Friday Firesmith – Steve the Medic

When Steve arrived in our three man room at Fort Stewart, he was both the youngest, and the man with the least time in service. I was the oldest, and highest ranking, and I also had the shortest contract, that being two years. I wasn’t really in the Army with a two year contract, I was just passing through. Or at least that was what the lifers said about me. 

But Steve was serious. At eighteen, he had just gotten out of high school, and he wanted to be a medic, and one day, a real doctor. Ironically, and coincidentally, the third man in the room, Bob, was from Chicago too, but he was the company armorer. One roommate facilitated making holes in people and the other patched them. 

Steve was a chronic over sleeper, and he slept hard. This was a never-ending problem, but Bob and I were on it. One Sunday morning Bob went outside the room, pounded on the door, and Steve woke up. “Oh god Steve, we’re late for PT!” I shouted and he scrambled to get ready. Steve bolted out of the door with his running shorts on and Bob came back in, laughing. Steve made it all the way to the exercise ground before he realized he had been had. 

Then there was the morning we ran his clock up an hour, set the alarm, and Steve made it to work an hour early. Steve came in drunk one night, put on his uniform and got ready to go, because he only had a couple of hours before he went in. He was going to take a nap before he went in, but someone tied his boot laces together and he wound up with a black eye from falling off his bunk. Bob blamed me, unjustly, but as the company prankster, it came with the territory. 

They shipped Steve down to Haiti for a week, and for all we knew, it was a beach vacation. We could not have been more wrong. Steve came back a different man. Sure, his occupation might involve bullet wounds and drama, but he never expected to be tossed into an environment where sickness and lack of medical care were killing people every day. The smell, he told us, was overpowering, and prevalent. People of all ages lined up for treatment for every illness imaginable. Steve was nineteen by that time, but he aged more in that week than in his entire life. 

Steve was a teenager, a very young man, and the artist formerly known as Prince was his hero. Someone offer to let Steve drive a motorcycle, and Steve, had never been on one before, vamped his way through it, sure, I’ve ridden a lot. He wound up with the worse case of road rash you had ever seen. We mocked him without mercy, singing “Purple Pain” all the while. 

Steve got orders to go to Korea, and that was that. He still owed a ton of money on his sound system, and had never done the math on how much the interest would cost him, so he wound up paying about a thousand bucks for a five hundred dollar system he couldn’t take overseas with him anyway. But that was Steve.

We drank hard the night before he left, and he told me I was his first white friend, and he would remember the books I loaned him, and how I had always, in my own weird way, looked out after him.

The day he shipped off I remember him getting on the bus, and waving goodbye. 

Take Care,


Friday Firesmith (on a Wednesday)

Note: B&P Headquarters here: We’re still trying to figure out if/how B&P continues… Here’s one we missed getting out at the normal time.

When Debi died in April of last year, and yes, it is already last year, I had to deal with Death on a personal level. How personal, some of you can imagine, some of you cannot, and some of you will, most certainly. Her brother and I sat down at the kitchen table and created a strategy for what needed to be done, and who would do it, and when. Sheets and pillowcases had to be washed more often now, food had to be prepared, and medication given. 

And we would sit at the table, he and I, and for the first month, she would be there with us, and then she wasn’t able to sit in a chair anymore. “Do you know who I am?” I would ask, and she would smile, and tell me my name, then there came a time she would just smile. After she stopped smiling, I knew she was gone. 

We had conversations about Death, and what to do with what was left, and then those conversations ended, too. 

The last month we were just keeping the systems operating, the treatments ended, likely gone on too long, and the waiting began. Visitors came in, had one sided conversations, and they asked one question: When? And I would tell them what the doctors, and team of doctors, the whole of knowledge that kept the body living, and I would tell people what they said. 

The truth was I knew. I knew when she was going to leave because I knew the woman. I remember the way she turned her head to look at me, to say something important, a slight toss of her hair, and the way her shoulders set. All of that was gone, and everything else was, too. No one lived there anymore, and life cannot exist without some machinery to keep the body going if the spirit has already gone. 

