Sunday, December 30, 2012

Wash and wear.

Today was wash day. Not much fun when it’s near freezing and I hand wash everything. I have things hanging all over the cabin. Got me to thinking readers might want to know about my wardrobe here in the middle of nowhere. Here is a list of my complete wardrobe, summer and winter. I have three pairs of jeans. I keep two of them for everyday wear and one is put aside for special occasions.  I have five shirts. Two flannel and three cotton. All are long sleeve. I have no use for short sleeved shirts or shirts without a collar.  I have six pair of socks because socks are what I change the most frequently. I prefer heavy socks (hunting style) because they are warm in the winter and protect from blisters in the summer when I am more active. I won’t discuss underwear, but suffice to say they are changed as needed. I have two black sweat shirts for cool Spring and Fall evenings. I have two pairs of Rocky (brand name) boots, both water proof and one pair is taller than the other. I also keep on hand a pair of “cabin shoes” which have been, over the years, an old pair of loafers, some water shoes (light slip-on with a thin rubber sole), and plain old tennis shoes. Right now I have a nice pair of Russell Moccasins that I got with a gift card from Anita the dog groomer last year for my birthday. They should last me a long time. I also have three jackets; a short leather bomber style; a full-on heavy lined hunting jacket; and a fancy Helly Hanson rain jacket that I brought here from my life in the “other world”. Other misc. items include one leather belt, a pair of work gloves, a pair of skiing gloves for the winter months and two old ball caps (that I rotate with my mood) and one flannel pull-over hat, again, for the winter months. If you promise not to tell anyone I will also admit to having a pair of panty hose that I wear when I hunt or otherwise go off trail to keep the ticks out of sensitive places.

 Summer necessitates washing shirts and socks and underwear once a week. I often wear the same pair of jeans for up to two weeks if possible. If I am working on the chicken coop or goat pen I usually have to change them sooner. In the winter I wash much less frequently. I use captured rain water for washing because I use so much…especially for rinsing. The soap I use ( I think I have mentioned this before) is a mixture of Fels Naptha, washing soda and borax that I mix up three or four times a year. Firewood Kenny suggested I substitute a dilution Dawn dishwashing liquid for the Fels Naptha and I might try that next time my soap runs out. I already have a supply of Dawn in the cabin that I use for just about everything that requires soap for cleaning. In fact, my favorite general purpose cleaning solution is a combination of Dawn and bleach.

    Every other year at this time (around New Year) I travel 27 miles to a shopping area that has a K-Mart, Kroger, a CVS Drug Store and, most importantly, a Goodwill Store, to buy clothes that need replacing. The Goodwill store is a wonderful place! I don’t shop there because the prices are cheap. I shop there because I can still find clothes there that were not cheaply made by children in Asia.  American made clothes really last.   My favorite jeans are Round House and Diamond Gusset or some of the older Levis. My favorite everyday work shirts are Dickies. I don’t buy pre-worn socks (or underwear) so I usually go to K-mart for those. When they have them I prefer Wigwam socks. This year I will be looking for a new belt, a summer shirt and Dooley need a new blanket.

Well, the clothes are drying nicely. I have to go check the chicken’s light bulbs (for warmth) and give the goats some grain before dark….it’s a gunna be a cold one tonight.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Three Things.....

We hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas Morning! I woke up to find this fancy Salt Cellar in my stocking. Now I have a place to keep my precious Kosher salt. It came with a certificate that said it was made by West Virginia hill people at the Poky River Artisans Colony.
Thanks Santa Dooley!

For Dooley's Christmas present I carved him a fake Swisher Sweet Outlaw Double Barrel Rum Cigar so he could join me evenings on the porch when I smoke and write. Can you tell which is the real one and which is the fake?

 The fake one is on the right. I made the ash end from some old pewter paint I had left over from another project.

