The Little Niangua twists and turns as it winds through the dense forest of white oak, maple, hickory, and pine. In places it becomes deep and so narrow that the overhanging branches of trees on either bank meet and shade the water so deeply that the river bottom disappears, but for most of its journey in the summer it is wide and shallow. Between the mouth of Coffey Hollow Creek and Green’s Ford it turns far back but is prevented from meeting itself by a low hill.  

There are many caves tucked into the hills, and when the first settlers came here they were greeted by the Osage who were kind and showed them a cave they could live in until they built houses. That cave was near a large creek, now called Mill Creek, and later still it would be known as Burnt Mill Creek.

Farming here is hard.  Land must be cleared and kept clear of the rampant regrowth of trees and brush. A house or cabin left untended for a few years is in danger of disappearing as the woods spring up around it. The soil is not particularly fertile despite the lush growth of honey locusts, sycamores, and linn trees.  The ridges, where the soil was even poorer, had growths of blackjack and laurel oak, crabapples and persimmons. This was as true in 1859 as it is today. 

Chapter 1

Levi’s Daughter

The air was hot and smelled of late summer in the shimmering fields beyond the trees but here, in the river in the shade where it was a little cooler, it smelled of water and watery creatures, and that special metallic smell of hot children in need of a bath. The water was alleviating the latter, somewhat. 

The first rock sailed past the three children and plunked into the water just beyond where they waded in the Little Niangua.  Susannah thought the noise was a fish at first, but it was mid-afternoon in late August and too warm for any sensible fish to be jumping. 

She knew these things because she was 9 and had fished a lot with her Pa, who knew how to attract a fish to his hook so well that the fish might just as well have jumped onto the bank and saved them the trouble of digging for bait. She squinted up at the maple that overhung the water to gauge the time of day, but the late August sun through the leaves was dazzling and she had to look away.  The chatter and songs of the summer tanagers and goldfinches had stopped; something had disturbed them.  

She glanced over at Sarah and Ben splashing in the shallow water near a place where the bank dipped so low you could walk right into the water. The mud was smooth and soft on bare feet and there were not too many rocks. Their clothes were wet to the waist and muddy at the hems but these were old clothes, handed down and patched and handed down again. The girls wore old dresses that had belonged to their sisters before them, the skirts gathered through their legs from the back and tucked into their front waistbands for modesty. These dresses had been let down and taken up so many times that there was a row of faded strips above the hems.  The knees of Ben’s trousers were torn out and the backsides were worn dangerously thin. A piece of rope tied around his waist kept them in place.  It was hot and he was shirtless, and more than once Susannah wished she could be shirtless too. The three were tanned and their hair was sun-bleached nearly to white from working and playing outdoors all summer. 

A pileated woodpecker called its peculiar call and she could hear a meadowlark in the distance, probably in the fields at Grandpa Russell’s farm.  Another rock sailed past but this time it was so close that she felt its passing and looked back at the river bank. Susannah saw them now, two boys of 14 or so, standing in the shade on the bank, self-important and serious by having achieved such a fine and advanced age. Ollie and Val. Horrible boys. They had stopped going to school the previous term, much to the relief of their teacher.

“Yer little children gwan home now. Yer be a-skurrin’ the fish with all yer splashin’ and we are here t’ catch some fish,” declared the tall skinny boy on the left. 

 “You leave us be, Ollie Hurst. We be here first an’ ‘sides there’s plenty of fishin’ upstream from here.”

“Ain’t you be one of Levi’s girls? That straw colored hair says you are. Does thee think yer daddy owns this creek? This be our fishin’ place. Scat! Git now!” 

More rocks splashed near them now,  and one passed entirely too close to her little brother’s head. 


Susannah felt no especial love for this child; he was not her favorite but he was her half-brother and her father’s only surviving son. She had no desire to be blamed if he was hurt. There were four older step-brothers at home;  Aunt Liza’s boys, about the same age as her three older sisters. Three of Pa’s boys had died of the various ailments that babies died of: being born too soon, choking coughs, fevers, croup.  They and two baby sisters were buried beside Susannah’s mother at the little church just down the road from their house. Everyone in the family felt protective of Ben as something precious.

Sarah wanted to wade farther into the creek to get away from the rocks splashing into the water near her but Susannah caught her hand and Ben’s and they sloshed their way out of the creek, the three of them creating as much mud and disturbance as they could. She glared at the boys as she passed them but they were implacable, standing with their arms crossed now, watching them go. 

“Who’re they?” asked Sarah, when she thought they wouldn’t hear.

“The Hurst boys. Cousins.” 

Sarah made a face. “Everyone here is our cousin. How come I don’t know ‘em?”

“Rag-tail cousins. Their grandpa married Great Aunt Ginnie. You prob’ly don’t remember her. She was a mean old woman.”

As soon as they thought the trio was out of sight, the boys stripped off their clothes and jumped in, making so much noise that no fish would be within 50 yards now. Their bait bucket was forgotten, in the shade on the path. Susannah turned back and peered through the undergrowth, but Sarah whispered, “Susanner, I gotta go!”

“Shh. We’ll go back in a bit an’ you can use the little house, but I just want to see…”

The whisper became a whine, strained, sharper, “ You just want ter look at their bee-hines, an’ I really gotta go! I cain’t hold it.”

“Well, go in the bushes then.”

“There might be cottonmouths!” 

Susannah looked at her.

 “I’m askeered.”

Sarah did a little squirmy dance for emphasis and whimpered. 

Exasperated, Susannah looked around the path and noticed the bait pail. 

“Say “scared”. Nobody’s “askeered”. 

She grabbed the pail and spun Sarah around. 


Sarah turned slightly and peered doubtfully into the bucket. 

“There’s dirt in it, an’ worms.”

She looked at Ben. “’n’ he’s gonna see me.”

Susannah took his shoulders, walked him away from the bucket, gently turned him away from Sarah and whispered, “I think I can see a turkey, right over there.”


“Shhh.Where that little bit of red is, way over, under that tree. Hear him gobbling?”

Behind her she heard Sarah using the bucket and both girls started giggling but Ben was oblivious.

“Yeh, I kin hear him I think.” 

A hen turkey stepped out onto the path a little ahead of them, stretching its legs slowly before it, looking in every direction, then crossed quickly and disappeared into the leafy shadows on the other side, followed by a group of chicks. Susannah watched them melt into the woods. 

“How many did you count, Ben?”

“I cain’t count that many.”

