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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Canning Tomatoes and Other Painful Processes.

September 1, 2008 at 8:00 pm (Books, Family, Uncategorized, Visit) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

The joy's of Canning

I got up fairly early this morning for me (who lives in the twilight realm of the permanent night shift worker) and the morning was so stunningly gorgeous that I actually stopped in mid shuffle to the coffee pot and noticed it. Usually the house could have been completely ransacked or have burned to the ground or there could be an insane grinning clown or flesh eating zombie waiting in the living room as I passed by and I would merely nod good morning, mumble something that ended in coffee and pass by. I’m not an all day gotta keep the buzz going cup in my hand constantly need caffeine kind of gal (unlike my Brother John), but me and my first cup have a religious communion. Sammy had opened up the windows yesterday to let in a little fresh air and save the air conditioning while I was blanching Lima beans for freezing and then canning tomato pieces. (More about that later.) But this morning, this morning was simply FINE. I did get my coffee and went out on the deck. It was cool and the mist was still hanging in the hollows. Our plumpest hummingbird was perched on the rail above her feeder. She was chirping away and gorging herself on the sugar water, preparing for the long trip south that is coming soon. When I leaned against the deck rail she hovered about two feet from my face. Probably it was the multi flowered coffee cup, or maybe the tie-dyed tee shirt of Sammy’s I’d thrown on.

After coffee I started in on the house chores. Guido (the fish) was, of course, near starvation and kept butting the glass of the fish tank to get my attention. I hung out the laundry Sammy had washed last night. We’ve had this big maroon towel for ages and the thing STILL will find the one white pair of socks or underwear or hand towel in the wash load and cleave to it until it’s nicely pink. I can firmly attest to the statement that, in Sammy’s case, real men DO wear pink. Especially when they do laundry.

Today, Labor Day, is my self declared day of rest. I did make a “To Do” list yesterday, and I have wandered over a few times this morning to look at it. It is an orderly and well executed list, but I am mutinous today and will resist its allure.

Sara Donati's Into The Wilderness

I had been down at my mom and dad’s last week helping them out after my dad’s knee replacement surgery (more about that later too) and we came back late Saturday night with two carloads of stuff. There were several boxes of produce I had canned and blanched for our freezer while I was there. I also had taken my fiddle and mandolin, chords and lyrics book, my canner in case we needed another one, all my work stuff as I’d gone there right form work, my pillow, four books I never got around to reading, a bag of clothes, my kit bag, the laptop, and my poetry book manuscript for mom to see. Sammy had come down Friday night and brought his clothes, kit bag, pillow, more canning jars, and coolers. We also brought home a gunny sack of green peppers, hot peppers, and cucumbers, a large plastic bag of shelled Lima beans, and a five gallon bucket of tomatoes. By the time all was unpacked it was after midnight. I have to say that, after five nights in the wonderfully antique slat bed in mom and dad’s guest room that creaks with every little movement and would drop slats were it not for the fact that my mom stuffed everything she could fit under it when they knew I was coming, I was ready for my own bed. I lay down on top of the soft, soft quilt that Sammy’s had forever (and may be one of the reasons I married him), stretched out in a few synchronized swimming moves, opened my book (Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness), and then vaguely remember Sammy taking off my glasses and picking the book up off my face. The home bed is good. It loves me.

