Tuesday, September 18, 2018

It gives me hope

Even when it's hot in September and people living here in the "hot country" feel that cooler weather may never come, Mother Nature knows that it will be autumn soon. She's confident. And to give us hope, she sends signs.

My walking wings are still clipped. I won't be able to up my exercise level for another week. Right now, I'm walking the maximum allowed number of steps just doing the things I have to do in my job and the chores I do around the house.

But Jilda gives me a report each day. She put a beautiful picture out on Instagram yesterday.

I had to go back into my archives and find one from September of last year. It gives me hope.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Stay safe in the storm ~ my column from Sunday's paper

As I write these words, Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the Southeast coast. Florence looks like a beast. I read that some people plan to stay and ride out the storm. I’m concerned for their safety. We here in Alabama know firsthand about the wrath that storms can bring. 

The first major storm that I remember growing up was Camille. It hit Gulfport, Mississippi, in Aug. 17, 1969. Jilda and I had been dating for about a year. She was vacationing with her family at Laguna Beach, Florida when the storm passed. Laguna Beach wasn’t hit directly by the storm but the weather there was brutal, she remembers. 

Authorities urged residents of Biloxi and other coastal towns to evacuate. Many did, but I read stories about people who stayed in hotels having hurricane parties. This turned out to be a tragic mistake.  When the 24-foot storm surge inundated the area, the death toll surged to 259 people.

I was working in Birmingham at a plant that manufactured bottle caps for Coca-Cola and other beverages. We had an order for a million caps from a bottling company in Gulfport. By the time the wind and storm surge subsided, there was no bottling plant. We wound up tossing a million bottle caps in the dumpster. 

Storms of this magnitude come into the Gulf of Mexico every now and then. It's always a mess. The effects are far-reaching. Many who think they are hurricane safe learn too late just how vulnerable they are.

 Here in Walker County, we are 300 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. When Hurricane Opal came made landfall in 1995, it left a path of destruction through Alabama and northward.

I remember watching the weather that evening until it was time to go to bed. Sometime during the night, the eye of the storm passed over us here in Empire. It still had hurricane force wind gusts. We felt the low pressure in our chests as it came through. We lost power that night, and more trees than I would have thought possible from that storm. It blew the top of the massive sweet gum tree in our backyard onto the roof of our house.

When looking at images of hurricanes at sea from satellites in space, it’s hard to get a feel for the size of the storm. Once they move over land, the clouds often cover entire states. 

Hurricane Florence looks as if it would cover all of South Carolina and Georgia. The jury is still out for what category it will be when it makes landfall somewhere on the Southeastern coast, but it could leave millions of people in the dark. 

Convoys of Alabama Power trucks are headed to that area to help with restoring power when the wind stops blowing. I also read that the Talladega Speedway opened up its vast facility to people fleeing the storm from the Carolinas. They are providing hot shower and restroom facilities, in addition to water hookups for campers and RVs.

I just hope everyone played it safe and headed for higher ground.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Wind chimes

We have wind chimes on our back deck and on the screen porch. Some of them are cheap ones we've picked up at yard sales and discount stores. All of them appealed to us on some level.

But we also have a few that are exquisite. There is one set that has tubes that are almost four feet tall. When the wind blows through the cheaper wind chimes they tinkle, twist, and sparkle. But we have one set that is tuned which means when the wind blows through it, the sound is deep and melodic.

This picture is from 2011. Ol' Buddy was out back fussing about something and I stepped outside to check. The sun was setting in the west. Shafts of light found their way through the pines and lit up the wind chimes on the back deck.

Pulling the phone from my pocket, I snapped a few frames.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Showing out

Even though it is hotter than Lucifer's hibachi right now, there are signs of autumn. The docs still don't want me walking like I did before my surgery so I'm having to pace myself so as not to do damage to my knee. Restraint is hard for me.

