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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wild Turkey Leg Soup and Blackberry Pie for Christmas Eve Dinner (Blog 222)

Sunday of last week after I called in and killed a turkey behind our house, I asked Elaine if we could have wild turkey leg soup for Christmas Eve dinner - perhaps served with blackberry pie from the berries we gathered last July from the 38-tract we live on in Botetourt County, Virginia.

And today, Christmas Eve, Elaine made my meal dreams come true just like she has been the dream wife for the past 36 1/2 years.  Our son Mark came over for dinner, and the three of us dined on the soup, cobbler, and vegetable dish that Elaine had prepared.

Adding to the local theme, after dinner we sat around the Christmas tree, a red cedar that we cut from our land.  After Christmas, I will use that tree and several others to create some horizontal cover for songbirds and small mammals this winter.

Elaine is a fantastic cook.  In fact, her recipe for the turkey soup once appeared in a story we wrote for the National Wild Turkey Federation.  But she is an even more fantastic wife and helpmate.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Turkey for Christmas (Blog 221)

I had endured my worst fall turkey season this century, never even coming close to calling in a bird...that is until Sunday.  On the way home from a fruitless hunt to Franklin County, I received a phone call from my son-in-law David Reynolds who lives on our 38-acre Botetourt County, Virginia land with Elaine's and my daughter Sarah and their two sons Sam and Elie.

David had called to tell me that while squirrel hunting, he had busted up a flock of turkeys behind the house.  Was I interested?  David couldn't hunt because he had to take the boys to the other grandparents.

I sped home, ran into the woods and set up and a jenny immediately answered my yelps and kee-kees.  A few minutes later she came walking in, and I killed my first turkey of the season.

What a thrill.  All of my fall turkey hunting takes place in Virginia and West Virginia, and it seems that in the counties I had hunted in across both states have experienced a hatch failure.

But now Elaine has decided that we will have wild turkey leg soup for Christmas, and that is a dish that will be much appreciated by me this holiday.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Birding While Turkey Hunting (Blog 220)

Although my turkey hunting this autumn and winter has been disappointing, I, as always, have enjoyed bird watching while afield.  So far, I have spotted such winter visitors as winter wrens, brown creepers, hermit thrushes, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, juncos, and white-throated sparrows.

Interestingly, two species of winter visitors that I used to see this time of year, I have not observed this century: evening grosbeaks and purple finches. Do they no longer come as far south as Botetourt and Craig counties, Virginia where I live and hunt.  Or is it just random chance that I have not seen them in 15 or so years.

Of course, I would like to call in and kill a turkey for Christmas dinner, but I can still enjoy being outdoors and birding.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Turkeys Hard to Find (Blog 219)

Turkey season has come back in here in Virginia, and I am still struggling to find birds.  Most day, I have been hunting before and after teaching school and just can't seem to locate flocks.

The exception this week was that I found a flock two straight days, but they were across the property boundary.  I sat and watched them on the roost just 40 yards away.  The sweet hen sounds I sent their way were ignored as were the amped up mad hen yelps I tried next.

This morning (Saturday) I am packed and ready to go, but it is raining as I write, and the forecast is for rain all day here in Botetourt and surrounding counties.  I had hoped to drive to Franklin County, but the forecast is for rain there, too.  A heavy acorn crop, a poor hatch, precipitation, and random bad luck have conspired against me so far.  Thank goodness for Sunday hunting, and a day in the woods tomorrow.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Called in Hunter While Turkey Hunting (Blog 218)

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and Virginia's one-day Thanksgiving Holiday turkey season was in.  Content with my deer season, I decided to go turkey hunting, especially since I had trouble finding birds during the two-week early season which had ended.

So given the fact that the general firearms season was in, I decided to go hunting on some private land in Botetourt County where only I had permission to hunt. Setting up in a woodlot where I could view a woodlot and fields on both sides, I began calling.

After about 90 minutes of not having any luck, I saw another hunter "sneak hunting" toward me.  The man did not have any blaze orange on (which is illegal) and I saw him cross the property boundary (another illegal act).  He clearly was stalking me, or more precisely my turkey sounds.

In such a situation, the conventional wisdom is not to make any movements since an unethical hunter could shoot at any movement.  So I began yelling that someone was "over here."  I had to shout out four times before the man stopped and acknowledged me.  The man said he was "hunting."

I told him I was through for the day and the woods were his.  I don't like to argue with someone who is not obeying the law and who can not see another hunter with blaze orange on and just 40 yards away.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

New Editions ofJames and New River Books (Blog 217)

Much of this past summer was spent with my revising my first two books, The James River Guide and The New River Guide.  Now, my publisher has informed me that the new editions of both books will be out shortly.

This has been the most intense year of writing I have ever experienced in my 31 years a freelance writer and photographer.  The second edition of my Shenandoah and Rappahannock Rivers Guide and first edition of my South Branch and Upper Potomac Rivers Guide both came out in late June.  Plus, thus summer I took a class for recertification of my teacher's certificate.  It seems like I worked nothing but 12 to 14 hours each day.

Hopefully, readers of the new editions of the James and New will think my effort was worth it. By mail, both books cost $19.75 and that includes tax and shipping.  To order, send a check to me at 1009 Brunswick Forge Road, Troutville, VA 24175.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Peregrine Falcon Makes Kill (Blog 216)

Last week while deer hunting, I espied a raptor speed across a cornfield and make a kill.  Witnessing hawks or owls kill a rodent, mammal, or bird is not uncommon while I am afield, but there was something different about this bird of prey.

The first thing I noted about the bird was its blue-gray back and its large size, then I noted the long, pointed wings and long tail - and I experienced an eureka moment - it's a peregrine falcon I said to friend Doak Harbison who was sharing the blind with me.

The sighting was in Botetourt County, Virginia, and I can't remember the last time I had glimpsed a peregrine in my home county.  I will look for this predator the next time I go to the cornfield.

One of the best things about being an outdoor writer is that when I go fishing or hunting, I am always going birding at the same time.  Birding enriches the overall outdoor experience for me.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Hermit Thrush and Questions of Mortality (Blog 215)

A few days ago, I was filling up the waterer for our Rhode Island Reds, and I noticed a hermit thrush flitting about on the ground.  I walked over to the bird, and to my surprise, it did not fly away.  It was then that I picked up the thrush and realized that it was either sick or injured.

