Thursday, October 29, 2020


I have written two Halloween rhymes for your amusement. I am rising to a challenge posted on Susanna Leonard Hill's website  (Halloweensie Contest) to write a story for children that is under a 100 words. It must include some form of the words "skeleton", "mask" and "creep". I wrote two. Hope you enjoy.


by Ginny Neil

Grab your mask. Let’s trick-or-treat,
down this creepy, spooky street.
We’ll ask for something good to eat,
at the witch’s door.
She’ll open it and offer things,
like crispy, crunchy bug wing-dings,   
or battered deep-fried fruit-bat wings.
We’ll smile and ask for more.
We’ll sample sun-dried bison chips,
or maybe chewy hippo lips
dipped in pureed python hips,
or snack on slug fillet.
We’ll be polite, won’t eat and run.
She’ll serve dessert when we are done.
Some crunchy, sugared skeleton,
or toad with warts flambé.
Then, we’ll decide.
What did we eat?
A gory trick
or gourmet treat?


by Ginny Neil

A skeleton’s job on Halloween night

is making kids scream with terrible fright.

But this Halloween, poor skeleton stumbled, 

as he crept down the hill, getting totally jumbled.

Now, eletonks’ bones are all out of place.

A mask full of tarsals makes up his face.

His femurs are feet. His skull’s near his knee.

His spine’s tangled up where his left arm should be.

His fidgety fingers hang down from his thighs,

and two broken ribs poke out of his eyes.

So, giggle at eletonks. Trust me you’d tremble

if skeleton’s bones could just


Thursday, June 4, 2020

Riding in Trucks

This is a re-write of an oldie but goodie. It's still true.

     My boys started making engine sounds as soon as they could talk. Their forks were bulldozers at the supper table, their hands were boats in the bathtub, and their bodies were race-cars in the supermarket aisles.
     I have never understood this fascination with all things motor. I prefer to ride something that breathes, so I bought a couple of  horses in hopes that I could bond with my two motor-heads, After a season or two of trotting and cantering they abandoned me for the four- wheeler. My oldest explained it this way. “Horses buck, engines don't."
      I beg to differ. A horse wants to stay upright as much as I do, but a lawn mower doesn’t care if it lives or dies. That’s why I never drive one on the side of a slope. A lawn mower can definitely buck you off, and then cut your foot off for spite.
      I once dated a fellow who loved bucking souped-up trucks across impossible slopes covered in rocks and mud. I rode with him, once. He yee-ha’d as we skidded sideways down a 90 degree incline and climbed cow-sized rocks while I pressed my knees against the dashboard, clenched the door handle and prepared to dismount as soon as the wheels stopped spinning.
     When I married My Own Farmer, I never guessed he came complete with a variety of motor-induced hazards. We’d be skidding along a comfortable, horizontal track in knee-deep snow as we carried hay out to the cows, when suddenly he would point the nose of the truck uphill and start digging a path to the top through the ten foot drifts.  The whine of the engine was always drowned out by the whine of his wife as we topped the rise.
     On another occasion, My Own Farmer offered me the chance to go along with him and spread some lime. His poetic descriptions of the vistas I would see, outweighed my common sense and I probably would have enjoyed the scenery if I had ever opened my eyes.
     Dangers lurk right outside my door, as well. Just yesterday, after mucking out the chicken house, I asked my husband to help me spread some of the litter and manure. When we got halfway down the driveway, he dropped the truck into low range. I looked at him suspiciously. “I thought we were going to spread this on that nice flat meadow in front of the house.” In answer, he turned the truck straight up the tallest hill.  “It will do the most good here,” he replied. 
     It’s been raining a lot lately so of course we hung up in thick mud creeping down the side of the ridge. “Now, we’ll see what this baby can do,” my motor-head hubby laughed. 
      “This baby is going to hit you if you don’t let me out,” I replied, but by that time, we had managed to spin our way through the muck to solid ground.
     We rode up the hill the rest of the way in silence. My eyes were closed and I was too busy praying to engage in frivolous conversation. When we finished forking the last bit of manure off, I walked down. 
     After years of riding along with him, I knew my husband would bring the truck off of the hill safely. But, he could concentrate better if I wasn’t screaming all the way down.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

A Perfect Afternoon

     The weather today was just right for burning the last of the garden debris. Temperature in the upper thirties with a light wind blowing south so the smoke and sparks would flow out over the garden and not toward the house.
     After I raked the dry zinnia stalks into a pile and then pulled up the soggy cardboard mulch, I twisted a piece of newspaper and shoved it in the driest part. One match later, smoke curled up from the edges of the haphazard pile and then twisted as the wind picked up. That wind was important for getting the wet cardboard to burn, and soon I had a roaring fire.
     I could see vehicles pausing as they raced down the road a quarter mile across the field in front of my house. Wet debris burns with a great deal of smoke, and I'm sure the drivers were wondering what was on fire. I considered trying to send some smoke signals to let them know everything was under control, but had to be content with the fact that I was wearing a blaze orange hoodie, and they could probably see me moving around from the road.
     In an hour, the pile was reduced to fine ash, a perfect supplement for spreading out on the garden to add minerals to the soil.

As I sat there, with the last of the heat warming my face, I heard a small whistle and then a fluttery beating of wings. A gray-backed, butternut-chested, tufted titmouse landed on one of the sunflower plants drooping on the edge of the garden and studied me. I think he was hoping I'd leave. My bright orange coat must have puzzled him.

     I did leave, but returned a minute later with camera in hand. It took the curious little bird and his twitter-pated cousins about fifteen minutes to decide that the big orange blob sitting under the stalks was harmless.
      Soon, the air was full of fluttering and singing as the little birds gathered enough courage to land on the burgeoning heads and dig for seeds.
     I think that there can't be anything more perfect than sitting in the golden light of a fading fall afternoon and watching nuthatches dig into sunflower heads, tossing debris left and right as they pry out their supper.  As soon as a seed was firmly pinched between upper and lower bill, the little birds leaped into the air and in their peculiar up-down, up-down manner of flight made their way to the wooden slats of the grape vine where they, tap, tap, tapped until they broke open their particular seed.

As more birds discovered the bounty, some jostling and flapping helped establish the pecking order.

I watched the show for as long as my rear end could handle the cold ground. Before leaving, I took a look at the bird's handiwork. There were still enough seeds left for another day or two of fun.

I gathered a few for myself and then slipped inside to warm up by the woodstove. Even five hours later, my shirt still carries the sweet scent of smoke. Today, I stored up a treasure of memories against the day in the future when I can no longer sit on cold ground and watch earnest little birds making a living in the remnants of my summer garden.

Monday, September 16, 2019

When Out on the Hills There Arose Such a Clatter

     At four o'clock in the morning, Joe and I both sat bolt upright in our bed. He scrambled for slippers, taking time to also pull on pants and a shirt, while I, in only my flimsy nightgown, bounded down the steps, stepped into my boots and ran outside.
     When I stepped out with my oversize flashlight, the cacophony of snarling and howling stopped. Coyotes.
     This is the second time in two weeks we've been awakened this way, but this time was worse. We had heard both of our dogs hunting rabbits near the house when we first jumped up. Now, there was nothing but silence.
    Just last week, our neighbor, Mike, lost a beloved old dog to a pack of coyotes. He told me that he, too, awakened to clamor and went outside. Unlike us, he spotted the three coyotes circling one of his dogs. Mike called the dog to the house and then went inside for a gun. When he returned, the coyotes had vanished. The next morning he found his beloved older dog dead right where the coyotes had been. He'd forgotten she was outside.
     The eerie silence following such intense pack-noise put my hackles up as I thought about Mike's dog. Luke, one of my beagles, came running, but the other was absent and silent. We searched for forty-five minutes, our flashlights stabbing deep into the shadowed woods but no dog answered our call.
     The story has a happy ending. Rex, the other dog, was curled up in the flowerbed next to the house when we returned.
     But, three nights ago, a lamb didn't have such a happy ending. When I hear eagles crying and see vultures circle, it usually means that there's been an animal death somewhere on the farm, so when we heard eagles that afternoon, we jumped in the truck and went for a look-see.
     There were four or five vultures riding the currents above the hill across the road and when we crested it and then pulled partially down the other side, the whoosh and flap of eagles rising up through the trees drew us to the site.
    One of our lambs lay, ribs exposed, in a ditch next to a culvert. The flies were making a meal, but I have a fairly good tolerance for stink, so I walked over and prodded the carcass with a stick. When the lambs eyeless head rolled back, I spotted the tell-tale toothmarks. She'd been bitten and strangled by a coyote.
     This is not the first time I've written about coyotes.( The Coyote Tree) While I am such a big fan of nature and all things outside, coyotes are not on my favorites list.  I've told this story in graphic detail because that's the way it happened and it explains why I'm frustrated by those who have lobbied to no longer allow us to set poisonous traps for the coyotes because someone's dog found one and died when he bit into it.
     We lose an average of 15 to 25 lambs a year to coyotes and as I said in my previous post, the lambs are not eaten, just slaughtered and nibbled on. Senseless waste.
     We've noticed that the coyotes around here are getting bolder. Neighbor Dennis shot at some in his front yard the other night. He thought maybe they had come looking for his cats. I told my husband that when I moved to the mountains I never envisioned the bear and coyotes being such cozy neighbors. I am frightened to go out at night without a dog and a flashlight.
     It seems to me that more and more people have become "Bambi-ized." All furry critters are cute and the humans trying to make a living in spite of them are the enemy. Tell that to my farmer friends who've lost acres of corn to raccoons and bears that they can't get permits to shoot. 
     When a predator, in the wild kills another animal, it's considered an act of nature. When a human kills an animal it's considered a crime. My daughter-in-law has a student who is serving jail time for killing a dog he knows was killing his sheep. After asking neighbors to please keep the dog away, the student took matters into his own hands the next time he saw the dog on his property. Now, he's in jail for a considerable amount of time.
     A child's life was worth less than the dog's.
     You, who've read other essays on my blog, know that I walk a line between absolute adoration of all things wild and a growing awareness that the world is not as pretty as I thought it was when my closest neighbors were all human.
     Right or wrong, I've changed. Last night proved it to me, again.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hanging On by a Thread

     Although I'm not always happy to see a spider, especially if I find her wandering around the kitchen, I am enraptured by the magic silk thread they spin.  Last spring, as I was perched on the hill above my house, I noticed glints and glimmers of light floating through the gold haze that signals afternoon is drawing to an end.
     I watched intently as more and more of these shimmers wafted across the field in front of me. They were the tiny silk parachutes of spiderlings, who drifted, legs outstretched, dangling and swinging in the softest breeze. If you have read Charlotte's Web then you know that each baby spider journeys away from home on the slenderest balloon the air can move.
     There were hundreds of them floating and landing, and two or three even ended up dangling from my hat brim before scurrying up and re-launching themselves. Now, if you hate spiders, you need to know that these creatures were no bigger than the head of a pin. Not very threatening at all.
     Spider webs are the most amazing material. My research revealed that they are built from sequences of proteins, are stored as a liquid concentrate in the spider's abdomen, are stronger, when compared by weight, than Kevlar, and the common garden spider can produce up to seven different kinds. Silk that is resistant to bacteria, silk that is sticky, silk that is smooth, silk that is less brittle and so on.
     But, it's the beauty of webs that captures my heart. I'll never forget the morning, twenty years ago, that I was walking up the side of a mountain. The fog hadn't burned off, and the sun was just brightening the world: a luminescence that briefly lit hundreds of spiral cobwebs spun in an old snag silhouetted against the lemon yellow fog. The webs, spangled with dew, looked like silver beaded necklaces and ornaments strung from twig to twig. I didn't have my camera, but I've spent the last twenty years prowling about with my camera on foggy mornings trying to find and capture that picture.
     The following series of pictures were caught on just such a morning. The fog didn't hang around, but the webs did, and until the sun peeked over the rim of the hill, they sparkled with droplets captured from the mist. I didn't find that elusive shot of a silk decorated snag, but the webs are still much to marvel at and remind me of the exquisite care God took as he created this world.


For the next picture, I waded through a field of tall grass to be positioned correctly for the rising sun.

I couldn't see them until I stood still, but when I did, I counted 15 within arm's reach.

The architects of my favorite spiral webs, hard at work repairing damage done through the night of trapping and eating their supper.

     Intent on being in position to photograph this web just as it was lit by the sun, I had missed seeing what I was wading through. A little disconcerted, I was wearing shorts after all, I picked my way carefully back through the grass and managed not to disturb any webs or pick up any eight-legged hitchikers. The spiders were probably more relieved than I was when I made it back un-silked and un-spidered.
     Although I didn't ultimately find the snaggy, silky picture I still dream about, I re-kindled my appreciation for how much of the world we don't see until we take time to stand still and notice. 



Sunday, July 21, 2019

Generally Important

This is a repost of something I wrote two years ago. It's still true and we've lost two more stores since I wrote it.

     In a place where not one box store exists and no grocery stores offer food or cleaning products, I am grateful for the small general stores that still dot the landscape.  Each valley sports at least one and locals know that there is more to them than meets the eye.
     My first introduction to the friendly service offered by our general stores came shortly after moving to Highland from the city.  I was accustomed to banks that had drive-through windows and late hours but our little bank hadn't acquired such a window. I discovered that it didn't matter when I began shopping at the H and H Cash Store, which was just a short walk from where I lived.  The owner offered credit.  I could walk in, pick up a few things I needed, and then ask Gaye or one of her sons to "just put it on the list."  At the end of the month or whenever I felt like it, I paid off my bill and they scratched my name out of the little notebook that they kept.
     Then one weekend, a friend asked me to travel over the mountains with her.  I didn't have a dime in my pockets and the banks were closed.  After pondering my dilemma for a few moments, I walked up the street to the H and H Cash.  "Gaye, have you ever considered letting someone have a little money on credit?"  I asked.
     She looked up from the sweatshirt she was stitching designs into (you could buy one of her handmade designs for just $8.00) and peered at me over her glasses.  Her blue eyes twinkled.  "How much do you need?" she asked.
     "Oh, I think ten dollars would do," I replied.
      Without another word, she opened the cash drawer, drew out a ten and handed it over.  Then she wrote my name in her little book.  "I know you're good for it," she said.
     That was my first introduction to the hidden charms of general stores.  I later discovered that H and H was also the place to drop off your dry cleaning, which would be picked up by a truck from over the mountains and returned clean and crisp a week later.  H and H Cash was a treasure cave of supplies.  The interior smelled of apples, onions and shoe leather.   If they didn't have what you needed hidden somewhere in one of the dark corners, then they would order it for you. They even carried topographic maps of the area.
      When I married My Farmer, I moved one valley east and discovered Ralston's Grocery.  Anna Lou also allowed credit and as an added bonus, the post office was located behind the south wall.  There was a little window with bars and lots of cute metal mail boxes.  Ralston's was the center of the Highland News Network.  I used to jokingly tell people that I first discovered I was pregnant when I heard it being discussed while picking up my mail.
     The store changed hands, becoming Stonewall Grocery, and the post office was forced by the government to move to new digs dedicated solely to sorting and stuffing.  But, Patsy and Linda, recognizing that there was still an unmet need began allowing people to leave messages for each other on their back counter. Not too long ago, a fellow offered a telescope for sale on Facebook.  I offered to buy it and he left it at Stonewall Grocery for me to pick up.  When he dropped it off, he exchanged it for an envelope I'd left for him with payment. You can't do that at the local Walmart.
    Stonewall Grocery is also a great place to pick up supper.  They offer Wonder Roast chickens for overworked housewives and they are so popular that you have to call ahead in the morning and reserve one for supper that night.  I have friends two valleys over, who will make a special trip just so they can enjoy the juicy goodness of a Wonder Roast.  Stonewall also has a deli and makes sandwiches, homemade brownies and fresh baked banana bread.  They even give up precious shelf space for a satellite of our local library so you can check out a book to read while you eat.
     Other general stores in the area meet different needs.  There are pizzas at one, chicken tenders at another and taco salads at a third.  If I want oysters for Christmas, I can order them from the Country Convenience in Blue Grass.  If I'm craving homemade bread, cookies or pies, Mountain Oasis bakes on Tuesdays and Fridays.They also sell outdoor wood furnaces and guns. If I want some of the best sharp cheddar cheese on the East Coast, then a stop at the little store in Headwaters is necessary.  Headwaters also offers really inexpensive bottles of water.  I asked about this and the owner said, "Well, people come here and they are thirsty.  There's no where else to get water, so it's a service I offer."  None of this is advertised.  Small businesses have a tiny profit margin and can't afford it.  But, word of mouth is enough.  You just have to live here long enough to find it all.
     Now some of the little stores are closing.  Our population is shrinking and there aren't enough people to spread the money around, although our swelling summer population helps.  The general store in Mill Gap will soon lock its doors.  They were the last outpost for a cold coke if you were travelling west over the mountains. Hightown lost its general store when the owner, Jacob Hevener, got too old to work there.  They used to offer Woolrich clothes and Red Wing shoes.  H and H Cash closed its doors three years ago.  I guess I won't be getting money on credit anymore.
     I recently discovered that every time I use a credit card, it costs the store where I use it two to three percent of the sale.  In addition, if my card awards points, the store pays for that, too.  Doesn't seem like much unless your bottom line is tiny anyway.  So, I have made it my mission to shop locally for everything I can buy and to pay cash for all of it.  One day when small stores have been forced out of business, we will miss them.  Not just for their convenience, but for the rich life they brought to our mountains and valleys.  For the friendly greetings, the community support and the ways they made our lives a little easier.  I hope that day never comes.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Antagonizing the Farm

Last weekend, My Own Farmer and I decided to take a short trip to the eastern side of the state to visit my sister, my brother and my dad for Father's Day. We slept in, since it felt like a holiday, and as I packed our small suitcase at eight o'clock that morning,  I thought that  we would have an hour for a leisurely breakfast and maybe we could even sit out on the porch and enjoy a slow cup of coffee before we left.

The thing is: a farm is a jealous mistress. She laughs at you when you start to plan. Then she throws obstacles in your way. As I folded the last pair of jeans, I heard cars honking out on the road in front of our house. A glance out the window confirmed my suspicions. The sheep we had herded back under the fence last night, were once again free-ranging the roadside. We had made repairs, but sheep are pretty good at finding a new hole.

There's no way we could leave town with our frisky flock foraging at will, so I hollered for My Own Farmer and we drove the half mile out, shooed the sheep back under the fence and did another quick  repair, crossing our fingers that it would hold until we returned.

We drove back to the house and I slipped out to check on the chickens and make sure they had enough food and water to last until we returned. All the chickens ran up when I called except one. She'd looked kind of poorly for a few days, but this morning the issue was obvious. Her crop was distended like a balloon and a quick check on the internet made it pretty clear that my only choice was to operate.

My Own Farmer and I gathered what we'd need. Sterilized surgical scissors, a syringe, warm water, needle, thread and a surgical clamp. He held her while I cut into the crop, used the clamp to pull a softball size mass of compacted grass out, squirted the opening clean with warm water and then stitched her back up.

We still had thirty minutes before we were slated to leave, but as I was pulling out some eggs for a quick fry, I heard a commotion out behind the house. The cows had knocked the chicken gate open and then bumped it shut, penning themselves in the chicken lot.

I headed out and after ten minutes of red-faced running, I pushed the cows back out the gate and shut it so they couldn't get back in. Back to the house, but no more time for breakfast or that leisurely cup of coffee. I made a quick clothing change and we were in the car only ten minutes later than we had planned. We picked up two sausage biscuits at the local mom and pop on the way out and enjoyed our leisurely cup of coffee on the road.

Sometimes my family wonders why I don't plan for vacations and visits months ahead of time. I know better than to antagonize the farm with foolish plans. It's always better to surprise her. Our chances of actually leaving are better that way.