Sunday, February 28, 2010

In the beginning was....

Please look carefully at this picture, taken from our front doorway.  In the middle, at the edge of the field, where the line of trees begins, do you see something, a blip?  We were rather relieved it's a little blip because we already have a reputation for not keeping up our lawn "like Leonard did."  

"But what is it?" says Virginia, as if she doesn't know.  Look again:

Do you see it in the second full rectangle formed by the Venetian blind  in the top right of the lower set of six-over-six window panes?  

"Think Jimmy Buffet," says Virginia.

Owning one of these has long been a dream of mine, but not a very big dream, more of a fantasy as I have sunk my roots deeper and deeper into terra firma.  It's Karen's fault.  She revived the fantasy Thursday night, late, after I'd pulled up the covers and resumed reading The Economist.  "I want to show you something," she said (which quickly drew my attention, and then I realized she was carrying her laptop).  The picture she showed me got us thinking....

and led to the first high point of Friday, February 27.  We jumped into our Subaru Baja, having decided the Dodge Ram would not prove useful, and drove down to Roanoke to see this:

"What on earth is it?" Virginia asks.

"It's Karen peaking through a porthole window," I say.

"Silly sailor," says Virginia.  "That's not a porthole."

She's right of course, but I'm running out of patience and so, I suppose are you.

Today we had this craigslist special, a 23-foot sailboat, towed to our field.  What it will become is fodder for another posting.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


An earthquake hit Chile and sent a tsunami toward Hawaii, where our good friends Mike and Laura are vacationing, and toward many other spots on the Pacific.  Several years ago, I dare say few of us knew the word, "tsunami," although most have been hit a few times in our lives by figurative tsunamis.  Like the one that hit us when I lifted the receiver for our land line this morning.  "I have horrible news," said the caller.  "My son committed suicide early this morning."  I can't imagine the wave that hit our friend and keeps slamming him against the wall.

His son was a friendly soul, well-liked by almost everyone, except for the mental illness he harbored and recognized.  He said he knew he could get treatment, but the pills and the illness would pester him as long as he lived.  He left messages trying to comfort his family and friends by reassuring them that his leaving had nothing to do with their behavior; that his illness was the cause.  This, from a 16-year-old.

We promptly visited our friend, who said several times, among tears, stories and, I suppose, the best prescription for almost anything, laughter, "This is the worst day of my life."  A car passed us as we walked home, its license plate proclaiming "RxLAF."  RxCry.

"What can you say?" says Virginia.

"Not much," say I. "Hugs might help."

Friday, February 26, 2010


Our white fields now look like melted cheese, shiny in the cool morning before the sun sheds their topcoats of ice.  No longer fun and fluffy, the snow has turned stale and worn.

I don't watch much television, in part because after an hour or two I tend to feel like this snow, drooped over a chair, couch or daybed, melting into oblivion.  Forget couch potato; it's an insult to the firm, ripe, nutritious root crop that, according to my father, lacks only one essential protein.

March 17, St. Patrick's Day, is potato day in this planting zone.  The resilient potato doesn't seem to mind working toward daylight, sending robust shoots that burst onto the surface like little green fireworks and then, shriveling in surprise when Jack Frost pays a late visit, harnessing its stored energy to try again and again.  It will succeed.  I hesitate to imagine what a potato could do if all its eyes could see.

"I like this picture," says Virginia, "except, in comparison, I feel like a small fry."

"No way," I say.  "You're a mover and a shaker.  Sin Valley can never forget you."

"Maybe, maybe not," say Virginia.  "When I first looked down on the valley, I had no idea my roots there where so deep."

"Ever since, Ms. Potato Head," I say, "they've spread like fingerlings."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jumping the Gun

If a toilet won't stop running, a pipe is spraying all over the basement, or a spigot drips, I can take off with my man-bag and return several hours later to a quiet home.  If our house is cooler than usual, I can stoke the woodstove, sink a dipstick to discover our huge ugly oil tank is empty, and telephone Canada or the Middle East, or maybe the co-op, to order fuel oil number 2.  Then I can disappear, confident that Karen will open our ancient Old Milwaukee furnace and bleed the fuel line or whatever she does down there with a wrench, rag and bucket.

Today was my turn, highly unusual because we believe in assigning tasks to the more competent.  For mechanical matters, Karen wears the overalls, I'm the suit.

