I’ll never forget Melanie.

October 27, 2008 at 12:02 am (Family, Friends, GOD, New friends, Places, Religious, Stories, Sylvia) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Sylvia

I’ll never forget Melanie. She was a beautiful young woman, taken from this life way too early. Mel was so nonjudgmental… she found the beauty and possibility in everyone, reflected by her genuine smile, and sparkling eyes.

It was October of 2001… a time when we all were still freshly bruised from 9/11. I wanted more than ever to be surrounded by friends for a week at the shore. I rent a place that looks out onto the ocean at 4th street in Ocean City, New Jersey. This would be the first of an annual tradition. Mel was definitely on board, and couldn’t wait to join me there for at least a couple of days.

Days before the beach venture, I got a call from her saying she couldn’t make it. She had developed excruciating back pain and went to see her doctor. She had an appointment to get an MRI, and one night at work, the pain was so intense, she called the same doctor and told him. He instructed her to meet him in the MRI. Hours later, he determined that her liver was four times its normal size. It was then that she was diagnosed with liver cancer. The treatment began immediately.

When I arrived at the beach, I went to the shore line. I thought of Mel, and her demise. I knew she was going through some difficult times, and I bowed my head in thoughts and prayers for her recovery. When I looked up there was a double rainbow. I didn’t move, for fear I would miss it. I just stood there and let it wash over me. I was hoping this was a good sign.

Fast-forward to June of 2002. I finally left my husband of 23 years and was a “traveler” at Johns Hopkins. The agency provided me with a luxury apartment on the water in Fell’s Point. Four women came down to visit me one weekend in June. Mel was one of them. She adorned a black wig, nothing like her own raven hair, but her olive skinned beauty glowed more than ever. Her gleaming white teeth almost mocked me, against her always tanned look. Mel had strong Croatian roots, and she turned heads everywhere. It was 100 degrees in Baltimore that summer day, and we all hoped Mel would just want to hang out in an air conditioned bar, instead, she drug us around the city honing our tourist roles. We laughed and cried all weekend. That was the last time I saw her alive.

I moved to Hershey six weeks later to accept a position at the Med Center. Mel and I had been in touch via emails and phone calls. She was told that no more could be done. In September, I attended her funeral. Mel was only forty-one.

The following January, I had the most vivid dream of my life.

I was at a party. For some reason it was being held at Longwood Gardens. All of my favorite people were there. Over in a corner was Mel in a little girl’s party dress complete with a big blue satin bow. (Was this image because I think of her as being so young?)

“Mel!!” I gasped. “What are you doing here? You died!!”, I said.

With that, she began to float away, and was smiling, but with tears in her eyes, she said,

“I miss you guys!!”

“We miss you too, Mel…we talk about you all of the time!” I cried.

“I know“, she continued, “I hear you guys talking about me, even when it’s not out loud… I hear you ALL of the time….do you know what that is??”

“No” I retorted “what is it?”

“That’s what HEAVEN is”, she explained. “And do you know what HELL is?”, she asked.

“Noooo”, I wasn’t sure whether I was replying or asking… and she simply put it,

“HELL IS HEARING NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, THAT’S WHAT HELL IS”,

“THANK YOU GUYS FOR KEEPING ME IN HEAVEN!!

And with that, she floated away.

A few weeks later I drove home to see my folks. Although it was February, it was unseasonably warm. I loved the feeling of my then, longer hair blowing around with the sunroof open. My mom was employed at Penney’s. She was only to work until about 1pm, and we were going out to lunch, just the two of us. After a four hour drive I managed to pull into the mall parking lot with time enough to put on a little make up and pull back my unruly hair. I didn’t want to look as tired as I felt. I dug through a zipper bag to find anything to tie my locks out and away from my face. After the waitress took our order, mom reached up and fingered the ribbon in my hair.

“What’s this?”, she smiled, “Why, isn’t that the same blue satin ribbon from a party dress you had when you were a little girl?”

I didn’t realize it until that moment, but it was. I smiled up at Mel, keeping her in “HEAVEN”.

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Dreams

October 25, 2008 at 1:58 am (Dogs, GOD, Pets, Religious, Stories) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

The Dream.

I have a couple of recurring dreams that have been with me for a while. The first dream I started having when I was still in college. This is a dream that has grown in detail over the years. It’s of a huge old house. When I first enter it, it’s abandoned, dusty, musty, yet somehow ALIVE. It wants me there, but waits to see what I do. I’m frightened, but as I walk around a bit I notice all the old wood in the stair banisters and wainscoting, the grime coated chandeliers in the foyer, dining room and ball room that are miraculously intact, as is the stained glass rose window in the library, the library itself with shelf after shelf of books that are dirty but , thank God, not mildewed. Being me, I start cleaning. I scrub, polish, wax, buff, wash, dust, sweep, shine, sort, and rearrange a different part of the house each time I dream, discovering old lamps and sofas, trunks of long outdated clothes and antique curios. Every time I think, “Now wouldn’t it be cool if there was one of THOSE,” I find one. I’ve wished into existence Victorian lamps, marbled floors, first edition favorite children’s books, and our grandfather’s auto harp. So far I haven’t had to clean any room twice, I think my head just keeps adding on more rooms. But, as I get to the upper floors, the decay seems to be worse. The last time I dreamed of the house I saw that the attic had holes in the roof in places and the floor was rotted in others. I thought, “I don’t know how to fix that, maybe Sammy can help me, I’ll leave that part for last. “ Once I dreamed I found the music room and spent the night polishing, restringing, and tuning instruments. I woke the next morning with a sweet little tune I found on the grand piano music stand going through my head. Sometimes I have a faint sense of people there, and once a young translucent woman followed me around pantomiming placing objects in places she either remembered them being or thought they ought to be.

The second dream is of the meadow. After my first husband Roger died everyone in the family kept saying he came to see them in dreams. “Oh Roger came and talked to me.” “Roger told me he missed me in my dream.” I was so upset, that everyone was getting to see him but ME. And I was the one who wanted him so desperately, just a little more time. I would go to bed at sunset, just as soon as I could get the baby to sleep, and hope to dream. But it was months and he never came. Then one night I dreamed I was on a back country road. I was also on one of those little scooters from gym class that you power by twisting the handlebars from side to side. I had to drive this little scooter up and down hills and past fields of corn, alfalfa, and soybean. Finally as I crested a hill I saw a raised ranch style brick house. I parked my scooter by the door and went in without knocking. I was in a kitchen. And not just a kitchen, an Italian grandma’s kitchen. There was a huge pot (like my canning kettle on steroids) of red sauce simmering on the stove and a warm loaf of bread beside it. I broke off a chunk of bread, dipped a big scoop of sauce up with it, and stuffed it in my mouth. The sauce was thick and tangy, the bread crusty on the outside and heavy and chewy on the inside. The Grandma was sitting at a white metal kitchen table with flour up to her arms, kneading another loaf. I went to help her and she motioned rather vigorously for me to go downstairs, flinging flour off her hands and swinging the loose fat that hung under her arms.

As I went downstairs I heard the sound of billiard balls clacking and smelled cigar smoke. The basement was full of Italian men smoking cigars and shooting pool. They spoke and argued in Italian and one young man winked at me. One of the old men slapped him on the side of the head and said, “Nadda for you.” Then the old man jerked his head toward a partitioned room that had a curtain for a door. I ducked my head inside and found myself in a bathroom. “A bathroom?” I thought, aware at this point that I was dreaming. Then I noticed a door in the side of the room that was open a few inches. It was a narrow door, like a linen closet. I opened it, thinking to find another roll of toilet paper to put out since there was none left (you know how those Italian uncles are), and I kept going further into the dark space. I saw a little crack of light ahead of me, and as I reached for what I thought was another door I felt a shove to my back and stumbled across the threshold.

I found myself blinking in the bright sunlight of a beautiful meadow. A creek sidewindered its way across my field of vision. There was an old tree that had uprooted to hang over the creek. Uprooted but still alive and growing its branches nearly reached the water. The meadow sloped upward to a point where I could no longer see. I looked around, and then a speck of movement at the top of the meadow caught my eye. It was a person walking toward me. Long before I could see his face I recognized the lanky stride as my Roger. “Here you are,” I thought. “I’ve been waiting.” He came to me, and I knew I couldn’t touch him, I knew he was dead, but in that meadow we sat in the grass by the creek and I told him all about little Roger, and me, and life that kept barreling ahead and rolling me with it. And I was comforted.

Since then, I’ve revisited that meadow in my dreams several times. I always come to it in the same way. Roger is always there, always looking the same age as when he left us. But he knows I remarried, and was again widowed, and remarried again. He knows Rog works two jobs and goes to college. The last time I had the dream he had our dog Pickett with him, even though Pickett came into my life years after Roger had left it. He stood with one hand on the tree over the creek and one hand ruffling Pickett’s fur and Pickett was smiling with his tongue hanging out.

I’ve met others in the meadow. Greg stood once near the top, in the distance. He wouldn’t come down to me, but he sent Jack running down to race in circles around me, barking furiously. Once, I think I met GOD. He was fishing in the deep pool in the creek that had formed under the fallen tree and I sat beside him and he offered me those orange peanut butter crackers. I think it was GOD because there was such a huge sense of comfort, humor, understanding, and peace. I’m always glad to see that the heaven my subconscious creates includes my pets.

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The Weekend (Part #1)

October 23, 2008 at 7:38 pm (Brother John, Family, Friends, GOD, Hiking, Hobbies, Religious, Visit) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Nice view of the Juniata River below.

It’s been awhile since I sat down to ramble (why does that feel like I should be saying, “Forgive me Blog Master, it’s been a over a week since my last blog session…”

Absolution

Your Blog Master and Father of
“The Adventures of Eydie and Sammy Wight”,
through sweat, labor, and eye for detail,
has reconciled all things blog worthy unto Himself,
and sends you forgiveness for posts delayed.
He forgives your acts of procrastination,
and through HTML and supreme coding, applies his technicality.
In the name of future posts joyfully awaited,
You are now absolved from guilt and shame.
In the name of Blog Masters who seek timely content.
Amen.

So many things, as always, have been going on. This time of year is when we “put the property to bed” for the dormant season, prepare to crank up the wood stove, and, in my case, take the time for the luxury of fall leaf rides.

Gary's Bridge Over The Creek.

Our last weekend off had been, until Sunday, very busy. Pleasantly so. Friday afternoon I had finally found time to take a long proposed hike with my friend Gary. I arrived at his house about 2:00 and we set off. Gary lives on the edge (literally) of a creek that comes down from the mountain. His bridge over the creek washed away in a flash flood that came a couple years back. His new bridge is actually the frame of a mobile home that was dropped over the creek. He has the creek edge lined with water shaped stones and the bordering trees make music with bamboo wind chimes he makes. It’s a lovely spot.

Nice view of the Juniata River below.
Royal Paulownia Tree. Scenic View!

