Rooster Auction Leads to a Bridge in Alabama, 1919 Edition

You think we have big chicken now? A chicken auction in 1919 in Demopolis, Alabama, ended with pledges of more than 200,000 1919 dollars, in order to build a bridge across the Tombigbee River. Not all the money was collected, but it turned out to have been an international effort, involving the US, France, Italy, and the UK. Now that is big chicken.

An issue that President Wilson brought up at the Versailles peace conference that concluded the war to end all wars (sure), was, who wanted to send a rooster to Alabama? The PM’s of France, Italy, and the UK, were all in. The European roosters shipped to DC on a US warship, and the Alabama congressional delegation were there to meet them when they arrived.

Wilson himself donated a rooster, which sold for $44,000. Helen Keller, who is still our most famous person, donated a hen instead. The mastermind behind the whole thing was a farmer from Demopolis named Frank Derby. He had raised $100,000 for the Red Cross in 1917, by auctioning off cattle. He said the idea was ‘to bridge the ‘Bigbee with cocks.’ Maybe not the best word choice.

Word choice or not, the idea worked. The bridge was the last link of a pet project for Wilson, which was a transcontinental road from Savannah to San Diego. The new bridge, that replaced the old one, is still called the Chicken Bridge.

Thanks to various archives and AL.com for this vitally important story. At least the sailors an the warship transporting the chickens woke up on time, every day. They didn’t have much choice.

Alabama Woman Kid-naps Baby Goat, Dyes it Blue, and is Rewarded with Two Felony Charges

The yearly competition for the biggest dope stick in a Gulf coast state is always fierce.The perennial favorite is Florida Man, like the one who drowned a couple of weeks ago looking for a golf ball. A tie for second place is who can be dumber–Florida Woman or Texas Politician. Texas is going for the gold this year.

I am giving the early lead to a newcomer, Alabama Woman. Stealing livestock is a felony in the state, and we are an agricultural state ( I already have artichokes and tomato seeds germinated). Said woman saw an adorable pet kid in a yard, and decided to steal it. This is where keeping it real goes wrong.

After getting home with it, and showing it to her little daughter, she decided it wasn’t cute enough. It needed to be blue, she thought, and so dyed half of it blue. Second felony–cruelty to animals. No goat wants to have the blues.

This was on our Gulf coast, Baldwin county, and the spring break insanity had not even started at that time. Why not get ahead of the competition? I hope the Stones write a new song about this. I have the first two lines of it, gratis.

“I see the White Goat and I want to Dye it Blue,

I See the Jail Door and I Want to Walk on Through.”

Mick can send me just a fraction of the royalties.

Malcolm X, Black Muslims, MJ, and Myself

This is a true story.

I was once interviewed for a position as a Professor of African-American Lit at the second largest University in Connecticut–I have a big list of publications on black writers . Two-thirds of the interview committee almost passed out when a white farm boy from Alabama walked into the room. One woman, who was a poet, thought it was funny as hell.

So here is my Black Muslim/Black History story. MJ and I were the only white people a big group of Black muslims from Chicago would even speak to, in Champaign, Illinois. We had to walk the walk, and we did.

One of my students in a class called “Intermediate Expository Prose,” –seriously–was the head of the black fraternities. His six room mates were Black muslims, who he said would never talk to a white person. Southern charm and brains can break down any walls.

Here’s some boasting here, but I blew it out of the doors teaching The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which I choose as a text for the class. The frat head loved it. When MJ and I walked back to our apartment one day, six Black muslims were there to say hello to us, in the park nearby.

So soul food is our food. Collards are soul food, and our food. Black eyed peas are soul food, and our food. Macs and Cheese? French food brought here by the great James Hemings. Damned if we don’t have a fusion culture here. Salt and Pepper, black and white together, we shall over come together. We shall overcome.

In Praise of Danner Boots–Made in the US (sort of)

A Rogue’s Gallery

I will have to begin with a somewhat humorous story, about the time I walked two agents of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission into the ground, after I discovered a previously unknown population of wild brook trout. We were ready for a six mile hike, but as this was on the NC-TN state line, the Forest Service had randomly decided to lock off the access road on the top of a really big mountain into the Citico Creek Wilderness trailhead in the National Forest. Now we had to walk about thirteen miles.

The desk jockeys did not look pleased. I had various secret weapons–a one ounce fly rod, and two pairs of Danner USA union made boots. The ones on the left, which have been re-soled multiple times, and the wading boots with carbide spiked soles, on the right, were both there. I knew they were in for a world of hurt.

I caught them their trout, which increased the known wild brook trout territory in TN by more than one percent. Then we had to walk back up the mountain. I busted their butts, but had a reward waiting–a cooler full of really cold beer.

It was like Lazarus returning from the dead. They both snorted down a beer, and congratulated me on my discovery. All I did was go fly fishing, and have a really pleasant walk.

Danner Boot Company is based in Portland, and is famous for its quality. With one exception these are all US made boots. The second pair from the left is MJ’s hiking boots. The ones in the middle are my new Mountain Lights, a replacement for the ones on the far left. The next pair were called Rainer, but made in Italy, apparently by the Fabiano boot company. Fabio himself was not involved.

I accidentally started the best gripe session I have ever heard. I went to the outdoor retailer show in Salt Lake, wearing my Danner Boots, of course, and the Danner booth was almost all women. Union women rock. They saw my boots, and said, right, on.

Here was my mistake: I asked them if I could get some women’s Danner wading boots for MJ. I laughed for ten minutes as they launched into the finest tirade I have ever heard, about how all their workers were women who fly fished, and male management refused to let them make women’s wading boots. It was epic.

Danner is now making wading boots for the Patagonia company! Still no women’s shoes, but they are making much smaller sizes. Go figure on that one as well.

