Tag Archives: Tales of the Lonesome Pine

Lend me your ears – –


Jacks’ Wednesday guest blog post

There we were, on our way home on Monday night from the annual volunteers’ appreciation banquet at the prison where I visit every month. I’d noticed that Wendy had been busy on her phone for the last half hour and that usually means cats.

I should explain that I generally try to be the sensible one in these situations, trying to remind her that we can’t save them all and that the bookstore can only accommodate a finite amount while still operating in a customer friendly way. So I’m the ‘bad cop’ to Wendy’s ‘good cop’ much of the time.

Thinking this would probably be another clutch of tiny kittens I was gearing up to be my usual grumpy curmudgeonly self. But as we arrived home Wendy announced we were going out straightaway to find a feral cat that was hanging out in an area of town we’re not too familiar with. We had an address and the lady who Wendy had been on the phone with had offered to guide us to the place.

We arrived as it was beginning to get dark and began to search. No luck until Wendy’s phone contact came out and began guiding. In the darkness a very friendly white cat with oddly shaped black ears came straight to us. We had brought food and water and she made straight for them. Purring and most definitely not feral, so we had a closer look. Her ears weren’t naturally black – they were half eaten away and bloody. She was also scrawny but with a bloated belly. So she was injured, mal-nourished and pregnant!

We brought her back but couldn’t risk putting her in the same space as our own cats or the other fosters, so into the garage she went for the night. All this time she was happy to be picked up and carried in a box – as if she knew she’d turned a corner.

Of course the whole episode was being followed on FaceBook by a whole host of friends and fellow animal rescuers. One of them was our good friend Joe, who offered to come round in the morning to take her up to our Sainted Beth the veterinarian who never imagined she’d share so much of her personal and professional life with us.



So now we know that Pogo (we called her that because she looked like a possum in the half-light) has melanoma on both ears, is completely flea-ridden and has a belly full of worms (so – not pregnant).

But all of that can be treated, although she may lose a goodly part of both ears in the process. Apparently she is about seven or eight years old and has obviously been a domestic pet. She either ran off and got lost, or was abandoned because of her ear problem. And to my astonishment, as soon as Wendy posted the update the next day showing Pogo relaxing in hospital, people began to offer financial assistance towards her bill. Which we know Beth will keep to the bare necessities, because she is a saint. But hey, saints and their nurses gotta eat too. Powell Valley Animal Hospital should you want to donate to her care. And we thank you from the bottom of Pogo’s sad little ear stubs.

I may try to lose Wendy’s phone, but she’d just get another one – bless her heart – – –


Filed under animal rescue, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Monday Book Review

Jack’s guest Monday book review –

Birdmen by Lawrence Goldstone (Ballantine; 2015)

Well – my guilty secret was bound to come out eventually! I am an aviation nut, from my teenage years building flying models for competition, through a wonderfully memorable gliding vacation in Yorkshire, and on up to re-discovering the delights of model building in my retirement.

I have a particular love of planes from the early days of aviation – the glorified box-kites, with barely enough power to sustain them flown by intrepid heroes who learned through trial and (often fatal) error.

I really thought I had a good handle on the history of those times, but Goldstone reveals a story of rivalry and pig-headedness that almost defies belief!

Everyone knows, of course, that the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were the first men to design and fly successfully a heavier than air flying machine with the means of controlling its path through the air. What most folk don’t necessarily know, however, is how much they owed to other contemporary pioneers. They communicated regularly with Octave Chanute and Samuel Langley among others, incorporating many of their ideas into the design of their ‘Flyers’. Finally, they had the work of the German designer Otto Lilienthal to draw on – particularly with regard to weight distribution and the curved airfoil needed to generate lift.


A Wright Flyer in France frightening the horses.

Sadly, the Wrights came to believe that because they were the first to successfully demonstrate flight by a heavier than air machine, they were entitled to royalty payments on every other machine made by anyone after that. It didn’t matter to them if the designs were radically different from theirs – the mere fact that it could fly meant to them that the principles they pioneered were being unfairly utilized.

The pursuit of an ever growing number of law suits against other plane manufacturers quickly began to consume all their energies, and meant that they didn’t have any left to spend improving and developing their designs. The most famous dispute was with the other great American aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss and this one probably contributed to Wilbur’s early death. Worn out by all the court appearances he succumbed to typhoid. Orville lasted longer but didn’t have the same drive as his brother, either to improve the planes or to pursue the litigation.

H-8 1916 r r

The Curtiss H8 in a 1916 demonstration.

Goldstone, in this book, argues that because of all the disputes and court cases the fledgling aircraft industry in the US fell behind those in other countries – particularly France, Britain and Germany. He maintains that it wasn’t until some years after the end of WW1 that America began to catch up with the others.

