What Memorial Day means to one soldier’s little girl

Every year I ask myself the same question: why is it the few can take the many into chaos they will never experience and then avert their eyes from the damage they’ve caused? Could Memorial Day be reduced to a cliche in the same way that ‘thoughts and prayers’ has become the mantra of people who really don’t want to waste more than a couple of syllables on reflection: ‘Remember and Honor’. This and this, that and that. String the commiseration together. Jose Narosky reminded us: ‘In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.’ We must do better than this…

Memorial Day never struck me as a mini-Black Friday, the day to run to the nearest holiday sales or tell anyone who will listen, “Thank God I’ve got Monday off!” Memorial Day is about remembering. A day to do what we should do everyday: remember our veterans. Those who died in combat or from the battles that rage in their minds long after they return.

I write about veterans because I respect what they have done. I may not respect the politics that put them in harm’s way but I respect their self-sacrifice, especially in a time when being self-satisfied seems to have become a mantra for America.

I’ve mentioned before that I come from a military family: father, husband and son have all served in different branches of the US military. I don’t believe any American does not know at least one person who served.

My adult life has been a search for my Dad, an Army veteran so broken in body and mind that he spent most of the year occupying a bed at the VA hospital in Vermont. I grew up there. I was the only kid I knew who ate dinner at the hospital commissary, a quonset hut left over from the war, or first tasted the wonders of a black and white ice cream sundae supplied by a sympathetic hospital cook. And I’m fairly certain that riding in the back of an ambulance with your Dad is not a normal childhood experience.

I mention this because I don’t want any of us to forget. Memorial Day isn’t a bunch of old men standing around a forgotten town memorial saluting the flag. There isn’t an American who hasn’t been touched by war; we’ve had too many of them. It’s hard for us to see the young soldier hiding in the wrinkles of a 90-year-old. And it’s a stretch to try to fathom the experiences of a generation of young men and women sent to places with names we struggle to pronounce. But we must do that for them and for us as a nation.

Memorial Day is the gateway to a red, white and blue summer. But we’ve lost the sense of what the day means. We don’t come to earth long enough to think about what this special day symbolizes and why we need to join those folks around the town memorial. We’ve moved the date from May 30 to one more convenient for a short holiday. We publish sale flyers weeks in advance and hope the weather holds to get in the tomato plants. What we lack in all the noise is a sense of generations and the legacy of having someone in the family come back from war. Or not.

Maybe what we need to remember in this country is that once upon a war we were all in it together. We don’t need another war to teach us that lesson. Or maybe as Andy Rooney told us: we don’t really need a Memorial Day to remember the dead so much as to remember all the young people who will die in future wars if we don’t make war disappear forever.

Memorial Day for me is a little girl pushing a wheelchair down the endless hallways of a hospital filled with sick, injured and dying veterans. We must do better than this.

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Vegetarian Killed By Meat Truck

There isn’t a journalist who doesn’t have an archive of their personal best. These might not be the ones the public thinks are inspiring or thrilling or topical, but they’re the ones the writer remembers. Take this headline…

Not every writer goes to journalism school to cover a war or write about sleazy politicians. Some stay local and write about town board meetings and who grew the biggest pumpkin for the county fair. Thousands of us were taught by our betters to practice the upside down pyramid while drawing the reader’s eye using a great headline.

Admit it: you read the headline first and if it looks tantalizing or a bit salacious your eyes roam down to the first couple of paragraphs. We all do it. But not all journalists write headlines successfully. And not every journalist makes it out of today’s digital version of the ‘women’s pages’ or the obits.

There was a time when a female reporter got stuck extolling the merits of someone’s aunt and her cherry pie or visiting white glove parties for a scoop on how the genteel were surviving on champers and fish eggs on toast points. But you never complained or acted like Rosalind Russell calling out Cary Grant in the newsroom of the cringingly titled His Girl Friday. Where young men got a shot at real news, you got to make coffee and handle the stuff no one else would touch.

But the one place no one wanted to go was the Obituaries.

The Obits were the department of a very special kind of editor. You didn’t go out to cover a death, it came to you. Families and funeral homes would send in a memoriam and you’d tidy it up and make it fit in the section. Obituary editors were a weird lot, possessing all the charm of a vampire on the day shift and reminding you that you too could wind up doing the job if you pissed someone off.

If you were a kid studying journalism, it was a given that, at some point, one of your professors would get back at you for being young and decide you needed to contemplate your mortality and write your own obituary. Humor was never considered appropriate and would earn you both professorial side eye and a failing grade. And this is how I came to write the headline you see above that earned me a dressing down and a reminder to the entire class that death and journalism were both serious business. But it’s still my favorite headline.

When you’re young you can’t imagine anything could ever end, especially you. Pumped full of vitality and high on possibility, there’s nothing like writing your own death notice to ruin the moment. While the rest of my class was writing their sober, sad obituaries, I decided to ‘leave ’em laughing’. My death put me in the wrong place as a sausage truck came hurtling through a red light while I was on my way to a vegetarian restaurant for lunch. Several paragraphs of extolling my worthy life and stumping for a meatless diet and I was on my way to a D for the assignment.

A few decades later, it’s still the only obit I’ve ever written. Listen: everyone has at least one memorable headline for their life. Think about it. What’s yours?

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Which thing is not like the other?

There are times when cynicism gets the best of me. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any nuttier, voters south of me in New York elected a shape shifter. Enter George Santos. Or is it? More than one politician down in Washington has damp armpits over who he really is. But that doesn’t stop Republicans from appointing him to committees rather than booting his arse out. Blinded by indifference, hatefulness, and outright stupidity, McCarthy and the rest of his posse of the irregulars, have chosen to greet him like an old friend and fellow cowboy.

Growing up in the rural northeast meant having a seat at the political table: Town Meeting. There’s nowhere to hide at Town Meeting. If you have dirty laundry, someone is sure to pull your pants down for all to see. It’s no Norman Rockwell painting on Town Meeting Day but the lunch is terrific. It’s government by the people and for the people with a lot of shouting and boredom alternating with voting and gossiping. There are no PR firms or TikTok videos. No lobbyists buying off America’s future. Enter George Santos.

