Virginia Literary Journal
No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part without permission of the publisher.
Copyright ÂŠ 2014 by Virginia Literary Journal All rights reserved.
Facebook.com/VirginiaLiteraryJournal Twitter.com/VALiterary www.virginialiteraryjournal.com
COVER IMAGE Columns at Swannanoa by Anna Quillon
PUBLISHED BY Cedar Creek Publishing Virginia, USA www.cedarcreekauthors.com
Table of Contents POETRY Splendid Shelter by Dee Bowlin ........................................... 5 My Virginia by Jack Trammell ............................................... 7 Tangier Island by Bill Glose ................................................... 8 Moonlight on the Virginia Capes by James Gaines .................................................................. 9 Reprieve by Marian Pearce ................................................... 10 Around Libby Hill on a Summer Night by William Fraker ............................................................. 12 Walking into the Blue Ridge by Sigrid Mirabella ........................................................... 14 Surrender Field by Bill Glose................................................ 16 Periphery by Esther Johnson ................................................ 18 SHORT STORIES Reflections of a Gentleman Farmer by Jack Trammell ............................................................. 19 A Man of His Word by Becky Mushko .............................. 48 Coffin Dulcimer by R. T. Smith........................................... 51 Caterwaul by R. T. Smith ...................................................... 54 The Howardsville Gold by Elizabeth Solomon ................ 56 PHOTOGRAPHS Shenandoah Country Farm by Sarah Kohrs ....................... 4 Dogwood by Sarah Kohrs ........................................................ 6 Columns at Swannanoa by Anna Quillon ......................... 13 Maple Sap Dripping by Sarah Kohrs ................................. 15 Clay by Anna Quillon ............................................................. 17 Meet the Authors ..................................................................... 60 Meet the Selection Editors ..................................................... 65
“Shenandoah Country Farm” by Sarah Kohrs
Splendid Shelter by Dee Bowlin
I marvel at our scenic USA— the arid sands adorned with yellow bells, sweet meadows boasting lavender displays, and ocean beaches shimmering with shells.
But as the land transforms from plains to hills and Blue Ridge Mountains rise in eastern skies, a peacefulness comes over me and stills my racing mind, for here my respite lies.
The mountains, with magnificence professed, unselfishly extend their calming arms to wrap me up and hold me to their breast while keeping watch—my guardian from harm.
It’s here I choose to live my nights and days, embraced by God’s angelic bluish haze. V
“Dogwood” by Sarah Kohrs
My Virginia by Jack Trammell Mountain skirts lifted to Cross the glacial stream, Tranquility pool stretched nearby Filled with caudal crystal lights, What does God want? But thisâ€Ś A river here, a wooded island there, A time-lapse sun performance Rising in the east and Challenging the mountains. Perhaps. We are the outsiders. The deer do not pretend to know More than they do. Ocean waves sleepless like Rejoicing loverâ€™s touch, Sensation of the mystical rises like Mists chasing through purple valley. God wanted this. V
Tangier Island by Bill Glose Three miles wide, it floats in Chesapeake Bay like a lifeboat. Soft crab shanties perch on stilts while slapping tide sings its song of salt. A fisherman’s knotted fingers stow chicken backs into mesh cages. His face burnished by salt air, neck creased like dessicated leaves of winter. Stitched rends on his flannel shirt map topography of healing. Rubber boots, brown with sludge, hold fast in denture-white of deadrise gunwales. A tow-headed girl lugs buckets of ice from a rattling dockside machine to coolers tied aft. Her sweater—a hand-me-down cable-knit—hangs to mid-thigh and her face glows pink with summer. Overhead, gulls scissor strips of fog from the blue of a new day being born. V
Moonlight on the Virginia Capes by James Gaines Always a gamble, the sea – Tonight the roll is even. Orderly swells advance, rise, subside, Silvery horses’ manes in a race without finish. Over the water the moon spills A second course of unearthly light To raise the stakes of my seduction As far as a sand spit at horizon’s edge. Twin beacons of Cape Henry and Cape Charles, Play at fencing, partners on the maps, Thrusting at each other back and forth. Far out beyond the bar, shapeless, A trawler prowls the flats for shrimp or squid, Floodlights glitzy as a con man from Atlantic City, A seaborne pimp who twists a golden chain, Luring prey from comfortable deep beds. Off shore this grifter flashes a bright coin Disappearing into a dark eternal fist. V
Reprieve by Marian Pearce Was it the crazy flitting bats put the notion in our head? Or the lone owl? Well past immortality, yet chuckling our delightas we half snuck off into the night. First time post-op, and god knows how long before, You demanded to drive, straight down through the fieldswerving so unsteadily behind the wheel I was relieved we took back roadsHalf an eye on the wagging tumble of dogs in the bed of the truck, allowed to come for so rare a treat as a late evening venture to the Colleen Diner; milkshakes, hamburgers, and onion rings. Curled tight against you, in the middle of the seat, I laughthe sweet absurdity ofmiddle aged teenagers in love beneath the bug spotted neon glow of the giant ice-cream cone.
We grinned at the off-duty cop who flirted with knowing women whose laughter, knife sharp, startled the shrill, peach faced gangs of drifting, all consuming youth. Sated on forbidden food, we turned the rattling engine home, parking briefly where the road cut through a moonlit field of deer. The dogs moaned, but obeyed, â€œstay!â€? While I swiveled backward in my seat to lean long into a basking kiss. Gunning the engine recklessly you took off up the drive, slapping the steering wheel, spouting songuntil, parked almost on the door step, we stumbled in to snuggle instantly to sleep chastely tangled close in our sheets. V
Around Libby Hill on a Summer Night by William Fraker The cobblestones and brick homes near the statue to Confederate Soldiers and Sailors on Libby Hill hold the heat of the summer; sun sets. From the heights, a soldier, with bronze eyes, overlooks the bend in the river, like Richmond on the Thames. Insects and bats compete for updrafts. Gray sky folds into darkness. Street lights and interiors illuminate nightly walks, old breezes for couples strolling, dogs with owners on leashes. Down the street, caffeine wires digital contact. A Korean grocery serves steady customers. Near a former cow field for Dr. McGuire’s infirmary, floorboards of old homes hold screams and blood of wounded soldiers. Crazy Bet had a home. Buses on Broad Street replace long buried streetcars. Morning workers neither walk to tobacco warehouses nor inhale Nolde Bakery’s aroma. Bones of natives mingle with immigrants, descendents; local radio, echoes of Patrick Henry, legal briefs, and intimations of Poe’s mother all reside in the earth, stone, and bricks
“Columns at Swannanoa” by Anna Quillon
Walking into the Blue Ridge by Sigrid Mirabella I need to always fiddle with the lock and don’t have a working key to open my front door, so today I leave it unlocked. I’m barefoot walking through my August lawn, three weeks uncut in the shadow of catalpa. Naked toes signal something’s out of step. Now, in the black heat of the road, I’m running Scott’s Branch, aiming for the mountain. I pull off my blue T-shirt, drop it behind me, wonder if a blue dog may come along lay upon it or tear like a hide. That’s when I decide the bra has got to go. I flip one strap off right shoulder, pull the other over my arm, push chest band down, twist cups from front to back, unhook the garment, shoot it like a rubber-band. I can hardly bear the weight of pants or constricting underwear, now. All must go, must go. And here I am moving slowly, stepping out of my jeans,
kicking off granny panties until I am no more than cow, or deer, possum, or rat, stone humming in sun. I am a mountain, flesh and bone, mother and motherless becoming what Iâ€™ve always been and nothing more. V
â€œMaple Sap Drippingâ€? by Sarah Kohrs
Surrender Field by Bill Glose Someday soon: that spider’s web capturing promises of tomorrow intending to never set them free. Minutia, if allowed, will murder dreams, bury bodies beneath headstones inscribed: “Taken for granted.” This is Virginia, mother of the South. Any day one can visit gray-haired presidents, pray in churches older than grandfather’s grandfather, lie splayed on uncivil battlefields, green grass belying red blood that fed them. In a back room’s murk, one day rouses, shakes off dust, explores fingerprints of time, their whorls and ridges. Hiking through Colonial Parkway’s brick arches is enough to resurrect spirits of militiamen. Lungs breathe air redolent with smell of spent muskets.
