Monday, January 29, 2007

I don't have much for you today.

It is bone chillingly cold here today. The snow started driving in around 3 a.m. and it was really vicious. I think it got near zero in the night. I fell asleep watching the TV and woke up to see all the bad weather activating my motion sensor lights outside.

I'm a big fan of motion sensor lights. Nothing pisses me off more than to see somebody put an unspeakably ugly light pole outside their house up on the mountain. If you want to live in a brightly lit place...move to the city. I like seeing my Milky Way in the pitch blackness of the wilderness.

I've named my little bottle baby, BossyToe. My friend Therese suggested Athena, since she did rather spring from Nod fully formed. But she's such a demanding little thing. I'm awash in infant diapers, bottles and onesies. Plus, I'm having to go out in the damn cold to milk Maggie for milk for BossyToe.

What's a bossy toe, you ask?

Well, you know how some people have a toe right next to the big toe that is longer than the big toe? Supposedly this means that person has an overbearing sort of personality. The longer the toe, the bossier the person is.

I'm working on redoing my Angel Dogs website. It's really hideously rococo and I suck at writing code. So I do it on Composer. It uses tables and I wanted to do a sleeker CSS page with more restrained colors and graphics. But CSS makes my head hurt. But I needed to do it so I've been working on it today. It's not live yet.

But I ran the W3C validator...and for the first time in my amateurish web design history...the damn thing validated! I think it's because I downloaded SeaMonkey and used the Composer on it rather than the Netscape one.

Anyway...I'm really flushed with success from having that web page validate.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

This will be the last "kidding" post for this year. All of my girls have now delivered.

Today was difficult. If Betsy, the Goat Yoda, had not come by at exactly the right time, Nod would have died and taken her kid with her. I am still relatively clueless as to the practical matters of difficult kiddings. It's one thing to read all the books and know all of the types of things that can go wrong as the kid is entering the world and what to do about them.

But it's quite another to reach your arm up into a goat's uterus and fix the problem. Hell, it's quite a thing just to reach your arm up into a goat's uterus. I mean...they are about the same size as a person, even if their "lady parts" are a little bit bigger.

I knew Nod was going to deliver this morning. She was very vocal on the back porch when I got up. Everything seemed okay and Nod sort of freaks out when people are around. She hates to be touched. So I watched her through the window. As soon as she started to have mucous come from her rear, I knew she was about ready.

I've now seen a few of these. I'm not nearly as nervous as I was with the first one.

But Nod doesn't seem to be successful in pushing the baby out. She's screaming and grunting and pushing, her legs scrambling for something to push against. I try to help but she won't let me. I leave a message on Betsy's cell phone about it. Nod's grinding her teeth in pain. This goes on for about 30 minutes before she finally seems to stop pushing. It's like she's giving up the fight.

I know I should wait an hour before reaching inside her, but I've never done it before and I'm really nervous about trying. I'm suddenly unsure of how I will do this thing without someone else to hold Nod...since Nod doesn't like to be touched.

Silly me. I've been reading all these books with the assumption that any goat in trouble is just going to lie back and say, "Oh sure... please DO go ahead and thrust you arm up to the elbow into my uterus...I'll stay quite still for you!"

Betsy drives up just at the right time. She has come to pick up Lucky to go to his new pet home. She was supposed to come last night but rescheduled for this morning. We sit on the pew in the kidding stall and watch Nod make a few half-hearted attempts to get the kid out.

I'm wondering, since I've already seen two really big buck kids come out of the more experienced does if that might be the problem. Or breach, or one foot back, or two kids stuck at the cervix...there is a whole list of presentations that could be the problem. Or a kid just too damn big to clear her pelvis.

The "miracle of life" can become "the miracle of death" in a skinny minute. Don't ever subject children to this with any animal unless you are damn sure you know what the outcome will be. And, of course, you never can predict what will happen. It's much better to go to the animal shelter and see all of the little miracles of life looking for a home.

At an hour and 15 minutes, I give the go-ahead for Betsy to "go in". We have the meager supplies I've been able to gather. Hot soapy water, towels and some ultra-glide. I hold Nod's head in a vice grip with my knees and hold grip elbows. Betsy reaches in.

Betsy has to close her eyes while she does this so she can visualize the inside of Nod. Nod is squirming and understandably not happy about this but eventually calms down. Betsy tells me when she finds the front legs, and then the head. The kid is enormous. The head is huge. It's bigger than Kidzilla.

Oh, crap, I think. Another huge buck kid.

Betsy's really up in there. I'm frankly in awe of this entire procedure. It's the sort of thing I've only seen watching "All Creatures Great and Small" and they usually tastefully shoot over the animal's shoulder. It's really different watching it in person.

Suddenly, Betsy has two legs out. I can tell how big they are for a newborn.

"I think we've lost the kid." Betsy says.

The legs are limp and floppy, like dead things.

"That's probably why she stopped pushing." She says.

This is sad, but part of raising farm animals. They really are very delicate creatures. A great deal of work goes into making them robust and healthy.

Betsy struggles to pull on those limp little legs. This is not going easily and she struggles to keep them from being sucked back inside.

"Do you need a kid puller?" I ask stupidly.

"Do you have one?"

"Uh. No."

I'm wondering if we are going to have to do something drastic to free Nod of this kid. They use tractors sometimes to pull stuck calves out of cows. I really don't want to do anything like that.

"Wait a minute....I feel a head coming."

It is suddenly all over with. With a wet squicking sound the entire kid slides out onto the towel we had placed there.

And amazingly, I see the dead kid gasp for breath.

"It's alive!" Both Betsy and I say in unison.

We rush into action now to do the kid "snatching". I keep Nod from seeing the baby. She's never kidded before so, unless she sees the kid, this will all be like the bellyache from hell for her. Betsy pulls the baby up by it's back legs and swings it to clear its nose and throat.

An incredibly loud and lusty goat wail is heard from the baby.

"It's a doe!" Betsy announces as she hands me the kid completely wrapped in a towel. I rush inside with the kid while Betsy tends to Nod.

I open up the towel and am met by a very indignant, very much alive little soul. She continues to berate me for dragging her from that comfy warm wet place she was enjoying. I feel her eye fall upon me and I experience that moment of imprinting. It's a rush. I feel myself returning the imprint. I'm the first living thing this baby sees. I am now somebody's mommy.

She immediately starts head butting my abdomen demanding something to eat. Her bleats change from indignant to a demanding, staccato of short little "blat, blat, blat's." I give her the bottle and she is a greedy little thing. The rest of my babies took a while to find their first meal. This one wants food right off the bat.

She's so big because it looks like she is late. And she does seem a bit lazy about anything that doesn't involve food. And extremely demanding and bossy. If I leave her eyeline, she cries very loudly and repeatedly. I've got her dressed up in diapers and onesies.

Betsy is yet another amazing person who has been laid in my path. I always tell the story of how our vicar showed up at my mother's hospital room mere minutes before she died. I've been hugely fortunate in having lots of people like that in my life. Some people are just more closely attuned to the needs of others and answer some sort of call that comes from I'm not sure where. They just mysteriously show up at exactly the point at which they are most needed. Betsy is one of those people for me. For Nod. And for this yet un-named little goat person.

And she does seem to see herself as a person...not even being a day old yet.

Naaaa...I'm not attached at all. Completely objective, I am.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The day started out leisurely enough. I finished reading Ralph Steadman's Joke's Over that my best friends, Therese and Lorna, sent me for Christmas. It's about his forty-five year collaboration and friendship with Hunter S. Thompson. I cried at the end. I really miss knowing that HST is still roaming the planet being reckless with firearms and writing while intoxicated. Mostly, I loved their relationship. I loved how Steadman described it. They really loved each other in the way that people do over decades. Not everyone in this world was cut out to be HST's best friend.

That was the last intellectually stimulating thing to happen to me today. And that was at 9 AM. Since then, I've been thoroughly slimed with afterbirth, baby goat pee, more afterbirth, name it. There isn't a bodily fluid a goat is capable of producing that I haven't had smeared on me.

I had a doctor's appointment today. I got all dressed up to go out. I went up to the shelters to check on the babies. The three doe kids were all accounted for, but Maggie's freakishly large kid, who I've started thinking of as "Kidzilla" is gone. Maggie knows he's gone and is baaing most pitifully.

She follows me as I walk around looking for him. We even go back in the woods. He's no where.

I'm pissed at Maggie and keep a running commentary on her sucky mothering skills as the two of us search.

"I knew I should have taken him from you last night. You were dragging him all over the damn farm and him not even a day old. What were you thinking, you inconsiderate frickin' cow?"

It's evidently a great and terrible slur to call a goat a cow.

"Blaaaah." She says. I can hear the guilt in her voice. Damn straight.

She even goes the extra mile to look even deeper into the forest for him.

Normally, if he were stuck somewhere he'd bleat for help and I could find him. But Kidzilla is nowhere. I resign myself that some wild beast has taken Kidzilla off in the night while Maggie was out drinking and whoring at whatever the goat version of a crack house might be.

So I trudge back down to the house to get my keys and make off to town. As I'm heading down the driveway, there is Pearlie. She has a three foot long rope of mucous hanging out of her rear end.

I turn the jeep around and run into the house, stripping my dress off as I hit the porch. Call the doctor to reschedule and throw on my turtleneck and sweatpants. By the time I get to where I saw Pearlie, she is no longer there. Great.

I trudge back up to the shelter. No Pearlie. I start calling her and she answers back. She sounds really frantic.

She has found a spot over by one of the wood piles that I burned out last year. It's covered in nice soft leaves and is sheltered. It even has a log for me to sit on.

She has just dropped a freakishly large buck kid to replace the one we just lost. Super great, damnit. He's the spitting image of Leonard but a wee bit lighter. I help clean him up and get the mucous out of his nose and mouth. I didn't bring a towel with me so I'm using the sleeve of my turtleneck.

Then Pearlie starts to groan again and plops down. Another kid comes sliding out. This one is jet black with tan points and thankfully is a little doe. She's covered still in the sack she came out in. There seems to be an awful lot of slimy stuff. I break the sack and let her gurgle her first breath. Again I use my sleeves to wipe the copious amounts of slime from her little face. It's a real mess.

The little boy is already struggling to his feet at this point. He's emerged with a thick luxuriant coat. I pick up the little black doe out of her puddle of mucous and bring her around to Pearlie's head so she can finish the licking off part. No way am I going to do that.

The entire herd has gathered to watch. Maggie is still up there blah-ing away guiltily. Betty-Goat, who lost her kid, watches almost hungrily. She really wants to be a mommy and every time a kid comes near her, she gives it a good smell to see if maybe, just maybe, this is her baby.

After the two kids have their first drink of colostrum, I pick them both up and we all trudge back to the house with the entire herd following us.

I wasn't expecting Pearlie to drop first. I had her on the porch but after checking her tendons, I let her back out and brought Nod up here. Nod is most certainly very close. I may be up all night waiting on her.

Back at the house, I get Pearlie a nice warm bucket of molasses tea which she drinks all the way to the bottom. I get her some alfalfa. The babies are wobbling around in the sunshine. It's warmed up quite a bit from the teens we had this morning.

I milk Maggie, then worm her and vax her. I take all of her milk since she no longer has Kidzilla. I help Pearlie up on the milkstand and draw off some colostrum. I'm going to need that for Nod's baby who I plan to snatch. I worm and vax Pearlie while she's up there and give her a good feed of milk ration. The babies get their navels trimmed and painted with strong iodine.

I'm pretty damn tired about now. It's five o'clock and I haven't had anything to eat. But I go up to the shelter to check on the triplets. They are fine and I'm shocked at how strong they are now. They are still sleeping a lot, but are really lively and prancy. And can almost get away from me now.

I go back down to the house and take the babies inside while I get the dogs fed. I look up toward the shelter and there is Kidzilla with Maggie. She has done nothing to find him...he's just come home on his own.

Where the hell does a two day old baby goat go when he runs away from home? Where has he been all day? Is there some sort of Chucky Cheese's for goats that I don't know about? Did freakin' Maggie drop him off a daycare?

He's really hungry and that is just too damn bad since I've milked Maggie out. I'm sure she'll drop more for him now that he's back, but that was just the damnedest thing.

So, it's getting really cold tonight. We will have snow and sleet Saturday night. I'm hoping to get Nod's kids delivered by tomorrow. The new babies are spending the night inside the house....with diapers on. Pearlie is hanging out outside. They are the eating, sleeping, pooping, peeing things that all babies are.

But while I've been writing has been asleep on my lap. And that's really sweet.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Southern Fried Chicken on Rice with Milk Gravy

To celebrate my freakishly low cholesterol and triglyceride values on my recent bloodwork, I made this for dinner tonight!

When I was growing up, we had this meal with the addition of some bothersome green thing at least once a week. Now...I make it maybe once every two or three months. This really is a food best served on a quarter annum basis if you want to maintain your freakishly low cholesterol levels.

Some of my work has been appearing on Dew on the Kudzu these days. I was really pleased to see Larry Hambey's piece, My Mother's Annual Family Reunion, with an excellent footer on how to fry a chicken. My only addendum would be, if you are using a yard chicken, to make sure you age it for a few days before frying it. I generally soak it in salt water in the bottom of my fridge for about four days. That makes it really tender. If using store bought can leave out that part. Just remember to salt the pieces before you dredge them in flour. Self-rising flour seems to make the most satisfying crust.

I do indeed fry my chicken as Mr. Hambey describes. Just a bit of oil in the bottom and cooking on medium heat after browning with the lid on the pan. Turn often. I prefer to use an electric skillet to fry chicken. Spices are a matter of personal preference. I rely heavily on Old Bay and have been known to marinate the pieces in Tabasco sauce before dredging in flour.

For the gravy, just pour out most of the left over oil from your pan, then make a roux with some flour. Add milk and let thicken. It should be a bit lumpy from the bits of chicken left in there, but if you are picky about such things, just put it in your blender and smooth it out.

The way to make perfect rice every time without fussing with measurements is to boil the rice in water for about five minutes then drain into a colander. Fill your pot back up with water and put the colander on top of the pot. Put a lid on the colander and steam the rice until done. Works every time. No fuss.

And, of course, fried chicken is good cold the next day. My mother used to fry up a batch to take out on the boat when we went cobia fishing. Really good with pineapple sandwiches made with white bread and mayonnaise.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I got that term from my Goat Yoda, Betsy. Basically, it's when all the does start to drop at the same time. Mine has officially started.

I walked outside this morning and there, up at the shelter, was Maggie, one of the Saanens. She had an enormous baby with her. I still have Blinkin' and the three doe kids on the back porch at this point.

I eagerly go up and pick up the baby.

Damn. It's a buck.

I look at Maggie...I look in the shelter.

"Is this all you have for me?!"

She looks at me with those half-closed eyes. She looks pissed off that I have asked her this. As well she should be...she's exhausted from pushing this little monster out.

Maggie was every bit as big as Blinkin'. She was huge. And all she had in there was this freakishly large little boy. I'm disappointed since, while Maggie is a bitch of a goat, she is a really good milker. Even if she needs goat bondage to keep her from sticking her foot in the milk pail. I was so hoping to get at least one doe out of her.

I take the little stinker up to the house to paint his navel. He's actually quite beautiful. He's white with cream and gray spots and has dark stockings on his back legs. I would have loved to have had a doe kid with these markings.

Evidently, Leonard and Beacon's Doe-Fu was no match for Maggie's Bitch-Fu.

So far, I have no registrable doe kids. We unfortunately lost the preemie that Betty-Goat delivered early. She would have been registrable. Blinkin's babies won't be registrable, but their kids will be.

Next to deliver is probably Nod, Blinkin's daughter. I'm planning to snatch any doe kids she has and bottle raise them. Nod is so unsociable and I don't want her passing that behavior to her kids.

Pearlie, my other Saanen, is now in the kidding stall. I do want to make sure that her kidding goes well. She will probably kid this weekend, if not sooner. Pearlie is my favorite. Both she and Betty-Goat are my little girlfriends. Both are very sweet girls.

I talked with Betsy tonight and she says Harper and Amyline are going to kid this weekend also. Both of these girls spent part of the summer here and got knocked up by Leonard and Beacon. Betsy will let me buy the doe kids from those yay! I may have some more registrable does.

Harper is coming here in exchange for Maggie...who needs to go because she jumps the fences. Betsy has found a pet home for Lucky. This is good news since I was ready to shoot him today. Nod will be leaving the farm this season. I probably should get rid of both Blinkin' and Winkin' as well, but I'm a bit attached to the two of them.

