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Saturday, January 2, 2010


water, snow and ice

A little after 4 today the temperature is 19. This morning at 6:30 it was 10. Last night I think it was about 8 when I came home around 9. Good wind too. The car has the lights inside that are delayed so they stay on a short time after the doors are closed. Of course, last night it chose not to go off. It's done this before. I have to go out with adjustable wrench and a flashlight to take the ground cable off the battery to avoid a dead battery in the morning. It was an overhead light, which I took the lightbulb out of, and then one under the dash not so easy to get to, and a ding every 2 seconds. This morning I had to get to the station for the radio show, so with the same wind as last night and about the same temp, I was out there with hood up making about a tenth of a turn on the bolt tightening the battery cable with the wrench per turn, no more than an inch or two per move of the handle, sometimes connecting and sometimes not. I will find a way to disconnect that mess. I don't need and don't want the delayed lights, nor do I need or want the irritating ding noise.

Another feature I'm uneasy with is the way all the doors lock when the gear shift engages. To get out, I have to push a button to unlock the doors, then pull on the handle. It's something I have to make myself memorize, because it is hard to find in the dark. The button has some raised braille bumps, I suppose to help find it in the dark, though I seldom can. My mind pulls up memory of the burning pickup that could have been stopped at the start with a fire extinguisher. Cars on fire seldom make the news, so we have no idea how many there are, but from talking and asking around, I'm finding an awful lot of vehicles burn up. Actually, an alarming number. And people get burned up in them. It's not a joyous way to die. If something were to happen in the dark that required me to get out of the car right now with no light, plus anxious and jittery, I know I'd take awhile finding that button to push. I've put a big screwdriver in the pocket of the door panel. If I need to break the glass, a bare hand won't do it. Need something metal to break it with. Adjustable wrench is there too. That pocket is my toolbox. A screwdriver and a medium sized adjustable wrench can take care of a number of maladies.

I'll have a fire extinguisher in my car at all times. I've had a good learning in how anything can happen any time. When I was going places with Jean, she asked me early on why I wear a seatbelt after I'd suggested she fasten hers, like I'm not driving until she's fastened in. She asked if I'm afraid of dying. I said, anything can happen any time, and chances are I won't get killed. Without a seatbelt, however, I'd wish I had been killed. I've been run off the road by a car coming the other way in my lane twice, and I learned the side of the road is bumpier than the road. Quite a lot bumpier. With a seatbelt, I'm held in place where I can have some kind of control instead of flopping all over the seat and banging my head on the roof. It's just practical. Has nothing to do with the law. It's something that when you see it, there it is.

On the way to the station, I encountered patches of ice along the way. Most surprising was a patch of ice in the shadow of the tree in front of Welter Ham's house. It was odd. It's in a straight stretch, so it's no problem at all, just a surprise to be driving along and feel loss of traction for a second, that floating sensation. I looked in the mirror and saw it on the road. Over the next hill the road bears right in a long curve that sometimes has ice. This would be a perfect morning for it to have ice, so I took it easy in the curve looking for any kind of ice, black or white. No cars were piled up in ditches and I didn't see any ice. I've had to drive the other side of the road in that curve going home with right wheels off the road to the right to get whatever traction could be had from crushing ice on mowed grass, left wheels on ice and no control, going 5mph. That was a bad night for ice.

At WCOK the driveway was ice most of the way, but had a few bare spots placed well for getting enough momentum to make it to the next one. The parking area was all thick ice from the mush of the snow before the hard freeze after a moderate thaw. Getting good experience driving the Catfish in varieties of ice and snow. It handles very well. With new tires and front wheel drive, it does fairly well on ice. I don't dare use the brake or drive past what it can do. As I'm testing this car getting acquainted with it, learning it by feeling it, it handles very well in snow and ice. On ice, there's very little it can do, but I can make it do what I want it to do on ice. I can make it go forward on ice and can turn on ice, back up on ice. Very slowly, of course. The new tires matter. The front wheel drive grips well under the weight of the engine and the driver. When I do the pedal right it doesn't have to spin going forward or back. I'm very happy with how my friend gets me where I need to go. I like its center of gravity in curves too.

It's a good time to practice ice and snow driving. I've always driven pickups before. A car is a new adventure. The drive to town and on to WCOK was clear roads and quite a lot of people out. Hearing Ralph Stanley talking with Diane Rehm, I wanted to do a Ralph show today. I took some live recordings from the 70s when Roy Lee Centers and Ricky Lee were with the band. Curly Ray Cline too, but he was a Clinch Mountain Boy for a long time. He kind of became the fiddle sound of the Clinch Mountain Boys. Before that he was a Lonesome Pine Fiddler with the Goins brothers. East Kentucky boy. I almost said that period when Roy Lee Centers was with the band was my favorite, but it's not. There's no favorite. From his first recording to his last every one is excellent musicianship and singing from the heart and soul.

I wanted to play a fair amount of gospel by him today, not exclusively, maybe one out of 3. Gloryland with the whole band singing it like in an Old Baptist church. Rank Stranger. I sang it in church several years listening to Elder Millard Pruitt lead the singing. He meant that song from his soul, like Ralph Stanley does. Millard's singing voice was of that mountain quality of singing from the heart. It seemed kind of eerie to me the first time I saw Ralph Stanley up close and saw he was a little bitty feller. He was small man. Short, thin. Like Millard and like Jr. And like Millard and Jr, Ralph seems much larger than his body.

I believe about everybody in these mountains loves Rank Stranger. No mother nor dad, not a friend did I see. I knew not their names I knew not their faces. They all seemed to be rank strangers to me. In the old way of talking a rank stranger is a complete stranger. The story of a man who left the homeplace when he was young, meaning to return, and finally did in his later years. No one he knew before was living and no one remembered them. A tale of a pilgrim lost in the world looking for home. It's a strong theme in the spiritual lives of people in the old time way.

I sat in the radio station studio playing songs by Ralph and a number of Clinch Mountain Boys. It's another aspect of these mountains that makes me feel blessed to be here. I didn't know where I was going when I came to the mountains. Everything of these mountains has been a discovery. Ralph Stanley at the top of the list with people like Millard Pruitt and Jr Maxwell and Tom Pruitt and others. I believe if I had occasion to know Ralph Stanley I'd have a respect for the man he is, same as for the three just mentioned. He's that kind of man, so he seems to me. He's who he is and that's no big deal. His voice is a gift. He's just a man.

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