Once There Was Only One Cat Beneath The Tree

My Cat Whiskers, circa 1963 at 347 West Pine St.

When I was around three years old, my single mother and I moved to Lewisville, North Carolina from just across the Yadkin River in Yadkin County. It was where my mother had been born on a mill pond.

Sometime before I was very old, a black and white stray cat found its way to the porch that connected mother’s beauty shop with the rest of the house.  My bedroom, the former breezeway, also opened onto the same porch. Mother told me in no uncertain terms, that I could feed Whiskers but that I could not bring her into the house.

I slid open the screen on the aluminum screen door to my room. It did not take much convincing with food for Whiskers to jump into the house by herself. Technically, i was innocent. I don’t think I got punished. Whiskers was with us until my freshman year in college. When my mother, Whiskers, and I moved to Mount Airy in 1963, my dad fell in love with her. He decreed that she should enjoy a canned salmon and canned milk diet. 

There were a lot of changes in those ten years before I headed off to military school.

I was five years old before there was a television in our neighborhood. I was in grade school before we had a black and white set in our home in Lewisville just west of Winston-Salem. It was a very different time.  Unlike the children of today, we were free-range children, showing up at mealtimes and just in time to fall exhausted into bed on summer evenings

Our doctor made house calls.  We walked to school or rode our bikes. After school, we played pick-up football or baseball. We built forts in the woods and dammed whatever creeks we could find. Getting to go fishing in a farm pond was a huge treat.

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Not Enough Wilderness To Save Us

Sunset on White Oak River Near Swansboro, NC

Towns are magnets and they suck people from the countryside, especially the young and talented. We noticed this happening when we returned to New Brunswick in 2012.We farmed there in the seventies and early eighties. Since our trip, what remained of the three churches in our old town disappeared. The community store closed. Yet the provincial capital, Fredericton, is thriving as the small towns wither.  It is a story repeated time and again in Canada and the United States.

I still worry that some of those wild places like the North Carolina coast will become too populated. I sometimes think that what we call the Northern Outer Banks from Corolla to Cape Hatteras will sink into the seas just from the weight of all those beach castles. I offer up my profound thanks for those who created the National Seashores. Beyond nourishing our souls places like coastal Carteret County and hilly Davie County where we now live grow a lot of food that North Carolina cities need.

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Empty Promises

No Paper in the Driveway and An Empty Newspaper Box

I don’t want to be the old guy complaining about other people trying to earn a living. I would like to provide some constructive criticism that might make all of our lives easier.

I spent nearly twenty years at Apple and anyone who knows me will quickly tell you that I am no Steve Jobs fan. I saw him do things that were nothing but mean and contributed nothing to the great products that came out of the company.

However, the one thing that I learned of value from time within the Steve Job’s orbit is that the hardest thing is to say no to things that you might like to do but aren’t in your sweet spot. I would add that if you cannot do something with passion and precision, find something else to do.

Obviously sometimes you really need money and I understand those pressures because I have had my back to the wall with a payment or bill due.  I have been lucky that I have always found ways, one time I sold our bulldozer, to keep going until better times. Those better times have always taken me to opportunities where I was proud to work and more importantly eager to do my best.

So here is the problem today. People take jobs and commit to doing the work, then they don’t do the job. Some never master what it takes to do the job. Some pretend to do the job. Others do not even bother to show up. We have been amazed when trying to hire students to do data entry as part time jobs. It is not hard work, yet continually people commit to working x-number of hours but only work half that. Then there are those who promise but never show.

The problem is widespread. (Read More)

The Five Shirt Day

My Work Shirt

An overlooked challenge of the pandemic is that it has been very hard on clothing, specifically shirts. I have never been easy on clothing. I have a long history of getting dirty.  When we lived on the farm, my wife, Glenda, was known to sometimes hose me down and make me take my dirty clothes off in the woodshed before I could come into the house. Back in my lawn mowing days on the North Carolina coast, not only did I come in encrusted in dirt from a yard that was more dust than grass at times but I also ended up fishing, walking on the beach, gardening and working at my desk. It all required a lot of different clothes, but I am not sure that I ever had a five shirt day.

The pandemic has made it more challenging to do almost everything except work from home. The statement that clothes make the man or woman has changed to shirts make the man or woman.  With Zoom and Team conference calls, how you look on video is what matters these days and our video cameras only show us from us from the face down to our desks.  So we pay attention to the shirts that we wear.

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The Shade Trees Are Still There, We Aren’t

Shade Tree, Mount Airy, NC

I remember well the Sunday afternoons under the shade trees enjoying watermelon or homemade peach ice cream. As children, we played like there was no tomorrow.  It was a simpler time when people could actually talk politics without getting angry.  There was nothing like an old fashioned chicken stew to bring families together in North Carolina’s rolling hills. 

There were no chicken stews that I got to attend during my college years. Those were the especially turbulent late sixties and early seventies and I was far away from North Carolina in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  As I finished my degree in the summer of 1971, I needed to get away from those strange-hued city-night skies where it was impossible to see the stars.

Just as people used to gather under shade trees in North Carolina, friends used to just drop by on Sunday afternoons at our farm for visit. It was a great excuse to stop working and spend some time catching up on the neighborhood news. It was the way people built relationships, established trust and found common ground.  I cannot ever remember discussing politics.

Beyond the impromptu visits, there were community picnics, shared meals, church services (even burials) and work done for the good of the community. All these things made for richer shared lives. When we were on the farm, I never doubted that the community and friends helped us be successful. The support of their communities was essential to success of farming when we had our farm.

That was back in the seventies. The fifty years since then have not been kind to under the shade tree gatherings or any of the other ways that we connected and established relationships.

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The Ghost I Knew

The Pine Street House

You cannot have a ghost story without a spooky, somewhat mysterious house and where I grew up in rural Forsyth County was nothing like that but things change.

A little mystery also helps with ghosts and there was plenty of mystery in my life in the fifties. The house also had a lot of history, some of it gruesome which is certainly helpfully when looking for ghosts. Many of stories that the house’s four walls could tell never got fully explained to me before everyone who could explain died. Some the questions that I wanted answered never got addressed because no one wanted to talk about them.

Upstairs above the floor with the bedrooms was a full stick-framed attic complete with walnut banisters. If ever there was an area that could house ghosts along with mysterious steamer trunks, this attic was it

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Partners in Cooking and Life

A Loaf of My Sourdough Bread

When I was chasing cows around our farm in Canada, I would have laughed if someone told me that I would replace my wife as the bread baker. I still remember the days that she would bake four or five loaves of oatmeal bread and the kitchen smelled heavenly every time I entered during the day.

I know that cooking together with my wife has become a great joy. We have found a few regional recipes to carry with us as we have wandered from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to Virginia, the North Carolina coast and back to the rolling hills of the Piedmont.

The meals that we have cooked are almost always based on simple ingredients. We are blessed to have grown up in families that were close to the land. Fresh vegetables and food direct from the farm or sea often have delighted us and made our meals special.

We were blessed to have grown much of our own food for over a decade. We have never lost those skills or the appreciation of truly fresh food grown in soil that has had enriched with compost that we have made.

For much of our life, we were too busy to do much more than get food on table. That has changed. (Read More)

Empowering Technology

Asus Chromebook

Technology that empowers you is more than just the technology.  To be really successful technolog has to be packaged in an affordable way and be easy to use to accomplish tasks that are important.

I was working for Apple Canada and living in Halifax, Nova Scotia in January 1985 when Apple introduced the LaserWriter, the first laser printer to be widely used. Ignoring the first home computers, this was also the first time I was involved with the rollout of technology that had the power to fundamentally change the way we did things.

The list price was $6,995 and more important to those of us lugging it around for demonstrations, it weighed 77 pounds.

I was happy that my previous career was running a cattle farm where I spent much of the winter hauling around 100 lb+ bags of feed.

It is a measure of how technology change accelerates that the third week in December 2011, just about twenty-six years later, I bought a Brother HL-2270DW laser printer for $99.98.  It only weighed 15.4 pounds.

The original Apple LaserWriter printed eight pages per minute of 300 DPI text and graphics using a 12 Mhz Motorola 68000 chip.

The Brother printer that I bought in 2011 printed at 27 pages per minute at up to 2400 X 600 DPI.  It had a 200 Mhz processor.  The Brother printer comes with Ethernet and wireless connectivity.  The Apple LaserWriter only had LocalTalk, a very slow but revolutionary network for 1985.

The original LaserWriter were heavy and expensive. Few of them made it into home offices in the early days. The most recent Brother Laser that I purchased was only $85. (Read More)

A Cathedral of Leaves

Trees at Rich Park in Mocksville, North Carolina

Apparently none of the storybook scary tales of danger in the forest ever stuck with me.  In rural North Carolina in the fifties, no one worried about evil happening in the forests that surrounded us. We did not understand it at the time, but the cathedral of leaves where we played immensely enriched our lives. As a fifties explorer of the local woods, I could not make the connection because I had yet to experience any of the great cathedrals of the world.  Now it seems pretty obvious.

In the summertime, we got up in the morning and headed to the coolness of the deep woods. The towering trees and the brooks that ran through them were our playgrounds. We built dams, seined for minnows, made forts, and played elaborate games in the woods. Sometimes we hardly bothered to leave the woods for meals. We barely escaped the trees as dark descended on the forest.

(Read more) This is post number nine in a series of twenty-two designed to get my blog to 1700 posts before Thanksgiving 2021.

We Were Barn Builders Once

The first barn we built on our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick, Canada

While I had learned a lot about working with my hands since I graduated from college, building a barn was not one of those skills. Living on a farm teaches you quickly do what needs to be done even if means learning how to do something new. I ordered all the materials that we needed from Ontario. They were shipped by rail to New Brunswick and then delivered by truck to our farm. The trusses for the barns were 36 ft. long and the others for the other barn were 36 ft. Even getting those trusses unloaded was not easy but it is amazing what you can do with a couple of farm tractors with front-end loaders. (Read more)