91. Brains and Potatoes

Bloggerts, this is post # 91. I recently printed out the paper copy of this blog for easy reference and it amassed an amazing 160 pages! My printed blog weighs more than an adult brain, but don’t trust me. Groliers Encyclopedia says the adult brain weighs 14 oz., less than a good-sized baked potatoe. It’s disturbing or awe inspiring, depending on your point of view and medication levels, that a potatoe outweighs an adult human brain. It is not the weight of the brain or the potatoe that matters, though. It’s what you do with each. Some folks fire potatoes out of PVC pipe cannons. I’m not sure why. I suppose it is connected to catapulting pumpkins and Monty Python’s Holy Grail. I believe you can also make vodka out of potatoes. Let’s just dial up an internet recipe unaltered by my human hands.

================================================================           Potato Vodka Making Process

First you need to peel the potatoes, you will need around 1kg of potatoes for a litre of vodka.
Next thing is to chop the potatoes into small pieces, around 1cm cubes should be fine.
Next you will need to use a pressure cooker and put all of the potato cubes in the pot with quite a lot of water, more than enough to cover the potatoes.
Please be careful as pressure cookers are very dangerous if you dont know how to use them then ask someone who does.
Now once the potato is disolved into the water let it cool down and strain the potato leaving loads of potato juice which will become your potato vodka.
The next part is to distill the potato juice and get single distilled vodka. Really you need a distillery but if this is home made then you will need to make a distillery.
Not that difficult really, the basic idea is to heat the juice and capture the steam and collect it which forms your potato vodka.
So you just need to find a big pot, with a lid that connects to a pipe and a container that can collect the vodka.
Once that is complete, you can distill it a few more times using the same process and you will end up with the best and cheapest fall over juice imaginable. But I hold no responsibility for what you do with it. Remeber to drink responsibly.
I love the disclaimer. “Now that I have told you how to destroy your mind, drink responsibly. REMEBER!! just in case you did not meber in the first place.”
Now are you beginning to see how potatoes and the human brain collide, perhaps even altering history in their collision.
Let’s consider Russia. Where would this country be on the world stage if not for vodka consumption?   I think it is safe to say that the collapse of the Soviet Empire came not from outside forces but from liver failure among the millions of drunk soldiers and tank commanders in the late ’80s. They retreated from the pressure cooker of Afghanistan not because of their massive losses but because they ran out of potatoes.
Here’s another bit of lifted material from a Russian Alcohol website.
[And Russians do drink — in public — at any time of the day. Men and women, young and old, buy tiny bottles of hard alcohol at kiosks on their way to work; women push baby carriages with one hand while holding a liter can of beer in the other, and teenagers sit in parks during the middle of the day, drinking vodka straight out of the bottle. It’s not just that people are drinking all the time, everywhere; they want you to drink too, said Becca Dalton, an American expat who teaches English.”I think it’s pretty difficult not to drink in Russia,” Dalton said. “The first year I was here I had a real problem with it because everyone was offering me alcohol everywhere we went. If you refused, everyone looked at you strangely. I worked at school and they would pull me out of class to go and drink champagne and vodka, and then we’d go back and teach again.”]

Imagine the quality of that teaching and learning combination. No small potatoes there.
But on the other side of the latke, there is the problem with human brains. What do you do with yours? Do you exercise and think and speak and create and memorize? Are you laying down neural pathways all the time? Or are you killing off brain cells by reading blogs, facebooking, eating sugar, watching Fox News, smoking, drinking, and generally acting like a slug? Only you can answer these questions. Remeber, think responsibly. Don’t shoot your brain out of a PVC pipe cannon or launch it from a catapult into a pumpkin patch, no matter how cool that may appear.
Instead, comrade bloggerts, keep reading this highly stimulating blog and conquer the world by using your 14 ounces for the good of mankind.

90. Stuck

The slow moving storm has closed my coffee shop. Now it’s on. A coffee shop is exactly where one is supposed to be during inclement weather. Just ask someone from Seattle or Amsterdam or Helsinki.  I’ve never been to any of these cities, but I imagine there are folks hunkered down in coffee shops during historic storms all the time, working on their laptops, chatting, playing chess, and smoking pipes. I hate to be whiney and self serving in the middle of an historic meteorological event; however, I am missing the warmth and camaraderie that usually exists there.  Who will temper my grandiosity? I fear for my family’s sanity if I have to be trapped with them for two or three days without power.

