Thursday, December 31, 2009

Randsburg, CA (Travel Tip Thursday)

Happy New Year, everyone!
I first wrote this back in March 2005... I’ve reworked it a bit for this Travel Tip Thursday. I’m taking you back into the desert to a town where another reader recently visited. Check out the pictures at Danny and Family. I have a couple other post planned around this trip. I hope to introduce you to Sam and to take you to Goler Gulch and then to Death Valley to see it in full bloom as it was that March. Enjoy… And my travel tip, if you visit this area, take plenty of water with you and don’t let your gas tank drop below half a tank! Travel Tip Thursday is sponsored by Pseudonymous High School Teacher.

Olga’s the first 94-year-old redhead I’ve met. I’m sure she has some artificial help; even so, it shows spunk. She gets around well and lives by herself. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she confesses. She still runs “The Joint,” pulling a regular shift, tending bar. When things are not busy, she’ll go out front and pull weeds from the flower bed. The desert has been good to Olga. She and her husband brought the establishment back in ‘55 and she’s had honest work ever since. She’s washing glasses when we enter, but stops and comes over to wait on us. We order a couple of beers, Mojave Greens, a local beer made in Inyokern and named for the famous rattlesnake. Ralph, who grew up in this area, has only seen two in his life. He introduces himself to Olga. She looks at him for a minute, sizing him up, then tells about how she misses his brother. They talk a bit about old times, then Olga turns to fix another drink for the woman sitting at the other end of the bar.

Selling booze in a mining town was lucrative business. Selling anything liquid use to be lucrative business as water in these parts was expensive, even as late as the ‘40s. Today, there is little mining and it’s mostly tourists who stop in for a drink. Not many of them are looking for water. The establishment is open from Wednesday through Sunday and they close in the evening when they are no longer busy. “The Joint” is in the heart of Randsburg’s business district and one of the original structures in town. The building was first a bakery. In the 30s, it was converted to a bar and a pool hall.

Sitting down the bar, a few stools away is Faye, the proprietor of the Silver Dollar Saloon in Red Mountain. An attractive woman, she wears a barely amble halter that displays a more than ample breasts, a short skirt and five inch heels. My first thought is that prostitution must once again be flourishing in Red Mountain. At one point in time, that was the town’s claim to fame. The saloons with backroom gambling (illegal in California, but this wasn’t exactly on the main highway), lined the west side of the street. On the east side of the street were cribs, where prostitutes who free-lanced in the bars, led their clients. It was a cozy arrangement and local authorities did little to discourage business. But then, World War 2 came along and the Navy decided they needed a base on China Lake. Since there’s not enough water in China Lake to float a canoe, they used the base as a trainer for Navy pilots. Naval authorities found that after a night of drinking, gambling and whoring, the drive over the mountain was too difficult to negotiate and too many pilots crashed before they had a chance to sight in on a Japanese Zero. They sent the FBI in and they shut down the gaming establishments and ran the women off.

After a while, Faye’s partner at the Silver Dollar joins us at the bar. I was enjoying glancing over at Faye, now I divert my eyes. This guy is scary. He’s sporting fancy cowboy boots, black leather, pointed toes, and scroll threading. Wearing cowboy boots without long pants should be a misdemeanor. Wearing cowboy boots with tight short-shorts should be a felony. This guy’s pants are shorter than his partner’s mini-skirt and leaves less to the imagination than I’d like. I’m glad I’m not alone in the bar with him. Had it just been me drinking and he came in, I think I’d wallow over to the Methodist Church and take the temperance pledge. He strikes up a conversation and seems to be an okay guy, even though he and Faye, to say the least, are a unique couple.

Ralph and I finish our beers and head out. The bar was dark and our eyes squint as we adjust to the bright desert sky. We take the long way back to Ridgecrest, through Inyokern. As the light softens, the desert landscape becomes beautiful, with shadows of the barren peaks giving definition to the distant hills. It’s dark by the time we arrive in Ridgecrest. Unlike Randsburg, Ridgecrest is a new town, it’s primary purpose is to serve the China Lake Naval base. We drive around town, looking for a place for dinner. In our search, as we navigate the ubitiqitous four-way stop signs, I am amazed to see that this town not only has a dollar store, but also a 99 cent store and, for those who that’s even too much, a 98 cent store. I'm amazed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Looking Back

This photo was shot late in the summer on Lake Michigan… In my annual Christmas letter, I admitted I now have a few gray hairs in my beard and they seem to show up well in the photo. I just recently came across it when emptying a photo card. 2009 did fly by fast . As far as years go, 2009 was a good one. At least for a time, it seems we’ve avoided the economic apocalypse that loomed in our minds last year. Although I didn’t make any wilderness trips (only a 2 day canoe trip), I did spend a nice week in the middle of the Yucatan, took a long driving trip out West and another trip in August to the Carolina coast. I’m writing this at an airport terminal, having checked through security without having to have my drawers sniffed (read Desert Rat’s take on airline security, it‘s classic). I’m now waiting for a flight for Detroit, because that’s where you now go when you leave from here, thanks to the Delta/Northwest merger. Tomorrow morning I hope to be listening to the surf on the beautiful beaches of Southeastern North Carolina.

I didn’t have time to post yesterday and haven‘t gotten around to find a hotspot until later today. The beach is still beautiful and it’s good to be with my parents even though I once again am reminded truism from another North Carolinian, Thomas Wolfe, “you can’t go home again.” I’ll write more later and set up an auto post for tomorrow evening for “Traveling Tip Thursdays.” May you have a fun and be prosperous in the New Year. To ensure it’s prosperous, be sure to eat your greens, beans and cornbread on New Year’s Day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How Much of a Tarheel is Sage? (or, Keeping Up with the Ed Abbey)

A few months ago Ed Abbey posted about his genealogy and how much Iowan blood flowed in his veins. Not to be outdone although I’m not nearly as industrious as Ed when it comes to genealogy (I leave that to a brother and my sister), I recently spent time with the massive printouts they’ve created in an attempt to figure out just how much Tarheel blood flows in my veins. The list below shows each generation of my grandparents, the years of their birth and where they were born`.

Grandparents: 1913-1919, all four born in North Carolina

Great-grandparents: 1887-1894, all eight born in North Carolina

2x -great grandparents: 1839-1864, all sixteen born in North Carolina (one fought Civil War)

3x great grandparents: 1820-1864, 28 born in NC, 4 unknown birth locations, 3 fought in Civil War

4x great grandparents: 1785-1822, 9 born in NC, 10 unknown birth locations, 1 in transient from Scotland to NC, 1 fought in the Civil War

5x great grandparents: 1749-1798, 4 born in NC, 5 born in VA, 3 born in Scotland, 20 other dates and names known but no location of birth (many were probably NC or Scotland)

6x great grandparents: 1701-1752 3 born in NC, 7 in VA, 4 in Scotland, 1 in England, 2 in Germany and 8 others with no place of birth, (at least one fought for the Colonies and one for England in the Revolutionary War)

7x great grandparents: 1675-1724, 1 known to be from NC, 23 from VA, 2 from PA and four from England

8x great grandparents: 1620-1694, 2 from England, 1 from PA and 7 from Virginia

Oldest known birth of Sage's kinfolk in North America: Henry Pitts and Mary Galloway, both born in VA in 1645. Henry and Mary are Sage's 9x great grandparents

Oldest known relative--William Ball, born in 1449 in Berkham, Berkshire, England

What does this tell me--you have to go back before the Civil War to find ancestors of mine who were not born in North Carolina. Also, it appears that there is too much English blood in my veins, but that’s probably a misconception. Instead, it appears that the English were better historians. The English also appear to have settled in Virginia and moved down into North Carolina, while the Scots came directly from Scotland to North Carolina. Also, we’re a pretty pacifist bunch as I had no grandparents serving in the Second World War and no Great Grandparents in the First World War. I did have a brother of a Great-Grandfather who was gassed in World War 1 and another brother to a Great-Grandfather (from another side of the family) who left North Carolina in order to dodge the draft. You have to go back to the Civil War to find military experience (5 fought in the Civil War, all for the South). In the Revolutionary War, my bet was hedged as I had relatives on both sides. Interestingly, from my sibling’s work, it appears I’m the first Sage in the family!

Looking at my ancestors, my the one I feel the most kinship to is a guy named Daniel "River" Blue. He was born in Scotland in 1770 and emigrated from the Isle of Jura (where ever that is) in 1804. He settled on the Lower Little River in North Carolina. There are many who think that my middle name should be "River!"

As for first names, there are a couple "John Calvins" and one "John Wesley," the latter not being from the Scottish/Presbyterian side of the family. There are two cemeteries that seem to claim more than their fair share of my relatives--Union Presbyterian and Abbotts Creek Primitive Baptist Churches cemeteries.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Trains and Blog Anniversaries

I missed an anniversary. December 10th marked my fifth year of blogging for me. In the past five years, I’ve written over 700 posts. My first post wasn’t much, just a description of the tree and the train and how I enjoy the winter season. This was my first post, written back before I had a digital camera…

The Christmas tree is up and I'm back in the railroad business. Around the tree goes my own trains complete with cabooses. For the next month, I'll president of this railroad and will encourage all forms of featherbedding! It's nice to sit by a fire in the hearth, looking at the lights on the tree and the train below, or to just sit and read, enjoying a glass of fine whiskey.

A glass of whiskey is more infrequent (and savored even more) becuase I don't need the calories. I should add that in addition to encouraging featherbedding on my railroad (does anyone know what that is?) I also leave at a the door to a box car open as a way to show hospitality to hobos. A few years ago, I repainted the board upon which the railroad is mounted and put sand in the paint to make it give it the diamond flakes you see in the snow on a cold winter night. Unfortunately, with the flash, the twinkling snow gets washed out and, after a bit of sap and lots of needles, the snow looks dirty… By the way, sap is one of the great enemies of trains that run under a Christmas tree. A drop can wreck havoc with your wheels and with the electricity getting to the engine. Another enemy of the train, one that causes major derailments, are presents, most of which has to be stacked beside the tree instead of under it. Another enemy is the dog...

The other evening I was shopping and found a new CD by Sting, “If On a Winter’s Night.” Reading the cover I learned the winter is Sting's favorite season and I felt a kinship with him and purchased the CD. It will be added to my collection of Windham Hill and George Winston CDs. I hope to do a few posts between now and Christmas. Then, early next week, I’m heading south, to the Old North State, to check up on family.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Honduras Village Life (Travel Tip Thursday)

In the distant past, I participated in several writing prompts in my blogging--that was when I was publishing something every other day. The prompt helped me generate an idea and that was all it took. But, over time, I stopped doing them. Recently, I came across a new writing prompt for blogging, “Travel Tip Thursday.” I figured my Appalachian Trail posts would work, but I didn’t get another one done, so I decided to go back into my archives and pull out a post that I ran in November 2005. I have visited lots of odd places and I enjoy writing about such trips (as do many of you--hint, hint), so I’ll see if this prompt can help me to write more. If you do decide on participating, go over to Pseudonymous High School Teacher and put in your link.

Down the highway, dodging potholes, we pass yet another bicycle struggling up a hill, firewood strapped to the back. The biker cut and split the wood with the machete strapped to the top. Life’s hard here. Turning into the village, the road becomes dirt. Chickens scoot to the side, letting us pass. The roosters puff out their chest, fluffing feathers. It isn’t just a self-assured prestige. They're important to the economy; their nightly dalliance produce eggs, a staple in the diet of the people, and along with beans, a main source of protein. At the corner, a few men lean against the wall of a pulperia, cowboy hats tipped back, watching the day pass. I wave. "Hola," they mumble. A malnourished dog darts across the street, stopping to lick the salt off a discarded wrapper of chips. Time slows down here; even slower than the bus negotiating puddles and around an oxen-pulled cart hauling adobe blocks.

Dark clouds and light drizzle slows life even more. It’s cool in the mountains, but never cold. Smoke rises from the stovepipes, only to lay low, forming a blanket over the town. I imagine women inside, patting out tortillas while tending the stove. The long split pieces of wood are gradually fed into the abode firebox. A pot of beans boil while tortillas bake on the hot metal above the coals. Their evening meal of beans and tortillas will be supplemented with a few eggs, some crumbled cheese, fresh bananas and strong coffee.

We pass the park. Schoolboys play soccer, and a few kids shoot basketball, paying little attention to the dampness. We turn off the main road and pull up to the Hotel Central Otoreno where we get out. We’re back. The first thing I notice is that there is now a railing around the balcony. Last year, a couple of us got some rope and made a railing to reduce the risk of falling off the top floor. We’re assigned rooms and I haul my backpack up to the second floor, dropping it into my room. I look around. There are two beds and a chair in the main room. The TV on the wall is another surprise. It wasn't there last year. The bathroom consists of a toilet, trash can (for toilet paper-the Honduran plumbing system doesn’t handle paper), a cold water only sink and a shower. I’m surprised to see they’ve attached an electric heater showerhead. Upon closer examination, I notice the ground wire has been snipped off and the hot wires are just twisted together and taped, dangling above the shower. Obviously, there are no electrical inspectors in these parts.

I take off my watch. It’s no longer needed. Then I head outside. Walking through the town, I visit familiar sites. The old church by the square is open. A machete, secured in a fancy sheath, lies next to the doorsill as a reminder that this is a sanctuary. I peek in and see the back of a lone man kneeling in prayer under the gaze of a rather dark-skinned Jesus who hangs on the cross. Nothing has changed. I stop in the hardware store and surprise Ricardo. He tells me he’s been practicing and challenges me in chess. Another customer comes in and he must return to work. We’ll meet later. I head down to the park and shoot a few hoops with the kids. I teach them useful techniques with corresponding English words, like "break" "drive," and "pick." Their laugher is contagious. Despite the mud and trash and poverty, I feel like I'm home.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pioneering Portfolio Management (A Book Review)

Last week, a couple of fellow bloggers (Sleepy on Sunday and Musings from the Hinterlands) discussed the danger of giving too much information and ruining the surprise when writing book reviews. I don't think I have to worry about that with a book like this one! It may not be every one's cup of tea, but I found a lot to ponder in this book and it is fun to spend some time outside of one's chosen field. As I sit on two endowment boards, I find myself reading more and more investment theory...

David F. Swensen, Pioneering Portfolio Management: An Unconventional Approach to Institutional Investment, Fully Revised and Updated (New York: Free Press, 2009), 408 pages.

Favorite quote from the book: “[S]uccssful investment cultures encourage professionals to find new mistakes to make, instead of simply repeating old errors.” (page 304)

Originally published in 2000, Swensen updated his classic work on institutional investments early this year. Swensen’s writing is systematic, which should be expected from the Chief Investment Officer at Yale University. He begins by exploring the reasons for endowments and the necessity of appropriate polices for spending and investments. After establishing a base level of understanding in these areas, he delves into a detailed outline of asset allocation and asset classes. Much of this material (especially his work on equity and bond investments) is also covered in his book, Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investing, which I reviewed last year. However, there are numerous differences between the goals and the approaches of an individual and of institutional investors. Non-profit institutional investors, for whom the book is written, don’t have to worry about the tax consequences in the same way an individual investor must consider them. Another major difference is the expanded number of assets available to institutional investors. Such institutions have a longer time horizons, more available resources for managing alternative investments and larger amounts of cash to expand into such investments. By moving into alternative investments, an institution can hedge their positions to allow for growth while protecting their principle. Swensen goes into details on alternative investments, which make up a significant portion of Yale’s portfolio. These investments are more than just hedge funds and include natural resources such as oil, gas and timber, commercial real estate, private equity, venture capital and investment buyouts pools.

Instead of providing a “how-to” manual, Swensen focuses on investment philosophy. The institution’s investment policy is a tool to help maintain an appropriate risk level for investments, by spreading investments around to hedge from a massive loss in one particular sector or class. Institutions need to have a policy that outlines assets allocations and then the discipline to do regular rebalancing of the portfolio to maintain allocation targets. As one investment rises in price and begins to claim a larger percentage of the investment pool, Swensen advises to sell and reap profits, while reinvesting in those areas in which the portfolio is down. Such “contrarian thinking”, according to Swensen, is the best way to “buy low and sell high.” Swensen tells the story of insisting on a firm hand at Yale in the aftermath of the 1987 crash. After the stock market had a major loss, most people pulled money out of the market and put it into bonds. Yale did the opposite and reaped big gains in the months afterwards, when the markets recovered.
Swensen recommends that for investments in “efficient markets” (such as many of the equity markets in the United States, Europe and Japan) one employ a passive investment strategy. Efficient markets are those in which financial conditions are shared and well-known and in which the market is free to correct over or under priced securities. Passive investments are tied to indexes (such as the S&P 500) and have much lower fees than their active counterparts. Swensen’s observation, backed by massive amounts of data, is that active management in efficient markets seldom benefits the investors. Active management cost more and the fees often eat up any profit generated from the manager’s strategies.

However, Swensen acknowledges the role of active investment in inefficient markets (such as emerging markets, hedge funds, etc). More complicated investments require an active strategy. Alternative investments such as hedge funds, real estate and natural resources, along with emerging markets all require specialized knowledge and insight which can only be gained by employing active managers. I found his chapter on Alternative Asset Classes to be the most enlightening in the book. Not only does Swensen outline each type of investment, he explains the liquidity and fee structures for each type of investment as well as how the interest of the investors aligns with the manager of the funds and with other participating parties. He also exposes many myths, such as showing how (even in their heyday) hedge funds were not as attractive as we were lead to believe due to "survivorship bias" and that the top venture capital and private equity funds are mostly closed to new investments, requiring new investors to accept lesser quality funds if they are interested in investing in these arenas.

This book provides an investor with many questions to ask managers. He explains fee structures, which are often unfair to the investor and what one should be on the lookout for. He explains topics such as “survivorship bias” and “backfill bias” which often skews an index’s performance. He suggests that one good way to insure a good active managers in the world of private equity is to find one who has a significant “co-investment” (as related to their net worth), meaning that if manager benefits, everyone will benefit. Too often, as he points out, due to fee schedules, an investment can flounder while the managers thrive. Swensen also explains how, especially in the bond market, powerful forces aligned against the investor. As he did in Unconventional Success, he recommends staying away from corporate bonds. However, he does provide an understanding into the various categories of such bonds.

This book came out in February 2009. I wish Swensen had waited and updated it based on the economic crisis of late 2008. Unfortunately, nothing is mentioned of the crisis with the exception of a brief discussion of the tightening in the credit markets in late 2007. I’m sure this book is not for everyone. I also wish he would have included more on taxes non-profits have to pay such as excise taxes. The book is academic; however, occasionally the reader is treated to a glimpse of his dry humor.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Life after the Apocalypse Failed to Materialize

Photo taken in January 2009.
The blizzard has come and gone and once again, the warning of the perfect storm, perhaps the beginning of the apocalypse, has been rather overblown. After days of talking about it, we never got the high winds and for this far north, only received a modest snowfall. Some places got a foot or better, but we were probably in the 8-10 inch range. The threat of massive power outages never materialized; I’m pretty sure the only ones losing power in the recent storm being those who didn’t pay the electric bill. Reading Ed’s blog, it sounds like the storm may have blown itself out in Iowa before making it here. This morning at 6 AM, it was just above freezing and raining which was fitting since it was the first day I had an opportunity to ski. Instead, I took a well-deserved nap.

Friday night I had my staff over for our annual Christmas party. It’s a tradition I would like to get moved to January, but no one seems to like my suggestion. December is just too busy, a truth the Orthodox Churches learned long ago. Well, I’ll have to confess that that’s not the real reason they celebrate Christmas in January, but regardless, they get to do their Christmas shopping after the stores have slashed prices. Nonetheless, the party was fun and we stuffed ourselves with way too much food and ended the night with hot butter rums and an exchange of gifts.

I’m not a big connoisseur of mix drinks. I tend to have the philosophy that if you can’t drink something straight, it doesn’t need to be drunk and that goes for coffee and tea as well as adult drinks. My main exception to this rule is a hot butter rum, the perfect after-skiing drink.

Sage’s Hot Butter Rum recipe

Mix together beforehand
Melt 2 sticks of butter
Add a cup of sugar and a cup of light brown sugar and nutmeg
Mix in a quart of ice cream
Mix concoction up real well and store in the freezer in a plastic tub

To serve: put two tablespoons of concoction in a mug, a shot of rum and then fill the mug with boiling water. For those of you needed an extra helping of cholesterol, whip cream can be added to the top. Drop in a long cinnamon stick as a stirrer and you’re ready for find a seat by the fireplace.

A final question… what do you think about the new ads on my page? In my last post, I got conflicting reports. After checking my earnings a week or so ago, and found that my little money making opportunity for the local food bank wasn’t going very well, I changed the settings and ever since, I’ve been getting more ads of a variety of kinds in my blog. Are they too annoying? I will have to say that I was intrigued by the “Bullet Proof Bear Bags” that were recently advertised. I didn’t realize bears are now shooting at us! I’ve always been pretty good at keeping my food hanging high enough that bears haven’t been able to get to it, but bears must not be going after food bags like I used to shoot mistletoe out of the trees in the swamps down South. What is our world coming to?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Waiting for the Apocalypse.. The Blizzard

The news has been ominous for the past few days and everyone spent the last twenty-four hours waiting for the apocalypse (I mean blizzard). The wind was supposed to blow at 20 or 50 or 70 miles per hour. We were supposed to get freezing rain (we actually got a little bit), but also lightning and thunder followed by feet of snow. People stocked up on food and topped off their gas tanks since the talking heads were calling for massive power failures. It was supposed to hit last night, then this morning and they even cancelled schools, then this afternoon. I kept looking out the window to see if it had finally come, but it never did. What was it waiting for? What was the delay? The weather gods were waiting for me to leave the office late, so the snow could start about the time I discovered I had a flat tire. The last flat I changed was in Utah, although that was in the daytime (except that it was sandy ground and Ralph and I had a load of wood in the truck that had to be unloaded so we could get the truck up high enough to change the tire). I’m not sure what caused the flat, but I was on a construction site earlier in the day and it‘s a good chance I picked up something there. Of course, you don’t have to feel too bad for me. I wasn't going to stand out in the snow and change the tire on a truck in driving snow when I could call AAA and let them take of it. Tomorrow, I’ll have the tire repaired or replaced

As for preparing for the blizzard, I brought my winter supply of birdseed. Fifty pounds of peanuts to keep my favorite flickers happy, 50 pounds of sunflowers for the cardinals and bluejays, and another 25 pounds for the little birds. Plenty of food for the birds, if I can keep the squirrels off of the feeders. I’ve now hung all the feeders off the house to keep them away from the deer who can empty a feeder with five pounds of sunflowers in about 10 minutes. Occassionally a squirrel will drop from the roof onto a feeder, they've also been known to miss.

As for the blizzard, we’re getting snow but the winds have been rather tame. The temperature has dropped, but with a crackling fire at my feet, I’m warm. I’ve changed my profile picture, going back to an old one, to please Murf…

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Nevada Jack comes out of hibernation

I’ve decided to come out of hibernation, at least for a day. While Sage sits and stares into his first fire of the season and the snow falls outside, I would like to make a few comments on what the human specie is up to..

First of all, I want to address the fuss over Tiger Woods. I don‘t know what you all were expecting, but the man was just living up to his name. Tigers are always on the prowl. And y'all are making such a big fuss over it. On Thursday, I decided to keep Sage company as he drove to a meeting. He was listening to the BBC news hour and low and behold, they were asking some world famous cricket about Tiger’s recent incident. First of all, I don’t see how this guy was world famous, for neither Sage or I had any idea as to who he was. The only world famous cricket I know is Jiminy Cricket, but Sage corrected me and said that he wasn’t a cricket but a cricketer. Now I know cricketers, you got them down South, they catch crickets and sell them to bait shops, or so I thought. Sage explained that Cricket was a game they played in England and India and a few other places where the British flag used to fly and as far as he was concerned, it was about as boring to watch as golf, which is probably why they were talking to a cricketer about a golfer. This brings me back to this Tiger guy, if you wouldn't obsess so much about him, it wouldn’t be a big deal. And for Tiger, he ought not get too upset at everyone having him under scrutiny, After all, such obsession is why he gets paid the big bucks. If most people didn't care, he and his banker might have other concerns.

Another thing, the Federal Trade Commission is beginning to crack down on amateur bloggers who don’t reveal their profits. According to the ruling, if a blogger is given a product and reviews it, he or she better disclose that fact that they were given a free gift. I know Sage is guilty of reviewing three books that were gifts, one from the author and two from the wife the author. Since he thought this ruling didn’t apply to him, I thought I’d take it on myself and confess his sins. The books are Rob Krosee’s Mercury Falls (he won this book in a contest on facebook) and Martin Clark, Plain Heathen Mischief and The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living. (Another of Mr. Clark’s books, The Legal Limit, Sage actually laid down hard cash to purchased). There you have it, a full disclosure that will hopefully save Sage $10,000 and a few starchy jailhouse dinners.

Of course, if you read the article, it seems that Sage has really been missing out. Undoubtedly, there is great fear in the wine review world that this new regulations will cause the flow of free wine to reviewers to cease. Why hasn’t Sage been reviewing wine? What’s wrong with the boy? Can you get free beers or free whiskey or free cigars by writing favorable reviews? I’m sure Sage would like to know, but he better not talk about Cuban cigars or he'll get in trouble by another agency.

Last winter, Sage decided to install AdSense, with the idea that he’d donate anything his blog made to the local food bank. Of course, he refuses to put any effort into trying to generate revenue, except to have that silly ad in the sidebar that everyone ignores. To date, his lack of hard work has resulted in a total of $8.37 in earnings, which ain’t even enough to get Google to cut a check (you have to have ten dollars to actually get paid). I sure hope someone else is donating to the food bank and not holding out for Sage to save the day. But since Sage enjoys writing and confessing and bragging in these pages, that will have to be payment enough for him.

Ya’ll have a good weekend and keep yourselves warm with this cold weather we’re enjoying.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Sad Times: A Confession

The farmers were in the fields, setting out tobacco plants, when I drove into what had been our driveway. Nervous, I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t seen her since I’d moved from Columbus County that February. We were no longer having much contact by then, our last meeting had been like this one was all business, signing our joint tax returns. If I remember correctly, he had prepared them. After all, he was a CPA. Besides, there wasn’t anything complicated with our taxes. Although we were separated before the year had ended, we filed jointly which had certain taxes advantages for both of us. The disadvantage was dividing the check.

She’d been expecting me and before I could put the car in park, walked out the door, with the check in her hand.

“Do you want me to drive, too?“ she asked, “That way, you won’t have to come back out into the country.“

“It’s no problem,“ I said, “reaching over and unlocking the door.” She got in and we drove into town, to the bank. We walked inside together, both signed the check and had it cashed. We split the money, I stuffed my share into my pocked, and walked back to the car. On the way back to her home, I tried to tell her I was sorry that things hadn’t worked out. Agreeing, she said something similar.

After I pulled back into the driveway, we sat talking for a while. She caught me looking at her belly. “Don’t stare,” she demanded, but in a teasing sort of way as she looked at me out of the corner of her eyes, “Yes, it’s getting bigger“

As much as we fought, I always liked the gentle way she teased. Five years earlier, when I stood waiting at the front of the church and she stood next to her dad, at the back, she stuck out her tongue. It was all I could do not to laugh. Then, as she came up the aisle, I noticed through the back of the door of the church my canoe go by, on someone else’s car. I was wondering what was up and couldn’t do anything about it. When we came out of the church, there was my canoe, on my car. The car was spotless, but the canoe had been decorated. She and my brother had set it all up.

Sadly, there had not been enough teasing in the past few years, just heartbreak. She was always threatening to leave, or so it seemed from my point of view. I was struggling with my job and with what I felt I should be doing with my life. We had no shared goals in life and, at the time, everything seemed to be a dead end. I wondered if I wouldn’t be happier with someone else or even by myself. One night I’d had enough and when she threatened to leave, I called her bluff saying, “I’d be out by Friday.” The next morning, before the sun was up, I overheard her on the phone with her father, telling him that I was leaving. I could tell her world was shattered and although listening to the phone call felt like a knife sticking into my heart, I’d made up my mind. I was out by Friday. Over the years, I’ve on occasion looked back and wondered what my stubbornness had cost me.

We talked a occasionally over the next few months. I went to a counselor, but I’m not sure it helped. We should have gone together, but we didn’t. It seemed that by leaving, I‘d crossed the line. We saw each other at Christmas, but she was distant and I‘m sure the same could be said of me. We sat for a long time in the car at her parents driveway, where I asked her where we went wrong. On the spur of the moment, I asked if she wanted to get together on New Years Eve. She declined, saying she had other plans. Although I have no idea when they started dating, I should have known then.

That February, I was offered a new position in the western part of state. With more responsibility came a larger salary. I called her and asked if she wanted to try again, suggesting she could come up in the spring, after she’d be done with the last of her classes for her Masters Degree. I was afraid of making the call, wondering what would happen if we got back together, but took the leap anyway, thinking it was worth the gamble. In the end, it didn’t matter. She quickly told me that getting back together was no longer a possibility. Then she said, choking up, that she regretted it wasn’t possible. I was confused, assuming she meant she could no longer trust me, but learned otherwise a few weeks later. Just a week or so after I made the move, she called late one evening and broke the news. She was pregnant with his child. I never felt so alone. Being new in town, didn‘t know anyone to call. After a few drinks, I went to bed and cried more than I had in my life. I was up early the next morning and call my friend Reuben, knowing he’d be in his office by 6 AM. Although he gave me some legal advice, there really wasn’t much he could say to comfort me.

A few weeks after splitting our tax refund, the divorce was final. She remarried the next day. It was late May or early June and I was in Florida at a conference, having already signed and notarized the papers and mailed them to her attorney. I was with people I didn’t know and no one knew, as we went out partying night after night, how much I was hurting. That summer, I directed camp and began to date again. At the end of the camping season, Reuben suggested we meet in Damascus, Virginia and for two weeks, we hiked north along the Appalachian Trail. Four years later, I’d complete the trail.
I’d written a rough draft of this a month ago, not sure if I was going to post it, then read the opening chapter of Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. The book is a sequel to his Great Railway Bazaar, which is based on his travels by train through Europe and Asia in 1973. Thirty-three years later, he decides that he’s going to take the same trip. He begins the book telling us what he didn’t write in his first book, about how his wife was angry about the trip. She didn’t give him a pleasant send off and while he was away, brought a lover into his house who played with his kids and slept in his bed. But, as Theroux admits, he was partly to blame. In writing about my Appalachian Trail journeys, I’ve left out a major thing that had happened in my life. Three years before the journeys I've been writing about, I split up with my high school sweetheart after a rocky marriage that saw us through college and her almost through graduate school. Writing about the trail, where I had many dreams about her, has brought some of this back and is why I decided to write about this uncomfortable time from my past.
This time period in my life has inspired me to write several other stories:
A humorous story about oysters from my time in Florida
My last week at camp
Camp and the ultimate punishment
The woman I dated that summer

Saturday, November 28, 2009

1987 Appalachian Trail Journey--Vermont

For 98 miles in Vermont, the Appalachian Trail follows the footsteps of the Long Trail, the oldest hiking long distance hiking trail in American. Hikers jokingly refer to the Long Trail as the MRR (mud, rocks and roots), but I think it needs to be called the BMRR (briars, mud, rocks and roots). At Sherburne Pass (see photo to the left), the trail turns east, leaving the Green Mountains and heading toward New Hampshire and the White Mountains. Although I complained about the briars, mud, rocks and roots, the trail is actually wonderful and the State of Vermont beautiful. There are many shelters along the trail, making the hiking even easier and allowing for hikers to put in high mileage days. This is my account of my 1987 hike.

The photo below was taken early one the morning (I think on a ridge above Manchester Center)

I began my first full day in Vermont on July 19. Thanks to Scott, Denver Dash’s boyfriend, who’d driven out from Colorado to spend time with her, I along with a number of other hikers had taken the opportunity to slack-pack (hiking without a backpack) much of the trail in Northern Massachusetts along with the first few miles of trail in Vermont. A group of us had spent two nights at the hostel in Cheshire, capping off long days of hiking with nights of food and drink. On this morning, we all piled in the back of Scott’s truck and he drove us to a county road which we hike into the trail. It felt good to once again have a backpack. After hiking for so long with it (only two days), I find myself feeling a little naked when it’s not attached. I also found myself a little lazy. Raspberries are ripe and throughout the day, I stop and eat a few. From Harmon Hill, there is a great view of Bennington, Vermont with its tall monument commemorating the Revolutionary War battle which occurred there. Along the trail, I meet Edna Williams of Melrose, Florida. I’ve been reading about her in trail registers and am surprised to find that she’s 70 years old. I only cover a little over 12 ½ miles, stopping early at Melville Nauheim Shelter where I spend the afternoon and evening reading the Gospel of Mark and Steinbeck’s Travel’s with Charlie. I find myself pondering what Steinbeck meant when he writes that “maps are not reality, but they can become tyrants.” The shelter is crowded. Ben is here along with a man and his three son along with three of his son’s friends and a couple (she’s from Nashville and he’s from Ohio).

A beaver swimming with a branch in it's mouth.

With so many people in the shelter, things are noisy and I’m up early, leaving at 6:15 AM. I have my breakfast later, on the trail. By 10:15, I’ve clicked off nine miles and stop at the fire tower on Glastenbury Mountain. The mountain reminds me of a Christmas tree lot, with so many firs and spruce that the air has a fresh scent to it. A cloud are moving in and, as often seems to be the case when there is suppose to be a good viewpoint, I can see nothing. I hike another four miles to Caughnawga Shelter, where I stop for lunch. It begins to rain. I spend the afternoon putting in the miles in the rain, arriving at Bigelow Shelter on Stratton Pond at 7 PM. I’ve hiked a little over 23 miles, much of the last half in a downpour. Stu, who goes by the name of Stone Fish, is the caretaker at Stratton Pond. He welcomes me into camp and offers me a Pepsi, a welcomed gift. In the evening the clouds begin to break up and I go swimming in the pond with a beaver that’s not real happy with me being in his waters. The beaver is building a new hut just down from the shelter and he works the night shift, often waking me up. The mosquitoes are terrible here.
A porcupine crosses the trail.

Early the next morning I’m chased out of Stratton Pond by mosquitoes. It’s still cloudy at 7 A.M., but not so foggy. I make good time and have great views from Prospect Rock. I decide to make it an easy day and at Vermont 11, I hitch a ride into Manchester Center. There is a hostel at Zion Episcopal Church. Slim Jim and Daddy Longlegs are already there. In the afternoon I enjoy a long conversation with the rector, Father Jim. He’s from Virginia. When he hiked the Appalachian Trail in Maine, he was so taken with the beauty of the area that when he found a church in Rangeley Maine without a priest, he borrowed a typewriter at the town‘s drug store and sent a letter to the bishop. Three months later found himself in Maine and has been in New England ever since. More hikers come into the hostel throughout the afternoon, including Ben and Denver Dash (Jane) and a couple of south bounders. Most of us go out into a pub that evening, where I am introduced to a new beer, a “Samuel Adams.” It’s said to be an old beer from Boston, but when I read the label I learn that this bottle is actually brewed by Iron City Brewing Company in Pittsburgh. (Note: this was 20 years ago, when Sam Adams was just “reintroducing” itself.) I try another local beer, a Catamount, and then a bottle of “John Courage” from Britain. Before going back to the hostel, I call Debbie and we talk for a few minutes. I also try to call a few other friends, but no one is home.

I leave the hostel at 6 the next morning and after a few minutes, am given a ride back to the trail head. The skies looked clear in town, but back on the mountain, it’s cloudy. By 8 AM, I’ve climbed to the top of Bromley Mountain, where there is a tower and the tops of the local ski slope. According to a sign, you should be able to see five states from this peak (VT, NH, ME, NY and MA) but not today. Once again, clouds have ruined the view, although there are a few peaks that do rise above the clouds and stand like islands in a fluffy sea. To the north, I can make out Killington Peak. The air is already warm and there appears to be thunderclouds forming in the west.

The skies did clear off and I make good mileage in the morning, stopping at Lost Pond Shelter for lunch. Todd, who I’d met in Manchester Center, is the caretaker. I continued on hiking in the afternoon, stopping at Little Rock Pond where I fixed dinner on a rock by the lake. Teri, the caretaker for this section of the trail, stops by and I’m immediately in love. She’s beautiful. Petite, with long brown hair hanging down her back, skin well-tanned from spending a summer outdoors, I’m sure she’s an angel. She sits down on an adjacent rock and we talked about hiking and our experiences on the trail as I fixed dinner. We also talk about our interest in the environment and right before I decide to propose to Teri, she tells me she’s a practicing witch. I‘m thinking she‘s kidding and make a joke about her and her broom which doesn‘t go over well. She tries to explain and we talk late into the evening. The sun is going down and we both have to get down the trail. We write each others names in the other’s journal (but we never correspond) and head off in opposite directions. I have another four and a half miles I‘m hoping to cover. The sunset is beautiful, the fading rays striking the fir and spruce trees and lighting them up like Christmas trees. Then the light drains from the sky and stars can be seen through the clouds. I walk in the dark, my little flashlight off, but in my hand just in case. It‘s 9:15 when I finally arrive at the Greenwall Shelter. No one else is here, which is good since I‘d probably be waking them. I crash for the night after having hiked 24.5 miles.

The next morning I’m up at 5:45 AM. In the early morning light, I notice that the shelter is in good repair, for which I can thank Teri as this is her section of the trail. I fix my oatmeal and eat, but it doesn’t quite fill me up. I start out early, hoping to get some miles in before it gets too hot. Nettles line the trail and my legs are constantly burning. At 10:30, I stop at an overlook for the Rutland Airport. The hiker’s suspension bridge over the Mill River is a nice addition to the trail. The bridge is named for Bob Brugmann, who was 17 years old when he lost his life fording the river. Looking below at the boiling water, I’m glad we don’t have to wade it. It would be very dangerous in high water.

Twice today I take a wrong turn and both times take a mile or so detour. It’s hot. In the early afternoon, I stop at the Clarendon Shelter and sleep for two hours. When I wake, it is 92 degrees in the shelter. Not counting my detours, I’ve only made about 8 miles, so I push on to the Governor Clement Shelter, stopping at 6 PM. After taking a dip in a nearby pool in the creek, I spend the evening fixing dinner and reading Steinbeck. While reading, a “mini-bear” (Chipmunk) comes up next to me and eats peanuts out of my hand.
Sunset on Stratton Pond
I leave the shelter at 7 Am on July 24. A few miles down the trail, I come upon the top of the ski resort for Killington Peak. There is an alpine ride down the mountain and the operator at the tells me I can leave my pack with him and ride the sluice down to the bottom and could then return on the ski lift. It’s only a couple of dollars, but looks fun, so I take him up on his offer. Afterwards, I hike on to the Inn at Long Trail, where I enjoy the air conditioning and order a sandwich and salad. A radio in the inn says that the heat will continue and another record may be broken today. At Shelburne Pass, the Appalachian and Long Trail part directions. Interestingly, the familiar white blazes continue on north, on the Long Trail, which was the first trail to use such blazes. The Appalachian Trail breaks off to the east, and for the first bit is blue blazed, the normal color used for side trails. I hike off the ridge.

