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Dec. 17th, 2011

Raining Cats & Dogs - Part II

Well, it's that time of year again. Time to remind you:

1) Always spay and neuter your pets to prevent Puppy Hobo Camps and Kittens in the Road

2) Always adopt your pets from a shelter or a rescue so "kids" like this get a chance at a home

3) And show this video to everyone you know because, it truly is raining cats and dogs!



Sep. 13th, 2011

A Day Spent Flipping Rocks and All I Got Were These Lousy Pictures

Okay, that heading is not totally accurate. True, I didn't find a flippin' thing underneath the many rocks I flipped, but it got me looking closely at what Mother Nature has to offer this time of year and that was a reward unto itself.

I learned about National Rock Flipping Day on this blog written by my good friend Loree Griffin Burns. It's quite simple. One  goes out, turns over rocks, and makes a record of ones' findings for the good of science. Easy as falling off a log.

Here's where I went first. Yes, a dappled forest path leading down to a burbling stream seemed like the perfect place to conduct my study.




There were plenty of rocks along this trail but none had visible signs of life beneath them. Well, under one I saw a scuttle-bug, thus named because it scuttled from sight before I could take it's picture.

I found moss growing on the rocks...


And in the creek, there were loads of snails-without-shells clinging to the sides of rocks...

Then there was this little fella perched atop a rock.


And pretty flowers dancing near the rocks.



But nary a thing was found beneath the rocks. Fine. Forget the forest, I'd check my yard.

First stop, my poor-excuse-for-a-water-feature. It consists of a disappointing little holding pond that I haven't visited in at least a year. Once again, there was nothing under the rocks. But look at this pretty vine with it's delicate lavender colored flower that moved in while I wasn't watching.


And these cool fungi I mistook for a gathering of turtles.



These random holes in the ground had me so baffled, I didn't watch where I was going.


And that is why I almost walked straight into this...


Yep, a gargantuan spider, the likes of which I'd never seen. I ran inside to look it up and learned it is a black and yellow garden spider, also known as a writing spider. When the sun sets it will eat its web and move on to a new location.

Now that is downright interesting. I took the writing spider as an omen to stop the search for life-forms residing under rocks and get my official National-Rock-Flipping-Day report drawn up and filed.

So that's what I did.

The end.

Jul. 31st, 2011

8 Innovative Uses for the Pooper Scooper




I am the proud parent of these three pooches. As such I also own an implement commonly known as a pooper scooper. Being a bit of a slouch, I rarely use it for its intended purpose. But use it I do. It comes in handy in doggy vs. wildlife emergencies, especially if there is gore present.

Release That Possum - a Two-Step Process

I have successfully reclaimed a fat possum that may or may not have been feigning death after my dogs got it. I scooped it onto the flimsy tines of the rake, sprinted to a nearby ravine, hoisted it for a long-lob. The possum rolled down the rake handle and plopped onto my foot. This was in clear violation of my no-physical-contact rule and resulted in a brief freak out before I moved on to the next step.

The Croquet Mallet

If you find you are unable to hurl the object, turn the rake sideways and nudge it. In this case, down the slope. This technique is inefficient as the tines are not designed to move something this heavy. Even though I only managed to roll the critter under some brush I considered it a job well done. Out of sight is where that possum needed to be.

The Flip Tool

The scooper does well with eviscerated rodents. Gently slide the tines under the corpse and with a quick flip of the wrist, send it flying into the overgrown garden outside the fenced-in area. This method is quick and to the point.

The Sweeper

This next one is a real challenge. Picture ground hog entrails spread across the yard like glistening gray ribbons. The goal here is to gather them up before the dogs eat them. It is crucial that you do not look at the guts or touch them while doing this. Stand sideways, cover your eyes, and use the rake to pile the straggling bits into a tidy clump. Warning: Be sure to have a plastic bag close at hand. If you don't you'll have to run in the house to get one and upon your return you may witness one of your dogs snarfing up the entrails.

The Windmill

At this point you will chase the dog around the yard with scooper in hand flailing your arms and screaming, "Drop it!" The dog will ignore you, and outrun you while munching its way through the tasty treat. Unfortunate but at least you won't have to look at those innards again.

The Impaler

When your dog has finished with the guts, it will run under the bushes where it has stashed the disemboweled carcass of the ground hog. The wily hound seems to know you cannot - will not crawl under the bushes after it. A few jabs with the scooper will distract the dog so it stops gnawing the head. When the dog is sufficiently annoyed, it will snatch up the remains and prance through the yard playing you-can't-catch me. Patience. When the dog drops its prize to resume its meal, creep up to it, swing the rake with all your might and impale the carcass with the tines. Hang tight while the dog tries to pry it loose. Remember, you are in charge. Calm. Assertive.

The Scooper

Don't be fooled. You are not scooping poop, and the pong from the dead ground hog will make you wish you were. Carefully slide the rake under the fuzzy remains while keeping the dog at bay with sideways kicks. Slowly ease the critter into the plastic bag making sure no part of it touches you. Done.

The Life Saver

This made for a nice change. Rather than coming in at the tail end of things, I was able to avert a disaster. I knew when my dog stood with raised hackles barking at something on the ground it could only be one thing. A snake. Not to worry. Grab the pooper scooper and use it to herd the dog inside the house. Once all canines are behind closed doors, stand as far away from the snake as possible and wave the rake in its face. Eventually it will stop trying to bite the rake and glide under the fence and out of your life.

















