Saturday, May 31, 2014

Going Nowhere Slowly

I was sitting in my truck, under a small shade tree, in the back parking lot of the mall for a while today. From the northeast, the sound of a not-so-distant train whistle came in the passenger side windows which were down to let the southwesterly breeze pass through. Before much longer, an engine came slowly down the tracks pulling five extra engines and a long line of cars of various sorts. (I say “down the tracks” because the Ohio River just beyond the tracks also flows southwesterly at this point.) It was obvious that most of the cars were empty, except for the tankers, which I have no way to know about.

None of them were coal cars; most were flat-beds or modified versions of the same. In the not-too-distant past, 400+ coal cars a day moved through this town to points south. I guess Obama is doing as he promised. Some folks will celebrate the passing of coal as a fuel, yet I’ve always read that auto exhaust causes far more acid rain than what coal we burn in this country. Besides, the foreigners are starting to buy some of what we’re not using, so the overall effect may be negligible on a global basis. Still, production is down, and that’s bad if coal is what feeds your family. Of course, MOST industries are in decline in this country, especially in this area. I suppose that’s why the railroad is taking the un-used engines and cars elsewhere.

The engines had been out of sight for only a little bit when the sound of squeaky brakes was heard and the bumping of train car couplings ran from the front of the train northeasterly to the unseen rear of the train, as the great beast slowly ground to a halt. It sat there several minutes, while I pecked on my computer and listened to the birds sing in the trees around me. Suddenly, there was the travelling sound of couplings bumping once again as the engine apparently resumed its forward motion. Soon the cars were clickety-clacking slowly along again, as the large steel wheels crossed joint after joint in the tracks. One or two cars had brakes that weren’t completely releasing, and their squeaking sounded surprisingly like a gaggle of geese headed down the river. I enjoyed watching the long line of cars move by until its “cabooseless” end disappeared into the distance. (All trains seem incomplete these days, to any of us who remember the old cabooses and the men who lived in them.) There’s some sort of a fascination most of us have with the titans of any sort of machinery—big trains, big trucks, big boats and so on are held in awe by the child in us, I suppose.

I was sad to see so many empty cars, though. Like so many of our friends and relatives, I guess they have to leave their home area to look for work elsewhere, so to speak. © 2014

Failure To Take The Task In Hand


Like most businesses, my current employer skimped a bit in the restroom department. So, the other evening, I found myself in one of two lines at “the little boy’s room.” Before me was the open door to a commode booth, where a young fellow with his back to me was producing the sound of falling water. I noticed right off that the seat was down, so I already knew that the young fellow with the two tattooed “sleeves” must have been raised by wolves (my apologies to wolves). Then the sound of the falling water stopped, but the kid continued to stand there for a minute or two. Gradually, I noticed that his elbows were at the wrong angle to have a grip on his supposed errand there. THEN, I realized that he had been standing there the whole time, his spigot un-aimed, while he had been texting on his phone. About that time, he hurriedly zipped and walked out, his eyes never meeting those waiting and his phone still being manipulated by his left hand. Needless to say, the seat and floor were covered in urine. I’m beginning to think there should be such a thing as “phone control,” with only those proving their maturity able to get a “phone license” and a phone. (No, I’m not serious, but heathens like him would certainly deserve it!) © 2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

These Old Hands


Growing up in a family of older people, I was accustomed to seeing hands that were wrinkled, twisted and callused from many years of hard work in the fields, woods and houses of country home places. The hands of many were also full of ugly dark splotches on the backs where bangs and scratches caused the thin skin of the aged person to form purple bruises at the slightest touch. One active great aunt in particular had hands more purple than tan. I’ve often wondered what all those hands I’d seen had done over the years, especially in the “old days,” when times were different. My father, who passed away at age 59, had just gotten to that stage where his once tough skin had turned thin and sensitive to bruising, though his hands were still as large and strong as ever.

I turn 59 in a couple weeks myself, and my hands too, have gotten to that stage where the slightest pressure or bang makes a purple spot. Just yesterday, I was pulling the studs from my rear tires and got a good bang against the fender well. Instantly, my skin oozed blood and a purple spot about the size of a dime appeared on my left hand. A few minutes later, when I remarked to my wife about having “old man’s hands,” she reminded me that gloves were designed to protect those appendages. I’ve gotten unaccustomed to wearing gloves since I left the woods and factory work behind me. The calluses of years past are gone now, replaced by soft palms and knuckles. My hands could pass for those of a city-slicker…….almost.

I took a good look at my hands today; in fact, I even took a picture of my left hand to show you. It’s not a very good picture, but the most obvious thing is the wedding band, I suppose. I’ve gained enough weight over the years that it now sits in a deep grove on my finger. I’ve spent 36 of the last 38 years married, the last 31 to the same woman. I just tried, for the first time in a few years, to take it off and it appears that it would come off, if I so desired. That means my once meaty paw has shriveled from lack of heavy work, because for many years, it wouldn’t have come off without a major effort.