If you think Marjorie Taylor Greene is a sign of the times, you’re missing the point. Anyone can stand up and shout stupid but it takes a real toad in a hole to be a George Santos. Santos represents everything and nothing, except maybe how a grifter can read the room and inveigle himself into the good graces of the electorate and the halls of Congress. We’ve been down this road before on a national scale but at least our benighted former President wasn’t a part-time drag queen. I think. And, before you beat me with a stick, I’m all for being a drag queen but none of this ‘I was only kidding’ and ‘my other suit was at the cleaners’ malarkey. You be all you, George: wear your kit onto the Congressional floor and earn your place in social media history.

We’re three weeks into 2023 and I’m over it already. Another year of crazy. America reminds me of a bible thumper tent meeting with a side of snake oil. We don’t have to wait for dystopia; it’s already here.

Posted in Creatures of the Deep, Crimes, George Santos, Government, Law, Lies, Media, Politics, Weird stuff | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Which thing is not like the other?

What to serve a Sasquatch

If you’ve never heard of a Sasquatch, where have you been? How about Bigfoot? It’s a fact: here in northeastern New York we have a documented robust and healthy population. Apparently. I know this because a guest at my table the other night explained that the Sasquatch is probably, might be, could be, a new humanoid. A very elusive humanoid. This was news to me as I passed the potatoes.

The fact that I didn’t know he fancies himself an expert on Sasquatch culture was supposed to make me fall over myself asking questions. But why bother. Two hours later, I too was an expert on the northeastern New York version of the Sasquatch. Bigfoot to amateurs. And, if there is a Sasquatch reading this, for godsake, go hide.

The whole ‘hunt the Sasquatch’ thing is over on the edge but enough aficionados with night vision and camo are convinced that it’s safe to go thrashing around in the woods at midnight hollering and waving around two-way radios that you do not have to worry about being discovered. Why? Because you do not exist. I too have seen Pottersville and I can tell you that running across the road in a gorilla suit at night in front of oncoming traffic is never a sane idea.

People seem to need something weird and odd and a little scary to get lost in. Real life is too bizarre. Not everyone has decided to go whaling with Moby Dick or buy a second home in Narnia. Most of us putter through life looking for the highs among the lows. The lows seem to be winning these days so going Bigfoot wrangling makes cowpokes of us all.

But fear not. In the Town of Whitehall, NY, the self-described Bigfoot capital of the Northeast, a law was passed in 2000 declaring the town and its surroundings to be “protected habitat” and banning the “willful harming” of a Sasquatch. But that doesn’t mean the town doesn’t know a good thing when it sees it (or doesn’t see it).

The town heartily welcomes you to stop by and try to Spot a Sasquatch. If that doesn’t work out, c’mon back in September when the town braces for an influx of believers for the annual Sasquatch Festival & Calling Contest: September 24 in Whitehall, NY.

Listen up: before you go to Whitehall, you have homework. With over 113 sightings in the area each year, New York leads the nation in the number of reports of Sasquatch encounters. As if the sightings and the festival and the tales of scary encounters aren’t enough to keep you up at night peeking out the window, there’s an episode of Monster Quest: Bigfoot in New York (S2, ep.12) to wet your whistle for the Bigfoot calling contest.

See you there. Maybe…

Posted in Country weirdness, Crap you tell your kids, It's outta this world!, Stories from the Boonies, Travel, Weird stuff, Wilderness | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on What to serve a Sasquatch

Let’s all quit at the same time

If you’re an advocate of one job until you croak, you probably shouldn’t read this. I’ve noticed over the years that keeping that job you love to hate is not the ego buster it used to be. Here’s a shocker: you can quit. And that’s exactly what thousands of employees are doing. When you don’t quit but find yourself suddenly unemployed because you just got fired due to a business downturn, you have time to ponder the trend. There’s no kinship with the quitters but there is this sense that your employer just took the opportunity to skim the cream off the employee roster.

When Covid hit there was the scramble to find your slippers and settle in for a day of Zoom meetings with the cat on your lap. Keeping the job and working from home was deluxe. But if you had kids and they shut the schools, or you had a combination of bored school kids at home and energetic toddlers, you were suddenly stressed, angry, and pissed at the world. Choices were to made. Suddenly quitting seemed mighty fine. After all, you could always figure out another way to make money. Right?

It might not be so right after all. The news outlets have been delighted and horrified by the American workforce quitting. It’s not like anyone quit to go to a better job. They just quit. To find themselves. We’re talking about people in their 20s and 30s who can’t face it anymore. I wonder what people in their 50s and beyond think about this attitude. America is the original “don’t be a quitter” country and watching the arse end of your workforce leave the building has shaken the bedrock of our economy.

The media wants you to believe that the majority of those who quit were corporate attorneys or harassed CEOs or others of that ilk with deep pockets. Or they left to start their own businesses in a time when money for startups is tighter than ever and not having a steady income stream is a red flag to a lender.

That’s the easy explanation. But how about the mass extinction in retailing, construction, and the trades. The granite layers of the economy are leaving. No savings, no plans. That’s worlds apart from some venture capitalist who always wanted to be a dairy farmer. With 20% of the workforce sitting it out since the pandemic began, you have to wonder if their motives in walking out will impress a potential new employer. Maybe if they’re desperate. Are we desperate yet? Maybe. When a construction laborer can demand $40 per hour to haul around equipment we might be staring over the edge.

I’m not opposed to people finding themselves, rethinking their career path, staying sane or being disgusted by the devaluing of their labor. In a CNN survey a few years ago 92% of the respondents indicated that the top reason for quitting a job was because they didn’t feel respected. Aretha was right.

I’m urging people not to overthink where they can go and what they can do without training and time in the hopper. There’s this crazy idea going around that you can hold employers hostage for whatever you want or occupy the corner office without any experience. It might work in the movies. But in real life there are some steps in between.

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The Workin’ From Home Blues

It’s 9 a.m. and you’re sitting in your home office, your second cup of coffee cooling on the desk, and no pants on. You must be new to this “Work From Home” thing. Or “WTF” as the cool kids say.

Those of us who spend our days staring down the laptop screen, doing chair yoga, fending off barking dogs and probing cat paws, while dousing our eyeballs with dry eye drops welcome you.

We know you office social butterflies who flutter around the workplace kitchen Keurig and complain because someone forgot to buy non-fat creamer are going nuts at this point. Buck up, you’re only a few weeks in. If you’re an introvert, you can’t hide your smirk. Introverts have spent a lifetime getting ready for this.

