A Hunting We Will Go

In Jackie’s blog on May 8, Beloved Books, I commented that I had never read Where the Red Fern Grows and would tackle it. I checked the book out at our library and began. The first copyright was in 1961. I was ten. I will say I was into Huckleberry Finn, pirate escapades, and such in those early years of reading.

I settle on the couch and stop at Chapter Two. Billy gets his first small steel traps. I put the book down. Later I inch back into it and skimmed along halfway through Chapter Seven. Okay, I have just about had it on using a log trick to catch a raccoon. A few days later I picked and poked through a paragraph here, there until the real raccoon hunt began with his two little new hound dogs. Chapter Eight through Nine was the agonizing effort of his first raccoon catch, and before Chapter Ten ended, I put the library receipt back in the book and laid it by the front door.

The point: Reading a book of its time, for its era, culture, and the deep wanting of a little boy to have hound dogs is a grand and deeply dutiful story. I would have received this story far better at the age of ten living in rural Midwest countryside, but not today at seventy-one far removed from country living. At around the same age of ten or eleven, I did go raccoon hunting once. Uncle Mel bought a Bluetick Coonhound at quite a price for that time. He had always had a dog, but not a true ‘hunting’ dog that was bred for this activity. Blue, yes, Blue, was quite the looker, but he was goofier often times and more lovable all the time than being on alert. Uncle Mel took his oldest son, Leslie, and daughter, Sandy, who was my age, and I out into the thick woods well after supper one night. We all hopped out of the truck and off we went through tall brush, grass, brambles, and trees. My uncle broke the path while Blue and us three were eager to follow. We lifted the dog over any fence we came across. Not long into this search, Blue treed a raccoon, high up, little black shiny eyes looking down.

I recall amidst the noise and excitement of the barking and baying I said something or other, like, you’re not going to hurt him, right? And probably made more of a fuss because I was beginning to get the picture. I know my uncle couldn’t see my face because of being so dark but perhaps heard something in my tone. He turned and we all followed. Blue stayed behind for a moment until he discovered we were all leaving and happily bounded after us.

A few years later in 1968 Leslie found a young orphaned baby male raccoon and brought him to the house to take care of him. He named him Rocky after the then-released Beetles song. Rocky Raccoon was a case. He grew strong, nosey, agile, and part of the big family. He was everywhere, anytime day or night. When I spent the night with my cousins, and it was often, I woke up in the middle of the night to a gentle head massage and miscellaneous rearrangements to my hair. He loved the scuffling in long hair, or his nose around my ears, and pawing to get between the blankets. He jauntily went from bed to bed to activate his many pranks.

The day came when Rocky grew into his instincts to leave home and find a mate. Rocky was getting restless, a bit less friendly, and not so content. Leslie and Rocky left one afternoon walking across the backfield toward the old one-room schoolhouse known as Dexter which was surrounded by thick woods. Leslie came back that evening, well after dark. It was a sad week at the house for all of us.

(My dad teasing Rocky with his coffee cup)

Oddly enough, about two years later, Leslie was out in the yard working on one of his dad’s tractors. He heard a type of chittering noise in the alfalfa field beyond the shed. He walked quietly toward the fence and the noise increased to a high-pitch squeal. A large raccoon reared up on its hind legs when he saw Leslie. He chittered, looked back, forward, and lowered himself. Leslie noticed another raccoon and two little ones behind, hiding. Leslie spoke to Rocky as if he never had been gone. After a few minutes, Rocky turned and led his family into the thickness of the alfalfa making their way back home toward the woods behind the old schoolhouse. I think Leslie stood at the fence for a long time.

Although this home has been empty for many years, falling in so to speak, it is still owned by some of the family. I would like to think that somewhere out back in those woods, Rocky’s relatives live on.

So back to our Where the Red Fern Grows and all others, my decree upon reading classics of choice varies from time to time, visiting extraordinary storytelling from an author’s imagination along with perhaps experience threaded within its pages. I respect each of these titles throughout our history that capture and hold in a capsule a place in time and to be carefully placed on our bookshelves. With absolutely no disrespect, Red Fern is back at the library safely tucked upon a shelf.   


Last Saturday afternoon my husband and I were with friends to kick back, enjoy some good banter and play Uno. Our discussion turned to the weather and since one of the guests is new from Massachusetts, had not yet experienced our summer monsoon season. Over the weekend Tucson was given a 30% chance of showers. Officially monsoon season begins June 15, but we can get early teasers. By mid-afternoon, a nice cloud ‘build up’ was climbing the horizon due to the forecast, and the sky darkened and lightened until right before dark. By the following morning, the sky was clear as a bluebell. But, by Sunday afternoon, the tops of whiteheads began to form and move forward, building and darkening. It did rain, but not on us…yet.

I shared how as kids, we spent many a day lying flat on our backs in yards scattered across our little township, one leg crossed over another, pointing, imagining, and pondering the creatures we saw and the stories we made up.

On the southeast wall of my studio is a big window overlooking our backyard. Inside, underneath the window is a cream wicker couch I found in Illinois at and antique shop along the Mississippi River. I’ve lined it with custom-made cushions and various throw pillows. I sit and do much reading, idea notetaking, journal, napping on a chilly winter afternoon, and cloud watch. Some time ago, one of our prompts at the writers’ group had to do with two rabbits. I immediately pulled out a card in my ‘stack’. (I am a notorious blank greeting card collector.) The card portrays one of my favorite past times as mentioned.  

“Pepper, get over here, quick. Shhhhhs, not a sound.”  Napier pulls his friend closer behind a tree, particularly where the grass is the highest. The two rabbits poke their pink noses through the blades and wiggle with glee. It is old man Waffle and his wife Wanda. Oh my. They don’t know it, but they truly give one a belly laugh.

  Waffle sat the straw basket down and first thing, tipped it on its side with his bottom as he bent toward the ground to pick up the first old apple. Wanda gave a long, very long rigid sigh and sat it upright. 

“Would you watch what you are doing? Where’s the stool? I don’t see it. Didn’t you bring it out here Waffle?” He grunted and looked up in the tree, his backside to Wanda. She peered up into the tree. “Oh, you think you put it up there, did you? Umph.” Wanda strode toward the garden shed.

  “Didn’t take long did it?” said Pepper to his furry companion.

“No, only four blades. Last time I ate six before Wanda got in a miff. I’ve only had time to nibble down on four. Only four!”

Waffle hummed as he found a few more old apples on the ground and placed them in the basket. One of the handles hung loosely. He moved the basket with his foot closer to the tree. No sign of Wanda. He pulled out a pipe and lit it up. Oh, the smell of good tobacco. Pepper’s eyes began to water, and his nose wiggled, and Napier placed his front foot over Pepper’s nose. 

“Don’t you dare, don’t you dare! We’ll be found out. You know we are not supposed to be in this orchard!”

“Ah chissssssssssssss!!” Waffle removed his pipe and turned around. ‘Mumm. What was that?’ Pepper and Napier buried their heads and bodies flat in the grass. Waffle tamped his pipe, relocated it in his pocket, and ambled past the tree to a small clearing. Napier quickly rolled Pepper over on his back and told him not to move and Napier flopped over on his back just as Waffle parted the tall bright green blades.

“What are you two doing here?” Waffle bent low over the two innocent rabbits who blinked with a fluttery scuffle.  

“Oh, cloud watching. This spot has the best view. See?” and pointed to the bundle of white and gray cotton balls floating overhead.

“Waffle, where are you? You better not be loafing again.” Wanda stuck her head around the apple tree. “Get back over here and fill this basket. I brought the stool, now get yourself on it and get those apples.” Waffle winked at the two little rabbits and shuffled toward his wife. “I smell tobacco. Is that what you were doing Waffle?”

Waffle took Wanda’s arm and moved her out from under the tree limbs loaded with apples to a big round clear spot.  “Look up. Take your time. What do you see Wanda?”

“Well, I’ll be.”

Take a few minutes next time your clouds roll in and let yourself go.


Prompt 5.11.23

Feeling groovy?  What small rituals help support your sense of well-being? Be liberal on the term ‘well-being’, like feeling feisty, creative, excited, satisfied, or comfortable. And what are those? Is it quiet time, being with friends, a long walk on a favorite path, a good book, a bubble bath, an old rock ‘n’ roll vinyl, or coloring with grandchildren? Reflect and write on your physical or mental ritual(s) that make you feel in the groove. 


As I continue my quest to find a live chicken or plural for National Drink with Chicken Day on May 23, I began to mull over the value of a simple chicken and certain personal encounters. In rural Illinois where I grew up, chickens and outhouses seemed synonymous with one another, both of which were deemed a necessity. In our book, Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets, I have a story, Outhouses of Pike County, which mentions chickens along with outhouses, not realizing a connection, or more likely a physicality in ‘location’.  