You really can’t see in the photo that most of my thumbnail and the top of that knuckle are missing. I tell folks that I fought the saw and the saw won (the 52,” 40-tooth mill saw, that is.) (Note to sawmill owners, shut the blade down before adjusting the guides, UNLESS they’re designed for it.) The small donut-shaped mark barely noticeable a couple inches above the knuckle of my index finger, and the two small whitish-looking parallel lines just above my little finger are from jumping off a horse while going down a steep gravel driveway at a canter. I’d made the mistake of thinking I could control my first horse well enough to ride him with only a halter and lead-strap. It turned out that I was mistaken, so when he was on the verge of running across the county road to see the neighbor horses across the way, I decided that he could risk his own life, but not mine. The blood loss was minimal.

That got me to thinking what all my own hands had done over the years. I remember holding my parent’s hands when I was little. I remember feeling the differences between catching grasshoppers and tadpoles. They helped pull calves from cows struggling with giving birth, and they’ve carried day-old calves a half-mile to the barn, where we could keep a better eye on a heifer and her first calf. They stroked the coat of many a dog over the years, both mine and those that belonged to others. They also held the head of my first girlfriend as we shared what was the first kiss for both of us.

They’ve grasp many an axe handle, and the handles of sledge hammers, splitting mauls and even a couple foot-adzes. They’ve held chisels and mallets, handsaws, crosscut saws and chainsaws, and have sharpened all those tools and more, even doing it for part of my living for a year or two. They’ve honed knives, axes, hatchets, machetes, Christmas tree knives, scythes and sickles. They’ve carried many thousands of feet of lumber and uncountable truckloads of slabs and firewood. They’ve shoveled tons of manure, sand, gravel, creek gravel and dirt, and carried thousands of cement blocks and bricks. They’ve forked several loads of hay and raked hay with a wooden rake made by an elderly neighbor.

They’ve fed domestic animals of several varieties and butchered squirrels, rabbits, grouse, groundhogs, muskrats and coons. They’ve skinned fox, possum and mink as well. They’ve baited hooks, unhooked fish, threw some fish back and dressed others for the skillet. They’ve whittled sticks, carved wood and kindled fires. They’ve curried horses and cattle and trimmed horses’ hooves. They’ve plaited ropes and leather and grafted fruit trees. They’ve restored antiques and torn down dilapidated houses. And, they’ve written thousands of pages of script and printing.

They’ve grasp the hands of young and old. They’ve carried many people to their waiting grave, and they’ve dug part of at least one (my father’s). They’ve hugged no small number of girlfriends in the day, lit cigarettes that I shouldn’t have smoked, and whacked about a dozen fellows up alongside the head (most of whom got in their fair share of punches themselves). They’ve stretched barbed-wire, hammered nails and served as an owl call to make turkeys gobble.

They’ve held most of those I’ve loved, including a little nephew that I “lost” when I got divorced many years ago. (He liked to sit on my knee to eat his breakfast cereal.) One of my favorite things to do with them these days is to hug my little granddaughter. All these things are just the tip of the iceberg of what my hands have done over the years. The Lord has blessed me with a couple of really handy tools on the end of my arms. Think for a minute of all the things your own hands have done over the years; it will amaze you! © 2014

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Visiting Dad’s Grave


Going to the little cemetery where Dad is buried, located about a mile downstream from where I was raised, was sort of hard for me the first few years after his passing. Now that nearly 30 years have passed, and my own stone lies next to his, awaiting my permanent arrival, I’m not filled with the loss that I once felt. In fact, as wicked as this old world is getting, and knowing to some degree who and what awaits me, I almost look forward to the day that I can join him, and many others whose earthly remains lie here in what some might call “God’s Half-Acre.”

I put a flag on his grave, since that was the reason for the visit. He didn’t have to give his life in the big war that took so many of his friends and neighbors. He was one of the lucky ones; he came home after the war was over. I’m thankful he did, or I wouldn’t be here, but I wish I’d asked him more questions.

Even though I don’t feel despondent over the fact that his body lies here, and his parents, who I remember, lay next to him, a sort of sadness still makes itself known to me. Some folks would understand, but many would not. I stroll around the cemetery, reading the names and dates inscribed for those lucky enough to have a stone. Some stones show evidence of being visited within the last few months or days. Some look pretty much forgotten. There is the sad part of the experience, that so many are forgotten. Some of the folks whose lives these stones represent are spending their eternity with their saved loved ones and the one we call “Jesus.” No-one should wish them back. Others are probably spending an eternity of unfathomable suffering, but I hope very few. Still, many of both are now forgotten.

Sometimes I think it’s a curse to be both a sentimentalist and a history buff. Reading the names of relatives, neighbors and acquaintances who have gone on before me, I realize how little I know about some of them. Other names are simply names that I heard in the conversations of the people who now lie here. Some names I haven’t even heard of. Yet each name represents a life; and each life had a story, perhaps MANY stories. For most, though, those stories are forever lost, unless someone writes them down and finds a way to pass them along. Most stories die with the person. The rest die with the children and grandchildren, if there were any. Except for knowing that a few folks here are suffering torment, the loss of those stories strikes me as the greatest source of sadness here. I wish I could have heard all their stories. I wish you could have heard them, too.

Talk to the old folks while you can. They won’t be here much longer, nor will we, so tell your story to someone. Maybe they’ll pass it on. © 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014


Some folks will find this article a case of TMI, especially the photo. So, if you are one of those good folks with better taste and more discretion than I, you may wish to check out someone else’s blog today. This phenomenon first occurred not long after we had gotten the Mighty Dachshund at age four months. I was seated on the throne and little Coco was getting a scolding from the lady of the house for some puppyish indiscretion when the throne room door burst open and the little squirt jumped into the perceived safety of my jockey shorts, which lay around my ankles. I couldn’t help but laugh. Unfortunately, anytime a slight upset came in her life, she repeated the event. Thunder, jets breaking the sound-barrier after taking off from the airport a few miles away, more scolding from the lady of the house, or the whine of a deadly and dangerous vacuum cleaner all brought the little brown fuzz-ball looking for her “nest.”

The problem was that it wasn’t a particularly sanitary arrangement for either one of us, unless we’d both just bathed. Usually, that wasn’t the case, so I tried to break her of the practice. So, she gradually settled for simply lying between my feet. Still, on rare occasions, she forgets the ban and plunges in the throne room and jumps into her “nest” before I can get my skivvies raised above her reach. Usually these days, though, it’s when she doesn’t feel well that she seeks the solace of her old habit. These last two weeks, though, she has been pouting, since my new job keeps me away until midnight. She feels that I’m neglecting her, because I can’t be on the floor with her of an evening. So, this morning, when she barged in and once again caught me by surprise, I had my wife hand me the camera through the door. As you see, the Mighty Dachshund brought her pout with her. You may also notice that she long ago outgrew her nest and that it now suffers from “overflow.” I knew she needed the sulk, so I didn’t make her move, but I DID change underwear when I arose. © 2014


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Work Update And Two Tips From A Telemarketer

Ten of us started the class last week, but we were down to nine after supper. The next day, we lost another member, and the next day, yet another. On the fourth and fifth days, we stayed at seven people. Today, only three of us showed up. All three of us are veteran callers from other companies. Of the four newly missing members (two of which were also veteran callers), only one called to explain. While some of the folks simply didn’t want to work, the others were just overwhelmed by it all. I wasn’t shocked. At my old place of employment, I’d seen classes start at a dozen and end up at two. It’s a high-pressure job to a beginner, and even some veterans.

One thing that’s intimidating at this company, is that while the calls are semi-computerized, the company expects us to handle two calls at once, each with its own monitor, computer and keyboard, and within a month or so, graduate to THREE calls, with yet another monitor, computer and keyboard. We’ve been doing some live calling each of the past four days, doing only one call, plus some practice simulation doing two calls. The practice uses only a small key part of the conversation, so is actually much faster-paced than a complete call and is, therefore, extremely maddening. One night, I swear that I was within a few calls of pulling out my hair and running from the place screaming, but I persevered.

When the three of us newbies left tonight, the trainers repeatedly asked us if we’d be there tomorrow. They stopped just short of BEGGING us to return. I felt sort of bad for them, all three trainers are young enough to be either my son or grandson. I’m sure they’re afraid it will make them look as bad as they feel to lose so many students.

Those things being said, I wanted to put a couple things out there for your consideration. The first is a point that I’ve made before; hanging up on a telemarketer is the surest way to continue being called back. It’s not because the caller is trying to be hateful, but because of company policies and what the law allows. To get less calls, put all your numbers on the national do-not call list. Then, when someone calls, TELL them that you are on the national DNC list and request to be put not just on the DNC list of the business or charity that they’re calling for, but also on the list of the company who’s doing the calling. Hanging up may feel good, but they will NEVER stop bothering you if that’s your reaction!

The other thing concerns those stickers that you get for supporting various police organizations. REGARDLESS of what the organization may TELL you, think twice about putting those stickers on your car. It turns out that many cops figure the stickers just indicate a brown-noser who is expecting preferential treatment for their donation. Therefore, they go OUT OF THEIR WAY, to prove that idea FALSE. In other words, you may actually get WORSE treatment from many cops by putting those stickers in your window. Personally, I’ve never figured out why anyone would want to give money to a police organization anyway. Most are basically unions, and why would anyone with any brain-matter give money to a union to which they don’t belong? © 2014

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Country Life Keeps Changing

Early this evening, I went to the neighbor’s place to see if he had any used baler twine he’d part with. He’s retired and crippled up some, so he’s become more and more dependent on his nephew and that fellow’s hunting buddies over the years. This year, he had no twine to spare. It turns out that he has started hiring a neighbor “boy” (about age 50) to bale his hay with one of the round balers so common these days. As a result, all the used stuff he has is the plastic twine that the round balers use. He tried to give me the partial rolls in his old square baler, that now sits unused in his shed, but I told him that he’d better hold onto it, in case he ever needed any himself.

Growing up on the farm, the baler twine from the bales we’d fed the cattle was my stock in trade. I used it to fasten stones and sticks together to make war clubs, and fastened larger sticks together into palisades to provide protection from wayfaring trouble-makers and wild critters. I also used it, along with burlap bags and tree limbs, to make my version of camouflage ground blinds. It was also used to tie up temporary partitions in the cattle side of the barn, and was sometimes plaited into halters and ropes. I even used it once to make a bosal, headstall and reins for a horse.

