Tuesday, March 10, 2015


    Hell of a nasty winter up here in the woods this year. Dooley the dog, who is growing older, has gravitated from sleeping in the corner of the cabin on his Indian blanket to sleeping with me in the bed. He has become quite the snuggler. It has not gone unappreciated even though he has been only one small dog on many three dog nights.

    I am getting older, too. Aside from the creaking and grunting, I just don’t have the mental acuity  I used to have. Over breakfast this morning I said the word “snuggle” out loud and laughed. It was the “uggle” that struck me funny. I wondered what an “uggle” might be. Was it Latin or Greek, some middle English derivative of an act of uggling? There was, after all, juggle, smuggle, muggle and struggle…it must mean something, right? I am embarrassed to admit that I actually researched the etymology of “uggle”.
   My google search returned UGG Boots and Ugglebarnby, a Parish in North Yorkshire England. Ugglebarnby or Uglubarthr’s Bi, as it was originally known, has a meaning that is, if anything, more enticing than the music of the word. The ‘bi’ was simply a Viking word for a farm and Uglubarthr was the Viking owner of this farm.
    Looking deeper, Uglubarthr means literally ‘Owl Beard’ giving us Owl Beard’s Farm. This led to the Eagle Owl, well-known in Scandinavia, which  sometimes has a discoloration of tufted feathers at the chin looking like a beard. Fascinating, I thought, but I still had no idea how the “Sn” of snuggle was enhanced by the “uggle”.

“Did you google that?” Dooley asked.

“Yes”, I replied.

“Are you also going to look up “oogle” from google?”

After a long thoughtful pause, I answered with a simple, “Oh.”

   So, Dooley taught me a “gle” simply transformed a noun into a verb in some cases and there was no meaning to the "uggle" I had pointlessly extracted. Sigh.   
  Not a wasted morning, though. I learned that sometimes a journey begun with a false step can still lead to enlightenment. Long live the Eagle Owl.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween in the Woods?

    Of course we celebrate Halloween here in the woods. For me it is a chance to rekindle those first spooky nights I spent living alone in my humble cabin so many years ago. Just stepping out the cabin door after dark was a challenge. I alerted to every tree crackle, splash in the creek and nocturnal bird wail. When there is a tingle of fear in your heart the mind will oblige by creating beasts out of simple shadows and voices out of the combined frequencies of running water, wind and rustling leaves. Once I even convinced myself I heard Latin music coming from across the valley. In the light of the next morning I realized it was a combination of the thump of a pumping oil well and a squeaky cam bearing. (I hope I haven’t offended any Latin music lovers). As I grew more familiar with the sounds of the night the beasts, voices and tingles went away. I miss them.

     Fear may be the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind. I think a little scare now and again can be a wonderful tonic for the soul, even the playful scares of Halloween.

     Traditionally there is a contest among Dooley, the chickens and the goats to create appropriate Halloween decorations for the cabin, coop and pens. The chickens won for the third straight year with a figure depicting West Virginia’s famous Mothman creature. It stood five feet high, was covered in feathers and flapped its wings (there were two chickens hidden inside that animated the wings). Second place went to Dooley. He crafted a ghoulish “dog devil from hell” (his own words) out of the carcasses of a number of dead animals he had collected from the woods. If he had figured out some way to cover the stench, he may have taken first place. The goats took third by spelling out “Happy Halloween” with leaves stuffed in the squares of their pen fence.

   After the goat’s annual protest that the contest isn’t fair because the chickens have more materials to work with, the trick or treating commenced. I wait inside the cabin until I hear a peck, scratch or head butt at the door. I open the door and hand out species appropriate treats. The costumes were very creative this year. Dooley showed up at the door twice, once with a moustache and sombrero and then again with a squirrel on his back astride a small   cloth saddle. I pretended not to notice it was Dooley and gave him a second treat because…well, because it was Dooley.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013


It was the summer of 1949 in New York City. I was standing just off stage in the Winter Garden Theater waiting for my tap dance number with the great Gene Kelly. I was regretting that I had missed every rehearsal. The music started, the curtain went up and the dancing began. Clickety, Clickety, Clack, Clack, Clack, Clickety……..Clickety, Clack, Click. Oh, Lord, I thought, the critics were surely going to describe me as having the most arrhythmic feet in the history of musical theater. In disgust, Gene walked off in the middle of the number. I was doomed.

