2022

There’s a Tiger in the Grass

Olive, the dumpster-diving kitten rescued by daughter Abbie last summer after we finished eating at the Olive Garden — hence the name — has finally been allowed to venture into the Great Outdoors. She has been strictly an indoor kitty until this week and spent hours staring longingly out the picture windows into the backyard. My Beautiful Mystery Companion — aka the Cat Whisperer — and I were both leery at letting such a small creature out there where hawks, owls, coyotes and other predators abound. Olive watched with envy as Tater and Tot, her new older brothers, prowled the backyard....

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Death of a Stately Tree

Several months ago, an arborist from the Texas A&M Forest Service came to look at one of the large water oaks in the front pasture, which had a deep crevice at its base and clearly contained decayed wood. He took a quick glance and said the tree was a goner. He said the good news is that if it fell, the water oak would fall away from the house. Patching the crevice with foam or concrete, as was common in decades past, would do no good at all. I decided to just leave it and let nature take its course. Then in late March a fierce thunderstorm blew through, spawning a tornado that destroyed...

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Hurtling The Language Barrier

I spent most of a recent afternoon talking on the phone to pleasant-sounding people with distinct French accents. We plan to take a trip to Canada in late June, to visit the villages of the Eastern Township, a picturesque region in Quebec just over the Vermont border. It is the setting for Louis Penny’s popular Inspector Gamache series, which both my Beautiful Mystery Companion and I are engrossed in reading. We are excited to take our first real vacation in nearly three years. And I’m looking forward to exploring the area where my mother’s family grew up, and which I visited as a child. Crossing...

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Digging A Ditch And Meeting a Snake

For most of my life I have heard the expression, “Sure beats digging ditches.” It is used to compare a task, or job, to the alternative – shovel in hand, slinging dirt. I have used this well-worn phrase many times myself; for instance, when things got hectic or tense in a newsroom, as a hairy deadline loomed, the phrase helped remind me, or others, that there are worse jobs out there. I often joke that a shovel handle simply doesn’t fit my hand. Shoveling remains one of my least favorite tasks, something I should have considered when we bought this timber-and-snake farm last summer....

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Chimp Haven Is Truly a Treasure

Thanks to a dear friend, my Beautiful Mystery Companion and I took a tour of the world’s largest sanctuary for chimpanzees last weekend and met – at a distance – Valentina Rose, the 10-year-old chimp our friend sponsored for my BMC’s birthday. She received an adorable chimp doll, a certificate, and a photo of her new “best friend.” Chimp Haven is a nonprofit facility located on 200 acres inside the 1,200-acre Eddie D. Jones Nature Park in Keithville, Louisiana -- an unincorporated area about 20 miles south of Shreveport. It currently cares for 325 chimps formerly used in biomedical...

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The Wind And The Flagpole

The wind blew fiercely last weekend, with gusts often reaching more than 50 mph. Outside chairs toppled over. Tree limbs fell across the pastures. The cats look alarmed and wanted back inside. Even Molly the Maltese, who normally loves being outside, stood at the back door, whimpering to be let inside. Pollen streamed sideways and oak clusters lined the driveway. Maybe this will end pollen season, a hope we hold every spring -- ready for noses to stop streaming, eager to power-wash away the yellow powder covering everything outside. We’re eager to open windows again and enjoy a spring breeze....

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‘Three Pines’ Series Evokes Childhood Memories

Daughter Mere sent my Beautiful Mystery Companion a birthday present recently – a half-dozen volumes in the Inspector Armand Gamache series, written by Louise Penny. I have started reading them as well, trailing my BMC by a couple of editions. The novels are set in the picturesque village of Three Pines in Quebec, Canada. Since first publishing Still Life in 2005, she has written 17 novels with another due out next month. That’s one a year. Pretty impressive. As Penny writes on her website: I live outside a small village south of Montreal, quite close to the American border. My husband Michael...

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Spring Slow In Arriving On The Farm

Spring is slow in coming to our farm, about 8 miles north of town. I had no idea being a few miles north would make a difference, but it does. On campus, the annual wave of pollen is well underway, coating vehicles with a sickly yellow powder, stirring up sinuses and, when the wind is blowing hard, leaving a haze in the air. But here on the farm, on April 1, the wave of pollen hasn’t quite arrived. The oak trees are reluctantly starting to bud out. Just the other day, the three Bradford pear trees in the front pasture started flowering. I walked out to take a few photos, in my ongoing project...

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Sticky Drawer Taxes My Limited Abilities

I consider myself an adequate handyman -- plumbing excluded, for which I have no aptitude. I also shy away from anything electrical that is more complicated than changing out a light switch or rewiring a lamp. But when it comes to basic carpentry and repair tasks, I generally feel confident enough to tackle it and not call one of my more skilled relatives to come to the rescue. You don’t want to go to that well too often. People start dodging you even if you have promised to treat them to a nice Tex-Mex meal up the road at Tele’s once the task is complete. So, when a large kitchen drawer...

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Love of Libraries and Their Namesakes

The other day I went to the University of North Texas library’s website, looking for an article for a patron. As I called up the site, the official name of the central library popped up — A.M. Willis, Jr. Library. We knew him as Monk in these parts, a nickname he bestowed on himself because nobody could properly pronounce his given name: Achille Murat. Monk Willis and I became friends in 2008 when he was 92, and I had just returned to Longview to be publisher of the News-Journal. Monk owned an insurance company for many years and worked under Lyndon Johnson both as a political operative...

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