Homes for Creatures

Photo of woodpecker hole in dead ash tree

This is a dead ash tree, that gets a lot of woodpecker traffic. My yard has nesting sites used by Hairy, Downy, and Red-bellied woodpeckers; also Northern Flickers. Just this past summer, I’ve been seeing Pileateds visit the tree, so with luck they’ll be the ones excavating this out next spring.


Photo of animal burrow

This is a burrow in the ground under my Callery pear tree. I’ve never seen what lives there, but I see a long passage of sunken ground coming off this hole, so the complex must be spacious. It may be only rabbits, but it would be nice to have a badger or a weasel. 




Another Family Tree Snippet



Extending the Gaither connections farther back, through my great-grandmother’s maternal line, below are a few Joneses, with another Revolutionary War veteran.


Some of the Jones Line


And for fun and interest, here’s a piece from a paper called The Mirror, of May 14, 1903 (source: U.S. Library of Congress), on early trials in laser facials. Despite the headline, this item is fact: Here’s a link to a bio of the Finsen’s light’s inventor.


Newspaper clipping about early laser facials



Radioactive Rocks

Pink granite rock in garden
Pink Granite

I’ve been reading archived newspapers from 1979, a time in my life when I didn’t pay too much attention to world events. Now that I’m doing my bit for recorded history, I enjoy reminding myself, or educating myself, on vaguely remembered moments from the years I actually lived through. I came across a piece in the New York Times, that had Senator John Glenn being shown the facade of a Washington building, and told by his guide that there was more radiation emanated by the granite than was detectable in the air around Three Mile Island (the accident occurred March 28, 1979). 

That made me curious about my favorite garden rock, above. I learned, doing a little research, that pink and red granites give off more than greys and blacks—a combination of radon gas and gamma rays, chiefly. Unfortunately, a Geiger counter won’t detect levels in granite reliably, if at all, due to ordinary background radiation in the environment. And the other machines, for non-professionals, are too expensive to buy. So I guess I’ll never know how powerful my pink rock is.

(If you have granite countertops, don’t worry. Here is a PDF from the Health Physics Society explaining more.)

Photo of a hawk print
Hawk’s Print

Above, a thing you don’t see often, since birds of prey don’t walk on the ground. But they do rocket down from the treetops onto passing squirrels and rabbits. At night, I seem to have a lot of owl activity around my ground feeder as well, to judge by the number of pellets I find. I don’t know what comes out, whether it’s mice or flying squirrels…but whatever they are, they aren’t very wary. The owls seem to be picking them off constantly. 

Brilliant Sunset
Brilliant Sunset

And finally, a super sunset from November 13.


Mini Almanac, November 2019

19th century color print of fall trees and hay stacks
“Harvest”, 1869, public domain, LOC.




I know of a land where the streets are paved

With the things which we meant to achieve;

It is walled with the money we meant to have saved

And the pleasures for which we grieve.

The kind words unspoken, the promises broken,

And many a coveted boon,

Are stowed away there in that land somewhere—

The land of ‘Pretty Soon.’


There are uncut jewels of possible fame

Lying about in the dust,

And many a noble and lofty aim

Covered with mould and rust.

And oh this place, while it seems so near,

Is farther away than the moon;

Though our purpose is fair, yet we never get there—

To the ‘Land of ‘Pretty Soon.’


The road that leads to that mystic land

Is strewn with pitiful wrecks,

And the ships that have sailed for its shining strand

Bear skeletons on their decks.

It is farther at noon than it was at dawn,

And farther at night than at noon;

Oh let us beware of that land down there—

The land of ‘Pretty Soon.’




To ask why evil exists here below is to ask why a contingent being is not an absolute being, why man is not God.

Gottfried Liebniz


From History of Jefferson County

Perrin 1883


Brain Tanning 

A great deal of clothing was made of deerskin before the raising of cotton and flax. The first efforts to tan the hides were almost a failure. A new effort, however, was introduced, which was much better. This was, after removing the hair, the skins were thoroughly rubbed and dressed with brains. They were then stretched on stakes driven into the ground around a large hole, and the hole was filled with light and rotten wood, which was set on fire. The warmth caused the brains and oil to permeate the skins and the smoke gave them a beautiful color. Tanned in this way, they were said to be very soft and pliant, and were handsome.