Jun. 7th, 2011

Wrens In My Boot

If you were a  wren making a nest on my porch, where would you put it? Inside the spacious bird house? Nestled in the planter filled with twigs? Or inside my hiking boot?


Why the boot, of course. We all need to reduce our carbon footprint.

The wren laid six eggs and broke one. The wren-home still seemed pretty crowded to me but what do I know?



Since the mama wren did not allow photographs of her sitting on the eggs, I'll fill the incubation period with some wren facts.

The daddy wren builds several nests prior to wooing his mate. When he has finished construction he takes his female companion on a nest tour. She picks the one she likes best and moves in.

The mama wren sits on the eggs while the daddy wren guards the air space. (That last fact did not come from an ornithologist but from personal experience. Each time I tried to creep up on mama with my camera the daddy bird swooped in from outside the porch and mama flew into my face.)

When the eggs hatch, the male and female zoom in and out of the nest bringing plump grubs and succulent insects to the young 'uns. They sing at the top of their lungs while they work. Proud parents.

Here are the babies right after they'd hatched.
 


And here they are a week later.

 


Soon after the final picture was taken I came home to an empty nest. I cleaned out my boot and that was that.

 


 

May. 6th, 2011

So Many Puppies

It's springtime in Appalachia and you know what that means...puppies! Contrary to popular belief, the abundance of puppies this time of year is not due to a bacchanalian celebration of spring in the dog world. Dogs actually breed year round.

The seeming spike in the number of stray puppies in April and May is because: 1) the leaves are not yet fully out so the pups are easier to see and 2) puppies born in the wild, or tossed there by their humans, are more likely to survive in the temperate temperatures this time of year.

Now that we have that cleared up, let's move on to the pups. On Friday I got a call about these cuties (pictured here two weeks after their rescue)...


They were five weeks old and had been left out near a welding plant. The worker  who discovered them gave them some of his sausage biscuit, then stored them in a wooden crate next to the welding action until I got there. They were terrified.

I called my friend Misti who agreed to foster them until they were old enough for the puppy wagon. We gave them names, Queenie (white face) and Maggie. Next came food (they were so young they barely knew how to eat), shots against puppy diseases, and deworming medicine. There was no time for a "before" picture because as soon as they were settled in, Misti and I went out to get more pups.

The next stop that day was to capture three puppies that lived under the porch of this humble abode. (I'd spotted them while driving home from my friend Ann's house.) There were originally four in this litter but one was hit by a car and killed.  


If you have never stalked wild puppies here is a primer on how it is done:




First you set a trap with the stinkiest food you can find. Notice how the puppies appear when they smell the yumminess?




As a rule, wild pups will not get near humans no matter how good the food smells. These guys darted under the house and crept closer to the food but there was no way they would come all the way out with us there. We left for a bit. When we came back, we had one.



It shrieked and struggled and tried to bite Misti as she carried it to the car.



It probably thought we were big, hairless beasts. Once inside a crate, it covered its face, employing a proven technique to make scary things go away.



It took another hour to catch puppy #2. Having learned a valuable lesson about sharp teeth, this one entered the crate directly from the trap. The third pup refused to be caught and sadly, to this day, it is still at large.



I kept these two over the weekend to get them used to humans. On Monday I took them to a nearby shelter. They went on a puppy transport to a rescue in Georgia where they will be placed in good homes.

On Tuesday, this little fella showed up at Ann's house. At first we thought he was "the one that got away." Upon closer inspection we realized his legs were too short. He was covered in ticks and his belly was so full of worms he bottomed out when he sat. Notice the look of uncertainty?



But not for long. After he was de-wormed, de-ticked, and had a few good meals under his belt, he was a different guy. He's so cute, Ann decided to keep him. He is named T-bird and he has adjusted nicely to his new life, and his Snoopy bed, and to the adoration of humans.



Four weeks after Queenie and Maggie showed up at the factory, they took the puppy wagon to New York. Here they are the day of their departure. Queenie is drooling from car-sickness, Maggie is not drooling because she  already threw up on Queenie. They arrived in New York the next day and with a bit of luck, will be in their new homes before the week is out.




Even though we didn't get all the pups at least we know five of them landed on their paws!

And that, my friend, is what it's all about.

Mar. 2nd, 2011

Strollin' on the Country Road

On Monday it rained for twenty-four hours straight. Torrential, driving, stay-indoors rain. Rivers flooded, city streets were underwater, and the mountain that I call home came alive. Underground streams, filled beyond capacity, gushed out of rocky crags as hundreds of waterfalls filled the air with the hushing sound of a finger to the lips, shhhhhhhhhh.

Today the sun is shining, the frogs are chirping. It's a day that begs to be enjoyed so my dog, Frannie and I went for a walk. This is what we saw....



Little waterfalls


Bigger waterfalls



Tiny yellow flowers overlooking a churning stream


Red buds opening and leaves turning green
 



A wind- Bonsai tree


Another waterfall



Self portrait fail

Frannie



An excellent sittin' rock, if only it were in my yard



Taking the country road home


 

Oct. 30th, 2010

Is There a Store Like This in Your Neighborhood?

 Today we're going to play, Can You Guess?



