Slowly....

.....she looked up from the hammock as I stood nearby holding a glass of wine, "is that tree dead", she said in a concerned sort of way....... I slowly wheeled around and paced towards the tree as the April sunlight sifted through the leaves.....

... "no, it is quite fine..... far from dead...... it is just a slick-bark hickory.".......

........ "but it doesn't have any leaves", she said as she arose from the back yard hammock...... "everything else is budding....".....

.. "well, that is the nature of things.... this is the strongest tree in North America... the hardest wood, the slowest growing, the tree from which tool handles are made because of its toughness.... this is an American hickory..".....

..... "so, if it is so tough, why do all the other trees have a jump on it this spring?".....

... "well, it is a question of survival, see?..... Frosts can come in the spring.... snow, even.. the weather can be unpredictable in the early part of the year...... those foolish trees that sprout leaves and buds early can be crippled for a season by an early frost if their leaves get nipped..... so some trees decide to hold back and take their time...... and make sure that the coast is truly clear before they place their yearly bet on life."......

..... "so this tree is waiting on purpose?".....

.."yeah, in a way, that is exactly it..... it is a hickory..... hey, remember when I told you that Andrew Jackson was called 'Old Hickory'?..... well, that was a huge compliment..... it meant that he was tough, strong, quiet, conservative, enduring, and just all-around bad ass."..........

.... "we are still talking about trees, right?"......

.. "of course!..... but, look....... you can watch the trees in the springtime and judge their character if you look closely enough...... see the poplar?.... two weeks into spring and it already is covered in green.... that is because it is a chancer... it rolls the dice and sprouts as quickly as it can....... a frost could stunt it for a season but it is willing to risk it... it grows fast, throws its leaves out there to grab as much sunlight as it can, and it is soft because of it....."

..... "soft?...... how is a poplar soft?"...

..... "the wood, I mean.... the wood is soft...... now, look at that maple, see?.... it is not far behind the poplar.......now, let your eyes wander through the trees and tell me what you see....... see the little leaves on the sweet gum there?..... and how the dogwood may have blooms but no actual foliage?....... those are all indications of how each species lives life....... how hardy they are...... the late bloomers are the ones who are the most cautious..".......

....."so, a poplar grows quick, is first to sprout its greenery, and is the softest wood?...." .....

.... "yep, that is right...... so, as you see the trees back here, you can tell which are the survivors and which are the ones who are the gamblers, right?"......

.... "yeah, I suppose....... the ones with no leaves yet are still hedging their bets, right"....

.... "exactly.... and they are the slowest growing, they have the hardest wood, and they will live the longest."......

......."wow....... damn, you are weird....... fetch me another glass of wine before the next botany lesson, yes?......

... "not a problem.... I will be here all week.."....

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Ooops....

.... the Summer semester kicked off a few days ago at the local community college that I am attending, and after returning from my counseling session I took a few minutes to take stock of my old front porch by having a smoke.......for the last three years my front porch companion has been a sickly little potted rose bush that occasionally sported tiny yellow blossoms - if the mood and the Moon-cycle struck it correctly..... beautiful, yet fickle, it made up for its lack of blooms by producing a boon of bright-green, waxy leaves that beamed of vitality....

... of course, I bought it a few years ago with the hopes of planting it....... and yet it has remained firmly ensconced in its planter pot nearby to the front door......I always viewed it as a miniature blessing as I prowled the porch with my morning cigarette...... a bright, shining vision as I greeted the morning with bleary eyes and bedhead......... but with that enjoyment, I also felt a subtle swell of selfishness for having never dug it a proper place and planted it deep - freeing it from the plastic confines of its black Home Depot prison cell.......

..... that all changed after my first Anthropology class........ after having learned of the Complexity and Purpose of Mankind, I took it, finally, and planted it three days ago....

.... I planted it, pride of place, in a small flowerbed that was occupied by a solitary evergreen shrub on the left side of my driveway...... the going was hard since the soil of my lawn is notoriously unforgiving..... but after many drips of noonday sweat the clay finally gave way and a hole finally appeared......... and with that, the rose had a new home away from the shade of the porch....... now it would enjoy the fullness of the afternoon sunshine.....

..... of course, my original thinking was that occasional cheery yellow blooms would happily accentuate the deep, earthy hues of its low-slung piney neighbor........ but sadly, it was not meant to be........ the pretty yellow rosebush now stands as a skeleton of itself...... once green leaves are now a deep shade of rust..... why did it die once I planted it after having lived happily on the porch for three years?..... I honestly have no idea...... perhaps it was its time?..... perhaps the shock of being placed in the bright sunlight after years in the shade shocked it into oblivion?......

.... I just don't know...... but, that said, I now spend my mornings cupping a coffee and wishing that I'd left the little guy safely nestled in his plastic prison...... it may have been a prison, but at least the rose was alive......

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Oooops.....

.... I stood on the front porch this morning with coffee and cigarette in hand and watched as the Sun inched over the eaves..... the second frost of the season melted within seconds of the sunlight touching it and the blades of grass stood shimmering in their dampness..... ice to water in only a few seconds.... but such is the nature of the late October in the foothills of the mountains...... every tree, every element, every animal is poised on the cusp of change.... God, how I do so love autumn and watching her slip into winter.... watching the leaves slip down, one by one, with the crisp blue sky silhouetting them is akin to watching your wife undress when she doesn't know that you are watching......

........ a small dogwood tree stands just to the left of my front porch, and as I took in the morning it was alive with robins.... the tree, smallish in comparison to the oaks and maples that dot the area around it, was covered in nibbling, hungry beaks...... to dogwood's red berries were not standing a chance against the onslaught..... I laughed at the hurried rustling of leaves, the crunch of dogwood fruit, and the fluffing of feathers that surrounded me as I finished my coffee.....

... and it was then that I realized..... damn, I probably should fill up the birdfeeder......

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Reading....

.... six long years ago I wrote about the exquisite beauty that is the art of Mr. Russell Flint... just give a search for Russell Flint in the archives on the sidebar and it'll likely show up..... however, I just wanted to quickly interject here that I have found myself amazed - yet again - by the tender brush strokes of Mr. Flint...... behold, gentle rubberneckers.... "Cecilia reading"...

Flint_Cecilia.jpg

.... yes, indeedy.... folks, it is not often that I find myself overcome with a covetous nature..... but ole Cecilia there just happens to be adorning the wall-space right across from where I usually ensconced myself while visiting the in-laws two weeks ago.... and the longer I sat there, the more that I found myself wanting that painting.....

... it is a vexing feeling to covet, I think..... you really don't know why you want something - or even what you'll do with it once you have it.... and yet, there you are..... all that you know is that you just WANT it.... and you've got to have it...... still, it was a first for me, this coveting..... perhaps I should let my guard down a little and embrace this coveting thing..... hey, let he who is without sin cast the first stone....

... besides.... judging from the contented look on Cecilia's face, I imagine that Flint would be more than happy to peer down from heaven to see that his creation is a source inspiration.... and a little bit of sin...

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Aurora.....

..... saw this a thousand times in my life, and I loved it each and every time....

.... C. W. was not just a redneck....... he was a poet...... .

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After.....

.. when I was a little boy, my family often gathered at the New Providence Baptist Church, just outside Tellico Plains, for their cemetery's annual "decoration"..... it was a festive affair that included an open-air picnic, casserole ensconced tables, and multitudes of frilly-smocked Southern Ladies shooing flies away from homemade meringues..... and, in the background, the motley crew of my Grandfather and his progeny..... absentmindedly chewing tobacco, smoking, and embarrassedly casting glances between the food covered tables that they hadn't contributed to, the graveyard that bordered the church and held their ancestors, and the safety and escape that their dilapidated Chevys humbly offered them with just a turn of a key....

.... we weren't parishioners of the church though, since we all lived many miles away in an adjoining county, but we lurked in the parking lot one Sunday out of the year nonetheless......... I cannot recall ever having set foot inside the auspicious building, but I knew the bushes and shade trees that dotted the lane leading up to the church very well.... my Great Grandfather had been the church's first preacher, and his son, my Grandfather, with a grandiose feeling of entitlement, felt that his Father's long ago Service somehow obliged him and his sordid children a table at the yearly feast...... even at the age of 10, I remember feeling quite embarrassed by the sheer gall of it all.....

.... But the fact that my Great Granddaddy was buried there gave a sliver of solace.... I never really had the nerve to belly-up to the concrete tables and gorge myself on the free bounty like my relatives did, but I did like to wander through the tombstones, away from the noisy crowd, and read the names and dates of the long ago departed....

... some of the markers were handmade..... some had only a name and no date..... some, you could tell, were not carved at all, but instead were made from a water-smoothed river rock simply turned upright to signify the Passing of a Life...... poor and rich were buried side by side in the shadow of Starr Mountain.....

... years later, my Grandfather would follow his mother, father, and brother into the sloping field of gravestones..... he lies there now, beside them.... his wife, my Grandmother, was placed there this past December..... the end of an era, one could say.....

.... I often wondered what the church-folk thought of that gang of sinners who congregated outside every year when THEY piously prepared for their Feast of the Dead and listened to the fevered preachings of their Minister....

.... the "decoration".... what an odd thought, when you mull it over..... decorating a grave as a means of remembrance.... "decorating"..... it seems something that you'd do to a Christmas tree.... or in preparation for a birthday party..... or perhaps to a serviceman for some heroic, self-sacrificing act...... and yet to them, decoration meant a feast and a good wander through the cemetery.... placing flowers, vases, flags, etc...... or even just pausing for a moment at each stone and taking the time to read each name.... each date....

... I mention all of this only in passing, of course, and to say that conversation here at The Compound has recently turned towards the idea of internment....... The Missus has made her wishes clear on more than one occasion, and yesterday she pitched in once again with, "when I die, I want to be cremated.... and I want my ashes scattered on Montrose beach."...... this is the usual statement when we speak of demise, and it is not shocking........ what IS shocking is the absolute blankness of my stare when she asked ME what I wished to be done with me once I was No Longer.....

..... and to be honest, it never really had crossed my mind before...... and yet, as a sophisticated man, I must realize that it is Inevitable, is it not?......

...... I've been mulling it over in my mind for the past 24 hours, and I can say that I am just as confused and conflicted about where my mortal remains should be lain as I was a day ago...... I have no church affiliation, really, to mention, although my maternal and paternal ancestors are fairly equally distributed between two Monroe county churches...... I have no great desire to be scorched into oblivion and then sprinkled someplace...... although I served my country, I have no record that would warrant me to be planted in some military section of a Memorial Garden.... and thus, I am torn in my thoughts of the Afterlife of Repose.....

... my Mother has a plot, purchased by my Father, and will eventually lie next to him when her time comes... The Missus wishes to be scattered by her hometown's window to the sea..... but, the question remains....... where should I?.....

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Maize.....

... behold my Grandma-in-Law circa 1927 on a racetrack in Perthshire, Scotland...... her father owned a bicycle shop that began selling motocycles when they first became popular.... what a grand lady she was..... of course, I met her much, MUCH later after this photo was taken, but she still had that smile.......

... just imagine being a young, confident, independent woman in 1927... spending your days teasing the boys and then whipping their tails at the racetrack with your new motorbike after a picnic lunch overlooking the River Tay.......

... and I totally dig the leather trenchcoat and riding boots... and the leather helmet with goggles.......

.... I never saw her vertical without a perfectly applied layer of bright red lipstick...... what a gal......

Maize_big.jpg

... the bike was an Ariel......

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Essay......

.... I turned in my 2nd English essay last week, and I should get the grade back this coming Thursday....... but in case any of you were wondering how Freshman Life was treating me, here's something to chew on until I choose to write again...... this one is supposed to be a "classification/division" essay...



Sharpening
by Eric SWG


The wife and I eased back on our smoking considerably about a year ago. Now we only smoke occasionally in the garage, where lately I have taken to sharpening my fathers old axe while I enjoy my evening cigarette. When my father died back in 2001, I took a few of his old tools and some of his rough iron artwork as keepsakes and arranged them on the walls of my garage. They hang there now proudly, and they remind me of the kind of man that he was. When I examine my life and his, I see that there are three types of men in this world. There are men who sharpen, there are men who cut, and there are men who dont fit in.

Father was a cutter. A welder on the railroad by trade, his job was a hard and dirty one. He worked outdoors during all types of weather repairing engine burns, cracked rails, and broken frogs. He was a man who spent his life making a mark and leaving something tangible in his wake. He was never really that educated, having only squeezed through the fifth grade before beginning life as a farmhand, but he passed his youthful days creating toys for himself and his brother. He often told me stories of giving handmade bows and arrows to his brother so that they could play together. And as an adult, he continued to create. Be it a solid weld on the job or an anvil-beaten copper sculpture, he was always leaving something beautiful behind when he was finished. He cut. He bettered things. He built.

I remember helping him build the barn behind my mothers house. I remember the awe that I felt as a child, watching him measure, cut, and nail. That he knew such a skill as building a barn filled me with pride and wonder. In just a week, a plot of land dotted with scraggly pine trees was transformed by his toil into a 30 by 40 foot space of civilization. He had built a structure that still weathers the ravages of time and will likely be standing when I am dead and gone. I admire that ability to this day, and I seek out friends who reflect that ability to create something beautiful, something useful, where there was once nothingness. I admire it, and I wish that I could do it.

As for myself, I am a sharpener. I am a sharpener in the figurative and literal sense, and Dads axe bears the proof of the latter. But as for the former, I have lived a much different life than my father. I watch, and I listen. I read, and I dream. I listen to stories from my friends, and I give them a different perspective. I coax. I sharpen their view. I grease the proverbial skids and try to create an environment where others endeavors are more easily successful. I have only built one building in my life, and I was proud of it. But I built it with my fathers guiding hand. I think of that building every time I lay the file onto the steel of his old axe in my garage.

My brother is a man who doesnt fit in. The poet R.W. Service wrote a poem concerning this type of man. In the poem, he states that

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But theyre always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

That short stanza of poetry describes him perfectly. I have watched him work hard on a task for hours only to become distracted and steam off in a different direction. The task that he had begun remained unfinished. He is continually busy, but he never seems to end a day of toil with something completed to show for it.

There are three types of men in this world: There are those who do, there are those who imagine, and there are those who struggle. There are those who cut, there are those who sharpen the tools for the ones that do, and there are those who just dont fit in. Father was a cutter, and having been shaped by him, I am a sharpener. I am absolutely certain that my brother is a man who just doesnt fit in.

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Shelter.....

.... after the tornadoes passed through at the beginning of the week, the weather suddenly turned chilly... the balmy 70 degree days that had preceded the storm were swept away, and I received a frosty morning when I awoke.....the remnants of the twister stuck around for a few days too..... providing a swirl of icy wind to go along with the crisp temperatures every time I ventured outside for a smoke...

..... on the second day, I tired of shivering on the front porch and decided to dodge the wind by sneaking onto the deck out back.... the wind seemed to have a mind of its own though, and it changed directions continually.... in short, I was thwarted.... royally.... and any exit I tried was equally windswept..... finally, I decided to rest my bones by squatting down and leaning back against the house..... and in an instant, I was absolutely toasty...... by lowering my profile - so to speak - the monstrous honeysuckle vine that grows along my deck's southern railing totally blocked the frozen gusts..... but more importantly - much more importantly, with the wind held back by the vine, I could soak up the magnificent warmth of the sunshine on that cloudless day...

.... the feeling of the sun on my face immediately triggered memories of my hikes through Scotland.... years ago I used to go on a yearly springtime wander through the Grampian mountains alone..... I have written about a few of those trips here before, and I am sure that they are buried somewhere in the 8 years worth of archives..... but anyway, I'd spend three, four, or five days making my way from either Glen Clova or Glen Esk to the tiny town of Ballater....

... the mountains of Scotland are stark..... craggy boulders and low-slung heather are the norm, and trees are scarce above a certain altitude.... and where I walked there were no trees... hunkered down on my deck, I couldn't stop thinking about the little trick I'd do on those long, cold walks....

.... the heather that covered nearly all of the mountains was a knee-high, brushy shrub.... there were no leaves, per se, only tiny, colorful buds..... walking off of a trail and directly into the heather would give you a chance to prove your endurance - imagine an endless sea of shin-deep, interlocking shrubs... the trails that I followed were usually sheep trails, but occasionally I'd have to set off cross-country, following a map instead of the trail.... when this happened, the going became extremely tough and slow...... I was always dressed snugly for the frigid late-April weather, but wind would lash at my exposed face as I walked... and eventually, frozen, tired, and hating the heather, I'd sit for a rest.... I'd slide my pack off my back, take a sip or two of water, and then let myself fall back into the billowing heather that surrounded me..... and in that moment, the devilish, evil heather became a little slice of mountainside heaven....

..... with a Gore-Tex parka and Gore-Tex trousers - along with all of the fleece and polypro insulation - the stems of the heather were no match for my armor.... and the weight of my body pressed itself into the soft, pliable shrubs until I disappeared from view.... from view, from wind, from toil, from pain...... leaving only the bright, Scottish sunlight beaming straight down onto my tightly closed eyes and smiling mouth.. soft, soft, sweet smelling heather, and warm, renewing, reviving sunlight heating me from the outside in..... my half-frozen face would be as good as new again in a matter of minutes, and in the meantime I rested, massaged by the natural pillows underneath me.....

..... by blog has been dead now for a while, and I wouldn't really consider this a resurrection in any way, shape, or form....... but I just wanted to say that it has been a long, long time since I felt the sunshine on my face - and appreciated it fully..... too long, actually...... and a few days ago, I did.... I felt it, and I appreciated it...... and I loved it.....

.... I guess we all forget how important shelter is until we find ourselves without it..... even if we're just hiding from a biting wind and trying to smoke a butt... or seeking to find a cave away from all those other scary things that go bump in our collective nights......

... it felt good to have that memory.....

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Gary....

.... I found this from years and years ago today........ and I thought it quite funny......

..... he is gone now, and will be missed..... but hey, what an asshole, non?........ it makes me smile to think of how he'd gloat when he won at billiards.....

..... still, I wish that I had done more for him......... and I wish that he had come over more......

... he customized everything from my Mother's .38 (inlaying a piece of elepant ivory into the front sight post.) to my Fender guitar and my kitchen's drink set.........

.... hell, in the end, he customized me and how I have come to view life.......... he is missed very, very much.......

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Pots.....

.... you know, hey, we all aren't 18 anymore........ it is true, we ebb, we flow, we meander........ but when you boil it all down, we are still rivers of sorts........ and a few weeks ago?...... hey, I actually SMILED on FILM.......

.... and here is the proof....... even with my mud-covered jelly roll sticking out in front of me.......

Dash_small.jpg

.... sometimes it just feels good to get muddy.......

.... and yes, it IS my birthday....... 40, here I come.....

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Re-post.....

.... I spent most of yesterday evening telling and re-telling stories to The Missus about My Old Man..... she'd heard most of them before, but she listened all the same....

.... I left home when I was 17 - and stayed gone - living abroad, serving my country, doing what anyone does - until the day I picked up the telephone to hear that he was ill....

.... two weeks later I had quit my foriegn job and was on an airplane back to Tennessee.... I had just turned 29 years old.....

... I spent the next five months with him nearly night and day until he passed away..... and this year - more than any - I miss him very much....

... happy Father's Day, sir.... you are loved and missed....


Re-posted from 2010
.... I've always thought of my Dad as a quiet, confident, gentle man..... capable of just about any feat, strong, fit, and smiling...... his presence is definitely missed when the family gathers for their annual holidays.... even now - nearly ten years on - the old men of the family still grouse at the lack of freshly brewed coffee at my Mother's house after the meals..... "no coffee?," they grunt, "if Marion were here we'd have fresh COFFEE after dinner!"..... and thus it goes as they sip their sweet tea and fumble with their toothpicks........

.... I think that after he died my Mother stowed away his old coffee maker..... and now her house is as barren of coffee as the Mongolian steppes are of Tennesseans......

.... in any case, over this past Christmas the family gathered at my Mother's house for dinner, and I was given two grainy photographs of my Dad from back in the day......

.... good god, folks..... one of the photos is from just before he left to join the Marine Corps around 1965.... and the other is from theatre near Phu Loc with 1st Shore Party Battalion circa 1966-67......

...... you know, sometimes I think my Father thought he was Elvis....... I mean, just check these out....

dad_elvis_small.jpg

dad_elvis_small1.jpg"

.... give them a click if you wish to have a closer look........

.... my goodness, it seems so strange to think that I am cut from that same bolt flamboyant cloth......

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Fathers.....

.... in three days, my Father in Law arrives to visit with his little girl........ it shall be the first time that he has visited us in 9 years, and we are stoked....... we, of course, have visited the Motherland twice a year for the past 8 years, but this is his first visit here in a very long time........

.... I am excited that he will see how we live, where we live, and how things here have changed........

..... for, really, when The Missus and I travel abroad, we are not nearly ourselves....... but that is the way of things.... when you are out of your element, you become what is expected......

.... so, next week, I will spend most of my time entertaining my Father in Law, cutting limes, and making dinner for us all.......

... it should be an interesting two weeks!.....

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Ancestors......

.... I found, today, that an ancestor of my own namesake was one of the "first fleet" at Charleston, South Carolina in 1670.... his land grant came through in July of 1672........ evidently he had been an early colonist of Barbados before being whisked off to Charleston........ he's also the "first known white burial in South Carolina".... his tomb still exists in downtown Charleston.......

... in other news, I also found that another relative of mine, a one Sir Thomas Lunsford, qualifies me as a member of The Jamestown Society - with him having arrived in Virginia in 1649......... but with his record, I can't help but wonder just how happy Virginia was to have him there!....... he was, after all, a King's Man....... and no doubt, he met - or at least knew - one of my other ancestors who fought on the opposite side...... and who actually administered the Oath to Mr. Cromwell......

..... amazing, non?.......

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Geographic.....

..... so I arrive home yesterday from a great overnight camping trip in the mountains with Elisson to find The Missus dutifully scrambling eggs for us.... hey, you can't beat that, eh?.... due to the snowfall that night & early morning, we had decided to eat a pretty light breakfast, rekindle the fire, and break camp whilst staying warm..... and arriving home at lunchtime to leftover pot roast, corn bread muffins, and freshly scrambled eggs was just plain awesome.... goodness knows that we were both ready for a hot lunch after hiking down the mountain......

.... and since I was dog-tired by the time cocktail hour arrived late that evening, I was given the keys to the television..... after watching a few nature shows and a re-run of Groundhog Day, I settled in on a documentary about crystal meth on the NatGeo channel... after all, McMinn county is pretty well known for drugs of all types, it would be educational for The Missus - considering her job - to know a bit more about meth....

.... halfway through the program?.... imagine my surprise when they shifted away from "the global meth network", "chemical composition", "production", etc - to the "fight against meth"..... and yes, gentle rubberneckers, guess where the last thirty minutes of the hour-long episode focused, hmmm?..... Athens, frickin' Tennessee.... less than ten miles from my own front door..... check this out..... here's part of the clip...

... it's odd to be watching TV and think..... "wow.... see that guy laid up at Vandy?.... hell, I went to high school with him..... fifteen years ago he used to date my cousin..."

.... "Drugs Inc. - Meth"..... of all the natural beauty, mountains, streams, wildlife, and history that National Geographic finds here in east Tennessee, it's a shame that they were forced by necessity to cover the meth scene instead..... don't get me wrong, I am hugely glad that they made the show for educational purposes.... I just wish my little corner of Tennessee didn't have such a huge, horrible, nasty-assed problem.....

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Shoes....

...... I have a question, folks....... and it is to be directed towards any males who read this......

.... how many pairs of shoes does your average straight white guy own?..... so, anyone reading this who is a male - straight OR gay - how many pairs of shoes do you own?....... I just checked my closet, utility room, and man room, and my total is 11.....

Boots:
1 pair of Justin cowboy boots
1 pair of military issue leather combat boots (warm weather)
1 pair of Danner Ft. Lewis cold weather combat boots
1 pair of Vasque leather ankle-high hiking boots

Dress shoes
1 pair of Florsheim black leather wingtips
1 pair of brown leather H.S. Trask saddle shoes
1 pair of black/gray leather H.S. Trask saddle shoes

Sports
1 pair of New Balance running shoes
1 pair of Izod tennis shoes
1 pair of Adidas driving sneakers

Other
1 pair of slip-on moccasin type things that I only wear when I go out to start the car to allow it to warm up in the wintertime before I've showered.....

.... 11 pair of shoes...... I'm not 100%, but I'm thinking that may be more than most men own...... and hey, I was just curious......

... so, what say you?.....

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Myths......

.... The Missus and I ended up watching the latest version of "Clash of the Titans" today before blogtime arrived....... and I have to say that I felt for ole Perseus today just as much as I did when I saw the earlier version from the 1980s........

...... how on earth were we ever awe'd by claymation action movies to begin with? .... and yet, we were......Ali Baba and Jason are to blame, if you ask me..... but still, they were amazing in their day......

....... anyway, I haven't felt much like writing lately - and this certainly doesn't count - but I just wanted to share a thought that crossed my mind when the movie was rolling.......

..... once ole Hades showed up, I turned to my wife and said, "you know, I have always loved Perseus........ when I was a child, I soaked all of this stuff up.... Roman & Greek mythology........ I absolutely loved it....... Persephone, Pegasus, Andromeda, Meduas, Zeus, Apollo..... even the muses....... and even the lesser stories like Prometheius"........

....they all were windows that I loved looking at life through........

..... "I always thought that Pegasus was supposed to be white.", she said......

..... "black and white are not really that important, my dear.".......

... "yeah, but it was much better to have the white horse in the first film.....who'd not love a flying white horse?..... it's like white hats vs black hats in the cheesy John Wayne westerns!"....

..... "that is true, babe...... very true....... but do you know why it was that I loved Perseus so much?......... well, he was just a man...... a man who wanted to be a man...... but his Father was a God, Zeus....... I remember reading those stories and thinking that my own Father was a God..... and I was just a man."........

..... when I was a child, there was nothing that my Father couldn't have accomplished......... and I miss that very much......... he's dead now, of course..... and I am still here....... and I am still Perseus every single day......

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Saws....

.... I've spent the better part of the morning watching three lumberjacks hammerheads fell various trees on the lot adjoining my property, and after three hours?..... well, I am hugely unimpressed.... so far they have managed to crush nearly every dogwood into a mangled, broken pulp....

... growing up in Tennessee in the 1970s, my family used wood as the main heating source through my childhood winters... every other spring, my father and I would head off to the farm of one or another of my relatives.... he'd pick a tree, size it up, and know exactly where he wanted the tree to fall so as to not damage any other standing tree..... he was a master of The Fall..... he'd saw, wedge, saw a little more.... wedge again.... and when all was finished, he'd drop that baby exactly where he wanted it.... the guys that I've been watching today?.... good grief.....

.... owning a typewriter certainly doesn't mean that you know how to use it..... and after today, the exact same thing can be said about owning a chainsaw....

..... now, far be it from me to belittle skills in someone that I certainly lack myself, but goddamn!.... I may not have sawn down a tree with a chainsaw myself, BUT I certainly have seen it done - and I know HOW to do it... (.. for the record, chainsaws give me the heebie jeebies.... and when I spent time watching - and learning from my Father - HE did all the chainsawing while I stacked, piled, and gathered...) .... and besides, I have felled many, many trees with only an axe and a few wedges, so I DO KNOW how to make one fall where it should......

.... hell, during my freshman year in high school I built an authentic log cabin out behind my Dad's old barn using only pine trees that I had dropped, skinned, and notched with only an axe....

..... ahhhh.... it just seems like such a waste of perfectly good flowering trees.... it also boggles my mind how a 65-year old Southern Man either doesn't know how to properly cut a tree down, OR harbors such a blatant disregard for a Thing of Beauty..... whatever the answer is, the thought is still depressing as hell.....

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November.....

.... I awoke this morning well before daybreak to the creaking and moaning of the bedroom windows... I rose, stretched, and made my way to the kitchen for a cup of coffee - arriving just in time for a gust of wind to slam an armful of discarded autumn leaves heavily against the kitchen window..... I nearly jumped out of my skin in the warm darkness of the kitchen.... what a way to begin a morning....

.... there is a way that the wind blows here that causes the entire house - from north to south - to creak in a spooky, systematic way.... as if the hand of god is gently nudging......

.... the garage door rattles first - bucking against the hinges.... and then the pink dogwood shakes itself against the southernmost window in the living room - scratching and tapping the panes of glass..... then the large, double window near the front door groans in displeasure..... and finally the wind is rebuffed by the double window in the spare bedroom.... and then, with a low howl and a whistle, it disappears around the corner of the house and off into the woods.....

... it has been like that all day...... wind, rain, respite, wind & rain again.... I sat in the blogroom this morning after dawn had broke and watched as the damp leaves were ripped by the wind... huge swirling clouds of red, orange, and gold were picked off of tree after tree all morning.... I read and typed between November squalls, but when the wind really picked up I would stop what I was doing just to sit and watch.... sometimes you need to just sit and watch once in a while, I guess.....

... the weirdest part of it all was the juxtaposition of calm, centrally heated comfort..... to the chilly, damp, tumultuousness sweeping by the window... my goodness...... those poor, torn, lifeless, drained, discarded leaves.... I suppose that is part of why people get so depressed in November... it's hard to watch something that was once the life-giver be cast aside and tossed in the proverbial & literal breeze with such random nonchalance...... then again, that's Nature for ya..... that which is no longer useful is simply recycled.....

... which, incidentally, reminds me that I need to start recycling...... lest my blogmeet attendees heel & hide me next year when I lay out eight bags of refuse for the garbage men to take to the landfill.......

.... you know, I love October..... I love it........ but I'm really not a fan of November......

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Journeys.....

.... a few days ago I found myself out on the patio reading deeply from General Gibbon's book Adventures on the Western Frontier... the tropical heat that has plagued us here recently has slaked a bit, and the shade of the dogwood trees make for an excellent locale during a late-afternoon reading.... especially whilst waiting for dinner and the cocktail hour to arrive..... the flagstones and gravel seem to remain cool with only the slightest of shade.....

.... I'd been given the book as a gift years ago, and had read it cover to cover immediately..... it is beautifully written in a dairy type of style, and it truly is a view of the American West that is unique..... any history fans out there, I highly suggest you pick up a copy....... it's definitely worth the effort due to its honest depiction of one man's experiences with the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Nez Perce....... something that most of today's history books are woefully lacking in..... and certainly something that you will never find in Hollywood, either..... it's like all the greatest of stories, you only truly know what went on when you talk to (or read about) someone who was actually there - boots on the ground.... or stirrups, as the case may have been....

.... it is odd, I guess, but I sought it out from the shelf specifically because of something that I noticed on my little day-planner calendar from The History Channel a few days ago.....

.... here, check this out....

August 20 Friday

1804: Corps of Discovery suffers its only death.

The Corps of Discovery, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, suffered its first and only death on this day in 1804. Sergeant Charles Floyd, a native of Kentucky, was among the first to join Lewis and Clark on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. By the end of July, Lewis and Clark reported that Floyd had become ill. He died in the early afternoon and was buried on a high bluff overlooking a tributary of the Missouri River. The expedition's two captains named the stream Floyd River and the hill Floyd's Bluff.

... I re-read Gibbon's book and was amazed at his description of "following Lewis & Clark's" footsteps through the Rockies..... how he'd found their old camps - some 70 years old - and could still make out where they had discarded tins, and built their campfires..... and I read on about how he and his men marveled when they first saw Yellowstone......

.... and yet the land was still dangerous and laden with discovery - even last late as the 1880s..... hell, I guess it still is now, if truth be told....... but here is the twist, folks....