It feels strange that such a one-time icon of country living is disappearing but, of course, that has always been the way of things. I grew up using a scythe, yet you can rarely find a scythe in a hardware or feed store these days due to the switch to string trimmers. The generation before me probably lamented the passing of baling wire, used in the old stationary balers, as I do that of baler twine. Back when loose hay was still loaded onto wagons and into barns, the simple pitchfork was an absolute requirement for living on a farm. Originally made from wood, they eventually were made of steel, and I’ve used them many a day, picking up hay the baler missed, cleaning out field corners the hay-rake couldn’t reach, or even finishing a field by hand, when the baler broke down. It’s been years since I’ve seen a good hay fork for sale in a local store. Most are some ridiculous Chinese copy of a manure fork.

Needless to say, not only are the tools mentioned becoming extinct, so are the skills needed to use them. Even the Amish are becoming more and more modern in their methods. We may be in trouble some day if “civilization” is brought to a screeching halt, either through war or general societal break-down. The bad thing is, we won’t even have baler twine with which to tie our broken world back together! © 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t had much to say this week. That’s because I’m back to work, for better or worse. The reason I say that is I’ve returned to telemarketing. The last place in town that I applied five years ago was a telemarketing place, for fear they’d hire me—and they did. I always swore that I’d never have such a low-life job but, unfortunately, pride doesn’t pay the bills. It’s finally come down to that again.

The area where I live is severely economically depressed, despite the fact that Obama keeps telling us that things are getting better. As a result, many of the area truck driving jobs that are somewhat seasonal, because they rely partly on the construction business, are slow in opening up this spring. The reason, of course, is that everyone is so scared about the economy that they’re taking a “wait and see” approach to building projects. I can’t say that I blame them. If I was smart, I’d apply at a beer distributorship. The worse things get, the better beer sells, possibly because of the excellent advice given in Proverbs 31:7.

One of life’s ironies is that this telemarketing job pays as well as some of the entry-level driving jobs. It sort of makes me wonder if I’ve wasted three months and $4000 of the state’s money getting my CDL! I believe that one reason this job pays a little better than my old one is that it uses a semi-computerized system that lets a single agent carry on up to three calls at one time. SO, some of those calls you get that seem to be a “real live person,” may actually be multiple recordings artfully manipulated by a real live person! The times they are a-changin’.

The worst thing about this job is also the best thing—I’m stuck on afternoon shift for now (which my wife HATES), but that also allows me time to continue looking for a better job, or go to interviews. So far, though, the only nibble was from a small water company who was hoping I had my own semi, so I could make a monthly run out of Kentucky. (I sorta wondered if it was REALLY water in those 1000 jugs that they wanted me to haul!)

The 31-year accumulation of “stuff” we’d been selling to stay in groceries and gasoline, quit selling suddenly when the weather warmed enough for the yard sales to start. But, I’ll have my first paycheck next week, so even though things aren’t great, they’re getting better. © 2014

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sundry Sabbath Thoughts, Observations And Memories

I snoozed a bit as my wife took her Saturday constitutional in the mall today. I would have wandered around outside a while to keep my own joints limbered up, but it looked like it could rain any minute. It had already rained some in the night and sprinkled on the windshield on our way there. After picking her up in my chariot, I drove her next door to Wally World, so she could memorize barcodes for a while. On the way, I noticed that the ditch they’d cleaned out a few weeks ago was sprouting cattails, so apparently they didn’t get the roots. The tips were dead, where they’d been nipped by a late frost, but only four inches or so. I’m going to try to keep an eye on them this year and harvest some flower heads when they’re at the edible stage. It’s been nigh 40 years since I’ve had any, but I remember them tasting like a cross between corn-on-the-cob and asparagus.

I drove clock-wise around Wally World so I could let the missus off on her side and keep her out of the traffic. The river lot in back of the store is owned by a local businessman (now retired, I think) who has a big boat launching area, a large dock and a huge picnic shelter located there. Unless it was his own people, a large group of mixed age, but predominately older, people were having a cook-out. Many, especially the older folks, were rather dressed up for a cook-out, so I wondered if it might have been a birthday or anniversary celebration for someone older, a civic group “roughing it,” or perhaps a family reunion. Older folks still tend to dress up a bit more for events than younger folks. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it’s true.

After dropping my wife off at the garden center door, I circled the store once again and parked at the “up-river” end of the lot. Being a country “kid,” it always amazes me how few people have any idea which way the local rivers flow, even when they’re standing beside them.

I snoozed a bit, read some scripture from the little Gideon New Testament that I keep in the truck, and did a little people-watching. The little book was given to me my fifth year at the little country school where I first attended. The following year, they bused us in town to go to school with all the city-slicker kids at a new poorly-designed but socially-accepted “school of the 20th century.” Most of us would have preferred to have stayed in the country.

After an hour or so, I noticed two older ladies climb into the SUV opposite me, and then saw a bit of paper and cellophane fly from the driver’s window. Disgusted, I looked at the woman and saw a stogie clamped firmly in the left side of her mouth. She saw me looking and acted insulted as she drove off. She probably didn’t know that any disgust on my face wasn’t over the stogie, but the litter; I could still enjoy a good stogie, too, if I’d allow myself to do so. They seemed to be well-dressed, so were probably financially comfortable enough. Money and class have nothing in common, I learned long ago. You can be poor and still have class, or you can be rich and still be rubbish. Your actions and attitudes determine what you are, not your pocket-book. A few minutes later, my eyes were closed when I heard a vehicle pull into the same space, a door open and what sounded like a metal can fall to the pavement. “Here we go again,” I thought. But no, the poor-looking young woman picked up the can and placed it back in the vehicle, a case in point. I literally prayed that the Lord would bless the young woman for her decency and consideration.

