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Diane Blanks, Blue Ridge Mountain VIews #6: Of Spiders and Elderberries and Progress

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 Spiders and Elderberries and Progress”


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Orchard Orbweaver Spider. Photo by Diane Warman Blanks.

A tiny little green spider constructed a perfect web from the rail of the front porch to the handrail for the front steps and crouched in the middle of it, waiting for business. Although I’m surely no expert on spiders, I think it might be an Orchard Orbweaver, because its front legs are longer than the others, and it hangs from the bottom of the web. I thought I’d try for a picture the next morning, when the light was right and maybe there would be some dew on the web. Sometime later that day, I set a houseplant on the porch rail and absentmindedly brushed and blew some dried leaves off the soil. Looking down, I saw the web festooned with leaves, and the spider visibly agitated. After a bit, she scuttled over to the nearest leaf and, working diligently, cut the strands of web holding it and then repaired the web. She worked her way all around, cutting loose each and every leaf. I could almost hear her muttering. Then she settled herself back in the center of the web with an air of tidy satisfaction.


I had some brush and wild rugosa roses behind the house cut down a couple of years ago and, when the fellows finished, I discovered that they had also taken down the stand of wild elderberries whose flat, lacy, white flowers I had enjoyed each summer since coming home. It was my fault, as I hadn’t told them to leave those plants standing. So last fall, I ordered a hybrid elderberry plant and stuck it in the ground. This month, what I thought was a stand of volunteer black walnut trees back there began blooming and turned out to be the elderberry bushes, back from the grave. The hybrid one is doing well, too, but now I’m looking for a place to put it.


They are carving down the sides of the mountains here again, making great flat spaces of the flanks of the summits it took God eons to create. As though it would ever be possible to replace them. And all in the name of progress.

Mountain people have been, often by necessity, selling their family land for cash money for years and years around here. Outlanders moved in and property values went up; taxes got too high. In past decades, most of the furniture factories, which formed part of the bedrock of the local economic system, moved overseas, where labor was cheap and craftsmanship often the same, but it was a move popular with consumers. The tobacco allotments, another legacy, are mostly gone now, too, bought out by the government as part of the anti-smoking initiative.

The markets for traditional mountain crops–cabbage, potatoes, beans–have shrunk. And, truth be told, some of the younger people here don’t want to work the land any more, or they have moved away in search of a better job market. The money, though, an expendable commodity, will never replace the ongoing security of the land, which fed and housed its people for generations. If you’re going to be poor, be poor on a farm, somebody said. But who can stand in the way of progress and some new local jobs?




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 Mountainscolumn 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.)”