Years ago in 1996 my family and I were snowed in by a late February snowstorm that dumped 30″ on our house. The first day or two were fun. We baked, played a few games, played in the snow, etc. Then we did a 3-D jigsaw puzzle of an elaborate house. It took time and the cleverness of my wife and oldest daughter to figure out the intricacies of the interlocking pieces. Then time began to drag. My wife was getting unusually grumpy. We did not know that she had a surprise getaway weekend planned for my 40th birthday. It was that much of a surprise.

My daughters and I decided to change the atmosphere and hold a beach party in our large dining room. We moved plants into the room, removed furniture, wore Hawaiian shirts and put down towels. We played summer music and put on sunscreen for the smell and that powerful association with hot sunny days. It was  a fun time in late winter, and my wife finally coughed up the reason for her consternation while dancing to Good Vibrations. We did eventually go on that getaway and it was memorable in the other direction.

Another adjustment to the weather occurred in January 1993. Again it was unbelievable amounts of snow. It was the only time in my life that I have ever shoveled snow off my roof. However, the weather folks on television were warning us to do so in order to avert roof colllapse from the excessive weight. It was another week or so being stuck in the house. On Sunday we could not get out to church so we decided to hold a service in our living room with my oldest playing hymns on the piano. We read a couple of Bible passages and prayed. Then my daughter Grace, ever the pragmatist, came around with a plate for the collection. I didn’t see that coming at all, but I put something in the plate. It’s funny what constitutes the essential elements of worship to a six year old.

Last night we had some drippage in that same dining room where we had danced 16 years ago, apparently caused by a backed up gutter not a lightning strike. All told we have averted structural, familial and societal collapse as the Epic Storm of 2012 moves north. No loss of power, water, life or limb. I realize others were not so fortunate, which is why I count my blessings this morning.

89. Stormaggedon

It’s the storm of the century, again. And we all need to be prepared for the ominousnessity of it all. Fill your car with gas, your fridge with milk, your tub with water, and your heart with fear. I’m a bit skeptical, as usual. I recall too well the Y2K hysteria. At least those folks have generators and 13 year old canned food. And ammo I imagine, because the Doomsday crowd always seem to find a way to warn against urban mayhem and the breakdown of our post-modern society. Dark city dwellers will somehow wander the streets and find your rural home to invade. They are going to roam aimlessly but somehow directly to your castle. Therefore, you must be fully armed and vigilantly bunkered down. I don’t get this “reasoning”. It seems to go something like the following chain:

A. Bad weather knocks down power lines.

B. Loss of electricity inconveniences millions.

C. Despite rescue efforts and evacuation centers aplenty, the restless urban dwellers decide to walk into the countryside to scavenge food, raping and pillaging along the way.

D. Why? Because Monday Night Football wasn’t broadcast? Because their x-boxes run on electricity? No one seems to know why urban dwellers would reverse a century old migration pattern and return to the farms they fled in the Industrial Revolution, but by God they will. Inexplicably, overnight the 47% who are tethered to government dependence and a welfare mindset are going to rise up like strong Tea Party patriots and surge into the rolling rural hills and meadows to take back what is inalienably theirs.

Wait a minute! You can’t have it both ways:  either these folks are lazy good for nothings or they are the seething unwashed hungry proletariat.

How do you get from bad weather to the end of society as we have known it? Even in the Great Depression with millions unemployed and shanty camps all over the country, hobo villages and train hoppers galore, there was no such uprising. And I think those folks were less educated with less to lose than the roiling dark urban masses of today. And how about the suburanites? Are they going to flood the farms and fields and woods to eat berries and kill groundhogs for survival? I’m not seeing it. And the nearly rural, are they going to wander to the remote areas of Montana and pillage those folks?

For the “plan” to work, you need massive doses of FEAR pumped into the masses, whoever they are. Now I don’t know of anyone who is urging the urban masses to take to the highways and byways minus a GPS to break and enter and pillage and burn out the haves while removing their wealth from them. I am aware of Right Wingnuts urging the righteously anointed suburban and rural dwellers to prepare for such social meltdowns led by the Antichrist Barack Obama. Oh yes, there is this election fever operating at the same time, and I am certain that End Timers are reading the tea leaves to show that even weather patterns are aligning to bring about the Final and Terminal and Real Last Time End. Plus, if the Antichrist wins re-election, then they can blame Global Warming and the manipulation of weather for political gain.

