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COLUMN: Diane Warman Blanks, Blue Ridge Mountain Views #2: ‘Spring Ephemerals’

Local writer Diane Warman Blanks shares about returning to her home, her heritage and her life in the mountains of North Carolina after many years away. Check out the “About Diane” section below for more information about her writing and her career.


Blue Ridge Mountain Views

“Spring Ephemerals”


I was sitting in my car by the house quietly finishing my coffee when suddenly a gigantic woodpecker swooped in and started drilling on the trunk of the black walnut tree next to me. It boasted a tall, bright-red topknot shaped like a Mohawk haircut and looked like a tiny pterodactyl, nearly a foot long. Although I stayed motionless, he seemed to sense that all was not well in his surroundings. As I sat there with my mouth open, he rose, swooped down toward the creek and out of my view.

Photo by Diane Warman Blanks
Photo by Diane Warman Blanks

After a bit of research, I found it was a Pileated Woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in North Carolina. I had seen pictures of them but never seen one in the wild, much less right next to me. I read in the bird book that it is one of the largest forest birds in North America and the model for Walter Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker cartoon character. Woody’s laugh, says the book, is based on the bird’s ha ha call.

I was out later poking around on the far side of the creek bank and found two wild red trilliums blooming and some smaller ones coming on. Some people call them wake-robins. They are spring ephemeral perennials, lovely but fleeting, and a few varieties of trilliums are counted as rare and fragile wildflowers. If you pick the flower, it takes the plant a long, long time to recover. Finding them was a bit like finding North Carolina rubies while tilling up your garden plot.

In earlier years, when the house down the hill from us was owned by the doctor and his wife (who was a force in the local garden club), the woods below and to the left of our house were manicured. Blue-flowered periwinkle, sprinkled with white and red trilliums, filled the beds under the pines and maples, and a bark path wound through the woods and down through tall native rhododendrons to a spring below.

The spring was enclosed in craftsman’s rockwork with a rock bench next to it, and there was a large fishpond where huge goldfish dreamed away the cold months far below the icy surface. Two or three subsequent owners of the land, who bought the house and property only to rent it out, sadly let the woods and pond turn to overgrown, weedy marshland. My neighbor bought the land a few years back, and he and his family are returning it to a beautiful landscape, but they have had a lot of work in the doing.

A friend suggested that I catch the pesky crawfish, the one that’s dug the hole next to the bridge, with a piece of bacon on a string. (Yes, I know it’s “crayfish,” but we always called them “crawfish.”) I assume I would then relocate him to the other creek and hope he doesn’t travel back. The crawfish all look a bit like little black lobsters with huge claws, but also sometimes unnervingly like giant cockroaches. Occasionally you find a little one that’s blue, and I have to do some research in the future and find out why.

I am told that I should be grateful for their presence, as crawfish, like frogs, are canaries in the mine: They only live where water is fresh and pure. I would be more grateful if they looked more like chipmunks…or robins. Haven’t heard the first frog, but it’s early in the season.

There are patches of tall, purple money plant blooming now. I’ll let it bloom out and then cut most of it down before it forms the huge silver seed discs that give it its name, as it is an invasive grower. But I’ll keep some to dry and shuck for brightening the house in the winter.

The mountainsides are watercolors this week, painted in faint washes of chartreuse, pale green and yellow as the trees just begin to think of leafing out. The sarvis trees (American serviceberry) led off with blooms, and now the dogwoods are in full glory, like white torches flaming against the hint of green.

News at eleven,







Diane Warman Blanks was born and grew up in Old Boone, where her mother was the first chief switchboard operator for the fledgling Boone telephone system. Her grandfather was an early pastor of Boone’s Advent Christian Church, as well as a professor of sociology at Appalachian State Teachers College, now ASU.

Blanks has been a newspaper columnist, editor of a county weekly newspaper and a long-suffering (but always perky) public relations lady. In 2010, she retired from a position as coordinator for donor relations with Emory University in Atlanta and returned to Boone, where she has been joyfully getting reacquainted with mountain life. A graduate of Boone’s Appalachian High School (Go, Blue Devils!) and the UNC Chapel Hill School of Journalism, she is currently a member of the Junaluska Heritage Association, High Country Writers, the Watauga Library Endowment Board and the Boone Historic Preservation Committee.

Much, much earlier in her career, Blanks wrote the In the Mountains column for the Winston-Salem Sentinel and also a weekly humor column for The Blowing Rocket entitled And Furthermore.

“I was the poor man’s Erma Bombeck back in the day,” she says.

Watch for her upcoming book, Postcards from the Blue Ridge, due out later in 2015.

“What I write these days is through the filter of memory,” she says. “And then, I’ve got that murder mystery to finish — not from memory, by the way.”