ROAD TRIP

We made it. One day and a bit of another driving, but here we are … the much vaunted Outer Banks of North Carolina : OBX , as you’ll see on bumper stickers. Why all the hubbub? What does this place have over other shore locations?

Truth be told, we were here six years ago, but felt the need to revisit that question. It’s probably safe to say that we were a little underwhelmed. Or perhaps we just didn’t fully appreciate the reason behind the popularity of this place as a destination : Parties. Big parties and ocean frontage galore.

We’d been here six years ago for a family reunion. 100 people were in attendance; several sub-families, if you will : us, The Tuckers, the Deelys, (Judy’s older sister was notably prolific ), the Freedmans (every family needs its Jewish variant ), the Kellys ( another prolific family) and, of course, the Hardings ( Judy’s brother’s family.)

So, yes, accommodating these big family gatherings is the Outer Bank’s niche. This year, the house we’ve rented sleeps 16, more than enough for our contingent. It’s newly built and beautiful. It has ocean frontage, its own path and stairs over the dune and to the beach . A sizable swimming pool is temperature controlled.

From a development and infrastructure standpoint, OBX is markedly more squared away, it seems, than six years ago. Also, there are future plans that bode well. In the meantime, I’ll just take a trip down to Duck Donuts to hold me over.

The Farmer’s Conundrum

It’s a simple farming story that, over the many years, has been told and told again. That doesn’t make the job any easier. After all, hot is hot. Temperature was in the mid-90s yesterday, perfect condition for an afternoon deluge.

Baling hay is, all too often, a nerve-racking matter of staying out in front of rain. Whether the hay is still in the windrow or baled, but still on the wagons, rain is the nemesis. Hay needs to be baled and under a roof ; so much easier said than done.

One wonders if the farmer is better served listening to his own instincts, rather than listening to the weather forecast. The forecast provides one guarantee : It changes hourly ! It sure did yesterday. Call it the farmer’s conundrum .

So there we were, seemingly ahead of the game with three wagons full of bales, the wagons still in the field. All that is needed now is help to stack in the mow, again easier said than done. It’s not as though the haymow crew is a group of seasoned professional hay stackers. They don’t commute a great distance to get to the farm. They don’t have 401Ks and pensions.

They are the help who you can get today, right now. They are the guys with whom you have a prior nexus. Guys who give a damn about helping out, guys who have your back. They are there with smiles on their faces, but it’s time to hustle. The wind is gyrating like it wants to storm.

Not all of the arranged help has arrived yet. Rather it be called all of the help that was attempted to be arranged. So, for the time being, a mow crew of two is doing their best on the first wagon. It’s an involved process for just two guys. It’ll be a long afternoon if no one else shows up.

No one else did. In fact, one had to leave, but by the grace of God another showed up. The two fellows in the mow worked ‘til all three wagons were finished; a long , sweat-drenched afternoon. Within two minutes of the final bale being hurled into the barn, the skies opened to let loose a wicked downpour.

It didn’t matter. The hay was in the barn. The farmer’s conundrum had transferred to the farmer’s kind fortune.

That same farmer was once disapprovingly asked why he never went to church.

“I do”, he replied, “all day long.”

WHAT’S WITH YOUR HANDWRITING ?

A discussion ensued this morning over coffee about the nuances of handwriting. Given that most everyone writes with a keyboard anymore, will handwriting devolve to the scrap heap ?

No, we’ll always hand write, right ? It’s not as though we’re all glued to a keyboard 24/7. A world without pens and pencils isn’t very likely, write ? I mean right ?

It seems that a little mystery is attached to handwriting. You and your brother went to the same grade school, but were taught handwriting by a different teacher. Why, then, is your handwriting almost exactly like your brother’s ? The suggestion, I guess, is that handwriting nuances are genetic, right ?

Wait a minute. How likely is that ? Your teacher instructed you on the formulation of each letter, not your grandma. She wasn’t even living when you learned your letters. How did genes get into the mix ?

I’ll go out on a limb here. My Mom got her elementary education at public school in Clinton, N.J. Fast forward 45 years. In my first book, I wrote about the day when she and Dad were out working in the garden . A strange car came down the lane.

Mom didn’t even know that she had a half-sister, but there she walked out into the garden. Long story short, Evelyne was born and raised in Paris.

After years of letter writing, Mom and Evelyne discovered their handwriting to be remarkably the same, indistinguishable between the two. Genes have nothing to do with it, eh ?

LIVIN’ ON LOCUST TIME

As June wanes, so do the much vaunted 17 year locusts that have provided their signature drone throughout the countryside for the better part of two months.

