Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Creepy Garden

After exiling the foul-smelling arum dracunculus (of yesterday's post) to a suitably distant spot, I decided to make a "creepy" garden. Spurred on by the memory of a Charles Addams cartoon in which the elegantly creepy mother of the Addams family is writing to her absent husband, "The garden is at its best now --the dealy nightshade and belladonna are in bloom and the little toads have hatched." ( Or words to that effect -- it's been a very long time), I tried to think of plants that looked creepy or had creepy names. I tried toad lily, but it died. I planted every thing black or near-black, that I could find and also Crocosmia "Lucifer" and spiderwort.

The creepy garden is not yet a visual success -- things bloom at different times and there's no real focus. But I keep fiddling with it. I'm open to suggestions for additions -- this is very rich soil, mostly sunny all day.
The black pussy willow is a delight in spring -- but the rest of the summer it's just a nondescript shrub.

That's the problem: things come and go and there's never a moment when it all works as a garden. I think as things grow and multiply, if I can have bigger stands of each individual plant, it will have more ooomph. Till then, I'll just have to keep explaining it.

Picture of other plants in the creepy garden are here .
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Friday, May 30, 2008

Arum Dracunculus

I'm a sucker for weird looking plants. Add a name like 'dracunculus' which means 'dragon' and I'm filling in the order blank.

The three innocent-looking bulbs were cheap (I now realize that means the plant self-propagates wildly) and I planted them near the entryway, the better to enjoy their exotic blooms. They did not disappoint -- chartreuse and deep purple buds unfurled into a vast spathe the color of raw liver. And the spadix - the pointy thing in the middle -- well, it was pretty impressive. The plant was immediately re-named, vividly and alliteratively, for a part of a dog's anatomy.

"What's that smell?" we said, when the sun hit the newly opened flowers. "The dogs must have brought home something dead."

We followed our noses to the arum dracunculus to discover the source of the awful odor. This plant (there are others) chooses to be pollinated by flies, rather than bees or butterflies, and so, rather than smelling like honey, it smells like carrion. (The bulb nursery I ordered it from didn't mention that part.)

My husband suggested gently that I get rid of the plant or at least move it away from the house -- far away. And that was the beginning of my Creepy Garden -- more on that tomorrow.

Among arum dracunculus's common names, I have discovered, are Voodoo Lily, Snake Lily, and Stink Lily. All quite good and descriptive. But it'll always be the Dog Dick plant to us.
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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Outside My Door

Over two wonderful, glorious, much-needed inches of rain on Tuesday night bowed the branches of the Kousa dogwood so that its creamy white flowers were a beautiful sight against the subtle grays of the morning mist and the intense emerald and jade of foliage renewed.

This little fella (a Rosy Maple moth) was on the steps to our porch, apparently lifeless. I picked him up to bring him inside where I could get a good picture of his Dr. Seuss-like coloring. As I held him, he began to quiver. It had been a chilly night and now the warmth of my hand seemed to revive him. He may have been new-hatched too; he beat his wings continuously as if drying them.

Click on the picture for a close-up of that cute face (and the color! OMG, the color!) and the pretty feathery antennae (one of the ways you can tell he's a moth, not a butterfly.)

I'm off to the library to practice with a slide show of photos pertaining to In a Dark Season. If technology and I don't quarrel too badly, I hope the slides will accompany my talk Saturday night at seven. And I hope I'll see some of you all there, slides or no.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Clifford Freeman - 1975

Clifford, (see "Our Mountain Mentors) giving Andrew (my nephew) and Ethan (my older boy) a ride on Nell. Notice the smiles of delight on all three faces!

Clifford and Louise and cow dog Patsy, heading up the hill to the salt rock. Clifford, with two hip replacements that were wearing out, rides.
I found this drawing in a magazine back then. It's Clifford to the life.
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Almost Summer Report

The snake (Northern water snake) in the greenhouse has found love. (Note the sweetly entwined tails.)
The goslings by the river are flourishing -- pre-teens by now and probably driving their watchful parents crazy.

And swimming dogs have drawn pretty spirals though the water meal - the tiny weed blanketing our pond.

The corn and beans in the garden are up; rhododendron and irises fading, roses coming on strong. The days are long -- but not long enough. I'm off.
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Monday, May 26, 2008

A Peaceful State of Mind

There could be no more perfect place to hold a writers' retreat than Lake Logan.

As in the Navaho prayer -"Beauty before me; Beauty behind me; Beauty above me; Beauty below me; Beauty all around me," the surroundings wrapped us in Nature's peaceful splendor.

Mountains, woods, sky, and water calmed crowded minds, emptying them of distraction, freeing us to create.

By the end of the weekend, I felt that my eyes, like the boathouse windows, were full of the serenity of the place.

Here are some more pictures
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bathing Dogs

The first one is relatively easy -- I get Molly on a leash and into the bathtub before she quite knows what's happening. Note the look of reproach and betrayed trust. But after I scissor off a huge amount of thick undercoat -- (almost like shearing a sheep, Tammy) and shampoo her with an anti-itch soap, she has to admit she feels better.

William's easy -- light, portable - he gets his bath in the kitchen sink, a nice relief from bending over the bathtub. He is always resigned to his fate (No Free Will-yum , we call him on these occasions) and he feels sorry for himself for quite a while after the ordeal is over.