I’d planned to work on my maul when I got home, but decided to hone my double-bitted axe before I used it. As I sat on the edge of the front porch and worked the round stone in circular motions over the blade, I remembered the times, decades ago, when I sat only 125 feet farther toward the road and did the same thing. I was too little to be much help off-bearing the mill yet, but I still wanted to contribute in some way, so Dad suggested that I sharpen the double-bitted axes that we used in the woods and for clearing pasture. So, I’d sit on the upper end of the skidway and whet the axes, while he and his helper worked, the old International U9 gasoline power unit rumbled and the belt whirred on its trip to and from the pulley (shiv) on the end of the saw mandrel a few feet away. I got one blade of each axe sharp enough to shave my arm before moving on to the next one. Of course, my arm-hair was only peach-fuzz at the time, but they’d shave Dad’s arm, too. He’d always give me a smile of approval when he tested them likewise. Incidentally, the second blade on each axe was sharpened to a reasonable sharpness, but nowhere near to shaving ability. That was so it could be used for grubbing, where it might hit a rock.

I never got any work done on the maul today. The old tater-wagon was traveling not that far to the north, and my workshop for the day was under a tall white oak. It seemed best not to tempt fate. Since that time, it’s rolled to the east, and is now traveling on the south side of our home in a westward direction. I hope it continues to stay away, but who knows. I’d like to have some taters, but not THAT kind! © 2014

Friday, May 9, 2014

My Day


The photo above shows my temporary front yard “workshop.” It’s in the front yard by chance; it’s temporary because the only thing I plan to do there is make a maul from the piece of hickory lying on my “lawn chair.” The hickory chunk is 36” long to reference the size of the oak tree. It wasn’t nearly so large when I was ten and off-bearing edgings from the sawmill and piling them against the oak. The mill shed sat about twelve feet forward of the oak toward the county road in the distance. It was under a shed that I’d estimate to have been about 24x48 feet. I’ve got a lot of memories of those days. I wish I still had the mill there, just the way it was and still working, but those days are forever gone. Now, the mill site is my front yard.

The flat road-bed-like area to the right of the oak, which leads toward the road, is where neighbors used to back in to get sawdust for their barns, chicken houses and gardens. The county road was gravel back then.The sawdust pit was somewhere along where you see the slope in the yard, but we had sawdust thrown a considerable ways over the hill, all done with a coal shovel and a huge homemade wheelbarrow, since there was nothing automated on the old two-block mill.

Along the right side of the oak, in the distance, you can see the small rail enclosure around my Jerusalem artichokes and the tires that I moved and planted seeds in the other day. My “garden area” is along the north edge of the lawn, so it gets most of the sun, except late afternoon and evening.

Today, I used the double-bitted axe to even up the butt-swell some on the hickory chunk. The next step is to use a hatchet to cut a V-groove around it about a foot from the large end and about 2-1/2 inches deep, so I can split off the sides of what will be the handle area. I think Roy Underhill may show how in one of his books, or maybe it was in Foxfire.

I tried to start the lawn-mower today to trim my jungle-ish grass, but it wouldn’t even turn over, though it has a new battery. I tried jumping it, just in case, but it was still a no-go. I took a look under the hood, but you have to be left-handed, 50 pound Chinaman to work on the thing, so I called the shop and they’ll pick it up when they get the time. Until then, my grass will keep reaching for the sky. The year I drove mail truck, and was pressed for time, I did my first mowing with the farm tractor. I don’t have the tractor anymore, so if the lawn tractor won’t do it, I guess it will be a scythe and rake job.

I planted a few spaghetti squash seeds and some yellow summer squash seeds by trees and roof drains in the back yard today. If they DO grow, the deer will probably get them, but then if I start working, maybe I can afford some turkey wire.

It’s been blowing oak pollen so bad today that I finally had to come in before I clawed my eyes out. It sprinkled on us this evening when we went to town to run an errand. It’s supposed to storm tonight; I hope they’re wrong, but only time will tell. © 2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Couple Of Slight Disappointments


I took a sprinkler can of water down to wet the soil where I planted a few seeds last night. After doing so, I took a closer look at what I thought, last night, was a common milkweed plant where I’d planted four roots last fall. Closer inspection showed it to be a specimen of Black Indian Hemp, another member of the milkweed family, but a supposedly poisonous one. Apparently, NONE of the four roots I’d planted survived.

I then walked out the road to where I thought I’d seen a couple milkweed plants, but they too were BIH. I want to get some common milkweed replanted into my garden, partly because they’re delicious, and partly to have a butterfly garden for Monarch Butterflies. I DID see a few day lilies growing in the road ditch, which are edible in four different ways, but I’m not sure where I’d put them yet, so I’ll leave them for now.

I guess you could say that much of my lawn will be a “stealth” garden if I ever get it done the way I’d like. Neither the government, nor the neighbors, can steal your emergency food if they don’t recognize it when they see it. © 2014

Another Strange Dream

Just before arising to take the pooch on her pre-dawn drain I had a short dream. The countryside was swarming with military and police, night and day. The citizens were under a loose-jointed sort of house arrest and were not allowed to travel, though some were sneaking away in the night. The storm-troopers brought new locks for our homes that we were to install but, of course, they kept one of the keys. There were National Guard, sheriff’s deputies, UN troops and others in the mixture of those occupying the land. There was no violence…….yet.

