June 3, 2011

Holiday Ramblings…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


Going to the mountains is going home.

— George Leigh Mallory

For the past two years, at about this time, we’ve packed a large motor home with enough food to last for weeks and headed out. Destination: the hallowed trackside ground inside the oval at the Pocono 500. It was always an adventure; getting in, setting up, and then just living it up in redneck city for a few surreal days. We’ve met some quite colorful characters, and seen many strange and wonderful things. And, yes, some weird things too.

This year, though, we didn’t make it. Not that it wouldn’t have been exciting and fun. But after attending the race for a couple of consecutive years, well, the fire seemed to have died. We didn’t really talk about it back then, my friends and me. But a few months ago, I mentioned to Paul that I likely wouldn’t be able to make it this year, what with my book coming out and all. He nodded and said that the others in the group had discussed it, and decided they would not go this year.

Hmmm. Discussed it, had they? Somehow they had failed to include me in that little conference. Guess that shows where I rate on the totem pole, but then, I’m not the one who owns the motor home. But, hey it all worked out. Looks like we all reached the same conclusion at roughly the same time, just from different points. And so this year, no redneck Nascar trip.

Since we first attended that Nascar race back in 2009, we’ve taken to hanging out as a group, now and then. At the home of one of us or another. And a few months ago, another couple showed up one night. Michael and Lori. They fit right in to the flow of things. And I got to know them fairly well.

Turns out Michael and Lori own a cabin in the hills of West Virginia. Close to the southwest corner, a good six hours’ drive. And this year, they invited us all down for the Memorial Day weekend. Come on, they said. We have plenty of room, and Ira can sleep on the couch.

It seemed like a good thing. Except, man, it was far down there. As gas prices rose, I fretted about running Big Blue all that distance. Not really so much about the miles. Just the cost of driving them. But I decided to go. Goodness knows I’ve been a bit stressed out lately. A road trip to a remote mountain cabin would be relaxing.

Everyone arrived by Friday evening, except me. On the way down, I stopped for the night at the house of my good friend, Dominic Haskin, who lives in Martinsburg, WV. Dominic and his father run Timberline Pole Buildings, and buy their materials from Graber. So I figured I’d stop and hang out for the night. Check to see if there were any supply issues.

I arrived around 3 PM, and found Dominic outside whacking weeds, and cleaning up the place. Getting ready for a Memorial Day party. We hung out by his pool. The boys from his crews stopped by for a few beers, and to talk about our building products. They vented about a few minor glitches in our system. I listened sympathetically and promised to take care of things. We didn’t go out on the town or anything, just hung out. Dominic grilled up some fantastic steaks, the first of many scrumptious meals I’d eat that weekend. We sat out by the pool and just chilled for a few hours. By midnight, we were nodding off. I slept in the spare bedroom downstairs. A cute little fluffy white cat kept stalking me, right down the stairs. The cat lurked about outside the bedroom door, staring at me with grim cold eyes. Kind of gave me the shivers. Clearly, I was an unwelcome intruder.

The next morning around 10, Big Blue and I headed west and south. Through the mountains of Cumberland, MD, then on to Morgantown. Then south and west. Around 2:30 or so, I was approaching my destination. I called Michael on his cell; they were all in town, eating lunch at some little hole in the wall restaurant. I joined them, and after lunch we strolled through an impromptu flea market set up in the local courthouse lawn. Americana at its finest, with flags waving everywhere, and cheap merchandise galore.

After stocking up on supplies at a nearby WalMart, we headed out to the cabin. Off the highway a mile or so, then a half mile back into the mountain on a narrow gravel road. Beautiful setting. A classic little board and batten cabin, with a roomy open porch on front, built by Michael and his father many years ago. I lugged in my bags and joined the others, loafing about outside on the porch.

