Friday Firesmith – Writing at Dawn

It’s been a productive week writing. Finally, the time available and the muse have decided to get in bed together, and it’s a good thing. Steven King once suggested writing two thousand words a day, and by that, he meant two thousand words that connected to two thousand other words before and after and were clean.

Diana Gabaldon, who wrote the epic and awe-inspiring “Outlander” series, writes nonlinear, which means she will write a scene and then write up to that scene, like stepping stones across a creek being put in at random, or maybe not random, just not in the order most people would think.

I write like that sometimes, and it’s both easier and harder. The best editor I ever met advised against it, but he was also not one of the best writers I knew. He reminded me of a cook who followed every recipe to the letter, and never skipped a step or added anything. True enough, his writing was easy to read and very crisp and clean, but it lacked soul. There was no adventure in the way the man wrote and certainly no spice.

My insomnia has been made a servant now. If I wake up at three, I get up and start writing. Usually, it’s between three and four, and realizing it was Thursday, I got up and wrote these words to you. This is my time, the time where there is no one calling or texting, or pushing me with their nose trying to get petted. It’s the time of day for me to kickoff what part of what story to write, and spend the rest of the time polishing it, and connecting it to the other pieces.

Yesterday, I was up and writing and stepped outside to clear my mind. It was still dark, but the eastern sky already had a red tint to it. I went back inside and got my cell, and walked down the driveway, and was rewarded with an awesome sunrise. Pond birds, egrets, and other birds flew through the fiery sky towards the lake south of here, and I wonder how they see this sort of display?


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Whatever you do, either for vocation or advocation, or for fun, or just because it feeds your soul, take a moment, or sixty, go out and look at a sunrise, or a sunset, or just walk in the woods. Reconnect with nature, admire the beauty of a tree, and take time to allow yourself to simply be without any demands that you be doing something.

The clouds and the colors of the dawn were incredible. So bright, and so vivid, my camera had problems dealing with the intensity. The towering cloud formation was miles high and many times that wide, yet in just a few moments, it was gone.

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Life is like that you know. It always has been, and it always will be.
The only question is how much of it will you enjoy and how many of those moments will you allow yourself to experience? What will you create with your time, that might ease someone out of their chair, and into the sunrise?

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 – Loss

The owner of the coffee place sat down with me yesterday, and it’s one of those things, one of the interactions with people I’m getting used to now. It doesn’t make it easier, and it doesn’t make things better, but the fact that I’m used to it now, and getting immune to it, tells me I’m getting over the initial shock.

He tells me he lost his Dad, when he was thirteen, to ALS, and it was like watching someone fully awake and aware die slowly. He was close, very close, to his Dad, and watching it happen in slow motion made it worse than he thought it could be. His Dad never missed an event, never missed a football practice, never flinched at being a dad the way some guys do. A few years after his Dad died, his mother came down with lung cancer, and the story was familiar.

He took his Mom to every appointment, every treatment, they sang to songs on the radio until she no longer knew the words to any of the songs anymore, and then he was there when she died.

I’ve stopped pretending that I don’t cry in public, if you can’t stand to let people see you cry you can’t stand to let them see you live. This started out as something about me, but turned into one man’s journey of losing his parents. I needed to hear it. I needed the details of how someone else dealt with the same process, and I needed someone to tell me I did the right thing the right way, and that anything less than riding it into the ground will buy you all the regret you will ever need for the rest of your life.

It’s different now, two months past the last time I saw her. Now I can talk to people about what they have lost and feel that connection to their lives. I can feel the sorrow and pain of someone else and instead of just hurting, I now feel like there’s something very common and very human in this. It is living when you aren’t the one dying. It’s the ability to go home, look at a bottle of wine, and decide not to drink, because you want to sit down and say something instead. You want to feel something, you want to tell people it’s okay to feel what is, because it is a sign of life, not an echo of death.

