Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Storm at Sea - 1989

A Brief Narrative from My Navy Days.

It was 1989. My ship was off the coast of Egypt doing operational exercises. We had spent about a week playing tag with a Soviet cruiser. At times we could have thrown rocks at it and hit our target. They didn’t like us, we didn’t like them.

I went topside and took a whole roll of film up close of the communist ship. It fairly bristled with weapons. We found out later that by 1989 the ships in the Soviet Navy were literally falling apart. When I sent that roll to be developed, they kept it longer than normal, and then sent back a whole roll of blank negatives. They enclosed a note that the film was totally blank. I somehow failed to believe them, and wish now I had held that roll for development when I got back home.

So we headed south for Alexandria and spent about a week there for a little R&R. It was a liberty port and we were allowed off the ship all day if we did not have duty.
I went down to the Pyramids at Cairo, and got to go inside the biggest one. It is a big pile of rocks with a bunch of climbing, narrow passages that open up into a large chamber at the top. It was completely intriguing, and along with the Museum of Egypt, there in Cairo, made a great trip. I got tons of pictures, every single one of which developed perfectly.

Later in the week, my Chief Petty Officer, some of my buddies, and I went out to eat at a rather nice local restaurant and had a big dinner. The resteraunt would be rather upscale there, but here would be around midlevel.

In one respect, Egypt is a lot like Mexico. If it isn’t well cooked, don’t eat it. I followed this rule religiously, and only drank bottled water. I had no problems. The meal was nice and I had a fairly large steak. It looked fantastic, but it had a strange taste. The texture was not what you would be looking for in meat. It had a fine mealy or grainy texture. Everyone else said theirs tasted strange too, so we began to pick on the waiter about what kind of meat the steak might actually be. We are convinced to this day that it wasn’t beef. We finally decided it was camel, but the waiter laughed like that was real funny. We didn’t think so.
Most of the guys had a salad and some vegetables. Not me. I stuck with only those items that had been cooked at a high temperature. By the time we left Alexandria, some of those guys were in bad shape. You don’t need the details but suffice it to say they had two or three days of unrest.

We left Alexandria and headed north toward Italy, which was our next port of call and was to be a working port. It was then that we hit the worst storm I was ever in at sea.
The ship was an old destroyer; small, light on armor, and fast, with a lot of firepower. It bobbed like a cork float in a fish pond. Sailors call ships like that a Tin Can. My tin can was taking twenty-eight and thirty degree rolls and pitching like a bronc. Everything that was not tied down or secured in cabinets or bins became missiles flying off shelves or ledges often hitting other objects or people and doing some degree of damage. We had men being injured just trying to walk.

We changed our heading into the wind to try to limit the roll but this turned us directly into the oncoming waves. With each crashing wave the entire ship would shake and begin to climb, only to break through the top and crash down into the trough between that one and the next, sending water and spray across the bow up to the bridge and beyond. The captain banned anyone from being on the main deck or 01 level topside.

I went up through the interior of the ship to the bridge and then to the 04 level. Topside on the 04 level the wind almost carried me away. It was howling and shreiking in the superstructure, and it grabbed you with cold bitter fingers, ripping and pulling at every fold and seam of your clothes. I stepped out on the 04 level and let go facing the wind. I was leaning at around a fifty degree angle into the wind, letting the air resistance hold me up. Had it suddenly stopped blowing I would have fallen flat on my face. It was about then I got soaked.

I fought my way forward against the oncoming gale until I reached the forward wall of the 04 level deck, which overlooks the bow of the ship. Looking over, I was just in time to see the bow plunge from the crest of a wave, downward to drive hard into the next approaching wall of water. Green sea water ran across the nose and rushed astern, while a huge column of water splashed skyward to be captured by the howling wind and thrown straight back toward the superstructure. I caught my share right in the face. My winter working jacket caught its share and grew somewhat heavier as it soaked up some of the water.

I looked around the ship and saw nothing but massive waves and water spray that had been stripped from the crests by the wind. The salt water in the air soaked my face and stung my eyes. I could taste the seawater on my lips, and feel the power of the ocean under my feet. We were in the ocean's realm and it was showing us how small we were. I stayed on deck for only a few minutes before retreating inside to dry off and tell my buddies in Gunplot how bad it was.