Paul had brought and prepared his signature ribs, but there was no cooker around. So he and Michael fashioned one out of an old 45-gallon drum. It was all a long and leisurely affair, with much unsolicited advice flowing in from all sides. Eventually they got a fire going in the redneck contraption. The ribs were set on a makeshift wire grill inside the barrel. And so began a long stretch of feeding and starving the fire at tense sporadic intervals to adjust the heat inside the barrel. More streams of unsolicited advice flowed freely. Paul took it all in stride, dishing out as much as he got. The whole scene was pure hillbilly production.

Paul adjusting the air flow on his barrel cooker.

Some four hours later, Paul proclaimed the ribs done. And they were. We cut them up, served with beans baked over the open fire. And fresh Ceasar salad. A delicious feast. The ribs were hot and spicy, dry-rubbed in various spices and cayenne pepper. Whew. But tasty? You bet they were. Afterward, we all sat around an open campfire, chatting and sipping drinks, then moved to the porch for a few rounds of Hi-Lo. Around 10 or so, everyone drifted off to bed. I sat out on the porch alone for awhile, absorbing the West Virginia mountain night. Then I wandered inside, made a nest on the floor with couch cushions and settled in for a few hours of fitful slumber.

Sunday morning we slept in. Then got up to a huge breakfast of eggs, Applewood smoked bacon, hash browns, toast and coffee. Just what I needed – to gain more weight. But, hey, one doesn’t get to hang out in a mountain cabin with good friends very often. So do as the mountain folk do. Eat. After breakfast, Paul and I headed to town to get a Sunday paper. And the lazy day drifted on.

Three four-wheelers had been hauled down on Michael’s trailer. There was talk of going on a trail ride, and I agreed to go, assuming that I’d ride with someone. But when the time came, Paul decided he would stay at the cabin. He insisted that I take his four-wheeler and join the others.

Which was very generous of him. Except for one very important thing. I’d never driven a four-wheeler before. Never even so much as rode on one. So I balked. Those hills out there went straight up and straight down. It looked dangerous. But the others insisted. So, after a two minute tutorial on such basics as throttle, brakes, and how you must always lean forward going uphill, I mounted the wicked little machine and gunned the engine. There was no helmet. So I wore a bill cap, and goggles for eye protection.

The other two four-wheelers were loaded double. Michael and Lori led. Then Don and Angie. And then me. I should have had the presence of mind to cross myself. I mean, what can it hurt? I’ve done that for years every time I get on a plane. But it never occurred to me that now might also be a good time to do so.

The others roared off through the yard and straight up the steep trail. I watched them disappear up the hill into the trees. Then I gunned my engine, turned the throttle and took off after them. Immediate steep hill. And I mean steep. I leaned forward; the four-wheeler clawed its way up. And we crested the first hill. It was fun, except I was too tense to really enjoy it. The throttle seemed a bit erratic; one moment I was leaning backward from the speed and the next second I was practically flying over the handle bars as the machine seemed to cut and buck like a bull. But gradually I relaxed as the controls became more familiar. Up and down, up and down, the other two four-wheelers always disappearing over the next hill or around the next bend.

We rode for probably half an hour. Stopping now and then to take in the breathtaking scenery. I’m sure the others exercised great patience at my inexperience. And it was fun, all of it, except for one straight-down descent. I hung on as the four-wheeler bobbed and weaved dangerously, pretty much out of my control, then leveled at the bottom. Only then was I told that on such steep hills, I should use only the front brakes. Whew.

It all ended well. We got back to the cabin, safe and sound. After dismounting, I refused to ride again that day. I’d pushed my luck far enough, I figured.

That night, we ate by the fire, and hung out late by the fire. No cards. Just good friends hanging out, comfortable with each other, talking and watching the sky for falling stars. It was all quite relaxing. Magical, really.

And that was West Virginia.

As most of my readers know, I was raised on a farm. Around horses, cows, hogs and chickens. And as a young man, I detested farming with a passion. And since my flight from from the land many years ago, I’ve never really missed it much.

Except in some ways, I have. For a decade or more, I’ve dreamed of owning a few acres in the country. A tidy little place, in my mind, with a few sheep and goats grazing peacefully in lush pastures. And maybe a few miniature cattle. But no horses.

