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Crows welcome here


A couple of days ago, a gang of crows drove off a hawk and saved the life of a chicken. Now I would like to know how to put up a big sign that says “Crows Welcome Here.”

I Googled, and it seems I’m not the first person to have chickens saved by crows. There’s actually a lot of material on the web about how to attract crows. It boils down to: Feed them, and call them.

For feeding them, I need to find a sack of peanuts in the shell. Calling them requires a “crow call,” which I’ve ordered from Amazon.

Almost every day this winter, I’ve had a gathering of crows in the woods behind the abbey, usually in the afternoon. Sometimes it’s only a few crows, but sometimes it’s hundreds. On the day the crows drove off the hawk, I could tell from the sound — angry and agitated crow sounds as opposed to social chatter — that something was going on. I dashed outdoors and saw a dozen or two crows harassing a hawk, which was right above my chickens, over the orchard. Soon the hawk flew off, chased by crows. I suspect that this is not the first time that has happened. As for the chickens, they watch the sky, and they certainly can distinguish hawks from other birds. The chickens pay no attention to the crows, but they scream and run for cover when they see a hawk.

It’s sad how many people consider crows to be pests. Like moles, or possums, I’ve never known them to do the slightest harm.

Now I’ve got to figure out a crow strategy. If they learn that I’m putting out food for them, they’ll keep an eye out for food and, in doing that, also keep an eye out for hawks.

eBay’ing from Japan


Having spent an embarrassing amount of money lately on a film camera, lenses, and other stuff necessary for film photography, I certainly had noticed on eBay that some of the best deals and best prices were from Japanese dealers. I came across a portrait lens that looked so perfect and was so reasonably priced that I bought it in spite of my concerns about doing business outside the country. I figured that delivery would take forever, but I was willing to wait for a lens like that.

Much to my surprise, six days after I ordered the lens on eBay, it was delivered to my door — special delivery — by the U.S. Postal Service. I have never received an eBay item that was so carefully and neatly packed. Best of all, there was a little bird in the package, made of folded green paper.

Now I feel ashamed for not seeing that America does not have a patent on good business. We Americans may even be slipping, since my expectations are so low, which makes me wonder if the rest of the world is wary of doing business with us.

The package was sent from the Japanese post office to the U.S. Postal Service, using a service called Express Mail Service. It’s trackable and insured, and there seemed to be no delay in customs.

I’m still in the testing and learning state with the new camera, but I should have some film photos before long.

Fried barley polenta


A good New Year’s resolution would be: Eat less bread, but eat more barley.

They didn’t call the gladiators “barley eaters” for nothing. I think we tend to scorn barley, because it’s old fashioned and common, in favor of fad grains such as quinoa (which I detest for its taste and texture and overpriced fad-itude). Barley, on the other hand, loves seasonings. It has a very meaty bite and chew. The list of barley’s virtues is very long.

Barley grits, I believe, can be bought at health food stores. I made my own from whole pearl barley, using the grinder attachment on my Champion juicer. I cooked the grits slowly in the steam oven until they were well done but on the dry side. I used vegetable broth as the liquid to give the grits a little more oomph.

I wanted a sausage spin, so I added sage, pepper, and garlic powder. I used brewer’s yeast as a binder and to help keep the mixture fairly dry. I rolled the mixture into aluminum foil and let it cool. Then I sliced it into patties and fried the patties in butter on low heat.

I’ve done a lot of experimenting with vegetable protein patties. I’d have to say that this was one of the best.


Fresh-ground barley grits


Cooled and ready to slice

Nikon digital photos

Delhi, 1993


I’ve had some distractions and haven’t posted for more than a week, but I’ll be back soon.

One of my distractions has been getting myself set up for 120-format film photography. That included buying a film scanner. Having a film scanner enabled me to scan some of my slides from a trip to India in 1993.

⬆︎ Dutch friends who looked after me and helped me manage my culture shock. They had been in India before.

Mysteries of the upper Dan River



⬆︎ The Dan River along Kibler Valley Road, Claudville, Virginia

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to go on more photo-taking and hiking expeditions. Yesterday I explored the upper Dan River, on a quest to figure out where the river comes down out of the Blue Ridge Mountains into the foothills.