A few miles down the trail, I’m approached by a man who tells me about his bed and breakfast adjacent to the trail. In addition to the regular B&B, Mountain Meadows (as the place is known) also has bunkrooms for hikers, for which he charges $8 a night plus a few bucks for breakfast in the morning. He continues telling me about how he has a large group tonight and is doing dinner and needs help. If I would help him with dinner and clean up, he’ll let me stay and eat for free. I was hoping to make another five miles, but decide why not. I follow him to his place and, after taking a shower and wash out my clothes. My tasks are fairly easy. Fixing the drinks and helping man the grill. Afterwards, as we used paper plates, there isn’t much to clean up. I talk to the guests and to the few hikers who trickle in. As I want to be on the trail early the next morning, I’m shown where to get cereal and milk and fruit in the kitchen. I’m glad to be sleeping in the bunkhouse, as heavy thunderstorms move through the area during the night.

I’m up before dawn on the 25, ready to get back on the trail. I have breakfast with Marjorie, a south bounder, who is hiking the Vermont section of the trail. I eat 2 ½ bowls of cereal along with a banana and a couple of cups of coffee. The coffee was prepared the night before and we just have to turn it on. While we are taking a guy stops by and talks for a few moments, before heading back out. It’s still dark and he’s hiking with a headlamp. Later, when I pass the next shelter and read the register, I realize that it must have been the legendary Warren Doyle, who’s hiked the trail more times than anyone else. This time, he’s not backpacking, but day hiking between roads. Traveling light, he’s covering 40 miles or so a day.

Marjorie and I walk out to the trail and each takes off in our respective directions. The trail is wet, and as dawn breaks, I am hoping it’ll be a good day. I put in ten miles, stopping at “The Lookout,“ which should have a good view but there is still a lot of haze. In the west there are more thunderclouds building. I’m caught in a storm in the afternoon, hiking in the rain with lightning popping all around. There’s no place to stop, so I just keep walking. Between storms and along one of the road walks, I pass a house where a man is sitting on the porch. He doesn’t look like he wants to be bothered and as I get in front of his house, two dogs take off after me. I turn to face them, reaching down to pick up a stone. When they get closer, I point my stick at them, a technique that has always caused threatening dogs to back off. This time, the led dog which looks to be a Rottweiler, grabs the stick in his mouth and tries to twist it out of my hand. I twist back and he lets go. The one dog leaves, but the Rottweiler comes back growling and I whack him on the head. The dog grabs the stick again and I yell at the man on the porch to call off his dog. I keep backing up and after a bit, the dog lets go of the stick and remains standing in the road growling. I keep walking backwards, my stick ready as he continues snarling. I’ve covered some ground before I the dog heads home and I feel safe to turn around. In a trail register at the shelter that evening, I learn that several others have had similar problems with the dog.

I arrive at Cloudland Shelter about 7:30 PM and quickly fix a chicken noodle dinner and chocolate mint pudding for dinner. I’m camping with two fathers and their young sons, both around the age of five. One of the dads is an administrator for Temple University in Philadelphia and the other is a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journey. They have set a goal to hike the trail in sections with their sons by the time they’re in college. The unique thing about the Cloudland Shelter is the outhouse. This section of the trail is maintained by the Dartmouth Outdoor Club and built like a gazebo. There is a screen covering the top half and wood covers the bottom, so that one can sit on the pot and look out on the countryside. The outhouse also utilizes solar composting, allowing for the waste to be “cooked” and then used as fertilizer.
Church in Norwich, VT

I’m out early on July 27, hoping to make Hanover early enough in the day to take care of some business needs. At 7:45 AM, I take a break at the Bunker Hill Burying Grounds, which is filled with old graves. There are veterans from the Revolutionary and Civil War as well as both World Wars. And there are two recent graves, one without its permanent marker, but with plenty of fresh flowers. I poke around, reading gravestones, while swatting at the flies. For one on a journey, the quote on John Gibson‘s stone is sobering: “Stop traveler, as you pass by. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you soon must be. Prepare for death and follow me. He died in 1815.

I stop for lunch in Norwich, in the center of town that’s dominated by the Congregational Church. Although it is Sunday, church has already let out for the day. A couple on a bicycle, with a small child, joins me. They’re from Seattle and on the seventh week of an eight week journey that has taken them from Nova Scotia through New England. They child rides in a carrier behind one of their bikes and they explain how the one who isn’t pulling the carrier, rides behind and out far enough to keep cars from getting too closer to their son.

After lunch, I cross the river into Hanover, and find myself in an interesting world. The place is truly YUPPIE, with college students driving Saabs. I first stop at a laundry mat, put on my nylon running shorts and put everything else in a washing machine. While there, I strike up a conversation with a Jewish couple on vacation from New York City. The man tells me that he’d maintained the Appalachian Trail from Bear Mountain Bridge to Graymoor Monastery in New York State until recently, when he was forced to give it up due to health. After everything is clean, I head over to the hostel at the Episcopal Student Center. The couple on bikes is there as well as Slim Jim, Denver Dash (Jane) and her boyfriend Scott. Jim and I attend a 9 PM Eucharist service. Afterwards, the center treats us all with slices of cold watermelon. As I’ve not taken a full day off hiking since Delaware Water Gap, I decide to take a layover day and search for boots while giving my body a rest.

My posts of my 1987 hike on the Appalachian Trail.
Hiking the Berkshires (the hike before this one--I wrote this post in 2007)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Wrap-up

Sorry about the photo quality. Instead of digging out my regular camera, I used my Blackberry and there is quite a difference in the quality of photography between the two.

I woke up this morning to find the first snow of the season. It ain’t much and it ain’t even that cold, the thermometer hovering just around freezing, but it sure is nice to see the naked tree limbs, bare of any leaves, frosted in white. The dog seemed to love it too. When I took him out, he didn’t want to come back in so I put him on his dog run. Instead of Black Friday, I’ll celebrate White Friday. I’m saying away from the stores today, but will go out this afternoon and cut down a Christmas tree. It’s that time of the year and I have a party coming up, so things need to be decorated. Every year I tell my daughter we’ll put up the tree on Christmas Eve, but I’m only pulling her chain.

Yesterday was fun. Earlier in the week, I’d gotten a freshly killed 22 pound turkey from a local farm that raises birds without drugs or chemicals and does their own slaughtering. Tom was waiting in the refrigerator when I got up at 5:45 AM. I cleaned him, stuffed and prepared him and slid him into the oven and was back to bed for a “nap” by 6:15. That was thanks to the preparations I’d done the day before.

I’d made the sausage and cornbread dressing on Wednesday night, so it was all ready to go. In addition to the sausage that’s made by a local butcher, my stuffing consisted of cornbread and hushpuppies left over from last Friday night’s feed, a few pieces of crumbled toast, chopped onions, peppers and celery along with some seasonings. I rubbed the turkey with oil olive and peppered it well (in a non-Cheney fashion), put it in a large foil pan. As the pan was flimsy, I placed it on a heavy flat pan. Next I loosely filled the cavities with stuffing and put about ½ inch of water in the pan. I then created a foil tent over the bird, that I sealed up well and slipped the bird into the oven at 325 degrees. After seven hours, the bird internal temperature was at 180 degrees and it was done. I took the foil off and drained some of the juice to add to the stuffing that was in a baking dish, then cooked the bird another twenty minutes or so to brown it. I also took a cup or so of the juices from the pan and mixed in the stuffing I had in the pan and cooked it for 45 minutes. After taking the bird out of the oven, I dug out the stuffing from the bird and used it to mix with that which I’d cooked in the pan.

I wrapped the bird back up in foil and walked him over next door, where a group was gathering for the meal. It was all good: sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, cranberries, corn and the onion rings on top of the green bean mess (I don’t eat green beans). There was cake and pie for dessert and bottles of wine to moisten our lips. The turkey was very juicy and the stuffing was to die for. For the rest of the day and on into the evening, I was more stuffed than Tom had been in the oven! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day. I need to get some slides copied and I’ll be ready to post my next section of my hike along the Appalachian Trail--Vermont.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Raising Up (A book review and thanksgiving greetings)

Happy thanksgiving everyone. I picked up a fresh 20 pound turkey yesterday, from a local farm that sells turkeys at an outlet. Early tomorrow morning, I'll be stuffing it with a cornbread and sausage dressing and baking it for a good while. Then I'll take it over to neighbors where a dozen or so folks will gather to feast. We're still on the lookout for strays, so if anyone knows of someone in need of meal, tell 'em to come on by. Here's a review of a book that I'm thankful to have come across... Unlike most books, I couldn't find a photo of this book to steal off the internet, so I took a photo with my blackberry and posted it here.

R. C. Fowler, A Raising Up: Memories of a North Carolina Childhood (Wilmington, NC: Coastal Carolina Press, 2000), 309 pages

I’ve known the name R. C. Fowler nearly all my life, but to the best of my knowledge, never met him. He was a well-known businessman and real estate agent in Wilmington and when I was visiting my parents last summer, I came across his book, a memoir of growing up during the depression and World War II in a used book store. It sounded interesting so I picked it and have enjoyed reading it.

Fowler was born in 1927, in a cotton mill village in Wilmington, North Carolina. His early years were spent around Eastern North Carolina, with time in Columbus County and later in Fayetteville. In the heat of the Depression, his family moved back to where he was born, to Mill Hill, a community around the Spofford Cotton Mills, just off Wrightsville Avenue. It was a company town and his father and grandfather and many uncles worked in the mills. As a young child, he tells about staying with his grandmother and recalls memories of the candy counter in the store across the street. He learns about cockfighting as well as the way to “pay respects” for those who have died. He attends Sunday School at the Presbyterian Church, and his aunt longs for the day the Baptist can afford to build a church.

In 1937, when he was nine, Fowler’s family moved to a tobacco farm in Pender County, twenty-five miles north of Wilmington, on land that his mother had inherited. There, he’s taken “coon hunting” with his dad and learns the hard work of farming. Slowly the family prospered as they raised tobacco for cash and other crops to for food. They had a cow for milk and chickens and a mule to plow the fields. Fowler learned to plow as well as to cut wood for the stove and the for the tobacco barn. Still a boy, he was staying with the barns over night, keeping the fire going and the heat up, as his daddy drove into town to work in the mills and later, as the country went to war, in the shipyard and at Camp Davis. In time, the family acquired more land and another mule, electricity was extended to the home and they no longer had to huddle around two kerosene lamps.

Still a boy, Fowler learned about hard work, especially when his daddy became ill and wasn’t able to work a period of time. He helped set out the tobacco and the other crops, cut word, plow and chop down weeds, and even dug a shallow well to use as a cooler for milk and other perishables. Digging the well, he learned the meaning of the phrase, “as cold as a well-digger’s ass.” As he approached the age of twelve, he was filled with guilt as he’d been told this was the age of accountability (I can remember thinking about this when I turned 12). His aunts pushed him to get right with God and once, at a holiness service, he confessed his sins. When the holiness preacher wanted to hold services at his home, his father allowed it but decided that even though it was night, he needed to go into the woods to “cut stove wood.”

The book ends in the fall of 1945. Fowler is in the Merchant Marines, on a ship out of Norfolk, sailing off the Carolina Coast. After he graduated from high school, his parents ask him to stay on till the end of the summer, offering him the profits from an acre of tobacco. With money in his pockets, he heads back to Wilmington and takes a position within the office of the Atlantic Coastline Railway. Being inside doesn’t set well for a young man who’d spent most of his life outdoors, doing hard work, and he soon leaves high seas.

Fowler frequently uses dialogue to tell his story, which gives the book a down-home feel. He sprinkles his writings with sayings, many of which I haven’t heard since I was a child. This book gives us an insight into the world of my grandparents and it was a pleasure to read. Another book that I’d recommend as an insight into this time (one that combines a sociological study with personal memories) is Linda Flowers, Throwed Away: Failures of Progress in Eastern North Carolina. All though both families were poor on the farm, the Fowlers owned the land and that made a big difference in what he experienced compared to the Flowers family who were sharecroppers.

Monday, November 23, 2009

This and That

I’m working on a couple of memory posts--writing about another section of the Appalachian Trail, another couple of post about events in my past and there’s always book reviews that I can do. But since nothing is ready, I thought I’d share a few pictures from this past Saturday over by Lake Michigan, taken from the harbor entrance at Holland Michigan…

For a while, I wondered if the guy paddling out of the harbor in his kayak was going to keep paddling on till he got to Illinois or Wisconsin, but before I left, I noticed he’d turned around and was heading back in.

Last Friday, I had an opportunity to serve as chief cook and bottle washer. I had the privileage of working with a group of my colleagues in town on a chili fundraiser for a local non-profit endeavor. It was a lot of fun, joking with each other as we made chili, along with cornbread and hushpuppies. Notice the photo of hushpuppy friars!

It’s Thanksgiving week and there is plenty for which I am thankful. For one thing, I’m thankful to have a job because I know many who would like to find a job and can’t in this economy. However, lately, my work load has meant there hasn’t been much time for writing, that’s better than the alternative. I’m thankful that we’ve having such a nice November. Normally, I’d be longing for cross-country skiing weather, but this year, there is a construction project I’m worried about and every nice day is another day they can be laying blocks and bricks. Of course, that might change as they’re calling for the possibility of snow on Thanksgiving day. Then I’ll be thankful for the ability to cross country ski (but only after Bambi season is over, I’d had for some fool to mistake me for a skiing deer.) I’m also thankful for the opportunity to cook a turkey this week, for the first time in a number of years. Living in the land where everyone is related to someone else, a dozen of so of us “outsiders” are getting together and this year will be my turn to supply the turkey.