The day she died, I called her son, but her brother was the first person to arrive. There was an internal debate as to what to say. “She’s gone” was what I had. He made an odd noise, and told me he was on the way. Hospice arrived, and after a few minutes, I left, knowing as soon as I stepped out of her bedroom I would never see her again.

I’m lucky to have had that time. We held hands, talked, shared meals, laughed about the funny things that had happened in those two years we were in love, and we talked about what was going to happen. I’m lucky to have been able to make peace with the process of dying. 

We lost Jon suddenly, instantly, and I never got to tell him how grateful I was, and am, for what he had done for me, and for having the partnership in writing we had. I never got to have a conversation about the end, or how he wanted to be remembered, and what for. 

I’m sorry we never had a chance to say goodbye. And that feeling is never going to leave me, or anyone else who cared about Jon. 

Take Care,


Friday Firesmith: This is the hardest thing I have ever had to write…

On September 30, 2011, just over a decade ago, “Going to Pot” the first Friday Firesmith appeared. I was guided to “Bits and Pieces” by a friend of mine who read it first thing every morning, to set the mood of the day, and I had been around for a while before I became part of the activity. 

The first time Jon and I traded emails I had written him to say thanks for the site. I knew how much work went into making something like that happen, and he replied that he enjoyed it, and we talked about the process of what he posted and why. Jon was one of the very few personalities who were actually who they appeared to be. I had lunch with Jon and his wife many years ago, as they were traveling through the state. Both Jon and his wife seemed to ease into a conversation with anyone, warm, friendly, pleasant to be around, nice to waitstaff, and full of stories of being on the road, in one manner or another. We always talked about doing it again, and had not the plague reared its ugly head, I would have made it to Vegas. 

Most of you who have been around for a long time remember the puppy I found back in 2009. He wasn’t in as bad shape as he might have been for a stray, but Lucas became my dog, and as a Weimaraner, Lucas was photogenic and beautiful. Full of life, and sometimes full of mischief, Lucas was fun to write about. In October of 2013, I found a lump on Lucas’ on the gum his right canine tooth. The first vet I went to see told me it was cancer, and all we could do was go home and wait for Lucas to die. After a week of despair, I decided to go to another vet. He told they could operate, but it would take thousands of dollars, and it had to be upfront. I maxed out credit cards and wrote a large check. I was getting ready to sell my truck, refinance my house, and pick up a second job. 

Jon called me. He had been following the story on my blog, and Jon said he wanted to launch a crowd fund from Bits and Pieces. To make a long story short, Jon saved my house, my truck, and from abject poverty. Jon, and many of the people who are reading this right now, donated money for Lucas the Loki Mutt, and for that I will always be grateful, more grateful than I will ever be able to express, and I will never forget it. 

Jon introduced me to friends I might have never met. People I have met in person now. The crowd fund sent people to me I would never get to meet, but the house in which I’m writing this right now belongs to a woman I met through that effort, and that may yet to prove to be the most interesting story that comes of Jon’s efforts in my life. 

Jon united people and created a world in which laughter was the currency, and off the wall videos and photos was the geography. Jon brought joy into the lives of people who needed it, and he created a community of friends. He was more than some random guy running a website, he was human, he was someone you could talk to, and he was my friend. I never argued with Jon if he wanted to edit out a post, or simply delete it. That happened once in ten years, and I didn’t blink an eye. Jon was a man I trusted. I trusted his vision and insight more than I trusted my own. 

In my life, I’ve never known anyone like Jon, ever.  A singular personality in the world where so many are not, Jon was the real deal. He was who he appeared to be, and he was one of the best human beings I have ever met in my life. 

This is goodbye, Jon. The world is a lesser place for you moving on, and I am diminished for the loss. But everyone who ever knew you was a better person for it, and whatever greets you on the other side, that place too, will become better. Because in the end, that was what you did best, is make the world a better place. 

A dog sitting in the grass

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Take Care,


Friday Firesmith – I Hate Christmas

It doesn’t feel like Christmas. The temperature has been pushing near 80 for most of the month, the mosquitoes haven’t quit, and we’ve seen frost once since November. In the greatest of all ironies, mom’s husband, who died nearly five years ago, was an atheist, and didn’t like Christmas, and now she is stuck with me, and I hate Christmas.