With a sudden jerk of my legs, I woke up. It was just a dream. I was safe in my little cabin deep in the woods of West Virginia …but the clickety-clacking continued. I rolled over and saw Dooley the Dog furiously typing on my laptop. (Since my break-up with Anita the Dog Groomer last summer and our weather induced inactivity this winter his toenails had grown to the point he could no longer type with the pads of his feet. It was just toenails to plastic keys, a very annoying sound.)

“Dooley, its 4am!”

“The time of day doesn’t matter, we need a plan and we need it now,” he barked.

“A plan for what?”

“The invasion”, he said.

An hour later I finally had the whole story. Dooley was convinced we were about to be invaded by North Korea. Beside the accounts on the news, he was basing his fear on a recent quadrupling of viewership on our blog. For the past few days we have been getting an incredible number of hits on the post “Dooley and I Discuss a Squirrel”. Along with the hits we have been getting an equal number of spam comments encouraging us to visit certain Asian websites. Dooley surmised from this surge of spam that the North Koreans were going to launch a massive cyber-attack using viruses inserted in blogs like ours and then launch their missiles amidst all the confusion.

Frankly, I still avoid world news and don’t know exactly what he means when he says N. Korea is capable of launching missiles towards the United States. Seems a bit bold for such a tiny country, doesn’t it? I told Dooley even if they have a few missiles I doubt they are much better than those inaccurate Iraqi Scuds from Desert Storm. If they were to launch toward the west coast of the U.S. the chances are they would land in Mexico or Canada anyway.

“Oh, no”, Dooley said, “The threat is real!”

“Dooley, even if they launch missiles, I’m sure our military could shoot them down.”

“When was the last time you heard of our military successfully shooting down a nuclear missile headed for the United States?”, he countered.

“…well, never I suppose.”

I humored him, “Good point, Dooley, I guess we should have a plan. What do you suggest?”

He showed his outline on the laptop:

1. Buy year’s supply of bacon.

2. Learn the following phrases in Korean.

   a. We have no bacon.

   b. Take the goats and chickens, please.

   c. We are Canadian.

3. Pair up goats and chickens. Arm them with 8oz. marine air horns and place them on high ground around the property to watch for missiles or amphibious assault vehicles on the river.

4. Negotiate with raccoons for night time reconnaissance and possible guerilla style raids on enemy camps.

5. Since we don’t have time to build a proper bunker, shutter windows on cabin and put sign on door that says: “No User Serviceable Parts Inside”.

6. (He didn’t have a 6 yet.)

I don’t know about you, but I will sleep better tonight knowing Dooley is looking out for America. (I will also sleep better because I plan to hide the laptop before going to bed.)










Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Big Green Book

One of my goals when I decided to move to the woods was to find out as much as I could about the history of the property I live on. There was an old mill site, many cabin sites, a small river said to be used by early trappers, stories of a sugar cane patch, an old schoolhouse foundation and a name I found for the community that used to be here; Owl Rock. One of my earliest posts was about a visit to a small library in a nearby town looking for information. During that visit I bought a large green book published in 1927 about the history of the County for $65.00 from a delightful librarian named Irene.


After my first read of the book I was very disappointed to find nothing I could relate directly to my property.

About a year later, I read it again. I began to recognize familiar surnames of people I had met and so I would ask if they were related to founding families I had read about in the book. Not surprisingly, in this lightly populated County, I found several that were direct descendants. I even found some of my own relatives. Still, no one seemed to know anything about Owl Rock, the mill or the schoolhouse. Most people said if I’d come asking 10 years earlier, some of the ole timers would surely have known something about the place…but the ole timers were gone now: Another round of disappointment from the big green book.