.... Lewis and Clark set out in 1803..... and they mapped their way all the way through the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean..... two years they were gone..... through an unknown land full of Native Americans, bears, blizzards, mountain passes, rand iver crossings too many to count...... and out of their entire party, only one man died on that awesome adventure..... and his death was most likely due to disease, and not the local flora, fauna, or freak accident...

..... I'm sorry, but I sit here now in awe that so many intrepid adventurers could spend two years roaming a dangerous, unknown landscape, and all return safe and sound - save one.......

.. how many of us now could do such a thing?.... pick up a rifle, shoulder a pack, and set off from Pittsburgh towards points unknown, reach the Pacific Ocean, and return across a continent again?......

.... well, according to Wikipedia, this hardy fellow was up to the task a good few years before Lewis & Clark, but still...... what a journey........

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Truth....

... you know, the longer that I live, the more I realize just how little I know about most everything......

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Anticipation....

.... the past three evenings have worn the most amazing dusks..... flanked by high thunder clouds to the north and south, the setting sun has blazed golden everything that it has hit...... and today it happened again for the third day in a row..... trees, grass, and even the very air itself is hued....

... I've seen the air colored like this before, of course.... usually when we're expecting a tornado the sky will go yellow and the breezes will calm..... so it has been more than a little unnerving to watch this happen just before the sun dips down behind the Cumberland plateau - leaving us in darkness & anticipation of a storm which doesn't come...... life's like that, I guess...... whatever you THINK is coming usually passes...... it's the times when you think you have the tiger by the toe that you suddenly get ambushed......

... in other news, I visited a book sale at one of the local high schools the other day and made out like a proverbial bandit.... I bought 37 volumes of Time-Life's WW II set (there are originally 39 in the set) for 55 bucks..... it's pretty damn awesome when you can spend fifty-five dollars, and end up with so many books that you need a dolly to haul them out to your car......

... I also purchased a copy of "Fix Bayonets" from 1926 for five dollars...... it is a book that I read many years ago and have quoted on this blog a few times..... and I certainly look forward to reading it again.......

... and then, in an absolute fit of insanity, I bought a dog-eared copy of "Walden; or, Life in the Woods" by Thoreau...... good god, give me strength....... once upon a time I loved reading Emerson and Thoreau.... but now?.... well, methinks that I have perhaps dug one too many ditches by hand to begin hanging on their ideals again like I did as a nipper.....

.... Life in the Woods wouldn't have been nearly as bearable for him had Momma not been a few cornfields away baking cobbler and roasting goose.........

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Arriving.....

..... I took a major break from just about everything today and spent the largest part of the afternoon in the garage with a block of wood and one of my Father's old pocket knives........ and so far, the jury is still out..... my carving abilities are slow on the turn-out, it appears, but I am forever optimistic - just as I always am in most endeavors........

.... the truly funny thing is that I tried ALL of the little tools in the kit that I bought..... and while I could hold them, see their purpose, and test the wood with them, they all felt foreign in a way that is hard to explain...... I tried and tried, but they just didn't feel right in my hand - or as they met the wood.......

..... after two hours of scraping, I opted for the scalpel-type tool...... this lasted for another hour before I finally gave up....

... I wandered inside, found a History Channel program about Henry VIII, and was quite content for a while....... but as the clock ticked forward and it approached the Gin & Tonic Hour, I remembered my Father....... and a quick walk out to the gun safe saw me happy with an Old Timer whittler in my sweaty little hands.......

.... today I sat for five hours caressing my little block of wood with the small blade of that Old Timer, and it worked as advertised, folks.......

...... perhaps I didn't need the tools after all........ all I really needed was a piece of blank canvas and a tool that I had owned all along.....

.... strange how that works out, eh?....... sometimes what you need is sitting right in front of you the entire time.......... and all that we have to do is open our eyes and grasp the tools that we need......

.... but hey...... it's not the destination that is most gratifying, is it?..... it's the journey........ or at least that is the way that I look at it......... like Townes said in his famous work "To Live is To Fly"..... where you've been is good and gone, all you keep is the gettin' there........

.... and tomorrow, I will carve again with Dad's old knife.......

..... and with that, I'm off, children....... y'all have a good night.......

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Blocks...

.... I now own a set of carving tools and a 2X2X12 block of linden wood..... next week's task will be to attempt to figure out what structure is hiding in the little block of wood and set it free...... but if I were a betting man, I'd say that the only thing that is hiding in my little block of linden wood is a smaller block of linden wood vaguely shaped like a toothpick.... buy, we shall see!....

... it's odd, really.... I've painted, sketched, and penciled, but I've never carved anything before.... and thus far my only foray into sculpting resulted in a 24-inch long copper lizard dangling haphazardly from my garage wall...

.... now all I need is a vice, a hacksaw, and a shitload of sandpaper....... hey, here's to a world of three dimensions..... .

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Father's....

..... Originally posted on July 23rd, 2004.... damnation, folks..... I've been at this blog-thinggie for way, way too damned long.....

... yesterday was my Mother's birthday... a few of us pitched in, and bought her a set of patio furniture.... she spends a lot of time outside, so I know she'll enjoy it while she's sitting around the pool....

... so, I'm headed over there this afternoon to put the table together for her... you know, I love my Mother, but I don't visit as much as I should... going over to her house always bothers me just a little.. I know it sounds crazy, but the house where I spent my happy childhood is now a place I find hard to visit... everywhere I look, I see reflections of my Father... the swing he built... the three-rail fence that he and I labored on for years... the great, arching trellis, and the Muscatine vine that covers it.... he is everywhere... and going over there really makes me miss him....

.... his monster of a barn always strikes me hardest, I suppose.... he built it when I was just 5, but I remember it vividly... that building will be here when I'm dead and gone, people... he built it to last.... the beams under the floor are "bridge timbers" that he lifted from the railroad.... 16"X8", my friends... indestructible... hell, even the flooring itself is made from 4"X10" boards.... absolutely incredible... that building was much more than just a barn... it was his bastion... his hideaway.... his workshop... his solitude....

.... my Father and I were very similar in that aspect.... we have a basic need for a safe place... a place that is our own and not to be shared... a place to display our trophies.. antlered heads... turkey beards.... military unit photographs... diplomas... autographed photo of a topless Halle Berry.... whatever it is that reminds us of the road we've traveled.... needful things, I think.... things that we've collected over time... signposts to our past... mementos of battles won, or lost...

... each of us needs a sanctuary... be it a barn... a blogroom... a bar... under the shade tree in the front lawn... or just inside a good book... we all need a place that is ours alone... at least I do...

... I haven't been inside my Father's barn in two years.... I don't know why... I just haven't... but, I still have the key to the padlock.... and today, I'm going in there to get the tools I'll need to put the lawn furniture together...

... happy Father's Day, sir..... you are definitely missed..... 56 years old is way too young to die..... by the way, The Missus and I were talking about you last night before bed and she mentioned what a hottie she always thought you were..... so, wherever you're at, I hope that makes you grin and laugh...... you were a one of a kind........

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Mimosa.....

..... yesterday I had the exceptional pleasure of playing host to Elisson and SWMBO for an evening and the following morning....... we cooked and grilled various hunks of meat (including a whole chicken - which was a first to my grill, most definitely!) and a variety of vegetables.... and in short, both he AND his missus are looking GREAT due to their new diet...... and no, the grilling that we did had nothing to do with the diet they are on..... but hey, they have both lost oodles of weight and look as if (well, Elisson anyway) they need to go out and purchase a whole new wardrobe!....... trust me, they are both just that damn skinny.........

..... I was kind of horrified when I began listing all of the things I'd planned on cooking for them...... for just about everything in my pantry, fridge, or freezer was strictly off limits for them due to their new diets..... but, we all made do in the end....... Elisson spatch-cocked a chicken, rubbed it down in his special mortar and pestled'd sauce, and I threw a few steaks on the grill,..... and along with the salad, roasted asparagus, and grilled yellow squash, we created quite the feast out of slightly more than just a lungful of proverbial thin air.......

...... and a good time was had by all, as usual....... but, I do have a bit of bad news to report.......

....... after breakfast and conversation thit morning, Elisson and his bride took a break to wander around the back yard and gaze upon the honeysuckle, grape vine, dogwoods, and general summertime jungleness, etc, to assist in the digestion of their morning meal...... the Missus and I followed them, of course, pointing out things of various grades of interestingness, when we suddenly found ourselves at the base of our only flowering tree...... a common mimosa..... a weed-tree as far as most are concerned, but to us, a tree like no other....... The Missus loves her trees, and since this one is squat, jaunty, and actually promised to bloom in the near future, she has forbidden me from hacking it down to make room for more grass to grow.....

.... but there we were....... standing in the humid shade, as one is wont to do in the hot summertime after coffee, and I took it upon myself to clip a flower from the tree with my trusty pockeknife for both SWMBO and my Missus...... the flowers of the mimosa are among the most delicate that I have ever encountered........ pink and frondy, they are remarkably fragile when you realize that they came from a tree instead of an actual flower-plant........

........ I mention all of this nonsense about harvesting the first of our mimosa's flowers simply because our mimosa is no longer in existence.... indeed, just after Elisson and his Bride set off for Atlanta a huge windstorm arrived........ and by nightfall, a stalk was all, that was left of said mimosa... (sincere apologies to R.W. Service for even attempting that line of rhyme.)......

..... but, really, the whole thing has made me spend a lot of time thinking today as I collected all the broken branches and poplar limbs........

...... that poor plant lived in our back yard for ten years...... it was never really all that pretty considering it had branches pointing all akimbo....... it was a weed-tree, and even so, we mowed around it, staked it, and tried to ensure that it was watered right alongside the rest of the greenery in the back yard....... it was a lucky tree, no?.........

...... and then, after all of that, when it finally had reached the age in which it could reproduce...... it flowered...... it's time had come.... it had arrived at full maturity..... and then, after being shown off to visitors and having a few frondy flowers picked to adorn handsome ladies' hair, it fell to Mother Nature that very same night.... crushed, crumbled. torn, and finished..... reaped by the wind as soon as it reached adulthood....... literally........

...... so now, I am left with two split memories to ponder upon....... should I choose the memory of the luscious, pregnant mimosa covered with blooms that gave my guests souvenirs to take home with them?..... or should I dwell upon the waste of a life spent comforting something to adulthood - only to see it crushed as it approached maturity?...... or...... should I simply be thankful that it flowered.... and that it's flowers were loved by those who saw them for such a very, very short time?..........

...... or is there ever really a point in trying to argue or understand the way that Mother Nature deals with all the things that she touches..... maybe there is no tragedy, no rejoicing, no mourning...... maybe there is just The Way That It Is........ and it is all a roll of the dice...... we live, we die, we are beautiful, we are ugly........

..... but hopefully..... hopefully...... we'll at least end up in someone's yard who will give us the first half of a chance to bloom........

..... even if we are crushed into little bits later, at least we had the chance..... no?.....

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Snakes....

..... I still remember the first time that I ever saw a snake....I was five years old, and I had spent an entire summer day 'helping' my Father clear brush from our little four acre plot out in the hinterlands just west of Madisonville, Tennessee....

.... the land had been a gift from my maternal Grandfather when my folks had gotten married..... he ended up giving all of his five children between 3 and 5 acres of his little farm when their Mother died, and then he had moved on to seek a new life as an aging, W.W.II veteran as best he could..... in retrospect, I guess he did pretty good for himself in life....... he'd scraped that land deep before my Grandma Geneva finally died...... and I think he just found himself a bit rudderless once she'd passed on....... so, he broke up the farm and moved a few miles east towards the mountains....

.... years later - on the day that he died - the family all gathered back in the old block house that he had built at the end of the road, and mourned together...... and, not far from that very first snake, I saw and killed my second snake with my Cousin Calvin in tow.....

.... that first snake had been an Eastern Racer, and it had wrapped itself around the stump of an old cedar tree that my Dad had been trying to remove from the edge of a field....... it must have been hunting in the brush, because by the time Dad had cleared away all the brush, all that was left was the stump........ and that poor, frightened snake was standing its ground and holding onto that stump for dear life.......

.... Dad called me over to show it me..... then he reached down, grabbed my hand, and smiled.... "we'll just move on over to the fence row, Eric," he said....... "and give that little fellow a chance to be on his way...... black snakes are good for keeping mice and rats down, Son..... there's no sense in killing it just for the want of killing..".......

..... but that second snake?.... yeah, Calvin and I killed it...... well, I killed it while Calvin watched.... it was a copperhead nearly three feet long, and I bashed it in the head with a rock while it basked in a stream behind Grandpa's old house.......... we carried it back to the house where the grieving aunts and uncles were making dinner and skinned it on the back porch...... I still have the skin, actually....... that was in March of 1986...... and I was fourteen years old..... the skin is nailed to the back of my Father's barn door, but it has definitely seen better days........ but, yet, it is there....... a reminder....

..... you know, it has always amazed me how a 6'3" 265lb man could STILL be as frightened of snakes as Calvin is..... we're only separated in birth by about two months, but he has always been scared stiff at the very sight of a snake of any shape or size......

.... I suppose that most people have a natural aversion to snakes, but they've never bothered me..... they're just another beast that is either useful or isn't..... some can be harmful, but most are just seeking to live out their lives without ever coming into contact with a human being...... hell, calling a human a snake is actually a huge disservice to all snakes everywhere.....

.... I have held three live snakes in my hands before....(not including that one dead copperhead).... and of the three that I held, only one lived to slither another day..... a poor chicken snake, a pregnant garter snake - both of which I caught roaming parent's lawn, well, I ended up killing them both...... the third was a boa constrictor of some kind that The Missus asked me to hold while we visited some herpetology center on the Isle of Skye while on vacation...... and the handler who draped it across my neck and shoulders would have been very upset if I had harmed it in any way.......

.... I bring this up, of course, only in passing since The Missus was recently roused from a relaxing afternoon in her backyard hammock by a 6-foot long eastern racer catching her attention while she was attempting to read........

..... evidently she is one of those folks like Cousin Calvin..... she ran into the house huffing and puffing - her face read from a sudden blood pressure rise..... "I've just seen a snake!..... it stopped by the hammock, and then darted off towards the woodpile!"........ I laughed and asked what it looked like..... then grabbed the shovel and set off to investigate........ I eventually found the little guy laying about fifteen feet into the woods past the wood pile.... he was calm, cool, and paying us no attention at all........ I propped the shovel against the woodpile and advised The Missus to rest easy again in her hammock........ there was no threat there at all........ just a little snake doing what it is supposed to do.......

..... besides, there isn't that much of a reason to be scared of a real snake...... most of them post little danger.... and very few are actually going to hurt us unless we are pretty stupid...... in this world, it is the two-legged snakes who post an infinitely greater danger to each and every one of us......

.... it's just a pity that we can't take the sharp end of a shovel to them as easily as we can to a mild-mannered garden snake........

.... God knows that they deserve that fate much more than their reptilian cousins......

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Orange.....

.... yesterday, way back in 1935, T. E. Lawrence died as a result of a motorcycle accident...... and it has been weighing on my mind for the past two days..... a man who studied, worked, and lived in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Arabia?.... who fought wars, politicked, and spied?....... and then ended up splattered across a road in darkest England......

... ahhh, never mind, I guess........ it's all part of a bigger picture....... but still, it seems such a waste..... my dream vacation has always been to ride a camel from Casablanca to Alexandria without dying of thirst or being shot at.... and in reading some of Mr. Arabia's writings, he was always a bit of an inspiration.........

.... in other news, I have just discovered something amazing as far as literary circles go, and I feel like sharing..... actually, it is one of the most scathing preludes that I have ever read...... and well worth the time it takes to let your eyes pass over it....

..... from the foreward written by the author, Anthony Burgess, in the latest publishing of the American version of his book, A Clockwork Orange....


A Clockwork Orange Resucked

I first published the novella A Clockwork Orange in 1962, which ought to be far enough in the past for it to be erased from the world's literary memory. It refuses to be erased, however, and for this the film version of the book made by Stanley Kubrick may be held chiefly responsible. I should myself be glad to disown it for various reasons, but this is not permitted. I receive mail from students who try to write thesis about it, or request from Japanese dramaturges to turn it into a sort of Noh play. It seems likely to survive, while other works of mine that I value more bite the dust. This is not an unusual experience for an artist. Rachmaninov used to groan because he was known mainly for a Prelude in C Sharp Minor which he wrote as a boy, while the works of his maturity never got into the programme. Kids cut their painastic teeth on a Minuet in G which Beethohoven composed only so that he could detest it. I have to go on living with A Clockwork Orange, and this means I have a sort of authorial duty to it. I have a very special duty to it in the United States, and I had better now explain what this duty is.

Let me put this situation boldly. A Clockwork Orange has never been published entire in America. The book I wrote is divided into three sections of seven chapters each. Take out your pocket calculator and you will find that these add up to a total of 21 chapters. 21 is the symbol of human maturity, or used to be, since at 21 you got the vote and assumed adult responsibility. Whatever its symbology, the number 21 was the number I started out with. Novelists of my stamp are interested in what is called arithmology, meaning that numbers have to mean something in human terms when they handle it. The number of chapters is never entirely arbitrary. Just as a musical composer starts off with a vague image of bulk and duration, so a novelist begins with an image of length, and this image is expressed in the number of sections and number of chapters into which the work will be disposed. Those 21 chapters were important to me.

But they were not important to my New York publisher. The book he brought out had only 20 chapters. He insisted on cutting out the 21st. I could, of course, have demurred at this and taken my book elsewhere, but it was considered that he was being charitable in accepting the work at all, and that all other New York, or Boston, publishers would kick out the manuscript on its dog-ear. I needed money back in 1961, even the pittance that I was being offered as an advance, and if the condition of the book's acceptance was also its truncation - well, so be it. So there is a profound difference between A Clockwork Orange as Great Britain knows it and the somewhat slimmer volume that bears the same name in the United States of America.

Let us go further. The rest of the world was sold the book out of Great Britain, and so most versions - certainly the French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Russian, Hebrew, Romanian, and German translations - have the original 21 chapters. Now when Stanley Kubrick made his film - though he made it in England - he followed the American version and, so it seemed to his audiences outside America, ended the story somewhat prematurely. Audiences did not exactly clamor for their money back, but they wondered why Kubrick left out the denouement. People wrote to me about this - indeed much of my later life has been expended on Xeroxing statements of intention and the frustration of intention - while both Kubrick and my New York publisher coolly bask in the rewards of their misdemeanor. Life is, of course, terrible.

What happens in that 21st chapter? You now have the chance to find out. Briefly, my young thuggish protagonist grows up. He grows bored with violence and recognizes that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction. Senseless violence is a prerogative of youth, which has much energy but little talent for the constructive. Its dynamism has to find an outlet in smashing telephone kiosks, derailing trains, stealing cars and smashing things and, of course, in the much more satisfactory activity of destroying human beings. There comes a time, however, when violence is seen as juvenile and boring. It is the repoirte of the stupid and ignorant. My young hoodlum comes to the revelation of the need to get something done in life - to marry, to beget children, to keep the orange of the world turning in the rookers of bog, or Hand of God, and perhaps even create something - music, say. After all, Mozart and Mendelssohn were composing deathless music in their teens or nadsats and all my hero was doing was razrezzing and giving the old in-out. It is with a kind of shame that this growing youth looks back on his devastating past. He wants a different kind of future.

There is no hint of this change of intention in the 20th chapter. The boy is conditioned, then de-conditioned, and he foresees with glee a resumption of the operation of free and violent will. "I was cured alright," he says, and so the American book ends. So the film ends too. The 21st chapter gives the novel the quality of genuine fiction, an art founded on the principle that human beings change. There is, in fact, not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in your chief character or characters. Even trashy bestsellers show people changing. When a fictional work fails to show change, then it merely indicates that human character is set, stony, unregenerable, then you are out of the field of the novel and into that of the fable or the allegory. The American or Kubrickian Orange is a fable; the British or World one is a novel.

But my New York publisher believed that my 21st chapter was a sell-out. It was veddy, veddy British, don't you know. It was bland and it showed a Pelagian unwillingness to accept that a human being could be a model of unregenerable evil. The Americans, he said in effect, were tougher than the British and could face up to reality. Soon they would be facing up to it in Vietnam. My book was Kennedian and accepted the notion of moral progress. What was really wanted was a Nixonian book with no shred of optimism in it. Let us have evil prancing on the page and, up to the very last line, sneering in the face of all the inherited beliefs, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Holy Roller, about people being able to make themselves better. Such a book would be sensational, and so it is. But I do not think it is a fair picture of human life.

I do not think so because, by definition, a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. But if he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a Clockwork Orange - meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with color and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this increasingly replacing both) The Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities. This is what the television news is all about. Unfortunately there is so much original sin in us all that we find evil rather attractive. To devastate is easier and more spectacular than to create. We like to have the pants scared off us by visions of cosmic destruction. To sit down in a dull room and compose the Missa Solemnis or The Anatomy of Melancholy does not make headlines or news flashes. Unfortunately my little squib of a book was found attractive to many because it was as odorous as a crate full of bad eggs with the miasma of original sin.

It seems priggish or Pollyannaish to deny that my intention in writing the work was to titillate the nastier propensities of my readers. My own healthy inheritance of original sin comes out in the book and I enjoyed raping and ripping by proxy. It is the novelist's innate cowardice that makes him depute to imaginary personalities the sins that he is too cautious to commit for himself. But the book does also have a moral lesson, and it is the weary traditional one of the fundamental importance of moral choice. It is because this lesson sticks out like a sore thumb that I tend to disparage The Clockwork Orange as a work to didactic to be artistic. It is not the novelist's job to preach; it is his duty to show. I have shown enough, though the curtain of an invented lingo gets in the way; another aspect of my cowardice. Nadsat, a Russified version of English, was meant to muffle the raw response we expect from pornography. It turns the book into a linguistic adventure. People preferred the film because they are scared, rightly, of language.

I don't think I have to remind readers what the title means. Clockwork Oranges don't exist, except in the speech of old Londoners. The image was a bizarre one, always used for a bizarre thing. "He's as queer as a clockwork orange" meant he was queer to the limit of queerness. It did not primarily denote homosexuality, though a queer, before restrictive legislation came in, was the tem used for a member of the inverted fraternity. Europeans who translated the title as Aramcia A Orologeria or Orange Mecanique could not understand its Cockney resonance and they assumed that it meant a hand grenade, a cheaper kind of explosive pineapple. I mean it to stand for the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism oozing with juice and sweetness.

Readers of the 21st chapter must decide for themselves whether it enhances the book they presumably know or is really a discardable limb. I mean the book to end in this way, but my aesthetic judgment may have been faulty. Writers are rarely their own best critics, nor are critics. "Quod Scripsi Scripsi", said Pontius Pilate when he made Jesus Christ the King of the Jews. "What I have written I have written". We can destroy what we have written, but we cannot unwrite it. I leave what I have wrote with what Dr. Johnson called frigid indifference to the judgment of that .00000001 of the American population which cares about such things. Eat this sweetish segment or spit it out. You are free.

November 1986

Anthony Burgess

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Social....

..... the evening is settling in here now..... the trees are showing the first signs of budding, and the season's first daffodils are already peeking up here and there through the leaf-strewn ground of the woods..... it was mild and sunny - surprising, really, in that way that a Southern spring arrives so gently.....

... it was a bit of a traumatic day, too, in retrospect.... I suppose that I am more than a little bit saddened by my beautiful afternoon drive to and from the mountains outside of Tellico...... see, I visited my old buddy Gary today, and he's not doing too well...... back in the heyday of the "Eagle Glen Social Club", he was the fellow that I always referred to as "the guy in the witness protection program"....

.... an incredibly gifted man, he was a jack of all trades..... from fixing antique clocks, to gunsmithing, to inlaying turquoise, ivory, and polished buffalo horn into my old Fender guitar, he knew how to do just about everything.... and when he too a job to do, you could be sure that it was done to perfection..... that was just the kind of artistic, spirited, patient, steady, and skilled man that he was...

... I remember the first time that I met him..... I was taking my Mother's pistol to him to see if he could come up with an idea of how to make the front sight blade more visible to an old pistol-packing Momma..... (a problem that he solved by inlaying a tiny piece of ivory in the center of the blade.)...... I pulled off onto his gravel driveway - easing between the thick trees that surrounded his home - and found him in his garage benchpressing 200lbs....a short man with a shaved head, thick chest, wise-ass Northern accent.... we talked guns, the military, and how to off most of the locals.... and we became instant friends.... he even attended the Hysterics at Eric's year before last - so some of you might have met him....

.... today he sat in his recliner as we talked, and I reminded him of the time that he "fixed" my garage door..... we'd all been whooping it up out by the pool table.... drinking, listening to music, telling jokes, lies, etc.... and, of course, shooting pool.... and like an idiot, I grabbed the garage door and started doing pull-ups.... after the second one, it creaked loudly..... and the center of my two-car garage door was bent six inches downwards...... Gary walked over, picked up my step ladder, carefully placed it in just the right place, climbed up, and with ONE hand he pushed upwards until the bend was forced out of the sheet metal garage door...... he was small in stature, but he was as strong as a bull.......

... he laughed today and held up the arm that he had used that day - now swollen to twice the size of his other arm due to blood clots, a fragile heart, and a life-threatening infection....

.... when I had called over the weekend to tell him that I was planning to visit if he was accepting visitors, I inquired as to if he might like me to bring him lunch since he is homebound...... he said no.... "No, Eric.... I don't need a thing... and besides, there is plenty of food here in the house."..... I said OK, and told him that I'd likely just bring a bunch of Krispy Kreme donuts if he'd make the coffee.......

.... I arrived today to be immediately told, "Hey!.... Your lunch is in the fridge!.... Every time that we come to your house you give us coffee and food.... so I sent my son out to the deli to get you a sandwich!.... it's time that I feed YOU!"....

..... "Gary", I said, "I didn't mean for you to make me lunch!.... I meant that I could bring something if you wanted a treat..."..... "Bullshit, Eric.... you said you were coming over for lunch, so I have your lunch for you!".....

.... "You cranky old bastard, I didn't say that I WAS COMING over for lunch, I said that I COULD BRING something for lunch!"....

.... he sat back and smiled.... "Well, either way, that's your sandwich..... EAT YOUR LUNCH!.... you're here, and you're going to eat.".....

.... and so, I ate my sandwich.... roasted turkey breast with lettuce, mayo, mustard, and jalapeno cheese...... and it was a very, very good sandwich.....

... oh, and he made me chase it down with a Rolling Rock as well....... the evil, evil man...... and instead of the donuts, I gave him a box of Girlscout cookies instead..... the best kind, of course.... Samoas...

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Moonshine......

...... there are members of my family who are quite, well, what is the word?...... colorful?..... and that, dear friends, is a gross understatement......

..... sure, I have traveled, I have read, I have lived abroad, I've even tried to write........ hell, I own more than two pairs of shoes, a tuxedo, Danner combat boots, Justin cowboy boots, AND a silk Punjabi...... and while I am still many things to many people, I am still Just Me...... and I am as much my grandfather's grandson as I am my father's son...... and I am still my senior drill instructor's high shooter........

..... for we hillbillies, as a people, are more than just a little bit complicated, if you know what I mean......

... anyway, I played host to my Sainted Mother yesterday here, and we enjoyed a nice meal of broiled filet steak, roasted potatoes, cole slaw, and homemade creamed corn....... and it was a fabulous meal...... but at the END of the meal, she handed me a wrinkled old newspaper clipping to read concerning my Great Uncle Marvin.........

.... Jesus Christ, I could not quit laughing as I read it........

.... and so, for those of you who think you know me, here is a quick transcript of the clipping....... and of course, the names have been changed to protect the Guilty....... behold.....

The Tri-County Observer, November 29, 1978

THE REMAINS of Mr. XXXXXXX's still are shown outside the Monroe County Jail after arresting officers smashed it to prevent further use. (Photo by Sarah Cardin)

Being arrested every 39 years too often?

Marvin XXXXXXX was arrested Friday, the 24th, while working on the coil of a moonshine still at his residence, Englewood Rt. 1.

Monroe County officers Joe Graves, Garland Watson, Mac Williams, Conward Bivens, and two federal revenue agents arrived at the XXXXXXX property at 2:50 p.m armed with a search warrant. Three steel caps were found in the attic, one-half gallon of white whiskey was in the closet behind the heater, and a quart jar in another part of the house. Also located in the house was a large barrel.

THE COPPER POT was found in the hog pen. A large barrel of mash was in the hollow by the barn.

The arrest report listed XXXXXXX's occupation as "moonshiner", and his place of business as "behind the barn".

XXXXXXX commented that it had been 39 years since he had been locked up. He added, "I guess they'll keep me a long, long time this time."

The elderly man, dressed in typical mountain garb, was reported to have been very cooperative with the arresting officers.

"I USED TO DRINK a whole lot of whiskey," XXXXXXX said, "and they used to have to lock me up a lot. But now I only take a sup every now and then for this tumor that I have in my throat."

Officers smashed the still after it was unloaded outside the jail. The two jars of white whiskey were locked in the jail safe. (to be enjoyed later by the deputy, no doubt - ADDED by ME, Eric)

XXXXXXX was charged with possession of white whiskey and possession of moonshine still parts. He will appear before Sessions Court on December 11th. Bond was set for 1,000 dollars on each count.

.... damn, folks....... his place of business was listed as "behind the barn"........ I wonder - since it is census season - if I should have some fun with the scribes and tell them that my "place of business" is "in the blogroom"........ after all, our apples don't appear to have fallen that far from the poetic tree, eh?.....

... then again, maybe they'd sic the revenuers on me for being so bawdy!.....

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People.....

.... once upon a time, I played on the same little league baseball team as a fellow named G...... he played third base, and I was the catcher...... I also pitched from time to time, but I was a far better catcher than I was a pitcher......... and I was more than just a little bit of a geek back then, but so was he.....

..... I remember our last year of Dixie League only because he brought it up to me years and years later....... I remember him telling me that I'd hit 38 home runs my last year of little league, and he hit 32..... he'd evidently kept count, but I hadn't......

.... at the time that he told me that - after a late night poker game where lots of booze and stories were swapped - I thought it amazing that he had remembered that from so long ago........ hell, I'd been out of the country for the past ten years, and he had since worked himself through university - via being a Navy corpsman - and was then into nuclear medicine........ why on earth would it have crossed his mind to have told me about homeruns when we were both thirteen?..... it still puzzles me to think about it.....

.... but anyway, after little league, we hit high school wide open....... I played one year on the high school team as the back-up catcher (behind a senior) and then had to bail on athletics all together once my mother had surgery that year...... (she had back surgery and I was too young to drive..... and my dad was away working all week, so, there went the sports.)....... he tried out for HS baseball, but was rejected..... and I suspect that he had his own family things going on just like we all did.........

.... anyway, when I moved back to the United States, he was still in my local area - having relocated back to his home town via his stint at Vanderbilt........ and after several barbecues, socials, and evenings out, he asked me to attend his upcoming wedding as a groomsman..... I accepted, of course, and we had a grand old time......... myself and his other groomsmen even planned his bachelor party around a series of visits to titty bars in Johnson City, Knoxville, and Boone, NC..... and we had a blast....... poor ole G hadn't been ground on like that since his last visit to the Philippines........ trust me.....

.... the thing is, though, I never really connected with this fellow all that much..... sure, he was a pleasant enough of a fellow, but I never really knew him that well...... we'd been hunting together when we were kids.... and we'd played ball together...... we'd rode horses.... we had gone fox hunting together..... and we'd went frog gigging..... but really, we meshed on ONE level, but never really on any other........

.... and so, after ten years away overseas, I find him back in my life once again....

.... after his wedding we began to meet as couples (he and his new wife - and me with mine) on a semi-regular basis....... they'd cook dinner and invite us over, and we'd do the same later in the month....... and all seemed well.....

..... but about eight years ago, I ended our relationship.......