For anyone with an interest in early aviation and ‘those magnificent men in their flying machines’ this is a must read. At least five thumbs up!


Filed under book reviews, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Memory Lane

In Jack’s guest post he re-visits his earlier profession –

In the dim and distant past, when I left high school, I began serving my five-year long apprenticeship as a painter and decorator. I went on to work in that trade for many years, eventually teaching the skills in the local college where I had attended part-time as an apprentice. I look back on those days with fond memories and I’m still occasionally reminded of the satisfaction to be had from practicing a set of specialist skills competently.

So to this past weekend; after almost ten years, it was time to re-decorate what had been our upstairs sitting room and is now the main café area. The cozy and warm chestnut colored wallpaper that suited our life-style really didn’t work for a café and the woodwork was getting grubby and worn.

As I proceeded to strip the old wallpaper and prepare everything the memories came flooding back. When it came time to paint the ceiling and woodwork I remembered teaching the students a whole variety of brush skills – knowing what made a good brush, learning to work left or right handed, knowing just how heavily to load the brush with paint, applying the paint without any spattering or misses or runs etc. All this makes it easier, very satisfying and truly rewarding!

Hanging wallpaper is a different kind of challenge and not helped by the almost universal availability of the ‘ready-pasted’ kind. I really, really hate ready-pasted papers with a vengeance. If you use them as directed, you end up with water all over the floor and there’s never enough ‘slip’ to position the paper to match the pattern. So I just paste them anyway! But now it’s hard to find regular common or garden paste any more. So, for the first time in over fifty years I mixed a bucket of flour paste and got it right first time (something I took a while to learn as an apprentice).

As I only had a two-day window of time to complete the work, our good friend David drove over from NC and once again stepped into the breach and became my ‘apprentice’ for the weekend.

Our ‘best-of-the-best’ café manager and chef, Kelley, had popped in from time to time as the work progressed and her broad smile again brought back memories of satisfied customers. I finally made a point of checking with her customers as they sat down to lunch yesterday and they looked up just long enough from the best home-cooking in Wise County to give universal approval!

Enjoy the pictures and tell me what you think –

DSCN2212DSCN2222      DSCN2216DSCN2220


Filed under bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Give Peace a Chance

In this week’s guest post Jack reflects on recent events –

Back in the 1990s I used to manage transnational environmental education projects in partnership with other colleges and universities around Europe producing shared learning materials. Over the eight years or so that this work continued I visited Brussels a number of times for conferences and meetings of my various partners. So the news of the bombings at Brussels airport and metro station yesterday seemed more personal than other similar atrocities in the past.

It’s tempting in the face of such events to opt for two approaches – batten down the hatches and go nowhere, or call for an even more extreme military crackdown.

In my opinion neither of them are very sensible –

Despite the media hype (which rarely headline similar atrocities on Muslim populations by the same small minority), the chances of being caught up in this kind of attack are infinitesimally low; and the military strategy inevitably involves killing a great many innocent people and simply reinforces the perception among Muslims generally that they are subject to a new ‘crusade’. The ill-advised adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Chechnya are precisely what have led to the present position.

As a Quaker I believe very strongly in non-violent and peaceful solutions to conflict. The proof that this approach can work is to be found in Northern Ireland where my good friend, storyteller Liz Weir, worked tirelessly with others to bring the two sides together through shared culture. Eventually a dialogue was initiated which resulted in the ‘Good Friday Agreement’, something which was largely satisfactory to both sides. Many hundreds of deaths over many years failed to bring about the resolution that patient discussion and openness to dialogue did achieve.

I’ve observed that most conflicts around the world have eventually had to be resolved in the end by two sides sitting down and talking. I believe this will happen in this current situation eventually as well and I’d prefer it to be sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, my heart goes out to the folk who were caught up in the events in Brussels yesterday as well as in Istanbul, Ankara and Yemen in the last couple of weeks.


Filed under Life reflections, Uncategorized

Unexpected Delights

Jack’s guest post is a bit late this week –

It’s always a particular pleasure when something unexpected and enjoyable happens along, and such was our experience on Sunday evening.

A local friend who is a fine performer of the mountain music of this region messaged us last Thursday to ask if he could bring a group of folk to meet us. He explained that they included some Scots and they were interested in the migration of Scots and Scottish culture to this part of the US.

That’s about all we knew so we didn’t have much idea what to expect, how long they intended to stay or really what they wanted to know.

Even when the group of eight arrived we still weren’t clear what was expected of us and I don’t they did either. But as we went round the room and introduced ourselves it became clearer. They were a joint project involving actors from a New York company and members of the National Theatre of Scotland and were working on a piece to be performed at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

Once the introductions were past and some fortifying drinks doled out the evening turned into a good old fashioned house ceilidh with everyone in turn contributing a story, joke or song as well as more insights to the piece they were working on.

Half way through it turned out that they hadn’t anything else planned for that night so food was hastily organized and more fortifying beverages produced; and on we continued with more excellent entertainment.

One of the Scots turned out to be a first class singer and guitarist with a wide ranging repertoire all the way from Billie Holliday to Jeannie Robertson and one of the New Yorkers, an African-American lass, was an equally exceptional singer and fiddle player.

To be honest this was the third late night in a row for us after a Friday night St Patrick’s Day dance and Saturday night dinner with friends, so we could have been forgiven for being somewhat ‘switched off’! However the company was such that all tiredness was completely forgotten.

Here’s a small taste of our unexpected enjoyment –

Davey Anderson with the Scottish ballad ‘The Forester’

As our old friend Duncan Williamson used to say on these occasions “Tell us a story or sing us a sang, show us yer bum or oot ye gang” – this time no bums were shown or needed to be!

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Filed under Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

Kiss me – I’m Irish (kinda!)

In his weekly guest post Jack reflects on his Irish connections

Since I have a fairly distinctive Scots accent it’s not unusual for folk to come into the shop and ask if I’m Irish – go figger. begorrah and jings !

But, actually, I don’t particularly mind as the Celts tend to hang together and I have cousins who were born and live in Ireland so that’s OK. Of course it’s also the time of year when we are approaching St Patrick’s Day so everything is turning green and even Big Stone Gap will have its annual St Pat’s ceilidh dance this Friday. That’s something Wendy and I are involved in organizing since it actually started out in the bookstore. As the space available to dance got smaller we eventually moved a block up the street to a local Church hall and, with the help of our good friends in the Celtic band ‘Sigean’ as well as dance leader Cynthia a goodly crowd have a great time.

However, this year the Irish season gets extended a bit as it’s the Centenary of the 1916 ‘Easter Rising’ – the failed rebellion against British rule which resulted in the shooting by firing squad of the seven leaders but also led eventually to Ireland’s independence.

Even here there is a Scottish connection, as one of the seven executed was James Connolly who was born in Edinburgh. Poor James was badly wounded in the battle, which centered on the General Post Office in Dublin. Not expected to live anyway, he was nevertheless tied to a chair and shot for treason.

Of course it’s hardly surprising that there should be interest in things Irish in this part of the US. We’re very close here to where Danial Boone’s wilderness trail branched off westward from the great wagon trail which brought the ‘Scotch-Irish’ settlers down from Philadelphia. Some continued further South, some headed West into Kentucky, but a great many just stayed hereabouts. They brought their thrawn Presbyterian attitudes with them and being a thrawn Presbyterian myself I find that I fit in real well here!


If you’re within traveling distance our ceilidh dance starts at 7 pm and is in the Big Stone Gap Presbyterian Church hall just one block up from the bookstore. You aren’t required to dance – you can just come and enjoy the music.



Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

You’ll tak the high road – –

Jack’s weekly guest post – –

A question I’m frequently asked since I moved permanently to the US is whether I miss my native Scotland. The strange thing is that I have probably seen more of my homeland since emigrating than I did before leaving. That may seem odd, but it’s because I’ve been running an annual small group tour for the last eight or nine years at the end of June. When I have the great pleasure of showing enthusiastic visitors around then I tend to discover places I just never got around to getting to when I lived there. I also make a point of going a few days before the tour starts to give me the chance to catch up with old pals.

Of course if this was a hundred years ago I would probably not get to go back at all and I think that would be very hard.

Something else that makes an enormous difference is modern technology; the world has become a much smaller place with the advent of computers and the internet. I’m in almost daily contact with friends and family back there, followed the nail-biting news of the referendum on independence and continue to soak up the ongoing political aftermath.

Another constant reminder of where I come from is the repertoire of songs and stories I’ve gathered over many years and whenever I sing anywhere I feel myself transported back to Scotland. It’s very rare on these occasions not to have lots of questions from folk afterwards and that’s always a good opportunity to point out the aspects of Scotland that folk over here tend to forget – the inventors, scientists and philosophers. It’s not all castles, tartan, bagpipes, golf and whisky (although there’s certainly that too).

One of the dangers that I’m aware of (from observing others that went before) is the temptation to become a caricature ‘Jock’ and adopt a false persona, although I suspect that’s less likely here in Appalachia if only because they’ve had to thole a few professional hillbillies themselves, so I try to be careful.

But I’m looking forward to heading back in June again; to drive past Loch Lomond and through Glencoe on the way to Skye and out to Lewis before heading back to drive round the north coast and over to Orkney. Then to Inverness and via Culloden to Aberdeen, my native county of Fife and finally to Edinburgh. Yes, there will be castles, tartan, bagpipes, golf and whisky – probably haggis as well!

Digital Camera

This not my car!


slàinte mhath y’all – – –



Filed under bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized