Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2017 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thirty Posts Hath November

I did it! I posted every day during National Blog Posting Month. Now I will return to my usual two or three per week.

Gee, what will I do with all this free time? Perhaps take more pictures of the sunrise?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Maggie on the Steps II

by Maggie Mae Mushko
(one-year-old border collie)

Yes, it’s true. I’m addicted to playing ball on the steps. I get nervous if Mommy doesn’t open the door to downstairs every night so I can play. Sometimes I ask her first thing in the morning to open the door. She keeps the door closed so the cats won’t go downstairs.

Those unfamiliar with border collies might think I’m a bit obsessive. Or compulsive. Or something. But playing ball on the steps is how I practice my herding skills.

During the day, I stay outside in the kennel with Jack, Emma, Hubert, and Harley. Let’s make one thing clear: these dogs are not my pack. They are my flock. My job is to watch them and keep them in line. Often this entails chasing Harley and wrestling him to the ground, but that’s another story.

At night, I am the official house guard dog. Each evening, Mommy takes me inside and bathes me. I love baths! I have a tub of water in the kennel so I can hop in and bathe myself whenever I want. Mommy and Daddy are my pack. Mommy is the alpha dog, so she’s the one I listen to.

After my bath, I ask Mommy to play stepball. Sometimes she will throw the ball for me; other times I have to throw it myself. Or nudge it with my nose. Sometimes I use a tennis ball; sometimes my squeaky ball.

The other night we added a new aspect to stepball: cat herding. The evil cats wanted to go downstairs. Dylan, Eddie-puss, and Camilla ran past me. Mommy yelled, “Maggie, get those cats!” so I had to drop my ball and round up the cats and make them go upstairs. Mommy was very proud of me. It is not easy to herd cats. They’re devious.

Last night, two of them rushed me again. I managed to get Dylan to go back upstairs, but Camilla held her ground. Well, held her step. I locked eyes with her in the best border collie tradition. We must have stood there staring at each other for two minutes. Nose to nose. That cat was stubborn! Finally she cheated—she smacked me on the nose and ran past me. Mommy had to come downstairs and help me herd that deceitful cat back upstairs. Then I went back to playing stepball for another half-hour or so.

It is much easier to herd other dogs than it is to herd cats.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Walking the Farm

On Sunday afternoon, Maggie and I walked on Polecat Creek Farm down the road. This time we took two of the other dogs from the kennel—Jack the elderly mixed retriever and Hubert the almost-middle-aged beagle.

I parked on high ground. Hubert leaped out as soon as I lowered the tailgate. Maggie fidgeted until I said the magic word: "OK." Jack waited until I placed his stepstool and helped him down.

The weather was too warm for late November (I wore a short-sleeved shirt), the sun shone brightly, the sky was a brilliant blue. With the leaves gone, I could see deep into the woods. I could see the contours of the land that are invisible when the trees are in full leaf. The two younger dogs ran flat out; Jack and I—both arthritic—limped along at a slower pace. All four of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Watching Maggie and Hubert run was pure joy. I didn’t even try to get a picture. The big black and white border collie and the small black and tan beagle running together would have photographed as a blur. While Hubert kept up with Maggie at first, eventually she ran big circles around him. Picture Jack and me going slowly down the hill to the creek, Hubert running hard, and Maggie circling the three of us, holding us together.

If I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful than a border collie running, I can’t remember what it was.

Jack and Hubert both came from this farm. When my first border collie Abby was a young dog, she went into the woods one day and returned with a skinny adolescent red dog—I called him Jack and he was ours.

When Abby, Jack, and our mixed sheltie Emma were running along Polecat Creek a few Februarys ago, they stopped suddenly at some brush along the bank. Inside was a tiny puppy. When I got close to him, he growled, so I—figuring his mama was running not far way—left him alone. The dogs and I continued walking, but we didn’t see or hear another dog. Dusk fell, and I heard the owl hoot. I couldn’t let the pup become owl dinner, so I went back, ignored his growls, and grabbed him. I stuffed the tiny shivering pup inside my jacket and took him home. He screamed most of the night unless I held him. I asked around the area for his owner and no one came forward. Abby decided she’d raise him and I gave him to her. After all, she’d done a good job raising Jack. My husband named the pup Hubert.

Abby taught Hubert all the things a dog should know: how to bite a varmint on the back of the neck so the kill is quick and clean, how to listen for moles, how to load in the truck.

Abby had come from this farm, too. One July many years ago, we found her living wild under the hemlock near our camping cottage. My old labradoodle Cracker and I came from Roanoke every day for a week to feed her and try to tame her. Finally, Abby followed Cracker into the car and I took her home. Cracker, one of the best ratters I’ve ever had, taught Abby the technique of catching mice and moles. Now Abby’s buried under the hemlock where we found her. Cracker is buried on the Union Hall farm, near where my own gravesite is.

But I’m digressing here—not unlike the way a dog digresses from the trail it’s running to investigate something more interesting. Here’s another digression:

This morning’s Roanoke Times ran an article about a group of Roanoke parents who want to cover a school playground grass with shredded rubber and fake grass. The real grass, it seems, didn’t last and kids had to play in the mud. Actually, they didn’t play in the mud—the playground was fenced off so they couldn’t play in it while it was reseeded.
The fake stuff, it seems, would be a much better play surface.

Have kids changed so much since I was young that they don’t like to play in mud? That they don’t like to watch ants build anthills in the dirt? That they don’t like to observe insect life in the grass?

In the 1950s, the Huff Lane School playground was a combination of dust, mud, and sparse grass. But that was OK; it was for playing on. We’d come in from an afternoon battle of dodgeball, our dresses covered in red dust, and we knew we’d been playing successfully. We’d achieved oneness with our environment. No one expected grass to grow where we played. Now the Huff Lane playground is paved over.

In the early 1970s, I used to walk a dirt path in Garst Mill Park. The park was a bit of wildness in surburbia—a creek ran through it, trees grew untended on the hillside, the grass was worn in places, an abundance of interesting weeds and wildflowers grew along the edges. Wildlife flourished there. Sometimes I'd catch a glimpse of a huge snapping turtle who burrowed into the creek bank. But the park, haven to wildlife that it was, wasn’t "user-friendly." The creek, which often over-flowed its banks, was rip-rapped to stabilize it. I never saw the turtle after that. The path was covered with asphalt and called a “greenway.” While it was great for skateboarders and bike riders, it was too hard for me to walk on. I stopped visiting the park.