..... a friend of mine from Scotland had come over to visit The Missus and I, and I had invited G and his Wife for dinner to meet him....... all went well for a while, but then I asked my Scottish friend, James, to sing his song - a song that I dearly love to hear him play - the "Loch Tay Boat Song"........ and midway through the song G started trying to ask questions and cut-up while my friend was playing and singing the song for me on guitar.....

.... I was embarrassed that G would show such disrespect for me... AND for James..... and I asked him to sit, shut-up, and listen...... my admonishment only silenced him for 30 seconds or so before he was at it again....... I began to let my embarrassment for his rude behavior turn to anger, and I quietened him more forcibly with words..... and again, thirty seconds later he began again.......

.... it was at this point that I tapped James on the shoulder and asked him to stop playing...... funnily enough, when he stopped playing, G stopped talking..... I've always thought that was odd....... I told G that he was being rude and that I wished him to change his behavior, or leave...... he seemed to think that I was kidding him right up until the point where I went to the closet and retrieved his wife's purse and jacket.....

... when he realized that I was seriously telling him to leave my home, he turned angry..... I simply opened the door, turned on the porch light, and said "good riddance.... a man who doesn't know how to be respectful in another man's home does not get invited back.".......

.... and, as they say, that was that...... I haven't heard a peep from G in 8 years.... of course, I hold no ill will for the man or his family...... I've heard that he now has a young child who is poor in health..... but I still have no desire to have him in any part of my life.... he was a pleasant enough fellow, I guess.... and I do hope that he is making a good husband and father.....

... I do still think of him from time to time though.... I suppose that he piqued my curiosity about humanity on one level or another.... both by amazing me at what he remembered - and by shocking me with how we'd turned into men so different after having had nearly identical childhoods....

.... James and I remain good friends, though....... we get together with the gang every time I revisit Scotland, and it is like we never parted - none of us.......

.... and, damn, if I still don't ask him to play that song for me every time I see him near a guitar....

... people, folks..... we're all a weird damn bunch, aren't we?......

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Valentine's.......

.... it snowed off and on all day today, but it never stayed long..... and being Valentine's Day, The Missus and I ventured into town in the snow-swirl to have lunch at one of the local Mexican places in Athens - and not a bad meal it was........ the waiter even called me "amigo" when he asked me if I was ready to order........

.... it struck me as quite odd, actually..... hell, I haven't been called "amigo" since the last week of The School of Infantry when my Puerto Rican classmate asked me if I knew where he could find a loose "punta" before we did our three-mile boots & utes run.....

.... anyway, the evening ended up going quite well........ we hit the grocery store after lunch and stocked the shelves for what she had asked for to celebrate this Valentine's Day.... namely, home made chocolate chocolate-chip muffins...... and after a quick jaunt out to allrecipes.com, I produced the chocolate chocolate-chip muffins......... she'll be taking the leftovers to work with her tomorrow evening, I suspect....... I mean, NO WOMAN can eat twelve chocolate chocolate-chip muffins in the course of a week, right?...... much less in the course of three days?..... (I figure that they only have a shelf-life of about three days.)..... so she has to share them with the co-workers, or they will be wasted......

.... in other news, the cold weather sleeping bag that I ordered for her last week arrived yesterday......... she unwrapped it on the floor, climbed in, and sat there drinking warm tea with milk while "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" played on the television...

.... when the movie ended and Mrs. Muir died - and her ghost wandered off with Captain Gregg - she shed quite a few tears as the credits rolled..... I crept down from the couch and asked her what was bothering her, and she simply said, "I always loved this movie..."......

..... I was ok with that at the time........ but personally, I think that she is horrified that I bought her a cold-weather sleeping bag........ and two days before Valentine's Day?........

.... damn, it must suck being married to me...... heh......

..... good god, I can't wait for Easter.......

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Overcast.....

..... yesterday around noon I was taught the difference between "partly cloudy" and "overcast"....

.... every day for the past week, the weatherman has called for "overcast skies with rain likely".... and for much of the time, he was more than correct..... being usually awake as dawn arrives, I noted how the light to the east - as the sun rose over the mountains in a slow, steady manner - didn't cast shadows or illuminate.... there was no burning ball on the horizon.... instead, there was merely an incremental brightening, brightening, and brightening until daylight arrived almost by accident...

.... and the "day" itself seemed to suck the color out of everything..... dulling, softening, and washing out each color that you saw - the trees, the grass, the fallen leaves....... there were no clouds, and one really couldn't make out any sense of depth in the sky at all... it was as if you had awoken to find yourself trapped in a black and white movie - boxed between a blank sky and a colorless earth.......

... I stood with my coffee one morning and was laughing as I watched it all unfold..... I swear, it reminded me of the times I would visit a high school friend's house years and years ago...... her parents had just built a new house, and I remember her showing me how the lights all had circular dials instead of flip-style switches..... those kinds of dials that allowed you to go from darkness, to gloaming, to midday just with a twist of the wrist... I always thought of that as just a wee bit crazy....... I never understood why anyone wouldn't just want their room lit, or dark, I guess...... but anyway, I was reminded of that over these past few days as morning arrived......

..... but yesterday?.... ahhhhh, yesterday....... yesterday was "partly cloudy"..... and do you know what "partly cloudy" meant?......

... it meant that the sky was blue.... and absolutely littered with clouds..... white, fluffy, bulbous clouds to the east, and dark, ominous clouds to the west..... and in between each passing beauty, bright sky and Jacob's Ladders slanting their way towards the glowing earth....... there was shadow, of course, but where the sunlight was breaking through, the colors were as fresh and vibrant as the light in a Rembrandt painting....... I drove into town for a few appointments and was amazed by the contrast of light and dark..... and the mood that the dappled light created everywhere it touched........

..... yesterday, it was "partly cloudy", and it was so beautiful...... and it was needed....... we've been "overcast" here for so long, I had nearly forgotten what sunlight looked like......

..... but today?..... today was another overcast day........

.... but the memory of yesterday made all the difference....

..... and I am so completely ready for springtime to arrive......

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Ummmm.....

..... damn, folks..... I'm tired.....

..... so whip up a batch of nachos and think on that for a while....... goodness knows that I am going to.......

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Hats.....

...... in the great scheme of things, I suppose that I have never ever been "the cool guy".... especially back in high school....... and it was brought out to me quite heavily at lunch this afternoon at Aubrey's in Maryville......

.... I was swishing sugar around in the bottom of my glass of iced tea (the waitress had messed up and brought me unsweet tea instead of sweet, and I chose to doctor it at the table instead of complaining), when I happened to glance up at one of the beautiful chalk drawings that adorn the Maryville Aubrey's....... it was a scene of Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn from "On Golden Pond"......

.... in between wolfing down mouthfuls of my "Haystack Pasta", I mentioned that I had always thought Fonda's hat was very, very cool...... you know the hat that I'm talking about....... that short-brimmed boonie type hat that he wore in the film?...... with dry flies nipped into the cap at haphazard angles?........

.... she stopped eating for a few minutes and gazed at the drawing..... and then, without missing a beat she said, "that hat?..... you have got to be kidding me....that's the geekiest hat that I've ever clapped eyes on..".....

.... I protested, of course, saying that I still thought his old fishing cap was pretty nifty..... and then she upped the ante thusly, "yeah, but YOU also thought wearing knee-high buckskin moccasins to school was cool too, so your judgment is already a bit suspect...."....

.... in my defense, I had forgotten that I had told her about those moccasins that I owned years ago......

... anyway, she continued.... "AND you drove that beat-up '51 Ford to school!.... good lord, I can just picture it now, Eric.... you in your jeans, those knee-high buckskin shoes, Henry Fonda's old fishing cap, and a tee-shirt that said "If you don't like Hank Williams you can kiss my ass..... face it, you were such a geek"....

.... I droned out the rest of her train of thought by humming loudly to myself and chewing vigorously on my chicken & pasta entree........ but, damn!.... I still would love to have one of those hats - and no, not because they are particularly pleasing to the eye - but because of what a hat like that actually represents...

... while ugly, I agree, a hat like that represents The History of the Owner.... beat-up, stained with sweat and lake water, frayed around the edges..... a hat like that holds a thousand memories of boat rides, fish tales, and sunsets viewed after a day out on the water..... I'm probably a little more sentimental that most folks, but I see that cap as an old friend to the wearer.... through good times & bad times, it holds a connection to the abundant life of an outdoorsman, a fisherman, a father, teacher, grandfather, and friend.....

.... I guess I just believe in keeping things that have been with me while I was creating fond memories......

.... but I sure am glad that I outgrew those buckskin moccasins......... some things really are best left unremembered......

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kisses......

.... The Missus and I drove into town for lunch & a bit of shopping today.....the roads to town were clear of the snow that had arrived yesterday, and only a few slowly dwindling snowmen were all that was left of yesterday's 2-inch morning deluge...... snowmen last the longest, of course...... the high today was 37, but that was hardly enough to melt the wadded, strapping snowmen out of existence...... besides, since we get snow so seldom around here, it's always nice to see The Snow hang around as long as possible....... even in the form of a crumbling, lopsided snowman......

.... anyway, during the drowsy drive home alone the back roads near the McMinn County airport there was silence in the car...... the radio was off, and there was nothing but the whirring of the tires on the dampened road....

.... I pointed over to a stand of trees to the left of the road and said, "see that up there?...... that's mistletoe!..... you can only see it once all of the leaves have fallen.."

"is the mistletoe in Tennessee the same as the mistletoe in Europe?"

.... "..... I guess so..... but hell, I'm not sure...... here it is the first week in December, and all the leaves are down....... "

"yeah.... and the snow only lasted less than a day!"

.... "you know, I remember back when I was little..... it always seemed to snow on the weekends and we NEVER got a snow day from school........ but every time that it snowed on the weekends, that meant that my Dad was home to enjoy it with us boys....... we'd wake up on a Saturday with snow on the ground and he'd be itching to get us out of bed, bundled up, armed, and out into the woods....... he never was much of a hunter, but he loved being in the woods once it had snowed...... and you know, he'd pretend that he was the Great White Hunter, even if he wasn't........ I can remember us creeping through the woods towards the railroad track - him pointing out 'rabbit tracks' the entire way - and telling us that if we were patient and quiet, we'd catch a rabbit 'sitting'...... good lord, he was so like a child sometimes when it snowed....... we'd end up following 'rabbit tracks' (which were probably marks made by snow falling off of tree limbs) for hours....... and then, wet, cold, and with soggy socks he'd finally clear a spot and build a fire under some cedar tree...... I cannot begin to tell you how many times I sat on a log in my bare feet roasting my wet socks over a crackling fire while he talked to my brother and I in hushed tones about the rabbit that we were miraculously going to find on the trek back home........ but still, I loved going "rabbit hunting" when the snow fell on a weekend......

"did you ever get a rabbit?"....

..... "every so often, yes....... but it was always more luck than skill, I assure you...... oh, and the OTHER winter ritual?....... he's come home one Friday night in mid-December and say that we needed to go hunting mistletoe..... he'd be downright adamant about it, too....... and so we'd wander off one Sunday morning with a .22 rifle looking for mistletoe....... sometimes we'd hit the woods behind the house, and other times we'd drive out to the farmland where he was raised...... we'd park and walk for hours....... then he'd point to an ancient oak and proclaim that 'this is it!'....... and he'd shoot a poor clump of innocent mistletoe out of the top of a tree...."...

"what was the big deal with the mistletoe?.... I thought that was mostly a European tradition?"

..... "you know, that is a very good question....... I don't know what the deal was, really...... but once we arrived back home, he'd have that little green thing thumbtacked to the doorjamb between the living room and kitchen before anyone knew what was happening....... Mom would literally hear the door latch open, start walking up the hallway, and get kissed under the mistletoe before she made it to the front door...... I suspect that he hung the mistletoe just so that he could have an extra excuse to snog my Mom every time she went from the kitchen to the living room and back...."....

"baby, they had a swimming pool in the back yard and a BELL in the front with a SIGN that told visitors to ring the bell before they wandered into the back yard looking for them..... I don't think your Dad needed any mistletoe.."

.... ".... well, that's true...... you're right...... maybe he just wanted to make sure that his stolen kisses were "legal" at Christmastime?....... and a little clump of mistletoe gave him the 'out'?..... who knows... but either way, he made us go hunting for mistletoe every December....... I look back on it now and it makes me want to go rabbit hunting....hey, Christmas is going to be at Mom's this year..... you think I should go shoot down some mistletoe?"......

"I think that would be a wonderful idea."

..... so, I guess I'm heading out to the woods on Christmas Eve with my .22 magnum......... good god, at least I have a scope.......

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Many....

. I am going to bed. It has been a long day and it has been filled to the brim with laughter, sighs, doubts, surprises, unexpected smiles, terror, renewal of faith, sadness, loss, charmed conversations, stresses, worries, laughter, hopes expressed, betrayals thwarted, lives changed, fears realized, questions asked, love invoked, orgasm, hunger, toasted bread with melted butter and pate, sunshine, clouds, thunder, stroked cats, mosquitoes, simmered vegetable soup, fretting, books read, oaths muttered, old friends remembered, veterans toasted, cans opened, phone calls answered, pains met with mute understatement, phone calls made, cheques written, envelopes licked, stamps affixed television programs enjoyed, Casablanca re-watched, and many, many, many other things. ..

. a fairly normal day, no?..... well, pretty much.. and if your day was in any way less as rich, perhaps we need to host another blogmeet......

life, folks it is like that every day if you pay attention. If you log it down if you take notice and breathe deep breaths........

.. a rollercoaster or an out-of-control dive-bomber?. sometimes a walk in the park with a gentle breeze and sometimes a complete train wreck but still, it was a day spent breathing........

.... and what a lovely morning it was around these parts.......

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Driving......

..... The Missus and I spent most of the afternoon exploring new roads in an odd county.... t'was truly strange, really, I guess........ but it WAS enjoyable...... I took lots of photographs as I eased Blanche around the curves and over the hills........... see, we're sandwiched between the Appalachians and the Cumberland Plateau, so it is impossible to get lost.......... thirty miles wide, our little stretch pretty much keeps us "channeled"....... you know where north and south are.... and you easily know which way east and west are......... we're in our Own Little Fishbowl, so to speak.......

...... I stopped today to take a photograph of a beautiful bay colt as it ate grass along a fence line....... and just as I snapped the shutter, it moved, turned it's head, and stared straight at me.......... it struck me that there was a possibility that it didn't really WANT its photo taken at that moment of pastoral solitude.......... was I, for being a voyeur, transgressing somehow?.......... in any case, it felt more than slightly awkward.......

..... and they say that when folks own goldfish, the goldfish "Forget Themselves" every three seconds........ how amazing.......

..... and that a goldfish will never tire of swimming around his 7 1/2 inch globe enclosure because he simply forgets with every revolution that he has "been there before"...... and as such, he is perpetually content...... good god, folks..... "perpetually content"?......... what an idea?......... does one envy the goldfish, or pity it?.......... not to say that there is anything necessarily bad about living in a fishbowl..... OR, come to think of it, having a memory capacity of three seconds....... hell, both have their positives and negatives, but still.........

.... to be perpetually content is to laze, no?......... aren't we supposed to be slightly pissed off most of the time?.... disillusioned, let-down, angry?........ IS there such a thing as "perpetual contentment"?....... and if there is, is that Nirvana, or is it a sign of a complete lack of The Commitment to SEEK?.......

.... so, question........ do we ever really arrive?........ IS there a place to arrive to?..... a destination?.. or is it best to always be hungry, lean, and to continue to strive until, well, there is nothing left to work for?........

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Savior.....

..... well, I performed my Good Deed of The Day just a few minutes ago....

... the sunlight was slanting low in the west, the air was cool and crisp, and the ground crunched loudly everywhere I walked due to the thick covering of autumn's fallen leaves..... and mid-rake, I noticed Fred the Cat on the deck looking suspicious.......

..... and upon closer inspection, here's what I found........

.... that's right, boys & girls..... ole Fred was preparing himself for an early evening snack of baby rat snake......

..... I intervened, of course, as any civilized man would do, and saved the poor little fellow the embarrassing injustice of being eaten alive by a pussycat..... and I admit that afterwards I felt quite pleased with myself........ not that I'm overly fond of serpents, per se, it's just that everything has a time and a place..... and as I watched the foot-long snake attempt his escape, well, it just pulled at my heartstrings...... it just didn't seem like it was his time.....

.... so I nipped him up by the tail with my thumb and forefinger and carried him into the woods beside the house..... woods where, hopefully, he will find a nice place to bed down for the winter.... and then drowsily wake next spring to a new season, a new year, and a new outlook on life.... one filled with the promise of snaky pleasures hidden around every bush and under every leaf......

..... may we all be so lucky, eh?....

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Greedy.....

.... does it really seem like two years since I stormed stormed Godfrey's castle?....

.... my goodness..... it has been, but it certainly doesn't seem so.....

... two years ago this very moment my countrified self was propped in the corner of the bar in Diehl's Hotel gazing out at the Deutsches Eck.....

.... I remember that they had a courtesy computer near the window overlooking the spot where the Mosele and Rhine run into one another...... I remember that I checked my email before gathering with my fellow adventurers and wandering off in search of the beautiful and deadly Lorelei.... and then taking the chair-lift up to Koblenz castle for lunch & incredible views of the Rhineland....

.... this past Saturday I broke out my old, dog-eared copy of Ogden Nash poetry and read from it out loud for a while..... and as I leafed through the pages searching for an old favorite, out fell a postcard from Diehl's Hotel...... good lord, it'd been two years nearly to the day since I had read from my old, beloved Nash book.....

..... and last September I was wandering through France & Belgium......

.... and while drinking my coffee this morning, I heard the geese honking as they made their way to the lake at the end of my road..... September is here once again - as sneaky as it is - and one week from today we'll be jetting off to see what surprises Ireland has in store for us....

.... it's so very, very odd, but traveling always mixes my emotions.... I always wonder what I will remember and what I will forget....... and what will remind me, in some offhand way, of where I was and what I was thinking..... I just want to soak everything up..... absolutely everything...... I want to absorb The World and not let a single drop escape...... and really?...... as nutty as it sounds?....I truly want to be everywhere at the exact same time.....

.... I think that I have the greediest soul....... but really, I just can't help it....

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September 11th....

... no posting tonight, boys & girls....... turn off the computer and get yourself over to the television..... pick a channel - they'll all be showing something..... and watch.... and remember..... has it really just been eight years?.....

... watching some footage earlier today, it only seemed like yesterday.....

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Gone.....

... if you've never been to a burial in The South you should consider your life just that little bit incomplete...... for when they are done right?....... they will be an event that you will never forget as long as you live.........

.... I arrived at the small country church just a little bit early..... but little did I know that the guest of honor had already laid out the events of his burial long beforehand....

.... I stood on the peripherary and watched until Great Aunt Eula caught sight of me....... she approached and I bent down to give her a hug...... "My redhead," she said, "I love you, boy!"..... and with that, I kissed her cheek and said "thank you"......

.... I stayed on the edge of the crowd for the rest of the service..... probably nearly 200 were in attendance - which was amazing in itself...... hell, he hasn't lived in Tennessee for over forty years.... but old friends and relatives seemed to crawl out of the proverbial woodwork this morning.....

... and it was a beautiful September morning..... 10am was the perfect starting time, I guess..... the dew was still wet on the ground - and it hadn't gotten too hot yet......

.... the Marines removed his casket from the herse and placed him on the frame over his grave, and then the mortician who had driven down from Kentucky with him opened his casket for his family to begin the viewing......

.... I didn't press forward when everyone else did.... it somehow seemed more appropriate for me to just stay back, watch, and listen......

.... he lay open for an hour as per his instructions, and then they began his service....

... a woman with a beautiful voice sang "Amazing Grace" a capella, and then the preacher said a few words before she sang "The Marine's Hymn"..... after that, the Marines from Knoxville did their duty and performed the rifle salute and the playing of "Taps"....

.... it was an absolutely beautiful service........ the day was just beginning when we arrived at the tiny country church..... and by lunchtime it was all over.....

.... the oddest thing about the whole scene was how peaceful it was, I guess.... he had been dying a long time and knew what was coming...... so he had planned out every little detail...... sure, there was a sadness present..... but the overwhelming feeling was unlike anything I had ever felt before...... it was a burial, yes, but it wasn't a mourning...... it was silent and still...... everyone standing around with dew and fresh grass clippings on their wingtipped shoes...... it was as if a great book that you had enjoyed reading was slowly being closed.........

.... it was the oddest thing, this burial..........

.... tears were shed, of course...... but the weather was amazing.... the preacher was succinct...... the singer was off-key but perfect in her own way............ and it was such a pleasure to be back in that little family graveyard again......... and I know that sounds odd, but it is true.......... it was the most peaceful that I have felt in a long, long time......

.... he was buried on the right-hand side of his Father...... I noted his birthday -June 10th, 1888...... there were at least four generations of my kin buried in that one small acre plot....... how can so many lives have all come to rest in such a small place?.... I mentioned to one of my cousins just how special that little acre was, and she agreed.......... I suppose that if Robert Frost were to re-work a poem or two, he could say that THAT little acre is where all of "us" would be "run to ground" when the genealogists finally decide to sink their teeth into "us" as a family.......

.... but then, Robert Frost is already dead, isn't he?........ so that nips that in the bud.........

...... after the service was over we all meandered back to the fellowship hall and we all ate lunch together..... 200 folks...... it's another odd Southernism that while the men hem and haw around a grave - and tell stories - the women head to the nearest kitchen and begin working hard......... perhaps it is their backbones that truly are the most wonderful part of living in a southern, rural community.........

..... our women have always been our most prized, treasured, and loved companions............ and they allow us the frivolities of being Men.......... they are our anchors, our grounding rods, our truths........... and while we go off and dream, and do, and wander, they are the Real Stuff of Southern Life......... and they are amazing.........

...... so, today was a very interesting day, folks.........

..... I've buried two people....... and I must have seen a hundred buried.......... but today was the very first time that I saw someone buried and actually felt happy....... not that he was dead, of course........ but because he was honestly the first person that I ever saw buried who was completely ready to go......

.... you know?...... may we ALL achieve such an end.........

.... I wish that you guys could have seen it today........... it was truly a beautiful, beautiful thing......... and I was proud to see it........

.... (and yes, I know that peripherary is not really a word....... but I use it all the time...... so it bloody well should be a word...) .....

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Read.....

.... two weeks ago I sat on the couch as the Sun was low in the west and watched the silhouette of a spider climbing up and down his transparent web in front of the living room window......

.... the next morning I made a point out of trying to search for him... but to no avail...... the azaleas offered up nothing but a few wolf spiders and three or four "Bug Assassin".... but no Big Spider.......

.... it's been two weeks since I first saw him, and I saw him again tonight......... but this time?...... instead of waiting until morning, I just traipsed right out and watched it as it made its way up and down the 16 feet from the eaves to the azaleas and back again....... back and forth, back and forth.... and him with a body the size of a nickel......... it really was amazing....

...... I stood out there and admired his beauty for the better part of ten minutes before I wandered back in for dinner......

...... how perfectly designed for a kill he was..... how had nature shaped him so wonderfully to be able to do the almost magical things that he could do?.... he slept, he awoke, he fed, he bred, and the did it all over and over again....... he was splendid...... replete....... beautiful......

....... I must have written about spiders a hundred times here on this stupid fucking blog...... and in each instance I have either used them as a metaphor to prove some point, or I have admired them outright as just what they are....... beautiful predators who surround me constantly.........

...... and I suppose that my last sentence is what has bothered me most over the past two days.......because unconsciously or subconsciously........ everyone in Tennessee has been aware of a group of human spiders that have lived amongst us........ and we are all quite heartbroken, shocked, and horrified....... and absolutely fucking pissed....

.... for horrible, horrible crimes have been done in the biggest "small town" in the world, boys and girls........ and two days ago the first of many was convicted...... good god, this is Knoxville, Tennessee that we are talking about!.......

...... I am beyond words right now....... I truly am.......... and I now know that there are real spiders that live among us...... and they walk on two legs........ and they are monsters...... evil fucking monsters......

...... since the story broke - and for well before - I have carried my firearm everywhere that I have went.......

..... it is all just so very, very sad right now........ and it makes me so angry........ so fucking angry that it is driving me insane.......

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Matter.....

..... on Thursday we took the proverbial plunge and re-joined the local YMCA....... and after they took our wad of cash & we'd signed the paperwork, she used the elliptical machine for 40 minutes and I lifted weights........

..... on Friday, I was sore...... very sore... Monumentally Sore........ I slept that night feeling like a ninja had beaten me with a rattan stick for the better part of the day.......

... on Saturday we wandered off to the river for an Afternoon of Rafting that turned into an "evening" of rafting......... needless to say, it was an epic of waiting, sweating, and prepping for sunburn, and frantically dodging rapids.......... our 2pm reservations turned into a 4pm sweat lodge in a 1964 bus whilst waiting for the rafts to be loaded..........

... and as the circumstances dictated, I ended up being chief paddler for nearly three hours.......... in a five-man boat..... but with two women, two children, and me?.......... well, I did the rowing.... and by nightfall my shoulders need a doctor...... BAD........

.... and yesterday, due to circumstances (again) beyond my control, I had to mow my lawn four days too late.......

..... no big deal, really, in the great scheme of things.......... 91 degrees with 96% humidity....... glorious sunshine all afternoon long...... 6-inch piles of grass clippings with each pass of the mower..... and since my rake had mysteriously disappeared, I combed them into little rows with my fingers and scooped them into a wagon.....

.... it was the oddest thing..... wearing long sleeves, long pants, and a big floppy hat to protect me from the sun, I was completely soaked after fifteen minutes..... and after collecting the first big pile, I stood up and laughed out loud..... I was alone in the front yard at midday..... no neighbors stirred..... no traffic in the cul-de-sac..... no insects buzzing...... far, far off in the distance someone's dog was barking...

..... I put my hands on my hips and laughed..... looking out at the acre that lay before me, I knew that I had two more hours to go....... I couldn't help but smile all the more wider...... was it hard work that I was setting into?.... no, not really..... just bend at the hips, scoop up a handful of grass, raise, twist, drop, repeat..... repeat..... repeat, repeat, repeat......... there wasn't anything physically challenging about the actual chore..... no, it was the weather that had me laughing.....

... my eyes burned from the salty sweat that ran into their corners.... my lips took on that chapped feeling from having been licked too much.... my clothing clung to my body as if I had been hit by a fire hose..... the air was so heavy that you almost had to chew it before each breath...... and the smell of the grass clippings we damp and sweet in the heat......

..... when I finished and came inside, The Missus was quite horrified...... she watched me from the couch as I peeled off the layers of dripping clothes and tossed them into the washing machine....

..."you do realize that you are quite insane, right?", she said....

... "what's that?", I replied, trying to hear her over the sound of the filling washing machine....

.. "I heard you laughing..... I went to the window and saw you standing out there soaking wet in the middle of the yard - with not a stitch of shade - laughing.".....

.... "yeah.... I looked around and it was funny.."

....."THAT was funny?"

..... "yeah.... I was remembering what my Dad used to tell me when I was growing up..... you know, about mind over matter?"......

..... "okaaaay...... what about it?"...

...... "well, he'd be out building fence in the middle of winter.... or push-mowing the lawn in the heat of summer..... and when he'd come inside afterwards, he would rib me about not coming out to help him...... I'd always say, 'are you nuts?.... it's twenty degrees outside!..... or, are you nuts?.... it's 100 degrees outside!'..... he'd always just grin and say, 'hey!... it's mind over matter!.... if you don't mind, then it doesn't matter!'..... I was remembering him saying that, I guess..... and it just seemed funny..."

.... "you know that you're turning into your Dad, right?".....

.... I laughed again at what she'd said and then headed off to the shower......

.... I admired my Father for what he was capable of when I was a little guy..... but I still thought he was a little bit nuts....... and now it seems that I'm just a little bit nuts myself......

.... and you know, I think that's a good thing..

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Haircut....

.... up early and out of the house this morning in search of a haircut, I found myself at safely ensconced on a faded lawn chair at Eva's by 8:30..... the door was open to the street and the sounds of small town traffic mingled with the sweet aroma of Dollar Store hairspray as she worked her magic on a berry-brown pensioner...

.... I leafed through a dog-eared copy of Southern Living from 1987 while the two ladies chatted away in the morning heat....

... Eva picked and sprayed, patted and pulled until the tanned face of the old woman was surrounded by a perfectly round dome of silver, curly hair....

.... I waited my turn quietly and took note of the two of them.....

.... Eva - a tiny slip of a woman.... with her straight gray hair and skinny legs..... both ladies sporting that kind of bone-deep suntan that you only see on someone who has tended a garden every summer for the past 55 years.... no make-up on either of them..... just faces beaming with the lines of Time, sunshine, and Life....

..... it was early, though, and the morning air hadn't yet become burdened with the heat it'd have by noon.....

.... horns honked occasionally as the ladies talked about fried green tomatoes and gossip....

.... I believe that they were both genuinely happy as I sat there listening..... Eva doing what she loves to do.... and her customer content with knowing her hair was going to look exactly as she imagined.... they talked of grandkids, coffee, and vacations....

..... I'm back home now drinking coffee and preparing for a trip up to Knoxville..... The Missus is looking forward to an evening of Shakespeare in Market Square..... and me?..... I'm just thinking of how much I enjoy my three-dollar crew cuts every two weeks.....

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Morning....

..... I rolled out of bed this morning and stumbled through to make coffee just as the sun began breaking through the clouds.... an odd morning, really..... the jungle that surrounds three sides of The Compound here seems so much darker and heavier after a night of rain and thunder....

..... wandering through to the living room, I pulled back the curtains and stood there for a moment looking out at the wet lawn..... my goodness...... I went to bed last night just as the storm started its approach.... lightning flickering off in the distance to the north, the promise of rain, booms of thunder causing the house's dishes to rattle...

..... and now?..... the county road at the end of my driveway is steaming in the first rays of the morning.... steam at 8:30 in the morning...... and by noon, my little patch of grass and trees will be as dry as Ezekiel's bones.....

.... the dust of the week was washed off of everything during the night.... and the morning dawns green, shiny, warm, and wet...

.... good god, I love living in The South.....

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Family....

...... good evening, boys & girls...... and say hello to Emma Jane SWG and William Tecumseh Sherman SWG..... my paternal Great Grandparents..... he - a pastor in the small mountain town of Tellico Plains back around the turn of the century, and the youngest son of a Civil War veteran...... and she - the delicate middle-daughter of a Ducktown, TN politician & businessman..... here they are.....

ggrandparents_small.jpg

..... a few things of note before I head off to the dogwood-shaded patio for the evening to visit with a gin and tonic......

.... notice Great Grandma's beltline?..... it's practically itty bitty..... not too shabby for having popped out four little'uns earlier in life... and her hair?...... my Father once told me that when she died, her hair was of such a length that if she were to take it down fully, 6 inches of it would trail the ground behind her as she walked.....

..... I reckon that the photo was taken around 1930 or so...... and that is genuine Cherokee National Forest/Appalachian mountain laurel in the background, too....... my goodness.... nothing says hillbilly like a healthy stand of mountain laurel at the edge of your property....... it makes me proud, it does......... I guess that nearly a hundred years on - and having lapped the world at least four times - sitting here now, I'm probably less than ten miles from where that photo was originally shot...... the world is full of circles, I suppose........

.... anyhoo, I'm off to enjoy the evening....... I hope that you all manage to do much the same...

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Green....

..... I was awoken by rumbling thunder this morning at just past 4am.... I so love a good storm...... the curtains of the Master Bedroom are quite heavy & thick, so I nabbed up my pillow and headed through to the couch in the living room to watch the light show and the approach of morning.... I lay there watching the storm for a good fifteen minutes before the couch finally took hold and dragged me back to sleep....

