A few days ago, I found myself in Macon, Georgia.

When in Macon, I sometimes stay at the 1842 Inn, an antebellum mansion that is perfect for a weekend if you feel like playing Rhett Butler or Scarlett O’Hara. But, this time I was staying in a comfortable old place off in the woods.
As it was a crisp fall evening, I had the windows open and fell asleep early in the cool Georgian air.
Often, because of age or personal plumbing issues, I wake up in the middle of the night.

This night was no exception. But what woke me up? I laid there in the quiet, cool and listened.

Then I heard it,…the train whistle.

I looked at the clock It read 1:02.
The whistle sounded again and the train was getting closer. I felt the distinct, powerful roar of a tandem diesel locomotive. Knowing the train was only a few hundred yards away, I held my breath to hear that unmistakable  singing of steel wheels rolling on steel rails.

I tried to imagined what this freight train was hauling. Maybe some machine parts forged and crafted by Americans in Indiana. Or, maybe some coal from West Virgina destined to provide energy  to some southern city. But, I figured more probably it was hauling electronic gadgets and parts of questionable Chinese provenance.
My mind drifted as I thought about the first time I saw a long freight train. It was at my aunt’s house in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Aunt Bess was  part-time baker, part-time school teacher. Her husband, Carl was the Postmaster of the Bradford post office. They had a little house about 100 yards from the rail line. We would sometimes visit in the summer.

When we heard a train coming, us kids, siblings and cousins would run down to the tracks and wave furiously to the engineer to blow his whistle. When he did, we would shriek with delight as the magnificent machine roared by. We would then count the cars. Everybody got a different result, 89, 94, 85. Everybody but Trudy, she always got 92. Don’t know how she did it, I don’t think she could even count then, but she always said, “92.”
The train was gone now and silence once more embraced the Georgian night. I settled back to sleep.
After what seemed like a few seconds, another whistle, broke the silence as a new Macon cannonball express approached a grade crossing. I glanced at the clock. it read 3:06.
I turned on the light, picked up my iPad and googled diesel locomotives.

If they were going to keep me up with their chanticleerian arrivals, I was going to get to know them better.


Hot diggity dog

October 29, 2012

When Wendy was in nursing school in Ann Arbor, she and her roommate, Donna a pharmacology major, were always inventing new and exciting ways to stretch their food budget. Like a lot of college kids, it was all about tasting good and filling up rather than being balanced and nutritious.

This was particularly ironic one semester after they got a microwave, and  Wendy was taking her Diet and Nutrition section.
Periodically, she would call and update me about school, football and what new healthy food they had cooked up.
All this was lost to time until the other day when they were watching the baseball game and Kate was wanting something to eat.

Since there was no chocolate cake on hand, she asked Wendy what she could have. As it was in the middle of a potential rally, Wendy said there was some hot dogs and some chips in the kitchen.
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with a wave of deja vu  and told Kate, “why don’t you make what your mother used to eat in college?”
“What’s that?” she responded as she headed into the kitchen.
“Hotdog nachos, of course” I answered.
“I forgot all about them” , commented Wendy,  looking up after the red bird rally fizzled out.
“Come on I will show you how!”
About ten minutes later, while the girls were chowing down on this little known gourmet item, I asked Sydney how she liked them.
With her mouth full of hot dog, cheese and nacho chips, she gave me the thumbs up.
You know, your mother invented them in college, I informed her.
Swallowing and with a big smile on her face, she declared,
“Well, she is a genius,”

Well, this week we are pulling wire. Fencing in the north pasture.

The alphabet people have denied my plan to plant citrus trees, so we are going to grow hamburger, steak and methane producing bovines in the north pasture.

Speed is of the essence  as the taxing authorities, to feed their lustful need for cash, seem to think I have a secret plan to pave over a 180 acres and put up a Mega Mart emporium of imported Chinese consumer items. Therefore, they no doubt are looking for a reason to revoke my agriculture tax status on that pasture.