It got worse.
After several more people had gotten banged up, they told us if we were not actually on watch to stay in our rack, (that’s Navy for bed). I was only too happy to comply with that, so I headed back aft to hit the sack. I stumbled along, down the main passageway, doing ok, until I had just gotten past the Chief Petty Officer’s mess. The bulkhead on my right side took a notion and just reached out and smacked me silly. Actually, the ship rolled hard to the starboard side and as I attempted to adjust my balance, I ran into the port bulkhead which was coming my way fast. (I was walking aft which means the port was to my right and starboard was on my left). Naturally that knocked me off balance so that when the ship rolled back to port I stumbled into the starboard bulkhead. I know what a pinball feels like trapped between two of those bumpers, getting smacked back and forth. The passageways on a destroyer are narrow, so I put out both hands, one against each wall and steadied, then continued on.

My rack was a bottom one and was only about eight inches above deck level. Even so, I did not want to get rolled out on the floor by another set of hard rolls. I rolled up several towels and tucked them, along with my shoes and an extra blanket under the outside edge of my thin mattress to make a dish shaped depression in the middle. It was there that I curled up and fell quickly to sleep. (It’s amazing how fast I could fall asleep back then compared to how long it takes me to wind down and fall asleep now.)

Each night we had an evening prayer which was given across the ship's 1MC speaker system. That evening during the storm it was my turn to do the prayer. We rotated that duty amoung the ship's Lay Readers, who also held services on Sunday in the absence of a Chaplin. I went to the bridge with my Bible, and read from Psalm 107: 23 - 32

23 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
24 These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
26 They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.
28 Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
29 He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
30 Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.
31 Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
32 Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

I prayed asking for God's protection and that he would see us safe through the storm and into our next port, then headed for gunplot to stand my watch. I had the 11:00pm -7:00am watch every night.

During the night, the waves began to lessen, though the weather was still rough. We felt the difference and knew we were heading for the edge of this weather system and hopefully a better day.

I went to bed that morning with my rack still rolled up on one side and the ship rolling steadily. I was quickly asleep. When I was awakened to take my next turn on watch, the ship was in much calmer seas and was barely rocking and rolling along. I had slept like a rock and don’t have any idea when we finally got away from that storm.

No one really understands me when I tell them about the ocean and how much I loved it. It’s been eighteen and a half years and I can still taste the salt in the air.

James Lee Frady (c) 2/28/2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Wrath of Mom

I lay in the dense foliage and held my breath. Silence was mandatory. There was no getting around it; if I were caught it would be my certain doom.

I lay under the vines and watched in silence as mortal danger walked by within three feet of where I lay, hidden deep underneath the tangled mound of honeysuckle vines. I knew I had better make good my escape the moment the coast was clear.

How I had come to be hidden there with such danger so close at hand was more typical than not and this was not my first brush with this threat. In fact, it was the norm rather than the exception.

You see, the danger that stalked so close to my hiding place was my Mom, and she had a four-foot long hickory switch with my name written all over it. And man she was mad!

It had all started with the dishes. The chore we all hated so much. Why, I don’t know, but none of us kids ever liked doing the dishes. However, that did not erase the fact that they had to be done, so my parents had established a weekly rotation of who was responsible for the dishes. I forget the exact order of rotation, but that is irrelevant.

It was my week to get the dish-pan hands.

The problem was that the person who had them the week before had not done them at all, and they remained piled high above the sink and surrounding counter. They were all left over from the previous week, but now it was my week and I was supposed to take care of it.

My budding sense of justice was deeply offended by that. Why was it fair that the other person could skip the dishes altogether for a week, and I get stuck with them? I decided I would not do them until the other sibling made up their time and handed over a clean slate to me. I decided that. My Mom apparently did not see it that way. Maybe she wasn’t aware that they were last weeks dishes…so I told her.

"But Mom! I’ll clean the ones for this week if you make so-and-so clean up last week’s so I start with a fresh pile!”

“It’s not their week, it’s yours.”

“But they didn’t do them when it was their turn. Why do I have to do them now?”

“I’m not telling you again, now get busy.” She turned and walked through the back end of the trailer we lived in and went out of sight down the hall.

I stood there taking in that pile of dishes and sulking about the unfairness of it all. Then beyond the sink, the living room door came into focus. I don’t think consequences ever darkened the door of my young, impulsive mind at all. Through the living room, out the door and up the mountain I went so fast that I didn’t even hear the door shut behind me.

