Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Final steps for Deerfield Diary

After almost three years and 355 posts, Deerfield Diary is closing up shop. I hope you'll agree I have a good reason, which I will share with you at the end of this final post.

The new set of steps pictured here is the final project of the renovation of our wrap-around deck that I began almost a year ago. Son Lem helped on the project during a recent visit. As physicians go, he's not a bad carpenter.

Looking back over my receipts, I see that the project used 12 pounds of deck screws and 120 pieces of "2-by" lumber ranging in length from 8 feet to 20 feet. I'm glad it's finished.

What have I learned over the last three years?

I'm now able to identify most trees now by their bark. I've become fairly adept with a chainsaw. My John Deere four-wheel drive tractor is as familiar to me now as an old pair of slippers. My biggest disappointment has been my vegetable gardens. I have decided I don't have the patience to be a good gardener. If I work all day tilling and planting, I want to see something happen. Pronto. It doesn't work like that.

Our house, a victim of the violent hailstorm in April, is finally in good shape for the winter with a new roof, power-washed and freshly stained cypress siding and newly painted trim. The woodshed is full.

To those of you who know me, I'll call your attention to a piece I wrote recently for International Stuttering Awareness Day. You can find it here. I've had some good reaction from it. The ISAD online conference lasts all month and is visited by thousands of people from 40 or 50 countries.

And now to my reason for ending Deerfield Diary.

After six years and thousands of hours at the keyboard, I'm proud to announce that Random House/Delacorte has purchased my first novel and plans to publish it in the spring of 2013. It's a young-adult offering entitled "Paper Boy." (There's a good chance the title may change.)

The story takes place in Memphis in 1959 and involves an 11-year-old boy who has to take on his friend's paper route for a month. The boy has a debilitating stutter and can only tell his story pecking away on an old typewriter in his upstairs room. I'm as proud of the manuscript as anything I've ever done. It's taken me 65 years, but I've finally managed to tell my story in the way it should be told.

My editor at Random House wants a final revision done by the end of the year. I plan to start on another writing project as soon as I finish the revision. I will create a new website and possibly a new blog in advance of the publication of my book.

For these reasons, Deerfield Diary is ending its run.

Deerfield Diary has averaged about 35 unique visitors a day for the last few months. My thanks to all who have taken the time to read my scribblings.

Now, it's time to take the next step. It's always about the next step.

Monday, September 12, 2011

More creatures featured

Neighbor Larry, chief correspondent for Deerfield Diary, keeps with the wildlife theme and reports that rabbits and hummingbirds are flourishing in his neck of the woods.

There are plenty of dogs in Deerfield, but most are too lazy to chase the rabbits. With coyotes on the decline and hawks preferring plentiful field mice, the bunnies are free to eat our flowers and vegetables. We had several that spent the summer under our back porch.

Larry is the second person we know to report an influx of hummingbirds these days. By the way, do you know what you call a group of hummingbirds? A group is called a "charm of hummingbirds."

Isn't that charming?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A new creature in Deerfield

Diary readers know that I like to feature all the creatures that I spot in Deerfield. Our latest creature feature -- the common bat.

I spotted this little guy or girl several weeks ago hanging under the eave of the overhang on our retreat. He seems to have adopted this spot as his permanent home. I don't know much about bats, except they are great consumers of mosquitos. I hope this one eats his fill because we have more than enough to go around.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

If you need me, I'll be here for the next six months

Our home in Deerfield is surrounded by gigantic poplar, elm, locust, hackberry, hickory, white oak and persimmon trees. Some of the trees are 36 inches in diameter.

The storms of the spring and summer had me in a tizzy. I would watch the tree tops bending, almost touching the house. We could hear trees crashing in the forest. A limb from a hickory tree came crashing down once, barely missing the renovated deck.

Instead of worrying, it was time to do something about it. I called in a tree service and the crew spent two days this week taking down trees near the house that were capable of causing problems. All the crews did was take the trees down. I will be doing all the cleanup.

I'll be cutting off all the limbs and will leave the trunks in 12-foot lengths. I'm hoping to find someone who will come and get the trunks for sawmill wood. I will burn the tops and limbs. If my tractor can't move the trunks, I'll call on my neighbor with the big tractor to help.