I can see the headlines of November. “Did the Dems have NASA fake weather forecasts?”  “Was the Weather Channel in Bed with Administration?” “Have You Seen Donald Trump’s Hairpiece?” or if Mitt wins, “Romney’s Friends in High Places Deliver”. “Blue States Hammered by Weather Hints of Manipulation”. “God Votes Thru Hurricane Sandy”. “Wall Street Under Water for Mitt’s Ascent”. “The Ultimate Watergate”. But, I almost forgot, in the aftermath of Stormaggedon there will be no internet, no newspapers, no recounts, no government. It will be primal self serving survivalism everywhere. The NRA will see itself recognized finally as the reigning party, and those with ammo and camo will move to the top of the food chain. Whew, that is reassuring. For a moment the forecast was looking bleak.

88. Amish Magpies

A fair number of Amish live outside of our little town of Chambersburg, along the western hills toward Cumberland, Fulton and Huntingdon Counties. It’s not unusual near Shippensburg to pass horsedrawn buggies on any given day, but especially on the weekends. They farm when possible; however, not everyone has the wherewithal to farm without electricity and internal combustion engines. Farming is hard enough with all the advantages of modern technology. Now take it all away and you have the Amish predicament. As a result of the limitations, many Amish work in sawmills or run kennels or greenhouses. Many work in construction even though they are not permitted to drive a car or truck. Non-Amish drivers are hired to motor these industrious folks around.They work hard and close to the ground, hoping to stay close to God in their humility. But they are still humans and prone to the same frailties and temptations that the rest of us endure. Why just listen now and again and you’ll hear the familiar call of human magpies.

Gossip is alive and well in the Amish. Without house phones and facebook, they rely on the old fashioned face-to-face facebook, where Emma heard from Esther that Enos’s sister is expecting again in the spring. Lots of talk goes around as quick as the buggy can go. But don’t expect any Jerry Springer dramas. Amish don’t confront one another openly. They have a careful way of talking indirectly around things.Since each member of the community church is the insuror for every other member, debts and medical bills are often split up and paid for by the community. This is good charity until it leads to unsolicited advice. “Why don’t you just go to Doc Farmer instead of all the way to a big city specialist? Why he’s as good any of them and cheaper too.”

“Doctor Ford does all our doctoring. He’s a chi-ro-practor. He can even read your energy and give you a bottle of pills for changing it.”

“Why would anyone want a second opinion? Was the first one worn out?”

“It wonders me sometimes that everyone knows my business before I do.”

And where two or three are gathered in the Lord’s name, there is likely to be grumbling.

“He does nice work, don’t you think, Jacob?”

“Yah, but not much of it, Mose.”

“Yah, but don’t tell him, Aaron. He’ll be gettin’ a big head.”

And pride is alive and well, though well disguised. It’s abundantly clear who owns what and whose voice carries the most thunder. Just like in the secular society that surrounds them, one’s bank account trumpets his communal worth. “Amos’s boy has chrome rivets on his buggy reins.”

“He’ll get rid of them once he’s married and starts his beard.”

“Yah, he’s pushin’ his oats. Amos was the same way.”

“I heard he went all the way to the Cheasapeake Bay for a day of fishin’.”

“So I heard the same. True. ”

“A big boat for six or more of the boys from the shop, so I hear.”

“Yup, that’s some salty fish, so it is.”

“And is there no work to do at home? And no money for raises?”

“Yup, salty fish, Isaac.”

“We’ll see when the snow flies and the cows come  home to roost.”

“Oh, Amos will be hunting then, just like the last two years. I’ve never known a man what had to hunt so much as Amos.”

“Elmer, don’t upset the bucket now.”

“Who’s upsetting the bucket, Josiah?”

“Well, nobody if you stop while you’re behind then.”

No television, radios, computers, phones, stereos, cars, movies, x-boxes, or entertainment centers, etc., leaves gossip out there as a cheap and steady social fuel. If you demand uniformity of people, just like in private schools, the military, hospital staff, etc., the smallest little things will bring unmerited attention because there is no competition. One green bush in the desert will draw visitors like Mecca draws pilgrims to the haj. A sprig of hair, a loose bonnet, a racy color…will bring gasps, glares, or gawks, whispers, rumblings, grumblings, and modern stonings with gossip rocks. People are still people. Small things don’t have to make us small people, however.

Clip-clop, clip-clop. “Who’s that now?”

“Oh it’s Robert’s boy, Reuben.”