Grief isn’t linear, like a broken leg or a surgical wound. The progress you make isn’t measurable except in the things you do, every single day, that makes each day something you lived through. One at a time, each is different, some better, some worse than others, but there is nothing but that day, and what you do about it is a choice, mostly, sometimes.

Yesterday I found solace in listening to someone else’s sorrow, and telling them I was there not long ago, and yeah, you did it right, you did the right thing the right way, and it does still hurt.

What else is there? If you ever want to leave that place alive, you have to be there for other people.
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 Kayak of Doom

Despite my better judgment telling me not to do it, I ventured into the land of online classified ads to find a kayak. After all, I am retired again, have no real money coming in except my pension, and there’s a yearning to get out into nature. Having a small watercraft seemed perfect. I found an ad advertising a fiberglass kayak, ten feet long, for less than three hundred dollars. There was mention of “all the accessories” and I wondered what that meant. The guy agreed to meet me at a local coffee shop with the boat, and we would go from there.

First off, it was plastic, one of those cheap ones you could get at Mal-Wart for less than what he was asking. Second, “all the accessories” meant a piece of five-foot-long rope attached to the front of the kayak. No paddle, no seat, even though there were holes for one, and nothing else.

I pulled up Google on my phone and showed him similar models for less money that had seats and paddles included, and he kept dropping the price until it got down to one hundred dollars, and at that point, I could only assume this thing was stolen. He got aggressive so I walked off, and went into the coffee shop. He followed me in.

Failing to impress me with the cheapest watercraft in the world, he then offered his services as guide, I could try it out and he would go with me. That brought forth a flat refusal from me, and I told him we were done.

Then he told me about the time he had gone out in this kayak, and because it was red in color, it attracted water moccasins.

Please, tell me more.

Apparently, there’s a place on the Withlacoochee River where there’s a high limestone bank. He paddled close to it, and a virtual rain of water moccasins descended upon him, flying off the bank and trying to bite him. He managed to beat them off with the paddle, but broke it, and that’s why there was no paddle.
If you broke the paddle how did you make it back to the landing?
If you had to get in the water and pull the boat back, why didn’t the water moccasins bite you?

All of this, it seems, was leading up to the idea he would paint the kayak any color I wanted, for another one hundred dollars.

One, I wouldn’t buy this boat at any price no matter what color it might be. Two, it doesn’t have a seat, and I’ll need back support, there is no paddle, and quite frankly, you are shady as hell.

The owner of the coffee shop and I are friends, and I told him what I was up to before the seller of the Moccasin Magnet showed. He comes over and sits down and asks the guy to lower his tone, and either order something or leave. The guy flees and I sit down to write this, because let’s face it, there’s a learning moment here.

Online classifieds are a coin toss. For every person, honestly just trying to sell something, there’s someone else trying to get rid of something they’ve stolen. For every person out there who had something decent to sell you, there is someone else who ripped someone else off and they are trying to do the same to you.

I’m still looking for a kayak, one with a paddle, back support, and it has to be red.

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 – Into The Wild

A friend of mine always wanted to move out to the country, said he hated being in town, so he bought five acres and built a house. The first thing he did was cut down a bunch of trees, planted grass, and built a patio so he could sit outside and enjoy nature.

I came into the story when he wanted to hire me to relocate snakes. In his mind, unless a snake was totally black, or totally green, or had an ID card, it was a copperhead. I told him we didn’t have copperheads in Brooks County, but that’s another story. Of course, any snake with a rattle was a rattlesnake, duh, and any snake near his four tomato plant garden was a garden snake.

The mosquitoes would chase him inside before dark, and the realization that wild animals would come up and eat his plants compelled him to start putting chemicals out that would keep deer away. Armadillos invaded and to dig holes in his lawn. One night he heard something outside, went out with a flashlight and found six sets of coyote eyes looking back at him. He got one of those billion-watt security lights, and then had to get blackout curtains so he could sleep at night.