For me, if the damn thing was a religious holiday, it wouldn’t bother me at all. But it’s that time of year of excess, waste, and greed. My War on Christmas began early this year, right after Halloween, because that was when stores started selling Christmas decorations.

This year has been different than back in 1995, when I posted my first anti-Christmas war declaration on the net. This year, I have more people agreeing with me than ever before.

People are getting tired of donating a good portion of their expendable income to retail. People are saying enough is enough, and buying less, and giving gifts that do not include material possessions. These people have heard my call, and even though they do not necessarily agree with some of the language I use, they are backing away from cheap plastic sh!t from China littering their house and yard in the name of decorations. They are not buying their kids as much, and their telling their kids the truth, straight up, that Christmas has nothing to do with Santa Claus.

A woman I know decided to give her kids books for Christmas because she suspects they sabotaged their game system in order to get a new one. She and her husband, who is now a former gamer, have decided to go to more parks and do more outside stuff than staying in so much.

The older I get the less it means. The less it means the more I see it as some sort of spending spree by people who can ill afford it, and whose kids won’t appreciate it. Greed is never happy no matter how much you give it. Greed is never a thing of joy. Greed is always openly wondering why there was not more.

This year, Mom is getting a gift from me, and a few friends are getting little things, but I’m not going Christmas shopping. We’re going to have a friend over for lunch Christmas Day and that’s going to be the end of all that I do. My Christmas travel plans include the kitchen, and the bathroom, and a trip into the woods.

No one has called me a Grinch this year, and that’s never happened before. I think people are beginning to understand Christmas as a retail hell, just is not worth it anymore. It was once a time spent with family and friends, with simple acts of giving which meant more than getting. That was Christmas. It still is, even if no one does it anymore.

I hope you are in good health, and your family is happy and well. I hope you know no sorrow, and your pets are safe and joyful. I wish for you this Christmas simple things that create long lasting smiles and even longer memories.

Merry Christmas,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Retirement: Two Years Deep

My first Project Manager committed suicide with a shotgun. After three years of retirement, he couldn’t connect to his new life, and couldn’t reconnect with his old life, either. For the first six months of retirement, he would show up at the office about nine, go to lunch with someone at the office, wander back in about two or so, then leave at four. Our secretary finally told him to leave one day, go find something to do.

I was sick the first two months of retirement, went back to work for another ten months, took care of my dying girlfriend for three months, and it’s been nine months since then. I had a hernia operation in July, but there’ve been no big events in my life since then.

For years I wondered if I had the time to write, if I would, if I could, and while writing is never easy, it was easier when I had to write well with a limited amount of time. It was more precious to me, that time I wrote, and the scarcity of anything determines its value.

 But I have learned there are some Great Truths about retirement that have to be learned, and in doing so, there is freedom.

The first is Keep Moving. Exercise your body and your mind. Don’t sit around the house waiting for something to happen. Get out there and make it happen. Go to the gym, go to movies alone, get on a plane and fly to a place you’ve never been before.

Another is Time is Different Now. Don’t rush, don’t get in a hurry to do anything, especially writing. I’m rewriting a story I started a while back, and now I have time to write more background into characters’ lives. I spend more time with the dogs now. I spend more time walking in the woods. No longer under the gun to get things done to go back to work, I stand and look at the world longer, and notice more.

One of the most important things I’ve learned is this: It Does Not Matter. Being impatient with people in traffic, or in restaurants, or in the store, is a dead end street. If you’re happy with your life, those outside of it, short of knifing you with a Bowie Blade, can’t affect you. If the waitress screws up your order it does not matter. If the cashier cannot find the price, it does not matter. If someone ahead of you in traffic snarls the entire highway, so what?

Losing someone you love takes a lot out of you. Losing that fight, losing a battle you knew damn well you were going to lose, no matter what you did, is a lesson, not a lie. Retirement is losing you, who you were, your career, your life’s work, and facing that, releasing it into the past, is a battle you have to fight, and if you win, you get a new life, and a new you. It’s every bit as difficult as your first day on the job, and it’s every bit as exhilarating.