“I’ll bet he’s courtin’ that Sarah Meuller from the store.”

“That’d be about right.”

“I remember when you courted me in Dad’s barn, Joe.”

“So I did.”

“And we sat on the hay for two hours just talking our hearts out.”

“I suppose we did then.”

“Yah, and you talked and talked. Like you never have since.”

“Guess I said all I needed, Leah.”

“Well, I hope not. I still need to hear your voice now and again.”

“And so you will, Woman. So you will.”

87.Grey clouds behind the gold-kissed hickories…

Grey clouds sprawled across the morning sky as I came to a stop at the top of my hill. Hickories gushed pale gold leaves. Maples shed orange laquer drops of blood. The oaks stubbornly held their ruddy/green leaves. Classical music played low on my car radio–Brahms, I think. It all fit together along with the cold rain drops on my windshield. Change is coming briskly from over the western mountain range of the Cumberland Valley where I live. The low sun is crowded out and grows weaker by the day, demoted to a spectator till late March. Halloween will come next week; so I guess this is the prelude to the night of the dead and the release of burdened souls; or else another election if there is a difference.

Thinking back to past Halloweens I have a favorite memory of walking with my oldest daughter Erin in her princess costume. My wife was home with our second daughter Grace, who would have been an infant at the time; Erin would have been six. As we crossed a corner yard in the dark, I asked Erin where she thought she’d be in the future when she was an adult. “Where will you live, Honey?” In her very serious six year old voice she replied, “In a nursing home”.

I laughed at the sober absurdity of my too serious daughter. I asked her, “Why a nursing home?”  She responded, “Because Mommy works in a nursing home”. And this was true and logical…just funny given the context. And I suppose her sobriety was not funny at all. She had always been the serious observer of life and still is.

I am eating the only pear that our pear tree produced– a crisp and delicious golden Barlett. It reminds me that when Erin was an infant, my wife and I walked with her in an old baby buggy with big rubber tires. We were so poor at that time that we picked up the pears that had fallen from the tree on the grounds of Scotland School for Veterans Children. We put them in the buggy next to our infant daughter whose wise eyes took in everything. Later my wife canned them or made pear and applesauce for us to supplement our meager groceries. I wonder what baby Erin made of cold pears rolling next to her little body.

We had a dog named CoCo back then. He was an affectionate sheltie collie mix. He had this habit of getting excited and jumping around on his back legs, bouncing like a miniature kangaroo. This was cute except that we lived on the second floor apartment with a 22 foot drop from our back porch. (Yes, I got out the tape measure to confirm the distance.) One day as we were bringing up groceries from our classic 1970 Volkswagen squareback, Coco began his tap dancing and danced right off the porch. When he hit the concrete pad below, his hip socket blew out and he became lame. Somehow he carried on with only an occasional slip of his hip bone for a couple more years. He was run over by three different cars before he cashed out his dog chips and went to dog heaven.  It was a sad day.

Today is not a sad one; it can’t be. I am freed up to wander through my memory banks picking up pears and pearls of great value, a precious moment with my precious daughter, and a farewell to a good dog. Fall has always exerted magic on my moods, usually with negative results. Not today. Life may be a darker oil painting, a Corot maybe, but it’s still a masterpiece.


All along the walkway I see chrysanthemums in bloom. They are truly late bloomers,  broad bushes of green spilling over with heavy bursts of pink, purple, yellow, rust, blood red, white, and combinations that pop. There is an anthem in chrysanthemums that sings of glory which finally erupted before the frosts and snow of winter’s grim reaping turn all to black and gray. And I imagine each one is a beautiful fifty eight or sixty eight year old human who embraces life. Late bloomers who were too skinny, too poor, too awkward, too fat, or not good enough in some arbitrary category that was prized in its day…they have come into the glory years of their lives. Life has crowned them with some victory of health or luck, perhaps. And then maybe they are just doing what they’ve always done while everyone else was duly impressed with tulips and daffodils and irises. Soaking up the sun miraculously, humbly digesting dirt and water. Gone now, buried in their bulbs are the spring prima donnas while the chrysanthemums reign in gardens and claim walkways as their pedestrian picture frames.


I was walking in my back yard years ago with my beloved daughter Jess. She is a holy savant, an angel who trills opera tunes in her bedroom and faithfully prays with our dog in the morning. She has been learning delayed and was always in special classes for her impairment. Still, she yearned for the skills and freedom of her older sisters. As we walked around looking at the flowers in early summer, she said, “Dad, why am I delayed? Why can’t I do what other girls do easily?”

