Monday, September 29, 2014

Riding the ridges for the Floyd library

Chuck Flynt and his wife Diane have done a lot of good in the places where they have lived and worked in North Carolina and Virginia over the years, and they've figured out interesting ways to make it fun, too.  Chuck turned 74 this year, and as he has in recent years, he invited his friends to ride along with him on a birthday run up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Chuck Flynt leads the 2014 Tour de Chuck out of the parking lot and on toward the Parkway

Chuck's offer was simple: For every mile you ride, we'll donate a dollar to the Jesse Peterman Memorial Library in Floyd. This year there were 22 riders.  They seemed to enjoy it. Got a lot of exercise on a beautiful day. And wound up doing a good deed for readers and fans of the library in these hills.
Getting ready to go

And here's the amazing thing: Chuck rides a mile for every one of his birthdays. A number of his friends join him in that, but others are more suited to shorter rides.  Diane aims for 40, she says -- a good age and a good number.  
Diane pedals out front with the Lap Dogs

The Flynts have ridden in a lot of places, and often invite new friends to the Blue Ridge to visit -- and to ride.  "We were especially happy that Larry Stark joined us from Denver and Jenny Turek from Marin County," Diane said in an e-mail Monday. "We met these two on our Spain Backroads trip and they made the trek to VA just for the birthday ride. We met two other bike riding couples from PA who will come next year, when we will avoid the Jewish holiday and leaf season both, somehow."
Not a Le Mans start, exactly, but getting going just the same

Jim Newlin, pulling out smiling

I popped by a parking lot near Mabry Mill on the Parkway Sunday morning to shoot some photos and see the long riders -- the Big Dogs -- off in their northern run up beyond Rakes Mill and back, a total of 28 miles. Later I dropped in on the mid-morning start of the southern leg down to Groundhog Mountain and on to Fancy Gap with the Lap Dogs and (Diane said she couldn't help it) the Puppy Dogs, who could ride the 26 miles to Ground Hog and back or the 46 miles to Fancy Gap and back.  
Diane, Susan Icove (center) and Mary Ann Koch, about set to go

In all the riders chalked up 1,195 miles, the most posted in the three years that Chuck has used his birthday ride to raise money for the library.  In 2012, the Flynts donated $1,005 for the mileage ridden. Last year, the total was $707. It's beginning to build up nicely. "That adds up to $2970 wonderful,  much-needed and appreciated dollars for the library," Cathy Whitten, library branch manager for the Jessie Peterman Library, emailed me this morning. "We are so grateful to all of you who ride and donate.  It’s just the most delightful thing to us that you all would do this!
Most of the riders in this year's Tour de Chuck, at Groundhog Mountain Sunday. Don't know who took this picture, but it's a good one. That's Chuck and Diane in the lower right, front row.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

How 'bout these apples?

It's been a pretty good garden year up here in the hills, particularly for the aging apple trees put in the ground many decades ago by the Woods and the Conners and other farming folk who lived on this property. Most years the crop, if that's the right word, is puny.   This year, by comparison, has been bountiful. 

We picked some yesterday from our best two trees, high above (well, ok, up the hill from) the pond. The first batch tasted to me like golden delicious and our friend Sandy Dupont thought they were closer to a Granny Smith, so for now we're calling them a golden granny. They had a lot of spots and zits and dings and blemished on them, but they were good. Martha B. made apple crunch and served them under a big scoop of gelato.  Mighty fine.  Here's a look into the five-gallon bucket:

The second batch wasn't as good, but also was more golden than red.  All these apples seem to be blushing somehow.  Dunno what this one is. A grouchy granny, maybe.

Then there was the third tree, way down the hill that had just a few more greens in it, in the egg basket on the left.

And finally there was the tree across the creek that had some red apples, on the right, above. Some of them were misshapen, but so am I, so what the heck. 

Oh, three other apples arrived -- with a new tree that I picked up from Slaughter's Nursery in the spring. Had three blooms on it.  In late August it delivered three apples, smallish but good.  That's the apply farm report for 2014.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gentleman George Hamilton IV, gone too soon

It would have been the summer of  '63, when my pal Fred Birdsong came by the house.  His father was an executive with Blue Bell, at the time one of the world's largest denim manufacturers, and the president of the company had asked a fellow from Winston-Salem to drop by the next evening and sing a few songs for a few friends and family.

I didn't know it at the time, but the company president's daughter was confined to a wheel chair, and this fellow from Winston-Salem had a big hit going.  It was a country song, and while I wasn't into country music yet, I had heard it a time or two on the radio and liked it. It would be a huge crossover hit.

I had never been in the home of Rodger LeMatty before, though I went by it several times a day going to and from Page High School. It was a big white house with columns at the corner of Cornwallis and Elmwood, a couple blocks from a girl I was sweet on.  I was working at a day camp that summer, and just had time to clean up a little before getting to the LeMatty's house at the right time.  Fred and I found seats on the floor, the thickest white rug I had ever seen.

I've had the same feeling a time or two, when the lights went down at the Majestic Theater in New York and the organ began rattling  the walls and tinkling the chandelier in the open moments of "Phantom of the Opera,"  and another time in Arizona when I heard the Kingston Trio's George Grove belting out the first chorus of a song I had written with Wood Allen a few months earlier.   Absolute chills, combined with what felt like partial levitation. Hard to describe it right, but what I heard that evening in the LeMatty home made me want to be in show business.

I don't remember the other songs that George Hamilton IV sang that night.  Probably his 1956 hit, "A Rose and a Baby Ruth" was one of them.  Maybe "To You And Yours (From Me and Mine)."  Could have been "If You Don't Know I Ain't Gonna Tell You."  But I will never forget hearing this short, simple song, a man singing about a place he missed:  Abilene.

It's an eternal theme in a lot of genres.  Performer hits it big, goes off to the crowded city, enjoys the high life, but things aren't always right, people aren't always nice, nothing like back home.  If there's anything wrong with that song, it's that it's just two short.   Just two verses, and before you know it, the song is over, and there you are wanting more.  But maybe the genius of the song is that it was short and to the point, and didn't need anything else.

They say the song was written about a town in Abilene, Kansas.  But every time I've heard it since then -- and every time I've sung it -- it has simply been about a place back home.   I don't know if Hamilton thought of the leafy street he grew up on in the Ardmore section of Winston-Salem when he sang it, but I'll bet it crossed his mind more than once, even as he took country music around the world and delighted audiences everywhere.

I only saw Hamilton that one time, and was sad to read about his death Wednesday in Nashville. From everything I've ever read about him, he was the genuine article -- a low-key, easy-going, charming gentleman, generous with his time, warm in his words and his smiles and his handshakes. I have read about a lot of stars in the music and entertainment world, and some of them are not the kind of person you want in your living room for long.  Some are.  George Hamilton IV always was one of them.

The words:

Abilene, Abilene
Prettiest town I've ever seen
Women there don't treat you mean
In Abilene, my Abilene

I sit alone most every night
Watch those trains pull out of sight
Don't I wish they were
Carrying me back to Abilene, My Abilene.

Crowded city ain't nothing free
Nothing in this town for me
Wish to the Lord that I could be
 in Abilene, Sweet Abilene.

Women there don't treat you mean
In Abilene, my Abilene

-- Bob Gibson, Lester Brown and John D. Loudermilk

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Still awaiting that call up to The Show

Oh, Doctor!, as Red Barber often marveled in his radio career.  Who'd have thunk that the Washington Nationals of the National League and the Baltimore Orioles of the American League would each clinch their division titles on the same night?  It happened last night, as the O's whipped the Blue Jays and the Nats bombed the Braves once again in a runaway second half of the season that has prompted speculation about a Birds-Nats World Series.  Both teams are red hot and a joy to follow.

It's almost too much for a dedicated fan of each team.  If Lewis Carroll had been a baseball fan, he might have used this phrase instead of merely putting it in a poem: "O, frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"

This is about the time of year that I used to wait for the phone to ring.  A college pal and I used to joke about it -- it would be Earl Weaver on the line, asking us to report to Baltimore as quickly as we could get up there to help the big team into the playoffs and on to the World Series.   "How's your arm?" we'd ask one another every few days.  "Threw my warmups this morning," the other might respond. "Fastball felt like a rocket...."

This was pure Walter Mittyism at its most ridiculous extension, of course.  I haven't played anything approaching organized baseball since I was a small boy with dreams of pitching for the Dodgers, and only one thing stood between me and the majors: Talent.  Just had none.

Well, I did have a wild arm, and a lot of professional baseball players have had them, but at least they had other qualities -- the ability to stand in to a 95 mph pitch, or to catch a blazing grounder and get it to first in time, or run like a scalded jackrabbit and steal second any time they wished. 

