Saturday, February 22, 2014

A mule, a bugle and an ill-fated political career, shot to pieces

   Earlier this week I saw the sad news that Winnie Wood, widow of one-time N.C. gubernatorial candidate George Wood of Camden County, had died.  Mrs. Wood was an accomplished woman with a wide array of interests in education, the arts, history, children, politics, the Democratic Party and the Presbyterian church. She served her state and her country well, as did her husband, a former legislator, farmer and education leader in North Carolina.

And yet I had heard the following story for many years -- first printed, I believe, decades ago in Richard Walser's book "Tar Heel Laughter."  I always thought the Mrs. George Wood referred to in the story was Winnie Wood, but that couldn't be, as the story has her being deceased years ago, while our Winnie Wood lived to be 85 and died just last week.

Still, I can't help but pass along this story about Horace the mule, a certain hunting bugle, a misplaced dose of medicine and a bridgetender on the Intracoastal Waterway whose hopes for a political career ended on strange afternoon.  It features a woman, sometimes referred in story-telling as Fan Lamb, proprietess of Greenfield Plantation.  Perhaps "Fanilamb,"  as she was sometimes known, was married to another George Wood of nearby Chowan County.  I don't know. 

But I do know the story -- reprinted in newspapers all over the Carolinas and Georgia for many years -- goes this way:

Mrs. George Wood, now deceased, of Chowan County, had a mule who was named Horace. On Christmas Eve, she called up Dr. Satterfield in Edenton and said to him, “Doctor, Horace is sick, and I wish you would come take a look at him.”

Dr. Satterfield said, “Oh, Fanilamb, its after 6 o’clock and I’m eating my Christmas Eve dinner. Give Horace a dose of mineral oil and if he isn’t all right in the morning, phone me and I’ll come out and take a look at him.”

“How’ll I give it to him?” she inquired.

“Through a funnel,” replied the good doctor.

“He might bite me!” she protested.

“Oh, Fanilamb — you’re a farm woman, and you know about these things. Give it to him through the other end.”

So Fanilamb went out to the barn, and there stood Horace, with his head held down, just moaning and groaning.

She looked around for a funnel, but the nearest thing she could see to one was her Uncle Bill’s fox-hunting horn, hanging on the wall, a gold-plated instrument with gold tassels hanging from it.

She took the horn and affixed it properly. Horace turned his head, but paid no attention.

Then she reached up on the shelf where medicines for the farm animals were kept. But instead of picking up the mineral oil, she picked up a bottle of turpentine and poured a liberal dose into the horn.

Horace raised his head with a sudden jerk. He let out a yell that could have been heard a mile away. He reared up on his hind legs, brought his front legs down, knocked out the side of the barn, jumped a five-foot fence and started down the road at a mad gallop.

Now Horace was in pain, so every few jumps he made, that horn would blow. All the dogs in the neighborhood knew that when that horn was blowing it meant that Uncle Bill was going fox hunting. So down the highway they went, close on Horace’s heels.

It was a marvelous sight! First, Horace — running at top speed; the horn, in a most unusual position, the mellow notes issuing therefrom; the tassels waving; and the dogs, barking joyously.

They passed by the home of Old Man Harvey Hogan, who was sitting on his front porch, well “into the cups” as they say down east. He hadn’t drawn a sober breath in 15 years, and he gazed in fascinated amazement at the sight that unfolded itself before his eyes.

Incidentally, Harvey is now head man of Alcoholics Anonymous in the Albemarle section of the state.

By this time it was good and dark. Horace and the dogs were approaching the Chowan River Bridge. The bridge-tender heard the horn blowing and figured a boat was approaching. So he hurriedly went out and uncranked the bridge.

Horace went over the edge, straight into the river and was drowned. The dogs jumped into the water after him, but they could swim and climbed out without much difficulty.

Now, it so happened that the bridge-tender was running for the office of Sheriff of Chowan County, but he managed to get only seven votes. The people figured that any man who didn’t know the difference between a mule with a horn up his rear and a boat coming down the Intracoastal Waterway wasn’t fit to hold any public office in Chowan County.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"... To watch his woods fill up with snow."

Robert Frost spoke these words 90-some years ago, and I thought about it as I watched our woods fill with snow over the past 22 hours.  The yardstick shows 13 inches had fallen by about 8 a.m., and minutes after I snapped these photos the snow poured down so hard we couldn't see the ridge to our east.
Looking down toward the barn
Facing SE. That's not the sun, but reflection from camera flash on the inside of a sliding door.

Looking NE along the path I cleared for Sadie, who mired up to her hubcaps when she needed to be outside.

Here's what Robert Frost wrote in full:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Murky flows the Dan

MEADOWS OF DAN, VA -- More than anything, I want to believe Paul Newton when he says his company will fix the damage it has done to the Dan River.  News reports say Newton, Duke Energy's president for utility operations in North Carolina, has apologized for the company's ash pond leak in Eden that has polluted the river for many miles. “You have our complete, 100 percent commitment to do it right,” Newton said. “We are accountable and we will make it right.”