“I think I saw 11.”

“Kin we go home now?” 

“Ye-es. I think we had better do that now, right quick.” 

She put the pail back where it had been, stifling a laugh as she did so, took her sister’s and brother’s hands, and they started for home.

The Hurst boys were still splashing in the Little Niangua and took no notice. 

They had not taken five steps when they were startled by a huge tom turkey who exploded out of the brush right in front of them, rattling his feathers and hissing at them, and turning toward them in a menacing fashion. Suddenly, he raised his head, looked back, and ran across the path and into the brush.

“Wait now, let’s be still and see what’s scared Mr Turkey,” Susannah whispered.  Sarah held her breath, then let it out in a little sigh of annoyance.  Ben was bored and yanked his hand away from Susannah’s but just then they saw it, a bobcat slinking out of the brush ahead of them, moving slowly across the path, then slowly entering the woods on the other side.  It took no notice of them until Ben let out a whoop and it was gone. They ran to where it entered the bushes but the growth was too thick and they couldn’t see where it had passed, but someone was there. 


Levi’s house sat on a low rise beyond the hill, surrounded by fields of corn and wheat and hay where the road from Bannister Holler met the road between Roach and Crossed Timbers. There were thirteen living in the house, Liza and Levi, ten children between them, and Grandpa Green. The four oldest boys were Liza’s from her first marriage, Thomas, James, Joseph, and John.  

Grandpa William Green and Grandpa William Russell were born in 1800 in Kentucky and had been best friends since childhood; they came to Missouri together in 1832 and their farms were next to each other, and several of their grown children had married each other. Levi Green had the distinction of having married two of the Russell girls. He married Mary Elizabeth Russell when she was 19 and the four oldest girls were her daughters, Mary, Jane, Rachel, and Susannah.  After Mary Elizabeth died he married her newly widowed sister, Eliza Jane Russell Hart, Liza.  

Aunt Liza and Levi had two children together, Sarah and Ben, who were 7 and 9. 

  For the four older boys and the adults there was only a little time left for anything else after everything was done for the day.  There were weeds to be hoed, cows and mules and pigs and chickens to tend to, and soon the fields would be ready to harvest. 

The youngest three children fed the chickens and gathered the eggs; they pulled weeds in the kitchen garden and ‘Liza’s flower bed, raked the path and helped in the house. In the summer they gathered red and black raspberries with Eliza and the older girls; in the fall they picked persimmons on the ridges and nuts under trees. Ben mostly just tagged along while they worked; he did pull some weeds, but he ate most of the berries he picked and wasn’t yet trustworthy with eggs. Soon it would be autumn and school would start. It  would also be the end of the pigs, as the ones not sold by then were butchered and smoked in the small smoking shed beside the Old Cabin, becoming hams and sausages and bacon.  

The rhythm of the seasons dictated the work to be done, and each day had a rhythm of its own. Milk the cows, churn the butter, make the cheese, and cook and cook and cook for the farm, and preserve as much as possible for the winters when the work slowed, but even then the cow still had to be fed, and the mules had to be fed, and the chickens had to be fed, and all of the animals had to be fed including the two-legged ones.  

In front of the Green farmhouse stood a huge shagbark hickory. The house was a large two story wood frame building with a big porch on the front and a winter kitchen at the back; the Old Cabin behind it served as the summer kitchen so the house stayed a bit cooler. There was a large cast-iron stove in the summer kitchen that had come with ‘Liza from her first marriage, a work table big enough to seat a dozen where dough for bread was kneaded, biscuits were rolled, pies were assembled and gossip was attended to.  Late afternoon was usually when ‘Liza and the older girls were assembled there and indeed, Mary,  Jane, and Rachel were rolling pastry and cutting rhubarb into a bowl while Aunt ‘Liza stirred a pot on the stove. She looked up as they entered.

“Susanner, get those dirty clothes off right now before thee come into this kitchen!”

“I… We…” 

Aunt ‘Liza gave her The Look and Susannah backed out. She helped her siblings rinse off at the pump and strip down to their drawers, then the girls raced to their shared room to change, but not Ben who had not yet become shy or bothered by his own nakedness. He stripped off his drawers at the pump and went back into the summer kitchen. He stood swaying side-to-side beside the table, grinning because he knew it would annoy the older girls; Mary, his oldest half sister, swatted him and shooed him out of the kitchen.

“Go get some clothes on, ye scandalous little boy.” He ran off giggling.

The girls soon returned, properly dressed, and Susannah started to speak but again she got The Look. Aunt ‘Liza pointed them to a big bowl of green beans to be made into leather britches.  It was hot inside the kitchen so they took their work outside, under a tree. Sarah snapped off the flower end of each bean and Susannah ran the needle and thread through the middle to string them. They’d be hung in the cellar to dry for use at special meals in the winter. They could hear Grandpa Green’s fiddle as it scraped a little to warm up, then began to play from the front porch.

 “Are you gonna tell her?”

Susannah sighed. “I was, maybe later when she’s not so busy.” 

Ben returned to the kitchen, half buttoned up, and tugged at his mother’s skirt. She considered him for a moment, buttoned his trousers and helped him onto a tall chair next to the table. She gave him some dough to play with while he talked a blue streak:

“Mama! Mama! We saw a turkey! An’ another turkey, a great big one! An’ a lot of little chicks! An’ a bobcat! An’ some big boys named Ollie er Vollie yelled at us in the creek and throwed rocks at us, an’ Sarah peed in a bucket full of dirt an’ worms cuz she was askeered of a snake!”  

The women and girls looked at each other and burst into laughter. 

Aunt ‘Liza said, “Those poor worms.”

Ben paused for breath and rolled the dough thoughtfully between his fingers. 

“An’ there was a man. He was so big. I ain’t never seen him b’fore. His clothes was dirty and ragged. He was in the bushes, cryin’, all tore up ’n bleedin’. Oh! I forgot I wasn’t supposed to tell. He made us promise or he said he’d come and get us when we was a asleep if we told.”

He gave his mother a sorrowful look.

“Is he gonna come and get us?”

“What man? SUSANNAH?”

The armed search party found the escaped slave not far from the path, curled up under a linn tree, his last expression one of misery and pain. One foot was swollen to nearly twice the size and they could see the marks left by the fangs of a timber rattler. 

Chapter 21 is set in the Missouri Ozarks, in late fall of 1862.

