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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve at Home (Blog Sixty-five)

Yesterday, Friday, was my first day off school for the holidays, and I eagerly went to muzzleload hunt for deer in Bedford County.  Arriving around 10:00 A.M, I went with the landowner as he showed me the best places to hunt on his property as this was the first time I had been there to pursue whitetails.

After taking a stand, I proceeded to fall asleep three different times in the first two hours I was there, which made me realize how exhausted I was from teaching school, writing, and going hunting every chance I had for the past three-plus months.  So at 2:30, I decided to go home and by 6:30, I had gone to bed.

Today, Saturday and Christmas Eve, I spent part of the day cleaning the chicken coop, putting wood in the garage for the winter, and cutting up a downed ash tree.  But mostly I just rested.  Sometimes that is what I need to do instead of pushing myself all the time.

Tomorrow, Elaine's and my son and daughter and her husband will gather for Christmas brunch and presents.  And per Sarah's wishes, I will have a fire going in the stove.

Thanks for reading this year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chicken Delight (Blog Sixty-four)

It was almost a year ago that I broached the subject to Elaine that we should try to raise chickens.  Understandably, in our then 32 1/2 years of marriage, she felt that my suggestion was made in jest as we had never even had pets let alone farm animals.

Now we are the proud owners of five egg bearing Rhode Island Red hens and their guardian Little Jerry.  Recently we have begun discussing how to make the sextet's lives more interesting, as they have consumed all the grass in their run.  This morning, Elaine had the idea of depositing a bale of straw inside the run.

So after I gathered the morning's eggs and cast about their daily treat of Cheerios, I hauled the straw inside the run.  The chickens immediately left their cereal and raced toward the bale. Predictably, Ruby, who will hop up or fly onto anything, first flew up to the bale and soon all members of our flock were busily pulling and scratching at the bale.

We expect the entire mass of straw to be levelled in a day or two.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Magic of Morning (Blog Sixty-three)

I have been mentoring beginning hunters this season and have really enjoyed not carrying a gun.  This morning friend Doak Harbison and I arrived at a Franklin County winter rye field and watched the sun come up and the night creatures be replaced by those of the day - with some overlapping.

From before sunrise until 7:40, we listened as two great horned owls belted out their "hoo, hoo-hoo," continuing their contest concerning which was the most dominant until well over 30 minutes past sunrise.  I found the verbal battle fascinating as I have infrequently heard the great horned continue so long past sunrise.

Of course, the reason for this duel is that the mating season is in full swing for this species.  Egg laying can begin sometime in January, and the males obviously have to settle issues about mates and territories long before then.

Joining the owls in a cacophony of sound was a mob of crows which chose sunrise as the time to harass a hawk of an indeterminate species.  The outcome was as  it usually is in such matters, that is, more and more crows rushing to the hubbub, more and more raucous cawing, ended finally by the raptor taking wing for a quieter neighborhood.  Of course, the hawk will likely be back tomorrow and the whole issue will have to be discussed anew, but not likely settled.

We went home without a deer, but the morning was a glorious and memorable one.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Two State Strike Out (Blog Sixty-two)

Every autumn, I seem to end up going afield in two states in the same day, and today was one of those days - indeed this was the second time this season it has taken place.  Back in October, I went turkey hunting in West Virginia in the morning and bowhunting in Virginia in the evening.  This act was fairly easy in that I went turkey hunting in Monroe County which borders Craig County where I went bowhunting.

That two-state adventure actually worked out quite well, as though I failed to kill a turkey in West Virginia, my friends and I did work a flock of jakes.  And that evening, I killed a Craig County deer while bowhunting.  So my success rate was an acceptable 50 percent.  I have this dream of killing big game animals in two different states in the same day, but that accomplishment still eludes me - and today was no exception.

During my morning hunt in Carolina, I did not even see a deer.  I then arrived home to see my favorite basketball teach, North Carolina, suffer a one-point defeat to Kentucky.  Then I took my son Mark hunting with the hope that he would kill a deer.  But as was the case in North Carolina, we did not even see a deer.

So my favorite basketball team lost and I drove several hundred miles through two states and never saw a deer - not a good day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Great Thanksgiving Hunting (Blog Sixty-one)

The hunting for my family and me could not have been any better on Thanksgiving Day.  That morning, my son-in-law David found a deer that he had shot late Wednesday evening.  Meanwhile I went fall turkey hunting on a Botetourt County farm where the landowner had assured me that I would be the only one afield.  Normally, I don't like to turkey hunt on Thanksgiving Day given the fact that so many others will be deer hunting.

But since I had the farm to myself, I went out after turkeys and at 7:35 A.M., I called in and killed a jenny.  Later that day my son Mark drove to a nearby Botetourt County farm, where the plan/hope was for only Mark to be hunting and for him to kill his first ever deer.  At 4:55 that evening, Mark did just that, a very satisfying event for the both of us.

Elaine even was involved with the day's events.  As she was assisting me in the cleaning of the turkey, I asked her if she would make me a river smallmouth-type fly out of one of the feathers - and that she include the fly in my Christmas stocking.

Who knows, maybe I will catch a smallmouth next summer with a fly made from a feather from a turkey killed on Thanksgiving morning.  Again, what a memorable day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Don't Hire Me as a Guide (Blog Sixty)

Every year, several individuals ask me if I can take them on a guided fishing or hunting trip.  I think there are several reasons this happens.  The first is that three of my four books on river smallmouth fishing have the word guide in them, and the second is that because I am an outdoor writer, I guess some people assume that I am a guide or that I can guide them to success.

Neither assumption is true.  In fact, I have a terrible record as an informal guide on hunting trips with friends and family.  Today, opening day of Virginia's firearms season, was a good example of why this is true.

This morning I took friend Doak Harbison on his first deer hunt.  The outing was at a Franklin County farm where I typically see more deer and have more success than any other farm that I have permission to be afield on.  Before sunrise, I brought Doak to a stand site that I had hunted twice last year and had killed deer there both times.  Also, my son-in-law David had hunted there three times this year and last and had tagged does  on two of those occasions.

Thus, I had taken Doak to a place where 80 percent of the time it had been hunted, a hunter had gone home successfully and 100 percent of the time deer had been spotted.  Furthermore, the landowner had told me that locale was a hot one this year.

The result: Doak and I stayed on stand from before sunrise until around noon - a solid 5 1/2 hours - and never saw a deer...or a squirrel...or a game animal of any kind.

Again, don't hire me as a guide.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Deer Hunting Doldrums (Blog Fifty-nine)

My son-in-law David and I spent the entire Saturday muzzleload hunting for deer on family land in Craig County - and had nothing to show for it.  At least David had an excuse, he saw no whitetails the entire day.  I, on the other hand, saw two.

The first doe came by at 7:40 A.M., and quite simply, I blew the shot.  I am still not sure what I did wrong, but the last David and I saw the doe that I shot at, she was walking calmly up the mountain.

Once while at a fishing event, a crowd member came up to me, introduced himself, and told me the thing he liked best about reading my magazine stories  was my writing about the blunders I make while afield either fishing or hunting.  "You sure seem to make a lot," the guy chuckled as he left.

Well, now, sometimes it surely feels that I do make more than my share of snafus.  The second and final doe sighting of the day was at 12:45, not the typical time one expects to observe whitetails.  The doe was within range, but I never had a killing shot, so I never fired.