I felt a poetic dart in my aorta and blood gush out of my throat. I wanted to take her in my arms and squeeze affirmation into her bones, to tell her with pride what she does do so well. I didn’t. Instead I took a deep breath and saw a beautiful purple iris standing tall near our pond. I said, “Jess, look at that iris. Isn’t it a beauty?” She agreed that it stood tall and majestic. “This iris is you, Jess. It’s your favorite color and it’s a late bloomer. Do you think it worries about what all the tulips and daffodils and primrose did? No. It stands far above them in her beauty. They are gone and this iris is the queen of the garden now.”

That dart hit her heart, only she swelled up with affirmation from the metaphor. Ever since she has repeated this truth, “I am a late bloomer” with a smile on her beautiful face and a flash in her eyes. “I am a late bloomer” is an explanation, a contextual aid not an excuse. No excuse is needed for a victorious purple iris.


THE MEANING & SYMBOLISM OF     chrysanthemum

With a history that dates back to 15th century  B.C., chrysanthemum mythology  is filled with a multitude of stories and symbolism.  Named from the Greek prefix “chrys-“ meaning  golden (its original color) and “-anthemion,” meaning flower, years of artful cultivation have produced  a full range of colors, from white to purple to red.  Daisy-like with a typically yellow center and a decorative  pompon, chrysanthemums  symbolize optimism and joy.  They’re the  November birth flower,  the 13th wedding anniversary flower and the official flower of the city of Chicago.  In Japan, there’s even a “Festival of  Happiness” to celebrate this flower  each year.

A symbol of the sun, the Japanese consider the orderly  unfolding of the chrysanthemum’s  petals to represent perfection, and Confucius once suggested they be used as an  object of meditation.  It’s said that a  single petal of this celebrated flower placed at the bottom of a wine glass will encourage a  long and healthy life.

A long and healthy life, yes. I get it. Chrysanthemums explode as the days grow colder and shorter, like a friend of mine who is in his third marriage. No one could have scripted the joy he found in the accepting eyes of his Pat. Chrysanthemum love is potent and heavy as a funeral bouquet. It will lie down with you  on your deathbed.

85. Ownership

Who owns a story? Is it the person(s) who lived it, you know, whose life is in the narrative? Or does it belong to the listener(s) who received the gift? Or in our litigious world does it belong to the guy who writes it down first? Or is it the reader of the memorialized story? Is it possible that a story can simultaneously belong to all of the above, like sunlight belongs to the sun, to the air through which it travels, to the plants and animals that soak it up, and to the spectrograph or film that documents all the component colors?

A story is like light in a dark space or sound invading silence:  First there is nothing; and then there is something indisputable. I am intrigued by the question because I record stories in this blog; not all of them are my own experience. And even if I write of my experiences, do I own them free and clear? Or do I need a waiver from all identifiable parties? I hope not; that would make the process of storytelling too cumbersome and legalistic, even less genuine.

There are facts/truths that can be proven and there are opinions, perceptions, and poetic excursions that depart readily from the facts. No one owns the facts, I know, but we all claim them from time to time for our own purposes.  I don’t own these words nor do I rent them or pay royalties of some kind. They are a gift from previous generations and cultures spanning back across history. And what a gift language is!  I suppose that I should consult a lawyer regarding intellectual property. However, I highly doubt that anyone wants to steal my words, my thoughts, my perceptions and befuddlements.  There is no apparent market value for them, unless you Dear Reader would like to make an offer. And if you did buy my words, wouldn’t they still be mine? You would only own the rights to them. I do need a lawyer here.

Why bother with the question? I bought an apple tree yesterday and planted it in my back yard. It will hopefully long outlive me and no longer be mine. It will convey with the property, and whoever holds the deed to this half acre will own the tree and all proceeds therefrom, i.e., red delicious apples. And my words, that were not mine to begin with, will be long gone, like 20 year old leaves from a tree, a mouldering in the whackosphere alongside all the other forgotten verbage of the millenia. But for the moment they are, like the air in my lungs, mine.

On a few occasions I was incorrectly introjected into others’ stories. Some of these perversions of truth had alcohol or substances co-occurring in the teller’s mind. In college days I was told of the time I hung out with my buddies on the famous train tressle over the James River in Richmond, when the train actually came and nearly ran us off the tressle. Only problem is I have never been on the famous tressle and would not know how to get on it. That was a fairly harmless story in which my reality was borrowed and plugged into another’s altered reality. No harm just weird.

