To Puppy or Not to Puppy, that is the Question!

“I wish I lived in [a]world, where it’s sunshine and puppies all the time.”
― Charlotte Huang, Going Geek

I fear the question is not “to puppy or not to puppy.” More likely it is, “Will there be one, two, or three puppies?” We are going to visit puppies today.

My bride and I have been surrounded by animals during our near forty years together…except for the previous two years. The pain of losing our darlings of fifteen years, Maddie, and Tilly, has been too much. We’ve mentioned inviting a fur baby into our lives and then listed a litany of reasons why we shouldn’t. That may be ending…maybe.

A friend of mine thinks we need a puppy and continues to send links to local shelters. I love her and hope she continues but I’ve been able to avoid the cuties until early last week. Three sisters, little balls of fur, big ears, and sad faces. “Come on old man, come get us!” We are supposed to ‘visit’ today.

Maddie and Tilly were Cattle Dogs, Blue Heelers. These are Heeler mixes and I’m in love. I just wonder. Heelers are high energy and I fear my tanks are running dry.

Tilly and Maddie waiting patiently for a checkup

Puppies, Bubba, Brodie, Bogie, Sassy Marie, Jackson, Maddie, and Tilly, short for Madeline Roo and Matilda Sue. Kitties Minnie Muffin and Santana. A myriad of goats with N-names beginning with the first, Nannie. Bunnies with B-names, the first, a gift for my wife named Buster. A one-legged rooster named Boomer. Their graves surround our home reminding us of love and commitment.

These don’t include the wild animals that grace our homestead in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. All are welcomed and make our lives richer…even the bear that occasionally tears down my fence and steals my trash.

I’m reminded of the possum gifts Maddie and Tilly would bring us. To my knowledge not one was injured or died. They really do play possum, especially the one that tired of “playing” and got loose in the dining room.

Questions lead to more questions and will lead to decisions. One, two, or three? Do we need a puppy…or three? Do we have the energy to deal with a new puppy…or three? Will we outlive our puppy…or puppies? If they are as long lived as our last three, I’ll be eighty-seven. Does that puppy, or do those puppies, need us? Is it that I just want a puppy? Am I overthinking it all?


My bride is not helping me. I can’t read her. I know she wants a puppy but am I forcing the issue? Can she resist if they are not the “right” puppies? She has never resisted anything with fur.

Are we even set up to house a puppy…or three? Fences need to be mended, literally not figuratively. If we bring them in, we must declutter…whether we get puppies or not we must declutter.

Crate training and house training…sit, fetch, stay, roll over, play dead. Geez. The fact is they train us as much as we train them…and they are so loving and soooo much fun. There is nothing like a puppy asleep in your lap.


They aren’t children…but like children they can’t be left to their own devices. Done right, they require care and commitment. If you think putting a puppy on a chain and leaving it outside is being a puppy parent, you are deluding yourself and making an animal’s life less worth living.

We have ninety acres of land with a large fenced in area around our house. Perfect, except for the wildlife that once ran unimpeded before puppies wanted to herd them. The squirrels, the raccoons, the possums, the bunny that is almost tame. The occasional snake. Decisions, decisions.


Like children, they are expensive. They must be dewormed, groomed, their nails trimmed and treated when they get sick. They have accidents.  You have never lived until staggering downstairs in the middle of the night and stepping in a warm, squishy, stinky, goo. “Good morning to you!”

But there is soooo much love to be had…and given. That is the big question. Do I still have the love to give? I do, or I wouldn’t be having this conversation.


Our trip didn’t bear fruits or puppies. Turns out that they weren’t as advertised. Do not despair for us because sometimes fate intervenes. We are hot on the trail of a heeler puppy that we will visit this weekend. Until then enjoy the video.

Blog image used from Pixels. Hendley, Haisley, and Harley copied from the shelter site.

Don Miller writes on various subjects and genres. Connect with him at


“A day late and a dollar short” seems to fit…at least for the day late part. I stood in the middle of my garden perusing my small stand of corn and decided I would wait one more day before I collected my bounty of petite bicolor ears. Waiting was a mistake. Raccoons stripped nearly every ripe ear and obviously enjoyed the bounty from my efforts. The f@#$ing little bandit-eyed critters.

