Crippled collie?

Gladys and me, circa 1989, Winston-Salem, NC. Photo by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard

I don’t think I’ve ever explained on this blog the meaning of my domain name,

There once was a crippled collie. Her name was Gladys. She was born, as I recall, in 1981. She was active, athletic, extremely sweet, and not the smartest collie in the world (though she became quite wise in her old age). When she was 8 years old, she had a stroke. I came home from work one day to find her moving with great difficulty. Her eyes wandered in different directions. Her pupils were different sizes. We rushed to the vet. The vet quickly diagnosed a stroke and administered heavy doses of intravenous cortisone. Still, within hours, Gladys turned into a vegetable. She was paralyzed. All four legs were useless. She could only lie on her side and watch me with her now-strange eyes.

On follow-up visits to the vet, my vet and I discussed the options. The vet pointed out that Gladys was not in pain, that she was strong-willed and surprisingly happy, and that Gladys was very attached to me and trusted me very, very much. The vet said that, if I was willing to take care of a paralyzed dog, that there was a chance that Gladys’ condition might gradually improve.

That’s what we did. Very slowly, over a period of weeks and months, Gladys regained control of her legs. Eventually she was able to stand. Then she started hobbling. And eventually she started walking again. Still, for the rest of her life, she walked with a limp. She dragged her right hind leg. When she walked, her feet on the floor made a strange sound — click click scratch, click click scratch, click click scratch. When I moved to San Francisco, Gladys went with me. She spent her last few years in my apartment across from Buena Vista Park in Haight-Ashbury. She loved Buena Vista Park. She could click-click-scratch her way to the top of the park without any trouble. I used to call her the Crippled Collie of Haight Street (which also is the working title of my memoir-in-progress). She knew Haight Street quite well. Especially she knew the location of the bagel store, and she would take us straight there if I asked her if she wanted a bagel.

Gladys died a natural death at the age of 13. Gavin and I were with her. She is buried on the Point Reyes Peninsula, near Inverness, California.

Levering Orchard

Ken climbs a cherry tree.

Today we drove to Levering Orchard in Ararat, Virginia, hoping to pick some cherries. Unfortunately we were a week or so too late for this year’s cherry crop, but we did pick some peaches and some Lodi apples.

Levering Orchard has been operated by the Levering family for three generations. Frank Levering now runs the orchard. Frank has written several books on rural living. He and his wife, Wanda Urbanska, produced the PBS television series Simple Living. I first met Frank more than 30 years ago, so we had a chance today to talk about old times and old friends.

I’ll probably make a pie from some of the apples. Most of the peaches probably will go into peach smoothies.

Ken Ilgunas and Frank Levering

Levering peaches

Best pie I ever made

My lattice is a little free form, isn’t it? But it tastes just the same as a geometrically perfect lattice.

In my family, the reference and standard for good cooking — a standard that is almost impossible to meet — is the standard set by one of our grandmothers. She made amazing pies. Today I made a pie that comes awfully close to meeting that standard. Ken and a friend of his visiting from New York picked half a gallon of wild blackberries out in the 96-degree heat. With the berries brought absolutely fresh into a cool kitchen, I baked a pie using Irma Rombauer’s recipe from the 1943 edition of The Joy of Cooking. I made a simple crust — unbleached flour, olive oil, and ice water — from Rosalie Hurd’s Ten Talents cookbook.

It’s the best pie I’ve ever made, and it just may be the best blackberry pie I’ve ever had — perfect berries and a perfect crust, served warm. It was dessert to a homemade pizza dressed with roasted green tomatoes.

Black helicopters??


I am fascinated by conspiracy theories. I figure that there’s always something to be learned from a conspiracy theory, even if the only reality to be learned about is the psychological tendencies of some of our fellow Americans, not to mention their political intentions.

So here’s my contribution to a pretty popular conspiracy theory: black helicopters. Google for that, and you’ll find lots of interesting reading. Why do black helicopters so frequently fly directly above Acorn Abbey, here in the middle of nowhere? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure whether the helicopters are black or dark green, but they’re unmarked. Twice in the last week, three helicopters have flown over in formation. The first time they were flying north to south. Then several days later they flew over on the same vector, south to north.

In addition to the black helicopters, there are frequently orange or blue helicopters. I don’t give them much thought. I figure they have a good reason to be here. Maybe they’re medical helicopters, or surveillance helicopters looking for illegal marijuana crops along the Dan River.

I used Google Earth to try to figure out if there are any landmarks, prominent from the air, that might explain why I’m on such a popular helicopter route. I don’t see anything. My only theory is that the helicopters may be flying over a corridor that is heavily forested and sparsely populated, to attract as little attention (and noise complaints) as possible. But really I have no idea why they’re here.


Yet another day lily


If I planted 10,000 day lilies, it would never be enough. Above is the first bloom from a yellow day lily in a group of new day lilies that a friend sent me as a gift a few weeks ago. The astonishing thing about these lilies is that they’re blooming generously in the first year, even though they were shipped as bare-bulb sets. The white day lily — the Joan of Arc day lily — has not yet bloomed.

Day lilies and roses — you can’t have too many.

Euell Gibbons

My photo of Euell Gibbons, foraging on a North Carolina strawberry farm around 1973. Seeing an opportunity to add a nice detail to the photo, I remember sprinting up from behind Mr. Gibbons to get a photo with the ducks in the background.

Most of us who are interested in simple living and growing food also are interested in foraging. Here at the abbey, I have a growing collection of books on foraging. One classic that belongs in everyone’s library is Euell GibbonsStalking the Wild Asparagus. This book was first published in 1962. It became a best seller and has remained in print all these years.

It was my good luck to get to go foraging with Euell Gibbons many years ago. He was in North Carolina at the time, and a friend of mine, a reporter, was writing a newspaper story about him. She invited me along to take pictures. After some early morning foraging on a winter day, we cooked breakfast using what we’d gathered.