Thursday, January 31, 2013

Picture Show

Thought I would try something different and post a video. It is really just a slide show with pictures of my land. I made this before deciding to move up here from Florida. The title is Pharm because that is what my family has always called this place (my father was a pharmacist and so is my sister…it seemed appropriate). Some of the pictures will look familiar to regular readers because I’ve used them before in posts. The first few slides show scenes on the way to the Pharm. The music is from one of my favorite CDs called Appalachian Journey.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Magic Moon

Admiring a waxing moon tonight reminded me of a story. This is a true story and it has never been, or probably never will be explained.

My mother was a very sensible woman but also a woman with a great sense of humor. She could tell a joke or weave a yarn with the best of them but at the end of the story you knew it was a joke or a tall tale. Once, while I was visiting on break from college, she told me this story.

She said that her mother had always believed an old wives tale that suggested if one would shake an empty purse or wallet in the light of  waxing full moon, money would soon come your way. She said that was something of a tradition in her family for everyone to go out on full moons and do this. When some unexpected cash showed up for whatever reason it was fun to attribute it to the ritual. She told me that just for some nostalgic fun she had done the moon ritual the week prior to me arriving home for the visit.

The next night when she went out to feed the dogs, on her way back she found almost two hundred dollars on the back porch in scattered bills of various denominations. She didn’t immediately connect it to the moon ritual and thought; perhaps, she had somehow dropped it out there herself. Although she was sure she had gotten it all, she went back out just to check, this time turning on the back porch light. There, in almost the same spot, was another one hundred and seventy five dollars. I have to explain that this back porch was a small raised concrete platform that stood above the surrounding patio a good foot and a half.  So any thought of someone else losing it and having it blow up there repeatedly was a near impossibility. Twice more that night she went out and found money on the porch. In the end it totaled almost eight hundred dollars. Immediately my first thought was that my dad was playing a joke on her, but dad had been at a Shriner’s convention in New Orleans that week giving him a perfect alibi. If my dad had put someone else up to it the dogs would certainly have barked and my mom swears she didn’t hear a thing. She also told me that since it was a cold snowy night she had even walked around the outside of the house with a flashlight looking for someone hiding around the corner or for footprints in the snow. There was nothing.

Although I was expecting one, there was no punch line to her story. To make it even more believable to me, she never spent the money. She kept it in a box in her closet like she expected someone, someday, to show up and claim it. My dad, to this day has never claimed any responsibility for the event. If it had been my dad I’m sure he would have claimed the glory of pulling the perfect prank by now.

Was it a magic moon or just some strange set of circumstances that left the money on the porch? In the words of Sherlock Holmes, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

Please excuse me while I empty out my wallet and spend a few moments in the light of this beautiful moon.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Visiting Irene

Dooley and I went to visit Irene and Dooley’s best friend Lightning (Irene’s dog) today. For those of you who don’t know, Irene was the local librarian who typed my handwritten blog posts and actually posted them back when I didn’t have a computer of my own. She also sold me Dooley shortly after I moved up to the cabin. When the County reduced her hours at the library in town (down to two days a week) she decided to move up to the County Seat, live with her sister and return to library work at the County’s main branch.

Dooley and Lightning stayed at the house and I took the sisters out for lunch. We ate at a place called The Grandview. I never did locate the “grand view”, but they had some grand Delmonico steaks. Irene and I exchange emails once in a while but it was so nice to sit down and talk in person. It was also the first time I had met her sister. They were definitely two peas from a pod.

I asked Irene if she still reads the blog. She said yes, but some of this season’s posts (I usually only write in the winter months) were a bit odd she thought. She did like “Dooley’s Christmas Carol”. She suggested I keep my posts shorter and use more pictures. So, I will quickly end this post with a picture Irene gave me. It is a Currier and Ive’s print called “A Home in the Wilderness” that she found in a thrift shop and thought I might like. I love it.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Edgar Part 2

(Continued from yesterday)

Most of the evening with Edgar was spent talking about goats, chickens, hogs, fences and gardens. I casually mentioned that I planned to decimate my garden next year because of a surplus of vegetables.

With a concerned look on his face he said, “That seems a little drastic, don’t you think?”

“No, seems about right to me,” I answered with a straight face.

We sat silent for a good thirty seconds while he tried to understand the proposed decimation of my garden.

“…by decimate, I mean of course, to reduce it by one tenth.” I said, breaking the silence.

“Why didn’t you just say you were going to reduce it by one tenth? I thought you were going to plow the whole thing under. By the way, mind if I have another cigar?”

The rest of the evening was spent playing checkers and telling stories. Edgar had lots of great stories about his grandfather and farming in the old days. Not once did he even hint at conspiracy talk. Around ten he got up to leave. He looked over at my laptop and asked if I had an email address. I said, “Sure” and wrote it down for him.

The next day I got this email from him:



Thanks for the hospitality last night. Where do you get those wonderful little cigars?

By the way, I thought it would be rude at the time to bring it up, but I consider your confusing use of the word “decimate” a great example of etymological fallacy.

              Thanks again, Edgar


“An example of what?” I said out loud. Then I looked it up.

The internet says; An etymological fallacy becomes possible when a word has changed its meaning over time. Such changes can include a shift in scope (narrowing or widening of meanings) or of connotation (amelioration or pejoration). In some cases, meanings can also shift completely, so that the etymological meaning has no evident connection to the current meaning.

I wrote back:


Thanks for your note. I also enjoyed our conversation the other night. I will certainly try out that homemade salve you suggested for Dooley’s problem. By the way, I was happy at the thought you may have invested some time to research the word “decimate” to question my contention of the word’s original meaning versus its current use. Challenging a concept is the engine of understanding. Not meaning to be blunt, for me “etymological fallacy” is a fancy excuse for lazy word usage and a justification for ignorance. To suggest it is ok to change the root meaning of a word endangers everyone’s ability to communicate and to understand. For example, labeling this argument as a “fallacy” implies that my adherence to the root meaning of words has an intention to deceive. Fallacy does not mean only to state falsely, but to do so with intent to deceive. Is that what the person who coined this phrase meant when they assigned this label?

Would it be ok if the word “two” eventually came to mean any fractional number between one and three just because enough mathematically challenged people found it too hard to think in terms of fractions?

Speaking succinctly and concretely is something we should all aspire to. A direct and precise language makes conversations more interesting, substitutes facts for bluster and promotes the practice of organized thought. How many times did we hear in last year’s election a politician who said, “even though I said it, I did not mean it the way it was taken.”

Nothing is more important to a society than the language it uses. There would be no society without it. We would all be better off if we spoke with exactness and grace, and if we preserved rather than destroyed the value of our language. (Note the use of the word “destroyed” rather than “decimated”).  



To which he replied:


I assume you looked up and found “etymological fallacy” on your computer just like I did. The internet is just full of crap like this, isn’t it?




  It was too cold for our monthly poker game. Ramon officially called it off last week and passed the word around. I was sort of glad because it was my month to hold the game here at the cabin and I didn’t feel much like cleaning up and pulling the homemade poker table out of my shed and setting it up. Dooley the dog was a bit disappointed because ever since I showed him famous “Dogs Playing Poker” picture he has been fascinated by the game. He doesn’t play yet, but he likes to watch.

I guess Ramon forgot to tell Edgar the game was cancelled because he showed up on my porch about 7pm. I’m not surprised he wasn’t called because Edgar only shows up a few times a year. Naturally, I invited him in and explained the poker game had been cancelled. He took it in stride and seemed a bit relieved (he was not a great poker player….in fact, I don’t recall Edgar ever winning a hand in our monthly games). I offered him a Swisher Sweet Outlaw Double Barrel Rum cigar and thought this might be a chance to get to know him better.  Edgar is a true red faced, rough handed, opinionated West Virginia farmer. On the subject of farming I would believe anything he told me. He is a master. A couple of years ago, however, after his son introduced him to the internet, he seems to have fashioned himself an “expert” on non-farm related subjects he really knows very little about. At the poker games he has become something of an overall wearing “Cliff Clavin” (lovable know-it-all character from the Cheers TV show) and frequently steers conversations toward the most beloved of all internet topics, the conspiracy.

I am one of those guys that, if I feel the need to believe one way or another on a subject, then I will put in the time to investigate both sides thoroughly and draw my conclusions from the likeliest scenario. An example for me was the Kennedy assassination. I set out, initially, to try and decide what conspiracy theory seemed the likeliest. After fifteen years, over fifty books (including the entire twenty seven volumes of evidence presented at the Warren Commission investigation), hours of watching old interviews on tape, visiting the school book depository in Dallas and walking Oswald’s escape route I came to the same conclusion the Warren Commission did. Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. After putting in the time and effort to study the event, I felt silly to have ever considered a single one of the conspiracy theories as valid. Edgar, on the other hand, seems easily convinced by the muddy waters stirred up by internet conspiracy “authorities”. I don’t blame Edgar, his time and thinking is spent on farming. Growing up in the county instills a sense that people are basically good and honest. He has no reason to disbelieve what he reads on the internet. I think he, and many Americans also find it fun, in a way, to take an opposing view on historical events. He certainly got a great deal of attention during poker games when he maneuvered the conversation to his belief in several well- known conspiracies. Or, maybe he was just “funning” us. Straight faced teasing isn’t unknown to country folk. My mother was brilliant at it.