Chickens are absolutely a supplier of sustenance in many forms. Both of my great grandparents and grandparents had chickens which included their own little house, a ramp, and a secure sturdy fence for extra safety at night. I can still feel the flawless shell of a snug egg as I reach into one of the nests under the warm belly of a hen. A  docile little being who goes about her day minding her own business.

These feathery bundles also can make up to ten different vocalization sounds. My favorite is the Happy Murmuring…you know which one I mean. It is like a chicken purr, similar to a cat. They do this a lot when nibbling between blades of grass, a soft clucky lull. Once in Germany visiting a cousin, I took her two small children on a walk. Along the path was a large chicken yard. We were at the top of a hill and the path led down to another road. The three of us stopped and took in this soft hum. I began to mimic, and one by one the chickens came to the fence. We continued down the path, all the while, softly clucking with the chickens. They bunched up beside the fence the total distance down the hill and followed us to the bottom. The kids were delighted.

In the TV series, Recipe for Love and Murder, Tannie the main character has a pet hen named Morag. This hen has full reign of the yard and house and is happily carried around in the arms of Tannie. She feeds her watermelon and other delights from her garden and kitchen.

In doing research, surprisingly the egg-making process starts long before the egg is made. It begins with the birth of the hen. Like many other female species, hens carry a finite number of eggs in their bodies from the moment they are born. This means that they carry all the eggs in their body at birth. After birth, no new eggs are produced. I had no idea! Of course, there is much more to the process, but I am trying to make this short.

Now comes the most fascinating part of the egg’s journey. The membrane-enclosed egg enters the shell gland, where it spends the next twenty hours. It is plumped up with fluid until it achieves the approximate shape you would recognize as being an egg. Then it is sealed within the formation of calcium carbonate crystals which hardens due to a fast-drying protein solution called the bloom, or cuticle, that seals tiny pores occurring between the calcium crystals making up the shell. Whew! I must ask, is this by accident or was it designed?

This puts me in mind of famous Paris designers who brought and changed fashion around the world such as Chanel, Dior, Ricci, and dozens of other extraordinary artists. They would scream if someone thought their hours and months of sketching, alignment, color, stitch, choice of fabric, each curve and flow was by accident. No, it was designed.

And here is our little hen, minding her own, giving us protein in countless forms, feathers for costume accessories, and exquisite culinary chicken dishes one cannot count, alive or not. I can still hear their little selves settle in the early evening into nests of straw, rocking gently side to side, closing their gauzy thin membrane eyelids, and drifting off into featherland for the night. Who would not want to raise a glass of champagne or eggnog laced with rum with a chicken?


Who doesn’t remember a sleepover or a slumber party? A gaggle of girls full of excitement is a sight to behold. In rural Illinois where I grew up, most classmates lived far out into the country. Sleepovers were usually on a school night. Not sure why other than perhaps the big yellow bus would deliver this bunch to the destination and pick us up the following morning, saving many parents from many trips. In Jr High, one classmate always invited the entire group of girls in our class. Her mother taught and insisted on ‘fairness’. Not all could come of course for one reason or the other. Seven to eight could. At the time, our entire class totaled twenty-one, eleven of which were girls. This giddy event always took place at the end of October when the air had a snap of a crisp apple.  

It thrilled me to no end to plan, pack and head off with our heads together sitting on the stiff green seats on the school bus. Cathy’s mother farmed out all the younger brothers to leave room for extra bunk beds. We scattered ourselves between two bedrooms and the floor. Her mother prepared well, a hot easy supper, games, and roasted marshmallows over a fire. I have to applaud her patience and self-sacrifice the following morning as she made sure we had everything we brought back in our bags and shuffled us on the bus early, leaving the kitchen table covered in syrup and pancake crumbs.

In high school, none of us had to rely on buses that much, so we had the freedom to come and go during the week or on weekends. Sleepovers were , well, whoever and how many. We were still crammed into double beds, or a sofa or sleeping bags on the floor. I loved this time together, the giggles, the boy talk, the scary stories, acting out romance stories we were reading, telling secrets, bodies rolled up side by side, sharing pillows, elbowing each other out of the way, jerking covers up or off, no cutting the cheese, stop snoring, I’m freezing, turn on the light–turn it off, you go first, I’m thirsty, where’s the bathroom, be quiet!

As an adult, I had the absolute pleasure to relive those days. In our writers’ group, we had several grown-up gal sleepovers. Two times in Bisbee in a little house hanging on a side of a hill, once on a ranch in a rustic outbuilding, a trip to Santa Fe, another in Pagosa Springs, CO, and each other’s homes for several years. We planned our food, snacks, movies, notebooks, and prompts, Several sleepovers were dedicated to Downton Abby marathons at Linda’s. These nights lasted well past midnight, hour after hour. We all brought items for a delicious dinner, a gooey chocolate dessert, and late night snacks. We also had the bonus of Linda’s two cats from lap to lap. Sofas, and sleeping bags once again. Strong coffee and fresh pastries awaited the following morning, then the three of us, Jackie, Diana, and myself would gather up our mess, tidy up and go to our respective homes and waiting husbands.

Life continues its run of changes, openings, and closures. I confess, my memories and heart belong to those ‘good times’ of innocence and intimacy.


April has been a delicious month of inspiration with words. This girly month is winding down in preparation for the next. May rumbles in National Burgers Month, Older American Month, and National Military Appreciation. Quite a few nutshells to fill and participate in. As I was perusing the web looking at months, I came across National Drinking with Chickens Day in May! Now this could peck out a grand short story.  

Back to our fluffy April…Jan, one of the original writing group members in 1997 introduced magnetic poetry at one of our meetings. The front of her fridge was covered in tiny rectangular pieces with words and fragments of words. I was hooked and bought a set of 1,138 pieces. Over the years, those pieces drew anyone who came to visit towards the fridge, not just for a snack or cold beer, but to muse and invent. I kept a notebook of some poetry, thoughts, and hilarious lines, especially when my son and friends hung out.  

Here are three of the more ‘poetic’ choices:

The day will be smooth like burnt sienna

as the fall beauty begins and the sun

will incubate our time together.

Sweet, luscious rain, cool, misty moments,

a sky whispers of dark joy, a warm desire

beneath clouds, a language only

beauty can speak surrounded by a

symphony of enormous love.

Mother and daughter gardened today, winter

having wandered on and winds shadow had fallen away,

replaced with a sleeping blush that touched each

shoulder while spring slowly began the color of warm caramel.

Thank you, April for giving us days of lyrical verse and gracefully stepping aside to look forward to May.

I reckon so.

Spring Buds Poets

Poetry month continues, and definitions and the understanding of poetry can take hours, or days, to read, digest, and filter through until you can finally, and simply, pluck the style you enjoy reading. Our history is loaded with poets, poets of charm, anger, lust, dreams, and so on. It is a reading of time, slow time. It is a form of literature that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound, and rhythm.

In our book, Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets, we have various poetry sprinkled throughout. We share our inspiration, either from a class, workshop, gazing out a window, or walking in the elements of the state we live in.

One of my favorites in the book is what we call ‘Five Poems by Five Women’. There were five of us present at this meeting. We gathered a list of words, each of us chose five words. One began with writing a sentence/line from one of their chosen words, then passed to the right. The next person read that line, then wrote one line using one of their words and passed to the right until we had completed five lines. We continued the same pattern with our next word and so on until we had five poems. I would like to share Poem One:

The flaming liquid sun

Stared down the lonely man

As he drew a breath of life no more

And melted into shimmering sand

His bone became grains and destiny was left at someone else’s hand.

Several years later Jackie was living in Colorado. On an early light breezy, spring morning, we did a Facetime from Diana’s dining table with warm croissants, jams, fresh kiwi, and strawberries. She also endorses one of the biggest selections of international teas I have ever seen. “Let’s do a poem.” Jackie whines through the small iPhone screen, “You know I can’t do poetry!”  Diana throws out the word letters. I was still focused on how much butter I wanted on my flakey croissant and spooning a coral shade of prickly pear jelly. As I munched, I felt I couldn’t find any poignant words.  

Letters, like our windy spring

Could not rest, find a place

To settle and form a thought.

Words fluttered like a bees nest

not still, nor formidable but buzzed

and made no sense.

A line with no beginning, caught in

a breeze, turned upside down, back

around, and scuttled in leafy piles.

A poem waits, on sharp edges, in empty

spouts, under a crack, on the back of a lizard,

in the flurry of the hummingbird.

Today might be the moment life and nature

anchor, the external slides inward, the internal

to bear witness, to snare the notes in my head. 

Early on, it took years for me to come back to poetry as a reader. What poets do you recall from high school that may have resonated? Do you have a book of poetry stuck deep in one of your bookshelves? Three of my favorites are Mary Oliver, Blue Pastures where she writes with her face close to nature; Sheila Bender, Since Then, transforming mortal heartbreak into a sustaining love of the world; and Carolyn Forché, Blue Hour, whose imagery captures the edgy sensations and atmosphere of the world that surrounds us. These women write with distinct personal passion and power.

Be creative in your reading and writing!

Dig In With Pen or Trowel

 I correspond regularly with one of my cousins from Illinois. We grew up in the same community, went to the same school, and know/knew many of the same people. She was ahead of me in school by a few years and was settled nicely, raising three beautiful daughters by the time I was in high school. Her grandfather and my grandfather were brothers. Gail is multitalented and I am amazed at what catches her attention, and how she executes each idea into a delightful outcome.

One of the things we have in common is the limitless boundaries of nature. In an email from April 2011, she covered an array of particulars that had kept her busy. It was full of images, the use of sensory and visual detail, and what a poet might say, “tangible particulars”.  I was struck by all these and more, and took her email, reformatting and adding very few modifications to read as a prose poem. Celebrate April with us!

Many Things

Although I have many things to do

I would rather write to you.

It is raining down and my noodles limply hang,

‘tis, not a good drying day I’m afraid.

A new cottage garden awaits my imagination

with a circle that ends under the Red Bud tree.

Hostas will be moved and ferns from the woods

will drift alongside in the morning and afternoon shadows.

The sunny spots shall sport two red, one white Astilbe and

a Blue Cardinal.

Foxglove is nestled into the ground and their long-time

friend, Delphinium, invited new visitors from Alaska–a 

wild seed flower will join this warm weather chorus of color.

Divisions of Loose-leaf and Coneflowers galore

and friendly Columbine waving in the spring breeze.

A trek up a cemetery hill folded in a clump of Dwarf Blue Flags

and the tiniest, petite Irises I have ever seen!

Strawberries are mad with bloom and bright green

stems of asparagus await our family dinner table.

My mind drifts to alternating rows of tulips and azaleas

and a little treasure I plan to someday capture—Persian Buttercup

that I discovered at the Botanical Gardens in St. Louis.  Makes

me wonder if Grandmother Lois was as charmed as I at this one

huge white blossom on such a small plant. 

The rain has now let up and my country garden beckons.

Noodles can wait as I grab my trowel to sink my hands

into the soil and allow my knees to dampen from this

lush morning of window gazing.

This Kiss, This Kiss

Spring is a season of cliches and love — bees snuggle into flower pollen, birds open their breasts wide for a song, rabbits rub noses like tiny pink erasers across a sheet of paper, a pair of hawks wing and dance across the sky over our neighborhood, weddings are being planned, and the light livens and lifts winter blues. It is a fetching time of year of new beginnings and an urgency for love.

If you’re a scientist though, the lovesickness can be blamed on one very real thing. “It’s dopamine,” says Helen Fischer, a neuroscientist, professor at Rutgers University, and author of five books on the science of love. Fisher says dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical your brain uses to make you want things. There are other systems involved in love, but when it comes to new love, dopamine is the main culprit. And with enough of it swirling around your system, you’re prone to fall in love — and fall hard.

Spring unpacks color, fresh smells from bursting flowers and foliage, and people shed layers of their clothes wearing brighter fabrics, exposing more of themselves. They unknowingly embrace this season of renewal.

Every April your brain unwittingly becomes a dopamine factory, turning you into a love junkie. Brain scans of people flooded with the stuff look a lot like brain scans of drug addicts. This makes sense, since being high on dopamine feels, as many lovers would put it, euphoric.

Then there is Molly Shannon’s character in Superstar obsessing for her first kiss; endless songs and poems have been written of spring, longing, desire, and recognition through a first kiss. Here is a simple stanza from Wadsworth Lines Written in Early Spring –

The birds around me hopped and played:
Their thoughts I cannot measure,
But the least motion which they made,
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

What is your pleasure of spring and a memory of your first kiss? Was it in this month of April, which symbolizes ‘to open’? Spring is abundant in its offerings, a delight to the senses, a gift to move forward and renovate our awareness and mental balance…a time to feel love.