We set off for our hike, across the creek, and started up an old logging road. We went up, and up, and then a fairly flat switchback, and then more up, another switchback, up again, switchback, up. I had to stop several times, making no pretense of stopping to look at the beautiful fall scenery (although I DID look at the beautiful fall scenery as I was panting and sweating) and then finally the road started to level out at the top. I was content with the conversation we were having about religion, spiritualism, and nature, and the different plants Gary was pointing out. Imagine my delight when the top of the mountain opened up to a large, grassy, cleared space that offered a vista of the Juniata River way down below. It was incredible. We sat on a couple of benches the owner had strategically placed and took in the view. Two hawks circled below us. A train, looking for all the world like a child’s toy, made its way down the tracks. We were above the world of the Friday rush hour traffic we could see on Rte. 322. We sat there, took some pictures of the view and of a flowering plant neither of us could identify, and started to make our way back down to civilization. I noticed a tree that I thought at first was a hickory, but when I examined one of the nuts I found an easily opened shell containing a multitude of whispery seeds. We took a picture and Gary later identified it as a “nuisance” import, a Royal Paulownia. Interesting.

Saturday we finally finished getting the wood stove ready for it’s first fire. We haven’t had that first fire yet, but we’re ready. I took the stove pipe off, scraped the creosote from the inside, and blacked the pipe with a rub on, buff off stove polish. Last year our insurance company had sent out a survey with the very casual question, among fifty others, of did we have a wood stove, fireplace, or pellet stove. I answered yes. It was TWO DAYS later that I got a call saying a representative had to come to our house to assess the safety of our stove. I managed to put that little visit off for about a month and then was informed that my homeowners insurance might be canceled without the visit.

Hardball. The little gal arrived an hour earlier than she had arranged and I was (you guessed it) running around in my pajamas cleaning so that she would know I was conscientious and diligent. She had a little clipboard and she informed me that my stove was not allowed to set atop a potentially unstable platform of bricks, that it must have a firewall drywall behind it for a certain number of feet, and was I aware that I had no smoke alarm in place. Now, the smoke alarm point I agreed with and I was pleased to show her my TWO battery-less smoke alarms that were sitting on the work table. The stove had sat where it was for fifteen years and had never jumped from the bricks. Sigh. Establishment doing it’s job for the betterment and safety of us all. Last year, after her visit, we had bought the firewall. We just hadn’t installed it. So, Sammy did that, and went to the local hardware store and bought several wide flat concrete blocks to set the stove on. I started blacking the stove, but then son Roger came home and I sent him up on the roof with the chimney sweep (the device, not a soot blackened small boy we keep on hand) to clean out the chimney. I’m not so good with heights, so I stood on the lower rungs of the ladder so that the strength of my prayers that he wouldn’t slip and fall off the roof would wash over him in waves of maternal concern. At one point the chimney cap began to slide down the roof and even though my eyes were seeing a chimney cap, my heart was seeing a blond young man in shorts, tennis shoes, and a Zeiderelli’s pizza shirt skittering past me to certain death.

Let me just interject here that if Roger had eaten a salad before going up on the roof, I would have had no worries. We used to call our mother “the salad pusher”. She used to worry. A lot. She still does but modern medicine is a wonderful thing and she is more laid back in her worrying these days. She used to worry herself through a series of events that would always end in a death scenario. For example: “If you aren’t careful reading that book you’ll get a paper cut and then you’ll go out to play in the dirt and it will get infected and then you’ll become septic and you’ll die.” But, salad was the ultimate health food. Brother John and I can both remember not even wanting a salad, saying no when it was offered, and then somehow finding ourselves with a huge half eaten salad in front of us, fork in hand, and NO RECOLLECTION OF THE EVENT. To this day I respect the supernatural healing powers of my mother’s salad.

I also had Rog help me empty the large ash can from last year. We should have emptied it after the last fire last year when I should have also cleaned out the stove. (Conscientious and diligent, remember?) During the winter we empty the ash can onto the shady part of the driveway to help melt the ice that always accumulates there. Now we were ready for fire. Warm, toasty fire. Unfortunately the temperature was a balmy seventy degrees that weekend.

A road leading to an adventure.

I’m fairly sure I was a dog in a past life. (I’m also fairly sure I was a Native American medicine woman, the housekeeper of a large Scottish manor, the girlfriend of a traveling troubadour in the Middle Ages, and a fiddle playing Irish immigrant stonemason.) Stories for another time. (Brother John here… Most of my past lives ended in tragedy, but I know I was a majestic flying Eagle on at least one of them). But, as I said, I was a dog. Or maybe several dogs. I love to ride in the car. (And roll on the ground and have my head petted and probably some other stuff that dogs do that we don’t need to go into here.) One of my favorite things to do is to have a day when Sammy and I can take the cameras, a couple beers for me and a Coke or ginger ale for Sammy, some homemade Chex mix or pistachios, some tootsie roll pops, and my topographical map of Pennsylvania, and go for a ride. Often we go for a short ride in the evening and chase the sunset, or wind our way around back roads on the way to or from town for errands, but every once in a while we take an entire day and travel someplace we’ve never been before. I’m convinced that we could travel Pennsylvania roads for the rest of our lives and never see them all. We don’t have a destination other than “someplace we’ve never been before” or, in the case of our last Sunday off, “north and up”. The map is for when when it begins to get dark and we have no idea where we are but would like to head home. As of last Sunday, our local leaves had still not turned their glorious fall colors. Actually we may not have a glorious fall here. The weather has been unseasonably warm and dry and a great many leaves seem to be skipping color and going straight to brown.

Red Barn With Hay Storage.

