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Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Towhee, Hermit Thrush, and a Diminishing Woodpile (Blog 231)

It is two hours before sundown on the last day of February, and the forecast is for freezing rain/ice for Sunday morning.  I sigh and head for the woodpile, as Elaine and I both feel a few more split logs in the garage might come in handy for the next morning.

As I am splitting a white oak, I hear some chirping in the woods and look up to see a hermit thrush - a bird that often over winters here in Botetourt County, Virginia.  It is the third time today that I have seen this thrush - or one of his brethren - and I stop to watch him as he hunts for food.

The thrush flies under our sundeck and roots around in the leafy debris, the only place in the area that is not covered with eight inches or more of snow.  Earlier in the week, I had watched a towhee head for the same snow free zone.

I don't resume splitting wood until the hermit thrush has left the deck area.  I don't want to do anything to disrupt his search of  food, as the woodpile is quite close to the deck.  The little tidbits that the thrush has found there might be just enough for him to survive another cold, winter night.  Survival of wildlife
is such a tenuous thing here in the mountains and valleys of Southwest Virginia, especially during the last two weeks when three different snowfalls have taken place.

I finish splitting wood, putting some in the garage and some near the hearth of our wood stove.  Elaine and I will be warm tonight, and I hope to see the hermit thrush and towhee tomorrow.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Snow, Shoveling, Squirrels, Sourdough, and Strawberry Jam (Blog 230)

Except for one trek to the grocery store, I have been at home since last Friday as winter has gripped Botetourt County and Southwest Virginia.  Elaine returned home from quilt camp (yes, there is such a thing and Elaine enjoys her time there immensely) on Sunday evening.  The snow and intense cold (the temperature is below 0 this Thursday morning) here in the hollow has resulted in very little snow melt.

So my days have fallen into a routine of writing in the morning, tending the chickens (they rarely leave the hen house and whine when I come by), shoveling snow, and occasionally squirrel hunting for an hour or so.  I have yet to see a squirrel though, as the bushytails, like the chickens, seem disinclined to leave their shelters.

Tuesday, however, I asked Elaine to make some sourdough bread.  Our starter comes from nationally known sourdough expert Soc Clay of Kentucky.  Not long after Elaine and I married in 1978, we obtained some sourdough starter from Soc, and a little container of it has resided in our refrigerator ever since.

Even after all these years, it is fascinating to watch Elaine kneed the doe, and when the bread comes out of the oven, it is a taste and smell sensation.  To brighten up a dark night one evening, we opened up a jar of strawberry jam (made from berries from our garden last May) and slathered it upon the bread.  Life is good, and so is wintertime - no matter how cold.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Passing of My Role Model: Dean Smith (Blog 229)

The person I admired most and who was and is my role model, former North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, passed away last Saturday.  Elaine and I were at home Sunday when I read about Dean's passing.  At first to Elaine, I expressed relief that he had died because the stress his illness had likely placed on his family.

But then grief overcame me, and I sobbed hard for several minutes.  I became a Carolina fan in 1966 when I was 14, and over the years Coach Smith shaped me as man and as a high school English teacher.  I read Dean's books and followed his philosophy on life.  Meaning in part, that I should treat my students with respect, that I should set high expectations for them and that they should meet those expectations, and that I should be honest and forthright in my dealings with them and others.

Over the years, I was able to meet and talk with three of the men who played for Coach Smith: Dave Colescott, Eric Montross, and Travis Stephenson.  Colescott visited my high school English class and told my students about the importance of education and striving to be the best possible person one could be; these were things that Coach Smith emphasized to him.  Colescott also told the students about the importance of even little life skills, such as being punctual.  The former Carolina guard said that he had once been late for practice and that Coach Smith said that his tardiness showed a lack of respect for his teammates. Coach Smith further said that Dave would have the "honor" of practicing with his teammates the next day.  That story is one of the reasons I am so insistent about my students being on a way to show respect for their classmates.

Eric Montross was a big star in college and played in the NBA.  Travis Stephenson was a sub at UNC and played sparingly.  But both individuals, who played with each other at Carolina, told me that Dean treated all players the same, no matter what their reputation or skill levels were.  That he cared about each and every player as individuals.

I never met Coach Smith and never wrote a letter to him thanking him for his positive effect on my life.  But he will always be a part of who I am as a teacher, husband, and person.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Outdoors with Sam (Blog 228)

My grandson Sam is now about a little past  2 1/2, and I am thinking more and more about the outdoors fun that I will have with him in the future.  This past weekend, I introduced him to how to bring wood in from the woodpile to stoke Elaine's and my wood stove.

Sam was very enthusiastic about the prospect, announcing that he was going to "heat e-mama's house," his word for Elaine.  I often tell him that it is e-daddy's house, too, but Sam always says no that it is e-mama's house, but does allow that I live there, too.  Of course, this delights Elaine to no end.

On this our first attempt to bring in wood, Sam was unable to grasp the concept of carrying wood in a bundle, instead picking up two or three small sticks and carrying them in a haphazardly way.  It was no matter, of course.  To him, he was doing the gentlemanly thing of keeping his grandmother warm, and that man that lives there with her.

I hope Sam and I can go fishing this summer, but Elaine thinks he may be too young this year.  Of course, the decision is up to his parents, David and Sarah.  If Sam does go fishing and if he does catch any, I am sure that he will want to bring them home to feed e-mama, who hopefully will share the bounty with e-daddy, too.