As you have probably surmised, you're guessing what kind of store. It's located just outside Detroit, Michigan in East Dearborn. It's not the only establishment of its kind in this bustling part of town but it's the place my friends and I chose because its colorful window display sparkled so enticingly in the midday sun. 

The interior is small and the air is thick with the cloying scent of fruit flavored tobacco. 




As you can see, this store specializes in one thing.



Its accessories include: brushes for cleaning, removable personal mouthpieces for hygienic sharing, replacement hoses, and prayer rugs.

So, what kind of store is it?

You're right, a hookah store!


Oct. 15th, 2010

Detroit City Here We Come!

A  website I follow, Atlas Obscura a Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, & Esoterica,  is running a feature on my hometown, Detroit, Michigan. They are focusing on the good stuff which makes for a nice change.

Since I am a copy cat, I'm going to do the same. To clarify a point, the city is not being featured because it is the place of my birth but because it's interesting and mysterious and has a reputation of being kind of scary. 

Let's start off with scary to get it out of the way. Upon arriving in the city, visitors are greeted by this...KAPOW!


The fist is there to honor Joe Louis, a champion boxer who hailed from Detroit long ago. It's a nice gesture, so to speak, if you know what it means. If you don't, you might think it has something to do with this sort of thing.




Yes, my friend, there is plenty of graffiti to be found in Detroit. Some of the "artists" are rather good but ...

Let us move on to some of the gentler monuments and moments still to be found in the Motor City.

Prior to exiting the freeway you'll see a building with peeling green paint and a neon sign proclaiming, "500,000 Books."   John R. King Used & Rare Books resides in an elderly brick building that was once a glove factory. It sits next to a Greyhound Bus Station and across the freeway from a gambling casino. It doesn't look like much from the oustide...



But inside - paradise!


There are books, of course, four stories worth for the general public and another couple hundred thousand rare ones available for viewing by appointment only.

Are you interested in Amish quilts? Pirates, treasure hunting, or whaling? Looking for sheet music, LPs, back issues of magazines? If you ever get to this place be sure to allow yourself a couple of hours of browsing time because you're going to need it. Oh, and bring money, you will not go away empty handed, I promise.






When you leave John King, you hop on the freeway and head into the city. Look past the fist and you'll see an earlier sculpture, The Spirit of Detroit. A giant green guy gazes beneficently upon a golden family in his right hand, while balancing what appears to be the sun in his left.  It was created to signify human relationships and God.  Now that's more like it!



At times this kindly green giant has sported a Red Wings hockey jersey in support of the local team during playoffs. And once upon a Thanksgiving pranksters "borrowed" an enormous plastic hamburger from a local chain restaurant display, placed it over the family, and put a sign in front of it that read, "Let no on go hungry on this day." 

Across the street from the fist is Hart Plaza. During the summer the plaza is hopping with concerts, food vendors, fireworks, parades. The circle in the center is a fountain designed for running through and playing. The steps on the far side of the plaza look out over the Detroit River to Canada. It's a great place to have lunch or just to sit and watch the ginormous Great Lakes freighters gliding into port.




Cruise along the main drag through the city and with a few turns you'll find yourself at the Eastern Market. This place rocks!

On Saturday farmers from the U.S. and Canada set up their stalls inside the pavilions and along the streets selling produce so fresh you might have picked it yourself. 


Fresh cold cuts, aged cheeses, imported mustards, pickles and spices, terra cotta pots, rattan chairs, and much more are available year round at the stores surrounding the produce pavilions. In the summertime local restaurants move outdoors and the marketplace is filled with the aroma of barbecued ribs, burgers, chicken. Bands, mimes, and street performers come out to entertain the families that flock to this marketplace every Saturday from April through November.








The Eastern Market is also the hub of the meat packing industry in Detroit. If you are feeling brave, you can enter the retail sections of the meat purveyors through a large refrigerator door, and shop for bargains and hard-to-find items like whole pigs




Or chitts and maws.




If you prefer a more traditional place to buy your meat, you can stroll over to the Gratiot Meat Market. There you can choose from several different meat merchants, get fresh chicken, cold cuts, and fish. 





No trip to the Eastern Market is complete without stopping at one of the many eateries for a treat that will keep you coming back for more. A genuine Detroit corned beef sandwich! Now you may be shaking your head thinking you can get corned beef without going to Detroit, and you probably can. But you can't get good corned beef anywhere but Detroit and if you don't believe me, ask the next Detroiter you meet. 



While this tour may seem rather short, it is due to my lack of pictures and not because there aren't any other exceedingly cool places to be found in Detroit. If you are patient, I will get out there soon with camera in hand to take more poor-quality pictures and post them on this blog. Thank you.









 

Sep. 20th, 2010

Miss Snappy Gets A New Home

There is a snapping turtle that resides in a small lake behind my neighbor, Dana's house. It recently trudged up the hillside, laid eggs under the deck steps and, duty done, plodded back toward the water . Only it didn't make it. It stopped along the way to engage Dana's two dogs in a round of I-can-snap-your-nose-off-first and decided to stay. 

Dana moved the turtle back to the lake but in less time than you can say, "slow as a turtle,"  it had returned. Dana rolled it to the bottom of a nearby ravine.  A day later Dana awoke to the frenzied barking of her dogs as they flung themselves against the kennel fence trying to reach the turtle-that-wouldn't-go-away.



It was at this point Dana called on me in to help her relocate the turtle.

