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     One day I met the church secretary hurrying toward the sanctuary with various linens draped over her arms. "I've got to change the condiments," she said.     

     Many churches that follow the Liturgical Year calendar change their communion table and pulpit paraments to whatever color represents each season. But condiments? I did a double-take.   

     "You're about to change what?"

     "Oh, I meant paraments. I get those two words mixed up."

     I confessed to her that I also get 'condiments' mixed up with some other word. "But it's not paraments," I said.

     Over a month later, while packing travel-size toothpaste, hair conditioner and such for a week away from home, I remembered! The word I confuse with condiments is toiletries.

     There's no explaining why or how either of us can possibly get those words mixed up. But so long as no mustard appears on the communion table and I don't shampoo my hair with mayonnaise, the mix-ups should prove harmless.

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Bird Power

     While listening to—watching, actually—a cardinal sing on an electrical wire one early a.m., it occurred to me that, if humans had comparable vocal volume per ounce of weight, microphones might never have been invented. Or needed.

     Similarly, were humans to gain the memory of a mockingbird, our species could quote entire Shakespearean soliloquies—heck, maybe the whole plays (yikes)—by rote.

       If our vision were as good as an eagle's eyes, scientists' reliance on microscopes and telescopes would be hugely diminished or unnecessary.

     Should the grip in our hands match the strength in a screech owl's wee talons, we…uhh…might not fall out of trees? Oops, one analogy too many.

     The bottom line being, we who are earthbound have reason to look up to and admire the miracles flitting about above us.

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Fair Weather Cats

We have two cats who, for weather-related reasons, live on our front stoop. Blackie, the smaller one, has a store-bought bed that's just the right size for her to curl up in. Blossom, who is big, prefers a large cardboard box with its cushy cushion and a blanket draped to protect her from the wind if there is any.

Comfort-wise, this setup is hard to beat if you are a cat. As to décor, the arrangement lacks couth. But it's too late to convince these creatures of habit to live in the toolshed. So they're fixtures at the only other available spot that's safe from rain and snow.

He who feeds our cats lives in another section of the house. To get to the main part, he has to cross the aforementioned stoop. When the cats think they're hungry, they let him know the minute his door opens. If they are genuinely hungry, a cacophony ensues (more appropriately spelled, in this instance, cat-cophony). Their beds are directly below the windows in my office. So I hear their every meow.

The other thing Blackie and Blossom mainly complain about is the weather. In their furry minds, the hand that feeds them obviously controls the rest of the world. So when temperatures soar or dip beyond their comfort zone, he gets an earful. Ditto when the weather gets their paws wet.

A couple of nights ago a weather forecaster showed a chart verifying that February 2019 is the wettest since such records have been kept for Tennessee. Our cats do not appreciate chart-topping statistics. They are as disgruntled as dry cats can get.

One soggy morning, the moment the hand-that-feed's door opened, meows split the air. Blackie and Blossom sounded more like a horde of cats than two. "Enough! Stop this idiocy!" they yelled. "We have vermin to catch, birds to stalk, fencerows to investigate, sunny spots to seek out. We demand justice!"

In my dry cubby on the other side of the wall, I added a heart-felt fist-pump to their decree.

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A couple of weeks ago I was on my way to the backyard swing with an early a.m. cup of coffee when a skunk wandered into view. As I sipped coffee indoors, I watched the intruder through the window. There was no denying its beauty — solid black except for glaringly white bushy eyebrows that met in the middle. For no discernable reason I named that skunk Bo-Peep.
Thus began a daily skunk patrol. After pouring my coffee, I’d look out various windows to case both the front and back yards before sticking the first toe outside. Then I’d venture no farther than a chair on the patio near the back door with that first cup of coffee.
This morning I decided: enough! Rather than let Bo-Peep rule, I returned to the swing. To celebrate this bravery, before going inside I gave my raised bed plants a good watering and weeded a small swatch of herbs planted near the patio. As I turned to collect the pulled weeds, a skunk ambled out from behind the toolshed. It was bigger than Bo-Peep with white drizzling down from its topknot and a white tip on its tail.
I watched Skunk #2 from various windows for probably half an hour. Till then I hadn’t known that, if a skunk has an itch, it will sit down (or not bother to sit) and scratch with its hind foot like a cat or dog. In its wanderings, S-2 kept its nose to the ground, searching with a sweeping motion like a Geiger counter. He found some irresistible morsel under the magnolia tree and dug with such vigor, he was standing on his head with his tail high in the air — the ‘spraying’ stance that I hope never to see up close.
After inspecting the back yard, S-2’s wanderings took him to the front yard near Miss Maple. Then he returned to the back, checked out the area around the toolshed, and went down our hill. On his way back up, after enjoying some tender treat found beneath the climbing rosebush, he disappeared around the house and I gave up following his journey.
Bottom line? 5:30 a.m. coffee in the swing will not resume in the near future.
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J. B.’s Carving Tree

During one episode in Summer of the Skunks, Calvin and Jill Clark harbor a down-on-his-luck family friend, J. B. Walker.
Whenever Jill can get away unnoticed, she joins J.B. in the pasture at his ‘carving tree,’ hoping he’s in a storytelling mood. She is seldom disappointed.
Long after the novel was published and making its way in the world, I began to wonder if the tree I had created on paper (actually, at keyboard) might really exist. The only way to satisfy that curiosity was to, well, seek out such a tree.
I expected the quest to be long-lived. But during my next walk in a nearby park, a couple of the trees I often passed, if viewed through a forgiving lens, were facsimiles of the fictional one.
To settle for either, however, diminished the challenge.
Gas prices were falling, and our county was not yet totally entombed in pavement. I’d search high and low, near and far…
Around the next bend, there it stood — tall, full-leafed, roots sprawling above-ground — J.B.’s carving tree.
The emerging visual was even easier to see than the tree. There on the biggest root sat J.B.in scuffed up but clean brogan shoes, khakis, a gently fading blue shirt with sleeves rolled to his elbows, his carving knife making slow steady passes along the chunk of wood in his left hand.
Across from him on a smaller root, Jill leaned toward J. B.’s story. Her left hand idly patted Calvin’s old dog Bo, whose likeness was emerging beneath J.B.’s knife strokes.
Look carefully at the tree roots pictured above. Your mind's eye will likely picture J.B. and Jill, as mine did. Read More 
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