Our goal was to head north where the weather has been a bit colder, and head up into some of the higher ridges. One nifty feature of our car is that it has a compass. We started out on back roads, trying to keep to a generally northern direction. Most of the roads we had been on, but we enjoyed seeing big red barns full of hay, soybean fields sun dried and ready for harvesting, Amish traveling in buggies on their way to church. We took an inviting side road that bordered Penns Creek and it was as if we had traveled back in time. Old stone houses with hand pumps still in the front yard, tobacco barns weathered to pink, a young horse rolling in the pasture to scratch his back, and a young Amish boy with a fishing pole leaning over a bridge. Then, as the afternoon started to wane, we reached the foothills of the Bald Eagle State forest. The leaves were so bright Sammy said it looked as if they were glowing. Reds, oranges, yellows. The yellows had outdone the others this year in my opinion. We traveled some one lane roads and some dirt roads and each ridge line was more spectacular. At one point we stopped at the intersection of a dirt road and a road that ran along the base of a huge ridge. I said, “GOD’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.” We started home, now heading south and west to follow the sun. I love “ridge skipping” as we drive. Pennsylvania has long ridges in many places instead of individual mountains. The only way to cross most of these is at “passes” which are natural breaks or dips in the ridge line. Early settlers and Native Americans would have crossed the ridges in the same way, knowing a “pass” would save time and energy. I’ll look along the ridge as we drive and say, “Head west toward that break, probably a road goes through there.” And it usually does.

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Brother John’s ‘Tater Soup

October 14, 2008 at 10:00 am (Recipes) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Brother John

Brother John will show you how to make his delicious 'Tater Soup

Actual pile of dad's potatoes fresh from his personal garden!

Every year around late September or early October I get hungry for some homemade potato soup. As the weather cools down and the leaves begin to display their beautiful fall colors, a nice hot bowl of rich creamy potato soup really goes down well. It’s also around this time of year that my dad brings Kathy and me a fresh sack of (various) potatoes he’s grown from his personal garden. The potatoes are so fresh they still have some dirt and mud on them from when he dug them up. Evidently, my sister Eydie and brother-in-law Sammy also get this same gift from dad. And like me, it appears they also enjoy a hearty bowl of potato soup! They’ve even posted their own recipe! Check it out in their Wine and Food Recipes section or click right here if you can’t wait. Either way, be sure to come on back when you’re done!

Items to be Sautéed

Fresh Carrots

Fresh Celery

Fresh Onions

Finely Diced Carrots

Finely Diced Celery

Finely Diced Onions

Fresh ingredients and lightly salted butter go into the sauté pan to be cooked down.

Before I get started I want to point out one thing. If you are going to cook anything, always use the freshest ingredients you can find! Here I’ll be using fresh sweet orange carrots finely diced; crisp, tender celery (including the bright green leaves), also finely diced; and beautiful sweet onions (from my dad’s own garden) which we’ll finely chop as well. (The onions are so delicious in soup that I often double the amount)! I sauté all these ingredients in an entire stick of high quality, lightly salted butter. (Sorry, I’m just not a big fan of margarine). Don’t worry if that seems like a lot, it’s very easy to remove excess butter once the soup is prepared. I’ll tell you how to do that later.

Veggies Come Together... right now...
Now Simmer Down!

All of the vegetables to be sautéed go into the sauté pot along with the stick of butter. This should be cooked over a medium heat and stirred to keep the veggies from sticking to the bottom. Now… you might very well ask me why I bother to sauté these vegetables? Many of you might simply add them to your liquid and boil away. I’ve found that sweating my vegetables in rich liquid butter imparts a flavor that can’t be beat. And it will slightly speed up the cooking time. Because I make a buttery milk based broth for my potato soup, it doesn’t hurt to give the veggies a head start and this becomes the perfect time to add a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. It also smells heavenly! Talking about cheering up your kitchen on a dreary Autumn day. This will do it for you!

Let the cooking begin!

Now we start making soup!

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t included measurements. And there is a reason for that. I knew I wanted to make a rather large batch of potato soup, perhaps as much as six quarts and that meant I had to use the largest pan I own. So I put some fresh spring water into it and then diced enough of dad’s potatoes to fill it half way with an inch of water on top of that. Good starting point. I then added the sautéed veggies and that told me what else I needed to do. Sometimes that would be to add more water, but this time it needed four additional potatoes.

Adding Evaporated Milk and Fresh Cream makes this rich!
Bring this up to a gentle boil.

A soup stock made of fresh spring water would not really be much to write home about. But I like to let the potatoes cook a while in water until they are just starting to soften up. Then I add a mixture of evaporated milk, and fresh cream. This actually turns my pan of water into a pan of creamy milk and causes the soup to start looking like potato soup. (You know… I didn’t have anyone to take these pictures so I tried the old “Hold the camera in one hand while pouring with the other” trick. And it actually worked! I had expected I’d either end up with liquid running all over my stove top, or that I would totally miss the shot. But I managed to get both right the first time!).

My potato soup will still needs three more ingredients before its done, but one of them is very interesting. We’ll talk about that one next.

An Egg Divided.

Potato soup can really benefit from a few hard boiled eggs! The trick is to first hard boil them, and then separate the yolk from the egg white. The bright yellow yolk can be broken down into the texture of course sand, which can then be added to the potato soup to give it a very rich flavor.

The added protein will really pick you up on those cold Autumn days. (I know of others who also do this and they use both the egg yolk and the egg white. Kathy doesn’t care much for the egg whites so I save them in a bowl wrapped in cellophane. I’ll show you how I use them later on. Remember… nothing shall be wasted!).

