Peevish Pen

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

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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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Literary Treats & a Trick

The Bedford Library system is offering a couple of literary treats soon.

On November 8 at 10 AM at the SML/Moneta Branch Library, Keith Ferrell will address the Friends of the Library and the general public on "The Death of Reading." Keith, former editor of Omni Magazine, is a freelance writer who lives a couple of miles from me as the crow flies. We've served together on the Franklin County Library Bookfest committee. He's a wonderful speaker. (If that isn't enough, there'll be free refreshments!)

On November 11, from 3 PM until 7:30 PM, is the 2007 Bedford Book Festival. Here's the info that Nan Carmack, the library's marketing and events director, emailed me today:

The 5th annual Bedford Book Festival will once again connect readers with writers on Sunday, November 11th, at the Bedford Central Library. Beginning at 3 pm, the Festival will present two novelists and a poet, who will read from their works and discuss their writing journey. Books for signing will be on sale at the event.

At 3 pm, Bunny Goodjohn, formerly of the U.K., now residing in Forest will present Sticklebacks and Snowglobes, hot off the press from Permanent Press, just released this month. This extraordinary first novel is set in a lower middle class neighborhood in London, and revolves around Tot, an unforgettable eight-year-old epileptic girl who tries to understand the world of older children and adults. Early reviews rave about this first novel from a widely published poet and short story writer:

“Bunny Goodjohn's Stacy might want to come back as a man next time, but I want to come back as Bunny Goodjohn. Fresh and spot-on in her tale of a young girl unenthusiastically contemplating the challenges becoming a woman will pose, Bunny made me laugh and sigh, and crave her next dazzling story.”
—Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of Becoming Finola

Goodjohn will be followed at 4 pm by poet Sarah Kennedy. Kennedy holds an MFA from Vermont College and a PhD from Purdue University. She is the author of four books of poems, including Consider the Lilies (David Robert Books 2004), Double Exposure (Cleveland State University Press Open Competition Winner 2003), and Flow Blue (Elixir Press Prize in Poetry Winner 2002). Sarah Kennedy has received grants from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is the book review editor for Shenandoah and teaches at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. She will present her latest work from Consider the Lilies, collection of gritty lyrics and mournful narratives, the poems not shying away from painting portraits tough in their attention to detail, yet delicate in the way they capture emotional nuance. Her current work takes her literally and figuratively into history: Dr. Kennedy's current project, historical poems about witches, mystics and saints, has already taken her abroad to research medieval towns and landmarks.

Finally, the Festival will culminate with southern novelist, Pam Duncan who will speak at 6 pm. Pam Duncan’s first novel, Moon Women (Delacorte, 2001) begins the tale of the Moon women, set in Madison County, North Carolina. Three generations of women struggle with one another, with men, with aging, and with life, but ultimately find the gift of the strength in themselves and one another in this strong novel that is revealing and hilarious all in the same moment. Duncan’s third novel, The Big Beautiful (Dial Press, 2007), picks up the tale of middle-aged Moon sister, Cassandra, as she hijacks the limo and flees, gown-clad, her own wedding. Continuing in her personal tradition of wit and deep thought, Duncan presents characters who refuse to settle and do so with great strength, humor, and quirkiness.

Duncan’s second novel, Plant Life (Delacorte, 2003), accompanies distraught Laurel Granger through her divorce and back to her mother and her gossipy friends whose lives center around the town’s major employer—the plant. Dreading a return to this narrow community, Laurel is stunned to find the heartbreak, secret strength, and depth of the women she had previously dismissed. Powerfully and humorously told, Duncan paints the possibility of new life in old soil.

Duncan’s writing career has been well rewarded, earning the 2003 Sir Walter Raleigh Award and the 2007 James Still Award for Appalachian Writing and rave reviews from literary journals and her peers. Lee Smith writes about Moon Women:

“Reading Pamela Duncan's Moon Women is like falling into a feather bed--you'll want to snuggle in, settle down, and stay right there until you have turned the last wonderful page. I know all these women, and you probably do, too; and Pamela Duncan makes us care passionately about what happens to them all as this eventful novel unfolds. Big, lush, full of passion and compassion, Moon Women is that true rarity--a serious work of literature which is also a great read!”

and about The Big Beautiful:
““Jane Austen meets Mayberry: for once, a real romance, with a heroine worthy of it! Smart, sweet, and funny. This is one big, beautiful, life-affirming novel.”

Duncan was born in Asheville and grew up in Black Mountain, Swannanoa, and Shelby, North Carolina. She holds a B.A. in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.A. in English/Creative Writing from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

The Bedford Library Foundation is pleased to bring this literary opportunity to the community and invites everyone to meet the faces behind the pages. For more contact Nan Carmack at 540.586.8911 x2110 or visit the web for quotes, excerpts, links and blogs at http://www.library.bedford.va.us.

I'm a bookfest junkie who's participated in a couple of Bedford Bookfests and attended several others. They've all been well worth attending. See y'all there!

OK, now for a trick that isn't writing-related (well, it appears in an online version of Australia's Herald Sun, so I guess it is writing-related after all). Click here to take the Right Brain vs. Left Brain test.

C'mon. You know you're dying to find out which half of your brain is dominant.

~

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Frosty Morn


WHEN THE FROST IS ON THE PUNKIN
by James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and the gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O it's then the times a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock

They's somethin kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here -
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock -
When the frost is on the punkin and fodder's in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries - kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A preachin' sermons to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below - the clover overhead! -
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too!
I don't know how to tell it - but if sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me -
I'd want to 'commodate 'em - all the whole-indurin' flock -
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock!

I don’t have any punkins—er, pumpkins—and nobody shocks fodder anymore, unless it’s to sell to city folk who think that a pile of fodder on the porch is a suitable autumn decoration. But last night we had our first hard frost and freeze. This morning the lawn was silvered and the water tubs were skimmed with ice. A haze hung over parts of the woods. The deck railing was painted white with frost:


Last Friday, I counted sixteen turkeys down the road, a couple of them gobblers. None “kyoucked and the gobbled,” though, but a few strutted.

Yesterday, I picked the last of my roses and made a final bouquet. I moved most of the house plants inside and wrapped up the rest. I’ll get those in today.



I’m battening down for winter.

More about James Whitcomb Riley at the Lilly Library of Indiana University: http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/riley/exhibit.htm

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Outing the Possum

One downside of rural living is that sometimes the outdoors moves in. That is, what should live outdoors finds living indoors a bit easier.

I'm talking possums (or opossums, for y'all citified readers). It seems that almost every October, an adolescent possum or two decides that living in our garage is the way to go. We decide that it isn't and consequently have to evict the possum.

Why not just keep the garage doors closed? (1) Because our kitchen door opens into the garage. (2) Because the outside cats come into the garage at night, and it's easier if they come in at their convenience. (3) Because the garage can get #!* hot if the doors are closed. (4) Because it's a heckuva lot easier to drive in and out without stopping each time to open and close the door.

This year's possum was especially elusive. He (or she) also peed a lot in the garage. He (or she) was especially fond of the dry cat food and dog food we keep stored in the garage. He (or she)—being a typical adolescent—didn't clean up after himself (or herself).

After a few nights of puddles and scattered food, we'd had enough. So had the outside cats, who really weren't into sharing. We convinced the outside cats they'd be happier inside for a night of so and baited the trust Havahart with cat food.

(OK, some of you are wondering why we just didn't sic one of the dogs on the possum. (1) Because I know—from personal experience—that a dog who kills a possum will eat the possum. (2) Because I know—again, from personal experience—that the dog will throw up the possum. (3) Because I know—again, from #*&!#* personal experience—that cleaning up the massive throw-up will require a good-sized shovel and a strong stomach, only one of which I have. That's why. (4) Plus this possum was exceptionally cute as possums go. (5) And then there's the matter of karma. But I'm digressing.)

The possum visited the trap a few times but didn't get caught until my husband oiled the spring mechanism.

Then, a few nights ago, I looked into the garage and saw the trap was closed.


Told you this one was exceptionally cute!

Well, we knew the drill: relocate the possum to the far side of a creek or a major highway. (If you didn't read last October's blog entry about taking a possum to the Union Hall farm, you might want to check it out now. It's a better story than this year's, what with hauling that possum on the back of a bush-hog down Route 40 and all.)

Anyhow, we loaded the trap containing one angry possum into the back of the truck and drove to a suitable preselected location on the other side of Route 40. You'd be surprised how quickly a possum can take off as soon as the cage door is opened.

It's been a few days. He (or she) hasn't returned.

Meanwhile, the outside cats really like spending the nights inside.

~

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Leafings

The leaves are finally getting some color. I took these shots yesterday in Union Hall at our Brown Farm (aka "The old Tom Brown Place" or "Shady Rest"):







A frost warning's been issued for tonight. Autumn is in the air as well as in the trees.

~

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Scam Goes On

Even though my dog Jack shuffled off this mortal coil last May, he still gets lots of email. Most is from Poetry.com, the infamous International Library of Poetry, which just about everybody knows—or should know—is a scam. This came day before yesterday:

A personal note from the desk of:
Howard Ely, Managing Editor

Dear Jack,

Not long ago, our Editors reviewed the thousands of submissions entered in our International Open Amateur Poetry Contest, and they awarded your poem the prestigious Editor's Choice Award. This is an honor awarded to only 12% of the submissions we receive. Now that the first round of the judging process is complete, your poem will enter the next level of judging, becoming eligible for the $10,000 Annual Grand Prize that will be awarded in January 2008. We wish you the best of luck with this next phase of the contest.
Jack Mushkeau Has Been Selected
As An Editor's Choice Award Recipient!

Since we announced the names of the winners, many recipients have contacted me and requested a way to display their achievement; therefore, I put our artists and designers to work. We were able to create our most exquisite and distinguished wall plaque ever. This year, we are offering this limited edition wall plaque commemorating your achievement as an Editor's Choice Award recipient. Each certificate is numbered, signed, and mounted on a solid maple plaque. This beautiful display piece truly honors your accomplishment!

Jack Mushkeau


As an Editor's Choice Award winner, we're sure you'll want to improve your craft and further your involvement in poetry. There's no better way to do that than by joining the International Society of Poets (ISP), the largest poetry organization in the world. As a member of the ISP, you'll receive a quarterly magazine filled with articles, contests, and lots of poetry. In addition, you will be part of an organization that promotes PEACE—Poetry, Education, Accomplishment, Charity, and Equality. Please join the thousands of members who have submitted poetry, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and the late "Man in Black," Johnny Cash. Go here for membership details.

The plaque and membership are individually valued at $135.00, but today you can order them together for $75.00 (plus $14.00 shipping & handling), which is a $60.00 discount off the regular retail price. Please take the time to review the benefits of becoming a member of the International Society of Poets and join today. We'll send your Editor's Choice Award plaque and membership package immediately upon your acceptance of this offer.

Sincerely,
Howard Ely

P.S. If you are not completely satisfied, we offer a 100% money back guarantee. Simply return your materials within 90 days of delivery for a full refund.

Yeah, right. I'll bet no one ever sees that money again. Jack also received this one yesterday:

Forward This Email To All Of Your Family And Friends!

Dear Family and Friends,

I am in the middle of a great online poetry competition. I have the chance to win some great prizes, including an iPod. I really want to win, and all I need are votes from my family and friends. You simply need to click on a link, read my poem, and rate it. If I get enough votes, I win, it’s that easy! Please use the link below to vote for my poem, “Wand'ring.” Please forward this to anyone else you know that could help me out. You can also use the link below on your Facebook or MySpace page to help me receive even more votes. This is a great way to help me share my poetry with the world!

Thanks very much for your vote. I will keep you posted if I win. Wish me luck!

Best regards,
Jack Mushkeau

Use This Link To Vote For Me:
http://www.poetry.com/voteforme/poemvote1.asp?PID=10782770

So, if you want to help a deceased mixed retriever win an iPod, please click the above link and vote for his poem. Only “Wand’ring” doesn’t appear; Jack’s other poem does. Here it is, copied directly from the website, with the incorrect colon and all:

Wolflings
by: Jack Mushkeau

A howl!
Really a growl
For a snarl,
As gnarled nose
Reaches high,
Flings sound awry
And far. Shows
Rousing cries-
Foul.

Wolves wend wayward
Over tedious tundra
On their journey
Far and wide.

Copyright ©2007 Jack Mushkeau


C’mon. Click & vote. He's dying to win an iPod.

Er, the previous statement would be redundant, wouldn't it?

~

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Friday, October 26, 2007

It Pours!

THE RAIN is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.

It’s still raining! It rained all day yesterday and is supposed to rain most of today. My rain gauge, which goes up to five inches, is full.

It’s falling on our fields, which are now the shade of bright green they should have been two months ago.

It rained on my umbrella, which the wind nearly ripped out of my hands yesterday when I walked the 400 feet from the garage to the mailbox.

It’s falling on our trees, one of which fell over. It happened to be the tree where the cable is attached at Brown Farm in Union Hall. The cable kept people from driving down our road; now the fallen tree keeps everyone from driving in there.

Dylan, who wants to be an outside cat, hates the rain. He begs to go out; I let him out. Soon a soggy Dylan begs to come in.

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on Dylan the cat.
It soddens up his hair,
And he cannot stand that.

He couldn’t care less what it does to ships at sea.

~

Download A Child's Garden of Verses.


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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Here There Be Dragons

I’ve heard that mapmakers in days of yore sometimes put the phase, “Here there be dragons” when they weren’t quite sure what should be on the map they were making because the territory hadn’t yet been explored. I suppose they didn’t want to leave the space blank or write “Nobody knows what the heck is here."

Last week, Maggie and I explored some territory where I hadn’t been for several years and where Maggie had never been. We explored slowly; Maggie because she was on a leash and I because of my #!* heel spur. (However, I’ve found that walking uphill on soft ground doesn’t bother me too much.) Maggie wasn’t thrilled that she was restricted, but I didn’t want to take a chance of her running off through territory she didn’t yet know.

Anyhow, as we roamed the woods uphill of Dinner Creek, we found what looked like dragons in the woods. (Well, if you sort of squint. . . .)

A wonderfully fierce dragon?


Is this a dragon or the remnants of a dinosaur?


This one looks more like a surprised troll than a dragon.


An alien emerging from a treetrunk?

When Maggie and I were almost out of the woods, we realized that this territory had been explored after all. We found the tree where my husband had carved his initials almost two decades ago—not long after we'd bought this property.


Dragons are where you find them. Even if the only place you find them is your imagination.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When It Rains

IT'S BEEN POURING!

This morning's shower gave us about a quarter inch. Not much—but a welcome relief to the drought. The sky, however, stayed cloudy and ominous all day.

After I checked Polecat Creek Farm this afternoon, on my way home I stopped by my cousin's house to visit. Naturally, we talked about the weather. She mentioned how sultry the morning had been.

"Yeah," I said. "Just like before a tornado or hurricane."

As we sat in her carport, the wind came up and the air grew cooler. I looked southward. Big dark clouds were rolling in.

"When weather comes from the south, it's usually bad," I said. I figured I better head home—a mile up the road. Pulling into my driveway, I saw a big lightning bolt slice the western sky.

I turned on the TV as soon as I got in and caught the middle of Dr. Phil. By then, rain had started. Soon the show was interrupted: Tornado warning for Franklin County. Eastern Franklin County. The danger extended up from Martinsville in a northeastern line. Peckerwood Level might be hit at 5:25. I live between Union Hall and Peckerwood Level.

Then the weather maps showed Penhook. Rain was falling harder.

Uh-oh. I unplugged the phone lines and prepared to move to the basement. Rain came in torrents.

But the tornado didn't come. The rain fell even harder, but the tornado danger had passed.

An hour later, I had to drive the truck to the barn to feed the critters; the horse shed was surrounded by a moat but both mares waded it to come under the shelter for dinner. The dogs weren't about to wade into their flooded kennel and neither was I. I had to negotiate all sorts of obstacles in the horse-trailer shed to get to the inside door of the dog stall. All four dogs were all wet and, by this time, so was I.

We didn't mind, though. It was finally raining—a couple of inches of real ground-soaking rain!

And the tornado didn't come!

~


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Monday, October 22, 2007

October Color?


The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere-
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year. . . .
—Edgar Allan Poe (Ulalume)


It wasn't night when I took the above picture; it was this morning. By late October, the field across the road should be outlined in colorful trees. It isn't. Because of the drought and the high temperatures, the leaves are indeed "crisped and sere" on this October morning.

A couple counties away, Anita in her post today on Blue Country Magic also mourns the lack of color. So, it's not just me.

Here are few pictures of color that I found in my yard:


The clouds behind my redbud tree promise much-needed rain. Will we get it?


Not much color on the oak; the silver maple at least has a golden hue.


The burning bush at the end of the bottom driveway is at least starting to burn with fall color.



These chrysanthemums I bought at Wal-Mart last week have plenty of fall color.



But these yellow roses bloomed last spring. do they think it's spring again? The pink roses must think so, too.


I brought a small slip of this rose from my mother's backyard when I moved here in 1999. Her pink roses had bloomed every spring that I can remember. She'd brought a slip from her mother's rosebush when we moved to our Roanoke house in 1947.

Drought or not, some things endure. Even if they bloom at the wrong time.

~

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Another Interesting Day

Yesterday was another interesting day. During the late morning and early afternoon, the Lake Writers did a book signing at the General Store in Westlake.

Sally Roseveare, Pam Hain, Marion Higgins, Jim Morrison, me, Suzan Decker

While there, I met a friend from high school who's now a freelance writer and who might join Lake Writers. I also "edited" (remember, I'm not really an editor) a picture book manuscript from someone who'd like to join Lake Writers if she didn't have to work during our meeting times. And Sally, Marion, and I judged some Reflections Contest manuscripts for one of the Bedford Schools. I even signed some books!

Yesterday evening, I went on the Franklin County Historical Society's Ghost Tour. Even though this is the fifth annual one, I'd never attended before. While I waited to board the bus, I went across the street and explored the Tanyard Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in town. Graves date back to the 1700s. some are in disrepair.



One of the people buried there (a son of Robert Hill) was killed by an Indian who shot the arrow from nearby Bald Knob and left the scalped body for his family to find. The Hills buried their kinsman where he lay. I'm not sure if there is a marker for his grave or not. Robert Hill's grave is well-marked, though.


After we'd boarded a vintage bus (if 1991 is truly vintage) I was glad I had already read the Salmons' Franklin County Virginia 1786-1986. Many of the "ghosts" told about events from county history. Joey Stanley, our guide and a former 8th grade English student of mine from Stonewall Jackson Junior High (He still owes me a book report!) gave some background on ghosts. He mentioned that orbs are the light from people who have died but haven't wanted to leave yet. He said some orbs are sometimes seen in the area. Of course, he couldn't guarantee we'd see any.

One of the first "ghosts" to board the bus was a former librarian, said to haunt what used to the old library.


Further down Main Street was the former location of the overall factory where a girl who'd died in the fire told us about how some jumped from the third floor windows, but she fainted and thus burned.

Look at the girl's heel. See anything odd?

Another stop was at the old iron master's house, "The Farm" off Scuffling Hill Road and near where the old Washington Ironworks used to be. Former owner Peter Saunders reportedly haunts the house.

The Farm, haunted by Peter Saunders. Now owned by Dr. Amos.

We made several other stops, and learned about hangings, bandits, and a drowning, among other tidbits of local history.

And, at the last stop—High Street Cemetery, I snapped a few pictures. Most were unremarkable. Except this one.

The small bright light in the background is real.
But I can't explain the small orb at the horizon or the large orb in the left.

Maybe a ghost or two showed up for the tour after all.

~

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Friday, October 19, 2007

An Interesting Literary Day

Yesterday, Jim Morrison (Bedford goes to War), Marion Higgins (When men Move to the Basement), Jean Brobeck (Musings), and I had an enjoyable luncheon.

Jean Brobeck, me, Marion Higgins, and Jim Morrison.

We four Lake Writers did a reading at the last Miss Lettie’s Luncheon of the season at Avenel. Avenel—Bedford home of the Burwell family before, during, and after the Civil War—is reportedly haunted, though no one has seen the mysterious “lady in white” for a number of years. The lady in white is—er, was—possibly Letitia Burwell, a spinster who died there in 2005. The ghost appeared in 2006. I’ve heard that the ghost left with certain items of furniture.

Rosa Burwell's photo hangs in the room where we did our reading.

When I wrote about Avenel last year, I heard from Farrar Richardson, who lived in France and was writing about his ancestor who’d been a visitor at Avenel in 1862.

Mrs. Burwell on her horse in front of Avenel in its hey-day.

Avenel, which fell into ruin after Lettie’s death, has been restored. The interior was even prettier this year than last. I took some pictures, hoping to find signs of ghostly activity. Except for a few small orbs in the picture of the four of us, nothing appeared.

As I sat at lunch and looked out the windows, I noticed how the old glass distorted what I saw through it. I decided to take some pictures from outside to see if the distorted glass looked like ghostly visions through the window. In the picture below, a woman appears to look from the right side of a window (above the reflection of sky and trees), but it’s only the reflections in the distorted glass. Not a ghost at all.


Temperature in the house varied widely. However, the temperature changes I noticed were all near windows—windows which weren’t insulated. The open front door let a breeze through the house and contributed further to temperature changes while demonstrating how well-designed the old house was to take advantage of natural air currents.

June Goode, Bedford historian and author of Our War, an annotated version of Letitia Burwell’s diary, was among those at Avenel.

jim Morrison and June Goode at Avenel.

Yesterday evening, I attended Fred First’s reading and slide presentation at the Franklin County Library in Rocky Mount. His program was excellent. I’ve been a fan of Fred’s words since I read Slow Road Home nearly two years ago. Slow Road Home, which grew from his Fragments from Floyd blog, is one of the best self-published books I’ve ever read. Fred's photos are as good as—or maybe even better—than his words. He is a gifted individual and an inspiration to aspiring writers, aspiring naturalists, and people who love country living.

All in all, yesterday was a pretty interesting day.
~

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Noble Dawg Scammed

I hate literary scams.

My late dog Jack, a fine and noble critter who died back in May, still gets scam email to the account that I haven’t yet gotten* around to deleting. Because he “wrote” some doggerel and posted it on the International Library of Poetry website over a year ago, he still gets offers. Here's one, from the infamous Noble House, with my annotations in capital letters:
Office of the Publisher
Poetry Division
London, U.K.
17 October, 2007

Dear Jack Mushkeau,

Recently, I was discussing the appointment of this year's Poet Fellows with various editors, colleagues, and publishers.
YEAH, AND THE REST OF US ARE DODGING FLYING PIGS.
The Poet Fellowship is an elite group of international writers who share a common passion for writing.
TRANSLATION: THEY POSTED A POEM ON POETRY.COM
In recent years, the number of Poet Fellows has grown with members from all over the world. It started in London and then quickly spread to New York, Paris, and Venice . . . and now its members literally circle the globe.
ARE THERE THAT MANY PEOPLE WHO’VE BEEN TAKEN IN BY THIS CRAP?
It is with great enthusiasm that I am officially inviting you to join this legendary group as a Poet Fellow. This is a marvelous opportunity for you to finally join the upper echelon of poets and writers. We hope you choose to accept this prestigious offer.
WOW! DO THEY REALIZE THAT THEY’RE SENDING THIS EMAIL OFFER TO A YAHOO ADDRESS OF A DECEASED DOG? CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW YOU GET THIS CRAP.

Show The World Your Status As A Poet Fellow!


To commemorate your status as a Poet Fellow for 2007, we would like to offer you one of the Poet Fellow Pins at the membership price of $59.95/£29.53. This gold pin is worn by members around the world, and it is recognized as a symbol of excellence. Not only does the honour of wearing the Poet Fellow Pin bring a high level of respect in the poetic community, it was also designed by one of the premiere jewelry artists, Samantha Higgins, who has been in the business of crafting symbolic jewelry pieces for over twenty years. Her meticulous craftsmanship is highlighted in the elaborate design and exceptional detail of each piece of jewelry. Samantha Higgins used this same care and precision when she created the Poet Fellow Pin. This striking jewelry piece has the official Noble House emblem set with 24-karat gold. It is truly a masterpiece that honours your outstanding and well-deserved accomplishments.
PINNING A MEDAL ON A DOG WHO DIED AND WAS BURIED OVER 5 MONTHS AGO WON’T BE EASY. WHAT “WELL-DESERVED ACCOMPLISHMENTS”?

And That's Not All!
In honour of your distinction as a Poet Fellow, we have also commissioned special artists to design and produce a limited edition medallion--the Poet Fellow Silver Medallion. This finely-crafted display piece celebrates the outstanding men and women who represent the arts as Poet Fellows around the world. One side recognizes your Poet Fellow status, while the other side displays the flags of France, England, and the United States. If you are interested in acquiring one of these, you must place your order by the end of October. Due to the limited number of medallions, we can only guarantee their availability for a short time. Because we know how much everyone will enjoy the Poet Fellow Silver Medallion, we have decided to package it along with the 2007 Poet Fellow Pin at no extra charge. This limited edition medallion will only cost you $74.95/£36.92, and we will include the 2007 Poet Fellow Lapel Pin FREE (a $59.95/£29.53 value) with your order!

The medallion and pin come with a Certificate of Authenticity attesting to their Limited Edition status. Both are formally presented in a striking, dark brown "leather" display case. Just imagine the sense of gratification you will feel when others see this exquisite medallion and pin set honouring your poetic accomplishments. What an impressive way to show off your status as an elite member of the Poet Fellowship!
WHY NOT JUST PIN ON A SIGN THAT SAYS, “I FALL FOR SCAMS”?

Jack, I was extremely delighted with your work, and I feel you deserve this type of recognition. Many people write poetry for years and never obtain the level of artistry that is present in your work. You should be very proud of your accomplishment. We encourage you to keep striving to be the best and leading your local writing community by example. When you proudly display your Poet Fellow Silver Medallion and wear your 2007 Poet Fellow Pin, you will be recognized the world over as an elite poet with an undying passion for poetry.

Go here to accept your Poet Fellow nomination and acquire your pin and medallion.

Sincerely,
Nigel Hillary
Publisher, Poetry Division - Noble House U.K.


Earlier in the month, Jack’s poem was declared recipient of an Editor’s Choice and he was informed it was eligible for publication in the Immortal Verses series.



Just in case you don’t cough up the $49.95 for the book or the $49 for the CD, but you’d still like to read Jack’s winning poem, here it is:

Wand'ring

Wand'ring o'er the countryside
In search of the light inside
Before dusk falls at eventide.

Wand'ring through the cities grim
Past the houses neat and trim
And all the folks proper and prim.

Wand'ring through the ways unknown
My wild oats already sown
With many a growl and many a groan.

Dogging my footsteps, wagging my way
Digging up bones along the way,
Now I've said my final say.

~Jack Mushkeau
Copyright ©2007 Jack Mushkeau

(Note: Odds are good that this poem won’t really be published because there’s no way Jack can sign his name. He had a previous poem published when he was alive because I helped him hold the pencil in his paw when he initialed his proof copy.)

From the email that he received two weeks ago declaring the above poem a semi-finalist:
Jack, your poem was selected for publication, and as a contest semi-finalist, on the basis of your unique talent and artistic vision. We believe it will add to the importance and appeal of this edition. In this regard, you are under no obligation whatsoever to submit any entry fee, any subsidy payment, or to make any purchase of any kind. Of course, many people do wish to own a copy of the anthology in which their artistry appears. If this is the case, we welcome your order--and guarantee your satisfaction.

I dunno about you, but I’m pretty sure they can’t guarantee the satisfaction of a deceased mixed retriever.

I doubt that anything will add to the "importance and appeal" of a scam book.


*to Dave the Brit: Yes, I used gotten instead of got. I did it deliberately. It’s the American Way.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dylan Comes of Age

Dylan, former housecat, has been going out for a few hours everyday for the last few weeks. For a while, leaves were an endless fascination to him. They’d fall; he’d run after them and carry a few in his mouth. He’d bring some inside and create leaf art. He’d dip them in his water dish and watch them float.

Dylan brings a leaf to the cat-bowl.


Takes a while to get it just right.


Dylan shows Eddie-Puss his creation.


A work of art!

Back outside, he’d stare up at the pin oak and wait for another leaf to fall.

The other day, though, Dylan found something even more intriguing than a leaf. I saw him circling the house with it in his mouth. Yep, little Dylan caught his first mouse.

I think he was looking for a kitty-sized truck so he could toss the mouse in the back and drive down to one of the country stores where some local cats would be leaning against the building.

“What’s that ya got there, city kitty?” one of the older and paunchier cats might say.

“Mouse,” Dylan would say. “Just bagged it.” He’d hope that these old cats—who’d all been born in barns and spent their whole lives mousing—wouldn’t mention that he was an outsider who’d been purchased at a big city Petland.

The old local cats would wander over to Dylan’s truck for a closer look. They’d nod approval.

“Remember when I got my first,” a grizzled old tom might say. “Waited in the shed for hours before I finally nabbed that sucker. How’d ya git ‘im?”

“Usual way,” Dylan would say. “Teeth. Claws. One good pounce.” Dylan might even flex his claws for effect. “I hid under the boxwoods and nabbed him as he went by.”

“Yep,” another cat might say. “Takes patience if ya wanna git a mouse.”

The other cats would nod. A few might even scratch and spit as they recollected their first mouse kill.

Dylan, now accepted as one of them, would then get back in his little truck and drive off, possibly in search of a taxidermist who mounts little bitty heads.

Or something like that.

I’m just glad he didn’t bring the mouse inside and dip it in his water dish.

~

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bright Blue Weekend

Friday was cloudy, but this weekend was bright and blue. From behind the trees—which are just starting to turn—you can see part of Smith Mountain. Our upper hayfield on Polecat Creek Farm didn't produce much hay this fall, but it nevertheless looks "green and fair."


The following poem is appropriate for this time of the year:
October's Bright Blue Weather

O SUNS and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October's bright blue weather;

When loud the bumblebee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And goldenrod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When gentians roll their fingers tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October's bright blue weather.

O sun and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October's bright blue weather.
~Helen Hunt Jackson
(1831-1885)

Down in the bottoms, the goldenrod died faster than usual this year. Few of its yellow flowers remain. The springs and the creeks—nobody in rural Virginia calls a creek a "brook"—are definitely low.

One of the "lovely wayside things" I noticed this morning was a couple of turkeys crossing the road. If you click to enlarge the picture and look carefully at the middle of the road, you can see one:


October is nearly half over. Where did it go?

~


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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Prickly Pears


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.
—T.S. Eliot (“The Hollow Men”)

I don't dance around my prickly pear cactus. But I do like to look at it. I can look at the prickly pear in my yard and watch the seasons change.


In late spring, the pads (called cladodes) sprouted an abundance of yellow blossoms. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the blossoms this year. The above picture was taken a week or so before they bloomed.

Later in the summer, the fruit looked like toes.


Finally, on this warm October day, the fruit has turned maroon, a proper autumn color.



To some, a prickly pear is a weed; I think it’s a flower. I’ve had mine over a decade. A friend in Roanoke gave me some pads which quickly took root and flourished. When I left Roanoke, I brought some pads with me. They took root and flourished, too. They’ve been flourishing (spreading!) here since 1999

My husband likes to eat the fruit. He says it tastes like beets. I’ve tried it but didn't care for the taste. Some people eat it, though, and some make jelly from it.

I just like to look at it.

Prickly pear is mentioned in another poem—but not in a flattering way.


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Monday, October 08, 2007

Maggie’s Tale

My Side of What Happened Yesterday

by Maggie Mae Mushko
(23-month-old border collie)


Just for the record, Harley and I weren’t exactly lost Saturday night. Well, maybe Harley was. But I wasn’t. At least not most of the time.

While Mommy was gone off doing some kind of writer-thing, Daddy took me and Harley to Smith Farm in Union Hall. We were having a good time running around and playing in Standiford Creek when Harley decided to chase something. A coyote, I think. So we took off. Daddy was busy with his chain saw and wasn’t paying attention. By the time he noticed, we’d run a long way.

Now, you have to realize that I’m a border collie. I’m cow dog on my mother’s side and sheep dog on my father’s. I’m born to look after a herd.

Since we don’t have either cows or sheep (and since Mommy told Daddy that I’m not allowed to round up the horses anymore because Melody might kick me), my herd is either Mommy when I’m with her or—when Mommy isn’t around—the other dogs in the kennel.

Mommy wasn’t around. Harley, one of the kennel dogs, was. My job, therefore, was to watch Harley. I did my job.

The problem is that Harley is a Catahoula. A couple of hundred years ago, Catahoulas were bred to run wild boar. They were bred to run really fast in big spirals (until they’d circled the boar) and to not bite (if they bit, then the boar would squeal and its friends would come and get rid of the dogs). Today, there are bad people who use Catahoulas to run bear, which might have been how Harley originally got to our neighborhood. The game warden once told Mommy that there were bear-baiters in our neighborhood. But I’m getting of-track here.

Anyhow, Harley runs fast. I run fast too, but I couldn’t get in front and turn him the way I usually can. I knew I shouldn’t let him out of my sight, and I didn’t. I’m a border collie and I know my job. Harley is hard of hearing, so it's hard to tell him anything. I have to do the hearing for both of us.

We ran and ran through woods and fields and down the creek. Then we were in a place I’d never seen before. There was a lot of water and boats. We looked around and decided to explore. We went through some farms and saw cows. By then it was dark, and Mommy knew we were gone and she was worried. She called her friend who “talked” to me and Harley. I can’t explain how Karen did it, but she sent pictures into our minds and we sent pictures back. I wish more people could do that. It would make a dog’s life so much easier.

I showed Karen pictures of what we’d seen and she told Mommy the general direction we’d been. Mommy went on the roads Karen told her about, but by then we’d gone to other interesting places. Karen had told us to wait in a field for Mommy’s truck or else to try to go up the creek back to Daddy. But we’d left the creek by then. And the world is very big and has lots of smells that tempted us.

Because Harley runs spirals and I run circles, we sometimes got separated. But I always found him. I’m a border collie, and I watch my herd. Even if my herd is only one.

When it was very dark, I told Karen to tell mommy that we’d be home Sunday morning. I told her to tell Mommy that I could find my way home if I wanted to. All the times Mommy has driven me around Union Hall in her truck, I always watch out the window and pay attention to where we are. Once I’ve seen something, it’s programmed into my memory bank.

My problem was that I knew I had to bring Harley back. Harley told Karen to tell mommy that he was smarter than Mommy thought he was. I sent Karen a picture of Kemp Ford Road (that’s the road that intersects with Dillard’s Hill Road, where the dumpster is—a place with lots of good smells). She told Mommy about Kemp Ford and that we’d be home Sunday morning.

Early Sunday morning we started for home. We were both tired and hungry, so Harley was easy to convince that we should go home. I kept close behind him so I could drive him in the right direction and so I could probably catch him if he took off. While we were walking in the direction of home (plus that way passes close to both Union Hall farms), we came to a field along Kemp Ford Road. I sent thought-pictures to Mommy to let her know where we were. We were walking through the field, when I saw Mommy’s truck pull into view and stop. Harley and I stopped walking. We watched Mommy motion the car behind her to go around. (Some border collies are bad to chase cars. I do not chase cars. I only herd living things.)

When the road was clear and it was safe, she called me. I told Harley that he’d better come too, and he listened to me. We ran flat out to Mommy, and I told her we were fine. Even though she was crying, I could tell she was happy. (Humans can be very confusing!)

Harley and I jumped into the truck at the same time. Mommy had brought food for us, and she stopped at the farm to feed us and to tell Daddy that we were safe.

She let me sleep in the house Sunday night, and she spent a lot of time combing burrs out of my hair. I’m glad she’d trimmed off the “feathers” from my legs a few weeks ago. I hate being combed, but I hate burrs in my armpits even more, so I didn’t complain when she combed them out with the horse-comb.

Harley has been sleeping a lot in the kennel since we got home. Mommy says he looks like he’s sleeping off a drunk. I slept soundly all Sunday night. I have several old bathmats that I arranged into a nest beside Mommy’s bed. She keeps straightening them out, so I have to fix them back. I didn’t wake up once during the night.

Even though I played ball a little today, I’m still tired. Maybe I’ll just lie down with my little blue squeaky ball in my mouth and rest for a few . . .


. . . .ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

~

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Dog-Gone Happy Ending

I’d had a good day yesterday. I did a book signing at the General Store in Westlake until 2:00 p.m., and then stopped by Bethel Church on my way home to get some more pictures of the cemetery. The day didn’t turn horrible until an hour later.

John wasn’t home when I arrived, but he came home shortly after. The dogs, he reported, had vanished. He’d been cutting wood by Standiford Creek on Smith Farm. Maggie and Harley had been running and playing in the creek. Then they were gone.

He waited for a while. Nothing. No sign. Harley is a Catahoula, bred to run fast. A few years ago, he’d run wild through the area for at least three weeks before I did an “off-road adoption” and enticed him into my kennel. I once clocked him running at over 30 miles hour. Maggie has never been wild, never spent a night outside of kennel or house, never been out of sight for more than 15 minutes.

As soon as I heard the dogs were missing, I jumped in my truck and took off. I called and called. Nothing. I drove down the road to where Standiford Road crosses Standiford Creek. I had the sense they’d been through there. Probably they’d been running a coyote. I never saw a trace of them.

I figured I’d have to spend the night at the farm while I waited. While John was searching the area, I called my animal communicator friend, Karen Wrigley. No answer. I left a message.

While John waited at the farm, I went home to feed. A message was on my answering machine: Karen. I called her. She gave me some info: they were chasing something, had gone through a small area of woods and into a field. That was logical: on the other side of our woods is a hayfield. But the area is filled with woods interspersed with fields.

They were headed down the creek toward the lake, she said, check Rt. 905 and 1111 area. Something like a business down there. A reddish building. Water. Boats. But they were on the move, fast. Maggie wouldn’t leave Harley. Harley wanted to stay out. She’d give them a message to wait for me in a field and listen for the sound of my truck, or to follow the creek and go back to the farm and find John’s truck.

I drove back to the farm and collected John. He drove while I navigated and looked. Nothing. No sign of them. The sun was setting.

Back at the farm, John went home to eat while I called Karen again. They weren’t ready to be found yet, she said. They were OK. They were still together. Maggie had a scrape on her leg but was OK. Maggie’s message for me: “Go home and go to bed.” Harley’s message: “I’m smarter than you think I am.”

They’d been on the move a lot. “I can tell you where they’ve been,” Karen said, “but they won’t tell me where they are now.” They’d been through some cows, they came to a place where there was bare ground. Maggie said they’d crossed a river; it was much bigger than a creek. Karen and I figured it might have been a cove. The dogs weren’t ready to end their adventure yet.

They’d be home probably Sunday morning, Karen said. Maggie has a strong sense of direction; she can find the way home. Karen had a feeling about Kemp Ford Road. She also got the feeling of chickens.

While John stayed at the farm for another hour, I went home. I slept outside in the truck so I’d hear them if they came home in the night. I had a strong mental picture of Maggie running to the truck and jumping in. At midnight, though, I drove the back roads again. (Note: You’d be amazed how many possums are walking along otherwise deserted roads at midnight.)

I was worried about them having to cross Route 40, a heavily-traveled highway. They’d have to do that to get home. Maybe I could find them first.

Early Sunday morning—a few hours ago as I write this—I went to the Minute Market to gas up my truck and put up a “lost dog” poster. I stopped along the road to post a few more. By the time I got to Union Hall, John was in the woods chain-sawing. He figured they might hear the noise.

I drove up to the cabin where I’d left Maggie’s favorite ball. Nothing. I got a sense that they hadn’t been there last night. Then I got a strong feeling: Drive out Kemp Ford Road! Now!

I left the farm and turned left onto Kemp Ford. I’d gone about a half-mile when I saw a black and white border collie and a gray and black catahoula in a field in front of some woods. They were headed in the direction of home. They stopped and looked at me. I stopped my truck and motioned the guy who was behind me to go around. I was afraid my dogs would run in front of him, but they didn’t. I dropped the tailgate.

“Maggie, come!” I yelled. And she did. Followed by Harley. On my command of “Load!” both dogs jumped into the back of the truck. I closed the tailgate. They were safe. Their incredible journey had ended.


I stopped by the farm to tell John that I had them. I also gave them some food which they wolfed down. I started for home—past some chickens that were in a field with cows.

I think they're glad to be back in the kennel. They seemed glad to have breakfast.

Maggie has a scrape on her right hind leg and is limping very slightly. But she’s OK. Half of Harley's tag is snapped off. They’re both dog-tired, but they're OK. I’m OK now.

Karen Wrigley is better than OK at what she does. She’s doggone good!


~

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Walk in the Woods

Despite the drought, the trees on Polecat Creek Farm still look green. A few dry leaves have fallen, but summer still lingers. It's a good time for a walk in the woods.

The other day, my buddy Debi brought her pony Apache over to see how he'd do on the trail. He did fine.


Yesterday, Maggie and I walked the trails, and I cleared one that was overgrown. Maggie sniffed and ran. I snipped over-hanging branches and walked. Within an hour, we had the trail open and ready for horses.


Above, a tired and panting Maggie contemplates our—well, my—work. Below, she decides to wait for me to catch up.



I may be slow, but I eventually get where I'm going.

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