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Saturday, December 29, 2012

How I Almost Met General Norman Schwarzkopf (Blog 118)

The recent death of General Norman Schwarzkopf made me recall how I almost met him but turned down the opportunity.  Several years after the Gulf War ended, I had a call early one September from a resort inviting me to come stay, free of charge and with my meals paid for as well, for a two-day sporting clays shoot with the general the very next week.

The resort's public relations person said that he "hoped" I would do a magazine article on the weekend, touting the resort's features, its excellent sporting clays course, and the resort's connection with the general.  From the start, I knew that the resort more than hoped I would do a story, the establishment was expecting  a major article in a national magazine.

I explained to the PR person that besides being an outdoor writer, I was also a high school English teacher and that school had just started for the year.  I said I would think about the offer and return the call in a few days.

There were all sorts of proverbial "red flags" tormenting me.  In the first place, I didn't feel comfortable going at all, knowing full well what the resort really wanted out of me - a profile in a major national magazine. Since the general was coming in less than a week, the resort's PR person had not given me much time to find an assignment.

Also, I had never been to a sporting clays course before, and this is no false modesty, I am a terrible wing shot for grouse and doves - as anyone who has ever bird hunted with me can attest.  The thought of standing next to this American hero and missing shot after shot was not a pleasant vision. My school system then had a policy that our two annual personal leave days could not be taken back and back and that was another complication.  And what if the resort's food and accommodations were lacking, how would the establishment have felt if I had written that?  Furthermore, I didn't know enough about sporting clays to even know if the course would be any good or not.

Finally, I decided to do what I felt was the right turn down the invitation, telling the PR person about my school's personal leave policy, which was a truthful statement on my part.

And so I didn't go to the event.  A few days later I told my principal about the invitation and he said that he would have arranged for the school policy to have been broken.  I have always regretted not meeting General Norman Schwarzkopf, but I have never regretted not going to the resort that time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chickens Hard at Work (Blog 117)

Our flock of four hens never ceases to amaze us, specifically the quartet's industriousness.  For example, Elaine and I never rake leaves, preferring to let them rot into the soil.  The one exception is the big piles that gather at our garage doors.  We typically rake those and deposit them into the woods.

However, several weeks ago, we decided to deposit the leaves in the chicken run, where our girls were delighted to constantly sift and scratch through them.  The two piles we placed there were soon "flattened out" and now shredded leaves are scattered throughout the run.  By spring, we will be able to gather up the leafy debris, mixed in with manure, and either put the mass into the compost bin or perhaps a corner of our fenced garden for further decomposition.

Ruby, Little Spotty (shown below at work scratching), Tallulah, and Dot are also doing a superior job at "tilling" our garden this winter, which lies adjacent to the chicken run. Already they have eradicated a particularly stubborn line of weeds at the upper end of the garden.  They have also thoroughly scratched the spaces where the tomato plants grew this past summer, no doubt consuming many harmful pests that otherwise would have overwintered and returned to plague our vegetables.

And, of course, there are the droppings from our hens.  Last fall, every time we cleaned the henhouse, we dumped the straw and droppings into the garden.  Later, I worked in the "litter" into the soil.  I am convinced this extra organic matter was a major reason why Elaine and I enjoyed the best garden we have had in many years.

This fall and winter, we have not even bothered to work in the litter.  We are letting the chickens do that - a task they seem to relish.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Venison Tenderloin and Wineberry Cobbler for Lunch (Blog 116)

It's a cold, rainy, dreary winter day in Botetourt, and Elaine and I have spent the day at home, mostly indoors.  It's the type of day to have meals made from food that we have killed, gathered, or raised during the year.

For example, for lunch our entree was venison tenderloin that came from a doe I killed on a Botetourt County cattle farm.  Our dessert was wineberry pie, which came from wineberries that we gathered behind our house this past June.

For dinner in a few hours, we will have omelets, made from eggs that our four-hen flock produced this month.  Today, we even put a "sunflower chain" out for the songbirds.  Saturday while I was deer hunting in Franklin County, I came across a recently harvested sunflower field.

I gathered a half dozen or so flower heads, and this afternoon Elaine strung them on a piece of twine to create a little wayside eatery for the tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, and white-breasted nuthatches, among other avians, that will, no doubt, soon discover this little mini-restaurant for them.

Nothing of much import really happened today, but Elaine and I had a nice day in our country home.  Perhaps tonight, we will even play Scrabble.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Trapped in the Chicken Run (Blog 115)

Last week, I wrote about leaving hunting gear behind, my incompetence manifested itself in a new way this week on Friday.  I locked myself inside the chicken run.

Elaine and I split the duties regarding taking care of our chickens.  Usually, for example, it is my job to let our flock out of their henhouse in the morning, while she puts them to bed at night.  Friday evening Elaine was grilling venison burgers for dinner, so I volunteered to make sure that Ruby, Little Spotty Hen, Tallulah, and Dot were locked inside their house safely.

I accomplished that task satisfactorily.  But when I pushed on the chicken run door, it would not give.  After some struggling against the door, I belatedly decided to check on the lock.  Somehow the hook had fallen into the eye and "locked itself," leaving me trapped inside.  I began yelling for Elaine to come let me out, but I could hear the oven grill exhaust and she clearly could not detect my cries.

Our daughter Sarah, her husband David, and son Sam live across the hollow from us, but that is a good 125 yards away from us and its wintertime, so no windows are open.  Luckily, a neighbor across the road was outside and heard my pleas, so she called out if I needed help.  Too embarrassed to yell back what had happened, I merely shouted for her to call Elaine and ask her to come outside.

Predictably, Elaine laughed and teased me about my plight, and even went so far as to suggest that our hens probably wouldn't mind if I spent the night in the chicken abode. I also think she took a little longer than necessary to unlock the gate.  One of the reasons I love her so much is that she constantly teases me about my shortcomings, a number of which have been showing themselves lately.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Leaving Gear Behind in the Woods, Part II (Blog 114)

Several blogs ago, I wrote about my penchant for leaving gear behind while hunting.  Today, on the last day of the general firearms season West of the Blue Ridge in Virginia, I outdid myself.  My son Mark and I drove to an Alleghany County property where not only was the deer hunting wretched, but I also left my camera case and lunch box behind.

Now as a freelance writer/photographer, my most important gear item is my Nikon camera which is stored within a Pelican case.  For someone in my profession to leave such an important item behind is like a carpenter leaving his tool box behind or a fishermen forgetting to bring any fishing rods on a fishing trip.

Come to think of it, I once left my fishing rods behind.  Elaine and I had just been married for a few months and decided to go on a combination camping and fishing trip.  I left behind the fishing rods, tent, and several items which now escape me as some 34 1/2 years have passed.  To forget to remember to bring what are arguably the most important items on a combo fishing and camping trip (ie the rods and tent) is just unfathomable and wreaks of incompetence.

Elaine has just called the landowner and apologized for my snafu.  The aforementioned items are in the landowner's driveway.  Our son Mark will pick up the items one day this coming week at the landowner's place of business.  My long suffering sweetheart of a wife definitely has to have a great patience in dealing with me.