Freshly grated sharp

I then like to get my soup up to a mild boil and add freshly grated sharp cheese to my potato soup! Melted cheese tastes great and will also give you some added protein. I also like the orange color it adds to an otherwise very white soup. It’s also a good time to add some fresh parsley, but I didn’t have any in the house. I did have dried parsley, so I added a generous portion of that to give a little green color here and there to my soup. We eat with the eyes, so color is an important factor!

And it all comes together to make a lovely soup!

Which brings us to the final product. A big pan of Brother John’s homemade potato soup! During this final stage, excess butter will simply float to the top where it can easily be skimmed away for those who want to restrict their butter intake. You should really try to make this soup for yourself because it’s hearty, it will fill you up, and will bring a bit of sunshine to any dreary day!

SIX QUARTS OF GOOD EATING!

Good eating for a while

Kathy and I won’t go hungry for a while with six quarts of potato soup. I’ve even been known to get up at 2:30am and make a bowl as a “midnight” snack! There are two points I want to leave you with:

  1. Never waste anything! (Example #1: Breakfast)
  2. Never waste anything! (Example #2: Compost)

Hope you enjoy making and eating Brother John’s ‘Tater Soup!

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Cutting Firewood To Make Nut Brittle

October 7, 2008 at 12:32 am (Andrew Davidson, Arrowheads, Artifacts, Asplundh, Authors, bee hive, Bees, Books, Brother John, Butterflies, Companies, Dogs, Fair Paladin, Family, Fossils, Friends, German Shepherd, GOD, Hiking, Hobbies, honey, Insects, Jasper, mandolin, Monarch, music, Nut Brittle, Pets, Places, poetry, Recipes, Religious, Ricketts Glen State Park, Sylvia, The Gargoyle, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

When you chop a walnut tree, sometimes you harvest walnuts!

Sammy and I had had great aspirations of filling our wood shed to overflowing when we were off on our “working vacation” a few weeks ago. And we did bring in several loads. Then, the rains came. Not for 40 days and 40 nights, although the people of Texas probably felt that way, but enough to make our access into the fields a mucky nightmare. So, this past Thursday we sallied forth (well, Sally didn’t go, only room for two in the truck plus Jasper) to our unidentified neighbor’s farm to cut a load of firewood. It was actually chilly, intermittently overcast and with a stiff breeze blowing. Enough so that I had an old gray sweat jacket on and came home with pink ears and a somewhat windburned face. Our neighbor had cut several trees down that grew along the access drive to his 100 acre property. He had done this so that in the winter the sun would be able to reach the road surface and melt some of the ice. I’d been on that road a few years ago when it was possible to skate (or in my case slide on my backside) down the length of it to where the truck was parked at the bottom, unable to make it any further up the drive.

The first tree Sammy began cutting was a nice sized walnut. It was big enough to provide that day’s truckload of wood. And, it was covered with walnuts. I’ve already mentioned that I have this quirky survivalist mentality. To me, a tree full of easily accessible walnuts means a source of protein for the winter should society fail completely and Sammy and I be unable to keep us in squirrel and deer meat in the style to which we are accustomed. The walnuts also mean my favorite nuts for Dad’s Microwave Nut Brittle. The first year he made this stuff (two or three years ago) I thought it couldn’t possibly be any good. Wrong. I put that first piece in my mouth and it had just the right crunch of nutty goodness. Let it stay in your mouth a bit and the whole mess melts into a sweet sticky glue that renders you incapable of separating your jaws for several minutes. (Great for kids if you know what I mean!) Dad has since doctored the recipe to include coconut, confectioners sugar, brown sugar, and peanut butter. I’m going to experiment with (of course) honey this year. I have to laugh at this mental image I have of Dad bringing out the container of nut brittle at Christmas time. It’s like the pied piper if you can picture a gaggle of (mostly) overweight middle aged adults all trying to get their sticky hands into the smallish plastic container at the same time and fighting over the “big” pieces.

My job, when we are cutting wood, is all the ancillary duties. Sammy cuts, I load the truck. I also pull aside and stack the ends of branches too small to cut, hold pieces still as Sammy cuts them, pull out fallen (and usually brier covered) limbs and dead fall, and play with Jasper in between. (Brother John here… I once worked for the tree trimming company Asplundh and, except for Jasper…, these were also my daily duties. The person doing this type of duty was called a “Brushy” back in the day). Well, to add to my list, there were walnuts to collect because, (chant with me Brother John, and Sylvia, you’ve been around enough to join in too) “NOTHING MUST BE WASTED!” I had no idea how many walnuts a tree has when the entire tree has been cut and all the nuts can be harvested. And, not knowing the nuts would be there, I hadn’t brought a bag along. Imagine. I was unprepared! After a minute or so of abject humiliation, and after shortly abandoning the thought of filling my jacket pockets 20 or so nuts at a time, I graciously volunteered Sammy’s jacket (which he wasn’t wearing) and started loading it up with nuts. Each jacket load I would then dump in the front foot well of the passenger’s seat of the truck. Why I didn’t just throw them in the back I don’t know. Maybe nuts and wood, like oil and water, don’t mix in my head. Anyway, by the time the truck was loaded with wood I had enough walnuts to reach up to the seat. I sat in the seat, my feet resting on a mountain of walnuts, and realized that with the back full, Jasper had to ride up front. On my lap. Seventy-five pounds and I hadn’t peed before we took off for home (on some of the finest washboard dirt roads ever traveled).