At Parkway’s end lies Surrender Field, that pasture where five lifetimes ago Cornwallis knelt before a congregation of millwrights and farmers. Nearby, skateboarders now skin knees in shade cast by Victory Monument, and Yorktown’s sandy beach is dotted with sunbathers in Day-Glo suits lounging listlessly, unaware today is passing by. V
“Clay” by Anna Quillon
Periphery by Esther Johnson High on a hill in Pulaski slave graves line the periphery of the family cemetery, stone slabs scattered carelessly. Spirits cling fast unto the hill, clutching for ties in bone-dry earth, fearing to fall yet again to fields they plowed from their birth. No etched inscription marks the stones, no flowery verse from poetâ€™s hand, no angel curls its feathered wings round those whose earthly life was damned. Phantoms, why not rattle your chains, demand from me some recompense? No, you lie, silent jury, on that bare hill in Pulaski. V
Reflections of a Southern Gentleman Farmer by Jack Trammell Introduction I never dreamed that when I bought twenty-five acres and an old farm house that I would be embarking on an adventure that would change our lives. I did believe it would be a good experience for us—a test of resourcefulness, and a challenge with physical labor constantly in demand. I also did not expect what an emotional impact it would have on us. We literally became part of the land, and the animals we raised became part of our family—even those which ended up on the dinner table. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything, and perhaps provided the most valuable life lessons for all of us in our shared journey. I. Crossing Boundaries I’ve noticed that sheep are far from the brightest stars that shine on the small family farm. While their personalities can be endearing, and they have the sentimental advantages of being small and soft with the trappings of cuteness, they are also sorely lacking in any deportment of intelligence. I’ve witnessed my ewes and rams jump over high fences like agile pole-vaulters, seen them turn their heads and prick their ears as if stalked by a tiger, watched them give birth and sometimes die from accidents or illness. But never once have I
witnessed them suffer from even a brief moment of true intellectual awakening. To cite an extreme example, I’ve never seen them show the least bit of concern about the fact that they live south of the Mason Dixon line. Recently, however, issues of geography and sheep have intersected. When the lead ram, a quiet but feisty Karakul, whose ancestors rain wild on the steppes of Asia, led the way through five strands of barbed wire into a neighbor’s carefully groomed yard, geography became tantamount. My sons dutifully tramped out to the nether regions of the most distant field on the farm, and completely consumed by trucks and music, ignored me as I asked for a roll of wire, gave instructions about how to avoid getting “snake-bit,” and peered warily at the neighbor, who was one hundred yards away on the other side of the fence, washing his new car. Our farm is a uniquely southern anomaly in this day and age. An observer can stand in many fields, or near a stream, and in all directions you look, see nothing but rolling green pastures, tall peeling sycamore trees, and aging barns. When the cicadas begin their hot summer song, the grass turns brown with drought and the sun beats down without respite, this scene could be almost anywhere in the deep South. On the other hand, if you walk over to the far fence lines and boundaries, you will then have revealed to your view a panorama of new homes, the roar of a distant highway, and signs that advertise land for sale and homes built to suit. If one listens closely, he or she might be able to hear the whispers in the breeze about Wal-Mart or McDonalds,
depending on whether they are hungry or need diapers. Our oasis of southern agrarian culture has porous boundaries. In the spirit of Jesse Stuart, we still let our chickens hide their eggs and encourage black snakes to live beneath old barn floors, but the roar of the bulldozer is never far from earshot. My sheep, those mindless but wonderful agrarian ambassadors, seemed to me like novelists without pen and paper; orators temporarily muted; artists without brushes, who continually were drawn to greener pastures, as if to clearly communicate to my neighbor through their copious droppings the message that the twenty-first-century manicured lawn and manipulated intellect are at odds with the heart and soul of the land and the existentialist angst of existence. Those messengers are unwanted and unwelcome. And so on this day I toiled away to install a tightwoven wire fence with new posts that will clearly draw a line between the old and the new, the rural and the urban, between humans and the land that has nurtured them for countless generations. My farm, my private world, must have a firmer membrane to contain it, and to seal it from what lies beyond. II. Putting Down the Ram For several years we had a Dorset ram named Bo, who delighted in fibulas and femurs, meaning that he was at the correct height to lower his head, take a good
running start, and seriously hurt the unaware. The children (we have seven) delighted in taunting him, in spite of my repeated warnings and punishments, and I have still vivid memories of walking near the barns and seeing out of the corner of my eye a teenager running pell-mell with a charging ram kicking up dirt right behind him. Eventually, Bo somehow began to understand the rules of the game. When I would raise my voice with him, he would lift his head back up and abandon his threatening posture. But when the children would sneak into the pasture and hide in the old barn, he would run to them, circle the barn, and then hide around a corner waiting for them. To my amazement, they were able to teach a ram the rules of hide and seek. The stakes, however, were dangerous, and I could not endorse such fun. Our neighbor, in fact, had his upper leg broken by a similar ram tactic. Nonetheless, Bo became essentially a pet. He came by name when called, begged apples and other tidbits, and increasingly abandoned his ramly duties (tending the flock). I couldnâ€™t ship him to the stockyards, he was too old and too tough to eat, and he would fight with another ram. It was a real quandary. That winter, Bo took ill, and the vet suggested in his clinical way that the animal wasnâ€™t worth the expense and effort of saving. In fact, he was a danger to the other animals, and needed to be put down. All of us, even living on a farm where life and death is a regular cycle, were quite distraught. The teenage boys went with me
to a lonely thicket of cedars, where we tied Bo to a tree. He was clearly in pain, and we knew we had to do it. One shot, and it was over. Daniel, who had only cried once at his grandfather’s funeral, and Alec who hadn’t cried since a young boy, joined me in weeping for a few moments. The other children were back inside the house, but they heard the single shot. They knew what was happening. There are times when the whole world goes silent, and I thought of Martin Tupper, who said: “Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech.” We walked home without words. III. The Value of Land We negotiated carefully with the family that sold us our farm. They had lived on the property for a number of generations, which is not unusual in rural Virginia or other parts of the South, and they probably made a deal with us they wouldn’t have made with others because they knew we wanted to preserve the old farm house and stave off further development in the area. Little did we know what we were getting into with maintaining and fixing the old house—but still it was a burden we willingly took on. On a completely different front, we did not expect the visitors we had almost immediately. As we were moving boxes out of the moving truck, a couple approached us, smiling. In this part of the country, at least in rural areas, the rule of thumb is not to trust
strangers who show up smiling before any words have even been exchanged. Usually, what they are visiting about is not funny—a farm animal running loose on their property, a boundary dispute, or an invitation to a church sect that you’ve never heard of before. “How much did you pay for this place?” the woman asked. Audrie and I were taken aback. “We’ll offer you twenty-five thousand more in cash to walk away from it now.” We were speechless. Now it was our turn to smile, though without humor. “We’re not interested,” Audrie said “We wanted this place so badly . . .” the woman said, wistfully it seemed. I found out later that a local contractor had offered significantly more money for the place than we bought it for, and that the family had turned it down. The contractor planned to demolish the old farm house and build a subdivision. The same contractor bought the land immediately behind us. When I left messages inquiring about buying that parcel from him (to prevent it from being built on), he refused to return my calls. Other unwanted visitors came by, even months later. “Is this place for sale?” It was hard to resist the tendency, so prevalent in our culture, to resort to sarcasm. “No, it is not for sale. Not today, at least . . .” “So, you won’t even consider offers?” What can you say without being rude?