..... by the time that I finally rolled over again, the thunder and lightning were gone.... and a warm, windless, slow rain was busy washing everything clean as I made my coffee....

.... The Jungle is Back....

.... three days ago the trees were barely hinting of color - and the dogwoods were gigantic balls of pure white..... and now?.... this steady drizzle is methodically picking each dogwood's petal....and beneath each tree it looks as if a thin blanket of snow has fallen..... and surrounding everything else, is Green - vibrant green - shining wet with the rain.... the first, new, plump leaves of the year...... and the back yard is surrounded on three sides with walls of this thick tangle.....

.... good lord..... half the year my home has 7 rooms.... and for the other half, it has 8..... my Green Room is back......

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Convincing.....

..... in the wildly weird world That Is, I found myself relaxing in the living room yesterday discussing the virtues of Diogenes with my little Brother..... sure, he's lived a much different life than myself - my little Brother - but he was still chipped from the same blocks from which I came myself.......

.... did it work, my philosophical counseling?...... yes, and no..... and while he left the dinner party with plenty to chew on, I did catch a slight head waggle as he descended the front steps...... I imagine he was thinking along the lines of, "WTF just went on.... Diogenes?..... My Brother definitely reads too much.".....

... but in any case, hey, I tried.....

.... I guess that when someone is broke, unemployed, and a bit down-on-their-luck it may not be such a great pick-me-up to sit and listen to me ramble on about the simple, immaterial, honest musings of an old, dead Greek while I sip a gin & tonic......

.... anyway, as springtime is here, I took the time to re-pack my pack for a possible hiking trip in the future..... and from the looks of things, I must have a terrible subconscious fear of freezing to death..... I bet I have at least six difference devices/contraptions/methods of making fire in that pack...... fire starting blocks, matches, propane lighters, magnesium bars, candles, and even a box of military Trioxane compressed fuel bars...... good grief.... can you tell that all of my previous camping trips were in arctic or sub-arctic locales?.......

..... oh, and I mention the back pack thing only because of last night's conversation..... it struck me this afternoon that I could live quite happily on everything packed into that bag... not for ever, of course..... but definitely for a good few weeks...... sure, it's not like living in poverty or sleeping in a tub under the stars like ole Diogenes, but it'd be "roughing it".....

.... ahhhhh.... I guess it's just hard to convince some people that having a roof over your head, loving family around, and a belly full of hot chow is sometimes all you need.....

.... anyway, that's it for me, folks...... I'm off to the kitchen to perform culinary magic with a couple cans of tuna, some noodles, and a whoooooole lot of cheese...... y'all play nice now.......

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Tweets......

.... we're currently enjoying a slight reprieve from Ole Man Winter around here.... with today's temperature peaking at an extremely hospitable 82 degrees, it has been a marvelous day.... sure, Dogwood Winter is just around the corner... and April will likely be colder than the proverbial well digger's ass, but as for right now things are just grand....

.... I opened all the windows around noontime, and the house has been filled with twittering, horned-up bird music all afternoon...... and between the birdies during the day and the frogs at dusk & morning, the woods and puddles that surround The Compound are absolutely alive with the sounds of singles searching for mates....

... at the moment, it is the cardinals and the mockingbirds.... and judging by their music floating in through the open blogroom window, it sounds like they're pretty heavily at work & most decidedly Open For Business....

.... it's actually a bit funny, you know?.... how we humans sit on our patio or porch and smile while enjoying the birds and their singing..... "how soothing", we say.... "how peaceful", we sigh....... "Nature, in all her glory, is so wonderful and beautiful", we nod knowingly whilst sipping our sweet tea......

.... when actually - if we spoke mockingbird or knew even the smallest bit of cardinalese - nothing could be farther from the truth....

.... for birdsong is, if nothing else, a long string of birdie profanities, curses, threats, boasts, propositions, cat-calls, wolf-whistles, come-ons, promises of undying love, loads of juicy worms, and a helluva nest all bunched in with a lot of "get outta my yard, you meddling whippersnappers!".....

.... peaceful?.... soothing?..... hardly...... those are things that we imagine to be true for our own comfort's sake...... but to the birds?.... it's pure lust and the crystalline threat of violence....

.... but even so, it DOES sound pretty.... just as long as you're not another bird....

.... and with that, rubberneckers, I'm off to hold down some patio furniture and listen to the birds argue and flirt...... and I highly suggest y'all do the same......

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Leather.....

.... two years ago my younger Brother bought a jacket for me as a Christmas present..... he gifted himself one exactly like it - both of ours purchased from L.L. Bean after months and months of searching....

... at the time, I remember him telling me just how important it was for him to find just the right one..... the right cuffs, the right collar, the right lining, the right cut..... the right type of leather.....

... we'd searched everywhere for a jacket like my Father had worn while he was out railroading..... we hit every specialty leather shop between Knoxville and Chattanooga, and none could provide the goods..... it was frustration beyond frustration...... and even when we did find a jacket that "looked" right, it would be made of too soft a leather.... lamb, or something equally silly......

.... his original had come from J.C. Penny's - but they no longer stocked them when we began our search...... that old bomber-style jacket that my Mother had bought him in 1975 had been his constant companion.... and he had worn it through all manner of weathers for over ten years..... when it finally packed in and was tattered & fraying from years of exposure to his welding duties, he bought himself the exact same model in 1986.... hell, I remember standing beside him out by the barn - him wearing his new jacket against the December air - while he ceremoniously tossed it onto a fire he'd built for burning the rubber casing off of old copper wire that he'd found...... a packrat to the last & and a scrounger of scrap metal, he'd ignored the pleas of my brother and I to be given his old jacket..... I was a freshman in high school and would have LOVED to have worn that old, tattered jacket to school....... but, no.....

.... looking back now, I've always found it odd that he chose to burn that jacket....... I suspect that it was the idea of seeing us running around in a jacket that he'd toiled so hard in?..... maybe it was like a warrior switching out his armor?..... or perhaps that jacket reminded him of how hard the last 10 years had been?..... I just don't know..... I sure do wish that he were around to ask, though..... I have so many more questions for him now than I did back then.....

... anyway, I bring this up because my Mother saw me wearing my jacket the other day and inquired as to if I had Dad's old (second) jacket...... and sadly, I had to tell her no, that I was not in possession of it, but I was under the impression that she had it...... she replied in the negative as well.....

..... so, sitting here tonight with my own jacket tossed over on the suede couch beside me, I can't help but wonder where his old jacket might be right now.....

.... is it buried underneath piles of his things in the well house?... stored in a plastic tub?.... boxed-up in the barn?.... did we absentmindedly give it to one of his co-workers after he died?..... or a family member, perhaps?......... God knows it was far, far beyond repair when last I saw it, so I know that Goodwill would not have accepted it...... not with it's sleeves re-stitched with fishing line, and the cuffs so frayed from being scorched by red-hot slag....

.... the whole thing started me thinking of a post that I wrote four years ago this month...... the post is here, if you're feeling indulgent........ it's about the things that you find in your pockets......

.... damn..... I know where my pocket knives are..... I know where my Zippo is..... my cigarette case, my challenge coin....... but I don't know where his jacket is...... and now, after all of these years, I want to know....... I hadn't thought about it until she mentioned it, but now I want to know........ I have to know.......

..... and I didn't understand Joshua's need to find just the right jacket until just now......

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Snow....

.... well, The Blizzard of 2009 hit here earlier in the day.... and most of it has already melted away as of 5:30 this evening.... still, though, it was fun while it lasted....

..... I sat in the living room and watched it fall for a while - and then snuck out to the deck and hid under the eaves of the house.... by then everything was covered by about an inch of heavy, wet snow..... it was just below freezing, so I didn't stay long...... but I did stay long enough to be reminded of a sound that I had forgotten..... the sound of snow..... or lack thereof........ with no wind, the flakes came down in the most perfect vertical angle.... absolutely straight down..... and with their size and heaviness, you could actually make out the tiny crunch that each one made as it joined with its buddies....

... no rustling of ground-leaves..... no wind whistling through the bare limbs.... no traffic..... even the birds were quiet - and likely hiding somewhere trying to keep warm and dry..... no noise except for the quiet sound of snowfall...... .damn, I had forgotten how a wet snow like that sounded until today...... we haven't had the ground completely covered in four or five years - until today.....

..... my old 1890 copy of Chamber's Encyclopedia describes the climate of Tennessee as "both mild and delightful." ...... and after an afternoon like this, I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly...... just enough snow to give you a taste.... and the rest'll be gone by noontime tomorrow..... mild & delightful sounds just about perfect.....

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Soggy....

..... I awoke this morning at 4am.... light-switch style wide awake... that odd kind of wake-up that you know has been caused by something.... I lay in bed and listened.....

.... the bedroom is at the corner of the house, and the wind was absolutely roaring past the edge...... small limbs clattered against the guttering.... sheets of rain popped against the windows on either side of the bed.... but above everything else - the wind...

... I eased out of bed and made my way to the kitchen for coffee while the house groaned.... I sat on the couch for half an hour just listening to the wind..... it was an odd feeling - one that I haven't had in a while, actually...... and it didn't really hit me until later today what it was.....

.... during my visit with my Sainted Mother this morning, I was asked to retrieve some items from my Dad's old barn...... the weather was awesome - huge, fat raindrops slanting in from the northwest, gusty air that moved the droplets sideways perfectly, 40 degrees and dropping...... I arrived at the barn after a short jog of about 50yds soaking wet..... and as I stepped into the barn and searched for the light switch, I realized what had been in the back of my mind this morning in the noisy darkness......

.... this is camping weather......

..... I've camped in weather like this a thousand times.... from the Grampians in Scotland where I did my solo 5-day hiking/camping trips, to Mountain Training in the Highlands with 45 Commando, to the far-off wilds of a tiny island in the Bering Sea...... snow, rain, ice, wind, tundra, heather, and glens..... there is nothing like slogging through weather like that all day long, pitching a tiny tent, peeling yourself out of your drenched Gortex, firing up the propane stove, and listening to the weather throw itself against the sides of your little shelter....

.... you understand the Meaning of Comfort after a few days of that....... to be dry when the world is wet..... to be warm when the air is cold.... to cook your noodles, warm your coffee, and hear the wind - angry that it can no longer whip around you - whistle through the anchor-lines of your rain fly...... the comfort of knowing that you are protected.... the knowledge that you have spent the day in weather not fit for man nor beast - and at the end of it you have squeezed out a comfortable niche.... a moveable home that shelters you.....

.... I didn't realize it until this afternoon...... but I had that feeling this morning at 4 O'clock.... and it was such an odd feeling.....

..... it's a good thing that my cousin still hasn't returned my little 2-man tent.....

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Lost.....

... two years ago this morning, I made a long trip over to middle Tennessee to pick up my brother....... I remember taking a video of a herd of cows wandering over to my car as I waited, talked on the cell phone, and ate a McDonald's biscuit..... I was so very, very excited that morning...... it had been such a long time a'coming....... and I will remember it for as long as I live..... it was a new beginning.....

.... two years ago today this evening, my house was filled with nearly twenty familiar faces from my childhood..... old football, baseball, and basketball players that I had given wedgies to in my senior year........ good men..... good "boys".... and as I just re-met them after ten years away, they were good Fathers and Husbands....... and I respected them.....

..... hell, they weren't MY friends, per se, but still guys (and their new wives) that I had known when I was growing up...... and in truth?.... they were not even of my generation, really..... but of my Brother's generation.....

.... they were HIS friends...... and I was happy to be host to their party...... but that was two years ago........

.... it is amazing, now, looking back...... two years ago they swarmed around him like butterflies or moths on this day - right here in my house..... drawn to him in a manner that I still do not understand....... but they arrived, and everyone was so very happy.....

..... we shot pool in the garage..... we ordered pizzas, sipped beers, and smiled at a future that we imagined was going to be so very, very bright..... he was introduced to wives, girlfriends, & children..... and wholeheartedly accepted by each and every one of them.......

..... he had genuinely been missed by his local friends...... and I remember sitting back afterwards and letting that idea rock my world...... I was so happy........

..... I remember watching the entire thing unfold..... games being played, laughter being shared, and how he was still just as charming to them as he always had been........and I remember thinking about how incredibly fortunate he was to have so many people - from such a vast array of humanity - that loved him, missed him, and wanted him in their lives after such a long absence..... genuinely, truthfully, and unreservedly or ungrudgingly....... they were glad to see him......

....... but it is less than two years now, and he is gone again.......

..... I have never felt so betrayed in all of my life....... not even when President Clinton kept us from doing the right thing in Kosovo when I was in uniform...........

...... but life is like that, isn't it?........sometimes you just have to move on........

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Faster......

.... after World War II, a Great Change took place in my little family..... returning veterans - my Grandfather, Great Uncle J.R, Great Uncle M.C., and Great Uncle George - all headed north to search for work.... Great Uncle Rob - a SEABEE - was the only one who remained behind.....

... Tennessee boys, all, they found that running farms in the rural South just wasn't somehow right for them after the war.... they'd all grown up in the hills and valleys of Monroe County, but combat had changed them, I guess..... pastoral fields, plows, and harnesses gave way to the need to Live Life Quicker.... faster, I guess....

... George had been an Army artilleryman in the Pacific.... J.R as well, but with the Marines.... M.C. had been a tanker with Patton.... Grandpa, a mortarman with the 106th in Europe....

... they arrived back home, looked around, kissed their girlfriends, wives, and children, and then split immediately for Detroit to find work.....

..... I remember hearing my Mother tell tales about them all living in the same apartment up there - drinking, cooking, shooting pool after work, and spending their days at Chrysler and Ford toiling on the assembly lines.... and, of course, mailing checks back to Tennessee..... my imagination can hardly grasp what life must have been like with those characters all under the same roof....... they were fine, young men with a true lust for life.... and ready to get busy living.......

... but after a year or so, a few of them began getting homesick..... Grandpa moved back to Tennessee and found work at a foundry.... eventually retiring after thirty or so years..... George, too..... he moved back and found work with the TVA...... J.R. left Detroit and found work with Ford in Ohio and raised a huge family.... M.C. headed southeast, though..... and ended up retiring from a steel mill in West Virginia....

... The War had shotgunned my little family from a tiny kernel in Tennessee to a network spanning many, many States....

... of that crew, the only one that remains is my Great Uncle J.R..... he now lives up in Kentucky where the Tennessee River meets the Ohio..... of all of them - apart from my Grandpa - he is the one with whom I am closest......having been the only Marine out of that generation, I used to call him up from time to time when I was overseas in the Corps myself.... he was not only my Great Uncle, but my Brother.....

... Great Uncle M.C. was the smallest of the group when it came to stature.... feisty and wiry, it is no wonder that he was a tanker during the war..... good lord, he was a salty little sardine of a man who would have fit perfectly in a "tin can"..... he was also the "laugher" of the group..... always, always, always telling jokes..... and laughing harder at them than those who had listened..... along with my Grandpa, he was also the pool shooter of the crew..... both of them having made their living at one time or another by sharp'ing after The War.... he had a table in his garage up in West Virginia - and even at the age of 86 still gave me a run for MY money on the table in MY garage last year.....

.... as of yesterday, only Great Uncle J.R. remains from that group of warriors, fathers, husbands, lovers, and men.... Great Uncle M.C. died yesterday..... and my Mother made the 11 hour drive up yesterday.... the burial will be tomorrow.... I didn't really know him that well, but I knew the men who were his friends..... and in saying that - from the company you keep - you know the quality of a man..... and he was a good one......

.... how I would have loved to have been a roommate with those hammerheads back in 1947.....

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Time....

..... once upon a time, I absolutely loved Christmas.... in fact, the days that ran between Halloween & January 2nd were always my most favorite of the entire year....

.... Halloween, parties, candy, and costumes... knowing that Thanksgiving was lurking just around the corner with turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie.... and then the school holiday - two weeks off for Christmas and New Year..... deer season opening, morning hunts, sniping squirrels with the .22 magnum, Grandpa helping me cook and clean them, Dad congratulating me as he ate them......... and then Christmas with its decorations, presents, feasts, and surprises....

.... I was a child back then.....

.... and then I left home at 17 and went off to join the Corps.... that was in May of 1990..... but by the time Christmas rolled around I had enough leave built up that I managed to bum a ride from NTTC Corry Station in Pensacola up to Tennessee to be with The Family... I mentioned my driver on that trip here once, long ago, if you are the inquisitive type and wish to delve....

.... every year from 1991 to 1999 found me absent from Christmas in Tennessee... I was overseas during all of that time and always managed to visit the folks when the weather was warmer..... thus missing The Holidays....

.... in late 2000 I quit my job in Scotland and moved back to Tennessee to help my Mother take care of my dying Father... I remember making a mental note of the fact that it was the first Christmas that I had been with my Mom and Dad in what seemed like forever..... my Dad's family even attempted to keep all of their bickering at bay for a few hours and have a Generational Family Christmas with each other....

.... in truth, it really was quite a monumental effort..... every single one of my Grandpa's children, their children, and their children all together under the same roof at Christmas..... it worked, mostly..... looking back now, it is a miracle that no one got killed...... but they all knew that it was my first Christmas home in a long time.... and likely the last Christmas for my Dad..... so they behaved themselves and tried to get along "for him"..... lots of photographs were taken of The Event.... and it hasn't happened again.... .

.... he died the following May, and Christmas has not been the same since....

.... This year has been watched by my Mother, Brother, and I like a shark circling a whale carcass..... you just KNOW that something is going to take a bite out of you, you just don't know exactly when....... good god, just waiting and waiting for Christmas to arrive...... the sense of foreboding is so damn thick that you'd need an industrial Saw's-All to release even one tiny shred of the pressure - but yet, here it is....... Christmas is here....

.... The Missus put the tree up two days ago out of sheer boredom..... I sat on the couch and watched that poseur "Bear Grylls" do shit in the Cairngorms that I have done myself a hundred times and had a GREAT time doing so... "Man vs.. Wild" is such bullshit..... but I digress...... anyone wanting to see what survival is really about, just be quiet and watch Les Stroud......

.... anyway, I spent the better part of today beginning my Christmas shopping in Knoxville in the rain, gloom, grey, and traffic...... yes, I know that it is the 20th of December, but I can't help it....... next year we'll probably be shopping on the 21st..... it is what it is.... and as it is slated right now?.... my Christmas cards will begin flowing forth from The Compound around (or very near) Christmas Eve......

.... all in all, I'm just not in the mood...... not in the mood, at all.......

.... as a matter of fact, there was a family pow-wow after Thanksgiving where everyone agreed to limit their expenditures for Christmas to (and hopefully less than) 150 bucks per person...... hey, I'm hip...... and I am downtown with that....... but fast forward a month, and my Mother asks for a used computer that someone is selling - price? 150 bucks..... I agreed and paid.... and she said, "nothing else"..... so, that is exactly what she is getting....

.... as for me?...... I have no idea what I am getting, but all I want for Christmas is Time...... time with those that I love...... there is NEVER enough time.... and time is the most precious gift that you can give....... Time..... I want it..... I need it....... and I searched every damn place in The Mall today and never found it in stock.....

..... The Missus is getting socks and underwear....... that might seem odd, but it isn't..... hey, she needs them....... like the Rolling Stones said back in the day, right?..... "You get what you need!"........ besides, we all buy what we need or WANT throughout the year, so what is Christmas without the gifts?.... especially since The Family is not the same?.......

..... Mom has her computer..... and my Brother is getting a lump of coal and a bottle of bourbon On Principle....... his girlfriend will get a sweater.... and her children will each get a twenty-dollar toy from Wal-Mart that either buzzes, bounces, spins, sings, or has lots of flashing lights.....

.... in short?.... Bah!..... HUMBUG!....... I want to be a child again....... and I want more fucking time......

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Belief.....

..... mystics and philosophers have pondered the great mysteries of life since, well, forever..... and while we mortals use terms like karma, celestial balance, Xi, life force, etc, we rarely understand their deeper, real-world meanings......

.... as a casual and uneducated observer of Nature's Balance, I myself often wonder about the Great Things In Life..... love, passion, anger, lust, contentment, life, death, creation, fortitude, the number 42.....

.... and while normally stymied in my half-assed, hillbilly efforts to find the greater meaning in the everyday things that surround me, today did provide me with an unusual scene..... one which, as you do, I snapped a photograph of...... so without further gumsmacking & mental frolicking, behold "Yin and Yang" as the Chinese originally envisioned them thousands and thousands of years ago....

yin_yang_small.jpg

..... yep, ole Fred & Bob at their most Chinese.......... and those are the same two kitties who bat, smack, bite, and hiss at each other every evening while vying for the best position (at the full-length glass kitchen door) to watch The Missus and I eat our dinner..... but after one single, solitary frosty night?...... duality at it's most marvelous...... two cats who literally cannot STAND each other when they are awake are suddenly the BEST of friends when the temperature drops below 32 and the wind begins to blow.......

.... you know, I'd really like to believe in the whole Yin/Yang thing..... I truly, truly would...... and I do on one level or another, I suppose..... I mean, it is a plausible philosophy, but I don't think that it is quite complete yet.......

... however, I do have to admit that I admire the way that Fred & Bob instinctively mimicked the customary shape of the Yin/Yang emblem, though..... there must be something to be said about that.....

..... but just like the Bermuda Triangle and Socialized Medicine, I need a bit more evidence before I agree to an actual belief.....

... still, though, you do have to admit..... the shit around here is strange...... so, Yin & Yang?.... I just don't know....... but I like to think that my kitties are just more pragmatic than most other beasts.....

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Snow.....

.... had snow squalls here on and off all day......but it all melted as it hit the damp soil.... my goodness, it has rained for the last few days and the earth is a bit too waterlogged to handle a snowfall....... which is too bad, really.... since I do so love me a nice dusting of snow......

.... we're cursed lucky like that down here in the Tennessee Valley..... the Cumberland Plateau to our west normally catches all of the snowfall...... and to the east - The Appalachians - they get the left over snow once it passes eastward from off the plateau...... but down here in the valley?....... maybe one snow of any substance every five years or so..... and after having spent so much time in Alaska and northern Europe, I do miss me some snow once the weather starts getting colder......

..... I suspect that my Viking forbearers would be quite dismayed and disappointed to learn - while resting their marauding souls up in Valhalla - that one of their own is now residing in the mild and delightfully pleasant climes of southeastern Tennessee...... but hey, while I do enjoy a snowfall once in a while, Glacial Living is something that I prefer to choose in the figurative sense rather than the literal one......

... The Curse of Being a Redhead though, well, it never abates fully....... autumn and winter are My time of year for sure...... but around here they just don't quite cut it...... they're just too damned mild....... as for spring and summer?.... they are unmerciful and overbearing, but yet here I am......

..... I think I'll build a longship in the garage this winter.... maybe I'll whip out some blue face paint and channel a few of my blonde-braided ancestors.... perhaps even have The Missus work on knitting me up some sort of sail..... after all, I DO have that garage full of battle axes that my Dad made just sitting there rusting....... perhaps he meant for them to be used...... hmmm...... I wonder how one goes about hiring oarsmen?.........

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Driving....

..... the Missus and I idled south to Cleveland, TN around lunchtime today and braved the crowd to lunch at a little deli downtown..... I've written a few times about what a treat that little deli is, and today was no exception..... I had their 'special' sandwich.... which consisted of smoked turkey, mayo, mustard, lettuce, onion, cheddar cheese, and a thin layer of cranberry sauce on sourdough bread..... sweet iced tea and a quartered kosher dill finished off the lunch nicely.....

.... if you ever find yourself in Cleveland with a growling belly, do yourself a favor and hit the Green Market Deli downtown.... just trust me on that..... and hey, when it comes to eating, drinking, and just generally making merry, I've got it in the bag..... and I would never steer you wrong.... hell, I'll drive the 45 minutes down there just for one of their hotdogs - they're just that good.....

.... I also finally broke down and purchased a copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations at the local bookshop..... so I am now officially dangerous..... hot damn!.... I've wanted a copy of that thirty pound monster since I was twelve years old....

.... anyway, it is beginning to get dark here now, and the sky has clouded over a bit...... the trees are bare and stark.... and the temperature is steadily dropping.... but earlier today it was absolutely stunning.... 60 degrees, crisp blue sky, bright sunshine...... I was almost tempted to slip on my jacket and drop the top on Sylvia..... and the leaves south of here - along the Hiwassee - had not yet fallen..... and the colors were intense and vibrant...... and for a long time there were no other cars on the road.....

.... I also picked up two huge "Iowa" pork chops from a fancy little fresh market.... they are currently playing together nicely in a large bowl with some of Emeril's Southwest marinade.... they'll soon be gently grilled and served with English mustard & my parmesan roasted potatoes.....

...... all in all, not a bad day to be driving around daydreaming.....

..... I'm off to check on the potatoes and mix myself a tonic & gin......

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Voting......

...... tomorrow I cast my first vote..... ever......

.... after 36 years of life on this planet, I've never felt The Need to cast a vote..... my goodness, five years in the Marine Corps, and I never felt the need to cast a vote.... not for sheriff, mayor, representative, governor, senator, president, or dogcatcher......

... but tomorrow, I vote....

.... I grew up in a household that consisted of a Democrat mother and a Republican father..... and I listened my whole life to them bicker about driving to the polls and 'canceling out each other's vote'...... I suspect that their playfulness regarding electing officials somehow stuck in my mind...... and while I have been registered to vote many, many times (it was compulsory while in the military), I've never actually submitted a ballot........ after all, what is one vote among so many hundreds of thousands..... millions, even........ besides, someone out there is 'canceling out' MY vote by voting for the opposite candidate...... so what really was the point?......

.... I suppose that I always felt too small when it came to election day..... too insignificant.... too tiny....... humbled by the fact that I am just One Man in a sea of humanity........ figuring that The Powers That Be will never need Or miss my one little vote....... imagining that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people would always, always, ALWAYS have my best interests at heart........ that's what we're taught in school, right?........ but this year, I finally realized that for all of these years, I had been seeing My Right in the most wrong of lights.......

..... my one vote may not matter in the great scheme of things....... but it is The Principle of Voting that has caught me this year...... and that is something completely different......... and I truly see that now....... and casting MY ballot, ticking the box, or un-hanging a chad.... THAT is what matters most.......

.... so tomorrow, my candidate of choice may win....... or he may lose....... but all that truly matters is that I voted...... because The Forefathers intended that a government of the people, for the people, and BY the people...... actually be participated in by you and I.......

..... and I now no longer live with the idea that my government has my best interests at heart...... and if I do not vote now, what right have I to complain later?.......

.... so tomorrow, for the first time in my life, I vote.......

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Men...

.... the Thought Of The Day today comes from Oom Keesie...... go forth and read......

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Leaves.....

..... it rained a little yesterday morning and remained cloudy for the entire day.... it was one of those odd sorts of mornings that I've only seen right here, in the southern Appalachians, during the beginning of autumn...... temperatures hovering at that anxious degree where you struggle to decide whether to turn the central heating to cool, heat, or just switch it off & throw the windows open..... for the record, I ended up resigning myself that I was somehow going to throw the AC out of whack by my constant switch-flicking..... and I finally just turned it off and let the day do as it pleased.....

.... the dogwoods & poplars have already begun to let their leaves turn.... nighttime temperatures in the 50s have done that work.......

.... the world outside is damp again this morning - and the wet leaves are flat out like postage stamps across the back yard... no crunching in them today as I march out to the patio..... they're soft and supple..... and quiet.... it's one of those days where you could walk through the woods - scattered with fallen leaves - and hear nothing but the occasional raindrop crashing to the ground from some limb high above..... no footfall as you walked.... no crinkling of a red dogwood leaf or a discarded yellow poplar..... cool, damp, soft silence......

..... in a few days the world will be crunchy again..... and an angry orange leaf blower will whine the red and gold off of my strangled grass...... but right now?.... with hot coffee, zipped fleece, and flannel trousers?..... cool, damp, and soft is just about perfect.....

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Marrow.....

.... when I was a little boy, I was continually mesmerized by the antics of my Father when my Mother would decide to make fried chicken for Sunday dinner......

..... once she'd announced her intention of frying chicken, he'd spend the next few hours (the hours between coming home from church and dinner being finished) finding reasons to remove himself from yard work to sneak into the house and smack her backside as she worked at the sink or cooker, and making 'yummy' noises after each slap and tickle.....

.... my Pa definitely enjoyed my Mother's fried chicken...... and I suspect that she enjoyed his behavior, too....... otherwise, why'd we have chicken so often?.....

.... anyway, he did have one horrible Fried Chicken Foible..... and it was quite nightmarish......... see, about the time that the rest of us had finished our dinner, he'd start in on the bones.....

.... me, I have always been a leg guy...... big hunk of meat, nice piece of skin, easy-peasy..... my brother was a breast guy..... my Mom liked the livers..... but Dad?.... he loved the entire chicken..... even the bones.....

.... and as we all settled back in the straight chairs that surrounded the table and began our 'oohs' and 'ahhs' of contented, chicken-fed bliss, there would be the inevitable 'crunch' of Dad breaking open one of the leftover leg bones in search of marrow.....

.... good god, it was horrendous....... my Brother, Mother, and I would spend the next ten minutes watching him crush those bones and suck out the marrow..... absolutely mesmerized....... and completely disgusted at the same time......

.... as a child, I thought he was nuts........ loveable, loving, sensitive, and as strong as an ox, but still a little bit nuts...... now, as an adult?...... hey, being a little bit nuts is acceptable.... actually, it is quite a prize....... being a little nuts certainly makes life a helluva lot more enjoyable........ so there, that's my take on that......

.... and something else, too..... and this is just as important..... I've heard people say that someone or something is "the marrow" of something.... like in 'Jeremiah Johnson" when Que says "The Rocky Mountains is the Marrow of The World"...... or when Anthony Bourdain says that nothing is sweeter than "The Marrow of Life"......

..... marrow, after all, is the core...... the Great Creator.... The Essence.......

... hell, Cavemen relished it - using the very first tools ever created to bash it out of ancient Mammoth tibias - so, who am I to argue.......

.... but, wow.... the Marrow of The World...... my god..... The Marrow of Life....... I think my Dad was onto something and just never lived long enough to clue my Brother and I in on it....... at least, I hope......

..... and you know, I've never tasted it literally...... I've never sucked it from a shattered bone.... I've never licked it from a well-gnawed cavity...... never been handed a spoonful of it....... but I like to imagine that I do know what it tastes like....... and why my Dad would spend the afternoon smacking my Momma's backside each time he walked past.....

..... it was The Marrow of Life..... and she was cooking it for him.....

.... even if the sight of him feasting DID disgust the whole table........ he was teaching us a lesson......

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Jelly.....

..... the peach tree that I planted (with great hope & hand-wringing) beside the patio two years ago has just been harvested.... I picked the tiny, sweet, bright red fruits yesterday evening.... all in all, 14 little peaches..... not exactly a bumper crop, but pretty good for a tree that's only four feet tall...... hey, who says good things can't come in small packages??.....

... it has been my experience that the smaller something is, the more intense it is.... be it a peach or a pepper, when they are compressed by nature, they are exquisitely flavored..... Mother Nature's way of compensating, I guess...... half the size, but with every single morsel of goodness....

.... truth be told, I'm a relative novice when it comes to picking fruit...... and as such, I was a bit worried that I might collect my little basket of peaches too soon.... I tell you, Farmers are born with the patience of Job.... and while I was born in farming country, I can't really claim to be a farmer.....

..... watching those peaches mature has certainly driven that fact home...... every couple of days I would wander out and give them a squeeze to see if they were ready..... and hell, normally I am an absolute pillar of patience.... but watching those fuzzy little fellas was just about more than I could bear.....

..... sometimes anticipation is an itch that just can't be fully scratched.... at least when it comes to me..... anticipation has a way of currycombing the senses....