I followed a small, narrow game trail through the twisted and tangled vines of honeysuckle and saw briars till I hit a trail that cut up the hill toward the ridge where Roy, Johnny Justice and I had fashioned a crude log cabin out of deadfall trees, but then cut over across the face of the mountain to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I pecked on the door, and asked Grandma where my cousin Dennis was. She hollered back through the house and shortly Dennis and I were on the trail again. We went high and around the back of our trailer, and down into the corn fields at the base of the mountains. It was summer time and the fields had corn growing so we got into a row and headed for the river.

We were about two hundred and fifty yards or so below my house in the corn field the first time I heard my Mom yell my name. Far, far down deep in my conscience was the first tiny twinge of fear.

Squash that. I had playing to do. After all; It was summer, the sun was out, the birds were singing and I was young. I blew it off and we went on over to the river.

On the opposite side of the corn field the Catawba River ran its winding course down the edge of the corn, around the cow pastures below and then turned down past the Marion Airport toward the upper end of Lake James. I knew that river well, and played it from Garden Creek above our house to far, far below.

Across the river was the back side of the Dolphin Fish Camp, at that time owned by Johnny Justice’s dad Adolph. On our side the bank was a long, wide sand bar, which was actually mostly worn stones washed there during flood stages of the river. The lower end of the sand bar faced a long, smooth stretch of water. It was a perfect place for skipping stones or seeing who could throw rocks the farthest across the water. It was to this little corner of paradise that we were headed.

The path to get there cuts in off the old road bed, goes straight for several steps, then angles to the right for about thirty yards, before coming to the top of the bank above the sand bar. There are several places to go down the bank and the path ran right along its top opening up at each place to access the riverside. On both sides of the path are dense, almost jungle-like tangles of underbrush, vines, saw briars, poison oak, and weeds. (Not to mention snakes, ticks, spiders, yellow jackets, and chiggers.)

I don’t know how long we played but it was a good while. Time to time I would hear my mom calling me. The sense of dread that I had squashed earlier began to come back and grow stronger and more pronounced. Then I noticed her voice was getting closer. SHE WAS ON THE PROWL!

“Dennis, I hear my mom calling and I’m supposed to do the dishes. I think I better head home now.” It took a few tries but I convinced him we needed to leave. I was sure by this time he had heard her too.

So we skittered up the bank, and started out the path. I could hear Mom clearly now. She was clearly upset. Very upset. I’m talking calling down fire and brimstone and thunder and lightening and multiple lashes of the whip…and worse than all of that put together, she was threatening to tell my dad when he got home. That thought was beyond my capability to compute rationally.

It dawned on me that she was heading for our path. Without a word I went total Indian mode and leaving no tracks and not making a sound I led Dennis off into the underbrush. We weaved around two or three huge clumps of vines, which were locked in a death grip with some small trees, then circled one and crawled up under the haywire tangle of a very thick pile right next to the path. By this time I could see movement coming along the path.

It was my mom and one of my sisters. I don’t recall which one because all I had eyes for was my mom and that huge, enormous, unmerciful, four-foot-extra-limber-whip-the-tar-off-my-butt-hickory-switch.

Now, in all honestly, my mom’s whipping hurt, but they were bearable. That is, under ordinary circumstances. I had a distinct impression these circumstances were a shade beyond ordinary. I think they were perhaps even a shade beyond the extraordinary. I think perhaps I had managed to push the circumstances way up into the realm of extreme.

My heartbeat was one dull thud after another, pounding in my chest as I held my breath as if my life depended on it. I looked at Dennis and motioned for total silence. From the look on his face I could tell he did not need any urging. He knew he would get a dose of that switch too. Those were different days and my aunts and uncles could bust my rump if it needed it and vice-versa.

We watched as the switch led my mom along the path right in front of my face. I could have reached out and grabbed it. That would have been like laying hold of a live wire on a power station, and not to be advised. Ten feet away…five…three…five…ten…on down the path they went, past our hiding place. I waited until I heard them go down the bank to the river, and then made my move.

We burrowed out of the brush pile as quickly and quietly as we could and headed up the path they had just gone down. A right turn and a two hundred-yard-dash and I was home. Dennis went right on by and up through the garden, back to Grandma’s house.

When my mom found me I was nervously washing dishes as fast as I could with a big fake smile on my face, hoping and praying she didn’t tell my Pop about my great escapade.

Oh yeah, she did. No help for me there.