If I'm lucky, I should be done by next spring.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hidden beauty, hidden disaster

This cross-cut of a 20-inch American elm trunk has a beautiful pattern until you realize that the tree was actually rotting from the inside with Dutch elm disease. Some estimates say 90 per cent of all the elm trees in East Tennessee have been infected with the disease.

We have a few more elms at Deerfield, but this is the last one near the house. It had to go. Thanks to the April hail storm, we are getting a new roof next week. The last thing we needed was a tree crashing through it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

An embarrassment of gourds

Here's my gourd story, and I'm sticking to it.

In my post from April 18, I was all a twitter about the prospect of growing my spring garden from seeds and not from starter plants.

I purchased three seed flats and carefully planted several types of squash, cucumber, pepper and other delectables. I decided to try one little batch of a gourd seed mix. I carefully marked each section of the flat with its seed type. I faithfully watered and soon found the seeds bursting forth with small shoots. Once or twice I watered a little too much, but I was fairly certain that the seeds didn't "float" out of their assigned cubicles. I planted the small shoots and waited.

All summer the vines grew in resplendent glory. Yep. You guessed it.

Where I thought I had several types of cucumbers, I had gourds. Where I thought I had butternut squash, I had gourds. Where I thought I had acorn squash, I had gourds. Gourds to the left. Gourds to the right. Out of my gourd.

For the record, I got zero cucumbers and a handful of zucchini. A few yellow squash did manage to survive the gourd attack.

The photo is a sampling of my gourd harvest. Anyone have any good gourd recipes out there?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

'What is It?' answered

Lynn Ray Lewis, good friend and editor extraordinaire, came to the rescue by finding a close cousin to my creature at www.butterfliesandmoths.org. It appears this larva is that of a spicebush swallowtail butterfly. Thanks, Lynn Ray. We can all rest easy now.

We play the 'What is it?' game again

I found this little fellow (or gal) on the front porch recently. I want to say it's the maturing larva of a butterfly, but as sure as I do some expert will tell me what a dunce I am.

So, as we agree that I'm a dunce, does anyone know what it is?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Antidote for the Dog Days of Summer

After three hours of sawing, splitting and stacking firewood in the 96-degree heat, Willie and I couldn't stand it anymore. We headed for a dip in the Tennessee River.

Willie has been a river dog since he was six-months old when he took to the river like a duck to water. A clumsy duck for sure. What Willie lacks in style points, he certainly makes up in exuberance. Each dive from the bank lands him a little farther out in the river. He swims back to the bank, gags and coughs and then flings himself into the river for some more.

The locals on the bank always say they like my "pit bull." If they only knew. Willie is about as much a pit bull as I'm a spokesperson for the Hair Club for Men. The only danger around Willie is being licked to death. However, he does get a little testy if you take his spot on the couch.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mama Coon prepares dinner for her little ones

In my post of July 8 I noted how we had seen Papa Coon and Mama Coon, so Baby Coons couldn't be too far behind.

They're here.

Every afternoon Mama Coon climbs down from her poplar tree with her two babies trailing behind here. Mama climbs up in the small maple tree and shakes the sunflower seeds out of the bird feeder. The babies nibble away as the black oil sunflower seeds shower down on them. Mama occasionally slips in a seed or two for herself.

We haven't seen Papa Coon lately. He's probably out playing golf while Mama Coon takes care of things.

Speaking of golf, I have to get back to ESPN's around-the-clock-coverage of The British Open.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Have I found my horticultural calling?

Readers of this blog know of my dubious exploits concerning my vegetable garden. I plan, dig, sweat, amend, sow and harvest with less than optimal results. It seems I get excited about the photos of luscious vegetables on the seed packets, and what sprouts forth in my garden always pales in comparison. I tend not to weed, spray and fertilize.

This spring I was trying to smooth out a rough hillside and decided I needed to plant something to keep down erosion. I bought a $5 bag of wildflower seed, broadcast it by hand over the tilled earth and immediately forgot about it.

We have been blessed this summer with all manner of wildflowers. Betty gathered these in the photo to take to a friend.

This may be the solution to my gardening needs. Till, sow and forget.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The great escape

We were careful not to disturb the small cocoon plastered on the window of our front door. Luckily, it was on the side of a double door that we did not have to open.

For almost a month we kept watch as the milky green caterpillar spun a tight capsule around itself. It did not succumb to the stormy winds that blew. It escaped the beaks of the numerous small birds that flit around Deerfield. Its tight body-wrap clearly displayed its antennae.

We wanted to see our butterfly-to-be friend spread its wings, but we woke this morning to find the cocoon empty.

Our butterfly bushes in our front yard are filled each day with the beautiful winged creatures. We trust that our former tenant is among them.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wearing out their welcome -- again

Our raccoon family in Deerfield is being bothersome once more. We don't mind them cleaning out the bird feeder so much. We don't even mind them making Willie bounce off the living room windows.

Last night, however, they broke the hummingbird feeder which is about the 6th one they have trashed over the years. We have a mama and papa coon (mama is pictured), so probably we'll see baby coons before too long.

We like to live and let live, but I also have a live trap. I don't like to break up a family, but if they get too aggressive they may find themselves taking a trip to a park about five miles away. Fair warning.

Willie is a winner

I was reading a recent issue of Garden & Gun magazine when I came across one of their photo contests with the subject of "dogs being dogs." I thought of the above photo of Willie I took a couple of years ago as he busted through the screen door on the back porch for the umpteenth time.

I sent the photo in and promptly forgot about it. Lo and behold, Willie was the winner. You can see him here in all his screen-busting glory.

Willie got a new Garden & Gun collar in the mail yesterday and I got a new cap as our prizes. I wish the magazine had just sent a new 50-foot roll of screen because he continues to go right through them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Vawter House update

Several readers have asked how the renovation of the Vawter House in McKenzie, Tenn., is coming. I can report that it will be ready by July 4th as planned.

I drove a 26-foot Penske van filled with eight rooms of furniture to McKenzie last week. All the furniture is in place and pictures are up on the wall. I finished the kitchen trim and the kitchen and bathroom are ready for the final painting. Aunt Judy is putting the final touches on the farmhouse in anticipation for the family reunion on July 4th.

The photos show the front of the seven-bedroom house and the dining room.

It's been a lot of work, but enjoyable. The memories just keep multiplying.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Synchronicity in Deerfield

If you know much about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you know that much is made of the synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) that appear every June in the Elkmont region of the park.

Two years ago we journeyed with some friends into the Park to try to catch one of the buses that carried you into Elkmont, supposedly the only place in the Smokies (and the world) to view the lightning bugs. Even though we got there several hours before dark, the parking lot was jammed with bug-watchers. A park ranger waved us away. That left a bad taste in my mouth.

Last night I was walking through my back field to my neighbor's house just before dark and lo and behold I was flashed in unison by hundreds of Deerfield's very own fireflies. I noticed immediately that these fireflies had a brighter luminescence than your average run-of-the-mill firefly. When I looked out across the field, there seemed to be several distinct groups of the fireflies, but there was no doubt that they were timing their flashes.

Here's what the Park literature says about the bugs:

Synchronous fireflies are beetles. They take from one to two years to mature from larvae, but will live as adults for only about 21 days. The males fly and flash and the usually stationary females respond with a flash. Peak flashing for synchronous fireflies in the park is normally within a two-week period in mid-June.

No one is sure why the fireflies flash synchronously. Competition between males may be one reason: they all want to be the first to flash. Or perhaps if the males all flash together they have a better chance of being noticed, and the females can make better comparisons. The fireflies do not always flash in unison. They may flash in waves across hillsides, and at other times will flash randomly. Synchrony occurs in short bursts that end with abrupt periods of darkness.

Skeptic that I am, I always wondered how the fireflies managed to stay cloistered in one little area of the Smokies. Now we know their secret.

Welcome to Deerfield, little lanterns. May your 21 days on this earth be pleasant and bright.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

'Coon's-eye view

Folks often ask us if it isn't a little lonely living in the woods on a one-lane road in the middle of 10 acres. Not so much.
It turns out we have at least one pair of eyes on us most of the time.

A large raccoon has taken up residence in a large poplar tree at the side of our yard. From that perch it can see when we fill our bird-feeders. Give it about a half an hour and its eases down the tree from its 60-foot perch and helps himself to the black-oil sunflower seed.

Feeding techniques are varied. Sometimes it unscrews the top of the rusty bird feeder (with much less difficulty than some of us.) Or it jumps on and jostles the seed to the ground. Or if Mr. Coon is really hungry, it can upend in the feeder in the fork of a branch and just let the seed pour on the ground.

