Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Idle Minds

It must be some kind of winter cabin fever. Dooley the dog and I have been doing

silly things and thinking silly thoughts. Here are some examples.

Dooley has been practicing his animal calls. He is certain it will make him a better hunter. He ran through his repertoire for me last night which included squirrel, rabbit and turkey calls. They were actually pretty good. I didn’t have the heart to tell him they were all warning and distress calls (which is all he ever hears).

I wrote a letter to the county tax assessor complaining that my mountainous land should be taxed less than people with flat land because my 500 acres takes up less space on earth than someone with five hundred acres on flat land. I’m surprised some politician hasn’t come up with a way to tax land on the basis of volume which would probably increase my taxes ten-fold.

Dooley and I spent a day panning for gold in the creek just below the waterfall. We didn’t find gold, but we found a big lump of gray clay. I made an ashtray for my Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw Cigars and Dooley sculpted a 5 piece cheeseburger complete with onion slice and dill pickle chips.

I have been trying to duplicate a shot my granddad used to make on a regular basis with a Crossman 101 22 cal. pellet gun from the 1930’s. The gun is over 80 years old and still shoots great. He could shoot a playing card in half edgewise from about 50 feet. So far I have nicked the card but haven’t split it. I tried to shoot an acorn off of Dooley’s head but he got distracted and walked off.

We tried to come up with a way to create a plausible big foot or UFO sighting on our property but we got into an argument over who would wear the costume and who would take the picture.

Dooley bet me he could get to town quicker by going over the mountains than I could by driving the roads. He would start on the porch and I would start out in bed. As soon as my foot hit the floor he would start. I had to get dressed (including socks), walk to the truck and drive a safe speed which he would later verify using the GPS in my truck. I won the race by almost ten minutes. I was shocked he hadn’t hidden my keys or hitched a ride on Bette’s mail truck. Since it had been a gentleman’s bet (no wager) he had been completely fair. I suspect if the bet had involved bacon the outcome may have been different.

We tied a paper bag full of table scraps to a tree not far from the cabin and sat on the porch and watched as a raccoon showed up to dine. We put a Coleman lantern on the ground between us and the tree. The bright light of the lantern from the raccoon’s point of view made us invisible in the darkness behind. At first he climbed the tree and fished things out from the top of the bag which he would drop to the ground, climb down and check for value. He did this several times. Later he discovered he could just rip a hole in the bottom of the bag and everything would come out at once. We are anxious to try the experiment again in a week or so to see if he remembers what he learned.

Lastly, Deputy Agent Anthony Mullins of Homeland Security has instructed me to explain to any readers I might have that it is not funny in written form (a letter) or for that matter, any form, to request military and law enforcement aid in repelling an impending alien invasion across fenced borders when one is actually referring to garden pests. It was Dooley’s idea, I swear.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dooley Brings A Note...

I’m not exactly sure what day it was last fall (I don’t keep track of the days much anymore) that Dooley came running up the hill with a note tied around his neck. The note said, “Come on down the hill Kessinger boy. I’m too old to climb up to ya. Clyde.” I walked over to the ridge that looked down on the river and there was a man that, indeed, looked too old to climb the hill. I gathered a few things including a pack of Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw Cigars and headed down the hill to meet the man.
“Are you the Kessinger boy?”
“I’m not a Kessinger but I’m related to a few”, I answered.
“You kin to Clark?”
“Clark Kessinger was my great uncle,” I revealed.
“Play the fiddle?”
“Sadly, no.”
“Well, I heard there was a kin to Clark out here and I wanted to meet you…I’m Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper…me and Clark were friends. Played fiddles together some.”
That was the first time I met Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper. It was getting a bit chilly so I started a fire in the old fire ring next to the river and the old man and I sat down to talk. Clark Kessinger was a bit of a legend among Appalachian musicians. If you Google the name you can read all about him. I only got to see him play once and didn’t really know much about him personally. Clyde had heard from Firewood Kenny that someone related to Clark lived out here and he just had to come out say hello.

Clyde is a traditional rural Appalachian man. Having lived in this area most of his life he knew more about the history of my land than anyone I’d spoken to up to this point. He spoke plainly and compellingly with a fine storyteller’s brevity and with the wisdom of a very old soul. When I asked if he had any stories about great uncle Clark he said, “I don’t tell no stories on a man that he don’t tell on himself. His music storys everything you need to know...and then some I ‘spect.”
Clyde loved, however, talking about life here and the changes he’d seen in his 93 years. (I have already written about his observations on social programs in an earlier blog “Speaking of Blackberries”). He had lived and worked through the timber, mining and wildcat oil booms and busts, the migration of West Virginians out of the state on the “Hillbilly Highway” and the ever increasing political corruption and exploitation of mountain people. I never sensed bitterness or self-pity from him, he just told of life as he’s seen it. A real treasure had crossed my river that night.
At one point near the end of the evening I asked him if he thought traditional rural Appalachian life would soon be gone forever.
“….naw,” he said, “the roots are still here, strong, deep and a’growin’ on the hillsides…there ain’t no people-made evils that can touch them roots,, son, comin’ back and livin’ here is plain example of that.”
Thank you, Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper, thank you.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Was I Thinking

