Dooly and I went to town today and from the looks of things I’m guessing something is up. Everyone seemed to be talking about banks and the stock market in a very serious tone. Harry, the hardware guy, uncharacteristically had his 9” BW TV (that sits behind the cash register) tuned to CNN and there were graphs and pictures of Wall Street on the screen. Deep down there was something that made me want to hear bad things about banks and Wall Street. Perhaps those cheating souls with their artificially inflated wallets were beginning to crumble. Before I came to the woods I sold my house and I have a good deal of money from that sale. It is safely deposited in the bank of Sealy Posturpedic. I get no interest on the deposit, but with the money I save on fees, penalties and sevice charges, I feel like I come out way ahead. (and the customer service is excellent.) One of the reasons I moved to the woods was to keep banks out of my life . I was determined to buy my six-pound maul with maple handle and get out of town before I knew what was going on. When I got to register I put my finger to my lips and stopped Harry before he told me what the news was about. He smiled and took my money. Dooly seemed excited about coming to town so I took him across the street to what is sort of a park and let him explore. Poor Dooly had been staring at me back at the cabin. He’d sit right in front of me and stare. It’s hard to read Vonnegut when an animal is staring. It had been two months since we had been off the mountain, I had fallen into a daily routine that varied little and I guess he was trying to tell me that he had a little cabin fever. I lit up a Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Run Cigar and sat down under a tree on this beautiful Fall day and watched the World go by as Dooly sniffed his way down to the river. From my vantage point I could see most of the town’s commerce. Directly across the street was the Bank. The Library is just to the right to the bank and set back a little. Still moving to the right was the Volunteer Fire Department, Sheriff’s office and finally the combination grocery/ hardware/feed and seed. Down around the corner to my left was the Exxon, which, contrary to most of the rest of the World, still employs a mechanic. This guy will work on anything from a lawn mower to a BMW. Aside from a Taco Bell, what else would a person ever need? The Library door opened and I saw Irene come out. She looked directly at me and I waved. She gave me a little nod and went directly to the Bank. A short time later she came out of the bank with a man in a tie and they walked down to the Exxon. Those two came out with the owner and walked back to the sheriff’s office. The sheriff came out, looked in my direction, and the four walked to the Grocery/hardware/feed and seed. This was curious. Sure enough, Irene, the man in a tie, the Exxon owner, the sheriff, Harry and Mrs. Taylor came out the hardware and were walking straight towards me. If they had guns strapped to their waists and Stetson hats I might have thought it was a posse. I was pretty sure it was ok to be smoking a Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum cigar under this particular tree, and I didn’t recall being in violation of any local, state or federal laws. At least they were smiling. Irene spoke first as they came within about 15 feet, “Don’t get up”. I didn’t. “This is our town council…Earle Ruben from the Exxon, Frank Wood from the bank, Sheriff Bell, and I think you know the rest.” How nice, I thought, they were here to officially welcome Dooly and me into the community. “We have a question for you.” Irene said, “Frank’s daughter is attending community college down in Charleston and she’s taking some media courses. She was home the other night and Frank was telling her about you, how you became frustrated and moved to the woods and all. She thought your story would be one that people might identify with in these crazy times.” Irene moved her hands up like she was reading a headline in an imaginary newspaper. “Frustrated Florida Man Moves To West Virginia Woods To Find Simplicity And Solitude.” “ As a project for her classes she wants to promote you, and, in turn, get some publicity for our town. She’d start with some local papers and TV and eventually go National. As soon as the election is over they’ll be looking for stories.” I didn’t know what to say. After a short silence I suggested a good Big Foot sighting might get the town some better publicity. I didn’t want people to know who I was or where I lived. “Why don’t we all have a little lunch and talk about it”, Irene suggested. “I made a pie last night”, she added. We ate pie and talked and I finally agreed only if my identity and the location of my cabin remained secret. I excused myself to go and check on Dooly and as I was walking out I could hear them talking about postcards, tee shirts, fresh paint and new landscaping. Oh Lord, what have I done. Damn that pie. I found Dooly covered in mud and sound asleep under my truck. At least his visit to town seemed to have been a pleasant one. By the way, I was just kidding about the Taco Bell.