The color being thrown out on these kids is spectacular. I didn't think that Beacon had gotten much action so maybe Leonard is throwing color as well.

I need to keep Friend Scott from getting attached to the little boy. Unfortunately, the boys end up as meat unless someone gets them as pets or pack goats. It is the way of dairy animals. I was most happy to learn that Scott's current temp job has many Hispanic employees. I'm not sure if he understood why I was happy to hear this.

Blinkin's babies are now out in the pasture with her. They immediately recognized that Nod was their big sister and have been bouncing up to her to play.

I'm really exhausted. I went to town and got two 75 pound compressed bales of alfalfa, 100 pounds of goat milk enhancer and two bales of straw. I went to Walmart to get some new socks and underwear. One of the cocker spaniels, Max, has an underwear and sock fetish and I'm tired of picking up underwear out of the laundry to find them crotchless. And I love heavy wool socks. One can never have too many pairs of Woolrich Merino Wool hunting socks.

I'm walking through the sporting goods aisle at Walmart and I keep smelling something awful. I realize it's me. I smell like goat.

I hurry home to take a nice long hot shower.

After unloading the feed and straw and cleaning out and disinfecting the kidding stall so Pearlie can have some nice fresh afterbirth-free digs, feed the dogs and the goats, milk Betty-Goat, give shots and worming to Blinkin' and Betty-Goat, refill all water tanks with fresh unfrozen water.....


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

This is the post I was going to do yesterday before Blinkin' popped those three babies out.

This post was going to be another installment of "The Dark Hole", but I just can't get my dark, sinister and Gothic up with those three little charmers outside my window.

Anyhoo...needed to jot down some research notes I gathered this past Sunday.

Foot Logs

There was a huge and terrible flood here in 1972. It took out all of the bridges and the foot logs. The cattle were swept 10 miles from here all the way to Del Rio. There were cows everywhere stuck up to their bellies in mud. Dying livestock, dead livestock, deep, deep mud.

They just had many many days of rain and it all came sweeping down from the Gulf and the creek flooded all of the hollers all the way to Del Rio.

I've not found much about this flood online. But there are two weather events that stick out in everyone's memory who has lived long enough. One of them is the Flood of 1972 and the other is the Snow of 1992. Two feet of snow fell in '92 and power was knocked out for weeks.

1972 was also the year of the famous Buffalo Creek Flood in West Virginia. I'm imagining this was a very heavy rainfall year.

I thought when I heard that the foot logs were washed away that they were just logs thrown down to cross the creeks. That's not the case. They would cut down a really big tree then plane one side flat. Then they would plank that side and put up railings. So it was really more of a foot bridge. And they call all foot bridges whatever they are made of, "foot logs".

Everyone would ride their horses up to the foot log, dismount, then lead the horse across the creek while they were on the foot log to the other side. Then mount up and be on their way.

I photographed a very small one of these that went across a very small branch. I didn't know what I was looking at, at the time. But that's what it was. A foot log.


I wasn't really entirely clear on this and needed to get more clear on it. Race relations here are very complicated since there are an additional two races not seen in most Southern communities.

There are four established races in the area. Whites, Blacks, Cherokee and Melungeon. Melungeons are actually more north than I am, but everyone here knows about them. Hispanics are relative newcomers and I think the jury is still out on them.

I'm using the marriageability factor as a scale because it's the most easily understood concept for the people I talk to.

Best I can figure, it is acceptable for Whites, Cherokee and Melungeons to intermarry. It is acceptable for Cherokee and Blacks to intermarry. Melungeons have traditionally married Whites. It gets confusing since there is a really wide range of skin tones for both Melungeons and Cherokee. There are Melungeons who look very African American. There are very dark Cherokee.

The Melungeons claim a Portuguese ancestry as well as being mixed white, black and Cherokee. I still haven't worked out exactly how this Mediterranean influence plays out. But I have seen archival photos of people who look very Italian or Spanish.

At any rate, the Melungeons are really fascinating as a tri-racial isolate. I recommend The Melungeon Heritage Association if you want to know more about them. They seem to be the most evidence based group out there.

Oddly funny.

I went to see the nephrologist yesterday and started giggling since phrenologist was that word turned around sideways. I'd much rather be getting the bumps on my head analyzed. They had curiously up to date magazines in the waiting room. I told them they would get their waiting room permits canceled for shenanigans like that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Well, she finally did it!

Blinkin' just gave birth to three lovely doe kids. One is a lovely dun with points, one is spotted (a little Beacon in the woodshed, no doubt) and one is really dark bay or black with a big white blaze on her side(perfect combo of Blinkin' plus Leonard) . Each has normal, non-forked udders...unlike Blinkin' whose udder is forked and not so good.

So it looks like my boys have both good Doe-Fu and Udder-Fu.

Number One Daughter

Daughter Number One with Daughter Number Two

Daughters One, Two and Three

Looks like Mizz Blinken' is going to be really really busy! And me too, probably!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Tycie's Story

As we grow older, the epiphanies become more tangible and fewer in number. Perhaps that is because in childhood, we often have epiphanies that hit us like sledgehammers pounding multiple concepts into our young brains. All at once.

This is the story of one of those. One of those moments when pretty scales were pulled off of young eyes. To balance the terrible ugliness of one of those realizations, an equally beautiful one was well as a few more.

This is the story of how, in one day, I was shown what it meant to be without a choice, that adults and newspapers didn't always tell the truth, and most of all, how my mother was a rebel, a hero and freedom fighter. I think I was ten.

The telling of this story would not have been necessary had I not been attending Catholic parochial school. We were Episcopalians, but when it came time for me to go to school in Savannah, my mother gave me the choice of attending Country Day or Cathedral Day School. I chose Cathedral Day, even though I had a serious nun phobia.

One day, I came home from school and mentioned something about abortion and that it was wrong. I didn't even know what abortion was. All I knew, was that it kept being parroted around the school. Everyone seemed to assume that this was true and that this was how the entire world saw this.

My mother looked at me with those ice blue eyes of hers.

"Who told you that?" She asked, cocking her head.

I told her they had been teaching that in my religion class at school.

"Let's go for a ride."

We got in the big station wagon and drove around Bluffton. First we "cut the beach", then headed downtown towards Scott's Meat as she told me the story.

This was the story of Tycie, who didn't have a choice.

It happened sometime in the sixties in Bluffton, SC. Black and poor children were starving to death in Bluffton during that era. It was a very different place than the cushy resort town that it is today. It definitely had a dark side. Dr. Donald Gatch was practicing there then. After he testified before the Citizens' Board of Inquiry into Hunger and Malnutrition in 1967, complaining about the discriminatory medical practices against poor and black people, a carefully orchestrated smear campaign was launched to deprive him of his medical license. Dr. Gatch lived near our house just off the causeway to Myrtle Island.

Tycie was the niece of one of our domestics at the time. My family has a history of forming close bonds, going back generations in many cases, with the families of the people we hired to help us. I know that's not the most PC thing to say aloud these days, but it was just how it was then. The bond I shared with the black woman who raised me was just as strong as the one I had with my mother. I even inherited Katie's laugh. She was the one who held me when my mother died. Katie and I, we loved each other.

But this is Tycie's story. Tycie got pregnant. The circumstances do not matter. Any more than it matters how someone got HIV or Hep C. It's really none of our business. What matters is that she had no choice. No ways or means to deal with a situation that was intolerable for her. She had no legal recourse to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. She was too poor to afford to have this done safely in the "gray market" as more affluent women of the time were able to.

So she stuck a coat hanger up into herself to deal with the situation.

She contracted a life-threatening infection.

Tycie certainly wasn't alone in her situation. Between 5,000 and 10,000 women died and as many as 350,000 women were injured by illegal abortions each year in the middle of the 20th century. 1 Before Roe vs. Wade, illegal abortion was the leading killer of pregnant women.

So Tycie's aunt called my mother. My mother got Tycie to a doctor. It was probably Dr. Gatch since he was known for standing up for the poor and underprivileged. And he was a neighbor. I'm not actually sure where Mom took Tycie. But that makes sense.

There was a concern that Tycie would get in trouble for what she had done to herself. I'm not sure if that was a valid concern or not. I'm not sure if they prosecuted you for doing that to yourself. But the fear was there.

So, my mother arranged to get Tycie to another aunt in Atlanta where she could recuperate.