If we happen to interrupt dinner, it slinks back up the tree to its post and watches us until the coast is clear.

We once tried to outsmart the non-birds (raccoons, turkey, squirrel) with ropes, pulleys and fancy feeders. Now we just set a place for everybody. Live and let live. As Betty says, they were here first.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Friends and family beware: SQUASH ATTACK

The wind and hail can batter my berries and strip my fruit trees. The sun and unrelenting heat can cook my tomatoes and boil my corn, but nothing -- absolutely nothing -- will stand in the way of summer squash.

I grew my squash plants from seed this year, thinking most wouldn't make it. They all did. I didn't plant all of them, but everyone that I did plant is bursting forth with yellow squash.

Fair warning. If you see me coming with a sack in my hand, turn and run for your life.

"Jack and the Beanstalk" should be rewritten as "Jack and the Squash Plant." I'm certain that squash is related to kudzu.

Then. Just when you think it's safe to go out in the garden -- ZUCCHINI.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Our latest visitor

Pulling into my driveway this morning, I looked up ahead and thought I had another short limb down from a tree. Then it moved on me.

Closer inspection revealed an unusually large snapping turtle. I estimate it weighed 10-12 pounds. When I picked it up, it disproved the axiom "as slow as a turtle." In a lightning move, it flexed its neck and grazed one of my fingers.

Read what Wikipedia says: "The common snapping turtle is not an ideal pet. Its neck is very flexible, and the turtle can bite its handler even if picked up by the sides of its shell. The turtle can amputate a finger with its powerful jaws." Remind me to consult Wikipedia before picking up live animals.

When I scratched one side of its back with a stick, it would tilt to that side, and then do the same thing on the other side. Betty got a video of the "turtle dance," but I'm too much of a turtle brain to figure out how to upload it on this site.

When we finally got out of its way, the turtle moseyed on down the drive and then slid into Deerfield Creek.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A pox on our house

In South Louisiana cypress siding is used on homes because of its indestructibility. The siding might look as if it was put up yesterday but can be more than 100 years old.

While cypress stands up well against moisture and bug infestation, it's no match for the hail storm we had two weeks ago. You can see in the photo that it looks as if someone dabbed a brush in white paint and stippled our house.

I guess I know now what I'll be doing this fall.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The cleanup continues

This is the storm debris gathered from one small corner in the woods in front of our house. The woods in back of our house was littered with pieces of vinyl, roofing materials and small pits of paper, including old receipts and what looked to be somebody's homework.

So, instead of the dog-ate-my-homework excuse, try "the tornado blew it away."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two weeks to remember

When I left for the Vawter House renovation on April 25, Prince William was happily single, Osama Bin Laden was merrily clicking away on his remote and my blueberry bushes were full of leaves, blooms and small berries.

You know what happened to the Prince and Osama, so take a look at the photo of one of the blueberry bushes -- stripped to the bone by the massive hail storm and high winds. We also had several thousand dollars worth of damage to the house, but we are better off than many of our neighbors. Certainly, I shouldn't complain after what happened in Alabama and the flooding in Memphis. It will take a while, but we will get everything shipshape here.

Renovation of the Vawter House was, in a word, intense. While battling a flooded cellar, my cousins and I were able to finish all the rooms in the house that will have furniture. We only lack the kitchen, bathroom and main hall, and those rooms are 75% complete. We worked mostly 15-hour days, but enjoyed the challenge.

It was good to get back to Deerfield, even if my freshly graveled driveway was a series of fresh ruts caused by storm water rushing off the hill.

Friday, April 22, 2011

And so, they headed west

In the best tradition of the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath, Willie and I have loaded up every cubic inch of Aunt Judy's van and we're headed for the Vawter House in West Tennessee for two weeks of carpentry, painting and who knows what.

Several Vawter cousins are scheduled to meet me there. I'm curious to see how much work we get done, however, probably not as curious as Aunt Judy.

The van contains 75 gallons of paint, all my carpentry tools, ladders, scaffolding, 25 pounds of dog food, a blowup bed and my banjo. There's a bunch of other stuff which I won't need, unless, of course, I forgot to pack it.

This is the final push to get the house ready for the July 4th unveiling. After we complete the trim work and painting, the carpet installers and floor refinishers will come in to finish it off.

So, Deerfield Diary will be dark for a couple of weeks. Wish me luck and tight mitered corners.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Noble experiment -- vegetables from seeds

Most master gardeners -- a group in which I definitely do not include myself -- like to start their spring vegetables by planting seeds indoors instead of buying plants already started by a professional nursery.

I attempted seed germination this spring and made a few discoveries:

• Squash is a piece of cake. Even I can grow squash from seed.
• Don't even think about brussels sprouts. The seeds germinate in five days, shoot up like a rocket and then wither in one day.
• Tomato plants did surprisingly well, but they need to be transplanted into larger pots before they are moved to the garden.
• Peppers seem to be the hardest vegetable to start from seed.

The spring garden is mostly planted now, including sweet corn, okra, beets, early turnips, cucumber as well as my seeds starts. I'm also planting a fence row of gourds. Does anybody have an gourd recipes?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A crop of one

For the past month, ever since the redbud trees started budding, I've been searching Deerfield for morel mushrooms. After a good crop in 2009, last year was a bust. I thought the delectables would make another appearance this year. I found one. That's right. One. It's pictured above.

Even at the going rate of $50 a pound, one morel mushroom is not worth getting out the frying pan for. I'm going to cut it up and sprinkle it on my prime morel real estate in hopes we can have a real crop next year.

Did Vincent van Gogh come through Louisville?

On Louisville Road on the way to Deerfield you pass five open fields that can give unsuspecting drivers a start. The fields are full of canola blooms.

Canola is a new crop for East Tennessee with more and more of the yellow fields appearing each year. You certainly don't mistake the fields for soybeans or switchgrass. North Dakota once produced almost all the canola oil in the United States, but folks in the south are getting in on the act. Wikipedia says "canola" is short for CANadian Oil, Low Acid.

Whatever the name, van Gogh would have certainly loved the palette.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bird in hand is worth two in drawer or gazebo

Now that the birds in Deerfield have stopped trying to peck their way into our houses, they are content to merely wreak havoc on the porch.

Photo at right is the handiwork of a wren that is determined to build a nest in the drawer of a lamp table on the front porch. She goes in through the handle. If we put the drawer in backwards, she just goes in the back door. We have cleaned her out at least three times. Bottom photo is an interloper in the top of Neighbor Larry's gazebo.

Spring is certainly for the birds.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A notorious fake in the compost bin

Imagine my surprise when I dug into the bowels of my compost bin to find a bright and shiny SunChips bag. This is the famous "WORLD's FIRST 100% COMPOSTABLE CHIP PACKAGE" by Frito Lay.

I remember buying the bag of chips last summer thinking I could help "green the world, one bag at a time" as the package states. I bought only the one bag because when you went to close it the sound was similar to firecrackers going off in your hand. This feature made it very difficult to have those midnight snacks without anyone hearing it.

I dutifully tore up the bag and proudly placed it in my compost bucket. Last October after only a few months on the market Frito Lay announced the bag was being discontinued due to the irritating noise it made.

So, this bag rested in my compost bin for a least nine months and then came out as shiny as a new nickel. (I took a photo of the bag only after rinsing off some of the debris.) This is the same compost pile, mind you, that reduced hundreds of coffee filters, hard-as-rock decorative gourds and even a few misplaced chicken bones to a crumbly humus.

I hope the Frito Lay marketing genius who came up with this "green" concept is made to stand in the corner -- a corner filled with to the ceiling with rich black compost, no less.

Grand opening is a thing of beauty

Yesterday I unveiled a masterpiece -- my compost bin.

After 12 months of carrying coffee grounds, kitchen refuse, dead leaves and grass clippings a couple of hundred yards down the hill, I pulled the front planks from the bin to reveal all the putrid glory.

I estimate I filled the bin to overflowing at least 10 times during the year. As you can see, the contents continued to settle resulting in a rich and heavy compost that had to be the envy of every worm's eye.

Transferring the weighty compost to the garden was a physical and well as an olfactory challenge. I left a little in the bottom of the well to jump-start next year's batch.

With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, I offer this poem:

I think no one can ever match
A pile as rancid as my batch.
Perfumes may smell good on you
But only I can make a PUUUUUUUUU!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Let's hear it for the dogwoods

This is the is the prettiest spring for dogwood trees since we've been here at Deerfield. Somehow the blooms survived last night's hard rains and high winds. A glance out through the woods in the mornings and your first thought is there might have been a freak snowfall.

The redbud trees are also resplendent, and that means it's time for delicious morel mushrooms, but I've not found a single one. I'll not be going to the store to pay $50.00 a pound for them either.

If you look closely at the bottom photo, you'll see Willie the white boxer at his usual post at the window. You won't see any squirrels or rabbits because Willie is calmly seated and not slamming into the window trying to get at them.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Craftsman-style door for 10 cents on the dollar

I thought that a craftsman-style wooden door would look nice on the Vawter House, my grandparents' old farmhouse in McKenzie, Tenn.

I started looking through catalogs and at online door sites. The doors I liked were $2,500 to $3,000, certainly not in keeping with the farmhouse mentality. I came upon an idea.

I went to Knox Rail Salvage and bought a solid wood six-panel door made out of Douglas fir. It was a plain Jane with no glass. I cut out the top two panels, framed in three small windows and added small corbels. I found some antique "bubble glass," cut it to size and fitted it. I finished the door with three coats of stain and three coats of polyurethane.

We got our front door for 10 cents on the dollar -- or less.

The brass plaque says:

The Vawter House
Vilas V. Vawter Sr.
Carrie DePriest Vawter

Our Amish friends installed it last week. Thanks to Cousin Amy for the photo.

The door will be a fitting welcome to friends and family.

Later this month I will install a wooden screen door. As I hang it, I'm sure I will hear Mamaw asking us to keep the door closed so the flies won't get in.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Treasure behind the paneling

While the renovators were tearing out the cheap paneling in the rooms of the Vawter House, we came across a special wallpaper that sent me soaring back more than 50 years.

While most of the interior walls in my grandparent's house were of non-descript painted plaster, the walls in the living and dining rooms were special. I remember staring at the pale green and pink wallpaper that was almost dreamlike. On a rainy day (we were always outside in good weather), the colonial scenes of horse-drawn carriages and women in big hats would prompt stories to begin whirring in my head. The man and the woman in the scene were courting and ready to get in the carriage and ride away. The church, courthouse and plantation home looked exactly right. The trees in the scene reminded me of the huge oak trees in my grandparents' front yard. I guess this kind of daydreaming is what kids did before video games -- and TV.

A close inspection of the wallpaper would tell you that the vertical seams didn't precisely match. I'm sure my grandfather hung it and he was more into practicality than aesthetics.

I cut out a section of the brittle wallpaper, mounted it on plywood and framed it from some of the original dark-pine moulding in the house. This cutout will hang on one of the new walls in the Vawter House.

I'm told that through the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation a person can find the origin of just about wallpaper. It might be interesting to research the history, but to me the wallpaper is simply what dreams are made of.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mr. Wolfe, we're going home again

In the late 1930s when Thomas Wolfe of Asheville, N.C., was finishing up his novel "You Can't Go Home Again," my paternal grandparents were building a new home in McKenzie, Tennessee.

Vilas V. Vawter Sr. and Carrie DePriest Vawter had been forced to make the move to the small town in West Tennessee because the Vawter family farm near Milan, Tennessee, had been taken over by the Department of Defense in order to build the massive Milan Arsenal, a World War II munitions stockpile. My grandfather was one of the last holdouts, but he eventually took his compensation and purchased 120 acres in Carroll County. The farmhouse, sitting on one of the highest points in the county, consisted of three rooms. With little more than a hammer and a handsaw, Vilas Sr. immediately began turning the small single- story house into a seven-bedroom two-story home where he and Carrie would would raise their seven children.

The children -- Vilas Jr., Bobby, Billy, Betty Jane, Carolyn, Nancy and Judy -- would begat 15 first cousins. Every summer in the 1950s and 60s, Vawter cousins would descend on the farm from all over the United States. The huge farmhouse, the hay-filled barn and the fields of cotton, corn and soybean were a place of magic for us. Granddaddy plowed the fields with several of us always on the tractor. We helped chase the cattle and hogs that invariably broke through the barbed-wire fencing. The only baths were on Saturday nights and always three or more in the tub. Gender was irrelevant.

Vilas Sr. died in 1967 at age 78 after a tractor accident. Carrie sold the farm and then the house in 1974. She died in 1983 at age 91.

