Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Yo. This is part of my stairwell. The walnut trim is straight from the land, and it rocks my world.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sullivan's Island in Images

Compliments of Mom. The first three are from the empty elementary school, which I was notably obsessed with. As a blog reader, which do you like better, text, pictures, or a combo?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Low country cyber postcard

The rising harvest moon found me purusing the low country streets of Sullivan's Island, SC on a cruiser bike with Mom. Riding loops around the empty carpool circle of the abandoned elementary school, palm trees rustling in the warm salt breeze, the moon quietly rose the warmest golden globe above the ocean and power lines. It peered around the brick corner of the spooky, vacant school and infused me with the heavy essence of Indian summer on the SC coast, a place that is haunted with old stories. That is the same moon that shone upon Edgar Allen Poe as his pen marked the page with weirdness here- it peered through the Gold Bug tree just across the island on the marsh side. It is the same moon that shone upon the tens of thousands of West Africans who arrived on the shores in captivity to be sold as slaves to plantation owners. It saw the construction of Fort Moultry into the dunes near to where the empty elementary school stands now, and it saw the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. It is the same moon, turning its devoted circles around our situation, that has born silent witness to all the years here, the patterns of suffering and change, pulling the tides in and back out and watching the drama below play itself out.

I caught my first glimpse of that amber harvest moon through the rustling leaves of a palm tree growing at the corner of that empty school. The sight of it and the perfection of the soft wind blowing off the ocean stopped me dead in my cruiser bicycle tracks for some moments. The spookiness of the school and the island in general overwhelmed me. This was the moment that, had I not broken my camera last month, I would have pulled it out and snapped some still lifes to post here for you people to see what I saw. But alas, as Poe did in his months of misplaced military service here on this island, I committed myself to the practice of old fashioned observation and dedication to the transferrence of information and experience through the art of the written word.

As I have mentioned twice already the breeze of the evening was warm and salty and perfect. I would call it divine, but the experience was one of such an earthly and impermanent nature I will instead call it delightful. The lights of the westerly sun setting and the harvest moon rising boldly in the east caused everything to appear warm and nostalgic and beautiful, even the piles of yard debris lying on the sides of the road waiting for pick up- palmetto leaves, pecan branches, live oak twigs with dying spanish moss. The houses we rode by were lit in the kitchens and the residents went about their kitchen chores with relaxed low-country pace. The smells- fish and salt, laundry detergent, strange, lovely and musty myrtle and other unfamiliar seaside flowery smells, the faint odor of garbage sneaking out of trash cans. Crickets softly sang with the wind, and a few island birds cawed and crowed now and then. Mom and I didn't speak much, just pedalled and enjoyed the falling of the summer into the gentle arms of the Harvest Moon.

My love for the low country has been rekindled. Within the shadows of the live oaks, there seems to linger pieces of memories from years past and a still acceptance of the laws of nature, to which, no matter how hard we try to escape them, we are all still subject. Time will age us, and we will die. Fall will follow summer. Always.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Time Again Already!

Do you think because you live in the Appalachian Mountains you are confined to poke salad, venison, black walnuts and all things edgy and gamey when you want to get your wild food on? Think again, mountain dwellers. If you have not experienced the creamy, dreamy tropically ecstacy of eating a paw paw, run don't walk to the nearest paw paw tree and get on that right now. It is really and truly the stuff dreams are made of. Smooth and rich, sweet and thick, soft and delicious, the meat in that fruit is like eating a morsel of concentrated heaven. Blend it with raw cow's milk into a shake and you will never, ever go back. (As in this is definitely not a hit it and quit it situation...)
I know I wrote about paw paws this time last year and probably this time the year before that, but repetition can be a beautiful thing, no? Like driving down Dry Branch in mid September and quietly approaching the 2 mature paw paw trees with excited anticipation, utterly amazed each time at the abundance of mango shaped greenish yellowish brownish fruits dangling in heavy clusters ALL OVER the tree. Picking up about 20 pounds of prefectly good untouched windfall fruit from the ground and then harvesting about another 30 pounds from the lower branches. Smelling the old gorgeous pink rose that graces the back of the abandoned farm house, neglected and empty after a sad divorce of husband and wife some years ago. The ever so intense flavor of the soft fruit in my mouth, like a cross between a banana and a mango, with a creamy custardy texture and flavor, sweet with a sometimes barely detectable bitter note. The sad chorus of crickets singing to a cool night, which began so much earlier than a night did a month ago. The still dew that settles on the chill of a September morning, eyes groggy from a night of deep sleeping and dreaming under a comforter. The melancholy of the summer giving way to fall, the earth turning, making its way around the sun another time, leaving us mortals to squirrel away our nuts in preparation for the dark half of the year. These things are common and recurring and understood as the way things are, yet more precious than I could ever put into words.

So to sum it up, eat yourself a paw paw this fall!

Love, Dana Dee

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tails of Compassion: My 24 Hours with "Billy Graham"

The other evening I arrived home at about 6:00. Immediately my ears became aware of a different sort of sound- an animal no doubt- a high pitched chirpy wine, almost birdlike, but different and more insistent. I followed the sound into the garden to the patch of red clover cover behind the corn, and found who was to eventually become known as "Billy Graham," a tiny furry squirrel with eyes still closed from birth. He stumbled blindly through the foliage, crying and yelling for his mama.

At this point in the story I will stop and comment for a moment. The first thing I will say is, I do not know for the life of me how anyone, I mean Anyone, can encounter a baby animal of any sort and respond with anything other than unadulterated care and compassion. Even if the ultimate action chosen is to kill, is there not a biologically hard-wired response to help and care for the helpless babies? Someone, no names will be mentioned, said to me upon hearing of my night with Billy Graham- "Why all the fuss- it's just a squirrel- a tree rat," and went on to inform me that his/her course of action would be to put it in a bucket and drown it. A) I think that is bullcrap- I don't think this person would kill anything, and B) I am convinced that the response I had to Billy Graham is one that pretty much anyone would have.