"Do you know anything about snapping turtles?" She asked as she struggled up the hill carrying a long-handled rake.  My ignorance on the subject was revealed immediately when I mistook this for a clump of compost. 
 

Since the turtle was on its back and the only thing moving were its eyes, I was fooled into thinking it would go without resisting. Okay, so it had a large beak and some nasty looking claws but, it was a turtle for crying out loud, turtles are slow and docile. 

Silly, silly me.




I recklessly pulled the clinging vines from its undersides while telling Dana how easy this would be. All we had to do was slip it inside its plastic travel bin, flip it right side up and...

 
 
It levitated!   Dana knocked it back into the bin. We secured the lid and strapped it to the car with bungee cords. When we arrived at the park that would be the turtle's new home I used a hay rake to flip the lid open and release the turtle. 



Was the turtle grateful that we'd found it such a nice new pond? Hell no! It was ready for a showdown. Do Not Break Eye Contact must be rule number one in the pamphlet, Combat Training for Turtles. It would not let me get behind it with the rake. I moved. The turtle moved. 

 
 
I feinted then jabbed. ..



The turtle lifted into the air like a Lowrider with a 4 pump hydraulic suspension. It grabbed a fork tine in its jaws, and wrenched the rake from my hands.

I reached toward the rake. The turtle glared as if daring me to make its day.  Dana, who is much braver than I, snatched the rake, scooped the turtle up, and plunked it into the pond.



The turtle blinked, then dove under water so fast there was not time to photograph its exit. We followed a trail of air bubbles with our eyes, the turtle was headed away from the center of the pond toward a river that moseys here and there and feeds the small lake behind Dana's house.

How long do you suppose it will take the turtle to get back?
 
 
 

Sep. 12th, 2010

Flint - A Nice Place To Visit, I'd Even Want To Live There

Today we're going to visit Flint Michigan. Yes, the city that was featured as victim and underdog in the movie "Roger and Me", and is known for its high crime rate and economic ruin. It's a city with a reputation for looking like this on a good day...



And like this every day.



For decades Flint has been considered, by people like me who don't live there, a sort of Detroit mini-me, a city so weakened by urban blight it would soon become extinct. Well, that's not what happened.

While the rest of the world turned their backs on it, the people who care about Flint got busy saving their town. They thumbed their noses at the naysayers, held their heads up high, and recreated themselves.

New dormitories were built to house students attending University of Michigan Flint. An influx of new students meant new staff. Once-empty office buildings were refurbished into loft apartments. Boards came down from storefront windows as pubs, cafes, and eateries sprung up along Saginaw Street, the cobblestoned main drag of the city. Special events started bringing people into the city and, presto,  the place came alive!


The Crim Fitness Foundation sponsors a race each year that draws over 15,000 participants from around the world. The annual Back to the Bricks Cruise Weekend  is considered one of the top 50 car cruises in America and brings thousands more visitors into the city. The Flint Cultural Center features live theater, symphonies, art institutes, and a library. Frequent downtown art shows and gallery walks are a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening with family and friends.

 

Street musicians, sidewalk artists, and magicians give the streets a festive look, feel, and sound.


Beyond the downtown area there is a great Farmer's Market with a butcher, a baker, and fresh doughnut maker. It also houses an excellent wine shop, artisan clothing, costume jewelery, a Rock Shop, and fresh Barb-B-Q on Saturdays.



Community gardens flourish all over town in places where abandoned houses once stood.


Flint even has its own archaeological dig, a Native American burial ground that was discovered during excavation of a vacant lot. How cool is that? 



There are a lot of other things going on that I haven't yet had a chance to experience but I certainly intend to do so in the very near future. Hey, this sounds like an unsolicited testimonial, if so, I hope those streets have ears. You hear me Flint? You rock!

Jul. 25th, 2010

The Cleverest Bird By Far

This blog may have to be renamed "A City Slicker on a Country Porch." There is simply no end to the exciting adventures that greet me when I step out the door.

This spring I cleaned my back porch. In doing so, I put away my gardening hat. It had been on the porch for over three years and was used annually by a Wren to make its home and raise little broods of Wrenlets.

 

I left things tidy and headed up north. When I returned? No tangled balls of twigs, no bird doo spattered on the walls. Nothing but a rustic little setting sure to appeal to prospective owners looking at my house. Oh, did I tell you my house is for sale? Yep. The Wren sanctuary had to be sacrificed for the better good of me.  

But wait...

.

What is it?


Surely a Wren wouldn't be so conventional as to put something inside a bird house?



 Why, this isn't the least bit conventional. It has a front lawn of moss. A roof of Oak leaves and twine. And styrofoam siding that will last for eternity. Traces of delicate brown shells littered the inside, the babes had already flown.

This nest is so neat I have taken a solemn vow: As long as I live here, the Wren can live on my porch wrent- free. And when I move, well, we'll decide that when the time comes.

May. 31st, 2010

The Plucky Chihuahua

If you ever see a Chihuahua standing in the road - halfway up a mountain - with no sign of civilization in sight, do yourself a favor and catch it right then and there.  If you don't, you'll worry yourself sick hoping it won't be eaten by a mountain lion. Or freeze to death. Or slowly die of starvation.

I know because that's what I did for two weeks before I decided to capture this pooch. I've since heard she'd been on the lam for over a month. How on earth did she survive?