For all of our readers who have asked to see pictures of the cabin and  more pictures of Dooley, here is Dooley's  Christmas present to you. This is a self portrait of Dooley on the hillside over looking the cabin. Enjoy. 



Excerpts from County Newspaper’s Review of Dooley’s Christmas Pageant:


“……promised fireworks display turned out to be chickens in trees popping glitter filled balloons….”

“….wished I had been warned that I would be sitting on the ground instead of proper theater seating….”

“….not sure why all the actors were dressed as farm animals.”

“….have never seen tap dancing goats before…..”

“…Bizarre at times….Unusual at best ….”

“..raccoons at concession stand short-changed me twice…”

...better suited for big city audiences who enjoy this sort of thing…”

“…all that being said, at the end of the night this reviewer came away with a better understanding of King (really just a Duke) Wenceslas…. and a tingle of holiday cheer.”

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dooley's Christmas Carol

Deep in the woods of West Virginia a dog lay sleeping in his secret cabin on a cold and exceedingly dark December night. His name was Dooley.

He awoke to the sound of a strong wind rattling the old wooden shutters on the north cabin windows.

“Humbug, what blustery winds dare wake me on this foul night?”

Another gust blew open the shutters and slammed the wooden slats hard against the sill.

“Go away you accursed wind. Let this sleeping dog lie!”

 From the window a cold blue light pushed the darkness from the room.

Dooley rolled towards the light, again, cursing the intrusion.

“If this is another raccoon prank I’ll have your grimy little raccoon paws tacked to my wall by morning….!”

Leaping from his blanket Dooley ran to the window and pressed his nose against the frosty glass. There, hovering above the ground was a nearly transparent image of his long dead master, Roger.

“A projector ….the raccoons have a stolen a projector?”

The specter spoke, “No, Dooley, it is me, Roger.”

“If it were truly you, you’d be smoking a Swisher Sweet Outlaw Double Barrel Rum cigar”, Dooley challenged, “and besides, you have been dead for years. I saw you fall into that 200 barrel oil tank myself.”

 “Alas, they don’t carry my brand here in purgatory… and you know as well as I do that I didn’t fall into that tank, I was nudged”

“Wait a minute, this isn’t one of those ghost intervention deals, is it?”  Dooley said with a sigh.

“Please don’t get ahead of me Dooley, the other ghosts and I put a lot of work into scripting this visit.”

“Oh geeze, Roger, I thought I was through listening to your cheesy stories.”

“Do you want to get back to sleep tonight Dooley or not?”

“Get on with it, then”, Dooley relented.

“You were supposed to ask me why I was here.”

“Oh mysterious ghost, why are you here?”

“I am here for your welfare, Dooley. Tonight you will be visited by three spirits….”

Dooley interrupted, “So it’s the whole Dickens thing, past present future…my tombstone, rattling chains, poor people, seeing what might have been, yada, yada, yada…I get it. Listen, why don’t you and your friends come on in the cabin and do a group haunting. It would speed things up.”

“Dooley, the first spirit will not arrive until the clock strikes one in the morning.”

“I can see the others spirits peeking from out behind the old goat pen. They are all here aren’t they, Roger?”


“And you know we don’t have a clock to strike…”

After a pause and some mumbling amongst the spirits the cabin door blew open. Three shadowy figures slithered into the room. Roger, the only one that glowed, stood in the doorway, shook his head, and then spoke.


“I can’t say I like what you’ve done to the place Dooley.”


“Really?” Dooley said incredulously. Looking to other spirits he asked, “What do you guys think?”

The spirit of Christmas Past said he thought the place could do with a shag throw rug and perhaps a little more avocado and orange in the paint scheme.

The spirit of Christmas Present said he liked the overall look but would like to see some stainless appliances.

The Spirit of Christmas Future said he thought Dooley had captured a timeless simplicity in his arrangement of the principle elements.

“Ok Dooley, my part in this is over. Before I go I just wanted say what a good friend you were to me over the years. I couldn’t have survived out here without you. I hope when the time comes you’ll find me  here in the mist and join me in my endless wanderings. Goodbye for now old friend.”

Roger’s glow faded slowly until his image was completely gone.

Dooley stood, staring at the empty doorway. A tear ran down his snout. It was true, he had missed Roger.

“Forgive me Roger!” he shouted at the empty doorway. “When I pushed you into that oil tank I was only thinking of myself, the money in your mattress, and control of the bacon supply. I was a fool.”

The three remaining spirits looked awkwardly at each other. The Spirit of Christmas Future spoke.

“It appears that we are no longer needed here. In two minutes you have grasped the gist of what we wanted to convey this cold December night. Sleep well knowing you still have time to make amends for your past regressions.”

“Since we are cutting this short and I never got the chance to look at my own tombstone may I ask how long I have left in this world?”  

“Do you want that in dog years or calendar years?”


“Calendar will be fine.”


“The length of one’s life is determined by many things, but taking into consideration living alone, excessive bacon intake and lack of exercise I give you another 24/25 months. On the other hand, if you acquire some friends, eat some leaner foods and find a purpose in your life that involves some physical activity….you may live well into your upper teens. You have a choice. Any other questions before we go?”

“I have no questions for the Spirit of Christmas Present….in fact; I don’t really understand the need for a spirit to show me what I am experiencing right now….”

“It’s a Union requirement, three Spirit minimum on holidays.” they explained.

“I see.” said Dooley, “Future and Present are free to go if you like. Thank you for your time. If Past wouldn’t mind staying a bit, I do have something I’d like to discuss.”

The Spirits whispered something between themselves. They were a bit embarrassed because they had car pooled. Future and Present agreed they would wait outside behind the goat pen and then they left cabin.

“So what is it, Dooley?” asked Past


Three hours later the Spirit of Christmas Past joined his two shivering co-workers behind the goat pen.

“For heaven’s sake, what took you so long?”

“Well”, sighed Past, “the dog asked me if it would be possible to go back to the day before Roger died  to see if he could figure out what made him snap and push Roger into the oil tank.  It seemed like a reasonable request. When we got there he suddenly pointed off to the left and shouted “Bigfoot!” I couldn’t help but look. When I turned back around he was gone. I searched for two and a half hours in the surrounding woods, but he was nowhere to be found.”

Together, the three spirits agreed to keep the loss of the dog in the past a secret. If word ever got out there might literally be hell to pay.

Deep in the woods of West Virginia, a dog lay sleeping in a secret cabin. His name was Dooley. It was an exceeding bright and warm July morning.

He awoke to the sound of Roger’s voice.

“Wake up Dooley, I have to go look at that 200 barrel oil tank this morning…thought you might want to come along.”

Dooley rolled over and said, “Not this time Roger,….not today.”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ira, Day Two


Day two of my Nephew’s visit was a day of exploration and photography.

I have written so much about my favorite places on the property that I won’t bore you with too many details. Since Ira said he had read most of my past posts I made a list of landmarks along Rock Creek and challenged him to find as many as he could and there would be a cash prize for every one he found and photographed.  It was sort of a scavenger hunt.  

 On the list was: Owl Rock, Bear Cave, Dragon Tree, Hound Hole, Mill Stone, Spring, Old Cabin Site, Waterfall, Slingshot Tree, Stonehenge, Tree with Windows, Pirate’s Cave, and Balancing Rock. He would get extra points for finding and catching a crawdad, sighting a box turtle, snapping turtle and an intact Mason jar porcelain cap in the creek bed.