An anecdote of Judge G. W. Wall, born in Chillicothe, Ohio, April 22, 1839, moved in infancy to Perry County, Illinois.


He was attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad, and while thus acting, a good story is told of him. He was called upon to attend a case at Effingham for the railroad, which had been sued by a citizen for the value of stock killed by defendants’ train. The venerable and every-ready O. B. Ficklin was prosecuting the company, together with some other attorney whose name is not now remembered. The evidence was heard, and counsel went to the jury. The plaintiff’s case was opened by Ficklin’s associate, who indulged in considerable bunkum and bombast about giant corporations, etc. After he closed, Wall replied for the defense, and during the course of his remarks compared the gentleman who had preceded him to Dickens’s famous character of “Sergeant Buzfuz”, and, as he thought, completely annihilated the gentleman, and left nothing to be done but for the jury to return a verdict for the defendant, and thus closed his case.

It was now time for Ficklin to make the closing argument for the plaintiff, and after speaking to the testimony and the law, he concluded in the following vein of pathetic and injured innocence:

“And now, gentlemen of the jury, it becomes my painful duty to reply to the malignant and uncalled for attack upon one of the best men this country ever produced; a man who has long since slept with his fathers, and upon whose character no man, until today, has dared to cast the shadow of suspicion. I allude, gentlemen of the jury, to the attack of my young friend Wall, upon the memory of that good and kind man, Sergeant Buzfuz. Gentlemen, it was not, perhaps, your privilege, as it was mine, to have known him personally. I remember him well, in the early and trying times of this country. He first assisted to cut out the roads through this county. He was the early pioneer, who was ever ready and willing, with honest heart, and active hand, to aid a friend or brother in distress. In fact, gentlemen of the jury, there are few men, living or dead, that this country owes more to than it does to my old friend Sergeant Buzfuz. It is true, gentlemen, that he was somewhat uncouth and blunt in his way, but his every action, I assure you, was prompted by a noble and honest motive. He was not blessed with the brilliant and accomplished education of my young friend. He, gentlemen of the jury, wore no starched shirt or fine neckties; he was humble and retired. In his leather leggings and hunting shirt he went about the country, not as a rich representative of a railroad monopoly, but as an humble citizen doing good to his fellow-man. His bones have long since moldered into dust; the sod grows green over his grave; his work is done, and he is gone from among us to return no more forever; and I was surprised to hear his just and amiable character attacked in the manner it has been on this occasion; and it is impossible for me, his last remaining friend, to permit it to go by unnoticed. And to you, sir [turning to Wall, who was by this time completely dumbfounded], I say no better man ever lived than he whom you have so unjustly abused. Youth, sir, should have more respect for the men who have made life pleasant for those who come after them, than to assail their character in the manner you have done”; and thus he continued until his close, with great earnestness, and the utmost apparent sincerity. At its close, the jury could hardly wait until they could write their verdict for the full amount of damages claimed by the plaintiff, and, it is said, so worked up were they that Wall had difficulty in escaping personal violence.


From the 1980s, an early job

A few collected items.



Differences between the past and the present.


In the early 1980s I was able to afford, on less than five dollars an hour, a two-bedroom townhouse apartment, off Route 161 in Columbus, Ohio. My weekly food budget was twenty dollars, and I had about fifty dollars a week for disposable income—which I spent on clothes, decorating, houseplants, fish tanks, LPs. I was a Pier One shopper, buying those peacock feathers 80s people displayed in floor baskets; giant floor pillows, too, with a folkish loose-woven fabric, and straw mats I used for wall hangings. One purchase I carried from house to house for several years before it fell apart was a twenty-five dollar rattan chair, bought with Christmas money from my grandparents (typically a check for twenty-five dollars).