The Dan River is part of the Roanoke River basin, one of the river basins of the water-rich Blue Ridge Mountains. The river meanders down out of the Virginia mountains into Stokes County, North Carolina, and flows about two miles south of Acorn Abbey. The river meanders back into Virginia again (near Danville), then back into North Carolina again. It reaches the Atlantic Ocean through Albemarle Sound. Though Acorn Abbey, altitude about 1,000 feet, lies just south of the mountains, the fact that this area is in the same river basin really makes Acorn Abbey a part of the Blue Ridge. If you’ve heard Joan Baez sing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” then you’ve heard of the area, when she sings, “Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train.”

Though I know this area very well, recently I realized that I had no idea where the Dan River comes down out of the Blue Ridge Mountains (altitude about 3,000 feet at that point) into the foothills (altitude about 1,500 feet at that point). With a rapid 1,500-foot fall, shouldn’t there be some drama there worth seeing? What I learned is that the falls are no longer in their natural state. There are two dams on the mountain that hold back the water, sending part of the river’s water down a large conduit to a small hydroelectric plant built in 1938. The plant still supplies electricity to Danville, Virginia, which owns it.

⬆︎ The red dot shows the location of Acorn Abbey

⬆︎ Low-water bridge — no guard rails!

⬆︎ The headwaters of the Dan River lie in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. I know where roads cross the river, but I lost the river among the hills and valleys. So I stopped to ask at the Mayberry Trading Post where the river lies and where it falls toward the foothills. Speaking of Mayberry, if you’ve seen the Andy Griffith show, you might assume that the name “Mayberry” started with the television show. That is not the case. Andy Griffith grew up in Mount Airy, North Carolina. I believe he was descended from the Mayberry (shortened to Mabry) family of Carroll and Patrick counties, Virginia. Griffith chose the name “Mayberry” for the television show because of its local history and local color. My great-grandmother was a Mayberry/Mabry. This is where my roots are in old Virginia.

⬆︎ Peggy Barkley runs the Trading Post. She told me where to find the dams, and she told me how to get to the hydroelectric plant (which is far from obvious). Peggy is a great fan of science fiction. She was sitting at the counter reading when I went into the store. I asked her to hold up the book and show us what she’s reading.

⬆︎ I couldn’t get to the dam, when lies about a mile below this gate. So I headed down the mountain via Squirrel Spur Road.

⬆︎ Looking south from Squirrel Spur Road


⬆︎ Mayberry Presbyterian Church

⬆︎ Along the road to the lower dam

⬆︎ Mayberry Presbyterian Church is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The church was built by an intinerant preacher.

⬆︎ Looking down into Kibler Valley from Squirrel Spur Road

⬆︎ Squirrel Spur Road

⬆︎ Squirrel Spur Road near Meadows of Dan, Virginia, looking down into Stokes County, North Carolina. The low mountains are the Saura mountain range. That’s Pilot Mountain on the right, which Andy Griffith called “Mount Pilot.”

⬆︎ A river-bottom pumpkin patch near Kibler Valley, Claudville, Virginia

⬆︎ Tiny house on Kibler Valley Road

⬆︎ Kibler Valley

⬆︎ Kibler Valley

⬆︎ A section of the conduit that brings water down from the dams to the power plant

⬆︎ I understand that this telephone still works, though it’s not much used anymore. It rings up the mountain to the dams.

⬆︎ Tommy MacAdams, the operator who was on duty when I was there

⬆︎ On the way up the mountain, I had breakfast at the Cafe of Claudville in Claudville, Virginia.

⬆︎ On the way down the mountain, I stopped at the Cafe of Claudville again, for supper. This is salmon cakes and fixin’s.

All the photos are digital, shot with a Nikon D2X with a 28-85mm lens, except for the food shots, which were shot with an iPhone.

First analog photos


The first roll of film from the Mamiya RB67 has been processed. The camera certainly works, but I have some stuff to learn. For a first roll, it wasn’t bad. Here are two of the ten shots. It’s available light, shot on a table beside a north-facing window, camera on a tripod. They’re experiments for portraiture, of which I’d like to do much more.

This was Kodak Tri-X film, processed and scanned by thedarkroom.com, 127mm lens.

Two silly photos



Click here for high-resolution version

Nothing meaningful here … just that I’m continuing to experiment with black and white photography, both analog and digital, using household objects as models. These photos are digital. I’m still waiting for processing on my first roll of analog film with the new Mamiya RB67 portrait camera.


Click here for high-resolution version

Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia



Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia, by Steven Stoll. Hill and Wang, 2017. 412 pages. ★★★★★


During the past couple of years, an extraordinary series of books have brought to our attention just what a sorry state the world is in. Ramp Hollow is the latest. Some of the others (many of which I have reviewed here) are:

Thomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Anthony Atkinson: Inequality: What Can Be Done?

Kyle Harper: The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire

James C. Scott: Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

Nancy MacLean: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.

Jason Stanley: How Propaganda Works.

Sebastian Junger: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Jason Brennan: Against Democracy

Volker Ullrich: Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939

Jack Rakove: Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America

This is by no means a complete list. There are others that I still urgently need to read, including books by George Monbiot and Jonathan Haidt.

Stoll is a professor of history at Fordham University.

As for Ramp Hollow, I used the word “angrifying” in an email to a friend. I subsequently came across a review that used the word “enraging.” This book is a history of how the self-sufficient subsistence farmers of Appalachia were dispossessed of their land by the timber and coal industries and forced to work in coal camps and mill towns for starvation wages. Their forests and swidden fields, which they depended upon for their living, which were a kind of commons, were enclosed and decimated to feed the industrial revolution.

Stoll has much to say about dispossession and enclosure in general, starting in England in the 17th Century when Parliament dispossessed the rural English of their common lands, gave the land to the lords, enclosed the land, and forced the people to become peasants who worked the land for others. Earlier in American history, the native Americans had been dispossessed by the colonists. After the Civil War, every possible effort was made to keep emancipated blacks dispossessed, landless, and forced to work like slaves for others. All this was seen as economic and social progress. The poverty and misery this so-called progress caused was hardly noticed.

All around us today, we see the consequences. The poor people who now spend much of their sorry wages buying health-destroying foods at Dollar Generals are descendants of people who once lived off the land with no need of wages. The old subsistence farmers liked money when they could get it, but they could live without money. They traded with each other for what they could not make or grow themselves. Their descendants are dependent on money and sorry wages. They buy their sorry food from corporations.

We have forgotten how forests provided a living. The abundance produced by forests goes far beyond hunting or gathering nuts. One burned a little piece of forest and planted one’s crops amid the stumps. Pigs could live in the woods without being fed. Chickens did fine with a little bit of woods, a little bit of clearing, and a little stream from which to drink. With some pasture, you could keep a cow. Capitalism, on the other hand, saw the forests only as a source of timber to be clear-cut and shipped out by train. Beneath the West Virginia forests lay coal. Capitalism could not tolerate people living without money. Dispossession was a win-win for capitalism. The timber could be sold, and the people who were forced off the land were now a source of cheap labor and taxes, dependent on money for a living rather than on their environment.

Stoll’s book is an unapologetic indictment of capitalism. He ends the book with a stunning proposal — he calls it a thought experiment, but it would be doable if we had the political will — for reversing the centuries-old process of dispossession and the poverty and inequality it has caused. He calls it “The Commons Communities Act.” I’m all for it.

This book is enraging because it tells the story of cruelties and injustices that history did not record:

Those who hung on in the hills had their misfortunes thrown back at them. The basis of their autonomy gutted or sold, they pecked and scrimped. The words of the engineer who condemned them in 1904 echo here: “forlorn and miserable … never having known anything better than the wretched surroundings of their everyday life.” Though they often insisted that they could make a living on remnants of the old commons, they had become poor. They had become the horrifying hillbillies that lowlanders had always thought them to be.

The story is an old one: The intentional creation of poverty by the rich, in order to exploit the labor of the poor. Today’s rich have become so sophisticated at this exploitation that their propaganda has turned its dispossessed victims into active agitators for their own greater exploitation. The very idea of taxing the rich for the relief of the poor is rejected with a religious fervor. How long can this go on?

The white deer


It has been months since I’ve had a chance to get a photo of the white deer. I saw her this morning from an upstairs window. I grabbed the camera and shot the photo from the front porch. Then I dashed upstairs to get a telephoto lens. But by the time I had attached the lens, she had vanished like a ghost.

Though the local hunters are well aware of her and have pledged not to shoot her, deer season is still open. I believe it’s a standing joke in the area that she knows she’s safe here. She actually was lying down in this photo. I’m starting to suspect that she shelters under a large rock formation downhill from the abbey, sort of a tiny cave. A small stream runs past the rocks. Under that rock would make a very cozy, and rather magical, deer den.

Maybe I need a sign that says “Deer Refuge.”

Farm porn



Click here for high-resolution version

A high dynamic range photo of a farm on Flat Shoals Road, Quaker Gap, Stokes County, North Carolina. This is a digital photo and will become part of an experiment to compare results from a film camera with HDR digital photos.