I used a live-trap to get her then took her to the house of a friend who shelters dogs. Upon her arrival the Chihuahua was sniffed...


And scrutinized... 



And taken into loving arms....
 


She's named Rushe (roosh) and she and her new owner are inseparable.  As for me? I've never even touched her. When I enter the room,  Rushe barks and backs away as though I've threatened to take her back to where I found her. I think she knows I didn't help her sooner because I'd hoped someone else would do it.

Yesterday, Rushe went into her usual barking and backing routine when I visited her owner. I told the owner Rushe is a plucky girl and wondered how such a tiny dog survived on her own for such a long time.  I went on to say how sad I felt that someone had dumped her, and sadder yet that I'd let her stay dumped for so long. As I spoke Rushe went silent then she slowly approached until she was at my feet.  

I stopped talking and stooped, holding out my hand. Rushe looked me right in the eye then climbed into my lap and licked my chin. I truly believe she was telling me it's okay. 

 
 

 

May. 28th, 2010

Serpents ~~~~~~~


 
When I recently woke to find this guy inside my screened porch I have to admit to a moment of panic. Although I'm not squeamish about snakes, I didn't fancy picking it up and carrying it to freedom. (Please note the tail running down the diagonal wood behind it.)

I wished it no harm, it was one of the good guys - a Black snake - scourge of rodents and, therefore, a friend of mine. After many minutes of struggling with who to call who would agree to remove the snake without killing it, I had a stroke of genius: open the door to the porch and it would leave of its own volition. I did and it did.

It glided tentatively across the deck, moving its head from side-to-side as though trying to remember where it had come in. I figured when it got to the railings it'd corkscrew around one and slide to the ground fireman-style. 

 


It took the stairs. 

Well. That was interesting.

A week later another snake showed up on my porch. Jack, one of my dogs, had cornered it behind a cooler. This one was not Mr. Friendly-Black-Snake but a Copperhead. Mean, nasty, and prone to sinking its venom-filled fangs into things that got on its nerves. Like my dog. Or me.

I shooed the canines into the house then got as close as I dared for a photo shoot. The snake lay coiled next to my dryer vent in an undulating knot of ire. (Please, dear god, don't let it find a way inside the dryer vent!)

 


The situation called for immediate action. I ran in the house and slammed the door. Okay, so now what?

I considered shooting it but concluded that would inflict more damage on my house than the snake. I was not about to whack it with a shovel. I know my limitations. The first sign of retaliation from the snake and I'd have been leaping around the deck  making primal noises. With no other solutions in sight I went to bed.

In the morning I awoke with a plan: I'd get the heavy glass bell jar I'd liberated from an abandoned high school chemistry lab and plunk it down over the snake. The dogs couldn't get the snake, the snake couldn't get them or me. Then, well, then I'd figure out the next step.

I tiptoed onto the porch in the early morning fog, clutching the bell jar to my chest. I hoped it wouldn't break when I dropped it on the snake and fled. The snake was gone.

But how gone? Not very is my guess. I think it resides under my porch. Now what?

Time to go back to Michigan.





 
 

Apr. 10th, 2010

The Cemetery in the Cow Pasture and Other Grave Tales


Where I grew up, cemeteries were formal affairs with wrought iron gates, a mausoleum or two, and an office in which to make one's arrangements. Without giving it any thought, I'd assumed this is how it was everywhere, until my friend Ann told me there is a cemetery in her cow pasture. 

"Who owns it?" I asked.
Ann shrugged. "No one."
"Who can use it?"
"Whoever wants to. It's free."
Visions of black garbed men digging dank holes in the moonlight danced across my eyes,"You mean anyone can go up there an bury someone?"
"No. Um, yes. But you have to get approval first."

From what I can gather, families near the cemetery are the record keepers of who has and who intends to make their final journey to the cow pasture. Even though the free cemeteries are, well, free, there are unwritten rules that must be followed to use them and not just any-old-body can be interred there.  

Needless to say, my interest was piqued and I demanded an outing. We started out on a one-lane road that winds through the cows and up the hills and around a bend. This road is maintained by the county and when a funeral is planned, the county spreads fresh gravel all the way up. (to the tune of about $1200 but that cost is not passed on to the bereaved.)
 




The cemetery is kept clean and mowed by whomever.

Families of the deceased adorn the graves with floral arrangements that are changed with the seasons. The flowers, whether real or artificial, are a very important local custom signifying respect and honor for those who have "passed."



The life spans of this cemetery's inhabitants cover a broad range in time. Beneath some headstones lie people who were born during the Civil War. These are wind-worn and covered with lichen instead of flowers.
 

The headstones of other, more recent arrivals look spanking new. Look carefully at the upper left corner of picture above. Those rocks piled outside of the fence are humble grave markers for slaves who were buried nearby but never inside.  

From the pasture cemetery we took to the mountains to the sparsely populated Farmer Cemetery. It's in the woods, easily accessed by a local road. 


The wood-burned sign and a few freshly cut trees are the only indication someone is keeping an eye on things there. 
 

The grave of Sallie Nakis is in the Farmer cemetery. I don't know who she was but she certainly has a pretty headstone with a poignant poem. The fallen leaves struck the right note of remembrance for this child who lived but one day. 