Maybe one day I might realize that little dream. Or maybe not. In the meantime, I recently took a rather startling step. Playing a role as a detached gentleman farmer. A few weeks ago, I bought a young Boer nanny goat. Yep, that’s right. A goat.

And no, the goat is not tethered on my lot in New Holland, grazing on my lawn. Here’s how it all came down.

A few weeks back, my Amish co-worker, Eli Esh, mentioned to me that he and his brothers were looking to buy some goats to graze on a few acres their father owned.

“Goats?” I asked, incredulously.

“Yep, goats,” he said. Then, sensing my interest, he asked if I wanted to buy one or two and graze them for free in the pasture. I immediately perked up and allowed that I might indeed consider such an offer.

And so, after Eli and his brother located and purchased four little weanling nannies, I bought one from them. A black goat, with a white blotch on its forehead. And we’re looking to get a few more. The plan is to graze them on the pasture, get them bred, and raise little goatlings for slaughter. I’m just a silent partner. No work involved for me, I was assured over and over again. We’re looking for a few more. Right now, the boys have a lead on some yearlings, ready for breeding. I’m fixing to buy at least one more, maybe two.

As with most “gentleman farming” ventures, I’m sure this entire episode will morph into a mini black hole, gobbling small chunks of money here and there and here and there for stuff that must of course be done to keep our investment, well, at least alive. Worming. Feed and hay in winter. And so forth, on and on. It’ll never stop. But hey, it’s a small sliver of one of my small dreams. Who knows what it might portend? And it will be fun. Plus it should, based on my record, provide me with at least a few prime opportunities to grumble a bit. And that’s something I enjoy doing once in awhile, given the right fodder.

One more blog after this, and then my book comes out. I feel like a little kid, counting down the glacially slow-moving nights until the dawn arrives when some great, grand, rare event unfolds. Sleep two more times, then I’ll get to go to town. Or something like that. In any case, I’ll post my final pre-book-release blog on Friday, June 24th. And then, well, I reckon I’m going on a little journey.



  1. I won’t be home when your book is due to arrive in my mailbox, not according to my plans with leaving here on Monday and be gone for 6 weeks. Maybe I will let my neighbor read the book while I am gone…

    Comment by Katie Troyer — June 3, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

  2. Dear me. You were doing so well and then you blew your cover. ‘Redneck’ and concern for one’s weight can hardly coexist authentically in the same character. Just the same, I enjoyed your story, terror on the mountain and all.

    On a separate note, what is the name of your black goat with the white blotch on its forehead? The girl needs a name.

    Comment by Rhoda — June 3, 2011 @ 8:12 pm

  3. Sleep two more times, then we go to Kansas Speedway. Very exciting and solid redneck entertainment. No motor home, just two pickup trucks loaded down with supplies for tailgating from 6 AM to noon when the race starts, then an encore after the race as we wait for traffic to clear.

    Keep us posted on the goat venture. I seriously considered goats, because they’re easy to take care of. The only problem is I’ve heard there’s few fences they cant wiggle through.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — June 3, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

  4. Ha Ira! As I read about the 4 wheeler riding incident, I relived those moments and just tipped back my head and roared with laughter! Waiting at the bottom of the tiny incline for you, looking up and seeing the look of pure terror on your face as you slid ever so cautiously down was exactly how you described it in your very cool musings this evening!

    PS: We simply got to convince the owner of that motor home to take us somewhere next year…..peace!

    Comment by Angie — June 3, 2011 @ 10:52 pm

  5. Enjoyed the post- grinned and laughed. :) Loved the 4-wheeler part.
    You just better hope that goat never needs milking or anything…

    Comment by ann — June 7, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

  6. Loved your depiction of our weekend at the cabin. I was there and still roared with laughter. You’re an excellent story teller. I do have a request for more peaches at our next get together. :-)

    Comment by Lori — June 9, 2011 @ 8:56 am

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