My mom never knew how close she came to me that day. I never told. That hiding place had served me well and I may have needed it again. As fate would have it, I never had the occasion to go into hiding there again. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t.

I never got justice over the dishes that had not been washed and were left for me but I learned two valuable lessons. Life isn’t fair; and you got be tough if you’re going to be stupid.

James Lee Frady (c) 2/25/2009

Not mine originally, but I find it funny

* Juan Valdez named his donkey after you.
* You haven't blinked since the last lunar eclipse.
* You just completed another sweater and you don't know how to knit.
* The only time you're standing still is during an earthquake.
* The nurse needs a scientific calculator to take your pulse.
* Your so jittery that people use your hands to shake paint cans.
* You walk twenty miles on your treadmill before you realize it's not plugged in.
* Charles Manson thinks you need to calm down.
* Your taste buds are so numb you could drink your lava lamp.
* When you call radio talk shows, they ask you to turn yourself down.
* Your life goal is to amount to a hill of beans.
* You channel surf faster without a remote.
* You name your cats "Cream" and "Sugar."
* You have a picture of your coffee mug on your coffee mug.
* You can outlast the Energizer bunny.
* You short out motion detectors.
* Your nervous twitch registers on the Richter scale.
* You think being called a "drip" is a compliment.
* You help your dog chase its tail.
* You're up to four heart attacks a day.
* Your coffee mug is insured by Lloyd's of London.
* You introduce your spouse as your coffeemate.
* You think CPR stands for "Coffee Provides Resuscitation."
* Your first-aid kit contains two pints of coffee with an I.V. hookup.
* You think Columbia would be a great vacation destination!
* You're passing everybody on the freeway when you suddenly realize: you left your car at home!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Natural Elevators on Grandpa's Mountain

Bent Trees at Garden Creek

At the place where Garden Creek runs into the Catawba River, and where Highway 70 splits from Highway 221/226, due east of the river and northeast of the 221 bridge, is a small mountain. It has no given name that I am aware of, but though it is small in reality, it is forever big in my mind. We called it Grandpa's Mountain.

I spent a lot of years claiming that mountain as my own. I knew it from bottom to top and from one end to the other on the river side. On that mountain I was Daniel Boone, Davey Crocket, and a dozen wild Indians all rolled up into one. If it could talk I would have probably been worn out more times than I was and probably grounded for life…

Many youthful adventures were there to be had, and being who I was, I tried as many as could possibly be crammed into my days on the river there.

On one particular slope there was a stand of trees. They were small, young trees that had grown up where the earlier timber had been pushed off. They were tall and straight and narrow, and growing on a very steep bank of about sixty or seventy degrees. I mentioned that they were straight. Were. Fast forward thirty two years or so, and people would probably wonder why those trees are bowed so far over and grown that way. Blame it on genetics…mine that is, along with my brother Roy and Johnny Justice.

You see, they were half way up this steep bank, or a little higher and we were on top. I don’t know who thought of it, but I don’t think it was me, but what better way down than to take the elevator? And what better elevator to a boy than one that (a): was natural, and (b): was a bit risky, and (c): involved a lot of cheap thrills? (This was in the day when cheap thrills weren’t so immoral and were easier and cheaper to come by.)

I want to think Johnny was first to go. He ran, jumped and grabbed the top of one of the saplings and it oh-so-gracefully bent over, and over, and over, and lowered him to the ground far below. Awesome! Cool! Unbelievable!!!! Roy went next, with very similar results. He landed far down the bank with only a slight drop and no harm. Now it was my turn.

I was more than a little bit scared that I would miss the tree and crash to a bloody and battered ending in the valley so many feet, no it was yards, no I think it began to look nearly a mile down for a minute there. Johnny and Roy were starting to make fun of me. The minutes creep by like hours. The sun visibly moves in its course through the sky…I run…I jump…I panic…I flail and grab…and I catch my tree! Yeeee Haaaaw! And in a long graceful arch, I too, glide over and to the ground. What a rush! Eat your heart out Tarzan!

Well, we stood there a minute and looked back up that steep bank and there was only one thing to do. No we did not go home and laugh about it. That would have made sense. We scrambled and dug and scratched till we got back to the top so we could suspend any common sense we might have cultivated up until that point, and do it again. And again. And yes, again. In the end we resorted to climbing the larger trees until we got high enough for them to bend under us. That did not hold the same thrill as the jumping to them and risking our necks.

