Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A special gift from Ol' Hook ~ my column from the weekend paper

Through the years, Jilda and I have had our share of pets. We’ve had cats, chickens, tropical fish, and dozens of dogs. One thing we’ve learned is that they sometimes bring you unusual “gifts.”

Not long after we married, we lived in a trailer in a mobile home park where the Sumiton Elementary School now sits. We didn’t have an air conditioner, so during the summer, the windows were always open.

The screens were old, and the one in the window over the kitchen sink was barely hanging onto the frame.

One afternoon Jilda was standing at the sink washing dishes. Alleycat (the cat’s name) jumped from the ground outside and onto the edge of the sink through the window. The cat had done this trick in the past, but this time she had a small copperhead snake dangling from her mouth. Jilda’s scream made the hair on my arm stand on end.

I rushed into the kitchen, whacked the snake with a broom handle before balancing it on the broom, and taking it outside.

Not long after that, our German Shepard, Duke, brought us a baby rabbit. The dog had gently captured the tiny critter from a neighbor’s rabbit pen. Other than being slimed with Duke slobber, it was unharmed.

I took it home, apologized to the neighbor, and kept Duke on a short leash after that.

Through the years, there were other “gifts,” but this week, Ol’ Hook took the prize.

Our niece Samantha and her son Jordan were visiting from next door. We were all sitting on the back deck, enjoying the afternoon sun.

An Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly fluttered up and landed on the butterfly bush in the flower bed. It was yellow and black with an intricate design on its wings. The critter was almost as big as my cupped hands. Jilda stepped down to get a better look. Pulling the phone from her pocket, the butterfly seemed to be posing.

After Jilda stepped back onto the deck, Ol’ Hook spotted the dreaded butterfly. I’ve mentioned before that Hook is a deaf pit bull with a mouth big enough to swallow a Ford Focus. He launched off the deck, and before any of us could stop him, the butterfly disappeared. Chomp, chomp, chomp.

All four of us watched the event unfold and did a chorus of “Oh, no!”

Hook came up onto the back deck and looked at us all as if to say, “Threat averted.”

If the story had ended there, it would have been a sad one, but it didn’t. After a moment, Hook began coughing and then opened his mouth like he had something hung in his throat.

Just then, the butterfly flew out of his mouth and up into a nearby tree. It sat there for a few moments before heading down to feed on the zinnias in the garden.

We’ve told several people this story, and they all looked as us like we were pulling their leg. Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would have been skeptical, too.

The gift here was a story that will be told for years to come. I only wish I’d had the foresight to capture the event on video.

Monday, June 29, 2020


It's been years since we planted watermelons. Early in the spring, we met one of our friends to give her some eggs, she reciprocated with four heirloom watermelon plants.

That afternoon, I took the tiller and broke up land that we've never used as a garden before. The main factor was that the plot gets over 9 hours of sunlight each day.

We knew within a few days that they were happy. You could stand still and almost see the vines grow.  Each morning brought more yellow blossoms.

We noticed a few weeks ago that there were several melons the size of goofballs. They've grown steadily since then.

This morning the rain moved off to the east and gave us a few minutes to get in some steps. We swung by to check on the melons and I snapped the picture below.

We need to do a little research to learn the right time to pick them. We are soooo excited.

Sunday, June 28, 2020


A few years ago, Jilda and I spent our anniversary in Fairhope, Alabama. Don't you just love that name? 

Fairhope is less than an hour from the Gulf of Mexico, but it's nestled on the shores of Mobile Bay. It's a magical place, or it seems that way to us. 

We've been to Fairhope many times.

When Hurricane Fredrick slammed into Mobile on September 12, 1979, it left much of the telephone company's infrastructure in tatters. 

Construction crews went down first to set new poles and string miles of telephone cables. It took months for them to get the facilities ready to do mass restorals to the communities around Mobile. 

I was in the next wave of crewmen who went in to reconnect homes. I spent weeks hanging 40 feet from the ground on telephone poles.