My mom didn't do all that much. She just basically paid for Tycie to get treatment and to get out of town. But to my ten-year old mom seemed like a super hero. I was just so proud of her. She had been part of something that made a difference and possibly saved someone's life. I can remember sitting next to her in the car, my eyes shining, big, like saucers.

So, Tycie's story has been the bedrock for my pro-choice stance. I've added other ideas, like the concept that we should probably first learn how to take care of everyone who is already walking the planet before taking care of those who aren't. Or the wrongness of taking away a person's free will...which basically is the same as slavery, isn't it? But my basic stance is that abortion bans are not only a women's rights issue, but a civil rights issue as well. The middle and upper class will always have access to safe abortions, illegal or not. It is the poor who will be victimized. They will be the ones on the killing floor, bleeding their lives out.

And isn't life hard enough for them without making it even harder?

I don't know what happened to Tycie. I hope she still walks with the proud, straight posture of a Lowcountry Gullah woman. I hope she went on to have children. Children she wanted with someone she loved dearly. I hope she is sitting at a large table loaded down with too much good food surrounded by her children and grand-children.

Children and grand-children who have the choice that she was denied.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

What can I say? I just love where I live.

Enjoy your day.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

(Disclaimer!!! I have some really smart people who read my blog. Way smarter than I am. I want to make clear that this story is mostly true. The un-mostly true part was changed to protect the situation of the character involved. Names, amounts, and certain details are complete and utter lies. The person who the character is based upon has complete and utter control over what is in the story. If he/she wants it to come most certainly will come down. All details were hashed out over a pizza at a secret unnamed location in Hartford, TN(since Bubba had closed the damn kitchen at the BCD&M, depriving us of our Chez Burgers) before publishing. I wouldn't dream of outing someone without their permission since that would be tacky and common. Also, I have nothing but the utmost respect for our valiant men and women in pinstripes fighting on the frontlines of The War on Taxes. Also, do not try this at home. I tell you, it won't work. This is the sort of hapless event that can only be accomplished by a professional six foot nine naked gay man.)

He was sleeping on the sofa when the phone rang. His hand groped out from the blanket covering him and felt through the detritus of cigarettes, keys, matches, rolling papers and pistol on the coffee table until he finally found the hand-set, hit "talk" and dragged it to his ear.

"Mr. Smith?" A precise voice asked.

"Uh...yeah?" His voice was raspy from too many cheap cigarettes. He indulged in a morning smoker's cough.

"This is Mrs. Althea Johnson with the IRS. I'm calling about the 2,500 dollars you owe us."

It was shortly after this that he began to cry.

Friend Scott is six foot nine, handsome and charming. He speaks and behaves like he should be hanging out with the Camden Cup crowd. He has that congenial manner that certain well-bred Southern men exhibit that is a little bit cultured, a little bit momma's boy and a little bit bad boy. He tells great stories and if you are a Southern woman, you laugh, but are not quite sure if you believe him. Because as a Southern know the kind of man he is.

I'm afraid, however, that Friend Scott has gone quite native up here in the mountains. He has eschewed the chinos and polo shirts that are his birthright for flannel and overalls.

When Friend Scott "came out" to me a few months ago, I was shocked. Shocked, I tell you. After all, the first time I met him, he was outside Food City in Newport, on his way home from a Garden Club meeting. Also, during our friendship, he has exhibited an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Brit comedy, Absolutely Fabulous, and every John Waters film ever made. He grows roses.

I mean...who'd a thunk it?

Yes, I seem to have found the only gay hillbilly on the mountain to be my buddy. He's actually quite good company and has a knack for getting himself into situations that can only be described as extremely gonzo.

Last year, Friend Scott got a letter from the IRS. He brings it over for me to look at since I am supposedly "the smart one". He is indeed being audited because they are questioning his claim that he has a son by his cousin who he is claiming as a dependent. I question this as well.

"Well, she told me he was mine."

I look at Friend Scott in all of his six foot nine gayness. I'm imagining that there were large amounts of recreational drugs and alcohol involved. And unconsciousness. There had to be unconsciousness. I really don't want to know more.

I've not met the cousin involved. I have heard of her by reputation. Evidently, the cousin and her mother often get into altercations with each other over men. Friend Scott tells me the mother is very homely. "Butt ugly", I believe were his exact words. Once the mother moved in on one of the cousin's boyfriends as the boyfriend was passed out drunk. The boyfriend awoke to the mother applying "oral pleasure" to his...uh..."member". The boyfriend was most distressed since the mother had failed to take her snuff out of her mouth.

I now have this image and concept burned indelibly into my brain. Thanks, Scott.

I advise Friend Scott that he needs a lawyer. Actually, I think Friend Scott should have a lawyer surgically grafted onto his left earlobe. But he can't afford one.

So now, Friend Scott owes the IRS a buttload of money. And you know how accommodating our friendly IRS folks are.

It is already mid-morning on the day Mrs. Althea Johnson, IRS agent, calls.

He sits up and wraps the blanket around his waist. He's not wearing any clothes.

"Yes, ma'am. I've been meaning to call y'all." He says, trying to get his wits about him and stalling for time.

"Mr. Smith, when can we expect payment of this amount? With interest and penalties, it will come to a sum of just over 8,000 dollars."

Scott is desperate. He's actually crying now. It is fairly clear that Mrs. Johnson is not responding to the charm and good looks he is trying to project through the phone connection.

He stands. The blanket falls in a puddle on the floor. He begins to pace, naked, about the room as Mrs. Johnson drones on about penalties and charges.

"Isn't there something we can work out?" He sobs into the phone.

Scott picks up his pistol on the coffee table and grips it, swinging it back and forth with his free hand. Looking out the front door he sees a big black snake crawling on the porch.

Mrs. Johnson continues to say mean, hateful IRS things to him.

Scott points the pistol at the snake and shoots it. It's quite a loud pistol to go off so close to the phone.

When he realizes what he's done, he drops the phone in a panic.

Mrs. Althea Johnson's voice can be just barely heard from the phone on the floor.

"Mr. Smith?! Mr. Smith, are you alrig...." The line disconnects leaving the ghost of her voice hanging in the air.

"Oh, Shit."

Scott pulls some shorts on and puts the phone back on the coffee table with the pistol. He stares at the phone. He seriously considers shooting the phone with the pistol.

Mrs. Althea Johnson, IRS agent, didn't sound like someone who was just going to go away.

What to do....what to do? Shit...what to do...

He lights a cigarette and tries to think.

A siren is heard coming up the road. This is unusual here.

Two of his cousins get out of the sheriff's patrol car. It is not unusual that they are his cousins. You can't spit in Cocke county without hitting one of Scott's cousins.

"Hey, Scott! You okay, buddy?" The shorter of the two asks. "We got a call from some damn IRS lady that you done shot yourself."

Scott explains that he was talking with the IRS lady when a great big snake crawled across the porch and he shot it. He got disconnected when he dropped the phone fumbling around with the pistol.

They all laughed in the way Southern men do when they know they are in the middle of what will later be a great story.

Scott explains to Mrs. Althea Johnson, IRS agent, what actually happened when she called back.

I'm thinking Mrs. Johnson is a Southern woman, because she has been very accommodating with Friend Scott since the gun shot incident.

I don't think she actually believes there was a snake.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Pecan (pronounced Pee-Can, thank you very much) Pie must be one of the most readily identified desserts in the South. You really have to have a well-developed sweet tooth for this. I'm not sure how the idea to make a ultra-rich caramel custard with karo syrup and eggs came about, but I often wonder how we came up with some of these combinations.

My sister had an Brit boyfriend who developed an unfortunate addiction to the stuff. He came for our big Thanksgiving bash one year with Simone. We cut into one of the many pecan pies there and found that somebody had eaten all the gooey center leaving just the nut crust on top. All eyes went to Stuart. And this was a grown man!

Yes...pecan pie addiction can be an ugly business.

Back when I was still bumming around working on movies, there was this one caterer who got me addicted to Bourbon Pecan Pie. The wardrobe guy and I could almost always be found sneaking extra slices back to our trailers at lunch time. So, of course, I had to learn how to make it.

This is one of the more simple pecan pie recipes. Here's the recipe:

Bourbon Pecan Pie

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
3 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 to 2 cups pecan halves
2 tablespoons good-quality bourbon
1 (9-inch) deep-dish pie shell, unbaked...or make your own if you are so inclined.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar and melted butter. Add the corn syrup, eggs, pecans, and bourbon, and stir until all ingredients are combined. Pour mixture into an unbaked pie shell, and place on a heavy-duty cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and continue to bake for an additional 25 minutes, or until pie is set. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Notes: I add more bourbon and prefer to use the cheapest, strongest tasting bourbon I can find. Personally, I'd rather have my Maker's Mark or Wild Turkey with a bit of branch water. This recipe gives a hint of flavor to the pie. There are a few ways to give the bourbon more emphasis. One is to soak the nuts overnight in bourbon. Another is to put some bourbon in a spray bottle and spritz the crust with it.

Ideally, I would serve this warm with vanilla ice cream and drizzle with a whisky sauce.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Gift

Yesterday was market day.

Every third Wednesday I make my way into town to pay my bills and buy a few groceries, dog and goat food for the month. I do this on this day since that is when my disability check comes in and while I don't have it as hard as many, I am on a fixed income. I try to get everything paid off while the money is there.

I don't talk much about money, because I was raised that way. In fact, it was a lesson my mother actually regretted driving home so hard. The lesson that ladies simply did not concern themselves with finances and certainly didn't talk about them. I don't think I knew what each job I had paid at the time I took it until I was in my mid-twenties.

"So how much will you be making?" My mother would ask.

"I'm not sure. I didn't ask."

It just felt impossibly rude to talk about it. How could I possibly ask how much money I'd be making?

Now, I count each penny. Most of what I've made has literally gone to the dogs. And the goats. I'll eat ramen noodles all month before my animals will go without. Good thing I actually like ramen noodles.

This was a harder trip than most. Aegis' vet bill was substantial and I'd had to rework my entire budget so I could pay off that bill over the next four or five months.

We had been promised a grant from a group called Help-a-Pet. But as soon as they found out that Aegis was not going to make it, they withdrew the offer. I was too grief stricken to think about it at the time, but it was beginning to piss me off.

My mother didn't only give me a pathological avoidance of all things monetary. She was the one who gave me the gift of words. As a pudgy, pigtailed fat kid, stumbling in and out of fat camp like a crack addict in rehab, I knew very well that words could hurt. I learned from watching my mother, that words were a devastating weapon when deployed with skill.

Frances Griffeth was the undisputed champion of the nasty letter. She was a veritable sensei of the arch and cutting word. In my mother's hands, the pen was not only mightier than the sword, it was mightier than a thermonuclear warhead.

So, as I thought about it, I decided that Help-a-Pet deserved a letter. I didn't want their damn money, but I wanted them to know that I knew that what they did was wrong. So I began composing a letter. A Frances letter. A letter to shame these dreadful people.

I was having to take sleeping pills to stop composing the letter at night.

That's how a truly good nasty letter is born. You have to obsess about it. You need to let it run around your brain like a rabid raccoon, before actually writing it.

The letter gnawed at my brain stem while I went about my errands until I reached my vet's office. As I sat in the jeep in front of the office, the enormity of my loss hit me.

I'd forgotten how difficult the first visit back to the vet's after such a loss could be. I stood outside the door on their porch and looked out to the street.

I tried to compose myself. I kept doing that stupid sucking in and out of my cheeks thing that I do when I'm trying not to cry. I try not to think what I must look like, standing there...stiffly and rigidly. My fists clinching and my eyes turning bloodshot and wet. I try to stop my chin from wrinkling up like a Cabbage Patch Doll's ass. I buck it up. I walk in the clinic.

I thought I was doing okay as I put my wallet down on the counter of the window that looked into the receptionist's area.

"I'm here to put some money down on Aegis' bill." I say.

Michelle messes with the computer to bring up Aegis' screen.

I thought I was doing okay until I caught the word "deceased" in italics and parentheses next to Aegis' name. I felt my face crumple like a used tissue.

"There doesn't seem to be a balance on this account." Michelle says.

I blink hard to regain control of my facial muscles.

"There must be some mistake." I say, my voice soft and hoarse.

Michelle goes into the back and returns with Sandra, my vet. Actually, most of the clinic pokes their heads in the door.

"This was already taken care of. A man from Durham paid it."

At this point, I completely lose it. I know who did this. He only knows me sort of second hand. Aegis and I took in a cocker in Charleston named Zachary. We took him to Kerry Bryce's Carolina Cockers in Chapin, SC. He was a quirky little tri-color with an attitude and an air of entitlement. Mr. Holley adopted Zach.

Zach went on to the bridge this past year. The Holley's were crushed. Zach, like Aegis, wasn't really all that old.

And now, Mr. Holley done gone and paid Aegis' vet bill.

I stand there sobbing like a five year old. I'm glad there isn't anyone else in the clinic. I don't have a handkerchief and wipe my face on my sleeve.

"Hey! This is a good thing!" Sandra says.

"I...I..uh..uh...uh...know...uh...uh..He didn't have to do that!" I say, barely able to speak. I am not a person who weeps with any sort of grace or elegance. It's not pretty.

They ask how the other of my "boys" are doing. I'm so grateful that they can tell that I need to turn my mind to something else so that I can regain control. Self-control is important to me and I've completely lost it this day.

I'm almost okay again and can leave the office.

I sit in the jeep for about fifteen minutes before I feel I can drive. I'm overwhelmed by the generosity of Mr. Holley. I think of all of the wonderful gifts I've received. My mother's gift of her fearsome and lovely words. Aegis' gift of companionship and self-less devotion. My veterinarian's gift of understanding. My wonderful, supportive friends. And Mr. Holley didn't just pay Aegis' vet bill for me.

He gave me the gift of knowing that there are people out there handing out kindnesses just to do so. Just because.

How great is that?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I went out to the porch tonight to grab a stick of wood. Not that it is terribly needed, but I like to keep the woodstove going on low since the mornings can be chilly. And I heard a rumor that we were getting snow at some point tonight. Not bloody likely with the temps all day in the 60's. It's only fallen to 55 right now.

That is when I heard it. Frogsong.

It's the first sign of spring. The bull frogs awakening to lay their eggs. The song they sing from the frog pond was loud and clear.

And evidently confused.

It's the 15th of January. They awoke on the 15th of February last year. March 15th the year before that. I know these things since I pay close attention to the signs of change here.

During the winter, the mountains are silent. The frogs are the first in a long list of natural cacophonies that start up in the spring and then fall silent in the late fall. The next sound will be the whip 'or will. Then all hell breaks loose with hawk cries, cicadas, crickets, birds and buzzing insects. It gets really loud here. But it's a different sort of loud. A nice loud.

This is too early. I worry that we will have a killing snow and frost that will kill the tadpoles. The water level in the pond has been quite low and it doesn't take much to freeze it solid.

My neighbors excitedly murmur about "The End Times." This is not unusual. They see "The End Times" all the time. The signs. The Rapture. It's coming.

Problem is...I think they might be right this time.

The frogs don't lie.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Published on:

It was like finally finding a precious rare book that I had searched for half my life. But when I finally had it in my hands and turned the pages, the words had been wiped out by some disaster. It was like losing my sight and only being able to see shadowy fragments of figures that I couldn't quite make out. It was like watching history fade before my eyes and finding myself powerless to stop it.

Her hands were gnarled like ancient tree roots spreading sideways on rocky ground. Her left hand in particular was frozen in a grimace.

"I used to climb all the ways up in them apple trees to pick 'em. Some said I was the fastest apple picker round these parts." She said in a moment of clarity.

She looked sadly at that frozen left hand.

"Don't reckon I could even hold an apple anymore."

I can easily see in the bone structure of her face the ghost of a ravishingly beautiful mountain woman in her prime. Her eyes, now watery, must have been a cornflower blue in her day. Now in her late 80's, she sits in her chair, close to the television so those eyes can make out what is on the screen. Mizz Kay-reen can't hear so good either any more.

She says when she speaks, she hears her speech inside the bones of her face. She doesn't exactly say that, but I know that's what she means. Her good hand reaches up to stroke the bony part of her cheekbone next to her ear.

She has chosen the memories and thoughts she lives with very carefully. You can tell that other things are lurking just under the surface. She alternates between thanking God for letting her be on this earth so long and then looking impossibly sad. She is the only one of her sixteen siblings still living. She chooses to forget they are dead.

Scott is with me and when she asks, he tells her who is gone. I want to pinch him and tell him not to. I want her to hang onto her fragile fantasy because it keeps that impossible sadness from her eyes. It is painful for me to see.