We understand you have no routine, maybe your kids are home, you have four-legged office mates that have strong opinions about going pee and eating snacks. You are living on the edge of chaos. You might be working your way toward 12 cups of coffee a day with a side of Oreos. Can we help?

We know most of you weren’t prepared to go from the sprawl of your office desk to the dining room table. Frankly, some of us fell for the charm of a vintage library table or lugged home a desk that came in a box with a few bits missing. We understand how you can wind up with hunched shoulders, a turtle neck from squinting at the screen, and a permanently numb rump. We are simpatico with your pain. If you can find a space where no one will mess with your collection of used coffee cups and Post-It notes, capture it. Make it your own. And, no, this is not temporary.

Next, we want to encourage you to never under-estimate the value of office mates. Acting like a grown up when you actually are a grown up cannot be under-estimated either. If you think the office culture is bad, your two and four-legged menagerie have by now figured out you are an easy target. You must be firm. Yelling will not help.

Remember the British diplomat who was working from home and doing an interview on the BBC and his kid in the bouncy chair burst in just as he was making a Very Important Point? That is now you. Every conference call is an opportunity to scream, wail, bark, meow, chew on the laptop cord, knock your notes onto the floor, or disconnect you. If you have to use Skype, Zoom, or any other video conferencing programs for a big ol’ collaborative effort, you can kiss your credibility goodbye.

Eating at your desk is a thing of the past. No more wondering who burned the popcorn or who brought in the tuna salad for lunch. Your new office mates will lick their lips and stare at each forkful. Children and animals are people watchers. Stalkers, actually. Some of us have learned the hard way that even keeping snacks at the desk is an invitation to persistent barking and the meddling of small paws. Go eat in the kitchen.

Get up, make your bed, and dress for the office. This is not the time for your Star Wars pajama bottoms, bunny scuffies, or a lapse in personal hygiene. Working from home is serious business. Dress for success.

You must resist the urge to roam around and call it “thinking up a project idea,” turn on Netflix to peruse its educational content, or look at all the cute UPSDogs on Instagram. Be vigilant. The Boss is watching.

You may find yourself at a loss at the beginning and end of the day because you no longer have to risk your life playing bumper cars on the work journey. Call your insurance company and tell them you are now working from home and the car is not leaving the driveway. Ask for a discount based on low miles driven. They hate it when people ask. But too bad. Be firm.

Working from home used to be the domain of rebels, rogues, introverts, shady guys selling bitcoin or pretending to be a Nigerian prince, and IT nerds. If you told anyone you were a “freelancer” it meant you couldn’t hold a steady job, the kind your parents wanted you to get and never leave. The old “go in young and come out old” way of looking at work. If you ever sat at your desk at the office wondering “is this all there is,” now’s your chance. Welcome. You’re now working from home. WFH. Get used to it. Don’t fight it. You’ll never want to go back.

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Hey, Dean, you callin’ an Uber?

I’m worried again. A couple of years ago I yelled at a couple of Brit psychologists for screwing up a generation of children with some foolishness about how believing in Santa was a ticket to years of therapy. And maybe a dim IQ and sexual dysfunction. According to those two, you’d better be ready to soldier on by the time you’re six.

But here we are again. This time it’s holiday music and the almost pathological need to find sexual threats in songs from the 40s and 50s. Forget the cultural context; it’s off with their heads.

Last year it was the boozy slurred rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside that took it on the neck. How dare this drunk guy try to talk a gal into a pajama party at his place? Does it count if they’re both singing at each other? Somewhere between the snow storm and the suggestion of some snogging Dean became the epitome of the violent sexual predator. What just happened here?

And how is it this sensitive guy, John Legend, who never ever thought about trying to talk someone into the sack, dared to rewrite the lyrics to suggest calling a cab or an Uber instead of inviting your date to spend the night? And what happens, John, if the ride can’t make it? You got a Plan B? Oh, and it’s 1959.

I’m thinking if we’re going down this rabbit hole looking to rewrite history to justify some of our over-heated sensibilities and pearl clutching, we really ought to think about what Mom was doing with Santa under the mistletoe and what Eartha Kitt had in mind when she was purring about Santa Baby hurrying down the chimney tonight. I’m seeing two women with something other than eggnog on their minds.

And while we’re at it, how about a little surgery on those sugary holiday movies. The ones where the lonely 20-something who just broke up with her sweetheart/lost her job in the big city/inherited the haunted ancestral pile/moved back to the dead end town where everyone knows everyone else’s business and there’s one diner and a dishy mechanic/carpenter/manly man who makes eyes at her and is outrageously suggestive? And how does this newly launched female react? C’mon. You know what’s going to happen by the time the credits roll.

There’s a chasm between what went on in music and cinema in the world that was the 30s, 40s and 50s and us. You can’t selectively yank lyrics or movie plots and apply today’s standards. There’s a lot of anger out there among women. Anger that’s come from realizing what a crap deal women have gotten. Maybe anger at realizing we let it happen and maybe some more anger just for the sake of being pissed off at a target. But anger isn’t the most focused emotion and neither is selectively winking at some behaviors while condemning others. I think we need to hold Eartha and that mommy with the roving eye to the same standard as Dean.

I’ll leave it to others to decipher, dissect, and ponder. I just want to know I can turn on the car radio some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and listen to Dean try to schmooze his date with the same line he’s been using since 1959.



Posted in Christmas, GIRL power, Good manners, Pitchfork mobs, Relationships, Santa | Comments Off on Hey, Dean, you callin’ an Uber?

It being a starry night I thought I might have some luck

A couple of years ago I got the bright idea to wander around in the dark with a walking stick and a dim flashlight over near the tree line. Being a lover of owls I figured the best time to see their magnificence was when they left their hidey holes and headed out for the nightly banquet. I’ve looked for my elusive hootie owl for the past two years and followed the hoots down the driveway or around the side field or just about anyplace else I might catch a glimpse. It’s never happened. But I’m hopeful.

It was all going pretty smoothly last night and it being a starry night I thought I might have some luck. I’ve discovered that being prepared is what it’s all about. Being prepared. That does not mean using your iPhone light as a search light or wearing sloppy pants and no socks and an old pair of barn shoes your mother would make you throw out. But there I was taking my cataracts for a walk and the dark for granted.

It seemed quiet and I was enjoying the stars and the peace until I heard a grunt coming from about twenty feet north of me. This bothered me. I know of a few animals that will grunt at you. Rabbits will grunt but those are tiny angry grunts and being rabbits they tend to be pretty close to ankle height. But this grunt came from my height. In the woods. In the dark.

My father, who was a keen woodsman, always told me to be quiet and not panic. So I didn’t. Maybe a little but it was one grunt and we don’t have any wild boar or grizzly bears or much else that might eat you. But we do have deer. Deer grunt when they’re miffed about something. Moose will grunt as a warning but we don’t have any moose around here. I went with deer. In fact, I had myself convinced there was a deer in the woods about twenty feet north of me and I could go on with my stargazing.

That’s about the time I decided to double check and made the mistake of verifying my theory by shining my iPhone light right at the grunt. At that point I knew I had been a bit of a Pollyanna about what’s out and about in the forest near my house at night. Two sets of eyes looked back at me. Two sets of eyes that were at my height and looking at me from behind a bank of jewelweed. Not moving. At least until one of them let out a screech. It wasn’t loud but it wasn’t a “how do you do” either.

I thought the jig was up and my legs grew roots and I was stuck there to the ground in the side field in the dark. Yelling was not going to achieve much other than riling up my two companions. If I was lucky I was going to have enough time to hobble back to the house while walking with a straight back and pawing the ground with my walking stick.

It wasn’t the time to think about how people consider themselves rulers of the animal kingdom and the earth but lacking a gun or fire for protection don’t do much when faced with the potential to be part of the food chain except pee their pants and turn tail and run. I like to think animals will get the better of us. Maybe it’s time to bring back the dinosaurs or the saber tooth tiger and turn them loose to right the balance again.

My nocturnal visitors allowed me to shuffle home but I knew they could have left their shelter behind the jewelweed and come my way. I grew up in the country in northeastern Vermont and have a pretty good idea when I am being let off the hook. Maybe I wasn’t of interest because they knew I meant no harm. I’d like to think that. It makes me feel a little less like an outsider in the natural world.

Tonight I might venture just outside the pool of barnyard light but no further. Once is a gift. Twice might not bring me luck.


Posted in Autumn, Country weirdness, Keen Woodsman, Nature, Outside the barnyard, Stories from the Boonies, The Boonies, Wilderness | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on It being a starry night I thought I might have some luck

The Two Season Year

10526513-bare-treeWell, it’s autumn again. Or Fall, if your prefer. There used to be only two seasons: Summer and Winter. Either you wore a sweater or you didn’t. Practical people who weren’t trying to sell you on the idea of hot cider and flannel shirts from a major retailer knew that either you planted or you mucked through the snow to the barn and that was that.

So, how did this four season business happen? It started with autumn, the season with a split personality. Either it’s warm and the leaves are the stuff of bad poetry or it’s sleet and bare trees. There’s no two ways about it with autumn. Unlike spring or summer where no matter the weather the flowers are still upright, autumn can be a nasty customer. And winter is just winter and you get through it.

The word autumn made its appearance around 1300. Lacking pumpkin spice lattes to define this time of the year, the season of the year known as Harvest or Harvest Time seemed rather obvious. Peasants gathered the fruits of a summer of back breaking labor as the year cooled off and celebrated the season with harvest festivals and the culminating event: Halloween. We’ll get to Halloween later.

But it wasn’t enough. This was the era when the richness of the English language was rapaciously stealing words from Latin and retooling them to suit the new era of illuminated manuscripts, the first books. Enter autumn that derives from autumnus (masculine, 2nd declension for those care), another way of saying harvest. See how it all fits together?

By 1755 everyone was confused by Autumn and autumn and Fall and fall. Leave it to an American, John Pickering, to sort it out for us. He gave us the exhilarating A Vocabulary, or Collection of Words Which Have Been Supposed to Be Peculiar to the United States of America, a ponderous study of the diversity of British English v. American English in 1816. While America and Britain were still reeling from the War of 1812, which actually lasted several years, Pickering was dithering over the origins of autumn and fall. 

He finally concluded: “In North America the season in which this [the fall of the leaf] takes place, derives its name from that circumstance, and instead of autumn is universally called the fall.” I find this a bit convoluted but apparently he was exasperated by trying to figure it out and we were stuck with two names for a made up season.

Which brings us back to why we love autumn/fall or not. As a young lass my mother would say, “It’s September. It’s autumn/fall. You’re wearing the heavy tweed.” My mother never wore tweed. But I did. There is nothing like sitting in a hot classroom in Indian Summer wearing tweed and itching. Indian Summer is a sub-season within the larger autumn when the last blast of great weather hits before all hell breaks loose and the temperature freezes your eyeballs.

Let me assure you, there never was an Indian Summer until a writer, William Dean Howells, coined the term in 1860 to refer to one last blast of youthful romanticism before the onset of the winter of your lumbago. It stuck and now we have Indian Summer, the time of leaf peeping, swilling hot pumpkin flavored drinks, wearing Uggs with knee socks and donning name brand fleece jackets. Retailers love our obsession with autumn/fall, a season they helped to invent.

I’m from Vermont and we think of autumn as the mouth of Hell. I grew up with 120″ of snow a year and temperatures that fell so low the tree branches would explode like rifle fire and the car wouldn’t start for weeks. As long as you know autumn comes sneaking in the backdoor with thousands of dollars in heating bills, you’ll be fine.

Bring on the pumpkins and corn stalks, the bonfires and flannel shirts, the apple pies. Autumn is a time of magic whether you dress up your front porch or revere ancient rights. For the Iron Age Celts it was a time when the gods of the Otherworld visited the living and warriors paraded the tongues of their enemies on sticks. The Romans brought the celebration of a fruitful harvest and the goddess Pomona to tone down the Celtic idea of a rousing party. Autumn was born.

Autumn, the season that never was, has built a cult following. By the end of July, summer weary folks, tired of sweating and swatting mosquitoes, begin to talk about autumn with a nostalgia they will jettison as soon as the furnace goes on. I don’t mean to be cynical but autumn is more a poem than the hard reality of the bare trees and exposed hillsides, the grey scutting clouds and showers of freezing rain that send the romantics to the tire store and the fuel oil dealers to the bank.

Autumn and I have weathered more than a few decades together. I mutter; autumn laughs. We watch each other out of the corner of our eye, seeing who will make the first move: will autumn hurl a rapid drop in temperature the weather people didn’t predict or will I be the one to bend first, turning on the furnace before November 1. We’re old friends in the way old adversaries become comfortable with the fray. Not giving ground but not taking more than a fair share.

I think I’ll go rearrange the pumpkins this afternoon and admire the blue sky only an autumn day can give us. But I’m not fooled. The cold is just around the corner. Another year turns.



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June 6, 1944: The Grand Purpose

It’s June 6, 1944. America still sleeps but will soon wake to the news that Allied forces have landed across a fifty mile swath of beach in a place called Normandy, on the northwest coast of France. D Day and Operation Overlord have begun.

Under the cover of misinformation and secrecy, General Eisenhower and Allied commanders have moved an armada of 5,000 vessels, 11,000 aircraft and 150,000 men across the English Channel in an audacious move to bring victory in Europe and the end to Nazi tyranny.

The first hours of the invasion will bring significant casualties to combined Allied forces with 10,000 killed or wounded as troops storm the heavily fortified beaches of Juno, Omaha, Sword, Gold and Utah. The beaches are thick with barbed wire, fortifications and traps. But there’s no going back, nowhere to hide, nowhere but forward. Live or die as the day and the day after and the weeks and months grind on.

The enormity of what a generation that fought and bled across Europe and the South Pacific did for us is a black and white memory, a grainy newsreel image to those born after it all ended. By this time last year, less than a half million World War II veterans were still alive. In their late eighties and nineties, they’re leaving us at nearly 400 a day.

With them will leave the last living witness to a time when America was one country united under one grand purpose, pulling together for victory against tyranny. Not inviting it to pull up a chair at our national dinner table.

We must not lose them without thanking them, without talking to them and letting them tell us what it all meant. We must do for this for them. And for us.

Interested in volunteering to meet and help our veterans? Contact the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, NY, the Disabled American Veterans organization or volunteer for the Capital Region Stand Down, October 18 in Latham.

Plan a visit to the National World War II Memorial, Washington, DC and the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Posted in Government, Matters of the heart, Veterans, World War II | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on June 6, 1944: The Grand Purpose

Once Upon a Time in Puppyland

There’s a new puppy in the house. I’m not sure when I agreed to this but just the faintest whiff that I might be waffling resulted in a small shaggy puppy I’ve been assured is a purebred. I have my doubts.

It’s been a tooth pull getting me up to speed on puppyhood with all its opportunities for naughtiness and cuteness. There are no straight lines in dealing with a puppy. And you can forget the self-congratulation on your excellent training abilities. Puppies have their own developmental schedule and the human curmudgeon can be damned.

Over the last few weeks I’ve learned that puppies love to pee. And poop. But mostly pee and they are not offended by walking, sleeping, or sitting in it. Babies are babies and babies can’t figure out why you’re flailing your arms and brandishing a roll of paper towels. Maybe it’s time to play.

Puppies want to help. They insist on interjecting themselves into every household activity: mopping up pee, dusting, moving things around, and waiting for stuff to fall off the cutting board. Did I mention mopping up pee?

Small puppies learn from big dogs. Big dogs, even those small in stature, teach the youth how to behave in the pack. There are rules and there is pack etiquette and you must not break the rules. It’s terrifying. The growling sounds like a truck full of gravel being dumped in the living room. After a while you tune it out just like you tuned out all the screaming and drama when your kids were little. Which brings me to the realization that raising a puppy is just like raising a kid. There are equal parts exasperation and amusement, lessons to be taught and mistakes to be made. I might be uncorking a little as the puppy learns and I remember.

If you have an older dog you forget they were once a puppy. If you have an older dog who came from rescue, it’s rather poignant to remember that you never got to see the baby pictures or buy toys or remind it that we pee outside.

On a sunny day, as the puppy learns the grass is not scary and dandelions are not trying to kill you, that you never bedevil a bee, and it’s fun to chase the big dog around the field until you collapse in a heap, I get to watch the silliness and sense of wonder only something so small and young can teach you. Grownups talk about magic but they forget how to find it. Puppies can help with that.

As the weeks stretch by you get to see that all your hair pulling and exhaustion and frustration and treat doling is producing a pretty good dog. But you won’t ever change the essential qualities of the dog’s personality. Puppies are born with a heart filled with kindness and silliness. Humans sometimes change that goodness. It’s true there are no bad dogs. I wish I could say the same for people.

We have a crazy little energy ball in the house careening into every other molecule in its environment. I suspect that won’t change. There is naughtiness in those brown eyes.

Our dogs are with us for a short time. Too short. Puppies give us a glimpse of innocence and foolishness and never-ending optimism. I’m thinking everyone needs at least one puppy in their lifetime.


Posted in Dogs, Relationships | Tagged | Comments Off on Once Upon a Time in Puppyland

Can we talk about pie and world peace?

Can we talk about pies? It’s the week for pies, not that every week isn’t a week for a slice of pie, but Thanksgiving seems to bring out the latent baker in just about everyone. There is a subset of home cooks, however, who think holiday desserts are a throw away and either Aunt Mildred can bring it or Mrs. Smith can bake it or maybe no one will recognize those single serving Table Talk pies and think they’re tarts. No one is fooling anyone here: either make the pie yourself or be honest and serve cake.

If you love pies as much as I do you might have made a small career out of eating slices of pie in any restaurant you happen to visit. The first question is always, “Are your pies made here?” If the answer is “no,” I’m done. If you tell me you do make your pies but you use those cardboard pre-made crusts or something gluey out of a Sysco can, we’re done. I’m a pie snob.

Which brings me to Mrs. Nault. When I was a young girl my country education included milking a cow, feeding chickens, churning butter, haying, bread baking and making pies. Lots of pies. Mrs. Nault baked everything and cooked everything on, and dried every wet mitten and hat over, an enormous Atlantic Queen, a giant black cookstove that dominated her Vermont kitchen. Electricity was a fickle thing so lanterns were at the ready and candles would sub for a little atmosphere on dark winter nights when the temperature dropped like a rock below zero and the bark on trees would explode from the cold. The wood for that cookstove was carried in by her husband, Perley, who insisted his “lovely bride” of fifty years made the best pies in two counties. Judging by the amount of company that appeared on the doorstep on pie and bread baking day, that was a modest assessment.