They’ve been relatively toned down as compared to ages past. I seem to recall times , especially in heavy woods, when they were so thick that a shovel was near necessary to clear them out of the way. To boot, their chant was near deafening and whole trees defoliated in record time.

Presumably this was what Moses warned the Pharaoh about in Exodus 10: 1-20, but I’m not the final word on that. I just know that these beady-eyed buggers have had their way with the land for a while, then they’ll go sleep it off for another 17 years, then hatch another batch.

Who else does that ? And by what quizzical mechanism? Think about it ! They kak out for 17 years then on the same damned morning of the same year, of the same month of the same week of the same day, quite suddenly, the woods are crawling with the things. If that isn’t divinely inspired, then what is ?

On a separate, but related matter, who first conceptualized the notion of eating these things ? I heard someone talking about it last night. Imagine! The new Captain Crunch. The breakfast of of champions. The new brand? LOCUTION. With milk and sugar, of course.

BERRIED

I would prefer to have witnessed the happenstance myself this morning rather than rely on Jude’s description of it, but I’ll try to capture the gist.

She was mowing the inside edge of the Baker Field which is one of our hayfields here at Tuckaway, named in recognition of the folks who owned it prior to us. Part of farm maintenance is the seasonal mowing of the hayfield edges , actually for two reasons.

First, the fields are surrounded by woods. Trees occasionally drop dead branches onto the ground which are then obscured by tall springtime grass. It behooves any farmer to check these edges for fallen branches prior to hay mowing. Either do that, or run those branches through your $25,000 discbine (mowing machine) which does NOT double as a wood chipper !

Second reason: the mowed edge makes for perfect horseback riding. Riding, of course, is what anyone of sound mind lives to do, so no further explanation needed here. The mowed edge path is only about six feet wide through the tall grass.

Anyway, Jude is pudding along this morning on her tractor and Bush Hog mower in the field . Note that I say ‘her’ tractor. We do have His and Her tractors . (You might consider this macho that hers is about 35 horsepower and mine is 70 ) Oh well, our job descriptions vary on the farm. Different jobs call for different machines.

Turns out that while mowing , Jude gets a little tangled in some wild berry bushes . The berries were bluish and apparently dead ripe. Unbeknownst to Jude, quite the volume of them were shaken from the bush and fell onto the tractor seat.

At length Jude detected a wetness in her seat and reached around to decipher what was happening, only to discover that she was sitting in a pool of berry juice that her butt had so expertly squished. Ah, the lyrics that could be written for the new tune: Blue Berry Butt Blues.

I’ll save that for another day !

CACOPHONY

My afternoon baseball game just went sour, so what better option than to stifle the tube and retire outside to the writer’s perch.

At 3:10 P.M. the day has about reached as warm as it will get. It is borderline hot , but it is remarkably loud. No, it’s not traffic noise. In fact, there is no traffic . How then is it loud ?

For starters, the whirring, blurring drone that won’t be heard again for 17 years. I trust that that is sufficient hint . If not, study up, dear reader. These locusts are of biblical fame, you know !

Yes, they are monotone, but if you listen carefully one of them will tangent off to its own little variant that sounds sorta funky. Who knows ? It’s probably the same one that in the next minute will go flying into the side of your head at reckless speed , then fall sputtering to the ground on its back, lifeless forever more ! Such drama , comical abandon.

Speak up , soft speaker, if you wish to be heard ! There are other guests at this party. It is becoming more difficult to hear you. This is the middle of the woods . The birds are chirping, too. A nearby woodpecker is barely audible, despite the echo from his tough old Hickory tree.

The locusts supply the base in today’s bucolic symphony. Next in the blend are the cicadas, notably different from their locust brethren, but when mixed, this is where the L word becomes real. Real loud.

One might think that the cicadas brought their castanets with them to the woods. Their sound is notably percussive. How do they do that, anyway ?

Not to be outdone, Mr. Bullfrog tunes up ! He is sooooo baritone. He surely has a part in this afternoon’s orchestra. What would all of these insects and birds do without a contribution from the pond ? Again, part of nature’s balance that many a less than practiced ear takes for granted.

My train of thought is suddenly disturbed by an unsettling notion. Upon the next occurrence of these beady-eyed locusts, my trajectory suggests that I will have reached the tender age of 84. DAMN ! I may be truncated before then.

What are my chances of convincing these locusts to shake a leg the next time around ? Is a 17 year repose really necessary ? I’ve always treated you locusts well, you know. All I’m asking is to hear Locust & Fugue In D Minor once more.

NASHVILLE NUGGETS

If you are a musician, you’re well aware that the town has long since been dubbed , “Music City”. No wonder. Nashville is home to the Ryman Auditorium , the Grand Ole Opry, a plethora of recording studios and ,Lord knows , thousands of musicians.

