A house trailer, a jon boat and a blue flame

25 April, 2021 A house trailer, a jon boat and a blue flame

I wrote a little blurb at the end of this blog post – it’s worth checking out. If you know my siblings, ask them which parts are true.

I go through blog titles and subjects all week. I almost titled this one “Heard not seen/ seen not heard.” Barred owls were calling back and forth our entire hike today but I never even glimpsed one. But a herd of deer crossed the path directly in front of us, and they made less noise than a flower growing. And a Great Blue Heron strutted down the creek beside us, and it was even quieter than the deer. 

A few pics, then read the story – it’ll be a little surprise, a fun one. 

It’s never a mistake to begin a blog post with a picture of a bluebird. I took this picture after we got back from the river today!: 

Always grateful to look out and see a bluebird:

Primary colors are well-represented on our feeders. I won’t post a cardinal today; I could take practically an infinite number. They are among our most regular visitors. Yesterday I had six male goldfinches on the feeder at one time! I’d put up a picture but it would just look like half a dozen startlingly yellow dots. Here’s a lone male from yesterday just before noon:  

Probably thought the feeder was too crowded

These birds aren’t giving me a break! Every time I wrap up my blog post draft, another beauty lands out there in the sun. This handsome male Red-bellied woodpecker stopped in a few minutes ago for suet:

Male Red-bellied woodpecker snacking on suet

April is a happy month (it appears) for birds. Probably frantic too as they avoid predators and feed hungry babies. This Brown thrasher took a quick break out front yesterday: 

Brown thrasher staying above it all (for the moment)

It’s easier to think of animals being happy than it is of plants. But if plants have emotions, this azalea in our backyard certainly looks cheerful: 

If plants can be happy, this is the way they look:

I scrolled down to my notes andI have some from earlier this week about a lone crow aggressively harassing a lone red-tailed hawk. So my breezy mention a few sentences back about April being happy for birds is not true for all of them. Here’s a picture from Friday: 

Agitated crow trying to agitate the hawk (mostly unsuccessfully)

Here’s a picture of Dash in the kitchen yesterday. Dash is everything that agitation is not:  

Dash – the opposite of agitation

I almost forgot to include the seen-not-heard pictures! So before I sign off, a mammal and a bird you can see at Pony Pasture, but only rarely hear: 

Unhurried and unworried
Same caption as previous picture

Enjoy the following story! And come back next week! All best, 


= = = = = = = 

A house trailer, a jon boat and a blue flame

It didn’t take long for our parents to meet the local moonshiners when we bought our cabin in the Shenandoah Valley in the mid-1970’s. We were new up there, but our parents were engaging and befriended the locals in no time. Mom and dad were a youthful fortyish. 

They learned about a guy named Big Pat, because by report he weighed five hundred pounds. He lived in a house trailer near the edge of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. I don’t know if dad met Pat before, but once dad brought me with him to pick up a jug of moonshine. 

Our parents were as flexible as parents could be, but they had two rigid rules at the cabin:  

  1. No television 
  2. No telephone 

So I don’t know how dad figured all this out. Maybe on his Citizens Band (CB) radio but I doubt it. Reception was terrible in the mountains. 

Dad and I showed up at Big Pat’s trailer one day and went up the little wooden stairs on the side and knocked and were told to come on in. It smelled musty from being so close to the river but it was clean. Pat was seated on the low end of a faded  blue cloth sofa. By all appearances, the reports of his weight could have been an underestimate. If someone said he’d weighed six hundred or seven hundred pounds, it wouldn’t have seemed unreasonable. He had a television but it wasn’t on. 

I don’t recall much detail – they just chatted. 

I just – after I typed the period after the word “chatted” – looked up something I wrote about dad after he died in late 2012. The post was called Terrific whistlers and was primarily about dad. These are the final sentences of that post: “Dad just automatically assumed – because it’s true – that everyone has hidden gifts. And when he met you, he’d love to hear about yours. Because that was how he learned. You might not even think about your hidden gifts, but if you spoke with my Dad a while, you’d start talking about them. What a gift that was – Dad’s eagerness and ability to learn from everyone he met.

So dad’s just hanging out with this quarter ton man in his house trailer by the river. Some money must have changed hands, or not, but we finally left, and went a different direction than we’d come in, and there was a mildewed jon boat upside down on cinder blocks. Dad went to the stern and lifted up a little and pulled out a clear glass one gallon jug filled with what appeared to be water. And we left. 

Mom of course knew all about what was going on, but we all did. To the extent teenage and pre-teens could understand any of this. 

And I recall mom and dad talking very enthusiastically about the moonshine with each other and with all of us. And dad said – he could get childishly enthusiastic about nearly anything at nearly any age – he said “Watch this!” as he touched a wooden strike-anywhere match to a bottle cap he’d filled with moonshine. And a blue flame in roughly the shape of a Hershey’s Kiss floated above the bottle cap as we stared in fascination. 

They always kept the jug in the old yellow used refrigerator they’d bought at an auction. We had dogs and cats and kids up there all the time, and one year my dad shot a rattlesnake that was coiled near our front stoop. We skinned it and my mom insisted on baking it or frying it or something. I’ll write about that another time. I’m writing about it now because they cut the head off the rattlesnake and kept it in a Gerber™ Baby Food jar filled with moonshine. Sealed it with black electrical tape. 
It was on a shelf in our bathroom at the cabin (there was only one) always. It wouldn’t be correct so say it had a “place of honor” – but it never left. It was still there when we cleaned out the cabin to sell it thirty years later.  

About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Birds, cats, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, moonshine, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Shenandoah River, Shenandoah Valey, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), thoreau, Trains, whitetail deer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A house trailer, a jon boat and a blue flame

  1. sheila wiese says:

    I remember hearing lots of stories about Big Pat and the moonshine, but I don’t I have any visual memories of him; however, I can still see the skeleton of the rattlesnake curled-up in the 13 x 9 aluminum baking dish and the melted butter on the bottom of the pan. There were loads of the tiny bones – kind of like a fish – but in the unmistakable shape of a snake.

  2. Hi Sheila! I am SO sorry I forgot to answer this! I remember that snake shape in that pan too, and the way (IIRC) the bottom of the pan had sort of cooked on brown that was always there, possibly carmelized sugar from cookie bars. Or the delectable “Scotch Treat.” Much sweeter and more delicious than a somewhat scrawny rattlesnake!

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