Saturday, April 9, 2016

Our Old Kentucky Home

                                     Chapter  Twenty-Eight

                                  A Painting by Roger Bansemer

Five years ago, in January of 2011, I began writing about Kinniconick.  This blog and the miracle of the internet put me in touch with many folks who still live there, or have memories of the place, and those contacts have made this project worthwhile.  Their love for that unique valley in Eastern Kentucky matches my own.  Whether we live near the creek or a thousand miles away, Kinney will always be our Kentucky home.

My memories of the place go back more than eighty years (my parents took me along on trips when I was a baby!)  Now I’m concerned that few of us are old enough to remember the early days, the family names, their houses, the beauty of the creek, the big timber.  Hopefully, old and new readers will add their stories about those golden days.

The golden days of my youth were associated with a stretch of Upper Kinney from the farm of Jim Stafford and his wife to the Bathiany cabin at the lower end of Pine Eddy.  Three farms existed back then, Stafford’s, McCarty’s and Bate’s.  No other habitation was to be found in those hundreds of acres, along those five miles of the creek.  Miracuously, the scene was basically the same during all of my years there, before and after I built the cabin.

                                           (click to enlarge the map)

The Staffords were up in years when I arrived on the scene but almost immediately invited me to lunch.  Their farm house was on top of a hill overlooking the valley, and I recall the view from the dining room window as we sat together and became acquainted.  I was asked to say grace and though I was never very good at it, I attempted to prove my credentials as the new neighbor, just over the hill.  They won my heart that day and are unforgettable.

My first encounter with Henry Bate was one day while fishing on Pine Eddy, when he stood on the bank and watched me casting for the elusive musky.  He was not in a good mood.  A few days before, several Wildlife agents had used electrical equipment to stun muskellunge prior to stripping them of roe and milt.  Henry saw that activity as an invasion and I had to agree with him.  Not long after, I drove into his family farm and visited.  I asked for and was given permission to land my canoe on a perfect picnic spot above the eddy, on his property.  We were always friends, from that day, but met infrequently.

I have a story as yet untold about a visit to Kinney in about 1937 or 1938.  There is an element of deja vue in this, because I actually walked on the old logging road that leads to Shabo Mekaw when I was a boy!   It’s also a story about some wonderful people who lived there.  This is a tribute toJoe and Calley McCarty.

In earlier chapters I wrote about my family’s connections with Kinney.  My Dad’s sister, Flora, was married to Dr. Oscar Schuessler, and they loved the valley, too.  They got to know the McCartys, descended from original settlers who came from Ireland during the potato famine.  Joe and Calley owned the farm at the head of Pine Eddy, the one that Herbert Zornes purchased later on, and the one that included the sixty five acres that became Shabo Mekaw.

In the spring of 1937 or ‘38, Aunt Flora and Uncle Oscar and their son, Bob, planned a trip to Kinney and asked me to go along.  We stayed over at the McCarty farm in a small guest cottage near the big house.  Bob was six or seven years older than me, and he was like a brother.  We set out one morning to explore the creek, and we followed an old logging road upstream.  It was the road to the Swirl Hole, a road that was to belong to me twenty years later.  We climbed the hill above the creek and discovered the old cemetery where the original settlers had buried their dead.  Only recently, thanks to Sharmon and Todd, we have photos to share of that ancient place.  Apparently the pioneer families were Kilgallins and  Coopers.  It would be wonderful to hear from anyone who is descended from those Irish immigrants who made their home in our Kentucky hills.

                Photos of the old cemetery taken by Sharmon Davidson
                                                            (click to enlarge)

Joe and Calley were fabulous hosts.  They typified the strong but gentle people who lived up and down the valley, devoted to the land and proud of their heritage.  Their kids were grown and had left the nest and within a few years the couple moved to Portsmouth, Ohio.  Again, I had the privilege of visiting them in their new home, along with Aunt Flora and Uncle Oscar.  I’ll never forget the night I slept there because I sank into the depths of a feather bed!

Somewhere on Upper Kinney is another ancient cemetery where generations of McCartys are interred.   I’m hoping to hear from someone who remembers the location or is descended from the clan.   It would be comforting to know that Joe and Calley are resting in the hills of their original home, their old Kentucky home.

A great Kentuckian died a few weeks ago and I had the privilege of meeting him and talking to him about the Kinniconick valley, many years ago.   Marlow Cook was the U.S. Senator from Kentucky in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  I was invited to a small gathering of  Kentucky State Senator Clyde Middleton’s supporters in Covington back then, and Senator Cook was there.  He was very familiar with Kinniconick and with many folks in and around Vanceburg.  The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act had been enacted the year before and I had the opportunity to describe our stream as a perfect candidate because of its unique geology and marine life.  The Senator was enthused and promised to work for that ambitious goal, but unfortunately the stream was never protected by the Act.   It isn’t too late for the people of Lewis County to save the stream.  We hope and pray that Kinniconick will always run clean and clear, through a valley where forested hills are uncut, where so many distinguished Kentuckians made their homes and were laid to rest. 

Friday, October 30, 2015


                            Chapter Twenty-seven

               OUR   RIVER   RUNNING   CLEAR


                                    Watercolor by Winslow Homer

 A vision for Kinniconick, in the words of a poet:

             “Memory, native to this valley,
              will spread over it like a grove,
              and memory will grow into legend,
              legend into song,
              song into sacrament.”  

Wendell Berry, one of Kentucky’s greatest sons, a renowned author and poet, was born in the Kentucky River valley and lives there still.  Most of his work is dedicated to the land that he loves and to preservation of the environment.

When I discovered “A Vision”, one of his most eloquent poems, I was struck by his message of renewal and hope in the face of desecration.  He urges us to “to survive, to stand like slow-growing trees on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it”, and one day “the river will run clear, as we will never know it”.

Those of us who have loved and continue to love the Kinniconick Valley have known “the abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds” and will never lose hope that Kinney will “run clear again “.

A  VISION   by  Wendell  Berry

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it…
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides…
The river will run
clear, as we will never know it…
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields…
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling light.

This is no paradisiacal dream.
Its hardship is its reality

Monday, October 5, 2015

"Your Cabin in the Woods

                                               Chapter Twenty-six

              “ YOUR  CABIN  IN  THE  WOODS”

                                     Watercolor by Kris Parins

In 1945, Conrad Meinecke published a book entitled “Your Cabin In the Woods”.  Somehow I happened to find a copy soon after it was written.  It was full of drawings, presumably by the author, illustrating floor plans and construction details, and it related the author’s experiences over many years as he built a number of cabins in remote spots around the country.  Most of all, it expressed the man’s philosophy, how he found peace in nature and solitude in a rustic retreat.  The book added to my dreams and influenced my future.

Earlier chapters of this blog have told the story of Bathiany’s cabin and how it affected my boyhood years.  When I was a teen-ager in high school, I began to day-dream about having my own cabin in the woods one day.  Then, having graduated from college, I enlisted in the US Navy, and during many days and nights at sea my cabin dream never ended.  

To my surprise, Navy life appealed to me a lot.  I rose in rank to LTJG and when my tour came to an end, I was offered a full Lieutenant’s commission if I re-enlisted.  It was a very tempting offer:  an honorable career with the possibility of promotions, an early retirement with great pension and benefits.  As I reflected on the kind of life I would lead in the Navy, one obstacle would not go away.  My cabin dream would have to be put on hold until I retired 25 years later!

And so I left the service and made a career in civilian life.  The year was 1957, and by Autumn of that year I had purchased the first acreage on Kinniconick.   I was 26, unmarried, with about three thousand dollars in the bank.  The economics of those times were different than they are today.  In the next twenty years, my total investment in land and buildings at ShaboMekaw was less than $10,000.    Sixty acres of woods fronting on a beautiful stream averaged about $75 per acre.  I put about $4,000 into the cabin.  Of course those numbers are no longer relevant because of inflation and population growth and land development, but if you are out of college and have a good job you might consider investing in a similar adventure.  I’m assuming that you are intrigued by the entire concept of cabin life.  