Then again, if you’re a hockey fan, you might well call the town SMASHVILLE. No wonder. Nashville is home to the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators, competing in the central division.

Being a touristy town, there are all sorts of retro-fitted busses or wagons that haul half-drunken revelers up and down the streets, such that their party may progress even while it’s moving. One such rig even has its own swimming pool.

Of course, you already know where this is going. A sign labels this mobile party unit : SPLASHVILLE.

Oh well. How many variations on this theme ? If there was a fire in town, the headline seems likely to read: ASHVILLE.

Corny stuff aside, Nashville has much to crow about. This city is growing exponentially. There are construction cranes everywhere , lurking like giant dragons above their sites and ready to shape another architectural achievement. The city is abounding with them, slowly evolving into one attractive place to live.

MUSINGS OVER BELL BUCKLE

It doesn’t happen everywhere, but there is a palpable presence in this tiny whistle stop . It captures me with each visit. Apparently, lots of folks are affected the same way. They flock here from far and wide.

Why ? What is the proverbial common denominator about the place ?Well, it’s not complicated. People are here to enjoy themselves in country comfort . That is the pass time in Bell Buckle. It’s what people do when they’re here.

There’s a whole string of shops to delight the ladies, even with the occasional hubby in tow. Not all of them, however. Some gents opt to select one of the rockers on the sidewalk in front of the cafe . A seriously tasty lunch is in the offing and they know it. The Bell Buckle Cafe is legendary in middle Tennessee.

Yesterday I plunked myself down on one of those rockers, of a mind to just absorb the scene for a bit. The fellow next to me was equally comported. Our conversation was immediately a vigorous one, laced with snippets of good humor. We both surmised that if we kept at it, we’d solve the problems of the world right there on the sidewalk planks of Bell Buckle.

Of course, we’d never met, but the chap in the third rocker would never know that. He was overhearing a conversation between two unacquainted, but kindred spirits who sought nothing else but to drink in the soft influences of this dreamy day. Our chat was the stuff of Bell Buckle.

In short order the train rumbled through town. It evoked a Johnny Cash lyric when “its whistle broke into a scream.” We gents on the rockers had no choice but to quell our banter for a bit. The caboose indicated the time to re-join.

One could drive further out of town, over even less trodden trails. They might land you in Wartrace, which renders scant clues as to what has happened here over the years. Not a lot of anything happens there now, but it’s a pretty drive to get there. Wide open country !

Then there’s Bugscuffle . That’s right. Bugscuffle. This place defies identity even though it’s on the map. There is one vague certainty about the place: you’ll certainly be unsure where it is even though you’ve scrupulously followed the map !

From what did Bugscuffle derive its curious name ? I’ve never ventured the research. I can only guess that it was somewhere in a Fairy Tale. It is naught but open country when you’ve arrived, leaving inquisitive minds open to erratic speculation.

UNEXPECTED VISIT

The truth is I was napping,

And so faintly he came tapping,

As of someone gently rapping,

Tapping at my chamber door.

I’m always looking for the chance to paraphrase Poe. It happened yesterday, mid-morning. There was my old buddy, Marvin Segreaves, knocking at my door.

Marvin would agree with me. At the tender age of 94, there is license to refer to him as old. He wouldn’t get his knickers in a twist over it.. He knows he’s old . He’s a walking history book, and proud of it.

Marvin was accompanied by township Committeeman, Jim Kieran. The two of them are good buds, also. It’s not as though Marvin has any compulsion to hang out with politicians. It’s just a local friends thing. They sat in our living room and we all chatted for an hour or so.

So what brought Marvin to our neck of the woods ? Coyote hunting.

That’s right. . It’s a common pastime for most any 94 year old. The temperature was borderline hot, perfect weather for the elder woodsman to work up a good sweat.

They’d already gone hunting. No luck. Coyotes are a tough hunt.

Marvin has a sort of nervous verbal tick. In conversation, he repeatedly asks, “know what I mean ?” Invariably we got to talking about the old days. Like so many men locally, he worked “down to the mill.” That was, of course, the recently razed Curtis Paper Mill. Know what I mean ?

Marvin wasn’t a farmer, though he owned 150 or so acres. Local chaps tilled his ground and paid him rent. It occurs to me, as it did to Marvin many decades ago, that that’s a much easier way to farm. But, some of us are a little slow on the take. Know what I mean ?

Eventually it came time for Marvin and Jim to get on down the road. As their truck disappeared into the woods I had a melancholy thought. I’ll only get so many more visits from my good friend Marvin. And what a friend he’s been over the years.

They don’t make them like Marvin anymore. Know what I mean ?