Friday, April 30, 2010

Fridays are Golden

We spend many summer hours sitting on the screened porch. Safe from the insects, we are still in touch with nature, listening to the sounds and seeing the sights of the seasons. We are at eye level with some of the bird boxes and watch the residents coming and going. It's a great place to read, especially when it's raining.

We always felt a little guilty that the dogs had to lie on the hard planks. But the rain sometimes blows onto the porch so standard dog beds didn't seem practical. After some research we ordered a couple of canvas beds for the dogs. Placed near the edge, they would offer the dogs the opportunity to catch any breezes and to look down on the woods that make up our back yard.

The dogs are quite interested when we are on the porch. They do not like to be left inside.

With any new thing, the sniff test is always first.

Lucy decides that she doesn't like the new beds and doesn't understand what they are for, and has no desire to be near them. She walks away, disgusted with this surprise much like a child who gets pajamas for Christmas.

Ellie sits on one of the beds and decides she likes the feel of it.

Following Ellie's example, Lucy tries the other bed.

Lucy falls asleep. She still doesn't care all that much for the new bed. I think it's because she can't share the bed with Ellie.

As we enter this weekend, please give thought to the devastation of the Gulf oil spill. Devastation that we brought upon ourselves because of our steadfast refusal to conserve and sacrifice a little more. So this weekend (if not forever) carefully look at your own energy consumption. Look at ways to reduce your own carbon footprint.
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Minor and Major Frustrations

Sipping our morning coffee and still talking, my friend and I watched the dawn. Both of us saw something on the deck in the early light. It was climbing near the closed umbrella.

We have a large umbrella on a rolling plant stand. We use it when we are grilling in the rain. Otherwise, it stands idly in the corner. I grabbed the camera hoping to capture the small critter. Yep! It was another flying squirrel. Dang those little rascals. We are doing everything we properly can to discourage them, but we do live in the woods you know.

The squirrel had plans to climb inside the umbrella, perhaps to rest for the day.

He began to crawl inside, totally unaware of my presence.

He saw me and began to climb the outside of the umbrella.

He couldn't quite make it, and I photographed him in the act of falling down.

He landed on a footstool and scampered away before I could re-focus for a clear shot.

He quickly climbed to the deck railing and soared gracefully to a tree. Drat those things! They are really frustrating.

So, you might ask, what is the major frustration? It's the senseless and disastrous oil spill from the offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico. While I am pleased that the incident is being widely reported, my blood boils every time I see or hear any details about the spill and the havoc it is creating for the environment and for the economy. (You don't think for a moment the oil company is going to absorb the financial loss, do you?) And what about the destruction of the marine life? And the people whose very livelihoods depend on the marine life? And the birds who will be stuck in the sticky goo? And the people along the Gulf coast whose beaches will be covered? And the air pollution from the planned burn? I could go on and on.

Photograph from the Associated Press

Hey! Congress and President Obama...could you possibly re-think the expansion of offshore drilling? Oh, and you had better re-define the phrase "fail safe." Especially as used in the fail-safe robotic method of immediately capping these oil rigs at the source.

Monday, April 26, 2010


POTUS and FLOTUS vacationed in Western North Carolina this past weekend. Oh...that would be the President of the United States and the First Lady of the United States. On Friday afternoon they decided to do a bit of hiking on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Karen Russell, visiting our area from Ohio, happened to be hiking on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on Friday afternoon. Two men "with little pins and ear pieces" approached her, followed by more Secret Service agents.

The agents scanned her (with her permission) with a metal detecting wand and checked her pockets, waist pack, and camera. About that time, the President and First Lady came into view. Ms. Russell was stunned and reacted just like we would have by asking something like, "Are you who I think you are?"

Both photographs from the Asheville Citizen-Times

The Obamas greeted her and shook hands, chatting for a while. One of the agents took Ms. Russell's photograph with the Obamas. They wished her well, told her to have a nice day, and walked on.

Saturday morning Ms. Russell quietly came down for breakfast at the little inn where she was staying. The owner asked her what she did the day before. She told them she went hiking on the Parkway. Oh, she also mentioned that she met the President and First Lady. Needless to say, the guests were suitably impressed.

The meeting was on television with the caption, "Elderly Hiker Meets the Obamas." ELDERLY!!! Ms. Russell is 65!!! I don't know if she took offense at being called elderly, but I certainly did! I must admit, I don't know what constitutes "elderly," but it sure ain't 65!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Take in the Welcome Mat

It was a rare sighting at our house. Although Brown-headed Cowbirds are common in our area, we had not previously seen them. I was not very happy to find these brood parasites hanging around our little songbirds.

Two males stayed around most of the morning. We didn't see any females and by early afternoon the two males had left the area. We were glad to see them go.

We know they are simply living the best way they can but we are happy they have decided to live elsewhere.

Although we pulled the bird welcome mat from the cow birds, we have a really big welcome mat out for my good friend who will be visiting this week. I am absolutely blessed to have two really close friends and she is one of them. We will have a wonderful week together no matter what we decide to do.

So while I welcome this dear friend, I will vacate the blog for a week. While I have some ideas, I do not have "canned" posts to pre-post. So I'll be back next Monday.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Fridays are Golden

Certain breeds of dogs have definite smiles. That is so true of Golden Retrievers and our dogs are typical. One of the things that makes our golden girls smile is being outside with us when we are working in the yard. They wander around sniffing every little thing and often hop up on the bench to sit and watch us. And they smile the entire time.

There's no getting a candid photograph of Ellie. When she sees me with the camera, she immediately sits and poses.

Lucy is taking a short break from her investigations.

Do you ever have those times when your mind is not working so well? And you say something so stupid you can't believe you actually said it? Fortunately for me most of those occasions happen at the dinner table in discussions with my husband. This poor woman had her moment on national television. At least she had some reason for the mental lapse. After all, it can't be easy to answer questions in front of a live television audience. Me? I have no explanation. At least it's not because I'm getting older...I've been like this all my life.

Our gorgeous weather continues with higher than normal temperatures. The warm sunny days are pushing spring on fast forward. I can see changes in the trees every day. I do hope your weather is nice and that your hummingbirds have returned.
Have a wonderful weekend. Do an unexpected favor for someone. It will do your heart good.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Very Short Drive on the Parkway

Today brought another gorgeous spring day in the mountains. Forsaking the chores we needed to do, we decided to drive up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a short drive. It was a short drive indeed. We took our usual route up US276 through Pisgah National Forest.

This winter we suffered through heavy snows, two major ice storms and frequent high winds. We lost many trees in our community and on our property. But that did not prepare us for the horrific sights along the highway as we drove up the mountains to the Parkway.

We got on the Parkway at our usual spot near the Cold Mountain Overlook and started to head south. We traveled no further than the end of the overlook when we encountered this sign:

We turned north, knowing that the Parkway was closed beyond Mt. Pisgah because of an unstable slide.

As we drove we saw areas in which every single tree was topped. It was as if a giant had trampled through the mountains with a scythe, cutting off the tops of all the trees and knocking down many others.

I know that when the trees leaf out again the devastation will be hidden from sight. We could drive only three miles between the closed sections. Crews are working hard to clear all the fallen limbs and trees. Hopefully the Parkway will reopen soon. People will drive through and admire the majesty of the mountains. Few of them will know the extent of winter's damage. The mountains will know, and those of us who live here will know. The mountains will recover and stand as they have for so long.

Cold Mountain looked much the same from a distance although I know the trees there suffered mightily.

Every spring we drive up the Parkway at least once a week to see the awakening and greening of these beautiful mountains. I'm not sure I want to go back again this year until the trees are all leafed out to cover up the broken and twisted trees.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Legal Conundrum

His name was Luciano Martinez. A native of Mexico he came to the United States fifteen years ago and settled in Western North Carolina. He was fifty years old.

On a crisp winter day in 2008, he was picking Galax leaves near Turkey Pen Gap, part of Pisgah National Forest. He had a valid permit to gather Galax from the forest floor. He would sell the Galax to florists and nurseries to make money to support his wife and children, two of whom were in college. It was the middle of the day on December 13th. The day was bright and sunny and he removed his sweatshirt as he worked. Martinez had no idea these would be the last moments of his life.

Photo of Martinez from the Asheville Citizen-Times

His name is Kyle Keith. A life-long resident of the North Carolina mountains, he was twenty-two years old and a recent graduate from Western Carolina University.