I recognize some of my garden bounties are going to benefit the wildlife surrounding me. I don’t begrudge them, I even try to feed them. I have an area, well away from my garden, where I put kitchen wastes, cracked corn and even the stray mice finding their way into my traps. My five pet crows seem to love it…to the point they no longer flee when they see me coming nor do they stake out portions of my garden. They just wait for me to put out the broken off corn tops, tomato peels and rotting cucumbers. I wonder if they discuss the menu? “D@#n, no mice or meat scraps today? Man! You need to add some protein back to your diet.” My possums are not so choosy.

The deer, turkeys, and squirrels love the cracked corn. My feeding area is next to a stream and many mornings or late evenings I will watch four or five does exit the stream to graze on the emerging grass and corn snacks I have put out for them. The same with the turkeys. The squirrels…well you know squirrels.

Yesterday evening I saw a red tail hawk was sitting on a dead stick up in my yard waste pile. Eyes glued to the food scrap pile…waiting. I was waiting too but finally gave up due to boredom and my own hunger. I guess it would be different if I didn’t have the tomato sandwich waiting to be made. I hope she found supper.

Obviously, raccoons don’t like leftovers. I could salvage only a half-dozen ears. They were tasty but I won’t make the waiting mistake again…maybe.

Several years ago, my wife and I watched a large female raccoon braving our backyard and puppy dogs while attempting to figure out a way to get to my bird feeders hanging under our deck. My wife and I viewed her activities, enthralled, for fifteen or twenty minutes while using descriptors like cute, engaging, delightful, inventive and the such. She wasn’t nearly as delightful when she broke into our bedroom’s bath, opening the French doors, before trying to make off with the bucket of dry cat food we left there. My wife “engaged” her in a tug of war over the bucket before chasing her off with a snapping bathroom towel. Take that you little bandit-eyed critter!

Luckily, fresh corn is available just about everywhere in the foothills of the Blue Ridge this time of year…my colon might disagree since I’ve eaten it every day since July 1st…too much information? Like most foods homegrown, corn seems to be just a bit sweeter due to the sweat from your brow…hope the little bandit-eyed critters thought so.

Don Miller writes on many subjects. To connect or peruse his writings and books please click on one of the following links:



Madeline Roo and Matilda Sue just celebrated their twelfth birthdays. They’re not really puppies but will always be OUR PUPPIES. They’re sisters, from a litter holding fourteen little gray and black mottled, squirmy, thieves. That’s right thieves, right down to the “permanent” bandit mask across Maddie’s face. Every day, they continue to steal a little bit of my heart.

It’s early morning and I am watching the eastern sky lighten…I’m also watching Tilly navigate the yard. Tilly doesn’t have a bandit mask but she steals my heart anyway. She comes and sits with me in the early morning as I try to put thoughts and words together on this electronic version of paper. I find it comforting to see her or her sister laying in the recliner next to me, sleeping so very non-canine like, on their backs, feet stuck up in the air. Sometimes they scare me, so deeply asleep I must wake them just to make sure….

Tilly is awake and moving, nose to the ground. Every morning, I watch…just in case. She pauses and then circles around a large clump of periwinkle. She has picked up the scent of the bunny living there. After searching, she continues her voyage of exploration, circumnavigating the yard. At the wood pile, she stops to greet the ground squirrel living behind it. Maddie is upstairs with her mommy but will eventually make the same trip. I’ll watch, just in case.

It’s been over two years since Tilly began to go blind. It was rapid, something about dog years. Her sister followed a year later and they are both now sightless. A genetic defect will claim every one of their litter mates. I wonder if they see when they dream? The question makes me hurt and tear up. They seem to have taken their blindness much better than their mommy and daddy.

They make me smile…knowing they remember. Barking at the squirrel, no longer in the hemlock tree or sitting near the persimmon tree waiting for the possum that is somewhere else to come down. Tilly recently brought me a mole, so proud she wanted to share. While I feel sorry for the mole I’m glad it’s not the possum she used to bring me and yet happy she can still find something to bring.

They make me sad…knowing they can’t see. Maddie reminds me daily when she comes over to the recliner I’m not sitting in to get her belly rubbed. She will paw even though I’m not there. I miss them trying to herd squirrels, birds and each other.