When we pulled up the driveway I had Sammy stop at the top and let me offload first Jasper (who had enjoyed the trip home immensely, with “Mom” serving as a captive petting machine) and then the walnuts. Drive around the county this time of year and you’ll see many a driveway full of walnuts. The walnut comes off the tree with a thick green hull. This turns brown as it dries. This hull has long been a natural source of brown dye. The first time I hulled walnuts I used my bare hands. I had dyed brown hands for nearly a week. Now I do what everyone else does and throw them in the drive way to be driven over until all the soft hull has been worn off. These hard walnut shells are so tough that even driving over them doesn’t crack them. They scoff at traditional nutcrackers. (Brother John here… I always wondered why people did that! I always figured the nuts would get smashed into little bits, making that a very stupid thing to do. Now I get it Sis!). I place a few nuts in a rag and then take the hammer to them. Dad uses a vise, I think. I’m open to a better suggestion. But, it is one of the late autumn/winter pastimes when the weather is nasty. Sit around the wood stove, crack some walnuts while Sammy cleans a rifle or plays a little sweet guitar. A truly rustic picture. Completed by the image that I am, of course, in my pajamas.

Tomorrow we are going to get a few more loads of wood and meet up with our unidentified neighbor who will be cutting down a couple of the larger trees that still shade the drive. I’m hoping that after the work is done he’ll suggest a walk. He has lived in the area all his life and has shared some amazing discoveries with us. I have been along when a wild honeybee tree was harvested (the bees had swarmed and were given a new hive to populate). I’ve seen heavily fossilized shale covered with the imprints of shells and algae. I went along arrowhead hunting and collected blanks and pieces of arrowheads along with one that was complete. One day we walked into a field of wildflowers. He clapped his hands and suddenly the air was full of fluttering Monarch butterflies that landed on our arms, head, and clothes.

I always keep my “other” eyes open when I am out in the woods and fields. My imagination fills them with fairy worlds that live just beside the one we know. I often feel something else, an energy, or presence, or spirit. These days I call it God. I call it all God. It could be called many things. But I know, on those fall days when I lie in a cut field and feel the earth cool beneath my shoulder blades and the sun is warm on my face and a red tailed hawk soars searching in the blue sky above me, I know that there IS more. It gathers beneath me, goes through me, and connects with things unseen. One of my poems, “Fair Paladin” came from the magic the special places hold, or at least that I imagine they hold.

I have a bucket list. For those that didn’t see the movie, it’s stuff you want to do or accomplish before you kick the bucket. I have three things on my list so far. I plan to live to be a hundred and three so I’m hoping to add a few more.

  1. I want to get my book of poetry published. It’s so close. I want to see it on the Arts Council shelf and on the local artist shelf at Borders. I want my mom to be there when I do my first book signing, hopefully at the Arts Council where I’ll provide homemade blackberry, elderberry, and mead wines for my friends (and maybe a stranger or two) to drink. I want someone to pay real money for a copy of my book.
  2. I want to walk through an airport carrying my fiddle or mandolin to take it on a plane to somewhere and know that I actually play the darn thing well enough to deserve to carry it through an airport.
  3. Goblins Under Tree Stumps #1 Goblins Under Tree Stumps #2
    Fairy Houses Alligator Jawed Dragons
    Hunting for Ice Eggs Ice Egg in the Sky
    Walking Tree Ents #1 Walking Tree Ents #2

    I want to take a hike on the falls trails at Ricketts Glen State Park on a perfect day in the company of someone who sees and feels and loves the magic I talked about earlier as much as I do (Sammy and Brother John would do nicely.) We’ll find goblins under tree stumps, fairy houses, alligator jawed dragons, ice eggs, and walking tree Ents.

  4. Eydie, Brother John here. I have no imagination it would seem. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out which “other eye” vision each of these represent. Hover the mouse and you’ll see one idea, and click on the item to see that and other ideas. It would help greatly if you would define which is which. And maybe throw in a bit of real description as well. Ricketts Glen State Park looks very nice!
The Gargoyle - By Andrew Davidson - An extraordinary debut novel of love that survives the fires of hell and transcends the boundaries of time.

But for now, Sammy is out sharpening the chainsaw on the living room coffee table and me (in my pajamas), a novel (The Gargoyle), and the big brown chair have developed this undeniable attraction for each other. Throw the blue gingham angel quilt into the mix and I won’t be long for this world… Zzzzz.

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Ghost Story II (Phantom Dog)

October 2, 2008 at 5:40 pm (Ghost, Hiking, Jasper, Stories) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Ghost Dog

I woke up early this morning and thought I’d sit down and word ramble a little while the level in my coffee diminished. A departure from my usual mornings (or whatever passes for morning in our night shifter world!) Usually I rather arthritically moan and groan my way out of bed and move slowly to the coffee pot. I save the leftover coffee from the day before so a first cup can speedily warm in the microwave. As it warms I get the coffee pot going with fresh coffee. I’d like to say that I then stand at the kitchen window and watch the birds busy at the feeders, assess the approach of fall in the first leaves dropped from the three maples that stand by the swing, and generally absorb the nature of the day.