Of course, all of this convinced him there was something primal, something wild and untamable about the human spirit, man against nature, and he was winning.
A couple of years passed and he discovered people didn’t like driving all the way out there to visit, and going into town a couple of times a day cut into the budget in both money and leisure time. He picked up a steady girlfriend who went out one day to plant some flowers and somehow got into a mess of redbugs, chiggers for you non-southerners, and he told me she looked like she had smallpox. The girlfriend vowed never to set foot outside the house again, and eventually, because she was a better woman than he deserved, they bought a house in town, and the country home went on the market.

I lost track of the couple, and the home in the former woods, but rode by one day after someone told me the house had burned after a tree fell on it. The ruins were there, and ever so slowly, nature is creeping back in, and the grass has been usurped by native weeds. If at that moment, I would have had the money I would have bought it, because it was in a great location, but it’s too close to town for me.

To live this far out is an act of deliberation. It’s not something most people can do, or even want to do. I put up a fence, let the dogs and the woods settle it, and keep the front yard mowed. No one anywhere out here has a security light. I despise those things. I think most people would be surprised how much easier it is to navigate in the darkness without sight.

Maybe one day I’ll go deeper into the wild, have a much larger spread, and sell my lawnmower for a better hammock.
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 – I Won’t Kill Your Daughter

I wake up and it has to be late, really late, maybe even time to get up. Damn, I left a candle burning in its jar and that’s the only light to be seen. But maybe it’s time to get up anyway. Sleep doesn’t feel possible right now.
“Alexa, what time is it?”
“The time is ten twenty-two pm.”

I drift back and forth in sleep, still don’t blow the candle out, and I finally get up around five or so. There’s something going on with my stomach that isn’t good but I finally head towards the gym. It’s raining and raining harder as I drive. Once in the parking lot, the rumble deep inside begins to feel more iffy. Time to go. A very young woman carrying an infant, and holding on to a little girl who is maybe four is crossing the parking lot behind me, so I sit tight. The woman is behind my truck, and I can see she’s trying to keep the baby dry and suddenly she’s missing a little girl. I check the mirrors, but nothing. Because I have a stick shift, I ease the clutch in, slip it into reverse, clutch in, brake on, and there she is on my backup camera. The little girl is bent over behind my truck, looking at something on the pavement. I ease out of reverse, start to let the window down and suddenly mom realizes what’s happened, and what is happening.

There’s a sound. It’s the intake of breath, it’s a word, it’s a scream, it’s a realization, and it all comes out at once. Her daughter is leaning over in back of a truck in a parking lot, and mom knows that she’s allowed this to happen. Only by the good grace of a stranger is the truck not backing up, not crushing her daughter, not killing her, maiming her, destroying her life, and mom knows that she has failed.

Oh, come on, mom, it’s not that bad, the truck wasn’t moving, and nothing happened, but the look on mom’s face says she believes she’s failed, and failed in a way that matters to her.

Mom glances back at me, for a second, and in that face is written the sum of all of her fears. She’s a bad mom. She’s unfit. She’s terrible.

But in the world we should all live in, even people like me, who do not like children, and who like parents even less, we watch for kids. We count them if they are in a pack, and we make sure before we move a truck there are the same number of kids we saw before. One cannot be missing. This wasn’t an accident, oh no, because I am not going to lose track of anyone, and certainly not a child, when I start to move. I do this for people, dogs, cars, trucks, and anything else that might be harmed. But children, yes, you have to be aware of where they are, because they are not. You have that obligation. You have a pact with the Universe. I shouldn’t have to explain it.

I want to go talk to her, and tell her it’s okay, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to try to talk parenting to a mom. I ease into reverse, stare at the backup camera with a brand new respect, let the brake go, and ease back slow. It’s raining even harder as I head home again.

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 Hammock Trail

Back in 2007, when I fenced in the south side of my two acres, it expanded the dogs’ territory from a quarter of an acre to about an acre and a half. It’s full of trees, bushes, and wonderful smells, and each dog who has landed here has had that moment.