111 Year Old South Carolina Woman Reveals the Secret to Living Past 110–Eat, Drink, and be Merry

Maria Aulenbacher is my new hero. She received her Covid vaccine, and while drinking a giant glass of red red wine, gave up her secret to long life to CNN, during an interview. It fits in perfectly with my lifestyle.

The secret? Drink lots of wine and beer, and eat the best food you can. That’s been my philosophy for years. I can hardly think of a better.

By the way, she also has a great German name. And get your shots, please. If a 111 year old will do it, so should everyone else.

Country Winter in the South

Snowed Under–Not

Today is my birthday, and its (irony alert) a frigid seventy degrees F here. So some landscape shots for you, from our little Appalachian river valley. That’s Garden City Mountain, on the other side of the river.

A River Runs Through It

Our little river can be seen upon close examination. According to popular myth, fishing becomes spectacular when the dogwoods bloom. Go trees!

January Blooms

Our Favorite Crocus

One advantage of enduring the heat of a Southern summer is that we get great vegetables in the summer, and great blooms all winter long. Blooming right now is one of our favorite crocus plants. The rare shrub Neviusia alabamensis will be next.

MJ and I have something of a sentimental attachment to crocus, as we both have birthdays next month, during peak crocus season. The two of us teamed up to make this art work:

Enjoy the Cold Weather

The cross stitched sampler is based on a Danish design, and naturally, MJ did that. I made the the oak frame, and did the ball and sausage carving. Fairly simple carving, but another classic design.

Our spring is only a few weeks away, and I have a new crop to experiment with–olives. Mr. Jefferson would be proud, as he could never get them to grow.

Presidential Pie for the Inauguration Day

Emma and Siegfried Wish You a Hippy Inauguration Day

I have been waiting for just the right opportunity to make this pie, and here it is. It’s a combination sweet potato and pecan pie, and it only has about ten million calories in it. It was also the favorite pie of one President Obama. Naturally, it’s from a bakery in Virginia.

A digression here: since Mr. Jefferson of Virginia was asked to write the constitution for the first French Republic (he declined,) let’s have a few lines of the French national anthem.

Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L’étendard sanglant est levé, 

“Arise, Children of Patriots,

The Day of Glory has Arrived!

Against us, the Tyrant’s banners

Are elevated.”

Damn skippy. Now, back to pie.

The origin of this pie is Red Truck Bakery in northern Virginia, and the genius behind it is Brian Noyes. Go buy his cook book.

Ingredients

1 Creole Pie Crust (more Southern than the original. I really can’t follow a recipe very well.)

Hickory Nuts (not in the original recipe. See above. As it turned out, mine were all ruined anyway.)

Baked and mashed Sweet Taters, Precious

1 Egg

1 Cup Brown Sugar

1 tablespoon Whipping Cream

Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Bourbon (as much as you dare)

Fill up half the pie dish. That’s plenty.

That’s just the bottom layer. To quote Will Shakespeare, “I will call it Bottom’s dream.” Quoted out of context as usual. Now to the pecan top layer, which is the scary part.

Ingredients

2 Eggs

1/2 cup Sugar

1/4 cup Sorghum Syrup (VERY southern)

Some Bourbon and Cinnamon

2 tablespoons melted Butter

Pinch of Salt

Here’s where I really depart from the recipe: corn syrup, as called for, is verboten in our kitchen so we improvised a replacement.

Honey

Maple Syrup

1 tablespoon Flour

A layer of Pecan Halves

The last ingredient is a thickener. The result is a masterpiece.

“A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever.” Or at least for Couple of Days

The crust is a bit ragged, but it will have a short life anyway. Handsome Joe and Handsome Kamala should drop by for a bite. Otherwise I am gaining several pounds.

Shirley the Sheep, Australian Shepherd Version

A Comfy Spot–Leaves on Concrete

Emma the Aussie is a big dog. She spends her days sleeping in the sun, and her nights on the dog bed. At 70+ pounds, she is far past the size of a registered Aussie. Think Shirley the Sheep from the great show Shaun the Sheep, who was three times larger than the rest of the flock.

Her sleeping habits surprised us the other day. She came to snooze on our couch downstairs, and to have me scratch her back at the same time. As soon as I started, a worm looking creature came crawling out of her fur. I grabbed it, yelled, and threw it on the floor.

The ever logical MJ inspected it, as it was sine curving it’s way across the floor, and said, “It’s a salamander.” That is the signature amphibian of the southern Appalachians, and I have seen tiny ones, up to ones more than two feet long (re: Hellbender.) I liberated it back outdoors.

I created a limerick to celebrate this episode:

There once was dog name of Emma,

Who found herself in a dilemma.

She had no tale to tell,

About her lack of a tail,

Although she was quite a femina.

Isn’t this called Dog-gerel verse?

Woven White Oak Wood Baskets

A Complete Masterpiece

That’s a white oak basket, made by an elderly Black gentleman from Montgomery county, Alabama. We purchased this back in the 1980’s. The oak splints are finely split and woven. We honor his incomparable craftsmanship and legacy by storing all our veg seeds in it. No one else that we know has ever seen a hinged handle like that.

Another masterwork from an equally elderly Black gentleman named John Reeves, which we bought in the eighties in the town of Gay, Georgia (population: 92.).

Sturdy Basket

This thing could haul an orchard full of apples. However, it can’t touch our mac Daddy basket, when it comes to payload.

Quilt Heaven

That’s a cotton basket, once common everywhere in the South. I get to add that I am one of the last generation to pick cotton by hand. It would take a good long while to fill up this thing. Made in my home county of Cullman, Al.

My Handiwork

An earring rack for MJ to house just a few of her immense stash of earrings. It’s what to do with dead Mountain Laurel.