I apologize for not posting the last few days. Bette the mail carrier was a little under the weather and her replacement refuses to deliver mail without a stamp so I had no easy way to get them to Irene.
I mentioned in one of these posts that every once in a while I like to put some gear together and head out in the afternoon to camp on different parts of my land overnight, even in the winter months. The following and completely impractical thought came to me on one of these recent overnights.
Many cultures in our world have or had a rite of passage for their youth. The aborigine have the “walkabout”, Native Americans have “Vision Quest” and the Amish “Rumspringa” to name a few. They all involve a change of lifestyle for an extended period of time and they all involve a continuing appreciation for a life style traditional of their forefathers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if all Americans had a rite of passage that involved spending six months alone in a cabin on a piece of land in the woods? No TV, cell phone, computer, newspaper or store bought food, just a chance to learn and appreciate a simpler, traditional way of life. The unfortunate thing is that America is not one culture these days, it is many subcultures and a universal rite of passage just wouldn’t fly.
If Dooley became President (or King) we could change the Constitution to include a mandatory stay in the woods. Then,of course, we would “need” a federal regulatory agency to oversee and enforce it. There would be forms to fill out and fees to pay and lawsuits when people suffered psychological trauma from not being able to “tweet” or update their Facebook page on a regular basis.....
The more I think about it the less I care for the idea. I came here for peace of mind, and I found it.
The rest of you are on your own

Friday, February 17, 2012

Outlaw: Part Two

…continued from yesterday.
Dooley was not around for breakfast the next morning. I suspected he was out sniffing happily up and down the run for Jessie’s treasure. I thought briefly about walking out that way and checking on him but I was working on a new electrically charged pest fence for my garden and never got around to it. Dooley came in about dusk, tired, hungry and covered with dirt. I filled his bowl with some fresh food but he was already sound asleep in the corner. Next morning his bowl was empty and he was gone again. Around noon I fixed some lunch and sat down to plan my seed purchase for the spring. I glanced over to Dooley’s sleeping corner and casually made a note to myself that I needed to sweep up the dirt he had been tracking in. Then a terrifying realization hit me. Dooley wasn’t just sniffing for the bacon cache; he was digging the pa’jeebers out of Raven Run. The Run is where my secret wild ginseng patch is located. Good, sellable, ginseng root takes years to cultivate. Last year it was selling for as much as $500 a pound. I had inadvertently turned a small tenacious digging machine loose on one of my most valuable crops. If my ginseng patch was gone I had only myself to blame. I could have said the treasure was over at Owl Rock or Fish Trap Hollow, but I specified Raven Run.
No, I didn’t run right over to stop him digging. Dooley’s fun meant more to me than a few roots. I did, however, fry up close to 3 pounds of bacon, stuffed it into a coffee can and buried it on a hillside over at Raven Run that night as Dooley slept.
For legal reasons, I can’t say whether or not Dooley dug up my ginseng patch. The growing and digging of ginseng root is stringently regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to suggest Dooley may have “over harvested” my patch with his digging could result in punitive action being taken by Federal officials. I will end this saying only, ”Who knows what is good or what is bad.”

*Irene Note: So, where is this patch exactly….?

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Dooley had seemed a little down lately. About a week ago, late in the evening. I saw him standing in the middle of the creek. He was just standing with his head hanging low. It was almost like he had started across and just gave up. I suspect he had intended to join up with the McCroskey dogs down the road for his usual “night out with the boys” but changed his mind. Back in the “other world” when I had a friend that was down I would tell them the old Taoist parable of “Who knows what is good and what is bad” (perhaps Irene can provide a link or something to this story in case you haven’t read it.), but dogs, I’ve learned, don’t readily connect stories about people to their own lives. I knew whatever was bothering him would eventually pass but thought perhaps I could hurry it along a bit.
“So, Dooley, lookin’ in that creek for the Jessie James treasure? That’s a good idea. I never thought to look there before.” Dooley looked up and his eyes widened a bit. “Most folks believe it is buried somewhere over at the bottom of Raven Run, that’s where I’ve done the bulk of my lookin’..sure would be grand to find all that bacon”. Dooley always connects with a story about bacon. “Come on up to the porch and I’ll tell you all I know about it.” Dooley led the way back up to the cabin.
I lit up my Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw cigar, feigned a long, thoughtful, dramatic pause and began. (The story I’m about to tell is mostly true according to the folks around here and it is backed up with newspaper and other historical accounts. I changed a few elements to keep Dooley interested.)
“It was September 3rd, 1887 and most of the men around here had teamed up to build a wagon bridge across the river down about a half mile below the McCroskey place. Around dinner time, up rode a group of five dogs on horses and stopped where the men were working. “Know who I am?” said one of the riders. They knew alright, cause it was Jessie James, one of the most famous outlaw dogs there ever was. “We need a change of horses, these are about wore out”, Jessie said. So the local folks help him change out the horses and the gang rode off. People were happy to help him even though he was an outlaw just to be able to tell their grandkids one day that they had met Jessie James. Two days later the James Gang robbed a big meat market over in Huntington….got away with 10,000 pounds of bacon.” Dooley was transfixed to say the least. “The sheriff over in Huntington got a posse together and started chasin’ Jessie and his gang something furious. The gang split up and most went over into Kentucky, but Jessie, remembering the good folks here in West Virginia, came back and hid out in a rock cave over at Raven Run. Somehow the sheriff got word and came lookin’ for him. Jessie made his escape clean as could be but had to leave some of the bacon behind because the load was slowing him down. Folks have been looking for that bacon ever since.”
By the time I had finished the story it was dark. Dooley sat for a while right on the edge of where the light from the cabin ended and total darkness began. He was looking in the direction of Raven Run. I smiled and went to bed. ……to be continued.

*Irene Note: Here is a short version of the Taoist Parable referred to above.

" old Chinese farmer lost his best stallion one day and his neighbor came around to express his regrets, but the farmer just said, "Who knows what is good and what is bad." The next day the stallion returned bringing with him 3 wild mares. The neighbor rushed back to celebrate with the farmer, but the old farmer simply said, "Who knows what is good and what is bad." The following day, the farmer's son fell from one of the wild mares while trying to break her in and broke his arm and injured his leg. The neighbor came by to check on the son and give his condolences, but the old farmer just said, "Who knows what is good and what is bad." The next day the army came to the farm to conscript the farmer's son for the war, but found him invalid and left him with his father. The neighbor thought to himself, "Who knows what is good and what is bad."

Sunday, February 12, 2012


.......continued from yesterday

To my dad, wading in chest deep water along the grassy banks of the mist covered Poky River with a forked pole and 6 volt Ray-O-Vac flashlight on a moonless summer night after midnight was the ultimate test of country manhood. The tradition began shortly after my older sister began dating and I now believe it was a plot to discourage or scare away her current suitor because the ‘boyfriend’ was always invited to come along and join in the fun. Besides the ‘boyfriend’, there would be two or three of dad’s ‘city’ friends and generally an uncle or cousin invited.Leaving from Charleston about 10:00pm, dad and I would ride in the old 53’ Willis jeep and the others would follow in their cars. Dad always seemed to choose the long route into the property which was the windiest and the darkest. To uninitiated, it must have seemed like we were descending deep into some forgotten wilderness abyss as we traveled down the mountain on ever narrowing roads to the river.

Base camp for the gigging expeditions was the island at the “low water crossing”. It became a low water crossing because of the confluence of Rock Creek with the Poky River. The meeting of the two waters left a deposit of sand and rock that created a little delta. Arriving around midnight dad would immediately present his world famous tutorial on the technique and nuance of stalking and stabbing frogs to the newbies by the light of our old Coleman lantern. It was my job to build a stone ringed fire on the exposed part of the delta. After a ceremonial moment of silence to listen respectfully to the droning baritone calls of their prey, dad handed out gigs, flashlights and green rubberized shoulder bags to the unequipped and the bold hunters waded off into the misty darkness.

The first years of this tradition I participated fully. I can still feel the goose bumps of excitement, the smell of the water and the sensation of my shoes flooding with sandy water as I waded in. As time went on I lost my lust for frog blood. I discovered that the frogs were so completely immobilized by the flashlight shining in their eyes, that it was just as easy to grab them by hand so I’d wade out and grab a few just so I would have something to show at the “Frog Braggin’” (a competition to determine who had captured the largest and possibly most dangerous amphibian). By the light of the fire it was impossible to distinguish a stabbed frog from a hand caught one so my manhood was never challenged. Before heading home I would secretly release them back into the water.

For the rest of the evening I would tend the fire at the delta. About an hour into the hunt I would throw pre-prepared foil wrapped ears of corn on the embers. Dad had a special way he like to prep the corn for the roasting and he would always have a dozen or so ears in the back of the Jeep on giggin’ nights, wrapped and ready for the fire.

For some reason, the big frogs always seemed to be north of the delta and most of the group headed up that way. It was magical to sit by the fire, look up the river and watch the beams of light crisscrossing the foggy night air, occasionally hearing a splash when someone tripped over a submerged log or an expletive when a frog escaped or a snake slithered by. By about 2:30 AM the giggers returned to the delta, had some corn, showed their frogs and dried out by the fire. It was never a raucous time; there was no hootin’ and hollerin’, no beer drinking and no bawdy stories. Still, it was the kind of manly fun and adventure that put a lasting smile on your face. I know there are a few of the “one-timers” out there still telling the story of the night they went giggn’ with my dad on that dark West Virginia river.

In Search Of The Elusive...