There are many ways to make pie crust but Mrs. Nault insisted pie crust was best made from lard and butter. Let’s face it: if you’re going to eat pie crust, go all the way and skip the crisco. And while you’re at it, save the whole wheat flour for bread. I have nothing against healthy eating but we’re talking about pie. Pie is dessert and the words “healthy” and “desserts” seem a bit at odds in the same sentence. After the horror of low fat and the misguided need to make the Cookie Monster eat carrots, leave pie alone.

If you take half butter and half lard, or all butter, and you gently flake it into some flour with a smidgen of salt and a little ice water, just enough to make the dough roll into a ball, than you have the makings of the perfect pie crust: flaky, tender, melt in the mouth. And if you chill that dough for a bit and gently roll it out from the center, and not in random directions hither and yon until it’s beaten down and looks kind of grey and tough, you will have a lovely rolled out crust with bits of butter that will blend and meld.

Mrs. Nault taught me to use the freshest fruit, squeeze lemons for the best tasting lemon pies, grate bitter chocolate for deep flavored chocolate pies, use eggs a couple of days old for the highest meringue, seek out heavy cream with no preservatives for the loveliest whipped cream, and always use unsalted butter to make my crusts. This isn’t foodie fashionista stuff. In a farm kitchen you use the best you have to hand and bake from the head and heart with a small recipe file of favorites. You don’t need the Food Network and Rachel Ray to tell you the obvious or what you’re doing wrong or how it would taste so much better if you spend a lot of money on ingredients and kitchen doodads you don’t need.

We live in changing times. But there is a constant: a piece of homemade pie and a hot cup of good coffee. I think society fell apart when people stopped pausing their day for pie and coffee and a little conversation as their mid-morning break. Not some rushed Starbuck’s coffee-ish drink with your name scrawled over the cup or something gobbled at your desk but time to sit down and stop. Just stop the noise. A small ritual that brings balance.

If you come to my house you’re going to find a pie, whatever I felt like making that day, and I’ll put on a pot of coffee and we’ll sit down and have a chin wag. We’ll wave our forks and talk about the weather and whatever else we ramble upon. I don’t expect pie and coffee will lead to world peace but there was a time when a lot more problems were solved at the local diner than in the media.

Maybe we need a time machine to show us what we’re missing in this contentious country where pie is relegated to the holidays and sitting down and conversing over a slice and a cup of coffee is a forgotten art.

Posted in Community, Food, Good manners, Relationships, Sweet temptations | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Dirt Road Devil Babies

Travelling a rural road with few sign posts can take you miles out of your way. Be forewarned: it’s not all peace and quiet and bucolic scenery out there. Iffy cell service, animals on a collision course with your bumper, and a frisson of fear at the thought of breaking down in the middle of nowhere ferment in your gut. Country driving is straight out of a B horror movie. Cue the creepy music. If I were you, I’d turn around.

On your way to nowhere in particular you expect to see farms and fields, a few cows, and long stretches of dust. But not much else. But there’s one road, a Class Four dirt road tucked into the recesses of eastern Rensselaer County, NY, where you might come across the unexpected: the heads of two devil babies. It’s a touch of the macabre in the pastoral countryside. The two heads are part of two columns at the end of an overgrown dirt track running off a dirt road. How did they get there? 

According to the locals at the mom and pop a couple of miles down the paved road, the devil babies have been there for at least a hundred years glowering at passersby and scaring the daylights out of children. But no one knows who put them there. There’s never been a house on the property. Are they telling the truth? Do the locals know more than they’re saying? If you can sniff out a story, this might be a good one.

Consider it a dog with a bone kind of thing but I checked in at the local post office one town over and it wasn’t the same story. This time the postmaster mentioned a house built by a stranger who shunned local company but entertained several times a year with giant bonfires and eerie music the locals could hear through the trees. One night at the end of October, 1912, the house burned to the ground. What started the fire, so the story goes, remains a mystery. “The house just burned to the ground in a coupla minutes,” the postmaster verified. “The owner and his guests were long gone. All that’s left out there are the two devil baby columns and a cellar hole, unless you count the round patch further out in the woods where nothing grows.” Was the postmaster having me on?

Sometimes it pays to ask a few more questions, but that depends on how friendly the locals are. Locals tend to regard any passersby as snooping in their business or worse: working for the government. Back at the mom and pop, and with a few more purchases laced with some questions about the house in the woods, I was shut down. No more information would be forthcoming and scoot.

It was late afternoon and the woods were falling into shadow but curiosity has a way of getting the better of good judgement when you’re talking two devil baby heads. There was just enough daylight to snap a couple of photos of the heads glowering at me in the fading light. Every kid knows that no good comes of stumbling around in the woods in the dark. The eeriness of the site and the chance to revisit when the sun wasn’t going down put me back in my car and down the road before you could say Old Scratch.

Two weeks later on an ideal weather day of sun and a light breeze, I was back at it. Finding a dirt road off an unmarked dirt road is no small trick when you didn’t pay much attention the first time. After an hour of backing out of driveways and heading in the opposite direction, I found the turn off to the smaller dirt track. Calling it a road would have been too generous and if I had any thoughts about calling for help, a quick check showed I was in a cell dead hole.

Putting yourself in a pickle on purpose is foolishness. There were choices to be made. Folly or not, I made mine. Covered with bug spray I set out for the cellar hole and the mysterious barren circle. Unless you count the two leering beat up devil babies, I was alone.

I hadn’t succeeded in convincing anyone back home this was a good idea. “If the locals say “scoot” that must mean they don’t want anyone tramping around back there,” it was reasonably pointed out. While I was lacing up my boots, there was a quick as a wink moment when I asked myself if maybe my lack of common sense and poor impulse control was going to finally catch up with me. But operating on the “you only go around once” principle of risk taking, I set off.

A few minutes later, and a short walk into the woods on a partially overgrown track, I found myself staring down into a cellar hole I was sure marked the foundation of a sizable structure. The stacked stone foundation had small trees and shrubs poking through and stones in one corner were charred from high heat. What had happened here? If I was a betting woman, I’d put my money on the story the local postmaster told me. The next step was to find the strange circle in the woods.

I’m not superstitious but being alone out there made a tiny prickle run up the back of my neck. After a half hour traipsing over an overgrown path and hopping around poison ivy, I found a clearing. If I was going to direct one of those cheesy devil movies with people standing around chanting in black hooded robes with torches burning off the darkness, I’d chose this spot for the location.

The clearing was barren, except for a ring of tall scraggly pines with peeling bark and dusty barren earth beneath. The lack of vegetation and a deep bed of rusty red pine needles didn’t explain the symmetrical pile of stones in front of me. I have a pretty good imagination but the closer I got the surer I was they hadn’t been stacked there a hundred years ago. It looked as if they had been piled up to look tumbled down. Someone was having me on.

The temptation to fool with local folklore, or to invent a whimsical scary story, is irresistible. If someone goes looking for something and it doesn’t exist, it’s hard to pass up the chance to accommodate their desire for a good story. Plus you can never under-estimate a person’s desire to be fooled. Some time between my asking questions and taking a walk toward the clearing I was led to believe would be the scene of devilish shenanigans, I’d talked myself into the veracity of everything I was told. Two conflicting accounts only made it more mysterious, more enticing.

Should I go to the local post office and mom and pop to thank them for the fun or should I get back to the point: why were there two columns with the heads of devil babies in the middle of nowhere? Was there a story out there or not? Should I let it go? Or should I do what I ultimately did: go to the area historical society and the town assessor’s office and ask questions. I wanted to believe in something otherworldly but after an hour of toggling between the two offices I learned the real story was more prosaic.

It turned out the devil babies were a later design feature installed by a guy from Brooklyn with a weird sense of humor who loved a good party on Halloween. Having a couple of devil babies on posts beats tying balloons to the mailbox when you want your guests to find their way. A little more investigating and I discovered you can find those devil baby heads at a concrete statuary dealer. The same place you can buy your garden gnomes with pointy red hats. I have to admit I’m a little skeptical of devil babies as a stock item but so much for mystical mystery.

There is, however, a word of caution here about the willingness of even the most cynical to believe in something improbable. It’s easy to create a tall tale. What do you want to be today? What ghost story do you want to believe? What fairy tale? What do you want and who do you want to make life a whole lot better? Religion or politics? Food or alcohol or drugs? A special someone to love or elect or deify? Americans have an amazing gift for naivete turned to sour tears at the glass slipper not fitting.

I’ll admit I was let down by the way this turned out. I might not be Fox Mulder but I’m no different than anyone else: I want to believe. Maybe I’m just being wistful at missing a good story, a tall tale to tell. I sure don’t need devil babies to scare the hell out of me these days, I just have to listen to the news.

It would be wonderful to have something magical hidden in the woods you can stumble upon accidentally on a meandering drive through the countryside. Do people really do that anymore: go off on an unplanned backroads adventure hoping they’ll find the unexpected? I’ve decided I won’t tell you where the devil babies are. But they’re worth the trip. They’re out on a dirt road off a dirt road headed nowhere in a rural county headed east. Those are the only directions I can give you. You get to imagine the rest.

Photo credit: The Author took this picture and she still won’t tell you where it is.

Posted in Country weirdness, Devilish stuff, Halloween, It's outta this world!, Lies, Nature, Spirituality, Stories, Stories from the Boonies, Travel, Weird stuff, Wilderness | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

What happens when beach reads get uppity

Blame it on Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Julia Keller. It was a steamy 2009 Chicago summer when she encouraged us to read a book over summer vacation. It should be something light on plot and a bit savory and it certainly shouldn’t sit as heavy as the lobster roll with fries you just ate. The “beach read” was born.

Beach reads offer a sweet lick of mystery and romance with a lot of froth. No one is fooling anyone here: in six months this summer’s crop will be at the library book sale. The formulaic characters are pretty much the same: a spunky heroine with long hair and no cellulite, a muscular male with wavy hair and a mysterious past, a cove, a beach, a summer house, a bed and breakfast, a creepy mansion on a hill overlooking a cove or a beach, money, and at least one car you will never be able to afford. Girl road trips are big this year, so are some version of family dysfunction or rediscovery around the campfire.

Chucking the coastal theme, there’s the “urban romp” sub-genre. Everyone is engaged in self-serving ennui while earning a six-figure income and dreaming of escape to a simpler life in a small town with at least one interesting reclusive local. Our protagonist will buy the local hardware store and run for town council while solving the unusual number of murders in town. No one will notice the murder rate sharply increased with this newcomer’s arrival.

What you’re not likely to see is anyone overweight, or living in a trailer park, or driving a beater box, or unemployed or disabled, except as a plot device to elicit laughs. Beach reads tend heavily toward vanilla-flavored white middle class self-serving schlock. If there was ever a case for keeping cheap paperbacks flowing, beach reads are it.

Let’s up our game. It was 1851 and after a year and a half of writing with a quill pen by candlelight, Harper & Brothers, London, published a story by 31-year-old Herman Melville chronicling the tale of a whaling expedition to the South Seas, an obsessed sea captain and a white whale. The story was narrated by a novice crew member, Ishmael. Based on the real-life white whale, Mocha Dick, and the sinking of the whaler, Essex, the 800 pages of Moby Dick remain the singular most compelling narrative of whaling and obsession in literature. The first and perhaps the best beach read.

It’s interesting this acknowledged Great American Novel can be had for as little as $3 while some transient bit of fluff will set you back $25, if you want a hardcover, or less if you want the e-reader edition. Does Moby Dick qualify as a beach read? If you consider the elements of a beach read are there: angst, friendship, the fine line between love and obsession, money, exotic locales, colorful characters, the sea, the beach, a couple of inns, a coastal town or two, and something menacing. It may not have long-legged blondes or hedge fund brokers but it does have tattooed harpooners and men of the sea.

If stories of the sea take you to a place of endless summers and danger, consider this: Peter Benchley’s Jaws did for sharks what Moby Dick did for whales. There are parallel plot devices in both novels. Jaws had an out-sized murderous shark, an obsessed shark fisherman looking for revenge, a great struggle at sea that resulted in the death of the shark fisherman and the shark, and the same level of anatomical detail that Melville used when he described the whale. If you saw the films, you watched Gregory Peck rage across the deck of the Pequot and Quint across the deck of the Orca. You knew these two would come to a sticky end.

