High School English Lesson Re-Learned In The Wilderness

by Curt Kovener

For those high school students of my generation, we all recall how long-time CHS English teacher Corean Lewis tried to improve our vocabulary. Serendipity is one such word. It means an occurrence or development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
And such was my serendipitous foray into the Hoosier wilderness woods seeking the walnut tree that produces exceptionally large nuts. Because of a late frost which blackened poplar and maple leaves and made a number of us replant some garden vegetables, forest fruit production this season is a bit iffy.
So imagine my surprise on the way to my secret black walnut tree to spy pawpaws hanging from limbs.
The pawpaw is among the earliest to bloom in the spring. Its bronze bell-shaped blossoms are about the size of a sewing thimble. And since it generally blooms before insects are out an about, pollination is always suspect and pretty much reliant on the wind.
I just figured the early pawpaw blossoms had been frosted out and there would be no fruit. But it was a serendipitous chance development that brought a happy smile my way.
While the pawpaws were still hard as cueballs, I made note of their location and would come back in a few days.
Pawpaws or Indiana Banana, as some folks call them, produce green skinned fruit about the size of large hen eggs though some I have been collecting are nearly fist size. Their light yellow flesh has a custard consistency and an intoxicatingly sweet smell when ripe.
It only takes those cueball hard fruits a couple of days to give in to slight squeezes letting me know it is time to pick. Wait any longer and I risk allowing opossum, raccoons and deer to dine on the fruity dessert.
Pawpaws have no shelf life and will quickly turn soft and dark. I harvest them a little underripe and place them in a sealed paper bag for a few days to ripen. Then they go into the refrigerator until I can collect enough to process into pulp. And the pawpaws will let you know when they want to be processed as their sweet smell quickly wafts out the open refrigerator door.
Several trips to the pawpaw patch and there is a sufficient quantity to process. They mush up about the same a persimmons, have a similar size seed, and can be substituted for bananas in banana nut bread for a Hoosier taste treat…especially if hickory nuts are a part of the recipe.
Which prompted me to hope for another serendipitous time as I make a trip to my hickory nut honey hole this week.

Scared Spitless In The Graveyard

by Curt Kovener

I don’t like to get scared. I’m not talking about the anxiety you feel waiting in the dentist’s office or that initial worry when you look in your mailbox to see a letter with a return address to the Internal Revenue Service or that feeling of sudden panic when you are hurrying home in the car and when it is too late, notice that a police car is parked off to the side looking for traffic violators like you. And I guess we are all getting accustomed to the threat of COVID-19 and most of us are taking proper precautions to lessen our chances of being a statistic.
Most of those are all unavoidable, lump in the throat, knot in the stomach facets of life. What I don’t is the all is quiet, you’re minding your own business “BOO!!” kind of fright. Whether the scare is intentional or not, I sometimes go ballistic after someone surprises me unexpectedly.
Now spiders and snakes don’t bother me. If you hunt and fish or work in the woods, you’re going to encounter a few of them. They are expected, but that still doesn’t keep my heart from skipping a beat or two when I see one lying along a trail where I am about to take a step.
YIIIEEE!!!
I don’t like to intentionally scare myself and so have never watched any of the slasher horror films…or any other in that genre, for that matter. Today’s life is scary enough.
In the 1990’s when I was the township trustee, one of the responsibilities of the trustee was maintenance of township cemeteries. A childhood friend had succumbed to injuries from an earlier in the year car accident and her family wanted her to be buried in Gorrel Cemetery, about a mile or so east of Crothersville.
The cemetery had been mowed about three weeks prior and didn’t look bad but I thought was due for a trim for my high school chum’s services, So I took my push mower to tidy up the graveyard and be alone with my thoughts on my departed friend.
Gorrel Cemetery is a very peaceful resting place situated just inside a wooded area. Some of the tombstones show birth dates back into the 1700’s. Many of the carvings are ornate with dates of death in the 1860’s, shortly after the community of Crothersville was founded.
Being interested in local history, as I pushed the noisy mower past the multitude of grave markers I had a chance to read who was buried there and wondered what kind of life story they could tell.
I had recently been in a community theatre production of “Spoon River Anthology” which takes place in the graveyard of the community of Spoon River. Those buried there rise up to tell brief snippets of the humorous and tragic, bland and exciting aspects of their life in Spoon River.
Push mowing can be somewhat mundain and I was all alone and lost in thought contemplating what Spoon River stories those resting beneath might tell when, as I turned the mower around to make another pass, I looked up and there was a man standing next to a grave at the entrance of the cemetery.
YIIIEEE!!!
I shut off the mower and tried to slow my now trip hammer heart. Then local fire chief Steve Murphy, who wanted to talk to the trustee on a fire department matter, apologized explaining that he knew I would be startled when I saw him.
“But I figured you would have been even more instant heart attack prone had I walked up behind you as you mowed in the cemetery and tapped you on the shoulder,” he wisely reasoned at the time.
I agreed and we shared a hearty laugh over the incident.
I write about this nearly 30-year-old event because Steve’s obituary is on the back page of this edition. My long-time but not-so-old friend was buried Saturday in Uniontown Cemetery, not so very far from where Chief Murphy caused me to be scared spitless.

Having The Numbers Of Things On My Mind

by Curt Kovener

In the beginning, it was pretty simple. I had a birth date which hasn’t changed, a birth weight which has continued to grow as I grow out, and a birth length which today is a long way from my original 19” height (or is it horizontal since it was a while before I could stand?)
Soon after those numbers were joined by digits exclusively assigned to me by the Social Security Administration.
During my early years only a few numbers were important enough for commitment to memory, such as my home address and phone number, later I had to memorize my home five digit zip code which has now expanded (like my waist) to nine digits.
As a youngster, I had only to remember a few four digit phone numbers. SWift 3 (the predecessor to 793) was the Crothersville prefix. To call a Seymour or Austin number required an operator and a long distance toll. My Dad didn’t mind me dialing 0 and talking to the operator but he let us all know that there better not be any long distance phone calls on his phone bill.
Now, I do not have to remember phone numbers as those that I call frequently are in my cell phone contact list. The rest of you may go to voicemail to let me know what you wanted.
Computers have further complicated the numbers complexity by introducing an alphanumerical jungle of e-mail addresses and websites.
Then there is the matter of passwords which must be a combination of upper and lower case letters as well as numbers and characters which must be unique to me, easily remembered by me but not so easy that others can guess what they are. Then there are PIN numbers, meaning Personal Identity Number, that must be remembered.
My bank, insurance, investment websites periodically lock me out of the information I seek until I can repeatedly prove I am who I am. And then pick yet another new password to try to remember but not one I have used in the past six months.
I have followed the lead of my not-so high tech lawyer and accountant. They use the novel idea of a very low tech little black book to write down all needed passwords.
And I try not to misplace that #$%^& little book because the number of the numbers I must know is numbing.

Maybe It’s Snake-tember?

by Curt Kovener

There is an old, dead sassafras tree about a foot in diameter at its base that fell and hung up in a neighboring tree about 15 years ago here in the wilderness. It’s about 10 feet from the screened-in porch and we have watched birds, blue-tailed skinks, mice and chipmunks climb and play in and out of holes provided by woodpeckers looking for insects to eat.
It was cocktail time last Wednesday evening and Becky & I were discussing the day’s events and what our tomorrow had in store. Suddenly she pointed over my right shoulder to the old dead sassafras saying “Oh My Goodness Gracious!” (not a direct quote but something to that effect.)
I get up from my comfortable cushioned wicker patio chair to see a 5’ rat snake winding its way up the tree about 20’ off the ground. We watched the nature show for several minutes as Mr/Ms Snake poked its head in a variety of woodpecker holes sniffing for the rodents they like to eat.
We encourage and do not harm rat snakes and their cousins black snakes up here in the wilderness as they devour a lot of varmints we prefer not living with us in the house.
Apparently there is a hole on the far side of the sassafras tree as the snake, ever so slowly, disappeared into the hollow(?) tree. Maybe seeking food. Maybe seeking shelter for the night.
It was an interesting Wilderness nature show and I share this with you because as nights begin to cool this month, and we are all secluded in our homes because of COVID, you too may be visited by a snake seeking food and shelter.
Remember to be kind.

Sometimes Older Equates To Wiser…Sometimes

by Curt Kovener

For those of you who have eclipsed the Ides of your century (for thosee challenged by history and literature, that’s over age 50) remember, getting older is better than the alternative.
It will be some time before I am four score and seven years as my mother is, but here are some things I have discovered along my half-life so far:
• I started out with nothing and still have most of it.
•My wild oats have turned to All Bran.
•Now that I have finally gotten my head together, my body is falling apart.
•All reports are now in: Life is unfair.
•If all is not lost, where is it?
•It is easier to get older than to get wiser.
•Some days you’re the dog and some days you’re the fire hydrant.
•I wished the buck stopped her…I could use a few.
•Kids in the back seat can cause accidents and accidents in the back seat can cause kids.
•The only time the world beats a path to your door is if you are in the bathroom.
•When I’m finally holding all the cards, why does everyone decide to play checkers?
•It’s not hard to meet expenses…they’re everywhere.
•The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.
•God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.

Our Hoosier Wilderness Tennessee Garden

by Curt Kovener

All of our garden vegetables are producing well now: sweet corn, tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs. Back in the spring we planted some corn figuring Emma the Great Pyrenees would keep the raccoons away. And she has. Like most sweet corn, it is late due to an unexpected frost this spring. But we are pulling corn and enjoying our homegrown roastin’ ears.
And we planted four heritage Mortgage Lifter tomatoes. As an experiment, we caged two plants and allowed the other two to sprawl to see which produced the most fruit. So far it is pretty much a tie but the caged plants are easier to see and pick fruit.
Then there is the rosemary, sweet basil, Thai basil, and cilantro which are lush and producing because Becky has been diligent about pruning by harvesting regularly, drying, and using a mortar & pestle, grinding the herbs for future cooking.
The window over the kitchen sink is where small bundles of herbs are tied and left hanging to dry. And our kitchen smells heavenly.
Those are the plants we planted. But it seems our garden is producing a great deal more due to surprise volunteers, hence our Hoosier Tennessee volunteer garden.
Tomatoes, squash, cucumber and cantaloupe are growing amongst flowers on the front patio & back deck and in with elephant ears thanks to the compost amended and re-used soil from last year’s pot-grown vegetable plants.
One tomato is particularly interesting. It appears to be a compact patio tomato. But neither of us can remember ever growing such a dwarf. But is the setting fruit nonetheless.
Volunteer gardens are later fruiting because the seeds don’t sprout until the outside soil temperature is high enough to germinate. And they are not reliable because you do not know just what you may harvest.
But the price is certainly right and surprise plants add some intrigue, excitement and mystery to the garden as well as delightful side dishes for summer dining.