About 18 months ago, while looking for something to read I opened the big green book again. This time, instead of looking for something that might relate to Owl Rock, I just tried to enjoy it for the history it provided about the district I was in. Very early in the book was a story about something called “Track Rock” that had first been reported in the late 1800’s. It was described as “a great sandstone”, in which were a number of impressions of cloven hoofs in a variety of sizes from seven inches down to two inches. The larger looked to have been made by a giant ox or buffalo. There were also three impressions that appeared to have been made by the moccasined foot of a human giant. The human prints were five inches across and fourteen inches long. Beside the human prints were what appeared to be dog tracks. The theory was, all of the impressions had been made when the material on the surface of the rock had been in a plastic state and somehow preserved for, perhaps, centuries. The location of this “great sandstone” was described in great detail and it was not too far from the little town nearby. Dooley and I decided that this might make for a good adventure so one Sunday morning we set out to find it.

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves deep on private property, and after a brief discussion decided it might be best if we did a little more research and tried to locate the property owners. While walking back down along a creek next to a dirt road, the property owners found us. They were returning from church and slowed their car when they saw us down by the creek. I learned a long time ago the quickest way to defuse a potentially embarrassing trespass situation was to put a smile on your face and walk towards the trespassee. Dooley took my lead and smiled as best he could.

I explained our quest and, thankfully, they turned out to be really nice and very understanding folks. They also knew all about “Track Rock”.

They said it used to be on their property but in the early 1980’s the State decided to dam up one of their creeks and create a reservoir to help control flooding. They were force to sell the property by the imminent domain law. Sadly, during the construction of the reservoir, “Track Rock” had been destroyed. Oh shucks, I thought, another big green book let down. Then a wonderful thing happened. The nice folks said if we would hop in the back of their truck they had something we might be interested in. So, we did.

After a short drive we came to a delightful little farm house and were invited in. In a little room just off the back porch was a museum-like display of information about “Track Rock". Since it had been on their family property for about 150 years they had lots of pictures, reports written by anthropologists and naturalists who had visited over the years, newspaper articles and even plaster casts of many of the tracks. They told us, since erosion had erased many of the impressions over the years, people quit coming to look at the rock in the early 1960’s. They were curious how we came to hear about it. I laughed as I explained we had read about it in a history book that was originally published in 1927.

Since that wonderful little adventure 18 months ago I have a new-found appreciation for the big green book. Whenever Dooley and I feel adventurous we just look in the index for something intriguing, read about it and go looking. We explored an old grist mill site, a field where county fairs used to be held, and a hillside where a town once stood during the booming wildcat oils days. Sometimes we have pictures from the book to help us visualize and sometimes we just use our imaginations as we explore.  I truly love to imagine the people who might have walked, worked and played in these long gone places just as I often do for my own long gone Owl Rock.

…And what if I had not wandered into that little library in search of a history book. I might never have met Irene who helped me publish this blog, and I most certainly never would have met Dooley the dog who I bought from Irene a few days later. I owe a lot to my big green book.















Friday, March 22, 2013

Point of View

The winter has been long, cold and wet. My garden planning is done, Dooley the dog is tired of beating me at checkers and I can’t go for a walk because my boots are wet and drying by the fire. To add to my cabin fever misery my dad just sent me an email telling me he saw a TV show about a virus that is killing a lot of bats, specifically the Small Brown Bat. On summer nights Dooley and I ritualistically celebrate dusk and the nightly appearance of our very own Small Brown Bats that feed above the river. I cannot imagine an evening without the bats. Anyway…

I was going to write a very dry post about why I am using glass blocks to divide the different pH zones in my garden. But, because I am feeling blue today and I don't really want to write, I thought I would just post something I wrote last week in response to a letter from my Nephew Ira. It’s a little off track from what a blog about living alone in a cabin with a clever dog, cantankerous goats and excitable chickens should be. It’s mostly about science. Not the science that tells me a single stalk of corn is going to use 50 gallons of water in its life cycle or why the smoke goes so conveniently up my chimney, but the largely theoretical science of cosmology; the study of the origins of the universe.
 (If you thought to yourself, “uh oh” or the words “science” and “origins” makes you queasy, you may want to skip this one) 

Uncle Roger,

Hello Roger and Dooley….…..I have been watching two shows on the Science Channel. One is a series called Stephen Hawking’s Universe and the other is Through the Wormhole. Both are about how theoretical physicists think our universe works. Both shows present a picture of the origin of the universe in which a God would not be necessary for creation. I also read your post "Looking Up on a Clear Night" where you hint at many of the things the shows have been talking about but at the end you "Thank God" for the stars. How have you reconciled the conflict between a belief in modern cosmology and a belief in God, or have you?