I used to hurry home on my lunch break in those days to watch videos on MTV (and at Gold Circle we didn’t have to clock in and out, so I pushed the time). I was crushing on the band Split Enz, loved Elvis Costello, bought an album by Squeeze on the strength of a Rolling Stone review. (Agreed with…however, reviewers in those days had the power to snuff out a lot of good music. The internet’s democratic openness is an improvement.)

I had the Steve Miller Band for “Fly Like an Eagle”… I had a couple of Styx albums (when I was a teenager I thought “Come Sail Away” was the most beautiful song), but I started to go off them in the 80s. Of course, “Mr. Roboto” is immortal. 

Check out this Tommy Shaw solo number from the 80s. A truly great song that wasn’t the hit it should have been.



The job I had was general clerking in what I think was called the Merchandise Information Office (I’m not sure about the “I”) at the chain’s central office in Worthington (next to the Jack Maxton car dealership). People from the region—but also from California, where a string of stores sat detached from the others—will recall GC as Kmart-like.

They had (the one on Morse Road, the one I shopped at) just before I quit my job started stocking a little section of higher-end brands, as a marketing experiment…

So, in that last month or two, with the employee discount, I drove off in my Chevy Chevette (I think it was a stick, light metallic blue, only AM radio) to shop for a brand I liked, Outlander. One purchase was a silk-angora blend collared sweater in off-white, that I paired with a turquoise pinwale circle skirt. The waist on this was too tight; I had to fix it with a safety pin…so not the most successful look. I liked the turquoise and white combo, though. One of my 80s outfits was a pair of huge parachute pants I wore with a white eyelet-collared blouse. I still have an Outlander red lambswool blend with three-quarter sleeves and v-neck, now somewhat moth-eaten, that I wore with a long midwale corduroy dirndl, dark brown (bought during a Myrtle Beach vacation), and some Nine West boots, dressy in cinnamon with a stacked heel.

Why so much detail? Just to paint the picture for you, if you remember those fashions. And because a lot of things in life are measured in clothes. (If you don’t remember, you’ll have to Google parachute pants to get the full sense of them.)

There was a sort of dynamic I didn’t understand, coming into the work world as a poorly socialized eighteen-year-old. Once, for example, some of the supervisors were throwing a party for the office staff at Chuck E. Cheese’s, and I didn’t want to go. It was an after work-hours affair, so I understood it to be voluntary. I got the impression my opting out was being held against me, in a background gossipy way.

There are voluntary things on the job that are not voluntary, such as overtime. (But I’ve steadfastly refused overtime whenever I could.) 

And I still think a lifetime of never setting foot in a Chuck E. Cheese has done me only good.



Favorite Foods of the Day

Lender’s Garlic bagels, that they stopped making. Toasted, with peanut butter.

Granny Smith Apples. (There are lots of great, crispy apples these days, but back then, you could have Granny Smiths or mushy, bland golden and red delicious.)

Honey Nut Cheerios

Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese (This always had to be made in the oven to brown the cheese topping and bake the filling to a custardy quality. Microwaving wouldn’t do. But, last time I bought any, they’d changed it weirdly and it tasted like it sat open in the refrigerator for a week.)

There was a candy, a type of M & Ms called Mint Royales, that I loved.

And once, you could get really good Dolly Madison Danish. I think they’ve gone by the wayside.




Learning to Read

Fun with Dick and Jane


The first street my family lived on in Athens (Ohio) was Grosvenor. The house was on a hillside, and had underneath, where the structure was built to overhang—so the house would sit more or less level—soft loamy dirt, that was always dry and made a place to play.

Since my grandparents had worked in the Mount Vernon, Illinois, public school system, we had a lot of old schoolbooks around the house. By the time I was in first grade, where kids began learning to read, I’d had a head start; and a lot of the reading I did was Dick and Jane. My first grade class had a Dick and Jane workbook; the characters in those days still in use for teaching.