So this unexpected opportunity was, I thought, a great chance to get to know the real Edgar.  (To be continued tomorrow)


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Passive Agressive

Ticks and mosquitos are two creatures I deal with just about every day in the summer months. I wrote this last July after being attacked by mosquitos while I was doing a tick check on Dooley.


I don’t love ticks, but I do appreciate them. I like their passive approach to blood sucking and admire their patience and methodical work ethic.  Ticks don’t fly or jump or seek you out, they just sit patiently on a leaf until you walk by. They quietly hook on and then take their time traveling upwards until they find a nice out of the way spot to settle. They are slow moving and pretty easy to spot before they bite and they don’t tickle your hairs as they move. When a tick finally does bite it has the decency to secrete an analgesic which prevents you from feeling any pain. They only carry a few of harmful diseases and the potentially dangerous pathogens don’t appear in the first 24 hours so there is plenty of time to find and remove a tick before any damage is done. They are also good indicators for scientists of a healthy ecosystem. Lots of ticks means lots of acorns, lots of deer, mice, rabbits, etc.  Other scientists are testing tick salivary protein to help allergic asthma patients.  Brad Paisley even wrote a love song about them:

“I'd like to see you out in the moonlight

I'd like to kiss you baby way back in the sticks

I'd like to walk you through a field of wildflowers

And I'd like to check you for ticks

I'd sure like to check you for ticks”

I don’t enjoy killing ticks. I’d much rather pluck them off and flick them away before they have time to attach. Once attached, however, there isn’t much choice. Sorry ticks.

On the other hand, I am a remorseless killer of mosquitos. They are soulless demons which often ruin my otherwise pleasant summer evenings. The goal of the mosquito is the same as the tick, acquiring blood necessary for reproduction, but their approach is completely different. They have wings and actively hunt you down no matter where you are. They attack in packs leaving multiple wounds on their hosts. Before they attack they buzz around your ears just to piss you off. When they bite it stings and then itches afterwards. They can bite through socks and shirt sleeves and they are not ashamed to bite you anywhere from the top of your head to the souls of your feet. Fighting back means you have to slap yourself repeatedly which is painful and humiliating at the same time. They can carry a whole passel of diseases and can infect you almost immediately. Mosquito diseases include protozoan diseases, i.e., malaria, filarial diseases such as dog heartworm, and viruses such as dengue, encephalitis and yellow fever and are the leading cause of death in many parts of the world. There is absolutely nothing to appreciate about mosquitos.

Most importantly, there has never been a love song written about mosquitos by Brad Paisley.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Couple of Nurses, a Cop and the Flu

I apologize for the following. It is long, self-serving at times, frequently digresses and is a little preachy. It also refers to personal health and hygiene matters that work for me, but are not for everyone. Read at your own risk.


The acceptable rule of thumb in rural areas seems to be: it’s not trespassing until the house/cabin/barn, etc. is in sight of the intruder. I have had many visits from strangers who cross the river, walk up the hill and when they see the cabin, call out for permission to continue or go the other way, when in fact, they were committing trespass the instant they crossed the river. It’s not that I am anti-social or really mind people coming onto the property; I just like to have a part in choosing when and with whom I want to socialize. I’ve often thought of putting a large brass bell down by the river with a sign that suggests that if I don’t respond the ringing of the bell in the next five minutes (how long it would take to me to walk to the river overlook) it would indicate I was not accepting visitors at the moment. The problem with the bell is that it would violate one of my rules of possession which states: If I would worry about someone taking a possession (the bell), then I really don’t want it. Perhaps I could have a sign that says they should honk their vehicle horn 4 times, wait five minutes... if I don’t respond, don’t come over. (Digression) Walt Disney, in the early theme park days at Disneyland didn’t believe in using direction or instructional signs in his parks. For one thing, he discovered that when people are put into a new visually rich environment they didn’t notice signs. He also thought it would be better to have real people stationed in key areas to direct people. I think he was right on both counts, although, if you visit a Disney park these days, they are filled with signs.  Anyway……..

It was raining yesterday, a great day to read a book and smoke a Swisher Sweet Outlaw Double Barrel Rum Cigar by the fire. Dooley was outside because he doesn’t like being around when I smoke indoors even though most of the smoke draws up the chimney. Around mid-morning Dooley indicated there might be someone coming. Cigar in hand I moved out to the porch and sure enough we had unannounced visitors. There were two women and a County Deputy Sheriff. Dooley and I both looked at each other wondering what the other had done to provoke a visit from the law.  

   Following the rural trespass rule they stopped and asked permission to continue to the cabin. I invited them over. The two women came forward and the Deputy stayed back a ways. They introduced themselves as nurses for the County Health Department. They informed me it was Flu season and they were offering free flu shots to some of the more isolated residents of the County. (I guess the Deputy was just there for protection from crazy hermits).  I explained that I was not really interested in introducing artificial enhancements to my immune system. (I really just said, “No thanks.”)

“You can never be too careful when it comes to influenza”, they said.

At this point Dooley had already walked away. He anticipated that I was about to rant about the sterilization of America and how I believed it was the avoidance of bacteria, viruses and parasites made American’s more susceptible to the illnesses they work so hard to avoid. These “nasty’s” are after all living things and as such when their existence is threatened by vaccines, hand sanitizers and antibiotics they will naturally evolve their own immunity to the threat. By living a sterile life we don’t allow our wonderfully adaptive immune systems that have worked so well for thousands of years to develop protection from pathogenic organisms. For example international travelers often get diarrhea from eating and drinking foods and beverages that have no adverse effects on local residents. This is due to immunity that develops with constant, repeated exposure to pathogenic organisms. The over use of fluorides, mouthwashes, daily bathing and antibiotics also eliminate good bacteria that we need for natural health. The trick, I believe, is to create a balance, to live symbiotically with these little creatures. (Warning! Another digression is coming up).

I believe my thinking on this goes back to when I played football in junior high school. I played the first year our school had a football team. The protective equipment we used that year were hand- me-downs from the local high school. The shoes had old fashioned metal tipped nylon cleats. Because they had been pre-worn the metal tips had been ground down into razor sharp edged weapons. In practice the coaches would try us out in different positions. One day I was put on the defensive line which meant I was on the ground a lot and my hands got stepped on just about every play. It didn’t take long before I noticed I was bleeding between just about every finger from being stepped on by those dastardly metal cleats. Between plays I ran over to one of the coaches to show him the injuries expecting some kind of first aid like my mom had always done with peroxide and bandages. Instead, he said, “Rub some dirt on your hands and get back in there”. I did… and nothing bad happened. My fingers didn’t fall off, the wounds didn’t get infected, I didn’t get tetanus or lock-jaw like my parents had always led me to believe would happen. My body had worked like it was supposed to and kept me safe.

In the nearly five years I have lived here in the woods I don’t recall ever having a cold, flu, diarrhea, infection or even a headache (knock on wood). I’m sure a lot of that is due to not having much contact with other people and the lack of stress. But another part is the fact that I don’t live a sterile life. When I prepare meals, I don’t worry about “cross contamination”. I rarely wash my hands. I handle the raw bacon, break the eggs with my hands, cook and then eat without any concern for parasites or salmonella. I only bathe when I feel sticky or expect to interact with other people. I do brush my teeth on a regular basis but I use a soda based home-made paste. I have no qualms about sipping rainwater from my collection system or water from one of the upper creeks. I would not drink from the river or Rock Creek because these waters are a dumping site for residents along the banks and are a mixture of pesticides, oil and carcinogenic chemicals that no human immune system could stand up to.  If I were ranting, this is where I would talk about how healthcare in this society is not so much a service as it is a business with products and procedures to sell. They generate fear of possible, but statistically improbable consequences, and then sell products (antibiotics, Lysol, pre-emptive surgery and procedures, anti-bacterial soaps, blood tests, antiseptics, antihistamines, etc. to “save us” from the evil germs. The greater the fear, the better the business.  I must say do have respect and awe for medical professionals when it comes to trauma and life changing illnesses. Their approach to common pathogenic organisms, however, seems counter- productive to me. Anyway……

Dooley was wrong. I didn’t rant to the nurses. I did, however, display one of my worst character flaws…..I attacked their knowledge. I do this when “authorities” present arguments or suggest a behavior I don’t agree with. It’s not a nice thing to do and I always feel bad afterwards but sometimes I find out my own thinking was wrong. Often, however, I discover the “authorities” haven’t really done much research or independent thinking on the very things they are authorities on.

“Although I am not interested in the Flu shot, perhaps you can answer a question for me….why does the flu virus have a season?” I asked innocently.

“Well, it’s just the time when the flu affects the most people.” one nurse answered.

“But, why? What is the science behind it? Does the virus hibernate the rest of the year?”

“I suppose it’s because……..” the other nurse began.

“You suppose?” I rudely interrupted, “Don’t you know?”

They didn’t have an answer. (The truth is, no one really knows. The best guess is that the virus can survive longer outside of its host when the air is dryer and therefore spreads with greater effectiveness in the winter months on this hemisphere.)

“Then can you tell me which of the many strains of the flu virus this particular shot is effective against and are they ones that have shown up in this region?” I asked expectantly.

The nurses looked at each other and then politely suggested I call the health department with these kinds of questions. I sensed they had already labeled me as a grumpy old crackpot.

“Gee”, I said, “I would have expected a couple of nurses to know more about what they were roaming around the County injecting into peoples arms.”  That came out meaner than I meant, so I tried to follow with a softer line. I really did try…

“I appreciate that you are trying to do a good thing here, but just by visiting you have increased my chances of getting the flu. You may have picked up the virus at one of your other stops and brought it to me….and how does the Health Department measure the effectiveness of this flu shot? If you gave me the shot and I didn’t get the flu, does that necessarily mean the flu shot was effective, or does it mean I just didn’t come into contact with the virus or my own immune system dealt with it?  It seems we spend a lot of money in this country to create a “poison pill” for a virus that will just evolve resistance and come back stronger next “season”.  Wouldn’t it be better if we just accepted that occasionally we will have to suffer through an illness and let our own immune systems grow a little stronger as a result? Viruses are just a part of life on this planet and if we learned to live with them and not put up such a fight I think a balance might be created where sometimes the virus wins and sometimes we win but the battle doesn’t escalate to the point of the virus evolving past our ability to stop it.”

Oh, Lord, Dooley was right…I did rant.

I expected the nurses to retort with the old “Better to be safe than sorry” line...but instead they smartly moved right to their exit line.


“Do you have any other health questions we could answer for you while we are here?”

I thought about asking if soaking my feet in a solution of bleach would help a toenail fungus but I was feeling a little guilty for spouting off so I just said “No, but thank you.”

The trespassing trio disappeared over the hill. I re-lit my Swisher Sweet Outlaw Double Barrel Rum Cigar and went back inside to continue my quiet morning of reading. In the back of my head I was certain that if there was such a thing as Karma I’d be getting the flu this year.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cold Gator...Hot Chicks

This post is not earth shattering, except for the fact I only mention Dooley once. It does, however, represent the kind of posts I hope to do more often this year. I want to share some detail about how we solve problems and make life simpler out here in the woods. I have shied away from detail in the past because I know a lot of my viewers are farm owners and have their own and often better solutions for the kind of things I will be writing about. That being said…………….,

My dad owned a drugstore in Charleston West Virginia.  On occasion he would take barter in trade for merchandise. Over the years he traded for antiques, firearms, moonshine, a pony, fresh vegetables and so much more. Perhaps the most unusual thing he ever got was a baby alligator (this was back in the day when you could buy alligators in Florida at roadside gift shops).

 I became the keeper of the alligator. My mom wouldn’t allow me to keep it in the house so it lived in a large galvanized wash tub out beside the porch. I used to feed it by putting raw hamburger meat on the end of a stick and pushing it down near his mouth. When the winter months came I put a light bulb in the tub to keep the alligator warm. One night the bulb burnt out and the poor thing froze to death. I learned a lesson from that.

   I have one 60 watt light bulb in my chicken house for cold nights. It’s one of the few things I use my free electricity for. I did some tests with a thermometer to determine the placement of the bulb and wattage to get the temperature just right. I didn’t want it to be too warm. On a really cold night like tonight it will be a comfortable 50 degrees or so in the chicken house. Remembering the alligator, I have a second 60 watt light bulb wired in line with a 120 volt relay. If the primary bulb burns out, breaking the circuit, the relay trips and lights the second bulb. I know my chickens wouldn’t freeze to death without the extra heat like the alligator did, but I love my chickens and they deserve comfortable accommodations year round. In appreciation the chickens seem to lay more eggs when the light is on overnight. The switch for the chicken light is in the cabin. I used to have it low enough for Dooley the dog to reach it until I caught him turning the light off and on one night just to annoy chickens. That was in the early years. Dooley is a much mellower dog these days.