On awaking, I figured that I’d been reading too much doom and gloom, and asked the Lord to give me a verse for the moment. With my eyes closed, I put my fingernail between two pages of my Bible and opened it. The verse was a listing and seemed irrelevant. Then my oscillating fan blew a page or two over and left my finger beside these words, “Nevertheless for thy great mercies' sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God” (Nehemiah 9:31). Praise His holy name! © 2014

A Few More Minutes In The Garden

After I disposed of an item to get some cash, my wife looked through a craft store, while I took a keyboarding test in a telemarketing place next door. It appears I must go back to that repulsive business to put bread on the table until I can land a driving job. Later, we gassed up the truck and then went to the Chinese Emporium so the missus could pick up a few things for the fridge. I sat in the restaurant there and read some in the muzzle-loading section of Volume Five of The Foxfire Book, as she took her daily constitutional around the inside of the place.

When we got home, I took out the pooch and then headed for the basement to find the garden seeds that I’d stashed there a year or two ago. I found a pack of zucchini seeds and one of summer squash, meaning that I could have saved $1.88 plus tax if I’d have looked a couple days sooner. Finding a pack of Bloody Butcher field corn and some Rouge vif d'Etampes pumpkin seeds, I headed for “the garden.”

As I mentioned the other day, one old tire casing had been planted with four zucchini seeds, leaving four casings still unplanted. In each of them, I planted three of the pumpkin seeds and eight of the corn in the thin layer of loose soil there atop the original sod. After the seeds sprout, I’ll gradually fill the casings with woods dirt. Even the small amount of crop produced by that small planting will probably be as much as my wife and I would make use of. I need a hill of summer squash somewhere now.

I hope they all produce well but, of course the real effort will be in keeping the critters out of the patch, especially the deer. For now, the only things protected by a fence are the Jerusalem artichokes. Considering that the deer eventually got some of my choke plants last year, and a squirrel ate my four measly tomatoes, I really should start hunting again! Now to get some sort of fence made before the plants get big enough that the deer notice them. No rest for the wicked, I’ve always heard. © 2014

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Puttering Around The Garden

After running the errands for the day, my wife and I “counted our pennies” so to speak and headed for the Chinese Emporium, so she could take her daily constitutional and pick up a couple food items. Now that money is a bit tighter than it used to be, we’ve discovered how much we enjoy eating. She was lamenting that we had to get only what we needed, and not what we wanted, which means we still have plenty, if you get my drift. Still, some of what she wanted was actually healthy vegetables, so her lament had some real merit. Zucchini and summer squash were a couple of the items, so I gathered up my change and went inside after I’d let her out and bought a package of zucchini seed. I wasn’t sure I had enough change for summer squash seed, so that will have to wait until next trip. The little packet of seeds was $1.88 plus tax. I recalled selling flower seeds when I was a kid, and a heavier packet than that one sold for only 15¢. My, how the times have changed in 50 years!

We didn’t get back from town in time for me to get any serious outside work done, but I wanted to do SOMETHING. I got the old tire casing off the top of the firewood stack, where it had been holding down the windward end of a tarp, and replaced it with a heavy chunk of wood. Then, I took it down to my tiny garden area to join its four brothers. After adding a little bit more dirt to the first one, I planted four zucchini seeds in it. Then, I lined up the other tires where I wanted them, trying to decide what else to plant there. I’ll wait until another evening to fill them with dirt. Food is getting too expensive for poor folks. People have got to change their habits and hobbies if they want to continue eating on a regular basis. I’m answering Sixbear’s call to action. Four seeds maybe be a comical beginning in some ways, but it’s a start. Plus, I decided not to harvest any sun-chokes from my planting last year and just let them multiply. I already have some woods dirt that needs sifted and I’ll be able to fill the other tires. Those may be little steps, but at least they’re in the right direction. © 2014

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Late Afternoon Waddle

I used to call them walks, but at my current age, weight and physical condition, I suspect “waddle” would better describe my motions from a distance. Still, at least I was out moving today. Hoping to find some morels, I put a couple plastic bags in my pocket, my pistol on my belt, my cap on my head, my short-sleeved flannel shirt over my T-shirt and picked up Ol’ Possum Knocker. Thus armed, I headed over the ridge toward the hollow to the north of the house. I’d found a single morel, purely by accident, only 50 yards from the house there a couple years ago and left it. I was hoping it might have sent its spores abroad and started some new ones. Several trees were on the ground and rotting and several were dead and standing on the slope. I looked all over, but especially around the decaying chunks of wood. Nothing was there to be found, unfortunately.

My goal was the flat below the ridge-top where my home sits, and even moving at a snail’s pace, I was there in only a few minutes. The hunt was no more productive there than on the slope above. I decided to use the deer trails, since it was the easiest walking. Of course, the critters that made those trails may be one reason that I saw no morels. I hadn’t gone far when I came to a medium-size tree across the trail and decided it was time to rest my aching carcass. (It was aching on principle, not because of the short walk.) I noticed that the round top of the log was much more comfortable to my bursitis-plagued backside than the flat oak chair in front of my computer where I’ve been spending too much time lately. The back part of my hip bones (called the “ischeum” I think) hung beyond the top of the arched seat, instead of grating on a flat surface. I swear, it felt downright therapeutic!

While thus seated, I looked around me to see if I could figure out why so many trees were dying in the area. Strangely enough, it wasn’t that the under-story was shading out. While there wasn’t a LOT of dead trees, many of the ones that were actually composed the over-story. I noticed that I was especially losing the aspen in the area. I hated to see that, for I was hoping they’d get a little larger and give me some nice bowl-turning blanks in a few years. The bad thing is, a grove of aspen is often connected to a single rootstock, so that if one dies, they may ALL gradually die, depending on the cause. Having no answer, I finally arose to move on and disturbed an unseen towhee in the process. Those who know them will understand why I call them a towhee when a see them, but always a chewink when I only hear them.

Moving on, I noticed that a storm had twisted a few small to medium trees off midway up at some time in the past. I hadn’t passed that way for a couple years, so I couldn’t say just when. The strangest thing of all, though, was seeing a four-foot-long piece of my septic field pipe lying there in the woods, well over a hundred yards from where the logger had damaged the field a couple summers ago. He wouldn’t have put it there, so with the damaged trees, I wondered if there’d been a mini-tornado in the area at some point. If so, it would have been within 125 yards of the house. Moving on, I passed the nearly worn-out, but repairable tractor blade that I’d left there a few years ago. It should be worth a few bucks to somebody. Then, I came to the main log road for the property and headed back uphill toward the house. The tarp that I’d put over an old stack of lumber there is going bad, so I either need to move the lumber or recover it soon, or I’ll lose it.

Not far uphill from that, I passed a drag scoop for the tractor that I no longer have. It should bring a few dollars, too, as will the worn-out-but repairable brush-hog not far above it. I may give it to a neighbor though, since he was kind enough to get my tractor started for me, when I wanted to sell it. A little further up the hill, I came to a tiny almost level spot beside the trail within a stone’s throw of the corner of our wooded back-yard. I believe I’ll make a 6x8 foot tin shed there for some tools, since I have no storage at this place and my basement needs decluttered. Finally, I made it to the railroad ties that surround my bed of irises and had a seat. Sitting there, I mulled over the feeling of no longer having a farm tractor, after a life of having access to one. It was another one of those fish-out-of-water sensations for me.

Before long, my phone vibrated and my wife asked where I was. I told her to look out the glass doors and she’d see me. After a short conversation, I moseyed on to the house and rejoined my wife and pooch in the TV room. Having found no morels, I made up for it by having the second third of my greens from the other day, along with part of a baguette slathered in some Irish butter. Delicious! © 2014

Friday, May 2, 2014

In The Pines, In The Pines

I don’t mean the ones down south that the sun didn’t shine in (as per the song); I mean the ones that used to grow on the farm where I was raised. The old story was that the farm was covered with big pine trees before it was “wrested from the wilderness” about the time of the Uncivil War. Since white pine is one of the climax species in woodland progression around here, I’d always assumed that was what had covered the farm. Some eventual remodeling of the old timber frame farm house, built at that time, indicated that it was southern yellow pine instead. To be specific, it was Virginia Pine and Shortleaf Pine.

The pines on our farm mostly sprouted after 1937, for that was the year that my father mowed the entire farm with old Duke, the strawberry roan, and a one horse mower. The only part he didn’t mow were a few sections of steep ground covered with young hardwoods. He was twelve that year, and Granddad spent most of that time working away in the oilfields. For better or worse, it was the last time that much of that land would be mowed. It was the in the depths of the depression and I suppose Dad’s time was required for more pressing matters after that.

While white pine may be a climax species in this area, Virginia Pine is one of the predominant pioneer species, quickly occupying any sites that would be too poor for some of the better hardwoods to gain a foothold. Most of the sloping land of the little hill farm met that description, having been the victim of the over-grazing and the hill-side plow of the previous owners. And so, the seeds blew in from the neighbor’s places, and what pines already grew there, and many acres were soon green year ‘round. A few years later, they actually cut a bunch of the straggly pines, tromped them down into the cattle racks of the truck, mashed tighter than sardines, hauled them to Baltimore and sold them to a Christmas tree lot there. Before long, though, the pines towered above them, too large for such uses. By the time I’d reached my prime teenage woods-running age, 35 years later, the pines stood tall, some easily 60 feet to the top clump of needles.

I loved the oak woods for its squirrel hunting, but there was something peaceful, almost sacred, about the pine woods. I had two favorite spots in the pines. One was the abandoned county road that lay on the western slope of the highest ridge on the farm. I shot my first deer there, and several after it. The other was the hillside below an ancient row of York Imperial apple trees that lined the brow of the hill where “the peach orchard” was located (only a hayfield by that time).

The latter was a stopping-off point on many of my evening squirrel hunts back then. With supper sometimes already in my hunting pouch, I would slip into the sloping pine woods and sit against the base of a larger tree. The ground there was soft, from the heavy covering of pine needles, and the scent of pine was in the air. As often as not, I’d close my eyes and listen to the breeze whispering through the pine limbs far above me. Sometimes, I could feel the tree swaying against my back.