They way we played pretend games, we had to choose who to identify with. I don’t recall if we specifically played Dick and Jane. I know we played Star Trek, a cool show that came on after bedtime, that we had to beg to watch. (My sister liked Chekov, and I had to be Captain Kirk, though I liked Riley, who was barely a character—because we had childish rules that two of us couldn’t like the same actor…but, readers, Mark Goddard all the way on Lost in Space, even though my sister claimed him. She let me have Colonel Foster on UFO. And note, the women on sci-fi shows didn’t get to do much, so it’s unsurprising in imagination we would rather have been the crew members allowed to explore planets.)

At any rate, in this hierarchy, I was the little sister, Sally. One of our cats of those days was named Puff.

And, coming full circle, I can recall marveling that the name pronounced “Grovner” could be spelled the way it was—but I wasn’t school age during the year or two we lived on that street. I think my sister was the one who could read the sign, and that was how I got the information, though I remember looking up at it and seeing the name in letters.



Page from Piet Worm's children's book Three Little Horses

Here’s a page from one of my favorite books from childhood, Piet Worm’s Three Little Horses, a somewhat odd story about an artist who befriends horses, and takes them into town dressed as women—but a story terrifically illustrated.


Books in the Athens Middle School library


Favorite books some of you may remember. The first grouping were my own discoveries, and the second, books my sister read first and recommended. They are all look-upable, so I’ve written very brief descriptions of the plots.


Why Not Join the Giraffes, Hope Campbell, 1970

Girl tries to impress boy by adopting rebellious look.

The Whirling Shapes, Joan North, 1968

Girl has power to stop mysterious force.

The Apple Stone, Nicholas Stuart Gray, 1965

Siblings find magic object, adventures ensue.

The Power of Stars, Louise Lawrence, 1972

Visit by alien force causes havoc for teenage friends.

The Ghost of Opalina, Peggy Bacon, 1967

Family is aided through generations by cat’s ghost.



Campion Towers, John and Patricia Beatty, 1965

During English Civil War, girl on Roundhead side has cavalier adventures.

A Candle in Her Room, Ruth M. Arthur, 1966

Haunted doll causes trouble for newly arrived family.

My Darling My Hamburger, Paul Zindel, 1969

Pregnant teen gets abortion.

Knee-Deep in Thunder, Sheila Moon, 1967

Girl travels to tiny world, where her friends are insects.




Vanderburgh County, Indiana

Painting of NW territory governor Arthur St. Clair
NW territory Governor Arthur St. Clair (public domain)


Vanderburgh County is the place of my birth, and so I share below some historical information on the man for whom the county is named. An additional note: Governor St. Clair, in his written opinions on slavery tended, as did many early leaders, to rely on English Common Law, and its well-known emphasis on property rights. He could be passionately in favor of states formed from the Northwest Territory being free, and yet fall back on the argument that laws can’t fairly obtain retroactively, a great truth in and of itself. But to claim that therefore, to emancipate slaves belonging to settlers in the territory prior to the Ordinance of 1787, would be unjust unless they received compensation—as would be correct in expropriation of actual property—is to use a narrow legal focus to evade confronting the higher injustice. This question rested on an ethical issue, one that must supersede any property claim, and nullify any representation of fair exchange. That slavery is inherently wrong, that human beings cannot be property, sat uneasily, in the political environment of post-colonial America, next to the notion that an infant government, to hold its power, must respect the individual rights of its citizens. And like many officials, the “fathers” seemed to have hoped attrition would solve the conflict.



In the summer of 1794, Judge Turner, who had gone to Vincennes to hold court, became involved in an extensive quarrel with Henry Vanderburgh, who was then probate judge and justice of the peace for Knox County, and Captain Abner Prior, of the United States Army, who was supervising Indian affairs on the Wabash. Several matters were in controversy and bitter feelings were produced. In the midst of this a negro and his wife, held as slaves by Vanderburgh, applied to Turner’s court for emancipation by writ of habeas corpus, instigated possibly by Turner. That Turner would have held that the ordinance* freed them is beyond question, for he expressly declared that they were “free by the Constitution of the Territory”, but before the cause came on for trial the negroes were seized and carried away by a party of men who, as Turner alleged, were employed by Vanderburgh. Turner then had the kidnappers arrested, though some of them resisted, and one threatened the sheriff with a knife. Complaints from all parties were made to St. Clair, who, though declining to adjust the difficulty, took sides against Turner and proceeded to give him some information as to the meaning of the Ordinance, which will be noticed later. The French settlers were greatly excited over this attempt to release their slaves. The grand jury of the county found a presentment against Turner, and later on, the citizens preferred charges against him which were submitted to Congress as grounds for impeachment, but, on the suggestion of the Attorney General, the House of Representatives recommended a trial in the courts as preferable.