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Unlike the “other” world, background noise in the woods is very consistent. Once you become attuned it becomes very easy to pick out the more unusual sounds. Every animal and event makes a distinctive sound. I can hear deer up on the hill when they pass by, the click-clack of squirrel claws on tree trunks, whether the water level in the creek below is running high or low, the wind as it changes direction and the slow, cautious plodding of raccoons moving through the brush in the late evenings as they plot a raid on Dooley’s food dish. The human being is ordinarily not a stealthy beast unless they intend to be and the approach of a man coming through the woods is a sound I should have easily picked out. So, I didn’t know what to think when I saw a man sitting on the wood chopping stump in the front of my secret cabin. He was smoking a hand rolled cigarette and staring at a chainsaw on the ground in front of him. I walked to the top of the porch steps and gave him a glare that was supposed to evoke an explanation of why he was there. I guessed he was close to my age (fifties). He was husky, with a yellow gray un-trimmed beard. His thinning hair was combed straight back to a ducktail flip. He had a ruddy, deep lined, rosacea spotted complexion typical of the heavy scott-irish influence in rural West Virginia. I don’t remember much about what he wore with the exception of his work boots. The boots did not match. There was a black combat style boot on his left foot and a traditional brown work boot on the right. My dad had taught me that, as a rule, when two men meet unexpectedly the first one to talk is usually perceived as the weaker of the two. Apparently the stranger also knew this rule. He looked up but said nothing. There should be a second rule that states if both parties know the first rule, the rule is no longer in play. Except, of course, if you consider the first rule as just a suggestion there would be no need for a second rule to remedy the conflict of a simultaneous application of the first rule. (Oh, Lord, I’m sounding like a Congressman) Regardless, he was the trespasser and I felt I was owed the first “howdy”. In the twenty seconds of silence between us the residual paranoia from my previous life in Florida created a dozen or so possible scenarios to consider. I narrowed those down to four. 1. He was going to kill me, burn the cabin down and eat Dooly for lunch. 2. He was going to kill me, move into the cabin and eat Dooly for lunch. 3. He was going to kill me, leave, and Dooly would eat me for lunch. 4. I should forgo the rule and my sense of entitlement and say something. “Little foggy this morning, eh?” His name was Kenny. He lives about two miles away in an old, rusty, tarp covered sport trailer on a small piece of flat land along the road to town. I had seen the trailer but never imagined that someone lived there. I learned later from Irene he had moved to the woods in 1974 as a disillusioned post Vietnam veteran. In the early years he spent a number of days in the town lockup for various forms of civil disobedience and was something of an angry nuisance to the sheriff and the community. She assured me that he had mellowed with age and was thought of more as a colorful character than a threat. He had come to visit with a simple business proposition. On a small piece of paper he had hand-written a fifteen-word contract, which, if I signed, would allow him to come on to my property for one year and cut dead and fallen trees to sell as firewood in the winter months. He explained that I would benefit by having trees that often fell across the trails and roads on my land removed and I could stop by his place for free firewood anytime. Kenny’s proposition was simple and direct, no “ifs”, or “buts”, no asterisks, introductory offers or hidden clauses. Kenny could have taken the wood and I probably never would have known but he had taken the time and the effort to do the right thing. This was what I had moved to the woods for. I agreed, signed the contract and watched Kenny walk back down the path to the river. I don’t really know Kenny, but I hope his firewood business is successful . If he appears back on that stump one morning next year to renew the contract, I want to be able to say “howdy” first, offer him a Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Run cigar and compliment him on a new pair of matching boots.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I went hiking this morning. Dooley chose to stay behind to keep an eye on the cabin. Somehow I suspected he was likely turning ideas over in his head to get the two strips of fried bacon I left on the kitchen counter. Dooley, as you might remember, is short. He is skilled at chasing chipmonks under logs and into narrow passages, but, without a a rocket pack there was no way he would ever get to that bacon
I was walking trails that were originally traveled by early inhabitants of these mountains, shortcuts between ridges and hollows used to visit neighbors and to travel to town, a trip that takes me about 20 minutes by truck. For them, it must have been a full day’s trek. As usual I was enjoying the smells, sights, sounds and peace of Nature. I’ve been in the woods for almost a month now and it has been a very comfortable transition from the contrived “other” world I left behind. Stopping under a walnut tree for a break I lit up a Swisher Sweet Outlaw Double Barrel Rum cigar and, unfortunately, began to think. Unlike the “other” world, everything in Nature exists for a reason and exists because something existed successfully before it. It is a system of shared wealth and sacrifice. What survives in Nature does so because it works. Every creature, plant, and rock has a role to play. I couldn’t, however, for the life of me, figure out what my role as a human being was. I was feeling uncomfortable and profoundly disappointed in myself. What, in my day-to-day life, did I contribute to sustaining these wonderful woods? Was I just a parasite on the top of the food chain, taking and never giving back? Somewhere in the past a human animal was born with one too many brain cells and decided his “superior” mind was exempt from the Laws of Nature. This never occurred to me in the “other” world. From under the walnut tree it was clear. Man’s artificial ecosystem has no checks and balances. Mistakes aren’t dealt with by extinction but with clever fixes. Except for the occasional bear mauling, plague, third world starvation, and with our self imposed sanctity of human life rule we have no balancing natural population