I’d like to say that (and, in fact, I DID just say that), but it would be a winky tinky lie. The truth is that invariably I take my first cup of coffee back into the bedroom where I make the bed. My Granny ingrained this in me so strongly that I will make beds in hotel rooms even when I know housekeeping is two doors down waiting for me to depart, even when we get up through the night for an hour or so during our usually insomniac nights off, even when I am washing our favorite linens that I intend to put right back on. Some of my early memories are of staying with Granny overnight. I’d sleep up in the finished attic. There was a double bed up there that Brother John got, and I had the single bed. It was one that had an old iron headboard. When we would go downstairs in the morning, Granny would ask sweetly (she NEVER raised her voice), “Did you make your bed honey?” She would never ask that if I had. She had this Granny ESP. I would turn around and head back upstairs and the habit has followed me all of my days. This habit (and dare I say others) didn’t stick with Brother John. He used to pay me to clean his room and I think if I lived closer he would STILL pay me to clean his room. (Brother John here… Yep! I’d pay. And pay gladly! And pay often!). Thinking about it, I’m not sure what would have happened if I had ever defied Granny. No one ever did. She never yelled, she never punished, she never argued. The most we ever heard was, “Now you don’t want to make Granny cross do you?” For us, that was like hearing, “Now you don’t want to have single-handedly stuck a knife in my heart or set fire to a house of poor, sick orphans, do you?” There would be no need for water boarding or any other torture methods if Granny was doing the interrogating. That one little statement and the worst terrorist would be on his knees sobbing.

Anyway, digression completed, after the bed is made I usually start right in to the daily house chores and whatever other tasks the day holds. By the time I’ve finished my hips, knees, and ankles are all loosened up and mostly ache free and I have satisfied my little obsessive compulsive soul with ACCOMPLISHMENT. (Uh, yeah. I do have a check off list…)

Oh, another thing. I wake up EVERY morning without fail with a song in my head. And believe me, that song is not choosy. It could be a song I’ve been learning on the fiddle or mandolin, it could just as easily be a commercial jingle, disco refrain, gospel chorus, Scottish reel, classical aria, or hillbilly ballad, my head doesn’t care. (Brother John here… a mild interruption. I too ALWAYS wake up with a song in my head. Must be a family thing). Many times I don’t even LIKE the song and go around begging Sammy to give me another tune, or turn music or the TV on. And, not only do I often not like the song, I never seem to know any more than a line or two of the words, so I get the same tiny piece that I do know repeating over and over. This morning, for example, as I sit here, it’s “Low Rider” by War. “Take a little trip, take a little trip, take a little trip with me.” Oh yeah. I used to play a mental game. Whatever the first complete song was that I heard on the radio after I got into my car to drive to work, would be the predictor of my shift. “Dream a Little Dream”, good. “Welcome to the Jungle”, bad. I finally stopped doing that when I realized that there were not nearly as many songs about nature and flowers and love as there were about cheatin’ slime bags or environmental decay.

Anyway, another digression completed. What I started to say was that October is here. Another season is making its self heard and seen and smelled. And remembered. About four or five years ago I had gotten into jogging. It started when my friend Anita and I started walking and yakking about husbands, work, kids, life, etc. Then we started jogging on the down hills, then jogging on the flats, then the little uphills. Before I knew it we were jogging four days a week, four to seven miles at a shot, and looking pretty fit as a result. (These days I walk, and not as often, and my figure reflects it.) On the days that we couldn’t get together, I would go by myself. This is a little October ghost story about something that happened while I was jogging.

My favorite time to jog was in the evening when the sun was low in the sky. I would try to time it so that I could catch the sunset on the top of Asper Hill first, then again as I rounded back to Knisely Hill. That meant that by the time I finished my usual four and a half mile loop and came down through the hollows, it would be just light enough to see my shoes hit the pavement. I liked the feeling that I was pushing the night back a little with each footfall. Most times I would take Jasper. At the time of this story we had only had him about a year. He was well behaved enough to never stray far, come right away when I called, and not fight with other dogs we might come across. But on this jog I didn’t take him. Archery season had come in. There would be both neighbors and strangers in the surrounding woods, at that time of day just heading out to walk or drive home. Around these parts, dogs who run deer are shot on site by some, and even though Jasper doesn’t have that habit, a loose dog could be conceived as possibly running deer, and shot by some. I’m not coordinated enough to have him leashed and jog at the same time, so I put his very reluctant (bribing with lunch meat was required) butt into the Dog Run. Our other dog at the time was our sweet Jack. Jack had recently developed a bulging vertebrae that was causing him to have tremors in his back legs and some instability, and so couldn’t have gone either. (Jack’s condition was caused by a congenital defect that worsened with maturity, and eventually caused complete paralysis of his back legs. We only had him a year and had to have him put to sleep when he was only three, but he was a good, sweet, wonderful member of our family.) So, I set off alone, to the tune of mournful howling dogs, wearing an orange vest, reflector tape, and carrying mace. My husband (second husband) didn’t like it when I jogged during hunting season because there WERE strangers who would come in to hunt. I argued that they were strangers, yes, but to be hunting on our neighbor’s property I would think the neighbors would know who they were…

The first long leg of my jog was up Asper Hill. Back then I could jog the whole thing. It may not have been pretty and involved panting and sweating, but once I made it to the top I always turned around and jogged backwards for a few paces to enjoy the view. From the top of Asper Hill I could see The Big Buffalo mountain in Newport, seven miles away. I could see Middle Ridge, the next big ridge south of me, and see several lesser ridges with the sun just angling to catch the first leaf changes in an amber glow. As I headed over the top and started down to the plateau on the other side, I smelled woodsmoke as someone burned a pile of brush. The plateau is always one of my favorite places. Secluded, the corn, wheat, and soy fields often have feeding deer, wild turkeys coming up to the high land to roost, a fat groundhog that fed by the roadside, and a fox I had seen four or five times. I headed down into the first small hollow, where a few weeks ago I had seen a magnificent eight point buck standing on the edge of the woods, and took a left onto Buckwheat Rd. This part of my jogging loop has the most traffic and is bordered by houses and corn fields. As I was jogging along I heard a truck that needed some muffler work coming up the road behind me. I got way over to the side of the road. People on Buckwheat tend to drive way too fast. The truck slowed behind me and then came up beside me. I was used to people asking directions, neighbors stopping to rib me a little and tell me to jog faster, so I looked over at the occupants of the truck anticipating a pleasant little break.

