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Diane Blanks, Blue Ridge Mountain Views #5: Of Snakes and Ants and Roses

Columnist Diane Warman Blanks writes 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.



“Of Snakes and Ants and Roses”




The bare lower branches, like skeleton fingers, of the huge Rose Bay rhododendron in the front yard have almost leafed back out. As usual, the deer ate all the leaves off the bottom of the plant last winter. Every summer it slowly leafs out again. Fall will be time to try another variety of vile-smelling deer repellent, as they seem to have gotten used to the “putrefied eggs” one I was using last year.


There’s always something or other moving down in the creek here. Often I will catch a glimpse of Something out of the corner of my eye and think “Snake!” But it always turns out to be a robin or a crow down in the water taking a bath.


Granny’s nameless rose. Photo by Diane Blanks.
The Ditch Lilies are starting open on the bank between my driveway and the road above. Ditch Lilies are just what they sound like: the hardy old orange daylilies that do, indeed, lift their cheerful faces in roadside ditches. Mama, I am sure, planted these years ago in an effort to stabilize the bank.

My grandmother’s beautiful old shrub roses are perfuming the whole yard. I have idea what the names or varieties are; that’s information lost in the mists of history. They open into full bouquets and then fade and drop their petals, all in the space of a few days. But while they bloom, they are wonderful.

One summer when I was growing up, Granny decided to make rose pot pourri. We, meaning me, gathered what seemed like bushels of the fragrant petals and spread them across Granny’s trusty drying rack–a old, but clean, window screen. She then sent me to the drugstore for ingredients, the only one of which I can remember was powdered orrisroot. I think the rest were just spices and maybe some rose water.


We stirred and turned the rose petals diligently. Unfortunately, when they dried, the huge pile of fragrant petals shrank down to what amounted to a small jarful. The orrisroot and spices were duly added though and, over the winter, we took turns opening the jar and smelling summer.


My composting isn’t going particularly well. I started it originally to offset the large paper footprint resulting from the many paper plates I used until the dishwasher was installed. After months of effort and stirring, I have four inches of incredibly dense, rich dirt in the bottom of the compost bin by now, but that’s all. Somebody told me I need to add more “brown stuff.” I think that’s dirt, but I’m not sure. Why add dirt when what I’m trying to Make is dirt?

Composting is a wonderful concept, though. I was walking down to the ASU library when I passed a dump truck unloading a batch of lush, dark, rich-smelling compost in a bed beside the building. Obviously I need to refine my composting technique.

When I planted a new rose bush the other day, I went to check the bin here to see if I had any at the bottom that had “made” to put around the rose. I pulled up the side that gives access to the bottom and discovered a nest of thousands of tiny ants. I shuddered, left the side up to encourage them to relocate elsewhere and returned to the rose, compostless.

I’ve been out cleaning the leaf dams out of the creek again (an ongoing task), in the process running a poor little garter snake, and I suppose that’s what he is, up one bank and down the other. He paused to catch his breath on a patch of creeping thyme I’d planted earlier, scenting the air carefully for danger with his forked tongue. His back half was folded up into a spring for a quick getaway, in case I came after him with the hoe. I don’t like snakes, but am getting fond enough of this little guy to give him a name. I think he’s Roscoe.

A friend, who may or may not know what he’s talking about, tells me that poisonous snakes have pointed noses, while non-poisonous ones have blunt noses. He said the poisonous ones also have diamond-shaped heads, nonpoisonous ones oval. The next time I see Roscoe, I will check that; I think I can get close enough to see the shape of his head, if not how the scales lie on his tail, which was the other reference information I had. I’m not getting close enough to look at the scales.

News at eleven,



DianeBlanksDiane Blanks, a native of Boone, has been a newspaper columnist, editor of a county weekly newspaper and a long-suffering (but always perky) public relations lady. After retiring from Atlanta’s Emory University, she returned to Boone, where she has been joyfully getting reacquainted with mountain life after many years away. She is a graduate of Boone’s Appalachian High School (Go, Blue Devils!) and the UNC School of Journalism.

Much, much earlier in her career, Blanks wrote the In the Mountains column for the Winston-Salem Sentinel and 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. “What I write these days is through the filter of memory. Names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty.)”