..... as you watch and wait, your eyes see more... you catch the details.... coloring & texture...... your nose can find the sweetness more easily with each passing day.... the soft fuzz feels more inviting each time you touch it..... but you must wait until it is time..... and that waiting has driven me mad...... until yesterday, that is....

.... I sidled over to my little tree while The Missus lazed in the hammock last evening...... and I noticed that one of the racquet-ball sized fruit had dropped to the ground..... I knelt down and brushed off the dust..... it was ready....

.... I flipped out my pocketknife and began to peel it..... and I was absolutely amazed..... never in my life have I seen a more juicy, succulent, and tender fruit.... warmed by the summer air, the scent hit me as soon as my knife broke its flesh........ but the moisture!..... good god, it was like attempting to peel a watermelon..... halfway through the peeling, peach juice was literally dripping from my elbow as I stood there in the evening sunlight beside that tiny tree.......

..... there is nothing like anticipation, folks.... especially when the final treasure is a hundred times more pleasurable than you had expected...... it makes every bit of waiting more than worth the effort.....

.... today I am making peach preserves...... oh, hell yeah.....

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Gum.....

.... it is a warm, foggy morning here and the coffee is hot and strong...... rainstorms rumbled through all night long.... and they've left the world outside damp and still.... I just walked out to the patio and back in my bare feet and pajama bottoms to check on the tiny peach crop that I'm cultivating.... they're still there...... shiny and wet.... undisturbed by last night's wind & tumult......

.... what a smell moist Earth is..... walking on the stones to the patio, you could almost feel the humid air part as it slipped by you.... it just feels that incredibly dense...... thick, sweet, and warm..... soon the Sun will burn it all off, but wow.... I'm beginning to realize that daybreak is my favorite part of Summer.....

.... I re-watched "The Best Years of Our Lives" again last night.... and as usual, I was amazed.... I've yet to watch that movie and find myself un-moved.... and Harold Russell is just amazing...... as is Frederic March and Dana Andrews.... but Russell?.... incredible......

.... I was reminded of a story that my cousin Lucy told me once about my Dad..... she was his older sister's little girl.... his first niece.... and she was six years old when he returned from his first combat tour in Vietnam in 67...

... a few years after he died, she and I had a chance to talk during one of the family get-togethers at Christmas..... it seems that her very first memory of my Dad was when he was on leave.... he was preparing for his second tour in Vietnam and was staying at her Mother's house for the weekend.... his sister was busy cooking and realized that she needed something from town for her baking..... so my Dad volunteered to drive the few miles into town to fetch it... and of course, little Lucy begged to go along for the ride.... my Dad was a natural kid-magnet.... even as a middle-aged man just before he died, all of my little cousins loved to be around him....

.... once they arrived at the grocer and were preparing to leave, Lucy's eyes found a gumball machine near the cash register..... and she immediately asked "Uncle Marion" if she could have a gumball...... and what he did next has had me pondering all evening yesterday and all morning today.....

..... according to Lucy, he sat down the bag of groceries, walked back to the teller, handed her a dollar bill, and asked for pennies..... and then proceeded to drop penny after penny into the machine.... turning the handle, retrieving the bubble gum, and repeating.... over and over.... placing each tiny piece of gum in a little brown bag..... until the machine was completely drained..... and then, he handed Lucy the bag and they drove back home.....

..... on the one hand, a child asked and a child received..... but what drove him to buy out the entire machine?..... was he simply doing it because it was a nice thing to do?.... most parents - or uncles - would just have bought a piece and been done with it...... but he chose to squat there in the foyer of a busy grocery store and collect every single piece of gum....

.... I've thought about it all morning.....

.... did he imagine that, having been through one tour in Vietnam & preparing for his second, he might never be given another opportunity to buy his young niece another piece of candy?..... had being so close to Death made him realize that he should strive to cram as much Living into every day that he possibly could?..... did he just want to make her smile?...... was it the whim of a man with a dollar in his pocket who didn't mind spending it?..... I just don't know.....

.... but watching that movie last night made me remember that story.... and how very happy Lucy was when she told it....

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Penelope.....

... today has been spent futilely watering the lawn and picking out salmon recipes for dinner....... (the watering was the futile part, actually, not the recipes....) ....

.... you know, if you water your lawn long enough - with the breeze tossing the droplets occasionally and the sunlight working its way through the green branches of the trees - there is a Great Zen that will descend upon you...... you feel the cool water on your hands as you thumb-off the end of the hose...... you smell the moisture, feel the sunlight..... and if you hold your head just right, you imagine that you can hear the plants as they drink...... shining in their wetness and smiling at you while you work...... thankfully, almost......

.... at least that's the way that my mind tried to make standing in the sunshine sweating a worthwhile chore.....

...... funny thing, really...... in the entire history of my life I've only ever participated in two theatrical efforts...... and in each of them I played a guy named George...... the first role of 'George' was in Mrs. Cantrell's 11th grade English class as we studied (or attempted to study) Steinbeck's "Of Mouse and Men"..... I played George Milton......

.... when I was a senior in high school I played George Gibbs..... the widowed husband of Emily Webb......

.... for reasons known only to Heaven Above and Wet Grass, both of those memories came back to me today as I fought off sunburn, mosquitoes, and sprayed the lawn...... weird, I guess.......

.... but for those of you who are not boned-up on your "Our Town", here's a little clip for your enjoyment..... and hey, I know it is a bit long.... but it is worth it...... y'all can trust Uncle Eric on that one......

..... and if you took the time to watch the first one?..... then waste another six minutes and give this one a gander...... it won't hurt a bit, I promise..... well, it might..... but it is worth it.....

...... I'm off to heat up the skillet for the salmon and mix myself a gin and tonic......

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Moistened......

..... earlier today I arrived inside from watering the lawn and sat down to read a lovely book called "The Discovery of Scotland", by Maurice Lindsay..... it's quite an extraordinary little book that focuses on ancient written accounts from foreigners as they flitted around The Old Country..... as a matter of fact, the by-line for the 1st edition (published in 1964) is "Based on Accounts of Foreign Travelers from the Thirteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries"....

.... as a lover of language, it is enthralling to see old-style English in a modernly published form..... and all in all, all I can say is that we modern scribblers are extremely fucking dry in our writing prowess.... and our predecessor's vocabularies are veritable zoos compared to our cramped and ineffectual little menageries.....

..... and as an example, I'll give you a small extract from Captain Edward Burt's visit to Edinburgh in 1726.... he is describing the emptying of chamber pots.....

"We supped very plentifully, and drank good French claret, and were very merry till the clock struck ten, the hour when everybody is at liberty, by beat of the city drum, to throw their filth out at the windows. Then the company began to light pieces of paper and throw them upon the table to smoke the room, and as I thought, to mix one bad smell with another.

Being in my retreat to pass through a long narrow wynde or alley, to go to my new lodgings, a guide was assigned me, who went before me to prevent my disgrace, crying out all the way with a loud voice, 'Hud your haunde'. Throwing up of a sash or otherwise opening a window, made me tremble, while behind and before me, at some little distance, fell the terrible shower.

Well, I escaped all the danger, and arrived, not only safe and sound, but sweet and clean, at my new quarters; but when I was in bed I was forced to hide my head between the sheets; for the smell of the filth, thrown out by the neighbours on the back side of the house, came pouring into the room to such a degree, I was almost poisoned by the stench."

.... personally I just love the way that Mr. Burt breaks up his sentences with cleverly placed commas instead of using verbs..... and while I enjoyed his tale of dodging human waste whilst attempting to get home, the really cutting language came in the small paragraph that followed his quote...... and here it is in all its glory....

This unsanitary menace took some eradicating, for even after Edinburgh Town Council had put the practice outside the law, Dr. Johnson was still able to observe, half a century later, that at ten o'clock, many a splendid head-dress was "moistened into flaccidity".

..... did y'all catch that?..... "moistened into flaccidity"?...... I'm sorry, but that is one helluva beautiful phrase.... who would pen such pretty words in this day and age?..... and add to the idea that those expressive, eloquent words are being applied to one having shit dumped on their heads, and you simply have sheer brilliance......

.... of course, Dr. Johnson DID write the Dictionary of the English Language back in 1755...... so one would expect his vocabulary to be pretty damn spiffy.....

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Indecision.....

... everything has a place, I suppose....

.... it's a simple enough notion, really..... but for some reason I find it a little astonishing at times..... sitting here this morning, I keep looking out the window at one of the dogwood trees that died this spring....

... tall, half-mature.... thin, but still large enough to have berried just last spring, it is gangly and cracked now..... bracketed between another of its drought-fallen brethren and a hardy oak, it stands leafless with bits of bare wood showing where dried bark has sloughed......

.... I've contemplated taking axe to hand and removing it, but I have always stopped just shy of beginning the task... should I remove it just because it is dead?..... what is the purpose of a lawn, really?.... is there not beauty in the ragged form it now takes?.... and lessons to be learned by letting it stand?

.... even in decay, it is useful to some..... Life thrives on it.... I see woodpeckers come and go - pausing to peck and search in the folds of flaking bark... in death is it not just as beautiful - and useful - as it was in life?..

..... then again, maybe I'm just the lazy neighbor who has a dead tree in his yard......

.... I need more coffee to continue contemplation....

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Father's Day.....

..... more music, I'm afraid....... but still, it is good music......

..... for Dad..... I wish that you were still around, sir...... you are missed..... very, very much so....

.........Mexican Home......

.... my Pa died at the end April and not August, but still, it seems the same to me... he is missed.....

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Moisture.....

.... the world is wet....

..... thunderstorms arrived late last night and they rumbled and flashed until morning..... they moved off slowly to the northeast as daybreak arrived..... but even now at nearly noon, a few remaining stragglers are still here....

.... absolutely everything is soaked..... bark, limbs, leaves, grass, flowers, and stems - it is all lacquered with a fine sheen of shimmering dampness..... the storms were loud, but the rain that they brought fell unhurried and gently all night long...... even the air is wet...... it smells of the damp, musty earth & the heavy, sweet perfume of honeysuckle blossoms.... warm and moist and sweet, if you close your eyes, you can almost imagine taking a bite out of it.... as if the very atmosphere is somehow laced with candy.....

... the rain is falling so lightly that it hardly makes a noise, and instead there are the clicks & taps of the drips from the leaves....

..... the trees outside my window are losing the moisture as it gathers on their leaves..... languid, fat droplets slide slowly down until they find the edge - and after a moment of hesitation, they drop........ and land with a heavy bursting in the damp grass....

..... a warm, wet, shiny Southern Sunday morning...... all in all, not a bad thing to wake up to......

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Beautiful.....

..... I witnessed true beauty in so many different ways today..... I swear, I would tell you, but you just wouldn't believe me..... but you know, sometimes you just have to see something to truly appreciate it...... and so, I leave you with a tiny, tiny hunk of today's gorgeousness.......

..... sorry for the lack of content lately, I've been a bit busy........ and hey, I've just had better things to do........ but I still miss y'all...... you know that, right?......

..... so go forth and seek out butterflies while I am away..... trust me, you will enjoy it..... I certainly did.... art is art.... no matter what form you find it in.....

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Itch....

..... for a while I was an avid genealogist..... I was dogged and voracious and searched incessantly....... I spent hours cataloging my ancestors...... I read hundreds of books, scoured countless census records, and eagerly jotted each name, date, and location onto ream upon ream of paper.... and then after a while, I slotted each disembodied name into a 'family tree' database.....

... I suppose that it all began innocently enough..... you wake up one morning, take a sip of coffee and look at your surname and think, "gee, I wonder where I came from."..... and from that moment forward, your search begins...... you find yourself on the phone long-distance with elderly Great Uncles & Aunts.... prying birthdates, marriages, and maiden names from them as they strain to hear your voice over the wires..... over the miles, over the ocean, over the years and years of Time....

... God knows that I irritated most of my living relatives half to death with my persistent questioning.... but at the time, I was completely consumed with putting all of the pieces together..... but now, the bug is gone.... I reached a point - and I am not sure exactly where or when it was - that I stopped.... a point where whatever itch I had was finally scratched..... four years and 10,000 names, and I was done.....

.... 10,000 names, my goodness..... it seems so odd to type that number and actually see it sitting there..... but there it is.....

.... the result of all of this, of course, is that I now find myself in the odd position of being the 'family historian'.... as more and more of the older generation slide off to the hereafter, I seem to be fielding more and more questions from the younger cousins about "where we came from"....

... it's a strange juxtaposition....... one the one hand, I gladly give them whatever information they ask for..... but on the other hand there is a part of me that is greedy with 'what I know'.... stingy with the products of MY searching.... how I found out that 'Hull' was actually "Hohl" two hundred years ago... and how the family fled Germany in 1735.... I somehow feel a strange sense of protection over the history that I have learned...... a weird sense of pride in having pieced together so much on my own through research & toil....

.... but I know that isn't the right way to feel..... I should give - and I do..... after all, their itches are just as itchy as mine was when I was their age..... and now I am The One With The Answers.... I just have a lot more answers now than those old Great Aunts and Uncles had when I asked them 15 years ago.....

... my Mother brought an old photo circa 1910 by the house a few days ago.... it was of my paternal Great Grandfather & Great Grandmother.... she was excited to show it to me as she hadn't seen it before.... I laughed and thanked her....and then proceeded to show her the same photograph neatly tucked away in a bulging binder on the bookshelf.... she was both shocked AND pleased that my old genealogy addiction had been so thorough years ago.....

.... she sat on the couch and I told her my Great Grandmother's maiden name, who her first husband was, that her father was a noted physician, that when she died her hair was long enough to brush the ground as she walked, that she was widowed a second time when her husband in the photo died, and how her youngest son took her in with his family to care for her in her old age, I told her of how her Great Great Grandfather had been killed by the Cherokee, and how his father had landed penniless in Philadelphia.......

.... why do I know all of this? .... other than being an interesting story to tell, what other purpose does it hold?......

.... what was that itch that sprang upon me and drove me to search out name after name, detail after detail all those years ago? .... what was I looking for?..... what did I hope to find?.....

.... I've long since been cured from whatever forced me search out my ancestors.... but for the life of me, I still don't understand it..... we all have ancestors..... and in the end, they were people just like us... just people.... working, living, loving, fighting, failing, yearning, hating, trying, creating, destroying......

.... I wish that I knew what kicked-off that itch...... but even more, I wish that I knew what cured it....

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Mugging....

.... beautiful springtime has birthed her blooms and sprouts around here, but she's also brought along something else.... the insects.....

.... I watched a fat, long-legged Crane fly get predated by a jumping spider this morning while I sipped my coffee and read blogs.... I felt kinda bad for it, actually.... I mean, I understand that it is just Nature doing her thing, but still.... I can imagine a lot more ways of checking out that would be much better than having your innards liquefied and greedily sucked out by some spider... then again, I haven't heard of any spiders that are large enough to chase me down and suck out MY guts.... but even though I am safe, part of my psyche just can't help but do a little projecting.....

.... anyway, I bring this up merely to highlight the fact that today's 'spider watching' was completely different from all the other 'spider watchings' that I've written about before....

.... today's voyeuristic viewing was much, MUCH more violent...

.... all of the other times in which I have sat and philosophically watched a spider do its thing, there has been a web involved..... and with the web comes the tangling, the writhing, and an incredibly hopeless terror .... and as the web vibrates the spindly spider cautiously approaches the struggling prey... then, once in range, a quick bite... and then a retreat for the venom to take hold...... the victim slows, attempts to resist, strains to flee, and slows a bit more.... and then, once the web is completely still, the owner of the web creeps in for the feast......

... it's a marvelously thought-provoking thing to watch... on lots and lots of levels.... there is the quiet, delicate inevitability that the spider represents.... the fear of the web... the hopelessness of The Trap.... immobility, fangs, life, fear, struggling, death.... trust me, folks... watching spiders is a goldmine if you lean your mind to just the right angle.....

.... but what I saw this morning had nothing 'delicate' about it.... from beginning to end, it was more akin to a mugging... or a prison-yard gangland shanking.... it was quick, it was overpowering, and it was fascinatingly brutal..... I'd like to say that the Crane fly never knew what hit him, but I can't.... the spider grabbed him by the head - and eye-to-eye as he was slowly sucked dry - he definitely knew what had him.... they were face to face as one fed and the other watched....

.... what a helluva way to go.... it's one thing to be helplessly tangled in a web as some weedy little spider slowly creeps towards you.... but it is another concept entirely when a spider built like a linebacker runs up, grabs you, and holds you nice and still while it does as it pleases with you....

... the whole scene was just so odd, really........ I'd always thought of spiders as predators..... but I'd never thought of them as aggressive until today.... in truth, it it is quite a frightening concept to wrap your mind around.....

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Henna....

.... well, the Deed is Done....... and the planning for this year's springtime visit to Ecosse is actively afoot.... the tickets have been purchased....

.... it appears that May the 7th shall find us jetting jetlaggedly from Manchester northwards to Aberdeen.... upon arrival, there shall be a groggy Mercedes ride from the airport to the tiny town of Ballater..... once there, we'll spend the remainder of the week at The World's Smallest Hilton playing snooker, drinking scotch, and gazing out the windows at the Highland Countryside....

.... my goodness, time seems to by flying by...... it feels like just yesterday we were wandering around Belgium, France, and Germany..... but, wow, that was September....... and last October saw my house filled again with insane bloggers....... and now it is already almost time to jet off again......

.... last year my Brother in Law made the trip.... and this year he is planning to do so again AND bringing his bride with him as well.....it will be nice to see her again after all this time.... the last time that I saw her she was swimming in silk, dripping in gold, covered in henna scribblings, and saying goodbye to all of her wedding guests in Dhaka...

... 8 years...... wow...... it certainly doesn't seem like 8 years ago.....

..... the beautiful Miss Time, boys and girls, she certainly is a zippy one.....

.... I awoke this morning remembering my Herrick.... and now that I've got some coffee down me, I guess I'll share.....

To the Virgins, to make much of Time, by Robert Herrick

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today

To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,

The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,

And nearer he's to setting.
That age is best which is the first,

When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst

Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,

And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,

You may for ever tarry.

..... and with that, I'm off..... for in a strange fit of un-Eric-like behavior, I actually have a few charitable tasks that I must perform today...... y'all be good...

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Wealth.....

..... I drove into the tiny town nearby today for a haircut.....Eva, the ma'am who owns the shop, was found well, smiling, and deeply-into knotting some poor elderly lady's hair around about 1600 pink plastic curlers..... I took my leave when I saw the scene and headed across the street to the bank..... both out of respect for the poor lady's predicament AND the fact that I had only one lonely dollar in my wallet..... and, of course, Eva charges THREE dollars to snip my noggin into military regulation......

.... I've written about Miss Eva quite a few times here...... and a few of you have seemed to connect somewhat with the tales that I've shared of Just What It Is Like To Get A Haircut In The South For Three Dollars...... but today a bomb was dropped that I never saw coming...... and for the life of me, I still cannot truly imagine just what Eva's smile meant as she told me the story.....

.... first off, the building that her little barbershop inhabits is quite literally falling down around her.... the door is continually ajar in all weathers since it won't bolt properly.... the center of the tiny shop is alternately littered with fans, air conditioning equipment, or portable heaters..... all depending upon what the weather is like outside...... and her barber equipment is ancient by any standard..... and yet three days a week - all year long - she plies her trade on the local population of antique pensioners..... and she is in VERY high demand, I might add...... as her youngest customer, I usually have to call a week in advance to see if she can fit me into her tight schedule of musty, sweet, matronly Southern Women.... oh, and she has a 'pact' of sorts with her lady-customers...... once they finally pop their proverbial clogs and ascend towards their Baptist Heavens, she will visit their funeral home of choice and coif them one last time before their eternal rest..... and to ensure that archeologists in the far, far distant future will have excellent evidence of ancient hairspray technology....

.... be that as it may, I visit Eva loyally every three weeks..... it's not that I'm a skinflint.... far from it, actually.... hell, if anything, I'm a spendthrift of the highest order........ no, it's just that each visit to her little World offers some sort of revelation that just isn't to be missed.... every visit - just like clockwork - something happens or is heard that amazes me...... I don't always get the deeper meaning or much of the subtlety.... but I definitely leave there feeling like something unique happened... something important and profound..... something beautiful..... I don't always understand it, but I do know that it is there....

...I once inquired about an extremely elderly lady whose head was baking gently under some dome-shaped apparatus.... the reply boggled my weak little mind....

.... in a Southern accent that melts in your mouth like fresh honey, she spoke..... "Oh, her?..... ahhh.... that's Ms. Gentry..... her husband, Bob, he must have passed away ten or so years ago..... her granddaughter told her she should get her hair colored.... so, here she is.... "

..."wow... that looks like a lot of work..... how much do you charge to do that?".....

.... "oh, I charge 26 dollars...... I've charged 26 dollars since 1974...... trouble is, now that darned old coloring kit costs 23 dollars..... "

...."ok.... wait just a minute.... so the kit costs 23 dollars and you only charge 26?".....

... "..... yes, Eric..... that's right.... times certainly change, don't they?..... still, I do so enjoy chatting with Ms. Gentry when she comes in..... it takes about an hour to do the full process, but I do believe that she'll enjoy the results when her hair is finally dried and I've fixed it up nice for her.." .....

.... "so you work for an hour and get paid three dollars?"

.... "awww... I wouldn't call it work, really..... it's just what I do.... and I do enjoy seeing the ladies...." ....

..... that was two years ago.... 2006...... fast forward to today..... I get up and try to pay five dollars for my haircut... only to have Eva rummage through her purse for 10 minutes looking for two dollars in change..... she was absolutely determined that I get 17 dollars back after I handed her a twenty...... I even said that she could consider the other two dollars as a 'tip', but she was not about to budge......

.... I thanked her as I turned to leave...... but she began to speak, so I turned back around to listen..... she'd lit a cigarette and had taken a cross-legged seat in the chair that I had just risen from...... all five feet of her was delicately sat in that old Naugahyde chair as if she had been born to be sitting just so, in that seat, with a cigarette in her wrinkled hand.....

..... "Have y'all done your taxes yet?...... My husband and I, we drove into Athens last week and did ours..... which is unusual for us, actually, since we normally wait until the very last moment.... but last week, we went..... we went to that 'H&R Block' over near Ingles?...... well, I have to tell you this, Eric...... and I know that I should be embarrassed, but I'm really not..... in truth, I giggle every time that I think of it....... see, we took all of our records and such over to The Tax Man last week.... and do you know what I cleared on my business for last year?...... ha!.... forty-six hundred dollars!..... can you imagine that?..... I still giggle a little bit every time I think of it...... but, ahhh, it's not about the money, now is it, honey?".....

..... I laughed with her and shook my head...... "no, ma'am, it isn't...... but I honestly don't see why you do it.... and thank you for fitting me in, Eva...... you're a one of a kind...... I'll see you in three weeks, ok?.."

.... she laughed again and smudged out the smoking end of her cigarette against the sides of a Rock Top Market ashtray.....

.... "I'll be right here, honey...... just remember to bring ones next time, please...that twenty made me nervous..... I hate looking for quarters.." ....

.... I walked my way out to where I had parked the car and simply could not get "$4,600" off of my mind.....

.... Eva isn't a wealthy woman.... far from it...... sure, her husband is living on a very nice retirement, but they are a long, long way from being wealthy...... and yet she laughs and smiles and says "forty-six hundred dollars" as if it is a great cosmic joke on The Taxman..... and then she charges me three dollars for a 1/2 hour haircut..... I just don't get it........ I really don't....

.... having pondered this story a few times whilst sipping a Scotch, I wonder if Eva is the last of a dying breed of Original Community Service Volunteers.....perhaps she just enjoys providing those old ladies with a friendly face to chat with, a new hairdo, and a few hours out of their houses..... god knows that she certainly isn't running the business to make money....... $4,600....... I swear...

.... perhaps she has more Love of Community.... or Love of Humanity, perhaps..... than anyone I have ever met.....

.... perhaps she is happier at work than she is at home.....

.... perhaps her work there in her squalid little shop is much more rewarding than I can imagine......

.... perhaps she is afraid of NOT working.... afraid of being idle...... does her work define her somehow?......

..... I don't really know what to think...... but I do know what I would LIKE to think..... and that is that she is doing what she is doing because she loves seeing people walk in her door in need of a haircut.... and watching them walk out with zero need for a haircut..... a haircut, a smile, some mild chitchat about the lottery, places you've been, what's on Oprah, etc......

.... either way, I don't know for sure why it is that she does what she does...... but one thing is for certain...... three weeks from today, I'll be seeing her again...... and believe it or not, that idea makes me happy..... three dollars more or less really doesn't factor into it all that much......

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Angry....

..... via The Count, I read this earlier today......

..... I don't talk about politics here on my blog..... the way that I see it, what you choose to believe is none of my business.... just as what I believe is none of yours in regards to politics..... but as I read the article, I knew it was worth sharing......

.... I don't know if there really is an "Angry White Man" roaming the streets and fields of America or not.... or even if there are millions of them...... but I thought that The Idea was a truly interesting one..... either way, it is definitely worth your time to read..... if simply for the difference in perspective that it offers.....

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Notions.....

.... earlier today I photographed a Northern Flicker as it vied with a blue jay for some doomed insect beneath the purple blossoms of my tea cup magnolia..... it was a large bird and caught my attention because of its size..... my lawn is seldom visited by avian visitors that are larger than a blue jay, so it was a bit conspicuous.....

.... I snapped a few photographs as he flitted about, but didn't really get any good ones....... still though, here he is....

flicker_small.jpg

.... quite a pretty bird, really...... and if you happened to dig into that wikipedia article that I linked above, they are evidently known as 'Yellowhammers" down in Alabama..... what an excellent name.... "The Yellowhammer".... the Alabama state bird...... Confederate troops from Alabama were known as Yellowhammers as well...... pretty interesting......

... it was good to see another bird sit on the ground and intimidate an evil blue jay, though...... the jays around here have been mortal terrors to most of other songbirds this spring...... every spring, in truth....... but wow, trust it to be a humble woodpecker that could finally cow a blue jay.......

.... I've always thought that blue jays are just plain evil....... they are tormenters and thieves...... and while they may be quite fetching in their blue and white suits, their screeching calls are enough to send chills up the backs of the most fortitudinous of animal husbanders.....

.... my Grandfather once spent a long winter & springtime staying with my family when I was a teenager...... my Mother had endured a fairly severe back surgery in the autumn, and dear ole Grandpa volunteered to stay with us and look after her while she healed.... so while Dad was away at work & my brother and I were away at school, Grandpa puttered around the house, did the dishes, planted a garden, and looked after his eldest daughter.......

..... I remember arriving home from school on spring afternoon and having him take me by the elbow and escort me outside....

.... "boy", says he, "I have a mission for you."

.... intrigued (and slightly scared), I asked him what he required of me.... (you always did what Grandpa said..)

..... "Them damn blue jays", he began.... "they're eating the hell out of my strawberries.... and they've run off with each and every cherry that your Dad's cherry tree produced this year...... you've still got that old Hopkins & Allen shotgun that I gave you when you turned 10, don't you?"....

... "yes, sir..."

.... "good.... because you are going to need it..... go and fetch that shotgun, Eric....... and for every blue jay that you bring me this spring, I will give you a dollar.... "

.... I nodded knowingly and went off to fetch it....... two months and three boxes of shells later, and I had managed to cull 28 blue jays from our 1.5 acre back yard in the hours between schools-out and bedtime.....

..... looking back now, a dollar was a lot of money for a 12 year old back in 1984..... and now that I think of it, hell, a dollar is still a lot of money to me now in 2008..... but I'll never forget that spring.... and just how happily Grandpa parted with his money each time I showed up holding a mangled blue jay by their cold, scaly, little black feet....

.... it must be genetics, I guess...... since I have completely inherited his hatred of blue jays....... then again, after having watched them mob a mama-bird and father-bird, drive them from their nest, and then eat their struggling fledgling alive on the wing, perhaps a hatred of jays is a learned behavior....... and not genetic after all...... I just don't know.....

.... but it is an interesting idea, I suppose - where we choose to draw the line.... that line where we, as human beings, deem something vile simply because it harshes our mellow, or drives away our joy.... where we imagine that a beast is imbued with the same characteristics as we....... we have a power that we must be very careful with.....

...... "It destroys that which I enjoy... therefore it must go." ...... "It is a bully!"..... "It preys upon the weak... and the weak are to be nurtured and made well."..... it is an interesting paradox......

..... often we look at the world that surrounds us, and we sometimes interject morals of our own which are not shared by our animal cousins..... and that is a scary, scary thing...... but it is an incredibly easy thing.....

.... it is all too alluring to get caught up when watching birds, bees, and deer....... and then to measure their predators with our own internal yardsticks of morality....

.... but in reality, there is no malice in the actions of a crow, blue jay, coyote, or wolf...... they are just filling their niche.......

..... but I'm still going to hunt coyotes...... but not out of some internal moral juxtaposition....... I am going to hunt them because I like it....... the bunnies be damned.......

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Cool......

...... good evening, rubberneckers..... I hope that this day found you all well & happily hammering away at whatever it is that you hammerheads get up to on a Saturday.... as for myself, well, it is a cool and rainy day here..... 50 degrees and 100% humidity.... camping weather if there ever was any......

... but alas, there is no camping to be had today or tomorrow.... fainter hearts in the household have poo-poo'ed the idea and have chosen instead to crank the heat up to 75 degrees, flip on The History Channel's program about the colonization of Mars, and munch on potato chips while I prepare chicken parmesan for dinner..... not a bad trade, really.... besides, I'm getting soft and tender in my old age.... and I have found that I much prefer to dig into a nice meal as the evening ends vice a Styrofoam cup of Ramen noodles & a Rice Krispie treat.......

.... don't get me wrong, though.... the fire is still there, folks..... that immortal, simmering nugget of adventure..... I just don't feel the need to actively fan it lately.... besides, my chicken parmesan kicks ass.....

.... anyway, despite the rain and gloom of today, we did actually venture into town to browse through four or five of the local antique shops..... now, I'm not a very good browser, per se..... I'm much more of a seek-find-pay-and-move-on-to-the-next-task kinda guy.... but when the weather is foul, I've found that the welcoming warmth of a antique shop can magically transform me into a fairly good 'browser'.... hey, it beats diddy-bopping down the sidewalk in a chilling drizzle, no?...

.... come to think of it, I'm not that good of a diddy-bopper either..... perhaps I should have said "ambling" instead..... hell, I can amble with the best of 'em.......

.... but be that as it may, I'm off to start cooking dinner....

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Pounds....

...... so as you do, I spent the evening yesterday asking The Missus just exactly what she desired - above all else - to take place today (our 14th Anniversary).... her reply was that she wished to dine upon a Scottish Shepherd's Pie, watch a DVD or two, have some wine, and pet the kitties....... and I am happy to report that all was accomplished as requested....

.... in fact, she ran into the blogroom last night after dinner waving her arms and jumping around like a whirling dervish..... it seems that she had put the old Sinatra/Brando version of "Guys And Dolls" in the DVD player...... and come to find out, Nathan and Adelaide (in the film) were celebrating their "14th Anniversary" of becoming engaged........ hey, who knew??.... but regardless, that little nugget of information excited her....... she was fit to be tied......

.... and hey, as much as I admire the monumental achievement that is a 14-year engagement, I have to admit that watching Marlon Brando slip those rum-drinks to Jean Simmons was not only a magnificent achievement, but an evil, evil, deeply EVIL moment as well........ I mean, where would you rather be?... hanging in Havana while coaxing the inner 'dirty dancer" out of an inebriated Jean Simmons, or squatting in a sewer shooting dice with a bunch of singing & dancing thugs?..... indeed, I rest my case......