What to do? A cold night was the forecast, so I decided to put the bird in our garage overnight.  The next morning the thrush was still alive but also still unable to fly.  Then, I had another philosophical thought.  Should I put the thrush back outdoors and let it come apart of the food chain (as some predator was liable to eat it) or keep it in the garage where it would no doubt die in a few days.

I decided to do nothing.  The next day when I opened the garage, the hermit thrush flitted out and into the front yard...which is where I last saw it.  Several days have passed, and I can only assume that the bird is now dead.  I don't know which predator killed and ate the thrush, but I know that the thrush's likely death is the natural order of things.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Opening Day of Virgnia's Early Muzzleloading Season (Blog 214)

It's opening day of Virginia's early muzzleloading season, and, as I write, an hour before shooting light.  My two muzzleloaders, a Knight Bighorn and a Thompson Center Triumph, have been patterned, but they reside currently in my gun case.

The problem is the weather.  The forecast has improved somewhat, but for much of the day the prediction is that rain and/or brisk winds will occur.  Here in Botetourt, only bucks are legal, and that means that I would have to have a mature 8 pointer come by my stand as I am not interested in shooting a young buck.

Of course, I could drive to Franklin County where the landowner called me last night and invited me to come.  But that is a 124-mile round trip, and I still don't like the look of that sky.  But doe season is open today in Franklin, and I could also pursue turkeys before going on deer stand.  Maybe, I should  take my crossbow and go out and hunt behind the house...maybe not though because if the rain returns it would be difficult to track a whitetail's blood trail.

So here I sit undecided.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Opening Day of Virginia's Fall Turkey Season (Blog 213)

I love the various opening days of the fall hunting seasons and try never to miss them in Virginia and West Virginia.  So it was with great anticipation that I headed out this morning to pursue turkeys in Franklin County.  Indeed, I went to the same farm where I have killed turkeys on four of the last five openers.

Today, however, I never saw or heard a turkey respond to my calls.  I arrived early, hoping to scatter birds off the roost, then proceeded to  wend my way through woodlot after woodlot, field after field, and every other form of habitat I came across - and failed to locate a flock.

I then drove to two Botetourt County farms where I have permission to hunt and struck out there, too.  We have had a tremendous acorn crop and the turkeys apparently are not traveling very much because food is so easy to find.  Still, I should have come across something.  Perhaps the hatch was not a good one this fall.  Or maybe my game plan for the day was flawed.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

David's Doe (Blog 212)

My son-in-law David Reynolds and I went bowhunting on family land in Craig County Saturday, and David made an excellent shot on a mature doe after 8:00 A.M. Earlier, we had agreed that the two of us would make two turkey yelps or kee-kees if  either of us killed a deer.  That signal would let each of us know the status of the other.

Thus, I heard David make two yelps.  Although David's calling was, well, not very turkey-like, his aim was perfect and later he recounted his tagging of the whitetail.  I, meanwhile saw nothing and my poor fortune continued in the evening when I only saw two whitetails, one at 80 yards and another while I was walking to the vehicle.

A memorably day for David, a forgettable one for me.  But I am heading out this morning to try again.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Eye Problems (Blog 211)

This weekend, I had my hunting plans all organized and ready to implement.  I was going to bowhunt Friday after school here in Botetourt, go to West Virginia for opening day of the fall turkey season, and spend Sunday here in Virginia bowhunting.
 But Thursday while at school in my second block English 9 Honors class, I felt like a huge eyelash had appeared in my right eye, followed some minutes later by more eyelashes.  Unfortunately, they were not eyelashes but blood.  A blood vessel had hemorrhaged, two tears in my retina had occurred, and I could not see out of the eye.

Thursday afternoon was spent at my eye doctor's and Friday afternoon was spent in laser surgery mending the tears.  The doctor said it would take anywhere from five days to a month for me to regain full vision in the right eye.  My goal today, Saturday, will not to be to hunt turkeys but see if I can figure out how to shoot a crossbow by using my left eye to sight in.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Opening Day of Virginia's Bow Season (Blog 210)

This morning, I arose at 4:05 to go to Craig County to hunt the property that Elaine and I own there in the beautiful Johns Creek Valley.  I almost always hunt there on opening day because I almost always have a chance to tag a deer there on the season opener.

This morning, though, the wind rocked my stand about and by 10:30 I had endured enough.  There is something extremely disconcerting about being 15 feet off the ground and experiencing a tree undulating back and forth.  Plus, the temperature seemed to be growing colder all morning.

When I arrived home, I called a Botetourt County landowner, where I have permission to hunt, and asked if I could come over.  The gentleman answered in the affirmative, and with the temperature continuing to drop, I felt the deer would be moving early this evening.

My supposition turned out to be right, as I killed a doe at 2:45 P.M., just short of an hour after I set up in a ground blind - no tree stand hunting for me in those high winds.  I was home in time for dinner with Elaine, and we played Scrabble while listening to Prairie Home Companion.  Although Elaine beat me in Scrabble, any day where I can kill a deer is a good one.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Seasons (Blog 209)

Recently, one of my Creative Writing students at Lord Botetourt High School asked me what my favorite season is.  When I was younger ( I am 62) or even just a decade ago, I would have answered the summer.

But now, I no longer have a favorite season, enjoying them all equally.  Fall has officially arrived, and I enjoy that pleasant "nip" in the air some mornings.  I am preoccupied with deer hunting and West Virginia's and Virginia's fall turkey season both start soon, and I will be afield on opening day in both states.  This month Elaine and I have gathered summer grapes for jelly and walnuts for cookies.  In another month or so, it will be time to pick persimmons.

Winter, too, has its charms.  There is no joy like waking up in the morning and finding six inches of snow on the ground.  Elaine and I will stay home and play scrabble, and she will bake a blackberry pie for lunch.  Later in the late afternoon, we will take a walk on the seeded logging road that encircles our property and observe what creatures have left their prints in the snow.

Spring means spring gobbler season, trout and river smallmouth fishing, and the woods bursting forth in every shade of green imaginable.  Any morning I hear a gobbler sounding off - well nothing can be finer.