Curiously, Ira 

Dear Ira,

Wow.  I am honored that you felt me worthy of such a weighty question.  I want you to understand that any conclusions I may draw in this letter are not absolutes, they are simply choices. I encourage you to continue asking questions and seek other points of view throughout your lifetime so the choices you make for what you believe will become a source of comfort rather than conflict. Now, let me give this a try.

Although I don’t have the math skills to understand all the implications of Einstein’s general or special theories of relativity I can appreciate the beauty and the elegance of the ideas they describe, just as I can for Newton’s laws before Einstein and the marvels of quantum theory being worked out by today’s theoretical physicists. At the same time I consider myself a modestly spiritual person and I suppose a purely scientific approach to understanding the origins of, well, of everything could be construed as a conflict with the idea of a Divine Creator. I don't see it that way.  I cannot answer your question, Ira,  by pitting Science and Religion against one another in terms of a "conflict" because they are so fundamentally different. I hope that does not dissappoint. 


The argument for a Divine Creator is well known. In essence, it relies on faith, the remarkable and seemingly perfect order and complexity of life and nature, and the authority of divinely revealed religious texts like the Bible, Torah and Koran. As such, it provides no empirical foundation to argue for or against its validity. It stands on its own and is not subject to testing.  For believers, that is its strength, and for non-believers, its weakness. For some, believing in a Divine Creator is a choice, for others it is the only choice.

Science, on the other hand, is not a dogma or ideology like religion. It is a process of observing and describing how things appear to work using the time tested tools of hypothesis, theory, experimentation, observation and, especially with the cosmos, mathematical “proof”. The scientific method is not just a single recipe. It requires intelligence, imagination, and creativity. In this sense, it is not a mindless set of standards and procedures to follow, but is rather an ongoing cycle, constantly developing more useful, accurate and comprehensive models and methods. Ultimately science is the interpretation what we observe. Even today our quest for understanding our origins through science must be taken as a work in progress. Although the goal of science might be truth, its history tells us that we are far from completing the journey. So let me address your question, not as an argument for or against God, but as a cautionary lesson in science.

Point of View

As late as 1915, science believed the universe to be a static and eternal thing. It was an idea consistent with what we knew and embraced as immutable laws of nature. With the advent of new technologies like orbiting telescopes and highly sensitive instrumentation that reach far beyond the limitations of our human senses, and with mathematical models created by the likes of Einstein, cosmologists now believe that the cosmos is wildly dynamic and quite possibly finite. These new ideas are also consistent with what we know and embrace as immutable laws of nature. We didn’t change what we believed; technology allowed us to change our point of view and thus created a new understanding of how these natural laws formed the universe. Our ability to see deeper into space and farther back into time gave us a startlingly different perspective.

For the sake of brevity, I will assume you easily accept that the earth revolves on its axis and orbits the sun because we see it and feel it with the rising sun and changing seasons. We accept the idea of gravity and its relationship to the proximity of large bodies of mass because, again, we can feel it and observe it.  The physics of how suns ignite, consume their hydrogen fuel and die or the forces that allow new suns and planets to form from the elements created in the death of a star are also reasonably easy to accept because in appearance they are similar to processes we might see in a foundry or behavior of a liquid floating in the absence of gravity in a space shuttle video. It becomes more difficult, however, when we cannot rely on simple observation and science tells us that time moves slower for a person standing next to a boulder than for a person standing in a field or that the color of car coming towards us at a high rate of speed is slightly bluer and then becomes redder when it going away from us. This relativity of energy, time, space and mass and the effect it has on light, subatomic particles and gravity is usually the jumping off point for simply accepting the theoretical physicist’s description of the universe and yet these ideas are fundamental in fully understanding a  scientific description of the birth of our universe.

Even if most of us accept most of what science believes and we try to imagine a universe formed from a “big bang”, in most vigorous discussions of Divine Creation vs. a purely scientific model of our beginnings,  the conversation usually comes down to the one question we can all put our arms around: If science is correct and our universe was formed from a “big bang” and all matter came from a sudden and explosive single point, how did that single point come into being?  It must have been created.  Something can not come from nothing, right?  “Not necessarily”, says science.