Jacob Piatt Dunn, Indiana, A Redemption from Slavery, 1888, c. renewed 1905 and 1916.



Some years previous to these transactions Hugh McGary, a Kentuckian and a sturdy pioneer, had emigrated from his native state to the new territory and settled in what is now Gibson County. In 1812 he purchased from the government the land on which the city of Evansville now stands, and leaving his inland cabin pushed his way to the bank of the river and there established his home.

McGary’s place was not central, but when the commissioners appointed to make the selection were assembled at the old Anthony mill, he presented the claims of his location in the best light possible. It was not the first choice, but was finally selected. At the direction of the court of the new county, the town was laid out, and officially designated as Evansville, in honor of General Robert M. Evans, a distinguished soldier and citizen of Gibson County.

McGary became very enthusiastic over his prospects and confidently felt that his town was destined to be a metropolis at no very distant day. His hopes, however, rested on a weak foundation. By the formation of Posey county in the southwest corner of the territory the boundaries of Warrick county were so altered as to place Evansville at one extremity of its river border, and before the town was three months old, the legislature enacted, September 1st, 1814, that the seat of justice for the county should be moved to a place subsequently called Darlington, and situated some four miles above the present site of the neighboring town of Newburgh, and about one mile from the river.

In those days it mattered little what natural advantages a town possessed or what resources lay about it undeveloped; all its hope for prosperity was based upon its being the seat of justice for some county. The founder of the village set about with great zeal and industry to supply this desideratum. As the first step he enlisted the active interests of Gen. Robert M. Evans and James W. Jones, both of Gibson county, by conveying to them on June 20, 1817, for $1,300, 130 acres of land, being all that part of fractional section No. 30 which lies above the center of Main Street in Evansville, except thirty acres previously conveyed to Carter Beaman. On the 17th of July following, these three gentlemen, Evans, Jones, and McGary, prepared a plan for a town, ignoring that previously laid out. What they platted appears on the maps of the present time as the “original plan” and is bounded by Water and Third, and Chestnut and Division streets. The combined exertions of these three men were now set forth to accomplish the end already adverted to. The greatest obstacle to their success was the opposing influence of Col. Ratliff Boon, a man of more than ordinary ability, a courageous patriot and pioneer leader whose influence was not confined by the limits of his own county.

Enthusiastic and deeply in earnest in the contemplation of his favorite theme, Col. McGary did not allow his courage to weaken, and his complaints of Col. Boon were full of bitterness. His address was not displeasing, and his conversations on the subject of the ultimate greatness of his embryonic city, sparkling as they did with genuine ardor, were deeply interesting. About this time Gen. Joseph Lane, afterward of national repute, known as a wise and upright representative in the state legislatures, a hero of the Mexican war, a member of congress, and governor of Oregon, then a young man, figured in the drama beginning to be acted by becoming the means of bringing the weightier men together. Young Lane was engaged with others in rafting logs near Darlington, and floating them to Red Banks, where J. J. Audubon, later the foremost of American ornithologists, had erected, somewhat in advance of the times, a steam sawmill which afterward failed. When rowing back to his home, he stopped on the banks of the river near McGary’s house to spend the night, and then fell a victim to the enthusiastic and pleasing manner of the sanguine Colonel, walking with him over the site of the hoped-for city, then wild with forest trees and underbrush, hearing without resentment the bitter speeches of his companion against Col. Boon, whom Lane admired and counted among his best friends. Lane was soon afterward employed in the clerk’s office in Warrick county, and there suggested to Col. Boon the opportunity in his power of making valuable friends by assisting in the formation of a new county and yet leaving Warrick county large enough to serve his own purposes. Whether or not this suggestion brought the chief actors together, it is true that during the next session of the circuit court at Darlington, an informal conversation was held in the clerk’s office, which led finally to the consummation of McGary’s hopes.