For me, a cabin represents the longing that some of us feel for a simple life.  A cabin can take you back in time, to a place that is closer to the natural world, but it must be hidden among trees, it must be far from the sounds of civilization, it must be lit by lamplight and warmed by a roaring, fireplace-fire.  In a cabin, your senses come alive in ways you’ve never imagined:  absolute silence, or wind in the trees, a hundred birdsongs, the music of flowing water, rain on the roof.  The golden glow of kerosene lamps on ceiling beams. The smell of your cabin when you approach the door, pine and cedar, spruce and fir.  Cabin odors will permeate all of your possessions.  Walk in the woods or wade in the creek and then return to a rustic shelter.  Cook over an open fire and sip wine with family or friends.  Sight and sound and smell, all of those senses will be truly awakened in you, perhaps for the first time.

Search for a piece of land as far away from towns and development as possible.  You will pay far less per acre for land that is not prime agricultural or close to the suburbs. You can realize your dream by purchasing just five or ten acres if well situated.  When I discovered my place in 1957 I bought fifteen acres, then added 45 more a couple of years later.  Pitch a tent for a year or two and then build a small place that can be enlarged or may become an outbuilding.  In my first year at ShaboMekaw, realizing that I needed a place to store tools and to sleep-over (the place was 100 miles from home) I built an 8’ x 12’ shed.  We called it “the Shack”.  With help from my Dad and Brother-in-law, we erected the place on several weekends.  Much of the material was donated by friends:  wooden skids and skid-lids came from printing and bindery acquaintances.  Two used, old windows and a door came from Dad’s employer, the Early & Daniel Company.  Jim Geers, my sister’s husband, was a power house and the two of us hauled sandstone slabs from the creek to form the foundation. 

Because of the distance from home to my cabin site, and because I was into a new job that kept me close to work, I elected to have a cabin built by a company in Bellaire, Michigan.  Pre-cut white cedar and spruce was delivered to the site with two carpenters and in one week the place was under roof.  The fireplace and chimney, foundation and sub-floor were all previously completed.  Believe it or not, the cabin package including labor and delivery was $2,500 in those days, for a 16’ x 40’ building!   Interior finishing came later and I had the help of relatives and friends.  If you can work on a place closer to home and have a helper or two, it’s possible for you to build a cabin of modest size from the ground up.      

Some folks dream of a cabin in the woods but never find the perfect place.  Others think that they should wait and do it when they retire.  I agree with the advice of an old Roman scholar: 

“Carpe Diem!   Seize the Day for Time is Running Away”.

Saturday, August 8, 2015


                                           CHAPTER   TWENTY-FIVE

                         IN    WILDNESS
                    IS   THE   PRESERVATION                                             OF  THE   WORLD


                   Oil Painting by William T. Richards

In an essay entitled “Walking”, Henry David Thoreau wrote:  “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”  Today, we live in a world that disdains wilderness.  In less than 300 years, colonization of the eastern half of North America has reduced forest cover by over fifty percent.  The loss and degradation of habitat has resulted in the extinction of thousands of animal and plant species.  Our rivers and streams have suffered from pollution, erosion and silting.  Our springs and aquafers are drying up.   
Native Americans believed that the land and all of its resources belonged to everyone.  They believed in the sacred power of nature.  They respected the animals, the fish and the forests and for thousands of years they lived on this continent while preserving wilderness.  Unfortunately, our American history is a sordid tale:  the “divine rights of kings” allowed the New World to be conquered and its land to be seized, and then granted in vast tracts to the nobility.  Indian tribes were slain, decimated by disease and driven from their homes.  Our founding fathers, while setting a new nation on an admirable course in terms of personal freedom and liberty, failed to plan for the protection of resources.  There were no limits on the abuse of land and water, no laws to prevent exploitation and greed. 

Then, when Theodore Roosevelt became President in 1901, the nation was made aware of the need for wilderness conservation.  He said:  “The rights of the public to natural resources outweigh private  
 rights and must be given first consideration.”  The power of eminent domain allowed him to create five national parks, four game refuges and fifty-one bird sanctuaries.  He established the National Forest Service and passed the National Monuments Act.  If our founding fathers had understood the importance of conservation when the nation was born, or if Teddy had been around back then, this land would be a better land.  If the new nation had listened to Native Americans, a lot more of the land would belong to all of its citizens. 

 The founding fathers might have decreed that wilderness would exist along the banks of all of our rivers and streams, in perpetuity.  A set-back of 500 or 1,000 feet from the banks of those streams might have been declared park land, free of cultivation, wild, belonging to all of us.  Think of the implications for the health of those waters, the reduced erosion and silting.  Imagine the amount of habitat for plants and animals in those millions of acres of public lands. 

Naturally, this takes me back to Kinniconick and especially the sixty wooded acres I called “Shabomekaw”.  For almost a mile, the stream flowed through wilderness.  The wildlife, tree and plant species there were extraordinary.  Eastern Ruffed Grouse drummed in the spring.  Fox squirrels, big red furry animals, were in the trees.  Flying squirrels nested in a tree near the cabin.  Fox barked in the night.  Whippoorwills and owls serenaded in the clearing.  Tree frogs and bull frogs were in abundance.  In the Spring of one year, hundreds of spring peepers, tiny frogs measuring less than two inches, and famous for their high-pitched mating calls, gathered on the gravel beach down at the Swirl-hole.

Recently a viewer of this blog contacted me to discuss salamanders.  He is doing some scientific research on the species and read about Kinniconick, once a mother-lode for hunters of mud puppies and hellbenders.  I replied to his email with this story:

“Sometime in the 1960s a group of Procter and Gamble friends were at the cabin and one of them had a weekend place on the Little Miami, where he loved to set trot-lines (something I had never tried). He proceeded to set one across the Swirl Hole, the deep pool below the cabin.  Next morning we ran the line and a salamander-type creature had been hooked.  No one in the group, including myself, had ever seen a specimen like it.  It was about 18 or 20 inches long, had small foot-like appendages, was mottled brown and gray as I recall.”

The creature was a hellbender.  It is one of several giant salamanders that began to appear in Asia and North America over 60 million years ago.  Think about it:  a living fossil that began to live in Kinniconick from the earliest days of the stream’s existence, two or three million years ago.

Some research on the internet informed me that this species was always rare because it requires clean, moving water and rocky-river-bottoms.  The Kinniconick that I love was just such a stream, but inevitably water quality and habitat were affected by development and siltation.  My new-found correspondent told me that the hellbender is close to extinction.

The extinction of species is a monumental tragedy when man-made events are the cause of those extinctions.  Natural extinctions have occurred since the beginning of time but in the last few hundred years the rate of die-off has accelerated and experts estimate that extinctions are now between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than in past aeons.  

The Center for Biological Diversity has written this about the extinction crisis:  “It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century……99 percent of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss, the introduction of exotic species and global warming.”  Amphibians, birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, plants and reptiles, all are endangered.  Like the “canary in the coal mine” each of them tells us to change our ways, believe that climate change is real, support efforts to cut carbon and toxic emissions and save essential habitat.

Thoreau was aware in 1851 that dark forces were at work even then.  He was able to foresee the effects of over-population and unfettered capitalism and the disappearing wilderness.  He may even have predicted the mass extinction that threatens us today.  These are some of the words he wrote in “Walden”: 

“Not till we are lost……not till we have lost the world….do we begin to find ourselves.” 


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Father's Day

                               Chapter Twenty-four

                           A    GIFT   TO   DAD

My father died in 1975.  I think of him not only on Father’s Day.  He has stayed in my special memories for forty years. His gifts to me shaped my life, and too often I regret my failure to acknowledge those gifts while he lived.  Now I realize that I gave him something that made his last years the happiest of his lifetime.

Dad was born in 1900.  William Arthur Lobitz, Jr. was an outstanding athlete early on, so he dropped out of school and played semi-professional football and baseball, ending that career with a semi-pro team in Marshalltown, Iowa.  A few scouts watched him pitch two no-hitters and though he never got a call to the big leagues, his looks and personality paid off and in the Roaring Twenties he sold radios and cars.  After he married my Mom in 1923 he was riding high.  My sister Betty was born in 1924 and for five years our family’s fortunes soared, but then came the Great Depression. 

Because the Lobitz clan had discovered Kinniconick in the early twenties, Dad was a fishing enthusiast.  A tradition among members of the angling fraternity back then was to gather at the old Bolles, Brendamour Sporting Goods Company in downtown Cincinnati.  Every Saturday afternoon a crowd gathered at the tackle counter in the impressive store, a place not unlike the original Abercrombie and Fitch in New York, festooned with art and mounted specimens of deer and moose heads and fish. 

The Great Depression put Dad out of work because people no longer could afford radios and cars, but fate intervened one Saturday when he met Wid Daniel of the Early and Daniel Company at the tackle counter conclave.  Wid liked to fish but he also took a liking to Dad and hired him on the spot.  It was this good fortune, a good job with a good company, that enabled Dad to provide for our family, especially since another mouth had to be fed when I was born in 1930. 

Dad’s gifts to me …….
I was included in all of his recreational pursuits, taught to fish when I was a baby, taught to cast lures and flies as a boy, taken on four-day trips to lakes in Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, brought up with a love of Kinniconick.  Every summer our family vacationed, first on a lake in northern Indiana, then in Michigan and Canada.  He always had time for me, he always included me in his life.  Most of all, he was the best judge of character of any man I’ve ever known.  His friends were legion and those friends became my heroes, too.

Early in the 1930’s a group of angling enthusiasts, including Dad, organized the Cincinnati Angling and Casting Club.  A benefactor provided his thirty acre property and four acre pond on the outskirts of the city, along with a small clubhouse, and this became the home of a wonderful group of people for over 25 years.  The Club prospered at Woods Lake and was central to my family’s social life, the place we spent our Sunday afternoons, participating in tournaments and picnicking with friends. This photo, dating to about 1937 or 1938, was taken at the Club and includes most of the original Board of Directors.

                                  The Cincinnati Casting Club / circa 1937
                                         (click on photo to enlarge)            

Back row, left to right:  Phil Auel, Irv Macke, Dad, Ed Kreibel
Front row, left to right:  Larry Sullivan, Ed Brendamour, Lee Clayton, Charlie Niehaus, Bert Milner, Marvin Hedges.  Hedges was the National Distance Fly Casting Champion at the time.

When he was about sixty years of age Dad developed serious bronchial symptoms and this led to emphysema, a lung condition that is life threatening.  He retired, quit smoking the cigarettes that had caused the disease, and began a medical regimen that gave him another fifteen years of life.  Until the last year or two, and despite some breathing difficulties, Dad had a wonderful time.  He fell in love with the cabin at Kinniconick.

My gift to Dad…..
I was the son who came to love Kinniconick as much as he loved it, and I was the son who was inspired to build a cabin on its banks, a cabin like Bathiany’s, not far from our favorite fishing hole, Pine Eddy.  Dad was instrumental in completing all of the finish work that went into the cabin.  He was retired and had a lot more time to spend at Shabo Mekaw, so Mom and Dad spent many weeks up there, sometimes with relatives and friends.  It became their second home.  Dad was a perfectionist and every project was a masterwork that gave him immense satisfaction.    

A week or two before Dad went off to the hospital for the last time, he wanted to talk.  Our conversation that evening was an emotional experience that I will never forget.  He wanted me to know how much the cabin had meant to him.  He felt enormous pride in the fact that his son had realized a dream that he had always had deep in his own heart.  Our mutual love for that place brought us closer as his life came to an end. 

                               Dad fishing for muskies on Pine Eddy, circa 1935
                                                  (click on photo to enlarge)

Monday, May 25, 2015


                                          Chapter Twenty-three


                                                      Watercolor by Steve Esteban

When I discovered the poetry of Jeff Hardin several years ago, I read his “Always Upstream or Downstream” and was moved to tears.  Jeff is a Professor of English at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, Tennessee, and has published many poems and several books.  This particular poem recalls a stream in Tennessee where, as a boy, he floated a canoe with his best friend, not his “brother by blood”, but one “whose memory on earth” was worth fighting for.  “Men grow old to learn a young boy’s trust of everything that is”, the poet says.  Read slowly, to the very last line, and tell me if this is not an eloquent paean, combining love and nature, life and longing.

 Always Upstream or Downstream
               By Jeff Hardin

We'd push out in an old canoe to float Horse creek,
fishing poles in hand, a Maxwell House can of red worms
dug up from a place we kept a secret past the barn.
Maybe we had all day—who knows—and maybe a day
meant nothing to us, for all of eternity belonged
to the wind on our faces and the slip-slap sound
of the paddle seeking cool and dark-green, still pools
thick with bream and bass and slick-bellied catfish.
Someone had told us catfish were mythic creatures
that could rise up to walk on water and up the slick banks
to perch themselves in cottonwoods; and maybe they could,
but we never saw them, always upstream or downstream
and never quite lonely enough in our hearts. Albert,
who was not my brother by blood but whose memory
on earth I'll fight you for, would take his rod and reel,
bait the hook with such a gentleness, a patience—
he made a music of it, a visionary music
in praise of fish hid out beneath decaying logs
or sunning themselves in shallows. Such iridescence,
olive and yellow—such craft of dorsal fin and gills.
And the two of us stalled in the middle of nowhere,
the only two people in the history of the world
who would ever see these fish! His cast was flawless,
smooth, almost silent, a balletic motion despite the limbs
we had to navigate. The world believed its wars
and greed, believed its clocks and fame and arguments
of history, while silence seemed to push at us
from every side, until the boat bumped the creek bed.
Even now the bliss of that surprise, the memory of it,
the climbing out to drag and tug, to hear the grit
of an existence that sometimes must be hauled
from one dry place to deeper water. Men grow old
to learn a young boy's trust of everything that is;
but Albert won’t grow old, just young and younger,
forever tying flies, biting off the excess string,
trailing his hand in the coolest water of earth;
and I’ll grow old and older, the wide world filling up
with loss of all we ever saw and marveled at
there on that creek from which long summers go on drinking.
Copyright (c) 2010 by Jeff Hardin. All rights reserved.

My old canoe floated many miles on Kinniconick and I sensed the same silence and then the surprise, “the climbing out to drag and tug, to hear the grit of an existence that sometimes must be hauled from one dry place to deeper water”.  Moving upstream was always a battle when the creek was high, but “even now the bliss of that surprise, the memory of it”, makes me want to cry.  Upstream, something like the life we live, the goal we reach after battling many currents.
And finally, Jeff Hardin speaks to old men like me: 
“I’ll grow old and older, the wide world filling up
with loss of all we ever saw and marveled at
there on that creek from which long summers go on drinking.”

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Feasts Made for Laughter

                                         Chapter Twenty-two


The fire-place in the cabin at ShaboMekaw.  That’s a mounted muskellunge caught by the author in Wisconsin, but the same species of fish inhabited Kinniconick and grew just as big.

The cabin at ShaboMekaw was an important part of my life for twenty years.  Looking back at all of the breakfasts, lunches and dinners that were served up to family and friends on hundreds of weekends, and recalling the folks seated around a  hand-hewn table with a view of mountains and creek, I’m reminded of how delicious the food tasted in that rustic retreat.  Good food and drink made for hundreds of “happy hours”.
Soon after the cabin was constructed, I installed a propane gas stove, a very efficient four-burner with a small, gas-operated fridge below.  The stone fire-place was constructed with a raised hearth because it would serve as an indoor grill when the weather was suitable.  In the heat of summer, an outdoor grill was employed.  Wherever cooking took place the chef was surrounded by guests.

 In this photo, the propane stove/fridge is visible in the “galley”, behind the bar. The kitchen sink was next to the stove, beneath a window, and the hanging cabinet held glassware and dishes.  (click to enlarge)

This was the dining area with a big window overlooking the “Swirl-hole”.  The table was crafted by my Dad and me from Tennessee red cedar logs.  The hanging lamp was an “Alladin” which produced brilliant light by pumping a base containing kerosene and then igniting a mantle.

The dinner that became a “signature dish” at the cabin was beef roasted in the fireplace along with foil-wrapped Idaho potatoes and a simple salad.  Porterhouse steaks cut to a thickness of about three inches were broiled over a bed of embers, preferably made from a beechwood fire.  When the bed of coals was just right, a basket grill containing the steaks was placed on an iron grate, and because I had wrapped the steaks with bacon strips a lot of flames erupted and charred the bacon.  Then the chef kept a close eye on the embers in order to control the cooking time.  In those days beef was mostly grass-fed, more flavorful and tender.  When served, the charred bacon was removed but it had imparted its distinctive character to the meat.  When all went well the meat was cooked to medium-well and medium-rare, but once in a while it was too rare for a few particular folks.  A hunk of the beef was returned to the fire and the feast was finally devoured.

On occasion porterhouse was replaced by whole beef tenderloins.  When I purchased them at Avril’s meat market in downtown Cincinnati back then big tenderloins cost about ten dollars each!  A good friend and frequent guest at the cabin called the prized cut “elephant wang”.  The same friend was disappointed on one occasion when I introduced a boned, stuffed leg of lamb though it was grilled in the same way and was scrumptious.

One memorable dinner was not cooked over an open fire.  Several men who worked in the paper and printing industry were guests and one, a guy from Maine, brought live lobsters for Saturday night dinner.  A big cauldron of water was placed on one of my small propane burners and we got into a “very-happy -happy -hour” and waited for the water to boil.  As I recall, it took all of an hour to bring it to a boil, the pot being large and half-filled, and at one point we thought it was a lost cause.  How would those lobsters react to being thrown into the fireplace embers? At last the critters took the plunge into boiling water and we feasted on them, and after several martinis they were the best I’ve ever eaten. 

Breakfast usually included bacon and eggs, and I’ll always associate those cooking aromas with early mornings at the cabin, when mists began to rise from the creek to the top of the mountain ridge across the way, and the sun beamed through blue skies.  Some of the best bacon ever was procured at a meat market in Vanceburg where locally smoked “jowl” bacon was available.  Jowl is the cheek of the hog and is thicker, more heavily smoked and saltier than the commercial product.   

Without electricity, we toasted bread on a wire rack that sat on one of the stove burners.  Coffee was brewed in an old-style “drip” pot, and I’m convinced that new electric makers are incapable of producing the same marvelous taste and smell.   

Looking back I can’t recall entertaining teetotalers at the cabin.  Happy Hour was always celebrated before dinner and for some reason a cabin mellows people in a lot of ways.  We drank mostly gin back in those days but whiskey and scotch were available, too.  In my days as a buyer at the Procter and Gamble Company, I made lifelong friendships with four co-workers and they became regulars at the cabin for twenty years.  On a Kentucky Derby weekend one year, a member of the group brought a beautiful silver bucket, fresh mint and a bottle of Bourbon, filled the bucket with ice and then swirled the contents until a rime of ice coated it.  We passed the bucket as we sat in a circle before the fire and drained it, the cabin glowing with the laughter of old friends.

One weekend  I entertained a group of suppliers from the Michigan Carton Company.  Soon after we arrived some bad weather moved in and it rained continuously for two days.  Happy Hours were somewhat extended.  I do have a vivid recollection of the four of us sitting on the porch after dinner, with rain pouring down, a black night with thunder and lightning booming.  We talked about a lot of things, but then one of the guests from Michigan began to tell about his experiences during the Second World War.  We were taken back to the jungles of New Guinea,  the torrential rains, the dripping forests, and the stories got better and better as the night wore on.  The more we drank the more we laughed, there in the dark, in the wooded mountains of Kinniconick.

When I look at photos of the cabin interior I want to picture in my mind all of the many friends and relatives who sat around the big table and in chairs near the fire, over all of those twenty years, and keep them alive in my heart, because most of them are no longer living.  Sure, it’s a sad exercise in a way but in another it’s a commemoration. 

Those cabin feasts were “made for laughter”. 

                         The cabin:  a place made for feasts and laughter.

(The title of this chapter is inspired by Craig Claiborne and his book “A Feast Made for Laughter”.)