On the other hand I have a vivid memory of my buddy Bob Evans, while running for class president of my junior high, promising daily ice cream for the masses if elected. Bob has denied this story several times. I trust his memory more than I trust mine; afterall, he was a journalist and they always tell most of the truth most of the time. But this occurred before his career blossomed. It was seventh grade for goodness sake…I think. And I believe I’d pass a polygraph test on this question. Then again he probably would too, so we would wind up tied until a witness came forward from Mark Twain Intermediate School in 1969. He lost the election which may be why he continues to stubbornly deny my truth/theory/speculation/fantasy.

So there it is– what I think is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing that is the truth.

84. Nauseastalgically

The neighborhood I grew up in was a cookie cutter tract of 300 identical homes that were just reversed in floorplans for variety’s sake. Some had carports; others had finished rec rooms. Each had an elm tree planted in front and a sidewalk out to the curb. They were all built in a year by crews that moved down the line pouring concrete, framing, wiring, plumbing, roofing, doors and windows. It was the 1950’s way, assembly line construction.

In each house were two to five kids with both parents. It was a rarity to have a single parent household in those days. One elementary school served the neighborhood then. One swimming pool. One ball field complex. I guess it was something special when it was all new. I don’t actually recall anything clearly till the early 60’s. And then it was a blur with tons of kids running all over.

There were alcoholics then, but we knew them as people first. Mr. King was legendary. He would wander sometimes looking for a drink, stopping by the neighbors’ houses hoping for a beer or better. His one redeeming action each year was the lighting of the Christmas tree bonfire in the open field behind his house. He was the unofficial fire marshall for one night each year in January, after all the older boys had collected the tinsel stripped trees and lugged them back to the enormous evergreen pile. It was a big community deal to cook hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks in the fired up January night. Parents would socialize and kids would have a thumping good time.

Mr. Murray and Mr. Emrico were juicers also, but I never saw them drunk. We sort of heard about them through the grapevine. I’m sure there were a lot of drunks off the local radar. Now Mr. Smith, who lived diagonally behind us, was a flaming, abusive drunk. He chased his wife Phyllis out of their house more than once. I recall that she spent the night in our house a few times, going back to the madman in the morning. I can still hear her New Zealand accent crying out, “Helen, he said he’s going to kill me. Oh, what am I to do?” And my mother made her tea and tried to comfort her.

He died and she remarried a nice man and moved to Florida. Mr. Smith had no redeeming qualities as far as I recall. We never went into his house, though we waited for the Catholic School bus in front of his house for years. There were mimosa trees across the street and behind his house. Their delicate scent could cover the smell of dried blood mixed with whiskey all summer long.

And we had the resident pedophile, Mr. Reynolds. He lived with his mother on the big hill on The Parkway. I don’t know how many boys he molested, many I guess. I just knew he was big and weird and too interested in the paperboy when he came to collect payment each month. Mr. Reynolds would find some ruse to waylay the kid. He kept Cokes for bait to lure young boys into his basement. He had the softest hands for a big man, according to rumors.

All the boys in the neighborhood knew the stories, but no parents did anything about him. However, some vigilante justice was done periodically by the local boys. Directly across from his house was a steep bank, too steep for houses to be built upon. And at the top of that bank was a wide field. On many occasions the local boys would launch egg attacks on Mr. Reynolds’ house and then run like Hell across that field; spread out into ones and twos; and sneak back home through bushes and backyards while Mr. Reynolds seethed and drove around in his creeper Buick, which was usually dripping with eggyolks by then. Revenge is best served poached.

In the Christmas season we dared one another to unscrew Christmas lights  and then throw the bulbs into the street in classic vandal style. We would belly squirm next to lit up trees or a fence line and unscrew sizzling bulbs while watching the front door for the resident dad. A few times we were chased by a dad, but we were quick and knew the way through the dark woods and back yards.

My personal favorite winter activity was bombing cars with snowballs. It was a thing of science and beauty to lob a fat icy snowball in the air and time it just right to hit the passing vehicle selected for abuse. Sure it was dangerous, but it was more fun for us bored boys. And like all our other activities, we knew exactly where to run to dodge the offended drivers…until the last time I did this. I hit a car from behind a big oak tree off Kings Highway. I thought I was ninja invisible, but somehow the guy I’d hit found me and grabbed me. He put me into his car with his family  and drove me several blocks to my house while yelling at me. I was reeling in panic at what he was going to do and then the repercussions over what my dad would do afterwards. The guy must have known he’d scared the pee out of me because he dropped me off at my house in a dissociated state and drove off without connecting me to my dad. Whew! I swore off that adrenaline high for the rest of my life.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up in the suburbs.

83. Falling

It’s here– the chilly hand that blows up your shirt and tells you to get a sweater. The low sun that hits your eyes while driving at 4 p.m. Brilliant gold explosions off windows and chrome. The angles are all different, shadows longer…and it feels good to walk indoors. Brisk, chipper, crisp, sharp, raw…outside after the first frost has come like a minor angel of death, killing the tender leaves on vines in the garden…it feels good to be inside.

Today I dug up the sweet potatoes. I didn’t have to. I figured that the next opportunity I had could be a rainy day or a colder day than this. I did not want to have them freeze over the winter or try prying them out of frozen ground in December. It was a practical decision. I’d prefer to uproot them at the last possible moment, just before baking them or boiling them at Thanksgiving. Oooh, sounds so gourmet Martha Stewart but impractical. I compromised. I doubt that it will matter at all when the time actually comes to eat them baked with buttery brown sugar or boiled and mashed. Mmmm–mmm.

Putting things away, bringing in the summer chairs, closing out the garden. Here in south central Pennsylvania we have many weeks to get ready for the bitter cold of winter. Some years I recall cutting the Christmas tree in a sweatshirt and shorts. Other years were dark and angry days punching you in the face with pissed off polar air. No matter the intro; freezing cold eventually gets here.

Being mammals we sort of hibernate inside our brick and stick caves. I don’t particularly like this seasonal shift. I’d prefer to relocate like the smart birds do, flying south to Mexico or Panama for the winter. The snowbirds aren’t just cranky old New York pensioners in Florida and Arizona. They are all of us who yearn for the warmth of the sun. What would be so bad about a wholesale southern migration for the winter, so epic that the Mexican government and all the Central American countries had to enact tighter immigration policies? We could spend a lot of Gringo dollars in the warmth of their latitudes and maybe learn a thing or two that living in the cold does not allow. I can dream, right?

Extreme politics will not erase extreme weather, though. So I settled for a nice inside day. I called Chuckles for Sunday dinner, some chess, some football on television, some conversation. We do more of this sort of visiting in the cold months. Which helps take the edge off.

I recall a late snowy Sunday evening last winter.  Chuck and the Egginator had been visiting. I walked out in the dark silence with them and just soaked in the cold stillness. From across the field behind our house came the “Who, who, who” of a Hoot Owl. I called back “Who, who, who”. It responded back. It was an awesome little nature moment without leaves or vines or grass to soften or absorb the naked ice conversation. Then off to the north I heard another Hoot Owl join the conversation, “Who, who, who”. It was magical and almost seemed like an echo or someone like me playing back the original hoots. But listening closely proved that it was another genuine owl call. And then a third owl kicked in. It was supramagical as the call made a round of three owls and one human. We laughed and listened until their little soire broke up. Then the three of us said good night.

Okay, maybe snow covered nights have some value and not all the smart birds fly south for winter. Still, I don’t like this transition of falling. No, it’s not seasonal affective disorder. It is the realization that there will be less pleasure and more pain over the next five months, and every now and again the cold hands of winter will steal a feel up my spine. “My God! I’ve been violated!”

81. Venison

So for two days I just froze in the woods. By the time the sun had warmed up the fields, the deer were nowhere to be seen. I did see a young buck in the predawn light, but once I had looked through the scope to verify his rack points, he was gone up and over the hill, heading toward the church to pray. He did not see me sitting in the office chair next to the tree. It did feel a bit silly swiveling around like George Costanza with a rifle. Okay, I felt something like embarrassment in front of the squirrels and woodpeckers. So I wandered around stealthily, hoping to warm my feet and create some mammalian confrontation, you know, shoot something on the move, like Rambo. Nothing developed. After several anxious hours I returned to the cabin.

Being in the cabin in Nowheresville with a woodstove heating the place, just realigning with nature, ahhh, what can I say? It was better than going to the chiropractor. We talked, watched some television, and went to bed early…with visions of muscular ten points in our heads. Up at three the next morning, we chowed down on toast and eggs and coffee. The news and sports did not matter. The weather mattered. Having our gear together mattered. Being quiet and stealthy mattered as we repeated our trek into the black frosted woods again.