control. We require more and more of the Earth’s resources each day to sustain us, far more than we should be entitled to. With no evolutionary selection process to weed out the successful from the harmful, Man’s unproven changes have had an instant and jarring impact on this earth in the short time we have existed as thinking animals. Sadly, I am ancestor to that first mutant human and with all those extra cells I was unable to think myself out of the guilt I was feeling. The American Indians had it right. To them, if I remember correctly, all things in nature were treated with the same respect they had for themselves, no more, no less. Before eating animals killed for food they would thank the animal for giving up its life so they might eat. The early American Indian must have must have had just the right number of brain cells. Maybe that was the answer. Respect. It was all I had to give back. When my cigar was finished I continued on the trail a short distance and then, feeling a little better about myself, headed back. When I got to my secret cabin the bacon was gone and Dooley was sleeping upside down wedged between a table and chair a short distance from the counter. Out of respect I let him sleep.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Irene Looney is librarian at the smaller of the two libraries in the County I now call home. I met Irene when I stopped in last year looking for a book on the history of the area. There is a highway placard on a bridge across from the library that claims the river that borders my property was used by early fur trappers to transport their furs 60 miles by canoe down to market. I thought that was cool so I wanted to know more. Irene sold me a beautiful leather bound book for 65 dollars. The book, although interesting, had no mention of my river or trappers navigating to market. Since Irene is the only person I know in the area that has a computer with internet access I stopped in to ask her if it would be ok to come in from time to time to post my blogs. She reminded me that the computer was County property and she would have to know the content before she could say yes or no on the matter. With her permission I brought up my posts to date and let her read them. Although Irene was one the best educated town members I had met so far, I was curioius what she might think of my early ranting. There is, after all, no Walmart within 60 miles, the bank is independantly owned, the only doctor in town works out of his house and invites patients to” just stop by”. The most serious issue in this week’s County newspaper was the removal of a family of raccoons from the drop ceiling in the County clerks office. I didn’t know if Irene would understand the anger I had left behind. With a great deal of seriousness she slowly and deliberatley read every word. When finished she squinted at the screen for a moment, looked up and asked, “Do you have a dog yet?" It wasn’t a minute later that I had agreed to have lunch with Irene and to meet Dooley the dog. The dog in my imagination when I decided to move to the woods was named “Ole Blue” but Dooley seemed a good name for a hound dog companion. I wasn’t about to accept just any hound. The dog I had pictured sitting on the porch of my cabin was a red tick hound, strong, brave, ready to sacrifice itself to protect my chickens and goats, and yet perfectly happy to sit in the passenger seat of my pick-up with its head out the window, long floppy ears flapping in the wind, or curled up next the potbelly stove on a cold winter night. He would never be further than 15 feet away as I worked my garden or walked down the mountain to the spring. He would listen as I complained about the weather or bragged about my tomatos. At lunch Irene warmed up some fried chicken and mashed potato leftovers. She told me about her enterprising brother who thought it might be a good idea to put in a quarter slot cinderblock self-serve car wash on a lot her mother had left her on the edge of town and of her son-inlaw who had developed some respiritory distress from breathing pesticide dust while working at the Taylor’s Market, a combination grocery, hardware and feed store down the street. Finally, when I had properly finished my lunch and rinsed off my plate she said, “Lets call Dooley, I think he’s out back huntin’ rabbits”. We went out on the back screened porch then down into the yard At the edge of the yard was a tall grass meadow and further up the hill a stand of woods. Irene called and clapped her hands and I looked up to the tree line expecting to see Dooley come running out with rabbit in mouth. As I watched, something caught my eye in the meadow. It looked like a small brown animal on a see-saw. First its nose would pop up and then its tail… nose,tail,nose,tail.. coming right at us. At one point it stopped and dissapeared completely. I looked back up the tree line again expecting Dooley break out in full stride. Surely he would love chasing this small animal whatever it was. The small animal that finally broke out of the meadow was, as you may have guessed, Dooley. The only thing he had in common with “Ole Blue” were two floppy ears. I knelt down to be polite and Dooley came right to me and seemed anxious to jump into my arms. (I discovered later that Irene had slipped a piece of chicken in my shirt pocket as I helped her clear the table.) I made it immediately clear I was looking for a more traditional country hound, one that was tall enough to walk across the low water crossing into my land without a snorkle. Irene asked, “How about some pie?” Driving back to my secret cabin in the woods I looked over at my imaginary dog, Ole Blue. He was sitting brave and strong in the passenger seat, head out the window, ears a flopping. On the floorboards in the backseat, asleep, was Dooley. Irene sold me Dooley for $65. I should never have had that pie.
I finally made it to the woods. I have begun my life of isolation and ignorance of the outside world. I will have to make trips from time to time to the nearest town but I have warned the town folk not to update me on world events. By this time next year I will not know who our President is, if Israel has bombed Iran or visa-versa. I will not know if we have pulled out of Iraq or it there has been another terrorist attack on the US. I will not have heard the words “global warming” or economic downturn” or care diddley about the price of oil. I already feel a great sense of relief and calm. Let me tell you a little about my secret cabin in the woods. The land has been in my family since 1967. My parents bought the approximately 500 acres from a lady named Taylor for $3500.00. There is a small river that borders one edge for about a mile. Splitting the land is Rock Creek that runs into the river and forms a small delta that provides a low water crossing which is the only practical vehicular entrance into the property. There used to be a rickety swinging bridge that crossed the river but seasonal floods eventually knocked it down. There are literaly miles of exsisting logging roads, oil roads and ATV trails throughout the property. The ATV trails are relatively new and, although I don’t encourage it, the locals seem to enjoy using the land. They have been very respectful. On either side of Rock Creek are rock formations and typical West Virginia mountains that rise steeply up to zig-zaggy ridges. There is very little flat land in the area. According to local lore and some evidence there was a town named Owl Rock on the property around the turn of the last century. There was a schoolhouse, a sugarcane mill and a number of small homesteads. In my explorations I have found two large millstones that confirm the mill’s existence. My cabin was built on a hill near the mill site in about 1930. It has three rooms and a large front porch that overlooks the valley. I plan to spend a good deal of my spare time on that porch. The nights are still strangely silent to me. No sirens, helicopters, diesel trucks, no thump of bass speakers from disrespectful youth and no TV background noise. In the early evening there is plenty of sound. Flirting birds, insects and frogs all sing their hopeful songs but ease up around ten o’clock like a self- imposed curfew. The summer mornings provide a spectacular light show. At dawn there is generally a mist that gives way to the sun peeking over the eastern mountain. The sunlight is filtered by the trees and constantly changes the patterns of shadow and light on the ground. Dew on hundreds of spider webs built in the trees during the night catch and refract the light into little blue sparkles. I feel safe here. A beautiful thing about West Virginia is the absence of dangerous natural things. In Florida I had to worry about hurricanes, tornados, gators, brush fires, extreme lightning, coral snakes scorpions, extreme heat, sharks, amoebas, jellyfish, sand spurs, fire ants, heavily armed gangs, home invasions, burglars, dishonesty and water shortages. About the only natural thing that causes great problems to the common man in West Virginia is the occasional flood. My cabin sits high enough for that not to be a concern. We have snakes, but I’ve only seen one blacksnake in my last ten years of visits. There are ticks but they are more of an aggravation than a hazard. There was another cabin built along Rock Creek that my father used for hunting. He allowed two local brothers to live in the cabin with an agreement they would keep a path clear to the cabin from the swinging bridge. When we would visit the property my Dad would give the brothers some whiskey and they would disappear into the woods until we left. The brother’s names were Dexter and Holly Sleath. On Halloween night in 1969 Holly shot Dexter with a shotgun and burned the cabin down leaving Dexter on a bed inside. As a teenager I remember visiting the site with my dad and the only thing standing was the large stone fireplace and chimney. Nearby, a charred bed spring still had a few tiny bones overlooked by the local sheriff. All that remains of other cabins on the property are the stone chimneys, foundation stones and bits of rusted tin roofs. Perhaps that will be all that remains of my time here.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
I’m not in the woods yet. Although I am actively weaning myself from current events, I inadvertently saw Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States suggesting, for the sake of humor, that inbreeding was alive and well in Almost Heaven, West Virginia, secret site of my cabin paradise the woods. It was almost as if he knew that I was abandoning all the nonsense he represents and wanted to get in a parting shot. As I was gathering a wad of saliva to fire at the TV I realized that this was not such a bad thing after all. West Virginia and its people have always been the target for disrespectful humor and this perceived negative image has actually helped preserve much of what I find magical about the State. To keep my paradise locked in a time when America was great I would not want people to know that the people there were hard working, self reliant, independent, friendly to a fault and instilled with a morality that bonds its native inhabitants with a trust and honesty long lost in most of Mr. Cheney’s country. I wouldn’t want them to know that its crime rate is traditionally the lowest in the country or that even though it is mostly rural and 75% forest, its location puts it within approximately 500 miles of half the population of the US should one feel the need for company. So, if you have yern'n to malign a hillbilly, please reference the hillbilly as living in West Virginia. I want my paradise to remain a paradise.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
A Boomer Rants His Last I have decided to move to the woods. Most of my middle-aged friends have a similar dream of isolation, independence and self-reliance. For some it’s a sailboat on the ocean or a hammock on a tropical isle and for many, like myself, it’s a cabin on a mountainside miles away from anywhere, with a garden, a few goats and a good old hound dog for company. I used to rant about how things have changed in America since my youth. I am a well qualified to rant, I am, after all, a boomer. I represent the bridge between the greatest generation and whatever you want to call this profit driven zoo we are treading water in now. In my day I have ranted about medical care that is based on the return visit, endless tests and pharmacutical profits. There is little left in life that is not a disorder, syndrome or dysfunction. I ranted about suffocating litigations that have squashed the fun out the simplist of activities. Apparently, according to the courts, I am not expected to be responsible for my actions anymore. It’s always someone else’s fault. Then, of course, there are the banks and credit card companies who conspire to turn more and more of my money into their profits through fees for services and shark like intrest rates. I’m not sure why I need banks. In the same category I have ranted about the demise of family owned farms, the independent businessman and the corporations that have to make a 20% profit each quarter regardless of how much their products, services or employees suffer for fear of disappointing their stockholders....and why, I ask you, when a company fails to provide the service they promise they end up charging me to fix their problem? Consumers be damned, full speed ahead. I’m not sure why we need a Stock Market or a Walmart. I have yet to be convinced that new is always better, yet I have been doomed to a digital life. Before cell phones we actually had to plan and organize our days. Now I live a chaotic life where, with a call or two, my day can completely change and then be changed again. I have no sense of order anymore. I have ranted about the Nation’s lawmakers who feel compelled to layer law upon law until the orginal and often-simple intents are obscured forever. Do we really need any new laws this year? I’ve watched self-reliance, which used to be the heart and soul of this country, give way to a sad dependency. Katrina vividly demonstrated that our inner cities are lost without their government to provide for them. I have also had my secret, politically incorrect rants about immigrants who come to this country and insist on bringing their cultures with them, refusing to melt in to ours. That same correctness dictates that I can’t condem street crime or drug dealers without being racially inflammatory and I can’t complain about the food court employee who doesn’t speak enough English to undertand that I don’t want sugar in my iced tea. There used to be a time when it was ok for a community to stand up and say, “We don’t accept that behavior, stop it or get out.” Now we simply label it as diversity and move on. What happened to "Outrage"? Since this might be the last time that I rant I should also mention the education of our future generations of Americans. If you want to put it all in to perspective read some of the remarkably eloquent and expressive letters written home by the young and mostly rural soldiers of the civil war. Then read some of the FCAT essays written by our own little darlings here in Florida. For extra super credit, find a school that has a policy to handle a spitball shooter that doesn’t involve passing the responsibility for disipline on to law enforcement for fear of litigation from the parents. All of these things have been great fodder for my rants over the years but the tipping point for me, the epifany that is sending me deep into the woods, was this year’s Democratic Primary. I don’t know when it changed or why I hadn’t noticed it before but I suddenly realized that the American people really don’t choose their President. Two un-elected cabals represented by a jackass and a pachyderm decide who we can vote for. They have their own set of rules and conditions for who can participate. They can arbitrarily disallow votes and they have their own stable of elite super members whose individual votes count more than mine. Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think it is possible for an honest, substantive representitive of the American people to ever be elected President. The election process has always been the great hope for change and has given the common man and his vote a sense of empowerment in an otherwise rantable existance. With that hope gone, my rants have become unresolvable. Sad, isn’t it? So, I have found a cabin on a mountainside where I can call the rabbit which has stolen carrots from my garden a nasty varmit without being censured by PETA. A place where I can discrimminate between good and bad, useful and not, without being a hate monger. A place where diversity refers to how many species of trees I have. A place where I can eat fresh, unprocessed food again. Take me home country roads.........and hurry. .