Several years later, the adventure continued. A fleet of large trucks and vans drove into a field a quarter mile down the road from us, and several days later, a new farm magically appeared, complete with horses, barns, wooden fences, and a house. Yes, the house took a little longer to complete than a few days, but the transformation was almost immediate. From the knoll on the hill near our farmhouse, you could now see yet another house not too far away. At one point, Audrie came running into the house. “Jack, you’re not going to believe this! Come and look at this house!” We drove up the road and pulled over at the entrance. The new farm house looked surprisingly familiar; in fact, the floor plan and style so common to post-antebellum Virginia farm dwellings was identical to ours. “They’re building our house! I found out it was the couple we met that day we moved in.” What can you say without being rude? The value of land is obvious on one level, but our farm is so much more than simple economics. Beyond the dying septic system, the peeling paint, the sagging fences that need constant mending, the foundation that cost a small fortune to repair, the barns that can’t be saved, and the other countless problems, there are daffodils that bloom like clockwork that were planted perhaps a hundred years ago, there are fruit trees that are discovered by accident, there are wild finches that sing to our domestic finches on the screen porch, and there is a spirit of time and peace in our old sagging house that doesn’t inhabit new homes.
Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” We are blessed to eat our own lamb chops, and garnish it with home canned vegetables, and to sleep in the warmth of our own harvested wool, and we recognize the value of what we have. It’s so much more than economics, or to put it as Wendell Berry does, “Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.” IV. Out of the Blue With nine of us, someone is usually home no matter what time of the day it is, and this is occasionally very propitious as unexpected and important events can transpire on a farm at the most inopportune time. One such incident occurred on a damp February Monday morning, typical of late winter, when Audrie was feeling a lazy wish of spring need for a mental health break that turned into an official sick day from work. As she was cooking some eggs in the kitchen after everyone was gone to school or work, she drifted to the windows at the end of the long kitchen (the last addition to a farmhouse with half a dozen of them) where various views of the farm often provided information about animals. One window viewed the chicken coop, where we intentionally gave our rooster and layers a large wire picture window of their own in their barn so that we can always see them (and they can see us). Another
kitchen window peers out on the main barnyard, where animals often congregate hoping for more food. Yet another kitchen window opens up on the nearest large pasture field. As Audrie gazed out of this last window, she started at what appeared to be a large dog lying in the pasture. Her immediate reaction was anger and concern. Stray dogs are not only a nuisance, but a danger to guinea hens, chickens, and even small cats, not to mention any small children who might momentarily be unsupervised. She tromped out and over the wooden plank fence (in pajamas), picking up a large stick to chase the unwanted dog away (I might have used something more lethal). As she drew near, however, the dog did not run away. In fact, it appeared to be instead a deer— one with rather incredibly long legs and unusual coloring. It was in fact a baby horse. Audrie screamed in delight and surprise. We had a newly born baby horse in the pasture. It turned out that the hot-blooded Arab we bought, Alibi, had been pregnant when we purchased her, and not even the veterinarian knew. Friends had asked us why we weren’t worming her, due to her swollen belly, and we defensively answered that we had multiple times. Little did we know… The new foal was a half Arab, half Tennessee Walker, and she was beautiful. The vet checked her out, but she was perfect and healthy, and we hadn’t used any of the fancy delivery devices or outrageously expensive helicopter vet services. We named her Blue, or Alibi’s
Out of the Blue. But in the words of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.” You never know what you will wake up and see on a farm. V. The Stranger In keeping with our religious and family traditions, strangers are always welcome at our house. However, with a houseful of teenagers we occasionally end up with a random body on the couch or floor that we discover at an odd hour of the night that does raise questions. Such was the case on an ordinary weeknight when I strolled into the living room at what I considered to be the ordinary hour of about ten p.m., give or take. The massive form that I found there, apparently in deep slumber on the couch, testing the very physical limits of the springs, was completely unknown to me. I considered prodding it with my finger, like I would one of my own children, and then thought better of it. Sleeping dogs, perhaps? He (I presumed) was dressed in the common costume of the community—Budweiser t-shirt, jeans with holes in them, and cowboy boots—and he snored in such a way that if I really concentrated, I could make the rhythm fit a very slow version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It was also the rasping, gasping irregular breathing of a young smoker who was already nearly asthmatic, and perhaps had had his nose broken in several fights. But the most defining characteristic was
the malodorous odor that emanated from somewhere on or perhaps deep within the body and reminded me of something like sour milk and chicken shit (and I do know both of those smells). Then my step-daughter entered and I found out with little ceremony that she was dating him. If I say that I was speechless, it’s only partially accurate—I was able to say several things under my breath… “You’re dating him?” “I just said that!” “You’re dating…him?” “What is your problem?” I paused to do some self-assessment. What was my problem? At the moment, I decided, my teenaged stepdaughter was my problem. In fact, I deemed it time for a little old Grover Cleveland: Honor lies in honest toil. “I’ll bet he’d be great helping me paint on the barn roof tomorrow,” I said. “But he hasn’t even met you yet!” “Don’t worry,” I said. If he likes you, a little work won’t drive him away.” She proceeded to fling her head and leave in a huff. The next morning at breakfast, the stranger was nowhere to be found. I looked across the table several times at my step-daughter, who quite intentionally looked away and remained silent. Apparently he had woken from his slumber and left in the middle of the night. That told me something. Though we have Internet, television, cell phones, and all the creature comforts of
the modern world, an ancient custom still prevails at our house. If you aren’t willing to work, you inevitably remain a stranger. VI. Why do kittens grow up? Why do kittens grow up? If they would just stay tiny and cute, I could tolerate hundreds of them. But they grow up into cats, and in spite of a cat-loving stepmother, in spite of their obvious intelligence, and even in spite of the fact that they ferret out mice and moles and theoretically keep the barns and yard free of vermin, I think one large black snake could easily take their place, and reduce the amount of hassle tenfold. Lest I offend cat lovers, or sound too unreasonable, or even disappoint one of my younger children who might read this, I have decided to make a rational and objective list of the reasons why cats shouldn’t be on my farm. I will attempt to be impartial, avoid sarcasm, and use humor only when it is clearly not at feline expense. Our collie loves the cats. This is not necessarily a fatal flaw of the cats. They sleep with her, run between her legs—she even carries the kittens around in her mouth in an erstwhile attempt to help the mother—but the collie also likes to eat things that makes humans cringe; she also liked the stranger (see previous episode). She even likes the neighbors’ dog, which just encourages the other dog to live at our house instead of across the road where he is supposed to be.
So imagine, if you will, my oldest son and I laboring with a sixteen ton hydraulic jack, hammers, crowbars, and wedges—we are laboring to raise and secure the corner of a very heavy building that is being repaired. The timbers are creaking, the corner is slowly rising with every pump of the jack handle, siding is splintering with the strain, we are inserting props to capture and secure each fraction of an inch of progress—and all the while these damn cats are running between our legs, purring as they rub their whiskers on a jack prop that has two tons of pressure on it, even trying to jump on my back while I am leaning over to pick up a prop… This is the part of the story where the cats are scattered by my loud noises and waving arms. The problem is that now the collie is offended. How dare I bother these poor, harmless little cats, who are just busy…being cats. She even has the temerity to come up and bark loudly at me. Talk about gall… Next step—put the collie up in a pen. Meanwhile, the cats return in full force to the work area, which is, after all, where all of the action is. This time I started the chain saw up—not to do that—but to cut off the rotten end of a support beam that now dangles off the ground a few inches. The noise of the chain saw scatters them; in the background, the barking of the collie can be heard even over the loud screaming of the saw. Did I mention that they trip me up when I am carrying slop to the compost pile; follow me into the chicken coop and then refuse to leave, hiding under the only corner I can’t reach; try to get into my truck
when I open the door (one was trapped in the cab for a full day, and you can imagine the consequences); constantly act hungry even when their feed bowl is full and mice are literally laying down in front of them in senseless supplication; did I mention any of these hundreds of things? I couldn’t help but notice that several cats had climbed onto the roof of the shed next to the dog pen— were they actually going to jump in there and join the collie in her riotous protests against my tyranny? Anarchy! Orwellian farm rebellion… Did I mention how cute the kittens are that were just born? They are darling, precious little bundles of cuteness that no one could fail to warm to. Their tiny little vibrating purrs are angel’s music… (You can’t see me of course, but as I write this I have the phone book in my hand turned to the section on neutering and spaying…) VII. Rest in Peep Life and death are always present on a small farm, whether it is the ordinary coming and going of seasonal plants, or the more dramatic unexpected loss of an animal. When Audrie found me inside working on a house repair, I knew from the look on her face that something was wrong. She made no move to take off her heavy coat or hat. “It’s Peep,” she said. “I think she is about to die.” “What?”
We had just checked on the sheep the past evening, always going out to them at least once a day to check on health and herd. She had been fine at last check. Peep was one of the few “named” animals in the herd, having been given that sobriquet when she was purchased as a little lamb with a mate “Bo” for a girlfriend’s birthday. The two little lambs lived in a dog cage and grew into adult sheep that no one wanted anymore. Peep then came to our farm, and bore more than a dozen offspring over eight years. She also carried the number tag one in her ear signifying that she was the herd dame, and the first female we had purchased when we started out on the farm. I found her in the field on her side, lifeless. Without going into macabre descriptions of the evidence, it was apparent that she had gone into premature labor (about a full month or more too soon), and likely carrying triplets, suffered a miscarriage that could only have been averted through surgical procedure. Judging from the evidence, it had happened in the early morning hours when everyone was asleep, including the herd dog. In her present state, she weighed over one hundred pounds. In addition to suffering the loss on an emotional level, it fell to me to take care of the remains, an additional physical and emotional burden. It took every bit of two hours to make all preparations and move the body, all in a driving sleet and rain storm which cropped up in the middle of the work. I think God takes the dead into him immediately, leaving the living to clean up the mess. I don’t think I
counted on tasks like this when we first bought the farm. Yes, I had grown up on a farm and experienced such events before, but I was a passenger on those metaphorical buses. Here, I was the driver, and unsure of how I ended up at this particular destination. The blisters on my hands would stay with me, even when I was warm and dry back in the house. “Rest in Peep,” Audrie said later, standing beside the marker I made. VIII. The Ballad of Dolly May At the same time that we lost our herd dame, Peep, we also found out our herd dog was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We hadn’t fully realized until she was sick how important Dolly was to the family farm operation. She chased sheep back into the field when they found holes in the fence; she chased chickens back into the pen; she broke up cat fights; she barked at strangers and patrolled all around the houses and barns, chasing strange dogs and other unwanted animals away. In short, she was in charge of the entire farm operation when we were at work (and in her mind, even when we were there…). It was very unnatural to see her sick. She was normally manic in her behavior, the canine version of attention deficit hyperactive disorder; couldn’t miss any of the action; couldn’t stand to see someone else get attention; heard every noise—what is it? Where is it? Why am I not the one starting this chain of events?
This was the same dog who: danced on her hind legs in the hay field, spinning in circles and barking, because a buzzard had invader her airspace; slept between the horses’ legs (and somehow they didn’t seem to mind and didn’t squash her); thought it was funny to chase the sheep out of the barn when I commanded her to chase them in (and when I gave up in exasperation, she chased them back in, looking quite innocent). The farm is lonely without her. The little gray cat who loved her more than the others even, climbed into the final resting place I had prepared for Dolly, as if unwilling to leave her. Eventually I had to pick her up and out so she wouldn’t get buried. Why must death always be the constant? This is not a farm truism, but a human truism, though it seems on the farm that the lesson is particularly raw and unfiltered. We are already thinking about puppies. IX. Watchdogs (roosters and hens) Animals take on quite diverse roles at the farm based on their instincts and the opportunities that are presented to them, and when our watchdog and herd dog Dolly passed away a strange baton was passed. Whereas Dolly had done so many things for us, from watching over the farm while we were at work, to herding sheep and breaking up cat fights, when she was gone there was a vacuum that was abruptly filled with strange animal behavior perhaps designed to meet
the unexpected needs that had to quickly be addressed. The cats, for example, immediately began to quarrel amongst themselves (at first looking around suspiciously to see if Dolly was there); a dominant male suddenly had to assert himself for the first time to bring matters under control. The male guinea hen that claimed the yard and barnyard as his territory suddenly became more aggressive. When strange cars would pull into the driveway, he would honk and shriek like a banshee, and even aggressively peck at the white walls on tires when vehicles stopped moving. Nature abhors a void, and without the collie there, the guinea hen took over watch duty. Any time a person got out of their vehicle, the fowl would lower its head and charge forward threateningly, only to pull up harmlessly ten feet away, innocently pecking in the grass for ticks and ants. Needless to say, friends and strangers alike are now wary of the guinea hen, and without Dolly around, who can say thatâ€™s a bad thing? The horses quickly missed Dolly (like we all did), and all three of them could frequently be seen holding their heads over the wooden plank fence and staring into the space about ground level, seemingly looking for her. If the side porch door slams where Dolly used to let herself out of the house, we all (and I mean all, including all animals) still look to see if she is there. In fact, as I am writing this in my second floor study in the oldest part of the house, I am hearing that door slam againâ€”no one is supposed to use that broken screen doorâ€”is that
the spirit of Dolly? No one uses that secondary door but her… Home security is always a worry, and most recently Audrie brought home yet another adopted animal to join the growing alarm fold, a colorful, bright little bantam rooster named “Little Earl” who while small for a rooster, actually believes he should be running the entire show. Since Dolly believed she was (and she was) running the show, Little Earl immediately found animals and people to “herd.” He began with the watch guinea, who made a brief fight of it, then acquiesced. Within twenty-four hours, they were eating together. They are now watch fowl in the plural sense. Little Earl goes one way slowly around the barn, while the guinea hen bobs his head walking around the other way slowly. Between them, they trap all who should not be there. They even best foxes. Without Dolly, home security and farm normalcy have become a joint effort between many parties. Nonethe-less, it’s time to start looking for a collie puppy. One important farm lesson that is eternal is that nature abhors void; and I miss my collie. X. Alibi’s Alibi Horses, like people, can be very curious. Arabians are especially curious and often unabashedly so. Our full-blooded Arab, Alibi, is the quintessential Arabian and is a delightfully sensitive animal, but also a very hard to manage horse. We thought that raising
teenaged children was difficult; raising an Arab is equally challenging (and rewarding). Here are the top ten rules for managing an Arab on your farm, brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Alibi: 10. Don’t set something down on the ground. That is her cue to come and see what it is. If it involves some kind of sticky substance, like tar to repair a hole on the barn roof, she will inevitably come away with black tar on her nose. Then it will be high drama to remove it. 9. Do not carry anything with you that you don’t want her to smell or touch. Anything from a cold beer bottle to a cell phone is fair game. In fact, when I set my cell phone down, it looks like she is speed-dialing my boss with her nose. And by the way, she doesn’t like certain types of stinky beer, like I.P.A.s—she prefers pilsners. 8. Do not raise your voice unless you want her attention. She is very sensitive to sudden loud noises, and goes absolutely crazy during summer thunder storms. She also has quite acute hearing, which may or may not result in additional nervousness. She can hear a tractor trailer braking down on the interstate eight miles away. One advantage—she comes like a dog when I yell her name, no matter where she is on the farm. 7. Do not change the routine. If I hold the gate open with my left hand instead of my right, she notices, and it always causes some consternation and hesitation.
6. Food always makes it better. Arabians aren’t allowed to have chocolate, but if they were… 5. Always show her what you are about to do. You must do this. When brushing, for example, let her see and smell the brush first—every time. 4. Beware the camel face—when she becomes particularly stubborn, she suddenly expose her teeth and lifts her nose, looking remarkably like a camel. Such a beautiful face distorted this way is quite startling, but pay attention! 3. When riding or grooming her, and she taps you with her nose, this is Morse code for: speed it up, stop what are you doing, or I’d like more of that, please. You have to know which. 2. She will do anything for a carrot or apple— anything. She is a wonderfully trained horse, with a pedigree, but an apple or carrot means all bets are off. 1. When she poses, like a New York fashion model, leaning backward and putting one leg forward, you have to notice—that’s the rule—you must pay attention. If you don’t, then revisit #3, followed by #4. Alibi is without argument a magnificent, beautiful animal—but be prepared if you have an Arab. Beauty comes at a price! XI. When Shadow’s do Matter Shadow is a mix of black lab and hound dog, and actually lacks the brains of the lab as well as the scenttracking ability of the hound. This might sound
problematic… But as a puppy he was rescued from oblivion by Daniel, Audrie’s oldest son, and like many “rescue” animals on our farm he has been with us ever since. He is a happy-go-lucky fellow to be sure, but quite worthless in all practical aspects—not a watch dog, not a herder, not a fetcher, not a runner, not cute, etc. Philosophers could write long treatises about what being human really means if we spent time, money, and resources this way all the time. Daniel grew up and moved to North Carolina; he left us Shadow and vet bills, license fees, food allergies, and a hyper-sensitivity to sunlight that required making a special doghouse with reflective surfaces. Shadow only has one truly unique trait, and it is not a positive one. For all of his well-evidenced denseness, he somehow was bestowed with the Houdini gene, the innate ability to defeat any chain, clip, lock, rope, fence, snap, or collar. He has performed this trick dozens, if not hundreds of times, and we’ve never been able to witness it or capture it on film. Like Big Foot, Shadow’s escape routine remains shrouded in mystique. We have: tightened his collar at least one notch each time (until the two fingers rule is being sorely bent), borrowed a neighbor’s welder to permanently close a clip, purchased higher gauge chain, even installed 24 hour web cameras which mysteriously show him there, blink, then show him not there. The neighbors thought it was funny at first when he lay down on their old foam-leaking couch on the front porch. After all, his long face and exceptional long
ears can make you feel sorry for him. He’s right at home on the front porch of any country house. By the dozenth time we had retrieved him, however, they politely asked if we would donate some dog food. Shadow made his case worse by running away every time we would get near him. He never acts mean, and he never complains about anything, but once he is loose, you will never get him back. Audrie discovered that if she opened her car door and drove up to him, he would run full speed and make flying leap into the vehicle. He loves riding. This is now our standard capture procedure. Of course in terms of psychology, he is being rewarded. We call him, he runs away, but if we open the door and then we give him a ride in the vehicle, something he likes to do, then he gets what he wants. We are bad dog parents, I suppose, and programming him to do exactly what we don’t want him to do. For now, our best working theory is that he has to have some help from animal accomplices (perhaps the beautiful, but complex Alibi? [Arab mare from earlier stories]) To quote Houdini himself, “In the many years that I have been before the public my secret methods have been steadily shielded by the strict integrity of my assistants, most of whom have been with me for years.” All we can do is look around barnyard and wonder, and when we do, everyone there from donkey to ram looks suspiciously innocent, and Shadow seems to cast a silhouette our eye can never quite catch up with.
XII. Wooly Situations Sheep shearing is the most interesting hour of the entire spring. Or perhaps I should say three to five hours—actually let’s make it the most interesting twenty-four hours of the entire spring. For hobby farmers, like us, the sheep aren’t always used to being handled every day. There are many days we visually inspect them—we see them, and they see us—but we don’t ask them to do anything special, and they certainly don’t want anything from us. (We felt a little bit like this traveling in the former East Germany after the fall of the wall…) In past years, we have always had a few of the lead sheep including the ram who were fairly tame and far from averse to human contact. Interestingly, their behavior did not pass down to the new batches of young sheep that were born and assimilated into the herd. By this particular year (about ten years into our breeding experience), there was only one original Cheviot left, and she didn’t seem to have any taming effect on the others at all. None what-so-ever. Marriages can be tested in many ways, but one of the most stressful involves herding stubborn sheep, who naturally take the smallest and usually most concealed escape route. Although we have good woven wire fences around the entire perimeter of the farm, within the farm there are old fences consisting of nothing more than a few rusty strands of barbed wire, or even split cedar boards that are mostly rotted away; there are
barns that have fallen and have all kinds of nooks and crannies. They stop horses and cows, but sheep go right through them or under them. Because of the sheep—and I do blame the sheep in spite of the human factors—there are many glares, implications of husbandry incompetence, red faces, shortness of breath, curses, mistakes by the other person, and gnashing of teeth. My son suggests using the four wheeler to help coax them into the barnyard and then into the barn—but the four wheeler is in the repair shop. The truck might be helpful, especially with a horn blow or two, but the grass is extremely wet from the rain and the truck can get mired in swampy forgotten corners of fields where it might then require a tractor. Just go into the damn barn. I am the oldest, and I grew up on a farm, and that makes me the expert. Why won’t she (Audrie) and the others recognize this? She believes a stick will help. Brandished at me? No, please wave that at the sheep. Why do you think you know how to do this? I grew up on a farm. The irony is that once the sheep are inside the barn, they are immediately docile—no escape attempts, no fuss, no complaints about what they/we have just been through, no anxiety when the clippers turn on, not a sound or a whisper. Lambs to the slaughter, wool-wise at least. And they won’t need in there again until next year, right? Or should I be developing individual sheep behavior plans (ISBPs) now?? The nature of being a
hobby farmer (or a special educator, which we both are) is that you never practice any one skill often enough to truly master it, so instead you must take pleasure in the moment, no matter how stressful. And the wool is beautiful. XIII. The year of the cicadas The cicadas come once every seventeen years, like a gregarious uncle in the navy who arrives unexpectedly for a wedding after being overseas for a decade or two. Suddenly, they are here! And if you are older than twenty or so, it immediately takes you back in time to seventeen years prior when they were last present. In this case, Bill Clinton was president; I was a public school teacher and coached the baseball and basketball teams. It was the year we moved from an old farm house to a new house, prior to buying our present farm. Good grief—it was really that long ago, wasn’t it. Clinton? I can’t remember that much from other years, so at the very least the cicadas serve as a useful memory tool. And if I don’t think about the math too much, it is possible that I will see them a couple of more times… Then as now, the cicadas are like an alien presence; something so new and unexpected in the environment that animals, plants, and people don’t know how to react. Bears expand their territory to eat more of them by the thousands; deciduous trees that have their sap sucked by larva may have a seventeen year growth ring aberration; people are freaked out by the constant alien
humming, which some liken to the sound of a UFO hovering nearby; my beautiful Arab horse, Alibi takes weeks to get used to them. Surprisingly, cicadas are quite edible. In fact, our new border collie refused to eat Puppy Chow for weeks. I checked with the vet, who surprisingly said that cicadas could be even better for Ranger than regular dog food. I’m not so sure… The sight of a border collie running around the grounds furiously, insect wings hanging out of the side of his mouth, chomping constantly with an open-mouthed crunching sound, is an experience I don’t count as a pleasant farm scene. Worse yet, the Internet claims that people should eat them. It could positively impact your long term health, according to some sources, depending on how you fix them and imbibe them. I found out to my horror that my sister and her husband eat them. They bake them and dip them in chocolate. They have even thought about canning them. Egads… This getting close to the land thing can only go so far in my opinion, and I am a Mother Earther. Then, one day in a suddenly moment, they are gone. The silence is deafening. There are peppered holes across the ground where they emerged only weeks ago; Mother Nature’s awesome golf course aerator. It will be a long time until we see them again. What will I remember from this time?
XIV. Tale of the Six Baby Skunks Baby skunks are cute, right? They are fuzzy, vivid black and white, with tiny little ears and faces, and huge tails. But my goodness they have big teeth. Six of them appeared in a seething ball of fur in the driveway, and the border collie Ranger did not know what to make of them. My older neighbor, filled with the wisdom of the country, said: “Don’t worry—they can’t spray you when they are that small…” Actually, they can. The border collie now has to take a bath in the plastic kiddie swimming pool in muchdiluted tomato juice. Neither of us are happy about it. Then Audrie arrives. “Good grief, I don’t really like cats or dogs, but these little guys are precious!” But they aren’t that precious. When I pick one up by the scruff of the neck, it opens its gaping mouth to expose teeth that would shame Vladimir Tepesh. Those teeth… And they are still nursing right now? Poor momma… Now I am in the kiddie pool. The dog catcher comes by after our concerned call, and he gives this stern advice: “Take them out to the woods as far away as you can drive, and then leave them—quickly. They will grow up to be skunks,” he says with great assurance. “And no one here will ask any questions.” Actually, we were the ones with questions, and so far, not finding any really good answers. Every bit of advice we had received has literally stunk, which is
actually what Maddie called skunks when she was five. “Daddy, look at the stunk!” Now she politely asks, “Do you want me to try to find the mother and you know, well, make her go away?” No, my beautiful and brilliant twenty year old, I don’t think that’s a good idea, either. I think the border collie has had the best idea so far. He wants to play with them, just like he does with the rooster, the cats, and the guinea hen. He wants new friends. No real harm in that, is there? Back to the swimming pool. And alas, little baby skunks do indeed need their mother. When she is actually hit along the main road, the little ones are not old enough to be weaned. We try cat food and powdered milk, and milk paste, and nothing is quite like momma. We try caging them and feeding by hand. All for naught. They were too young, and expire without their mother. Strange, indeed, that we should feel such regret. After all, they were just stunks, right? To the kiddie pool one more time XV. 101 Unintended Uses of a Tractor XVI. The Strange Case of the Cleft Palette XVII. Urban Sprawl comes to Louisa County TO BE CONTINUED…Reflections of a Southern Gentleman Farmer V
A Man of His Word by Becky Mushko “Ain’t no sense in killin’ for sport or for fun,” Grampa told me when I was ten and wanted to shoot every bird and squirrel in sight with my new .22 just to prove I could. “Critters own the land same as we do. We ain’t to question their purpose here any more than they question ours. We take what we need of them and let the rest live in peace. ’Cept maybe snakes.” Despite his reluctance to shoot anything, Grampa always carried his pistol whenever he took his morning walk. I’d only seen him use it once—to shoot a copperhead that I hadn’t noticed in the dry leaves and had almost stepped on. He yanked me out of harm’s way before he pulled the trigger. Whenever I visited him, we always started each day with a walk over the farm. Usually we’d walk to the highest point, and he’d name off the mountains for me—Sharp Top, Flat Top, Harkening Hill. He’d sometimes point to the mountains and tell me about how his daddy recollected how the woods used to be white with chestnut trees in bloom in the spring. “Blight killed’em off long before I was born. Nothin’ lasts, I reckon,” he’d say, and then he’d tell how they got the word that his older brother had been killed at Omaha Beach in the war. “Lotsa boys we knew around here got killed with him. Daddy like to never got over it.” He
told me a lot of other old stories that I wasn’t especially interested in. On one of our walks, I asked him why he didn’t move to Roanoke or Richmond or Lynchburg like my daddy and all his other kids had done. “This land’s been in our family since 1842,” he said. “I lived in Bedford County all my life. Born here and plan to die here. My lifeblood’s in this farm, just like my daddy and his daddy before him. Daddy always said, “You look after land; it looks after you.’ I vowed to my daddy I’d take care of this farm and never leave it. A man keeps his word.” Twenty-five years later, though, circumstances worked against him. At 85, Grampa was getting too stiff with arthritis to walk as far as he once did. Gramma had died a decade earlier, but he still grieved for her. He grieved that he could no longer take care of himself, much less his land. A new highway spur was coming through the middle of the farm. The thought of that highway tearing up his farm grieved him most of all. “At least it won’t go through the family graveyard,” he said, more to console himself than to explain to me. “Won’t disturb your gramma’s grave, or my daddy’s or mama’s.” A few weeks later, on a clear March morning, I took a day off work and drove out to help him pack up for his move into Lynchburg. It was decided he’d live with my Aunt Lorna, his youngest daughter, who had a
spare bedroom in her condo. Her car was there when I arrived. The back seat was already half-full of boxes. After he greeted me, Grampa pocketed his gun and started off on his walk like always. “Just wanta walk the place one last time,” he said. “Y’all finish packin’ without me.” “Want me to walk with you?” I asked. I wasn’t dressed for a walk in the woods and didn’t really want to. “Nah,” he said. “I reckon I’ll say goodbye to the place in my own way.” “Well, I don’t want you to get lost,” I said. “Ain’t gonna get lost,” he said. “Too old to be blazin’ new trails.” I watched him until he was out of sight. Then I started carrying out more boxes of stuff he wanted to save from the house. Old stuff I couldn’t see any use of holding onto. I’d loaded the last box in my trunk when I heard the shot. Snake! I thought. Then I realized copperheads wouldn’t be out this early in March. I ran to where the sound had come from—the far side of the barn. Before I knelt beside him, I knew that he was dead. Grampa still clutched his pistol; his finger hadn’t even slipped off the trigger. Beneath his body, a pool of blood seeped into the ground. V
Coffin Dulcimer by R. T. Smith Doll had been in the kitchen when the slag dam broke, and leaving the house, all she brought were the beaded purse with her daddy’s watch, the Drunkard’s Path quilt wrapped around her dulcimer and a bag of biscuits the colors of a cougar. Her hands still smelled of butter and bacon grease. When she first heard the waters rushing, she thought “Shall We Gather at the River” and “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb?” but she was not churchy, and her best songs were murder ballads and courting airs, mischief and longing and loss. Roe had made her dulcimer when she was a lap child – hickory planed from a plank in the birthing pen, white oak and flamed maple, store-bought bloodwood for the back, scroll like a snail shell and burled. It would play. He had taught her to pluck with the quill of a yard goose, note with a wild stick he whittled. Any tune she overheard, she could copy perfect. People came from miles. It would sure Lord play. Even here on the ridge, just above the sudden cascade, all she could hear now were the creek’s drone strings of a thousand dulcimers grieving, inflicting a memory. The players had come for Roe’s wake after the big poplar buckled and whipped back on him. Two others from the crew and the drag horses were hurt, but Roe was too close, trying to save the saw.
The players – Miz Nuckels, Amber Lipscomb, the Regier twins – unsleeved their instruments (Amber’s from a pillow sack) and set in to tuning. These were new shapes to Doll – hourglass some call the wasp, honeymoon, teardrop. She had seen fiddles a-plenty and thought them the liveliest of beings, all honey and trouble, and each served by a dangerous man. The banjos were funny and the quills a cage for birds. Her dulcimer was the only one she’d ever before clapped sight on, but these women carrying other sorts circled and sat and lullabyed her father to the glories beyond. She didn’t know where the other women had been taken today to escape the wild waters and coal sludge, but she was in the parlor of an empty house that belonged to a storekeeper while the men went back to the boat and into the dark surge to see if others needed rescue. Never before had she so much missed her father, never before felt so sure no other man would take her up. And poor deaf Aunt Willa, who she’d never warmed to, had been in the hog lot when the waters struck and was likely gone. Sitting on the horsehair sofa, the bitter coffee they left her long cold, the sugar in its bowl damp but white as a bride dress, she unwrapped the tapered dulcimer and touched the fine wire strings, turned the pegs to tune them true. Its shape was that of a man – slim hips, wide at the shoulder – but folks called it a coffin, which was not wrong.
Every house in Barlow’s Cove in danger, the sky clouding dour for another baptism, she smelled herself, grease from the flitch, her sweat and smoke from the fire dying in the pot-belly stove. This was a moment between everything else, end and beginning. She couldn’t find a way to feel. She could see her father not breathless yet, the fever shivering him. She could see the pale child cold in the box, then the earth tumbled in. She was proud she had never named the man, a drummer with a possum grim and a crate of gadgets on his mule. Truth told, he’d never given his name but kept saying hers again and again. Now she heard it as a song, “Doll, Dolly, Doll.” Soon she resumed twisting the pegs in their rosined holes, to strum and listen as the strings commenced to hum to each other – gossip and riffle and keen. Never mind the sorrow, never mind the shame. She tuned it for “Patsy Campbell,” “Rain and Snow.” On one poplar limb a ruddock red as the words of Jesus started up his white-chair, white-chair, then flew like an arrow. There was nothing else to do. Doll leaned forward like a woman with an infant on her lap. She fretted and plucked and sang an Irish diddle-dee song with no words at all, just the bird’s notes embellished like lace on her tongue. That was how they found her and how she was ever after, just melody and drone, and not one more soothing human word. V
Caterwaul by R. T. Smith His pick struck the seam, and chips of the black river clattered about, louder as Dock wrested it free to swing again. The dust was even worse, and light sputtered from his Davy lamp ghostly in the nook. The seep of black water, the pitiful yellow bird soiled and silent in its wicker, but breathing still. He put his weight into the next swing, trying not to think of his brush with fame, the banjo ringing with his fingers, his rusty voice raising the words of “Pretty Polly” or “Railroad Bill.” His Sarah called any music not churchy a caterwaul, but people had paid to hear it, city folk keen to get it on the record, miners raring to clog their boots and pretty girls happy to bend over in a back room, unable to stifle their joyful cries. I didn’t start that knock fight in Norton, he thought, didn’t job nobody with nary knife, so why’d they have to devil me about it, to law me hard? Hell, I’d take a play party any day, music in my head like every mountain river aswirl together. Fights, they just find me. Again he swung, levered and prised, as the hard, satin-looking coal fell to his feet. He could feel the firedamp around him and looked back at the bird, just to make sure. All along the tunnel other picks and chisels struck up a hellish percussion, and the earth shook with the shumbling of coal cars piled with crow stone. The whole world – in sunlight or this cave with its oily gutter stream – was shaky, the way he quavered when he couldn’t
get whisky, couldn’t get his hands on a banjo. Sally would say the quietest music was sweetest, needle against thimble, kneading, snip of scissors through a ribbon strand. For him it was raucous voices and the twangle of steel strings, those old Child ballads or the railroad’s gandy dancers. She would throw a sure enough buckshot conniption if ever he tried to play tunes in the house, but he could depend on her, even when he went bingeing and came home wild-eyed, ranting. A sheet of rock above gave way, a shower of dust and crumble. This was life, making a wage, swaying with the walls as they trembled, waiting for the death hymn as support timbers shivered. The yellow bird was twittering in tune with the shift whistle. It was alive. He was alive, grimy as a demon, thirsty, feeling his bellows fill with the fine sift of coal. Starting out, he pulled his jump jacket tight against the chill. To get through another day he’d have to conjure what he counted beauty – an easy seam of dark light, a copperhead’s slither, sweet taste of stumpjack they called “the angel’s breath,” notes sparking like fireflies in the evening air, and always ending in Sally, who was plain as a pinto bean, pure and stern but steady. He’d give her his wild song. V
The Howardsville Gold by Elizabeth Solomon No one knows for sure when Tex Truslow began digging for the Howardsville gold. Some say they noticed his three-colored Chevy truck with the camper top early as the 1960’s. Where ever and whenever they saw him, his hazel eyes were wide with excitement, strange flecks gleaming like gold he hoped to find. “I’m gettin’ closer! Dug by moon light last night for three hours on Bertha Omohundro’s back forty.” Where the Rockfish River meets the wide James is the small town of Howardsville, Virginia. Or at least, it used to be a town. In Civil War days there may have been one-hundred people. Before the Yankees came, you could see a bank, post-office, lumber mill, and general store. The Methodist Church sits atop Bell Hill and dates back to the early 1800’s. Supplies came easily into this Virginia town by way of the railroad, its tracks following along low grounds where the lazy James River moved its eventual way to the Chesapeake Bay. There are a few wild stories about the Howardsville gold, but the one Tex Truslow told best had been repeated by the locals since Civil War days. Robert Baber’s grandfather climbed to the widow’s-walk high atop Monticola, and scanned with his old spy-glass. One October morning when autumn had turned maples into red and orange, and oaks were a shining mahogany—Mr. Baber gave a yell to rouse the dead. “The Yankees are comin’—the Yankees are comin’!” In less than ten minutes, the church bell was
clanging furiously from Bell Hill. Housewives were hiding silver among potatoes and straw in root cellars and the Howardsville Bank put up its Closed sign on the front door. The bank president, some distant kin of old Mr. Baber’s, was seen loading his wagon with bags of gold ingots and coins, muttering to himself some choice words the Howardsville residents had never heard before. Gossip and hear-say told for a hundred years that the banker buried Howardsville gold in remote places on farms all along the James. When Mr. Baber found him, he was cold dead, his wagon and the horses tied to a tree. His old heart had plainly given up. Somehow, the town was not burned. One story tells how, when the troops marched in, an unidentified woman ran all over roads yelling, “Typhoid in the town! Typhoid in the town!” There were no cures for typhoid in those days – so the soldiers made themselves at home in beautiful Monticola, built by a Richmond banker. Tex Truslow loved the stories, but he loved the gold more. The tales about him are nearly as good as the banker hiding his gold. One night, as old Emma Baber tells it, she was asleep with Rhody in a box next to her bed. Rhody was the last of Emma’s Rhode Island Red hens—the flock eventually eaten by bobcats, foxes, and great-horned owls. Rhody began screeching at three AM, which set Emma’s ferocious pit bulls to barking. Emma got her shotgun and stepped out the back farmhouse door to see Tex Truslow beating off her dogs with his shovel. “Serves you right, Tex! You hurt my puppies and you’re dead meat yourself!”
“Shucks, Emma,” Tex rolled the words like honey with his Texas drawl. “I was just diggin’ for that Howardsville gold!” Before he could climb into his three-colored Chevy truck, pit bull teeth had tattered his already threadbare jeans. “You stay away from my place, Tex!” hollered Emma. For good measure she fired her gun straight up to heaven. Another story emerged the following week when Mrs. O drove her black Ford into Scottsville for groceries. Small and feisty as a wren, standing 4’11" in her blackbuttoned boots, Bertha’s cheeks shook as she talked, her gray bun firm as glue on the back of her head. “I was braidin’ one of my rugs last night in the parlor. Old Tom-cat was stretched out before the stove. I never seed old Tom rise up so fast, his fur all bristled and his back hunched up. He set to yowlin’ and howlin’ like maybe the Lord was comin’ back.” Bertha was now breathless. So many words at one time having worn her out. “Take it easy, Mrs. O.” The local Baptist preacher caught her as she leaned southward. “Thankee, thankee, Reverend, it was that Tex Truslow in my apple orchard, diggin’ for the Howardsville gold!” Now all of Howardsville knew that the banker and his wagon had been found at Bertha Omohundro’s farm. Mrs. O herself admitted she looked long and hard when she dug up potatoes. “Foolish man, that Tex!” Mrs. O smoothed her gray bun, pulled out a hairpin, and poked it back in. “That feisty little woman will outlive us all,” said the Reverend. The week after Mrs. Omohondro’s cat heard Tex’s truck in her orchard, another story spread through
Howardsville. Old Monie Gilmer – Miss Monie, the locals called her – lived alone at Llanarth, an 1870 farm whose caretakers’ cabin dated back to pre-Civil War days. The Gilmers secured their land title, three thousand acres, while they were still in Wales, and sent their caretaker across the Atlantic to build a cabin and put up a gate. Miss Monie had heard the Tex stories. If anything, she was even spunkier than Mrs. O. Rumors held it that she had killed a bear helping itself to her elderberries. She was famous in Howardsville for her sweet elderberry wine. Ms. Monie discovered Tex’s truck at her gate and had it towed away. He was seen walking, shovel over his shoulder, to Scottsville. By 1990, all the old Howardsville ladies had gone to their rewards. The story persists, however, that Tex Truslow deposited an unknown amount of cash at the Scottsville bank, and drove off in a brand new BMW. That started a new rush of digging. Money does strange things to folks. V
Meet the Authors & Photographers Diane “Dee” Bowlin grew up in Milwaukee, WI and moved to Oklahoma to attend Oklahoma City University. After graduating with a mathematics degree, she became a Corporate Trainer in the insurance industry and later opened her own barbecue restaurant. Dee’s award-winning poetry, as diverse as her life, has been published in Encore and Golden Words and her song lyrics set to music and performed on stage. She was honored as the 2011 Poetry Society of Oklahoma Poet Laureate and accepted into The National League of American Pen Women in 2012. While visiting the east coast, the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains so inspired her writing that she moved to Roanoke, VA in July of 2012. Dee is now a member of The Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association, the Poetry Societies of Virginia, Tennessee and Oklahoma, and serves as co-president of Roanoke Valley Pen Women. William W. Fraker is the author of a collection of poetry, Nostalgia Resides in the Marrow (Aquillrelle, 2012). He received a BA from Lynchburg College before earning graduate degrees from Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He taught in the department of inpatient psychiatry at Duke University and in the MSW program at Virginia Commonwealth University. He has poetry in several on-line journals and contributed to Muscadine Lines: A Southern Anthology (KHR Ventures, 2006). He is a member of the Writers’ Workshop in Richmond, VA.
James Gaines is a bilingual writer living in Fredericksburg and serving as president of Riverside Writers. His work has recently appeared in The Blue Hour, Voices on the Wind, Baseballbard, and Eerie Digest. His collection of poems, Downriver Waltz, is forthcoming from Poetic Publishing. Bill Glose is the author of the poetry collections Half a Man (FutureCycle Press, October 2013) and The Human Touch (San Francisco Bay Press, 2007). In 2011, he was named the Daily Press Poet Laureate. His poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Narrative Magazine, Chiron Review, and Poet Lore. Honors include the Morgantown Chapter Award from the West Virginia Poetry Society, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Award, and the Virginia Press Association First Place Award for Sports News Writing. More information is available online at www.BillGlose.com. Esther Whitman Johnson has worked in public education for over three decades as high school English teacher, counselor, and Director of Guidance. Now she travels the globe, doing volunteer gigs on five continents, from Mexico to Madagascar, Chile to Cambodia, and points in between. Inspired by rolling blue mountains and the slant of sun along grassy fields, Sarah E N Kohrs savors life in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She is a writer and artist, who home-schools her three young sons. Having earned a B.A. in Classical Languages and Archaeology, as well as a Virginia state teaching licensure endorsed in Latin and Visual Arts, Sarah
infuses her love of languages, art, and antiquity into her poetry. In addition to writing, Sarah works most often with pottery and photography – seeking a unique perspective on how surroundings can kindle hope in even a disparaged heart. SENK maintains two blogs, Sun-splashed Window and Ink-Splattered Desk. Find her on-line at http:// senkohrs.wix.com/potterypoetrylife. Sigrid Mirabella (originally from Long Island, NY) defines herself as a social hermit and hopeful skeptic living in rural uncertainty. Her works have won awards and have appeared in The Blue Ridge Anthology, Mid-America Poetry Review, Long Island Pet Gazette, Lynchburg News And Advance, Dog Fancy, Woman’s Day, Countryside, People Magazines, and various Macmillan/Howell books. In her other life, she works for a humane society in Nelson County, Virginia. Becky Mushko, winner of the 1996 “Worst Western Category” and the 2008 “Vile Pun” categories in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, is a three-time winner of the Sherwood Anderson Short Story Contest. Her stories have appeared in A Cup of Comfort for Writers, Vols. II & III of Anthology of Appalachian Writers, and other publications. Many of her stories have been recycled into Kindle books: Rest in Peace, Over Coffee, and Miracle of the Concrete Jesus and Other Stories. Her print books include Ferradiddledumday and Stuck, both from Cedar Creek Publishing. She blogs about her life in rural Penhook at http://peevishpen.blogspot.com.
Marian Pearce Baby of the baby on both sides; motherless at four. Lived twelve different places before sixteen— Took a bite of college. College didn’t agree. Rode the back of a tandem until too pregnant— Labored 42 hours in a London flat— Both back on the tandem by spring, sleeping in a tent. Homesteaded badly and un-schooled indifferently in sub-poverty— Nursed three offspring three years each while perfecting doughnuts, yogurt, and tofu. Canned gardens; harvested acorns, cattail roots and poke salad. Milked pygmy goats, hatched ducks; dropper fed squirrels— Warmed snakes in her shirt and rats in her pockets— Crafted purple-plotted bedtime stories and Children’s Theatrics— Logged ten thousand hours reading aloud. None of her offspring are boring. Volunteered time she didn’t have; Nursed the dying— Waited tables— Waited on promises. Loved intensely; lost wildly. She writes both to find herself and to keep from getting mislaid. Anna Quillon notes that she is lucky enough to be a Charlottesville native … and enthusiast! “There’s no place in the world that I love more than my little hometown!” Those who know her also know she’s lucky enough to have a great camera and an “eye” for photography! For the last year or so, she has been growing a little page on Facebook called “The Hometown Tourist – Charlottesville, VA” that has allowed her to combine her love for photography with her love for the Central Virginia area and to constantly be on the lookout
for interesting places to explore and fun things to do in the community! Visit her Facebook page to enjoy more of her photos: www.facebook.com/TheHometownTourist. R. T. Smith is Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee University, where he has served as editor of Shenandoah since 1995. His work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, New Stories from the South and The Pushcart Prize Anthology. His most recent book is The Red Wolf: A Dream of Flannery Oâ€™Connor, and his In the Night Orchard: New and Selected Poems is forthcoming in 2014. Smith has twice received the Library of Virginia Prize for Best Book of Poetry and in 2013 received the Weibstein Prize for Poetry. Elizabeth Doyle Solomon is a native of New Orleans. She started writing at age eleven and publishing at age thirteen. A prolific writer, she stopped counting poems at 100,000. A retired teacher, she taught in public and private schools and now tutors privately. She also leads a weekly poetsâ€™ critique group. Elizabeth published Seasons, an illustrated book of nature poems, and wrote columns for many newspapers, including the one she founded, the Central Virginia Leader. Her poems have appeared recently in Timber Creek Review, The Lyric, and Plainsongs. Her latest book of poetry, The Steering Wheel Poems, was published in 2010 by Cedar Creek Publishing. Jack Trammell lives on a farm in Central Virginia, where he is a modern agrarian and a recognized voice of Appalachia (born in Berea, Kentucky). His writing credits are diverse,
ranging from hundreds of poems, articles, and stories to larger book-length projects and academic research related to his college teaching. He is a trained historian, a research methodologist, and an environmental advocate, but most of all he is committed to the act and art of writing, as well as encouraging others in their personal literary journeys. Visit his website to learn more, www.jacktrammellbooks.com.
Meet the Selection Editors Sarah Collins Honenbergerâ€™s novel Catcher, Caught is a Pen/Faulkner Foundation selection in its Writers in Schools program. Audio and German editions were released in October 2012. With numerous short fiction awards and a fellowship from the Virginia Creative Arts Center, she appears regularly on literary panels and at book festivals. Her other novels include Waltzing Cowboys (2009) and White Lies: A Tale of Babies, Vaccines and Deception (2006), both nominees for the Library of Virginia Fiction Award. Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pros(e) Workshop and instructor of a course on Contemporary Women Poets at UVA-OLLI, is poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine. In addition to publication in various anthologies and journals, she is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), and A Cruise in Rare Waters
(2013). Her workshop has published their first anthology, We Grew Wings and Flew (2014)
Meet the Volume Editor DeAnna Miller Wolfe, has been in printing and publishing for over 25 years. She also has experience in organizing large events. Her hobbies are reading, antiquing, and traveling. Her two beautiful daughters are grown, and she has an amazing grandson.
An online literary publication featuring works by Virginia (US) writers, photographers and illustrators with a Virginia setting or theme. #V...