It’s taken some adjustment. Old feed bags filled with newspaper used as buffers against hard and sharp objects. Special care not to block learned pathways. New commands like, “Watch your nose, watch your nose” or “Step, step, steps” have been learned, and yet I am amazed to see Tilly scale a rock wall, just like she did when she could see, and then later come down the same wall.

They still play their blue heeler games. Games only they understand. They are playing now, nose to nose, nipping at each other’s muzzles…somehow knowing where the other one is and able to pull up just short. Friendly growls to remind them it’s just a game…and to remind us about the better things in life.

Those in the know told us we shouldn’t get litter mates. They were incorrect. Despite the recent trials and tribulations, it has been worth it. Maddie and Tilly are happy and in much better health than much younger dogs. Mommy has seen to that. No doubt I’m happier and in much better health because of her too…and my beautiful blind puppies.

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I heard a shrill whistle from above and looked up into a late January sky. It was a beautiful January day, warmer than normal although the day felt cooler with a gusty breeze blowing from the northwest. The sky was cloudless and of a deep blue color poems are written about. Circling in the middle of the blue expanse was my red-tailed hawk.

I know she’s not mine any more that I’m hers but it’s the way I think of her…if she is a “her.” I believe she is a her because of her size. She and I met several years ago when I got too near her nest and was dive bombed by either “herself”or her mate. A bright reddish-brown flash had me ducking low to the ground while uttering several expletives as I scurried to safety. For several days, I searched with binoculars until I found her nest high in an oak tree on the high hill behind my house and made a note to stay clear until her clutch had flown.

For the past several January winters, the red tails have returned to make repairs to their nest before beginning their courting flights as the days lengthen in the early spring. Soaring high into the blue sky while twisting and turning, the male makes steep dives around his mate before soaring back into the “romantic” blue sky. Soon they will retreat to their evergreen boudoir in an ancient hemlock tree and their “acte d’amour” will begin for another season as the “circle of life” continues with an egg or three.

I once wasted several cool, early summer mornings watching the red tail teaching her one offspring how to hunt field mice. Standing at the kitchen sink, a wide picture window affords me a view of a small open area between my backyard and one of the streams cutting my property. Sitting on a dead “stick up”, the red tail and her charge would wait patiently for movement, then, after erupting into a violent dive, return to their perch with the bounty of their exertions and share…until that faithful day when they returned and momma hawk brushed the little one aside as if to say “This is mine, it’s time for you to go get your own.” There comes a time when we all must spread our wings and go off to do our own hunting.

My red tails are one of the harbingers of spring I check off as I await my “most wonderful time” of the year. Soon everything will be green and colorful with rebirth. Despite my allergies, mosquitos and the emergence of yellow jackets, it is the “most wonderful time” of the year.

As I knelt in my backyard, digging at some dormant plant needing to be moved, I paused to watch her catching thermals, soaring higher and higher. I realized we had survived one more season. It is a season of rebirth for us all. My grandmother lived for spring. In her nineties, I expected every winter to be her last but every spring she would rally, be re-born like the jonquils, to enjoy her “most wonderful time” of the year. In the February of her ninety-eighth year, winter won out as it will for us all. Until then I will await the return of my red tails, her memory, and my own rally and rebirth. My “most wonderful time.”

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time go to his author’s page at While there you might like to hit like.


Early this past spring I made a blog post lamenting a depression hanging on as tenaciously as the cold of winter. My depression evaporated when I happened upon twelve turkey hens and a tom grazing in a patch of winter rye or possibly chickweed. It caused a revival in my spirits. This morning, as I set off for a run, the cold and wet spring, along with my depression, were far from my mind. I don’t have time to be depressed as the tropical rainforest portion of our summer is upon us. Many of us have been enduring a severe drought and while it has been drier than usual in our little bit of heaven, any drought conditions apparently came to an end with the tropical like thunderstorms appearing in the late evenings for the last five days. Mimicking their first cousins found around the equator they have been torrential and loud on our metal roof. Just ask our weather puppy, Tilly.

My “over producing” garden, Linda Gail’s backyard which resembles a…jungle of ferns, milkweed and morning glories, a tractor that runs only when the spirit moves it, along with optimum kudzu growing conditions will keep me busy for the foreseeable future…so I haven’t been thinking about MY turkeys at all. I know they are not mine but I tend to think of them as if they were. I am willing to share them with the world…unless you are a hunter.

I had not seen MY turkeys for a while. I wasn’t concerned…it is THAT time of the year. I don’t see a lot of MY birds of any variety this time of year. A few come to my feeders but most have abandoned me to the squirrels who never seem to leave. MY birds are busy raising their young. Feeding and teaching, the same activities we humans must see to although the feeding of our off springs shouldn’t involve worms and insects. These child “rearing” activities were evident when a mother hawk used a small open space behind our house to teach her offspring the nuances of hunting field mice…a practice I quite approve of. It was also evident this morning when I ran up upon MY twelve turkey hens and their off springs. There must have been thirty of them. The wide drive was black with them…or brown with them. In the blink of an eye the poults and their mothers had scattered leaving me to wonder momentarily if I had actually seen them or was I having a hallucination caused from my oxygen starved brain. I did not see the tom but I am sure he was around resting, having enjoyed the “fruits of his labor.”

My already high spirits soared even higher just seeing them. I couldn’t wait to tell Linda Gail…but being two miles from home I would have to. Thirty minutes later I was rewarded with the smile I knew my story would evoke…and I didn’t even have to embellish it.

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I really can’t think of much that I dislike about living in the South…ummmm…summertime humidity and mosquitoes can be found anywhere. Right? Sometimes we Southerners only have two seasons – “damn cold or damn hot” … occurring in just the blink of an eye. An old South Carolina saying tells us a lot about our climate. “If you don’t like the weather now just wait a minute. It will change.” I find this to be true during the spring and fall.

I remember a “damn Yankee” football player from the early 90’s who had joined us from one of the “I” states, Indiana I think, and who, before our first August football practice, explained to me that “I can handle the heat. It gets hot in Indiana, too.” An hour later, after his eyes had rolled back in his head, I was cooling him off with ice water soaked towels and forcing him to take sips of Gatorade. Yes, it does get hot in Indiana but, “It ain’t the heat in the South. It’s the humidity!”

When Linda Gail and I moved into our little “piece of heaven” we had no air conditioning. Open windows and ceiling fans moved warm and humid air and reminded us of our youth…except for the ceiling fans we did not have during either one of our youths. More concerned with conserving heat during the wintertime, unlike” flat land country” farmhouses, ours had eight foot ceilings instead of ten footers and late in the day our lower ceilings would trap heat. A lot of late evenings were spent talking on the porch until it was cool enough to go to bed. A breeze might bring the smell of honeysuckle while we listened to the cicadas and other night sounds. I might enjoy a cigar while staying hydrated with a few adult beverages…until the mosquitoes came for dinner. No matter how much citronella we burned or how many fans we used, the little blood suckers seemed to always find us…and still do.

Mosquitoes are just a fact of life in the South and I praise God they don’t grow to the size of vultures. On a trip to the coast I remember making an impromptu nature call where the only facility available was an old fire road in the middle of a pine forest off South Carolina’s Highway 17. As I completed my task, I looked down to insure nothing got caught in the zipper and could see a cloud of mosquitoes attempting to make off with my man part. Itchy and it was in November! F&%K it! I DID zip up too quickly! For some reason Linda Gail thought it was hilarious until the little vampires who had followed me in to the car decided she was sweeter meat than I was. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed.

We have “stinging” insects too. Wasps, hornets, bees, even a little bitty thing that might be called a “no see um” … if I could see um’. Generally, I dislike them all. Specifically, I hate the yellow jacket. The little “bastards!” They are small hornets who build nests underground, under leaves or in hollow stumps. Related to bald faced hornets and common wasps, they are much faster, more aggressive and make a honey bee sting seem like a French kiss from your beloved. If you step into a yellow jacket’s nest, you will not get stung once but several times and the little bastards will pursue you. Talk about holding a grudge.

The first time I stepped into a nest I got stung a dozen times, all from the knees down. When I finished beating them off of me I found my legs covered in “stinging” whelps that slowly, over a matter of days, turned into itchy, oozing wounds that resembled cigarette burns despite being treated with Linda Gail’s “old time remedy,” chewing tobacco and Arm and Hammer soda. This was also despite initially wearing heavy blue jeans, boots and heavy socks. I say initially because I “shucked” my pants pretty quick. Over time I have found it better to wear shorts. You get stung fewer times before being alerted to “run like hell” and the wounds are not nearly as bad. It’s as if the yellow jackets, when met with “blue jean” resistance, really got pissed off. I stepped into a nest while using my weed eater near the back door of the house one morning. Luckily I saw the cloud of “little bastards” erupt from their hole and I ran for the safety of our closed in back porch. Yelling, slapping and running, somehow all at the same time, I found my “beloved” slamming the door in my face and screaming, “Don’t come in here they will just follow you in!” Thank you SOOOOOO very much.

As I related in an earlier story I am not the only one to run afoul of the “little bastards.” One of my goats stuck his nose into a yellow jacket’s nest and received numerous stings to the head and neck. With a leather collar around his neck the swelling had nowhere to go causing his head to swell, and swell and swell. By the time I rescued him, his head was the size of a basketball and I was afraid he would begin to chock if I did not release him from the collar. As soon as I cut through the collar his head began to “deflate” and I worried that he would die when the poison hit his heart. He didn’t and just went back to eating. Goats are simple creatures…unlike my wife who would have let the goat come in regardless of how many yellow jackets followed him. It’s good to know where I rate on her hierarchy of animals that she loves.

Few things that I hate about the South? I just got my first yellow jacket sting of the summer. Luckily, just one and I have found their little underground lair of pain. I will make the “little bastards” pay when night time falls. I will come calling with my little can of “payback” and for a brief time there will be one less thing to hate about the South.

This is an excerpt from the soon to be released book “Through the Front Gate”
Don Miller has also written three other books which may be purchased or downloaded at


Timing is everything…or nothing. We had just completed tearing the old kitchen, pantry, back porch and wash room off of our old farm house. Renovations had begun! Cooking was taking place on the Weber kettle grill, what dishes we were doing were washed in the bathroom sink and Linda Gail’s washer and drier were now located under a hemlock tree, connected electrically with a drop cord and to water by a garden hose, or in the Southern language, a hose pipe. Into this environment of flux came Nae Nae.

We were working on raising a small herd of goats to maintain a large hillside and deeply cut stream bank covered with the southern scourge, kudzu. We had tried to kill it with Round Up, something I was scared to do since our location was so near water. We had also attempted to burn it. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO BURN KUDZU! Kudzu likes to be burned and comes back twice as fierce and will grow two feet per day in optimum growing conditions. Burning it gave it optimum growing conditions. We were told introducing goats would control kudzu so let me introduce the goats.

Claude and Claudette, named for former owner Claude Sherriff. Nugene and Nicolette, named for former owner Eugene Nichols. Newt, named for his loss of baby making apparatuses, as in “Newt-or.” Offspring Sha-Na-Na rounded out the herd who had all been named by Linda Gail. All, except Newt, were American Alpine milking goats and because of their genetics had the endearing habit of climbing to the highest point available. The top of your pick-up truck cab or tractor seat, and if young enough, to the top of your head. Not so endearing was their habit of butting…especially if you happened to bend over for some reason…and it really didn’t matter which end got butted. Getting butted between the eyes by a Billy with a three-foot horn spread will stun you just for a second.

Our youngest, Sha-Na-Na, was “with child” and picked this particular “not so good a time” to deliver. The delivery was both a blessing and a sorrow. Nae-Nae entered the world as a breech birth after much effort from both Sha-Na-Na and ourselves. Sha-Na-Na would not survive, the sorrow, and we would be left with a little bundle of joy we had no idea how to raise, Nae-Nae. A phone call to our vet educated us on what was called “colostrum,” which is best described as the mother’s “first milk,” the milk loaded with everything needed for a healthy baby goat or as I found out a healthy baby anything. Our call to the vet also exposed a problem, “WE AIN’T GOT NO COLOSTRUM!”

Our helpful vet put us on a Miss Labrea who told us for five dollars she would provide us a bottle of colostrum. Known by the locals as “the goat lady,” she raised show goats. Show goats? Who knew? When I first saw the “show goats” I thought they must be from another planet…which is saying a lot when you consider how alien normal goats generally look. Our goats were down right beautiful compared to hers with very large, upright ears to go with black fur and white spots or vice versa. Hers? No ears! Just little holes in the sides of their heads. They were all the same uniform color of…pale, very pale. From their necks hung long fleshy “waffles” making them look even more “out of this world.” Lamancha goats originally from Spain, then Oregon and now found on Gap Creek Road…in a “past its prime” single wide trailer.

Okay only the babies were in the single-wide…in a baby “cage” …in the kitchen…along with the fridge, stove and dining table. When I looked in the sink I realized the goat “cage” was the cleanest area of the kitchen. The expectant mothers had their own individual stalls in a run-down barn, the rest populated scattered paddocks and pastures. According to Miss Labrea, “Them baby goats never touch the ground! I catch ’em when they drop and into the kitchen they go!” NO! NOT TO BE EATEN. She would then milk the mothers and begin feeding the kids, causing them to imprint on her rather than their mothers. I have this vision of Miss Labrea leading her “babies” down to the water ala “Clementine and her little ducklings.”

Miss Labrea got her nickname honestly and it may not have been because of her chosen vocation, raising and selling show goats. You know how people who too closely identify with their animals begin to “kinda” look like them? Well, Miss Labrea kind of smelled like them too.

Armed with colostrum and baby goat formula we began the raising of a baby goat…in our bathroom…for six weeks. Did I mention it was our only bathroom? Did I mention we were doing our dishes in there too? I should also mention the flu bug I caught shortly after our new guest moved in…an intestinal kind of flu…a twenty-four-hour intestinal kind of flu…with a baby goat in our only bathroom…as renovations continued around us. It’s okay, we renovated the old bathroom along the way too.

Don Miller has also written three books which may be purchased or downloaded at


Wow! An actual spring this year. Most years we simple go from the dead of winter to the height of summer in a twenty-four-hour period. There were a couple of days when I worried as the thermometer edged past a somewhat comfortable eighty-five into an uncomfortable near ninety. But thankfully no, it was simply a harbinger of the heat, humidity and mosquitoes to come. We are in the midst of “blackberry winter” with beautiful white blackberry blooms adorning our roadsides bring cool morning temperatures and warm, but not hot, afternoons. Moderate evening temperatures allow for outdoor activities involving a cigar, an adult beverage, a comfortable sweat shirt and the smell of sweet honeysuckle mixing with the aroma of my Dutch Master’s Honey Corona. Ah…Spring!

The local bear paid me his annual spring visit last night, pulling down my fence before making off with two bags of trash. “Pooh Bear” found no honey but seemed to enjoy the empty peanut butter jar…once he got into it. He was not a very tidy diner but at least he left both bags “relatively” close together and intact. Last year his “great trash robbery” was left scattered over an acre. Linda Gail and I have enjoyed watching a small brown snake, variety not color exactly, make his slow, early morning trek up into the tangle mess of Linda’s clematis while waiting for the morning sun to warm the very cockles of his little fork-tongued soul. I’m not too worried about my bird families because even the smallest babies are larger than the snake. Flick, flick goes his tongue. Several mornings ago I watched a doe and two small, spot covered, fawns cautiously follow the stream past my garden. I hope they don’t discover my tender spring plantings. Ah…Spring!

As I sat outside in my camp chair last night, I was treated to a concert of sorts. I had decided to enjoy a second adult beverage and heard the melodic yet lonesome call of a whippoorwill. I heard no answering call and could not help but softly sing “Hear that lonesome whippoorwill, He sounds too blue to fly, the midnight train is whining low, I’m so lonesome I could cry.” Thank you Hank Williams. My moroseness was short lived when the owls began their serenade. They certainly are not lonesome. It won’t be long before their hooting will be joined by the cicadas and their short lived mating chant along with the fireflies and their flashing message, “Here I am, lets skip the light fandango.” Ah…Spring!

Unfortunately, even the Garden of Eden had its serpent. My little piece of heaven does too and I am not speaking about my friendly little brown snake. With spring comes beautiful flowers, green trees, the honeysuckle and my “god awful” allergies! A serpent disguised as postnasal drip…no, disguised as a postnasal flood of biblical proportions. Noah had nothing on me and there are no rainbows to signify the end of the flood. I think I may drown in my own pool of…mucus and wonder why God decided to place our noses upside down over our mouths. I have an equally allergic friend who I converse with several times a week. Our conversations seem to always begin with “My allergies are…” take your pick. I’ve attempted all of the fixes and found I cannot sleep standing up. My allergy tests showed I was allergic to one hundred and forty-four different grasses and weeds, all possibly found in my backyard. Trees, including the dozen or so Beech trees found around the stream behind my house, assorted molds and mildews, and cocklebur. I’ve got them all and I tried all the remedies. Weekly allergy shots for two years to a daily teaspoon of local honey and everything in between including three different allergy prescriptions, all taken at the same time. Maybe a World War One gas mask might work but I fear it would simply fill up and drown me in the end and there is no end in sight until the cold, unwelcomed winds of winter. Ah…Spring…Ahhhhhhh Chooooooooo, sniff, sniff, sniff, cough, cough, cough!

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I found myself walking at five thirty in the morning with my Easter sunrise service still two hours away. Crazy I know, but I also know me well enough to realize I won’t get my exercise done if I wait until the evening. There was a time, in another life, the life before my retirement, when I got up well before dawn to do my running or walking. Up at four thirty and on the pavement by five thirty was the norm with the light of my head lamp bobbing up and down with the motion of my head. People always asked, “Aren’t you afraid of lions and tigers and bears?” “Oh my, …no.” As I walked or ran on the paved service paralleling the creek, dense trees forming a canopy overhead and a fog rising, I was much more afraid of vampires, werewolves, or Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

We do have bears, coyotes, wild cats and “painters,” as the locals call panthers, but they don’t really bother me. I am much more afraid of the local dogs than our wildlife. Well, there was one early morning when I saw eight sets of reddish hued eyes blocking my path. Eight “Mothmen?” Probably not. More likely coyotes judging from their height above the pavement. They turned away but I decided it was a bad day to run. Another morning I had a cardiac “check-up” when a deer resting between the road and stream decided I was a danger and took off crashing through the thicket…as I crashed through the thicket on the other side.

This Easter morning, as I walked back toward my house, I noticed a little white, heart shaped flower next to my path. I thought it was a bit odd. It’s still March and I know of no heart shaped flowers blooming. Still, there it was glowing in the light of my headlamp. As I got closer, I noticed that this “flower” had glowing eyes. A baby possum with a white “heart shaped” face, no more than six inches long, looked up at me. “Gees aren’t you the cutest thing…DAMN YOU TRIED TO BITE MEEEEEEE YOU LITTLE…!” Moments later I heard a rustle in the underbrush and saw two larger glowing eyes peering back at me. Mother or predator? I decided I needed to get back to the house.

We have a pair of gnarled old persimmon trees in our back yard and in the fall their fruit ripens offering a sweet treat to all the possums in the area. I don’t like persimmons. They are either one day away from ripeness or one day past rotten. What is that fuzzy film it leaves on my tongue? YUK!

Unlike me, possums love persimmons and will show up in the fall to eat their fill. Having unwanted guests in the yard drives my blue heeler puppies crazy. Many mornings I have returned from my run to find a gift left for me on the steps leading into my home. Both puppies would stand guard duty under the trees, lying in wait, for a possum to finish eating its sweet treat before making its way down to its fate. Some mornings I would let them out for their bathroom call and later find myself tripping over a dead possum lying in the dining room. They have left me a dozen dead possums… or more likely, one possum “playing dead” twelve separate times. It’s no fun chasing a “suddenly resurrected” possum as it attempts to escape its captors.

One morning I found a large possum lying on the floor with both puppies standing guard and awaiting their doggy treat. She was not leaking blood which is always a good thing but when I picked her up by her tail, I found myself looking at six small heads peeking out of out of “momma” possum’s “carry-all” pouch. Oh man! What am I going to do? As I cradled her, I noticed one eye was open following my every move and proving where the saying “playing possum” comes from. “GOT ME!” I cannot tell you the relief I felt when I saw her waddling off in the possum equivalent of a sprint after I had released her on the wilderness side of my fence.

Maddie and Tilly no longer bring me possums and I am only slightly happy about it. Maddie has a bad hip and even a possum can outrun her…despite her attempts otherwise. Tilly is blind but, like her sister, it doesn’t stop Tilly from trying either. She amazes me how she can still find that old persimmon tree in the fall. There is nothing wrong with her sense of smell. Every night as the persimmons ripen, she sits herself down underneath the tree, ears at attention, and waits. I love the fact she still waits. I just hope no possum happens to bump into her.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at


Move it Boss! Move it. The calendar says this is the second day of Spring. Someone should have told the weather. Low thirties are bad enough but there is a biting wind out of the west. West? That means the wind will be in my face as I try to swim against it as I come home. Today I am faced with one of those mornings when my self-speak could keep me inside. Instead I will apply my ten-minute rule.

I have been up since four. I didn’t mean to be. Despite sleeping on my couch I was in a warm and happy place. No I had not been banned to the couch by an irate wife but because of my battle with sciatica. A battle that I seem to be losing or at best locked in a stalemate. I find it more restful to sleep on my couch…restful for Linda Gail who does not have to deal with my squirming to find a comfortable position as I chase sleep or getting up every hour and a half to walk off the pain. Last night was better than most I have experienced recently. I had only gotten up once and that was to relieve a bit of bladder pressure, also a step in the right direction. I was slowly awaking from a great dream and trying not only to stay asleep but trying to hang on to the threads of my dream. Why do the memories of good dreams flee so easily while the nightmares hold on with a death grip?

I am awaking because my puppy Maddie is sick. Battling a rare form of diabetes, she will never be cured but can be treated. Her sickness this morning has nothing to do with diabetes. Girl what in the world did you eat? Sick at both ends it is worse than I expected. Linda is up and trying to eliminate all signs…and smells of Maddie’s accident. How much grass can eleven year old puppy eat? If this sight is not bad enough, after turning on my TV I am reminded why I never watch the news first thing in the morning. Murders, fatal car wrecks, earthquakes, memorials and violent presidential rallies populate the newscast and we are only into the first five minutes. The wonderful and warm place of my earlier dream is long gone and has been replaced by a sorrow I feel deep in my bones that has nothing to do with my sciatica.

I eat breakfast and drink copious amounts of coffee. Linda has returned to her bedroom, Maddie and Tilly with her, they sleep on their backs, contorted but somehow comfortable on their dog beds. I turn off the TV and attempt to write. I do my best writing, if that is possible, in the early morning…but not today. I am reminded of a lyric from “Just Dropped In,” a song Kenny Rogers voiced as a member of The First Edition. “I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in.” I didn’t want to follow mine in so I decided to apply my ten-minute rule. My exercise is as much for my head as it is for my body and no matter how cold or windy it was, it seemed to be a prescription to ease my pain…or some form of self-medication. After stretching I am off.

It takes me ten minutes to walk to the top of my hill. That’s my ten-minute rule. My path then leads me downhill and reasonably flat for another ten minutes. Yes, I am attempting to “whodo” myself into walking farther and today, like most days, it has worked. Ten minutes later I am faced with a dilemma, a fork in the road. Not the metaphorical fork in the road, a real one. Turn left and I am up a slight incline to the lake, continue straight and it is steeply uphill for about a half mile of screaming lungs, quads and calves before a knee pounding downhill back to the lake. I decide to metaphorically “self-flagellate” and walk the screamer. For once I am glad I did.

There is an escape route halfway up the hill. A left turn puts you on another downhill trek to the lake but much shorter. Above it, feeding in a patch of winter rye or maybe chickweed were thirteen turkeys, a dozen hens and a Tom. The hens seem to be oblivious to my approach but not old Tom. He spreads his wings in defiance and blows up in a stance reminiscent of “The Incredible Hulk” …except for his magnificent tail. What a beautiful spread. I raise my hands in surrender and turned left away from them so as to not interfere with their feeding and found my mood lifting much as a hot air balloon might find flight. I found myself thinking of yesterday and my red headed monkey with banana pudding spread all over her face when we gathered with our family to celebrate birthdays, a glimpse of Linda Gail escaping from the shower, my puppies climbing into my recliner with me, jockeying for position to have their ears stroked. Those are the best things in life along with thirteen turkeys minding their own business and a walker with no intention of hunting them. Sometimes it is best to go through life without suspecting something might be wrong or even turning on the news. Just so you know, Maddie seems to be fine to.

If you enjoyed this post Don Miller has also written three books which may be purchased or downloaded at