I shot this picture a couple years ago. It was September and I was near the spillway where I flyfish. The locks were on and the river was rushing below. This young poplar tree was showing out at the water's edge. I thought the contrast in color was striking so I snapped a few frames. I'm glad I did.

Y'all stay cool.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Nature's fruit

Walking around the barn a few days ago, I noticed that muscadines are ready to pick. These are wild grapes native to this area. There are wild green grapes as well but they are called scuppernongs. My grandmother called them muskydimes and skuppynines.  So naturally, that's what I've called them all my life.

Back when I was a kid, people used to make wine using these grapes. I'm sure they still do, but I don't see it as much now as when I was a kid.

I tried my hand at it as well when I was about ten. I think what I ended up with was grape juice because I drank a quart and didn't get a buzz. My friends told me that a couple of sips would make me loosy-goosy. So, I was disappointed.

Not a lot going on here in Empire. The heat index is a 102 right now. Earlier, I sat on the back steps for about 15 minutes to get my daily quota of vitamin D. By the time I stepped back inside, I was dripping sweat. I know the cooler weather will come here someday. 

Y'all have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Slow down when it rains

I had a city council meeting to cover tonight. As I was leaving a 6 p.m., I heard thunder in the distance. The sky was cloudy and it would have been too dark to walk had our security lights not been on.

No more than a mile from the house, rain began splattering on my windshield. Not enough to swish, but enough to see that I was headed into more.

A bit further and a gentle rain began to fall. The thing about "a little" rain around here is that it mixes with the grunge on the asphalt and turns the roads into a sheet of ice. Most people know that and slow down. But some people don't.

I came across one of the latter before I reached my destination. A woman was going to fast when the light changed to red. She slid through the intersection and hit a Walker County Sherriff. Talk about bad timing.

I sent the police chief a text and asked if anyone was badly hurt. He returned my text saying that everyone was OK.

I'm guessing no one will have to tell her in the future to slow down when it's raining.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Higher ground

I feel for those people living by the shore on the southern east coast. Hurricane Florence looks like a beast. Storms of this magnitude come into the Gulf of Mexico. It's always a mess.

Jilda and I live 300 miles inland and when Hurricane Opal came made landfall in 1995, it left a path of destruction.

It was after we'd gone to bed for the night, the eye of the storm passed over us here. We felt the low pressure in our chest as it came through. We lost trees and power from the winds from that storm.

So, whenever there is a storm warning here we don't take it lightly.

Convoys of Alabama Power Trucks are headed to that area to help with restoring power when the wind stops blowing. I just hope everyone heads for higher ground tonight.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


I've seen a lot of tributes to 9/11 today. Even though it's been 17 years ago, I still remember where I was, what I was doing, and the clothes I was wearing. If I close my eyes, I can still taste the corporate coffee I was drinking.

I'm not sure I can add anything significant here, but one of the tributes from a few years ago resurfaced today was a slideshow with incredible pictures. The heavy metal band Destructive sang the Simon and Garfunkel song, "The Sound of Silence." The tribute brought tears to my eyes.

This morning, after I watch the slideshow, I took my mug of coffee to the back deck and sat for a while. The song reminded me of something about 9/11 that I had forgotten. The sound of silence.

Even living in a rural area, I can look up at the sky any time day or night and within a minute or so, I will see a plane overhead. When I got home on 9/11/01 I walked out on our deck and the silence was deafening. No matter how hard I looked at the sky, there were no planes, no contrails, or no whispering sound of an aircraft full of people flying into the sunset. Only silence.

That day changed us all forever.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Driving is tonic for the soul ~ my column from Sunday

I never realized until after my surgery a few weeks ago what driving meant to me.

When the doctors briefed me on what to expect after the operation, I heard the part about not being able to drive for two weeks, but that fact didn’t hit home until after the first week. As I sat on our screen porch looking out at the world outside, it occurred to me that the pain, stiffness, lack of appetite and a few unmentionables were no picnic, but it was not being able to drive that was the most painful.

