Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Does Santa skip Newtown this year?

    I've been considering for days what the topic should be for this post.  I thought about regurgitating the story of when I met the real Santa Claus and how that dusty stranger should remind us how to act regardless of the season.  I gave consideration to poking a little fun at C & E Christians to support the notion that we should keep our Spiritual lives active year-round.  I was also trying to figure a way to talk about family gatherings and how important they are with those present now, and in remembrance of those who are gone.
    And then last Friday, a manifestation of evil made its way to the Sandy Hook Elementary School and ruined Christmas for so many families.
    I have been struggling in the wake of such a tragedy with not only how to write, but how to act in this Happiest Season of All.  Little by little, with the help of others, I am beginning to see that the joy of gift giving, the celebration of the Nativity and the fellowship of friends and family is NOT disrespectful to those in mourning, and the Christmas feelings exist in defiance of evil.
Once a year we revive the myth of a supernatural elfin reindeer herder who, within those few short hours of darkness, visits every house on Earth to selflessly leave a cache of toys for children.  We do this because we love the look on their faces and because we love the feeling of sacrificial gift giving.  Knowing full well that there are scores of presents that will remain unopened, you must wonder, “Does Santa skip Newtown this year?” 
    Mr. Rogers helped me find Santa.  He said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.” You saw the real Santa Claus in the faces of all of those who ran to help and are still there helping.
    In the aftermath of last Friday, the news, Internet and social networks have been flooded with sympathetic well-wishers offering to include those who died and those left behind in their prayers.  I have to wonder how many of those people really did say a prayer, and more importantly, when was the last time they called out to God.  We should not wait until we suffer some misfortune or witness some catastrophe (or for Christmas and Easter) to remember our Faith.  I hope you did say a prayer for those 26 souls and for all of those they left behind, but I hope, too, that you’ll say a prayer tomorrow and the next day.
    And lastly don’t postpone the opportunities to be with and cherish your friends and family.  Most of us, I’m sure, have an empty seat in our heart for those who will not be joining our holiday meal.  I know some of you have said goodbye to a loved one in this past year, and this Christmas will be your first without…   In that darkness of mourning, there is always the light of hope.  The news doesn't report all of the planes that land safely, or the road trips made without incident, or faces and names of all those precious little boys and girls who WILL get tucked in by a parent tonight.  So whether it is your child, niece or nephew, your brother or sister, mother or father, friend or lover, rejoice in the time you have and recognize that each and every one of them is yet another miracle.  And don’t ever allow yourself to be in the position of regretting not parting with a hug and a kiss, or not saying goodbye, I’m sorry or I love you.
    Please for the sake of all of those around you and especially for those innocent lives lost in Connecticut, prove that the evil did not win and have a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


   Just a brief post about rescue dogs.  We lost our Cavalier King Charles, Baxter, to a congenital heart disease a couple of months back.  It was a hard good-bye.  He and his little sister Betsy, a mixed terrier, were both rescued.  
   Yesterday the time was right.  Sarge's Animal Rescue in Waynesville called with a rescued terrier in need of a loving home.  Sebastian is contently asleep on my lap as I am typing.
   Please support your local shelter; if you can't foster, adopt, or volunteer, any monetary contribution will help save precious dogs like my Baxter, Betsy and Sebastian.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Winter Solstice

Ah, winter has arrived! (Well, close enough.)  Tis the season of parties, parties, and parties!  The solstice is coming and whether that event is a reminder to get your garlic planted so that it matures in time to pair with next summer’s tomatoes, or is your time for a Feast of Juul in tribute to Thor (didn’t he just star in a movie?) and the return of the sun’s cycle of life, light and warmth; it is a time of anticipation, sharing, fellowship and celebration. 
Yes, we honor the shortest day/longest night of the year in many different traditions.  The Inuits have their Quviasukvik or winter feast where everyone brings some meat and drink, and all is shared by everyone simultaneously while contemplating their favored deity (Bless this food, Father), later exchanging gifts in quiet family gatherings (sounds like my house). 
Western Europeans burn a Yule log and scatter the ashes on their farm fields as fertilizer each day until the Twelfth Day (my true love gave to me… Ashes?).
Our Wiccan friends celebrate twelve days of the Lesser Sabbat known as Alban Arthan (12 days again?), or the rebirth of the sun god (Son of God). 
The Romans had their feast of Saturnalia where all grudges and arguments were temporarily forgotten, warring armies issued a cease-fire (peace on Earth, goodwill toward men), slaves became the masters, and all businesses, schools and government offices were closed.  This eventually degenerated (as only the Romans could do) into an annual period of debauchery, gluttony and greed (Hmm? Mall shopping?
The Mayans came to celebrate the solstice with polo voladore (or Flying Pole Dance).  They climb a fifty foot pole while playing a drum or flute, then tie a rope around one ankle and jump off.  To land on their feet is considered a sign of good luck -- well, duh!  (I have no idea what that has to do with modern traditions, but it sounds like fun, huh?)  It’s no wonder why their calendar stops right before the solstice this year -- it’s not the end of the world, they’re just tired of bungee jumping. 
I don’t mean to shortchange the celebrants of Hanukkah, Brumalia, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Jól, Chaomos, Gody, Kwanza, Festivist or the Norse Boar’s Head Feast (nothing to do with the lunchmeat), but there are only so many parties I can get to.
You can see how this all ties in.  It wasn’t until 354 AD that the Church fathers realized that the birth of the Christ Child was an important event to be remembered in worship and praise.  With little historic or Biblical guidance, they set December 25th as the date of the Nativity of the Savior.  It did, and I’m sure not by accident, coincide with the winter solstice and the myriad of long-held traditions that existed worldwide and allowed for an easy conversion and transition for those of us who came to believe.
This snidbit of anthropological history is not meant to debase any ancient or modern tradition or belief, but the next time you hear, “Tis the season,” whether you share my religious beliefs or not, I hope you’ll understand that it IS, and always HAS BEEN, the season; the coming of the Son and the coming of the sun. 
However you celebrate, may Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, or the Holy Spirit of God grant you and yours, a Very Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Happy Thanksgiving

      I’m writing this short greeting on the eve of Thanksgiving.  Tomorrow we celebrate that uniquely American holiday when we gather our friends and loved ones around a banquet table and gorge ourselves with a month’s worth of sodium, fats and sugars.  The glorious day that awards the hard working chefs in each crowd, who spent countless hours shopping, prepping and cooking the sundry of “traditional” dishes, with the experience of an orgy of frenzied consumption that leaves little time to appreciate their exhaustive efforts.  Mountains of food will be devoured, at least partially, in a matter of a few minutes; with the remnants stowed in refrigeration for even more gluttony on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  It is during this celebration that the faithful, and the C&E’s (Christmas and Easter Christians), and even the non-practitioners, all pause in reverent prayer to express their gratitude for health, life, love and their own prosperity measured by whatever scales are appropriate.
     It is precisely those “scales of measurement” that need our attention.  It would be easy to mire our thanks in the worry over an unsustainable national debt growing exponentially with unchecked deficit spending, nationwide continued high unemployment with faltering consumer confidence, the looming “fiscal cliff,” the rockets flying in Gaza, or the riots in Greece and the potential relevance of their forced austerity to our own economy.  But history demonstrates that in light of rampant pessimism and despair, we still need to recognize that there is much to be thankful for.
     It started in 1623, when Governor Bill Bradford along with his fellow Plymouth colonists sat and feasted with the Wampanoag Indians for three days: 72 hours!  (That’s just about as long as we will have to spend at the gym to unstuff our gullets and arteries.)  Back then, they were thankful that they had had a harvest big enough that they weren’t going to suffer the same starvation and death they had endured during the previous two winters.  These early settlers were thankful they had something, anything to eat, now we as a society are so spoiled that we get pissed if the supermarket runs out of our favorite dinner rolls.
     About 150 years later, after we had burned a few witches, decimated most of the indigenous peoples, and started importing cheap labor from Africa, George W (no, the other one) in remembrance of those Pilgrims, signed a proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1789 to celebrate the end of hostilities with mother England and the recent ratification of the U.S. Constitution (which of course immediately instigated what we now refer to as “American Politics”). 
     Then a scant 74 years later, Haywood County, North Carolina native (that’s what they say around here) turned president, Abraham Lincoln, signed a new Thanksgiving proclamation in an attempt to “heal the wounds of the nation” and to urge people to offer tender care to “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.”  By Honest Abe’s decree, the day-of-thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the LAST Thursday of November in perpetuity.  And it stayed that way until 1939, when FDR in the midst the “great depression” moved it up a week to spur retail sales and stimulate the failed economy.  (Roosevelt is responsible for Black Friday!  Take that Walmart.)
     So even if you had to buy some substitute bread, and as we continue to argue over the interpretation of our national laws, divided as we are into red and blue states of differing philosophies, licking the wounds of yet another long war, and struggling with a precarious economy, there still should be gracious thanks.  Look across the table at your love, your child, your grandchild, or your friends, perhaps experience the joy of volunteering at your local mission, Ronald McDonald House or VA hospital, and look into the eyes of those who feel blessed because you are there.  Measure the bounties of your life by whatever scales are needed, and then, today and every day, give a look up to Heaven and pray: A Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An Angel from on High

Remember that old Steve Martin film The Jerk?  (I have to be careful here, Steve is a neighbor of mine; he lives on the other side of Mt. Pisgah in Brevard.)  Most people know him by his comedy, but around here his fame also incorporates his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, and his considerable talent as a bluegrass banjo player.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, The Jerk.  My point about that old movie is the nearly-famous line, “The new phonebook is here.  I’m somebody!”  Well, after more than a month of trying, I finally got the beloved United States Postal Service to update their computer to recognize my new address as a legitimate destination.  Yes, at long last, I am somebody.
            Don’t get me wrong, I have been receiving mail all along.  The mailman and the local post office knew I was here, the electric company, DirecTV and UPS had no problem finding me, but for Fed Ex, Office Depot and scores of other businesses that automatically verify addresses, I was nemo, phasma, a non existentibus persona. (I’ll let you dig out your high school Latin books for that.)
            So now that I’m really here, I can resume my practice of the late afternoon mail run.  Not exactly an easy task at this new house; the mailbox is a full ½ mile away.  And although that might make for an enjoyable stroll when the weather is good, that short walk would also take me down about 500 feet in elevation.  Getting down there would probably be alright, but coming back…! 
            Even my driveway here is a bit arduous; it is almost 100 yards long, has a 90 degree turn near the top, and drops about 8 stories.  From the house, you really can’t see down the drive except for the last steep segment after the turn.  Twice I have been startled by an unexpected knock at the front door from an unheard visitor.  This prompted me to order and install an infrared sensor at the gate that triggers a chime in the house anytime someone or something starts up towards the house. 
This new toy of mine has been very convenient at letting me know my wife is home from shopping and needs help with the groceries, it signals me when UPS is here for a delivery or when a repairman, workman or neighbor arrives.   The only downside is it also picks up any critter that may venture across my property line.  Honestly, the few “false” alarms have not really been too annoying, but there is a visiting Angel that seems to enjoy announcing her presence.
            It was during the transitional “moving” days when I was still running truckloads of “do we REALLY have this much stuff” over from the other house that I sensed myself being watched.  Alone and isolated, that feeling began to play on my nerves.  More than once I exited the garage searching and listening for whomever it was that was spying, but each time I saw nothing but an empty driveway and the quiet autumn woods.
            It was after quietly placing a box of Christmas decorations into the storeroom and stealthily peering back around the corner that I first saw the pure white apparition’s face with its piercing blue eyes slowly retreating through the side door.  I won’t say it didn’t frighten me, but instead of fleeing or scrambling to find some makeshift weapon, I ran towards the door to steal yet another look at this mysterious alien.  The being knew she had been discovered and didn’t attempt another silent disappearing act; instead, she stood her ground and with mesmerizing azure eyes and a silly, toothy grin, Angel began to shake her entire body.
            A tail wag is hardly enough for this overly affectionate canine to show her pleasure, her greeting begins at her nose, traverses her neck, across her shoulders, through her torso finally ending in her raised pointy tail.  Angel doesn’t wag; she wiggles side-to-side like a fish out of water. 
I couldn’t begin to tell you her breed.  She is tall and muscular with an almost entirely white coat of short hair, broken only by a few large tan spots on her side.  Her physique is thin and agile and she can scale the steepest grades of these hills with an ease that makes a mountain goat seem awkward. 
The puppy and I hit it off immediately (I have that way with women).  She frequently comes to greet me at my truck when I arrive home, and after charming my wife and dog (not so much the cat), she visits often and has adopted our house as hers.  It’s evident that there have been times when she has come by to say hello but went unnoticed at the front door.  So it is no surprise that she has figured out that by walking through gate and past the sensor, someone always opens the door and invites her in to play.  Her new trick was very cute the first time, but…  Well, it’s actually cute every time.
            I guess when you live high up in the clouds, it should be expected that an Angel might come down to visit.          

Sunday, October 21, 2012



No matter where you live in this country, chances are that once or twice a year you are bugged with bugs.  Whether it is mosquitoes or love bugs, sand gnats or chiggers, mayflies or cicadas, insect swarms are annoying, messy, and often unhealthy.  Well, here in the Smoky Mountains, we are at the peak of the autumn color and immersed in some of the best weather of the year.  Our nights are brisk and chilly (no frost yet!) and our afternoons are warm sunny.  But with the beauty of the leaf season comes North Carolina’s swarms.   
No our swarms don’t bite; they don’t splat on your windshield or dissolve the paint on your car; they don’t burrow under your skin leaving tiny red roadmaps of excruciating, torturous itch; they don’t perch in the trees outside your bedroom window to scream and trill all night; no, the North Carolina swarms just…swarm. 
I’m talking about Ladybugs; those innocuous, harmless, speckled orange bumps of such deceptive beauty that Germany even designed automobiles in their image.  Those same tiny creatures that as a child, I collected in Ball jars and kept as short-lived pets.  These are the same Eco-Green benefactors that farmers and gardeners nationwide eagerly seek out to rid their tomatoes of the parasitic aphids.  Ladybugs!  Yes, horrible Ladybugs!
(Honestly, I just had to stop typing to remove one from inside my T-shirt as it was making its way south to my hinterlands.)
Now I’m sure those of you that have not suffered this annoying mountain phenomenon are scoffing at my dramatic reaction to what you think is the epitome of cuteness.  I mean, “Come on!  Ladybugs!  Really?  You’re freaking out over Ladybugs?” 
Okay, try to image a glorious afternoon with ideal temperatures and Appalachian colors that people travel thousands of miles to enjoy.  Then imagine your serene refuse-in-the-woods literally crawling with HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of miniature Volkswagen Beetles; windows and doors alive with moving polka dots.  Outside, the siding, the decks, your soffits and roof are covered with mass congregations of those “adorable” pumpkin colored “buggies.”  “Harmless cuties” that are laying siege to your home, waiting for you or some other unsuspecting human animal to leave the safety of your sealed, impervious shelter.  They’re biding their time, patiently ready to swoop down and catch a spontaneous, adventurous ride on your clothing, or even make a daredevil dash through that momentary opening of the door and into the climate controlled abode of you “strange bipedal apes.”
No sympathy for me yet?  Then visualize what it’s like for me, coming home from grocery shopping only to have the fabric pattern of what I believed was my shirt take flight in my kitchen; imagine the ticklish whisper of one dropping off my color and down my back; or the feather-like wisp of movement on the lobe of my ear.  Go ahead; laugh at my convulsive dance of anti-trespass.  But when I’ve finished raking my hair and rustling my clothes to rid myself of the remainder of these creepy-crawly aliens, I’m going to pour a glass of wine and lean back in my recliner and attempt to ignore that my living room ceiling is animated in a random, kaleidoscopic, migration of even more stowaway invaders.  Yes, I am bugged by Ladybugs and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
BTW:  The Internet says that these massive gatherings are actually a part of the insect’s annual pre-winter mating season.  All I can say is, this riotous, winged, mass orgy doesn’t seem very romantic let alone ladylike.  But who am I to criticize, right?  Whatever floats your boat.  (Oh yeah, they float, too!)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Cataloochie Elk

New Video of the Elk and Photographer

                As some of you already know, I live just outside the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the extreme western part of North Carolina.  Just to the west sets a beautiful high peak known as Cataloochee.  That mountain not only houses both our winter ski resort and in the warmer months, the historic Ghost Town in the Sky, but it also acts as a natural barrier to one of the park’s pristine wilderness areas, the Cataloochee Valley.
                Back in 2002, the NC Wild Resources Commission and the National Park Service initiated an experimental reintroduction of elk to our mountains; they picked the Cataloochee Valley to establish the herd both for its resources and protective isolation.  The valley is accessible from the North Carolina side only by an exciting, 11 mile, white-knuckle ride on dirt road up and over a mountain pass with a vertical wall of rock on one side and a steep precipice on the other.  It is a one-lane road with two-way traffic and often leads to WTF moments when two vehicles meet midway.  The ride is perilous but worth the effort as our original group of 25 elk has grown to an impressive herd of 150, with new calves being born each spring.  Each evening, these picturesque animals emerge from the forest to graze in the open valley to the delight of the hundreds of nature lovers who journeyed to watch from the distant parkways.  The rangers will admit that we do occasionally lose a baby to the black bears or wolves, but this is one of those rare incidences where humans have tampered with Nature and the outcome has become a glorious success.
                Unfortunately, whenever humans are involved, because of an anatomical anomaly, you end up with certain number of assholes.  Now to premise this story, I will tell you that I grew up in southern New Jersey in a family that supplemented our diet by subsistence hunting and fishing.  Without regard to my prolonged abstinence from that activity, I DO NOT have a problem with people taking game as a food source under a controlled and regulated harvest.  But back to those inevitable “human orifices,” on May 18th of this year, three elk, a bull, an adolescent cow, and a pregnant cow, were shot dead in the Pisgah National Forest just outside of the park.  All three (or four) animals were left to rot in the woods without any attempt to harvest the illegal meat.
                There is, of course, reward money posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the poachers, but I really don’t think that a monetary fine, a little jail time, and the possible forfeiture of their weapons and vehicles, goes quite far enough.  I think these arrestees, if they’re found, should undergo a comprehensive re-education on how difficult it was to take unsuspecting animals from their familiar habitat and strand them deep in a mountainous forest where they were left to forage for food, find potable water, avoid bears, and survive the cold winter nights atop the highest peaks east of the Rockies.  After these butt-heads have a good understanding of the difficulties faced by these majestic animals as they gained not only a survivable foot-hold, but flourished in their new surroundings, these creeps that found pleasure in killing for killing’s sake, should be blindfolded, driven as far into the mountains as possible, and then marched another 10 or 12 miles, stripped naked and turned loose (that’s all the elk had).  If they make it out, I think they may have a little more respect for the sanctity of life and the tribulations of living in the wild without some pea-brained yahoo shooting a gun at them for no good reason.
                Now, I’m telling you my idea so you will know without doubt, that if you ever wake up to hear about some wild, naked men, half crazed with hunger and dehydration, claiming to have been kidnapped and abandoned on a remote mountain top in the Smokys, the perpetrator wasn’t me, but the assholes deserved it.

Columbus Day 2012

Well, the moving of our stuff from one house to another is completed.  That doesn't mean the move is over, we still have tons to unpack, furniture to organize, necessities to find again, and a huge amount of superfluous crap that we need to throw away or donate, but at least most of the heavy lifting is done.  Last night I even got the bookshelves and desk into my office and by the end of the day today, I hope to have the server set up so that I can work on something other than this laptop in a recliner chair.

Having my Internet service through a cellular antenna, I hope my signal will be somewhat more reliable than it was living in town.  I’d hate to have to drive down the mountain to find a hotspot.  Even though we have lived “out” most of the time since we've been in the mountains, the last couple of years living “in town” have gotten us out of the habits and routines necessary when “going to town” is not a five minute, easy jaunt.  We're only about 12 miles out, but the drive down the mountain, then along the river up to the bridge, through the tiny village of Clyde, across the railroad tracks, out to the four-lane and then 8 miles to town, means in simple language: don’t forget anything at the grocery store.
Oh, and here’s some fun: I have received deliveries from UPS, FedEx and even the Post Office, I have had all the utilities hooked up without incident, friends have found me with Google Maps, MapQuest, Garmin GPS and Verizon Navigator, but when I try to change my address with magazines, websites that I do business with, and more than a couple of bill collectors, the attempt comes back, “No such address.”  Apparently a lot of businesses use an address verification program provided by the Post Office that as yet does not know this house exists.  I get mail, no problem, but until I track down my rural-post deliveryman and get him to update his “address edit list” (assuming he knows how to use a computer), no cyber-savvy company will accept that I really do live on Normann Road (yes, two N’s -- must be the Moonshine spelling -- some places will accept two, some want one, either way it will get here).
Just for fun, here is a two minute video of our little mountain town.
With that, please note the new address on the invoice if you get one.  If you mess up and mail to the old address, even our hillbilly postmaster knows how to forward it here, but it will delay delivery.  Let me know you saw this, and have a great Queen Isabella Day (she’s the one who bought the ships and paid for the voyage that Columbus gets all the fame and credit for).