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Diane Blanks, Blue Ridge Mountain Views #3: “Pondering Goldfinches and Solomon’s Seal”

Column submitted by local writer Diane Warman Blanks 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.



“Pondering Goldfinches and Solomon’s Seal”


It poured rain one night a while back, a thick waterfall of shining drops showing in the light from the street lamp up the hill. The television was full of flash flood watches, the sudden beeping of the warning-crawl on the screen unnerving, so I took the flashlight out to the back porch and pointed it down toward the creek. The water was running swiftly, but only up a couple of inches beyond its usual level. I suppose the spring openings limit the amount of water that can conceivably come out. The most I ever remember the flow being up was about half-way up the banks when I was much younger.Wildflowers%205_15%20Second%20009[2]

The next day the creek here still ran fast, but overnight the fast flow had scoured the bottom of winter’s accumulated leaves and grit. The water was crystal clear and sparkling. There are a few leaf dams piled up, with sticks intertwined in them; I’ll take the hoe and pull them up on the banks later on. Eventually, they’ll make new dirt there.

The three Crows Big as Cats are back, strolling leisurely around the field under the apple tree. I don’t see them in the winter; I have no idea where they spend the cold months. I assume they’re crows, by the way. The bird books are a little confusing about differentiating among crows, grackles and ravens.

The thistle feeder in the back yard is full again, and the goldfinches are flickering all over the yard — little specks of living sunlight.

Erma Bombeck used to write that she worried about finding a rabid bat in the mailbox. Today, worries are much larger, and we feel helpless to remedy them. The news has been full of stories about a “titanic blob” of magma underneath Yellowstone Park, one large enough to bring catastrophic global consequences should it break through. I wonder if we’re better off knowing about this or not? Or would it be better to ponder the goldfinches?


The problem with living in an old house in a very old neighborhood with mature trees is … mature trees. My little house is down in a hole (or up a hollow, depending on my mood) surrounded by many, many mature trees. In fact, some of them, particularly those belonging to my neighbor on the right, are more than mature: They’re dead. Tall, tall dead hemlocks, one double-trunked, looming up right next to my house. A high wind blew in from the west a day or so ago. I happened to look out the front windows, and a huge dried limb was flying through the front yard, just about head high, looking a lot like a spear. It ended up in the creek across the yard. Must remember to stay in the back yard when the wind comes from the west. Tomorrow I’ll go out and gather up the deadfall limbs. Sooner or later, I suppose, the dead trees will all have come down, hopefully piece by piece and not on my house.


I’m delighted to find that just about all of the live stakes I put out on the creek banks a couple of weeks ago are leafing out. Live stakes, for those who don’t know, are “cuttings” of dormant native shrubs, basically sticks. You poke them in the ground and, if you’re lucky, they take root and leaf out, growing into plants that will help hold the creek banks in place. I stuck out about 20 and, as they all but one seem to be rooting, I may eventually disappear, along with the house, inside a thicket of curly willow and elderberry.

I found three Jack-in-the-Pulpits at the edges of the yard. They come up every year in random, unexpected spots. In the shady places, the Solomon’s Seals have unfurled their long, graceful stems, oval pointed leaves marching down them two by two. According to Wikipedia, One explanation for the derivation of the common name “Solomon‘s seal” is that the roots bear depressions which resemble royal seals. Another is that the cut roots resemble Hebrew characters. (Whatever did we do before Wikipedia?) I never knew where the name came from. Little white bell-like flowers are opening up, dangling down beneath the leaves. Unearned, openhanded gifts of Spring.

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.”