So cows it is.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a good steak or cheeseburger as well as the next guy. And watching a few Brangus bovines grazing on green grass is a bucolic and peaceful sight. But, some aspects of the cow business are well, unpleasant.
Like the first time I worked cows, about 15 years ago. Being nearly a 50-year-old tenderfoot, at the time, I arrived at the cow pens about 9:00 am after my bagel and coffee. By that hour, the cowboys had corralled the cows and were already sorting them. (These are real cowboys, with horses, hats, boots and cow poop covered spurs.) They would be insuring the cows get vet care, and certain little bulls would become little steers. Some other cows would be “directed” to the truck for that ride to market.
The thing about working cows is that it is an assault on one’s senses.

First, you hear the lowing and the cattle dogs barking. Then the smell of cattle under stress with the urine, feces and bovinian pheromones rampant. Of course, you taste and feel that cattle blood, sweat dust and dirt. On a hot day, both you and the cows are aggravated.

It is enough to make you a vegetarian.
But the real kicker is after the work is done for the day, the cowboys, drink beer and  grill up some very rare steaks to celebrate…when all I want is salad for the next two weeks!

The First Environmentalists

October 16, 2012

When I was in college, I had a classmate named, Desmond. He was an Irish country farm boy about a year older than I was. I never saw him go to class, but Des was at every social event as I recall.

On a Saturday afternoon sometimes, we would end up at the Village Inn for a beer while doing our laundry across the street. There would always be a group of local farmers in the pub and we would get into conversations with them about school and farming. I don’t recall many of the conversations, ( maybe it was the 20 cent beers) but one statement by Desmond remains in my head after all these years.

Talking about raising animals,  he said, ” If’n you be good to your cows, your cows will be good to you.”
Now I never knew for certain what “If’n” meant, but I got the drift of what old Des was saying.
Farmers were the first environmentalists. They knew that their life depended on taking care of the land and the wealth of life the land supported. They knew this millennia before there was a USDA, EPA, SWFWMD, TVA, WMD, YMCA and any other letter organization you care  to string together.
What makes me crazy is that some people from these organizations, who never took care of a piece of land in their life, never grew so much as a tomato plant, can come in and tell you what you can and can’t do on your own land.

My land is a pristine environment with abundant native flora and fauna . I have seen turkey, water fowl, deer, alligators, hawks, foxes and bobcats. The ground is rich and produces good yields when properly maintained.
We have been for more than nine months now trying to get approval to plant a few orange trees in the north pasture. The baby is past due and these unhelpful people are still producing  red tape by the truck load.
Speaking of trucks, about a mile away, there exists a 600,000 square foot , 5 story high big box distribution center with hundreds of 18 wheelers coming and going all day long. This monstrous miasma of mercantilism causes pollution, chaos and stresses the fragile environment.  Yet it is permitted to expand and flourish with the apparent consent of the alphabet kids. So much so that the DOT  has decided that they need to widen the road to 4 lanes, further upsetting the pristine environment.
Now, I know that the American consumer needs the thousands of Chinese made modern necessities that this big box regurgitates daily, but you would think that in the mist of all this chaos, that I would be permitted to plant a few carbon dioxide loving trees that would produce a healthful, vitamin rich citrus product.

Yet, the hemming and hawing continues with the government experts being “unsure” which way the water will flow after I plant the trees.

Hint: It will flow down hill, north to south as it has for centuries into Lee Branch…but apparently they can’t see the forest for the trees.

Now and Then

October 11, 2012

The other day, I was sitting in Dr. Zorro’s kitchen deciding between a healthy granola snack or a potassium laden banana, while I waited for instructions from Dr. Z on how to deal with my latest malady.  Phyllis, Chris and Jen were also there as we were catching up on the latest news.

Somehow we got in a discussion of how things are so very different now than when we were kids. It seemed like we all did things back then that would be considered reckless and borderline abusive nowadays.

Nevertheless, we survived.

We recalled being able to ride our bikes all day, (without helmets or cellphone/microchip connectivity to any parental authority) as long as we were home before dark.
Chris and Jen remembered car rides without seat belts, air bags or up armored baby seat carriers for protection. Chris had especially fond memories of speeding down the back roads towards the lake and hitting bumps that would cause momentary weightlessness, until the physics of the situation caused her to hit her head on the roof of the car, creating more laughter.
Phyllis’ youthful biological experiment made me cringe just a bit, when she described how she wanted to see if she would get a poison ivy rash by scrubbing her arm with the vile weed. She did not.
Later, while driving home, I thought back to when I was about eight and I discovered electricity by inserting a pair of tweezers into a power socket. The resultant shock caused both me and the tweezers to be shot across the room. I guess GFI circuit breakers and those little plastic kiddy covers they have now are a good things.

Or the day a few years later, despite my mother’s admonishment, I went to play in the construction site across the street. I thought it was great fun leaping off the parapet foundation and landing in the soft sand below…until I missed and landed on my arm.
Upon returning home, I explained what happened and was told it served me right. My mother, a medical professional for 20 years said, it was nothing but a green stick fracture and I needed to go sit on the porch and reflect on my wicked life.
With my arm aching, it seemed like hours went by until I heard my mother say to my father, ” I think he broke his arm, I guess I will take him to see Dr. Moses.”

Dr. Moses (he was sort of old!) took an x-ray, showed me the break and put a plaster of paris cast in place. He then told my mother to bring me back in 3 weeks and he would “saw” it off. His nurse said that will be $15.

“Saw it off!”  was all I heard. The only saw I could think of was my father’s circular saw that he used to cut 2 X 4s. I fretted for the next three weeks about how old Doc Moses was going to saw that cast off without ripping up my arm. Now that is going to hurt,  I concluded.

I guess it is a wonder how we made it though those early years of the olden days.

More Chocolate Cake.

October 8, 2012

When three-year old Sydney was told her new baby sister was coming home from the hospital and her name was Kate, she said wistfully, ” I want to be named, Cake!”

To a three-year old’s ear, Cake and Kate sound pretty close, I have to agree.
Well now Kate is nearly  twelve and Sydney is almost fifteen. And I think their parents picked the correct name for Sydney’s sister. Kate is very close to cake.

This past weekend was the Interstate Fall Festival soccer tournament. Kate’s team travelled to Illinois to compete. It was an all weekend affair with the girls playing several games in two days.  Kate’s team kept winning and kept advancing with strong defense and relentless attacking by Kate and her sister striker, Hadley.

Late Sunday saw the girls in the finals. It was a classical nail biter with Kate’s team coming out on top 2-1. The winning goal was scored with only seconds remaining on a penalty kick by Hadley when Kate was fouled in the box.

The girls won the day and the trophy (It was too big to put here) But most important of all, Kate got close to her big chocolate cake!

The Plagues of Woody

October 4, 2012

I hate urushiol oil!

For the third time this year, I have, through no fault of my own, come in contact with that disagreeable substance. The resultant outbreak of poison ivy is driving me mad.  These bouts of Toxicodendron radicans, together with my kidney stone and a case of the shingles, I believe qualifies as a tsunami of plagues on the house of Woody.

I scrupulously avoid any and all contact with the vile vine. Each time, I have been exposed, it has been through Mikey. He is my companion, friend and the unwitting carrier of my misery. He brushes up against the plant when he is chasing squirrels, rabbits etc. Then the offensive oil sticks to his fur. Since it never touches his skin, he does not know it is there. Afterwards,  when I pick him up or he sits on my lap, I get the oil on my hands, face etc.

The Poison Carrier

Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a purpose for everything under heaven. Well, aside from having been used in the manufacture of lacquer for Chinese boxes, in the past, the only purpose I find for urushiol oil is to make me miserable!

I have instituted a strict policy of a Mikey spray down each time he returns from his little frolics. However, I am not sure if this process is 100 percent effective so I am working on a miniature car wash type arrangement for him to pass through each time he comes inside. Additionally, I have become a chronic obsessive compulsive hand washer after each encounter with Mikey.

In the meantime, I am using a brobdingnagian supply of potions, lotions, cremes and sprays to attempt to stop the maddening itch. I am also trying poultices and salves and any other recommendation I receive. Most of these remedies contain alcohol which I am applying liberally both externally and internally.

Even my granddaughter, Ellie is trying to help. She suggests I put mud on my rash to make me feel better. She says it always works for her dolls.

Well, it’s worth a try, I guess.