Moonshine and Dog Days



Finally. After an entire year's wait...I met the Moonshiner.

The stars and planets aligned. We were standing in the middle of the lane in front of the cabin, talking about pumps and wells, when Joe broke into a broad grin.

"Here he comes," he said softly. "Right on time."

A battered navy blue pickup rounded the corner, a Z.Z Top look-alike at the wheel.

I was about to meet a local legend, after months of listening to stories about his wild adventures, our paths converged.

I suppose it took a year for him to decide I was all right people.

We stood around the bed of his pickup, drinking beer and talking trash.  Darkness overspread the holler.  Fireflies danced in the fields behind us and one by one, the peeps began to sing.

Mert allowed as how she'd seen another big old black snake in the pond.

"This one didn't chase the dog," she said.



"Hell," the Moonshiner scoffed.  "Snakes cain't hurt you none when they're in the water."

"Huh?" Mert said, clearly puzzled.

The Moonshiner reached in the cooler for another beer and popped the top. At a quick glance, he looks the part- with his long, shaggy gray beard and wild hair. But I like his eyes.  Kind, wise and not above foolin' a couple of city girls.

"Snakes," he said finally, "even your poisonous ones, cain't hurt you if they bite you while they's in the water.  Their venom don't work."

"No way!" I said.

"Sure is," he said, taking a long draw on his beer. "But then you got to be extra careful of snakes between the 4th of July and Labor Day on account of that's when all your snakes is blind."

"Blind?" Mert echoed.

"Yep," he said, nodding. "Sure are.  But their hearing and sense of smell is extra sharp to make up for it. If they bite you during that time, you got trouble 'cause that's when their poison's double strong."

He looked me right in the eyes as he spoke, his gaze never wavering and said, "That's why they call 'em the Dog Days, on account of the snakes."

The Moonshiner was such a spellbinder it was a full 48 hours before I even thought to ask "Dog days? What do blind snakes that have to do with dogs?"

Of course, by then, the Moonshiner was long gone.





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Water, Water Everywhere?

Was the invasion of the honeybees not enough excitement?

Tuesday the spring box ran dry.

One minute water- the next, dry.

This led to the arrival of the local well man, Skeeter.


There was a well on the property but the soil is so sandy, it caved in as they were drilling it. Miraculously, this flooded the dry spring box with water, solving the problem and eliminating the immediate need for a well...Until now.

Skeeter hoped he could get the old well to work.  "Maybe I can gravel pack it so the sand and rock don't get into your water line," he said. "That'd be better than having to drill a new one."


But sadly this was not to be.  The old well burbled, sputtered and spat out a few gallons only to die off down to nothing.

We would need to drill a new well somewhere on the property where there is less sand.

Which is when Skeeter brought out the diving rods.




Skeeter took off across the lane, up to the highest elevation of my field and began to pace.  He muttered to himself and raked up a few patches of dirt before declaring his rods indicated there were three caverns beneath the ground where he stood.

"Now, whether there's water in 'em, I don't know, but with three we should have a shot."

He said his brass rods could indicate anything from water to electromagnetic fields, so it made me a bit anxious when I realized the spot he'd selected was directly beneath the phone wires. 

Still, he walked to and fro, checking and rechecking and as he has the best reputation in this area for finding water, who was I to question?



Even Skeeter's truck is full of confidence...


Now it's off to the Health Department for a well-drilling permit. Then there's the wait for an inspector to become available to inspect the future site. Then we have to wait our turn in Skeeter's busy schedule...It's looking like a long, dry summer.


The Local, Country Buzz

Around here it's like this- We drove in to the Rocky Mount Farmer's Market to see about some fresh, local produce and entered into a 20 minute conversation that began with "Do you know of any beekeepers in the area who might be willing to take some bees out of a hive in an old log cabin?"

Somehow the conversation, mostly unintelligible for a number of reasons, none the least of which was dialect, the early morning hour and baby boomer hearing, went from there to a discussion of gas prices and electric cars.

But 20 minutes later we left with 2 sweet onions, some new potatoes and a mission. We were to drive "You know o'var where Highland Street is don't cha?" To which I nodded yes but really had no idea. "Well, when you see Diamond Street turn on it." Never found Highland but found Diamond Street right away. "Well, it dead ends out past the railroad tracks, back near where Furnace Creek is. You know where that is right?"

I nod.

"Well," the Farmer's Market guy says. "Out there, there's a feller, I don't rightly know his name, but he drives an electric car. Says he gets 220 miles to the gallon. Says that's the way we're all goin', to electric. Now you see, he's got a governor on that thing. Only goes about 35 miles an hour, but if the governor was off, he could do regular speed and faster."

I smile. "Wow."

"Yep. Anyways, he's a beekeeper. He lives out on Diamond Street somewheres, like I said, I don't rightly know his name but he's got that white electric car with a yeller light on top, on account of it don't go no more than 35 miles an hour, and when you find the car, you found him. Maybe he can help you."

And you know what?

I found the guy and he was absolutely wonderful. A font of bee-ly information. There are at least 5 kinds of mites threatening honeybees. Wax moths can do them in too. Feral bees don't really thrive in houses, or apparently anywhere anymore because of the aforementioned hazards. "If you can put up with them," he offered. "They'll most likely be gone in a year or two. They'll die off. And if they don't, you should call Virginia Tech because they'd like to know about hardy feral bee swarms." Then he and his wife offered to call the Martinsville Beekeeping group.
His wife, Jeanette, said now was not the time to try and move a swarm because they wouldn't have time to regroup before the cold set in and froze them. She also added the bees can be right cranky this time of year because the flowers aren't as plentiful.

They said we shouldn't kill wasps as they clean up the dead bee bodies and that ants take away the excess honey from old hives. "You see, it's a right efficient system nature's got going and pesticides and poisons only endanger it."

There was no convincing needed here- Still, it was lovely to meet such someone who could explain everything in such a plainspoken, well-thought out manner.

"Don't worry about honey dripping down your walls like they show on TV," Jeanette said reassuringly. "It takes years for something like that to happen."

I left feeling the little log cabin is blessed to have such a rare group of cranky, summer campers.


Any Beekeepers/Bee Removers Out There?


It appears to me a bunch of the old moonshiner's honeybees have returned to haunt my little log cabin. 

I suppose after all these years, they're really feral bees- but still, they need to reside somewhere other than in the walls of my house.

So, if anybody out there know of a good beekeeper or bee removal service in the Ferrum or Floyd vicinity, please drop me a line. I'd be much obliged.

With the scarcity of our bee population, I sure like to see them find a good home.


An Entire Week of Country Life




Tomorrow I'm off for an entire week in the little cabin in Southwest, Va.  Maybe I'll be able to do something about the garden...


Yeah, right.

Wait until you see the poor withered tomato plants attempting to grow out of the "Self-Watering" planters- the expensive ones I ordered from the gardening catalog. When I saw them last week, I think I was too traumatized to snap a photo.

That's what comes of being an "absentee" gardener, I suppose.

But my absenteeism has been good for the Eastern Phebe, nesting above the back door. My friends who went up and stayed last weekend reported she was right upset to find them trying to share the porch with her.  Must be a little family up there in that nest.

Always a silver lining!




Happy Father's Day From Down Here



I think a lot about Dad. The only way I get by without him some days is to remember that we, his children, are the living testament and monument to his life.  We honor Dad now by being the best people we can be.

My brother is making dad proud. 

You see, he gets it.  He understands it's all about family. 

Dad would drop everything when we all piled in to visit. He'd go to any and all lengths to insure everyone was happy.

My brother's just like Dad. He'll do anything for his kids and his family...No request is too much or too little...




Maybe it's in part genetic.



Why else would my brother and I affect French accents to become "The World Famous Mr. David and Princess Fritzi," the design team in charge of constructing this lovely castle?


We did it for them...


My brother cooks like Dad did...seasoning his meals with laughter and unconditional love.

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John tells funny stories about his life and, without meaning to, teaches us not to take ourselves too seriously and that it's all right to try and fail.


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Dad never pried. I don't know how he did it, but I doubt there was a thing about us he didn't know.  We opened up and told him everything and he never had to ask. He was the loving, non-shaming father who made us feel safe.




And my brother is just like him.


Happy Father's Day, John!






We Have Green Beans!


This is the year of the Grand Agricultural Experiment. First we planted packet after packet of seeds. 

Huge success.

Fifty thousand seedlings poked their tiny head up through the little peat pellets.


Note to Self- Unless you are going to plant 50,000 tiny seedlings, there is really no need to plant that many seeds. Your back will ache. Your garden will swarm with too many baby flowers and vegetables.  Your friends will see you coming, your arms full with yet another box of seedlings and...they will run away.



Then you will become one of those lonely little old ladies who stands amidst her wild and unruly cottage garden, talking to herself.

But I digress...

We planted gardens up at the cabin and here in town.

Guess what?

The plants here on the patio are doing better than the ones we carefully stuck in the ground and surrounded with 8' deer wire fencing.


You know why?

Because we live here.

Because here there are people to man the garden hoses for when the temperature reaches over 100 degrees.  Because there is always someone to say "Look, the basil's burning. Let's move it."



Basil tenders.

Now there are beans- plump, crisp, verdant, flavorful beans...all 18 of them.

Note to self- If you're going to raise beans, be sure to put in enough plants to yield a dinner-sized serving for more than one person.


Life.  It's just one big "growth" opportunity...




Of Old People and Archaeologists



The mercury had to have climbed to 100 degrees this afternoon.  No one was out unless they had to be.  The flowers lining the beds in the back yard furled up their petals and hung their heads.  Even the foundations plants seemed to have picked up their roots and edged closer to the house.

Ever since I got pregnant with the Eldest Unnamed One, I haven't been able to stand the heat.  So imagine my disappointment at learning about the Big Dig happening just around the corner from my house.

As part of Greensboro's Bicentennial Celebration, an archaeological survey is being undertaken at the site of David Caldwell's old homestead.  On the news this morning, they even said volunteers were welcome today and tomorrow.

What an opportunity to learn about exploring old homesites for historical information!

But not in this heat.

The archeologists are some brave folks- enduring these record-setting temperatures to uncover "nails, bottle fragments, pieces of decorated pottery and lead-glazed earthen ware, burnt animal bone, brick fragments, lead shot and a pig tooth."

I find it utterly fascinating...walking in the footprints of our past, wondering and learning about the day to day lives of people we will never know. 

Maybe that's why I like my work with the Old Guys so much...I'm walking along behind them, trying to fit my smaller feet into the tracks of their much larger footsteps- hoping some of their wisdom and experience will rub off.

I suppose the only difference between me and the archaeologists is that I'm trying to catch the disappearing hem of history while its still here. 

Why is it the Old Guys are only really fascinating to the world after they're gone? 




Tuesdays at the Nursing Home- Darla Strikes Back

At first she tries to be nice about it.

"This is a lovely place you've got here," she tells the aide. "And the food was delicious, but I have to get on home."

She checks her Sunday hat in the mirror, ignoring the reflection of the watchful aide behind her. With slow deliberation, she picks up her handbag and turns to leave.

By now the social worker has been called. She steps inside the room, placing herself between the elderly woman and the open door.

"Darla, they're having church this evening. Mary just wants to get you cleaned up before the service starts. We'd love for you to stay."

The social worker is well-intentioned. She edges even closer, trying not to sound as if she is yelling as she raises her voice because Darla is extremely hard of hearing. "I know you like to look your best but, well, frankly, you do smell a bit..."

The social worker never gets to finish. Whap, whap, whap! Darla raises her cane and rains three quick blows down on her new foe. For a tiny lady in her 90s, Darla is strong and deadly accurate with her weapon.

"She got me right behind my ear the other day," her aide, Sally, says later. "And my head is still ringing! They wanted me to file an incident report but I couldn't do that."

"She really packs a wallop," The social worker agrees. "I haven't been hit like that in years!"

And they smile, both of them. They seem proud of their tiny charge, not a bit patronizing or condescending. This is the respect due a worthy adversary. "I like the feisty ones," the social worker confides.

Later, when Darla falls asleep, the social worker steals her cane. It is replaced with a new, lightweight walker. "I'm a big chicken," she confides. "I snuck in when she was taking her nap, grabbed the cane and ran!"

Darla hasn't survived this long without having skills. She lived alone until recently, until her stepson discovered a crack addict had moved in and was slowly siphoning off Darla's food and medication. That's when Billy decided something had to be done and moved her into the nursing home.

Darla has been in the home for a month now but she still wolfs down her food as if expecting the plate to be jerked out from under her.

"Oh, Lord," Sally murmurs, with a sad shake of her head. "That first shower, the water ran black, she was so filthy." She clucks her tongue and glances down the hall toward Darla's room. "The ones living in that house where she was were just terrible to her, just terrible." Sally sighs. "She's started putting some weight back on. She's not all skin and bones, like when she came in. It's a lot better for her here."

But Darla doesn't think so.

She's lost her home and doesn't realize how close she came to losing her life at the hands of strangers.

Her stepson lives too far away to look after her, so he has done what he thinks is the next best thing. He has "disposed" of Darla's "assets," her home and belongings, and brought her to live in the nursing home. She will be safe-er here and her stepson will feel less guilty.

Day to day, when she has no visitors to remind her of what once was, Darla likes her new accommodations.

Her roommate dotes on her, believing Darla to be her mother. This is remarkable as the roommate had the reputation of being the meanest lady on the hall, a woman who couldn't be bothered to make friends and who would like as not cuss you out for smiling in her general direction.

Darla has changed all that.

"Mama?" the roommate asks gently. "Have you had enough to eat? Can I get you anything?"

But Sylvie can't help her make-believe mother.

Darla longs for the home of her remembrance- and a time that has vanished without fair warning.


It's Been a Year...

A year since I first found the little cabin in the woods...


A year of greens...




A year of sitting out in the swing and doing nothing much at all.




A year of watching things sprout and grow...


A year of wondering about those who came before...





It's been a year since I found the cabin with no phone, no mail, no T.V and no worries.



And I, for one, am grateful.




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