Grandpa Russell is the County Judge

Grandpa Russell Comes to Supper

The table was set in the dining room because Grandpa Russell was staying for supper. He preferred his daughter Elizabeth’s cooking to that of Amanda Russell, his daughter-in-law who lived with him. 

He had picked up the mail in town when he went in for tobacco and sugar and he was skilled at arriving just as supper was nearly ready.  He was a clever old man which was a good part of why he had been appointed a judge. He heard both civil and criminal cases and when they were ended he felt he could talk about them. This evening he had two stories in mind as he sat down to the table. 

The older girls brought in the bowls of braised carrots and turnips and stewed  onions, and his daughter ‘Liza Ann brought in a large, steaming pie baked in a big pot, more of a stew with a crust on top. The crust was golden and had a distinctive vent, a knife slash of two branches curved toward each other with little slashes growing out of each one, representing leaves. It was called the Wheat Sheaf design and had been handed down by generations of women until the design became so stylized that now the mothers had to explain what the design represented.  Amanda Russell only cut a little X in the center of her pies. Her own mother and grandmother had taken an indifferent approach to cooking. ‘Liza always checked to make sure the potatoes were cooked through, Amanda wasn’t always careful about it. 

“What kind of pie is this, dear? It smells wonderful. Everything does.”

“It’s a rooster pie. I have an excess of them right now.” 

  “So, what did you hear in town today, Grandpa?” Rachel was hoping he’d mention boys her age that he’d maybe talked to, especially Daniel Bond but also hoping she’d derail his saying grace which always went on for a long time.

“This is a funny story, but funny strange not funny haha. Today I talked to Mr Turner about his son that got shot off a horse. He was just riding a horse across his pa’s field back in October after the hay was cut and stacked, and some fool shot him while he was riding that horse. If it hadn’t cost a man his life I’d say it was a hell of a shot. (Oh, sorry Elizabeth; could you pass the carrots and turnips? Thanks.)

Grace was forgotten now.

“It was one great shot. The fool that shot him was about 150 yards away.  But poor Johnnie Turner fell right down dead off that horse.”

“And the new sheriff that we got after that Confederate son of a bitch Cummings got caught (Oh, sorry again ‘Liza; could someone pass me some onions? Thanks), Sheriff Wilson, caught the fool and it turned out it was that spinster Helen Tucker’s fiancé, Nimrod Walker. 

“I asked Nimrod why he’d shot him, and his answer confounded me; said he just wanted to see if he could do it. Didn’t mean nothin’ by it. Never considered that he was killin’ a man. Durned fool.

“The trial ended about two months ago and he was hung, and Nimrod’s body was at the county morgue and waiting for someone in his family to come and claim it but his daughter told Sheriff Wilson she wanted nothing to do with the old drunk, so he notified Miz Tucker by mail thinking she’d want the old fool taken care of properly. 

“And the sheriff waited. And waited. And he complained to me and I told him he’s the law in this county. So he tried to notify Miz Tucker that he was moving the body to Stewart’s Mortuary, rode out to her house to hand her the notice but no one answered the door. He left the notice stuck in her front door and went away. (Please dip me up some of the rooster pie, m’dear? Thank ye).

“He was getting pretty sore now, was Sheriff Wilson, and after a week and no response he had Nimrod moved to Stewart’s and put into cold storage. So now it was the mortician’s turn to wait. And he sent out three notices due but he give up a couple of weeks ago so last week he got so damned mad (sorry, m’dear) that he put the body into his hearse and drove out to her place,  and left that body all wrapped up in his winding sheet on her front porch.”

Everyone gasped. There was a shocked laugh from Rachel, and she was immediately embarrassed.

“Pardon me.” The room was silent, contemplating this outburst. 

“Oh, wait, that’s not the whole story, not yet.” 

“So, no one heard from her for a week including the Mortician who happened to talk to me yesterday because he hadn’t heard from the old lady and he had thought the body on her front porch would get her attention, and I told him he can’t be doing that, just leaving a body on a porch like that, but after we talked a bit he did mention to me that he saw the sheriff’s notice was still stuck in the front door.

“So, I let Sheriff Wilson know and he went out there and banged on that front door for a while and got no response, so finally he goes around to the back and knocks on that door, and it opens, and there’s  Miz Tucker looking at him with her eyes a little wobbly, and he can smell th’ alcohol on her, and asks her why she hasn’t responded to the notices about Nimrod and she insists she hasn’t gotten them.

“Have you been down the holler to get your mail?

“She shook her head no. 

“Have you looked at your front door?”

“No, I never use that door any more. It’s stuck and this back door works just fine.”

“Ma’am, maybe you’d better come with me to your front porch,” He says. 

“And when she understands what’s on her porch she faints dead away, making the sheriff catch her, and when she wakes up she tells him she doesn’t want anything to do with ol’ Nimrod, and she’s not responsible for him or his bills.  Because now there’s a bill from the mortician for a week’s storage. She claims that they had a fight before he shot Johnnie Turner and that was the end of their relationship, and if it hadn’t ended then, it certainly would have when he murdered a man.”

“Good gravy!” The closest ‘Liza ever came to swearing, “What will happen to him?”

“Luckily, it’s been really cold this week so there was not much smell and after she insisted she wasn’t paying his bills the sheriff had the body hauled back to the morgue and he’s being buried tomorrow in the county potter’s field, behind the courthouse. He didn’t own much property, lived in a shack out back of  Miz Tucker’s house. His gun’s not worth even twenty dollars. His horse is old and not worth much either. He had about five dollars cash in his shack, in a little tin box on a shelf. That’s about half what he needs for a stone, so he’ll get a wooden cross with a number on it and if his daughter and Miz Tucker want to donate toward a proper marker we have that number on a record book in the courthouse for where he’s buried.”

They ate and ruminated on this for a while, with the occasional  giggle from one of the younger children, until Ben piped up, “Grandpa, tell another ‘un, please?”

“Well, I don’t know. There’s the one about the lady over in Cross Timbers suing a man for ‘heart’s balm’ last year, but I don’t know if yer ma will approve.” He looked at ‘Liza speculatively, “It is kind of funny in a way. 

“Miss X. We’ll call her that because she’s not much older’n Mary here, about 19 now if I recall correctly, and you might know her. The whole thing’s a bit embarrassing for her, I’m sure.  

“She and her ma, a widow, used to visit a neighbor of theirs and take him supper sometimes, an older feller of seventy-three; used to be their neighbor before he moved in with his daughter over in Jerdan.” 

Jordan was about three miles away, where the Flint Springs school stood. 

“Not gonna name him either, so let’s call him Joe, so this story is before his daughter moved him into her house in Jerden. Anyway, the old woman in Cross Timbers thought he’d make a fine second husband so she was trying to sweeten him up.

“Well, old Joe likes to tell stories and would tell them to anyone who’d listen. Loves an audience and doesn’t get them as often as he used to after he started attending the Well of Life Baptist Church there in Jerdan a few years back. His daughter made him go. Had to swear off drinking liquor and that meant not going into the saloons where he used to entertain his friends. It’s too bad, too. He told some pretty funny ones.  

“So these stories he tells are really tall tales, and no one knows if any of them are true but they’re good stories, fun to hear all about the rich gold mine he owns that got buried in a landslide in California or the ranch he’s got in Texas  but he can’t go there now what with the war and all so he’s not getting his regular income from the fellow who rents it. 

“So, Celester and her daughter Celester (whoops, I wasn’t going to say their names but mother and daughter share the same first name) So Celester, the mother, filed a suit three years ago in Hickory County claiming Breach of Promise.

“What’s Breach of Promise, Grandpa?”

“Oh, well Ben, that’s when a feller asks a gal to marry him and then backs out, and her heart is broken. That’s why it’s also called Heart’s Balm. 

“So, Celester’s not even forty, maybe thirty-six, can’t remember, and she files suit over in Hickory county against a man who’s seventy-three…”

“Why wouldn’t he marry her?”

He considered the boy for a moment before saying, “I don’t know. Maybe he just wasn’t ready for marriage yet.”

“At seventy-three?”  There was some laughter at this squeak from Rachel. 

“Yep, I don’t know why. But he didn’t marry her and she claimed he’d promised to but his daughter wouldn’t let him go to court to defend himself; she was too ashamed for her family. And this Celester woman wins the lawsuit, but Joe’d already left Crossed Timbers.”

“And then last month I get a  notice that Celester has filed a Breach of Promise suit in Camden County. It lands on my desk, and I don’t know a thing about the previous suit, not yet, but when I read up on it, seems she’s sued him for $20,000 and won by default (that’s when the other party doesn’t show up, Ben).

“So she’s got some relative to be her lawyer, a cousin or something, and in she comes all dressed in black with a black veil over her face like a widow, but I can see that she’s still attractive under there, and her lawyer presents his case, that he hasn’t paid up what he owes the widow woman.

“And I look over at the other desk and no one is there, and I’m about to award her the money even though I think it’s too much and in walks a woman with Joe and they sit down at the other desk, and I am relieved because I suspect that old Joe hasn’t got two beans to rub together. 

“I ask the lawyer representing the widow to state his case and he gets her up on the stand, she takes the oath on the Bible to tell the truth, and then she tells me the whole story about how he told her he was wealthy and got her to believe that he’d marry her and he romanced her a bit and she’d, uh, let down her guard and her honor’s been besmirched (I’m not gonna explain that word, Ben. Let’s just say she let him kiss her) and she demands just compensation for a broken heart from this wealthy man. 

“I look at the other desk and ask if they have anything to say about the lawsuit and the daughter says she has, and can she show me something? 

“So I let her come up to the bench and she hands across a paper that’s the first lawsuit and judgement, and I nod that I’ve already seen them, then she gives me a paper that says Death Certificate at the top and I’m about to ask if she’s claiming her father is dead because I recognize Joe sitting right there at the desk, but then I look again and it’s from Hickory County and the name on it is Celester’s name. 

“I look up at her all puzzled and she says, look at the dates.”

“She died three years ago?”

“Look at the death date.”

“I check it and see that we have a problem right there. I look over at the Widow and say, “Ma’am, did you just take an oath and swear to tell the truth so help you God?”

“I did, and it’s all the truth.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to take off your veil so we can see your pretty face.”

“I don’t want to do that. I’m a widow, as you can see.”

“You’re still in mourning for a husband that’s been gone for ten years and yet you let Joe here court you? Were you wearing widow’s weeds then?”

“Well, no..”

“Then lift that veil. Bailiff, you may assist her if she seems to be having some difficulty.”

“The veil was lifted and it was this girl of nineteen, maybe twenty, the daughter Celester. You can see how this works?”

Everyone above the age of 12 nodded.

  Sarah spoke slowly, puzzling over it, “There were two Celesters and the daughter was pretending to be the mother? 


“That’s right. So I asked why she was pretending to be her mother and it turned out her ma had died before the first case had ended, they work a bit slower over in Hickory County Courts, and she had played her ma in that one too at the end, by dressing in black and wearing the veil. 

“She said, “Your honor, he done the same by me as he done to my ma.” And I just looked at her, at how brazen she was.

“Are you telling me that this old man at age seventy was so attractive that both you and your mother fell under his romantic spell and allowed him to take liberties with your persons? Why, you would have been fifteen, sixteen at the time! With a man seventy years old?”

“She could hardly bring herself to admit it, and I said it was not to be believed.” 

Judge Russell looked around the table. Everyone was waiting. 

“I threw out the case and told her I was considering having her arrested for bringing a false charge before the court and impersonating her mother, which are both punishable by time in jail.”  

Everyone was very interested in this. A lady in jail? The thought was shocking. 

“Like I said, she was a pretty thing and I didn’t have her arrested but I gave her a stern warning, and her cousin is going to be at the mercy of the Missouri Legal Bar because he knew what he was doing was outside the law.”

“I tell you, the goings-on in this county could fill a book.”

“Now, Elizabeth dear, is there dessert?


This is set in the summer of 1860, in the Missouri Ozarks.

Chapter 9

Ghost Story

In the family parlor that evening Uncle Richard sat on a chair and the children sat on the floor around him. Ben was sprawled on his stomach, his arm around Beau. 

“This is a story I heard from Old Mr Beale, and I know he always tells the truth so this story must be true.”

Sarah raised her hand.  “Is this gonna be scary?” 

She shivered and the boys laughed but Aunt Lydia was serious.

“Now, Richard.”

“Now Lydia.” 

He grinned. 

“You all know there used to be gold in the hills ‘round here but that it was all mined out a long time ago. Turns out there wasn’t as much gold as was thought but for a while a man could dig for a year in just the right place and never need work again the rest of his life. 

“When the gold rush in California started in ’48 all the miners here that hadn’t had much luck just up and left. When they went, some of them left their picks and shovels and pans and everything, just sitting there for anyone to just pick up and take, and some folks did. 

“There was a man named Samuel Grundy and he had a reputation for being stingy. He called it being thrifty, but there’s a difference and he was just plain stingy so the thought of some free tools made him so happy that he danced a little jig.  He called his three sons to him and they went up into the hills, way up on Piney Ridge to get some of those tools, but Samuel was curious and took a look at one of the digs, poking around in the creeks and the tailings, and he found something in one of the camps. What do you think he found?”



“A bunny!”

“Yes, Andrew, I’m sure he saw lots of bunnies, but the rest of you are wrong.  He found a…. (pause) dead man!”

“No gold?”

“Yes, he found gold but not yet. My, you are a hard lot, more interested in the gold than the dead man. Maybe I should stop right there.” He rose as if to leave. 

There was a chorus of “No” and “Please go on” so he resettled himself and cleared his throat and continued.

“As I said, Samuel was a stingy, greedy man and he looked at that body wearing nothing but his long johns lying on the cot in the rickety little mining cabin, not even a cabin, more of a lean-to with a red blanket for a door, and decided that if they carried the body down the hills to the sheriff’s office, they wouldn’t be able to carry many of the nice tools they’d gathered. So he called his boys over and had them dig a grave for the dead man to bury him so animals wouldn’t get at the body. They wrapped the dead man in the red blanket and rolled him into the grave and buried him. Grundy found some rocks stacked up near the cabin and took them to mark the grave, because he intended to tell the sheriff where to find the body when they got down out of the hills.” 

“Well, the sheriff was none too pleased that he had to go and dig up this body before he could bring it down, but he took a shovel and his mule and went up into the hills and found the grave all right, but it was empty.  There was a neat stack of rocks near the cabin and he noticed the cabin had a red blanket where the door should be. He looked inside…. but the cabin was empty.” 

Uncle Richard looked at the children’s faces and grinned. 

“I’d bet you thought I was gonna tell you the dead man was on the cot in the cabin, but he wasn’t.”

There was a little sigh from Sarah.

“It was getting dark soon so the sheriff and his mule came down out of the hills. He fed his mule and put him in the barn, then had supper with his wife and children. When he went to bed he thought he’d dream sweet dreams but not our Samuel Grundy, oh no, not him. 

“Grundy slept poorly and was troubled by disturbing visions of the dead man all night, tossing and turning and muttering in his sleep so much that his wife got no rest at all. He dreamt that the dead man was in the Grundy’s bedroom stacking rocks beside the bed and grinning a horrible grin at him while he did so, like this.”

He suddenly leered and grimaced at the children and was rewarded by little shrieks and giggles. 

“When Grundy got up the next morning, very early because his wife finally pushed him out of bed just at dawn, he wondered why he dreamt of the stacked rocks. Did they mean something?

 “He decided, after a cold breakfast, that he might go speak with the sheriff and find out if the body had been identified and if there was a reward for finding the dead man, maybe he was wanted by the law or his family, but there was no reward because there was no dead body to be identified. 

“Grundy was disappointed but he remembered there had been something kind of sparkly and shiny in the creek next to the cabin and he thought he ought to go back and have a look, but as he had a lot of work to do around his farm he had to put it off. After a week or two he called his sons to him and proposed that they go back up to the digs to see what other tools might have been left behind, but the oldest boy had just gotten a job trimming the whiskers off of chickens…”

“Chickens don’t have whiskers!” scoffed Andrew, who was an expert in these things as well as bunnies. 

“Well, he was just that good at his job, see? But these were special rare chickens that you don’t see much any more.”

He gave the little boy a pretend-serious look.

 “Now, can I get on with the story? Thank you.

“As I was saying the oldest boy had a job so he didn’t want to go. Grundy took the two younger boys and off they went in the cart.  When they got as far as the cart could go they left the middle boy with it and unhitched the mules. He and the youngest boy continued to ride to the camp but one of the mules threw a shoe, so Grundy left the youngest boy with that mule and rode his own mule the rest of the way. 

“At the camp he saw the empty grave and the red blanket but he was too afraid to look inside the cabin.  He noticed the stacked rocks nearby and kicked it over, but then he remembered his dream about Grundy stacking rocks all night. Did the rocks mean something?”

He paused to look around the room. Susannah knew what the stacked rocks meant, she’d read about it in one of the newspapers at school but she kept quiet so as not to spoil the story. 

“The ghost was stacking them!”

“Yes, but do you know why he was stacking the rocks?”

Susannah raised her hand.

“Susanner honey, you can just speak up. This ain’t school.”

“He’s staking his claim. The miners stacked rocks to mark their claims.”

“Who is staking his claim?”

“The ghost is.” 

Uncle Richard could be just a bit exasperating sometimes. 

“That’s right, and now Grundy was a little scared because the ghost had stacked those rocks and now he’d knocked the stack down, but he looked around and found a shovel and a pick that he’d missed on the earlier trip, and went to the creek to have a look. He stood where he had before, when he had noticed something shiny and there it was again!

“Probably just a few flakes or some fool’s gold, he told himself but when he put his shovel in the creek to lift them out he hit something large and hard. Probably just a big rock, he told himself as he tried to scrape up some gravel from the bottom, but the rock was big and the more the shovel touched it and scraped against it the more shiny specks he saw but he couldn’t bring any of them up to look at them.

“I forgot to tell you that it was cloudy when he got there but now the sun was high in the sky and came out from behind the clouds and he could see that the whole bottom of the creek right there glittered and shone with gold.

“He wanted to shout “Gold! I’ve found gold!” but the boys wouldn’t hear him, they were so far down the hill. He wanted to sing and dance and caper he was so happy, because there’s nothing a stingy, greedy man loves more than gold, other than a lot more gold. 

“I am Midas,” Grundy thought, forgetting that King Midas did not have a happy end. You know that story? King Midas wished that everything he touched would turn to gold and it did, and he was happy until he found that he couldn’t eat because the food turned to gold, and he forgot and touched his daughter and turned her to a gold statue? You all know that story? Good.” 

“So Grundy took the pick and struck it right into the middle of the creek bottom, and there were three big pieces about the size of a big apple, and a fourth little piece about the size of a beet that broke off, and they were golden inside and out. He could see that the ledge of rock was golden where it was broken but he couldn’t tell how big the whole thing was. He hadn’t brought anything to carry them with, not even his saddle bags for the mules and only the beet-sized one would fit in one of his pockets, so he ran to the cabin and grabbed the red blanket and ran back to the stream, bundled the three big pieces into it, tied it, hopped on his mule and started down the hill in a hurry. When he got to the place where the mule had thrown a shoe he saw his youngest son pinned under an oak tree that had fallen down. The mule stood nearby, nuzzling the young man. He rode down to where they’d left the wagon and picked up the next oldest son and the harnesses, and rode back up to the son that was trapped, but the two of them and the one mule couldn’t move the oak enough to get him out. 

“Just then they heard a sound and were surprised to see a familiar-looking man leading a donkey with a big pack and mining tools on its back.

“Can you help us move the tree?” Samuel Grundy asked. 

“No, I can’t help you with that, but I can tell you how to get your son out.” He eyed Samuel. “What do you have of value? Not the mules, I have no use for them, and not your pocket watch or whatever it is that’s making your pocket bulge like that. Something more…. What’s in the red bundle?”

“Not that!” Said Grundy. 

“Oh, now don’t be that way.” He squinted at the sky. “It’s going be dark soon and a storm is coming, probably be a real gully-washer. Could be lightning too. Wouldn’t want your son to be out here in this, would ye?”

“Grundy thought about it and finally decided to open the bundle just a little so the man couldn’t see what was inside. He pulled out one of the big nuggets of gold but Grundy thought to himself that he would still have two pieces left, so that wasn’t too bad.  

“This should be enough for advice,” he hissed the last word at the man as he handed over the gold piece. 

“Now say, that’s fine that is. The advice I am going to give you is to stop trying to move the oak, just move the boy. Dig around him and under him until he can wriggle out.” He smiled as he tucked the nugget into his donkey’s pack. 

“I don’t have a shovel! I can’t dig him out with my hands because the dirt’s too hard.”

“Leave it at the claim, did ye? Well, I’ve got some tools, but I’ll be having another one of whatever you’ve got in the red bundle.”

“Grundy sighed and produced another nugget bigger than my fist (Uncle Richard held up his fist here) and handed it over; at least he would still have one big nugget left. 

“The man pulled two shovels from his pack and handed one to Grundy and one to his son. “What? You don’t ever think I’m going to dig him out. I will watch though, and make encouraging noises from time to time.”

“So they dug around the youngest son and he was freed very quickly. As he stood and his father embraced him, the man said, “Now, about that mule that threw a shoe. I just happen to have brought my farrier tools. I can take a look at the shoe and maybe I can fix it enough to hold until you get into town, if you like.”

The man grinned then and Grundy knew him, knew what he was. He was so scared he handed over the last big nugget without a word. The man gentled the skittish mule and took his hoof in his hands, “Now, let’s see here. You’re a good boy, why are you wearing these poorly made shoes? Why are you wearing shoes at all? You do need a trim, though.” 

“After a while he said, “There. You’ll need to take him in as soon as you get back, and find a better farrier. Whoever did the last time did a poor job and your mule is suffering. Can’t stand to see animals suffering. I’ll have the red blanket as well, thank you, and he waved as he walked away, and then turned and shouted back to Grundy, “I know what’s in your pocket. You can keep that one.”

“Now, who do you think that was?”

“The ghost! It was the ghost!”

“Right. Now, Grundy knew he’d been talking to the ghost of the dead man and he went back down the hill as fast as was safe and took the mule straight to the blacksmith; he had shod the creature himself using old shoes that did not fit and the smith, being a good man, looked at the shoes in disgust but he didn’t say anything, and the mule soon had neatly trimmed hooves and new shoes that fit.

“The storm came that night with thunder and lighting and howling wind, and Grundy slept poorly again, dreaming again that the man was stacking rocks in the bedroom, grinning and leering at him, and just as he woke he heard the man say, “Now take the other mule to the smith.” His wife turned him out of bed early again. 

“Another night like that and ye’ll be sleeping in the barn, ye hear me?” And she rolled over and went back to sleep. 

“After another cold breakfast he took the second mule to the smith as soon as the sun was up. The smith worked on the mule without a word and soon it had trimmed hooves and new shoes and seemed happier. When Grundy paid, the smith…”

“Uncle Richard, what was the smith’s name?”


He went on, “When Grundy paid, the smith whose name was Smith asked him about the dead body he’d found up the hills. 

“The sheriff never found it?”

“No sir, the grave we put him in was empty when the sheriff got there.”

“Is this up near the top of Piney Ridge, and there’s a creek right there, the one called Dead Man’s Creek? They found a body in the creek a few years back, right by a miner’s claim. Probably killed by another miner in a fight over something; maybe the claim, maybe he found gold. Funny, they buried him up there on his claim just like you did, but the markers went missing. They found the rocks they’d used stacked up where they’d found them before.”

“The smith thought about it for a minute. “Wouldn’t like to be caught up there at night.  They say the whole ridge is haunted.”

“Samuel Grundy thought he was no fool and the belief that he’d really seen a ghost faded a bit now that he was back in town and the sun was out.  He still had the smaller nugget in his pocket so he went over to the bank to see if they could tell him if it was gold. He knew that a teller named Charlie Wise had some experience with assaying.

“Grundy hadn’t looked at it since he’d put it in his pocket and when he pulled it out, Charlie cleared his throat. They both stared at it for a moment. “I don’t think I’ll need to test that,” said Charlie.

“No, I guess you won’t. I can see that it’s fool’s gold. Pyrite. But I’ll swear on the Bible that it was a gold nugget when I put it into that pocket and I haven’t taken it out before now.”

“I heard another story like that just a year ago from another feller. When he took it out of his pocket it wasn’t gold, but he claimed it was when he put it in. Seemed he had some strange adventures when he found it, too, up on Dead Man’s Creek. When my granddad was alive he’d tell us stories like this, about fairy gold that turned to worthless rocks the next day.” 

“Mr Grundy went home to his wife and sons. He stopped being so stingy and found he was happier and his wife was happier and he still had more than enough money for himself. He never again dreamt of the dead man stacking rocks in his bedroom and his wife didn’t make him sleep in the barn.”

Uncle Richard took a deep breath,  “And he never went up on Piney Ridge again as long as he lived, never went looking for gold again in Dead Man’s Creek”

There was a pause, and then came the question: 

“Why did the chickens need their whiskers trimmed?”

“To make catfish whiskers, of course. But that’s a story for another night.”

At this, Uncle Richard took out his fiddle and Aunt Lydia picked up the guitar leaning against the corner of the room and they began to play and sing “Sandy Boys”.

Raccoon’s got a long bushy tail.

Possum’s tail is bare.

Rabbit’s got no tail at all

Just a little bit a bunch of hair.


Squirrely he’s a pretty thing

He carries a bushy tail

Eats up all the mossy’s corn

And hearts it on the rail


Do come along, sandy boys

Do come along, oh do

Do come along, sandy boys

Waiting for the booger-boo


Somebody stole my old black dog

I wish they’d bring him back

He runs the big hogs over the fence

And the little ones through the cracks

After a little while the children went up to their rooms and Aunt Lydia turned a blind eye to Beau following Ben up the stairs.  Susannah found Lucy already waiting for them in the bed while the other girls changed into night clothes and climbed in. She thought her cousins smelled just a little worse than she’d noticed earlier but  there had been no bath tonight despite it being Saturday, so she thought she also might not smell too sweet right now. She didn’t suppose they’d be going to church in the morning as they’d brought no church clothes. She didn’t mind too much missing church. 

Something moved under the covers and rubbed up against Susannah’s legs. 

“Stop that, Sarah.” 

“It isn’t me!” 

She looked at Ida who shook her head. Lucy started laughing, and she laughed so hard Susannah thought she was going to choke as she nearly fell out of bed. Her laughter was contagious even though she was the only one who knew what was going on, and they were all laughing when Aunt Lydia opened the door, threw back the covers and was surprised when a little piglet looked up and grunted at her.  They all laughed harder.

The piggy was removed to the barn but after that it was difficult to go to sleep.

Ben and Beau could not be separated the rest of their time at the Russell farm and when Ben climbed into the wagon to come home from the Russell house, the dog followed him and no one could convince either of them that the dog should stay and not go to live with Ben Green.  That night Levi didn’t try to keep the hound out of Ben’s bedroom but the dog didn’t sleep in the bed with the boy; he lay on the floor at the foot of the bed as if on watch, guarding his boy.


The Bad:

When I first heard about The Sad Puppies, I shrugged and said, “Not my monkeys, not my circus”, but  eventually people I knew started talking about it in front of me, and I started reading about it.  I have read, and read, and read, about the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies and the SJWs and the CHORFs (all names given by the puppies to describe themselves and others), enough  that I have taken a side, and that side is not with the Puppies. I don’t see any way to be on the side that declares itself against tolerance and fairness, expresses itself in bigotry and misogyny (plenty of examples; google it, I won’t link to it) and speaks of conspiracies with regard to the nominating and voting on the Hugo awards, and then vows to burn it all down, the process, the Hugos, all of it.  All of this because they do not like stories written by and about women, People of Color, LGBT, or more generally anyone who isn’t a white straight male (there are a few exceptions), and that increasingly these stories are winning awards.  The Puppies’ preference is for Military SciFi and Space Opera, and Swords Wielded by Men with Bulging Muscles (and sometimes include their idea of females) in the Fantasy stories; they also complain that the winners of recent years have increasingly been works with social agendas.  It’s like Calvin’s He-Man Club: no girls allowed.

I view it as sad that there were books that might have been nominated on their own merit, might have won if they had not been included in the slates created by the  Puppies factions. They were tainted by association through no fault of their own, and three of these withdrew from the nominations because of this.

People who were not at Sasquan and did not watch the Hugo awards are throwing fits on the internet because the people the puppies nominated did not win, that the vote did not go their way, that some wooden discs with an asterisk were handed out and they think it might just be an insult to them (obviously they’ve never ready anything by the master of the footnote, Sir Terry Pratchett whose passing was honored by these asterisk discs). One is threatening a lawsuit and demanding a refund of his membership fee because the things he wanted to happen did not happen.

They took advantage of the fact that relatively few members bother to nominate anything, made up lists of authors that they felt fit their ideal of SF/F, and then urged friends and fans to nominate from their slate of approved works.  They gamed the system and now are angry that their strategy failed.  They have vowed to strike back next year.

The whole thing is at times hilarious and frustrating and exhausting.  The worst among them have declared it a victory, after their nominees lost.

I give up.


Kitty is Bored With Talk of Puppies.

The Good:

There is a bright side: I now have a reading list that is stuffed to the gills just from the nominees lists, both the official one and the ones that might have been on the ballot, and some others I have discovered during the conversation.  I don’t care which side the author was on, with rare extraordinary exception; I want to read amazing stories and funny stories and deep stories and I don’t care about the politics or the gender of the author unless it bleeds into the story, and even then I might not object even if I disagree.  I like Space Opera, I like Heroic Engineers, I like Military SciFi, if it is written well and entertaining or enlightening, or both.  Not as big a fan of Fantasy in the past 30 years, but I love Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and several other writers who do write well, entertain, and enlighten me.  Now that Sir Terry has published his final work (which I have to wait a few more days to read because I am not in London), I am looking for more authors who have a sense of humor and an original idea, or can rework a cliché into something new and hilarious.

About My Preferences:

Life is too short and you either laugh or you cry.

I want to laugh and be entertained, to read a book that is so amusing that people in the dentist’s office look up from their iPhones when I start snickering and giggling, wondering if I’m having a fit. I love seeing their puzzled faces almost as much as I love being tickled by something I’ve just read. And I want stories that are so engrossing that it’s like coming up for air from the bottom of a pool when the spell is broken.

My short list of sic-fi/fantasy authors and books/stories recently read or that I’d like to read soon:

“Occupy Me” Tricia Sullivan (will come out in January of 2016

“Nowhere Wild” Joe Beernink

“The Shepherd’s Crown” Sir Terry Pratchett

“City of Stairs” Robert Jackson Bennett

“The Slow Regard of Silent Things’, Patrick Rothfuss

“Windswept” Adam Danger Taco Rakunis
“The Regular”, Ken Liu
“Yesterday’s Kin”, Nancy Kress
“Grand Jete” (The Great Leap), Rachel Swirsky

“What Makes This Book So Great” Jo Walton

“Bone Swans” C. S. E. Cooney

“The Martian” Andy Weir

“Goodnight Stars” Annie Bellet

“Lines of Departure” Marko Kloos

“Under the Eye of God” David Gerrold (I read this years ago, a loan from a friend, and didn’t remember the name.  Intend to read again)

Books or short stories by:

Ann Leckie

Liu Cixin

Connie Willis

John Scalzi

A bunch of other people.

This is only the sci-fi part of a list  that includes authors of other genres, including murder/mystery, historical fiction, works of depth, biographies, and whatever the heck genre Craig Johnson’s Longmire series is.

So much fucking racism. Everywhere. I feel dirty because of it, as if I had waded through mud and then had more poured over me.

I’m here because I don’t know where else to vent right now. I just got into it with the guy next door, a white man in his 60s who does not own anything except a pickup, and who thinks Ron Paul is the bomb and that Obama is not a person. He told me and the neighbors that Obama isn’t a person. He said he stopped being a person when he called that Cambridge cop stupid, the one who arrested Professor Henry Gates. I said, “for being a black person in a white neighborhood?” and this neighbor said “Yeah, that’s right.”

I pointed out that Obama said the behavior of the police department was stupid but he wouldn’t listen.

Yelling ensued, mostly from him, after he realized what I had said. The neighbor was so angry that he was shaking and yelling. I walked away to get the mail, thinking he’d calm down, and the rest of the neighbors tried to help him.

God help all of you who work with an idiot like this. I’m retired so I don’t run into this so much as some of my friends do. It must be terrible. This old fart is my age and I liked him until tonight. Not sure we’ll be speaking to each other ever again.

I’m shaking right now myself.

Watch this guy whine about how he works harder than anyone else and that’s why he deserves more money than the rest of us, yada yada, blarty-blart, and then read about Buffet and others below. Their attitudes about money and taxes are refreshing:


Apparently, he feels put-upon and under-appreciated for the hard work he does which creates a lot of jobs. He also feels that small business owners are losers and that they don’t create “real” jobs.

He’s a Marketing Manager.

And then there are Buffet and others who understand the idea of a social contract.

From the 2003 Annual Report of Berkshire Hathaway:

Click to access 2003ltr.pdf


On May 20, 2003, The Washington Post ran an op-ed piece by me that was critical of the Bush tax
proposals. Thirteen days later, Pamela Olson, Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy at the U.S. Treasury,
delivered a speech about the new tax legislation saying, “That means a certain midwestern oracle, who, it
must be noted, has played the tax code like a fiddle, is still safe retaining all his earnings.” I think she was
talking about me.
Alas, my “fiddle playing” will not get me to Carnegie Hall – or even to a high school recital.
Berkshire, on your behalf and mine, will send the Treasury $3.3 billion for tax on its 2003 income, a sum
equaling 2½% of the total income tax paid by all U.S. corporations in fiscal 2003. (In contrast, Berkshire’s
market valuation is about 1% of the value of all American corporations.) Our payment will almost
certainly place us among our country’s top ten taxpayers. Indeed, if only 540 taxpayers paid the amount
Berkshire will pay, no other individual or corporation would have to pay anything to Uncle Sam. That’s
right: 290 million Americans and all other businesses would not have to pay a dime in income, social
security, excise or estate taxes to the federal government. (Here’s the math: Federal tax receipts, including
social security receipts, in fiscal 2003 totaled $1.782 trillion and 540 “Berkshires,” each paying $3.3
billion, would deliver the same $1.782 trillion.)
Our federal tax return for 2002 (2003 is not finalized), when we paid $1.75 billion, covered a mere
8,905 pages. As is required, we dutifully filed two copies of this return, creating a pile of paper seven feet
tall. At World Headquarters, our small band of 15.8, though exhausted, momentarily flushed with pride:
Berkshire, we felt, was surely pulling its share of our country’s fiscal load.
But Ms. Olson sees things otherwise. And if that means Charlie and I need to try harder, we are
ready to do so.
I do wish, however, that Ms. Olson would give me some credit for the progress I’ve already made.
In 1944, I filed my first 1040, reporting my income as a thirteen-year-old newspaper carrier. The return
covered three pages. After I claimed the appropriate business deductions, such as $35 for a bicycle, my tax
bill was $7. I sent my check to the Treasury and it – without comment – promptly cashed it. We lived in

SELECTED QUOTES from “I DIDN’T DO IT ALONE: Society’s Contribution to Individual Wealth and Success:”

“I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned.”

— Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

“My wealth is not only a product of my own hard work. It also resulted from a strong economy and lots of public investment, both in others and in me. I received a good public school education and used free libraries and museums paid for by others. I went to college under the GI Bill. I went to graduate school to study computers and language on a complete government scholarship… While teaching at Syracuse University for 25 years, my research was supported by numerous government grants… My university research provided the basis for Syracuse Language Systems…”

— Martin Rothenberg, founder of Syracuse Language Systems and Glottal Enterprises

“Lots of people who are smart and work hard and play by the rules don’t have a fraction of what I have. I realize I don’t have my wealth because I’m so brilliant. Luck has a lot to do with it.”

— Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, Inc.

“The opportunities to create wealth are all taking advantage of public goods–like roads, transportation, markets–and public investments… We are all standing on the shoulders of all that came before us, and creating a society for our children and those that come after us. We have obligations as part of that.”

— Jim Sherblom, venture capitalist and former chief financial officer of Genzyme

“I feel like there’s no way I’ve done this by myself… Every single person we worked with has contributed to making Hanna what it is today… People in Sweden don’t like paying taxes either, but nobody would ever suggest that you would close schools because you didn’t have enough money to keep them open.”

— Gun Denhart, co-founder of Hanna Andersson clothing company

I found this at Sadly, No and thought it was instructive:


If you can’t see the entire graph, click on it or the link above. The green line taking a dive to the bottom is our current situation.

job losses graph 1991 to now

Crash Course by Chris Martenson:




I’m 2/3 of the way through this series of lectures right now, and it’s quite interesting.

A Brushfire Sunset

I took this a week ago, around 4pm on the 210 freeway, in Upland. The smoke is from the Triangle Complex fire which started in Santa Ana Canyon just outside of Corona and spread to the Chino Hills and Diamond Bar.  Hundreds of homes were lost and debris landed in our garden that had traveled at least ten miles. 

Brushfires have a distinctive smell.  You learn that smell as a child and when you step outside on a windy day the scent makes your heart speed up, causes a little fear even among those whose houses are safe, but imagine what that first whiff does to the heart rate of people living in canyons and on hillsides. 

The Santa Anas are strong winds that spring up when the valleys have a few days in a row that are a little warmer, after a few colder days.  The winds dry out the air and a small grassfire that would easily be put out on a calmer day will race to become a wall of flame, climbing into the trees and leaping across roads and freeways. 

The fires are out for now but brushfire season is all year now because of the changing climate.  More Santa Ana winds predicted soon.