December 13th was the last day of deer hunting season. Keith got up early in the morning to go hunting. He walked the woods alone for several hours and didn't see any deer activity so he called his father for advice. His father told him that one of his friends knew a good hunting area. The friend would meet Keith at a nearby gas station and take him to an area near Turkey Pen Gap where they were certain to find a deer.

The two men climbed the rugged terrain and saw plenty of signs of recent deer activity. They had stopped to rest on the top of a ridge when Keith saw the leaves moving below them. He put his rifle to his shoulder and looked through the scope. He thought he saw something in the rustling brush and asked his hunting partner to look through the scope. The partner wasn't sure what he saw and handed the rifle back to Kyle Keith who positioned the rifle, aimed through the scope and shot.

They walked down the trail, about 140 feet from where Keith took the shot, and saw a form darker and larger than a deer. It was Luciano Martinez. The bullet from Keith's 300-caliber rifle had entered the left side of his neck. It went through his ribs, lungs, and major blood vessels before exiting on the right side of his body. Martinez died instantly. His knapsack and sweatshirt lay nearby.

While his friend called "911" Keith called his father. He told him something terrible had happened.

After a lengthy investigation, Keith was charged with involuntary manslaughter and was released on unsecured bond. The trial was held last week here in Transylvania County where the shooting took place. Throughout the trial, time and time again, the defense attorney reminded the jury that Martinez was not wearing blaze orange. [NOTE: In North Carolina, only hunters are required to wear blaze orange during hunting season. Martinez was not hunting, did not have a gun, and was not required to wear orange in the forest.]

An investigator with the National Forest Service testified at the trial that the area where the incident took place was very dense with steep terrain. "The visibility of that area is extremely limited," he said. He reported that when he had talked with Keith following the shooting, Keith had told him the two hunters had looked repeatedly through the rifle scope and waited three to five minutes before believing they were seeing a deer. The defense attorney cross-examined the investigator and asked him if there were signs posted at the Pisgah Ranger Station informing the public they should wear orange during hunting season. The investigator said there were such signs posted throughout the building.

Keith himself testified at his trial, saying that he had been deer hunting since he was a little boy. His father had purchased a lifetime hunting license for him when he was an infant. He had taken hunting safety classes (required by NC law) and had taken further safety classes in order to carry a concealed weapon. He had been a member of his high school's shooting team all four years. "Safety is my number one priority," Keith said in his testimony.

The prosecuting attorney's summation was straighforward and factual. He told the jury the incident was a tragedy, but that it was an intentional act even if the results were unintentional. He said the evidence met the standard for involuntary manslaughter in that Keith had undertaken actions in a negligent manner against the safety and rights of another person. "What happened was a tragedy. What happened was a mistake, but it wasn't an accident...when he took that shot it was an intentional act." He reminded the jury, "When you take a weapon like this that holds ammo like this and you go into the better be sure you know what you're looking at before firing that weapon."

The defense attorney's summation was poignant and filled with emotion. He pointed to the defendent Kyle Keith and told the jury that their decision would affect, "that young man at the table there for the rest of his life." He reminded the jury of the Easter holiday they had just celebrated and how Easter was all about compassion and forgiveness. He completed his summation by pointing out once again that Martinez was the one who chose to go into the woods without wearing hunter orange and urged the jury, "when you retire to that room to consider the case, you will consider who is responsible."

The jury deliberated for less than two hours. They found Keith not guilty and he was acquitted. He is free to live his life as he pleases. He is not required to take additional classes on hunting safety and there are no restrictions on his hunting license since he was not found guilty of any crime in the shooting. He has no obligation, financial or otherwise to the family of Luciano Martinez in the death of their husband and father.

Was justice served? I was not a member of the jury and therefore I cannot argue with their verdict. I do have very mixed feelings about the result of the trial. And I'm thankful I did not have to decide this young man's fate.

Was justice served? There is one thing that keeps nagging at me. I just can't help wondering...had the Mexican immigrant Martinez shot the youthful native son Keith under the exact same circumstances...would the verdict have also been the same?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Fridays are Golden

Twice a year we get a shipment of doggie preventative medicines. The girls can smell the box and know immediately there is something for them inside. Not the medicine...but the large dog biscuits the supplier always includes.

My husband takes the box downstairs, puts away the medicine, and gives the girls their treats. This month however, he gave the girls their cookies and left the box on the table.

Lucy is always quick to pick up on the slightest difference in a pattern. She knows something is different.

Something is wrong. I'd better check this out. I'm not going to touch it, I just want to look more closely.

Oh, my gosh, Mom! Come here. You are not going to believe this!!!

This is absolutely disgusting!!! I have never been so insulted in my life.

What made Lucy so disgusted? The company had sent Frontline for CATS! We called the company and a pleasant representative laughed. The company recently went robotic in the warehouse and there are still a few problems to work out.
In a few days we received another box with the correct medicines and a postage paid package to return the feline medications. Lucy was very happy to see the cat stuff gone. She was quite forgiving, especially when she realized they sent another pair of cookies.

Life seems so simple for dogs. They live in the "now" and don't worry about tomorrow. They accept what you give them and love you unconditionally. They greet you at the door with enthusiasm whether you've been gone for an hour or gone for a day. And no matter what...they keep on wagging. Perhaps we need to learn those lessons ourselves. Wouldn't our lives be happier if we could love unconditionally and greet one another with enthusiasm?

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone...and keep on wagging.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

But Can They Read the Greens?

Golf carts have largely displaced caddies. And more and more golfers carry their clubs in the interest of physical fitness. There are fewer caddies around most clubs.

A caddy is the person who carries the golfer's clubs. Caddies know the golf course comprehensively and give advice to the golfer about the lay of the course and how the greens break. So how in the world can an animal be a golf caddy?

A local public course offers llama golf caddies. That's right...llamas. The other day I was out riding (in our summer-like heat) and saw them on the course. Of course I stopped to snap a few photographs. This group of golfers has two llama caddies, and also three other llamas who are simply walking the course with them. I'm not at all certain why they have the non-working llamas. Perhaps they are apprentice caddies.

One little problem with llama caddies is their grazing when they should be walking. The leader gives the llama leads a slight tug to get their attention.

The llamas stop grazing and walk along.

Club selection must be done by the golfer. None of the llamas seemed to have any suggestions for which golf club to use. They would graze every time the group stopped.

The golfer seems to be praising his llama.

Stopping to graze once again.

Some of the llamas in the group were not carrying clubs. The caddies were each carrying two golf bags while the others simply walked the course with the golfers.

The five llamas and the golfers head off to the next hole. Quite interesting to watch, but I'm not sure they will really catch on. Perhaps the tourists will find sufficient novelty in hiring a llama.

What a basketball game we saw last night! Exciting down to the wire. I was so hoping Butler would win and I rather resented the constant David v. Goliath comparisons. The Butler team on the floor had every reason to be there. Yes, Butler University is small, but their players have more talent than most huge university teams. They are well-coached, disciplined, and fun to watch. Too bad they couldn't topple Duke but they have every reason to be proud. Interesting little fact...when Duke's coach took his team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time, Butler's coach was in the first grade.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fridays are Golden

We are having some perfect weather. Almost record-breaking highs and beautiful sunshine all day long. The kind of weather that tells you "to heck with housework" as you head outdoors to do anything at all that keeps you outside.

The dogs and I spend a fair amount of time in the woods down by the creek when the weather allows. On this wonderful day our injured player accompanied us for the first time since December. The dogs were thrilled to have both of us down there and ran back and forth between us at full speed.

When she saw my camera, Ellie hopped up on one of the benches and smiled her sweet smile.

Lucy posed as well, but didn't want to get up on the bench.

No matter how often we are in the woods, there is always one stick that both girls want to have. It might as well be the only one in the forest and a tug-of-war ensues. This one was short lived. The stick was so old and dry that it broke, quickly ending their game. Ellie almost always wins in tug-of-war. She knows how to twist and turn her head to get the best leverage. She also moves up the stick to achieve advantage while Lucy simply stands there and pulls.

The one game (if you can call it that) that Lucy wins is the "use someone's body as a pillow" game. After their exhaustive running and playing, the girls plopped down to rest. And despite the warm day, Lucy once again uses Ellie for comfort.

We are so glad the rains in the Northeast appear to have stopped. For our Christian readers, this weekend marks the most holy days of the year. For our Jewish readers, Passover continues through the weekend. For all readers of all (or no) faiths, we wish for you some wonderful weather and a lovely weekend whatever you will be doing.