On my farm, the path is dirt is some places, grass in others, leaf-covered this time of the year. The remnants of weeds and wild-flowers bend in the breeze. Polecat Creek—which the dogs hurl themselves into—sometimes over-flows its banks. That’s OK; that’s what creeks do.

My land is unspoiled by human attempts to make it more “user-friendly.” That's the way the dogs and I like it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

John C. Nace 1828-1928

Several years ago, I received from Pat Nace, who lives in Canada and whom I’ve never met except via the Internet, a Xeroxed page from an unknown book. What I’ve transcribed below (keeping the punctuation and syntax intact) comes from pages 540–541 of this unknown book. I assume it is a collection of news articles, but I don’t know for sure. Odds are good that the articles were written in Botetourt County, Virginia; the unknown author branches off into local genealogy.


Anyhow, this article is mostly about my great-great grandfather, John Christian Nace, whose 178th birthday is November 27:

OLD IN YEARS, YOUNG IN BODY AND SPIRIT

Mr. John C. Nace, a resident of Lithia, of this county, came to Buchanan on horseback this week. He will be 88 years old in November, but he rides his horse with the appearance of a man many years younger and he says it does not tire him at all to ride here and back home. Lithia is about six miles south of Buchanan by the county road and he rides to town frequently.

I asked him if he could recall the first president for whom he voted. He replies that he could not do so, but that he had shaken hands with President Andrew Jackson and in reply to my further inquiry recited this bit of history.

It was during the first administration of Mr. Jackson (1829–33) as Mr. Nace recalled, that as a child he attended to the fording of the old Mount Joy Mill on Looney’s Creek and met president Jackson who was proceeding in his carriage to Washington.

The father of Mr. Nace, who had been the overseer of the Mount Joy estate for its owner, Col. Mathew Harvey and his widow, and lived near the mill where Mr. Jackson was to pass. Mrs. Magdalene Harvey, the widow of Col. Harvey, attended by her daughter, Virginia Harvey, came down from the Mount Joy residence on the eminence not far distant and at the house of Mrs. Nace, the mother, and her little boy joined them and the four proceeded to the fording at the mill when they met the president who was in a carriage drawn by two gray horses.

The mind of Mr. Nace is as clear as that of many at forty and he recites these things in a way that gives them interest, but he does not positively say that the time was in Mr. Jackson’s first term or second.

Mrs. Magdalene Harvey, who took Mrs. Nace and her little boy to meet the President, was the half sister and also the aunt of Colonel Lewis Harvey, of Roanoke, recently mentioned in the World-News. Robert Harvey, of Catawba, Martha Furnace, married for his first wife Martha Hawkins, who was the daughter of Ben Burden, Lewis Harvey was his first child.

Mathew Harvey, younger brother of Robert Harvey, married Magdalene Hawkins, the daughter of Martha Hawkins.

The daughter, Virginia Harvey, who went with her mother to greet Mr. Jackson became Mrs. Mitchell, the mother of Mrs. Charlotte Harvey, of Salem, and aunt of Charles Denby, minister to China; Henry Clay McDowell of Kentucky, father of Judge McDowell, and a number of other noted people.

The inquiry as to how Mrs. Harvey knew Mr. Jackson was to pass that particular time leads one to the truth of the relations existing between Mathew Harvey and his family, and Mr. Jackson here, in Washington and at the Hermitage where William, “Big Billy,” Harvey was the president’s neighbor, and at death closed his eyes. Then there was the letter to Colonel Harvey introducing William Denby, who is passing the same way to the capital had been attracted by the charms of an auburn haired girl riding one of the farm horses to water at the ford of the creek. He ascertained she was Jane, the daughter of Colonel Harvey, and on reaching Washington, obtained a letter of introduction from Mr. Jackson.

Charles Denby, appointed by Cleveland, to China, was her son. He was born in Paris while his father was minister to France and grew up so accomplished in manners and deportment that the Chinese wished him to remain as minister to China after the Republican administration succeeded that of Mr. Cleveland.

I did not mean to extend to such length when I began to write of this remarkable man who is today going in the full enjoyment of his physical and mental powers, although he was born at the time when there was still living many of the men who had fought for the formation of this great government.

Mr. John C. Nace died February 17, 1928, aged 99 years, 2 months, 21 days.

I did a bit of digging around the Internet. From Rootsweb, I found the announcement of his death:

John C Nace, Lithia Patriach, dies at 99
Lithia, Feb. 17 (Special) John C Nace, 99, last Confederate Veteran in this part of the county, died this morning at 8 o'clock at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Will DeLong, here. Death was attributed to heart failure. He had been confined to his bed only a few days.
Mr Nace who served throughout the four years of the Civil War, is survived by a son William R Nace of Lithia, in addition to his daughter, Mrs DeLong.
He is also survived by thirteen grandchildren and three great grandchildren. He was a member of the Lithia Baptist Church.
Funeral services will be held at his daughters residence Sunday morning at 11 o'clock. The service will be conducted by the Rev. G. H. Broyles.
The Roanoke Times
2-18-1928


John Christian Nace, who served as private in Co. 1, 22nd Virginia infantry, CSA, was born November 27, 1828, and died February 17, 1928. His parents were William Nace and Hester Fringer Nace. He is buried beside his wife Mary Ann Nofsinger Nace in the NOFTSINGER/STYNE/PICO CEMETERY off State Route 625 in Buchanan, VA (Botetourt County). Her parents, Elizabeth Ferrell (Ferrill?) Nofsinger (September, 27,1802-July 6, 1877) and Abraham Nofsinger (May 6, 1797-February 19, 1887) are buried nearby. (Nofsinger is also spelled Noftsinger and Noffsinger.) Also nearby are the empty graves of his Nofsinger cousins whose bodies lie buried in a mass grave at Gettysburg, PA. John C. Nace missed the Battle of Gettysburg. He was home settling his father’s estate at that time.

I have visited the cemetery where John C. Nace and his wife are buried. I have also visited the grave of his son and my great-grandfather—William Robert Nace—at Lithia Baptist Church.

Happy 178th birthday, John Christian Nace.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Pumpkin Power

When my husband saw the abandoned pumpkin near the dumpster yesterday morning, he hated to see it go to waste. It still looked pretty good, so he decided it would make a good decoration for the flower bed beside our driveway. The yellow chrysanthemums there were still in bloom, but a bit past their prime and bedraggled. The pumpkin would complement them nicely. He put the pumpkin in the bed of his pickup and drove home.

Back home, he parked the pickup at the end of the driveway, gently picked up the pumpkin (which was a tad soggy on the bottom), slowly carried it to the flower bed, and carefully placed it on the big white rock that prevents people from driving into the telephone connection thingie.

The rednecks encamped across from our driveway watched his every move. Later, they watched the pumpkin and even made loud noises at it. Did they think it contained a listening device or surveillance equipment? Or are they just easily entertained? Later they pulled their metal lawn chairs into a circle and watched their dead deer hang. (Well, some sat on the old church pew they have and, uh, religiously watched it.) What kind of people are entertained by watching a deer carcass hang from a tree? By watching a pumpkin?

They didn’t sit in their little encampment continuously. From time to time, they circled the loop which took them past our farm. We received information from one of our sources that several of them had been scrutinizing our fields and woods with binoculars. Gee, why would they do that? They know our land is posted. You don’t think—?

I was down at the farm for a few minutes while my husband was moving hay bales. Mr. Milk Truck Driver (he of the 1999 death threat) passed by twice—very slowly both times. Slow enough so that I could get a pretty good picture of his truck:


Earlier at the farm, my husband witnessed Mr. Redneck drive by slowly with his kid in the back of his maroon pickup (yeah, it’s illegal in Virginia to allow children to ride in the back of open pickup trucks)—slow enough to for my husband to understand clearly the two-word obscenity that Mr. RN mouthed.

The latest security camera I bought at Wal-Mart would probably fit nicely inside that pumpkin. A pumpkin cam: seasonal decor meets security system! Has Martha Stewart thought of this?

To give the local rednecks credit, this year they haven’t thrown bottles into the field, spiked my driveway, or left their deer hanging more than two days (and usually less than a day). They haven’t yet shot my signs full of holes or even left body parts scattered on my property. Yesterday, they even put out their campfire before they left. I feel sorry for these middle-aged adolescents. Life has been downhill for them since high school. They’ve accomplished nothing of note in their adult lives. At least they have each other.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Terrorists Among Us

The downside of rural living. The following events are from our early years in Penhook.

“Has the war started yet?” my elderly mother used to say in 2001 when I’d wake her up at 6:30 AM to take her first round of medication.

One morning she said, “Every time I hear a loud noise, I think it’s the war starting.”

A few days later, she said, “I didn’t sleep last night for worrying that terrorists would come in and use those fireplace tools to kill me.”

Since the war was technically over, she didn’t ask me how it was going, but she worried constantly. She was terrified of terrorists. Ever since she came to live with me—the day after 9-11, she stayed convinced that terrorists would parachute into the cow pasture across the road. She told me so numerous times in the three years she lived with me.

“Terrorists are not here,” I repeatedly assured her. “There’s nothing that terrorists want in Penhook.”

I lied. The terrorists were already here. For the last three years of my mother’s life, I managed to hide their existence from her.

The terrorists made their existence known in November 1999. Just before deer season, one of them cruised the dirt road in front of our farm, a mile southeast of our house, while my husband was there. He inquired about hunting—even mentioned that he’d once killed a deer right under our dusk-to-dawn light. My husband informed him that our land was posted: “My wife walks here everyday and she doesn’t want any shooting.”

The terrorist replied, “Well, maybe I should get rid of her and make it look like you did it.”

My first death threat.

A few weeks later, that terrorist and his buddies—some of whom were his kinfolk—cruised back and forth along the road. They were road-hunters: redneck slob hunters too lazy to track game. Instead, they waited for it to cross the road. Sometimes, a few cruised with their CBs on while one parked along the roadside. If game wardens were in the vicinity, the shooter had plenty of advance warning. If they saw me walking on my property, they glared at me. How dare I witness their illegal activities. The nerve of me!

After dark, a convey might slowly wend its way around the 3.3 mile loop that connects my house and farm. The lead truck carried the light and another carried the gun. They couldn’t be spotlighting if the light and gun weren’t in the same truck.

Since I kept my horses at the farm in 1999, I made many trips down the road to see if they were safe. Once in a while, a road-hunter would try to run me off the road. The horses, pastured out of sight of the road, remained safe. After all, they didn’t have antlers. They wouldn’t make good trophies.

Through the years, things got worse. In 2000, every time I went down the road to the farm, I’d end up behind a slow-moving road-hunter. He would swerve back and forth across the road so I couldn’t pass. Soon, thanks to CB technology, another would pull up behind me. But they never touched me, and they never turned into my driveway when I did. They kept circling, some in one direction, some in another. No matter which way I turned, one was always in front of me.

By then my horses were pastured in my backyard.

Once, after one of them (a school bus driver!) who’d slowly cruised by the farm and glared at me, drove by for the fifth time in a half-hour, I pulled my truck out of my farm driveway and blocked his path.

“What do you want?” I asked him. “Why are you stalking me?”

He feigned innocence. Why, they weren’t boxing me in—he would have let me pass if I’d only have put on my blinker. This is a public road, he pointed out. They had a perfect right to be there. Later, I learned that—earlier in the day— a dead de-horned buck had been dumped in my hay field. I guess the road-hunters were checking to see my reaction when I found it. My husband found it first and removed it to a remote section of the farm. The next day, I counted thirty-one buzzards circling it. Eventually the carcass was picked clean, but the bones lay there for months as a reminder of the hatefulness and wastefulness of these road-hunting terrorists.

Shortly after I’d confronted that road-hunter, I left the farm for home. Six vehicles circled around the loop. Two vehicles—a truck and a dark SUV—parked just across the road from my main driveway. Would they block me in if I went home? I decided not to turn in at my house and drove instead down to the barn. There I spotted my next-door neighbor—a special investigator for the sheriff’s department—turn into his driveway. I immediately drove there—driving past the two vehicles still parked near my driveway.

I explained to my neighbor why I was afraid to go home. He looked in the direction of the two vehicles—he didn’t recognize them either, so he went over to have a little talk with the drivers while I went down my driveway. Eventually, he pulled over all six vehicles as the others circled. I don’t know what he said, but they left. That day was when I knew for sure that terrorists were indeed among us.

Occasionally they’d drive over our lawn and leave traces that they’ve been there. One of them—so I’ve heard from several different sources— bragged about it at the local store. In fact, he used to drive over the lawn when the previous owner lived here. “He’s just jealous,” one person told me.