I could triple the length of this essay, easy, but there’s no need. I’ve said everything there is to say. You will either get it, not get it, or find a path to understand why you have to let go.

I wish you well. You can do this. It’s an incredible life.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Lieutenant Garrett

Lieutenant Garrett was not only a Lieutenant, but a Second Lieutenant, a Butter Bar, and he was a College Kid. As far as we enlisted men were concerned, he might as well have gotten his insignia out of a Cracker Jacks box, or gumball machine. But Garrett, unlike a lot of men who had just become officers, didn’t really have an idea of being in charge, or rallying the troops to save the position. Garrett was assigned to our unit as part of the cryptology team, and that was all Garrett cared about in the world.

The Powers-That-Be wanted Garrett to go around acting like an officer and giving orders and getting things done, but he wasn’t interested. My first interaction with him went like this, “Hey, uh, private, yeah, Firesmith, it’s right there on your shirt, good, look, they want me to get a couple of guys together and dig some post holes for a fence, you ever do that before?”

“Yes sir, how many you want and where do you want them?” I asked.

“Damn, hold on, it’s over there, shit, I forgot to ask, let me get back to you, uh, stay right here, okay?” And Garrett wandered off trying to figure out where a fence was supposed to be.

Garrett didn’t seem to understand enlisted men were pretty much slave labor and cannon fodder. Lacking cannons to shred us, slave labor it was. But Garrett liked to talk, and he liked the idea of making friends. He took the work detail, all three of us, out for morning biscuits, and if you’ve never known anything about enlisted men in the Army, feeding them off post is the one sure way to buy their loyalty. Then he discovered I could play chess, and after that, I was his orderly, in as much as I could be. He also could do those daily cryptogram puzzles in the newspaper in about twenty seconds, flat. Watching Garrett do those puzzles was worth digging fence posts holes, in my opinion.

The Sergeant Major, a humorless man who hated both junior officers and enlisted men, disapproved of the Battalion Cryptology expert hanging out with the enlisted men, but he was also a man who could make things happen. Garrett was brilliant in his field, but when it came to weapons and things like that, he couldn’t have beaten a jellyfish to death with an M-16 in the desert. He once told me the noise guns made startled him. Yet to be an officer in good standing he had to qualify with both the M-16, and the Colt 1911, .45. Garrett would have been better off throwing the bullets at the target.

The Sergeant Major, the only human being in uniform I was actively afraid of, told me to get in the foxhole next to Garrett, and make damn sure he qualified. So as the targets stood up, I fire away, making sure the man was not only qualified, but was damn near perfect. Three people knew what I was doing; the Sergeant Major, the Range Officer, and me. The Range Officer was as terrified as I was of the Sergeant Major, so it went off without a hitch.

Garrett moved on to bigger and better things. His skills were needed in places where codes and ciphers mattered, and regretfully, we had lunch one day, and he was gone the next. I was 90% lost in conversations with him about cryptology and things like that, but damn, it was interesting. The Sergeant Major, also moved on, moved up to a higher position, and his idea of saying good bye was to come to my barracks room, and hand me a beer, then walk off. That, too, was a code of sorts, but I understood that perfectly.
Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Who Loved The Night Stalker?

I recently decided to give Audible another try, and have someone read books to me. The book I chose was “The Nightstalker” by Philip Carlo, written in 1996.

Between June of 1984, and August of 1985, the city of Los Angles was gripped with fear as someone crept into houses in the dead of night, and then raped, robbed, and murdered, in a matter that left some of the victims so badly beaten they were unrecognizable. Fifteen people were killed, one victim had her eyes gouged out after she was murdered, and the killer’s penchant for sodomy, rape, throat slashing, both terrified and enraged the city.

On August 30th 1985, Richard Ramirez, who thought he was protected by Satan, was chased down by a group of everyday citizens, beaten, and held until the police arrived to rescue the man who had caused so much carnage. Convicted on all counts in 1989, Richard Ramirez was sentenced to death, but he died on death row of cancer, in 2013.

