Vol. 1, Issue 1: September 1994

Welcome to the first bulletin from Woodbury, Tennessee. Since so many people have been asking about life here, the only way I can keep everyone up to date is by writing a bulletin that will cover a good deal of what is happening here at Short Mountain. But don't worry about depersonalization! Once the bulletin is written, everyone will get his or her own personalized copy. So keep on the lookout for little notes and sections that might be just for you!

The first bulletin is going to describe what life is like here, and will fill you in on what's happening here.

The first thing I noticed that was different when I first visited here last August was the geography. New York has nothing like it. I'm used to rolling hills, wide flat valleys, rounded mountains like the Catskills and Adirondacks.

They don't make them like that here. The hills rise at a steeper angle, and are smaller. The valley floors are flat, if they're wide enough. Sometimes a valley is nothing more than where two hills abut one another. The roads wind through these, so the view is often of a steep hill on one side, and steep hill on the other. It's an area of hills and hollows unlike any part of New York I've seen. The closest thing to it is in the back of the Catskills, but the hills here aren't as high, and they're all covered in green.

Yes, there's life in these hills. It's not much. Due to the geography, the hills aren't farmable. We're sitting on the Cumberland Plateau, and that means that we have lots of rock just below our feet. Combining the shallow soil with the lack of flat land means that most people around here raise livestock, cows and horses being the most common. There's some tobacco, corn and other crops grown, but not too much near here that I've seen. Then again, I haven't gotten out much.

The other thing I noticed was that it was hot. The temperatures here are usually in the 80s and 90s in the summer, with 100s common. It's a bit of a change from the Northeast. Fortunately, living on Short Mountain gives us a bit of a break. It's cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. I don't miss air conditioning until I get into a car at the end of the day. At night we sleep with just a 5" fan on, if necessary. This summer's been pretty cool and wet, so I have some more adjusting to do in the future.

The clouds here are a pleasure to behold. The main summer cloud is cumulus, and there are quite a few thunderstorms in late spring and early summer. Being a fan of thunder and lightning, this is great. We often get to see thunderheads as they approach, although the number has sharply decreased since July. The evening sky is often a beautiful display. The only drawback is that the mountain is so wooded, we can't see it!

The cabin sits on a ridge on the western face of Short Mountain. It's on what was a logging road in the early part of the century. The entire ridge was stripped of trees back then, so there are very few trees with trunks more than a foot in diameter. I think the clearcutting also accelerated the erosion, but I'm not sure.

It takes about fifteen minutes to drive to town. The road is unpaved, rutted, and filled with small rocks. It winds around and down to a natural spring where we get our drinking and cooking water. That's about a five minute walk from the cabin. Then it passes our nearest neighbors and continues on to join with a slightly better unpaved road. Soon it joins a undivided paved road, and that takes us down through Seals Hollow to a divided state road, and so to town. Seals Hollow Road, though paved, can't be driven too quickly, as there are a number of blind turns and you have to be on the lookout for other vehicles. When you spot one, one of you pulls over to the side and lets the other pass. Also, you have to try not to hit chickens, ducks, dogs, pot-bellied pigs and turkeys that you occasionally find in the middle of the road.

The other obstacle is fallen trees. They fall for no apparent reason, and there have been two times when we had to get the chain saw and cut trees that had fallen across the road.

Heading the other way down the road from the cabin, the road quickly dwindles to a road that only a certified four wheel drive vehicle should try to use. It ends in a large meadow, and there isn't anyone after us on the road, so it's pretty quiet. The only traffic that we get up there is made up of three types: our neighbors, turning around; four wheelers; and people on horseback. Most every weekend we get some horseback riders, and it's worse on holidays. All in all, it's a quieter place than I've lived in the past decade. Just subtract the occasion plane noise and it would be like living one hundred years ago.

Life has been reasonably routine so far, and I don't expect that to change too much. We can't seem to keep either the alarm or cuckoo clock wound, so the only reliable means of finding out the time there is by checking the time kept by my car. We roll out of bed before it gets light, make breakfast, let Rasputin out of his pen and give him his food. When he's done and we're ready to go into town, we chain him up. (There will be more on him later.)

At the shop, the first thing I do is therapy. Since we don't have 110V AC aat the cabin unless we run the generator, I keep my "spare" therapy machines at the shop and do my morning therapy there. We don't fire up the generator until after we get home.

This seems like a good place to talk about electricity. At the cabin there's a 110V AC/12V DC dual system. Some of the lights and the refrigerator use 12V, just like an RV. We keep that system going with a deep cycle battery, which is about the size of a car battery. We charge it when the generator is running. The generator runs on gasoluine, so we have to remember to bring in the tank when it's empty. Between the two of us we do pretty well.

The refrigerator is actually a propane refrigerator, but it uses 12V for the ignition, thermostat and light. (Yes, it has a light!) I never knew that such things existed until last year. Ya live and learn. It's also much more expensive than a normal refrigerator, but when you consider the cost of our rent, it's a good investment.

...back to the shop. After therapy, I do whatever needs doing. Sometimes I help Goat, sometimes I read, sometimes I do whatever. Before this computer arrived, I would drive into Murfreesboro (pop. 42K) to write and print cover letters on the PC at Kinko's. Thank goodness I don't have to do that anymore. Now we just go to Murf when we need hardware (or CDs, or comics).

Yes, I've found a good used CD place and a good comic store nearby. That is, if you count twenty miles away as being "nearby". These days, I do. If I can't get it there, then I have to go to Nashville, and that's another half hour. Once I had to go to Memphis to get something, which is four hours each way. So I'm glad I've found the stores I have.

I thought I'd given up comics when I came down here, with the exception of Tales of the Beanworld. I was wrong. As soon as I walked into the local comic book store and saw a new issue of Savage Henry, I knew it wasn't going to be that easy. So I'm continuing my collection of Matt Howarth's stuff, and I just picked up a copy of Jim (Vol. 2, #3). The comic book store is pretty cool. They get a good deal of indie pubs. That shouldn't be too surprising - they're right down the road from Middle Tennessee State University. Gotta draw that college crowd. Also, there's a CD/vinyl/head shop around the corner from the comic store, to make the trip even better. Yesterday, along with Jim, I got John Henry, the new release from They Might Be Giants.

The back of Jim advertises Frank, a collection of Jim Woodring's Frank stories. I plan on getting it someday. There's magic and madness there. I was also able to read more Sandman when I was at Ryland's last. They were on loan from a friend of his.

The only store I haven't found nearby is any kind of decent software store. Woodbury certainly doesn't have one - it's mostly farming here, I think. Murf seems big enough to have a good one, but I haven't had any luck with the two I've discovered. The nearest Egghead Software isn't in Nashville, it's in Memphis! (Just found an Electronic Boutique that's closer than Nashville, and I've been told there's a Babbage's too.)

The cat is out of the bag by now. Yes, Goat and I have a computer, which was a gift from our friend Glacier. The trip I took to Memphis was to buy software and a printer for this thing. The system has shaped up nicely, and we've been doing a number of projects on it. Goat is quickly learning how to use it, and has been entering technical materials from his business into it for easy reference. He was also the first to send a fax. It was a bill, to his agent.

Computer Specifics for those who might be interested: it's a Gateway 2000 486SX 33MHz with 4MB RAM, no cache, Local Bus video (! MB), 3.5", 2X CD-ROM, 340 MB 15ms, 2400/9600 data/fax, and Labtec speakers. It's faster than I anticipated; it outperforms some Unisys 486DXs on video operations. It runs what we want to run, and runs well - what more could we ask?

There's one available front bay, and I hope to fill that with a tape backup unit. Goat has plans to move his business records onto the machine, and I don't think it's a good idea until we have a reliable backup system.

For the true bitheads, it came with MS DOS 6.22, Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Traveling Software's Commworks, MS Encarta, Works, Golf, Baseball, Money, and a Corel Photo CD Sampler.

Since it arrived a few weeks ago, the only things we've added to it are a DeskJet 520 printer, about 100 TrueType fonts, and Ami Pro 3.1. I found the latter on sale for $67, and I know how to use it, so I was very happy to get it. What can I say? MS Works makes me ill. So I'm a snob. I'll just have to live with that.

One of the things I am impressed by is Gateway 2000's Online Guide. It shows you how to upgrade different parts of your PC, with simple 3D animation. It's pretty slick. Now all I have to do is get my hands on some RAM...

On the other hand, the documentation Gateway provided was less than thrilling. The DOS and Windows manuals were chopped, and the Commworks guide covered their fax application in two pages. Don't worry; the real manuals are available - for more money.

At least we have most of the fonts we want. I also bought Turbo C/C++, so I have now have to learn how to program Windows. That should take a few months.

The only application I desire is some kind of simple drawing package, such as Visio. I really can't afford anything for the moment, and also they would take up too much of my time if we did get them, so I can wait.

All in all... I'm glad to have it here. My hand gets cramped too quickly writing letters longhand!

We haven't gotten connected to the Internet yet, but we're exploring our options. It looks like we'll have to be making a long distance call to connect, no matter which carrier we go through. That's one of the drawbacks of living in a small town. We'll keep you posted - look for us, coming to a network near you!

Since it's a Sunday, my traditional day for writing cover letters, let me spend some time discussing working in the shop downtown.

For Goat, it's the same as ever: always changing. He's got a number of different things to do. He just spent the morning ripping a player piano into small pieces of wood. There's a parlor grand resting upside down next to the back of the player which will be reconditioned, an accordion ready to be sent, and several other things going on. Each job is unique. Work keeps coming in, although not always constantly. That's my line.

Unfortunately, things haven't gone too well for me there. There are two problems: location and competition. There just aren't that many jobs around locally. Every place I've interviewed would require at least one hour of driving each way - and those are the jobs outside of Nashville!

The other problem is competition. When I first picked up the Sunday paper from Nashville and looked in the classified ads, I was upbeat. There were quite a few that I could fill. So I started sending resumes out, and not getting responses. Since then I've learned that Nashville, which has over a million people, has a 98% housing occupancy rate, meaning that the city is full. So I'm facing pretty stiff competition. I remain undaunted, but I've realized that the 9-to-5 job I desire might take a while to come through.

So I'm going to seek temporary employment. It's not something I'm really glad to be doing, but it's time. I hope to find a long term data entry/ PC operation / clerical position in or near Murfreesboro. Rotsa ruck, as they say.

I am still waiting to hear about a recent interview in Franklin, which is about as far away as Nashville. (Who is this "Nash", anyway?) The job is C programming under Concurrent DOS (how odd!), supporting the company's emergency notification software. They are starting to port their line to OS/2 (cool) and will be moving to Chicago (Windows 4.x) in the future. It looks like a good place to work, and I've even use the same programming environment, but I haven't heard anything yet. Kudos to Brian C. for finding and faxing source code at the eleventh hour! Thanks, Brian.

Town life is dull. The library is small, and the only places to eat good food are the Hardee's and Dairy Queen, and I shop for groceries at Piggly Wiggly. There is a deli going in right around the corner from the shop, though. I can't wait for it to open up. Real sandwiches, not served on a slick!

Goat's shop is right on the town square. The county courthouse fills the square, with parking around it. At night, the local teenagers drive their trucks up and park. It's a social gathering spot right on the main strip. (American Graffiti, anyone?) I suppose this means that there aren't that many places to go if you're a teen.

For excitement we go to Murfreesboro or Nashville. These days, going to a large supermarket can be a cause for excitement. I haven't found a good new bookstore in Murf, but I have found a good used one. There are three cinemas in Murf, along with the weekly free "Movies Under the Stars" that some guy's been running for decades. So far I've seen only two films - The Lion King and Natural Born Killers (interesting to compare the two!), but somehow it seems like more. And the times we go to Nashville and look through Tower Records and Books... *sigh*. They just don't make that kind of thing in this country.

Here's a good example of the size of this county. When I went to register my car, I didn't go to the Cannon County DMV. No, I went to the county courthouse. The real surprise was who I made my check out to. I was expecting "Motor Vehicle Bureau" or something like that, but instead it was:

Bobby Smith, Clerk


How's Rasputin, you ask. Or perhaps you haven't heard: we have a goat. He's a half year old Oberhaasie (sp?), and slightly odd for his breed, since he's all black. He was a gift from Goat's (big 'g') friend Paul in Maine, and we picked him up just before I left Albany.

Rasputin's grown a lot, and he's now a fully functional eating machine. He's a picky eater; though he loves sassafras leaves, he won't eat the ubiquitous ground cover, except for the shoots on some of the plants. He's just been through adolescence, where he was more full of fight than he is now. About a month ago he graduated to adulthood. At least I figure it was a month: that's when he started giving off a powerful odor. If the wind's blowing in the wrong direction, you can easily smell him twenty feet away.

From the encyclopedia we have on CD-ROM, I learned that goats' breeding season is October - December. Rasputin's ready. I think that's what the stench means.

The folks at the mountain have three female goats they need bred, so we're building a corral for Rasputin to stay in. Right now all he's got is a small shed on the side of the barn, which he's taken to bashing when he wants out.