And then summer.  The unhurried rhythm of a summer day: writing in the morning, walking three miles, lunch with Elaine, and an afternoon nap, then more writing and then stopping work for the day at dinner.  Then that long summer twilight of birds singing and the stars coming out.

I like all the seasons.

Friday, September 19, 2014

(Land Saver Award from Blue Ridge Land Conservancy (Blog 208)

Last Sunday, Elaine and I received the 2014 Land Saver Award from the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy at its annual Conservation Celebration.  Quite honestly, it was one of the most touching honors we have ever received.

At the event, I was supposed to address the attendees, and I had planned my talk.  I was going to talk about how when I was 12, my Grandfather Willie showed me the family farm, now houses in Franklin County, Virginia, and how he cried when he told me how the family had lost the land.  "We used to be landed, but we're not anymore," said my grandfather as he was convulsed with tears.

Then I was going to talk about how I promised my grandfather that I would save my money and buy rural property and one day the Ingrams would be "landed" again.  That the main reason I became a writer was so that I could have a second job and use the money earned to buy rural land in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia.

Then I was going to thank Elaine for taking care of all the daily chores of shopping for clothes, buying groceries, and taking the cars for inspection and repairs so that I could write and teach school.  And last I was going to end up quoting Scarlet O'Hara's father Gerald who said in Gone with the Wind:  "The land is the only thing in the world worth working for... because it's the only thing that lasts."

But I only made my way part way through my talk, not even being able to praise my wife for bringing joy into my life and being such a perfect spouse and helpmate, before I broke down in tears. So, Elaine, even though I didn't say those things last Sunday, I will say them now - thanks sweetheart.

If you live in Southwest Virginia and believe in the precious nature of land, here is the conservancy's website for you to learn more:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday No. 2 of Urban Archery Season (Blog 207)

Today was the second Saturday of Virginia's Urban Archery season, and the second day I've gone deer hunting.  I was unable to bowhunt all week with a heavy work load from school, plus meetings, and magazine work as well.  So I had looked forward to going afield on Saturday.

However, I awoke to rain falling, and not liking to bowhunt in the rain because of the difficulty of following a blood trail when precipitation is occurring and the danger inherent in climbing a tree in the rain and dark, I decided to stay home and write.

I have this theory that deer move immediately after a prolonged rain stops, but the rain stopped around noon, and I was unprepared to leave for a stand then.  When I did climb into a stand around 4:45, I had this feeling that the deer would not move again until after dark.

Which turned out to be true, at least no whitetails meandered by my stand before I climbed down at sunset.  Next Saturday, I am going to hunt on a flat that has trees dropping acorns.  I feel better about my chances - providing the wind is right.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Virginia's Opening Day of Urban Archery Season (Blog 206)

Yesterday was opening day of Virginia's Urban Archery Season, and I spent much of the morning  watching squirrels and wondering why the mosquito spray seemed powerless to ward off the beasties.  I did not see a deer during the morning sit and went home for lunch and a nap.

Returning to the same Roanoke County woodlot around 4:15, I soon discovered that the mosquitoes were worse and even the squirrels were elsewhere.  But I decided to proverbially "tough it out," and sometimes that is the right decision to make.

For about 40 minutes before dark, five deer began making their way toward me, and I was able to send a bolt from my Parker Thunderhawk crossbow through the lead doe's lungs.  Ninety minutes later, my son-in-law David Reynolds helped me quarter the doe, and this morning Elaine and I began the process of canning the venison, minus the tenderloins and roasts that we froze, and the heart which will form the makings of school lunches for four or five days.

I am very glad that I stayed in the woods all evening.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hanging a Tree Stand (Blog 205)

Yesterday I spent nearly two hours trying to find a place to hang a tree stand on a Roanoke County property where I will bowhunt next Saturday on opening day of Virginia's Urban Archery season.  In short, I could not find a place where I feel I have a decent chance to tag a doe.

The woodlot I searched through (picture below) has a pasture or fields on all sides of it.  A number of oaks are dropping acorns, but there was no tree near any of the bearing oaks that I could hang a stand in.

One of the best places where there were acorns was the pond that borders one side of the woodlot.  The forecast for next Saturday is for temperatures in the 80s, and I though the combination of food and water offered great potential.  But every tree near the pond was too large for a stand or left me too exposed to any deer that might come by.

I finally positioned my stand along a logging road that runs through the property.  But I have no confidence in the spot.  We will see what happens next Saturday.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Snake in the House (Blog 204)

"Bruce, come down here, right now!" Elaine yelled from the kitchen this morning.  My first thought was that I had committed some egregious error, but then it occurred to me that she was very scared.  I ran from my writing room, scurried down the steps, and charged into the kitchen.

"Just look," she pointed to the recycling bin.  "I thought the sealing of the back door meant that we were done with those things!"

I still couldn't see what she was so aggravated about, but, finally, she pointed directly at the reason for her anxiety.  A sticky label from our bananas had fallen on the floor, landed on the side of the recycling bin, and a five-inch Eastern ringneck snake had become stuck on the label.

The poor creature was wriggling about in obvious duress, and I felt real sympathy for the stuck snake.

"Get it out of here, right now," Elaine demanded.  "I will not share my house and kitchen with snakes."

"They're harmless," I meekly replied.  "But I will remove it from the kitchen right now."

I took the banana label and the attached snake outside and carefully removed the poor creature from its sticky prison.  The last I saw of the Eastern ringneck it was winding its way across the sidewalk and into the at last.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Deer Scouting (Blog 203)

My son-in-law David Reynolds and I spent this morning scouting for deer on various properties in Craig County, Virginia and Monroe County, West Virginia.  We checked on stand sites, looked for deer and turkey sign, and, most importantly, assessed the acorn crop.

Our most important finding was that there seem to be more acorns this year than last.  I noted scarlet oak and black oak acorns at several sites, though I found no white or chestnut oak acorns anywhere.  Of course, it is still early in the "acorn dropping" arena, but, still, we were encouraged about what we found.