She starts to tell me how she and her husband, Otis, met. Somehow, a story that must have begun with a ride in a horse-drawn wagon ends up being about the day Otis died. The two tales are now entwined in her mind. And that seems to be a metaphor for their relationship. For Mizz Kay-reen, the fifty years of marriage passed in a moment. One second, she is a fourteen year old girl meeting the love of her life, and the next, she is taking that final car ride to the hospital with him clinging to life.

She tells me not to waste time. She seems to think that Scott and I are engaged. She has projected her own love for Otis onto Scott's and my friendship.

Her eyes twinkle at me for a moment and I glimpse the wry humor she once possessed.

"Well, you ain't no spring chicken!" she says to me. "But you look like you might be a nice fat fryer!"

I laugh. I know I'm fat and I'm okay with that. We all laugh.

"What was your name again?" She asks for the third time.

Scott coaxes her to sing a few bars of "Beulah Land". Her voice is the high fluting voice of a young girl, untouched by her age. Words, she cannot remember in speech, come effortlessly to her while singing.

I listen, entranced, and silently curse my lack of a usb digital recorder. Such a voice really should be archived before it is gone. I want other people to hear her. I desperately want this.

She talks again about how God has been so good to her to let her live so long. Then she almost tears up. Then stops. Then she smiles and says God was so good to give her Otis. He never hit her and was always kind to her. Otis has been gone 20 years.

Scott told me she sometimes sees Otis in the room and speaks to him.

She comes back time and time again to the same story fragment. It is where she seems to spend most of her time.

"Otis, he would come up to me and he didn't know me...'Whose Sweetheart are you?!"

She self-consciously strokes the age spots on her left cheek, and I realize they are in the shape of a kiss.

She smiles shyly and coyly, like a young girl.

"Why I'm your Sweetheart! I'm yours!"

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Happy Sunday

Friend Scott and I had lunch at Carver's Apple Barn. The orchards are so lovely in winter. I love the look of the trees. This donkey mother and her painted mule baby were relaxing under the branches. It was oddly and gloriously warm and all the creatures were enjoying the sun.

Carvers is my favorite place to eat. I love the apple fritters...sort of like a sweet apple hush puppy...dipped in apple butter. The view of the orchards at any time of year is spectacular with the Smokies rising up in the distance. You can just see Mt. LeConte.

I paid the bill and he said, "You'uns have a good one!"

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bush Bat Boy

Okay, probably not one of my better efforts...but I really didn't spend that much time on it. Working for Weekly World News has always been a fantasy of mine.

Scary thing...I didn't really have to change his nose at all to turn him into Bat Boy.

Okay, back to pastoral musings of Appalachia. It's my cartoon night anyway.

The Diversity Festival in Cocke county is one of those things that makes me swell with pride for my little community.

The history of the festival began six years ago. The Ku Klux Klan for some bizarre reason chose Newport, TN to have a rally. Why Newport? Beats the hell out of me. I guess it's just safer for them than having it in Harlem, Washington Heights, Seattle, San Francisco, L.A. or south Atlanta. I think we would be in for some serious Klan ass-whuppings if they chose to exercise their right to free hate speech in any of those places. And blood stains are just so damn hard to get out of whites, so I suppose dry cleaning bills were a concern as well.

So Newport's little community organized a festival synchronized on the date of the Klan rally to offer citizens a hate-free alternative. It has not been without its ups and downs. Our black mayor in 2002, Roland Dykes, had a cross burned on his front yard three days before the rally that year. One of my sources told me the late Mayor Dykes quipped that he roasted a wienie on the thing. "Best damn hotdog, I ever ate." He said.

The Festival's stance was to just stay away from the rally and to quietly protest by attending the festival. This didn't stop outsiders from coming in to protest. And this was okay since all of the Klan members were outsiders as well.

The Klan seems to have stopped trying to come to Newport so I guess whatever we all did worked.

But we still get together every year to see all of the wonderful and different sorts of people who make their homes here.

Friday, January 12, 2007

New Years Day Menu

Fried Okra

Collards and Fatback
Jalapeno "Corny" Cornbread

Wild Blackberry Jam

If this looks like a page from my all-time favorite cookbook, White Trash Cooking, or its companion book, White Trash Cooking II (Sinkin Spells, Hot Flashes, Fits and Cravins), then I have achieved my goal.

We lost one of this country's greatest unintentional sociologists when Ernest Matthew Mickler succumbed to AIDS in 1988. Yet another sad tragic loss we have sustained to this scourge.

If you are able to say the words, "white trash", in public with a sense of pride, then you have Mickler to thank for that. During the 1980's, Mickler traveled around the southeast taking photographs and collecting recipes from the South's working class. His work is both hilariously funny and deeply respectful at the same time.

The first time I saw the book, I was staying at the Hyatt in Savannah, GA while working on TNT's The Rose and the Jackal. We had a tight-knit crew and each night we'd stay up too late drinking in the piano bar and carrying on. I remember sitting in my hotel room sipping Wild Turkey with some actor friends and leafing through the pages of White Trash Cooking. We'd read aloud the recipes and hoot with laughter.

But the truth was, we were all Southerners. We were laughing at ourselves. We all had a recipe stuck in our brains somewhere that had Miracle Whip or katsup as its "secret" ingredient. And I had more than a few recipes like "Squirrels in Gravy over Biscuits" or "Scrambled Squirrel Brains and Eggs" tucked away in the recesses of my childhood. While I was not of the upper crust of the White Trash caste, we all recognized that they were the true masters of Southern comfort food cuisine.

And that's not all that unusual, since many of the world's great cuisines have their roots in poverty and "making do".

Mickler compiled his record just in the nick of time. The people he recorded and spoke to are quickly disappearing from our landscape. Mickler died the day after the second book was published. I can only imagine what wonders he would have recorded had he lived. I would have loved to have seen him do a book on cake.

The Politics of Cornbread

Certain food items seem to require a great deal of debate over how to prepare them "properly". It is completely impossible to change a person's mind about this. We are all ideologues when it comes to the question of barbecue sauce or cornbread.

Here in Tennessee, the only proper way to make cornbread is to use a "pone" recipe. This is an eggless batter made with cornmeal, salt, and water. It isn't sweet at all and is very crumbly.

But I'm not from around here. Lowcountry cuisine is like New Orleans cuisine without the heat. We love sweet things. So my cornbread recipe has stone ground sifted cornmeal, eggs, goat milk, a handful of flour, baking powder and sugar. The pan I made for New Years had jalapeno peppers and corn in it as well. This makes a very satisfying "cracklin" cornbread. Don't ask me for measurements because I just do this by feel. It's sort of hard to mess'll just have to try it. Just make sure you sift out the husks from your cornmeal.

This makes a slightly sweet, slightly chewy and cakey cornbread.

And, of course, all cornbread needs to be made in a cast iron skillet with the batter floating in oil.

Friend Scott is in love with my cornbread. He just won't shut up about it. He has bragged on it to most of the ladies of the mountain and now I am an object of envy.

Or at least I will be until they find out how I make it.

Then it will just be yet another weird, somewhat bent nail in my coffin.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

He's okay...

Yesterday morning, I felt the pit drop out of my stomach when I saw Leonard had separated from the herd and gone to the one spot in the pasture where seriously ill goats go to. I'm not sure what it is about that spot. They just go there and look miserable.

I had to go back to the house to get a lead to bring him in and while I was doing that he went off with the rest of the herd down the mountain.

They came back that afternoon. Leonard didn't.

Damn, I surely don't need anyone else dropping dead on me right now. Especially Leonard, who I have a real soft spot for.

I got Leonard and his brother Beacon last spring from Riverhill Farms on the other side of the Park. He is a purebred Nubian and a handsome bay and black lad. He's very affectionate for a buck. You do have to watch it when you hand feed him. Once you run out of carrots or sweet potato chunks he will try to rip your pants off to see if there is anything else in your pocket.

Out of rut, Leonard is a very lovely little gentleman. Then when he goes into rut, he will slyly sidle up to you to pee on your shoes. I can't tell you how many times I've fallen for that one. You really don't want to pet a goat in rut. Mainly because they pee on their faces to attract the Lay-dees. Aside from stinking to high heaven, they also engage in a number of fairly disgusting behaviors.

Like giving themselves blowjobs. I guess, because they can. They don't care who's watching.

