Saturday, August 27, 2016

Magnolia Inspirations

One of my all time favorite movies is Steel Magnolias, a tear jerker for sure. When I'm in need of steeling myself against the world, I slide a copy into the DVD and watch away. I see so many traits of my friends in the strong characters that come and go as the story unfolds. Every time at the end of the movie when the tissues have settled and the tears dried, I resolve to become more like those southern women, delicate as the magnolia blossoms now adorning the tree in my front yard...delicate with a hidden strength of steel.

This past week was not an easy one for me as I began breast cancer radiation treatments (stage one, so not as dire as it sounds). Even so, I needed to have nerves of steel, so Monday I turned to the magnolia bloom for inspiration, creating this internet poster from a picture I snapped of a bloom in my front yard.

The scent of a magnolia is beyond description. I've searched the Thesaurus for the exact word and the closest I came was honeyed. Well, there was also sweet. Not to mention saccharine. Saccharine, maybe a bit deceptively sweet, sickening in sweetness. That would be a steel magnolia. One that emits sugar and spice and all things nice, and at the same time girding oneself against the odds. Like this spider I snapped on another blossom.
Greenish spider on top of petal
with its honeybee prey wrapped in silk on the petal below
Life in a tree. It goes on. The spider survives because of its ability to use this delicately scented bloom, yet the bloom itself doesn't survive. It turns brown within a day or two and the petals drop unceremoniously to the ground and the spider moves to the nearest ready blossom, because there will be more blossoms. That's the way magnolia trees work. 

If you look carefully above the white blossom on the tree in my yard, you can see an outdated, dried up, well past its prime, brown blossom. And if you look even closer, you will note more brown beneath the tree on the ground. Those are not only the droppings of past petals, but also leaves the tree has recently shed. A magnolia tree loses its leaves year round, not all at once. It's evergreen, bringing color to the drabness of blossoms though. That's reserved for summertime pleasure. 

When I need inspiration, I think of these deceptively delicate flowers surrounding my home. I need strength of steel behind my smile and in the magnolia I find a symbol to hold to. I'll say I'm fine, and I am, but I'm also struggling like that brown version clinging on the branch. The good thing about an evergreen is that through all the shedding and dropping and bees and aromas, this tree will still be there, sporting different blooms no doubt, but still there. Like a promise of tomorrow.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Snowball Bush

The first few years I taught fourth grade my classroom was in an old 1925 air conditioning...bat drippings oozing down the walls from cracks in the super high ceiling...wooden floors with so many years of summer wax job buildups, a fire would have spread instantaneously...ancient radiators that hissed above the radiators that spanned the rest of the height to the ceiling...gravel (muddy) parking lot for teachers.

The good old days.

While building maintenance was hard to keep up to standard, beautification projects kept a certain air of dignity about the campus. I don't remember all that many flowers except for a string of bushes that bloomed gigantic white balls. The children called them snowball bushes. I looked upon them as pesky. The sarcastic teachers called them death traps.

Let me explain to all of you who don't remember life in a hot classroom with no air conditioning, even before global warming reared its ugly head. Closing the windows was not an option. Lowering the shades helped some, except that often the one most needed had scrolled its way to the top of the window frame and the janitor was nowhere around with a ladder to reach the cord that pulled it back into position. Electric fans would have helped, except that the wiring along the string of classrooms on my side of the hall was tricky. If the teacher next door was showing a filmstrip, power to my plug just didn't happen. Children learned early how to turn yesterday's math worksheet into a paper fan. Teachers learned early to go over the important skills in the relative coolness of the morning.

And bees learned early that the insides of the schoolhouse offered all sorts of tasty, inviting juice remnants. Which brings me to the snowball bushes arrayed beneath the windows of my classroom and the swarms of bees doing what bees do when the flowers are at their peak. They made a bee line to these delectable snowballs, and often made a few detours in the open windows. Only one year did that cause a concern, the year of the superallergic, ten minutes to get a shot from my top desk drawer or die, student. We took this shot outside on the playground every day. We took it on field trips. For the entire year it accompanied me, unused, thank heaven. One child's beauty is another's tragedy.

