Monday, July 30, 2012

Don't Come Around Here No More

Why you still comin' round here?

Go to my new site here.  While you're there, click "FOLLOW" at the bottom right on the screen.

Then we won't have to do this again.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hey you!  Yes YOU.    Did you follow me over to the new site?

Don't make me come looking for you...

While you are there mash "follow."  I don't want to hunt you down by mistake.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Moving On...

For those of you who still stop by here, please follow me on over to a new site: .

The road is smooth and the surroundings are easy on the eyes.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Omega Update

It's midsummer at the Omega Project--time to make a report.

From the humblest of beginnings, my little garden has survived scorching heat, drought, and a myriad of critters (two-, four-, and six-legged varieties).

This is where we are today.

The yield has included an abundance of herbs, three varieties of peppers, two varieties of tomatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes.

I have learned a few things that I'll pass along:

  1. If you have limited time and space, raised beds are the way to go.  I've had no weeds, and watering is easy and efficient.
  2. Deeper beds are better.  Mine are only four inches deep.  This means that my plants must be watered almost every day in Alabama heat.
  3. There's a whole world of wildlife out there that I know very little about:  insects.
Self-sufficiency?  Hardly.

Could it be done?  Yep.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mater Season

Monday was a red letter day at my office.

One of my coworkers arrived with a couple of grocery bags (the old brown paper kind, not that worthless onion-skinned plastic that someone has convinced you will "save the planet").  He announced that he was preparing lunch, and that we were all invited.

He made "BLT's"--bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches.

I watched him eat about half a sandwich.  He leaned back in his chair, a look of pure rapture on his face.

"This is the best day of the year," he said.  "The first real BLT of 2012.  It's better than Christmas day.  Can you think of anything better?"

Actually, I could think of one or two things that are better.  Or at least I remember a couple.  But how could I argue with a man in the grip of sheer ecstasy?

I should explain.  The tomatoes were vine-ripe, Alabama tomatoes.  The first of the season.

From about October through the first of June, there are no real tomatoes in Alabama.  Sure, we have something that is marketed and sold as a tomato, but it bears little resemblance to the real McCoy.  These are grown in a greenhouse somewhere, or in far-off nether lands like California.

These psuedo-tomatoes will do in a tomato crisis, but it had better be a crisis.

These abominations are small, pulpy, and virtually tasteless.  They are red like real tomatoes, but the color is just  a bit off, somehow.  If you saw a friend with that kind of complexion, you would be concerned.  You would likely say "You look a little pale, are you OK?" or "maybe you need to lie down."

Real, vine-ripe tomatoes are fire-engine red.  In Alabama, they grow as big as a Wilson blue-dot softball.  And juicy?  You have to lean over your plate to take a bite or change your shirt after lunch.

The two cannot be compared.  It would be like comparing Drew Brees to the pimply-faced ninth-grader who's trying to make the high school team; like Monet to Joe the house painter; like ribeye to Spam.

I told a friend about my coworker's bliss.  Her eyes turned glassy.  She said, "I had my first 'mater sandwich last Saturday."

It's 'mater season in the Heart of Dixie.  Y'all come visit and we'll fix you one.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Bluebird Day

It was a bluebird day in the Heart of Dixie.

Not a cloud in the sky, and although the June heat arrived in May this year, today was pleasant.  A cold-front passed last night, and there was at least a whisper of a breeze all day long.  It was the kind of day when you can't help but be glad to be alive, when you get outside and forget about whatever worries and troubles you might be harboring in the depths of your heart.

All across my little corner of Alabama, people moved about.  Lawn mowers were run and gardens tended.  Pickups left early with boats in tow, headed to the lake, and returned hours later, occupants sun-blistered and happy.  A seemingly continuous rumble of Harleys on the highway past my house, sometimes solo but more often in two's and three's.

I stayed around the home place, content to do a little gardening.  I took a nap. Bluebird days are good for that sort of thing, too.

Come away with me.  What you doing hanging 'round here boy? 

Yes sir, a bluebird day, good for the soul.  A rare moment of calm--contentment even.

Contentment comes easier for some than others.  I remember a time long ago, when I was 18 or 19 years old.  Home from college, helping my dad on one of his endless outdoor projects.  Babbling on and on about future plans as we worked in the summer sun.  How I was going to do this or that, or if I could just do this, then that would likely follow.

And I remember my dad stopping, wiping his brow with the back of his hand, looking at me dead-square in the eyes.

"Son, ain't you ever satisfied?"

No dad, I wasn't.  Still ain't 30 years later.  It's not in my nature.  I suspect I got it from you, and you probably got it from your daddy.

An hour or so before sunset, my house began to fill up.  My sweet Honduran daughter Nolvia arrived with her fine son, little Ethan, who toddled around my front yard chasing a big purple ball.  Next my oldest son John and his beautiful bride-to-be Molly, fresh from house-hunting.  Finally my youngest, Kyle, and his gorgeous girlfriend Haley, whose blue eyes always sparkle like diamonds.

The Redhead prepared a delicious dinner.  We all gathered around the table and enjoyed the time together.  Laughter and love--good times and memories.

Later as the sun set a full moon rose. Hayley and I chased lightning bugs in the gathering dusk.  We caught a whole jar full.

Life is short, boy.  You getting old.  Better get moving before it's too late.  It might already be too late. 

They are all gone now, and soon the house will be quiet again.  Time moves on.

It was a bluebird day in central Alabama.

Tonight is a whippoorwill night.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Forest Reborn

Until about 150 years or so ago, most of the woodland in the South looked like the photo above.  From Virginia to east Texas, from the Gulf Coast up into the foothills of the Appalachians, about 90 million acres of land comprised the great longleaf pine forest.  We know this because early explorers like Bartram traveled the land--collecting, describing, naming, and delighting in the flora of the New World.

We also know why this vast forest was so expansive.  Longleaf pine is very tolerant of fire, even as a seedling when other trees (including other pines) are vulnerable.  Wildfires were prevalent in those olden days--some were started by lightning, and some were set deliberately by the native inhabitants, who clearly recognized certain advantages to woods with a nice, open view.  Sunlight through a broken tree canopy produced an abundance of edible plants--a veritable grocery store for hunter-gatherers.  A low understory devoid of brush also gave a man a little time to see and react to someone who might wish to sneak-up and club his brains out with a stone tool.

Unfortunately the U.S. had a pretty weak immigration policy in her early days, and the flood of illegal immigrants quickly discovered that longleaf pine had lots of other practical uses.  The king of the southern pines became the tree that built a new nation:  homes, cities, bridges, great ships--whatever required straight, quality, long-lasting lumber.

By the mid 1990's, 90 million acres was reduced to a scattered remnant of less than 2 million acres.

It is mind-boggling that a landscape could change so drastically over a few generations, but it did.  The cutover land was reforested with other native pines--primarily loblolly pine, which is much more prolific and considerably easier to grow.  The fires that had been a part of the southern landscape for centuries were virtually halted, prompted in large part by a government agency's propaganda, voiced through a lovable cartoon bear.

Carpetbaggers have worn many disguises over the last 150 years. Many of us who live down here recognize that they still do.

Thankfully, a few good people refused to let the longleaf forest go quietly into that good night.  Longleaf is beginning to make a comeback, now reoccupying about 4 million acres across the South.  Conservation groups like "The Longleaf Alliance" preach the gospel of longleaf, and even the most hardened skeptics are beginning to see the light.  As new disciples are added to the flock, thousands of acres are deliberately planted and nurtured on privately-owned land each year (and this fact is crucial, since land in Southern states like Alabama is over 90% privately owned).  Carefully controlled fires are once again being set and a whole generation is being re-educated to the benefits. 

As this landscape returns, so will a host of plant and animal species that depend on the longleaf forest as habitat, many of which were facing potential extinction.

It is a feel-good story, but one that doesn't have a happy ending just yet.

Come back later and we'll talk...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Omega Project: An Update

I realize that many of you have been losing sleep, worrying about the status of the "Omega Project."  I figured it might be time for a visual update, since I feel a great deal of responsibility for the mental health and well-being of the approximately twelve of you who actually read this blog (by the way "Hi mom, love you, talk to you soon.")

We are about six weeks in now, and it appears that we are having moderate success.

Here's the genesis:

And here is where we are today:

The only failure thus far was my two short rows of corn, of which only two stalks have emerged.  Evidence suggests that the plants sprouted and were promptly plucked-up and devoured.  I suspicioned (good southern word, that--not used enough) squirrels, but my mother-in-law is adamant that crows are the culprits.

At this point in the Project, I have learned three things:
1. My beds are not deep enough.  If you follow the guides and use six inches of soil, plan to water every day--twice a day in Alabama sun.
2. Plant early.  If I was depending on this thing to eat, I'd be foraging and killing squirrels to survive.
3. I can grow some decent-looking herbs.

 But then again, I've been told that any dang fool can grow herbs.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Soil Doctor

Milton Tuck describes himself as a "soil doctor," at least to some first-grade children at the Alabama Nature Center who gathered to learn something about the outdoors.

Milton is a graying, powerfully-built Black man who has spent years sampling and classifying soil in Alabama.  As I listen to him speak, I am astonished at his command of the science, acquired from a lifetime spent outdoors.  But I'm even more amazed at his ability to explain his immense knowledge to a six-year old child's level of understanding.  It is a rare skill.  Those who work in natural resource disciplines spend a lot of time alone, and that doesn't usually translate to social skills like public speaking or teaching.

As I listen, I can't help thinking that if history had unfolded differently this man might be a king somewhere in Africa, with a couple of dozen brides and a whole passel of children and grandchildren.  That might have been good for Milton, but it would have been very unfortunate for Alabama, because we desperately need more men like him.

Milton preaches the gospel of soil.  His message is simple:  everything of real value comes from the ground.  Life is inseparable from soil.

He digs up a clod from the field where the children are gathered.  He holds it up for inspection, grass still attached.  "This is soil," he booms. "S-O-I-L.  Spell it for me."

The children yell it back.  They are as much in the palm of his hand as the soil sample.

He puts the clod down and picks up some loose material from the freshly-dug hole.

"This is dirt.  "D-I-R-T.  Spell it."

"D-I-R-T" the kids yell back.

"Now, let me tell you the difference between the two," he laughs.  "Dirt is just soil that's out of it's place.  Like in my hand, or under my fingernails, or on your britches your momma done told you not to get dirty out here today."

The kids all giggle.  I laugh too.  Milton and I obviously had the same professor at Auburn University.  Old Prof. Hood would send you packing with an "F" if you let the "d" word slip out in his agronomy classes.

Milton has the children spellbound for the next 30 minutes or so.  It is fun to watch, but also a little disheartening.

Milton:  "Where do turkeys come from?"

Child:  "Walmart."

Milton:  "Yes, darlin', but somebody had to get that turkey to Walmart.  Turkeys come from farms.  Farmers raise them up so your momma can buy 'em and cook 'em up for you to eat.  Now, what do turkeys eat?"

Another child:  "Ham."

"HAM?  Haha, no, child, turkeys don't eat meat.  They eat grass and grain and insects.  These things are there for the turkey to eat because of the soil."

This is sad to me because we are not in Detroit, New York, L.A. or even Atlanta.  We are in central Alabama.  Hardly a metropolis.  Have we become that removed from the land in a couple of generations?

Milton continues, "You know what I'd be if we didn't have good soil?  I'd be standing here talking to you buck-naked.  These clothes I got on--they made from cotton--and cotton is a plant that grows in the soil.  And I'd be skinny and hungry, too--'cause everything I eat starts out from the soil in some way.  Plants and animals, children--all depending on the soil.  Think about it.  BUCK-NAKED AND HONGRY!  I sure am glad we got all this good soil!"

The children all laugh.  The Soil Doctor has made them think a little differently about their world.

He has made me think a little differently about it too.  I'd bet he and I agree:  there's a whole lot of teaching to do, and quickly.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Storm Clouds

Rural versus Urban.

This is the real battle that will soon be escalating in the United States.  Skirmishes have already begun, fought in state houses and court houses across our nation for the last 30 years or so.  But it's going to get worse--much worse.  It is the great divide that separates us and may eventually lead to the end of America if not recognized and addressed soon.

My own state provides a current example.  Rural Alabamians were sold-out last week in Montgomery.  Most don't even know, because it received almost no media attention.

At issue was a bill to fund the repair or replacement of 1200-1500 bridges on rural county roads across the state (just the fact that no bureaucrat in county or state government can provide an accurate, consistent number is an absurdity in itself).  Most of these bridges have been untouched since their original construction in the 1950's and 60's.  Many are no longer structurally sound enough to cross by school bus, let alone trucks hauling commerce to the towns.

Alabama's rural roads and bridges are crumbling.  This is no secret to country folk--and it's a problem that isn't going to magically disappear.

After years of ignoring the situation, a bill introduced in the Alabama Senate would have addressed the problem.  It called for a $650 million dollar bond issue that would have replaced a substantial number of the deficient bridges over a 10-year period.  The bond would have required no new taxes--only a redirection of a portion of the diesel fuel tax that the state already collects on every gallon sold.  It is a tax that rural businesses pay every day.  Diesel fuel is the blood of farmers, loggers, and truckers.  It is a "road use" tax--but one that is not being used to maintain the very roads these users travel.

This might seem insignificant, but realize that almost every product that winds up on your table or in your household is moved by diesel engines across rural roads.

The "Rural Bridge Bill" passed the Alabama Senate unanimously, to wide acclaim and much local fanfare.

But the bill never reached the House floor for a vote.  In fact, it never even got out of the House Transportation Committee.

It seems that Alabama's illustrious Governor Dr. Robert Bentley (yes, the man legally changed his name to Dr. Robert Bentley) introduced a competing plan, prompted no doubt by the sage advice of Alabama Department of Transportation Director, John Cooper.  Mr. Cooper was the agency head who stood to lose some of the "redirected" diesel tax.  Bentley's initiative required no vote of any kind.  Political pressure from Bentley and Cooper (with cooperation from the Speaker of the House and the chief lobbyist for the counties themselves) effectively stopped the rural bill dead in it's tracks.

The governor's plan uses a different type of bond for financing.  It's flaw is that it will likely do little to address the problems in rural areas.  The lion's share of projects will wind up in the more prosperous urban counties.  It's no coincidence, since that's where so many potential voters live, and we all know that most politicians are always campaigning or preparing to campaign.

Urban counties like Jefferson, Madison, and Mobile will get their roads repaved, along with some nifty bicycle paths and round-a-bouts, while rural families in Bullock County will have to park at one end of a bridge and walk their kids across to put them on a school bus each day.  Farmers and loggers will drive hundreds of extra miles in detours.

Meanwhile, all you good people who live in the cities, who run to the store when you need a loaf of bread or a carton of eggs, who take all these things for granted and never give a thought to the how part of your life of convenience--you better wake up.  All your philosophical debates on multiculturalism, gay marriage, and corporate tax rates aren't going to matter when your cupboard's bare.  All your ivory tower debates on the Occupy versus Tea Party movements aren't going to be worth a bucket of warm spit when the shelves are empty.

Resentment and discontent are growing out in the country.  This discontent has a face, and it isn't Republican or Democrat, White or Black, Gay or Straight.  It is fed-up with politics and politicians.

And if you want to stay "fed-up," you better start paying attention.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Jar Full of Lightning Bugs

I have officially declared this the first day of Summer in central Alabama.  I just looked out the back window and saw them moving around, low to the ground, hovering above the tall grass in the gathering dusk like fairies in a bedtime story.

Lightning bugs.  At least that's what we called them where I come from.  Maybe you called them fireflies.

For some reason I've been waiting on them this year.  Impatient and wondering when they would appear.  Longing for them.  Maybe it's just a part of getting old, a nostalgia for days of less trouble, when I can't remember having worries or cares of any kind.  Hard play and sweet sleep.  Skinned knees and endless Summer vacation.  The next school year as distant as heat lightning way off to the South, and about as important in the grand scheme of things.  The natural rhythm of a boy's life.

I spent a lot of happy hours in Summers of long ago, running through mill village yards around my Granny's house with barefoot cousins, chasing lightning bugs.  The best hunts always as a team, a pack, with one person holding the empty pickle jar.  Maybe sometimes it was a Mason jar from last year's canning, holes poked in the brass-colored lid with Granny's ice pick.  Laughing and sprinting, sometimes as contestants to see who could catch the most, but most times just filling up the jar with flickering light.  Trying not to squash 'em, because they made that musky smell on my fingers when I did.

There's a line in a song I like that says "You glorify the past when the future dries up."

Maybe there's some truth to that.

But if it's all the same to you, tonight I'm going to find me a jar and hunt some lightning bugs.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


I am one week along on the Omega Project.  I am happy to report that things are coming along quite nicely.  The herbs are herby, the tomato plants are growing, and even the squash plants have poked up towards the Alabama sky.  The corn is taking its sweet time, but I guess that's normal since it's sweet corn.

Several of my friends congratulated me on my decision to garden this year.  To a person, they all mentioned that it would be good "therapy" for me.

I've had a suspicion for a long time that I might need therapy.  I just didn't think so many other people knew.

I've been undergoing treatment all weekend.  You see, the thing about a project outside is that it leads to another, which leads to another, and so on and so on.  First thing you know, the weekend is gone, you are dog-tired, and you're looking at a busy week of trying to make a dollar.

But I have to admit, it is a good tired.  It'll be easy to sleep tonight.

I guess that's what they meant by therapy.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Omega Project

The lecture I attended on urban gardening made me wonder--should I have a garden this year?

I grew up out in the country in central Alabama.  We had a garden through most of my teen years, so I have some experience.  I remember helping (I liked to run the rototiller), but I didn't pay very much attention to the actual "care and growing of the plants" part of the operation.  Sure, I assisted with the weeding and watering, and even a little picking now and then (probably under duress), but I don't remember much else about the experience.  After all, I was a teenager, and I'm fairly certain that most of my mental energy went to girls, motorcycles, hunting, and sports.  Holding a water hose didn't require much concentration.

So the question is, after all these years:  "can I garden?"

"But forester-poet," you say (well, only one person calls me that, but I kind of like it)--"you are a forester, a 'tree man'.  You've made your living working with plants."

Yes, that's true.  But you should know that tomato plants are not pine trees.  Trees are pretty sturdy living things, and if you can get them through the first year or two, it's hard to goof things up.  In fact, I'll let you in on a little secret:  God grows the trees--foresters collect the fees.

I'm going to do it.  I've decided to call this garden "The Omega Project."

Jesus once used the metaphor "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end."  I'm sure my garden will be the end of something--a dependence on the grocery store for fresh vegetables; an interest in gardening;  perhaps even a civil relationship with the Redhead.

Mr. Urban Gardener's plots in downtown Montgomery look like this:

My little plot started like this:

Please note all the dead grass on my lawn.

We were at a store a few weeks ago.  The Redhead said:  "We need to fertilize the lawn this year.  We'll use this" (she pointed to a bag of 'Weed and Feed').

"I don't think that's such a good idea," I said.  "That kind kills the weeds.  We just want to fertilize"

"I know," she said.  "That's what I want.  Then the good grass will fill in."

"Alrighty then," I say.  I know the lawn is mostly weeds.

Now you understand the comment about civil relationship.

Most of my Saturday produced this:

The Omega Project is all systems go.  It has herbs, peppers, tomatoes, squash, corn, sweet potatoes, and onions.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Urban Farming

I spent some time last Saturday at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery.

I went mainly to see Rheta Grimsley Johnson.  Rheta is a former columnist with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a long-time syndicated columnist, and the author of several books including her latest about Hank Williams, "Hank Hung the Moon."  I like everything Rheta writes, even though we often have quite different views on politics.  She is always gracious enough to spend a few minutes talking to me whenever I've been fortunate enough to see her at an event.

Rheta knows me because of this awful photo which horrified me but tickled her.  (I sent it to her with an apology.  What was I saying?  Neither of us remember).  She signs the books I buy, "To the man who really told me off," or something similar.

Rheta doesn't get the respect she deserves as a Southern writer.  Go buy all her books.  Now.  I mean it.

After listening to Rheta's talk, I found myself with time to kill and no writer in particular that I wanted to see. My friends Neal and Jennifer were there with their kids, so I decided to hang out with them and tag along to see the writers and exhibits that they were interested in.  Neal and Jennifer are both Master Gardeners, so we strolled over to one of the venues to listen to an expert on "urban farming."

I didn't know anything about urban farming.  I figured it might be something like urban cowboying, which wasn't especially interesting, but it did have Debra Winger in it and that made it worth sitting through back in the day.  I figured I might get lucky again.

Edwin Marty is an urban farmer and the author of "Breaking Concrete," a book about converting deserted  cityscape into sustainable gardens.  Marty has traveled all over the world, teaching city-dwellers to practice small-scale sustainable agriculture in places like Mongolia, Mexico, Chile, and Australia.  He is the president of the non-profit group "Alabama Sustainable Agriculture" which operates city "farms" in downtown Birmingham and Montgomery.

Marty had 30 minutes to present a subject that could have easily taken two hours, so I had to listen fast.  But the more I listened to him, the more interested I became in his message.  I'll paraphrase some of the high points, along with my thoughts:

"Food security is a problem for most of the urban areas in the U.S."

Yep.  Especially in light of increasing transportation costs.  If transportation is ever disrupted, we're going to have a major problem on our hands.

"Most food is transported an average of 1500 miles to U.S. consumers."

I'll buy that.  It's a shame that the small family farm has all but disappeared.

"Less than one percent of the agricultural products from Alabama end up on Alabama tables."

I think that's a stretch, young fellow.  I will agree that a lot of what we produce goes elsewhere.  We grow more grain crops here than vegetables--corn, peanuts, soybeans--crops used as animal feedstock.

"The urban gardening techniques I advocate can teach ordinary people to grow their own food and become more self-sufficient."

Yes.  Now you're talking.  Preach on, teacher-man.

"The garden in Montgomery is very popular with local restaurateurs who are enthusiastic about getting fresh, locally-grown vegetables.  Our produce sells out as fast as we can pick it."

At-a-boy.  Yes.  You mean people could actually grow vegetables and make a living?  Outstanding.

"We need a law in Alabama, like the one in North Carolina, that mandates that local restaurants and schools must buy 10% of their vegetables locally."


For those of you who don't recognize that, it's the sound of the needle being dragged across a vinyl record album.  If you are too young to know what that is, ask your granny.  OMG, BFF.  She'll, like, get all nostalgic and stuff.  She may even LOL.

If buyers are enthusiastic about your product and you are already selling out as fast as you produce it, why in the world would you want the government mandating that someone buy it?

Who do you think has done more to hurt small farmers than anyone else?  Our government, my young friend.  They have regulated, subsidized, pasteurized, homogenized, and otherwized the small farmer right out of business.  Regulation always eliminates small business in favor of big business.  Always.

The Alabama county I live in (Lee) had almost 70 dairies in the 1960's.  Today it has none.  Why?  Because the small dairies were regulated to the point that they could no longer compete with the big boys.  Big companies can hire folks just to keep up with rules and regulations.  Small farmers are too busy milking, feeding, and caring for the cows.  They can't compete.

All of this nonsense has been perpetrated under the guise of "consumer safety and protection."  Now I don't know about you, but I'd feel much safer buying my milk from someone I know who lives right down the road than from a large corporate farm in another state.

Politics aside (and I could rant much longer), the idea of "small intensive gardening" was inspiring, and it started me thinking.

I wonder if I could have a little garden like that?  Hmmmm...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Time to Write

"You want to be a writer?  Don't know how or when?  Find a quiet place.  Use a humble pen."  Paul Simon

Inspiration comes in many forms.  For me, a simple "When you gonna write something?" can be enough.

I took a break from writing here.  There are many reasons, some rational and some not.  One that I've struggled with is that writing on a blog is somehow illegitimate--if it's not "published" writing (as in in a newspaper column, magazine, or book) then it's not worthy and not worth the effort.

I've decided to reject that notion.  I reject it because a few of you have been kind enough to read these rambling essays, this "blog about nothing in particular."  And you've been especially kind to let me know you've liked some of it.

There are over 300,000 books published in the U.S. each year.  The odds that one will be mine are low.

But the truth about writers, at least as I see it, is that writers have to write.  It is a lonely and solitary pursuit that requires nothing more than parking your backside in a chair for a substantial amount of time, trying to say something you want to say and trying to get it right.  And believe me, the latter is more important  to me.  But you can't have one without the other, and that's where the water gets deep.

So I'll keep trying, writing short stories and themed essays and magazine articles, even an occasional poem or country music song that will never show up here.  But there are enough words left over that can show up here, and I hope you and I will enjoy the result.

If so, let me know now and then.  If not, that OK too, because a writer has to write.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I have a large cedar tree about 40 feet from my back door.  A male mockingbird has taken up residence there this Spring.  I know this because he sings--all night long.  The singing doesn't bother me.  I'm a light sleeper anyway, and I'm not likely to hear the same song twice, which keeps it interesting.

This fellow knows more songs than Casey Kasem.

The bird books all say that he is trying to attract a mate.  That's probably a good strategy for any male of the species--do all your sweet talking upfront, mix it up, then shut up.

It's a skill I have never mastered.  The shut up part.  I call myself plain-spoken.  Others that know me have other terms to describe this "quality."

Case in point:  just this weekend, the Redhead said "the birds are making some weird noises this year.  You notice?"

"No, they're not," I said.  "There making the same noises they always do.  You are just noticing their singing more than you have in the past."

Words plainly spoken are not a quality admired by the female of the species.

Here are some other cases, fellows.  Never, under any circumstances, answer or comment to any of these utterances from the female of the species:

  • Does this dress make me look fat?
  • Are you getting hungry?
  • Maybe I should join a gym.
  • Let's go shopping.
  • What a beautiful day.  Want to do some yard work?
  • If I die, would you remarry?
 I hope it takes my feathered friend a while to find Miss Right.

A fellow needs some entertainment for all those long nights when he's sleeping on the couch.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A little "r" republican in the Heart of Dixie

I feel compelled to offer an explanation.

Note that I said "explanation," and not "apology."  We've got nothing to apologize for, and quite frankly, we wouldn't apologize if we did. "We" being the rural folk of the great State of Alabama.  I won't speak for Mississippi, although I suspect their reasons were about the same as ours.

The issue?  We didn't vote for "the Party man" in yesterday's Republican primary.  Mr. Romney came in third in Alabama.  The election result map is revealing:  Romney won only the metro areas surrounding Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile.

We country folks don't much like him.  He is a "country club Republican."  We have NEVER been country club Republicans.  In fact, we haven't been Republicans all that long, less than 20 years in most cases, and even now most of us who vote that way do so only because the Democratic Party abandoned us.

We didn't vote Romney because he doesn't have a clue about the average person in Alabama.

Romney made the mistake of calling a well-known syndicated sport's talk show just before the primary.  I guess he wanted to "connect" with the Crackers and Hillbillies he would need to win Alabama.  It was a miscalculation on his strategist's part.  Good idea--poor execution.

It became apparent, very quickly I might add, that this man knows nothing about college football, which is not going to win the hearts and minds of Alabamians.  I doubt he knows the National Championship has lived in Alabama for the last three years, or who the coaches are at our two big-time schools.

The host of the show tried to help him out of his jam by changing the subject to the NFL.  He asked Romney about the recent free-agency of Peyton Manning.

"I'm friends with several NFL team owners, but I really don't care where Manning goes as long as he doesn't play in the same division against my Patriots.  I hope he doesn't land in our neck of the woods."

My, my.  I believe we got us a rich-boy country club Republican here, mama--and a damn Yankee to boot.

Those of you outside the South who are desperate to beat the current president shouldn't worry too much.  We made our statement yesterday.  We will fall in line in November and vote for whoever y'all nominate--not because we want to, but because we'd like to get back to some of the luxuries we used to enjoy down here before Obama/Biden and their hope and change--little things like jobs, groceries, gas--stuff like that.

But we won't like it.

Fergit, hell.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Beginning in 2014, all new cars will be required by federal law to have a back-up camera.  This latest attempt by the United State's government to legislate care of her citizens from cradle to the grave was initiated not by the current regime, but by--wait for it--George W., back in 2007.

It seems that about three hundred kids are now squashed each year (mostly by their parents) by cars in reverse.

I am perplexed by this.  Three hundred kids--and apparently thousands more injured under similar circumstances.  What does mean in evolutionary terms?

I don't remember the need to be so protected when I was a kid.  I had no helmet when I rode my bicycle (which explains some things, I know).  I had no pads for my homemade skateboard, which was made by cutting the wheels off a roller skate and nailing them to a two by four pine board.  We had no seat belts, but we did have a big metal dashboard that worked quite well in a quick stop.

Back-up camera?  Not needed.  My daddy simply said "Move, son."  If I didn't, I quickly learned why.

I did have a dog that could have benefited from a back-up camera.  Old Snoopy was as good a dog as any kid could hope for, but he wasn't so attentive to "Move!"

My mom was backing out of the carport one day.  "Watch out for the dog," I said.  "Move!" I said.

Neither one paid me any attention.

"Stop!" I said.

And mom did.  Right on top of my dog.

"Back-up.  Go forward.  Do something,"  I said.  "You're on the dog."

My poor, panic-stricken mom pulled forward.  Old Snoopy yelped some, but he was not seriously injured.

Funny thing, though.  He never had any problem knowing what "Move" meant from that day forward.

Surely children have that potential.  Don't they?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Grifter

Gray is the color of north Birmingham in late Winter--black and gray.

The landscape is gray: gray streets, gray trees devoid of leaves, gray buildings that once produced commerce but now sit empty and idle. A few little gray houses that once were homes for workers but are now occupied by old folks with few possessions other than memories of the good old days. It has a forlorn look of hopelessness. I imagine I can hear the clang and clatter of a product that once defined a city: iron and steel. The Pittsburgh of the South is no more. I am in the shadows of Sloss, now a rusting relic that once fueled the magic in the "Magic City."

The faces are black, except of course mine and one other traveler on this cloudy February day.

I am passing through at lunch time. I have options: fast-food fried chicken or fish. These two fine dining choices have a common parking lot. I choose the chicken because I have always had a weakness for fried bird. This bird is the famous "New Orleans style," which means it has been breaded in hot spices. Otherwise, it's nothing special. It sure ain't my grandmother's chicken, but it will suffice.

The restaurant is mostly empty. As I take my first bite I am approached by an old Black man. He is thin and angular, dressed in jeans and an old army field jacket. He is wearing a baseball cap and new tennis shoes (that's "sneakers" for those of you who don't speak Alabamian). He walks right up without hesitation and sits down at the table next to me.

"How you?"

"I'm good, sir. How 'bout yourself?"

"Well, I'd be doing pretty good if I was like you."

"Like me? How's that?"


"You need some money to get something to eat?"

"Yeah, I could use a little something."

I reach in my pocket and hand him a bill. He takes it and rises, heading for the door.

"You sure you going to get something to eat with that? Or are you getting up some drinking money?"

"Naw, I'm gonna eat. I can't eat this chicken. I'm gonna go over there and get me some of that fish."

I watch him slowly amble across the lot to the fish place next door. He disappears inside. I eat my #2 special--maybe I've done a fellow man a little good on this gray day.

As I leave, I see my man accosting another traveler in front of the fish place. He only scores pocket change this time. He doesn't look my way as he heads back toward the chicken joint.

It's a gray Valentines day in north Birmingham. Try to stay warm and have one on me, my friend.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Night Excursion

Ride with me tonight, dear reader, as we run an errand in a typical medium-size Alabama town. It might be your town but perhaps not. Though we share a lot of similarities across the South, we are not all the same. We remain, even in this post-modern era, a people tied to the land beneath our feet. Roads, dwellings, stores, and houses of worship--creeping toward uniformity with the passage of time, and yet still distinctive. Piedmont, Black Belt, and Coastal Plain, mountain and valley, river towns and lighted mountainside metros; all retain a uniqueness recognizable in culture and syntax--if you care to notice.

This particular night is cold for Alabama, even by February standards. A clear sky filled with stars that look as cold as I imagine the infinite reaches of space. A waning gibbous moon provides enough light for the journey--no headlights necessary, but we will use them anyway, you and I, because we are good citizens, are we not?

We will stop at the grocery store to pick up a few essentials. The store is named for two merchant partners of days long past, but ignorant Yankees who relocate to our homeland will often make the incorrect assumption that the name refers to our desire for a different outcome to that conflict fought here some 150 years ago.

We could drive a little further, you and I, out to the highway that bypasses the old downtown in almost every small southern town. The Great Whore of Babylon, home of the smiley face and the falling prices resides there, and her wares have hypnotized our people. She has murdered Pop, trampling his broken-hearted body in the small town street, and poor Mom now resides in the nursing home--having driven them out of our presence and boarded up their shops on Main Street. Her patrons "save" on the labors of low-wage part-time workers--50 check-out lines and only two operating at any given time. We won't go there tonight, you and I. I loathe her for what she has done to my land, and I will not feed her, even with my meager gold.

Purchases made, we follow a circuitous route back home. Something big is happening at the high school auditorium, somewhat pretentiously named "The Performing Arts Center." Lots of buses and trailers, rows and rows of cars. I finally figure it out. It is a southern gospel music concert. A packed house of matrons with big hair and floor-length skirts, their husbands in polyester sans-a belt slacks and starched white shirts. I spot not one, but two "Thrasher Brothers" buses. Not school buses, mind you, but the $250 grand jobs that only the biggest rock and country stars use for touring. I marvel. Is there that much money in singing about Jesus? If so, is that how the Master would have it spent? It is a mystery too great for you and I to solve tonight.

We arrive back home, shivering as we unload our purchases. The dogs will come inside tonight with us where it is warm. Twenty degrees and 25 mile an hour winds are not easily tolerated by Southern man nor beast.

The dogs are lucky. Some people in our little town will not be as fortunate. But at least it's not you and I, and for that, we can be thankful.