The high point for the rest of the day was observing a fox squirrel feeding nearby, interesting because it featured a black face and black feet. 

I can't wait to hunt before school on Monday.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Turkey Eggs (Blog Fifty-eight)

We are enjoying the bounty of eggs, finding five in the next box on most days.

However, this week we were able to try out something a bit different.  A co-teacher of Bruce’s has both chickens and turkeys, and the turkeys seem to be seasonally confused at the present, laying in abundance.  So Bruce came home one day with four turkey eggs for us to sample.

They were quite attractive- larger than our hens’ eggs and barely fitting in the egg carton niches, and a lovely cream color speckled with dark brown – reminding me of the spatter painting I did as a child using a toothbrush and screen wire.  I wanted to keep the eggs as a display, so I pierced each end with a knitting needle, then blew the contents into a bowl for scrambled eggs…. a good way also to do a taste comparison.

The yolks were a paler yellow than our girls’, and the scrambled eggs had what I would describe as a creamy taste, almost as if cream cheese had been added.  Four eggs made three sandwiches, a bit larger amount than four hen eggs would have provided.

And now the empty shells have been added to our “Poultry Museum” of household d├ęcor.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Best Wife Ever (Blog Fifty-seven)

There are so many reasons I love Elaine, and several of them manifested themselves today.  October 29 was opening day of Virginia's fall turkey season, and I asked Elaine to do my morning chicken rituals (bringing food and water to Little Jerry and his hens) so that I could go hunting.  Of course, she did so willingly.

Later while she was at a Tupperware party, or whatever those things are called that ladies go to where one lady hosts a function and other ladies buy things from her, I called her to come home and take pictures of me with the turkey I had called in and killed.  Of course, she did so willingly.

But it is not just Elaine's sweet nature that is so appealing about her; she also has a delightful sense of humor.  When we walked out to the backyard and woods to take pictures of the turkey and me, Violet, our most vocal hen, began squawking at me.

"Relax, Violet," quipped Elaine.  "That turkey is nobody you know.

Tomorrow, Sunday, Elaine will spend several hours cooking for me...on the menu is venison tenderloin and cherry cobbler (from our organic cherry tree - the berries which I picked and Elaine pitted - she had the much harder job).  And, of course, as always her lunch will be sublime.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Four Egg Days (Blog Fifty-six)

While Bruce went hunting on Saturday, I spent a great deal of time with the chickens.  Our five hens are developing a four-a-day habit, since Ruby and Little Spotty Hen are laying.
The first time we found a fourth egg in the nest we became quite excited and discoursed long and hard on who was responsible, Little Spotty or Ruby?  A week went by before a fourth egg appeared again.   And again we wondered.  Now another week has passed, and almost every day we find a fourth egg, distinctly different in size and color from the other three.  Number four is quite a bit smaller and paler in color, and is often more speckled compared to the jumbo sized rich brown eggs of the “big girls,”  Tallulah, Dot, and Violet.

Bruce is convinced Little Spotty is the responsible party, but unless we catch them in the act we might never be sure.  And if we go out too soon to the coop and disturb a chicky sitting in a nesting box, we feel quite guilty as they chastise us severely with lots of squawking and feather flapping.  Once we have a “Five Egg Day” all doubts about who is doing what will be cleared up for good.   

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ruby or Little Spotty Hen? (Blog Fifty-five)

Last May 4, Elaine and I began our chicken rearing career when we received 10 straight run chicks from the local Southern States.  As is common, two chicks perished within five days, and we raised the remaining eight chicks to maturity, along the way learning that six of the eight were roosters.

To supplement the female contingent, consisting of just Ruby and Little Spotty Hen, we purchased chickens that Elaine (she names all of our chickens) named Tallulah, Dot, and Violet.  Elaine said Tallulah received her moniker because of her big, white tail, Dot hers because of a white dot on her back, and Violet her appellation because "she's no shrinking violet." In short, Violet is constantly whining, clucking, or yapping about something being almost as vocal as our sole remaining rooster, Little Jerry.

On August 18, our new trio of hens began laying, depositing two eggs in one of the nesting boxes, and have been doing a great job ever since.  In fact, most days we find three eggs there, indicating that every one of the trio is doing her share.

This past Thursday was like every other day, as three medium size dark brown eggs were laid in the nesting box before noon.  But around 5:30 that evening, I found a small, light brown egg at the upper corner of our chicken run near the solar powered station.

Apparently, either Ruby or Little Spotty Hen has produced her first egg.  As of today, neither has taken credit nor has one or the other produced another egg.  Elaine and I are all anticipation about how many eggs will be found on Sunday.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Long - and Fascinating Day - of Bowhunting (Blog Fifty-four)

Saturday, I spent almost an entire day in a Craig County black oak, bowhunting for deer.  The only time I debarked from the tree was between 1 and 3:00 P.M. when I went to my vehicle to rest, eat, and call Elaine.

And during that time aloft, I never loosed an arrow, although between 4:30 and 6:40, I had nine different deer around me.  There's an old saying that "close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades," and close certainly doesn't count in bowhunting.  The deer just wouldn't come within the self-restricted 20-yard range that I have with my Matthews Switchback compound.  They stayed on the opposite side of the logging road that I was set up along (picture below) and just wouldn't cross to my side.

And, yes, I was frustrated and exhausted at the end of the day from being constantly ready to prepare to shoot but never doing so.  But the day was not a bad one.  Before the deer arrived, I observed a number of fascinating events.  Two mature turkey hens and I engaged in chatter, the three of us purring, clucking, and yelping at each other, but they never came within bow range either.

Later, a raven came flying in and perched right above, until it became alarmed at the blob, me, below it.  Several hours later a red-tailed hawk did the same thing, terrorizing the chipmunk population before the raptor, too, became alarmed at my outline.

I didn't sleep well thinking about the missed opportunities.  This afternoon, I am returning to that Craig County property and moving my treestand to the opposite side of the logging road.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bowhunting Blunders (Blog Fifty-three)

Yesterday was the first day of Virginia's bow season for deer, and I committed a series of blunders, making me think that I wasn't quite ready for prime time.  My first snafu started around 5:25 A.M. when I had one last task to complete before hopping in the Xterra and leaving to hunt in Craig County.  All I had to do was put on my safety harness.

 I don't like putting on a harness in the dark at the base of a tree because I always seem to become entangled in all the various belts.  I struggled for a good five minutes trying to put on the harness before giving up and waking up Elaine.  She was not amused at my incompetence at such an early hour, but as always she sweetly helped me put on the device.  I am so fortunate to be married to her.

My next mishap took place at the base of the red oak where I wanted to position my treestand in the dark.  While I was putting on my headlamp in preparation for ascending, somehow the battery compartment opened and spilled its contents onto the forest duff.  I spent several precious minutes groping along the ground for the batteries, before giving up the search.

I didn't have a spare headlamp so I was forced to put my flashlight in my mouth and put up the stand with the aid of that light. I began to fear that the outing was going to be one of those proverbial bad days.

With all of those blunders and time loss, I was not secured in my treestand until 7:11 A.M., a good half hour later than I had intended.  But at 7:18, a mature doe ambled by, I loosed an arrow, the shot was good, and I was home for lunch.  Sometimes it truly is better to be lucky than good.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

First Deer of Season (Blog Fifty-two)

Saturday while hunting the last day of West Virginia's early muzzleloader season, I killed my first deer of the season - a mature and very hefty Mason County doe.  Normally when I kill a deer, it is because I have done extensive scouting and pondered where and when to take a stand.

This time, however, I must give thanks to Chris Walls of Cross Lanes and his dad Morris who lives near Beckley.  Chris, director of public relations for the Warner Law Offices in Charleston and who also operates Beyond the Backyard, a popular program for youth interested in the outdoors, made the initial contact of the Mason County landowner who owned the property.  And then Morris scouted out the property before I arrived and instructed me where to set up.

Next month, I hope to repay the favor to the father and son team when I take them turkey hunting in Monroe County on opening day of the fall season.  When folks go out of the way to help a fellow hunter be successful, it is the least that we can do to repay that kindness.  I'll let you know next month how we did.

Meanwhile, Elaine and I spent much of Saturday night and Sunday afternoon turning the whitetail into packages of venison for the winter.  For the first time, Elaine canned some venison (picture below) which we have heard makes for great soups.  And tomorrow, I will have venison heart sandwiches (whole wheat bread, hard cheddar cheese, brown bread) for my school day lunch.

For more information:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wild Black Walnuts (Blog Fifty-one)

This afternoon I gathered wild black walnuts from a tree that grows in our woods.  Last September and October, I neglected to forage for these nuts and spent the rest of the fall and winter regretting it.

Walnuts, especially the ones that grow wild, have a taste like no other nut.  To be sure, I enjoy eating domestic walnuts, often having them in my morning oatmeal.  But the nutmeat of the wild variety has an intensity all its own.  Indeed, it is almost as if one wild black walnut has twice the, well, nuttiness, the heartiness of flavor, jammed into it that two domestic walnuts would.

In a month or two, after the walnuts season for a while, I will remove the outer husks (while wearing gloves of course) taking care not to let them stain my clothes or hands.  Then I will wait another week or two, then remove the shells.

The remaining nutmeat will be used to season persimmon bread, paw paw pudding, and of course my oatmeal.  Elaine will also use the nutmeat for her other homemade breads.

Other wild nuts taste great, for example the ones from mockernut and shagbark hickories especially, but none can compare to the black walnut.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Praise of the Western Virginia Land Trust (Blog Fifty)

Next Sunday, Elaine and I will be at the annual September meeting of the Western Virginia Land Trust where I will be doing a benefit book signing, donating $2.50 off every book sold to the WVLT.  A canoe trip on the James River with me will also be auctioned as part of a fundraiser.

It always makes me nervous to be "auctioned off," as my fear is that no one will bid for my services.  Of course, nothing, I would guess, could be worse, auction-wise, than to be a male or female being auctioned off as a date and have no one bid on an evening with you. 

Still, I am always relieved when, after the bidding concludes, someone comes up to me and informs that they are the lucky winners of a canoe outing with me.  We exchange phone numbers and e-mails and tentatively plan an excursion for the following summer.

The WVLT is an outstanding organization that does wonderful work  by saving rural land through conservation easements.  Elaine and I have placed 392 acres in Craig County under conservation easements and we are very glad that we have done so. 

For more information on the WVLT and the benefits of conservation easements:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Preparing for Bow Season(Blog Forty-nine)

September is the month when the impending arrival of bow season for deer takes on a sense of urgency.  I begin practicing with my Matthews Switchback every year on or around July 4.  But in the ninth month, other preparatory acts begin as well.

Yesterday, I went to a Botetourt County cattle farm where I have permission to bowhunt and placed stand steps in a hardwood.  That particular tree grows in a place where deer activity is heavy every October when Virginia's season begins.  The spot is both a natural funnel and where a grove of white and red oaks have been thinned so that only the best mast producers still stand.

I should see plenty of whitetails there next month.  Whether I kill one or not is really up to my skills and whether a deer happens to come into range.

This morning I practiced with broadheads on my arrows, saving the ones that flew accurately and culling one that did not.  Later this week, I will check tree stands, safety harnesses, and do some more scouting in places where I have permission to be afield.

I will also make a list of every item that I will be taking afield on my first bowhunt.  One can't start too soon to be ready for opening day.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Elaine on Eggs (Blog Forty-eight)

We have begun reaping the results of our chicken raising efforts as within the past week, the girls, at least the older ones, have begun laying.  Two, two, one, two, THREE EGGS!  Each day holds a surprise in the hen house.

The first egg was of such importance that we had to take a picture of it “on location.”  Not until we were inside our house and examining the photo did we realize a second egg was partially hidden in the straw.  We checked the nesting box later in the day, and there were two more eggs waiting.  How convenient for us that all hens choose to lay in the same box. 

Since we have not yet discovered the daily laying timetable of our girls, we have been checking numerous times to see what we can find.  8:45, no eggs.  9:45, “hot off the press” – the egg that day still warm from  hen's body.  Holding this roundish object in my hand makes me reflect on the miraculous aspect of the event.   Eating them is another small miracle – dark yellow yolks with a rich eggy taste.  Thank goodness current nutritional thinking says an egg or two a day is usually fine. 

Of course on the days of three eggs we heap praises on our bigger hens.  And on the days of two eggs or one, we discuss between ourselves who is sloughing off on the job: Violet, Dot, or Tallulah.  Ruby and Little Spotty have not yet begun laying, as they are about four weeks younger than the big girls.  Violet in particular clucks and squawks with great vehemence.  I would like to think once the egg for the day is done with that she would calm down, but so far her loudness is impossible to categorize. 

Meanwhile, Little Jerry patrols back and forth, seemingly very proud of his girls and himself.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

End of the Season (Blog Forty-seven)

The rhythm that is the seasons is very much much in evidence right now.  Last Monday, I returned to my high school English job as the first work day had arrived and this coming Wednesday is the first day of school with students.  The previous Saturday I went on my last summertime fishing trip, as Elaine and I traveled to the South Fork of the Shenandoah in the Front Royal area.

Earlier this month, we picked wild blackberries for the last time this year, just gathering enough for blackberry pancakes (picture below).  That blackberry harvest ended a long sequence of berries that has ripened with strawberries in May, cherries in May and June, raspberries and wineberries in July, and dewberries and blackberries in July and August.

Next month, we will be able to pick a few summer grapes, as well as gather some mockernut and shagbark hickory nuts, plus some paw paws.  The main nut, though, will be the wild black walnut harvest in early October, and the trees on our Botetourt County land are heavily laden.  Good for us, and good for the gray and fox squirrels that also live here.

Sometime in late October and early November, we will gather some persimmons and that will conclude our various harvests for the year.  But it is a comfort knowing that our freezer will be full of quart berry "bags," and our pantry filled with jams and preserves.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Up a River without a Paddle (Blog Forty-six)

My son Mark and I are both high school English teachers, and we both go back to school in a few days. So this past Monday we decided to take our Dagger Legend canoe on a fishing excursion down the James River which flows near our Botetourt County, Virginia homes.

 Elaine kindly did the shuttle, dropped Mark and me off at the put-in near the community of Glen Wilton, and we then arranged our lunches, water, rods, and tackleboxes, and prepared to debark.

"Dad, where are the paddles?" Mark asked.

If two people are going on a canoe fishing trip, there are three essentials: a canoe, fishing gear, and, well, paddles.  I had managed to leave one-third of the essentials in the backseat of my vehicle.

Of course, I know better.  I have written four books on river fishing.  The following day I was scheduled to give a talk to the Buchanan Rotary Club on river fishing for goodness sakes.  It was also abundantly clear that I had royally messed up in the trip planning category.

There were only two options.  First, I told Mark to see if he could find some sticks that might serve as makeshift paddles (picture below).  Second, because Mark had left his cell phone in the car, I would walk into Glen Wilton and see if someone would let me use a phone and call Elaine on her cell.

Fortunately, the local post office was open and the kindly post mistress let me use her phone.  As the line from Streetcar Named Desire goes, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

Elaine, who has long sweetly endured my forgetfulness, drove back to the access point and dropped off the paddles.

The fishing was poor as I never could figure out what the smallmouths were feeding on, but Mark and I enjoyed our day together, witnessed an osprey, a turkey hen with poults, and a fawn along the shoreline.  I also broke my flyrod, which like the paddle episode was entirely my fault.  All in all, it was a day when my incompetence seemed to be as glaring as the August sun.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Six Roosters, Two Hens (Blog Forty-five)

Recently we wrote about our fear that we might have six roosters and two hens in our backyard chicken run.  Well, about two weeks ago, friends Jack and Marylynn Leffel came over for dinner and the former confirmed that we do, indeed, have a half dozen young males. 

What to do? Given the fact that two hens would not provide us with enough eggs, we purchased some16-week-old hens.  We were able to swap our alpha male, Third Man, and two of those newly bought hens to a farm family in Franklin County.  In exchange, we received seven dozen farm fresh eggs. 

In spite of our best efforts to find good homes for several of the other roosters, we have had to dispatch two of them, which, we must admit, was a very hard thing to do, given the fact that we had raised them from chicks. 

The good news is that the three remaining roosters, Little Jerry and two nameless males, are quite tolerant of each other...for now.  And our now five hens, Ruby and Little Spotty Hen, which we raised from chicks and the three newbies, which Elaine has named Tallulah, Dot, and Violet, seem to be happier that several of the roosters, specifically the aggressive Russell, have, well, become the dear departed.

This leaves Little Jerry in charge of the backyard, and we believe he will be up to the task.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vacation Time (Blog Forty-four)

I am one of those truly fortunate people who  enjoys his two jobs, as a high school English teacher in Botetourt County, Virginia and as a freelance outdoor writer/photographer.  However, I am constantly amazed at how many people don't understand what goes into being a travel writer.

For example, this past Thursday I went fishing for pleasure for the first time all summer.  When I am off doing a fishing story, the pressure to catch a big photo-worthy fish, conduct interviews, and take pictures is enormous.  I don't feel like I am fishing, I am working.

Now please don't misunderstand what I am saying.  Fishing is a marvelous pastime and a sport for a lifetime.  But when I am doing a story on a particular excursion, the act of fishing is just plain, hard work. 

Another aspect of being a travel writer that the public does not understand is that some writers, particularly myself, do not like to travel when they are not doing a story.  I don't plan on leaving Botetourt County the next few weeks.  I am on vacation and not traveling anywhere.  I am going to enjoy not driving hours and hours for a working, fishing trip.

Elaine and I are going to putter around in the backyard, go walking together, and, yes, go fishing behind the house and on Craigs Creek.  And that will be really fun and relaxing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

First Rooster is Crowing! (Blog Forty-three)

It's Bruce's job to let out the chickens from their coop in the morning and mine to lock them in for the night.  But Saturday, Bruce was away doing a fishing story, so I let out the chickens just  before 6. One chicken paused on its way down the ramp, seemed to steady himself, then let loose with what can only be described as a very feeble attempt at crowing.  Our first chicken to crow!

Sunday morning Bruce was back home and having had Elaine regale him with stories of the momentous event on Saturday, he waited at the ramp as the chickens filed down it on their way to the feeder.  The last bird out paused at the top of the ramp, shook himself slightly, seemed to clear his throat, then emitted a series of five crows.

We have named five of our eight chickens.  Two we are sure are females (Little Spotty Hen and Ruby below) and three we are fairly confident are roosters (Little Jerry, Russell, and Third Man, so named because he was the third to manifest male aggressiveness).

But we are shocked that one of the "Amorphous Three" as we call them (chickens that we don't know yet whether they are male or female) was the first to crow.  The first crower, after his greeting the dawn was finished, marched down the ramp where Little Jerry met him and "smacked" him on the head.  And "First Crower," as he temporarily is being named, submitted, to the smacking.

What do we do now? We are very worried that we may have six roosters in our flock, which would, obviously, tend to defeat the purpose or at least make it difficult to accomplish our main goal of raising chickens for eggs.  If only Ruby and Little Spotty Hen are females, they will have quite a production goal.  And why wouldn't First Crower (below) stand up to Little Jerry who seems to be third on the pecking order behind Third Man and Russell?

Advice from anyone?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fishing for Goldfish? (Blog Forty-two)

Yesterday I was at Chief Logan State Park and Conference Center in West Virginia doing a river smallmouth fishing seminar as part of an outdoors' expo.  Since the event did not begin Sunday morning until 10:30, I decided to visit the state park's pond (picture below), which is a very good fishing hole and hosts largemouth bass, bluegills, and catfish among other species.

Upon arrival, I encountered a local angler who told me that he had already caught and released a "half dozen cats" that morning and that the largemouths were feeding along the shoreline.  Looking in that direction, I did see a number of fish feeding on top, so I hurried over there.

For the next half hour, I cast to every rise I saw and failed to gain even one strike.  Then I saw, as one fish wallowed on the surface, what I had been fishing for...huge goldfish.  I asked my fellow angler about the pond's goldfish and he confirmed that he had caught them before and, in fact, had even eaten one, stating that it "tasted like a carp but had purple flesh."

A few minutes later, I saw huge pods of golden colored fish finning the shallows and decided that I had better return to the expo to prepare for book signings and a seminar.

I am in a fishing slump right now.  Counting the ill-fated excursion for goldfish, I have gone four straight trips without catching a good size fish.  What's more the guides and friends who have been fishing with me have also been doing very poorly.  Perhaps the slump will end this least the destinations I am heading for won't have goldfish - I hope.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wineberry Time (Blog Forty-one)

This past Friday, I spent much of the morning picking wild berries behind our Botetourt County, Virginia home.  The first two weeks of July means that the wineberries especially are ripening and for that fortnight every day I try to pick a quart or so.

Friday alone I easily could have gathered two gallons of these bright, red berries, but I stopped after having accumulating three quarts.  The first two quarts went into Elaine making jam and the third one went for my wife baking a cobbler.  I ended up by picking a quart of wild blackberries and freezing them for the winter.

Out of all the wild berries that we gather and of all the sweet treats that Elaine turns them into, I would have to rate wineberry pie as my favorite.  Wineberries are so much sweeter than other wild fruits that they don't need much sugar, particularly when compared to tart blackberries.

But the wineberry cobbler was a taste sensation, too, even though the berries do not hold us as well as they do when part of a pie.  And the wineberry jam goes great on any kind of whole wheat bread.

Although the ratio of wineberries to blackberries picked was three to one in favor of the former, soon the wineberries will cease to be so plentiful and it will be the blackberry that reigns supreme.  Which reminds me that I need to pick several quarts of each after Sunday's lunch of grilled tenderloin, corn on the cob, and wineberry cobbler.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fishing with Family (Blog Forty)

This past week I went fishing twice, once with my son Mark and the other with Elaine.  Although as an outdoor writer I am fortunate to be able to fish and hunt with some of the most gifted sportsmen in America, my favorite people to go afield with are family members.

Mark and I floated the James River near our Botetourt County, Virginia homes, and the fishing, frankly, was terrible as we caught nothing over eight inches.  But during our afternoon afloat, Mark and I discoursed on politics, sports, books, movies, teaching high school English, and a host of other topics.  The phrase quality time is often overused, but our time together this past Sunday was truly of high quality.

Several evenings later, Elaine and I went fly fishing behind our house in Catawba Creek.  One of the great  joys of my life is that I can walk out my backdoor and go fishing and hunting on my own land.  But the biggest joy of my life is being married to Elaine for now 33 years. 

We had only fished for about 15 minutes when Elaine slipped and fell, landing hard on her ribs.  For a while, we feared that she had broken something, but later it turned out that she had only suffered some bruises.  As I was comforting her, she gave me a hug and said how much she loved me as well as how stupid and clumsy she felt at that moment and that she wanted me to continue fishing.

It was such a warm moment between the two of us and typical of what a great person she is and how happy she makes me everyday.  I decided that we both should cease to fish and return to the house to examine her bruises more carefully.

On the way back to the house via our logging road, we stopped to examine some bear scat, only to look up and espy four mature gobblers just 40 yards away. After watching the toms slip away, we had only walked another 60 or so yards when we came across a gang of turkey poults with their flock hen.

Although the fishing was poor this week, the companionship and experiences were memorable.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Little Jerry versus Russell (Blog Thirty-nine)

Elaine and I have been having spirited, good natured debates over whether Little Jerry (photo below) or Russell is the alpha male in our chicken run.  Elaine has exclusive naming rights of our young chickens (at eight-plus weeks of age they are no longer chicks but aren't full grown either) and has named Little Jerry after the ill-fated rooster in the Seinfeld episode. Russell received his name because Elaine (I am doubtful of the veracity of this explanation) said that Russell told her what his name is.   The only other fowl she has given a name to is Little Spotty Hen because of her timid nature, smaller size, and spots on her upper tail feathers.

 Little Jerry features an extended black ruff and a black tail while Russell is known for his streaked ruff and blackish tail.  I believe Little Jerry should receive the nod as alpha male because he is the bravest of our flock, always the first to explore something new.  For example, whenever I put a new object into the run, such as a feeder or a bowl with some treat, Little Jerry is always the first to be audacious enough to check out the item and pronounce it acceptable to the others.  The others will often cower while Little Jerry explores this new thing.  Little Jerry also usually leads the other chickens out of the coop in the morning.  Now, Elaine will give her reasons for pronouncing Russell's superiority.
Bruce is welcome to his opinions but Russell is stronger than Little Jerry and in any barnyard boxing match between the two, Russell always proverbially takes his nemesis down.  The former has truly had him on the ground under his feet.  A case could be made that Jerry is not really brave, that he is impulsive, not bold, about checking out new things.  As our daughter Sarah said recently: "If Russell really can talk, he truly does have a leg up on Little Jerry."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New River Fest (Blog Thirty-eight)

Coming up soon on July 2 will be the third annual New River Fest.  I will be there to sign copies of my four books on river fishing, and there will be a number of other activities for folks to enjoy.

The event will take place at the Cascades Events Park located on US 460 one mile west of  Pembroke, Virginia in Giles County. As always, this will be a family centered event with vendors as well as Bluegrass music headlined by Larry Keel and Natural Bridge.

Among the highlights will be a “Ride River Run” triathlon, the 1st annual New River Fishing Tournament, the 3rd annual Canoe and Kayak Race, and a first ever Archery Shoot. A kids’ casting competition, paddle-boarding, fly casting and tying, pony rides, and canoeing, kayaking, and tubing the New River are among the activities.  General admission is free, entry and activity fees vary. See for more information or to pre-register.
Please come by my booth and talk fishing.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Time for Summer River Smallmouths (Blog Thirty-seven)

One of the best things about being an outdoor writer/photographer is that my job allows/requires me to go fishing a great deal, especially in the summer.  Obviously with all four of my books being about river smallmouth fishing, that is the kind of angling that I enjoy the most.

Starting Sunday when I will be fishing the New with Jimmy Dobes of Mahoney's Sports in Johnson City, Tennessee and Matt Frondorf of Buckeye Baits in Cincinnati, Ohio, I will begin a series of excursions that will take me to Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina upland rivers.

When I am not chasing after river smallies this summer, I will be seeking out brook trout in mountain rills or angling for stocked and wild trout in the same three states.  Of course, trout fishing is my second favorite kind of angling.

One of the things I like best about these two kinds of fishing is that I can do well without a motorized boat, a considerable expense of course.  For most kinds of trout fishing, all that is required is a desire to wade upstream.  Summer is simply my favorite time to go fishing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Chicks Day Out (Blog Thirty-six)

Well, this weekend has been a big chick adventure….. they
all went on a road trip. Bruce and I decided, after much discussion, to try them in
the chicken run a few hours each weekend day, when we could be outside with

them to deter predators.  We have not

secured the top netting yet to protect against raptors.
Our plan on Saturday was to carry them out one by one in our
hands.  On the first trip, Bruce and I
each had a chick, then I stayed in the run as he carried the rest one at a
time.  Oh, the fear!  The ones outside were motionless for
minutes.  At last they began to creep
around, but as I was sitting on the grass, I became their security
blanket.  At one point I had five chicks
in my lap, until one walked, clawed, and flew to my shoulder.  First outdoor chick reminder:  keep a plastic spoon in your pocket to scrape
chicken poop off your pants. 
Three brave chicks ventured up the ramp to the open coop
door.  Number 1 in line peered inside,
and when Numbers 2 and 3 tried to do the same, they pushed Number 1
inside.  Of course they had to follow.  All three stayed there, perched on the edge
of a nesting box, until Bruce lifted them out.
A final big adventure was making tiny forays into the “jungle”
– a thicket of day lilies inside their run. The first to do this caused quite a hubbub among the others as he
rustled around….lions, tigers, bears?  Oh
Sunday, our daughter Sarah and her husband David came over
for lunch, and Sarah and I baby sat the chicks for several hours.  When Bruce and I returned the chicks to the
indoors, we used a shorter and much more effective method - putting all of them
together into a plastic storage box.  They sat safely on the bottom for the big
ride.  The day’s adventure wore them out,
and they slept hard for most of the evening. In two weeks, we hope to have the chicks living in their coop and run full

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Strawberry and Cherry Season (Blog Thirty-five)

For the past week, Elaine and I have spent much of our time, it seems, picking strawberries and cherries.  For a fortnight every year in late May and early June, first the strawberries and a few days later, the cherries ripen.  Our garden usually produces a little over a gallon of strawberries, but our North Star cherry tree is a prolific producer, last year accounting for seven gallons of fruit and this year after the first week, the tree has already produced nearly four gallons.Picking the strawberries is a simple and leisurely affair and quickly accomplished.  Elaine has made a pie from one quart, jam from another, and the rest have gone to top off oatmeal and cereal.
The cherries, however, are an ordeal.  Although our tree is a dwarf, I still have to climb a ladder to reach the uppermost branches, a balancing act that I don't particularly enjoy, given my fear of heights. But picking cherries is simple, compared to pitting them.   The juice squirts all over us, and the task is tedious.
Still, we gain a sense of accomplishment in the cherries that we freeze and that Elaine turns into preserves will provide us with wonderful desserts over the course of the next year and make us more self-sufficient. Our goal is not to buy desserts or jelly and jams from a store.  Indeed, we ate the last of the 2010 cherry preserves just today.  And tomorrow, Elaine is going to bake a cherry pie for Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dining and Hunting with Turkey Mentors (Blog Thirty-four)

Friday evening, Elaine and I invited Jim and Sherry Crumley of Trebark fame and Jim Clay of Perfection Turkey Calls over for dinner.  Jim Crumley has long been one of my deer and turkey hunting mentors, Sherry took my son Mark on his first turkey hunt, and in the fall of 1986, Clay (picture above) took me on my initial fall turkey hunting excursion.Over Elaine's dinner of wild turkey leg soup, roasted sweet potatoes, and blueberry cobbler, we discussed our respective spring gobbler seasons and shared our successes and snafus from this and other seasons.  It is always a bittersweet experience when another turkey season comes to a close.  Sleep deprived, I am always glad not to have to arise extremely early anymore.  For example Saturday morning,  Jim Clay and I arose at 3:25 to pursue turkeys on the last day of the West Virginia season.  Despite our diligence at being up two hours before sunrise, we never heard or saw a turkey.Yet, I am always a little melancholy at knowing that I will not be able to chase after turkeys until the Virginia and West Virginia fall seasons begin in October.  As I was putting away my shotgun in the gun case, setting aside my turkey calls in their respective drawers, and washing my camo one last time, I kept wishing that I had just one more day to climb high into the mountains and listen for gobbling.But then I thought that next weekend perhaps I could go float fishing for river smallmouths or visit a native brook trout stream.  And life seemed very good.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Turkey Season Almost Over (Blog Thirty-three)

Among the many game animals that I enjoy pursuing, turkeys are by far my favorite.  I revel in both the fall and spring seasons, and this year I have been fortunate enough to have assignments to hunt toms in Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia, and my home state of Virginia.
The seasons are now closed in all of the above quartet except West Virginia (where the season ends this Saturday), and I have been able to tag out in Carolina and Virginia, take two toms in the Volunteer State, and one so far in West Virginia.  I have been afield 20 times and never before since I began turkey hunting in 1986 have I heard so few gobbles - maybe there is an article idea somewhere in that topic?
The late season Mountain State bird that I killed Saturday brought special joy because I had to hike far into the mountains to be successful.  After I checked in and cleaned the bird, I saved the wing feathers for friend Duane Means who runs Arrow Forestry (  Duane only hunts with a primitive bow, and he uses turkey feathers to fletch his arrows.  My wife Elaine will employ some feathers to tie her flies for fishing.
Elaine and I will dine on the breast, legs, and neck meat of the West Virginia tom, and even the feathers will be put to good use.  Once again, all this proves what a joy it is to kill a wild turkey.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chicks, Part V (Blog Thirty-two)

Well, the chicks came Thursday.  I went to Southern States to pick them up,
and realized when I arrived that I had not brought anything to transport them
in – a realization I made when I saw another woman with a towel-lined cardboard
box.  Not to worry – the chicks went into Happy-Meal type boxes holding five each. 

The store personnel referred to the balls of fluff as “Chicken Nuggets.”  Tiny cheeps came from the boxes on the ride home. I was so excited I stopped by Lord Botetourt High School where Bruce
teaches to show him, too, during his planning period.
The chicks have acclimated well to the 30-gallon storage box.  I had already tested the heat lamp
and knew it was right at 90 degrees.  The chicks have spent the past four days wandering from one box end to the other, sleeping mainly under the light and eating and drinking at the other end.  They will dip their beaks in the water, then lift their beaks skyward, “shaking” the liquid down their throats. 
Sleeping has been a comic sight.  As chicks tire and collapse to the floor,
they often manage a 20-second nap before a peer walks over them, awakening
They recently discovered the newspaper lining underneath their wood shavings and have pecked their way to it.  The first to discover a shred of paper was chased by all the others who also wanted to have this delightful object.  They are also beginning to have very definite
feathers on their wing tips, and spend more and more time daily grooming
themselves.  Which are the roosters?  Still impossible to tell. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Chickens, Part IV (Blog Thirty-one)

This has been a busy week, and I am a little behind in my blogging.  Elaine and I went to North Carolina on a turkey hunting and trout fishing expedition, and I also spent three days in West Virginia turkey hunting.  I was fortunate enough to kill two toms in Carolina and experience some highland trout angling, too.

When I returned, seven magazine assignments were waiting for me, and I have been able to write four of the stories and part of the fifth.  The big news, though, is that tonight Elaine and I, after laboring off and on for several months and with help from friend Ken Rago, have finally finished the chicken coop.  And all we have to do to complete the chicken run is anchor one more post, string some wire, position the door, and predator proof the run.

It is good that we have finished the coop and most of the run because - even bigger news - the baby chicks arrive on Thursday.  Elaine is going to pick up the day-old creatures while I am at school.  We can hardly wait!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Taking a Kid Turkey Hunting (Blog Thirty)

Today, David Brugh of Christiansburg and I took his 11-year-old daughter Elaina spring gobbler hunting in Franklin County, Virginia.  If you have never taken a young person turkey hunting, doing so is a thing of joy - actually killing a turkey becomes secondary.  Elaina giggled when David and I showed her turkey droppings, laughed when I imitated the sounds of an ovenbird, and positively hooted when I blamed our failure to even hear a gobbler on her father's lack of calling skills.
When after a few hours it became apparent that our chances for calling in and killing a tom were extremely low, we turned to bird watching.  Elaina was fascinated when I explained to her how small a nest of a blue-gray gnatcatcher is (see picture below), that chuck-wills-widows out compete their close relatives, the whip-poor-wills, because the former is a half inch larger, and that ovenbirds say "teach, teach, teach," when they sing.
Late in the morning, our trio spotted two turkeys feeding along a stand that we had vacated earlier in the day.  Always the good sport, Elaina merely smiled when her dad and I apologized for perhaps leaving the locale too soon, thus possibly ruining her chance at killing her first gobbler.  This youngster has the potential to become a tremendous outdoors woman.  The three of us hope to go squirrel hunting this spring when the Virginia season opens.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Turkey Hunting in the Rain (Blog Twenty-nine)

Today, Saturday, I was supposed to have pursued spring gobblers on a farm in Franklin County.  But with the forecast of high winds, heavy rains, and thunderstorms, I opted not to go.  But despite the weather forecast, and it was, sadly, extremely accurate, I couldn't remain inside, instead deciding to hunt on the 38-acre tract we live on in Botetourt County, Virginia.

I have never killed a turkey during a hard rain, and that fact did not change after the morning's events transpired.  My biggest thrill of the day was calling in a very wet hen, which had responded to my clucks and yelps with similar vocalizations of her own.  I kept looking behind her to see if a gobbler was in tow, but, alas, she was all alone.  Finally, she ambled by me off to who knows where.

When the rain became even more intense around 11:10 or so, I decided to begin making my way back to the house, as turkey hunters have to be out of the woods by noon anyway.  I arrived back around 11:30, drenched and cold, with having seen and heard from only that one bedraggled hen.

So was the day an unsuccessful one? No not at all, as I truly enjoyed being outside and frankly would have been miserable inside.  After killing two turkeys back in the fall (Virginia has a three-turkey limit fall and spring seasons combined), I still have on stubborn tag unpunched.  Maybe I will be able to use that tag on Monday before school.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Chickens, Part III (Blog Twenty-eight)

This past Wednesday, friend Ken Rago helped Elaine and me build about 80% of our chicken coop.  A few days later, Elaine purchased a chick feeder, water column, and a heating lamp to keep the young chicks warm at night in their plastic container.  Next on the agenda, Ken will help us finish the coop this coming Wednesday, then Elaine and I will finish the fourth side of the run and position a door to the run on a post.
Finally, the first week of May, we will receive what in chicken terms is a "straight run" of chicks from the local Southern States in Troutville, Virginia.  For those unfamiliar with chicken related terms (and Elaine and I certainly were until recently) that means 10 chicks of which we won't be sure of the sex until some weeks later.
Elaine and I are hoping for at least five females out of the 10 chicks.  Our hope is that the alpha rooster will have made himself known by the two month period or so.  Then we will eat the males who are not the alpha males.  Otherwise, we have been told, constant fighting will take place among the roosters.  I guess this is where the saying "there can only be one rooster in the barnyard" comes from.  Anyway, we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our chicks, trying to make sure that everything is in place.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Introducing Kids to the Outdoors (Blog Twenty-seven)

This past Saturday through Monday, I was in Tennessee turkey hunting with good friend Larry Proffitt. I was on assignment from Tennessee Wildlife magazine to do a story on mentoring new hunters.  Part of my photography game plan was to take pictures of Larry with his three grandsons and it was a joyous thing to watch as Larry lovingly worked with the young boys.

One of the most positive things we can do as outdoors folks is to take youngsters (or adults that are unfamiliar with any number of outdoor pursuits such as fishing, hunting, birding, camping, hiking, and canoeing) afield. 

Doing so is very satisfying but it is also a great way to preserve and protect our outdoor heritage.  If we are to grow/create the next generation of hunters or birders or hikers, we have to mentor the young or their parents.

My parents, although they grew up in rural Franklin County, Virginia, never had any interest in conducting any outside related activities.  Thus, they had nothing in that regard to pass on to me.  Luckily, I had childhood peers who enjoyed being outside, and I had enough wanderlust that I would also go off by myself to fish and seine for minnows.  However, it's far better for someone to have an older person, friend, or ideally a family member to tutor that individual.

This spring, consider taking your own children or a neighborhood child on an outdoors related trek.  Chances are that you'll have as much fun as the youngster does.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Organizing Fishing Tackle (Blog Twenty-six)

Come spring, one of the most common topics covered in the outdoor magazines is the need for fishermen to organize their tackle in preparation for the warm weather period.  I never read those stories because they seldom cover anything new.
For the past week or so, though, I have been organizing fishing tackle in our basement, a room which has just this month been finished, even though Elaine and I had the house built in 1989.  Elaine has instructed me "not to junk up" our "new" basement, which, truth to say, I plead guilty of doing to the old one.
It's just that as an outdoor writer, companies have for years sent me all kinds of fishing and hunting related gear to try out, much of it extremely useful but, alas, a high percentage of it pure, unadulterated junk.
For example, one of the worst items I have ever received was emu oil.  The press release guaranteed that the oil, when rubbed onto the skin, would prevent sunburn and when applied to fishing lures would provoke huge bass to strike...utter nonsense on both accounts.
Holding down second place are the freeze dried deer droppings that once came in the mail.  The instructions were for the user to sprinkle this deer crap around a hunter's tree stand and then wait for the big bucks to come rushing in.  Although I tossed the emu oil in the trash can, I hurled the freeze dried deer droppings into the woods behind our house.  Perhaps big bucks arrived that night, I don't know.
The fishing lures have now been organized, the basement is now looking good, and Elaine is pleased with my diligence.  And she and I are going trout fishing as soon as the water levels drop just a little.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Time to Garden (Blog Twenty-five)

Saturday, I planted white onion sets, potatoes, and spinach in our organic garden.  But before I did so, I harvested the last of the 2010 crop, specifically the onions that I had missed picking last year and that had sprung up this spring.  It is always a nice bonus to have fresh onions, which we will dine on today for lunch with grilled venison tenderloin.Every spring, I silently vow to make the coming garden the best one ever.  But every year, something (work schedule, drought, pestilential insects) derails this quest. So I recently contacted friend Paul Hinlicky, who always has a superb garden, for his advice.

"Mulch," was the first word Paul said.  "Put down a layer of newspaper. I usually separate out all the
glossy, colored stuff  used for advertisements and use only the basic newsprint.  On top of that I put mulched leaves/compost which will decompose over the summer until it can be tilled into the ground in the fall.

"If you don’t have that, you can buy some old hay, small bales are easiest to manage. People will give away old rotting bales. Just spread them thickly over the newspaper. I go for 4 or 5 inches of mulch, because it will decompose over the summer. Mulch holds in the moisture so you rarely have to water. It suppresses the weeds. And it enriches the soil. How can you lose? I also use grass clippings from when I start to mow the grass. Lots of times neighbors bag their grass clippings and put them out for trash. Of course, when you sow from seed you can’t mulch until the seedlings are up and viable, then carefully so you don’t smother them, here grass clippings are best because you can tuck them right in to the little shoots.
"But for transplants like peppers and tomatoes, do the newspaper and hay. Or, if you have trouble getting
 the tomatoes to ripen before the fall, use black plastic which soaks the heat in, which tomatoes and peppers just love. The other thing I love to do is till in horse manure. Best fertilizer in the world."

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Birds Are Back (Blog Twenty-four)

One of the wonderful things about March is that this is the month when some of the migratory songbirds start to return to our Southwest Virginia property.  Last week for the first time this year, I heard a phoebe singing, calling out its name, "phoebe, phoebe, phoebe," in continuous bouts of energetic tune making.  Also last week, I heard my first grackles of the year.  Although the whistlings, croaks, and squeaks of grackles are not particularly tuneful, the sounds were still a harbinger of spring.
Of course, some species have been in fine form for some time now.  Great horned owls have been doing their hooting since January, mourning doves have been uttering their plaintive notes since February, and tufted titmice have been singing "peter, peter, peter," since early March.  Two weeks ago, the Carolina chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches, which often travel in mixed flocks with titmice, began singing as well.
The woodpeckers are also becoming more vocal and are drumming as well.  For example, a pileated woodpecker on Saturday was making its "cuck, cuck, cuck," sound, when another pileated began to drum on a dead tree.  This set forth a whole series of drumming sounds from different parts of our 38 acres and nearby properties as well.  The sap is starting to rise as are testosterone levels in the avians. 
And this morning in the hollow behind our house, a tom turkey was gobbling, and every time he did so, a gobbler on the back end of our land responded.  Is a fight between the two a certainty?
I anxiously await the arrival of other songsters as well.  Within a fortnight, I expect towhees, pine warblers, and chipping sparrows to arrive.  Perhaps we will even have some temporary spring  visitors such as hermit thrushes make an appearance.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tree Planting Time (Blog Twenty-three)

This past week, Elaine, our son Mark, and I planted 100 white pine seedlings to replace the Virginia pines that a logger harvested in December.  The Virginia pines were over 50 years old and many of them were diseased and others had already fallen.  It was simply time for them to be cut and for the next generation of trees to begin.
This coming week we should have another shipment of white pines arrive, this one consisting of 250 seedlings, that we ordered from the Virginia Department of Forestry.  Those trees will be planted on the back side of our 38-acre property, again to replace a cut Virginia pine thicket.  And the remaining seedlings will be taken to our 83-acre tract in Gap Mills so that I can continue reforesting a part of that property, specifically a badly overgrazed pasture that I added to the tract last July.
Our "new" pines in a few years will provide needed cover for small game animals such as rabbits and hopefully ruffed grouse, and in a decade or so should provide the beginnings of a bedding area for whitetails.  In 15 or so years, perhaps the aptly named pine warbler will be among the species nesting in the treetops.
In a fortnight or so, we will receive a shipment of four persimmon and two paw paw trees.  They will be planted in the food plot behind the house.  All of these activities will be hard work but the actual labor is very satisfying and potentially very good for wildlife.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Grilled Antelope Burgers? (Blog Twenty-two)

Recently, I went rabbit hunting with Delbert Dudding of Botetourt County and several of his friends.  When Delbert picked me up for the outing, he brought Elaine and me a package each of antelope burger and mule deer steak.  Over the course of the next week, Elaine and I dined on these exotic for us meats as of course neither creature lives anywhere near our Southwest Virginia home.I enjoyed both the burgers and the steak, especially the former as I found antelope meat very mild and similar in taste to venison.  The experience caused me to think about other unusual wild foods I have dined on.  My dad, for example, told me that as a boy growing up in the Great Depression his mom fixed "fried possum" - a repast that dad does not remember fondly.But I have enjoyed a number of atypical game meals.  Once in Summersville, West Virginia my host served grilled alligator - an extremely tasty dish.  Another time a friend brought Elaine and me a stingray which Elaine baked - again another delicious treat.  A number of times I have consumed grilled frog legs and yes they do taste like chicken.I admit that I have not yet tried fried opossum, and really have no desire to do so - based on dad's accounts of the meat's greasy nature.  But I am game for just about anything else. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chickens, Part II (Blog Twenty-one)

Saturday, Elaine and I finished building some 80 percent of our chicken run.  The weekend before we had dug holes then set the posts in concrete.  Our primary activity yesterday was to position the aptly named "chicken wire" around those posts and to attach the wire.

Our next goal will be to make a door that will obviously serve as the coop's entrance, attach that door to a post, and finish positioning the chicken wire.  The next project will be more difficult - building the coop.

Elaine has long made fun of me for not being handy with tools, and the truth is that I am not.  Both of our fathers were very handy around their respective houses, and it has always been apparent to her that tool handiness is not something that genetically can be passed down - at least in my family.

Our daughter Sarah's husband, David, is an engineer, and he not only can read and make plans (both of which I seem incapable of) but carry them out as well. One of the reasons that I wanted to undertake the "chicken project" as we are now calling it, is so that I could develop some handyman skills.

Meanwhile, we are scheduled to receive 10 Rhode Island Red chicks the first week of May.  I had better become adept at coop building in a hurry.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Venison Chowder (Blog Twenty)

If you are looking to fix venison dishes in different ways, here is a recipe that I recently tried and that Bruce and I both enjoyed.  For dessert, we had wild blackberry pie.  Ice cream is optional!

Venison Chowder

1 carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
1 pound ground venison
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
2 cups liquid (chicken broth, vegetable broth, or game stock are other possibilities)
Salt and pepper to taste (ground pepper and sea salt are really good)
8 oz. whole wheat pasta

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan. Add the carrot, celery, and onion, cooking until slightly tender.  Add the ground venison and cook until browned.  Stir in the tomato sauce and 2 cups liquid.  Cook 10 minutes or so, adding salt and pepper to taste.  At this time cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Add the drained pasta to the venison mixture and heat together for 4-5 minutes more. 

You can garnish with chopped parsley, cheese, or sliced green onions.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chickens (Blog Nineteen)

Recently, Elaine and I have been discussing whether or not to raise chickens on our 38-acre parcel.  We have been reading books and magazines on the topic and talking with other folks who have reared these animals.  The desire to raise chickens is part of our goal to be as self-sufficient as we can in regards to what we eat.

This past year I killed 10 deer in Virginia and West Virginia and tagged a total of five turkeys in Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee, fulfilling much of our meat needs for 2011.  Elaine buys organic, free range chickens from a local Botetourt farmer (who has already processed them, of course), and we are thinking maybe we could raise our own chickens for meat and eggs, thus basically not having to buy any meat from anyone, except for fish for an occasional dinner.

Of course, one of the things we already know about chickens is that they have a lot of wild predators: raccoons, skunks, opossums, coyotes, bobcats, bears, hawks, and owls - all of which we have in abundance in Botetourt County.  And domestic animals such as dogs and cats will kill a chicken if they have a chance.  So raising chickens would require, first of all, that we create a safe run and a predator proof hen house for them.  Last year, a bear crumpled our seven-foot-tall garden fence and climbed into our vegetable patch, so I am not sure any structure we make or buy will be totally predator proof.

Still, the two of us are intrigued by the thought of raising chickens.  In a couple of months, I will let you know what progress we are making on this issue.  Meanwhile, if you have insight on this topic, please feel free to e-mail us or comment here.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Paw Paw Cookies (Blog Eighteen)

In one of my first blogs, I wrote about the joys of gathering paw paws in the fall and Elaine making bread from these fruits.  When Elaine did so last autumn, she froze the leftover pulp and yesterday she brought a touch of autumn to a drab winter day by making paw paw cookies.

Monday during my English 10 Honors class at Lord Botetourt High School in Daleville, Virginia, I began a lesson on the Great Depression and the classic novel OF MICE AND MEN by discussing how our ancestors during the 1930s were often subsistence hunters and gatherers.  Paw paws, I explained, were often gathered and used for pies, breads, cookies, and general eating.  Even if you are not a hunter/gatherer like myself, you can enjoy Elaine's recipe.

Pawpaw Cookies  
1 1/2 c. pawpaw pulp
3/4 c. softened butter
1 1/3 c. sugar
1 egg
3 c. sifted flour
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp.cloves
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 cup walnuts
Thoroughly cream the shortening and sugar. Add beaten egg and pawpaw. Stir in the dry ingredients, which have been sifted together, and mix well. Form into small balls and place on cookie sheet. Press into round flat shape Bake in a 350 degree oven for 11-12 minutes.