I have my compound bow and two crossbows sighted in, but I have not begun work on preparing my shotgun, rifle, or muzzleloader for the season ahead.  That needs to be done shortly, as I like to have things prepared well in advance.  And, of course, more scouting will be done as well.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Copperhead in Front Yard (Blog 202)

Yesterday evening after school, I was cleaning out the hen house of our Rhode Island Reds.  I had placed our birds in the chicken tractor that rests next to the sidewalk, so that they could feed on any vegetation or insects they encountered.

As I began walking up the sidewalk toward the tractor, the chickens began emitting their alarm call, and I noticed that a copperhead was sunning itself on the edge of the sidewalk.  Our chickens have not had a good summer predator-wise, from a bear attaching the run to a stray cat stalking the perimeter.  For that matter, our birds become alarmed when deer wander into the backyard.

I don't like killing snakes or copperheads.  On a number of times since we have lived in our Botetourt County, Virginia home, I have observed copperheads and let them go on their way.  They are a beautiful reptile that feeds mostly on mice and insects.

But our grandson Sam had earlier yesterday been playing on the sidewalk, and I just can't risk him being bitten, especially since he is only 26 months old.  So I took a shovel and dispatched the copperhead.  I felt very sad after doing so, but I felt I had no choice.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Back to School (Blog 201)

Tomorrow, Monday, I go back to teaching English and Creative Writing at Lord Botetourt High School, and I am really looking forward to beginning the school year.  I began my teaching career 40 years ago, but I still really enjoy the classroom.

It is so much less stressful to teach school than to be a freelance writer.  This summer I have had many book signings and fishing trips for articles and it has been exhausting.  Being away from home and Elaine is no fun.  I enjoy meeting folks at the book signings, but the long, lonely trips home are not something I enjoy.

Every day in the classroom there is an opportunity for me to teach my students something new, and for them to teach me something about life that I didn't know before.  What could be better.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Summer's Bounty (Blog 200)

Today for lunch, Elaine and I sat down for a meal that came almost entirely from what I had killed or we had grown.  On the menu were the following: deer burgers with tomato slices from the garden, new potatoes and chives from the garden, and yellow squash seasoned with onions.

Interestingly, I am working on an article right now of how to be a locavore, so our mid-day repast fit in well with that story.  It is always a great pleasure to eat something I have pursued or grown, and I feel it is a healthy way to live, too.

Elaine is a marvelous cook, and her talents in the kitchen are why we have cooking columns with Whitetail Times and the Quality Deer Management Association. I am sure she will create something equally tasty for lunch on Sunday.  I am also thinking that blackberry waffles might be a good dinnertime repast on Sunday.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Brooding Chicks (Blog 199)

Elaine and I have tried twice this summer to raise chicks inside a brooder and have failed spectacularly both times.  The first time in June we placed 13 eggs in a brooder and not one of the hatched and only one developed to a certain degree but did not even pip.  Two others apparently developed for a few days then stopped inside the shell.

We waited a week or so and collected eight eggs.  Seven of the eggs did not develop at all. One egg did develop, and we are waiting to see if the chick that was inside will survive.  We don't expect it to survive the night.

We followed the advice on the brooder and turned the eggs when they were supposed to be turned.  We would appreciate advice from readers of our blog.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book Signings and Fishing Trips (Blog 198)

I have just finished what I have long known would be the busiest of the summer.  Monday, I gave a talk and book signing for the Warren County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League (picture below); Tuesday  I went fishing on the South Fork of the Shenandoah with Shenandoah River Outfitters and interviewed artist Bruce Dellinger for an article for TURKEY COUNTRY.

Wednesday, Elaine and I drove to the South Branch of the Potomac, visiting every library along the way to see if they wanted to purchase my new book on the Potomac River.  Thursday, I went fishing on the South Branch of the Potomac with Eagle's Nest Outfitters, and Friday I wrote almost all day it seemed.  Saturday I went fishing with Rock on Charters on the New River.

I am absolutely exhausted and have more writing to do today, plus mow the lawn, pick berries, and try to spend some time with Elaine.  Plus, I have to go to class online for the class I am taking for recertification.  I am swamped.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Wild Trout Fishing in the Virginia Mountains with my Wife Elaine (Blog 197)

Elaine and I decided to go off into the mountains to fish for wild trout for the July 4 Holiday.  Even though Elaine has recovered extremely well from her breast cancer and chemotherapy from five years ago, she still becomes tired easily.  So we decided just to drive to the end of a forest road and wade fish for maybe 75 yards up a Virginia mountain.

I was gathering anecdotes for a magazine article, so I won't go into details on fish caught, flies used, and that sort of thing.  We only fished for about 90 minutes when I decided that Elaine was growing tired, so I announced that we were going home.

When we arrived home, Elaine started to apologize about her being the reason we stayed such a short time.  That is typical of how sweet she is, always thinking of me and my passion for fishing.  But I told her, and I meant this very sincerely, that the short little excursion with her was by far my best and most enjoyable fishing trip of the year. That I was just so happy to be with her and doing anything.

We have been married for 36 years now, and she is still the most fascinating person I know to talk to. I love her so much.  The picture below shows Elaine gearing up for out outing.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Time to Start Bowhunting Practice (Blog 196)

The past few days I have been practicing with my Matthews compound and Parker crossbow.  Usually, I don't start until July 4, but I wanted to begin earlier this summer.

It has been two weeks since I have been out of school and I have been doing writing work of some kind for over 12 hours a day every day.  I have written five magazine articles and planned book signings, which means I've been on the phone a great deal, for my new Upper Potomac book and the revised edition of the Shenandoah one.

Frankly, it has been a relief to go shoot the bows for 20 minutes or so.  Shooting a bow, especially a compound, takes so much concentration that there is no room in my head to think about article deadlines or book signings.

The other day I placed a bunch of my bow-related gear on the bed in my writing room.  There is so much to organize and decisions to make, do I need to buy new arrows and bolts, do I need to buy more blades, and, of course, both the compound and crossbow need to be sighted in.  How do bows that have not been shot in months become out of whack so easily?

Anyway, as always, I look forward to bow season.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hen Eggs Fail to Hatch (Blog 195)

Elaine and I had hoped that some of the 13 chicken eggs we had been incubating would hatch earlier this week.  But, unfortunately, none of them did.  When we opened up the eggs to see if any of them had developed, we found that only two had partially begun to form a baby chick.