You’d think that pine forests would be silent places, since they’re often mostly devoid of wildlife, but they aren’t silent at all. Besides the birds and occasional squirrels that such places hold, the pines themselves are a talkative bunch. The breeze moves the pines, of course, and besides the whisper of the breeze itself, the limbs and trunks often rub and imitate other sounds. I’ve heard what sounded like muffled conversations between the trees in a gentle breeze, or a cat meowing, plus the sound of barking dogs in the distance, or far away goose music. At times, I’d hear what sounded like a car engine revving in the distance, only to discover that the sound was coming from directly above me. A heavier breeze could make the trees sound like the shouts of men and the screams of women, and the sound of hammering construction crews and jack-hammers on the highway. I swear I’ve heard the sound of a cutter-bar from someone mowing hay in the treetops! Stiff winds were dangerous in the pines, for then you heard the crashing together of warring tree limbs, the sound of falling limbs and even the occasional falling tree. Those were times to avoid the piney woods.

Generally, though, the evenings were peaceful in the pine woods. As I listened to its sounds, I could look through the trees and barely make out our cattle in the distance heading for the barn, where my father would give them fresh hay for the night. Occasionally, the breeze would bring not only the sound of their lowing, but also his voice, calling them to supper. I could make out the smoke curling from the stove-pipe and if it was nearly dark, I’d see the back porch light wink on, to stay lit until the last member of the house was home. That was usually my cue to remove myself from the company of my piney friends and head for the house and the company of my family. © 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

First Mess Of Greens Of 2014

The missus was safely ensconced in Wally World for a bar-code memorizing session by early afternoon today. That meant I had at least an hour before she wore down, got bored or spent her measly $20 allotted to pick up a few essentials. From my scouting last fall, I knew where some poke should be growing this spring. I stuck my pistol in my pocket, and then followed it with a plastic bag from the wonderful Chinese emporium near which I was parked. Then, I donned my camouflage union cap from my factory job of several years past, grabbed my big black umbrella with the cane tip on the end, locked the truck and started my hobble towards the back of the lot.

I watched for possible edibles as I did my best to stroll nonchalantly along the edge of the lot to the railroad tracks that ran behind the building, but to no avail. Turning left at the tracks, I shuffled carefully along a sort of level trail just inside the edge of the ballast, though sometimes the tiny path disappeared and I found myself balancing on the rather unstable slope of large pieces of crushed limestone. The train whistle in the distance had caused me to think that walking the ties might not be the wisest thing to do. I hadn’t traveled to many yards when I came to the place where an old home had once stood. There was no trace of the house itself, but the bloomed out Easter flowers and the huge maple tree were obvious give aways.

I was barely off the right-of-way when I hit a small parch of burdock. I knew it was supposedly edible (or at least not poison), but I’d never tried it. I picked a few of the tenderest leaves, ranging from two to eight inches, wondering if I might still be in the drift zone for the herbicides the railroad sometimes uses. Since it was a small amount, I decided to take the chance. I put the leaves in the bag, having pulled it from my pocket, and then put my belt through the handles of the bag so it was supported hands-free. Coming to a second small patch a few feet further, I wondered about the possibility that I had picked the poisonous leaves of someone’s old rhubarb patch, instead of burdock. I was relieved when I saw a couple burs sticking to the tip of my umbrella.

Looking into the tiny patch of woods I was entering, I could see that the places I’d expected to see poke were no more, victims of a winter plowing during a snowy spell. The former ridge of dirt around an old water tank had been shoved a few feet further into the trees and was a muddy, barren mess. Beyond the ridge, however, I could see some new poke leaves coming up near the skeletal remains of last year’s plants. I picked a decent little mess before leaving the little copse of trees and entering a small clearing surrounded on two sides by swampy ground and the third by the parking lot I’d walked earlier. There, I found a little curly dock, dandelion, broadleaf and narrow-leaf plantain, a little lamb’s-quarter and a bit of heal-all. I managed to hide my “catch” in the truck before I received the call from the little woman to pick her up at the door.

After arriving home, I managed to pick a little more dandelion, some violets, a couple small clumps of wild onions and some chicory without my wife being aware. Then, I hid my little bag of greens in my office until the right opportunity presented itself. Later that evening, my wife put a movie on and I snuck my greens and my small stock pot to the kitchen. I’d already boiled them for five of the planned ten minutes when the missus arrived to complain that I was stinking up the house. Realizing that she was too late to roust me from my work, she returned to her movie.

After taking the greens off the stove and draining them, I tried the burdock first and decided that I didn’t like it, so I pulled the remaining leaves from the pot. Putting them in a large dish, I salted them lightly, buttered them heavily and then tasted the mixture. It was more bitter than I’m accustomed to, though the poke alone was delicious. I think the chicory was the cause of the bitterness. I tried something I’d never done before and put a couple teaspoons of xyletol in the four cups or so of mixed greens. That went a long way in taming the bitterness. I ate about a third of the greens and then covered the remainder and put them in the fridge. I figured it was best not to allow myself to come down with the same symptoms our cows did on spring grass! I enjoyed the process and the flavor.

Maybe you should try springs greens if you haven’t yet. I’m sure they’re better for you than those limp clumps of green stuff from California that they carry in the store! © 2014