But I did have couple uniforms -- a heavy flannel Dodgers road gray uniform from Manny's Baseball Land, that my fan club gave me for a birthday present one year just in case the newspaper career thing went bad, and a lightweight Orioles home getup just in case Earl Weaver lost his mind and got me mixed up with someone who really could pitch in the fall campaign. 

Not sure what happened to those uniforms, but I still have the caps -- a Baltimore cap from the 1970s, and a more recent Washington cap after baseball came back to the capital. So if by chance I score a ticket for the playoffs of either team, I'll be ready to move on up.  And if by long-shot fortune the Birds and the Nats wind up in some sort of Beltway World Series,  I may have to shell out the big bucks for one of those satin-jacket warmup rigs to get ready for my first Series start.

Now, if I can just find my old glove, I may go down to the barn in a little bit and paint a strike zone on the side of the tractor shed, get in a little throwing time, brush up on my curve and my slurve and my dipsy doodle.  You just never know when you might need a trick pitch.  Wait, was that the phone ringing....?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Run for your life! Here come the weeds!

Up here on the top of Belcher Mountain, we have a short growing season, and it's a good thing, too. Otherwise we would have disappeared long ago under a mountain of greenbriar vines, crabgrass, squash vines, orchard grass, cucumber vines, timothy, tomato vines, locust shoots, dill weed, alfalfa, hawthorn, and new varieties of ill-tempered weeds that science has yet to discover. Well, ok, seems like it anyway.

But lest it seem like I'm complaining, let me take it all back. It has been marvellous to watch, this past month as the garden down by the creek started coming in like the legendary Wabash Cannonball came into the station -- with a rumble and a roar, if not exactly a jingle, too.  It took a while to get up steam, though. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, cukes and a half dozen other things that were planted in June sat there for a couple of months, pretty much ignoring the careful ministrations of this, that and the other: cool spring water piped in on a gravity-fed line from the old springhouse, a king's ransom in some of the prettiest compost you ever saw, careful additions of an organic fertilizer that looked like thin sand and cost roughly the same as gold dust.

The weather never really got hot, so it took a while for these plants to absorb enough sun to begin measuring up. Then shortly after July 4 we began getting some regular afternoon rains, and by the first week in August, everything was coming in like crazy.  (Well, ok, not the corn.  The corn we planted in late May, and which had begun pushing up before we left for a long trip, turned into a buffet for the crows, or some kind of bird. When we got back, there were maybe 21 pathetic stalks left, and so they have remained ever since, bedraggled sentinels reminding us of the folly of turning our backs on the predators nature sends us to remind us not to get too swelled-headed about our ability to squeeze food out of the ground.  Something got the eggplant we put out too, come to think of it. It has been so long.)

But otherwise it has been a month of bounty -- and of pulling weeds and mowing the tall grass and trying to keep up with the high tide of produce.  The tomatoes have been especially good -- anatomically correct Dolly Partons, nice red German Johnsons and hundreds and hundreds of cocktail tomatoes that have graced our plates for weeks on end.  The cucumbers now mostly repose in jars of bread-and-butter pickles.  The zukes and the yellow squash have made wonderful casseroles, and lot more went into freeze bags for the winter.  The banana peppers are rolling in at an unholy rate, some of the hotter ones destined to be pickled this afternoon, and the green peppers have been hollowed and stuffed and packed off to the freezer for dim evenings in January and February.  The potatoes have finally all been grabbled out, dusted off and put up in baskets under the house. We might even pick a pot of okra if the drizzle lets up.

It only took about 15 months of fence-building to cut down on the daily visits by bunnies and other critters of the fields and woods.  A neighbor reminds me that we've probably only insured that the rabbits cannot get out once they figure out how to get in, and that the deer will hop about anything we put up or else they'll just bull their way through. Maybe. But we put in about 270 feet of field fence stretched around new 6" posts. We topped that with another couple of feet of barbed wire -- my friends down home know it as bobwar -- and still something was getting in. So we ran through another 270 feet of 1-inch chicken wire, using about 1,500 zip strips to fasten it against the sturdier field fence, to further discourage the bunny invasion. We buried the bottom 6 inches or so of the chicken wire in the ground and piled on a goodly percentage of the million-or-so stones that my in-laws hauled out of the garden when they tilled each spring for going on 40 years.

I won't say it'll keep everything out of the garden.  I do expect it will slow unauthorized animals down at least a little until the pickins get slim and the frost takes the rest.  On the other hand, I also expect the deer will be up here by the house, gnawing down liriope and the last of the day lillies and whatever else they choose for a snack. Well, shoot, everybody's got to eat.