and insects,
our entertainment from read-aloud stories by lantern light,
homemade crossword puzzles, and imagination.
Formerly housebound cats found freedom to roam;
proud hunters dropped field mice at our feet
and occasionally a grasshopper.
We chopped trees and cleared ground,
created designs, drew up plans,
and sought official permissions.
We built our forever home with our own hands—
ours and our children’s—
the only ones at work.
Now the children are long grown and gone
and the cats have found their final resting place
on our daisy-covered hillside.
Now the sounds of grandchildren
laughing in summertime, finding their own magic on our mountain,
bring smiles and happy memories of early days.
Conveniences these days are modern—
living on the diagonal.
But July of nineteen and seventy-nine?
It was the best of times
and the best of times.
Every leaf is fresh and lush
and green in June
set Appalachian hills on fire
and electric-red firepinks
dot rocky mountain roadsides
The last bell of the year has rung
as raucous youngsters race
from school yards into back yards
to prance through sprinklers
and blow iridescent bubbles
in barefoot abandon
Summer is young in June and full of promise
newly planted gardens grow
plump succulent strawberries
ooze red juices from eager lips
country fields are hectic
with hay mowing and baling
Wrens sing happy songs in sunshine
Synchronous fireflies dance in the dark
to the music of June’s night insects
the air is sweet with the scent
of the milkweed and honeysuckle
that suckle trembling butterflies
Who would want
in a world
without lavish June?
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that I regularly attend a challenging writing workshop, one feature of which is called the Random Word Challenge. When I saw the words listed below it reminded me of the writing style of my grandfather’s cousin, Albert Coates: early to mid-twentieth century lawyer, University of North Carolina professor, and founder of well-known and respected Institute of Government. This challenge is always demanding, but usually leads to entertaining results.
rebirth stillness (Parts of speech were allowed to be modified.)
Dearest Sister Gwendolyn,
Please allow me the honor of sharing this moment with you via this written communication. I wanted to let you know about the hours leading up to and following our precious youngest sister’s death. Of course, you are aware of the many contentious doctor and hospital visits where no one seemed to take Ida’s complaints seriously, so I do not need to elaborate on that episode other than to say that once Bryant was able to come on the scene he finally got through to them that her illness was indeed serious. Alas, it was far too late to be of much help other than to give her some degree of comfort in her last days. Had the situation not been so dire, it would have been risible.
Please be assured everyone understands why you could not make the long journey to Natchez. Caring for Warren must be your highest concern in these difficult days. Sometimes it is challenging to delineate between one’s duties and desires, but not in this case. You mourn Ida’s passing with the same sorrow and anguish as do we all, and that does not change based on physical proximity. The spirit is always nearby.
The days leading up to the service were filled with flowers and visits with friends who shared a lifetime of happy memories, which served as a much needed antidote to the otherwise dolorous atmosphere of the home that now belongs only to Stephen and the children. The reminiscences of friends and colleagues presented versions of Ida they would not otherwise have known and allowed them to begin the all-important work of celebrating a life well-lived. The week confirmed the deep love and affection Ida inspired in all those who had the good fortune of her acquaintance.
I offered and was graciously granted the privilege of sitting with the home so the rest could attend the service with no worries. It is indeed the better place for me as I need the solitude of the moment to properly revere our sister’s life.
It is fitting that Ida’s time on earth ends with the blossoming of spring, a time when we are so gloriously reminded of the rebirth of all life. The stillness of these hours gives me the opportunity to reflect and be filled with gratitude for the gift of being born as sweet Ida’s brother.
Life in this sphere must always end. It was never meant to be an eternity. We are only unsure of the timing.
(This is part of my series of monthly poems. I am painfully aware that all is not merry in May, particularly this year, and that May ends with a commemoration of Americans who died in war, including members of my own family. This poem is not meant to disregard or disrespect any of that. In fact, this May has been quite difficult for me personally: I was faced with the senseless and untimely death of a long-time acquaintance and the physical pain and limitations caused by shoulder and neck issues—a trial of aging. But this poem has another intent: to celebrate the glories Nature gives us in May and the excitement that naturally fills the air this time of year.)
The Very Merry Month of May
May Day, May poles, Mother’s Day
mark the month of May
proms and graduations abound
flowers burst forth in
explosions of color—
pink and purple rhododendrons
sensuous irises in every hue
cheery cherry blossoms and more.
Lilacs perfume the world
with scentful blossoms
and native magnolias
sprinkle the woods
with creamy white
each spring rain
makes Nature’s palette
Mountains are transformed
as winter’s browns and grays
are replaced by
countless shades of green
undulating and billowing
up the hillsides
like fluffy viridescent clouds
the earth is verdant
our eyes behold
a world of color
May is the quintessence
a time that feels
wafts through the air
as youthful energy
bounce off the walls
May is when
as the season’s blossoms
May is a rush—
A time when
we can’t keep up
with our own emotions
May is for bird trills
who also know
May is a time
there was a time
to seize the day
it is a magic
day in May
Nothing can compare
to the days of May
a month for
(While spring comes to some places in March, the season is still in its infancy in these parts through all of April. This is my mountainside take on the month everyone surely loves.)
April is a yellow month.
Daffodils, forsythia, and dandelions
(whose future fluffy puffs
delight children everywhere)
dot the landscape.
April is blue, purple, and pink
with wild violets, phlox, and periwinkle
blooming side by side with
hyacinths, tulips, lilacs,
April is green
as spring’s bright tastes
emerge from the earth:
asparagus and rhubarb
along with creasies,
garlic mustard, and folkloric ramps.
April is white—
fabled dogwood shares mountainsides
with legendary serviceberry,
its delicate blooms drifting down
like flakes of an unexpected spring snow.
April is the month of awakening,
its arrival heralded by
blackbirds red of wing,
bluebirds of the bluest blue,
and the iridescent greens and dazzling
ruby throats of hummingbirds.
April is for spring cleaning.
Time to rid closets and minds
of winter’s cobwebs;
bodies, too, with tonics
of ancient lore:
sassafras, poke, purslane, and more.
April (weather) makes fools of us all
with its first tentative beckoning of spring
and irrepressible last days when
forest fairies frolic with dancing buds
of bloodroot, trillium, and mayapple—
all interrupted by surprise frosts and snows.
Blossoms and fragrant breezes
awaken us from winter slumber
with April’s ebullient energy
and its whispered promise
of a best yet to come.
Where would we be
without the gentle poetry of Nature
that is April?
It’s been said February
to recommend it—
except its mere twenty-eight cycles
of twenty-four hours.
But the surly sluggish days hang over us
with their cold and clouds,
gray skies even grayer,
piled on street corners,
reminding us even
on sixty-degree days
winter is not done with us.
Harbinger of a season it seems
will never come,
this twilight month
of blues and blahs,
passion and penance
as the groundhog
either lies or disappoints:
spring will always be six weeks away.
The fourteenth is Hallmark Hell
a frantic time
kept alive by money
and false hopes,
a reminder of love lost or never had.
February’s loathsome mirror never lies:
dry skin, cracked lips,
and dull brittle hair
stare with sullen petulance
into our winter-bleary eyes.
Who can even pronounce
this strange two-R month?
So call me a contrarian,
but I like the second month,
the one beginning with
National Baked Alaska Day
and ending in honor
of chocolate soufflé.
February is the month of purification:
time to clean closets,
waft sage smudge sticks to
cleanse winter’s negativity cobwebs
from our homes and minds.
Let’s revere observances
presidential and Black
and celebrate the mysterious
Tranquil February is time
to discover discernment
and dispel distraction.
This subtle month
asks us to pause, be patient,
to savor the journey
and gift of quiet wisdom.
The Snow Moon month whispers,
For how can we cheer
the spring’s birth of light and color
the dark side of the moon?
One tick of the clock
exactly the same
as the one before
the one after
Tick Tock Tick Tock
Still, we imbue it with awesome power
this moment between
between the night before, the day after
or any other moment in time
Tick Tock Tick Tock
A new year, we think
a new beginning
"I resolve . . ."
we thrive on contrived ritual
Tick Tock Tick Tock
This month we live
in the dark season
yet it lightens
minute by imperceptible minute
tempting us to look toward spring
Let’s not lose this priceless moment
this mysterious, palpable present
for the not-yet-here unknown future
Tick Tock Tick Tock
Long January—the quiet season
a time for flannel, books, a cup of tea
a time for introspection and self-learning
a calm month
a time to refresh the spirit
May I forget the clock
gaze out the window
at untrampled snow
breathe in, breathe out
may I delight in my own renewal
* Janus, the Roman god, protector of gates and doorways.
Janus is depicted with two faces, one looking to the past, the other to the future.
Robert Frost has his birches, but I have . . .
stiff leathery leaves
the color of cinnamon
carpet the earth
new-penny copper beeches
to their branches
fragile and strong as spider silk
They’ll still be there come spring
by then frail and pale
the color of sand
till erin sprigs push them
to the ground
to join their decaying cousins