Every new dog usually gets a companion right off the bat, a resident to show him or her around, but all of them have done one thing; there has always come a day a new dog walks away from the house to go walk in the woods alone, and in this, becomes a true part of the pack. It took Jessica longer than most, she bonded strongly with Budlore, but I noticed her leaving one day, and knew it would be a while before she returned.

Each pack has made new trails. Each pack travels differently than the one before. The landscape is crisscrossed with trails, some permanent, others maybe not, but all formed by dogs. Their perimeter trail is the oldest, and the trail bisecting the property was created next.

It has occurred to me that I have never made a trail. I’ve never cut one from one place to another. There’s never been any reason. The dogs were doing just fine.
Someone gave me a hammock for retirement, a year and a half ago now, and I hung it between two trees in the woods. Today, I cut a trail from the perimeter to the trail that bisects. My hammock is in between these two trails.

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Unintentionally, I’ve moved out of the house, and into the woods. I’m spending more time away from the connectivity of the house and more reading outside.

The sound of the wind in the trees is almost like being near the ocean. The dogs are spending more time snuffling and digging around in the woods. Budlore Amadeus will not leave me alone, but sleeps at the side of the hammock. I need this. I need the shade of the trees, I need the smell of nature, and I need the overload of the senses that every breeze brings.

I wish I could say this all is some self-evolution, and maybe it is, but yeah, it’s hermit-ing. It’s my way of staying in motion building myself a one-man settlement, replete with a cooler for water, and eventually maybe a yurt. There’s a tree down nearby that has always reminded me of the tail of a stegosaur, and the grave of Tyger Linn lies just to the east of that tree. There’s a young magnolia tree to one side of the southern anchor tree. I pulled all the vines away from it so it may live.

You know what this is as well as I do. You’re right, it does help, I can feel myself healing, some, in the shade of the trees, and in the feel of work and sweat. What else is there that can make me better? I work out, I write, but the call of the green leaves and the blue sky is clear. Come here, Mike, come here and rest your body, ease your mind, and allow whatever thoughts you must, but the trees will provide shade, the sun will give you light to read, and out here, in the woods, it will be enough to give you peace.
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 – Of Ticks and Fleas

Once upon a time, I knew a woman who knew everything about some things, and when she did, it was impossible for anyone to convince her she might, possibly, be wrong. Even if you agreed with her, you had to agree the right way for the right reasons. She would have spent her life on FB arguing with people and never done anything else, but she stayed in FB Jail more than anyone I have ever known.

About a year ago, the ticks around here started getting bad. The dogs are okay, they get meds for them, but Mom and I are forever picking one off here and there. And if things could not get worse, some of them are the Lone Star ticks who carry the bacteria that make you allergic to red meat. I have no idea how that works, but it’s true.

Tick Bites and Red Meat Allergies

That said, I’ve gotten adept at picking ticks that are not embedding off my body, and washing them down the drain. The ticks defense against this is to simply hang on for dear life. I have to double-check to make sure one hasn’t got its legs locked around my skin. But down the drain they go.

Which brings us to my friend who knows everything.

A couple of years ago I was telling someone the story of Sam, Sam, the Happy Hound, who was almost dead when he was found. Sam was also covered in fleas, and I do mean covered. I put Sam in the sink and washed him again and again, until all the fleas were gone. The bottom of the sink looked like I had dumped a box of black pepper in it. I cleaned the sink with the sprayer, and all the fleas were washed away.

This chick tells me that washing a dog with Dawn doesn’t kill the fleas, and furthermore, fleas cannot drown. I do not have a link to back that one up.