That was Saturday night. Yesterday, Sunday, when God rested, I didn’t. I started by blanching Lima beans so they could go in the freezer. I didn’t have many, about two quarts of shelled beans, so it was a quick and easy matter of boiling them at a roiling boil for three minutes, immersing them in the cold water bath in the sink for three minutes, and packing them in pint bags. I then put on the stove to heat three pans of water. The biggest kettle, the medium kettle, and a saucepan. The Goldilocks of canning. While the water heated I hung out a load of laundry. It was time for the tomatoes. This is the point where Brother John should add some dire and doomy music. Canning tomatoes is simple, but it is a time consuming pain. The tomatoes are first washed off, then dipped in boiling water for half a minute or until the skins crack. I don’t have a nice canning basket (Christmas anyone? Mom? Sammy? This is your subtle hint…) so I used an old metal colander that I held with tongs in a death grip to dip the tomatoes. After dipping, the tomatoes go into a cold water bath for a minute. Doing this causes the skins to slip right off. They are then cored, skinned, and cut into pieces. This takes time and the kitchen was hot and sticky and I got a little grumpy. Sammy was out tarring the shed roof so that it doesn’t leak on the shelf where Big Fat Sherman and Mr. Carter sleep. I peeled and cored and skinned and skinned and cored and peeled until the small cuts on my hands (from picking Lima beans) stung from the tomato acid. While that was going on I had canning lids, rings, and jars in a kettle of hot (not boiling water). Once the tomatoes were ready I packed them tightly in the hot jars, using a spatula to remove any air in the pack. I added two tablespoons of white vinegar (dad does grow one low acid variety of tomato and so do we) to the top and a teaspoon of salt, leaving a half inch of head room. I put the hot lids and rings on, hand tightened them, and put the jars in the big kettle of hot water. The jars needed to be covered with an inch of water and I had maybe a gallon and a half too much water in my kettle so I dipped that excess out. I brought the water to a rolling boil and set the timer for 45 minutes after the actual boil had first started.

Then I washed my hands, took a much needed bathroom break and headed out to Sammy to grump some. The day was so beautiful that I had to forestall my grumpage and instead admire the patch job on the shed. I went back inside and washed the green peppers, dried them off, and put them in freezer bags to go in the freezer. Green peppers are simply preserved this way and can be used for cooking dishes or for stuffed peppers for several months. The hot peppers I strung on cotton cord and hung from a hook in the kitchen to dry. They dry nicely for cooking and look good, as long as they don’t hang somewhere that is dusty! I did, as Brother John can well sympathize, forget to rub a little cooking oil on my fingers before handling the peppers. Let me just say that my dad grows hot peppers that greet for the sinners in hell. Half a pepper nicely puts the heat in fifteen quarts of tomato juice. Well, I strung all those peppers, and then unthinkingly rubbed my mouth with my hand. And then rubbed my eye when the heat from my mouth brought tears to it. And then explained to Sammy, who had come inside, why I was crying and cursing as I hauled jars of tomatoes out and set them on a tea towel to cool. (My dad always puts another towel on top of the hot jars to shield them from drafts as they cool. I do too now that I saw him do that. I call it “tuck the babbies in luv”.

After all that, my loving super hubby Sammy rubbed my feet and then took me out in the cool evening air for a country ride to chase the sunset. We stopped at a neighbor’ to give her some blackberry jam, pickled beets, and tomato juice, and to talk to her son about cutting firewood off one of their farms. She gave us some peach jam and four cups of frozen blueberries from her bushes. We stopped at our “egg lady” to get some brown eggs but they were away for the holiday weekend. We did peek at her plump and happy chickens as they prepared to roost for the night. Eggs from these happy “free range” chickens (Beekeeper Dan raises them too) are like nothing that comes from the grocery store. The yolks are dark yellow, huge, and rich tasting.

When we go on our rides we seldom have a destination or route in mind. Usually we take roads as they catch our fancy, always looking for some little back road that, by chance, we’ve never been on before. In the evenings we try to head westerly. Last evening we were truly God led because we saw some of the loveliest meadows, mountain creeks, crop fields, a covered bridge, and beautifully kept farms. The sunset wasn’t spectacular, but it was ruby red. As we got out of the car the Milky Way stretched across the sky and Sammy saw a shooting star. The evening had the faintest hint of the autumn, crisp air and the smell of falling leaves, and I felt both honored and blessed in my life. I had a glass of Beekeeper Dan’s homemade strawberry/blueberry wine, listened to the Country Gentlemen singing “Fox on the Run”, the next tune I want to learn on the mandolin or fiddle, and Sammy took the book off my nose before midnight.

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