After about three jumps the trees would not straighten back up completely and that tree had to be abandoned for a fresher tree. It seemed like we jumped five or six times each. Maybe it was not that many. I only remember we were tired and scratched up when it was all said and done. And happy.

The last time I remember looking at those trees, they were still bowed from doing elevator duty. I wonder if the woods on that mountain have ever caught someone’s eye because several trees turn outward from the slope in a neat arch on one very steep part of the bank. I am very surprised we weren’t hurt or maimed or killed, but we came through whole and functional. I think.

James Lee Frady (c) 2/22/2009

A Poem About The Crow

The Crow

A crow was in my garden patch
Pecking at my plants and seeds
I went outside and ran him out
He left with utmost speed

I went back in and looked back out
And saw how soon he did return
I saw him eating up my corn
And quickly did my temper burn

I went out and threw a rock
To make him swiftly fly
But much to my dismay did see
Him circling in the sky

He waited till I went inside
Then landed for a nibble
And brought some buddies with him too
To make my troubles triple

I made a scarecrow tall and straight
And stood it by my melons
The crows never even blinked at it
And ate like feathered felons.

I tried each remedy I know
From snakes to human hair
The crows figured out all my tricks
And soon would be eating there

I gave my garden to those birds
And went off to the market
I filled my truck with corn and beans
But the crows saw where I parked it!

James L. Frady
July 6, 2000

Friday, February 20, 2009

Grandma Heavener and Cane Poles

This is an old picture of my Grandma fishing many years ago. My Aunt Nancy had it stored away and my cousin Carolyn found out about it after reading this blog. She scanned a copy for me, touched it up with photo shop, and sent it to me for this story. I vastly appreciate it.
Grandma was much younger here than when I knew her and fished in the river with her and her cane-poles, but other than that, not much is changed.

Grandma Heavener

I was hit this morning with a clear, vivid image of my Grandma Heavener. I don’t know what triggered it, but it was suddenly in my mind; a picture from a long time ago on the banks of the Catawba River near Marion.

My Grandmother was a great woman. She could be very serious when the need be, yet at times she would be a fountain of joy and laughter. I saw both sides at various times and for various reasons. Being a boy with more energy than my brain could control, I often found myself on the serious end of the stick, but my favorite memories of her always include her laugh and her smile and those twinkling eyes that only grandparents seem to have.

The picture in my mind today is of Grandma fishing.

We lived right on the banks of the Catawba River above Marion and Grandma and Grandpa lived right up the hill from us. It was a walk into the yard at the time for us and about ten minutes for them to walk to the river bank.

Grandma liked fishing. She and Grandpa used to have a box built against the back of their well house which was full of rich brown dirt, and worms. Virtually every time they caught a worm it went into the box for use when they went fishing. They would feed the worms with old bread and news paper and such, which would decay into the soil and provide food. My cousin and I would occasionally raid the box if we wanted to go fishing and needed worms in a hurry. Most of the time, we went up in the hollow and scratched them out for ourselves, and left theirs alone. A few times I even went and dug worms just to put back in the box.

My Grandmother had cane poles; good limber canes with a length of fishing line tied on with a hook, a sinker, and a bobber. I used to think those canes must be ten feet tall, but now I’m older and I think eight or nine feet would be about right.

I remember my grandma coming to the river wearing an old dress, an apron, and a straw hat, or a bonnet made of cloth tied around her hair. She was carrying her cane poles, usually two or three, and some worms in an old tin can. I don’t recall her having a fishing tackle box at all, but she had some spare hooks and sinkers just in case. Sometimes she had a few slices of white bread to use for bait, along with the worms.

There at the river there were two huge old trees that hung out over the water, with roots that formed a small shelf next to the river. The water there was about chest deep to a ten-year-old, (namely me), and undercut the roots just a bit. There seemed to be an endless supply of bluegill, sun perch, and what we used to call pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin Seeds were small bright orange perch that we never thought much of at the time, but they were fun to catch. Occasionally a catfish or a sucker would be caught from that pool.

Grandma would bring a seat, one of those old lawn chairs with the aluminum frame and cross-woven nylon or plastic ribbons, or something like that. She would set it up, make sure it was stable, then sit down and start on her cane poles.