It's hard to tell when a Nubian is in distress. They sound pretty pitiful all the time. The Saanens have melodic, sweet sounding nickers and bahs. They sound very distinctive when asking for food or saying they are sick. Nubians sound like a love-sick sea monster pining away for its mate, pretty much all the time. And Leonard is one of my more vocal goats.

I was really happy at dusk last night to see that Leonard had made his way back up the mountain. I was a bit afraid he had gone down there and wasn't strong enough to get back up. He's on the back porch now eating alphalfa and keeping Blinkin' company.

The problem seems to have been constipation. Some warm molasses tea with some electrolytes seems to have gotten him unblocked. I'm covering him with some antibiotics just to be on the safe side.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Cold

Yesterday we had one of our little blizzards. The wind drove the snow in horizontal sheets across the pasture. They tell me a "clipper" came through.

The temperatures went down to 20 degrees F. last night and this morning the ground is sparkly and crunchy. It hurts my eyes to look at it. All of the water for the goats is frozen solid and they skittered off the mountain down to the creek to drink. I can't even prise the lids off of the feed bins. At least I don't have any chickens right now. I'd be hauling hot water up to them about now if I did.

Leonard, my beautiful buck, is not feeling well. I tried to catch him to bring him up to the house to medicate him, but he skittered off with the rest of the herd by the time I collected a lead to pull him to the house. I hope he makes it back okay. Some goats do not overwinter here well. I'm worried that I may lose him. Generally, if they can make it through one winter here, they can make it through all of them.

Blinkin' is still on the porch threatening to kid at any moment. I'm tempted to release her back to the herd, but her bag has filled up in the back. Surely it can't be long now.

The seasons are bi-polar here. Each one containing sweetness and sorrow. Winter contains more sorrow and glints with danger, while the summer hides her sweet snakes under a pretty package. I try not to judge. I know they each contain equal packages of dark and light.

But the cold. The cold makes it seem so dark.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lo' Lord, verily I say unto you, I am heartily weary of staring at goat ass.

I stayed up until 3 a.m. staring at Blinkin's goat butt and watching for the blessed event. I was pretty sure when I brought her in yesterday that she would deliver fairly quickly.

Once again...I was mistaken.

Here I am, the next day, plunking away on the computer with a view of goat ass out of my window.

After Aegis' funeral, Scott took me down to the Big Creek Market and Deli for a "Chez" Burger and fries, since I'd not eaten in about four days. I highly recommend the "Chez" Burger at BCM&D, it's the old fashioned kind made by hand. The fries were crunchy and tasted of beef tallow. To make this okay, I chose a tomato juice as my canned drink.

I need to get a copy of their menu to post here. It reminds me of the menu at the old train depot diner in Columbia, SC. If you were ever there at 4:00 a.m. after way too many beers and pondered the mystery of "country" ham vs. "city" ham while listening to swing music, you'll know just what I'm talking about.

There is something about authenticity in a Southern greasy spoon that defies replication. They moved that old diner in Columbia across the street and it lost all that shabby ambiance.

In the midst of our meal, an attractive young woman came in wearing mud-encrusted designer jeans. I, and my companion, were properly attired in mud-encrusted Liberty overalls. Out of politeness, we didn't point out that she had overdressed for the occasion.

As it turned out, she had been rummaging under this fellow's house after a pair of baby pygmy goats she was smitten with. The guy lives up on Cabbage County. His place is straight out of Kuralt's "Christmas in Appalachia". The sort of place that makes Vista volunteers tear up and want to go build the poor soul a chemical toilet.

But as I've said before, Keralt missed a big part of the picture. The part where people choose to live this way. The part where the riches of the culture surpass the poverty.

But still, you couldn't have paid me a million dollars to grub around under this particular tar paper house sitting in the middle of a barnyard with 8 inches deep of manure enriched mud. Hell, he even lets the chickens and guineas in the house.

The young lady had just moved here with her boyfriend from Florida. We get lots of Floridians here fleeing the effects of global warming. Or just normal Florida warming which is bad enough.

She wanted to buy some goats.

"I've got a wether I can give you." I say, as neighborly as possible.

This is not really the altruistic gesture of goodwill it seems. The goat I'm offering her is Lucky. The same goat with me in my profile photo. I figure, if the fellow can sell some of his "yard" goats to her, I can at least unload Lucky on the newcomer.

Lucky is friendly to the point of being a pest. He also has big horns. I occasionally say that "he's Lucky he's not being eaten." I also occasionally call him "Barbecue". I'm not really joking.

"He doesn't bite," she asks, "does he?"

I'm not quite sure what to say since goats lack a set of upper teeth in the front. They can pinch you pretty good, but can't really bite properly.

", he's really friendly." I say. "Follows you around like a big dog."

This is absolutely true. I don't mention how incredibly annoying it is to have Lucky underfoot and trying to come in the house. Lucky is like the earnestly friendly hair-lipped kid in first grade who still wets himself. You know it's mean not to like him, but somehow you just can't help yourself.

"What if my dogs don't like him?" She asks. "I was thinking about getting babies since my dogs would like them better."

On toast, I think to myself.

"Well, you'll need a place to put him and some fencing." I say. "You don't want your goats and dogs to mix too much. Lucky has been raised with dogs so he's used to them."

I impart a few more pearls of goat wisdom to her and give her my phone number. She was supposed to call me the next day to come meet Lucky, but I didn't hear from her.
So Lucky is still here and safe for the time being.

At least until my rifle gets back from the gunsmith.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Mild with a slight drizzle and an 80% chance of Blinkin' having her damn kids!

Hopefully, she's not "just kidding" this time. She's just started "streaming" so I'm expecting to have a busy night.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

First, you decide where to dig.

In this case, it is a lovely hillside with a wonderful view of the lower pasture and the farm road.

You take with you a mattock and a shovel. The mattock is always neccessary because of the rocks. In South Carolina, the dirt is soft and easy to dig. That is not the case here. And this makes a great deal of sense to you. Because this is a hole that shouldn't be easy to dig. It is better if it is the hardest hole you have ever dug.

You use the mattock to chip out the shape of the hole then carve out the topsoil with the shovel.

In this case, the shape of the hole is rectangular, and roughly the size of a child's grave.

You want to make the hole perfectly shaped since you are going to be in it for quite some time digging. It is also going to hold something very precious and the hole should be worthy of what is going into it.

The hole should be at least three feet deep. This is hard, since there are large slabs of rotten granite hidden under the soil. You will hit them about the time you have gotten about a foot and a half down.

At that point you will curse and realize you don't have the proper tools to break up the 20 pound rocks that stubbornly refuse to move even using the pick end of the mattock.

You will hike back to the house for your sledge hammer and a star and plain wedge. You wish you had a proper tool for stone, but the wedges will have to do.

While you are there, you might as well go inside and drink a big glass of coolaide. Tropical punch flavor is what is available. You rest a while and call a friend to come help.

When you arrive back at your partially dug hole with the sledge and wedges, you climb down to see exactly where the rock will break. It is hard to swing the sledge in the narrow confines of the hole. You will have to take turns swinging the sledge at the wedge in the rock and then using your bare hands to dig the loose rock and soil out.

Your hands might bleed. That is okay. Because this should be a really difficult hole to dig.

Finally, you are successful at pulling this rock out of the ground in pieces. But there is a much larger rock.

Just then, your friend arrives. He is a really burly man and makes much more progress at exposing the really big rock in the hole.

But this is the hardest rock of all to budge. And this is okay. This is supposed to be the most difficult hole you will ever dig.

Your friend wonders if it would be better just to leave the rock and dig around it. The shape of the hole, is, after all, nearly perfect. But it is the very perfection required of this hole that cries out for having that big rock removed. It must go.

So you work on. In two hours you manage to finally get the rock out. It must weigh sixty pounds. You have broken your sledge, broken your mattock and broken a wedge getting this one rock out.

But the hole is nearly perfect now. The sacrifice of tools was worth it. A tiny bit more digging and smoothing and the hole is indeed perfection.

And, there are quite a few large size boulders and rocks to place on top of the hole once you fill it back in.

That's how you dig a hole.

Friday, January 05, 2007

I lost my partner today. He was five years old.

Most people know about me and the cocker spaniels. Most know about me and the goats. But not everyone knows about the quiet gentle soul who has stood beside me quietly making sure I don't fall down and do damage to myself. The one who has made it possible for me to live the solitary and ever so independent life that I lead.