Our next stop was a cemetery hidden deep in the woods. The dense foliage surrounding these hallowed grounds did not creep up and overtake it, the cemetery was deliberately placed there to protect a stillborn baby from grave robbers.  

Mary and Martha Jordan were conjoined  twins who were born and died on May 16, 1902. They are known locally as, "the two-headed baby." News of their birth spread quickly through the community and to places beyond. The grieving parents feared their child's body would be dug up and put on display in a circus. So Mary and Martha were laid to rest in a spot where it was unlikely they would be found. 

The oldest grave by far was the most difficult to reach.  We took a four-wheeler across a horse pasture, scootched on our backs under an electric fence, and battled shoulder high brambles. It was well worth it.




"Our Mother"  Lucinda Atkins born October 8, 1803 died July 26, 1858  rests in a sun-dappled clearing inside a circle of ancient Cedar trees. In lieu of family members honoring her life, periwinkles, known as graveyard vines,  blanket her grave with shiny green leaves and dainty blue flowers. 

Ann and I were too tired to go to our last stop of the day, a free cemetery near a main road with an interesting tale. The story involves a girl who grew up in the county with her mother and brother but lost contact with them when she moved to a Big City up north. The girl's mother hadn't spoken to her daughter for several years when she (the mother) got a phone call from up north telling her the daughter's partially decomposed body had recently been discovered - murdered! The caller wanted to know where to ship the body for burial.

As you can well imagine, the arrival of the sealed coffin was greeted with much sorrow and grieving.  The prodigal daughter was given a proper Baptist funeral and her body was laid to rest in the cemetery by the main drag. This almost was the end of the story except...

A law enforcement officer from the Big City arrived in the county a few weeks later with a court order to exhume the body. The still fresh grave was opened up and the coffin was carried away. Upon inspecting the remains the law enforcement officer declared it was not the daughter who had moved away and the body was shipped back to wherever it had come from.

Soon thereafter, the daughter's brother died and with much sorrow and grieving, he was buried in the hole that had briefly held the non-daughter.  Somehow the real daughter got wind of this and called her mother to announce she was still alive.

The details of their reunion are unknown. The mother died and the daughter moved back to this county, got married and passed on, this time for real. She is now buried beside her brother  with her mother nearby and someone makes sure there are flowers on all three graves.  







 

Mar. 28th, 2010

At Misti's House


 If you ever want to meet an interesting assortment of dogs and cats, you need to stop by Misti's house. Every one of her pets is a cast off. Most of them limp, some of them are blind or deaf, a lot of them are so ugly they're cute. One of them's so ugly it's just downright ugly! You think I'm lying?




This is Saber, your average green-eyed tabby cat. Well....



except for his fangs!

Here's Suzy, she's a Chinese Crested Dog and was bred to look like this. Truth.



Next in the line up is Abigail, proof it's a bad idea to breed a dog like Suzy with a Dachshund! Every day is a bad hair day for Abigail and she has warts.




The kitty below is so pretty. Her ankles grew in crooked but what the heck, what she don't know won't hurt her!




This next guy is smiling because it's his turn to hold the leash. 



His name is Boswell. He has a genetic skin condition that makes his hair fall out, he's allergic to corn, and his eyelids hang down so far they block his vision. Does he care? Not at all! He's too busy making people laugh to bother with minor details.

As you can probably tell, I admire Misti no end and think she's a wonderful person for giving a home to this motley crew. 

I assume I don't have to spell out the moral of this story, do I?  Good. Because there are more than these guys living with Misti and if I had to, I was going to to go take more pictures.




Thanks for listening. 

Mar. 14th, 2010

Run to the roundhouse, mother, they'll never corner you there!


I have looked at this building for years and cannot figure out its purpose. It's in the middle of town, not attached to the house, and doesn't seem to be used for anything. In the summer it's completely obscured by vines.

I've asked people what it is. They shrug and change the subject.

A ten-year old friend thinks it's a dungeon. 

I bet it smells musty inside. There are probably lots of spiders and creepy crawlies. I wonder what it is.



 
 

Nov. 19th, 2009

"It's Raining Cats and Dogs" The Song. The Movie. The Animal Shelter in Claiborne County.

If you've read this blog, you know I'm involved in getting an animal shelter built in my adopted home in northeast Tennessee. Since I'm the PR person for the shelter I take lots of pictures of our progress but I've never known what to do with them. Well along came my brother, Peter, with "It's Raining Cats and Dogs," a song he wrote especially for the shelter. I combined it with the pics and, ta-da, we have a video!

The story line is simple. Shelter volunteers are busy raising money and building the shelter. Funding for this project is entirely from donations and fundraisers and, whoo-buddy, it's a lot of work! Glad thing we love what we're doing!

There is a cameo appearance in the video by the PAL Mobile, a low-cost mobile spay neuter clinic hosted by the shelter each month. The PAL Mobile has spayed and neutered over 300 dogs and cats since they started coming to town a year ago. Let's hear it for the PAL Mobile and the 300 people who've had their pets fixed!

On a final note, most of the animals in the video are strays I've met in my travels on the country road. Every one of them is now in a happy home.

So, grab some popcorn, take a seat, and prepare yourself to be astounded by excellence in cinematography.

Shhh, it's starting (um, as soon as you click on the arrow).




Nov. 5th, 2009

Ode to Moon and Moo's


Step inside this picture. The breeze is cool.  

Crickets chirp; a calf calls for its mama. 

The scent of freshly cut hay mingles with that of woodsmoke from a chimney .

 You shiver and clutch your collar to your chin. Tomorrow the ground will be white with frost.  

Step out of the picture.  

Rest.
 
 \



Oct. 22nd, 2009

A Pictorial Tour of Somewhere

Getting lost by one's self sucks. Getting lost with a friend is an adventure. That's what my friend Ann and I decided when we took a wrong turn today and ended up who-knows-where. So we decided to keep going.

We stopped to admire this pretty barn and listen to the leaves rattle in the warm breeze.

 
 
A peaceful spot except for the crows bickering up in those trees.   


Those little white boxes under the bushes are beehives. Shhh, listen, what's that buzzing?



And so it went. It seemed we had found a perfect place to spend an autumn day. The road curved and dipped then plunged us into a shadowy hollow.  Bright, cheery farms gave way to dark Kudzu covered hovels. The feeling of "ain't we lucky" was quickly replaced with unease.  We slowed down to gawk at a decrepit log cabin. Rusty cars, a dead tractor, and piles of trash decorated the yard and surrounding grounds. A tall, skinny man with a long black beard and a face caved in around a toothless mouth, stepped into the road waving a large stick.  Ann hit the gas and swung around him.  I dropped my camera.

Can you hear the banjoes dueling?

The time had come to find our way out of there. As we sped past ratty trailers and dilapidated shacks plastered with "No Trespassing" signs, we left off exclaiming over the day and took verbal inventory of the weapons we had on hand. If the need arose we wanted to be certain we could defend ourselves from the denizens of the back hills. (It turned out we were quite well armed. But still...)

As quickly as we had entered the scary hollow we left it behind. We rounded a corner and dead ended at this lovely stand of trees.


We backed into a driveway to turn around. When I leaned out of the car to take a picture, a voice that sounded like Johnny Cash imitating a woman with bronchitis shouted, "Waddaya think yer doin'?" Three people stepped off the shadowed porch of a double-wide trailer and hurried toward the car. Uh-oh. We were so outta there!

These cows ignored us. Did you hear my sigh of relief?




Around the bend I pointed my camera and gushed, "What a darling donkey!" 
 " What an ass," he muttered under his breath.



A  moment later we drove up a hill then down again and we were back in town.  And that, my friend,  is it. 





 

Oct. 5th, 2009

Sometimes Ya Gotta Do What Ya Gotta Do

I'm cleaning out my garage and I don't know what to do with this head.



Her name is Donnez Moi. She was made out of wax in the late 1800's and has human hair. She's too cool to send to the animal shelter rummage sale where the rest of my stuff is going. But what to do with her?

She's not one of my Prized Possessions. She defaulted into my life several years ago and has been sitting on top of the refrigerator in my garage ever since. She's kind of neat in an eerie way. Maybe I can sell her and donate the proceeds to the animal shelter. I wonder what she's worth? 

Seeking inspiration, I Google Mario's Mannequins in Detroit. I know Mario closed his doors years ago so I have no clue why I'm bothering with this fool's errand. Fate steps in and smacks me upside the head - recognize anyone in the lower left corner of this page

The randomness of this discovery makes my head spin. I quickly send an email to the photographer, Patty Izzo, babbling about the whys and the wherefores of my discovery, and the interestingness of synchronicity. She sends a nice email back and in a post script inquires about the selling price of the head.

What-is-she-thinking? I can't sell this head to her, it wouldn't be right! I respond and ask her to take Donnez Moi as a gift from a stranger. 

Patty has accepted my gift and, in return, is donating one of her prints, Fire and Ash,  to benefit the animal shelter.

Isn't that a happy ending to a dull garage cleaning story?



Sep. 17th, 2009

I Never Promised You a Parlor

I have tried so very hard to snare three children's writers in my web and force them into my home.  Yes, this very home, with plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms and three dogs.



But these friends are a crafty bunch and have thus far managed to elude me. They are indifferent to my allusion that different porches provide different points of view...



 And so I sit alone. Well, almost. This guy hangs with me...


 
 But all he wants to do is eat bugs. 

Darn.

 

Sep. 9th, 2009

You've Got a Tattoo Where??

Earlier this week it rained and rained and rained. I stayed holed up inside my hacienda for two days reading and enjoying the solitude. When I headed out into patchy fog on Tuesday morning I was running late.

My driveway had fresh six-inch deep ruts from the rain. I wrestled with the steering wheel one-handed as I applied my Burt's Bees lip gloss and checked my appearance in the rear view mirror. When I glanced up I saw it.  

Looming.

I flinched, slammed on the brakes, and heard it go splat against the windshield.  No, it was not a bird, or a deer or any of the other creatures that are at risk when I leave my house in a hurry. It was this...



A  spider web that had been strung across the road like a wispy volley ball net.  I didn't have time to stop and brush it off. I sped away feeling guilty for destroying such a beautiful creation. I reached my destination and parked- in the searing sun - for hours - and  the fragile spiderweb hardened onto the glass as if it had been fired in a kiln. It won't come off. It's kind of neat, like a windshield tattoo.

Aug. 26th, 2009

Into the Heart of Detroit City



As you probably guessed from the subject line of this blog, I am not at present on a country road. Instead I'm near the place I grew up,  a city thats name is synonymous with B-A-D. Yes, my friend, I talking about Detroit, Michigan.

It's not a place I'd visit if I didn't happen to be in the area; I mean, let's face it, the city has issues. But it also has lots of interesting, quirky places to go if you know where to find them... which I do. And that is why today I ventured into a neighborhood deep in the heart of Detroit that fell on hard times decades ago and never got up.

My parents and I set off to drop off bags of used clothing at the Capuchins, a group of Catholic Friars who give food, clothing, and solace to the beleaguered residents of the area. We make the journey several times a year and reward ourselves for our good deed by going to lunch in nearby Hamtramck, a city within The City that has the best Polish cooking this side of Krakow!

Today before heading off for our Polish Platters, we took a side trip take a look at  The Heidelberg Project , a puzzling collection of found-items meticulously displayed on the street after which the project is named. It's touted by some as urban art, ballyhooed by others as an eyesore.

It's worth seeing whether you swoon over the artistic genius or scratch your head and say, "Huh?"  

I'm serious.

















Aug. 17th, 2009

It's True, Puppies are Inconvenient - But For Pete's Sake, Don't Throw Them Out!

I'd like you to meet Jack. He showed up on my deck on the 4th of July, a four month old puppy in search of a home. He had on a raggedy blue collar with rhinestones, a belly full of worms, and was covered with big, fat, gross-beyond-belief ticks. (A friend and I spent 1.5 hours picking them off - GACK!) I checked with the few houses nearby and no one claimed him. He was no doubt dumped by someone who didn't want him anymore.

He's not much to look at but he's one of the cutest dogs I've ever met - and I've met plenty! Here he is the day after I got him.



I'm not sure what's so special about him. It's not just because he wears his ears at a jaunty angle.



Or that he looks like a fruit bat when he's upside down.




I think it's because he seems so happy to be alive. He's the kind of guy who considers everyone his friend, and seems to fit in wherever he goes.



Well, almost. He went home with a woman for a trial adoption and was returned the next day for trying to chase cars while walking on a leash. Bad Jack.

Okay, so maybe that's not his only problem. He digs in the yard, torments toads, and eats bees but, hey, that's what puppies do. 

So, Jack's going to stay with us until he finds a home. If he doesn't, I guess he'll just keep on staying with us.



Yikes!


Jul. 31st, 2009

A Trip Inside the Cumberland Mountains

If it's too hot to hike up the Cumberland Mountains, then go inside - the mountain, that is. Believe me, a walk through a cave is cool in every sense of the word.

Two friends and I recently joined a Park Ranger, Scott, and some other folks on a cave tour in the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park located in Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee - all at the very same time! It was hot and humid as we hiked up the historical Wilderness Trail, blazed by Daniel Boone in 1775,  to the dark, yawning mouth of the Gap Cave, known by locals as Cudjo's Cave.

We paused along the way as Scott,  a marvelous story teller, took us on a journey through time to the days when early settlers struggled up the same path. We could almost hear the creak of the wagon wheels and feel sharp rocks biting into our bare feet as Scott described the pioneers' journey toward the only known pass-through in the Cumberland Mountains, the Cumberland Gap. 

You can see my buddies below, squinting into the sun with the Cumberland Gap in the background.


 

We didn't squint for long; we were soon inside the cool, breezy, dark cave on a two hour tour that covered 1/4 of a mile of awesomeness!

A cave is not just a tunnel through some rocks. It's a living, moving, changing system of water, minerals, insects, and mammals (bats). We traded our tree-lined path for one lined with Stalagmites, that grow up from the floor (they might make it to the ceiling) and stalactites that hang down (and hang tight to the roof). They're formed when a drip of water runs off the ceiling onto the floor, leaving a tiny deposit of mineral. It takes 100 years for one of these formations to grow an inch. (If a drip lands on you, you've been given a cave kiss.)

We moseyed along oohing and aahing, and stopping while Scott told us geological facts, spelunker news (the offshoot caves have been tracked - on hands and knees -  for 15 miles!) and regaled us with the legends and lore surrounding this beautiful cave.



During the Civil War, soldiers from both sides of the Mason-Dixon used the cave as a hospital and refuge from the war and to indulge in the age-old custom of graffitiing. In the early 1900's the cave was used as a sort of theme park with light bulbs strung from the ceilings, more initials carved in the rock, and, a place to indulge in yet another age-old custom, littering. Bits of now-antique debris lie where they fell all those years ago. In the 1940's the locals fled the heat of the summer on Saturday nights to dance in a large cavern inside the cool cave.

All of that has changed The cave is now part of the National Park system and treated with the reverence it deserves. In other words, it's allowed to just be.

My favorite part of the tour came as we crouch-walked through low hanging stalactites, up a slope, and around a bend to this...



A rippling, clear pond that seemed to possess magical cleansing powers. Alas, only newts and water bugs are allowed to test the waters.

A moment later, we came to this...



The picture isn't very clear but it's a behemoth of a stalagmite over 200 feet tall! (Remember the one inch per 100 years?)

In this next picture, you can see the face of Cudjo, a runaway slave who hid in the cave, was discovered, and killed. To this day, his ghost walks the cave. It's true... Scott said so.



As you can probably tell, these pictures don't do a thing to capture the sheer magnificence of this cave. So, if you get a chance, pack up the family and head to Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee and check it out for yourself - you won't regret it!




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