She would bait the first with a half a worm, unless it was small, and then lifted the end of the cane high into the air letting the hook, line, sinker and bobber swing in a nice arc out over the water. With perfect timing she would drop the end of the cane allowing the rig to softly plop into the water slightly upstream just out from the two trees. She would then repeat the ritual with each of the other canes in turn.

While she baited the other canes, the first one would drift in a slow arc down the river till the line began to reach its limits, and then swing slowly toward the shore near the roots of the trees. I vaguely remember that she would leave one or two just floating and waiting there, while one cane she kept in her hands. The line on this cane was dropped closer to the tree trunks to drift right along the edge attempting to temp the fish hiding up underneath. She would drift it down, lift the cane and move it back up, and drift it again.

Most of the time, it wasn’t long till one of the bobbers twitched, twitched again, then started bouncing along the surface. Grandma was delighted and excited. She enjoyed catching the perch and sun fish as much as any fisherman ever enjoyed catching anything. She would pick up the end of the cane carefully and try to time the bounces. Soon the bobber would lunge for the depths and just as quick, Grandma would set the hook and quickly lift the wriggling fish right out of the water. She didn’t waste a motion, but swung the fish straight into her hand, unhooked it, and dropped in a bucket next to her seat.

Often, as that one was being unhooked another bobber would start dancing across the water so that she had to drop the one and grab the other to land it. That made her happy indeed. With her fish in the bucket, her hooks once again baited, and the lines dropped back in the water she would resume the cycle and fish as long as they were biting.

I often went down to the river when she was there and sometimes would take over on one of the canes, sitting in the dirt, barefoot and cut-off shorts, fishing without a care in the world. Grandma would tell me stories and about things she remembered. I wish I had listened better.

Being a boy and terribly impatient, I couldn’t resist lifting up my cane from time to time just to check if something had gotten my bait. That didn’t set well with her.

“Put that pole down and leave it alone until you get a bite! You won’t ever catch a fish if you don’t leave your bait in the water!” Or something similar to that. Most of the time I caught a few, she caught several and we had a good time. We enjoyed the time and when it was all over I helped her carry her chair and bucket of fish back up the hill to her house. We would put up the cane poles, dump any leftover worms back in the box, and then I would wander off on a boy’s whim to roam the mountain or swim in the fishing hole we just left. I don’t recall ever seeing her clean the fish.

I miss her, but good memories go a long way.

James Lee Frady (c) 2/20/2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Poem About The Izmir Turkey Bazaar

Izmir Bazaar

The babbling of a thousand men
Surround me in this place
I understand not one word
Nor recognize one face
Nuts are roasting in the streets
Strange spices temp my nose
Men bark bargains as I walk by
Hoping I pause as I go
Oriental rugs catch my eye
With colors and patterns bright
A gleaming eye, “A sale my friend?”
I’m sorry, not tonight
Exotic fruits and meat and clothes
Here are brought to sell
But I’m just here to look around
Before my ship sets sail.

© 1989 James L. Frady

Written upon leaving port in Izmir, Turkey heading for our next port of call.
USS Barney DDG-6

The Old Farm

I wrote this as an English paper when I was in college. It's a brief description of the old dairy farm on Jonathan Creek and the hike to the top of the mountains that overlook Maggie Valley and Lake Junaluska. I need to edit it some but I hope you enjoy it. By the way, the farm is slowly being crowded out by housing that has encroached from virtually every side. I truly miss the way it was. This description is no longer accurate because of the housing going in all around the farm. The view is now spoiled. Imagine it as it was. I have not returned since the year after I wrote this to that high lonely ridge. There is a housing development between the Farm and the ridge and it makes me sick to see it. The picture to the right is not of the place described but another part of the Blue Ridge.

The Old Farm

Feelings of nostalgia stir up fond memories as I pull off the main highway onto the rutted gravel road that led into the old dairy farm. My dad had worked here before he joined the Army and left, and when we were growing up, we had spent many of our weekends here in the summer and fall. We hunted, fished, joked, laughed and played along the banks of Jonathan Creek and on the farm, all the way to the highest ridge. In my mind there is no prettier place on earth than this old farm in mid-October. I remember frosts so thick that every leaf looked like a crystal formation built on a colorful foundation. I remember bright hickory leaves that tumbled and floated down all around as the wind blew up across the face of the mountain. I remember pre-dawn stars that were undimmed by man made light or pollution and shined like blue fire in black velvet. I remember so much and yet so little.

It is almost a pilgrimage, a sabbatical if you will. Every year when the leaves are at their peak of color, I feel drawn to this place with an irresistible pull. I can no more stay away than I can change color.

The road winds around the low ridge and into a sheltered valley that is mostly pasture but turns to woods near the top of the mountain. It then turns up by an unpainted board fence that is warped and sun-bleached from years of exposure to the harsh mountain weather. The fence connects to the old milking barn where the cows were once milked daily. The faded white block of the building and the flaking paint reminds me just how old this building must be. It is quite a shock to me to notice that the roof is falling in on one end and the door is breaking loose from its hinges. Last time I was here I had not noticed, but the barn had been abandoned and all the milking equipment moved to some new stalls built against a steep bank behind the old barn. Gypsum weed and thistles had taken over the barnyard giving the whole place a run-down look.

I carefully ease on by the barn up to the calving stall. Several newborn calves lay just inside the gate, their black and white coats standing out in sharp contrast to the golden hay. I slow down to count them. Six. When they get a little bigger they will be transferred across the road into a holding pasture until they are big enough to join the rest of the herd roaming the pastured hillsides.

Around the corner, and I head for the wire gate in the electric fence. The road is partially blocked by a shiny, new Ford tractor. Bright blue and white and barely dirty, it couldn’t be more than a few weeks old. If it had been here long, the sticky mud and cow manure would be splattered all over it. Things get filthy fast here on the farm.

As I pass the tractor the musty smell of manure seems to flow in from all sides. All the cattle pass through this gap to go to the milking stalls and the mud and manure are deep, soggy and slick. I smile as I remember falling in this mess once, years ago. Yuck! I quickly pass through and reach the silo where the silage is stored for winter cattle feed. Made up of ground up corn, stalks and all, the silage has a sweet-sour smell that on one hand rather stinks, but on the other is one of the smells that make memories of hunting here so distinctive.

Through the fence and up the hill to the place I normally park, then out and on my feet to hike on to the top. There are a number of access roads cut into the sides of the mountains, and I quickly follow one to the crest of the mountain. From there I enter a deeply shaded and ancient forest. The trees are tall, towering high overhead and stretching down deep into the shaded hollows. The canopy of leaves overhead block most of the sun, and very little makes it to the forest floor. Dead logs and loose rocks litter the ground, and the rhododendrons grow in dark green clumps all around. I imagine this is what these mountains looked like three hundred years ago when the pioneers first moved into this area. Standing very still, I wait. Soon the squirrels and a couple of chipmunks begin to move about foraging for nuts that have falling from the oaks and hickory trees. I watch for a moment, then move on up to the ridge.

Looking ahead I see my goal. There is a high knoll on the middle ridge of the mountain that is nearly bare aside from the green grass that covers it. It is easily my favorite place on earth when autumn sets the mountains on fire with the turning leaves. I mount the knoll eagerly, and though dragging for my breath from exertion in the thin air at this altitude, I press on to the top.
Finally, I stand high above Maggie Valley taking in the breath-taking view. I’ve been here hundreds of times but it never gets old. Mountains roll like waves toward the horizon, overlapping and fading with the distance. The trees light up the hillsides in vivid fall colors that defy description. Oaks splash deep red and burnt brown stains across the scene, while hickories light up in brilliant yellows in every hollow and on every ridge. Maples are flame orange touched with crimson. Dogwoods, sourwoods, and other shrubs dot bright red spots in the under brush. A cool breeze blows down the valley rustling the leaves. To the east, Lake Junaluska shimmers in the morning sun, while to the west the high rugged peaks of the Soco mountains thrust up into the clear blue sky. I drink it in, soaking up the crisp autumn air and the smells of the farm. I love it here.

I spend what seems like hours here, yet at the same time it goes by all to quickly, then knowing I must soon head home, I turn back by a different route to find my truck. My thoughts stay behind on the empty ridge for quite some time.

James Lee Frady (c) 2/17/2009

Ok, Here is My Plan.

I will attempt to share stories with friends and family by posting them here for their access. I don't know how many, or how often I can post but I have a brain full of memories and with a little spare time, I hope to tell a lot of stories.

Some of my stories are from ages ago, along the banks of the Catawba River, some during my time in the US Navy, and some will be more recent. I will do my utmost to stay away from politics since I have other outlets dedicated to my soapbox issues in that arena.

James Lee Frady (c) 2/17/2009