blog photo 186 barn & snowWHAT IT IS

The snow came early on this once self-subsistence and now long abandoned farm located down a rarely used overgrown dirt road somewhere south of River Valley. Desperate and dirt poor men and women attempted to eke out a living from the land of rock and snow, but after a generation or two of this starvation lifestyle thousands of these homesteads became quivering tombs of memories, disintegrating in the howling winds and in the scorching sun and in the unending cold of winter. If the unforgiving soil didn’t collapse these souls, bank foreclosures and the burden of debt saw to their demise.

Today, the landscape is awash in dilapidated farm houses and barns that once promised hope. Hardy perennials and shrubs can still be seen growing beside crumbling foundations telling passersby that beauty once existed and is still possible and that farming dreams still swirl in the air along side the spring pollen. The barn door is now used firewood, as are many of the long straight boards that still give the structure its tangible appearance. When Feather arrived, she could look right through the barn and see the fields on the other side, but she had no time for melancholy and set straight away to opening the small treasure chest box in her possession. Three insects poked their tiny heads out of the box and flew high into the barn’s rafters.


He claimed to be an architect from the city of Ottawa, but it turned out he was a draftsman from Arnprior, but no matter what, George bought the old Douglas property a few kilometers from the Moose Lodge where Morley, the lodge owner, was glad to have a neighbour at long last. George stayed at the lodge a couple of times, leaving early in the morning to visit his newly acquired property, then returning in the evening for supper and sleep. On his third visit, George got it into his head that he wanted to tear down the barn, transport the wood to Arnprior and build an authentic replica of the barn as a tourist attraction. Being a busy man with a full time job, George enlisted Morley’s two sons to do the actual work. They could take all winter, as George was in no particular rush to see the project completed.

As an early October snowfall descended on the area, Morley’s sons were spending every second weekend at the barn and progress on the demolition was going well, until their arrival  on the first weekend of the month. Strange and unusual footprints appeared in the snow; these prints were like nothing the boys had seen before.

Morley called around and within a few days CO Micheals arrived confirming that he had seen these footprints only once before.


blog photo 185 turkey vultureWHAT IT IS

It wasn’t until you looked really closely that it was noticeable. The bumper sticker displayed a vivid old glory with the word VETS arranged across the flag in traditional red white and blue. A serious Uncle Sam occupied the right side of the sticker, his craggy index finger pointing directly at the observer. Looking a little closer revealed Uncle Sam holding a small kitten. The sticker, attached to a Mercedes-Benz Metris mini-van, was stopped at an underpass beneath a busy Louisiana highway and its celebrity veterinarian owner was getting rid of a feline that had outlived its usefulness.

Kitty-kitty spent five days making his way back to New Orleans and during his trip back spotted a couple of turkey vultures hovering above a roadway. Thinking he may have found an easy meal, he hurried over and was dumbfounded to see Kitty-cat lying in the ditch, not yet dead, but close to it. The one good cat spent several weeks nursing the one bad cat back to health and when both were well enough to travel, decided to get back to town and look up their old benefactor, Tiny LeBlanc.


On a privately owned, left handed dirt track some eight and a half furlongs long, just outside Greenburg Indiana, Adnan stood alone squinting into the early morning sunlight at a single turkey vulture riding warm columns of air and looking for misfortune. Cleaning up someone’s mess he thought, a task not unlike his own but a task he was more than capable of performing.

As he studied the vulture, a sizeable pick up truck and horse trailer pulled into the racetrack and drove directly up to Adnan. Slim was animated; he nearly fell out of the truck, kicked at the dirt with his boots, stomped around the trailer in semi-circles while clutching the sides of his large cowboy hat. He was yelling loudly, but Adnan couldn’t understand Slim’s mid western accent and twang, so he patiently allowed Slim to blow off steam until he settled down.