Recently, as I’m sure they must have discussed in the shows you have been watching, science has demonstrated that on a subatomic level, particles do not always conform to the same laws as their larger and more stable atomic cousins that we all learned about in high school chemistry class. The study of these quirky particles is called quantum physics. In quantum physics the notion of “nothing” has changed. In fact, the evidence suggests that “nothing” (the absence of everything) is impossible. The math supports this claim and the study of particles in supercolliders provides empirical and observational proof for people like me who can’t do the math. A Nobel Prize was even awarded for this mathematically complex idea. The theory roughly states that virtual mass (mass, of course, is a quantity of matter) pops in and out of existence in what we once believed was empty space. In other words, according to particle physics, a true state of nothing does not and cannot and never will exist. This, of course, could explain “something out of nothing” and allow for a model of a purposeless universe born from a Big Bang.  It could also suggest that life itself may ultimately be a consequence of circumstance, nothing more, and nothing less. A very humbling thought. Just as it is difficult to disprove a God, it is equally difficult to disprove this current notion of “nothing”.  Wild stuff.  Some theologists have claimed that since science could not explain the “something out of nothing” problem, they just changed the definition of nothing. I love a good conspiracy theory. 

(It just occurred to me that this “matter popping in and out of existence” theory could also explain why we have never been able to capture Big Foot..hmmm?) 

Another Point of View

So, now, let’s use all of this complex science and instead of looking back to our beginnings, let’s look far into the future. Cosmologists describe our universe as expanding as a direct result of the force of the big bang and base it on a red shift in the frequency of light in observable heavenly bodies (remember the speeding car?). This means that galaxies, like our own Milky Way, are moving farther and farther away from each other with increasing speed. (I always imagine it as firing a shotgun and sending out an expanding spray of buckshot). It is believed that in a hundred billion years or so, barring some unexpected cataclysmic event, the speed of the expansion will exceed the speed of light (which is allowed for in Einstein’s General Relativity theory) and from the point of view from any individual galaxy the rest of what we now call the observable universe will “wink out”. From an observational stand point, it will no longer exist. There will be no remaining evidence of a “big bang”,  an expanding universe, or dark matter which are all essential to much of what science believes it understands about the mechanics of the origins of the cosmos.

Sadly, in one hundred billion years, our solar system will be long gone (enjoy the sunshine while you can), lost in the violent death of our sun, but since the universe obviously allows for life, let’s suppose another newer planet in one of those lonely galaxies develops a civilization that is able to contemplate their origins. Even if they develop the best telescopes they can, and evolve their own theories of relativity, gravity and quantum physics, their conclusions, based on what they have left to observe, will be that that their universe is static and eternal. Despite their best intentions and technology their science will ultimately conflict with ours. Ironic, huh?
What I Believe

Therefore, understanding our universe seems to depend heavily on point of view and “truth” in cosmology becomes conditional at best.  The very same science that thinks it can suggest a Godless universe also suggests a universe that may defy complete understanding. So, how utterly silly is it (in my opinion) to presume that the tiny window of time and space scientists have been or will ever be able to observe, can ever present irrefutable evidence or describe an argument that can totally exclude, in any form, a Divine Creator.
In 1985 Pope John Paul II gave an address to participants of a Vatican Conference on Cosmology (of which your Stephan Hawking was a participant) and said:

 “Our view of ourselves, of God and of the universe is radically different from that of people in the Middle Ages. We see ourselves situated in a much larger context - in a much vaster and much more intricately, even delicately, complex world and universe.

We can reach out and grasp its inner workings and designs, plumbing its depths with questioning reverence and with awestruck imagination. Of course, that picture must always remain tantalizingly incomplete.”
I love that last line. It says it all.
Science can be a wonderful thing, Ira, but remember, it has it's limitations. In 1539 Martin Luther is said to have remarked about new ideas in science, "So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing others esteem. He must do something of his own". I fear this may be the for be the case for a number of the theoretical physicists today who are competing for grants and peer recognition and for that reason I do not currently include many of the new theorys you may have seen discussed on your TV shows in my view of cosmology. My experieince is; a new idea is not necessarily a better idea. Still, I am open to possibilities.
In choosing what to believe in science I suggest you begin with what you understand, then learn all you can about what you don't from as many sources as you can. As your knowledge grows your beliefs will evolve and offer you new choices. Belief without understanding is pointless. 


On our recent drive back from Florida, Dooley confided that he had spoken recently to God (“Dooley the Dog Talks to God”). He cryptically told me that things might be changing soon and I should keep a clean pair of underwear handy. At the time I attributed his confession to a possible overdose of Dramamine, however,…….

……as I sit in my little cabin on this cold, wet, winter afternoon, smoking a Swisher Sweet Outlaw Double Barrel Rum Cigar, I confess that I choose to believe in the science of a 13.7 billion year old expanding universe born from a big bang, and a planet full of life created from the elements wrought from furnaces of exploding stars because the science that  support these ideas all conform with the simple principles of physics, chemistry, biology, and geology that I can and have observed in my short time on this Earth.  I cheerfully accept the profound cosmic humility that this suggests.  However…..

…I also confidently choose to believe in the possibility that Dooley may have spoken to a God capable of creating such a beautiful, complex and tantalizingly mysterious universe and I am very comfortable with that.

Uncle Roger   
(Dooley says "Hi")













Tuesday, March 12, 2013


"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."

Marcel Proust

I never learned to thank people properly. I don’t know why. It’s a form of social awkwardness, I think, left over from my youth. I have never written a simple thank you note, ever. I don’t go out of my way to visit people I need to thank, or share how thankful I am to others. I often say the words but, for me, I think they often come out more as conversational convention than sincere gratitude. Along with this ineptitude comes a lot of regret. There are so many people, now gone, I wish I could have taken a little more time to express how deeply appreciative I was for their contributions, both large and small, to my life.  I can only hope that perhaps along the way they could see a twinkle of gratitude in my squinting eyes or one of my unconscious smiles. Profound gratitude dwells inside me on a daily basis; it just doesn’t come out easily. Forgive me this flaw.

In an effort to be better:

 Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my scattered thoughts on this blog. I want to especially thank Langela, Angela, Samantha and Granny Sue who take the extra time to leave cheerful and insightful comments. Without them this blog would have no value at all. The all have brilliant blogs of their own that everyone should check out.

Tomorrow I am going to put on my boots and personally thank everyone who helped tend my flock and my cabin while I was off playing tourist in Florida. This includes Firewood Kenny for checking on the cabin, Edgar’s son for helping me move the animals, Harry for having fresh Slim Jims and Honey Buns in stock and especially the Cattle Baron’s flannel shirt wearing daughter for suggesting the FFA to board my beasts and fowl. I may even write thank you notes, my first, to the Future Farmers of America for the work they do and to Richard and Sue who did so much for Dooley and me in Orlando.

Then, of course, there’s Irene for helping me start and maintain the blog, and Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper for all the history and backwoods wisdom he taught me and Mrs. Skeen for the potato soup last year, the women who can my vegetables for me each fall and Bette the mail carrier and….oh, lord… I have quite the backlog.

Thanks everyone!


Monday, March 11, 2013

Looking Up on a Clear Night


There is nothing like the clear, dry air of a moonless winter night for viewing the stars. Here in the woods we are blessed with a darkness not found near cities, towns or neighborhoods that allows the sky to fill with thousands of points of light. It never ceases to amaze. It is even more amazing that the light I see began it journey millions and sometime billions of years ago. It is a snapshot of a far distant past. Many of the stars I see tonight no longer exist and many new ones which I will never see have been created.

 It is this dynamic of the birth and death of stars that permits me to contemplate the death and birth of stars and to marvel at the beauty of their canopy, for every atom in everything I know, including the hand I use to write these words, came from the violent death of a star. The sun that will greet me in the morning formed from the gases of a dying star.  This remarkable planet we ride through space was born from the elements created in the furnace of a collapsing star and spun into a planet by the unseen forces of gravity. The components of life, itself, may have been hurled here on pieces of planets from long dead civilizations lost in the violent death of the star that once provided a nurturing heat, light and energy to spark their creation. I owe much, as do we all, to the little points of light shining down on this clear and moonless winter night.

Thank God for stars.