I don't like to talk about it much. The world is full of people happy to tell you about their limitations, but I've always exercised something I like to call "healthy denial". By my sheer determination to completely ignore that there is something wrong with me...I feel I can surpass my limitations. Sometimes this works...sometimes it doesn't. Disability advocates would probably say I'm living in a closet. I probably am. I'm my own worst enemy in that respect. I just get tired of the know?

Ten years ago, I was fighting for my life. My lupus morphed into something truly dangerous and added a rare clotting disorder to the mix. I spent two months of 1997 in a coma with my chest cavity open to the heart, packed in gauze. It took a six month hospitalization to bring me back to life. I survived despite having only a 10 percent chance of living. I learned at this time, personally, about the terrible beauty of honorable scars. I bear them. I've known people with even more beautiful and honorable scars than mine.

It was a hard long road to get my mobility back. I was left with some residual neuropathies that impact my balance. As my lupus flares up and down, they get worse...then better. Sometimes, when they are better, I pass quite well as having nothing wrong with me.

In 2000 I began researching getting a service dog to help me. A program dog was out of the question. Aside from the long waiting list, I wasn't willing to give up my work with other dogs and many programs do not want other dogs in the home where they place a service dog. A program dog usually retires and leaves his handler. I knew I wouldn't be able to take that...I form very close attachments to my dogs.

I found a really wonderful group on the internet called OT-ADogs (Owner-trained Assistant Dogs) owned by the wonderful Dana Marshall and her partner, Gillis. I learned as much as I could from them before making the decision to get Aegis. I stayed with this group throughout Aegis' training and they were hugely helpful. I'm not sure why I left them...I think I just sank back into my comfortable state of denial again.

I puppy tested Aegis' litter when they were five weeks old. Aegis blew the other puppies completely out of the water. I was a bit conflicted since I'd always had a strong preference for black labs, but I couldn't deny this puppy's test results.

Any doubts about my choice were blown away when I picked him up three weeks later and turned to look in those amazing topaz eyes. We imprinted...hard.

About Aegis' name. A great deal of research and care went into its selection. It does not refer to any modern warfare guidance system or warship. It was chosen for its classical meaning. Particularly for its significance to the virgin warrior goddess Athena. It was her shield. Her divine protection. Very much as my Aegis was mine. His name was and is hugely significant to me. I feel naked now.

I started training Aegis as soon as I brought him home. We used clicker training, which allows you to train a dog at a much earlier stage. It was always a game to him. There are many horror stories out there about Labrador Retrievers and their terrible twos. By clicker training Aegis, we never experienced this. Aegis never chewed up a single thing. He never destroyed anything. He never failed to come when called. It can be done. Gently, effectively and without one harsh word.

He achieved his Canine Good Citizen's certificate at six months of age. We began to work in public places and I made him a "puppy vest" to work in. By eight months of age, he could walk by the meat department in the grocery store without even a glance at the steaks. He had all of his bracing commands down by the time he was ten months, though I wasn't putting much weight on his growing bones at that time. Aegis attended a voc rehab center with me and was an immediate "star". I can't tell you how proud I have always been of his noble and funny self. And he did have a quirky sense of humor.

We were training "pulling" and we were working on him pulling open the fridge door. I'd placed a "pull" on the door for that purpose. I stepped out of the house one day without him and returned to find that he had opened the fridge and had passed out "snacks" to all the cocker spaniels. He was overly pleased with himself.

We did some WET Dog training just for fun when we were still in South Carolina. Aegis excelled at this as he did everything else. People were always amazed that Aegis knew his left from his right. He picked that up when we were doing that. I'd direct him from the shore as to where objects were. He could pull me out halfway to the middle of the May river and back to shore. He could swim with you without ever letting one paw scratch you. And he was always concerned and worried when I was in the water.

I swim. It's the safest think I can do with myself and I've been a lap swimmer since I was in my twenties. Not so much anymore, since the pool is so far away. But in Bluffton, we had a great pool. Aegis would stay in a very attentive down stay for the entire time I was swimming. He would bring me my flippers and hand mitts. When I was done, he'd meet me at the side of the pool with my towel and offer his harness until I could get my balance again. And I always knew, he was just waiting for the moment he needed to jump in and save me.

How do you replace a friend like that?

All of this, he did before his first birthday.

This dog most certainly knew his job. He never lost sight of me and if I was doing something he thought was beyond my limits, he absolutely let me know about it. He hovered whenever he thought I was endangering myself. He was usually right. I can't tell you how many reproving looks I've gotten from him while I was out on the mountain or cranking up the chainsaw.

"That looks dangerous." His topaz eyes would say, "Stop it right now!"

When we moved to Tennessee, I was wanting to work again, so I stopped taking him out in public so much. Nothing says "disabled" like a great big yellow dog in a harness beside you. And don't think for a minute that the ADA has solved anything in regards to discrimination. It hasn't. No one will hire you if they think something is wrong with you. They just won't and there doesn't seem to be a damn thing you can do about it.

And Tennessee is in the middle ages as far as service dogs are concerned.

"But you ain't blind?!!"

So Aegis stayed on the farm. He helped me hang fencing. He carried tools for me. Mostly he made sure I didn't fall and helped me up when I did. He picked up after the cockers and played nursemaid to baby goats. And he let me know when I was doing something I shouldn't. Like try to shimmy down the mountain to get something that had blown off the porch.

He missed getting his vest and harness on and going out, but I myself became more insulated and didn't get out much either. So he was still with me all of the time. So that was okay.

I've often wondered if I was ever worthy of Aegis. He was that sort of just couldn't believe that he was in your life and not with someone else. Everyone wanted him. Everyone loved him. He made me feel loved by extension. He made me want to be a better person. I don't think I could ever live up to his expectations and image of me.

Aegis was the sort of soul that you are just incredibly blessed to have enter your life. Frankly, I don't think anyone could have been worthy of him. He was a once in a lifetime sort of dog.

If I seem to be nattering on aimlessly, it's because I'm numb. There is a point where grief is so profound that one's entire soul shuts down. That's where I am right now.

Today, Aegis' liver failure took a turn for the worse. He started to have seizures and his temperature spiked in the afternoon. After a consultation with my amazing veterinarian, Sandra O'Connor, we decided that he was only going to get worse and there were no other options available. It was "time".

My friend Scott was here to help take him in. Aegis couldn't walk and was fading fast by the time we arrived at Cedarwood.

I whispered his highest praise words into his ear as he left.

"Good Boy, guboy, guboy, guboy!"

I said them over and over again...way beyond the point where it was necessary.

My vet and I wept. She hugged me.

We tried. God knows we tried.

I don't know what I'm going to do now. The partnering bond between us was so strong. I can't imagine sharing that with another dog.

I think I'd rather fall. I think I'd rather bruise and bleed.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I've been run off of my feet with goats and dogs today.

Aegis had to go in to get X-Rays this morning. As I'm helping him out to the car, I hear an awful caterwauling coming from the upper pasture. I look up and there is Betty Goat in full labor screaming her head off.

Betty is one of my first fresheners, which means that she is a first timer.

So...I go and collect Betty Goat and put her in the kidding stall. Aegis and I rush to town where I leave him in the hands of my vets.

Guess what I found when I got home?

Let me introduce you to "Old Maid's Aerie's Aegis' Prayer". We are calling her "Goldie" for short. She's a bit premature thanks to her piggy momma who got into the grain bin two days ago and gave herself a wicked case of the scours...but she's perfectly formed and has lovely nippies and the only premie thing about her is that her eyes aren't open yet. She has a strong sucking reflex and it looks like she is going to survive just fine. My Goat Yoda, Betsy, came over and tubed some colostrum into her, but she's feeding from her bottle just fine. We are hoping she'll be standing on her own by tomorrow. She's the first baby kidded on the farm. And I really needed her today.

Aegis is needing 'round the clock skilled nursing...from me. His X-rays showed that there was no obstruction, but we are basically in a crap shoot situation now. He's getting alternating Ringers and Sodium Hydrochloride solutions mixed with dextrose and potassium every eight hours sub-Q. He's on vitamin K and Reglan shots. All we can do now is continue with the supportive care and pray he survives. If he can beat this, his liver will regenerate. But it's still a big if. His next treatment is at midnight...then I get to sleep until 8 am until it's time to start the entire thing all over again....with baby goat feedings.

Here are some more newborn goatie pictures since I know you've all been waiting for those.

Collective "Awwww's" all around.