In September 2002, a Virginia Department of Transportation employee stopped by the house. He’d gotten a call from one of the county school bus drivers. Our crape myrtle was blocking this driver’s view when he stopped at the stop sign. The VDOT guy said that he didn’t see any problem himself—after all, as you approach the stop sign, you can see four-tenths of a mile down the road on the side where the crape myrtle is, but he had to investigate all complaints. Only three bus drivers go down our road. I’m pretty sure that the complainant was the road-hunter who only stopped for the sign when he was driving the bus—not when he drove his car or truck.

After snipping a few errant branches, I called the Transportation Department of Franklin County Public Schools to make sure my crape myrtle wasn’t in violation of anything. The director told me that bus drivers are supposed to report problems directly to her. Then she’d determine whether a problem existed before calling VDOT herself. Hmmm.

In November 2002, during the first week of hunting season, a long stretch of tire marks appeared on my lawn. The day before Thanksgiving, on the property across from my driveway, a dead and gutted deer appeared hanging from a tree. Every time I pulled out of my driveway or went to the mailbox, I’d have to look at it. Late that night, a bunch of trucks pulled into the darkness. Next morning the deer was gone. Well, I thought, that’s it. Thank goodness it was gone before my mother saw it.

As I walked on my farm Thanksgiving morning, I saw the game warden come by. I hailed her and told her what had happened. After I finished my walk, I drove home. Across from my driveway, four trucks were parked under the tree where the deer had hung. Several men were in the process of stringing up a gutted six-point buck. Enough is enough, I decided. I stopped, got out of my truck, and confronted Mr. Bus Driver.

“I know you’re doing this to annoy me,” I said, “but I can look at this and not be bothered. But this will bother my 90-year-old mother if she sees it. She is afraid of terrorists and she’ll see this as a body. I don’t want her to see this. Will you please take it down?”

“I didn’t know your mother lived with you,” he said. Some of his buddies looked down, possibly embarrassed. “But this is our hunting land! We have permission to be here.”
He refused to remove the deer. He told me I’d have to call the owner of the property. I went to my house and did just that. While I called, the four trucks drove away. The deer still hung.

The owner was there within three minutes. He admitted he’d given the bunch permission to hunt on his land.

“But they don’t have to hang a deer here,” I pointed out. “[Name omitted] has plenty of land he can hang it on.”

“But no one can see it there and admire it.”

“He could hang it at his store, then,” I said. That store was also a game checking station.
The property owner said he’d talk to him. However, the deer—which didn’t have a tag on it— remained hanging.

On Friday I talked to the supervisor for our area. He told me that there wasn’t a law against hanging a dead deer so near the road and another’s property, but—since the deer didn’t have a tag—he’d call the game warden. I later heard that, when the warden appeared at Mr. Road Hunter’s house, a deer tag was produced. The deer hung for three days. Finally, late Saturday night, some trucks appeared in the dark. On Sunday morning the carcass was gone. The chain still hung —and still hangs—from the oak, though. In 2003, a second chain was added.

The Wednesday after the carcass was removed, another tire track—crossing the previous one—appeared in my lawn.

For a while, they left me alone. On March 3, 2003, however, my truck’s rear tires went flat. When my husband took the tires off to repair them, he found two spikes in one tire and one in the other. Since the rear tires were flat, I had to have backed over something on Sunday. I’d backed up in just three places: my own driveway, a neighbor lady’s driveway (when I drove her dog home), and the farm driveway. While my husband took my tires to Sears, he got a flat tire on his truck and had to pull over on Rt. 220 to fix it. Suddenly, this was more than coincidence. Hubby took his metal detector to the farm. He found scattered on our driveway a dozen spikes that someone had no doubt flung from the road.

This time, since actual damage had been done, I called the sheriff’s department and reported the incident. And I gave names of suspects. Of course, we couldn’t prove who did it, but it was doggone suspicious.

That summer, we found Budwiser bottles flung from the road into our hayfields. Usually we’d pick up a couple of beer cans from the road, too, but the bottles were always well into the field where—if we didn’t remove them—they could do some damage to tractor tires when haying started. Or a broken bottle shard could get baled into the hay where an unsuspecting horse might swallow it.

Other signs of terrorism appeared. While I was walking my elderly border collie one Monday night in October 2003, a truck drove past. I was plainly visible under the light at my garage, but I couldn’t see the occupants of the truck. They made loud animal-type noises as they turned the corner. Then I heard a shot as they went past my dog kennel. After checking that my dogs and horses were OK, I called the police and reported the incident. The following Saturday night, again when I walked the old dog, a shot ran out from the road beside my front pasture.

During deer season 2003, the harassment escalated. A series of eight deer hung less than 50 feet from my driveway. One headless one hung for 6 days until it started to rot. I could not take my mother out at all during deer season for fear of what she’d see.

In 2003, her gripe on reality had slipped even more. Several times at sunset, I’d hear her screaming. Instead of seeing a sunset, she thought the pasture was on fire. Other times, if she saw a truck driving past slowly, she screamed that someone was coming to get her. The road hunters often drove by slowly.

Sometimes groups would gather across from my driveway, sit, and stare at my house. That fall, one of my large “Posted: No Hunting” signs at the Bar Ridge farm had 14 bullet holes in it, and the entire sign was stolen the following week.

During the last winter of my 91-year-old mother’s life, I dared not take her out and let her see the hatefulness of these local terrorists. She died in April 2004. I no longer had to pretend that terrorists didn’t exist.

In November 2004, a neighbor lady came to get my mother’s clothes for her church. This lady was subjected to hootings, cat-calls and general noise from the crowd sitting across from my driveway. A young boy—the son of one of them—jumped up and down on the back of a truck, flapped his arms, danced around, and hollered in our direction.

During deer season 2004, mutilated deer parts were also left near the “no hunting” signs at my farm. (Warning: Graphic photos at end of post. I’ve sized them very small; click on them to see enlargements.)

I’d lied to my mother for three years. There really were terrorists among us.

And they’re still here.



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Friday, November 24, 2006

Living Simpler

My grandparents, who owned and worked my Union Hall farm, lived a much simpler life than I do. Their cabin, built by William Bernard in the 1850s, was second-hand when they moved into it. They never had electricity or indoor plumbing. They grew their own vegetables and grain; they raised livestock for meat. The only edibles they bought on a regular basis were sugar and coffee. They wasted not and wanted not.


As a kid visiting in the early 1950s, I can remember the hams hanging in the smokehouse, the chickens running loose in the yard, my grandmother milking her cow down the hill near the spring (a chain guarded the entrance to the spring so the cow didn’t foul the source of drinking water), and the horse and mule my grandfather used for plowing.