This was most disconcerting as recently we have lost our alpha rooster Boss, had a bear attack the run, and had Sweetie Pie run away (only to be captured hours later) as a result of the bruin trying to break down one of the walls of the run.

We believe that the reason the eggs did not hatch is because they became too cold when we stored them in the downstairs refrigerator.  We turned the refrigerator's dial as warm as it would go - 50 degrees - but that apparently was not warm enough.

Tomorrow, we will begin another incubation period, hoping that we have learned from our past mistakes.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Spending Father's Day with My Son (Blog 194)

Sunday, Father's Day, I spent much of the day with my son Mark.  In the morning, we went float fishing on the Roanoke River.  Although the fishing was poor (we only caught one small smallmouth between the two of us), I don't think either one of us minded too much.  It was just good to talk about fishing, sports, school (both of us are school teachers) and life in general.

That evening, we watched the NBA finals game between Miami and San Antonio.  Neither one of us is a fan of either of the teams, but that didn't matter.  We analyzed coaching strategy, play selection, and fantastic - and poor - plays.

The poor fishing and indifference to who won the game are not what I will remember about this day.  What I will remember is experiencing one of my best Father's Days ever.  I have been extremely fortunate in my life to have a wonderful wife Elaine and two wonderful children in Sarah and Mark and now even a fine son-in-law David and grandchildren, Sam and Eli.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fly Strike Fells Rooster (Blog 193)

Last week, we sadly lost our alpha rooster, Boss.  Boss was the biggest Rhode Island Red I have ever seen and gentle as he was huge.  We had just finished gathering eggs fertilized by Boss for incubation when he apparently developed the flu or a bad cold; we are not sure which.  He was lethargic on a Tuesday and very sick on Wednesday.

I removed him from the rest of the flock on Wednesday and gave him water, which he periodically threw up.  I noticed that flies were buzzing about him, but I figured that was because of his droppings which were quite moist.  On Thursday morning, there were several hundred maggots around him and an hour later he was dead.  When I removed him from the chicken tractor, hordes of maggots were writhing in his vent area.

After talking to some other folks and doing research, Boss appears to be a victim of the original ailment that struck him, as well as the flies finishing him off by breeding on him -called Fly Strike.  Elaine and I would appreciate any insight on this.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bear Attacks Chicken Run (Blog 192)

Last week, I wrote about Sweetie Pie's panicked escape and our three-hour search for her.  A few days later, Elaine and I learned why the hen and the rest of the flock were acting so stressed last Tuesday.

We found bear paw prints on the compost bin that borders the chicken run, and we also saw where a bruin had bent down the top of one side of the fence, torn off the netting that covers that side, and left claw prints on the wood support.  The only thing, we believe, that kept the bear from entering the compound was the fact that it must have been repeatedly shocked by the solar powered fence (two wires about eight inches apart run around the perimeter) as it tried to break in.

The day after the attack, the chickens refused to leave the henhouse and neither Boss nor Johnny crowed.  It was as if every bird was trying to hunker down and stay inside for safety.  The quartet only came out after much encouragement from me.

We have taken a number of precautions to keep our birds safe in terms of fortifying the run, but nothing we have done has been as important as constructing the solar powered electric fence.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Return of the Prodigal Chicken Hen (Blog 191)

Sunday when our son Mark was visiting, he and I were outside working in the backyard.  It was time to put our four heritage Rhode Island Reds back in the run, so I called out "Let's go home" to the quartet, and the chickens immediately walked back inside the enclosure on their own.

Mark expressed amazement at how well trained our chickens were and asked "Do they always behave that well?"

Turns out, the answer is no.

Tuesday, Elaine and I observed the opposite of good behavior in our birds.  We let our flock out at 4:00 P.M. and at 5:00, I called out "Let's go home."

Boss, Johnny, and Baby headed back toward the run with Sweetie Pie lagging behind.  As the first three reached the doorway, one of the trio gave the alarm cluck which sent Sweetie Pie into full-blown panic.  As I shut the door on the lead three chickens, Sweetie Pie ran into the woods to the right of the driveway.

I quickly followed her into the woods, meanwhile calling to her and calling out to Elaine to come help.  But this woods was clear cut four years ago and has grown back extremely thick.  Soon I lost sight of the hen.

For the next hour we called to Sweetie Pie but she never responded. Our son-in-law David came over and he, Elaine, and I searched in vain.   I then had the idea of playing a tape of a rooster crowing, the hope being that Sweetie Pie would come to that sound - a forlorn hope as things evolved.

Then we asked our neighbor Kim and her daughter Sarah to come over with two of their dogs for tracking purposes.  That scheme failed as well. I did glimpse Sweetie Pie one time in the thicket, but when I called to her she went the opposite way.

Knowing that Sweetie Pie was unlikely to survive a night in the woods (given all the predators about) and with just about 15 minutes of daylight left, I had one last gambit to play.  That is, Elaine and I would continuously circle the clearcut with the hope that Sweetie Pie would panic and begin alarm clucking when she realized that she was all by herself in a darkening woods.

Sure enough, Sweetie Pie did begin alarm clucking, and I ran to the sound.  I spotted her through the undergrowth, and deciding that calling would be futile, I scudded toward her.  She bolted and I chased her for about 40 yards until I made a leap over a deadfall and ran her down.  Tucking her tight to my stomach, I held her firmly as Elaine and I walked back to the chicken run.

We opened the top of the henhouse and deposited Sweetie Pie inside, where Sweetie Pie once again emitted the alarm cluck.  Johnny walked over to her and pecked her three times hard on the head.

"Serves her right for misbehaving so much," said Elaine.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Elaine at Quilt Camp (Blog 190)

My students at Lord Botetourt High School often, as the weekend approaches, ask what my wife Elaine and I will be doing.  When Elaine goes away to quilt camp as she is doing this week, and I give the students that information, they almost always laugh at the thought of quilters going on  a getaway.

As much I miss Elaine when she is away at quilt camp (and she usually goes on four or so of these outings per year), I am thrilled that she can do so.  Elaine enjoys so much the camaraderie of the other ladies, plus she is able to work - and receive advice - on her many projects.

Elaine will return around noon on Sunday, and I will be overjoyed to see her.  And she will have so much to tell me about the events of the long weekend, how much she learned and accomplished.  It is great that she enjoys this hobby.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Strutting Turkey Hen (Blog 189)

This past Monday, I witnessed something while turkey hunting that I had never seen before - a strutting hen.  I had placed a decoy out in a Botetourt County field and was yelping and clucking.  When out of the corner of my right eye, I glimpsed a turkey marching - and marching is the right word - directly to the decoy.

The turkey was all "puffed out" in full strut.  I eased up my 12 gauge, clicked off the safety, and leveled the gun on the bird, which I thought was a gobbler.

Fortunately, I waited to have a better view of the bird because when the turkey reached the decoy, it was very clear that the bird was a female.  No beard and a dark colored head, plus a fairly small body clearly indicated that the turkey was a hen.

The hen then proceeded to circle the decoy, angrily clucking at it.  Soon the hen was finished displaying that she was the alpha female in this part of the world, and she left in triumph.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Scarlet Tanagers and American Redstarts (Blog 188)

My Virginia spring gobbler season has been very unsatisfactory so far, as I have not punched a tag.  But the spring woods have been as glorious as ever.

Today, the closest I came to a gobbler was around 11:00 A.M. when two toms wandered by some 80 yards distant.  But for much of the day, I experienced the joy of watching some beautifully colored scarlet tanagers and American redstarts on a hunt in Craig County.

Last week, I heard my first scarlet tanagers of the year, but did not actually see one until today.  Most of the time this tanager is a creature of the tree tops, but today I observed several of these birds, which sport a scarlet body with black wings, feeding on the ground.  What's more, they were quite close and I watched them flitting among the leaf litter.

Several times, American restarts came by as well.  This bird, which has a song like a squeaky wheel, was busily going about eating insects from small trees.  The species' combination of orange and coal black is a rather unique color scheme - for sure there is nothing in the Virginia mountains that looks like it.

I also heard my first worm eating warbler of the year.  On a sad note, though, I have not yet heard a whip-poor-will or a chucks-will-widow.  Their population declines are very alarming.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Spring's Transition Time (Blog 187)

As I was sitting in Virginia's spring gobbler woods this week, I saw once again the evidence of how this season is a transitional one.  Within the past 10 days, I heard for the first time this year the following birds: wood thrush, yellow-throated vireo, black-and-white warbler, American redstart, scarlet tanager, and hooded warbler among others.

But also as part of this transition time, Elaine and I ate the last of the frozen blackberries and wineberries, both ending up in two cobblers.  And we ate the last of the venison from deer number four, meaning the meat from six whitetails is left in the freezer.

As I look around our back yard, the North Star cherry is replete with blooms.  The tree is still small but we hope that it can produce several pies and cobblers this year.  And the Dolgo crabapple also shows potential as does the Rome apple tree.

Today, I think I will gather some onions and maybe in a week or two, the asparagus will be ready to pick.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Coyote Attacks Hen Decoy (Bog 186)

Yesterday while hunting spring gobblers in Franklin County, I witnessed something I have heard about but never seen...a coyote attacking a hen decoy.  I had heard two gobblers before dawn and set up near the closer one.

Putting out a decoy, I had made a series of hen yelps and jake kee kees with no response from either of the toms.  Suddenly out of the corner of my left eye, I espied a coyote take a flying leap onto the decoy.  The attack knocked over the stake and the bogus hen collapsed under the weight of the coyote.

Immediately upon landing, however, the coyote realized that the prey was not real and departed in the same direction he had come.  I once observed a red-tailed hawk attack the same Flambeau decoy while on a hunt in Tennessee, but the violence of that attack paled in comparison to this one.

I am undecided on whether or not to use a decoy again this spring.  This is the second time a coyote has come in to the fake bird.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Virginia's Opening Day of Spring Gobbler Season (Blog 185)

Several weeks ago, I told Elaine that I had a feeling that I would kill a gobbler on opening day of the Virginia season.  Well, that feeling turned out to be pathetically wrong as not only did I not tag one on Saturday, I also never even saw one.  Heck, I never even had one answer my hen calls.

Over the years when I have had a feeling that I would do well while hunting or fishing, those feelings have been overwhelmingly correct.  Conversely, many times I  have lacked confidence when going afield, either because of weather conditions or the belief that I did not understand what my quarry was doing. And, overwhelmingly when I had those negative feelings, my day afield has not been successful.

I don't believe that having strong feelings of future success is indicative of cockiness nor do I feel that having negative feelings is indicative of undue pessimism.  In both cases, I believe that it was logical to believe the way I did. I wonder whether I will feel confident or pessimistic when I hunt gobblers before school on Monday morning.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Boss versus Johnny - the rivalry continues (Blog 184)

Today, Saturday, Elaine and I had time to clean the henhouse, so Elaine supervised our four Rhode Island Red chickens (Boss, Johnny, Sweetie Pie, and Baby) as they roamed about the yard while I removed the old straw from the house and replaced it with fresh bedding.

While I was still working on the task, Elaine had to go do some household chore, so I put Johnny, Sweetie Pie, and Baby in the chicken tractor and because Boss refused to go inside, I gathered him up and took him inside the chicken run.

Boss did not care for this turn of events and began pacing back and forth inside the run - which caused him to become increasingly frustrated that he could not see his hens.  Finally, he began what I call angry crowing.  Meanwhile, Johnny was alone with the hens for the first time in his one year of living and seemed to be quite content with this propitious change in his status.

When Boss continued to crow, Johnny began to answer.  I have only heard Johnny crow four times since he first crowed in September and on three of those occasions, Boss pecked him quite hard. But with Boss nowhere in sight, Johnny began to belt out crow after crow.

Finally, the henhouse was cleaned, all chickens were placed inside the run, and the natural order of things was restored.  Johnny's one bright shining moment was over.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Virginia's Spring Gobblers...Fascinating Creatures (Blog 183)

As I anxiously await the start of Virginia's spring gobbler season on April 12, I am spending many pleasurable mornings listening to the toms and hens behind our house.  This week several events took place that simply amazed me.

Tuesday morning was bitter cold with wind chill temperatures in the single digits and with snow falling.  Yet an hour before sunrise, I heard a hen yelping in a tree while I was doing my morning three-mile walk.  When I returned from my ramble, a hen (apparently the same one) was still yacking it up in a tree behind the house, and a gobbler had joined her in greeting the dawn.

The old boy was so close to our back yard that I could feel his "rumblings." Later two more mature males began to sound off, as did our rooster Boss who seemed irritated that other birds were as wound up about sunrise as he was.

Wednesday morning was another cold, blustery day but that did not stem the ardor of our turkeys as more gobbling and yelping was heard.  Thursday morning, though, was clear, calm, and much warmer, yet not a single gobble or yelp was heard.

How does one explain that?

Friday, March 21, 2014

First Gobble of the Spring (Blog 182)

Wednesday morning of this week, the weather was cold, gray, a little breezy, and a chilly rain was softly falling.  It was not the type of morning when I would expect to hear the first gobble of the spring here in the Catawba Creek Valley in Southwest Virginia, but the toms had something else in mind.

I had just let our Rhode Island Reds out of their hen house, and as usual, our alpha male Boss came bursting out the door.  He emitted a crow, a hen some 100 yards behind the house yelped, and a tom gobbled.  Did Boss or the hen set off the gobbler?

It really doesn't matter for a few seconds later, a second tom gobbled and then hens began yelping in response. Thursday morning, the turkeys were once again roosted behind our house, but just hen talk took place.  Then on Friday morning, the woods were silent once more.

The gobbling is not predictable, but this week is the one when the monarchs began to sound off.  I can hardly wait for the Virginia season to begin.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Virginia Muskie Fishing on the James River (Blog 181)

Guide Britt Stoudenmire, who operates New River Outdoors and Southern Muskie Guide Service
( held his annual fishing event for his guides and friends this weekend on the James.  I fished with guide Richard Furman ( of Twin River Outfitters in Buchanan.
Throughout the day, Richard and I and struggled to catch smallmouths, never really figuring out where the smallies were holding or what they were feeding on with the bluebird sky conditions prevailing.  But the most interesting aspect of the day was the presence of muskies.
Richard landed a 36-incher (shown below), and I managed to catch a 26-inch fish.

The conventional wisdom states that "muskies are a fish of a thousand casts," but more and more on the James that is not true.  I have fished the James since 1969, have written a book on the waterway (The James River Guide) and live on a tributary of the river.  I have never seen the muskies so abundant in all that time.

I am very curious how the muskie fishing will be this summer.  Meanwhile, anglers can't go wrong by hiring Richard or Britt to take them fishing. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spring on the Brink (Blog 180)

This morning during a break from Elaine and I watching Mad Men, which is part of our Sunday morning quiet time, I went out to the henhouse to let down the gangplank. Our alpha rooster Boss sprinted out to the plank and began a paroxysm of non-stop crowing to greet the dawn.

Boss senses, I believe, as do all creatures that spring is on the brink.  We had two snowfalls this past week here in Southwest Virginia, but they weren't "serious snows." After the precipitation stopped, the snow quickly melted and the temporary inclement conditions couldn't stop the wildlife and their spring restiveness. 

Early to mid-March is a transition month for wildlife, as the green up has not quite begun and
winter is not quite over.  I have noticed that the songbirds have commenced singing, not just the usual early singers such as cardinals, Carolina wrens, and mourning doves, but also field sparrows, tufted titmice, and white-breasted nuthatches.

I have yet to hear my first gobble from a wild turkey, but it is just a matter of time.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Visit to Vintage Virginia Apples (Blog 179)

Elaine and I just spent Friday evening and part of Saturday at Vintage Virginia Apples and Albemarle Cider Works in North Garden, Virginia.  While there on an assignment from Back Home magazine, we were fortunate to discuss heritage apples with Tom Burford, author of the new book Apples of North America, Charlotte Shelton, who along with her family operates Vintage Virginia Apples, and Richard Marini, department head for the department of horticulture at Penn State. 

We have been fans of heritage apples, those varieties that our forefathers grew in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, and up until World War II around the country.  Sadly, many of those varieties are no longer present in most of the country.

But those varieties live again in Tom's book and at places like the Shelton's.  We purchased a Black Twig while at the Shelton's and planted it in our backyard as soon as we arrived home Saturday afternoon.  The Black Twig is my favorite apple, it is the best I have ever had for pies and eating out of hand.  In four or five years, we hope to harvest our first apples from the tree.

For more information on Vintage Virginia Apples,

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Lonely Hermit Thrush (Blog 178)

After some 20 inches of snow, terribly cold weather, and a lack of food in the surrounding forest on our Botetourt County, Virginia land, one would think that our wintering hermit thrush would have enough challenges in his quest to survive the winter.  Elaine and I have watched the hermit thrush flitting about our backyard for much of the winter - seemingly doing as well as could be expected.

But this avian's existence took a nasty turn on Wednesday just as the snow was beginning to melt.  The thrush, inexplicably, became caught in the chicken wire surrounding our coop, and I came across him when I was preparing to let the chickens forage in the backyard after I came home from school.

Not wanting to hurt our yard bird in any way, I gently extricated him from the chicken wire, took a few pictures of him, and then loosened my grip.  The thrush immediately and heartily flew away, seemingly none the worse for the experience.

Our (if I can be so bold to claim him) hermit thrush still has several months left of his sojourn before he heads north to breed.  I hope this was the last of his misadventures.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

An Open Letter to my Wife Elaine on a Snowy Thursday (Blog 177)

Hi, sweetheart, I am glad you are away at Quilt Camp because things are a mess here in Botetourt County.  When I awoke and measured the snowfall, we have 15 1/2 inches and the white stuff is still falling.  Fortunately, the netting over the chicken run held and the solar powered fence is intact.

I am putting the feeder inside the henhouse as I don't think Boss, Johnny, Sweetie Pie and Baby will want to venture outside much today.  I cleared out a place around the gang plank and put the waterer there and our quartet seemed quite grateful to take some sips.

I took some photos from around the yard and chicken run to give you an idea of how things are.  Next, I am going to try to remove the snow from the sidewalk and sundeck and also need to stoke the fire.  Thank goodness we had plenty of wood in the garage and I cut and split more after school yesterday.

Stay warm...I love you...Bruce

Friday, February 7, 2014

Snow in the Forecast (Blog 176)

When I came home from school today, Elaine and I checked the forecast and decided to prepare for snow on Saturday.  I cleaned the henhouse while Elaine supervised our five Rhode Island Reds as they browsed their way through the yard.  Our birds don't like snow and we decided they needed some "greens" in their diet to tide them over.

After the henhouse received fresh straw and our birds had their evening out, we then spread lime on our garden, our fruit trees, and the food plot back in the woods.  We figured the snowfall would facilitate the soil's absorption of the lime.  I also brought some more wood into the garage.

We then planned our Saturday activities since we would likely be shut in most of the day.  Tomorrow, Elaine is going to sew, cook up some homemade applesauce and bake a wineberry cobbler.  I am going to start up the wood stove Saturday morning and spend the morning writing.  Saturday afternoon, I will watch my beloved North Carolina Tarheels.  Then Saturday evening, we will play Scrabble and listen to Prairie Home Companion.

Let it snow, we don't care.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Chicken Power (Blog 175)

Elaine and I never cease to marvel at the benefits our five Rhode Island Red chickens provide.  Our three pullets have been producing eggs for about six weeks now, but that is not all that they, Boss, and Johnny provide.

Ever since the garden was put to bed last October, we have turned the chickens out into our vegetable patch to till the ground, consume egg cases and insects, and drop their manure.  I also have put their litter in the garden to further enrich the soil.

But with the arrival of February, it is now time to let them work in our backyard.  Today, for example, we let the chickens graze about in the yard looking for little beasties and consuming various forms of vegetation.  Also, when I cleaned out the henhouse this morning, I spread the litter around our Dolgo crabapple tree, in effect, both mulching and fertilizing it.  Several more fruit trees will receive the same treatment this month.

Tonight we are having scrambled eggs and whole wheat bread for dinner -not a bad way to end a Saturday.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

In a Robert Frost State of Mind (Blog 174)

Because of the snow and cold, I have been off from school this entire week and have taken several walks along the seeded logging road that winds across our 38 acres in Botetourt County, Virginia.  Elaine, our daughter Sarah, and grandson Sam have accompanied me on some of these half-hour treks.

But in spirit the American poet Robert Frost has also accompanied me.  When walking along the snow covered lane, I think about the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," especially the verse "the woods are lovely dark and deep."  Indeed, they are.

Yesterday, Sarah and I strolled the pathway as the sun was beginning to set and the night creatures were preparing to stir.  We came across a trio of whitetail deer that were about ready to enter a neighbor's pasture.  We saw signs of where a fox had rambled through the woods as well as where songbirds had fed, deer had pawed the ground to reach some vegetation, and much, much more.

The sign left by wildlife is always "writ large" upon the landscape if one knows how and where to look.  I enjoy trying to decipher the message that the creatures have left behind.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Wild Turkeys and Tame Chickens (Blog 173)

Every morning after I let our Rhode Island Reds out of their hen house, I pause for several minutes at dawn to listen for turkeys talking to each other on the roost.  Some mornings I hear turkeys and some I don't.

On Friday, I didn't hear any turkeys so I did a few chores, but right before I was to go inside I heard what I thought was a turkey near the chicken run.  Walking to the run, I heard Johnny, our beta cockerel who has had a head cold for several weeks, clucking just like a wild turkey.

To my surprise, turkeys began answering Johnny about 100 yards behind the run. Johnny replied back and a conversation ensued.  Johnny and his voice have not been right since his head cold and the poor boy has had trouble ridding himself of his malady.  I wonder if other folks have heard chickens and turkeys communicating?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Set for the Winter (Blog 172)

Today Elaine and I spent most of the day inside as an icy rain fell for much of this January day.  But sometimes it is good to spend all day inside, warm by the wood stove, and secure in the knowledge that life is good here with someone I love so much, who even on a cold winter day can make me laugh so much throughout the morning and afternoon.

The day before Elaine had cooked wild turkey breast in our Camp Chef cast iron skillet, and the leftovers were just the thing for two lunchtime sandwiches.  Then for dinner, we had omelets, courtesy of our Rhode Island Red hens.  Tomorrow, we might have the remaining turkey in a vegetable soup - a pleasant thing to contemplate.

Tonight, a scrabble game is the horizon, and Elaine has already playfully boasted that she will beat me by more than the 125 points she did on Wednesday evening.  Again, not much happening but it has been a quite satisfying day nevertheless.

Friday, January 3, 2014

My Grandson Sam, Chickens, Coyotes, and Graham Crackers (Blog 171)

Yesterday, I babysat my grandson Sam while Elaine and our daughter Sarah went into Roanoke for the day.  Sam is now nearly 19 months old and I can see the changes in him.  For example, when we were walking down the sidewalk next to our house, I pointed out the chicken run to him, and Sam immediately took off for the henhouse. He would not have been so independent a few months ago.

Back in the summer, I gave Sam some bread to feed the chickens, instead he ate the bread himself.  This time, when I told him to feed the chickens (while I was picking clover to give our birds), Sam gathered up dead leaves and stuffed them through the chicken wire.  Our Rhode Island Reds were eagerly eating the clover I offered and, of course, rejected Sam's dead leaves.  Nevertheless,  a delighted Sam continued to stuff leaves through the wire.

Later, local trapper Gary Guilliams stopped by with three dead coyotes he had caught that morning.  Gary is one of the sources for a coyote story I am writing for Virginia Wildlife, and I had asked him to bring by any song dogs that he caught so that I could take pictures of them for the story.

Sam was thrilled to see the coyotes and wanted to touch them, which I discouraged of course.

But the most interesting thing Sam did all day was tell me that he wanted "crack-ers" as he says.  I gave him some saltines, but he rejected them by more insistently repeating "crack-ers" and going to the pantry door and pointing upward.  It was only after I called Elaine and asked what was it specifically that Sam wanted did my wife tell me that our grandson had developed a fondness for graham crackers. "Why," Elaine said, " would he want saltines when he knows graham crackers are in the house."

Why indeed.