This past week my husband and I traveled to Shatley Springs Restaurant  near Jefferson, North Carolina for a breakfast treat, no small treat, I might add. It's served family style and offers any and every breakfast item a southern home cook would offer, including country ham, sausage, bacon, gravy, grits, eggs, potatoes, stewed apples, biscuits and strawberry jelly. Make that homemade biscuits and homemade strawberry jam.
The pancakes came later
On the way inside we passed a noisy snowball bush. No, the bush wasn't making the noise. The bees were. Too bad this photograph I took of the bush doesn't come with sound. I'd love for you to hear it. That's the restaurant in the background, on the other side of the bush, at the end of the walk that goes directly below the bush...and the bees. My guess is that when the blooms start shedding their individual petals, the ground is as white as the winter snow. But this is summer and the tasty food and accompanying smell of fried country ham overrode my fear of noisy bees. I was not disappointed.

Dodging bees there at the bush brought these schoolhouse memories back. Strange how the most unexpected thoughts come from a simple morning out.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Myrtle and Sharon

Sounds like two ladies, Myrtle and Sharon, but they're not. They're plants. They live in my yard. In fact, they thrive there.

Here's Myrtle
And here's Sharon

Crepe Myrtle and Rose of Sharon, that is. I took these photos this week, in their peak. Their greenness and color are a welcome sight every summer, because both of them are downright bare during the depth of winter.

Here's winter Myrtle

And here's winter Sharon

One of my projects has involved research of French botanist Andre Michaux. He trekked through western North Carolina in the late 1700's, in fact on Bastille Day was not all that far from where Myrtle and Sharon now stand. He introduced Crepe Myrtle to America, brought it from Japan through the Charleston, South Carolina harbor where it thrived and spread and generations later, found its way to adorn my house.

Rose of Sharon, on the other hand, was already a part of the early settlers' awareness. It's Biblical, mentioned in the King James Version of The Song of Solomon, Chapter 2, verse 1: I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley. My reasoning here: This is the Bible belt. Rose of Sharon would have ranked well up there for ornamental plants.

One thing I've learned through all this writing about flowers, there's always a story to catch even in the beauty of my backyard. I'm going to keep researching until I find where the names Myrtle and Sharon fit into the grand scheme of things. Sounds like a plan.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Highway 64, Part 2

After last week's post about US Highway 64, I thought I would add more details as to why this road is near and dear to my heart. Not only do I live off it in North Carolina, and my daughter lives and works off it in New Mexico, it's also featured in one of my books!

Chapter three. Page 26:
There was only one main road on the western side of the South Mountains, state road number #181, a narrow unpaved gravel/mud road that connected the town of Morganton to the town of Rutherfordton, thirty some miles to the south. A trip over that road in the 1930’s meant the traveler in a car, or most often, horse and buggy, must ford at least thirteen streams between the two towns. The roads branching off from the main artery had deep ruts and even deeper mud holes that became next to impossible to navigate during rainy periods. Conditions were so bad that in March of 1936, rural mail delivery stopped.
In March of 1938 the US government approved federal aid to North Carolina for the improvement of #181 south of Morganton. Engineers plotted the road to the Burke/McDowell county line. With new techniques of road building and less winding roads, the travel distance between Morganton and Rutherfordton was reduced from thirty-five to twenty-seven miles.
  • The old road wandered all around creation, especially up there around my house. It went in front of my shop and on up past my garden and back to where highway #64 is at now. Climbed up the top of the next hill and circled back and went back down to Brindle Creek and crossed the creek and went up to the top of the hill and come back again. Goes as a matter of convenience from one property to the next. That’s how crooked it was. You don’t think nothing      about the road until you get to looking at where it used to be. Henry Lane, student, 1942-48
This new road included a tar and gravel surface and up-to-date banking on the curves for safety. It opened to much ballyhoo and excitement on July 30, 1940.
A mere two weeks later, on August 14, 1940 surging floodwaters from an unnamed hurricane destroyed most of that exciting new road along with the valuable farmland and crops throughout the valley. Many bridges on the road washed away.
  • They was so much water ‘til it looked like an ocean to me. The field looked like you could go swimming in it. All the stuff washed away, an old barn we had there, the stuff we had in it, the straw, hay. Crops. Everything was gone. It got it all. Preston Denton, construction crew, 1941-42
By September the WPA approved flood relief for farmers affected by the hurricane and employed local men to work on a farm-to-market road project designed to rebuild the road. The engineers returned and directed these men in repairing highway #181 with more federal money. They completed construction by the end of 1940 and designated this route as a part of federal highway #64. 

I love catching the stories behind the stories. 

Catch of the day,