the things you see

A live owl, a dismembered rabbit, and one suicidal rabbit that ran under my tire.

Last weekend one of my regular customers - a newspaper delivery guy - pulled up outside the store and motioned for me to come out.

A stunned owl.
He had an injured owl in the crook of his arm. He found it a block away from the store, up a side street on the sidewalk. It appeared to have been hit by a car, he said; it wasn't opening its left eye. There was no blood, but it was stunned (obviously, or it would never let a human pick it up).

I called the police dispatcher and asked for the number for animal control. It was about 6 a.m., so I didn't really expect anybody to be around. I woke somebody up at the animal control office, though, but he said that they "don't deal with wild fowl." I asked what we should do; it is a protected species and if we just let an injured bird loose in the woods, a coyote or bobcat could get it. The guy had no idea, so Terry said he'd take care of it until it could fly again.

As it turns out, just talking about coyotes and bobcats woke the owl from its stupor - it opened both eyes wide and twisted its neck around in both directions, as if to check for coyotes - and it flew away a short time later.

When I got home, just after dawn, I discovered what looked like an exploded rabbit in the road in front of my house.

Not a lucky rabbit's foot.

There was a hind foot on my side of the road, a mostly-empty skin about 10 feet away in the other lane (with a single, creepy eye staring at the sky), and the other hind foot was another 10 feet farther away but back on my side. Near the second foot was a smear of entrails, probably the result of an impact from a motor vehicle.

Later that morning I found the tail. It was in my driveway, probably 30 feet from the remains of the skin.

The most likely explanation for the exploding bunny is scavengers. They took everything worth eating (save one eyeball), leaving the hide, tail and hind feet spread around the area.

I took a few pictures of the first foot, then got a shovel and tossed the remains into the ditch across the street so the bugs, birds and beasts could consume it without getting hit by cars themselves. (Also to keep the carcass off of Rocko's radar. I don't want him snuffling around out in the road.)

The very next morning, I hit a rabbit on my way home. It darted under my car on one of the many curves on our road, and I couldn't do anything about it.

So, we had two unlucky rabbits but one very lucky owl. All in all I'd say that's a net positive.


the heat is on

At home the heat is on, at work I've had to call the heat.

On Monday morning, at about 5 AM, I had to call the cops. Somebody had driven off without paying for $106.53 of gas. He wasn't even out of sight when I called, and stayed on the main road to toward the next town. I gave a good description of the person and his truck, and they caught him a few minutes later.

The cops brought him into the store, where he attempted to make good on his debt, but we had already changed shifts by then and I had cashed out the drive-off. He tried to use the ATM to get cash, but that didn't work. And so he called his father, evidently a respected builder in Asheville, who showed up eventually with cash, allowing me to avoid having to pay for the drive-off myself.

I told the cop that, in my opinion, anybody can make a mistake. I made one by turning on the pump, and he made one by driving off without paying. As long as the money arrived to cover the gas, I was happy. And so I was.

Last week I had to call the cops to run off a pest. This guy has been barred from entering most of the convenience stores in the county, because he is a pest, a panhandler and petty thief.

He came into the store at a little after 3 AM, just as I was getting busy preparing coffee and breakfast for the customers. The first thing I said after "Hello" was, "I thought you were barred from this store." He said no, "I was just in court and the judge didn't say anything about this place." He asked for a cup of coffee and I asked if he had any money. Nope. Soon I ran out of patience and told him, "I'm the nicest guy in the world, so take it seriously when say GET THE FUCK OUT!"

Eventually he did leave. I gave him a pack of matches so he wouldn't pester me for a lighter, and he went outside. A few minutes later the town cop, Dean, rolled through without stopping. Chris (the pest) must be gone.  My regular 3:30 AM coffee-gas-and-smokes customer pulled up in his truck and I turned on the pump for him. Suddenly, Chris appeared from the shadows and started hitting up my customer for money. I called the police dispatcher and said, "Dean just rolled through here. Could you send him back? Chris Franklin is pestering my customers and I want him gone." Dean came back, picked up Chris, and took him to jail.

The cops tell me that Chris actually wants to go to jail. He's comfortable there. I was glad to help him get there.

When I was homeless, I avoided asking people for money, and I avoided spending a lot of time at any one store. Sometimes I'd get with somebody who pestered folks obnoxiously, and that was my cue to move on. I was never arrested for panhandling (though I did get a verbal warning once for flying a sign, something I never did again) and only barred from a couple of places; both were drinking establishments rather than stores as such.

Oh well.

The weather has been cool the last few days, down into the 40's at night and not reaching 70 during the days. No frost yet, but I'm keeping my eye on the forecasts. Several of my houseplants are very sensitive to frost and I don't want them to get burned. The dragon wing begonia was badly damaged last spring - almost destroyed - by a single frost, and one that wasn't all that cold. All of the leaves looked and felt like fragments of shredded rubber balloons. I cut the stems back to about 12 inches in height (the plant had been over 2 feet tall) and kept it watered. Now the plant looks healthier than ever, bushier and with larger leaves than before. I got lucky.

On a related note, I thought - until a few minutes ago, when I looked it up to provide a link - that my begonia was of the angel wing variety. Turns out I was wrong; it is clearly a dragon wing. And that's cooler anyway.


350 years and 8 days ago today

The Dutch surrendered New Netherland to those limey English bastards. [From History.com]

I apologize for missing the anniversary.

My 9th-great and 8th-great-grandfathers were there when it happened. They were Dutch and had been there since at least 1638; my 9th-great-grandfather is the Riker after whom Riker's Island is named.

All in all, life went on for the Dutch. They still spoke Dutch in church until after the American Revolution. The English forced them to choose surnames, though, and stick with them as family names. That lead to Abraham Rycken van Lent being called Abraham Riker by history, and of his many sons, and descendant, the next generation saw the surnames Lent, van Lent, and Riker.

I come down the Lent side. The most recent Lent in my ancestry is Mary (Polly) Lent, born north of New York City and buried in North Wolcott, NY, in a small graveyard that is overgrown and wooded. Her gravestone is, unfortunately, made of slate and has shed layers, leaving it essentially unreadable.

But hey! It's time to head down the river to the community center for the Tuesday night jam session.



Fluoride: Still Not Poisoning Your Bodily Fluids! (From Science-Based Medicine)

A couple I consider good friends are, unlike me, rather (read: very) paranoid. While I like them and do not want to alienate them, they are often full of shit. They believe in "chemtrails" and one of them, the husband, made the front page of a small local newspaper earlier this year as the focus of an article critical of the fluoridation of water.

He doesn't drink any municipal water (we're all on wells out here in the boondocks anyway) because it is full of "poison" and he repeats as gospel all of the lies available on the internet regarding fluoridation. He brushes his teeth with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, which will certainly get your teeth clean.

A couple of weeks after the article was printed, he had six teeth pulled. "They've been bothering me for a while," he said.

I don't know for sure if this couple is opposed to vaccinations. I assume that they are, since they are so beholden to false information. My daughter is also a friend of theirs; she's smart enough to see through most of the BS and I hope that she does. I'd prefer that my granddaughter receives all recommended vaccinations.


remembering 9/11

This morning at work, a customer reminded us to "remember" today.

Oh, yes, I remember. What do I remember?

I remember that one month before 9/11, pResident George W. Bush blew off a security brief entitled, "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In U.S." He told his staff, "OK, you've covered your ass now," and resumed his month-long vacation that he really thought he needed after only seven months in office.

I remember that Bush apologists have claimed that "no terrorist attacks took place on U.S. soil" during George W. Bush's presidency, despite by far the largest ever terrorist attack taking place on U.S. soil during George W. Bush's first year in office.

I remember that Bush and his cabal of neocon chickenhawks lied repeatedly to get us into war in Iraq, using 9/11 as an excuse. This despite al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein being strongly opposed to one another and having not acted together on the 9/11 attacks (or anything else, for that matter).

I remember that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, et al. were wrong about absolutely everything having to do with Iraq.

I remember that Bush's war of choice against Iraq set the stage for ISIS.

Most of all, I remember that more Americans died in the subsequent Iraq war than on 9/11.


is autism really on the rise?

From the website Science Based Medicine:

Autism Prevalence Unchanged In 20 Years

A very interesting read, and sure to infuriate the anti-vaxxers. That's a Good Thing™.

Here is a graphic from the article. It demonstrates the difference between correlation and causation, sure to piss off the rabid Organics out there:

Correlation? Sure. Causation? Probably not.


I just saved 50% on my car insurance

... without switching to Geico.

A few weeks ago, with my brother's moral and financial support, I finally had my car registered in North Carolina, which solved a two-year old problem: my Florida registration had expired at the end of August 2012.

Ever since my car's registration became current, I have known that I had to call my car insurance company to get a new policy. Unfortunately, every time I thought about calling them, it was the middle of the night, or a weekend day, or some other odd time when nobody would be on duty.

Today I remembered to call at about 4:30 PM, just in time to get in before the end of the day.

The people I spoke to were friendly and helpful, and at the end of the call I had cut my auto insurance bill in half. Some of that was from the $9/month Florida Hurricane Fund that I no longer have to pay, the rest was just because insurance rates are lower here than in Florida.

This is a big thing, saving over $60 per month, especially since I acquired health insurance last spring and that is costing me just about exactly what I will save with my new car insurance policy.

On the weather front, 3.27" of rain fell on my rain gauge yesterday and overnight - more than we received during the entire month of August. The creek behind my house looks a lot happier.


Martha, my dear

One hundred years ago this past Monday, September 1st, the last passenger pigeon died in captivity. Her name was Martha and she was 29 years old.

The Pigeon River, whose Big East Fork runs down the valley below my house, is named after these once nearly infinitely plentiful birds.


mmm, bacon

Pooch Cafe

that's bad

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide and Happiness @ Explosm.net


a poem for today

From The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor:

Tramps and Bowlers

I heard this poem on the Writer's Almanac podcast, and it reminded me of my time on the street as a sort of tramp. I, too, cleaned up after myself before leaving any hiding or sleeping spot.

It's just common sense when you are trying to stay below the radar. Clean up after yourself, don't be obvious, obey all laws when you can be seen. Better still, obey all laws all the time; although that is difficult when your daily routine includes, by necessity, trespassing at times.

The Italian guy who owned the convenience store where I worked for a time in Tallahassee referred to me as a "bum". I preferred the term "tramp" because I was at least willing to work for my money. I didn't sit on a sidewalk in a strip mall and ask every person who passed if they had any spare change, like some folks did.

it's going to be a good day

Today is my 52nd birthday, it's my day off, and it also marks 2,418 days of sobriety.

I swear to Bob, the calendar is lying. There is no way in the world that I'm 52 years old. My eyes aren't getting any better, to be sure, but lots of people need glasses even when they are young.

Oh well. I received a check in the mail yesterday from Dad and Velma. I deposited some and bought a garden hose and 17mm socket with the rest. I've needed a hose since we moved here almost three years ago, and the socket is for my car's oil pan drain plug (I don't like using crescent wrenches on cars).

My car has been 100% legal for a week and a half now, thanks to the moral and financial support of my brother Karl. And, I suppose, some grudging thanks to the NC legislature and governor for making it easier for me to change over from Florida; as of May 2014, it is no longer necessary to take a road test when transferring your driver's license to North Carolina from another state.

The road test was one of the psychological roadblocks that made it difficult for me to get myself right with the state. It seemed like a Catch-22; you needed to take a driving test to get your license, but it has to be in a car registered in NC, but you needed to have a NC driver's license to register the car, but you had to take a driving test in an NC-registered car to get your license, but you needed an NC license to register the car, but ... my brain just shut down. Of course I know a number of people here who would let me use their car for the driving test, but then I'd have to ask somebody, and I really, really don't like to ask for help.

For two years I drove a car with an expired registration, scared behind the wheel every time I went out. For some reason the State of Florida never notified my insurance company that my registration had expired; they are supposed to yank your insurance in such cases, but they didn't.

And that's where the sobriety comes into the picture. One of the many things I learned on my way to sobriety was that you have to be willing to ask for help sometimes.

So, a few weeks ago when I called Karl about my sinkhole, he asked how everything else in my life was going - and I had to tell him about the car and license issue. He told me where to go and met me there; a place to get my car inspected followed by a visit to the registration office across the street.

We got lucky on the inspection. The mechanic was an honest man and told us that we didn't need an inspection since the car had not been previously registered in NC. Then we crossed the street and found a dark and nearly empty DMV office; their computers were down and they didn't know when they'd be back up. They did confirm that I needed a driver's license first, but of course the computers would have been down in that office too. I told Karl that I would get the license and notify him when I received the hard copy so we could get the car taken car of.

A couple of weeks later, I got my real North Carolina driver's license in the mail, and we met back at the DMV, where Karl covered the cost and they gave me a real license plate.

Now all I have to do is change over my car insurance and I'll be all good.

And so I am now free to move about the country, restrained only by the cost of fuel and the need to work. So, basically, I'm still here in Haywood County all day every day. And that's fine with me.


dude, that's a big woodpecker

A pileated woodpecker was just pecking at a tall dead tree across the street.

I haven't seen a pileated woodpecker in years, but this is great habitat for them. Lots of forest with plenty of ant-ridden dead trees within.

The hummingbird feeder isn't hanging from the eaves of the house this year. The siding beneath the kitchen window was getting quite dirty from sugar-water splashes and hummingbird excrement. Besides, ants were coming up under the siding to get to the feeder hanging from the eaves.

No, this year I hung it from the red maple at the southwest corner of my yard. It provides cover and perches for the birds and the ant problem is, so far, much less than last year. Then again, last year was a bad one for pestilent ants - probably because of all the rain driving them up from the ground.

I have a small songbird feeder at the northwest corner, hanging from the weeping cherry. I've settled on black sunflower seed for that feeder; mixes usually contain a lot of millet and I have not personally seen a songbird (other than perhaps sparrows) willingly eating millet. It just gets cast around the feeder on the ground, where it germinates.

Coming to get the tasty sunflower seeds, I have the regulars: black-capped chickadees, occasional goldfinch, cardinal or nuthatch, and of course the magnificent crested fuck-wit is endemic. None of these birds shows any interest in millet. The occasional sparrow is so occasional as to be unimportant in seed selection.

Once in a while I'll put some seed in an old cat dish on the railing of my deck, so I can see the birds from my bedroom.

Robin Williams has died

My first thought was "heart attack" because of his history of cardiac issues, but that wasn't it.

They (NPR) said that it was an apparent suicide. Some, even many, people may have been surprised by this, but it seemed completely logical to me.

Mr. Williams' chronic depression wasn't news, really, and anyone who has been reading this blog for 10 years or more knows that I attempted suicide in autumn of 2004. Sometimes it seems like the only solution. It isn't, usually, but it can seem that way. Chronic major depression works that way.

When I quit drinking, there is a good chance that some people believed that my problems with depression would evaporate; of course they did not. Just two years ago I was in the process of getting certified as Officially Disabled by the state owing to my depression and stood a good chance of achieving that goal. I withdrew my application after it became apparent that working at a convenience store was good therapy.

Recently a young (20 years old) customer was disparaging another customer who is on disability due to bipolar disorder. "She doesn't need food stamps, she doesn't need disability, her only problem is that she's on drugs!" I tried to explain that mental illness is a real disability but he was adamant. Oh well. He's a kid. And she doesn't need drugs to be the way she is; she's physically beautiful but a complete airhead when she's feeling good and she does look like she might be on drugs when she's feeling low, but I can tell the difference. She might get high on something now and then but that's not her underlying problem.

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. Your pain was always just under the surface, it could be seen, but you are at rest now.


back to work

The highway department is back to resurfacing North Carolina's Route 276 Forest Heritage Scenic Byway at the southern extremities of Haywood County. Route 215, the next road to the west, was completed earlier this year. 215 is also a Scenic Byway.

I really love seeing my road on a map of spectacular drives.

Twice a day, at least five days each week, I drive down and back up this great road, often thanking Lisa once again for bringing me here. Having it completely resurfaced will be icing on the cake.

The sinkhole was filled promptly a few days ago after I sent a followup email to my contact at the county, as I mentioned in a previous post. So far, so good, though we haven't had any significant rain. In fact, we are running rather dry here, despite 7.90" of rain in July.

The creek below my house is running pretty weakly. My first thought was that they had plugged up the feed from the mountain with their patch, leaving only the other several feeders running, but the creek wasn't backing up across the street. It is running weakly as well.

Now that I've been hiking up around the area from the Devil's Courthouse to Black Balsam Knob, Tennant Mountain, Grassy Cove Top, Flower Knob, Shining Rock, Stairs Mountain and Cold Mountain, an arc of peaks that create our weather most of the time, I can get a lot more out of weather radar, and I know what to look for and often what to expect.

It's fun and sometimes you get to see something pretty cool.

A few weeks back, my landlord was here to cut the acre or so of lawn. I went out and we chatted for a couple of minutes, but it started raining. "It always does this when you're here, doesn't it?" I said, and we parted. I went in and looked at the weather radar. A storm was forming over my mountains and heading east over and past us. It crossed Mt. Pisgah and went on its way, growing in size and strength as it moved over the sun-heated mountains.

Not long after that, there was a warning on the Weather Channel's website about a strong storm coming from our direction at a speed that matched my storm.

I got to see the birth of a warning-worthy storm! Woo-hoo!

Oh, and I have to work tonight. I'm only getting one night off this week because the guy who covers my nights off found a real job. That's OK, I need the money. But it's Tuesday, jam night in Cruso! Somehow I have to play and work too.


mystery: solved?

Something has been, periodically, nibbling at some catnip (aka catmint) that I am growing in a flowerpot on the front porch.

This has been going on for a few weeks now, this nibbling. Wild cats (not feral cats, wild cats - bobcats I suppose) crossed my mind; possibly neighbor cats, but we all live pretty far apart in these parts and I've never seen a domestic cat roaming around.

The plant(s) are a couple of years old, and are in quite a small container; I call them my "bonsai catmint" as the confinement of their roots seems to have forced a dwarf trait. Seeds from the same batch came up with big leaves and grew a couple of feet tall; these in the flowerpot have miniature leaves and have only grown to 6" to 8". (I know, right? Getcher mind outta the gutter! The numbers are what they are.)

I've noticed Rocko snuffling around in the catmint after each browsing event, as if he could smell a strange critter. I always asked him about it but, looking back, I suppose he never gave me a straight answer.

And then I remembered.

Some time ago I pulled up the big catmint plant that was growing in the ground because it looked like a weed and was right at the corner of the house. The plant was a couple of feet tall; I broke off one end and offered it to Rocko. "It's minty," I said, "It's a minty stick."

He took it and loved it. Chewed it all to pieces while I ran into the house and googled "is catnip safe for dogs." (Turns out, it is.)

That was a month or so ago, and the catnip nibbling started shortly after that. It grows out for a while, gets a few inches tall, then it gets nibbled off. But that's OK, especially if it's Rocko. It is good for his digestion and his breath. He eats enough grass. He ought to be getting some healthier veggies if he likes that kind of thing.

But I'm not entirely surprised. Last Christmas season, my brother and his wife gave us (me and Rocko) a lot of food and snacks. Included was a package of minty dog treats, called "MintyBone," I think. I was skeptical but Rocko really liked them. And catnip is a mint, and it really does smell like those minty bones.

A year and a half ago, I had a cat - George - who wanted my wintergreen Copenhagen snuff.

Now I have a dog who eats catnip.

And right now, by which I mean right now as I type, both hummingbirds and songbirds are outside my windows complaining that their feeders are almost empty and it's starting to rain.

"I'm coming, birds. Hang on a minute. Just let me post this."



On 19 July 2014, we received 2.45" of rain. The next day I noticed a brand-new hole at the corner of my yard.

The walking stick across the hole is 5 feet long.
At first the hole was maybe 3'x5' at the surface, though larger below the sod, and maybe 18" to 2' deep. It is located where a culvert brings a small creek under the road and down the hill next to my yard.

Subsequent heavy rains have increased the size to 5'x5', and about 4' deep. Sod, soil and rocks continue to fall from the sides into the deepening hole with every rainfall. A large boulder that had been close to the surface in the center of the hole has since fallen much deeper.

The first thing I did after noticing the hole was call my brother. He used to work in the erosion and drainage department in our county. He passed the information on to somebody in that department, who said that it is a state issue (it is a state highway) and gave a contact name and number.

I then told my landlord, who contacted the state. They told him that someone would be out to check on it.

I haven't seen anybody yet, and it's been 11 days. Of course someone could have come while I was sleeping or hiking.

[Ed. note: Not a minute after I posted the above blog entry, the highway department came by and put up a cone. They said that they would be back this evening to fix the hole.]

[Ed. note #2, two hours later : A highway department truck pulling a small backhoe on a trailer just went by. They turned around and came back, so they could park close to the sinkhole. And so the repairs begin. I just went out and talked to the backhoe operator; he's waiting on a load of rock. I guess they are just going to fill the hole with rocks.]