"Someone might say you knew what you were doing," says Virginia.

"Barely," I say.  "I started sliding my dad's plane before I remembered the easy stuff -- tightening screws."

In the cabin, which I suppose is more mine than Karen's even though her name is on the title, French doors separate the heated from the unheated areas.  For years the doors have pushed back and forth against each other and sometimes locked in aggravation.  Yesterday, Karen bought a couple brass surface bolts to hold one door in place.  Today, I installed them.

Of course, tasks like this one rarely are as simple as I hope.  After deciding to install the floor bolt first -- good move -- I drilled a hole in the floor, then screwed the sliding bolt mechanism onto the door and the strike plate over the hole I'd drilled.  The bolt slides perfectly.  Next, I fastened a similar bolt to the top of the door, without a strike plate.  Voila!

But the sister door, the mover with the door handle, closed like a square peg in a round hole.  That's when I got out the plane (wood plane; no, I didn't fly off to consult).  After a few swipes, brilliance struck.  Maybe I could solve this problem by tightening the hinge screws.  Correct!  A few more slides of the plane and the door closed like a cabinet made by Phillip Welch (not quite, but I like the simile -- check out his amazing work at

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Online Chatter

Yogi, our African gray parrot, has chosen this moment to warm up, literally, like an opera singer.  His full-throated bellow lacks the timbre of William Warfield or Samuel Ramey, but his rendition turns a key in my brain, sending me to YouTube, where you can find multiple performances of almost any music you desire.  I plugged in those singers' names and off I went to Porgy and Bess, Man of LaMancha and Tosca.  Before the Arrowhead Trio chose music for its November 2009 concert of twentieth century trios, we turned to YouTube to preview most of our candidates.

I'm reminded of Yogi's one-time greeting in North Carolina when Karen returned from grocery shopping, "Mommy's home!"  He hasn't repeated it, not because we don't leave home, which is a possibility these days.  We can order anything we need, or want, on-line.

I'd like to think the Internet has renewed interest in the written word.  As a result, almost everyone reads.  The reading may be limited to little snippets with abbreviations that are as Greek as shorthand to me, but for many people it's more than they'd otherwise read.  I wonder if peer pressure has reduced our illiteracy rate.

When I was in my twenties, I empathized with women who refused to learn to type because they didn't want to be stuck in jobs traditionally held by women.  I'm sure they've changed course.  Now we all type, even if we've never banged away "asdfasdf"  or "qwerty" to a droning teacher or recording.  I learned after my father received a package in the mail -- an electronic typewriter on approval that arrived with a learner's guide.  During the 30 days before he returned it, I managed to learn enough to last a lifetime.  If I remember correctly, he preferred his manual Remington.

I suppose some young people don't know what a secretary is.  When I started working in a bank law department, each of the two lawyers had a secretary.  We got to know "ours" pretty well, in part because we spent a couple hours together each day while she took wisdom down in shorthand.  Mine, a former "executive secretary," mentored me, editing my memos and suggesting other improvements. Dictaphones came along, which were substantial timesavers although my boss resisted for quite a while.  Twenty years later, my department of 12 lawyers shared two "administrative assistants."  I now operate as an integrated secretary-lawyer-writer-administrative assistant-and-everything-else and if I need help I can Google or email.

"Eh-ee-ah-oh-oo."  It's not Yogi, it's Virginia warming up.

"You're sounding marvelous, as usual," I say.

"Thank you, what would you like to hear?" says Virginia.

"You pick," I say. "Whatever you choose, it definitely will beat anything on YouTube.  I'm for 'live and in person' any day."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Appearance Prejudice

I moved the goddess of bad notes away from the piano, out of sight in another bay window, in case I've been depending on her.  I had thought the wooden carving was androgynous, but further inspection suggests the god is a goddess.   She appears angry, with deep ruts in her unsmiling cheeks and a fiercely set jaw under asymmetrical eyes set in deep sockets, her scraggly hair long and wiry.

On the other hand, I don't know her well, so her contorted mouth might be a gentle smile.  At my age, I should have outgrown appearance prejudice.  Many people have surprised me over the years.  A few nights ago, I appeared to myself in a dream, my face damaged by burns or disease and, as I re-entered consciousness, I was thinking, "It doesn't matter; I am who I am."

"You rascal," says Virginia.  "I hoped you were going to explain your thought that a piece of wood could swallow bad notes."

"It wasn't my idea," I confess.  "The friend who gave it to me is a respected professor emeritus of religion and philosophy.  He suggested she might help me out."

"I should have guessed," says Virginia.  "Is this the same fellow who earned an amulet in a Japanese dojo,* after learning to invoke spirits and lay hands on dead cars and frogs?"

"Croak," I say.

"Vroom," says Virginia.
* The religious sect was Sukyo Mahikari.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


As we anticipate the next wave of this economic restructuring,* "homesteading" is taking off.  Seed companies are swamped with orders.  Backyard chickens are multiplying.  Our little "homestead" is looking forward to a new herd of baby goats and the arrival of 20 heritage breed turkeys.

It's not easy, especially when you have another job.  I was making a mental "to-do" list and decided to jot some of it down.  This is mine; Karen has more.
  • Plant starter flats of tomato, green pepper, eggplant and other seeds so they're ready to transplant in May.
  • Put sulfur on the grapes to inhibit "rust."
  • Prune the grapes, blackberries and fruit trees.
  • Mulch the fruit trees and grapes.
  • As soon as the ground can be worked, plant our Spring garden -- lettuce, peas, spinach, carrots, parsnips, beets, etc.
  • On or about March 17, plant potatoes.
  • Move the snowplow to storage.
  • Build an attractive fence around the garden beds to keep the Indian Runner ducks in and varmints out.  Oh yes, first, order rough-cut fence wood from our local mill, dig post holes, plan the fence, consider solar electric wires and low-to-the-ground supplemental wire fencing.
  • Add another garden bed or two, which requires laying down wet newspapers or cardboard, covering with 6 inches of topsoil from our creekbed and adding manure.
  • Find, clear and prepare larger areas for planting grains to feed our livestock and us (including wheat, oats, etc. for flour, breads and cereals).
  • Help Karen add onto the goat barn (which in just one year has become too small because our plans have changed, for more goats and for turkeys).
  • Claim several pickup loads of manure to add to our investment bank.
  • Mulch and prepare our summer garden. 
  • Build a root cellar based on Mother Earth News plans using dirt bags.
  • Gather, cut and split at least 5 cords of firewood for next season.  (We might as well give up on this season; we're almost out and collecting firewood in the snow and mud is not much fun.)
  • Finish scraping and painting the exterior house windows and trim.
  • Get the pickup's steering repaired and new tires for the 1989 Volvo 240DL.
  • Put gravel on the cabin driveway.
  • Clean the rain gutters.
  • Harvest and put food by (can, freeze and dry).
 "That's enough," says Virginia. "I think we get the picture."

"Aw," I say, "I was just getting warmed up."

"I think you'll be plenty warm all year," says Virginia.  "Don't forget your commitment to me."

"Oh, that's right," I say.  "And the chamber music weekend coming up at Garth Newel (the Arrowhead Trio is playing), after the Schumann concert on March 6.  Not to mention my 'work' deadlines."

"It's fixin' to be another great year," says Virginia.

* The loans that financed the office buildings with empty parking lots -- commercial real estate -- are coming due soon, as renewals and extensions peter out.  Many smaller banks that "stayed strong" during the last couple years are on the hook.  Remember this when your "investment counselor" calls to say now is the time to get back into real estate investment trusts (REITs) and other real estate investment vehicles because they're "cheap."

Saturday, February 20, 2010


"Nowadays, being anonymous is worse than being poor."  This wisdom, attributed to a reality show participant, reminds me of my posting with the Salinger quote ("Nobody," February 15, 2010) and in my mirror I see a Puritan, perhaps a prude, who would flop on a reality show, who doesn't like reality shows, or more accurately, who doesn't want to admit he likes reality shows so he ignores them except for a peak around the corner once in a while, knowing if he surrendered they would suck time from worthy endeavors such as composing masterpieces for this blog very few people read and which serves as a motivational tool for an angst-driven middle-aged creative writer wannabe who might be better off fantasizing fiction except he's open-minded enough to recognize much of this blog, like life, is fiction so maybe he isn't a prude or Puritan after all.

"That's a mouthful, prude," says Virginia.

"So you think..." I say.

"No question," says Virginia.  "Don't you know a blog is where you're supposed to write things formerly known as secrets everyone until recently kept close, never discussed even with a friend of the same sex?"

"The same what?" I cover my ears.

Friday, February 19, 2010

First Day of Spring

By mid-February
hard winter hearts
begin to soften,
knowing snow and ice
will not linger long,
but eyes still roll
when she says
Valentine's is the first
day of Spring.

Dr. Oz says we should not plan to avoid serious illness.  Instead, we should stay in shape so we can leave it behind as quickly as possible.

Do you think the deli worker who "stretches" sliced turkey by inserting a sheet of paper between each slice does it for her own order?

If you scream denials of climate change, don't forget the difference between climate and weather.  It may be cold here, but I understand they had to haul snow to the ski runs in Vancouver because it's warmer than usual. For more, see

"Do any of these have anything to do with that poem?" asks Virginia.

"Nada," say I.

"Speaking of Dr. Oz," says Virginia, "who recommends spending at least 15 minutes per day in the sun.  When snow is on the ground, would 7 1/2 minutes be enough?"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Snowed Under

Same time last year
you were sprouting seeds.
This year, covered by
thick blue snow,
your everyday is a mystery

to infertile minds
planning the next onslaught
by rogue hoes, neglecting
hyped hope -- we are
weaklings; we are warriors.

     [from a long poem, "Conversations with a Garden" by the blogger;
      acknowledgment:  Joel 3:10]

"I'm not sure what you're trying to say," says Virginia, "but I think you're comparing your garden last year and this year with the past year in Washington."

"Spot on," I say.

"And I think," says Virginia, "we seem to be farther than ever from beating swords into plowshares."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Small World and White Eggs

A few years ago, a friend of mine, attending a party of Americans living in Berlin, Germany, struck up a conversation with a woman who was curious about Rockbridge County, where we now live.  She said she was negotiating to buy a country store there.

The deal fell through, but this morning I learned that the store, our next-door neighbor, finally is changing hands.  Its owner told me, "I'm excited, it's a great business, but now what am I going to do? Who wants to hire a 54-year old woman?"

She even offered the price, $180,000, which set my wheels churning about a going business, store premises, coolers and other equipment, plus an apartment on the second story.  For the right person, it sounds like a steal.

The conversation began when I asked if I could tape a concert poster to the store window.  I learned something else.  Someone is raising 50 chickens and throwing away their eggs.  "I just can't stand brown eggs.  They taste strong or something.  We're going to get some white layers."

"I think I'd get those eggs to my store, stick them in cartons and label them 'free-range organic,'" says Virginia.  "Maybe paint them white."

"Right, that sounds like you," I say.

"It's Lent," says Virginia. "I'd paint them gobs of colors, and sell fresh rabbits right beside them."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Best

Our country's children don't score at the top on international testing in math and science.  China's economy may soon eclipse our own as the largest on Earth.  The economies of several other nations are growing faster than ours.

This is terrible.  We must do something.

Maybe.  Tell me why, please.

Frankly, for the moment, I'm a little more concerned about why we ignore the mounting evidence that head injuries in football seriously endanger the quality of life of many young men.  Like the Romans, last Sunday we sat and cheered as the Colts and Saints banged their heads together.  Reforming this deadly sport eludes us as downright un-American.

A University of North Carolina study reported that the chance is 1 in 1,000 that a 30-to-49-year-old man will receive a diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer's or another memory-related disease.  The chance that a National Football League retiree aged 30 to 49 will receive the same diagnosis is 1 in 53.

What does our passion for football have to do with our desire to be "best" in the world?  Nothing, maybe.  Something, maybe.  Passions, after all, by definition are not rational.  Perhaps our other decision-making is equally driven by passion.  As we watch China grow, with its huge population that dwarfs our own, do we know and understand our concern?

"Time out," says Virginia.  "Are you saying our children shouldn't study hard?"

"No way," I say.  "I kind of like the idea of being the best we can be, but let's give a lot more thought to what the 'best' can be."

Monday, February 15, 2010


I feel like Re-Pete.  Re-Pete was sitting on a fence.  Re-Pete fell off.  Repeat.  Or something like that.