On our second day after lunch Clark took me over to his neighbor Kenny’s hay field. We saw several does grazing at a great distance. We crawled and scurried behind hay bales, sweating in the afternoon sun. He wanted me to get my deer and here they were. The problem was that they were just over the hill, which dropped off sharply into a hunting club’s property. “If we shoot one and it runs, we won’t be able to drag it up this ravine. Or else it could straggle over to the hunting club’s land and that will create a big dust up for us and Kenny. So, shoot it in the head. Then it will drop where it stands.”

The moment had come for me to fire the big gun at a real animal. I was pumped up with adrenalin and exertion. I scoped out the doe, trying to put her head in the crosshairs while the gun bobbed around as if I were in a boat. At 100 yards my target was a wildlife postage stamp. I would have much preferred to shoot her broadside in the shoulder, but the deer are not really into customer service. I pulled the trigger and Blam! I missed. All the deer in the dale below scampered into the woods. We were done for a while. Unlike humans deer won’t come around to rubberneck about the loud bang.

On the third day at a different location– just beyond the pasture where the woods were thin– my luck changed. I had a wider view of the trails the deer travel. Clark called me to say that several were headed my way. I got ready and scanned carefully through the scope. Nothing. I waited, feet numb. Nothing. I listened keenly, nose dripping with cold. Nothing. I walked across the trail, crunching the twigs and leaves. Nothing. I scooted out near the pasture line. Nothing.  I knew I should wait longer, bear down harder, but I was losing my blood lust. So I started walking toward the cabin, its warmth, coffee and lunch and a nap. That ‘s when I saw them just at the top of the hill above me.

There were 12 or 13 does snuffling through the leaves, heads down. I was downwind from them and they did not see or smell me. I was instantly jacked up and slowly drew the rifle up. I scanned for the biggest deer in the scope. I put her in the crosshairs, dropped the safety, and Kaboom, booom, booom. My shot echoed. She dropped. The herd leapt away from her and sprinted away into the woods. My deer sort of ran with her legs in the air as I walked the forty yards the bullet had travelled across the thin woods and into her neck. She slowed down and then stopped. I was struck by her beauty and size. Her belly was loaded with fresh grass.

I called Clark. “Was that you, man? Alright! I’ll be right out with the truck.” I stood looking at my prize and took a picture on my cell phone. This was gonna be a whole new deal now. Blood and guts would follow the rather clean and distant act of shooting.

A few minutes later I saw him coming across the pasture in his pick up truck, sticking to the ruts that led back into the woods. He parked about twenty feet from where my deer lay. “Oh, she’s a beauty. Nice shot”, he added as he looked at the entry hole in her neck. “Let’s look at the other side. Holy crap!” There was a shredding at the other side of the deer where the bullet had exploded and destroyed her left shoulder and neck. “These high powered bullets are unbelievable. Will you look at that damage? Oh, ho ho. Wow.”

Clark pulled out his buck knife and explained the process of gutting the deer. He had been a meatcutter decades ago for Safeway in the D.C. suburbs. He still knew a thing or two about cutting up a carcass. “Leave all the innards for the coyotes. It will be gone by morning. I guarantee it.” We tossed the carcass minus the innards onto the bed of the truck. I felt very satisfied and tired now that the adrenalin was wearing off.

“We’ll let her cool down and then we can skin her and cut her up. It’s gonna be bloody. How’s your stomach for such things?” I didn’t really know. The closest I’d been to this much bloody meat was the beef counter at the grocery store. Needless to say the carving up of the carcass was brutal, savage, and humbling. We cut as much meat as was practical. I didn’t want to waste any part of the animal, feeling something like spiritual connectedness with the animal’s spirit. After a bloody hour, there was only the head and backbone and ribs left.  We piled all the parts into the tractor’s bucket and Clark took it all out to the field for the scavenging animals to feast on during the night. The big hunks of meat were stored in a refrigerator at the cabin for aging.

It was done. Finally. The actual shooting part took five seconds. The aftermath took hours and then more hours once Clark brought the meat back to his house for the burger making and the finer cutting into steaks and roasts. For the first time in my life I realized just how labor intensive being a carnivore is. Which may explain the deep satisfaction I get these days from eating my venison. She was a beauty.