 Here are some pictures he took along the way:

Ira did very well!  I had to point out a few items. When we got near to the waterfall I hinted that sometimes you had to look with your ears. The waterfall is not visible from the creek bed, but he stopped, listened, and found it. He took a lot more great pictures that I will use in other posts.
Over the next two days we visited the oil producing side of the property, toured some backroads, (don't tell his mother, but I let him drive the truck for miles), let him meet some of my friends  and, yes, we went frog hunting on his last night. I'll write about those adventures another time. Right now I have some presents to wrap.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ira's First Day

Ira, my 14 year old nephew from Boston, came to visit again this summer. He was a much different kid this year. If you remember, on his last visit he spent a large portion of his time at my secret cabin playing video games on his laptop. This year he came with a digital camera and a genuine interest exploring my property and what was involved in living the “simple life”.  He even seemed to enjoy my farm food which was a far cry from the last time when I had to take him to town to get “city boy” food from Harry’s Grocery/Feed and Seed/Hardware Store.

Right away on the ride from the airport he told me he had been reading past posts of my blog and wanted to see places and things I had written about and even asked if we could do some frog hunting down at the river like I used to do with my dad. By the time he got settled in it was almost dark.  Dooley and I built one our famous campfires and we all sat around and planned some adventures.

On the first full day, we decided to let Ira pretend to be me and work through the daily chores. We woke him up at 6Am and we did a walk around of the cabin and animal areas. He fed and counted the chickens and collected a few eggs. Then we moved to the goats. Before releasing the goats to graze we had a little milking lesson. We also gave them a mini physical, checking eyelids, gums and hooves. Then we checked pens and the garden fence for any areas that may need repair later in the day. I explained that it was important to anticipate the weather for the day and since we didn’t have a TV weatherman to tell us the forecast we had use clues to gauge it for ourselves. I told him a few things about the height and shape of clouds, the direction of travel across the sky. We took a look at Dooley’s dew collector/calculator (patent pending) and showed him that, based on the temperature and amount of dew collected, we were likely in for a humid day and some fog in the evening hours. I also told him that in the mountains fast moving weather fronts were hard to spot because the hills prevent us from seeing very far down range, but if we pay attention to changes in the winds, bird and insect behavior, and a change in the color of certain tree’s leaves we usually had enough time to prepare the animals and ourselves for dangerous thunderstorms and possible high winds (something we had to deal with frequently this summer).  I included a few words about wooly worms and counting cricket chirps just to add a little mountain mystic to the lesson.

Now, it was time for Ira to prepare his own breakfast. I laid out the ingredients for some scratch goat milk pancakes and talked him through the preparation. It was Dooley’s day for bacon so we fried some up on the side in my small iron skillet. Instead of syrup for the pancakes we used my world famous blend of diluted molasses and raw sourwood honey. As an added touch I put out a dab of some of my goat milk butter (that I make without a separator, still don’t have that perfected, sigh). I just called it homemade butter until after breakfast…in fact, I didn’t mention the milk was from the goats and the “syrup” was homemade until Ira cleaned his plate.  

After breakfast we went to the garden and talked about the size, layout and the vegetables I had chosen this year and why I chose them. We checked for weeds and pests and we went over what were good bugs and what were my mortal enemies. In a quadrant I hadn’t used, I let him plant a few seeds. He had read about my decoy garden and I showed him how that worked. I mentioned that even though we had just eaten breakfast we should already be thinking ahead to lunch and dinner and perhaps he should choose some vegetables for a lunch salad and a stew for dinner. Planning and preparation is essential when living the simple life.

To round out the morning I showed him all of our time and labor saving inventions like the five way gravity fed irrigation line from the upper spring, our sound activated predator alarm (as described in an earlier post), the rainwater capture equipment and my magic self-replenishing cache of firewood (Firewood Kenny brings me firewood for free in return for me allowing him to cut wood on my property). Ira was very interested to see the ash separator box and was fascinated with how many uses ashes have. The ash box led to a question about trash disposal and I explained the goal was, not to have any trash.

After lunch (Ira made us a brined cucumber, onion, tomato and boiled egg salad) I suggested that since we had to walk down to the river to check the mail we might as well take our fishing gear. With the exception of a few meaty catfish there aren’t many good eating fish in my little river. There are, however lots of small pan fish that are suckers for some bacon on a hook. For a city boy that doesn’t get to fish much it was fun-o-plenty. After fishing he asked if he could spend some time walking in the wood around the cabin and taking some pictures so I released him from further chore duties, reminded him of a few safety rules, set a return time and let him go exploring on his “own”. It is in the nature of boys to want to explore, to go beyond the horizon and test themselves. It is in the nature of uncles to allow boys far more freedom and independence than a parent ever would in this environment. I hope Ira felt like he was on his own but the truth is Dooley and I never let him too far out of sight.

On his return we strolled out to “Cell Phone Point” so he could check in with his mother. Cell Phone Point is the only place nearby (as far as I know) where we can get a signal. Used to be the only way to make a cell call was to hike to the top of “Jeep Slide” hill which would take a good hour and a half up and back.   AT&T put in a new tower near town a couple of years ago and now we get a weak signal near the cabin. The catch is, if you hold the phone in your hand it won’t work. You have to tie the phone in a little harness, string it between two trees and use the speakerphone to talk. Ira thought this was hilarious and took a picture.


I really enjoyed listening to him describe his day to his mom. Dooley said I had a silly look on my face. I’m not sure what that could have been….fun, perhaps?

My next post will be about Day 2, a walk up Rock Creek and will include some more of Ira’s pictures.  Until then, keep it simple.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Twill Be The Night.......

Dooley the dog is producing his annual Christmas Pageant Spectacular again this year. This is the third year. Actually it is the fourth year if you count his first attempt which ended abruptly when a fire broke out in the manger scene and audience members were forced to use their complimentary cups of hot chocolate to douse the flames, No one was hurt, but the pastor’s wife was understandably upset when her cat (which was playing the part of the baby Jesus) was returned to her with singed whiskers.

The Pageant is a ticketed event, the proceeds of which allegedly go to a charity called The Aging Dogs of American Indian Ancestory Rescue Fund.

  Dooley has granted me the honor of becoming a Silver Level Sponsor and in return for funding a portion of the event I get a discount on my ticket and my name is printed in the program. I don’t know why I am not a Gold or Platinum Level Sponsor because I suspect I am the only sponsor. Construction on the scenery and props for the show has been going on since October. So far I have received two bills from Harry’s Grocery/Feed and Seed/ Hardware store that include a case of spray snow, two 4x8 sheets of marine grade plywood and some Christmas themed gummy bears. I also got a bill from the town’s Community Hall for venue rental and 2 catered luncheons. Dooley claims this was for auditions and a planning session.

Originally this year’s theme was “A Merry Mayan Christmas”, loosely based on the Annual Christmas Eve celebration in the Mexican town of San Juan Chamula but, due to the whole calendar/ apocalypse thing and several negative comments from attendees at an impromptu November focus group, he has changed the theme to, “The Journey of Wenceslas, a dramatic exploration of the Good King.”  
 (KingWenceslas, of course, famous for the Christmas carol written by John Mason Neale in 1853 which tells the story of of the Good King braving the harsh winter to give alms to the poor on the Feast of St. Stephen.)

I told him I thought he was taking a risk artistically, basing the whole event on a single Christmas carol but Dooley says, from a historical standpoint, the full Wenceslas story had long been overlooked and needed to be told.
The bulk of Dooley's show is biographical but  becomes interactive when, at the end of the evening, the attendees will trek back to their cars, recreating the harsh Feast of Stephen event while singing the fabled song. Each will follow in the footsteps of the Good King (played by Dooley) as suggested in the lyrics and offer alms (dog biscuits) to poor peasants (Dooley’s friends) along the way.

It will, no doubt, be a night to remember.
      Good King Wenceslas Lyrics
  1. Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
    When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
    Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
    When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

  2. "Hither, page, and stand by me, if you know it, telling,
    Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
    "Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
    Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain."

  3. "Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,
    You and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither."
    Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,
    Through the cold wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.