Slim finally calmed down and persuaded the blue eyed horse to exit the trailer. In no uncertain terms he told Adnan to tell Hobbson that the next time he wanted Slim to deliver a horse to a maniac way up in Canada he’d have to find another delivery boy…this one was fed up and forever unavailable.


blog photo 184 pileated woodpeckerWHAT IT IS

Cinder Willoughby knew Mutt Jefferson had an unusual rapport with the world of birds, so when he suggested they hike into the back country south of the Devil’s Backbone in the Mark Twain National Forest, Willoughby was more than agreeable. Not only would this separate them from the hordes of scientists and bird watchers that descended on the area, but Mutt truly believed they’d have a better chance finding the elusive junco many had been looking for.

They packed light, too light perhaps, as the torrential rains over the next three days soaked the tent, the sleeping bags, their clothes, boots, socks, hats and virtually everything in their possession. Sleep did not come at night; food was impossible to prepare by day and the hunt for the bird was useless as every living creature in the forest seemed hold up somewhere waiting for the skies to clear. The one exception to this was the venomous copperhead snake that took a chunk out of Willoughby’s calf while he rooted about the campsite in a futile attempt to find dry kindling.

On the morning of the fourth day, the boys were greeted by the irregular chopping sounds of a pileated woodpecker with a particular interest in an old telephone post near their swamped campsite. Mutt unzipped the tent door, stuck his dishevelled head outside.  It was a pileated alright, and just below it in a rock crevice, a junco kicked at the ground looking for breakfast



The only thing left in the sinkhole after Slim’s horse was rescued was a legal size plastic envelope which Cricket was asked to retrieve by his sister Sapphire. The contents were not entirely unfamiliar to Sapphire. The name Drake Johnstone was scribbled at the top of the mostly blank piece of paper alongside the words Devil’s Mountain,   A rough hand drawn map of  a lake and some side roads filled the rest of the page. The map displayed two prominent X’s, one on a road and the other at the far end of the lake. Sapphire had met Johnstone years back at a ceremony in Beaver Falls when he was a city councillor and wondered why his name would be associated with Slim’s horse thief.

Doucet shut the window.  The telephone pole outside his motel room was a beacon for every woodpecker in the county, and the pileates seemed to like it the most. He was explaining to Sapphire that while looking into Hobbson, Johnstone’s name and reputation came up several times around the time Hobbson was mayor of Beaver Falls. Johnstone was once an Interpol investigator in Germany during the same time Lehman and Wagner were with the Stasi, but he could not find a link between the three men. He immigrated to the US, settled in Pennsylvania and eventually became a councillor for Beaver Falls. He left that position abruptly, some say pushed out by Hobbson while others believe his unsavory past was about to be revealed. At any rate, Doucet didn’t have much else as he wasn’t being paid to investigate Johnstone.

Upon hearing all this information, Cricket and Sapphire loaded up the car and were on their way to Devil’s Mountain.



blog photo 183 AlpacaWHAT IT IS

He was both docile and ferocious, a playful, thoughtful pet that Hammer could not remember being without. According to Hammer, it was the only known Polaca in existence, an unlikely union between a Polar Bear and an Alpaca which occurred over twenty years ago. Now, word had reached Hammer that his devoted pet had escaped his compound on Ellesmere Island and was heading south to find his master.

CO Micheals was on his fifth day of tracking what he believed was the largest black bear ever seen in Northern Ontario. Colleagues who had seen the beast put him at over one thousand pounds, although Micheals had a hard time believing in such a number. Micheals waltzed through the dense underbrush with stealth.  Only the prolific blackflies took notice of him, using his flesh as a blood meal. He was making his way around the east end of Devil’s Mountain in Pine country when he stopped at quiet stream hoping the black bear would soon need water and the two might meet.

Readying his tranquilizer gear, Micheals stationed himself high in a rock outcrop with a good view of the water and a natural trail the forest animals used to access the stream. Micheals passed the time building pine needle structures on the hard granite rock that surrounded him, until he heard the unmistakable huffing sound of a bear. Training the rifle scope in the general direction of the noise, Micheals could clearly see a monster of a creature, a black bear in size far beyond what he had ever seen before. As he waited patiently for the best shot, another enormous beast showed up on the other side of the stream. Within seconds this Alpaca-like animal, his fangs protruding and its claws extended, charged the black bear and a most fearsome fight ensued.


The sprawling compound that housed the launch pad for the next rocket launch in Mark Malloch’s vision for space tourism was a security nightmare. Bella and Dizzy had spent weeks studying the layout and believed they might have found a weakness. At the far reaches of the property, behind a tall chain linked and barbed wire fence, thirty Alpacas, outfitted with cameras and infra-red sensors, patrolled the fence line twenty four hours a day. One Alpaca, Lazy Daisy, took a short, unscheduled siesta everyday at 2 PM and it was Dizzy and Bella’s hope they could take advantage of this.

A plan was launched: the women would cut through the fence while Daisy slept, she would be tranquilized and the cameras and sensors transferred  to their teddy bear accomplices Beersey and Butsey for them to continue with the surveillance. In the meantime, Bella and Dizzy would penetrate deeper into the compound to disrupt the telecommunication signals between the command center and the rocket.

The six o’clock news started with a spectacular launch, and as the unmanned rocket climbed higher into the night sky, it paused unexpectedly, wobbled slightly then fell unceremoniously into the Atlantic Ocean.


blog photo 182 sumac&waterWHAT IT IS

If Davey Doucet wanted a sit down conversation with Aquena, a Nevis indigenous woman who could trace her family’s ancestry back to the Spanish slave trade in the early 1600’s, he had to venture to a tiny unnamed island, bring her back fresh sumac bark, a seven armed red cushion starfish, and a liter of fresh water from the island’s only lake. Unbeknownst to Doucet, the ingredients he brought back were blended with compounds from her own kitchen to form a strong hallucinogen that sent Doucet down a mystical journey where he had difficulty separating fact from fiction.

Doucet was found on Pinney’s Beach in the early morning hours by an off duty member of the Royal St. Christopher Police Force. He had somehow transported a Barcalounger to the beach and fell asleep listening, in his words, to the sounds of wooden coins shuffling in his head. Doucet asked the constable if he knew any of the 82 interplanetary visitors from Mizar? Did he know Miles Hobbson was visitor # 3? Did he know the small horse was not a small horse but a spirit guide borrowed from a human being, a human being…that…get this…went blind  after seeing the visitor arrive! Doucet went on like this for nearly an hour, with the friendly officer smiling and agreeing with him until an ambulance arrived and took Doucet to the local hospital.


The only place for Samantha to go was under the truck, so she did. Laying flat on her back and making herself skinnier than she was, was all she could do as Rene rummaged through the back of his truck, found a hammer and began smashing his taillights.

Jumping into the truck, Rene floored it in reverse and, once the truck cleared her, Samantha rolled quickly into the bushes. Soon Margaret and Cathy were at her side freaking out and whisper screaming if she was alright. The three women scrambled back to the car with Samantha explaining that Tiny would soon leave the house in a van heading for the airport but she had fixed it so he’d only get a few miles out of town.

Tiny looked through the sumacs at the water in the distance, paced back and forth yelling at his phone, a phone that emphatically declared its battery was dead. He starred at the flat tire which somehow looked flatter now that the sun was up and no matter how many times he kicked the tire, it did not inflate itself. But it was not all bad luck for Tiny that morning, as two women came along and offered to drive Tiny to Sebastian’s Garage. As they left, Cathy Jennings emerged from some nearby bushes carrying a slim jim and approached the van.









blog photo 181 rooster (2)WHAT IT IS

In high school he would think of them as aliens from a totally different world. It was as if they spoke in tongues, sure some students would get it, others pretended they understood but most just sat there, jaws open, listening to the mosquito noise coming from the stage. And there was no shortage of these soothsayers being paraded into assemblies, gymnasiums and classrooms with messages for the future. Jared Deakins was told to find and pursue his passion so he would never have to work a day in his life. They explained to Jared Deakins that if he really applied himself that nothing was out of reach. Jared Deakins could do anything, be anyone and accomplish everything he set his mind to.

Well into his adulthood he often pondered who did and who did not listen to the messaging: Should they have listened or was their destiny inevitable? He wondered if those of mediocre intelligence should even hear the message let alone act on it. As for Jared, he did not hear nor execute what his high school mentors pushed on him, much to the chagrin of his father, Mr. Deakins, a successful advisor to the current governor of Pennsylvania.

Jared looked at his watch, in two minutes his most reliable rooster, Little Mr. Deakins, would start crowing and all the kids at Bayfield Camp would begin their day. Jared flipped on the kitchen lights, fired up the propane grills, swung open the refrigerator doors to check on breakfast supplies, all the while listening to the sweet sounds of Little Mr. Deakins.


Will Offley took both courses offered by the Alzheimer’s Association, spent many hours talking to counselors about Beatrice’s decline, hired a personal support worker to help out and rarely left his wife’s side as she spiraled deeper into the depths of the dementia. In the summer that just passed, her last lucid summer, Beatrice knew the disease was taking hold and told Will in no uncertain terms that he was to take matters into his own hands. They both knew what that meant.

Mutt Jefferson was over the moon with the fact he had a scholarly gentleman occupying the passenger seat of his big rig, a rarity as most of the time he drove the highways by himself. Cinder Willoughby likewise was having a blast as most of his travels began and ended in airports. The two were off to plot 82 in Missouri to check out the junco, but first Mutt had to swing by the Offley farm to check in on his old friend.

Pandemonium greeted Mutt as he pulled up to the farm, two police cruisers and  a couple ambulances were parked around the house as people scurried in and out of the house. Will was being loaded into one of the ambulances and Beatrice, handcuffed and disheveled, was being placed in the back of a cruiser. On top of the barn, a rooster cried his lament.



blog photo 180JuncoWHAT IT IS

In a dark secluded area of the Devils’ Backbone in the Mark Twain National Forest a small dark-eyed junco darted out into a bright, sun bathed open meadow, grabbed at some white millet, then hopped back into the forest. The student Ranger’s camera and tripod was set up a few feet from the millet, the motor drive was on high and the student hoped her twenty or more photographs would reveal what she had been chasing all summer long.

Some years ago, two summer students from the University of Missouri were hired by Bayer Crop Science to observe results during neonicotinoid saturation experiments on plots of land owned by the company. Among their duties, the students banded dozens of song birds that frequented the area and over time it was believed all the birds died of extreme exposure to the pesticides.

Pouring over the photos did not provide Jill, the student Ranger, with the image she was looking for until she saw the last photograph she had taken. A close-up of the bird’s leg clearly showed a Plot 82 band. In the coming weeks the Mark Twain National Forest would be crawling with scientists from many disciplines anxious to see how this junco may have survived.


Swain had his distal bicep tendon sliced in hand to hand combat, had his knee cap shot off the same day with a P-64 CZAK handgun and endured constant ringing in his ears after his sergeant stepped on a land mine, killing over half the company. He and his best buddy, Jack Sampson made it out of Vietnam together but on Swain’s second day back home in Missouri, he died when the hot air balloon he was in caught fire and all aboard perished.

Now, every year on that anniversary , Jack Samson along with his sisters, Norah and Mary, take the trip to Joplin Missouri to pay their respects at the spot where Swain was laid to rest. This year Jack and his sisters decided to walk the distance and it was most fortuitous for Mary because a pair of mating juncos, flying recklessly down a country road, slammed into her, got caught up in her long curly brown hair causing her to panic and then tumble down a steep embankment where she struck her head against a large chunk of granite. When she regained consciousness, her sight was miraculously restored.