Friday, March 30, 2012

The Day I Met Great Uncle Clark (Kessinger)

Old time fiddle player Clark Kessinger was my grandmother’s brother making him my great uncle.  I had heard the name many times growing up but never really grasped the fame he attained in the bluegrass music world until my early adult years. Most of what I now know about Clark I learned after his death in 1975. Sadly, I only saw him play once.

It was an overcast day in the early 1960s. I was excited because my aunt was taking me to a place called Cedar Lakes near Ripley West Virginia.  If anyone mentioned I was also going to see Clark Kessinger play, I don’t remember, I was eight years old and excited about going to a lake.

 When we arrived I was deeply disappointed. There was a long, low cinderblock building painted a pale yellow in the middle of a large treeless field. In a little draw there was a smallish “lake” that looked like it had been freshly dug by a backhoe. A berm of clay dirt sparsely covered with weedy grass surrounded the water. This was Cedar Lakes?

At the performance we stood of to the left side of the stage.  In my mind I don’t hear the music but I do remember the old man in the middle with a dark suit and brown hat.  He danced when he played, bobbing up and down, shaking his hips and throwing in a full body shimmy now and again.

After the performance he came down and my aunt introduced me. I don’t remember what he said but I do remember a crowd gathering around us. That is all I recall of that day.

They say his music could bring a tear to a glass eye. My fleeting memory of Clark brings a tear to mine. I wish I could have known this talented man better.

Note: I should say that Cedar Lakes has since become a beautiful place for a retreat or conference.

Irene Note: If you have any questions about this blog please email me at:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I got a little irritated a couple of nights ago when the goats were loudly taunting the chickens about their lack of understanding of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle during my evening porch sitting time. If you own goats then you probably already know how they like to flaunt their natural abilities in the field of physics. The chickens, of course, are much more spiritual and faith-based and are easily agitated by challenges to their beliefs by the largely agnostic goats. It is my policy not to interfere with open discussion on the farm, but it was my porch sitting time and I had already lit up my Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw cigar; this was a downright blatant disrespect of an otherwise beautiful evening. I sent Dooley the dog over to suggest that they break into smaller, quieter discussion groups. I don’t know what Dooley really told them but the discussion ended and both parties went back to more conventional goat and chicken activities.

 I’m pretty sure that is not why I felt unsettled.

I felt a little disappointed around mid-day yesterday when I realized the work in my garden was largely done for now. In past years it seemed I never had a day that something didn’t need attention in the garden. She is five years old now and maybe she’s getting to the age where she doesn’t need me as much as she used to. I guess I thought she’d remain a two year old forever…. but, I don’t think that is why I felt unsettled.

This morning Dooley and I went over to the property north of the creek to look for sourwood trees (for an upcoming secret project) and we discovered a short segment of an old barbed wire fence up along the little creek that feeds the waterfall. I didn’t have a way to take a sample with me but I did a little sketch of one of the barbs and the surrounding wire. I am always looking for clues about the people who used to live here. Harry, the owner of the grocery/hardware/feed store in town is a member of the Antique Barbed Wire Society of America. He has been collecting for years and I thought he could look at it and perhaps tell me when it may have been strung. I mention this because when I announced to Dooley that we would be going into town this afternoon, he just turned and walked away. Later, back at the cabin he just outright said he wasn’t interested in going to town again this week.

It’s true. I had been spending a lot of time away from the property. I think he was afraid I might be slipping back into the fringes of the “other world” I had worked so hard to avoid in my first years up here.

So, for my friends in town and my neighbors around me Dooley and I are going to “hole-up” for a while. Tonight we are going to make a campfire from scratch, howl at the moon and once again declare ourselves the Righteous Hermits of Rock Creek.

I feel better already.

PS. Irene, could you have Harry send me up a case of cigars. Just leave them in the tire below the mailbox. Thanks, Roger

Irene Note: If you have any questions about this blog please email me at:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Paul the Goat Update

Although I publically offered full immunity to Paul if he returns, he still remains at large. Here is a photo from Suzanne in Ohio taken on a family vacation that appears to show Paul at Walt Disney World. Suzanne says she did not realize Paul was in the picture until she returned home and downloaded the photo.

If anyone sees Paul, please let him know Ruth, (Paul’s ex-girlfriend) wants Paul to come home and man up to his responsibilities. He should understand what she means by that.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stick Particulars

If you remember from our last “episode”, 93 year old Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper

and I had hiked ¾ of a mile up Rock Creek to take a look at an old millstone resting in the creek bed. We were taking a little break before hiking back to meet his cousin Andrew at the river crossing. I asked Clyde for some particulars of making a walking stick like his. It was such a beautiful, useful thing.
(When I say walking stick, I don’t mean a fancy cane. It was a hardwood staff nearly as tall as Clyde himself. He calls it his “Life Stick”.)

“You want the par-tick-alars of makin’ a life stick?” he asked with proud glance at the stick.

“Well, it takes least two sticks to make a goodun’... sometimes more. The first stick needs makin’ when you are old enough to have the sense to learn the lessons it teaches about the makin’. I made my first’un when I was about 15…. carried it till I was mostly grown. I reckon you’re old enough to start one,” he said, looking over at me with a squint and without cracking a smile. “My learnin’ stick was an oak….this’uns a maple. I ‘spose if you’re a big man oak or hick’ry is just fine…..they was too heavy a stick for me. I think maple would be a good pick for you as well.”

“Truth is, when it’s time, a good stick will find you…if you’re out a lookin’ for one too much thinkin’ will lead you to the wrong’un….this stick here found me when I was helpin’ to clear a piece of land for a fella. I axed down a maple and when it dropped this stick broke clean off and was a laying there in front of me. Important thing is to find a green’un….once found you need to peel it right away. The bark peels off a green stick pretty slick...’specially if you find it in the Spring…..if you wait a day after its broke off a tree it’ll be a chore to get the bark off clean …..also, of course,” he said pointing to the knots, “break off the little branches. With this’un I just done that with my hands.”

“My first stick learned me that it’s a good idea to leave bark at the top and bottom of the stick be…gives you a grip when you are a reachin out with it, like we done when you pulled me up the bank. ‘Course you want the middle smooth for every day handlin’. Once you get it peeled you need to size it. A useful stick should be as twice as long as your right leg measured on the inside. The center should be about the size of a quarter but mostly it should allow your third finger to just touch the pad of your thumb when you have a good grip on it. Cut some off the top and some off the bottom and leave those ends learn quick that carvin’ out pointy ends is not a good thing.”

“Once cut to size I dripped some wax over the ends that I saw-cut (to help keep it from cracking) and set it out in a cool, shady place for about a week to dry. Direct sun’ll crack it for sure.”

“After dryin’ I got me an old sock, filled it with wet sand from the creek and rubbed it up and down the stick to smooth out the rough spots, ..‘'specially round the knots. After that, I used some of my ma’s Bon-Ami powder and finally some ash to make it smooth. Wipe it down real good after the ash.”

“Some folks would whittle out a snake or somethin’ on the stick at this point….I never saw the need.”

“We didn’t have no store bough varnish so I used some boiled-down and cleaned up pine sap, turpentine and beeswax to seal it up…it’s somethin’ I use’ta to fix up my fiddle with when the shine was a wearin’ off. (When he says “boiled down” he means heated up to liquefy and “cleaned up” means to scrape any pine bark out of the sap.) Takes about three coverin’s to make it perm’nent. Put it on extra thick on the ends ‘cause they take the hardest beatin’. That’s about it far as the makin’s concerned,” he said, “If you want it to be a life stick you have to use it most every day for somethin’,.. yes sir, a good life stick need to be used.”

“Clyde, I was thinking there must be some magic in that stick the way you found that turtle and all those crab spiders and briars were jumping out of your way…..” I said with a laugh.

Then, with a rare grin of his own, he said, “Oh, they’s some magic alright..but it aint no proper mountain granny witch spell’n or nothin’ like that. The magic comes on its own when the stick knows it’s for sure your life-stick. I’ve been carryin’ this one for 70 years and it took near’ta 50 a’fore any useful magic showed up.”

Apparently Clyde and I had been “resting” for a good bit in that spot because Dooley came running up followed by a worried Andrew and wife close behind. I’d forgotten all about getting Clyde back to the road for the pick-up. They’d been to church, had a covered dish lunch afterwards and still had been at the river crossing for a long time waiting for us to show up. I apologized, especially since they had come up the creek in their Sunday clothes. Thankfully Andrew had a couple of pairs of work boots in the back of the truck so their good shoes didn’t get ruined….although, Andrew’s wife is probably going to have a few blisters from wearing the oversized boots.

I hope they bring Clyde back soon; I still have a lot of learnin’ to do.

Irene Note: If you have any questions about this blog, please email me at:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Up a Creek.....

I was down on the road talking to Bette the mail carrier, when Fiddlin’

Clyde Harper’s cousin Andrew pulled up in his truck. (Clyde lives with Andrew and his wife these days) He told me now that it was warming up Clyde was pinin’ to get out of the house to loosen up his bones a bit. After seeing the picture of my millstone in the post “Rocks” on Andrew’s computer, Clyde wanted me to take him up the creek to look at it. I always enjoy opportunities to spend time with Clyde so I said sure. Clyde is 93, but gets around pretty good. I knew it wasn’t going to be a quick trip but it would give me the chance to learn more from this amazing man. Andrew suggested Sunday might be best; they could drop Clyde off on the way to church and pick him up coming back. I said I’d plan on it and would be down at the road Sunday morning.

Dooley the dog and I went down early Sunday morning and waited by the river. Before long Andrew’s truck pulls up. I hadn’t crossed the river over to the road because I was hoping they’d drive Clyde across the low water crossing to spare Clyde the shin deep wade. The truck stopped square in the middle of the road and Clyde got out. Andrew looked out the window and gave me a little grin and a “wasn’t my idea” shrug. I figured Clyde had decided where he wanted to get out and there wasn’t going to be anyone to tell him different. I’m kind of glad he did that because it set the ground work on how I should handle the rest of the hike….hands off and never offer help I wouldn’t offer a man my own age. Andrew and his wife waited until Clyde forged the river “just in case” the fast moving water took his legs out from under him and I needed help getting him back on his feet. I walked out into the water just a bit on the pretense of conversation but really I just wanted to be a little closer in the event of a problem. Clyde had a walking stick with him and used it expertly get across.

The first part of the hike was on an old oil road that runs parallel to Rock Creek. In the summer we call this area the “swamp” because it’s almost always wet and muddy due to the fact the sun never shines directly on it. Thankfully it was dry and the first part of our trip was uneventful. About a hundred and fifty yards in the road dips gently down into the creek. It was a little muddy there and I slipped just a bit myself, but Clyde and his walking stick didn’t have problem.

We both agreed that walking in the creek bed would be the easiest route so up we went. There is always something interesting to find in the creek. I love to look for bits of colorful water glass* and consider it a prize when I find an intact white glass Mason jar lid. Scanning the creek bed for treasure also gave me a reason to take it slow and easy for Clyde.

The water was teeming with minnows and darting crawdads; welcome signs of a healthy creek. Back in the late sixties it was not a healthy creek. Old rusty iron pipes that carried oil down from the wells on the hills, some dating back to the forties, often leaked into the water. Oil and foamy sludge would build up on rocks and in the bends to the point of disgust….and I remember the scent of crude oil was stifling. That was “acceptable” back then but newer technology and stronger regulation prevent contamination of the creek now. There are still black oil stains remaining on the water lines of the larger rocks as a reminder of that time.

We were able to stay in the creek bed for about 120 yards but several large downed trees across the creek meant we would have to climb up the bank and hike around. The ATVer’s that ride up the creek bed have created ramped exits around large obstacles like the trees so we had an alternative to the normally steep banks. This particular one was still steep and I knew the slick clay rich mud would be a challenge for Clyde. I sort of gestured for Clyde to start up and I would come up close behind for a push or a catch if needed. He nodded, with no hint of explanation, for me to go on up ahead of him. As I climbed I tried to make a little set of “steps” for Clyde by kicking my boots into the mud sideways at six inch intervals. When I got to the top I turned around and Clyde extended his walking stick towards me. I grabbed onto the stick and with a little pull he came right up. I had no worries after that. This little hike was no challenge for Fiddlin’ Clyde and his magic walking stick.

From that point on I paid close attention to how deft he was with that stick. He used it to push aside briars, to gracefully cut away the crab spider webs across our path and to point out interesting plants and animal sign(s) he saw. He was schooling me and I loved it. A one point when we were back in the creek he pointed to a pile of waterlogged branches along the bank. He walked over, inserted the stick and with a little lift revealed a very large snapping turtle. It seemed like he knew it would be there….or did the magic stick tell him that? (Did you know in the old days they used snapping turtles tied to ropes find dead bodies under the water? I know ‘cause Clyde told me.)

When we got to the mill stone he stood over it and poked around the edges with his stick. After a bit of study he said, “Yep. The mill here was a cane mill. If it’d been a grain mill they’d be grooves cut a‘crost here for the husks to come out...just wanted to be sure I told you right about the ma’lassas”. He told me once that the mill probably was used to crush sugarcane and process it into molasses. At 93 he hiked six tenths of a mile up a rocky creek just to be sure he had “told me right”.

This spot on the creek is easily my favorite. It has a gentle bend with a large rock face on the north bank. It’s where the Dragon Tree lives and where the waterfall empties into the creek. I sat down and told Clyde I’d like to take a little rest before heading back. He found a tree along the bank and leaned up against it.
I lit up a Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Run Outlaw cigar and said,

“So, Clyde, I’ve been admiring your walking stick…..”

(In my next post I’ll tell you what Clyde told me about making a proper “magic” walking stick.)

Irene Note: *The water glass he referred to are bits of broken glass bottles that have been smoothed by the sand and moving water in the creek.
If you have any questions about this blog please email me at:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Irene Tells The Truth

Hello everyone! My name is Irene. I’m the one who puts Roger’s handwritten stories into the computer and publishes the blog. Since Roger will probably never see this I thought I would take his invitation to post something to show you what he actually writes in a typical submission. Here is what the post entitled “Cause and Defect” (March 15th) looked like when I got it. To fully appreciate the work I do on these things I think you should go back and read the finalized post first if you are not familiar with it:

Roger’s version:
“Irene wanted me to bring the dog to her house for a dog birthday party. My truck wouldn’t start and I didn’t know why. I shook some wires I under the hood and got it running. After I dumped the dog off at the old lady’s house I took the truck to Harry’s store for some cheap cigars and to see if he could fix the starting problem. He and a bunch of other guys hanging out at the store watched me try to fix it. Sometimes the truck would start. Sometimes it wouldn’t. Everyone had their own idea about what was wrong with the truck. A smart-alec little girl said she thought it had something to do with whether the door on the truck was open or closed. We all laughed. I never did get the truck fixed. As long as it starts sometimes I suppose that will have to do. The end.
Note: Irene, please make a funny title for this and make it longer if you can. If you can think up some lesson people might learn from a truck not starting please add it to the end. Thanks Doll, Roger”

So now you know the truth. Actually, the whole truth is, he doesn’t spell very well either. Irene

Irene note: No, I didn’t write this. I would never change a word he wrote. I think this is Roger’s crazy way of saying thank you to me. You’re welcome, Roger. Now get back to the garden.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Value of Things

Based on the questions I have been getting a lot of people seem to want to know more about my things,… things I use and things I don’t use. First, here are two things I use most often and value most.

The light from the sun is easily the most valuable thing I have. I use it on a daily basis. It helps me get my work done, is extremely dependable, self-sustaining (requires no upkeep, spare parts or repair), always handy, I can use as much or as little as I want with no hidden fees or costs, and it saves money on lamp oil, flashlight batteries and firewood. Dooley likes to lay in it, the goats and chickens like to wake up with it, and plants, well, .....they absolutely love it! (The raccoons aren’t fond of it, but since I’m not currently on speaking terms with the raccoons I don’t really care.)

The second most valuable thing I have here are choices. The opportunities for making real choices are far more abundant here in the woods than in the “other world”. If I make good choices life gets better. If I make a bad one I can change it without having to ask for permission or apologize. My choices are mine and mine alone. (Sorry if that sounds selfish.)

If you insist on more tangible answers, I would have to say two of my most valuable and useful things are my belt and my cast iron skillet.

Naming the least valuable thing I have is a bit more difficult. There are things that I’ve lost, broken or given away and never replaced that certainly qualify and there definitely some things in the kitchen that I brought with me and stopped using. The best example is plates; I almost always eat out of the frying pan or the boiling pot. Moving my food to a plate that I would have to later clean doesn’t make much sense to me now. I still have a few plates just in case I decide to have a formal dinner party.

I guess the best overall answer for least valuable would be clocks. I only need to be aware of hour-specific times in situations where there is another time-reliant person (or persons) involved. The only working clock I have is in the dash of my truck. This is not to say that time itself is not important, but I currently have no need to divide my day it into 86,400 ticks of a clock. My day, instead, is divided into four parts; the two intervals between meals when I’m active, and the evening and night when I’m passive.

In terms of value, everything else falls somewhere in between.

Here are some of the questions I ask myself when choosing inanimate things to bring into my life. They are only guidelines and exceptions do exist.

1. Is it equal to or more valuable to me than the space it would occupy?

2. Would I have to hide it if I left the cabin? I don’t like things that I have to protect or worry about.

3. If it breaks, can I fix it myself?

4. Does it have more than one use?

5. If I were to drop it or leave it out in the rain overnight, would it still be useful?

6. Would I have to pay someone else to use it? I do have gas and electricity (to answer those who have asked) but both are free thanks to the oil companies that have wells on my land. I use the gas for cooking, bathing and refrigeration. I use the electricity for the composting toilet and water pump. If the electricity goes out (which is frequently) I have a manual pump for the water and a shovel to replace the toilet. If I had to pay for gas and electricity I probably wouldn’t have them.

7. Does it require disposal after use? Although the county does have a trash pick-up down at the road it is not practical for me to transport bags of trash that far with any regularity. If I can’t burn it or re-purpose it, I don’t want it.

8. Does it make me smile? Ok, the truth is I’m not as practical and Spartan as this list might suggest. As an example, I recently bought a used radio controlled boat that has a small fishing rig attached to the back (stern) at a garage sale (I just happened to pass it on the way to town). I can send it down the river, park it, wait for the bobber to deflect and then “floor it” to snag the fish. Endless fun. According to an unnamed muskrat informant, down at the river I’m now known as Old Captain Buzzing Hook.

While I’m sitting here and still have some space at the bottom of my legal pad another common question is: “what do I miss most from the “other world?”. I used to answer that question by saying sports, especially college and NASCAR events. Then I would go on to say that I had come to realize that watching sports was just a temporary distraction from a world I was growing to loath and that, up here in the woods, I don’t need many distractions anymore. You know, I think I’ll stick with that.

I am going to spend some extra time in the garden the next couple of days so I won’t be posting. I told Irene she could write and post something if she wanted. Maybe Dooley has some thoughts? If one of you guys wants to submit a “guest post” just send it to Irene via email. Thanks, Roger

Irene Note: If you have any questions about this blog or if you would like to submit a guest blog please use this email address:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Devil Is In the Detail...

When I was 14 years old I made the adolescent mistake of openly correcting my father on an inconsequential detail in a story he was telling a friend. It wasn’t an embarrassing correction but an unnecessary one at the time. Later that evening I was a little surprised when my father thanked me for the correction and he said he was proud that I paid so much attention to the detail in things. He went on to say that it was detail that elevated Knowledge to Understanding. Sensing I wasn’t grasping what he was telling me he went out into the garage and got a picture that hung over his work bench. It was a simple black and white picture of a butterfly sitting on a leaf.

“I keep this picture over my workbench to remind me about the importance of details.” he explained. He paused and waited for the question that he knew I would have to ask?

“Ok dad”, I said with a sigh, “how does a picture of a butterfly remind you of the importance of details?

“Well”, he said “you might understand it best if we play the same game my father and I did when he gave me this picture. When you convince me that you completely understand the contents of this picture to the exclusion of any further questioning about it, I will buy you a car so you can start learning to drive next year. You are a very smart young man and I’m sure you will make short work of the task.”

Because of the careful wording I was immediately suspicious there must be a trick to this but he hooked me with the thought of having my own car, a very important thing for a teenage boy. The game was afoot.

It was obvious that I would at least have to know what kind of butterfly it was and that was the focus of my initial research. The Encyclopedia Britannica (we had no computers back then) had pictures of butterflies but none that matched the wing markings in the black and white picture. A trip to the public library and questioning my science teacher yielded no immediate results but my teacher suggested I might want to take the picture and show it to one of the biology professors at the local college. A phone call and a bus ride later, Bingo! I quickly explained my dad’s game and the professor provided me a ton of information about the butterfly. I now knew the genus, species, the Latin name, the color, its habitat, life cycle…..I had detail out the wahzoo.

My dad had been gently taunting me all week by asking if we should be planning to go to the car dealership that weekend. Knowing the game would not be this easy I decided to present him with the information I had compiled just to see what direction it was going to take me. My dad made a big deal out the first presentation. He called my sister and mother into the room and announced that I had some important information to share.
When I finished spewing out my list of facts about the butterfly even I was disappointed that after all that work it took me less than two minutes to present everything I knew.

“I’m impressed, son”, he said nodding his head with approval; “it took me nearly a month to get that far when I played the game with my father.” After a bit of a pause, he asked a simple sounding question that ultimately demonstrated the scope of how far this game could go.

“You mentioned that the butterfly is yellow, why is it yellow?"

There were two more formal attempts at a new car that month and after each one dad would always have a simple question about the details I had presented. I quickly discovered that to even begin to answer the “why yellow?” question I would need an understanding of far more than just butterflies. Not only would I have to understand why a butterfly might be yellow, but also why yellow was yellow. Then, of course, there was the leaf. I stopped trying when I realized it was an unwinnable game. In true teenage fashion I used a Dynamo Label Maker to inscribe the picture as “The Great Butterfly Hoax” and hung it back up over my dad’s workbench.
Over the last forty years any reference to “The Great Butterfly Hoax” is still good for a laugh in my family and the picture still hangs over dad’s workbench.

My dad is 83 now and I write to him frequently from up here.
There was a snowy day last month when I was feeling kinda’ silly (cabin fever, no doubt) so I wrote him a long spoofy, quasi-intellectual sounding letter titled: “The Bio-Mechanics, Flight Dynamics and Spectral Deviations of the Yellow Butterfly” and asked if he thought I knew enough about the picture to get my new car. At the end of the letter I added a little postscript:
P.S. What question would you have asked me if I had said in that first presentation that it was simply a black and white picture of a leaf and a butterfly?

Eight days later I got his reply. I was expecting a new and equally spoofy, quasi-intellectual sounding “next question” but instead, in the middle of an 8 ½ x 11 inch piece of paper he wrote;

“With regard to the postscript in your last letter, there would have been no questions. You were the darn fool who said the black and white butterfly was yellow; I just wanted to know why.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cause and Defect

Sunday was Dooley’s birthday and last week Irene asked if she could host a surprise birthday party at her house. I told her I thought that was a great idea. Irene’s dog Lightning is Dooley’s best friend and they always have a fun time when together. Some other dogs were invited including three of the nicer McCroskey dogs, Harry’s brindle bulldog Luke, Mrs. Sherman’s female cairn Dazzle and a few others from the “better” side of town that I was not familiar with. My job was to get Dooley into town at 2pm without him suspecting the big bash. Usually on his birthday I would take him to town anyway for a bowl of ice cream (soft serve) at the deli in Harry’s grocery/hardware/feed store. They have an amazing 26 flavors of soft serve. If you should ever find yourself at Harry’s I highly recommend the Cinnamon Apple Cobbler Deluxe (French vanilla soft serve with add on crushed cobbler bits and a generous sprinkle of fresh ground cinnamon).

Sunday rolls around and we do our usual birthday gift ceremony and brunch at the cabin. The chickens provided egg salad sandwiches and the goats chipped in for a very nice rock polishing kit. In addition to a book on Eastern Indian Tribes, I got Dooley a new harmonica to replace the one that accidentally fell out of my shirt pocket and into the composting toilet one morning last month. I had used the harmonica the night before as a distraction device during a poker game and forgot to return it to his keepsake box.

We wrapped up the faux party and Dooley spent the next hour or so down at the creek gathering polishible rocks. About 1:00 I called him back to the cabin to clean up so we could go to town for our traditional birthday ice cream treat. Right on schedule at 1:40 we got into the truck, I turned the key and nothing happened. Absolutely nothing.
I got out, popped the hood and jiggled the battery cables. I yelled through the open truck door for Dooley to give it a try. He turned the key and the truck started right up. I told him I had to stop at Irene’s first, to drop off some blog stuff. We got to Irene’s right on time, his friends jumped out, yelled “surprise!” and the party was underway.
I was still concerned about the battery cable issue so I excused myself after a few minutes to drive over to Harry’s to get a terminal cleaning brush. I was certain a quick cleaning job would correct the problem. I got in the truck, turned the key and nothing happened. I got out, jiggled the battery cables, leaned back in the truck, turned the key and it started right up.

At Harry’s I bought the brush and some cleaner gel that he recommended, cleaned the terminals and cable ends thoroughly, got back into the truck to return to the party, turned the key and nothing happened. One of Harry’s customers said he was certain I needed new cables. That seemed a reasonable assumption so I bought the cables (Harry has everything) and spent the next 45 minutes hooking them up in the parking lot. When I finished, I opened the door, leaned in, turned the key and it started right up. Just to be sure, I turned it off, tried it again and it started right up. By this time a small crowd of concerned men had gathered to watch the cable installation. I looked over, nodded, they nodded back with approval of a job well done and all, certain the problem had been solved, went back to their Sunday business.

Remembering Irene had asked me to bring some ice when I came back to the party, I got a small bag, a week’s supply of Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw cigars, said good-bye to Harry , thanked the customer who had suggested the new cables, got back in the truck, turned the key and ……..…nothing happened!

(I may have said something out loud at that moment that I meant to say in my head. A number of heads that turned my way suggesting I had. It was something that was not appropriate to say at any time but especially not on a Sunday afternoon. For those who were present, I apologize.)
When the hood went back up the crowd of men quickly reassembled at my truck. There was a lot of “huumming” and chin scratching and just about everyone peered in to the engine compartment once, some twice. The crowd quickly divided into two major factions, those who were certain it was the starter motor and those who were equally certain it was my ignition switch. I was certain it would be the thing that would be the most expensive to repair. Harry was about to call his brother-in-law, a mechanic, from the next town over when a sweet young girl who had been standing quietly up on the loading dock from the very beginning of this debacle spoke up.

“Hey, Mister, I think I noticed something. Get back in your truck, close the door and try to start the truck.”

I did. It didn’t start.

“Now, open your door, stay in the truck and try to start it.”

I did. It started right up.

The crowd gasped.

Harry had his mechanic brother-in-law on the phone, explained what just happened and soon we all knew the answer to the puzzle. The little switch in the door frame that turns the interior lights on and off was defective and grounding out part of the electrical system when the door was closed. I needed a new switch. A $12.00 fix.

I offered to buy the little girl a Cinnamon Apple Cobbler Deluxe soft serve, but her father said dinner was waiting for them at home. I openly gave Harry two dollars and told the girl the next time she was at the store a soft serve would be waiting for her. The crowd of men respectfully applauded as she and a very proud father drove out of the parking lot.

As they disappeared around the big bend at the end of town, I looked over at the crowd of men, nodded, they nodded in return and we all went back to our Sunday business…all just a little less certain of our certainty…. and all better men for it.

Irene Note: Dooley’s party was a hoot!
If you have any questions about this blog email me at:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Project

A few blogs ago I asked for questions to be emailed to Irene about my life here in the woods of West Virginia. The response was terrific, thank you. I am trying to answer each one individually in direct emails which takes time, so please be patient if you haven’t heard from me yet. Remember, you have to use the email address at the bottom of each post and not the comment feature to get a detailed response. The most common questions I will address here in the blog from time to time. Here is my first installment:

Question: Why did you stop writing your blog in 2009?

When I stopped posting on this blog in 2009 I had little to no readership. I was lucky to get 6 page views a week. My unwillingness to share much detail about my life in this cabin prevented me from connecting with readers who, I think, really wanted to know what it was like to make such a dramatic lifestyle change. Instead, I was writing about people I met and semi-poetic ramblings about my views of nature around me. It turned into a blog that, frankly, I probably would not have read myself. In early April of 2009 Firewood Kenny paid a visit and a conversation about World War II redirected my focus to another project.
I first met Kenny in 2008 (details in blog post titled “Visitor”). At the time he was living up the road about two miles in a tarp covered camping trailer on a hillside. When he first moved to the woods in 1974 he was an angry, disillusioned Vietnam vet and because of his sometimes erratic behavior he was quickly labeled as a useless nuisance by the locals. Those early, anger driven actions banished him to a life of physical and social isolation.

My father taught me that some of the most interesting people in the world are the misunderstood. Kenny was no exception. In subsequent meetings with Kenny I learned that he had an amazing knowledge of military history and he would light up when I asked questions about one of my favorite subjects, the American Civil War, in particular the battle of Gettysburg. We had found common ground.

So anyway, to get to the point, Kenny and I were talking about the creative use of decoys and camouflage in World War II one evening and an idea struck me to construct a decoy garden to divert unwanted insects away from my primary garden. It may sound silly but it had been common practice in the hills before pesticides to surround a garden with colorful indigenous plants to intercept insects looking for a meal or a food source for their young. Planting in the open gives insects a direct flight path to your vegetables. I felt the basic idea was good but under researched. So for two years I experimented with the decoy garden and wrote about my results in horticultural, university and entomological journals. I experimented with placement, scents, plant species, colors, shading, sounds and light frequency. It was an exercise in curiosity that led to the pesticide free, almost maintenance free garden I have today. Kenny and I are working on the weed problem.

So, that’s why I stopped writing my blog for 2 ½ years…I got distracted.

Note: Kenny is now the go-to guy for firewood in these parts. He joined a local Veteran’s organization and with the help of fellow members lives in a well-kept single wide trailer on a graded piece of land. He has successfully re-joined the community and is a welcome visitor here anytime.

Email Irene:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Alarming Situation

I have never had a real predator problem before, but Dooley the dog pointed out the other day that something may have been trying to dig under the fence in the chicken yard. My chicken wire fence flares outward at the bottom and I have about 6” underground to deter unlawful entry. To prevent "climb overs" there is an extra two feet of unsupported wire at top of the fence which bows outward and flexes to the point that an animal trying to climb over the fence becomes unstable and drops off (in theory). Thankfully, it worked this time. Even though it may have been just a possum with no malicious intent it was obvious we would have to take further steps to protect the chickens.

I thought about putting one or two of the goats in the chicken yard at night as a deterrent but the chickens voted against it claiming the goats frequently told vulgar chicken jokes and sharing the yard would not be a viable solution for them. Dooley suggested we arm the chickens but we quickly realized they may end up shooting the goats. The easy answer was to put Dooley outside at night on guard duty. After further consideration I succumbed to the fear that Dooley may instinctively engage the enemy. The thought of Dooley tangling with a rabid raccoon, fox or bobcat would have kept me up all night every night. If he were a bigger dog perhaps…..

After several Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw Cigars and after rejecting ideas like a brick enclosure with barbed wire coils on top, bringing the chickens into the cabin at night, and the goat’s idea of inviting the neighbors over for a chicken barbeque we finally decided on a sound activated alarm system.

We went to the grocery/hardware/feed store in town and got fifty feet of 1- 1/2” PVC pipe and four elbows. Starting with a 2 foot vertical piece topped with an elbow (pointing towards the coop) we ran the pipe underground from the chicken yard, under the cabin and up through the floor right next to Dooley’s Indian sleeping blanket. Any disturbance in the chicken yard would be transmitted through the pipe, wake Dooley up, he would wake me up and we’d both go out and eliminate the threat with extreme prejudice.

Two nights later the “alarm” went off and we quickly discovered a raiding party of raccoons attempting entrance into the yard. For you city folk, the raccoon will reach into a coop and pull the legs and heads off of unsuspecting chickens. They are nasty dudes. Dooley reminded me that it was my idea to lure a raccoon into the area last month with a bag of scraps just for entertainment purposes (see blog post “Idle Minds” for details). Lesson learned.

As a note, the sound activated alarm is still in place but we had to make a few modifications. We put a piece of screen over the end at the chicken yard to keep mice out (mice get extra hungry in the winter), and we added two more elbows and two 3 inch pieces of pipe at the chicken end to keep rain from entering the system. We also got a removable cap that we put over the cabin end of the pipe to eliminate chicken noises in the cabin during the day.

Dooley wanted me to mention that there is a patent pending on our alarm system but we are willing issue a limited use license for a small fee or a really good piece of apple pie.

Irene Note: Any questons about this blog? Please email me at:


Dooley the dog and I were skipping rocks on the river yesterday. I got to wondering if the rocks skipping across the water had as much fun skipping as I did by skipping them. On the other hand I was ultimately dooming them to a life at the cold dark bottom of the river and maybe I should be feeling a little guilty. Dooley assured me that rocks are happy wherever they are. I hope so. In any event, here are a few of my favorite rocks:

I don’t have a name for this rock yet. “Balancing Rock” just seems to be too common a name for such a great rock. The bottom of the rock sits in the creek and over hundreds, maybe thousands of years its base has been eroded by the flowing water. It stands in a place I call “Stonehenge”. Just up from the bank of the creek there are some unusual square faced rocks that almost look like the foundation of an old fort. An abandoned alien base perhaps?

I call this place the “Bear Cave’ because if we had any bears I’m sure this is where they would want to live. It is a rock overhang that has a depth of about 30 feet. I camp here sometimes but would never dare sleep under the overhang.

This is “Owl Rock”. It sits on the bank of the river and is the namesake of the little town that used to be here. When we had a swinging bridge it came across the river right next to the rock and it used to be a popular place for teens to hang out. Dooley is certain that it also used to be a popular place for Indian hunting parties to camp.

This is one of two millstones I found down by the mill site. 20 years ago this was buried about 15 feet from the banks of Rock Creek. Just like the tree I spoke of in my last blog, I have watched it as the eroding bank crept closer and closer. I have a picture somewhere of the stone jutting out of the bank about ten years ago. Now it sits in the creek bed. I’m afraid that someday one of the ATVer’s will spot it and figure a way to get it out. It probably weighs close to 500 lbs. and there is just no way I can move it to safety. Fortunately there is a second one still buried in the area and I’m the only one who knows where it is.
I have several other favorite rocks, but I don’t have pictures to show so I will save them for another day. Be kind to your rocks.

Irene Note: If you have any questions about this blog, please email at:

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Trees don’t worry much about time.

Here is one of my favorite trees. I call it the dragon tree. I am guessing by the size of the trunk that it is at least 150 years old. The trunk of the tree grew horizontally across a large rock, gradually turned like a great serpent towards the edge of the rock and when it reached the edge and good light it turned 90 degrees skyward. It must have taken 50 years to find just the right spot to grow. I wish I had that kind of patience.

Trees don’t mind sharing. This tree started as two trees growing side by side, twins.

At some point they decided they could be a bigger tree if they joined up. Today it stands as one of the tallest trees on my property. (Please ignore that old fat man in the picture).

Trees like to smell good. When the creek floods, a lot of debris flows down from a community several miles upstream. Sometimes the trees will grab and hold onto things they like.

Trees don’t hold ill will.
I have watched tree die a slow but graceful death over many years.

When a sapling it must have thought how lucky it was to be growing in such a wonderful place above the grassy banks of a beautiful creek. It died because of the clear cut timbering that went on upstream a number of years ago. Subsequent erosion of the hillsides created yearly flash floods that have cut away the banks of the once narrow creek that ran through my valley. Many trees have lost their hold and have fallen. In all my visits to this tree, however, I never once heard even a mutter of disdain for the men and chainsaws that set in motion the mechanism of its death.

Note: I did hear it snicker once when it saw me in shorts for the first time.

*Irene note: Any questions about this blog? Send me an email at

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Questions, Questions, Questions

In an effort to give readers what they want Irene has established an email account just for questions about this blog. She will include it at the bottom of each post. Please feel free to ask anything you want about me, Dooley the dog, cabin life or more detail on anything I have written about. I will try to answer each question and I will answer the best questions in an upcoming FAQ blog.

Here it is:

In the meantime, here are some questions for you.

1. Is the style of this blog difficult to read?
2. Is there anyone you would like to hear more about (Irene, Firewood Kenny, Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper, Ramon, Ramon’s wife, Randy, Harry the Hardware Guy, The McCroskey dogs, Paul the Goat, Dooley)?
3. Do you think I have sold out by allowing Ads on my blog?
4. Do I need more pictures?
5. Should I include more nuts and bolts info on cabin life?

I am going to take a few days off from posting to give this page a chance to stay up front. I would like to invite new readers to use the archive on the right to read some of my past posts and become familiar with the blog. Some of the favorites are: “Hello Dooley”, about how I came to get Dooley the dog, “Blackberries”, where I first meet Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper, “Dooley for President”, Dooley’s run for office. There are also some two parters like “Outlaw” and “In Search of the Elusive….Bullfrog”. If you go way back to 2008 and 2009 you will see how and why I ended up here and some early experiences here in the woods of West Virginia. Enjoy and start those questions coming.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Haunting Letter

It’s crazy weather here. Rain one day, sunny and beautiful the next. Today it snowed. I think Dooley is out hunting “wabbits”. The rest of the animals are hole-up in their deluxe apartments over at the Animal Yard, a gated community.
I thought today might be a good day to write some letters. Here is one of them.

Dear Ghost Hunters TV Show,

I live on a large, isolated piece of land in Roane County West Virginia. There used to be a small community here called Owl Rock. There was a mill, a school house, a cemetery and at least 15 cabins in the valley and surrounding hills. There is nothing left of Owl Rock except a few stone chimneys, two mill stones, some foundation stones and the cabin I now live in. At the encouragement of one of your fans, Irene Looney, I wanted to share a few of the stories that haunt my land.

As told by locals, one fall night in 1923 the Reverend Robert Davis and his hound Buster were out hunting raccoons with a carbide lantern on the east side of the valley. At some point Buster took off on a scent and soon disappeared into the darkness. Following down the path, Davis could hear Buster howling but couldn’t find him with the light. Several hours passed but in spite of the constant howling, Buster could not be found in the darkness. Davis returned the next day with his son and in the daylight quickly isolated the sound as coming from deep inside a narrow rock crack at the base of a 50 foot rock face on the hillside. Buster appeared to have chased something into the crack and had gotten himself stuck deep inside the rock. In spite of almost 20 days of effort to get him out the howling finally stopped and Davis assumed Buster had finally perished in his rock prison. To this day, if you sit quietly near the crack on a crisp fall night you can hear Buster howling for his life.

The next story, although true, is not one that is in any way pleasant to talk about. A woman once lived alone at the far North end of my valley. Locals who had unwanted babies would take the children to the woman who gladly took them in. I believe the assumption was that she would secretly find homes for the children. It was not until several years after the woman’s death that the bones of over 20 infants were found at the base of a cliff behind her cabin. Locals now refer to this spot as the “baby dump”. My dog, Dooley, refuses to go anywhere near the site and I have to believe the souls of these children still haunt the area.

The third story occurred after my family had purchased the property in 1967. There used to be a second standing cabin on our land that my dad allowed two brothers to live in when we were not visiting the land. On weekends when we would come to the property to hunt or fish, my dad would bring them whiskey and they would disappear up into the woods until we were gone. In return for living in the cabin the brothers kept a path cleared for us from the road to the cabin. On Halloween night in 1969, one brother shot the other with a shotgun, left him on the bed, set fire to the cabin and disappeared into the woods. Although the light of the fire could be seen for miles that night, the sheriff waited until the next day to check it out. There was nothing left of the cabin but the twisted remains of a few appliances and a lump of burned flesh on the bedsprings. Local ATVers frequently pass this spot on night runs through the valley and on more than one occasion I have been asked who the old man was, standing by the rusty bedsprings.

If Ghost Hunters would like to feature my property in one of their upcoming shows it would be contingent on keeping my name and the exact location private. For further information please contact Irene Looney at the ***** Public Library. Sincerely, Roger ******

*Irene Note: Did you really send this letter? I would love to meet Jason and especially Grant of the Ghost Hunters Show.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Dooley's DNA

I wasn’t upset when I got my first piece of unsolicited junk mail here in the woods of West Virginia, I was just disappointed. I was so proud how I had been living off the grid and free from targeted marketing foo-faa. I couldn’t imagine for the life of me where I had slipped up. I don’t use a computer, have no cell phone, I never fill out questionnaires, pay cash for everything, and never even offered my zip code to a cashier. Because the first mailed advertisement was from a livestock supply company, I immediately suspected it may have been Paul the goat who had used my name and address as a reference. Paul, you may remember from my post titled “Tradition”, ran away when he learned of his upcoming harvest(slaughter). In subsequent days, however, I got more and more junk mail from pet, and more specifically, dog related companies. Had Dooley the dog sold me out? A quick conversation with Betty the mail carrier answered the question. Yes.
Dooley had sent a sample of his DNA (I can only imagine what that may have been) to a company called Canine Heritage. He may have gotten the idea the night Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper stopped by. We had talked a lot about our ancestry and the possible ancestry of the people who had once lived on my land. Why wouldn’t Dooley want to know more about his own heritage?
I’m not exactly sure when Dooley got his report back, but a sudden change in his behavior signaled something was up. He began sleeping outside, often under a pile of twigs down by the hanging tree*. He seemed far more interested in hunting his own food rather than eating the table scraps I offered and he was much more vigilant guarding the goats and chickens from potential predators than before. Finally he asked me not to call him Dooley any more, his new name was, Lightly Breaking Wind.

“Gee, Dooley….sorry, Lightly Breaking Wind, that sounds like an Indian name.”

“Yes, my white friend, I am descended from the great mixed breed dog of the Native American Indians who walked this land many moons ago. To honor my ancestors who were driven from this sacred place I have taken my rightful Indian name.”

“How did you choose that particular name?” I asked, trying not to snicker.

“The great spirits revealed it to me in a dream last night. In the dream I was running along the high ridge and I could see the wind parting before me.”

Honestly, it was a good name. Dooley is a small dog and doesn’t push much wind when he runs, but I couldn’t help but giggle whenever I addressed him as Lightly Breaking Wind. I suggested a better name might be, Runs With Rabbits or Dances With Muskrats. The Spirits, however, had spoken.
I was happy he embraced his heritage so firmly, but after a couple of weeks of living with this Indian dog I was missing the old Dooley.

“Lightly Breaking Wind”, I said one evening, “I think we need a treaty”
“A treaty?” he asked.
“The white man and the Indian always have a treaty,” I said,”It’s an agreement on how you and I will live together on this land.”
Dooley agreed.

We sat on the floor of the porch under the light of a Coleman lantern and began creating our treaty. I wanted to share a peace pipe but Dooley doesn’t smoke, so I lit up a Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw cigar, Dooley held a stick in his mouth and I made enough smoke for both of us. The final agreement ended up as follows:

1. Henceforth, I would be able to call him Dooley in exchange for a new Indian style sleeping blanket.
2. The chickens, goats and any subsequent animals I may acquire would still be expected to call him by his Indian name.
3. We would celebrate Native American Day each year on second Monday of October.
4. He would receive bacon in his food bowl no less than three times a week if he returned to sleeping in the cabin at night.
5. I officially granted him unrestricted passage on my land including full hunting and water use rights.
6. This agreement would remain in effect as long as the grass grows, the wind blows and the sky is blue.

The treaty was signed, framed and now hangs above the fireplace.

*No, not that kind of hanging tree. Before moving up here permanently I used to camp at the cabin site frequently and I used an old, dead pine tree with several rows of jutting branches to hang my clothes and boots to dry.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sweet on Dewlene

Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper had just finished telling me about how, in the 1940’s, they used the sugar cane grown on my property to make molasses.

He told the story in the same charming, matter-of-fact way he always does. In a teasing tone, I asked him, “What makes you laugh Clyde?”

“Dewlene Wilkins made me laugh once. I was kinda sweet on Dewlene so I had stopped by to help her with her chores. We was out in her yard choppin’ firewood when a revenuer stopped to talk.”

“Where’s your pappy Dewlene?” the revenuer asked.
And blamed if Dewlene didn’t say he was out at his shine still getting’ ready to make a run. She went on to say it was the best lot of mash her pappy had gotten together in two years.

“I’ll give you a quarter if you take to where your pappy is,” said the revenuer, “I’ve got some business to do with him.”
“No, that ain’t near enough to stop doin’ my chores and take you all the way out there”, she said.

“How about a dollar”, the revenuer offered, “Would that do it?”
Dewlene though a bit on it and finally said that would be fair, and if the man gave her a dollar she would take him to her pappy.

“No,” said the revenuer, "take me to your pappy and I’ll give you the dollar when we get back."

Dewlene Wilkins called the whole deal off right then, sayin’, “Hell mister, you ain’t comin’ back.”