For more than 40 years the farmhouse was lost to the Vawter family. Some of us would occasionally drive by the house on the Old Paris Highway and vicariously relive "back in the day."

In 2009 on a trip back to McKenzie, Aunt Judy noticed that the old farmhouse was for sale. She pondered. After the death of her husband, Bill, in 2010, Judy's mind was made up. She wrote a check for the house and put a sizeable chunk of money in the McKenzie bank for the home's renovation.

Aunt Nancy, still a resident of McKenzie, knew all the good craftspeople in town, including a wonderful Amish carpenter. I signed on as the unofficial, absentee and ersatz general contractor. While the cosmetics were in sad shape, the bones of the house (all sawmill red oak) were as solid as they were 75 years ago. I defy anybody to drive a nail into a joist or rafter. The house will be there long after the present generations are gone.

To date this is what has been done to the Vawter House:

• New green metal roof.
• New electrical service and wiring.
• New windows and screens.
• All new siding, fascia and soffits.
• New kitchen cabinets, countertops and appliances.
• New central heat and air conditioning.
• New ceilings.
• New tongue & groove walls in most rooms.
• Reframed back porch.
• New bath. (That's right, seven bedrooms and one bath. The Vawters have always been a close family!)

Along about the first week in May, all the Vawter cousins will gather for 10 days of painting, general cleaning and final trim work. In June floors will be refinished, new carpeting will be laid in the bedrooms and new lighting will be installed. Judy has gathered furniture from near and far to furnish the house.

On July 4th the entire Vawter family and many friends will celebrate the renovation of Vawter House with a family reunion. Over that weekend we will tell and retell the hundreds (thousands?) of family stories. We're hoping that Cousin Jill Holland, who just happens to be the new mayor of McKenzie, will proclaim the day as Vawter Day in McKenzie. We will take part in the city's parade and the Vawter Family Bluegrass Band will play.

As readers of Deerfield Diary know, I rarely post anything that doesn't have a direct connection to my own family's home in Deerfield in Louisville, Tenn., but on further consideration, the Vawter House in McKenzie house has everything to do with Deerfield. I vowed in my retirement to try to recapture some of the rural magic of McKenzie, to ramble around on a tractor, to plant, to build and to remember. It all started in McKenzie in the big old white house that was cold in the winter, hot in the summer but always filled with laughter and love.

In many ways, Thomas Wolfe was right. It is difficult to go home again, but then he never met the Vawter family.

(Painting of the Vawter House is by my late aunt, Betty Jane Vawter Harris.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Where is Alfred Hitchcock when you need him?

Remember Alfred Hitchcock's movie "The Birds" where Robert Taylor and Tippi Hedren get pecked to death by a flock of maniacal birds?

Well, we're being attacked in Deerfield -- by bluebirds and cardinals no less!

My neighbor Larry was the first victim a few days ago. A bluebird slammed and pecked an upstairs window for several days. Larry finally caught it and brought it over to our house to show me the culprit. He let it go and it found the nearest tree. Larry was hoping it would move on. Not. The bird is back at Larry's house trying to break in again.

This afternoon Betty was in the kitchen when the dogs started going crazy which usually means a squirrel or a 'coon is in the vicinity. This time, however, it was a female cardinal attacking a transom window on the west side of the house. It persisted all afternoon and was still at it just before sundown.

I don't know what's going on, but I have some theories:

1. The birds see a reflection and immediately want to fight the "other bird."

2. Spring has the birds a little crazy with the "birds and bees" thing going on.

3. The birds are trying to get inside to find a clock because daylight savings time has them so confused.

If you see the two birds in the photos above, tell them to go peck on somebody their own size.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Just one pile after another

If you happened to be in the International Space Station in the last 24 hours and looked down in the area of Louisville, Tenn., you may have seen one of my wood piles burning.

All fall and winter I piled wood debris from land clearing in several huge piles. We burned the biggest one today. My neighbor and I kept feeding the fire all day with the front loaders on our tractors. If the fire is large, it gets kind of tricky. You want to stop your front wheels just before they hit the burning coals and then flip your load on to the top of the pile. Then you put the tractor in reverse and back out as quick as you can. I only "smoked" my front tires once or twice.

Native Americans use to burn fields and wood piles regularly to serve as fertilizer for their corn and maize. They also thought the smoke was a gift to the spirits. I have four more huge gifts for the spirits.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New plan for the vegetable garden

Readers of this blog know that my garden plot is cursed with terrible soil. Half the garden is red clay and the other half is pure muck. No other word for it.

I have tried to amend the soil with compost, new top soil and peat without much luck. My new plan is raised beds.

I dig down about 12 inches with my tractor scoop and clean out a 4 X 10 foot section. (I know. It looks like a freshly dug grave, but I'm not ready to go just yet.) I fill back in with rotted mulch, leaves, compost and new top soil. I'll till all this and hope to end up with about a 6-inch raised bed. That will be 18 inches of new soil.

I'll surround the beds with compacted tree chips to try to keep the grass down.

We shall see.

Monday, January 31, 2011

So that's why they call it a Blazer?

So, I was taking the garbage down to the road late Sunday afternoon. I noticed a little smoke coming from the hood of my beloved Hoopty, an '89 Chevy Blazer.

I opened the hood to find flames shooting from the back of the engine. I had some drop-clothes in the back so I soaked them in some nearby standing water and threw them on the engine. I thought I had it about out, but then the fire flared again and all I could do was call 911. About twenty minutes later (a little long if you ask me since the fire station is only three miles away), the Louisville Fire Department came and put out the fire.

I had a good set of tools in the back seat in a plastic tool box. The tools are now permanently encased in a mound of hard plastic.

Nothing else was hurt, except my pride, and no injuries occurred. Betty says no more Hoopties for me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, Willie

Our white boxer, Willie, is 5 years old today. He came to live with us when we bought Deerfield in 2006.

I understand the photo above can be seen on several screen-savers across the country. It was taken in 2007. Willie never met a screen door he couldn't go through. See the steel mesh attached to the door. He eventually went through that also. I now have installed 1/2-inch plywood on the bottom of our four screen doors on the back porch. He hasn't gone through the plywood -- yet.

The bottom photo shows how Willie celebrates momentous occasions. Every day is a momentous occasion to Willie.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

On the trail of Deerfield's original inhabitants

At the end of Deerfield Drive is a 100-acre tract of land owned by an East Tennessee lumber company. Attempts have been made to develop the land, but so far the rugged terrain has thwarted the efforts. Legend has it that somewhere on the hills or in the valleys of this land is one of the largest Indian burial mounds in East Tennessee.

Suffering from cabin fever, Neighbor Larry and I set out on this sunny Sunday afternoon to see if we could find the mysterious mound. Armed with a compass and a good topography map of the region given to me by my son, we began our hunt.

Walking this area anytime but the dead of winter is impossible. The fallen trees and thick brush make the land almost impassable in the other three seasons.

After going up and down and round and round, we noticed on the topo map a ridge peak called Tomb Ridge. We located the landmass and at the highest elevation we noticed a distinct "bump" in the ridge. The "bump" was flat on top. Upon closer inspection we noticed that on this promontory grew the only pine trees in the area. This means the area had once been cleared of the large hardwood trees like poplar, oak and hickory. The fast-growing pine trees were able to move in and take over.

I had read where Indians chose the highest peak in an area so their deceased would be closer to the spirits in the sky.

We decided that we had found the Indian burial mound. We don't know for a fact that we did, but it was a pleasant way to spend a sunny January afternoon.

TOP PHOTO: Larry looks up at a massive shagbark hickory not too far from Tomb Ridge.
BOTTOM PHOTO: Larry, almost in exact center of photo, stands just below the peak of what we think is Deerfield's Indian burial mound. (Double-click on the photo for a better view.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Convening at the Ladybug Hotel

Neighbor Larry's woodshed again has yielded an interesting phenomenon involving ladybugs.

He uncovered this scrum of the little ladies trying to keep warm in the bowels of his woodpile. I thought all the ladybugs in Deerfield were spending the winter in our house.

Ladybug trivia: How can you tell the difference between boy ladybugs and girl ladybugs? Answer: Girl ladybugs are usually larger . . . and smarter, my wife would add.

Usually when I offer a post on ladybugs I hear from someone in Australia who informs me that the insect is called a "ladybird" in the land from down under.

"Bug" or "bird", these little beauties are having a tough winter in East Tennessee. Temperature tonight may hit the teens again. Huddle up, buttercup!