One of the odd things that never really got a lot of press, was how many women expressed interest, sexual and romantic, in Ramirez during and after the trial. And if this was not surreal enough, pop star Madonna mentioned Ramirez was “really good looking” when she went to jail to visit Sean Penn, who traded autographs with the killer. In his defense, Penn allegedly wrote that he had always felt a certain pity for people in prison but felt none for The Night Stalker.

In 1996, Ramirez married while in prison, to one of his first groupies. The detectives in the case who wanted to know more about what Ramirez had done, never talked him into confessing to crimes they hadn’t charged him with, but he did share photos of his groupies with them. He handed over a manila envelope stuffed with nude Polaroids to stunned detectives and told them he was running out of room in his cell.

Literally, hundreds of women, from all walks of life, of all ages, and all nationalities, threw themselves at the man who had committed some of the most heinous crimes known in America, and that’s saying a lot right there.

You know what? I haven’t got a clue on this one. I cannot explain to you why women would do this. I have no idea why there would be an attraction for someone who had raped elderly women, beat them to death, and tortured one with a live electrical cord. I thought Susan Atkins was superficially pretty, but had they given me the opportunity to either go on a date with her or put two slugs in her head at close range, I would be eating alone.

I really can not explain this to you. I’m at total loss here. Usually, even if it’s Rabbit Hole material, I can connect a few dots, but not this time. There is something very wrong with a society where that many women were not standing outside the courthouse, chanting for his execution, rather than sending him nudes.
Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Thankful

As many people are invading retail outlets, and abusing the clerks they find there, I will be sitting at home, still under the covers from the waist down, writing. I am thankful I have no reason, no compulsion, to venture out on Black Friday, but instead feel obligated to come here, and feel grateful for the time I have been given.

I’m thankful my Mom lives with me now, both my siblings are still alive, and my father is still well. My little sister’s lot in life is to deal with our father, and I am grateful it is not I who has to put up with that particular parent. I got the best deal in this, and I know it, too.

Both my sisters are doing well, my niece and nephew are both in good health and have good jobs. I have a neighbor whose grown son is floundering in self-inflicted debt, and therefore his parents are supporting him, as well as trying to make ends meet themselves.

I am fortunate, but not necessarily lucky, for my financial health is also good, despite having some setbacks this year, and a serious setback in 2019. I am lucky to be alive, and know it. I had healthcare providers willing to overlook my own obstinance and get me into a hospital just as Death reached out for me.

In an economy where many are suffering, the hit Mom and I have taken is not as serious as some have suffered. Our needs are few, and we are not extravagant people. I am grateful the four dogs are in good health, and their needs are small. As I write this, three of the four are sleeping at my feet, with Budlore Amadeus, at post guarding The Mom, as he is wont to do. I am grateful to the extreme that animal has taken a deep and powerful interest in the well being of my Mom. Short, compact, and demonically strong, Bud is everything I could want in the Secret Service he alone operates.

At this stage of my life, at sixty-one, there’s more and more people I knew when I was young who are dead now. Nearly everyone’s parents have already died, siblings are gone, and one by one, whenever I speak with someone I once knew, there is a rollcall of the dead. A woman I once dated had a grown daughter die of the plague. Mom and I have done much to avoid the virus, but there is no small amount of luck that we haven’t ran into it. Two shots and a booster, we’re doing our part.

I feel grateful for the people here, the people who read my weekly posts, both of you, and I am grateful Jon is still putting up with me. I’m glad to have this time here, and I am never disappointed by the insight I gain from the comments.
In 2021, what did you find most to be grateful for?

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Wordsmithing

On my third attempt at this week’s Friday Firesmith, I find myself stuck between three pieces of thought. The first was of a dog, the second was of travel, and here we are with this one, which is about the process of writing, or not writing, or of not writing until there is writing.

It’s not as if I can sit down and summon from the ether some tale, brand new and exciting. I can, of course, work on a story yet unfinished, or polish one that is nearly done. The new stories sit in my mind, it’s felt, there in pieces like a shadow, the ingredients of an uncast spell, the effects of which even I cannot not know until the real work has begun. Message fragments they are, notes from a species alien, yet compelling. Their call may be indecipherable, yet undeniable; I must invest into it until all hope is lost, or something appears from the crucible, perhaps salvageable, or perhaps a mistake to learn something new from its creation.