My dad grew up as a country boy in West Virginia, not so very far from where I am sitting right now. His life path took him eventually to Charleston where he got a job in a drug store downtown. Inspired by the owner, legendary West Virginia pharmacist Roy Bird Cook, he became a pharmacist and ran his own very successful drug store for many years. About the time he was 50 be began trying to recapture the spirit of that early country life, I think, when he bought this piece of land. It wasn’t long after that, he bought an Airedale and named it Rags after an Airedale he had as a pet in his youth. The original Rags, he told me, had climbed onto the running board of his father’s truck one day and rode into town, as he had done many times before, but on this occasion he didn’t come back. I don’t think he ever found out what happened to that dog. My dad loved coming out here when he had time. He would hunt with his brother like they used to do as kids, he loved talking to the locals and he was always buying something for the original cabin to fix it up. I remember he was particularly proud of a vintage potbelly stove he had found, cleaned up and installed in the cabin. It was a treasured thing that, no doubt, also reminded him of those early years.
His greatest joy, it seemed, was bringing his ‘city’ friends to the woods and insisting they walk across the rickety old swinging bridge that spanned the river, drink the spring water that flowed right out of the rocks and collect, crack and eat some of the walnuts that used to be so plentiful back then. You could sense that somewhere inside him a little boy was shouting to his friends, “Isn’t this wonderful?”
I was always there, or course. I never missed a chance to be on this land with my dad, even on that first of many fateful summers nights when he said, “Take this pole and flashlight and get in the jeep son, we’re going in search of the elusive lithobates catesbeiana.”
…to be continued.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Speaking Of Blackberries

Someday I will explain in more detail how 93 year old Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper ended up sitting with Dooley and me around a campfire smoking Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw cigars on the edge of the river that runs past my property late one summer night ; suffice it say we were there and the conversation had turned to the subject of blackberries. Fiddlin’ Clyde loved to talk about the ’old days’. I guess it was probably because, at age 93, he had so many ‘old days’ to talk about. He had gone on for some time about picking blackberries in his youth. Aside for the economic aspects of berry picking he described a rich and almost forgotten lore that surrounded the event. A family that did not get out and gather the abundance of blackberries for fresh blackberry pies, or for jam, or for canning for cobbler in the winter, and of course for jellies was looked down on as the dregs of mountain society. He told how his parents would dress him “extra heavy” from the knees down to protect him from rattlesnakes and how he had an old pair of socks with five holes cut out in each for his fingers to protect his hands and wrists from the sharp teeth of the vines. He laughed when said he learned to take a piece of string and tie the picking bucket around his neck so he could pick with both hands and get the job done quicker than his brothers. He remembered it was not unusual to see folks walking past his house for days either heading out or coming back from picking.
I mentioned that there were a few small blackberry patches on my land but nothing that would sustain a community. “Course not”, he said. “A patch needs to be picked clean every year to grow. Left to the birds and the rain to clear the vines a patch will shrink to nothin’ in no time.”
“ I wonder why folks don’t pick the patches like they used to?”, I threw out rhetorically, not really expecting to get the amazing answer I did.
“It was poverty what done it.”
Poverty? Here is his explanation recreated as best I could.

“Used to be they weren’t no poverty in these hills. Most everyone had a garden, some chickens and a hog pen. Them that didn’t lived by trapping or shootin’ what they could and eatin’ what greens and roots they found out-a growin’ natural. If’n you had a mule people might think you a little better off cause you could travel ‘round the hills a little more without a wearin down your shoes none,..and you can’t beat a mule for getting’ the heavy work done a might faster. ..but those that had mules were never so much better off that they couldn’t loan the mule to a neighbor if the need arose. People round here didn’t know they were poor till some demoncrats (Democrats)did some cipherin’ and decided we weren’t meetn’ up to standards of the rest of the country. They drew a line on a piece of paper and said, that there is the poverty line and quick as that we were poor. Wasn’t long after they began a givn’ out bank checks and food coupons to folks just for livin’ below the line on that piece of paper. People started usin’ the bank checks and tradin’ their mules to get’em a truck so they could go to town and trade the coupons for store-bought food. Even dogs was eatin’ out of a can. Every once-ta- while they’d be a big truck that come into the County full of what the demoncrats called surplus and hand it out for free. Usually surplus was cheese and cabbage but sometimes it was paint left over from the State Road fixin’ Department . They was-a-time when it seemed like every third house, fence and barn in the County was painted the same yellow color you see draw’d on the hard roads. The demoncrats kept givin’ people stuff for free so the people kept votin’ fer’ im and before long they was demoncrats all over the place. Those demoncrats had programs for all kinds of poverty but the one they was a-most proud of was job learnin’. Thinkin’ was, get folks a-working so the government wouldn’t have to send out banks checks and coupons no more. Twern’t long before all the youngin’s were over in Richwood or down in Charleston in factories making things they used to make for ‘emselves. These things were put In stores and the people used the money they made a-working to buy’em. The demoncrats needed more money to pay for all the ideas they was a-dreamin’up so they put taxes on things and the price of those store bought things went up. A’for long people weren’t buyin’ as much a’cause of them high prices. Then those factories did some of their own cipherin’ and made up their minds they wasn’ t making as much money as they felt they were ’upposed to so they closed them up and sent the youngin’s back home. Bein’ put off from work gave the youngin’s somethin’ the demnoncrats called eligibilities. Now the youngin’s was a-gettin’ bank checks again for not workin’ a’tall. Wasn’t long before before the old hog pen was fulla beer cans and the truck they traded the mule for was rusting in the field where the garden us ‘d to be. Folks lost the will the gumption and the know-how to take care of ‘emselves. That’s why thy tain’t no blackberries anymore.”