First I picked up Billy Graham and talked pretty to him for a good long time while I thought. While I was thinking and pretty talking I heard the demanding chatter of an adult squirrel coming from the woods, not too far away. I followed the sound, carrying Billy Graham in the palm of my hand, until I saw a messy nest of leaves up in a tree in the general vicinity of the chattering adult. I decided to leave Billy Graham in a flat nook at the base of a nearby hemlock tree and give him a chance to be fetched by his mother before dark. I wished him well and set off to do some chores.

At just dark, I returned to the hemlock tree where I had left Billy Graham, and found him curled up in a tiny ball, sleeping soundly. I figured he didn't stand much of a chance overnight on his own like that, so I gently scooped him up, startling him into a brief fit of spastic yelps, and took him down with me to the camper. I didn't have much on hand in the way of baby squirrel formula, so I heated a bit of raw cow's milk and fed it to Billy Graham through a tincture dropper. I tried to feed him slowly enough that it wouldn't give him a belly ache. When I reckoned he had had enough, I put him into a bus tub with dry sawdust and leaves. He immediately burrowed down to the bottom of the bedding, managing to completely hide himself and insulate his wee little body from the nighttime chill.

The next morning, Billy Graham woke up hungry. I gave him a couple more droppers of the warmed milk and left him in his little box under the hemlock when I went to work, hoping that he would wake up hungry and cry for his mama- and that she would come for him in the daylight.

All day long I thought about Billy Graham, wondering how he was faring, and thinking of what I would do if I came home and he was still there. I posed a question to my co-workers: If any of them happened to be a lactating woman, would they extract a little of their own milk and feed it to Billy Graham with a dropper. Most of the answers were a grossed out negative. I was curious where people drew the line. My answer was hands down, without even thinking about it- of course I would. The instinct to help a baby seems so natural and it's not like one that small would require a lot of it.

On the way home from work I bought some goat's milk to feed Billy Graham in case he was still there. My neighbor said that cow's milk is really hard on a baby squirrel but that goat's is easier. When I got home he was gone. I found out that Todd had been up there working and heard Billy Graham screaming and went into the woods to find that he had climbed out of his box and was stumbling around 30 ft away, crying of hunger. Todd fell in love and fed him some milk through the dropper, which was laying out, and returned him to the box. What happened in the 2 hours between that feeding and when I came home will remain a mystery. Did Billy Graham wander away? Did his mother come for him? Did a natural predator eat him up and survive another day by the bounties of the forest?

I am completely comfortable not knowing the fate of Billy Graham. I wish him the best- I knew him to be a survivor with a lot of vitality left in him. Mostly I will remember him for how strongly he made me aware of my core inclination to help animals. Somehow it is comforting to remember that Life wants to perpetuate Life. I believe it is one of the great laws of the planet we live on, and the fact that it crosses the boundaries of species and rationality brings me much delight.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Greasy Beans and Dramatic Weather

Some of you die-hard readers (all two of you) may remember me being pumped about my new neighbor giving me some local heirloom greasy bean seeds at the beginning of this season. Well, I grew them out and Mom and I went out and picked yesterday a bit before the spell of dramatic weather which is moving in tonight. Mom prepped (strung) and cooked a big mess of them for dinner and froze a couple gallons for later. I have to say, as someone who feels entirely neutral about the world of green beans, those things pretty much rocked.

Speaking of the dramatic weather, I have decided that dramatic weather is the thing I am skeered of. As in s-k-double e-red. People are saying we might get 10 inches of rain in the next three days. Yay for the rain. Boo for the dramatic presentation. Last night I got home to the camper in the pitch dark, and started the project of trying to weather proof the leaking spot for the Big Rain. One of the window areas, after caulking and sealing, still leaks in water, and it is right over the foot of my sleeping area. I imagined waking up to the sound of wind and rain driving into my little aluminum box. I could feel the wet feet and hear the angry roar of the storm. It felt kind of familiar to be out in the dark with a flash light, jury rigging something as a guard against weather-induced damage. Standing out there on a chair with a flashlight, duct taping a piece of plastic over the leaky window as the rain began to drizzle, my mind was "flooded" with memories of recent years past. 2 am trips up the ladder in my cotton candy pink fluffy bathrobe to scrape loads of heavy wet snow off the once intact awning... Waking to the deadly sounding crack of a poplar tree falling onto the camper above my bed and opening my eyes to find myself face to face with the long-defunct AC unit which had been mounted on top of the roof... The raging roar of flash flood waters flushing large logs into my camper step, a tile saw from its resting spot in the barn into a culvert under the road, and a large glass door into the creek bank... The clatter of gumball sized hail like bullets pummeling the top of the camper and the little tin shed roof out front. Wading through the raging flash flood river in cowgirl boots and my trusty pink robe to take shelter within the caving in walls of Shorty and Starling Gentry's old house on higher ground.
Oh, the special times I have had with the Ladyhawk.
But I admit, weather and time have made me softer, or wiser, or just fearful of god, and after I rigged up that heavy duty clear plastic over my leaky window and took care of a few other preparations, I turned right back around and drove to Hot Springs, to take shelter in a more sturdy and leakproof shelter for the duration of this bout of "dramatic weather." The final straw was realizing that when nature called (I mean really called) I would be out in whatever kind of rain or storm with my little shovel digging and doing my business in the elements. Damn I need to dig that outhouse...

Stay tuned for Tails of Compassion: My 24 hours with "Billy Graham"