“Friday Firesmith” is something I’ve done so long now the search for one week’s meager presentation begins every moment of every day, like a hunter in the woods and only ends when the writing is done. The rare and colorful butterflies cannot always be caught, and sometimes a moth has to do, but there is no discerning what people like, or love, or hate. It matters not at all, for what is there will be, and what is there must be. You might be surprised at how little conscious control a writer has once the letters and word become sentences, and then paragraphs.

Steam arises from the forge, the scent of words from the kiln, and perhaps it did not collapse or turn some odd color, bent on frightening children or causing boredom. But then again, there is a chance the product did not take to the heat, and must be mixed again, melted down, stirred, and what on earth does it need? It needs something. Tears rarely work.

Yet there in the pan of the metaphorical page, there’s enough to keep going, limp on, dragging the leaden foot of a terrible simile behind it like a, well, a terrible simile.

Roberta George, one of the best writers I have never known, and to my knowledge one of the few writers I cannot find a single redeemable page I have ever liked, teaches writing, and does so with an expert hand, Roberta’s work, like Melville’s is colorful, filled with incredible imagery and vivid descriptions, but what on earth is this person trying to say? “Moby Dick” was seven hundred pages of foreplay, and three pages of whaling. Where was this man’s editor?

At the end, I can only say that in writing, there’s a struggle, and a process. What you read might be totally different than what I set out to write. Oddly, in this week’s offering, I managed to say exactly what I meant to say, from the beginning. Writing is something that is done constantly, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but never to be forsaken. I told someone yesterday I was a writer, and this is what I do.
Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Feral Kid

Even as a kid, I was never a social creature, yet I knew some children who were. I knew there was a gift of socialization, and I knew some people had a little, some had a lot, and there was very little that could be done to change how much a person carried.

At age five, I had these thoughts…

Dwight Eisenhower was selected as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, even though he had very little actual combat experiences as a commander. What he had was the ability to build a consensus among other generals who might otherwise allow great slaughter to occur in the name of ego. Ike was friendly, polite, respectful, but he could be stern, and he wasn’t above extortion to get what he wanted if he thought it helped the war effort. D-Day was the most complex military operation ever attempted. Thousands of men had to be in place at the same time and once Ike pulled D-Day off, his place as the man in charge of the Western Front was never challenged.

But five year olds are rarely asked to go into combat, or lead an assault on a beach. Most kids that age are still partially feral, or they once were, and I think once they lose their sense of wildness, civilization has won, and you can at that point, talk them into believing war is a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong here. Little kids are exceptionally violent little imps, capable of doing great damage and hurt to living things. Mostly that’s because parents haven’t taught them they are a part of the natural world, and once kids learn this, leading them into war is pretty damn hard, even later in life.

Many of my friends disagree with me on this point, but teaching children about firearm responsibility and proper use early in life reduces the possibility they’ll shoot someone. Parents have to introduce the reality of how a tool is used if their want children to be able to discern that reality later.

The same applies to a child’s body, and other people’s bodies. I think kids ought to run half naked and barefoot for the first ten years of their lives, and the body human won’t be mysterious or evil. Growing up with a pack of feral young’uns playing tackle football and swimming naked in creeks might be impossible now, but it was, and is, the best experience in reality of the human body. You learn what you can do. You learn what it all looks like.

The problem with people these days is they aren’t led by those who know these things, who never learned them, in a natural setting. Politicians and rich people have never found a piece of an arrowhead in an open field and turned to give it to their best friend. Men who would send other men into war, never spent the night camping as children, where a fire was built, and food cooked, by feral kids under the age of ten.

The ability to build a consensus was never within me. It never bothered me that much. But the ability to gather the tribe, to do good work, and get things done, ought to be able to be done by those who still have wilderness in them, whose blood is part creek water, whose feet bear scars of running wild, and who have in their lives, been a feral child.
Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.