There aren’t any rules about how long it should take to read a beach book, except maybe the self-imposed one that says, “I have to finish this thing before vacation is over.” Sorry not sorry, Moby Dick won’t be finished with you before you head back home. And maybe Jaws made you wonder if you wear the slinky black bathing suit that makes you look like a seal and go for a splash, will you catch the attention of a Great White migrating up the coast? Why mull over human angst when you can have terrifying sea life to worry about. Nothing beats sitting on a beach looking out over the water and wondering.

Reading should never be a slog. It should take us to places we will never see and to adventures we could never have. If we agree on that, open your beach bag and I’ll drop in a few of my favorite summer reads: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Jaws by Peter Benchley, and In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick, winner of the National Book Award in 2016. The Essex inspired Melville to write Moby Dick. The Perfect Storm, by author Sebastian Junger, the true story of the loss at sea of the fishing vessel, Andrea Gail, and her crew, during the “no name storm” that raged along the eastern seaboard during the last week of October, 1991. And Typhoon, by Joseph Conrad, a tale of human folly steering a course into the face of a South Pacific typhoon.

We both know all of these were made into films; but, do this first: take these voyages waiting for you this summer in the pages of five near perfect books. Can you feel the salt spray? Did you check the horizon for a rim of clouds that signals a storm? Remember the old saying, “Books falls open, you fall in.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Martinez

Posted in Beach reads, Creatures of the Deep, Great reading, Nature, Stories, Tales of the Sea, Travel, Uppity reads, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Johnsonville Lights: Is the truth really out there?

June 6, 2017, 01:17, Johnsonville, NY, looking southwest toward the Johnsonville Dam on the Hoosic River in Rensselaer County. Reporter states he witnessed seven “or so” pulsing red-orange lights moving in formation over the spillway and proceeding downriver toward the Town of Schaghticoke. Residents interviewed in vicinity indicate this phenomena has been observed multiple times in the same area over the past two years. (Reported 6/7/17)
What’s going on here?

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any crazier, there’s now a way to check on a UFO sighting against similar sightings in an area. Just released is the blandly named U.F.O. Sightings Desk Reference: United States of America, 2001-2015. It’s not a page turner, unless you like statistics and graphs, but it does give a national county-by-county analysis of UFO sightings reported to the nation’s two largest UFO investigative agencies, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC).

Don’t expect to read about lizard people or politicians or any other weirdness in America, this is a scientific analysis of all the data collected about UFO sightings across the country. Parsing the charts, graphs, and numbers, the authors, Cheryl Costa and Linda Miller Costa, let the data speak to a fourfold increase in UFO sightings around the country from 2001 to a high of nearly 125,000 in 2015. These are sightings documented in the MUFON and NUFORC databases.

It’s speculated that the majority of sightings are never reported. According to nuclear physicist Stanton T. Friedman, the original civilian investigator at Roswell, statistically only 1 in 10 sightings are ever reported. If this is correct, the number shifts to a million and a quarter sightings during the same period, 2001-2015, or over 85,000 sightings in the US annually.

The study’s authors, Cheryl Costa, a military veteran and aerospace analyst, and Linda Miller Costa, who served as a librarian with NASA, as well as the National Academy of Science, and the Environmental Protection Agency, believed it was about time to analyze what direction the “UFO Phenomena” had taken. Their exhaustive data analysis found the majority of sightings in New York State are over Long Island and Manhattan, the state’s most densely populated area. But sparsely populated rural America has also seen a significant number of UFOs. You might not want to count out upstate New York just yet. Every county in New York has reported UFO sightings, at least two as recent as June 5 in Clifton Park (Saratoga County) and the Johnsonville lights report of June 6.

Are we all-seeing things? Reports indicate the majority of sightings are people walking their dog, sitting on the porch, driving to or from work, or just looking up at the stars on a clear evening. What exactly do these observers believe they’re seeing? It seems to depend on where you live. In the Capital Region, fireballs and triangular craft seem to dominate. New York ranks #6 in reported fireball sightings.

Where’s the photographic proof of all this action up in the sky? It’s not a secret that objects in motion don’t photograph well on a smartphone or digital camera. Distortion, handheld movement and the speed of the object create unique challenges for anyone who wants to capture one of these objects in motion. NUFORC and MUFON receive hundreds of images and videos every month. Most don’t withstand scrutiny but 6-20% have left questions with no current answers.

If you live near water, a military base or a power plant you might see shapes flying around the vicinity or observe an aerial light show. Rural Rensselaer County is a case in point: the small power generating dams on the Hoosic River seem to elicit a high number of sightings of pulsing orange lights.

With the volume of reported sightings, why are some observers reluctant to report? The reasons range from feelings of fear to feeling foolish, concern about becoming the object of ridicule, second thoughts about what was actually seen and belief the military is testing a mysterious new prototype. The other question that vexes researchers is why the increase in sightings now? Sightings peak in the United States during July, the belly of summer, when the weather is warm and people are outside in the evening. Belief in visitors from other worlds is as old as humanity and documented in art, the Bible, and thousands of reports; but, the real reason for increased reporting now may be as simple as internet access and a smartphone.

There’s a chasm between seeing something in the sky you can’t identify and actually seeing an alien, believing you have been abducted, or seeing a UFO land. In our nightmares we see War of the Worlds not E.T. The U.F.O. Sightings Desk Reference doesn’t get into this other side of reporting.

Since the 1947 Roswell Incident there have been documented and creditable unexplained contact reports but the majority of reports remain unexplained aerial phenomena and a bit of foolishness: a pie plate on a string and a stick, a smeary photo of someone winging a trash can lid passed the camera lens, or someone thrashing around in the woods in a wrinkled alien suit. But there are Americans who claim a more sinister encounter. Science finds little to support the majority of these claims and sleep science suggests that close encounters are actually night terrors and sleep paralysis manifesting as a dark, sinister alien presence in someone’s house.

Is the truth out there? You be the judge. Do you want to believe? How about a visit to Johnsonville on a clear summer night.

Posted in Country weirdness, It's outta this world!, Stories to read when you're not alone, UFO, Weird stuff | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment