As I’ve aged I’ve always sort of looked forward to winter. With no yard to mow or weeds to whack, winter generously hands a day of the week back to me, which I spend on enriching pastimes like watching football till my eyeballs roll out of my skull.
It wasn’t that way when I was young.
For one, the current dizzying array of televised sporting events wasn’t available in the 1970s. The old cliché is that back then we had three channels. In the mountains, that cliché did not hold. We had one.
The signal from WATE in Knoxville, Tennessee caromed properly off enough hillsides to be redirected to our antenna 80 feet or so up the hill in our pasture. The quality of the signal varied from pretty good to fuzzy to nonexistent after a snowstorm or lightning strike fried the works.
For years NBC and NBC alone was the network available in the Buchanan household, and it wasn’t bad, offering “Bonanza,” “Star Trek” and “Daniel Boone,” all of which had better role models than, say, every reality series ever made.
On the downside, my cultural window didn’t swing open very wide, which sometimes put me at a disadvantage. At a conference in Raleigh early in my newspapering career – OK, actually it was at a bar, but there was a conference somewhere around there – the colleague I was visiting with leapt from his stool like he’d seen Lincoln’s ghost.
“IT’S CHARLES KURALT!”
I didn’t know Charles Kuralt from Adam’s dog. We didn’t pick up CBS.
Anyway, my friend turned into a complete fanboy and blubbered his way over to the table of Kuralt and, I think, his business manager, demanded to buy them a drink, and proceeded to swoon and fawn for awhile before they made him disengage and sent him back my way.
I couldn’t really say I met Charles Kuralt.
Although I did when I presented the bar tab those guys ran up to my employer at the time.
Anyway, TV was once not the slothful agent it is today, and even if we’d had all the premium sports packages available today it wouldn’t have mattered, because when winter rolled around and hunting season shut down, it was time to turn from the woods to … well, the woods.
We had a near-vertical chunk of property behind the house that had long ago been a cornfield but had since become a thriving jungle, and Daddy had his mind set to turn it into a pasture. That involved cutting down trees, clearing brush and burning refuse.
Aside from not being able to watch TV, should it be available, Daddy’s plan presented one other drawback: Jake.
Jake was the first of the annual head of cattle we’d raise in the pasture, and Jake got there before there was much pasture to be had. This seemed to put Jake in a dour mood, and being not quite a Longhorn but not very far from it, he would attempt to take those moods out on anything available.
At first Jake took out his dissatisfaction by taking advantage of the terrain and jumping the fence with ease. Now, the fence was plenty high, but it couldn’t quite keep up with the slope of the land. Think of it as a high jumper on a track team: It’s easy to clear six feet when you’re already standing at eight feet.
The solution was to raise the fence to where the pasture resembled the boundary of Stalag 13, and Jake stayed put.
And got surlier.
When we went in to drop trees and build and burn brush piles, Jake clearly viewed us as interlopers, and you had to keep an eye on him as he vectored in to defend his turf.
His territoriality wasn’t restricted to humans. Rabbits enraged him to no end, and he spent many a day digging into our brush piles to flush out the bunny invasion.
This backfired on him in spectacular fashion one winter day when we set a brush pile ablaze. It got cooking pretty good when I saw a hare in there, working its way out toward the edge.
Jake saw it too, and immediately set phasers on kill. Only Jake didn’t bother to go around the bonfire. Figuring a straight line was the most direct path to bunny mayhem, he walked right into the blaze.
Pretty soon it was evident Jake was on fire.
Just as evident was the fact that Jake flat did not care. He was dialed in on Thumper, murder in his eyes.
I shoveled snow on his back just as the rabbit broke cover and bolted down the hill. Jake broke as well.
It looked a lot like footage from World War II of a Japanese fighter going down, trailing smoke. With a bunny in front of it.
The sight was sort of majestic.
I never saw anything like that on NBC.
Jim Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.