The corral is on the land Goat bought, not the land we're renting. It will be next to the outhouse (appropriate?).

The outhouse is mostly done, and it is a sight to behold. It's got a 45 degree peacked roof, clapboard siding, a stained glass window, and other Victorian details that I don't know the names for. It's really something. We have to finish the interior and run wiring for lights, but that's about it. It sits on top of a cement block rectangle for easy "maintenance". All in all, it'll be the fanciest outhouse for miles.

The corral is a six log high split rail. All the wood is from small trees we've cleared from the house site or nearby.

We have a lot to work on, of course. After the corral and outhouse are done, the next project is building a cement block shed for the generator on the house site. Right now we have a small one that's well muffled, but we'll need a bigger generator when we start building the house. The big ones make a lot more noise, so we're going to have to build a ventilated but muffling shed.

Then of course there's the house. It'll be built on two or three levels running down the ridge, so we'll be building it in stages. The area for the first stage is cleared of brush and stumps, but it's a constant battle with undergrowth to keep it clear. We also have to worry about removing quite a few stumps from where the lower stages will be. We haven't found a earthmover that can negotiate the road to get there, and we also have to worry about the incline of the hill.

Right now our main energy is devoted to business (and the computer), but we've been working on house designs. When we get some good drafting software, I'll include the current design. In a nutshell, the kitchen's on the left, dining room / entrance front center, bedroom right, living room down a level right, my study will be left, bathhouse below.

One of my correspondents has asked how many hot baths I have taken since I got here. Zero. I've had plenty of hot showers thanks to the water heater and 300 gallon water tank, but no hot baths. Sorry. So far, I've rarely needed anything like that. I only take them when I really need to relax.

The other domestic chore that's a little different is washing the dishes. First you fill a big pot with water and put it on the stove to boil, then you fill one sink with rinse water and add a few drops of bleach. The add the boiling water to the other side (don't forget to put in the soap!), add dishes, wait for the water to cool down a little, and then scrub away. Don't forget to clean the work area afterward; mice can be a problem. They get in through all sorts of holes in the cabin. (I am still wondering how a scorpion got in the sink once!)

The big problem is time, in two senses: there's never enough time to do anything, and clocks don't stay wound. There's a cuckoo and wind up alarm clock, and they never stay wound for more than a few days. We're both just too forgetful.

In the evening, we generally make dinner and then start up the generator. The dishes get done, and I do therapy. Then we often watch a video from Goat's extensive collection, or from my meager holdings.

Friday night is Movie Temple. On this night, people from Short Mt. Sanctuary (a Radical Faerie place) come over and we all share a movie. There's cartoons from Goat's collection, newsreel footage, Animaniacs or Ren & Stimpy, and Blackadder to go with the main feature. The movies range from great (Strictly Ballroom, last week) to the awful (Super Mario Brothers). But it's always fun.

We don't get out too much. The Sanctuary and its neighbor community IDA are close by, but we've generally got so many things to do that we don't go out unless we have a reason. It's a pity as we are rather isolated; but it has given us a chance to work out our differences without anyone else around. It's got its pluses and minuses.

The biggest drawback for me is: women! The Sanctuary's permanent residents are all male, and I don't get top interact often with women except in a business manner. I miss it.

Bizarre idea: Frank Zappa is sent back from heaven to stop Oliver North's senatorial bid in Virginia.

It's time to finish this issue. Your writer has things to do, and getting this out is the first on the list. Since we musn't leave any whitespace, let's try to fill out the rest of the column.

  • Goat and I are now on the internet. We'd love to hear from you!

  • My movie count this year has increased: last night we saw Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It was a good film. Your editor gives it three thumbs up.

  • Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is not a good film. Your editor doesn't give it anything, and begrudges it the time he spent watching.

  • Special message to Mark and Hope: no, I haven't found a use for the knife yet. Fortunately.

  • Thanks to John & Karen for the answering machine!

  • I finally found a real good bookstore - it's only 30 miles away. They have some books I'd never expect to see in a small non-chain bookstore.

  • This space available, reasonable rates. Seriously if you want to post something, send it on to:

Editor, Life in Tennessee

Our best wishes to all. A particularly strong wish for the continued health and happiness of Alicia, David and pod [Henn, Doty].


Mark L. Irons


Last updated 8 June 2000
All contents ©1994-2002 Mark L. Irons

Next: Life in Tennessee vol. 1 #2