*Irene Note: Spell checking was hell on this one.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Notes From Irene

Irene, as you may recall, is the librarian at the little County library in town. Irene is also the one who publishes this blog. I have no computer. I hand write my story and hand it off to the mail carrier Bette. Bette takes it to Irene who types it up and publishes it (I have seen my blog on a computer screen only twice). Irene then lets me know if anyone has posted a comment so I can respond. She also prints out a little graph that shows how many people actually view the blog. With Bette as the dispatch carrier, the system we use is not remarkably different from the one Gen. Lee used one hundred and forty eight years ago at Gettysburg. Occasionally Irene will offer her own comments and suggestions. Some are motherly, like; “You really need to stop smoking those damn Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw Cigars”…others are more informational like; “Ramon’s wife really didn’t find the blackberry wine recipe funny”. I appreciate all of Irene’s comments. I particularly enjoyed one she wrote relating my story about Paul the goat to Leviticus 16 in the bible. In the biblical ceremony of Yom Kippur one goat is sacrificed and one goat is allowed to escape into the wilderness carrying the sins of the people with it. The word ‘scapegoat’ is derived from that escaping goat. I wrote back to Irene and told her that may explain why I had been feeling so much better about myself lately. (By the way, there have been reports of a goat matching Paul’s description loitering outside a truck stop in Tazwell Virginia just off of Route 19. If you happen to see Paul, tell him it’s OK (and safe) to come home. We miss him.) There are other notes from Irene that, although I appreciate them, I don’t really understand her motivation. For example, why did she send me a detailed note on the etymology of the word ‘squirrel’? It got me to thinking, however, that readers might enjoy
Irene’s comments so I have invited her to add her comments and notes to my blog anytime she felt the urge to do so. The only stipulation is that she clearly label her contributions as “Irene’s Comment. Thank you Irene and thank you Bette, I couldn’t do this without you.

*Irene’s Comment”: No comment.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Randy’s Roasted White Oak Acorn Snacks

1. Find White Oak tree in woods.

2. Spread tarp on ground.

3. Fire shotgun into upper branches of tree until sufficient acorns have been collected.

4. Put acorns in cloth bag and hang in toilet tank for 1 week in three person household, or until water changes from brown to clear again. The cycle of soaking and flushing will remove bitter tannins from acorns.

5. Split shells horizontally with a whack from your favorite skinning knife or machete. Randy suggests you resist the temptation to have you wife or children steady the acorns as you whack.

6. Soak overnight in 3 gallons of lightly salted water. For best flavor use ‘Fleur de Sel’ (Flower of salt)

7. Strain out any oak weevil larvae that may have floated to the surface overnight and drain.

8. Open a can of rendered lard (fatback or better) and use a three fingered scoop to slather on acorns. Make sure the lard fills the slits you previously cut into the shells. Randy note: “Dogs love to lick the lard off your fingers after this step.”

9. Roast at temperature/ time appropriate to heating method.
Oven 450 degrees: 18 minutes
Iron Skillet, medium gas fire: 15 minutes
Campfire embers (enclose acorns in foil ball): About as long as it takes to smoke a Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw Cigar.
Acetylene torch: 25-35 seconds. Randy Tip: Keep the torch moving.

10. Place finished acorns in serving dish appropriate for the occasion, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.

Legal disclaimer: Neither the FDA nor Martha Stewart have approved this recipe for human consumption. Paula Deen had no comment except to say, “Lard…mmmm,yummy!

Ramon’s Wife’s Blackberry Wine Recipe
1. Mix blackberry juice, water, sugar, ethanol and a touch of cinnamon in an old wine bottle.

2. Cork bottle.

3. Shake by hand or place bottle on washing machine during spin cycle.

4. Let stand till the cork blows out.

5. Chill and serve.
Ramon suggestion: Don’t use bottle with screw on top.


Monday, February 6, 2012

A Terrible Parable

Home poker games are considered unlawful gambling in West Virginia. The law states that any person, at any place, public or private, is guilty of a misdemeanor for betting or waging anything of value on any game that involves chance. The penalty is a fine between $5 and $300, with a possibility of up to 1 year probation. That being said, I want to make it clear that, although I do occasionally engage in card games that involve chance, the exchange of money during those games is purely a co-incidental and often spontaneous result of numismatic trading between friends with interests in coin collecting. We play a hand, we exchange some coins, sip some sweetened and gently aged blackberry juice, discuss local socio-political issues, munch a few roasted white oak acorns and play another hand. Innocence abounds.
It was during one of these light hearted social gatherings that Ramon informed me of some troubling news circulating the community about my recent wave of blog entries.
“I had to tell my wife I was going over to Edgar’s tonight to change the bearings in his hog oiler because she thinks you have become a threat to our community. She made it very clear I should dissolve any associations I might have with you.”
(Note: Due to the often colorful and sometimes misconstrued colloquialisms used in casual conversations among the men of rural Appalachian heritage, I have, for the most part, paraphrased the actual words used in the discussion. I have also chosen to change the names of the participants with the exception of Edgar, who was, coincidentally, having problems with the bearings in his hog oiler and was not present.)
“A threat?” I asked.
“Yep. She said the tone of your new blogs has changed from the earlier ones and you may be showing signs of mental imbalance.”
Hector added bluntly,” The word is you think your dog can talk; and what’s more you’ve been taking his advice. My sister and her friends believe that it won’t be long before you turn into a regular Son of Sam and start killing folk.”
At first I thought this was what they call in the country ‘funnin’, so I played along. “Gentlemen, what’s wrong with taking the advice of a friend? In Dooley’s defense, aside from that one incident with the meat cleaver and bunny last Easter, Dooley has never displayed or advocated violence of any kind…..” A prolonged silence at the table suggested this was not ‘funnin’. So I followed with the ever popular, “But seriously,….” and went on to explain that perhaps the women did not understand the nuances of a form of writing called the fable where animals often are used, in prose or verse, to illustrate one or more instructive principles, or life lessons. I continued to explain that when I write that I spoke to a goat or a dog it is just a device to externalize my thoughts and is not to be taken literally as actually talking to goats or dogs.
“Are you saying our women are ‘illiteral’ Florida boy?” That came from Randy who had been quiet up to this point. The blackberry juice in my system was encouraging me to laugh out loud at the question, but my natural cowardice and his intimidating tone easily suppressed the urge. “Of course not Randy, I just think maybe they should stick to reading some of the other well-known blogs about simple living that include recipes, sheep shearing and candle making.”
The evening ended, sadly, without pleasantries. If I were to describe the final minutes in fable form I might say the wolf, the lion and the bear descended on the lamb and devoured him.
The evening left me with several regrets. 1 At the time when the poisoned discussion began, I was holding three tens and a pair deuces and the hand was never finished. 2. Randy’s use of the phrase ‘Florida boy” confirmed that no matter how long I live in my secret cabin in the woods of West Virginia I will always be labeled by my past. 3. That I have no doubt lost several of the half dozen people who actually read my blog.
On the upside: 1. Dooley was not around to see this. 2. In exchange for leaving with the same face I had come in with and an invitation to next month's game I agreed to include, in the spirit of compromise, two recipes in my next blog; Ramon’s wife’s recipe for blackberry wine and Randy’s superb roasted white oak acorn snacks. Don’t miss it.


When you live alone on a quiet mountain side it doesn’t take long to begin assigning human traits and personalities to dogs, goats, chickens, squirrels, rabbits, etc. Without other humans to talk to eventually full blown conversations with the animals will ensue which are really just articulation, one sided role play and self-debate exercises about life, philosophy, science and belief. Sometimes these conversations can lead to troubling dilemmas. For example, I remember standing next to a goat I called Paul. I explained to Paul that the rainbow I saw across the valley was a completely different rainbow than the one he saw because my eyes were higher than his and rainbows have a specific angle of refraction so he was actually seeing a different set of water droplets than I was. Paul challenged me explaining that at such a great distance and such a small variance in angle of refraction between his eyes and mine the truth is the rainbows we see are mostly overlapping and we are not seeing two distinctly different rainbows. I expected his response to be more along the lines of “What rainbow?”
His grasp of geometry and physics stunned and, to be honest, embarrassed me a bit. The presumed hierarchical gap between livestock owner and livestock narrowed to such a degree in that one astute observation that I began to question my planned “harvesting” of Paul the following week.
That evening on the porch shortly after finishing my Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw cigar, I mentioned my second thoughts to Dooley. He patiently explained that even though I had unexpectedly connected to Paul intellectually I had failed to grasp the more important spiritual convictions of a goat. “Having been domesticated for over 10,000 years and existing as a revered sacrificial animal in a number human religious and spiritual belief systems the goat tradition finds great honor in sacrifice. To deny Paul this honor would do nothing but diminish his perception of the value of his own life. Instead, you should share your plans with Paul and celebrate his upcoming harvest as a day of joyful fulfillment.”
Taking Dooley’s advice I announced to all the livestock the following afternoon the news of Paul’s upcoming “harvest” and suggested a feast be planned for the night before this special day. I asked the chickens, (the most literate of the group) to prepare a list of foods I should prepare and suggested everyone should try and think of activities and presentations appropriate for the day. Dooley loudly suggested party hats which immediately created debate among the different groups. “I think it only right that Paul should have final say in our plans” I said. Everyone looked at Paul. Paul cleared his throat and said with obvious emotion, “I’m a bit overwhelmed with all the attention right at this moment. It might be best if we all sleep on it and commence with the planning the tomorrow.”
I slept well that night.
When I was planning the goat shed and pen I sought the advice of other local goat owners as to specification of height, square footage and materials. All agreed 2x4 no climb woven fencing would be my best bet for containment, and for nearly a year it had proven sufficient. Yes, Paul was gone. Escaped. (Never saw him again.)
Standing with my hands on my hips in disbelief I looked over at Dooley who was sitting a safe distance away.
Without missing a beat he said, “I guess some goats are more traditional than others.”

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Rabbit Ears

My nephew, Ira, came to visit his “crazy uncle who lives in the woods” last summer. He brought me, as a gift, a small digital TV with a seven inch screen and built in antenna. Ira is only 12 and I was in uncle mode so I refrained from openly cursing the little evil glow box from the “other world” he had so callously brought to my hallowed sanctuary. (Besides, I knew it was his mother (my sister) who had put him up to it. Unlike me, she willing accepts the insanity of the “other world” in exchange for little diversionary treats like TV, Wi-Fi, pocket phones, brownies and indoor plumbing.) So I said in my best uncle voice, Wow! I haven’t seen one of these in years.” We turned it on and discovered it could only pick up two over-the-air channels, an intermittent and digitally pixilated NBC station that was 25 miles away and a perfectly clear so-called family Christian station from Tazwell, Virginia, 200 miles away. Beyond divine intervention I have no explanation for why I got that station. Strangely enough, Tazwell is on the same route 19 that passes near my secret cabin in the woods. Perhaps it’s some sort of flume effect with the transmitter shooting straight up route 19. Perhaps Christian stations are not only exempt from taxes, but from FCC broadcast power limitations as well. As my Mother used to say, “Heaven only knows.” Ira seemed disappointed so I turned it off and gave him a quick tour of the grounds immediately around the cabin. He lives in Boston so I felt obligated to point out some potential hazards in this foreign environment; poison ivy, the 30 foot drop off nearby, ticks, how to check for snakes when you step over a rotting log or between rocks, how to spot a rabid raccoon and goat nibbling to name a few. I also, gave him one of my Swiss army knives to use as he saw fit. In typical uncle fashion I did not offer the classic “don’t cut yourself” warning. I had chores to do so I gave him a whistle to blow if he encountered a problem and turned him loose to explore. I hoped he would find the joys of whittlin’ a stick, making a fort or discovering crawdads in the little spring fed creek behind the cabin. In truth, I hoped he was capable of entertaining himself because I, no idea how to keep a modern twelve year old mind busy for a week. An hour later when I came back to the cabin, the whistle and the knife were on the porch rail and he was sitting in my favorite Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Flavored Outlaw cigar smoking chair with a tiny laptop playing a game. Hallelujah, he came with built in entertainment! I also discovered he didn’t mind where he played the game so after dinner I showed him the makeshift bed I had prepared for him, he sat down next to it and began rapidly clicking away at the keyboard freeing up my favorite Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw cigar smoking chair on the porch. For some reason (maybe some latent TV watching urge from my life in the “other world?) I thought it might be fun to take the little TV out on the porch with me to see if I could get better reception. I was sure Ira would be pleased to see any improvement in the watch-ability of his gift. Sure enough, NBC was much better in the magical night air and of course Tazwell was as strong as ever. I tried watching a show I had remembered, “Dateline”. It was a troubling true-life mystery surrounding the death of a mother and her children and the suspicion that her husband had done the deed. In the first part they had you believe he was definitely the guy. In the second part (it was a two hour show) they had you doubt his guilt. In the end a surprise witness for the prosecution came forward and swayed you and the jury back to a guilty verdict. Honestly, I felt abused watching the show. The beginning was just compelling enough to make you want to get right to the end but they made you sit through two hours of the same crime scene shots over and over. Before every commercial they would tease you with a promised twist and after every commercial they would do a lengthy recap. If you removed the unnecessary teases, repeated footage, commercials and recaps the whole show would have been about 20 minutes long. I turned over to the Christian channel and watched an episode of “Highway to Heaven” with Michael Landon. This story, fiction, was about a man who prayed that his family would re-unite after years of separation. The angels gave him a heart attack, he dies and his family re-unites at his funeral. No joke. The message I got was, be careful what you pray for. Damn glow box. The next morning I told Ira of the improved reception and he seemed pleased. He suggested that I get digital rabbit ears for even better reception. I stood up and said, “Come on Dooley, let take the shotgun and get some rabbit ears.” Ira didn’t understand the joke and Dooley was deeply disappointed when I sat back down. After breakfast we all took the truck into town drive to pick up some “city boy food” at the grocery/hardware/feed and seed store. As Ira perused the food isles, I wandered over to the hardware side just to say hi to Harry, the owner. By this time, it had become a joke that Harry would turn off the little black and white TV behind the counter when I came in. It was always good for a quick laugh. I mentioned my nephew was down for a visit and that he had brought me a TV. “Sounds like he’s trying to re-civilize you, be careful”, he warned. Another quick laugh. “I just got some new digital antennas in. Everyone around here without satellite dishes use ‘em” Harry said with a big smile on his face. As God is my witness I don’t know why the following words came out of my mouth. “You know, Harry, my nephew would sure enjoy watching the TV this week if we got a little better reception. Do they work with those little tiny TVs?” “Sure, they come with a mini adapter plug” “Cheap?” “Cheap enough” We drove back to the cabin with Dooley sleeping in the back, Ira rapidly clicking his keyboard in the passenger seat and 65.00 worth of honeybuns, Twinkies, canned coke and rabbit ears. In spite of an overwhelming guilt, as the week went on I found myself sitting on the porch in my Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw cigar chair night after night lustfully searching the newly acquired 4 channels. I was possessed. I knew my skin must be turning blue from the light of that demonic machine. Still I watched. I drove Ira to the airport in Charleston on Saturday afternoon. I told Dooley to watch after things while I was gone. I am rarely away from the cabin for more than an hour and I worry a bit. For once he didn’t seen upset about staying behind. When I returned my new TV and rabbit ears were gone. Dooley was asleep in his favorite corner of the cabin. His paws and nose were covered in clay and dirt. Good dog Dooley, good dog.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dooley for President

I told Dooley that at age five he was technically too young to run for President but he believed the so- called “dog years” adjustment qualified him for a run. He also reminded me that there is nothing specifically in the constitution prohibiting a dog from running….and, he reminded me, running is one of the things he does best. I wished him good luck but I knew he would never have the gumption to fill out the forms, organize an exploratory committee or gather the required number of names in each state to enter the primary races. Besides, how would ever raise the $600,000,000 now deemed necessary to gain a nomination in this country. A few days later we got a letter from the Federal Elections Commission, addressed to Dooley Lincoln, accepting his candidacy. Apparently, he had long been an admirer of Lincoln and a last name was required on the forms. I knew, then, this dog was serious. “What party are you affiliated with”, I asked, “The Flea party?” “ No” , he said,” I’m running as a Dependent.” “The majority of voting dogs in this country identify strongly with dependency. Our slogan is, “What’s good for your owner is good for us.” There are over 80 million dogs in American households and considering only 130 million people voted in 2008, I could easily expect 55% of the votes, allowing for the indifference of some of wealthier breeds like those damn Yorkies. So, you’re looking for a broad appeal of both owners and dogs… nice angle”, I said,” do you have a platform? What about foreign policy? Dooley jumped to my favorite footstool and looked pensive…a look I’d never seen from him before. “Our relations with foreign nations will be determined largely by how a nation treats its animal population, both domestic and wild. Happy animals are a far better indicator of a nation’s worth in this world than their political ideology. “I like that. How about education? “, I asked “My stand on education is, perhaps, my most controversial platform plank. I would eliminate formal schooling completely. This country spends almost 600 billion dollars a year to educate its young when, in fact, everything anyone needs to know is available for free from books, the internet and life experience. There would be a need for an incentive program that would include not just financial rewards for demonstrations of self- education achievement but a recognition and sharing of that achievement that would lead to better jobs and associations with others who could mentor them in their chosen field.” So, in simple terms,” I asked,” if I learn to roll over and sit up, and demonstrate that ability, I get a treat. That could work. How about taxes and the economy?” Taking a breath, he said, “Taxes are a complicated issue and related directly to the economy. This country was sparked by what was perceived as unfair taxation of tea in 1773 and over the years we have forgotten that. Taxation is now a solution for bad management and the wholesale wasting of the taxpayer’s money. It’s not that taxes are too high; it’s that we have too many taxes, too many fees. Then Dooley pulled out a crudely written list. I suspect the chickens helped him with this. On the list were over one hundred taxes, fees and examples of double taxation and indirect taxes (fines, penalty taxes} we all pay. It was and eye opener. “All the taxes on the list were not in existence 100 years ago. “ He added. “Nice statement of the problem. Sounds a little like tea party talk. What is your solution Mr. President?” I asked. “The fundamental issue for all our problems, not just taxes, misspending and greed , is true representation of the American people by our lawmakers. How many times have you heard politicians say in the first person,” My beliefs and convictions don’t allow me to vote for this bill.” Shouldn’t they be saying instead, “ My constituents believe this bill is not right for the country at this time”? Who are they representing?” he said, twisting his head a bit to the side looking for, I believe, a “good boy” reaction from me. I was silent. “So first,” he went on, “ I would seek to revote special privilege from congressional members. Pay would be equivalent to the median income of the American people. They would be required to pay for their own healthcare. They would be subject to all laws and have no special immunity. It would be illegal for them to accept any gratuity, in any form, from anyone. I would declare a moratorium on new laws. Congress would have to spend the next two years removing and simplifying laws instead of…….” “Wait a minute, Dooley,” I interrupted,” how, as President, are you going to make all this happen. Do you think any congressman would vote to make these changes?” I asked. “I would tell them to.” he snapped, jumping to his most fearsome stance. (No, it’s not too fearsome.) “It doesn’t work that way, my friend,” I said, not wanting to deflate him too much. “Then I’ll write my own laws,” he retorted. “The President can’t, that is Congress’s job.” I explained. “But I heard Mr. Romney say that Obama should quit asking Congress to make changes and write his own legislation because he was the President,” he said. “I know, I heard that too, after the State of the Union Speech. That just indicates that Mr. Romney is ignorant of the fundamentals of the office he seeks,” I said. Dooley looked puzzled. Then he said with renewed conviction, “ Then , I want to be King”

Don’t we all, Dooley, don’t we all.