  4. "Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,
    Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer."
    "Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread now in them boldly,
    You shall find the winter's rage freeze your blood less coldly."

  5. In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
    Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
    Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
    You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Adam Lanza and Billy Wise

When I was 10 years old I got mad at fellow ten year old Billy Wise. It was the kind of instant and overwhelming anger that makes you want to throw something. I threw a rock. I hit his ear and drew blood. The emotion came from such a primitive place in my mind that there was no rational or analytic thought involved. I didn’t aim, with my eyes fixed on his head, I just picked the rock up and threw it with a force and accuracy I could never achieve by trying...then I looked for another rock. Thankfully, there wasn’t one. I never spoke to Billy Wise again after that.

 12/14/12 was an unimaginably sad day in America.  There are no words that can adequately explain the actions of Adam Lanza or the grief that will be with the parents, family and friends of the victims for the remainder of their lives.

 No amount of laws will ever stop human beings from killing human beings…and gun control in America is such a complex and politically charged issue that even if we all said in unison, “enough is enough”, it would take many years and many more tragedies before a radical change in gun ownership laws could be in place in this country.

 Dooley suggested, “Let humans keep their guns, but restrict how many bullets one can own. It’s not the number of guns you have, but the number bullets that are allowed to go in them. The most common legal justifications for guns are for personal protection and hunting. I think three bullets for personal protection and two for hunting would be plenty. Why would anyone need more than that? If you use your bullets, you could turn your spent cartridges in for new ones. It wouldn’t stop gun related murders but it might inhibit the ones that begin with “mass”.  There is no honest reason why anyone needs to own and fill 4- 15 shot clips for their handgun.”

Yes, I know this is too simplistic.  Here at our secret cabin simple ideas work well.   It isn’t just the guns and bullets…. although, I can say for sure it that ten year old Billy Wise was far better off because I only had one rock to throw.

 If I were still a ranter this is where I would spew about the decline of the American family unit and how its growing disfunctionality is spawning more and more socially repressed and morally devoid children who compress years of lonely rage into one explosive and deadly act of terror….one cathartic expression of “Here I am!” that is instantly echoed throughout the world on the wings of our global information technologies. Or I might say something like “the proliferation of guns in entertainment shows and video games have made them the tool of choice as an equalizer for the repressed or the would-be infamous”.  Unfortunately, that nonsense, too, is simplistic.

Somehow, together, we need to shorten the chain on whatever cosmic pendulum is swinging so tragically far away from the center of what so many of us would consider “normal”. I think I’ll start by calling Billy Wise.



Tuesday, August 7, 2012


For long-time readers you may remember that I once worked for the Walt Disney Company as a Director /Cameraman at the Disney Studios in Orlando Florida when I lived in the “other world”.
One of my “creations” was a commercial that involved a scene where Mickey, Minnie and Pluto the dog were in a television control room directing a show. I had Mickey and Minnie standing on the right side of the frame and I put Pluto, because of his size, seated mid-frame running the switcher. (A switcher, simply put, is a panel full of buttons that select what camera is on the screen.) I finished the shoot and edited the commercial and, as was customary, I sent it off to California for approval. Two days later I got an email from corporate ( we used to call them the “character police”) that said I would have to re-shoot the commercial because Pluto did not have articulating digits (fingers) and he would not have been able to operate a switcher. I substituted Goofy (also a dog) for Pluto in the re-shoot and everyone was happy because Goofy does have articulating digits.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

The evening that I got back from my nieces’ wedding I went out to sit on the porch of the cabin and smoke my usual Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw Cigar. Sitting next to my chair was a new ashtray made out of a

river mussel shell attached to an 18” maple stand. At first I thought Firewood Kenny may have made it for me but then I saw Dooley the dog peeking around the corner with a big grin on his face.
“You made this Dooley?”
“Sure did”, he said.
“It’s beautiful, I love it”
Imagine that, my wonderful dog made me an ashtray…..and all without articulating digits. Take that Disney!

(Ok, …you know and I know that Firewood Kenny helped put the ashtray together...but Dooley doesn’t need to know we know…so shhh!)

Monday, August 6, 2012


I apologize for not writing much recently. For some reason I am less inspired in the summer months. Here are a few things that have happened since my last regular posts in March.

I came out of the woods in April to attend my niece’s wedding in Charlottesville Va... It was absolutely beautiful. It was an outdoor ceremony (which I loved) at James Madison’s home. Firewood Kenny took care of Dooley and the animals for me while I was gone. It was great to see family. A consequence of this trip was a new computer. My sister, her kids and a few cousins chipped in and got it for me. They wanted a more direct way to communicate with me. I no longer have to rely on a relay system to get my blogs posted. Irene is thrilled.

On a related note, the County deemed it fiscally responsible to reduce Irene’s library to being open only one day a week. She says she’s ok with it but I know it she misses getting up every day and going to work.

Dooley and I fared very well through the storms that raged throughout the State in June. Power went out, but that is not much of an issue for us. Lots of downed trees but nothing big fell close to the cabin or the animals.

For those of you who follow Suzanne McMinn’s blog, “Chickens in the Road”, you know she had a terrible visit from what may have been a mountain lion. This has Dooley and I on high alert….we don’t live too far (as the crow flies) from her farm.

Oh, yeah…..I’ve been out on a couple of dates with Anita the dog groomer. More on that another time.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dooley and I Discuss a Squirrel

Just over the hill from the cabin is a large dead pine tree. It is really just a tall trunk with various stages and degrees of decay from solid looking to gaping holes. Early this morning Dooley and I witnessed a nice sized gray squirrel running up the tree. Near the top it disappeared to the blind side. Shortly, it ran back down the tree with its cheeks distended, presumably with nuts of some sort. It ran up the hill and out of sight behind the edge of the cabin. In a minute or two the squirrel returns with deflated cheeks and repeats the process. Four times the squirrel returned to the tree. I suggested to Dooley that the squirrel was moving his cache of nuts to a new location. Dooley believed the squirrel had found another squirrel’s cache and was stealing them. This, of course, led to a discussion of morality among squirrels. I posed the following questions.
“If this squirrel has witnessed another squirrel storing nuts here and then, at an opportune moment, removed the nuts, would either squirrel consider this as wrong? Would the first squirrel be disappointed when it discovered his nuts had been plundered, would he be angry, or would he just move on with normal squirrel business? What if the victim squirrel had discovered the thief squirrel removing the nuts, would a fight have ensued?”, I asked. “On the other hand, what if the first squirrel had just found the cache by accident?”
Dooley, (the prosecutor), said the squirrel would surely have recognized that nuts do not appear in a tree in those numbers naturally and the squirrel must certainly have known the nuts were put there by another squirrel. In that case he is a thief and subject to attack from the owner
What, I said, if the original owner of the nuts had passed away suddenly? Wouldn’t the nuts belong to squirrel that found them?
“That”, Dooley said, “presumes squirrels have an understanding of the finality of death and the concept seems beyond the scope of a squirrel’s understanding.”
“If they have a concept of ownership”, I asked, “which is what this discussion is based on, is an understanding of death such a stretch?”
“Is it ownership of the nuts, or protection of the nuts that is the basis of our discussion? As a dog, I will protect a bone, but I don’t consider myself the owner of the bone”, Dooley retorted.
“Ok, let’s say I give you the bone”, I challenged, “…as a human I would say I “owned” the bone. By “giving” you the bone I have reassigned the ownership to you. Therefore, in my mind, you do own the bone.”
“I don’t believe you can transfer ownership between two species,” he countered.
The discussion continued a bit. In the end we decided it was not a moral issue or an ownership issue, it was a matter of responsibility. When it comes to nuts, you have to protect them or suffer the consequences.

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.
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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: