Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Day After Thanksgiving

     For those who want to know, Gus is still missing.  I am sad about it, but looking forward, not backwards.  What a gift to have enjoyed such a happy, free-spirited, loving little beagle.  If he is still alive somewhere, I am praying that he has found a good home where his keen sense of loyalty and fun will be fully appreciated.

     Joe and I travelled to Staunton today to pick up chicken feed.  Around every turn in the road we saw deflated Christmas decorations sprawled in soggy brown yards.  They looked like the aftermath of a drive-by shooting.  I know, I know.  You have to wait until night for the magic to begin.  That's when these scraps of cloth and thread rise to glow on lawns like blimpy aliens from a nylon planet. They are kind of neat, then, but really does the baby Jesus have to be right next to Sponge Bob on the lawn?  And it's a little creepy to have a ten foot snowman towering over the manger.  This time of year, right after Thanksgiving makes me a little cranky.  America is so conflicted about this "holiday season."  We're not even allowed to say the word Christmas in school anymore and I love Christmas carols, but I don't want to hear them as the background music to advertisements for chocolate and sodas and cars and ipods.  That's why I wrote this song.  It reminds me to keep my eyes on the main thing.  Hope it helps you, too.

The day after Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping begins
We can’t forget Aunt Myrtle or her husband Uncle Ben
We must find the perfect present for each person on our list
It’s critically important and no one must be missed

We wear ourselves to shadows of our former jolly selves
We shop like Martha Stewart and we work like Santa’s elves
We decorate and bake and clean and decorate some more
We’ve got to match the beauty of our neighbor’s house next door

Children whine and whimper and they drag their folks around
From computer store to toy store they shop all around the town
They long for something special that will really thrill their heart
They think that they will find it at the local Walmart

Christmas presents stacked beneath a lovely Christmas tree
Christmas presents PILED UP HIGH, are all of those for me?
Christmas presents wrapped in paper, tied up with a bow
Gimme, what’d ya get me? I just really have to know

A tiny babe wrapped up in a handmade cloth of love
The shepherds wonder at the angels singing up above
The wise men cross the desert as they travel from afar
To find the baby savior sleeping underneath the star

A Christmas present in a manger underneath a tree
A present sent from heaven, is it really just for me?
A Christmas present wrapped in love and placed into a stall
God sent His love at Christmas—a gift for one and all.

So when I hear commercials and see Santas all around
Or hear the registers ringing as the shoppers rush through town
I just turn my head and listen to the angel’s distant song
Joy to the world….
And then I sing along….

A Christmas present in a manger underneath a tree
A present sent from heaven, is it really just for me?
A Christmas present wrapped in love and placed into a stall
God sent His love at Christmas—a gift for one and all

As we begin the Advent season, I hope you hear angels around every corner singing "Joy to the World."

Saturday, November 20, 2010


     My beautiful little rabbit beagle Gus is missing. He was born on the farm and raised by my side. When I pulled into my driveway every evening, Gus would stop whatever he might be doing and pound across the yard with a happy grin, ears flapping, tail whapping, to meet me. He would sit patiently at my car door until I gathered everything up and then place his front paws on my legs for an ear scratching before following me to the house. He could fetch a ball, sit on command, catch food in mid-air, circle, and walk on two legs but his favorite activity was jumping straight up in the air like he had pogo sticks where his pads should have been. As I walked back to feed the other dogs at night, he would bound along beside me, jumping up so his nose was almost as high as mine every few steps and laughing as he landed. Then, he danced his joy and ran it in ever widening speed circles around me.
     The yard is empty and so is my heart. It’s my fault he’s gone. I didn’t tie him up when hunting season started. Last year, I remembered to chain him until the season passed, but I forgot this year. He was last seen chasing a fox across our neighbor’s mountain on Saturday morning a week ago. Various school children have reported sighting him on Monday morning sniffing his way across a field several miles north of here but I have canvassed all my neighbors to the north and no one has seen him since then.
     Most people think that dogs can run free in the country, but that’s not generally the case. Two dogs working together can wreak havoc on a sheep flock and generally one or both end up shot. Maybe Gus found another canine friend and provoked the ire of a farmer. If so, then I can’t be mad. I’ve seen the damage dogs do to sheep. It’s not pretty. But, I don’t think that’s what happened. There’s only one flock of sheep near us and Glen would have let us know if our dog was around.
     Maybe Gus crawled through a fence and was snagged by a coyote snare. Coyotes are ravaging the last flocks in the county and snares are one of the few ways farmers have found to create a line of safety in wire fences. But, dogs get caught in them, too. When Gus was a pup, he disappeared for a day. I discovered him just a quarter mile from the house caught in a neck snare. He had been chained before, so rather than struggling against the snare he lay down patiently to wait. It saved his life. When I found him he howled pitifully but he didn’t move. I remember trying to free him and after several unsuccessful attempts to trip the latch, running screaming to the house for Joe. Gus never moved until Joe got back and cut him loose. So, if he’s in a snare, he’s been lying there a long time waiting. But, we’ve let our neighbors who set snares know he is gone and no one has found him,  so I don’t think that’s where he is either.
     He could have been shot by a hunter, angry at a happy little dog who chased deer for sport, never catching them, but running until his tongue scraped the ground. Hunters have been known to do things like that. They've also been known to steal dogs.
     Gus was a handsome dog. He might have been snagged by a hunter who thought he scored a prize. Good rabbit beagles are worth some money and Gus would hunt rabbits tirelessly when he could roust them out. I hope that’s what happened, but what I cling to is the hope that he’s just still hunting and has found a kind soul to feed him who doesn’t yet know my pal is gone. Every morning I wake up and run to the window, hoping to see him prancing across the lawn. Every evening I stand on the hill and call, hoping he’ll hear me and decide to come home.
     I should have kept him tied. His mother and aunt are tied and only leave the chains to hunt or trade off for a day of freedom. Our chains are long and light. The dogs can touch noses and have plenty of water and shade, chickens to watch and a good ear-scratching each night as they are fed. But, still, I hate a dog on a chain. Gus was free because he was my buddy, and now he’s gone and I miss him very much.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Staff of Life

     The bread I had for supper was over forty years old and still moist and delicious. The sourdough starter that I used to make it was given to me by my dear friend Lucy, who brought it to Virginia with her in 1978. She doesn’t know how old her starter was because it was given to her by a friend who may have gotten it from another friend and so on. I like to imagine that perhaps there are some pioneer bacteria quietly exhaling CO2 into the jar where they rest in my fridge.
     I had never tried to make bread with sourdough starter before Lucy graced me with a jar and at first I was a little nervous. I didn’t want to be the person who let the legacy expire. But it turns out that sourdough critters are very forgiving. They languish in my fridge for up to a week at a time requiring nothing from me at all. On Friday nights, I take them out, feed them a little flour and water, and let them warm to room temperature until they are waltzing with the wild yeasts that live among them and pumping up their respiration a bit. In return for the favor, they raise my sponge ( a technical bread term for the bowl of warm fermenting batter). The beauty of sourdough is that I can let the sponge rise all night. In the morning I add more flour, some oil, salt, sugar and water and knead it to a spankable softness, that slowly burps and gurgles in my big bowl all day until it is double in size. If I’m not ready to bake bread on Saturday night, I just punch it down and let it rise again until Sunday morning when I make fresh rolls for breakfast.
     When I first moved to the mountains I really didn’t know much about cooking at all. Determined to impress Joe, I made bread one Saturday afternoon right after we met. While the flour floating around in the air was light and fluffy, my bread was not. I worked for years trying out different recipes and never coming close to the moist, light bread that my mother in law turned out consistently week after week. She didn’t have a recipe because she’d been mixing bread in the same blue enamelware bowl since she was five years old. She just knew when it looked right.
     Yeasts are not patient. They rise fast and can overdevelop the gluten in the finished bread product if they aren’t monitored. When I discovered sourdough, I found my missing ingredient. It is slow and patient and very, very forgiving.

Jesus is often referred to as the “bread of life.” I’m sure He must be sourdough.