Write that down. I have no doubt Newton means it when he says Duke will make it right. But Duke itself doesn't know what making it right will mean -- just as it did not know that it had a metal drain pipe underneath a large ash pond full of leftover coal ash from a closed power plant -- or that that metal pipe had corroded to the point that it allowed an estimated 82,000 tons of toxic coal ash slurry to flow into the Dan. The company knew pipes were there, but thought they were of reinforced concrete, not metal. The flow of waste into the river contains toxic metals including arsenic and lead.

In the news business, the 214-mile-long Dan has not previously attracted the kind of attention that New York's Hudson once got for pollution,  or Eastern North Carolina's Neuse River, where nutrient levels have been way too high during some periods, or Tennessee's Clinch River after a coal fly ash pond gave way a few years ago and sent an estimated 1.1 billion gallons downstream.

But the Dan is a fine river that deserved better than to have the accumulated waste of years of coal power generation polluting its bottom and clouding its water. To me, it's personal.  The Dan River is a constant up here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia.  The Dan rises as a little trickle, a seep, really in a cornfield one mile east of us on a farm once owned by our neighbors Euwell B. Handy and his wife Oma.  Within 1/4 mile it is flowing as a small stream, and another half mile west the creek that becomes the Dan backs up into the second pond on the Dan's upper reaches in the backyard of Barnie and Debbie Day.  All around us are other rushing, vibrant streams that begin as small springs or seeps or just wet places in a hollow, and all of them eventually wind up in the Dan somewhere down the way.

We live just over a ridge from the Dan's origin.  We have the second spring on the North Prong of the North Fork of the Smith River, which merges with the Dan in Eden. A mile or so south of us the Mayo River emerges under U.S. 58 and also flows into the Dan somewhere down the hill.

The Dan is not just a geological feature. It's the inspiration for the names of a number of villages and towns along the way. Start with Meadows of Dan, at the junction of the Blue Ridge Parkway and U.S. 58, which carries traffic to Norfolk in the East and Bristol in the West.  Follow the waterway down to Danbury, North Carolina.  And then miles east, through Mayodan, memorializing the confluence of the Mayo and the Dan.  And further downstream to Danville, where Dan River Mills was a major textile company for generations of Piedmont workers.

The Dan is picky about its route.  It crosses into North Carolina and then back into Virginia several times on its way before it eventually joins the huge Roanoke River Basin, which drains much of the Middle Atlantic Region before flowing into the Albemarle Sound and helping create the Atlantic.

Not many people realize that the upper reaches of the Dan provide power for the City of Danville, Two lakes and impressive concrete dams up in the Blue Ridge provide the water for a six-foot-high raceway down the mountain to Danville's hydroelectric plant in the Kibler Valley.  That flume once was made of wood, and you can still see segments of the old wood pipe in various places, including the grounds of the library in Stuart.  It's all steel now.

We've seen parts of the Dan up close. Felicia Shelor, the savvy businesswoman who owns The Poor Farmer's Market in Meadows of Dan, each March organizes a hike from the lower dam on the edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment down the mountain to the power plant.  It is like hiking in one afternoon from the gray landscape of winter into spring, where green leaves and wildflowers are popping along the river as it roars and splashes over its rocky course. It is gorgeous.

 All along the river, the Dan River Basin Association conducts hikes and canoe trips and promotes the health of the river and the best recreational uses.  It can show you ancient Indian fishing weirs as well as other spots along the river that mark fascinating chapters in history.  We've marveled at that even up here in the high reaches.  Alongside our creek two years ago, I pulled out of the dirt a stone axhead that I expect is thousands of years old. It was barely 200 feet down from from our springhouse, where bubbles up some of the best drinking water we've ever tasted.  It is a reminder that after thousands of years of human habitation up here, starting with Native Americans in antiquity and continuing in recent centuries with European settlers and their descendants, the water still runs off this mountainside fresh and clear on its way to the sea hundreds of miles to the east -- or was until the pipe broke. I hope Duke Energy means what it says about fixing the coal-ash pollution it has caused to this fine old waterway.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Living down to the hype

Worst Super Bowl ever -- unless you're a Seattle fan. Then it probably was a lot of fun. 

Worst Super Bowl ads ever. Period. Really. 

Most ridiculous outfit since Joe Namath wore panty hose decades ago: Joe Namath in that getup for the coin toss.

Best game of Super Bowl weekend:  Syracuse v. Duke men's basketball.  One writer said there'd never be as good a game ever again.  Probably won't -- at least until March, maybe April.  Having seen at least a dozen Games of the Century I expect there will be more to come.   Just keep Joe Namath's new coat out of it.