Then Bear. She's a big, heavy girl and she Does Not Want to be bathed. In fact, she wants to go out --Right Now. Ignoring her protests, I leash her, drag her to the bathroom, and wrestle her considerable bulk into the tub. She tries to climb out but I am firm. The entire bath is conducted with one hand pushing her back into the tub while the other soaps and rinses.

When at last she's done, so am I. Soaked from head to toe, I go to my closet for dry clothes.

Jack and Maggie and Dan will have to wait for another day.

(No post tomorrow -- I'm off to teach at a Women's Writing Retreat -- back Sunday.)
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Summer of '74

Our summer of '74 is the inspiration for Elizabeth's summer of '84 in Old Wounds. We lived in the barn while John, with the help of various friends and relatives, built our house on a bull-dozed site in what had been part pasture, part tobacco field We had just three months in which to get the house dried in before returning to Tampa for one last year of teaching.

John built a shed on to the barn and a picnic table for our meals. This is Ethan, our older boy at not quite three. Like Laurie in Old Wounds, he had a fenced off corner of the barn with a rug and a bed and lots of books and toys.

My 'kitchen' in the barn was a table with a Coleman stove, a cooler, and lots of cardboard boxes of provisions. Dishes were done outside with water from the branch that had been heated on the stove. Baths were in the branch (very cold) for the brave or in a zinc wash tub in the barn with heated water for the less brave. There was an outhouse a little way up the hill and a second barn where our friends and relatives camped out. Once a week we went to town for groceries and to the laundromat. Maybe once a month we would go into Asheville and marvel at the big city.

It was an amazingly pleasant way to live -- getting up and going to bed with the sun, preparing every meal (and they were really quite good) a little victory, learning that one can get quite clean with only a little heated water, enjoying the nightly show of the lightning bugs rising out of the grass.

Thirty four years ago -- ay, law!

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008


"They were standing by a waist-high wall bordering the driveway. Soft gray thymes and golden yellow sedums cascaded over its flat top, while above it spiky clumps of purple irises and cushions of deep pink dianthus bloomed. Elizabeth absently pulled out a few encroaching weeds while Hawkins moved forward." (Signs in the Blood p. 52)

This is the place I was writing about. You can't see the dianthus or the thyme in this picture but the weeds are there. In the book, Ben and Cletus built the wall but in Real Life it was my son and our friend (and my son's rock wall mentor) Doc Adams. (Who is, of course , also a character in the Little Sylvie story and in Old Wounds. Oh, dear, how complicated.)

"Behind the blue bench her most recently acquired rhododendron -- a 'Gomer Waterer' -- was thick with blooms. The creamy blossoms were tinged with gold and pink -- just like a sunrise -- and just like the catalogue promised." (Signs in the Blood. p.53)

The bench is a Lutyens-style bench made by my husband and the rhododendron is, indeed, a 'Gomer Waterer.' Readers have asked about the blue bench -- we actually have several scattered around the farm, but this is the only fancy one and this is the one I had in mind for Elizabeth and Phillip to sit on.

Write what you know, they say. It seemed obvious to use our farm as the model for Elizabeth's (with some strategic changes.) Makes it a lot easier too. When I invent a place -- like Mullmore or Phillip's house in Weaverville, I usually go on line and find a picture that fits my idea -- even a floor plan, in the case of Phillip's house. I really need to be able to visualize the setting my characters are moving around in.

I wonder . . . could I claim those plants I bought yesterday as a deduction? Hmmm . . . Maybe if Elizabeth does some landscaping. . .
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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Big Day

For those who asked about my big day and my plans to celebrate, let me say it's not been so much big as full. After sunrise and feeding the calfie, I loaded up the trash and recycling and set out. First to the library to find out if I could do a slide show to accompany my talk on the 31st. (The answer is yes, if the equipment and I are compatible.)

Then in to Penland's in nearby Marshall (aha! that's where the name Marshall County comes from) where I signed a stack of copies of The Book. Barbara Penland has a wonderful collection of books about the region; well worth perusing if you're in the area.

Next a visit to my friend Eileen, who is in a nursing home, to give her a copy of the new book. Eileen, an army nurse during WWII, is as sharp mentally as ever, but her body is giving out, making the nursing home a necessity. (It's been my visits to Eileen that have provided some of the details for the nursing home scenes in the new book.)

And then a visit to Paul, in another nursing home. Since Grace's death, he's not done well, sliding into senile dementia. He seems to be well-cared for but it's sad to see him struggling to make sense of who I am and why I'm there.

On in to North Asheville to Accent on Books -- a friendly neighborhood bookstore and more stacks of books to sign. (It is still a thrill to see all those books with my name on them!)

And across the street there was a parking lot plant sale that had me filling the back of the jeep with nandina and golden arborvitae and yew and Dwarf Alberta spruce and impatiens -- there's always room for more impatiens. Finally, a stop at the grocery store and back home again -- just in time to to feed the dogs and the calfie.

And that's my Big Day!

A while back, Bantam Dell had me record a pod cast and told me not to post the link till today. So
here it is. It's a story I've told before, for which I apologize, but it was suggested that I do it one more time.
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Monday, May 19, 2008

Is the Medium the Message?

Doesn't that sky look like God is about to speak?

While we're waiting, let's go look at some flowers. Maybe they are the message.

(Many, many thanks to all of you who've pre-ordered or made plans to pick up a copy of In a Dark Season. It's out tomorrow!
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