Talk about Perry County scary. I live in a county that is still very much rural Pennsylvania and gets a lot of redneck and hillbilly jokes, and some of them are deserved. It’s also a county that has more than its share of artists, musicians, poets, artisans, and intelligent, literate, creative people who still have all their teeth, but the two men I found myself looking at were not examples of the latter. The first thing I noticed through the open window was the smell. A combination of very old sweat and beer fumes was radiating out of the truck. A lot of hunters will hang their hunting clothes outside to get rid of “human” smells. These guys had may have been hanging their clothes outside but if so, had neglected to ever wash them, ever. It was a mossy oak patterned fugue. Archery season was in , but these guys had rifles sitting on the floor and resting on the bench seat in between them. The driver had a few weeks worth of beard that was stained with tobacco juice. He spat out the window, just missing my shoes, and gave me a glimpse of a few yellow teeth, a few brown teeth, and lots of spaces where there SHOULD have been teeth. He backhanded off the tobacco juice that dripped into his scruff, missing most of it, and said, “What you runnin’ from there, missy?” The other guy, younger, long really greasy hair, muscular arms (he had the top of his camouflaged hunting coverall around his waist to show a ripped and stained t-shirt with the sleeves and neck cut out) and a big beer belly. I could see tufts of belly hair straining out of the rips in the shirt. This guy giggled (a nasty little sound) took a swig of beer from the can he had between his legs, backhanded the dribbled beer from his two or three day shadowed face, and repeated, “runnin’ from, he he he.” I would have, had I been a man, been hearing the theme from “Deliverance”. As it was, I felt the sweat trickling down my back become cold, and my mind start to whirl furiously with thoughts. Like, that they didn’t have a scrap of required hunter orange anywhere about them. Poachers. I don’t have much of a problem with food hunters out of season, although the government differs from me on that point, but I just didn’t have that feeling about these guys. The back of the old sea green, primer, and rust colored pickup was full of beer cans. I also thought that I don’t know them, I don’t have my dog, it’s nearly dark, and the next stretch of my loop is very isolated. I’m also calculating the best place to jump off the road and run if I need to, figuring that I am in good shape, they obviously aren’t, I know this area and the people who live here, and it’s nearly dark. I could get rid of the orange reflective vest as I ran and disappear in the woods in seconds. I’m also thinking, that might just be something that only works in movies.

Well, just them a car came along that DID have a couple of neighbors in it. They stopped to chat and my buddies in the truck moved on. The neighbors moved on too and I started jogging again. As I headed down a little hill before I made the next turn on to Knisely Hill road, I saw, around the next bend, pulled off into a field access road, the sea green truck. “Crap!”, I thought. To turn back or bypass Knisely Hill would mean several miles of jogging in the full dark. I also had to work that night and would be late. I said a little prayer and turned on Knisely. About that time I heard paw pads behind me. They were just there all at once, but I did have other things on my mind at the moment and figured I just didn’t notice. Lots of the neighbor’s dogs would come up and greet me as I jogged, but usually with a lot of barking and fuss about it. This dog was silent. I had had my hand on the mace ever since my conversation with the cretins and I turned. Trotting behind me was one of the biggest dogs I’d ever seen, and not one I recognized. He had red fur like an Irish setter, but a big woolly head and deep barreled chest like a Newfoundland. He wagged his tail, mouth open and panting, and I relaxed a little. “Hey boy”, I said. I put out my hand, palm up, in case he wanted to sniff me and be petted but he kept just out of reach. So, I started jogging again and he passed me and started loping in front of me. I talked to him, and he would turn his head and perk his ears up to listen. I was so distracted by this big, beautiful, shaggy stranger that I forgot momentarily my other not so beautiful shaggy strangers until I realized we were going by their truck. The doors opened and the younger guy got out. The driver had one foot on the ground and stood, leaning against the door. Both had beers. “Hey Missy, why doncha come talk a bit?” “He he he, yeah, come talk?” “Aw come on, we’ll give you a beer.” “Yeah, beer.” The younger guy took a few steps away form the truck and I got the impression he was either going to urinate or expose himself right there in front of me. Just then the big red dog crossed over to their side of the road. “Holy crap, lady, where’d you get the DOG!” Young guy backed slowly back to the truck and stood behind the open door. I jogged desperately on, hearing the dog’s paws behind me. Then I heard the truck start up, pull out, and turn (thank you Lord) in the opposite direction. As the sound of the un-muffled exhaust faded away I turned back to my protector, thinking that if he followed me home he was going to get the biggest, juiciest hamburger I could make before I tried to find his owners. There was NOTHING there! Now, it had only been seconds since the creeps had driven away and I had been hearing footpads behind me. I was jogging along a field of soybeans. Even though they hadn’t been harvested the dog was way bigger than they were. Even though it was now dusk, I could see clearly for some distance in all directions as I circled around looking for him. I called, “Hey, dog, red boy.” He was just gone as quickly as he had appeared.

Did I have an angel? Was he a ghost? I asked around over the next several days, thinking maybe someone had guests up to hunt who had brought their dog. I also asked about the sea green truck. And, I changed my jogging times and course for awhile. Sometimes when you need a little miracle, you get one. There have been two or three other times since, when I have been out walking, that I have THOUGHT I heard footpads behind me. Once I was so sure of it I put out my hand in back of me expecting a friendly lick. Nothing. I almost expect to hear a story one day about a big red dog that some old farmer owned generations ago…

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