... as for me, I'd be safely tucked in bed awaiting the morning's prayer meeting, of course...... I am as pure as the driven snow..... give or take an errant snowflake or two....

.... in other news, I know that I promised "lots of pictures" in my last post, but that got shot down by The Powers That Be...... it seems that The Missus is much more shy than I reckoned, I guess...... and as it turns out, there are relatively few photos that she approves of from The Night In Question....... which is understandable, really..... Brides are seldom completely settled with how they look/looked/wanted-to-look...... and in truth, that amazes me.....

.... what guy didn't look at his bride and think that she was a vision of perfection on their wedding day?.....

..... anyway, the photo that follows is of the "first dance" at our reception..... Gene Kelly, I most certainly ain't..... I think I spent the whole dance watching my feet and trying not to trample her wedding gown..... oh, and notice the lovable scowl on the new bride's face?.... someone had rushed out onto the floor and gathered up her gown and placed the hem in her hand so that she would keep from stepping on it..... needless to say, The New Missus was not amused......

dancing.jpg

..... we were both so nervous and so young, my goodness...... but wow, what a ride..... these past 14 years have flown by..... I'm 50lbs heavier now than I was then... but to me, she hasn't changed a bit......

.... Happy Anniversary, my dear.....

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Easter....

..... today's Easter festivities were held at my wonderful Aunt Frances' place near Tellico Plains, Tennessee..... and it was quite a party..... we were all well-fed, the children ran rampant, and great conversations were enjoyed...... it seems sometimes that we only truly connect with our extended relatives during the holidays..... and while that is a beautiful thing, it is a sign of our lack of communication in a much more broad way...... and I wish that weren't so.....

.. in truth, I must admit that the Easter celebrations with my family have changed quite a bit since I myself was a pink & blue be-decked nipper running around in a strange set of khakis and filling my Easter basket........

.... see, back in my day, we'd dress in our Sunday finest, don crazy Easter hats, and search among the hidden Easter eggs for the old plastic 'super-egg' that contained the cash prize...... now, it is more about communing and watching the kids play........ I suspect that is just the nature of things.....

..... or perhaps that's simply because I'm 35 now and not 12..... but still, it is noticeable in its absence - that feeling....... most days I wake up thinking I'm still 12, actually........ but by noon, most of that has faded away....... Easter will always remain the most carefree of holidays for me, as strange as that sounds.......

..... religion has very little to do with my old memories....

.... but hey, that reminds me, what was the name of that pantyhose manufacturer who put their hose in over-sized plastic eggs?.... I can't recall off the top of my head, but those big eggs always had a ten dollar bill inside them when Easter came to my neck of the woods......... looking back now, the resourcefulness of a group of hormonal Hillbillies has never ceased to amaze me....... and hey, there is nothing like cracking open a giant plastic egg and finding folding money tucked away inside it!..........

.... but I digress, as I usually do..... but anyway, today was a beautiful day..... and I enjoyed being with my family very, very much...... not all were there, of course, but those that were there were complete pleasures....... four generations collected - all eating a hillbilly version of a low-country boil out of the bed of a wheelbarrow...... what's not to love?........

..... honestly, you can't make this stuff up....... t'was the first time that I'd ever eaten boiled shrimp, potatoes, onions, carrots, and kielbasa sausage out of a wheelbarrow before, friends...... but somehow, well, I don't suspect that it'll be the last time....... and that, as strange as it sounds, will not be a bad thing...... it will be a very, very good thing......

..... Happy Easter.....

.... here is a small portion of my drive out to visit the family....... I hope you enjoy it....

... y'all be good.....

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Here....

..... I'm not sure if y'all recognized it or not - in between all the hubbub surrounding March Madness, and all - but today was a day where TCM showed the "7th Voyage of Sinbad", "It Came From Beneath The Sea", AND "Jason And The Argonauts"....... all within an 8 hour period........

.... I don't know about you guys, but watching those three films slaked my hunger for cheesy melodramas for easily the next quarter-century..... and hey, that is saying a lot...... trust me...

..... but today was a beautiful day here...... I truly wish that I could convey just how gorgeous it was, but I can't - not with words...... but I will say this; It was the first short-sleeved day...... the first day where you could walk out without a coat and feel the sun rising on your skin - begging towards the upcoming need for sunscreen....... blustery winds, blue skies, and newly sprouted grass freshly mown for the first time....... it was the smell, I think, that triggered it all....... spring is here, finally...... and while we may have a few cold days scattered here and there, today was The First Day Of Spring....... and I could not have been more happy...... it has been a long time coming, and it is welcome..... very, very, very welcome.....

...... not because of the particularly bad weather this season, no..... but simply because I've missed the sunshine....... I have missed it so very much........ and it is good to see the Sunshine here again......

.... people never truly miss something until it is gone, I guess....... and today I was given a taste of what I have yearned for over the past four months..... Prison is out, ladies and gentlemen....... Winter is gone....... finally..... but Spring is here.....

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Titmouse....

..... the thunder is rolling here on my damp little patch of Tennessee and a gentle rain is currently falling..... earlier this morning there was wind, stinging rain, and clouds that seemed to swing in low and touch the tops of the trees.... but now there is just a slow, cleansing rain and a faraway thunder as the clouds climb the mountains to the east...

.... most storms arrive from the southwest, cross over us here in the valley, and then are crushed against the cold mountains to the east..... today's showers were no different... more may follow later tonight, of course, but for now, there is a dripping, trickling peacefulness...... that infamous calm between the storms that we've all heard so much about in fable and lore, I guess...... but here - right now - it is real.....

..... pan-seared Caesar shrimp, Thai garlic & ginger rice, and a salad will soon be prepared in the kitchen..... I'm stoked.....

..... other than that, there isn't much going on this lazy afternoon...... although, I did experience a strange kind of angst today whilst seated during a heated game of Scrabble with The Missus.... and it disturbed me a bit......

..... it is odd, actually, the realization of angst.... see, a few weeks back, I put up a birdfeeder on the front porch.... and after seeing what a wonderful success it was, I quickly purchased another for the back yard.... and since placing them both, I have been very vigilant at ensuring that there is always fresh food, they are always well-stocked, and that they are clean..... and I have taken an even greater pleasure in whipping out my 'Audubon's Field Guide to The Southeast' every time a new species arrives on one of the feeders for a snack..... to date, well, I've personally witnessed 14 different species......

..... but here is the problem...... I am overrun with titmice.... those little bastards are everywhere..... and while I do have the occasional cardinal, nuthatch, red-winged blackbird, chickadee, vireo, woodpecker, sparrow, finch, and dark-eyed junco, the damnable titmice are a continuous swirl of feathers and pointy-heads......

.... today, a woodpecker nearly missed meeting His Maker as he munched on sunflower seeds..... it was Bob's fault, actually.... evil cat that he is...... that poor woodpecker was spared by less than an inch as Bob crept around the base of a poplar tree and attacked...... I was horrified..... I saw what was going on and stood up from the Scrabble table to warn the lucky woodpecker just as the action intensified...... luckily, all of my wildlife was still alive as I walked out onto the porch to chastise Bob.....

..... and that's when it happened..... and I'm still kind of disappointed in myself.....

.... I looked down at Bob, wagged my finger at him, and said, "Bob!.... Dammit!..... do NOT eat the woodpeckers, vireos, juncos, cardinals, chickadees, blackbirds, sparrows, finches, or nuthatches!!.... we value our diversity here, hammerhead!.... eat a fucking titmouse, boy, there are millions of them..... eat all you want, thin'em out, gorge yourself.... but leave the odd ones, boy, they are for looking at, not eating.... "

.... all I got was a feeble, meek "meow" in return..... you really can't reason logically with a cat anyway, but I just had to say my peace.....

..... and once I returned to the Scrabble table, what I had just done hit me hard right between the eyes..... and I was shocked with myself........ for somewhere, deep, deep in my soul, I had made a moral decision that it was alright for Bob to eat titmice simply because there were more of them around....... I couldn't believe that I had actually said what I had...... in essence, "dine on the plentiful, Bob, not the exotic.." ..... and instead of insisting that he not eat ANY bird, I forsook the innocent, ever-flitting titmouse..... casting their species into the Pit of Free-Range Cat Food for my own selfish reasons......

.... I suspect that I am just an evil person..... that somehow my innate Human Nature has joined up with The Understanding Of Cats, and that I just cut my proverbial losses and bowed to the inevitable urge that a cat has to hunt....... but I am still quite shocked by how my mind immediately leapt..... should not my love of nature also reach out to the titmouse community?..... should I be an equal protector, defender, and nature-lover?...... or am I just a realist......

.... I figure I should just shoot Bob and be done with it, quite frankly..... this kind of internal angst over a damn titmouse is just uncalled for.....

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Tests.....

..... a wild, violent storm blew through my county today.... tiny hail, lightning flashes, and booming, growling, minute-long thunder.... it was quite a sight........ I had an appointment in town that I had to tend to, and its timing managed to allow me to be caught out on the road when the deluge arrived..... rain-sheets and a boiling sky were my companions as I made my way back homewards......

...... funny, I know, but I could not help but think of that scene in 'Saving Private Ryan' where everyone is waiting to jump from their gliders and the AA rounds are exploding all around them - peppering their aircraft with shrapnel....... that hollow thump-twing that just makes you sound penetrated...... targeted...... exposed.......

..... that is exactly what the wind-driven hail sounded like as it dinged off my hood and windshield today.......

.... as I drove along the two lane road, I found myself amazed that I could actually see the individual waves of rain as they danced on the road in front of me...... and then to feel them hit the windscreen and witness my wipers straining to keep up?...... it so absolutely surreal........ I thought at two points that I might actually drown........

..... but in spite of my drowning reflex being tweaked, I still almost pulled over when I was halfway back to my little hometown...... I know that it is crazy, but a part of my mind thought, "hey!..... just pull off to the side of the road up there where that guy has that field of calves, relax, light a cigarette, and recline your seat...... just sit here in the car with Knoxville's Classic Rock radio station playing the undercurrents, your cell-phone jammed under your left thigh in case anyone calls, and let that beautiful, mean, angry rain just slam down on your soft-top..... Sylvia won't mind in the least..... hell, she'll probably enjoy it..... after all, you have no place else to be just now....... and hey, it isn't going to kill you..... so enjoy it!"......

..... but, well, I didn't do that........

..... I kept to the speed limit, turned my wipers up a bit higher than normal, turned off that fool radio, and tooled on back to the compound and made myself a homemade burrito......

.... but there are things that we just miss in life, really..... important things...... things that help to define us as Who We Are........ and then there are those niggling little voices in the backs of our heads which tell us to eat that last cheeseburger, packet of onion rings, or tiny pile of tater tots.....

..... which one is right?..... I have no idea..... which voice is to be listened to?........ you certainly can count me out on the voting......... honestly, I have no fucking clue......

..... but I will tell you this, and this is a ice-cold fact, rubberneckers, so listen closely........ sure, I didn't pull over today and let the rain pelt me while I attempted to find some sort of Zen Peace in The Moment, I still feel absolutely blown away by everything that I saw....

..... so, I guess the real question is?....... damn, you got me.... I have no idea........

.... then again, perhaps each road is just a different test........ and those tests arrive for each of us at different times......

..... either way, all I can really tell you is this: I would have enjoyed today regardless of having stopped by the side of the road or having continued my drive........

..... but I think I should have stopped and let the the rain hit me... pound me..... drench me..... chill me.......

.... I think that I missed an opportunity....

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Banging.....

.... a tall, spindly dogwood tree that stands just a few feet from the blogroom window died this past summer.... a poplar about thirty yards away fell victim to the same drought as well..... I hated losing either tree, truthfully, but last summer was brutal.... and well, those things just can't be helped..... with everything everywhere there is an ebb and flow.....

... I bring this up merely to report that I have been watching a woodpecker hammer that dilapidated dogwood with his noggin for the past fifteen minutes..... from where I sit, it doesn't appear that he's managed much headway.... but you can't fault him for lack of effort.....

.... which brings me to the point, I suppose..... if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I'd hate to peck through an eggshell (somewhere hugely distant in the future) and realize that I was looking up out of a nest with a big mother woodpecker gazing lovingly down at me.....

.... I wrote about woodpeckers two years ago, and I still haven't managed to use "woodpeckered" in a conversation yet... not that it really matters, of course, I just thought I'd mention it..... but while I still greatly admire their ability to fly at full speed directly at a tree and pull-up perfectly to avoid collision, I can't really say that actually being a woodpecker would be too much fun......

.... I mean, just imagine that every single time that you found yourself even the slightest bit hungry, you had to zip around looking for a refrigerator to head-butt until someone tossed you a sandwich...... what a life, eh?....

.... I reckon that in the great cosmic scheme of things, woodpeckers were probably pretty evil fellows in their former lives.... tax collectors or email spammers or people who kicked kittens.... something along those lines.... I mean, even dung beetles just eat crap.... at least they don't have to smash their heads incessantly into hard surfaces every time they want some sustenance.... crap-eaters or not, I suspect that they're a little higher on the karmic waiting list.... being a woodpecker must be a complete drag.....

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Hookah-sky....

.... there is a storm coming tonight.... and Townes Van Zandt is playing an acoustic set from the stereo behind me while I watch the wind in the trees outside..... the temperature has hovered in the mid-40s all day, but a steady 10mph breeze that has gusted to 25mph occasionally has made the day feel much, much colder.....

.... as it stands right now with dusk quickly approaching, we're predicted to get either snow, sleet, or rain after nightfall.... so our local meteorologists are covering all of their bases as they try to blab over Townes from the living room..... but one thing is for sure, the wind has absolutely howled all afternoon.....

... it's been one of those odd days bereft of clouds or blue..... just the hazy, shape-less grey.... like the smoke I once saw swirling in a Antwerpen hookah cafe.... thick, ashen, and contained..... impenetrable... a sky that is laden with moisture and is anxious to release it.... a sky which turns more and more icy-blue as the evening fades....

.... I bumped the button to turn the heat up about an hour ago.... from 74 to 75 degrees....and there are fresh flannel sheets on the bed for when cocktail hour is finished and bedtime has arrived....

.... damnation, I must be getting old...... once upon a time, I'd be sitting here glancing out the window while I rechecked my pack and laced my boots for hiking..... hoping that I could get my tent up before the snowflakes or the rain started arriving.... and now?..... I'm gleefully looking forward to snuggling under flannel and grinning while the wind groans against the windows.....

.... you know, I like to think that I'm not really getting soft.... that somehow I just find myself with much less to prove to My Self..... and you know, that may be correct..... perhaps I truly have finally arrived at some great and momentous understanding of Self, Life, and Happiness that is normally only achieved by the greatest yogis, scholars, and theologians......

... then again, I'm probably just getting soft....

.... but either way, there is still a storm coming tonight...... and while I won't be battling it like I once did years ago, I am still going to enjoy the hell out of it..... that's the most important part anyway....

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Birth....

..... a friend of mine dropped by yesterday for a civilized afternoon of hot tea & chocolate biscuits, and I ended up forgetting that I had an appointment in town..... he'd brought along a nice collection of Morgan silver dollars and they had me completely distracted..... so as I bartered, broke out my own collection from the safe, and generally tried to figure a way to separate a Man from his Silver, the telephone rang..... it was the receptionist from the business where I had failed to appear at the allotted time.... I explained that I had been minding my own business earlier in the day when I was suddenly struck by a severe bout of Walter Hustonism and had become absolutely & completely debilitated.... there was a short bout of nervous laughter from the other end of the phone, and my apology was accepted...... but personally?.... I don't really think that they got what I was talking about.......

..... but they were quite amicable about the whole situation, and I simply rescheduled my visit for this afternoon.... much like me, I guess, if the folks around here were any more laid back, they'd have to be in a coma........

.... so I am driving home from my appointment in town today and I turn right off of US Highway 411 onto the curvy county road which leads to my house...... (those of you who have visited my home during the October Blogmeets will know this road as the home of the 'Kaboom! Tree"..... named by Elisson, I believe, it is the small stretch of road which winds down through three S-curves over the course of 1/4 mile with a drop of 600 feet and then climbs immediately up the creek-valley over another 1/4 mile to a height of 800 feet..) .... actually, I posted footage once of that stretch of road..... it's buried somewhere in my youtube account, in case you are curious....

..... anyway, just as I passed the "Kaboom! Tree" and swept Sylvia down to the trough of the valley, there was a large cow laying beside the roadside fence with her back legs splayed out in a most painful-looking manner.... I slowed down and prepared to stop..... as I came closer, I realized that she wasn't as large as I had imagined...... she was probably only two years old and about 600lbs...... I rolled down the window and placed the Audi in park once I was alongside where she lay - heaving steadily......

.... her bulbous, jet-black eyes were drawn wide and were blinking wildly while her huge pink tongue lolled out from between her white, flattened teeth.... she was terrified and obviously in pain..... I checked the barbed wire fence with a quick glance to see if she was somehow tangled, but no, she was not..... I craned my neck back towards the farmhouse which sits at the top of the hill above the field - no movement there..... this was Mr. Miller's field, after all, should I go and tell him that one of his cows was down?..... and then, at that wonderful moment of complete indecision, I noticed the slimy nose, gooey mouth, and placenta-glazed eyes protruding from between her legs......

.... I watched for another minute or so, and the front hooves appeared..... and then, well, I knew it was going to be alright...... two more heaves and the shoulders would be out..... and then, hell, all she'd have to do is stand up and gravity would do the rest.....

..... it truly was a beautiful sight, in a way..... and in another way, it was absolutely disgusting..... but hey, that's life, folks...... Mother Nature is a messy, messy gal, ladies and gentlemen........ and there isn't really anything wrong with making a mess from time to time...... it's just natural...... actually, I suspect that if I had hung around for a bit longer, I would have witnessed one of the most tender moments of life - watching that new mother clean her newborn and gently nudge it to stand.....

... but, well, I didn't stay to watch...... once I knew that she was ok, I rolled up the window and headed towards home..... in reality, once I realized what was going on, I felt like a complete voyeur......

...... in the end, though, I am glad that I stopped.... and I am glad that she was ok...... and I am glad that I had a chance to witness my very first birth.... I've seen death many times.... and I have seen newborns the morning after hundreds of times..... but this was the first time that I actually saw a birth from the beginning (even though I didn't hang around the for the 'end')......

...... ahhhh.... Nature is messy, you know?..... and messy is OK... beautiful, messy, and real......

..... but hey, it did put me off my fish sandwich just a bit afterwards....... but only for just a bit.....

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Thankful....

.... the storms that ravaged western Tennessee on Tuesday night had slacked slightly by the time they found their way here to the East..... so, for those of you who were concerned - I thank you..... and apart from lots of downed limbs and one tree that fell, my little corner of the planet survived fairly well.... we were hit with a huge lightning and wind storm at daybreak on Wednesday, but it did little damage.....

..... today, however, has been a beautiful day...... clear blue skies and a steady breeze..... and of course, the news of this...

.... as for me, I have not one single creative bone left in my body this evening..... I've been sapped, zapped, and tapped of all available resources........ and the tawny, freckled husk that is My Being is off to situate itself comfortably on the nearest padded horizontal surface and watch a television program or two......

... enjoy your evening, rubberneckers....... I'm off to attempt to do the same....

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Sips...

.... it rained off and on during the night and the morning dawned dreary and damp..... fog and rain are present now with the occasional peal of thunder off in the distance.... even the lichen on the tree's trunks is soaked - causing it to change from a greenish-gray to a darker olive drab.....

.... I wonder if the trees are able to make use of the cold moisture that streaks across their bark..... can they absorb any of it?... or do they solely depend on whatever water their roots can find?.... and is the wind-tossed rain simply useless to the bleached, dormant stalks?... wasted until it seeps through the muddy earth?....

.... I like to imagine that they could.... that they not only enjoy standing still and naked - rigid against the icy shower - but that the water also gives them a tangible & immediate bit of sustenance..... and that they can drink it in as it gently trickles down them....

.... strange thoughts on a formless winter day, I know, but it does help make the rain look a bit brighter.....

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Good....

..... I've spent a great amount of time today thinking of the idea of comfort...... just what it might take to make someone - an average someone - comfortable......... and just why it varies from each of us.......

..... I have been in quite a few uncomfortable places during my short time on this planet.... most of them from my own doing..... but I always managed to dig, scrounge, and claw myself towards a tiny inkling of comfort in each place....

.... Sam Williams and I once found ourselves near the summit of Mt. Moffett on Adak Island and trapped by a whiteout.... the ridge was too steep for us to put up our tent, and we ended up spending 18 hours in our sleeping bags until the storm abated..... it was a bit rough...... 18 hours is a long time to lay on your back while being pelted by the best that the winds of the Bering Sea can throw at you...... I spent my time in that sleeping bag eating chocolate bars, cussing Sam, drinking water, praying, and sleeping...... Sam said later that he could hear me snoring - just three feet away from him - over the angry howl of the wind quite a few times during the night......

.... I remember sleeping near the flooded quarry at Kinlochleven one November.... the sheets of rain had caused the water to stand two inches deep across the campsite where the rest of 45 Commando and I slept..... we all awoke soaking wet in the Highlands of Scotland the next morning and then practiced 'river crossings' until it was time to abseil down the 250ft cliffs that rose above the quarry...... two days later we were kicking our frozen boots loose from the floors of our tents each morning while we greeted the day on the summit of Ben Nevis...... Arctic Survival & Mountain Training was a miserable experience..... but each day I managed to find that I was somehow dry and warm..... tired, sure..... and wet again by nightfall..... but for those brief moments, I was at least warm and dry...... and in looking back now, I remember those warm and dry moments the most..... I suspect that a lot of those Royal Marines look back on it all now and only remember the cold & wet.... and how it made each step that you took painful........

..... it's weird, I suppose..... odd how we all reflect differently....... external pressures find a way of harshing our collective mellows one way or another over time..... that's just how it is.... be it a bad day at the office, an argument with the wife or husband, a wayward sibling, or whatever...... we worry...... we want and cannot have.... we wish and our well-tossed silver coins fall on empty wells..... we seek comfort and only focus on the pain and labor of daily life.......

.... but in the end, we only see what we choose to see..... and believe it or not, that is a salient fact.....

..... so, the question is, what is it that you need to be comfortable..... the presence of your mate?.... a roof over your head?..... job satisfaction?...... respect?..... a good meal?...... the contented smiles of your children?.... a personal relationship with the god of your choice?.......the lack of pain, hunger, cold, or want?...... a cushioned couch and your tipple of choice every evening?...... a plate of lasagna on a cold, windy day? .... writing half a chapter in your novel instead of three sentences wrought from staring at the wall?....

.... this has been on my mind all day...... the Idea of Comfort.....

.... for me, I honestly cannot say just now as I have not come to a distinct conclusion....... but looking back on all of the times when I have hated life, there were always those moments - however fleeting - where something beautiful was given to me when I least expected it..... a bite of chocolate and a cup of coffee when I was on the edge of hypothermia, being commanded to 'stop' when I was at the end of my rope with exhaustion, being told 'thank you' when I opened the door for someone after the worst day of my life..... or even just a few lines of exquisite verse after a day that had crushed your soul......

..... my goodness....... comfort - for me - means finding the grain of good amongst the heaping pile of bad...... and trying to do that every single day.......

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Assyria.....

..... today has been an unusual day...... I spent the larger part of today reading last month's Smithsonian's article regarding the noted Assyriologist George Smith and alternatively researching recipes for homemade Salisbury Steaks....

.... I fared much better in finding an edible recipe than I did in imagining how incredible it must have been for George Smith - as uneducated as he was - to suddenly have found himself far better versed (by sheer might of mind-power & will-power) in the ancient cuneiform than the classically trained experts of his day.....

.... I mean, just imagine trudging off to the museum every single day over your Victorian lunch break to mull over some cuneiform from ancient Iraq while you nibble your meager tuna sandwich....... I don't care who you are, that is just plain hardcore......

.... and he did quite well, our Mr. Smith..... he wrote groundbreaking books - upon which much of modern understanding of cuneiform is based.... he was the first man in over 2,000 years to read the mythic story of Gilgamesh..... he was a true explorer in every sense of the word........ both in discovery, learning, and in how re-examining the facts (and understanding them correctly) can lead you to great wonders without even having to leave the bowels of a great museum.....

..... the bug had caught him, though, and he did actually make quite a few trips out to Mesopotamia in search of more knowledge..... and knowledge he found.... both in 1873 and 1875 whilst prowling around in the dusty ruins of Nineveh & Mosul.....

..... but by August of 1876, well, he was dead from dysentery... leaving behind a frantic widow and six small children........

.... I mean, just imagine!..... he went from being a guy who just happened to spend his lunch hours trying to figure out the puzzles of cuneiform tablets, to suddenly being recognized as an expert in the field, to sudden fame, speaking engagements and the subject of newspaper articles, to publishing as many as 8 books, to then being dispatched across the globe to find MORE artifacts for interpretation, and then to his being tapped on the shoulder by God after crapping himself into oblivion somewhere in the Iraqi desert.......

.... George Smith, my god...... what a passion he must have had to have done the strange and unique things that he did in his short, weird life........

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Seeing....

..... whew.... I'm just home from a lightning raid on the local McDonald's for hash browns and pancakes..... and while I can safely report that my mission was a complete success, I have to also note that the temperature gauge on the Audi read 17 degrees.... sure, it'll warm up nicely by noon, but still..... 17 degrees...... I absolutely love it....

.... sitting here now enjoying a gentle, cholesterol-induced state of happiness, you'd never know how cold it was outside my blogroom window just by looking.... there is no frost.... just clear blue sky and a slight breeze wiggling the last of the hanger-on leaves that were too stubborn to fall during the autumn..... a beautiful day, really.... that is, until you venture outside and realize that the 'light breeze' will cut straight through you like a bad Krystal burger after a night of neat Bushmills....

.... I kind of like that idea, you know?.... the idea that you can look out and see something, bring the weight of your mind to bear, make decisions, make assumptions, gather data, and then be completely wrong and misinformed once you actually experience first-hand what you had pictured so perfectly inside your head.... I guess it takes every single one of your senses to completely understand a thing..... and even then you'll probably still only get it halfway right....

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Absence.....

.... the blizzard that was supposed to rage onto my little homestead last night didn't fully materialize..... instead, I awoke to a thin, dry, crystalline dusting of fine white powder piled in haphazard nooks dotted around the lawn..... looking out the window, the sky is grey and sunless.... and the sound of the central heating unit struggling against the 20 degree weather is subtly vibrating my coffee cup.....

... it's definitely the kind of morning where one should just check the curtains, grumble a bit, and then burrow deeply into a set of flannel sheets and pretend to be a groundhog....

.... they probably have the right idea anyway, those groundhogs.....

.... what I miss most during these winter days is color.... there is a vibrancy that comes with the bursting of springtime greenery, summer skies, and autumn's leaves that is just plain missing when it comes to winter.... sure, there are the occasional bright days.... but after the sparkling lights of the holidays are boxed up and taken down - and after all of the poinsettias, tinsel, and wrapping papers are removed, well, it's a long haul through January, February, and March.....

.... I wish that the blizzard had actually come, really..... after having spent so many years in Alaska and Scotland, I am beginning to miss having snow around once in a while....

... there is a certain kind of meaning or purpose that comes from a heavy snowfall... it provides an obstacle.... something which must be overcome during the course of your day.... a sign that winter is In Charge and must be dealt with..... a pain in the ass, sure.... but it provides you with a focus that a dull gray sky just can't quite muster.... after all, wintertime is all about the struggle to reach spring.... the groundhogs certainly know that......

.... I wish that it had snowed last night.....

.... then again, perhaps I am wrong.... maybe the very absence of color in itself is The Test of a Southern Winter..... who knows?...... still though, I wish that it had snowed....

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Idling....

.... most of the light snow from yesterday had gone by the morning, but a hard frost still coated everything in sight when the Sun came up... and after downing a pot of coffee, the decision was made to head down to Cleveland for lunch.... by 12:30 we were happily seated at a newish Japanese restaurant off Highway 11....

.... we opted for a table & chair arrangement instead of grouping around one of the hibachis.... don't get me wrong, I do LOVE sitting around a hibachi and watching whatever critter I ordered get seared to perfection, but it just wasn't in the cards today.... I couldn't face the idea of getting all warm and toasty beside that giant cooker and then heading outside after the meal into a 19-degree chill factor....

... still, though, it was a passable meal..... and the drive back through the country was beautiful.... once the heater in the car kicked in, the fresh sky and clear day were able to be enjoyed.... one field even harbored a small group of six whitetail deer - no doubt a part of some buck's harem breaking for a mid-afternoon snack while he awaited them back in the brush.....

.... we're back now and the evening is idling down... it is quiet..... bellies are full of teriyaki sauce and fried rice....... and soon the robin's egg blue outside my window will be replaced by darkness and stars.... and it'll be another frosty night.... time keeps ticking...... just as the Bitterman says......

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Boxing.....

..... my Pa and I watched the Mancini/Kim fight live at my Uncle's house back in 1982...... I remember wandering out across the yard towards the barn a week later and trying to tell him that he'd died....... yeah, Dok Koo Kim would be a name that I would remember for a very, very long time...... it was the end of my youth, I guess...... and I was all of barely 10 years old......

..... we also watched Hearns/Leonard, Hearns/Hagler, and Holmes/Witherspoon over the next few years..... hell, I remember us watching Holmes/Cooney...... what a trainwreck THAT was.... but still, good times.... good times, indeed.....

.... it kinda pays, in the end, to have been taught that there are things to fight for when you are young.... it is an important lesson, after all........ sometimes you win, sometimes you lose...... and sometimes, well, you aren't so lucky as to win or lose...... and you get carried off the playing field on a stretcher with gauze stuffed up your nostrils...... but hey, those are the breaks.....

.... so goodnight, hammerheads...... I'm off to dream dreams of pads, cushioned gloves, and flannel sheets......

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Noel.....

..... the evening is drawing down here at The Compound and a heavy frost is expected for the morning...... so while we batten down the metaphorical hatches and prepare for Santa's late-nite arrival, I shall leave you with an interesting rendition of my most favorite Christmas carol.........


.... Merry Christmas, fellow travelers...... we all have so very, very much to be thankful for this Christmas.... life, love, happiness, beauty, friends, family...... they are all around if you look hard enough...... and personally, I could not have asked for a better Christmas.....

... peace on Earth, friends...... and goodwill towards each of you..... may your Santa bring you whatever it is that you desire the most.....

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Stockings.....

... this morning has dawned clear, blue, and frosty.... the Sun has just cleared the ridge of Starr's Mountain off to the east.... and from where I sit sipping coffee, only the very tops of the poplar trees are shining with the gold of daybreak..... the rest of the land - and the leaf-covered grass - lies crunchy & still....

... the trees are leafless and bony.... standing brittle against the clear, robin's egg blue of the sky...... resting, quiet, and cold..... with the sunlight creeping slowly down their sides.... slipping further and further towards the ground....

..... I am off to town shortly with my Mother in tow to let her pick out her Christmas present..... she needs a new recliner evidently, so we'll be spending most of the morning bouncing from furniture store to furniture store in search of a suitable replacement..... lately our Christmas gifts have become much less frivolous for some reason.... and now we're all about The Practicality.....

... we are, however, giving rebirth to the custom of hanging stockings this year..... at the bequest of my Brother, we'll be hanging stockings on Christmas Eve and awaiting the magical arrival of various Santa Claus-type folk to sneak into the living room and stuff the stockings full of candy, fruit, & useless trinkets.... it should be marvelous..... we haven't hung stockings in 10 years or more.... I hope that I get a Pez dispenser, honestly..... and a packet of Mach III razor blades....

.... once this frost melts, I'm off to town.....

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Sneaky....

..... time has sped past and it seems that Christmas is just around the corner.... and since I have been completely immersed in other endeavors for the past few weeks, the tree is neither up nor have I even remotely finished buying the presents that this time of year calls for... 'tis truly a sad state of affairs...... but hey, is it just me, or does Christmas seem to get sneakier and sneakier with every passing year?... one day you are sitting in the sunshine nibbling ribs and baked beans on the 4th of July, and the next thing you know, whammo.... Christmas is here...

.... the only remotely "Christmassy" thing that I have done so far this season is to watch "A Christmas Carol" on TV a few days ago.... and even then, all that stirred in my tender little heart was to secretly smile every time Scrooge growled "bah! humbug!"...... he be a funk soul-brother this year, oh yeah.....

.... anyway, today all of that is set to be turned around..... it is time for Sylvia to get her annual physical at the Audi dealership, and the appointment is for this afternoon.... so after dropping her off to be fondled and lubed by the groping mechanics, The Missus and I will hit the mall in Knoxville to finish begin the holiday buying.....

..... honestly, I am leaning towards buying myself a copy of "The Grinch That Stole Christmas"..... they just dont play that movie enough these days during The Holidays, and I miss it.... hell, the last time that I saw it was back in November of 2005.....

.... so with that, I am off to town to brave the thronging masses of peppermint-crazed shoppers..... it should prove quite interesting....

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Superman....

.... not my style, really, but my Brother requested it tonight while he visited........ and he jammed to it bigtime.....

...... so here you go......

.... kyrptonite?....... wow..... "If I go crazy then, will you still call me Superman?.... if I am alive and well will you be there holding my hand?.... I'll keep you by my side with my superhuman might.... kyrptonite!... ".... I think that my brother needs better drugs..... or possibly a therapist......

... kids these days.... Jeezus.....

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Safari....

... I want to go on safari.....

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Rain...

... the forecasters predict a cold & rainy night.... thirty-nine degrees with wind and rain...... the perfect kind of evening for hunkering down with a bowl of steaming soup and a stiff drink or two..... but plans made last week are bearing fruit tonight instead..... so the Missus and I are off to The Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville to watch two gentlemen from "Whose Line Is It Anyway" act silly and flex their gargantuan wits on-stage....

... in a nutshell?.... the dreary, colorless day will be replaced by a night of sparkling chandeliers and art deco ceilings... and two talented hammerheads making me laugh..... bracketed, of course, by an hour of driving each way through foul weather fit to chill....

.... the weather actually snuck in Sandburg-style..... the morning was absolutely beautiful with clear skies towards the east at sunrise... but by noon the southwesterly wind had brought the dreaded grayness of Winter... and with it, that weird soft light that doesnt cast shadows....

.... so with that, rubberneckers, I am off to town.... y'all stay warm and dry... I'll certainly be trying to do so myself....

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Missing....

well, gentle rubberneckers, I have just returned from the annual familial Thanksgiving feast out in western Monroe County. I would say Madisonville, of course, but their spread isnt really in town. so that would be a bit of disinformation and hey, we all know that this blog is all about The Truth

we ate, sipped iced tea, and chatted about a million and one things. from hunting whitetails to automotive & computer repair.. my goodness, four generations gathering together under the same roof.. its certainly an odd feeling. We seem to have arrived at a point where we only really get together about three times a year. Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I wonder why that is?..... and if I can do something to change it..

.. my Great Aunt Sue bragged on my deviled eggs and said that she remembered from two years ago when everyone made fun of me making them. (I used Miracle Whip instead of REAL mayonnaise.) . Hey, who knew that I was among culinary purists??........ I certainly didnt

it is funny, I guess. There are ancient customs when it comes to mass-dining with extended relatives.. things that just always have been since before I can remember.. Uncle Jim always brings his Roadkill Baked Beans, Aunt Kathy does the Turkey, and Aunt Frances always brings the sweet tea. I guess that I am now the Deviled Egg Nephew.. as strange as it sounds, I am completely cool with that.

lives evolve and expand to fill every void. We are together, but we still are distant. There are smiles and laughter, sure, but there is something missing from our festivities..

. And I do believe that it has to do with younger ones dying before their time I honestly do. Christmas, Easter, 4th of July, or Thanksgiving has not been the same since my Dad died. my Uncles seem to look at me differently when we all get together I know that they feel his loss and his absence when we all get together and then they see me, my Brother, or my Mother, and it as if they realize once again that their friend is gone that their friend is dead. That their peer died way too early.. and so we drink coffee and make conversation before the meal and then eat and watch the younger ones as they play. more acutely aware of our own human frailty.

. I wonder sometimes if it is just the natural progression of things. generations coming together to enjoy each others company. from 2-year olds to the ones who are pushing 85, and all having a wonderful time. but then one year, an individual is taken out of the middle bracket too early.. and everyone deals with a loss like that in a deeper way than they would have had he been an ancient patriarch who had just passed on at the ripe age of 102.. I mean, 50% of the people there tonight were roughly his age that has to be on their minds when they see me, Joshua, and my Mother.. it certainly is on mine

. But perhaps that is just it. maybe I am projecting my own insecurities onto them maybe it is me who feels his loss more acutely when all of the Aunts and Uncles get together to feast. I dont know. but I do know that it was a true pleasure to see everyone enjoying themselves, laughing, eating, and just being around one anotherand for that, I truly give thanks..

. I am thankful for so much in this life that it would be impossible to write a post here that would encompass it all.

. so Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Lives change and family dynamics morph. But really, that is just life. and in the end, I am happy that I have people who love me and allow me to love them back.. even if we only see each other three times a year.

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Light....

. Leafing through The Book of General Ignorance this afternoon, I happened upon this most excellent article check this out.

What speed does light travel at?

That depends.

Its often said that the speed of light is constant, but it isnt. Only in a vacuum does light reach its maximum speed of nearly 300,000 km per second (186,282 miles per second).

In any other medium, the speed of light varies considerably, always being slower than the figure everyone knows. Through diamonds, for example, it goes less than half as fast: about130,000 km per second, or 80,000 miles per second.

Until recently, the slowest recorded speed of lilght (through sodium at -272 degrees celcius) was just over 60 kph (38 mph): slower than a bicycle.

In 2000, the same team (at Harvard University) managed to bring light to a complete standstill by shining it into a bec (Bose-Einstein condensate) of the element rubidium.

Rubidium was discovered by Robert Bunsen (1811-99) who didnt invent the Bunsen burner which is named after him.

Astoundingly, light is invisible.

You cant see the light itself, you can only see what it bumps into. A beam of light in a vacuum, shining at right angles to the observer, cannot be seen.

Although this is very odd, its quite logical. If light itself was visible, it would form a kind of fog between your eyes and everything in front of you.

Darkness is equally strange. Its not there but you cant see through it.

my goodness. reading this whilst watching Meet Joe Black at the same time is making my head hurt. And those Harvard fellows who managed to slow light to a standstill??.... well, frankly, I cant even imagine. but good God, people, I should have went to college.

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Plans...

. It is foggy here this morning the cool, wet front that swept in from the southwest yesterday afternoon has now disappeared over the mountains to the east and is gone. the sunlight is breaking through the leaves now, and the sky is clear and blue. What a wonderful gift to the soul freshly brewed coffee is..

lamb has been requested for dinner this evening and I will be off soon to the shops. Our local butcher only keeps lamb in small quantities, but he has assured me that he has some choice cuts.. so this evening - as the sun begins to set - I will stand around my grill while the lamb chops sear and drink in the last few drops of sweater-weather before jacket-weather arrives.

lamb chops sizzling, mint sauce, potatoes roasting with garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and parmesan cheese, the smell of damp leaves, a tumbler of Lagavulin.

. Soon our collars will be turned up against the cold, dry wind that Winter brings, and all of the leaves will have fallen.. leaving the trees to stand naked and stark against the chill awaiting Spring.. and well rush from comfortable home to car, to shop, to home again, trying to keep warm. but not just yet

. the trees are still blazing. and the sky is still blue. and The World may be drowsy, but it isnt asleep quite yet and as for me, I am grilling some chops.

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Different....

. I think I need to wash the windows here in the house next week..

. I spent the morning gently dawdling around the house in my bathrobe and drinking coffee. At every window, Id check the sky and follow a few leaves as they drifted down from the pin oaks & poplars. golden, pink, and faded green, they would fall in small little armadas of five, ten, or twenty at a time.. and while the leaves were colorful, there was just something missing..

. fast forward a few hours, and The Missus and I are rolling into the driveway of my Mothers place. The blush of the leaves on each tree that surrounded her house was stunning rich and vibrant and hanging markedly against the pale blue of the dry, southern sky.

.... The Missus even remarked that she wished that she had the camera in the car as shed like to have taken a photo..

only two miles away from my home (as the crow flies) and it seemed like a completely different world that modest house where I grew up was framed by a forest that absolutely blazed with autumnal shades to say that it was breathtaking would be a gross understatement. And quite frankly, a disservice to the maple trees.

I think I need to wash the windows here.

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Moon....

. The tuxedo didnt work, folks, but I hadnt had my hopes pinned too high. It hasnt really worked for me for the past two years but it was still worth a shot ole Daniel Craig changed the whole vibe of James Bond, I reckon (.. some say for the good and others say for the bad..) . But regardless, he changed it. and hey, these days I dont really like to get my shirts bloodied. thus the failure in channeling a correct Mr. Bond, I am sure.

hell, I even donned the cream silk Punjabi for a few hours complete with the hand carved balsa wood buttons, but all to no avail.. and folks yall will just have to trust me on this I seriously dig me some silk clothing.. absolutely nothing on this great, green Earth screams feel good like wrapping your body in silk from head to toe.

so today I drove to the mall, knocked back a few pints of Newcastle brown ale at The Fox & Hound in Chattanooga and then bought myself a nice, retro pair of Adidas sneakers at the mall across the street.. hey, who knew?.... they seem to have worked wonders

actually, that isnt completely true.. the Adidas started the proverbial ball rolling. But it was a song that cinched the knot, folks.. at least momentarily.. so, let me share what is my personal favorite of all the great and wonderful Sinatra songs.. behold. (and sing along if you wish. I certainly didand hey, the lyrics are right there.... and this song was MEANT to be sung by gentle people who dont have the ability of Mr. Sinatra, folks. )

just trust me on that.

and while I have no actual desire to fly to the moon at this very moment, I adore the sentiment behind his crooning away with such vigor and poise. And I love the lyrics as well. hell, I just love everything about it.....

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Abandoned....

.. good evening, rubberneckers. I hope that you are all well. as for me?.... well, today was not a banner day around The Compound here.. nothing major, I guess (depending on how you look at things in general).

. nah. thats bullshit.. I cant lie, it messed with my head on lots and lots of levels. So yes, I guess it was major.. not MY family, no but a fellow human being nonetheless

. I arrived to bring my Sainted Mother lunch today (while she was in the therapy room) and was greeted by a weeping Marie alone in their two-person room.. Mom was off getting her knee tweaked and evidently Maries son had just left before I came in the door and he had broken the news to her that she will be a resident at the nursing home until she dies. She was crushed, heartbroken, horrified, and hopeless. And I caught it all..

Marie fell a month ago and couldnt get herself back up so she lay in the floor of her old, Polk County home until a neighbor brought her the mail the next day bad, bad shape, folks. So they stuck her in a home good god, the arthritis that has taken up residence in her hands has wrecked them so badly that all of her fingers are curled and twisted. And useless a body broken by time and Life.. and yet her mind is as clear and as sharp as anyones

. I tried to console her as she sobbed, but what could I really do?.....

Me: Whats wrong, Marie?..... what has happened?... Where is my Mom?.
Marie: . My Son came by and told me that I cant go home.... I told him that I hate it here, but he said that I have to stay..
Me:
Marie: I thought he loved me more than that, Eric.
Me: .
Marie: I raised all of my children good, Eric.. I was never mean to any of them.
Me: . .I know, maam. I know that you did can I get you anything?.... are you hungry?.
Marie: I will never be hungry again, Eric. I told him that the food here wasnt fit to eat, but he said that I have to stay anyway.
Me: ..
Marie: I dressed myself this morning. I did it on purpose so that he could see that I could take care of myself.
Me: .. . That is good, Marie. It is good that you are getting better and that you can take care of yourself. Perhaps in a while, you will be able to go home...
Marie: He said that if I wanted to go home, he would bring my checkbook and I could call a taxi. But he wasnt going to take me as it wasnt safe for me to be home alone.
Me:. I am sorry, Marie.. is there anything that I can do?.
Marie: No, honey, there is nothing that you can do.

. And she cried and cried.. and I patted her back like someone would do a six year old who had just stumped their toe and I knew that this was the end of the road for this poor woman.. this kind, generous, sweet old woman who had gotten married 1 week prior to her 17th birthday (her husband lied to the Justice of The Peace) and raised a family of five..

. she was completely betrayed and heartbroken devastated and I cant blame her one bit she had every right to be so

.Goddamnmotherfuckingpieceofshitcocksuckingwhorewhoshouldbe
fuckingmurderedwithanicepickslowlyandmethodicallybyagangofwellhung
llamaswhotaketurnsplowinghisassinbetweenyellsoffuckyeahyouARE
apieceofshitandfuckyeahwearecompletelydiggingshowingyouwhata
worthlessdickheadyoutrulyare?youleftyourMOTHERweepingalone
inaroom..

.. fuck all that trash, people.... look, here is my promise, folks, and you can trust my words as if they were forged from pure gold..as long as I am upright and able, I will NEVER allow my Mother to be warehoused NEVER.. I dont care if the house falls down around me, my wife walks off and shacks up with the mailman, and Iran gets a nuclear weapon, I will never leave her to sit and know full well that she had changed MY diapers and fed ME through a childhood of love and I thought it somehow unseemly to return the fucking favor..

. Ive only known Marie for less than four weeks but her lesson to me has been taught absolutely and completely and I will not forget..

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Return....

.. misty, cool rain today for most of the afternooncloudy skies with dark clouds to the East and West. bracketed but the leaves are changing slowly, sleepily, gently... not like they did a few years ago with such a vigor that they seemed to change overnight.....

. the rain that has been lacking during the past Summer is finally arriving. And everything is drinking their last before the Winter hits.. and from all reports, it will hit with a vengeance..

. my favorite time of year, really October and November.. cool mornings and warm days.. with frosty evenings.. it is absolutely dazzling colors that rival the greatest Summer dawns flowers and birds.. the Autumn brings a new set of colors less vibrant, sure but equally beautiful

.. and the horn from the train that whips by a few miles away carries so much farther this time of year.. hearing it near the two crossings southwards and the two northwards is never a chore. I love hearing the whistle as it gets close

. And it is easier to hear it when the humidity is low and the air is cold

. I so love October..

. October is my month - full of the world falling steadily asleep.. I watch it all and cannot get enough

. Some people like Spring, I guess. The rebirth of everything around them.. but for me, I love the fall..I love The Promise. I love the idea that everything will return.. again, and again, and again

.. and you see that best in October.

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Location...

.. I washed out the garage this afternoon and discovered another black widow spider. That makes seven so far this year. This one wasnt quite as big as her sisters, but she was still quite formidable.

the scary thing about this latest black widow was the choice she made of where to build her web.

before washing off the concrete, I made a run around the garage and moved everything that I wanted to remain dry up onto the pool table. And as I reached for the big, black binder that keeps all my CDs held snugly (it was leaning against the wall below the stereo), I noticed the web. the clever female had used my CD case as a lean-to.. but hey, thats one thing about a Black Widows web once you have seen one, they are easy to spot. And once youve followed the silken tendrils up and spied the shiny, black spider?... well, to say that youll retain that web-recognition ability is without question.

. Anyway, I was a bit shocked to see her in the garage.. usually there are just American house spiders in residence there, and it struck me as a bit exotic to see her scratching out a living down there among Warren Zevon and Neil YoungI killed her, of course.. she was just too close to where I live to be let-off with a warning.. so I nipped her in two with one of the knives that were resting on the foundations ledge near her.

but thats just the way it is, folks..Life & Livelihood are sometimes governed by being at the right place at the right time. if shed chosen a nook in the Dogwood tree just ten feet to the south, shed have done just fine.. but instead?.... oblivion.

my goodness.. location, location, location, folks there are a million quips about it.. ships passing in the night, people missing each other time and time again from place to place only to find each other forty years later and fall madly in love, Its a small world, etc., etc, ad infinitum location, location, location

. I truly hated to do her in, really.. and I actually hesitated for just a split-second before lopping her in half she truly was a beautiful creature, after all. but sadly, even the Almighty Power of Beauty crumbles and falls to the cold, unflinching rules of Location, Timing, and Just Plain Bad Luck..

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Plankowner....

. I was up early this morning and quickly zipped out to visit my Sainted Mother..she is coming along very nicely, and the surgery (and physical therapy) seem to have left her with no more pain than she was experiencing BEFORE the surgery. that just amazes me. I mean, if your knee is hurting so badly that having the damn thing CUT OUT didnt hurt much more?.... good God..

. in a nutshell, that means that she was well overdue to have that bum knee replaced.

. and the inmate she is rooming with at the nursing home is a sweet little thing. her name is Marie and she is 90 years old. wheelchair bound and as deaf as a post, she still has all of her mental faculties and is quite a clever conversationalist. albeit theyre a bit one-way since she cant hear your replies, but still, you always have to look on the bright side especially since the aint that many bright sides in a damnable nursing home.

I took Marie some onion rings that Id picked up at the local Sonic yesterday and she ate every damn one of them. and then shook the crumbs out of the little paper bag and nibbled them too. Shed told me a few days earlier that she liked the onion rings from Sonic. Heh liked was likely the understatement of the century.. that tiny, twisted, lovable white-haired old lady ate those onion rings like they were dipped in honey or like they were going to be her last meal. which, incidentally, they might, I guess..

there is another old guy who I see nearly every time that I visit. short and thin, but walking around as straight as a ramrod. hands always tucked into the pockets of his blue US Navy windbreaker. And his surface warfare badge pinned to the front of his USS Yorktown (CV-10) Plankowner baseball cap.. I definitely need to find out more about that guy. I bet he is a BIG hit with the female inmates. Oh yeah..

anyway, Im off to scrabble through the kitchen in search of something to cook for dinner. Its 60 degrees outside and the wind is gusting. So Im thinking chili. Or maybe potato soup with lots and lots of cheese.. Ill be sure to keep you guys in the loop..

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Fleece.....

. The Missus and I drove up to my Aunts house warming party this afternoon and spent the better part of two hours peeling slow-boiled shrimp & munching on them in the shade of a few trees lots of cousins and their children were around to keep everything interesting as only children can do. so splinters, skinned-elbows, and multi-colored Band-Aids were the menu-of-the-day.. along with the rest of the goodies in the slow-boiled pot..

. The weather was beautiful. a cloudless day with a deep, blue sky that almost made you dizzy as you stared up at it. limitless almost.. Autumn is definitely here now and the lack of humidity makes everything seem clearer and more vibrant.. cleaner, I suppose

. The first day of fleece-weather.. cool in the mornings and evenings. And just warm enough in the afternoons to still flash you with a quick sunburn if you arent careful.

. And my giant, freckled forehead is sporting just that courtesy of a slow drive home in the convertible.

. driving the backroads out to my Aunts new house brought back a lot of old memories.. years and years ago, my Grandparents lived back near there. the last house at the very end of a dead-end road.. and after they died and the house was sold, there really was no point in going out that direction again.. but now, FOUR of my family members live on that same road just a mile from the old homeplace

it is funny now to drive those roads in my own car all these years later. I cant help but picture me and my little brother arguing in the back seat of an old Impala. fake leather seats, no seat belts, and a young couple with their whole lives ahead of them sitting together in the front seat.. Mom scrooched over all the way across the seat so that Dad could drive with one hand while his other arm slipped over her shoulder. gravel roads that are now paved.. old fence-lines covered with honeysuckle and blackberry briars.

. I am kinda glad that theyve moved back out there.. I hadnt realized that Id missed that little stretch of road quite as much as I did. now I just need some aloe for my sizzled noggin..

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Photos...

.... as promised, here are some photos of the village of Winterspelt.....

.... oh, and congratulations to Supergurl on being my 15,000th commenter..... you guys & gals rock.......

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Shelled.....

. during the course of my latest travels, I visited many beautiful and intriguing places. but really & truthfully I only had one true mission for this trip. and that was to visit a tiny German village that sits just across the border from Luxemburg where my Grandfather was captured on December 16th, 1944. Actually, it was the whole reason that we visited the Ardennes & Low Countries instead of doing like we usually do and just hitting Scotland.

. So after a restful day and night in Bastogne, the whole family, sans the Mother-in-Law, daytripped out in Duncans Mercedes to try and find Winterspelt. with me navigating in the front passenger seat..

the Michelin map that I had was a bit old, and it wasnt long before I realized that the easiest way to the dot on the map was by taking B-roads instead of the looping, interchanging, dull-as-hell motorways.

. And it did make for a more interesting journey taking those roads less traveled.. and we spent the better part of two hours speeding through the rolling countryside of Luxemburg dodging cows, tractors, and logging trucks.. at one point, we took a right instead of a left and ended up winding down a steep gravel road through thick forest and crossing a wooden bridge at the bottom of the hill that spanned a small stream. which, as luck would have it, that little creek represented the border.

. and as we slowly climbed out of the creek-bed & rattled across the rickety bridge, we were then in Germany.. and Winterspelt sat half a mile away on the top of the nearest ridge..

there wasnt much there, really. a row of farm houses, a catholic church, a hotel, a pub & restaurant, a pre-school not even a gas station there was a roadsign though pointing the way towards St. Vith I took a photo.

. My Grandpas name was Carl Hull and he was 20 years old when he was captured he died in 1988 and I only remember a few of the stories that he told me when I was a kid.but I always remembered the name of the towns where hed been when he was overseas.. I guess that I was just curious about the war and tried to pry the history out of him. But either way, I always remembered what hed told me. each little story stuck in its own little way..

. He told me that he was captured at daybreak on the 16th of December by a group from the Volksgrenadiers. All between the ages of 16 & 17. He claimed that their ages were the only thing that saved him and the rest of his mortar team.. that if theyd not been children, theyd have killed them instead of taking them prisoner. Looking at the facts now, it seems hard to imagine that a 20-year old is much more or less of a child than someone of 16, but those were the words he said and he was there.. I have a much longer lens to see things from, I guess and truly, I cant even imagine what it must have been like to be there.

. He said that hed been wounded in the foot by shrapnel just before the daylight of his capture no blood, just a smashing wound that broke the arch of his right foot. And that they were marched 90km eastward to the small town of Limburg, Germany and held at Stalag 12. And there they remained until the Russians liberated them in April of 45he said that hed used an M-1 rifle with the bolt taken out as a crutch while he marched through the snow. he said that when he landed in France he weighed 196lbs and when he made it back to Great Britain he weighed 98lbs

it was strange to visit there

. We parked and headed our separate ways once wed arrived I made a bee-line straight to the church and snapped a few more photographs..

.. hed said that theyd been hit first during the initial push and had fallen back into the village from their pickets.. and later they were forced to evacuate from there as well and were captured after running out of ammo and mortar rounds in a ditch on the outskirts of the village..

. The church intrigued me more than any other building, actually. It was built from the huge stone blocks that are typical of the mid 1880s style, and it was pockmarked high and low by shrapnel-scars.. even though every other building was newly-spackled, newly-painted, or newly-built, it was obvious from the tears and abrasions on the church that this little village had seen serious shelling once upon a time. there were few people on the streets as I walked around, but I found the churchs door to be unlocked. A catholic thing, evidently, leaving the church doors unlocked at all hours so that wandering people could meander in and pray.. so I walked in and sat down at a pew.

everything everywhere was calm, serene, clean, and quiet.from the pews to the Saints. to the flowers at the lecturn.. it was a typical country-church that one might find in a thousand villages throughout Europe. And yet it mesmerized me more than any of the grand cathedrals that I had visited before a simple place where no doubt my young Grandpa had been long, long ago. scared, angry, and resolute. more scared than anything, I suspect.....

. my goodness I could write more, I guess, but I dont feel like it my inspiration has been silenced for the night but itll be back in the morning..

. But I will post the photos of Winterspelt tomorrow.. with no words there is no need for words, really.. it is just a place. A church with a few buildings surrounding it. but I was there.. and I will show you guys what I saw

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Falling....

. the Black Widow that hunted in my backyard most of the summer has gone on to the Great Spider Web in the Sky.. winter seems to be just around the corner these days..

I walked out this morning in the cool, autumn air to check on her and found her little nook empty. well, empty except for an egg-sack about the size of a grape with two or three fire ants slowly peeling away the layers of silk that encased ita long-ago wound that had healed haphazardly at the base of a sweet gum tree had been her home for many months..

I went to the garage and found my Amdro and sprinkled it around the base of the tree where the genocide was taking place. Itll take care of the ants in a few days, I suppose. but the damage to The Next Generation was done. you cant take stuff like that back once a nest is cracked, it is finished

. It was a bit depressing, really, finding her gone. and then to see the foragers robbing her nest. secreting the embryos down the scaly bark towards the ant-burrow.

thats just the way it goes, though.. life is a struggle. sometimes you eat the bear sometimes the bear eats you. sometimes youre the windshield. sometimes youre the bug. sometimes all you can do is the very BEST that you can do and then let the chips fall where they may.. etc, etc.. yall get the point.

. It is as one of Anne Rices vampires once said, I guess.. we go into legend or into the fire.. . Fuck.

. I heard today that an old workmate of mine from years ago took a nosedive off of a Scottish cliff a few weeks back and ended her young life. intentionally... leaving behind a husband and a son.. and lots of heartbroken friends..

.. sitting here now, I cannot help hearing the same phrase run through my mind. again and again and again. like waves hurling themselves at the hull of an anchored boat connected to Earth by a tether but still rocking and bobbing with each new assault..

. I love life. I adore life. I will never let go no matter how horrible everything becomes, I will hold. I will claw. I will live. I will try.. I will rage. I will struggle. I WANT to liveI lust after the marrow that every new day brings I want to feel, to eat, to drink, to breathe, to touch, to kiss, to find, to reach, to search, to create. ..

. but I guess that life isnt really like that no matter how hard some of us struggle to survive & provide.. with enough time and pressure, that whole old diamond analogy just doesnt pan out, does it? with enough time and pressure, we become diamonds?..... I am torn.

some days I believe it and some days I dont. but one thing is for certain and that is this. I will never give up.. no matter how shitty this whole stinking world can get sometimes, I know that if I look hard enough, and long enough, I will find beauty.. if not inside me, then from some other source. but it will always be there. waiting.. I just have to choose to see it to find it.. to want it..

. And I want to see it. I truly, truly do.

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30th.....

(written into my trusty old Moleskin last night in the dark)

. another string of storms is blowing through right now and they are just that tiny bit closer to us than the past days were.. the result was not only that the rains is here, which is good, but also that the power has been knocked out for most of the evening.. so I am writing this on paper.

. my goodness. In this day and age, it is such an odd feeling for a modern house to suddenly be without power lamps, ceiling fans, and even the LEDs of VCRs and DVD players cease their glowing and allow the subtle natural light of overcast skies and the angry yellows & fierce whites of lightning strikes to take their place in illumination..

sounds, too, are new as the electric buzz of every appliance trails off with a sigh. thunder, rain, wind in the leaves outside, pages of a book being turned, the pulling of a cork, liquid splashing down into the bottom of a glass..

. The water of Mother Nature is viewed with a generous quantity of the Water of Life. in the dark..

. Its certainly a different world when the power is lost.

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Baseball....

. Back when I was a kid, I loved the game of baseball. and from the ages of 7 to 13, I was a catcher for our little league team, the Dodgers . Looking back, I find it pretty funny that a small town in Tennessee with a population of less than 5000 had little league teams named after organizations in New York City, Los Angeles, and St. Louis..

our arch-rivals were the Yankees, of course. coached by my best friend Williams father, they whipped the tar out of us with a dizzying regularity for years. My team was coached by my Uncle Bob, a lifelong farmer who tried his best to instill his passion for The Game into us children.and for the most part, he did.

. I remember idolizing Steve Sax and Fernando Valenzuela. And absolutely worshipping Mike Scioscia. He was my idol..

good God. The way that he could block the plate was both awe-inspiring and suicidal and Uncle Bob made sure that we followed our namesakes team all season long. I remember getting picked up & dusted off by the umpire after pulling a Mike Scioscia during our all-star game in Riceville when I was 13. I tagged him out, but the way he rung my bell was one for the ages.that was in the sixth inning of a double-header that I had caught that day.. in my own scrawny little way, I WAS Mike when I put that sweat-soaked mask on my face..

. I actually watched the game where Chili Davis ran over Mike (that they talk about in his wikipedia article). And I was sitting on the floor of my parents home glued to the television when he hit that homerun off of Dwight Gooden in the 1988 National League Championship

but now, well, I havent watched a baseball game in years. Sure, I have stopped for ten minutes or so while channel-surfing or caught the ESPN highlights. but Ive not sat through one all the way from start to finish in probably nearly twenty years

time ticks, I guess. And passion fades.

I bring this up only because of something that my Mother told me yesterday over the phone.. shed called just to say hello and mentioned that one of my little cousins had spent the day with her.. I said, that is great that he wanted to spend the day with you. was he much trouble?. no, she laughed, I hardly knew that he was here.. he just turned on the baseball game and sat there all afternoon watching them play

.. and Ive been thinking about what she said ever since.

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Spirit....

. I enjoyed the wonderful pleasure of hosting my Mother and Brother over this afternoon for a sampling of my freshly-baked steak pie.. and I do believe that they enjoyed it. was it up to Edinburgh pub quality?... no, of course not.. but for around my neck of the woods, well, its just about as good as youre going to find. True rednecks, after all, are horribly allergic to filo pastry and immediately slip into anaphylactic comas when attempting to cook with the stuff.. so I guess that means Ive slipped a bit from my upbringing.. but hey, life is growth. so there is that goin for me.

. In other news, still no word from Anthony Bourdain about him coming down to Helen for the Southeastern Writers Conference for a sampling of Velocimans Chatham Artillery Punch.. and even though it didnt bounce, I suspect that I might have used an email address that he doesnt check very often or something. Then again, he might have read Straight White Guy in the To: Field and deleted it immediately thinking it was spam..

anyway, Ive spent most of the afternoon reading about the 1536 Inca uprising in Peru and have become quite fascinated.and in the course of my research, I noticed that the emerald-colored hummingbird that has been frequenting the feeder on my front porch looks almost exactly like the artists interpretations of one of Quizo Yupanquis fancy headdresses the colors, that is, not the shape.

.. one thing more, though, before I go for the evening.. Francisco Pizarro may have been a complete and total bastard, but at he was one hardcore sumbitch.. reports of his assassination are sketchy, but aged somewhere between 65 and 70, he still managed to kill two (perhaps three) of his would-be assassins with his sword before being overcome and stabbed by multiple bad guys. and ultimately popping his clogs a while later from complications of his being gigged.....

. Not bad, eh?..... look, friends, I dont care who you are be you a conqueror of lands or a prize-winning cage fighter tapping out like that is a sign of you being a consummate badass I sure hope that I can swing my rapier with such vigor when Im pushing 65

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Kudzu....

. Driving into town yesterday to get my fortnightly haircut, I had to slow nearly to a crawl to let a large whitetail doe and her twin fawns cross the road in front of me. I was shocked to see then, initially, as my appointment with the Eva was scheduled for noon. its always slightly odd to see deer at midday around here..

they crossed the county road and paralleled the CSX railroad tracks for about three hundred yards before reaching a thick stand of pines that dripped with kudzu it was like watching those guys go through that portal in Stargate. The kudzu shimmered in the stifling heat the leaves were reflecting part of the sunshine and it almost made them glow and as each of the deer trotted to within ten feet of the clump of trees, theyd leap into the wall of vines and disappear.

.. it was beautiful and mesmerizing at the same time. like a magic trick or some kind of slight of hand..

my goodness. How my ancestors managed to whip the Indians around here, Ill never know. the undergrowth in the woods is nearly impassable in mid-summer it is a beast that we struggle against as it steadily encroaches on my house from three sides trying to imagine what it was like 300 years ago just boggles my mind.. I suspect that there was common treachery on a grandiose scale especially since I doubt that my ancestors were even half the warriors in this terrain that the Cherokees were..

and yet, here we are. driving along on paved roads, crossing intercontinental railroad tracks, and watching a family of whitetail scamper towards their watering hole on a blistering summer day.

ahhh, hell, I guess Im just amazed sometimes at how I view change. It catches me napping sometimes and smacks me back awake.

. no matter how much we alter everything around us, it is always nature that truly abides. and that, rubberneckers, is just the way that it is....

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Lasting....

. The work to continue the widening of US Highway 411 between Madisonville and Englewood is moving at great pace. Each time that I drive it, it seems that the road has been diverted once again around a cemetery, over another small stream, or through another flattened hilltop.

Progress, I suppose, but still it is a bit sad.at least to me, it is..

. When I was very young, I lived in a tiny house alongside that road. a wooden-framed clapboard built on the side of a hill that sloped away from the road and bordered in the back by a small wet-weather run..

Ive written about it a few times here on these pages whether remembering holding icicles when I was a child that were nearly as long as I was tall or of imagining the long-buried piles of Playboy magazines that I stowed away in the half-basement when I was five. I still even remember the telephone number for the house, burned into my noggin when I was sent off to kindergarten in Madisonville.. 442-4488 after all these years, I still remember. How odd. I guess a 5 year old memory is an impressionable place

I passed by that house this morning on my way up to Maryville to raid one of their liquor stores

. The tiny lawn is overgrown and the mailbox is hanging from its pole. A mood of genuine abandon could never be more fully realized than that of the poor visage which that small house exuded. the houses on either side retain clipped lawns and hanging baskets on their front porches.. but that little blue house (it was white when I lived there) is practically falling down from disuse, misuse, forgetfulness, and neglect

I thought considerably about buying it as I kept up my drive north today. but really, that would be pure foolishness whod want to ever live that close to a raging 4-lane highway?..... not me, thats for sure. But still, it seems such a tragedy to see a part of my past so disregarded..

it wasnt even that great of a house to begin with, I guess.. bare and coarsely built no central heating or cooling. And my Dad did most of the plumbing on the spare weekends when he was home..

I remember one winter night when I was five years old. Hed been working in Bristol, Virginia all week and arrived home by the kind courtesy of a 65 Impala with bald tires & 100lbs of log chain in the trunk about 10pm.. it was nearing Christmastime, so Id been allowed to stay up and await his return..

at 8pm that day, our pipes had frozen and we were without water or the money to call on a plumber, and so we waited for my Father to appear tired, dirty, and happy to see us, he burst in the front door only to hear of the bad news.

he did not hesitate in his task, and immediately went to work (after insisting that I be bundled in heavy clothes so that I could brave the weather and hold the flashlight).

. He was cutting a 1 piece of PVC when his knife slipped and buried itself into the hand that was holding the frozen pipe.. I was shocked, but kept holding the flashlight as the cold wind blew. I still remember that like it was yesterday. how I followed him to the kitchen sink and turned on the hot water for him as he withdrew the knife that had impaled three of his fingers cold, white fingers and bright red blood.. no cussing or oaths, just the running of the water and the sound of my Mother fumbling for the hydrogen peroxide in the bathroom behind us.

we ended up going to bed after that. and on Saturday morning we patched the line together just as the nights storm released our water as the Sun came up.

. I thought of all those memories today as I saw that flea-bitten old house

. In all honesty, I doubt that itll stand much longer. Be it because it is so old, or simply because it really was never that well-built to begin with or because it is now so close to the encroachment of progress.. but either way, I would suspect that its days are numbered.

. good God, what a day.. nothing lasts forever, it is true

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Appreciation....

yesterday evening another thunderstorm rolled through and passed off to the north. From the living room window, I could see the billowing black clouds miles and miles away but even at such a distance, the thunder still shook the panes as it missed us.. It was followed by another only twenty minutes later that didnt miss. And we were on the receiving end of lightning, wind, and sideways-rain.

. just before sundown for the past few days, theyve rumbled in, those storms.

last night I went out onto the front porch just as the rain began to fall and as the wind pushed it under the awning to where I stood, I caught myself taking a step back towards the door so that I wouldnt get wet.

sitting here now, I guess I should be a bit ashamed of myself sure, there was a certain comfort level that I was maintaining by retreating. and it wouldnt have been a great idea to have let myself get soaked and then return inside. But there was a time when I would have slipped off my shirt & socks and trotted right out into the grass, sat down, and let the wind and rain wash me clean while the thunder and lightning boomed..

... but last night I didnt.

I wonder what happened to that guy I suspect that hes still around somewhere deep inside. Perhaps he was distracted by a tumbler of scotch or a line from a book he was reading. Then again, maybe he was asleep.. I dont think that hes dead. But either way, I doubt that hes grown up enough to not want to wallow around in a big patch of rainy grass.

but last night, yeah, I stepped back. that fact does remain.

. I wonder how many people have actually been truly rained on out away from civilization or shelter bare to the elements perhaps busy with an emergency task that simply must be finished regardless of the weather. It is an odd thought to me. most anyone who has spent time in the military has been seriously rained on. and hunters, as well.. and probably fishermen too.. but most everyone else?.... if it is raining, you stay in, find shelter, or go out with a hat, raincoat, or umbrella..

. But something definitely seems amiss here, and I intend to fix it..

if the storms come again in a few hours, Im going out to meet them..

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Sharks....

. I was amazed today as the Discovery Channel blazed away..

there was a scene during a program about Great Whites where they were lopping off 30lb chunks of whale blubber with their mighty choppers while the cameras whirred.. and half-way through, a guy got out of the boat and climbed over on top of the bobbing slickness of the decaying whale WHILE the sharks fed inches from his quivering, idiotic body.

. One false move and hed have slid right into the gaping maw of a hungry shark. It was pure insanity

. But more to the point, the program noted how the sharks appeared to become drunken after gorging themselves on hundreds of pounds of whale blubber. Bumping into things including each other and generally just lolling around in the foosty waters of the northern Pacific after a rather large lunch.

the presenter said, you know, I have often believed that old whale carcasses have triggered Great White Shark orgies, and these sharks certainly seem ready to mate!..

. I could hardly believe it how fucking Californian is that?... or American, maybe......

. my goodness..... Drunken sharks gorging on huge masses of fat and then sporting erections and randomly bumping into something and trying to mate with it?.....

but you know, it does bear noting, however briefly, that such sights have played out in our OWN species from time to time as well.. I mean, drunken lolling has often been induced in a few of my relatives after generous portions of pork fat has been grilled. And hey, in more sober moments, many of them would bite with the ferocity of a Great White on the trail of a juvenile seal but after ribs, steak, or brisket, they definitely morphed into much more loquacious and randy beasts

. Kinda makes you wonder when you next see Aunt Betty, eh?.....

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Silage...

. Well, THAT was a civilized way to spend an afternoon, gentle reader. I have to hand it to the fine folks at Hunters Bakery and Caf. They certainly know how to cook up an enjoyable meal we were never rushed, attended to very well, and treated to some of the sweetest iced-tea that Ive ever tasted that wasnt homemade

the drive out to Sweetwater was excellent as well I turned off the beaten path in Englewood and spent the next twenty minutes gliding through the farming country. Rolling fields of sweet corn half of which were freshly mown for silage and the rain that weve gotten over the past three weeks even allowed for a second cutting of hay in quite a few fields. and still other fields were overrunning with soybeans

large fields, many over 100 acres.. some much, much larger than that bordered by the curvy, 1 lane of slick, black tarmac. weedy ditches that needed trimming, rusting barbed-wire attached to fragile, graying fence posts, or treelines of young cedar trees where ancient fences had once stood these were their other borders.

. Even with the top up on a ragtop, smells can still seep through. so we were all treated to the syrupy, sticky smell of the ground silage during the ride where the sap, flesh, and fruits had all been chipped & chopped. the sweet smell of life..

. just a ride through the country on a sunny afternoon. the promise of fine food at the end of the trail making the whole ride just that bit more full of excited anticipation

. and we were not disappointed once we arrived..

. Coming back, I took a different route. no less rural than the other road, just a different trail leading away to the southeast. winding its way from town to farm, from farm to farm, from one county to the next and it was just as pleasant..

. I should go back on Monday with the top down and take some video

. But as for me now?.... it is time to retire for the evening it is just after 7pm and my patio is purring to me of dreams that she promises I will dream if I nap on her.. and honestly?.... how could a man turn down an offer like that?....

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Watching....

. I took a left turn at the second red-light as I headed into Athens yesterday, and slipped through a few residential neighborhoods as I made my way to the Old Riceville Road.. it was still fairly early in the day and the temperatures hadnt yet reached the days high, so I had the top down as I piloted Sylvia through the shady, deserted streets..

every other house had a small American flag on their front porch and what struck me and this is only something that I would ever have noticed after having dropped the top is the amazing diversity of smells that wafted out into the street from each homes backyard.

. smoked hickory, applewood, and mesquite the faint hint of propane. sweet, tomato-based barbeque sauce. vinegar & mustard. that strange, unique smell that you experience when charcoal first catches light and hasnt burned off all of the lighter fluid yet.

.. just as I passed the hospital, I paralleled a Norfolk Southern coal train. The tracks that it was riding are neatly sandwiched between Old Riceville Road and Highway 11, so I was given the chance to hear it trumpet at every crossing as it shadowed me..as American as apple pie & hotdogs, so is a coal-laden train to my mind and heart. the whistle of a slow-moving train approaching a crossing is a sound that has been with me from my earliest memories. It is a delicious sound, full of childhood..

. I sped up as I left the city limits and as the road beckons you to do and beat the coal train to the trestle in Riceville by a good three minutesthree minutes is just a guess though, as I was nearly to my Cousins cookout before the memories of train whistles finally had time to percolate and settle into my brain.

Cousin Tommy had cooked 85lbs of pork and two dozen chickens by the time all of his guests arrived.

. I ate, talked, and sipped iced-water for a while and then made my exit down the mountain back towards my Mothers house.

when I arrived, the swimming pool was filled to the brim with second cousins. twenty five children were splashing and giggling while my aunts were tending to the hotdogs.. the men, of course, were scattered in a make-shift semicircle near the covered swing telling lies and attempting to swap un-seen farm equipmentI joined them and waited for the hotdogs. No one was biting on the farm equipment front, but it was entertaining to listen to..

good humor abounded. the storytellers were allowed to lie for pure amusement, and the children all as brown as berries from the sunshine kept all of their parents on their toes..

just moments in time, I suppose.

. I sit here now, and I wonder what memories the rest of them will tuck away from yesterday that thought truly sparks my imagination it really, really does..

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Footnotes....

. Im not a very smart guy, really. Im just your average straight, white guy.. but I have heard all my life as it was before my time about the Cuban missile crisis and how those evil Commies were trying to sneak nukes right into our back yards..

just recently, I read a tiny footnote at the end of an article concerning Khrushchev did you guys know that about 1960 or so, we dug in some US nukes in Turkey?....

not too far from Uzbekistan, if I read the maps correctly. Which, may or not be the case, of course hell, I nearly failed LANDNAV on more than one occasion

.. but, you know?... Im sorry, but just WOW. how come Id never heard of the installation of nukes in Turkey in any of the hundreds of History Channel programs before?.... and after the Great Cuban Missile Crisis was over and we nearly went to war while Chromedome continuously circled?.... well, the Ruskies removed their nukes from Cuba.

. And further to the footnote?.... we got our nukes straight THE HELL out of Turkey and away from the Uzbek border.

history is a great teacher. I LOVE me some history.. but every tale is only half-told even by the greatest and most conscientious historian. And thats not really a failing on the historians part. It is just a byproduct of humanity. As tellers of tales, we get caught up in the action and the story and the drama..

but sometimes The Footnotes are pretty damn pertinent. So remember, children, as you go about your day today. believe half of what you hear, and none of what you read. Eat your fiber, exercise, read a good book once in a while, and make your own decisions.

.... everything on Earth has a spin.. even this post.... so be careful

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Respects....

. 3:30pm here, and the Sun is shining hot. last nights thunderstorms passed through quickly and drenched absolutely everything. so the air is hanging hot and thick outside now steamy, almost

. there is thunder in the distance, too. barely within earshot. far away. and the dark clouds to the southwest have yet to get close enough to douse the sunshine..

you can smell it on the breeze if you focus, the promise of rain. even without the thunder or ominous clouds as indicators, if you close your eyes and inhale, it is there. the smell of rain that is soon to arrive rain that we desperately need cooling rain. water to heal and soothe the plants from their baking.

. I changed out of my everyday clothes and put on some brown pants and a starched blue shirt a few minutes ago.

soon I will be off to pick up my Mother. a young brother of a family friend has passed, and well be off to pay our respects.. he was suffering, and it is good that it all has finally ended.. and for his family, this evening by the time his funeral is over, itll be raining a hot, Southern rain. We certainly need it. and I suspect they will too.

it hardly seems like a year since Acidman left us my goodness. I miss that old Georgia boy..

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Tombs.....

. The tiny community of Philadelphia sits on the cusp of two counties. Monroe Co. and Loudon Co.. as such, it has always made researching ancestors from that area a tad difficult boundaries change, obviously, over time.. and county courthouse record rooms are weird and tangled places sometimes

. Jackson Petty, my Great Great Great Grandfather, lived on a small farm just outside Philadelphia, Tennessee until he became too tired and weak from the vagueries of old age and went to live with his son, Robert.. Roberts daughter married a handsome fellow years later and it is from her happy union (and fruition) that I am here to talk today many times removed, of course the family had no idea he was even buried there until I started researching our genealogy back in 1999

. So anyway, I decided yesterday morning, for no real reason, to begin my journey by covering a number of the back roads instead of taking a more well-beaten track. and I was not disappointed.. following curvy, two-laned roads with the top dropped on a convertible is a wonderful way to spend a morning.. and with a country ham biscuit & large coffee from one of the local gas stations deftly positioned in my left paw, I set out..

it was a beautiful drive. Passing fields of corn that were only chest-high since the season is so early, I gently coasted mile after mile old grain silos, horses, dairy cattle, duckweed encrusted ponds, the smell of wet soil.. it was nice..

. I crossed the railroad tracks and stopped opposite from what once was the main street in Philadelphia and took a few photos.. there really werent any parking places, so I just slid Sylvia into an area off the road in front of what was once their local furniture store here is what I saw when I looked to the east.

philadelphia_affair_small.jpg

and this was the view to the west an old main street full of broken buildings with trees growing up through them.

philadelphia_shop_small.jpg

. And to the south?... kudzu climbing old water towers.. there had once been an old factory at the base of the water towers. It had kept the people of Philadelphia employed years and years ago. But it closed down ages back and is now in ruin as well.. the whole place is mostly residential now, and I guess everyone just commutes to Athens for work..

philadelphia_water_towers_small.jpg

. Once I took the photos of the graves and noted their information for the replacement stone, I wandered around for a while. Old graveyards are amazing places, really here is a view to the south.

philadelphia_cemetery_small.jpg

. Apart from the stones, markers, columns, and plinths, one grave has always stood out to me in that cemetery. And it stands out for three reasons. Firstly, the name of the man who is buried there John Lavender.. it is an unusual name for around here. and I dont recall having ever met another Lavender.. secondly, the date of his death. April 1st, 1814.. 1814 is pretty damn early for Tennessee sure, the land was settled by then and we were already a state, but it is rare to see graves from so early that are still readable. (And April 1st always makes me wonder if Mr. Lavender perhaps perished while performing some badly-executed ancient April Fools day prank)..

and lastly, I just cant get over the design of his tomb and the final inscription that rests upon it.. the tomb itself is made from roughly hewn granite stacked to form no mortar is visible, and the weight of each block holds the structure together instead.. time - and the elements - has weathered the joints of each rock, and they are ragged where they touch. Moss and lichen cling to each gouge of the cracking stones it really is quite impressive to see..

john_lavender_2_small.jpg

but the best part of the whole scene is his actual marker. It is a thin piece of brown slate that lies on top of the tomb. Cracked straight down the middle, it rests in stark contrast to the rest of the gray rectangle. and on it is this simple inscription.

. John Lavender.. died April 1st, 1814.. age 52..

john_lavender_small.jpg

.. how marvelously elegant. I just cant help but be intrigued by it.

. I mean, who was this strangely named man?..... why is he the only one buried with such grand pomp in such a small, poor, and nearly forgotten cemetery?

. That is what I was thinking about yesterday as I drove back to Athens for lunch..

. Everyone gets lost in the mists of time eventually, I guess. Then again, maybe thats not right at all. maybe some descendent of his knows his story. And knows exactly where he is laid to rest.. perhaps the fact that he is not surrounded by hundreds of other Lavender gravestones isnt a sign that I have wondered that he died without family around him back in 1814..

I dont really know, and I probably will never find the answer to that question but there is something wonderful about his tomb that I just can't put my finger on.

it sparks the imagination like few others that I have ever seen.

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Brotherhood.....

Silent
Still
Awkward at first
Nervousness comes
You speak
He answers
More silence
Worried
And then, with a nod
All is well
Sometimes it is good to just be
And quiet
Isnt feared
It is enjoyed

my little brother came over late last night and I threw a couple of burgers on the grill.. he sipped a beer and watched me as I worked.. his silence struck me and I tried to make conversation. But it just kept ending in one-word answers, so I stopped. Eventually, he smiled and said it is beautiful here

. we both just ended up sitting in the garage and looking out at the trees.

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Things....

you know, there is something deeply, deeply satisfying about going to the YMCA in a pub-advertising tee shirt to Punish Your Machine and then lighting up an unfiltered Camel afterwards in complete hedonistic celebration of your having survived another session at the hands of their torture devices or maybe thats just me.

and I saw all types of patrons today, as well. hey, at 3pm on a Monday, you get the full menu appetizers, entres, salad bar, and dessert .. crusty, wizened & bent octogenarians dimly pushing against the weights of upright machines.. young, spry, perky little college students pedaling like mad men and women on stationary bikes. middle-aged business men swatting racquetballs in a flurry of sweat through gritted teeth and bulging veins. blue-collar workers sweating on treadmills right beside of the local gentry. and little ole me hiding in the corner doing sit-ups.

. I couldnt help but be amazed at the sheer, overwhelming variety of humanity that was laid out before me in my small towns YMCA. Fat people, old people, fit people, pretty people, ugly people, rich people, poor people, healthy people, sick people, recovering people, angry people, driven people, egotists..

. I did my sit-ups, lifted the weights, and hit the treadmill for a while.. and just as I was catching my breath on one of the weight machines, this old guy walked past.. Izod shirt wet with sweat.. his back hunched from the onslaught of years of work & worry as a Father, Husband, and possibly banker. white knee-socks pulled taught up to mid-shin. tanned, veiny-legs poking out from his white tennis-shorts

I watched him leave the exercise room. He moved steadily and slowly head held high. He touched the doorknob, gave it a twist, and was gone

. I checked everyone else out in the room after hed passed. and I found that each soul was lost in their own worlds as they worked well, with the exception of a few young studs who were trying to catch eyes of a girl or two on the step machines.. hell, I doubt that any of them even noticed that old guy sweating in his Izod shirt.

I laughed a bit and moved over to start my sit-ups again

people just dont get it, you know?..... everyone looks for all the wrong things

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Blood....

.... I think I'm going to take up boxing as a hobby......

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Size....

you know, spiders are curious thingssize doesnt seem to matter to them at all.

a few days ago when I was grilling those lamb chops in the garage, I noticed a fairly large Carolina Wolf Spider scurrying around. his body was about the size of a peanut and with his legs splayed out, he was nearly as big around as a tennis ball.. covered with bristly hairs, he looked like quite the cockroach-catcher as he nipped from the grill to one of the legs of the pool table.

I stood there watching him for probably five minutes. He was on the hunt and I couldnt help but wonder what his victims might feel as they saw him approaching at a dead run.

but then, just after I had turned the lamb fillets on the grill, he stumbled..

.. in the process of ducking from one leg of the pool table to the other, he tripped. It just didnt seem right, so I knelt down and looked a bit closer.

.. he was struggling. rolling. and then I saw the reason..

. The pool table is sitting on small, thin slats of wood.. each of the six legs were shimmed for levelness when it was first set up.. and that space between the large legs and the tiny stacks of shims is home to predators..

common house spiders, to be exact. Miniscule little beasts Ive mentioned them many times here, as they are seemingly everywhere even living their lives pressed betwixt the screens and glass of my blogroom window. But as the grill smoked, the meat sizzled, and I looked on, a tiny spider slid down a strand of his web towards Mr. Wolf Spider for demonstrations sake, just imagine a housecat stalking an elephant that is what they looked like..

I laughed out loud as the scene unfolded.. for in my mind, that little guy was toast..

. But I was wrong very, very wrong..

the little spider touched a long, besieged leg and then backed away a few inches.. and the job was done in less than 30 seconds.

. At first, it slowed.. and then it slowed again until finally there was no movement at all. and as if were no big deal that David had just slew Goliath, the house spider reeled his victim in. up and up until the meal was a good three inches off of the concrete

. After that, I really dont know what happened. I checked the chops, and they were done. So I headed inside and had my own dinner - letting the spider have his way with his

I walked outside just now and saw his dried husk resting beneath the pool table.

there is wisdom there, I guess.. some sort of lesson. The Circle Of Life Bravado & Show vs. Action. Never Underestimate The Little Guy?......
..... Then again, maybe I just need to buy some pesticide

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Trees.....

.. a row of thunderstorms have skirted the house today from both the North and the South, missing us each time.. but even with the occasional burst of thunder, we have been without rain. Lightning and noise, yes. but no storm..

I sat out on the patio while The Missus lay swinging in the hammock during most of the fireworks..

. There is a feeling that is unmistakable when a summer storm is coming.. you can almost smell the approach of rain almost feel the warm air as it tries to stick to your skin..

and the trees too, they give up. surrender. While you watch them, their leaves curl slightly and then boost their tips skywards. And when the swirling updrafts catch them as the storm begins, their green leaves invert themselves and show their silvery underbellies

.. goodness. Trees are supposed to be strong. The Ultimate Metaphors, so to speak.. the mighty oak, the majestic elm, the tenacious hickory. And the run-and-hide, beg-for-mercy, absolutely pussified poplar.

I dont know. hell, sometimes I get confused. But sitting and watching that storm-that-never-was this evening, I could not help but hold those trees in contempt.. even as I sat under the shade of the weakling dogwoods and sipped my drink..

. Storms are supposed to be greeted. not given in to isnt that the point?......

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Family....

every second year, the descendants of one of my ancient relatives get together for a bash and today was the pre-bash barbecue. The Missus and I traveled the winding, narrow roads deep into the back country of Monroe County in search of the party. and we eventually found a small group of relatives sipping iced tea under a huge awning.. we pitched in immediately and began accompanying them with their sitting and sipping.

after a while, more and more kinfolk began to arrive and before we knew it, the smell of charring wieners joined the sticky, sweet, nutty smell of freshly mown hay that wed been enjoying. And dinnertime followed quickly afterwards..

.. it was a good time, actually. Herds of milling relatives gathered in continuously morphing clumps of humanity pulling away, rejoining a new group, skipping off to the grill for a hotdog or sneaking over behind Melvins truck to sneak a quick beer or to Uncle Jims camper for a secreted nip of moonshine

.. ageless, I suspect. Timeless, too. except for the cellphones clinging to each and every belt. And those shoes with those little wheels imbedded in the heels.. which, incidentally, dont seem to work too well in a gravel driveway. Ohioans must have a lot more concrete than we do down here, I guess

Great Uncle JR was there and walking with a cane. A feisty Iwo Jima veteran with a red-haired second wife. He, his younger sister, Sue, and his little brother Arthur the youngest of that clan are the only ones left. All of their brothers and sisters and all but 1 of their Brothers & Sisters-in-law have been left to the ages.

Great Uncle JRs sister, Geneva, was my maternal Grandma so thats how Im related to that crew.

so in two years, the Green Family will meet again in Dayton, Ohio.. and two years from that, theyll be back down here again. and so it goes. At least as long those three are still shaking the proverbial bushes. It does make you think, though. I wonder if well keep doing the family reunions once that older generation bails.. I hope we will, but if I were a betting man, Id not place money on it..

in other news, there is a wonderful and quite unexpected benefit to having yourself surrounded by an aging group of relatives with bad hearing. Some of the misheard conversations are out-of-this-world hilarious.

anyway, Im off to sip some Scotch and steel myself for tomorrows gathering there are going to be 300-400 descendants of Luke and his wife all getting sunburned and sipping sweet tea at Keefaufer Park. and if I know that bunch, if we chance to run out of hotdogs, those ducks in the duck pond are toast.

so I am turning in early tonight. sure, Ive been to a goat rope before, but the idea of a duck strangling is just too much. And I have a feeling that I am going to need all of my strength.

hey, what can I say?.... you may transplant the hillbillies to the wilds of suburban Ohio, but there is a core that will remain forever Tennessean and still, they're my folks.....

... and I do like duck...

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Nature...

...the delicate filigree of newborn leaves makes a canopy over my drivewayfetal leaves...flush with the new life of Springtime...

...as I repose on my deck with tea and tunafish, the Western horizon darkens with looming thunderheads...mercy...it looks to be a genuine toad-choker...perhaps I should do my reposing in the indoors...

...fat drops patter down, washing the encrustation of pollen off the deck chairs...a distant rumble...

...the pink azalea blossoms were hit hard a few weeks ago by a late frost...Nature's fury takes many forms, rubberneckers...sometimes it is the violence of the thunderstorm, sometimes the insidious Frost Crystal...the azaleas look like hammered dogshit, as do the crepe myrtles...but Springtime's healing touch is upon us, even now...

...I love nature, I truly do...since I have no day job I get to contemplate it more than most...and right now I hear its call, a soft, insistent voice...

...peace on you, rubberneckers...it's time to drop the kids off at the pool...perhaps afterwards I will apply my trusty Gillette to my nethers...and then prepare some Ribs Vindaloo and a brace of gin-and-tonics...

...its tough being straight and white these days...

..its even tougher being a fedora-wearing sonofabitch working off a scotch hangover...to whom a certain heterosexual, pale gentleman has given the sacred keys... two words, people..."Feckin'. Eejit."

...that is all...

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Re-watching....

over an exquisite tumbler of 21 year old Macallan last night, I re-watched that Nicholas Cage cinematic vehicle 8MM ..

. A dark and foreboding film filled with murder, torture, sadomasochism, and pornography, I still couldnt keep myself from being left feeling almost giddy after watching Nick pistol-whip that guy from The Sopranos to death with the butt of his Walther..

then again, yesterday was one of those days that was just filled to the brim with surprises

I reconnected with one of my dear Aunts and treated her to lunch at a little sandwich shop in town. We visited for the better part of four hours on various things. family, life, where to score the best Key Lime pie in Monroe county you know, all of the important things in life..

. She had never been to my house before, so I gave her the grand tour..

upon entering the manroom, she nearly wept when she laid eyes on one of the old portraits. A photo that I wrote about long, long ago right here. it currently hangs just to the left of the blogstation above my brown suede couch..

baby_engineer_small.jpg

her eyes welled as she gazed at it, and then she spoke that is how I will always remember you, Eric Ill be 49 this year and will be a Grandmother in a few months, but that is how you will always be to me. that little smiling baby that I babysat for all those years ago.. .

I honestly didnt know what to say..

. We rallied, though, after a hug and a kiss on the cheek. and retired to the patio out back and the shade of the dogwood trees..

. after she left, I found myself quite sad. unexpectedly so, in all honesty..

. Time ticks by a lot faster than our reminisces realize, I guess.. one day you are a teenage babysitter and the next youre a freshly-minted Grandma.

I dont suppose Ill look at that picture the same way again..

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Theft....

I spent a lot of time today thinking about stealing. Theft.. both the physical act of actually taking someones shit AND the mental state that one must be in to purp such an excursion..

. and so far, well, my thoughts have been leading me in ever-tightening circles. under what circumstances would it ever become ethical to steal?. starvation?.... to help a family member on his or her deathbed?..... greed? what would be my breaking point?....

truthfully I just dont know Ive never been pushed there by circumstance and fortune.. but it has been on my mind lately.

when I was 7 I lifted my only bit of criminal loot.. an Evel Knievel plastic toy. molded to his motorcycle, there was a little orangish band with teeth on it that you inserted into the back of the bike.. and if heaved upon with sufficient force, this little orangish band would spin the back wheel of the bike furiously and launch ole Evel off in any direction at a blistering pace. no matter which way you had him pointed..

a lot like life, really, when you think about it.. except that the teeth on some of our spinners are a bit worn down, I guess. except we don't quite 'jet' where we're pointed all the time....

. but I thieved it from a playmate of mine, actually.. a little blonde kid with curly hair and a freckled nose.. we rode the same bus on rural route #2 from Madisonville.. and with intent and great stealth of purpose, I stole his Evel Knievel toy..

his Mom called mine a few days later asking about it. I remember being on the sofa in the living room when she got the call.. I listened intently.. ears perked and ready to gather any globule of intel that she inadvertently spilled as I spooned my Saturday mornings chocolate pudding quietly..

. And when asked about the Deed later, I lied.. I lied my little red-haired ass off..

the next morning was a Sunday and I got up early to watch cartoons and once my Mother was safely ensconced in the kitchen scrambling eggs for my breakfast, I stole out the back door with Evel in hand

. I buried that hunk of plastic in the back yard..

. and there it lays, I reckon, safely hidden from Mommas sight Hell, I doubt that she even would remember this tale if I were to bring it up in conversation tomorrow

. but I did do it.. and I was as guilty as could be

never stole another thing since, though well, with very few exceptions the guilt was more than my little pubescent heart could take, you know?........

I wonder if I should tell my Sainted Momma about that long-ago buried plastic toy. I really do

. But I suspect that I will not actually, I probably should not

. I mean, that was a long, long time ago. Right?....

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Forgotten....

I once spent a month in the Cote d'Azur region of France exploring. a tiny village south of the city of Draguignan was where I planned my excursions and recharged afterwards.. I had a wonderful time prowling around pubs, cafes, and ancient Roman ruins.. eating figs and olives right off the trees. getting to know the locals over a few hands of pinochle and a couple bottles of wine in the spring evenings

I was a young man.. 22 years old.. with a buzz-cut hairdo, a weathered pair of khaki pants, and a coarsely woven wool sweater.

I remember cobblestone streets and a great plaza bordered with open-air cafes that served the strongest coffee imaginable. and beer. Stella Artois in gargantuan mugs.

I dont seem to remember the name of the village though. but I am sure I knew it once.

and I never learned to speak French.. and yet I never missed a meal or went without a drink when I was thirsty..

in retrospect, I suspect that they just really, really enjoyed the fact that I was horrible at pinochle. then again, my sweater kicked ass so perhaps they were putting up with me until I let slip the name of my haberdasher in Aberdeen.

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Newborns....

. the leaves that Spring has coaxed from the trees are small and fragile still. newborns, as they are. vibrant and green

and as I sit here with coffee and cigarettes, to the West a storm looms on the horizon dark and brooding and speckled with flashes of lightning. Thunder rolling and booming and shaking the window panes.. It will be here soon to dampen the warm, swirling air

the dogwoods and poplars are swaying outside my window being pushed by the steady, forceful wind that trumpets the thunderstorms approach.. they are lucky, I suppose, the leaves.. their smallness will help them weather the weather..

.. yest