After a few weeks, I went home one weekend and loaded Jilda up along with our German Shepard Duke and took them back to Howard Johnsons with me. 

She was a hit with the crew. She was cute, and she could cook. Each day while we worked, she'd go to the grocery store, buy up whatever she needed to feed 14 hungry phone guys.

After dinner, we would load up and drive over to Fairhope, sit on the pier, and watch the sunset. It was a beautiful thing.

If we did not live here, I would lobby for a place in Fairhope.

I shot this picture the last time we visited.

Saturday, June 27, 2020


The canopy over the road to our barn is so dense that very little light finds its way through to the floor.

A Google search had this to say about ferns - The ferns constitute an ancient division of vascular plants, some of them as old as the Carboniferous Period (beginning about 358.9 million years ago) and perhaps older.

In years past, we went to Wally-World and bought flowers for the planters in our front yard. We haven't been inside Wally-World since mid-March.

While drinking coffee yesterday, Jilda suggested that I dig up a few clumps of ferns from the barn road and plant them in the planters instead of flowers. That sounded like a splendid idea.

Yesterday afternoon, the rain slacked up enough to go on a fern expedition. I grabbed a towel to wipe the rain off the seat of the tractor, tossed a sharpshooter in the trailer, and headed out.

For an instant, a shaft of sunlight navigated through the underbrush and highlighted this fern. There was no way I could not choose this one.

It only took a few minutes to dig up several other clumps of ferns. Less than twenty minutes later, they were nestled in our front yard planters.

The yard is mostly shaded, so I think they will do well there.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Interesting path

One day in June of 1973
I was sitting in the sand at sunset.
It was a Sunday. 
(The time and place were written on the back of the picture.)
I was on an island off the coast of Panama.
Home was 3,500 miles away
but it felt much further.
I wish I remembered what I was thinking
when my friend Dave took this picture.
I wish I'd kept a journal then. It would be interesting
to look back now at who I was then.
The path from this picture to where I am right now
has been interesting,

Thursday, June 25, 2020

First time

I got an email from the Associated Press this afternoon. Last week I interviewed a local coffee house owner about them putting a student center in the shop so that nearby high school and community college students could do homework, print papers, keep their devices charged all while hanging out with friends. The AP is running that story.

I've never had a story picked up by AP before, but their content is shared out to news outlets around the world. We'll see if anyone else sees it :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The rain returned

It has rained on and off for most of the day. 
We walked between showers. 
The dithering clouds were ash-gray one moment
and white as gauze the next.
The humidity was lickable. 
On the second lap, 
I noticed a pink Rose-of-Sharon blossom 
at one corner of the house.
Before we reached the apple tree
The rain returned.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Power problems

We're batting a thousand this week. Our power has been off and on for the last three days. Storms moved through on Sunday and blew trees down on the lines. The power was off for about 10 hours.

A mischievous squirrel farted on the lines yesterday. I'm guessing that's what it was because there was not a cloud in the sky. The power was off for four hours.

I had a content meeting at work today. While I was away, our great nephew Jordan and his mom came over. He was out on the deck when the wind began to blow. He noticed the powerlines that run by the house and on to the barn were fizzing and arcing. It freaked him out. A moment later, the power was off. Jilda called and broke the news to me during my drive home.

Typically when I report a power outage, there is no way to talk to a human. This time when I called to report the problem, I reported a dangerous condition. BINGO. It transferred me to a living, breathing person.

Less than an hour later, there was a technician from the Power Company at our house. I showed him the issue with the lines to the barn, and about 30 minutes later, that problem was resolved, and our lights were back on.

I'm hoping this does the trick.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Stormy day in June

Last night I wrote my blog entry on my phone. It's always a little wonky, but manageable. At 11:30 p.m., the light blinked on. The AC began cooling the house down immediately.

This morning, I was feeding the chickens when I heard the phrase "WELL SHIT." Without asking, I knew the power was off again.

I'm not sure if the storm yesterday broke limbs that waited until this morning to fall on the lines again or what. It took crewmen five hours to get our lights back on.

Thankfully, an occasional cool breeze made the screen porch comfortable enough to write some stories for the paper.

This afternoon, more storms swept through, but thankfully the lights stayed on. We'll have another day of turbulent weather tomorrow.

I drove to the gas station and bought gas for the generator – just in case.

Below, the bleeding heart flower that Jilda's grandmother gave her is showing out on the deck.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

No power

Thunderstorms swept through this afternoon and took our power.
We’re sitting here in the dark.
On an upnote, while sitting on the back deck, a monarch stopped by to say hello.

UPDATE-Power came on at 11:30 p.m. and went off this morning at 8 a.m.
It came back on at noon.

Saturday, June 20, 2020


We miss having people over. In normal years, we would have had a fish fry and several family gatherings by now. That all changed this year.

But today, we had company. It was the first time since early March that anyone has been here that was outside our "fam-is-sphere". Is that a word?

Our freezer is full of blueberries so we've invited our friends Daniel and Jo Frances to over to pick some.

We "howdy'd up" on the deck, before heading to the field of blueberry bushes. We had a great time together. They'd never been here before. We showed them the garden, the apiary, the honey house, and the barn. Jo Frances is an amazing photographer and she took a zillion pictures.

We loaded them down with blueberries, fresh veggies, eggs from the henhouse, and several plants for their garden.

I can't wait until things get back to normal so that we can celebrate with all our friends.

Friday, June 19, 2020

A place by the water

I sometimes think that Jilda and I should have saved and bought a place by the water. When I was a teenager, my dad bought a small lot on the river. My older brother and I helped my dad build a small two-room cabin.

It was built with sawmill lumber. Across the front was a porch with a squeaky swing, a glider, and cane-bottom chairs.

We spent countless hours at that cabin. I loved the night sounds – owls and whip-o-wills were common. You could also hear beavers, swimming downriver. Every now and then, they'd raise their flat tails and spank the water making a spaluuuuunnnnnkkkkkk sound.

When my dad started having health problems, he sold the cabin to a river neighbor who used the cabin as a storage shed.

Back in 2007, Jilda made reservations at Wheeler State Park for my birthday. We had a room in a small hotel on the water. At sunset, we poured ourselves a glass of red wine and walked down to the dock.

We sat on benches and watch the setting sun make kaleidoscope images with the clouds.

Did I mention that I love the water?

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Sharp stick

Some days the words come too fast.
Some days it's more of a trickle.
Some days you have to dig them out
of the cranial crevices with a sharp stick. 
Today, the stick would have come in handy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020


We sat on the deck before sunrise this morning and drank coffee. Jilda lit some incense to keep the skeeters at bay.

When the sun came up, it painted the clouds to the south, subtle hues of peach, mauve, and other shades I can't name even with the help of Google.

After coffee, we walked. While I waited for Jilda and Taz the wonder Yorkie to amble around the yard, I heard a honeybee in the Rose-of-Sharon blossoms.

I stood still for a long while trying to spot it, but I never did. I decided to snap a picture of a blossom. A breeze out of the west kept the blossom swaying, so the images I shot were blurred. I did the only sensible thing and used the stained glass filter on the image. Ok, I know I'm overusing the filter, but it resonates with me, and I can't explain why.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020


After lunch, Jilda and I stepped out onto the deck for an analog weather report. I leaned back in the wrought iron chair, closed my eyes, and turned my face to the sun.

A shadow flitted across the deck, and Ol' Hook launched off the deck in hot pursuit. He's deaf and not the sharpest tool in the elevator, but he loves chasing shadows.

I opened my eyes to watch him chasing the shadow of a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. It dipped down and visited the cucumbers, then over to the rosemary, before settling in on the butterfly bush.

It sat there and posed long enough for me to shoot a few pictures before it flitted off to torment Hook a little while longer.

Monday, June 15, 2020


Our pomegranate bush has been hit or miss over the past several years. This year we pruned it in early spring and dug in compost and horse manure around its roots. It didn't take long for it to show its appreciation. 
It's a beautiful plant and I'm glad we took the time to make it feel welcome.

Sunday, June 14, 2020


Today was decoration day, where my folks are buried. I was there before 7 a.m. to collect donations from visitors. The money we collect on decoration day goes into a fund to keep the cemetery maintained.

In years past, there were hundreds of people who drove through the cemetery, placing flowers on the graves of their loved ones. These last few years, few people came. This year, even fewer.

I think this tradition has seen its better days. Fewer and fewer graves had flowers this year.  When this generation is gone, maybe the generations that follow will have new traditions onto which they can hold.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Whimsical design

There is not a lot of lawn management in our front yard. It stays in the shade most of the day. Early on, we had to decide on a manicured lawn or tall trees. We opted for the latter. So one could describe our yard a whimsical. 

On one side, there is an ancient dogwood. Closer to the road is a sweet shrub we planted earlier in the year and a second holly tree. The lawn around that is mixed with red clay, scrub grass, tiny privets that fruitlessly aspire to be tall. That won't happen because I routinely smite them.

On one side of the drive, I hauled flat rocks from the creek in the hollow and made an impromptu wall.  On top of that wall, we planted irises, gardenias, sweet shrubs, and honeysuckle vines. It creates a vibe rarely recommended by landscape architects, but it works for us.

On the other side of the yard down close to the mailbox, I built a retaining wall from the creek rocks. Behind the wall, we planted daylilies. They get the morning sun for several hours, which seems to suit them.

The daylilies are blooming now, and the bees are giddy. I must say they make me smile too.

Friday, June 12, 2020

No power

It was still as a photograph outside this evening as we ate dinner. We did a trial subscription to Netflix and were watching a program when the power went off.

I have the power company on speed dial so I reported the outage. Jilda’s brother called to tell us that someone knocked down a power pole out on the main road. It will be at least a few hours before they get a crew out. Hopefully they will have it back on soon.

Fortunately, the weather is pleasant so we sat out on the back deck and listened to the owls in the distance. 

I’m writing this post on my phone.

UPDATE- our power came back on just before 9 p.m. woo Hoo. We don’t have to camp out tonight!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Stain glass zinnias

Today was like a scripted from an enchanting story. The sky was cerulean blue with clouds that look like they were pulled from bottles of aspirin. The humidity was lower than yesterday, and a cool breeze out of the west kept blowing over our citrus trees on the back deck and making our chimes sing.

Each day, something new blooms. The zinnias started last week, but today, there were dozens of them showing their color.

The garden was in full sun when we walked, which is not great for shooting photographs. I didn't want to do the flowers a disservice, so I chose to use a recently discovered filter, which I'm probably overusing on this blog. But, tonight I just got home from a city council meeting, and you're going to have to cut me some slack on the picture :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Stay cool

When the rain moved off to the north, it left in its wake a blanket of humidity. We picked blueberries early, and by the time I walked back into the house, it felt as if I'd showered with my clothes on.

I cooled off and cleaned up in time for breakfast.  I needed to check on a couple of beehives, so I put on blue jeans, a tee-shirt, and my new bee veil. It's much cooler than my bee suit.

It worked well, but when I opened the third hive, I accidentally dropped the lid as I was lifting it off. The bees were not amused. They buzzed all around, and I did get to make an inspection, but before I finished, I got stung on the forearm.

I decided to close the hive and head to the house for a cold glass of water.

Again, I was soaking wet – not from the heat but from the humidity. For the rest of the day, I've laid low. Tonight, I feel as limp as a well-done noodle.

Fortunately, I did snap a picture of another Elderberry blossom. We bought some of these earlier in the spring, but as it turns out, there are elderberry bushes all around us. This one is next to the barn road.

Y'all stay cool.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020


We're thankful that our blueberry bushes get ripe in stages. The ones on the west end of the terrace row get early-morning sun. They are also among the first bushes we planted years ago. In March, blueberries as fat as nickels turn a shade of blue that's close to black.

The sweet taste of these blueberries can't be expressed with mere words. An accurate description requires grunts, groans, and other guttural sounds that are not usually apart of most polite conversations...but I digress.

The 15 bushes on the east end of the terrace row have all decided to start offering ripe blueberries simultaneously.

Yesterday we picked eight gallons. Our niece from next door joined us and picked a basket for herself.

Tomorrow we will be in the field before coffee.  Some might think this task was tedious, but I enjoy it. There is something meditative about picking blueberries.

Pick, pick, munch. Pick, pick, munch. Where did the time go?

Monday, June 08, 2020

Mimosa blossom

Cristobal made landfall on the gulf coast today and the atmosphere here in Empire has been excited all day. 

One thing about getting older is, my knees can predict changes in the weather longe before sophisticated computers and radars. 

We walked between rain showers today. When the rain moved off to the north, we headed out for a few laps.

On the far edge of the property, we noticed that the mimosa trees are blooming. We had these trees in our yard when I was in high school. Many times I've plucked a fresh blossom from a mimosa tree and sucked nectar from the small white anther at the tips of the filaments. The scent is sweet but not overpowering. 

I just Googled the tree and it said it was a member of the pea/legume family. Who knew. 

After snapping a few pictures, we continued our walk, but the rain returned. We scurried back toward the fence and shelter. 

Sunday, June 07, 2020

A better steward

I lost another beehive yesterday. I checked it last week and while it wasn't robust, I felt it would endure.

The weather this spring has not been bee weather. It's been cold and rainy WAY more than normal. While cooler weather is good for walking and the garden's love rain, honeybees love warm weather with everything blooming.

The hive I lost swarmed in March. That means that the queen bee along with 30,000 of her strongest girlfriends left the hive in search of a new home. Left behind was an unborn queen and 20,000 worker bees wondering why they weren't in the "swarm crowd".

Then the weather got cold and rainy again.

The bottom line, either the unborn queen had a problem, or it did hatch out and died tragically looking for love. There are other options, but let's just say, the hive got weaker.

When a hive gets weak, it's susceptible to a wide range of maladies. This one succumbed to wax moths. These flighty creatures get into a hive and lay eggs in the honeycomb. When their offsprings hatch they feast on the honeycomb, the pollen, and the unborn honeybees. What's left is not pretty.

Since we got our first hives, I've learned volumes. But the more I learn, the more I realize that I don't even fathom what I don't know.

Few things in life come easy and things that are worthwhile can be even more difficult. I said that to say this – I will double my efforts to become a better steward for the honeybees who depend on me.

Saturday, June 06, 2020


The Bougainvillea started blooming today. It made it through winter on the screened porch that doubles as our greenhouse when the weather gets cold. 

I kept it watered, and it bloomed on the porch until December. Then all the blossoms and leaves fell off, but I could tell it was still alive.

 The Mandevilla was sitting beside it, and to some reason, it didn't make it. Last week I bought a new one and put it next to the swing in the back yard. 

Flowers and flowering shrubs sure dress up a place.

Friday, June 05, 2020

I love this dog

Today was busy. Jilda and I walked early, but when we returned, we got the baskets and went back out to pick blueberries. 

After about an hour, we drank all the water we'd taken with us, so we headed inside for more. We put the berries we picked on flat pans for them to ripen a little more overnight. We haven't bagged the berries up yet, but it looks to be about two gallons. We need a larger freezer.

This evening I cut grass in the fields. Kodak, the wonder dog, walked beside me the entire time. It was hot, and I tried to shoo him back to the yard, but he wasn't having any of it. He was doing his duty and whatnot.

When I got through, I sat down in the Adirondack chair in the shade to cool off. Jilda brought me a glass of cold water. Kodak inched up close to be petted. After some good boys, and ear scratches, I put the straw hat that I wear in the sun on his head. 

He sat still while I snapped a few pictures. I love this dog.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Coffee love ~ my column from the weekend paper

I hear people from time to time say they don’t like coffee. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that statement. It might seem like a twisted judge of character, but I’m not sure I trust people who don’t drink coffee. 
I’ve been drinking coffee since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. A historical article said that on D-Day, General Eisenhower locked himself in a trailer and swilled coffee all day, waiting for reports to come in. I’m guessing he was on top of things.
My mom was a coffee lover too, and although I was still in the first grade writing with fat pencils and eating paste, she saw no harm in giving me a cup of coffee. It had cream in it to thin it down, but I never got sleepy in class after I started drinking coffee.
I tend to get a little snarky when I don’t get my morning java, but my wife Jilda is like a pit bull with a toothache if anyone speaks to her before she gets her daily caffeine infusion.
Several years ago, when I worked for MaBell, Jilda, and I joined a coffee club. Every month we received a shipment of coffee from around the world. As an incentive to join, they sent us a coffee grinder, a decorative canister, and a puppy. Just kidding about the puppy. 
The coffee came from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Istanbul, and countries with names I could not pronounce. Each one smelled like heaven in a bag. 
A few years in, we would forget to respond to offers, and the coffee started coming too quickly. We couldn’t drink it fast enough. It was getting expensive, so we canceled the subscription.
Tom Petty is one of my favorite musicians of all time. His music weaves through my memories from the '70s up until he died in 2017. He loved coffee, too.
I read an interview a while back, written by the author who wrote Petty’s biography. One story that didn’t make it into the final book was about Petty’s quest for the perfect cup of coffee.
The story said that Petty and his wife were out driving and stopped at a diner. The coffee they served was near perfect. Petty was a shy person, but he asked the waitress what kind it was. The manager came out and told Petty that it was Maxwell House – "Good to the last drop."
The manager agreed to show Petty how they made the coffee. When he went to the kitchen, he saw a Bunn coffeemaker brewing a pot of fresh coffee. 
Petty installed two of the professional-grade coffeemakers in his kitchen. He installed two because he never wanted to wait for a pot to brew. He always used Maxwell House.
Not long after Jilda and I read this, we invested in a Bunn coffeemaker. It’s the best coffeemaker we’ve ever owned. We tried Maxwell House, but we prefer a different brand of Joe. We buy a wheelbarrow load of Community dark roast coffee each time we go to COSTCO.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I can tell by the aroma from the kitchen that a fresh pot of coffee is ready. Cheers.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020


I had an opportunity to work a little in my shop today. The old place serves as a honey house and a woodworking shop. The latter is where I build beehive components and so forth. In the last few months, I've been saving my mad money. Mad money is money I make on the side that does not come out of the family budget.

This week I bought two components that will allow me to build and finish beehives, tables, chairs, shelves, and other stuff. It's something that I've wanted to do for years.

This afternoon, I carved out some time to do some work organizing the space. There is still a great deal to do, but I'm beginning to see progress.

It will still be a few days before I'm ready to build something, but I'm getting closer each day.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020


Driving home this evening, I rolled down the window.  There is something hypnotic about the sound of the wind as it rushes by my window.

Pulling into my drive, I knew the gardenias were blooming before I saw them. The aroma would have made Mother Nature smile.

One can no longer see our backyard fence because of the gardenia bushes. They all started the same way – Jilda snapped the stem of a gardenia blossom, put it in a vase in our house. When the beauty fades, and the blossom petals fall, she keeps the stems watered.

After a few weeks, the stems all develop roots. We plant those roots, and they grow to ten or 12 feet tall. They just started blooming, but within a week, there will be hundreds of blossoms that look as if they were carved from ivory.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Peaceful places

I wrote on the screened porch today. 
The ceiling fan whispered overhead 
pushing a cool breeze that made
the environment feel blissful.
Even when the world goes crazy,
there are peaceful places.
May we all find one of our own.

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