The force of these arguments [in favor of dividing the territory into counties for jurisdictional efficiency] was conceded, the only objection being that Darlington would receive a fatal blow by such legislation, because the relocation of the seat of justice would necessarily follow. At length a plan satisfactory to all was agreed upon. It provided for the organization of two new counties with boundaries so fixed that Evansville and Rockport, then called Hanging Rock and not yet the site of a town, would be the most favorable points for the seats of justice. Darlington was to be left to continue its struggle for existence as best it could deprived of all public support.

In shaping these deliberations and leading to a conclusion, personal interest was doubtless a controlling factor. But be it said to the credit of the actors that private gain was not made at public expense, for great permanent good to the communities affected was the result.

Thus Vanderburgh county, as an organic unit, owes its existence more to the unyielding perseverance and untiring zeal of Hugh McGary in his efforts to maintain the village of Evansville, than to any other single agency.

It mattered little to McGary what name was given to the new county. If any was suggested or agreed upon in the conference which determined the question of its formation, it was abandoned for reasons of policy. Judge Henry Vanderburgh was worthy the honor conferred upon his memory, but he was in no way identified with the formation or development of the county.


History of Vanderburgh County, 1889 [compilation with no single author]. The paragraphs above are extractions of key information from a longer narrative.



The above selections have been lightly edited for punctuation.


Mayonnaise Nuts

Photo of plate of roasted almonds


This is an easy snack, just two cups of raw almonds, one tablespoon of mayonnaise, and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Put the nuts in a bowl, stir in the mayonnaise and pepper until they’re all well-coated, then spread them on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees. When they begin to brown, and smell a little like french fries, they’re done.


Today’s story is about TV movies, back when the movie-of-the-week was a big deal.  


My sister Tracy and her friends were older, so they always had something they were into that came to me, the little sister trailing along, as sort of mysterious, since I was never there at the first discovery of it. Tracy was in middle school two years before I was, and in high school two years before I was.

So her gang knew this movie was going to be on TV, or they had all read that particular book. They were involved in Ohio University theater for a few years, as something like junior groupies. I don’t know who it was that opened the door for them; probably one of the sisters of her best friend from those days. One year the musical Carousel was a fascination, and the “older” man playing Billy Bigelow (a college student in his twenties) was a big crush. I think I saw him once (I picture him looking like Hugh Laurie with the hair of Art Garfunkel), but I don’t remember if I saw the show.

We were all singing “If I Loved You” and “What’s the Use of Wondering”, around the house.

A TV movie we were excited about seeing was called “A Howling in the Woods”. It aired in 1971, and starred Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman, also John Rubenstein, who I thought was very cute (look up his youthful pictures and you’ll agree), when he was in the TV show “Family”. I think, as to “Howling”, I never saw the whole thing, probably due to bedtime, but I remember the ads for this one, with Barbara Eden getting out of a car wearing a red hat, very glamorous.

“Brian’s Song”, also 1971, the football/cancer story starring Billy Dee Williams and James Caan. Truly a weeper, and we girls loved all the poignant things of the era, like the song “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro, (1968), or “Seasons in the Sun”, Terry Jacks (1974).

And below, that famous theme music:







New Book! Are You Haunted

Post-War America, with Ghosts


Digital art showing American flag and walking figure


Powell Kenzie has wandered, living the life of a vagabond, since his discharge from the army. The year is 1948. He finds himself in a small New England town, by watchman Lloyd Guy given temporary shelter in the remains of the Drybrook works. On the hill opposite sits the family’s empty house. Taken with an urge to settle, Powell conceives a plan to prove his usefulness. He meets Heinz Rohdl, a man seemingly insane. Then a visitor named Summers arrives to tell a ghost story.


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