Considering the number of fleas I have washed off dogs in the twenty years or so I’ve lived here, and considering that whatever else Dawn does or does not do, it will cause the surface tension of the water to break, and the fleas are washed away. There are a lot, and I mean a damn bunch of fleas, at the bottom of my septic tank. I can picture aliens landing on the ruins of Earth after the Apocalypse, only to discover in the scattered structures that still exist, my septic tank, with a layer of fleas a foot thick. Why did people keep these insects? What purpose did the insects serve?  And if they extract the DNA of those fleas, they’re going to wonder why in the hell I had so many canines, and what happened to them.

Here’s a useful tip if you have fleas in your home and don’t want to nuke the place with chemicals. Get a pie pan, add an inch of water with a little Dawn in it, and put a reading lamp a few inches from the surface of the water. The fleas go towards the heat, hit the lamp, and land in the water, where I think they drown. You’ll find many a dead flea in this, trust me. You’ll cheat the aliens, but hey, let’s make them work for whatever they find.

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 Fence

I remember building the fence, back in 2001, and originally, there was only a quarter-acre or so that was fenced. It was a simple wire field fence with a double strand of barbwire on top. Neither Sam nor Bert had any notions as to escape, and they didn’t try, either. And that was good enough for the two dogs until 2007 when my neighbor decided to fence in the property behind mine. We got together on a price and who would do what, and suddenly I had about an acre and a half fenced in, and the dogs were in heaven.

There were trees, giant trees, underbrush, and room to run. The first path that was beaten into the ground was the perimeter path, and Bert would run around the perimeter when I got home every day, to tell me everything was okay. The years took a toll on Bert, and he started walking around the perimeter with me, and when he went alone it took a while. I would wait sometimes and listen to his vaccination tags jingle, and Bert would see me, and wag his tail.

Over the years, we’ve had the Cousin Dogs, who dug out and escaped far too often, but all in all, everyone here had stayed put. The electric fence helps, certainly, but generally speaking, if a dog wants to roam it’s a given nothing can stop them.

The electric fence is a simple thing, with a power source and two terminals, one hot and one ground, that creates a current of electricity in the wire. Touch the wire and feel the fire. After twenty years or so of the top wire being spliced and repaired a dozen or so times, I replaced it Sunday. It broke in some places from me handling it. The new wire went up, and I remember putting the thing together for the first time. There were vines and bushes that needed cutting back, and a few of the trees that were incorporated into the original fence are gone now. The massive monolith of a dead tree that held the center of the wire in the back fell over one day, taking out the field fence, and the hot wire. Some of the plastic insulators were brittle with age as well. I remember it being a very cold day when I strung that wire, and I remember it took a while to get all the shorts out, where I didn’t notice the hot wire touching the field fence or the barbwire. It was my first long wire and an experience.

Sunday, after three hours of clearing, then taking the old wire down, and finally putting the new wire up, I walked the line again, checking on what was touching something it shouldn’t, and it looked good to me. I plugged the charger in, got the tester out, and saw nothing but the bright light of success blinking away. That tickled the hell out of me, somewhat.

There’s a lot to be said for sweat and manual labor. There’s some time in a man’s life, and a woman’s, that should be devoted to a task where there are no screens and no phone calls, and the only company should be a dog who will stay close until the task is done. I’ve bug bites aplenty, and my back is sore, but the perimeter is tight, and my pack is safe.

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 State of the Pack

Lilith Anne, the Muttress of All the Magnolias, Queen of the Hickory Head Packs, is getting older and slower. She doesn’t go out into the woods anymore, of she can help it, and I haven’t gotten a leaf from Lilith in a long time. Mostly, she sleeps all day and doesn’t deign to notice the other dogs unless there’s a reason.

Wrex Wyatt, even though he’s nearly as old as Lilith, hasn’t slowed down a step. Rail thin and built for speed, Wrex toys with the others dogs when it comes to games of chase. Wrex will rush at Budlore Amadeus and that will lead to Bud trying to tackle Wrex, who slips away, and the game is afoot! Jessica Elizabeth is no great fan of the woods, but if Bud will chase Wrex, so will she. Away with Wrex, staying a body length ahead of Bud, and Jessica closes in from one side. Wrex is finished and will certainly be caught but wait! At the very last second Wrex finds a burst of speed and now both Jessica and Bud are two dog lengths behind, three, now six, and suddenly Wrex breaks into full stride and it’s like watching a four-legged rocket. Wrex leaves them behind and streaks around the yard, loping with ease, and as he circles back, his siblings give chase once more. Wrex goes under the shed, and Bud breaks left to go around but Wrex reappears and darts between Bud the shed, leading Jessica to block Bud as he turns to pursue.

Wrex Wyatt is untouchable. Grace, speed, pure athleticism, and fancy footwork, all bundled up in a long-legged hound-looking thing who only weighs about fifty pounds. Budlore is a heavy cruiser, hard-muscled and lean, compact, and tipped the scales at about sixty pounds, but it’s all rock-hard dog in there. Bud has got some speed, but he hasn’t the ability to turn or maneuver that Wrex owns.

The patio on Mom’s studio has a walkway to the house, and Wrex hits the patio at a dead run, streaks across the walkway, and into the doggie door he goes in a flash. Bud hits the patio at a dead run, too, tries to brake, skids, and usually recovers in just enough time to keep from killing himself. Jessica has seen Bud crash and she’s a little less speedy when she’s coming in.

Jessica is the little sibling of the pack. A wiggler and a kisser, Jessica is beginning to realize she will get more attention if she will just calm down. She fell asleep in my lap last week for the first time ever, and Jessica is learning real manners now. Heir to the throne, Jessica has a lot to learn, but she’s smarter than her antics reveal.

We call Jessica Elizabeth “Little Bit” but she’s the same size as Wrex right now, and perhaps heavier by a few pounds.

The State of the Pack is good. Everyone is liking me being at home more now, and I like being with them again. They’re a great comfort to me in these times, and it seems like forever since I spent a whole week at home.

I need to do some yard work, and some work on the deck, and…
Time to get started again.

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 – Hyena – Measuring time

Whether you realize it or not, clocks and watches are not the only way we measure time, and the way we measure time is changing. It always has been. We just never noticed it.

Back when cassette tapes were about the only means of playing music, and even then they were endangered species, but we didn’t realize it, time was measured by how long half the cassette lasted. Whatever we were doing would be interrupted by the end of side one, and we would stop and flip the tape over, or change music, or have an endless debate as to what to play next. And it was glorious.

Then CDs came in and an entire album could be listened to, and there was some debate as to what to call a collection of music. A tape was a tape, and a disc was a disc, but an album was vinyl. Album became an old word with a new meaning, no matter what the music was played on, it was an album.

But that debate wasn’t long for this earth, either. Suddenly, with digital music, playlists became the thing, and playing an album wasn’t as popular anymore. Suddenly, there wasn’t an end to the music. Literally, you would have a playlist longer than you could stay awake.  

There was a time when you could be alone on the road, listening to a radio that might, or might not, pick up a decent station, and whatever was being played by some random guy who was a disc jockey, was what you got. It might have been a terrible song, it might have been a decent song, but every once in a while, it would be your jam, a song you hadn’t heard in years, and your life would be totally transformed for three and a half minutes. The accidental music you ran into at odd times was one of life’s wonderful moments.

You could hear a song, not know who sang the song, not know the title of the song, and you were totally screwed unless you could sing it back to someone who knew the song. You could die at one hundred and ten years old and not ever know. Now, you can Google the station and a time, and find a song, if you were actually listening to a radio station.

Or go on social media, give the Hive Mind three words from any song, and someone out there is your Huckleberry.  

I’m listening to “Life’s Rich Pageant” by the group REM while I’m writing this. Once upon a time, we listened to the tape over and over again, and it seemed like each side of the tape lasted a long time. Now, the entire album has played. It doesn’t seem that long anymore.

The lyrics never really made that much sense to us, but we liked the music.

Life is like that.


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.