In the days before Smith Mountain Lake, Franklin County was a poor agricultural county. All that’s changed now. The county is one of the fastest growing in Virginia. The towns are being leveled to build shopping centers, the lake is ringed with homes that cost in the millions, and big power lines will soon carry more power to the built-up areas.

I doubt I could live without electricity. My grandmother cooked on a woodstove, but I microwave. My grandparents went to the post office a mile away; I log on to my computer. My grandmother washed in a tub and hung the clothes on a line; I depend on my washing machine and drier. While I could make do with one bathroom instead of the three I have, I surely wouldn’t want to go outside. I couldn’t live as simply as my grandparents did.

Some people do live simpler lives, though, albeit with electricity. An article in yesterday’s Roanoke Times is about the simpler life of a Floyd County family. Another Floyd County resident—and fellow author, Fred First, describes in his blog and his book how he simplified his life a few years back.

My only claim to a simpler life is that I don’t have cable TV and I do have dial-up computer access.

Is living simpler more complicated than it used to be?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Holiday Inflation

The season of Need’n’Greed is upon us. I saw the signs in this morning’s paper. OK, not signs: advertising circulars. Lots and lots of them—all advertising this year’s “must haves.”

I don’t want any of the “must haves.” I tried to think of something I want, and all I can come up with is a new iMac and maybe a digital camcorder. The eMac I use is a 2002 model that originally ran Jaguar and was upgraded to Panther in 2004. It still works fine, but a few more bells & whistles (like the Tiger OS) would be nice. But not essential. I don’t really need a new computer yet.

A digital camcorder would be fun to play with. I could use it to record Maggie’s antics. I could play with the eMac’s iMovie software that I’ve never even used. But I’d probably get tired of it the way I did the VHS camcorder I bought several years ago.

So, I don’t need anything. I especially don’t need some of the new “holiday” decorations—especially a large inflatable snow-globe sort of thing that costs well over a hundred dollars. Why would someone spend so much to get something so big and so ugly and so useless? I wonder—will the giant inflatable decorations extend beyond New Year’s? Think Valentine’s Day decor. Will giant inflatable hearts appear on lawns on Valentine’s Day?

Over the last few years, I've noticed decorations have gotten tackier. Artificial seems to be the norm. Black trees are in. (Black is the new green?) It’s hard to believe that some families might have a tradition of decorating an artificial tree.

As for me, I like my trees living and fragrant. It’s the smell of a live cedar that puts me in the holiday mood.

A walk in the woods is better than anything inflatable, plastic, and over-priced.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Melody Sundance

We've had some lovely sunrises and sunsets lately. Last evening, I noticed how beautiful the sky was and grabbed my camera to take some pictures.

As I headed toward the pasture, I caught a glimpse of my Tennessee Walker mare, Melody Sundance, caught in the glow of the setting sun.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Maggie on the Steps

Maggie loves to play ball on the steps. Every evening she woofs at me to open the door to downstairs so she can drop her ball down the steps and then retrieve it.

Sometimes she plays with her tennis ball, other times with her little squeaky ball. But the rules never change: drop the ball, try to catch it before it goes all the way down, fetch the ball back to the top, drop the ball again, etc. If I want to toss the ball down the stairs, that’s fine. If I don’t, she does it herself.


Border collies can entertain themselves quite nicely.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Bedford Bookfest 2006

Yesterday evening, I attended the Bedford Bookfest. Not a huge crowd present (35 maybe?), but a good size audience for the speakers. All three speakers—a non-fiction writer, a poet, and a fiction writer—were excellent. All read from their work and spoke about how they write and how they got started writing.

Though I’m not a reader of military history, hearing historian David Snead talk about his two books (In Hostile Skies, An American Soldier in World War I) was informative. Especially interesting was that he told how writers need to document events in someone’s memoir in case the person embellished the actual happening. Last month, I’d heard a writer at the James River conference say the same thing. I’ve noticed that Bedford writer June Goode did a wonderful job with footnotes in Our War, the diary of Nettie Burwell who lived at Avenel during the Civil War. (Avenel is about a block away from the Bedford Library.) My Lake Writer buddy, Jim Morrison also documented his Bedford Goes to War. Apparently writers who do not document events and cite sources aren’t taken seriously.

Hearing Pulitzer Prize winner Claudia Emerson read from her collection, Late Wife, was a real treat. Claudia is from Chatham, which is a half hour down Rt. 29 from me. Her poems are beautifully crafted and layered with meaning. I can see why she won. I especially liked her snake poem, "Natural History Exhibits," in which she relates letting a snake live–a blacksnake that had taken up residence in the drawer where she stored her silverware—even though most women would have killed it. (I don't kill blacksnakes either. In fact, I'm looking for couple to drop down the mouseholes in the horse shed if any of your blog-readers have any to spare.)

I’d known Howard Owen, a fellow member of the Virginia Writers club, for years, but I’d only recently read his work. I liked his debut novel Littlejohn so much that I knew I’d like the sequel, Rock of Ages—his ninth novel. I'm a big fan of Southern lit—and Howard is a master at capturing the spirit and flavor of the South in his work.

What was interesting about all three writers was that they started writing their books in their forties—late in life for some occupations. However, their primary jobs involve writing—Claudia Emerson and David Snead teach college; Howard Owen is a newspaperman.

Kudos to the Bedford Public Library—especially to Nan Carmack and Peggy Bias—for putting together such a delightful program.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

November Sunset


This was the sky I saw last evening when I went out to feed the critters: a contrast of dark clouds and brilliant red-gold against a gray sky.

Next year the big power lines will bisect this view. I'd better enjoy these sunsets while I can.

If I were waxing poetic, I'd say that life is like this sunset—a contrast of light and dark. Ominous clouds hang over our brighter moments, but brilliance shines through the gloom.

Nothing lasts forever.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Day of Contrasts

This morning, I went to the Smith Mountain Lake AAUW meeting at Westlake Country Club. It’s always fun to go to the country club, converse with other educated women, hear an interesting program (today's was presented by an investment counselor), and have a good lunch. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

About 1:10 p.m. when I returned home, one of the local rednecks (the milk truck driver who’d threatened to kill me in 1999) already had parked his truck by the stop sign across from my driveway. While I was getting out of my car at my garage door, Mr. MTD—in his deer-hunting uniform of camo and blaze orange—stood up in the back of his pick-up truck—the better for me to see him, of course—and was joined by Mr. Redneck of the "Tribulations & the Trial" entry. I took out my camera and snapped a picture in case I later needed to prove they were there. Mr. RN got out a camera and took my picture (I think).

Today was the first day of the general firearms season for deer. Naturally, these guys had to make their presence known. They'll never forgive me for (1) posting my land and (2) reporting their violations to the game warden or sheriff's department.

While I did a bit of housework, my husband fixed himself a cup of tea and sipped it while standing in the garage. Mr. RN took his picture. (Note: Mr. RN—who only a few months ago had sworn under oath to the court how terrified he was that my husband would shot him—gave my husband the middle finger yesterday as they drove in opposite directions. At least taking pictures doesn’t involve rude gestures.) My husband finished his tea and came back inside. Redneck watching is an incredibly boring activity. One can only endure so much of it.

Later RN and MTD and RN’s little boy sat on the tailgate of the truck and swung their legs. (I’ll give them the benefit of a doubt: possibly they were absorbed in a deeply philosophical discussion. More likely not, though.)

At two, they were still there. At least they were where we could keep our eyes on them (should we even want to) and not running rampant over our farms and shooting up goodness-knows-what. However, they were gone at three when I went out to scrub the horse and dog buckets and water all the critters.

Technically they’re not stalking me because they aren’t on my property. But why do they feel the need to camp out at the stop sign across the road from my driveway? What pleasure do they derive from watching me?

Picture taken from my garage at 1:12 p.m., November 18, 2006.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Leaving More Marks


The nearly three inches of yesterday’s rain left the lawn mushy. Even yesterday afternoon’s strong winds didn’t dry it. When Maggie and I walked last night, I could feel the earth squishing beneath my feet.

The soft lawn proved too much temptation for one of the locals. This morning the fresh tracks showed where one of them spun his tires on the lawn last night. Well, it has been a couple of weeks since the last tracks were left. I guess we were due. . . .


The tracks were left by a smaller vehicle than the average pick-up truck. The top photo shows the direction the driver was headed; the bottom, the direction he came from. You can see in the bottom photo how the muffler left a mark. That's when he must have decided to get off the lawn before he left his muffler as evidence.

Saturday—tomorrow!—the general firearms season starts, so I can expect more vandalism—some, no doubt, involving mutilated deer corpses, shot-up signs, beer bottles tossed into the hayfields, etc. At least that’s happened in the past.

Maybe this year will be different, though. Maybe the vandals have grown up.

Do vandals ever grow up?

Labels:

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Another Dark Day

. . . of Autumn Rain.

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.
—From A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Around two a.m., today’s rain started in force. On and off all morning, we’ve had a deluge. Gullies run red in the fields, and the cats don’t want to go out. This morning’s news reported tornado warnings and flash flood warnings in counties not far away.

A good day to do housework.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dark & Stormy

By now everyone has heard of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. I gained notoriety by winning the “Worst Western” division of the 1996 contest (and, I’m proud to add, a dishonorable mention in the 1999 contest). Yes, I’ve mentioned this, uh, distinction before on this blog. Might as well milk the honor for all it’s worth.

It’s been more than a decade since the last anthology of dreadful opening sentences was published. However, in 2007, a new collection will roll off the press. My sentence will be among the other bad ones. The publisher seems to have a problem with the title, though.

Today, over a hundred of us got this email from the contest organizer:

The permissions are rolling in. My publisher suggests a new title, perhaps the one I should have used for the second book, "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night II." Roman numerals would have been a more intelligent marketing choice. That way, owners of volumes I and II could have inquired about the appearance of III. And someone who purchased V would know that there were earlier volumes. Why didn't one of you think of this? By the way, feel free to make any suggestions that occur to you.

Scott Rice, Grand Panjandrum
Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

I suggested It Was Still a Dark and Stormy Night.

Not too original, but my talents lie in writing bad sentences, not in thinking of good titles.

As a side note, heavy rain is expected in my area tonight. And tonight will be dark. Tomorrow I can honestly say, "It was a dark and stormy night when I posted this entry."

Eddie B-L, eat your heart out.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Libraries, etc.


From the “Today in History” site: http:

On November 14, 1732 the Library Company of Philadelphia signed a contract with its first librarian. Founded by Benjamin Franklin and friends in November 1731, the library enrolled members for a fee of 40 shillings but had to wait for its books to arrive from England before beginning full operation.

I am a great fan of libraries. The Franklin County Library is fantastic. (I lead the Franklin County Young Writers who meet there at 6:30 p.m. on third Mondays and I’m on the board for the Franklin County Book Festival that’s held at the FC library.)

I’ve participated in a couple of Bookfests held at the Roanoke Public Library and the Bedford Public Library. In fact, I’ll be attending the Bedford Bookfest this Sunday afternoon. A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet will read, and fellow Virginia Writers Club member Howard Owen will discuss the sequel to his wonderful novel, Littlejohn.

FYI: The county where I live—Franklin County—is named in honor of Benjamin Franklin.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Rejected but not Dejected

I received a rejection for More Peevish Advice in today's mail but I wasn't surprised. I'd been expecting it. I'd met the agent at the James River Writers Conference and had actually pitched a different manuscript. But when I told her that I was thinking of PODing More Peevish Advice, she asked for the first 10 pages. What the heck, I thought, and sent them.

I'm pleased that this agent with the Donald Maass Literary Agency (a biggie!) wrote such a nice, personal rejection:

Dear Becky,

Thanks for the opportunity to read the opening pages of More Peevish Advice. I appreciate your advice while I've considered it.

The writing here is really fun, but I don't think I'm the right agent for this. I can't see it having broad appeal, and I'm just not sure how to sell it. I'm going to pass on More Peevish Advice, but thanks for sharing it!

Please accept my best wishes for your project's success.
I figured that my redneck humor would be a hard sell in Noo Yawk. Looks like I'll go back to my original plan to do More Peevish Advice as a POD book. It might be a hard sell in Noo Yawk, but it'll sell to the former Noo Yawkers, Noo Jerseyites, and other yankees who now live at Smith Mountain Lake.

Was that a classy rejection, or what?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

What's on My Desk?


Writing is not, as some claim, a solitary occupation. I usually have company when I fire up my eMac to write my column or blog or surf the net.

In the evenings Maggie, the very long and tall border collie, takes up all the space under my desk and provides a footrest for me. Or a foot warmer, if I can stand her weight on my feet.

Both during the day or in the evenings, my desk is invariably occupied by at least one—and sometimes up to four—cats. While I have six cats total, the desk and computer can only hold so many.

If Buford the deaf cat is in, he’s usually asleep on my desk. (He’s the sleeping tabby in the foreground.) Buford has a strong sense of preservation and always sleeps on top of something so that he can’t be easily grabbed by a wandering predator. Surprise him, and he’ll leap up hissing and clawing. Consequently, I’ve learned to gently wake him. Buford likes a lot of space to sleep, so he sometimes clears all the stuff off my desk with a single paw-swipe.

Yelling at a deaf cat is an exercise in futility. But, he’s good company and the only cat I can actually vacuum.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Another email scam

Yesterday’s email coughed up this hairball of a scam:

From: service_pp23@paypal.com
Date: November 10, 2006 3:28:27 PM EST
Subject: Security Measures!
Reply-To: service_pp23@paypal.com

Dear PayPal member :

Our comprehensive fraud-prevention program is one of the key reasons PayPal is a safe way to pay online. We believe that innovation and careful analysis is the way to beat fraud. That’s why PayPal has developed industry-leading models to review every transaction—and help detect suspicious activity. Our Fraud Investigation Team has recently detect suspicious activity in your PayPal account.

In order to continue to operate the PayPal service and to reduce the risk of fraud, PayPal Corp. ("PayPal" or "we") must ask you to provide us information about yourself and your credit card and/or bank account.

To do so please follow the link below.

http://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_contact-general

We believe that innovation and careful analysis is the way to beat fraud. That’s why PayPal has developed industry-leading models to review every transaction—and help detect suspicious activity. Our Fraud Investigation Team is dedicated to creating a safe PayPal community. If we suspect fraud in your account, we’ll contact you immediately.

It wasn’t signed, but this cute little thingie was attached to the bottom:

I guess it was supposed to make me feel secure. It didn’t. I didn't dare click it.

How do I know this email was a scam?
  1. Real companies wouldn’t make a grammatical error. “Our Fraud Investigation Team has recently detect suspicious activity in your PayPal account.”
  2. I don’t have a PayPal account.
  3. I don’t have any credit cards.
Other than that. . . .

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Blue Lady is Back


The Blue Lady Bookshop in downtown Rocky Mount is open again. Originally located in the former law office of General Jubal Early, its owner Ibby Greer moved it to Eagle Plaza over a year ago.

Now the Blue Lady is back home at the corner of Floyd and Route 40. Well, the bookshop by that name is home. The real “blue lady” never left.

The actual “blue lady” is a ghost—Margaret Hale who died in the 1880s and who is buried less than a mile away. You can sometimes feel her presence—or smell her perfume—in the music room of The Grove, the pre-Civil War mansion on whose grounds the old law office is located. A few folks have actually seen Margaret in her blue dress. I haven’t been so lucky, but I once smelled her heavily floral-scented perfume. A sociable ghost, Margaret makes hers presence known during social occasions.

Anyhow, my self-published novel, Patches on the Same Quilt, was the bookstore’s best-selling novel. (The best-selling non-fiction was Keister Greer’s The Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935.)

If you’re looking for books on regional subjects, the Blue Lady is the place to go. It’s open Monday through Friday from noon to 3:00 p.m. and other times by appointment.

And—if you want to meet a ghost—you just might get lucky. Margaret isn’t the only ghost at The Grove, but she’s the best known. If you see her, tell her I said hello. (If you can't get there in person, there's an on-line bookstore.)

Don’t forget to buy my books while you’re there.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I Don't Exist?

Well, it’s official: I don’t exist. I checked HowManyOfMe.com to see how many other people in the United States are named Becky Mushko. The result:

  • There are 0 people in the U.S. named Becky Mushko.
  • One or both of the names you entered were not found in our database.

I’d heard of HowManyOfMe.com while reading Mike Allen’s blog. (Note: Mike is a Roanoke Times reporter who had done a superb job with the obituary of Roanoke writer Nelson Bond, who died Saturday at 98. After I’d read more about Nelson Bond on Mike’s blog, I kept reading. That’s when I found to reference to HowManyOfMe.com.)

I learned that there are 567 Mike Allens. But not one Becky Mushko.

However, I did learn this: There are 98,990 people in the U.S. with the first name Becky.
  • Statistically the 526th most popular first name. (tied with 4 other first names)
  • More than 99.9 percent of people with the first name Becky are female.
Had I kept my maiden name, I’d exist. I’d be one of 996. But, I’ll stick with being Becky Mushko. Shame that I don’t exist, though. Gee, I feel so real.

I wonder how that one guy named Becky feels.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mindless Entertainment

Sometimes the Internet is more playground that information highway. When you just want to waste time, the Internet offers a plethora of pit-stops.

At the Cassette Generator, you can pretend you have a band and design what your cassette would look like. Here’s mine:


At the Jackson Pollack site, you can move your mouse around to create Pollackesque masterpieces. Every time you click the mouse, the color changes. Is this art, or what?

Singing Horses is wonderfully mindless. Once all four horses appear, click on each one to activate its, uh, singing voice. (Maybe you can come up with songs you'd like on your cassette?) Click again to make each horse stop singing.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Rainy November Days


Last night a ring around the moon foretold today's rain. There’s something starkly beautiful about sodden leafless trees in mid-autumn. Robert Frost, in his “My November Guest,” says it best:

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted grey
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.
This poem first appeared in A Boy’s Will in 1913. A poem written almost a century ago reaches across the decades to still have meaning today.

I have one memory of Robert Frost, my favorite poet. When I was fifteen, I sat on a table in the biology room at the old William Fleming High School in Roanoke, Virginia, and watched a small black and white TV that someone had brought in. The room was packed with students sitting on tables, chairs, and the floor. Several teachers had brought their classes in to witness the live broadcast of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, where Robert Frost was to read a poem. It was a bright, windy day and the paper fluttered in his fingers, He squinted against the sun’s glare. I remember his seeing white hair blowing while he struggled to hold the paper still. Finally, he recited “The Gift Outright” from memory: “The land was ours before we were the land’s.”

I graduated from high school in 1963, the year that both Kennedy and Frost died. I don’t remember Frost’s death on January 29, 1963, but I know exactly where I was on the bare November day when Kennedy was shot: on the afternoon of November 22, 1963, I was in Richmond—in my dorm room on the first floor of Founder’s Hall, back when VCU was still RPI. I looked out the window into Shafer Street and noticed a lot of commotion. I went down the back stairs to the cafeteria in Founders Hall basement, and then I heard the news.

That night most of the Founders Hall residents packed into the front parlor and watched the news on the small black and white TV set.

For a while in November 1963, the world seemed black and white. Kind of like rainy late autumn days.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Dog Tired

I'm dog-tired after spending the day in Roanoke (the big city!) as writer-in-residence at Cave Spring High School, so I'll just post a picture of Maggie making her birthday bone last for several days.


Thanks to C. S. student Matt B. for giving me a concise definition of redneck. He quoted Jeff Foxworthy's definition: "A glorious absence of sophistication."

That says it all.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Keeping Busy

My writing activities are taking interesting turns. My essay, “Out of the Fog,” is a finalist for A Cup of Comfort for Writers. I’ll know in a few months if it will be one of the essays used in the anthology. My “Worst Western” sentence in the 1996 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest (for the worst opening line in the novel I never wrote) will be published in the next Bulwer-Lytton collection, which will either be titled The Brothers Dark and Stormy or It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: the Second Coming.

If the agent who requested 10 pages of More Peevish Advice—the last four years of my redneck humor columns (which originally appeared in Blue Ridge Traditions and Smith Mountain Eagle)—rejects me, I’ll go POD again. I’ve already got most of my manuscript set up in my computer. I’ll know by the end of the year if Ferradiddledumday, my Blue Ridge version of the Rumpelstiltskin story will be commercially published. Thanks to the AppLit site, teachers around the country are using Ferradiddledumday in class, but many would like a hard copy.

I’m also doing a bunch of writing-related things: I recently became a member of the Roanoke Valley Branch of the American Penwomen. I’m enjoying the heck out of being writer-in-residence for Roanoke County Schools and also mentoring a group of Franklin County Young Writers. At the Virginia Writers Club annual meeting in Charlottesville yesterday, I was elected 1st vice-president of the VWC. Plus, I’m giving editorial input to a couple members of my writers’ group, and advising a few more about starting a blog.

I thought I was going to have plenty of free time in my retirement. The old adage, “Work expands to fit the time available,” is true.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Blue Ridge Mountain View

The Blue Ridge Mountain Range as seen from the corner of Kemp Ford Road and Dillard's Hill Road in Union Hall, Virginia, a few days ago:


The same view a few months ago:

Friday, November 03, 2006

Diverging in a Yellow Wood

These golden days of November remind me of my favorite poem:

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Despite a few inconveniences and some health problems, I’ve enjoyed my journey on the road that I took. Where I am now is so different from how I—as a child more than a half-century ago—envisioned what direction my life would take. I did wish then that I would grow up to have a horse and a houseful of cats and dogs. (Got ’em!) I never saw myself having kids, so I didn’t. I’ve always loved nature and now I own 500 acres filled with it, including the Union Hall farm where this picture was taken. I’ve been married for nearly 39 years to a man I only knew for 5 months before we married, and we live a house I coveted for 10 years before it came up for sale. We have no debts and few, if any, regrets.

Everything I really wanted, I now have. How many people can say that?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Maggie Turns One

The fluffy six-week-old border collie that I brought home last December 14 is a year old now. The picture at right shows her before she was officially mine. I wrote the check a few minutes after the picture was taken.

When I got her, I was still mourning my old border collie, Abby, who died a year earlier. Maggie had some big paw-prints to fill. When I went to the Parkers' farm in Bedford to look at puppies, a border collie who looked like Abby bounded to my car and greeted me warmly. I knew then that I had to have a pup from this dog. And I got one.

Maggie was the easiest pup we've ever brought into the house. She was quiet the first night (and for all nights thereafter) and was easy to housebreak. She never chewed up anything that wasn't hers. From the first, she knew she was my dog.

I should have known, since she was the biggest in the litter and had huge feet, that she'd grow up to be a big dog. And she has.

Maggie is a smart—maybe too smart, independent, and take-charge kind of dog. She loves water, be it in bathtubs, creeks, or puddles. We had to add a tub to the kennel so she can soak whenever she wants to. She spends her days in the kennel and her nights in the house, where she is the official guard dog. At night, Maggie and I walk in the dark and savor the silence.

The picture below was taken last month. The look in her eyes is her "guard dog" look—the piercing stare that gives border collies power over lesser creatures.

And to border collies, every other creature is a lesser creature.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Haunting Photos?

Yesterday was Samhain, but again I saw no ghosts. Maggie wanted to walk around the property several times last night, and—for all her sniffing and searching—turned up nothing. Not so much as a possum. The night was so warm that we sat for a while under the pin oak, basked in the moonlight, and enjoyed the quiet.

I’ve tried to see ghosts many times. Once, while at the Grove in downtown Rocky Mount, I actually smelled the perfume of Margaret Hale, who died in the 1880s, and I felt temperature changes in a room where one of the residents died of typhoid long ago. At Avenel, in Bedford, I again felt temperature changes.

However, on my own property, I’ve taken some odd photos. These two—taken in 2003, a month before the Taw Atkins graveyard across the road was dug up with a backhoe, dumped into the back of a white pickup truck, and hauled away—are a bit odd. I snapped them one morning when my old (and now deceased) border collie stared in the direction of what I photographed:


Of course, I could have just photographed the pre-dawn mist or something. Some other photos I snapped that morning were filled with orbs.

The next photo, taken in 2003 down the road at our farm, is unexplainable. The ones I took a few minutes before and a few minutes after it were unremarkable. The light toward the bottom is the setting sun under the clouds. However, I can't explain the squiggle, the dot high above it, or the dot in front of the tree. Anybody got any ideas?


Speaking of photos: This morning at 7:08, as my husband and I went out to feed and water our critters, one of the local rednecks drove by and stopped his maroon truck in the road not far from where we were and stared at us. We stopped walking toward the barn and stared back at him. (Rule of country life: Never turn your back on a rattlesnake.) He appeared to be taking photos of us with his phone. This is the same guy who swore out the false warrants against my husband in August. Why would he take pictures of us? Was my husband was carrying the bag of dog cookies and the bowl of dog food in a threatening manner? Did I brandish my coffee cup in such a way that Mr. Redneck feared for his safety? Who knows what thoughts haunted his mind? After a minute or so, he left and we proceeded to our morning chores.

Looks like the local rednecks are still haunting us. I’d rather have real ghosts.


I'm participating in National Blog Posting Month. Will I be able to post daily for a whole month?