If you've ever memorized something for a skit, play or musical performance, you know what I'm talking about, unless you're blessed with the memory skills I wish I had.  I suppose even with great memories, other parts of the body usually have some catching up to do.  I'm at the stage now where the Schumann score finally is in my head but I have two problems -- sometimes my fingers don't go where my brain wants them to, and other times my (conscious) brain can't keep up with my fingers.

As a late teenager I was told if you don't already have a hefty repertoire it's too late to make it as a concert pianist -- not to mention technique, interpretation and charisma.  Law school beckoned.

I don't regret my choice of careers and I still find satisfaction "solving" legal problems, but I can't say I've ever "loved the law" like some of my colleagues.  One of my law school classmates raised his eyebrows when I said I'd move to New York in a heartbeat if the Metropolitan Opera offered me a contract.  He said, "Not really?"  Maybe he thought I was wacko, but I interpreted his comments more as "what are you doing in law school if you don't love the law with all your heart?"

Of course, my statement was loaded with impossible assumptions, most importantly, that my talent was worthy of the Met stage.  I meant, if I'd had that kind of talent, I'd have headed for New York.  A few years later I auditioned for the Washington Opera and could have cried when the director asked if I had considered Broadway shows.  Deep down I knew I was much more suited to legal analysis than singing and dancing on a stage.

"Ta, ta," says Virginia.

"Yes, there's you," I say.  "I made it, didn't I?"

"In a sense," she says, "but remember, most people would say I flopped.   Think of Salinger.  What was it he wrote?  Something like 'Just because I'm so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else's values, and just because I like applause and people to rave about me doesn't make it right.  I'm ashamed of it.  I'm sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.  I'm sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of a splash.'"

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The First Annual R&S Awards

Have you caught the fever?  It's on all the talk shows, even had an ad during the Superbowl.  If you missed it, turn on this week's American Idol.  The Oscars?  No, but it could be big or bigger.  It's the R&S Awards.

What's that?  Come on.  Where have you been?  Everybody who's anybody is behind it, that is, all the religious and spiritual leaders, anyway.  Would you believe the Pope, the Dalai Lama, William Franklin Graham, Rick Warren, Ali Khamenei, and Joel Osteen?

"I don't know why we didn't think of this before," groused Jack Carissimi, the Vatican's delegate to the R&S Academy, which is meeting in Las Vegas to announce the first year's nominees.  "What a great city to begin this effort," said the excited Maharaji Maestro, the event's mastermind.  "All of us can spread our word on the way to and from the Academy."

"Yes, it's about time."  That's Julie Priestess, director of outreach for the Las Vegas Business Development Board.  "The seculars have milked the Oscars and reality tv for all they're worth.  Why not the religious?"

"We've had a great run," said Wiggly Worm, with the National Order of American Evangelicals, "God's honest truth, the greatest marketing campaign of the ages, but now, with a worldwide recession, it's time to take advantage of another great opportunity."

Of course, dissenters complain.  "I'm not sure it's such a good idea," doubted Jesse Whitte, rabbi in The Lakes nearby, "but I hope bringing together all these different faiths bodes well for the future."

"Now there's a thought," says Virginia.  "Maybe they'll realize they have some things in common and start working together."

I say, "I'd like to have been a spider on the wall when they debated top tens for Best Preacher, Best Message, Best Supporting Congregant, Best Sanctuary.  I hear they're open for suggestions about other Bests."

Have you got any?

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Basswood panels,
full of promise --
my father knew
they hold secrets
when he left them
next to a box
of carving tools.

When my mind turns to "could-a-beens," I know it's time for re-tooling because the wishy-washy pile's only going to get higher if I don't switch into four-wheel drive.  When I find myself admiring someone else's wall of famous faces, I realize it's the same thing.  Show me instead your album of future memories.

"So you think I should take down my wall?" says Virginia.

"What wall?" I say.  "Shall we look?"

"Go ahead."  She points to a cardboard box, taped like a mummy.

"Maybe some other time," I say.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Early Valentines

Join us, please, for a wine-tasting dinner, last night.  Retroactivity is a blogger's prerogative.

The aperitif is petrol, propelling us in our Subaru Baja away from tomorrow's compost heap of chicken, duck and goat hors d'oeuvres to the nearby town of Lexington.

The pre-dinner entertainment is a private recital for the pianist and his Valentine on the Mason & Hamlin piano at Lexington Presbyterian Church, replacement venue for the local community orchestra's next concert, now rescheduled for March 6 at this church, the hall with the best acoustics in town.  Schumann, himself, would love the sound of this piano.

A short promenade across Main Street brings us to the Southern Inn and a table of six friends surrounded by 20-plus wine-clubbers about to enjoy Spanish tastes, presented by George and explained by an oenophile pointing at a map of Spain.

The wines are good (but what do I know?), the food better, and the conversation best of all, from catching up on the next generation to birth order, neuroscience, Republican'ts, Facebook lurkers, recent movies, snow removal, and even, consistent with the theme of the evening, parking practices in Valencia, Spain.

Of course we had to table our localvore intentions.  I had almost forgotten how tasty petroleum products can be.  Drink to me, drink to you, far more oil than our Subaru's aperitif!

"You didn't," says Virginia.

"Not a word," I say.  "It was a splendid evening."

Thursday, February 11, 2010


This morning, I had to brake at the top of the little hill at the end of our driveway because a car was approaching.  Lately, I've been putting my Dodge Ram pickup in 4-wheel drive until I'm on the main road, but today I didn't think about it.  As I slowly slid backwards, I wondered if it would have made any difference on what seemed to be solid ice.  No big deal.  We stopped.  I ground into the super-gear and up we went, me and my Ram.

It has one of those big 8-cylinder engines I was hoping our new President would ban from the highways.  Talk about nixing a second term; fussing with Fifth Amendment rights ("due process") would wreak tons more havoc than the Second ("right to bear arms").

There you have it -- my inconsistency.  Talk is so cheap, sometimes I wish we'd drop the pretense.  It doesn't work anyway most of the time, even for very good actors, because as the stack of white lies gets thicker, few people are smart enough to prevent at least one of them from reaching out to bite.

I'm as suspicious of cute, wonderful human interest stories as I am of eulogies, not that they can't or shouldn't exist to help us aspire to greatness.  Maybe this goes back to a newspaper article written about me ten years ago, which said I majored in "piano math" in college.  I wondered if the problem was a missing "and" or whether the writer actually thought I had answered "piano math."  I'm not saying such a major shouldn't exist.  It just wasn't mine.

I'm getting off track, as too often happens.  The criticism I'm leveling is not only inaccuracy -- if we didn't recognize it before, certainly the Internet has taught us abut the potential fragility of the written word -- it is, dare I use this word, obsequiousness in a writer, like a supersweet overly attentive waiter.  Avoiding crossing the line between truth and sacharrin-ity, I imagine, is the supreme challenge facing someone who writes about human success, dead or alive.

"You're rambling again," says Virginia.  "Are you saying you prefer a few warts?"

"Exactly," I say.  "Often when I read an obituary or attend a funeral I imagine the departed one floating above, wondering who is this person being described."

"Tell me something," says Virginia.  "What does this have to do with your pickup?"

"It may look macho, but once it begins sliding down a sheet of ice it's just a piece of metal.  Give me some pimples and warts."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


A hefty pile of snow stands three feet from the side of my piano.  If not separated by a wall of windows, I could easily step from the pile onto the piano.  This is why we built the deck so "a Mack Truck could drive across it," to quote an engineer friend.  The architect I asked to review my plans had insisted, "Build it for the biggest snowfall you can imagine and for that instant at a graduation party when everyone rushes to the guy yelling 'Come over here, you've got to see this!'"

Up to ten inches of snow rest on the railing, forming an ant's ski slope under our neglected bird feeder.  I should call it a squirrel feeder to explain why it has been neglected, but I don't suppose that would help some of you squirrel watchers.  While I may enjoy their antics from time to time, I refuse to encourage their approach to anywhere I don't want them chewing.  Neighbors in North Carolina spent several thousand dollars repairing squirrel damage to their attic and soffits.

Twenty-one locust posts, rustic, sometimes crooked, support the railing.  Two of them extend a couple feet above it and today they wear caps, like major-domos not fighting over who's in charge.  A couple tiki torches pose like toy soldiers in straitjackets, our bow to kitsch and mosquitoes.

"I miss the mosquitoes," says Virginia.  "Just think, in three months or less we could be sitting here in shorts."

I say, "And the rhododendron leaves, instead of curling into clumps like steamed spinach, will again be thick and shiny."

"Resilience," says Virginia.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Five to eight more inches of crystal flakes are expected today (maybe more, says someone).  Two have fallen.  For the moment, the air is still.  The undercurrent of Opossum Run warns that when the sun has finally pushed the clouds up and away, meltwaters may move mountains.

Each time this happens, Karen and I visit our peninsula, where Elk Creek meets the James, sometimes an island, sometimes underwater.  Soon after we signed the sales contract on this property, the son of a missionary/preacher e-mailed the listing agent to inquire if we'd be willing to offer a plot of ground to bury the father.  Neither of them had ever lived here, but old family documents referred to settlement where "Elk Creek meets the James."  No fan of cemeteries, I welcomed the distribution of ashes.  A few months later, a renewed request arrived.  The father had died of a heart attack.  My response was the same.  No taker.

In response to high water, the bottomlands will tender gifts, such as bedsprings, barrels, buckets and boats. And firewood, truckloads waiting to be cut and split.  I must find some hip boots or waders so I'm ready when the air warms.  Two months of unusual cold has severely depleted our woodshed.

"You're a disgrace," says Virginia. "Look at Frank and Katie and the man who lives under the giant persimmon tree."

"I know," I say.  "Those octagenarians have piles that will last years sub-zero."

"You'd better get started," says Virginia.

No.  I'm waiting for a few great solar panels.

[By the way, Richard lives (see yesterday's post, "Family Tradition").  He has fancied up a tent, like a tarp with sides, and was picking through the rubbish this afternoon.]

Monday, February 8, 2010

Family Tradition

What struck me as strange was Richard's driveway.  Someone had cleared it of snow, cleaner than almost any I'd passed on my way to Arrowhead Lodge.  Richard has no car; he walks everywhere.  Last week I gave him a lift to the store "across the river."  As I pumped gas, he returned with a pack of cigarettes, "May I ride back as far as your place?"  "Sure," I said, "You were going to walk ten miles for one pack of cigarettes?"  He shrugged.

Today, I looked more closely because something was missing.  Had he moved?  "Where's his trailer?" I thought.  "There."  Smoke rose from a pile of ashes and twisted metal.  "Where is Richard?"  I hope he escaped in time.

A few years ago I wrote a song, "Let 'Em Bash," which included a verse inspired by Richard's parents:

    Back in the woods a drunk man ran, naked 'cept for the boots he wore,
    his wife, she wandered far and wide, poaching ginseng to fill his hide.
    had no idea, by the creek he fished, a footbridge held his liquor store,
    addicted too, she smoked in bed, burned three houses and a big old shed.

 "Poor Richard," says Virginia.  "Do you think he had a chance?"

Yes, he did, and maybe he's happy, wherever he is.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Twenty degrees lined up outside the backdoor this morning.  I appreciated each one of them.  I pulled on my underarmor, sweatpants and jacket and dived in.  The roads had been plowed for a reason.  I couldn't let that effort go to waste.

After a mile -- why don't I stretch first, especially on a frigid day -- my right calf started whining.  I tried to talk the stubborn muscle into relaxing, but it gradually got worse.  I stopped, stretched, and walked.  Then I tried a little massage, more stretching, walking, jogging.  Stop, stretch, massage, walk, jog.  The pain lingered, but I ran the 7 miles I'd planned, to make a deposit at our nearest ATM.  Even country boys have access to ATMs.

I thought back to the day I learned to ride a bike, on the lawn of the farmhouse we rented in rural Ohio.  My training wheels made me feel and look like a baby and my dad thought it was time.  He ran alongside, then let me go.  Twenty feet.  Boom.  "You okay?  You've almost got it."  A few more tries and I was a cyclist.

Diving was next.  First, jump in backwards.  Ouch!  My chin hit the side of the pool.  "Next time, jump back a little farther," Dad said as he drove me to the doctor for stitches.  I vaguely remember thinking I'd already figured that out for myself.  About three days later, he says, "Let's try again.  The longer you wait, the harder it is."

That became a mantra for life.  It's what you say after being thrown by a horse, flubbing a flip off the high diving board, or exiting a bad interview.  Skydiving?  I won't go that far.

I'm pretty sure this morning's problem was just a little muscle cramp or tear.  I'm looking forward to tomorrow's run, even though the calf is mooing now.

"Your dad's been gone 12 years, right?" asks Virginia.

"I don't think so," I say.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Spring Fever

I laugh when others ask if I get bored
because each weed, each root, each row
means more than every letter in every word
on every page of every book, more than
numbers on ledgers in tables and charts,
or notes in measures in staves in songs,
step by step, day by day, month by month
my life awaits you. Like a good novel,
you draw me into the excitement of never
knowing what the next moment will bring.

(from a long poem entitled "Conversations with a Garden," by Virginia's collaborator)

"You make me wish I were in your garden," says Virginia.

"Don't worry," I say. "You're there."

[By the way, the snow plow continues to work very well, see picture below.]

Friday, February 5, 2010

It Worked!

About 20 years ago, my extended family gathered at my parents' home, or maybe it was in Santa Fe, and one of my older brothers asked me, "Did you ever notice how much work Mother and Dad do around their place? Dad's list is several pages long." For the first time, I became aware that as I age I may want, or need, to pare down the things we take for granted, especially tasks that require much physical effort.

We're in the middle of our 4th snow storm of the season. One of them only laid down 2-3 inches, so it was nothing, but the other two were monsters and the same is being said of today's delight. Both times we began to shovel our driveway when the ruler said 4 inches. That's a good height because we can push the snow across the asphalt with very little lifting. By the time we finished the first pass, we had 4-5 more inches and started over again. We then made the mistake of going to sleep for our usual 8 hours, which made for some heavy lifting after we woke up.

Epiphany! Two days ago, on our fairly regular 4-mile walk together, Karen and I noticed Jay, a neighbor down the road a couple miles, pulling something behind his pickup. He explained while we admired. Jay is one of those guys who can do anything mechanical. I am not; Karen is better. As we headed homeward, Jay suggested, "They used to make these out of wood." He had welded his from metal.

You might be able to guess what the rest of our walk involved -- plus a few moments in between then and yesterday afternoon. They say pictures are worth a thousand descriptive mistakes, so I'll post a few below. All you need is a pallet, a hammer, a drill and 5/8" bit, some nails or screws, five 80-inch oak boards, a couple ropes, a tombstone (that's the weight you see on top), and, of course, snow.

It works!

"But where are you going to store that thing?" says Virginia.

"I think I'll plant it in the field next to the manure pile," I say.

"Let's hope it doesn't grow any bigger,": she says.




Thursday, February 4, 2010

Arrowhead Lodge

where rumbling begins
a half-mile down the road
when someone is coming,
plenty of time to hide
and remain faceless

away from a world
of social-ists, telephones
and satellite dishes,
a spot where photo albums
are the only books of faces.

"Don't tell me," says Virginia. "You finally signed up."

I ask, "How could you tell?"

"The remorse," says Virginia. "You're not like Salinger any more."

I say, "I blew that a long time ago. He never blogged either, so far as we know."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Fallen timber rests.
Like orange pumpkins on dried vines
or dipped, headless chickens,
it does not wait, but simply is
home to impatient squatters
who will turn it rotten
like mushy squash
if I wait too long before
jerking the worn rope
on my rusting chainsaw.

"Are you still having trouble with those chickens?" says Virginia.

"Maybe," I say. "I don't think so."

"Well, get used to it, or stop eating meat," she says.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Right Side of the Bed

I cast my vote for waking up on the right side of the bed, every morning.  I've got a choice.  Why not make it a good one?

Karen asked me to watch an Oprah show she'd Tivo'd, about a company president who went undercover for a week.  Each day, he showed up at a different work site operated by some of his firm's 45,000 employees.  He took on the pseudonym, Randy, and performed each job as an employee-in-training.  Besides discovering he couldn't do the jobs very well, he learned that the paper he shuffled in his corner office affected real people.  One of them, a man who had to undergo dialysis treatments three times per week, said he told himself every morning, before he threw off the covers, that this day would be a good one.

The old saying, "I woke up on the wrong side of the bed," reminds me of myself saying "stupid tree" when I hit my head on a branch (see "Taking Responsibility," January 14, 2010).  Taking responsibility begins at home, with me, at the start of every single day.

"Right," says Virginia, smiling big and wide.  "This is me, always happy.  Do you like me?"