I’ve been driving since before I could reach the pedals on the floorboard of a car. Sitting on my dad’s lap, we kept the backroads hot. He loved driving as much as I do. 

One Sunday afternoon when I was a little older, he headed out to haul off garbage to the local dump. “Let’s ride, Satch,” he said. That was the nickname he used for me when he needed a sidekick. 

We were in the old 1946 Chevy pickup.  It had four a four-speed manual transmission with
Courtesy of the Internet
the gearshift on the hump in the floorboard. The truck needed front-end work. I knew this because the steering wheel had “play” in it. This meant that you could turn the steering wheel about a quarter way around without the wheels responding. Since the old beast was only used occasionally, repairs were on the “I need to fix that someday” list.

After tossing the garbage off the truck at the Samoset Dump, we took a detour up Fire-Tower Road. It was a dirt road that stretched between the Dora/Cordova Road and the Highway 78 near Argo. There were straightaways miles long it seemed. 

Dad steered to the side of the road. The old tires crunched on the gravel and red rock as we came to a stop. “You wanna drive?” he asked. My eyes said it all. 

He slid over, and I crawled over his lap. My legs were just long enough to push the pedals if I tiptoed. I’d watched him change gears so often that I ‘d memorized them. Getting used to the clutch was a little tricky, but after killing the engine a few times, we jerked out down the road. I fell in love that day.

Through the years, I’ve had more cars and trucks than I can remember. I did a rough calculation in my head on the mileage of vehicles I’ve owned in the past and realized that I’ve driven over a million miles.

A big chunk of these miles came from commuting each day between our home in Empire and my work in Birmingham for over 30 years. Also, Jilda and I have driven over most the eastern half of America.

Sometimes when I feel down, I have an instant cure. Getting behind the wheel of my truck, I can head out down a backroad and drive for a while with the windows rolled down. 

This week when the doctor released me to drive, my spirits soared. Driving is like a tonic for my soul.

Sunday, September 09, 2018


Jilda and I attended the funeral of our neighbor that died last week. His remains were cremated, and his daughter wanted the service on Saturday.

It was a graveside service with a handful of people. Once you reach his age, many of your family and friends have gone before you.

My GPS sent us in the wrong direction, and I worried that we would not get there on time, but we rolled in with five minutes to spare. His daughter and her husband saved us a place next to them. I thought it would be hot by 10 a.m., but lazy white clouds kept the sun at bay, and gentle breeze out of the west fluttered the canopy on the tent. 

Before the service began, a beautiful German Shephard wandered through the cemetery and sat down next to where the preacher was standing. He reached down and scratched the dogs head. "Who does this guy belong to?" the preacher asked. Everyone looked at each other questioningly. "I can only guess that he's here for Harold's funeral." 

The dog made its way around the grave and sat down beside Jilda. Dogs can spot canine lovers from a mile away.

I wanted to pull the phone from my pocket and snap a picture of the dog, but I didn't want to be disrespectful.

The dog sat respectfully as the preacher said a few words. He ended the service by saying I know that Harold would be happy that this boy came to his funeral. 

I couldn't agree more.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Foothills Festival

Jilda and I went to the Foothills Festival this afternoon. The paper where I work was a sponsor and had a booth. I signed up to work the booth for a few hours.

After my shift, we headed over to the music stage The McCrary Sisters were on stage. They are a gospel group and they put on a great show.

Following them was Paul Thorn. We've seen Paul several times in the past and he puts on a great show. He got the McCrary Sisters to join the band onstage and they brought the house down.

My knee was screaming by the time we left, but as they say, Fun Ain't Cheap.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Maybe next year

My high school team is playing an arch-rival tonight. I'm getting updates on scores via Twitter. I'm a little bummed about not being on the sideline.

For the past 15 years, I've maintained an alumni website for the high school. Each September when they hit the field on Friday nights, I was there. Not only did I take pictures of the game, but the band, the cheerleaders, majorettes, and the crowd at the game. I often took hundreds of pictures and posted them on the website.

On Saturday following games, the website would "light up" with visitors to see the photos.

This year, when I was trying to determine the best time to do my knee surgery, I weighed in the fact that I wouldn't be on the sidelines. Maybe late in the season, I might be able to go shoot a few, but right now, I'm not sure that will be feasible. I still have a lot of healing to do.

So tonight, I'm pulling for my Bulldogs from my couch and getting updates via my phone.

Maybe next year I can be down close to the action.

Here is a slideshow I did several years ago of one of the games. I hope it still works.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Story of Lucy continues

I've spent most of the day writing.  This morning after lunch, I got a text from the local rescue group. It was good news. My neighbor's dog Lucy that ran away a while back is now back at the shelter. 

A guy that lives across the road from the church where she's been staying has been trying to get his hands on her for the last few days.  But he had patience and yesterday, he had the time.  He coaxed her close enough to catch her. 

Today, after I finished writing, I needed to run to the post office, and I wanted to get my truck washed. It was getting sad. 

Someone on the Facebook thread about Lucy suggested that someone get something that belonged to her dad and take it to her. 

That sounded like a good idea to me, so I ran over to her house and got one of her dad's old tee shirts and a pair of his cloth work gloves.

On the way to the shelter, I stopped by the gas station and picked up a fat Slim Jim. When I stepped into the shelter, the woman behind the counter greeted me. "Did you come to visit Lucy?" I asked if I could leave the tee shirt with her. She said of course.

When I stepped back to her cage, she was sitting in the corner. She recognized me. She made the most pitiful sound I'd ever heard from a dog. That sound and the look in her eyes put a lump in my throat. 

I stooped over and offered the shirt and gloves. Lucy wagged in recognition.  I petted her and fed her the Slim Jim. 

As I stood to leave, she was sniffing the clothes I'd left.

The forever home they had for her fell through during the time she was missing. The search goes on. I plan to write an appeal on Facebook for help finding her a good home. 

While the story still doesn't have a happy ending, I have to believe that it will end well for Lucy.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Falling rain good for autumn leaves

The last few weeks of August were hot and dry as tinder. I worried that the lack of rain in the forecast would cause our fall foliage to be nonexistent.

It turns out, my tropical storm forecast wasn't far off the mark. The rain that was supposed to miss us here and move off to the west, but I had a feeling that the storm would come up the river in Mobile. I was close.

Sometime after midnight, the rain droning on the roof brought me almost to consciousness. I didn't wake up all the way, but I woke enough to know that it was raining. I slept even deeper for the rest of the night.

This morning, as I stood at the window making our morning coffee I could see an old slow rain falling. The earth seemed to be rejoicing. I'll probably have to pay someone to cut my grass one more time, but that's a small price to pay for a beautiful autumn.

I shot this picture of the sweet gum tree in our backyard a few years ago.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Storm's a comin'

The weather folks have been saying for days that Tropical Storm Gordon would come into the Gulf
and make landfall west of Alabama. This graphic was from 10 a.m. this morning.

Now I'm not a weatherman, but this storm looks to me like it is headed into Mobile. It won't be long now and we'll see who's right.

Yesterday, I talked to our friend Wes who has a condo in Destin, Fl. He said the weather was beautiful. I'm guessing if he's still down there, he is probably hunkered down. 

When the weather is good, the beach on Alabama's coast is stunning. It's where we go almost every year on my birthday. Last year, our niece Samantha and Jordan joined us. I snapped the picture below of him having fun in the surf. I've probably posted this pic before, but tonight it's what I have.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Harold and Lucy

I wish this story had a happy ending, but it doesn’t. I got a text this morning from Texas. It was from the daughter of the elderly neighbor I wrote about a few weeks ago. He died this morning.

He had a bad wreck driving his truck to the grocery store. The single-vehicle accident sent him to UAB Hospital. Miraculously, he wasn’t badly injured in the wreck, but tests revealed something was going on in his head. It wasn’t a stroke but some kind of issue with his brain. No one would speculate whether this contributed to the accident or not, but I think it probably did.

I got a chance to run by and see him in the ICU there at UAB. It took him a while to realize who I was. His voice was as fragile as a feather, but he managed to tell me he didn’t think the wreck was his fault. I shook my head as if I believed that too.

We had a good visit until nurses shooed me from the room for some additional tests. Before I left, he asked me to take care of his dogs. I promised I would. That’s the last time I saw him.

He remained at UAB until they got him stabilized.

His daughter made it home to see her dad. She found him a bed at a rehabilitation facility at a local nursing home. He was there for a short while before heading back to the hospital with a suspected stroke.

While his daughter was here in Alabama, she made arrangements for local animal rescue groups to find new homes for his precious critters. Hershey, the older of the two dogs, was the first to go. Lucy took a few extra days to place.

I went over every day and let her out to do her business. Each time she'd run to the swing in the front yard where she had spent quality time in the evenings at the foot of her dad.

Only after a lot of coaxing with a treat would she go back inside. I repeated this every day. One evening while sitting in the swing, I had a heart to heart with the pup. It was hard explaining to Lucy that her dad would not be coming home. She listened, but she kept looking down the road for his truck.

When it came time for Lucy to go to the vet for treatment before going to her new home, I wasn’t sure how I would get her in my truck. Her middle was bigger than her neck. I borrowed a harness from my niece for the job. Before trying to wrestle Lucy into the harness, I had a thought. Walking over to my truck, I opened the door, and she jumped in as if she did it all the time. I’m guessing her dad had taken her for a ride before.

Forgotten Tales Rescue came a few days later after her treatment to pick Lucy up. Between the vet’s office and the car, Lucy backed out of her collar and ran away. She’s been missing ever since.

I put her picture on Facebook with a little history, and the response has been amazing. Several people have seen her near the Faith Worship Center in Sumiton. She is frightened and confused. So far no one has been able to get close to her.

I was hoping we could catch her and take her for one last visit with her dad, but it’s too late now.

Take care Lucy. RIP Harold.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

A tonic for my soul

I'm going to try starting back to work tomorrow on limited duty. I have some interviews I did back a few weeks ago so I plan to knock those out. I also have several on my todo list. Getting pictures might be challenging, but if I'm released to drive this week, that will make things doable.

I've got cabin fever. The last few weeks the only places I've gone are to therapy and with Jilda to the store. Before the surgery, I spent time on the road almost every day. Even when I had no particular destination, I had a chance to ride, observe, smell, and photograph things that interested me. Not being able to do that has been harder on me that I would have imagined. I don't have much experience with depression, but I think the side effects of anesthesia, and the other meds have played with my spirit.

Jilda is observant and she picked up today that I was down. We needed a few groceries so, after breakfast, we headed to the store. On the way, she swung by the Forks of the river. It was during church time so there wasn't anyone fishing. We pulled down to the edge of the parking area and switched off the engine, rolled down the windows, and sat for a while. It felt good. That place is like a tonic for my soul.

This afternoon, I've felt much better. Jilda fixed Italian sausages and veggies on the grill. I sat on the deck and supervised.

I'm hoping the worst is behind me.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

One day at a time

I’m feeling much better. The hard part is not overdoing it. I want this behind me and I have a tendency to push. The doc was happy with my progress but he cautioned that doing too much too soon could be as bad as not doing enough.

His met was not lost on me. The LAST thing I want is for him to have to go back in to fix something that was avoidable.

So the last few days I’ve done what’s on my recommended plan and then spending time resting.

College football started back today. I went out early and took down the summer flag hanging from our arbor and hung my University of Alabama flag.

I’m hoping our team jells and we play well.

I hope your team wins today unless of course, you are a Louisville Cardinal fan.

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