Late Bloomer


For about a year, maybe two or three, I thought about starting a blog. It was Trisha’s idea, originally, as many of the better ones are. She told me about blogs she followed that were really popular, and the people who were writing them weren’t really doing anything much more that writing entertaining stuff about their own lives, which is pretty much what I was doing (and still do) on Facebook. She said that, considering how many people read some of these blogs she’s seen, there was an audience out there for stories about The Dude and Mookie and all the other stuff I post about, and rant about in the kitchen. And she told me that people actually made money doing this, which I found to be a ridiculous but intriguing notion. Some research revealed that the actual chance of making money off a wordpress blog was a long and involved proposition, especially challenging when you go four months without posting anything. But the profitable blogs and the “hobby” blogs all started the same way, a writer sitting down and writing something.

So I started a blog. It was back on June 20th of last year. It was the Saturday night before Father’s Day. I stayed up late because I knew Trisha would let me sleep in the next day. I wrote an introduction for a blog. It was called “Welcome To Duffy’s Creek.” I put a picture of myself and Mookie Dog standing on the left bank of the creek that runs in back of our backyard and I wrote something about what I planned to write about. And I paid 50 bucks for and I put it up on wordpress. And it’s clear upon re-reading “Welcome to Duffy’s Creek” that I had no idea exactly what I was going to write about.

But I wrote all summer. I wrote about my 11 year-old son, The Dude, and his faithful dog, Mookie. I wrote about my mother, Joan Duffy, who died in 2012. I wrote about my politics and my backyard, which were once her politics and her backyard. I copy / pasted an article about growing up in Valley Stream that I published in a local newspaper in 2011, with an added introduction and addendum, which I guess is the blog equivalent of coughing up a furball. I wrote a really, really long story / history about The White Fathers of Camp Lavigerie in Onchiota, NY and my connection to Saranac Lake and the Adirondacks, and a White Father named Tony Smyth, who I knew when I was a little boy, linked the blog to the White Father’s website, which made me as pleased as punch. I love that expression.

Then Labor Day rolled around and I began laboring again, and time fell through the cracks, and when October came around, The Mets made it all the way to Game 5 of The World Series, which commanded a great deal of my attention. And there was, as always, a lot to do around here. I told myself I’d get in one blog post a month, just to keep the archives fresh. I told myself they didn’t have to be long, involved posts like most of my first fifteen. I studied how other people were doing it, and doing it very well, on the wordpress blogs I started following, and I knew I could write more punchy little articles to keep the mill grinding and still make it good, but the little writer in my head was telling me there was too much to say on any given subject that I thought of writing about. The Mets for instance. I’d like to write a blog post about The Mets. I said I would four months ago when I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. But if I’m going to write about The Mets, I have forty-seven years of history with them. If I can’t do it right, I’ll just have to wait until I can, and in the interim pick a less demanding subject that I can tackle in a day or two to keep feeding the beast.

On the other hand, the coolest realization I that I’ve had about blogging while I haven’t done any for four months is that once you put it out there, it stays out there. I wrote 15 blog posts between June 20th and September 1st of 2015. Since June 20th, 776 people have visited the site (even though I know a couple of those people are robots, most of them are people, so I’ll just go with that number). Individual posts have brought 1,457 views total. “A Saranac Lake Guy: The Story of Camp Lavigerie” alone has had 269 views. And the best part for me is the visitors and views have come from 38 different countries, representing every continent. I love that. The one guy in Sweden reading about why I named my dog Mookie, or the Ecuadorian woman reading about Amanda’s Village Motel in Saranac Lake, or the young fellow in Singapore reading about my lifelong love of Ancona Pizza. You just can’t beat it.

So based on getting a whole lot more interest and feedback than I ever imagined getting in six months, four of which came and went without writing anything new, I guess I can declare this blog experiment a raging success, and pledge a commitment to try to keep up on it in 2016. And to not entertain for one minute the idea that I will ever get paid for doing this. That was the one thing I got absolutely right in my introduction: This is a labor of love. I love to write. I always have. It is gratifying that I’ve gotten as much feedback as I have, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing how other people do it on wordpress. Some of them (some of you) are phenomenally clever and original. But ultimately,and I’m sure you’ll agree, the ego boost is great, but it’s the process that I truly love: The “right now” of it. I like trying to get that sentence or that paragraph as precise as I can, and slithering in and out of ideas like a snake with an English degree.

The younger me was told by lots of people that I could write for a living, but it seems his fatal flaw was that he couldn’t write what somebody else wanted him to write. Even now, I know if I just focused on one thing, like gardening, or big happy labradors, or high-functioning autism, or my hometown going to hell around me, the blog would probably grow faster in terms of eyeballs and clicks. But I’m too interested in too many things to limit myself to that. Hence the ridiculously vague title of “A Creek Runs Through It”, followed by the subtitle: “Growing Up, Growing Old, Growing Flowers, Grace Under Pressure and Growling Out The Window On Duffy’s Creek.” It’s a great big umbrella, and to my credit, every post I’ve written can be traced back to that little bit of alliterative fun. Work is work. This is fun.

However, if you told the older me today that I could make a living sitting with my dog on the couch while punching a laptop keyboard with two fingers and listening to The Band radio on Pandora, I’d be all ears. Please, get in touch. I’ll crank out any crap you need.

But right now I have to tell you something: This post isn’t about blogging. It’s actually about a chrysanthemum. This chrysanthemum :

This is a chrysanthemum (or a “mum”, if you insist) called a zawadskii that I grew from a teeny-tiny little seed, smaller than a speck of dust, around ten years ago, when I had more time to experiment. At the time I was starting seeds indoors in the winter and planting them out, and since I had indoor seed starting apparatus with nothing in it once I had planted out the salvia and zinnias that I had started in February, I figured I could try growing some perennials from seed. I think I tried some native columbine and chrysanthemums, maybe a couple of others. I had no idea what the seeds would look like when I ordered them. The chrysanthemum seeds turned out to be basically an envelope full of dust. I threw the dust in some wet dirt and put the lights on it, not thinking that they’d ever amount to anything.

I have no idea how many chrysanthemum seeds I planted. Knowing me, probably at least fifty. And 49 of them didn’t amount to anything.

But one did. He lives in the patio garden. He starts greening up with the other fellows when the weather gets warm, and he sneaks up between the big splashy yellow coreopsis, both the low growing bushy ones and the famous 7-foot coreopsis crayzius bastardus, which blooms all through July and August. He spreads out under and around the other perennials wherever he can and he stakes his ground, and he bides his time and he waits.

The summer flowers come and go. The zinnias and the black-eyes suzies put on their flashy song and dance routine until just about the time the leaves are off the maple trees. The dahlias slowly start getting strung-out looking and ultimately give it up just after Halloween, when they start looking like zombies. Trisha’s roses also start their Irish goodbyes in late-October and usually turn out the last light around Thanksgiving. This year, of course, we had a creepily warm December, so a few of the roses actually still have flowers on them here on January 2nd, though it’s good and cold now.

(I just asked her which roses lasted the longest, so if you’re into hybrid tea roses and you want flowers until Christmas in Zone 6, you can order the following cultivars: Dublin Bay, Irish Hope, The Prince, Love and Peace, Fragrant Apricot, High Hopes and Distant Drums. I love that all her roses have fancy names like that. And I love even more how she can rattle them off for you, even though there are about fifty of them on the property. The flowers I grow all have one name: “those guys”).

The chrysanthemum that I grew from a teeny-tiny seed waits until everybody in the patio garden is done. He holds his cards until the last possible moment. Come the second or third week of November, he lays them on the table. The other flowers are all brown or ripped out and thrown in the compost mountain. The pale purple mum with the yellow disks in the center waits until everyone is done talking, then says, “watch this, mother-f*%#&rs.” He opens a suitcase filled with a hundred little daisy-like flowers, but with his own subtle, original colors that you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with autumn.  I’ve never actually seen one in a store. He’s not anything like the happy red, orange and yellow mums that I put on the front step, the ones that announce the autumn colors in a blast of trumpet fanfare (“Hey you! Break out the flannel shirts! We’re back! It’s gettin’ CHILLY!”) No, the chrysanthemum that I grew from a teeny-tiny seed comes back every year in a cool saxophone solo of off white and pale lavender petals around mustard yellow center disks. And he stands in perfect contrast with the antique oranges, reds and yellows on the trees and the bushes. And when he’s in full bloom, everybody else stops and watches him and says “damn, that boy can play.”

I’m going to be 53 years old this year. I got married when I was 38 and became a father at 40. My soon to be 12-year old son still needs someone to tuck him in at night, even though he replaced the motion light over the garage this morning in less than a half an hour. I probably should’ve started this blog ten years before I did. But at this point in my life, I look forward more and more and back less and less, so no regrets. I’m in the here and in the now, and I’m publishing my 16th blog post on in five minutes. And I’ve got a hundred more swimming around in my head.

And now that you know all this, you could see why I’d have a special kinship with a late bloomer.