Loons!

Loons. Jenny Gaffron Woytek. August 2020.

Here are some loons that I saw during my socially-distanced trip to a house located on a cove of a very large lake.

I actually watched these loons from my kayak during a sunrise paddle. I watched the loons call out to another loon. I posted the iPhone video of this encounter on my Facebook page.

Here’s Some Stuff About Bigfoot

Almost every year, I enter the Ligonier Valley Writer’s annual Flash Fiction Writing Contest. The prizes aren’t big. But – there’s no entry fee, and you don’t need to belong to this group in order to enter. From what I understand, the winning entries are read at Greensburg area venues around Halloween.

Each year’s contest requires a story of 1,000 words or less on that year’s stated theme. In 2018, that theme was “Bigfoot.” I submitted an entry to the contest.

Then I learned that my mom was really sick with cancer. I forgot about Bigfoot.

A few days before my mom passed away, I received an email from the Ligonier Valley Writers. The email told me that the contest awards only six prizes each year (First, Second, and Third Place, and also three honorable mentions), but that the contest organizers wanted me to know that I actually placed in the top ten of all entries. The email indicated that the top scores were close together. The contest organizers invited all ten writers who placed in the top ten to read their stories at a flash fiction party in Greensburg. Unfortunately, I had to decline the offer because this event was held the same day as the funeral home viewing for my mom. With my permission, the contest organizers designated somebody else to read the story at their party in my place.

As part of my recognition, the contest organizers also provided me with a “professionally edited” version of my story. They released me to submit the story elsewhere.

Last month, I bought a new laptop and I re-discovered this story when I moved my files to it.

I prefer to not submit this to a list of slush pile magazines who provide payment in the form of “free copies.” I respect writers who choose to do so. However, I think that you fantastic blog readers need a bit of cheer and entertainment right now. So, I present to you here the “professionally edited” version of my top-ten-placing story about Bigfoot:

Jonathan Woytek. Somerset County Cemetery. Mount Davis

The No-Kill Group

by Jenny Gaffron Woytek

Perry said, “Did you bring your gun?”

Ron said, “Don’t need a gun to find Bigfoot.”

Perry said, “You sure, man?”

Ron said, “My Bigfoot club is a no-kill group. I pledged not to pack. “

Perry insisted, “I wouldn’t spend the night in the woods without my gun.”

Ron said, “We’re scouts, not hunters. No one’s ever been hurt by Bigfoot.” 

“Ain’t Bigfoot that I’d worry about, Ron.” 

Perry took the half-bushel of apples from the back of his pickup emblazoned with “Perry’s Produce” and set it down in the trailhead parking lot. “That’ll be ten bucks.” 

“Here you go, buddy. Thanks again. Bigfoots love apples.” 

Perry said, “How far are you gonna hike?” 

“Just down this hill. I’ll set up camp in that field where that one creek flows into the Loyalhanna. The guys up at the Drop Inn saw tracks there last week.”  

Perry climbed into his truck.  “I wouldn’t do this without a gun.” 

Ron pulled off his black and gold Steelers ballcap and scratched his balding head. And what if he did have his gun? What business was it of Perry’s? “Look, man, I promised the group. No guns.” 

Perry said, “Whatever. I gotta go.” 

Perry drove away.   

Ron pulled his pack from his car. Checked it for the important stuff.  Nikon. Camp chair. Flashlight.  Snacks. Apples. Night-vision goggles. And, of course, the Nikon.  

Good to go.  

Ron had seen Bigfoot up close once. That was two summers ago on the Fourth of July, with Allison. Ah, Allison. The feel of her long soft auburn hair and the scent of that apple lotion stuff that she liked. Her huge–magnetism.  

That night, Allison wanted to watch Latrobe’s fireworks. Ron knew that the top of Laurel Ridge had the best view. He took her up a logging road.   

Ron held Allison close throughout the show. 

On the drive back down the mountain, they saw something in the headlights.  

A figure. Bigger than a man. 

Thud!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Ron slammed on the brakes. “Shit!” 

Ron and Allison scoured the dark with their flashlights, but saw nothing.  

Ron found a large dent, some blood, and brown fur on the bumper the next morning.  

“We hit a bear, Ron,” Allison told him. 

“It was thinner than a bear. We both saw it. And it had brown fur. Grizzlies don’t live here,” he said. 

No bears in Pennsylvania towered over the truck on erect legs. Bears didn’t look at you with the face of a man. They didn’t run away and then appear every night in your dreams. 

 Then Allison stopped answering Ron’s texts.  Well, that was that. Now Ron walked by himself to a field on Laurel Mountain.

 He needed one good photo.  The guys who came back from scouting with blurry photos got laughed at by everybody.  

At the field, Ron set up his chair and readied his Nikon. He pulled the pheromone chips out of his pocket and hung them in several of the trees that lined the Loyalhanna Creek. He spread apples on the ground. Good to go.  

He pulled out his book and settled in for the wait. 

In 1977, a group of snowmobilers took off into the Ural Mountains and never returned. A search party found their crushed bodies one month later.” The book included pictures of the victims, alive and then in body bags. 

The sun disappeared. Ron picked up his flashlight to continue reading.  

An autopsy revealed that at least one of the victims choked to death on his own blood.” 

Then Ron heard the noise. 

“Ooo! Ooo!” 

Ron aimed his flashlight into the branches of a pine.  

He saw an owl. 

He went back to his book. “The first responders to the crime reported an overwhelming smell of sulfur.” Funny, many in the Bigfoot community believed their animal smelled like sulfur. 

He drifted off and dropped the book. 

He sat in the cab of the truck, next to Allison, who smelled like apples. The truck hit something. The figure stepped into the headlights. Large, brown fur, the face of a man. Staring at him.  

“Crack!” 

Ron started. Had he heard something? Nah. Man, it was chilly!  

“Whack!”  

Something hit him.  

He looked down and saw an apple in his lap.  He looked up. He was sitting under an apple tree.  

“Crack! Whack!” 

Several acorns landed in his hair. Oh, this was only the wind picking up.  Still–  

“Hello?” He shined the flashlight in front of him.  

“Whoosh!” went the crack of branches. 

He stood up and walked toward the trees. No time for childish fears–  

“GGGRRRRR!” 

Ron jumped back and screamed. He pulled his Glock out of his jacket pocket. 

 “GGRRUUUUHHHH!” Another apple flew past him. 

Ron shot into the darkness.  

“Uhhh!!!” 

Then–  

“You shot me!” 

Ron dropped the gun as Perry walked toward him, clutching his side. 

“Oh my god! Oh my god! Perry! Oh my god! Where did I hit you?”

 “You got me in the side.” Perry collapsed on all fours and then rolled over onto his back, clutching his ribs. 

Ron leaned over Perry. “Let me see.” 

Perry moaned on the ground. 

Ron moved his flashlight to Perry’s chest, 

Perry jumped up and screamed “GGGRRRR!” into Ron’s face. 

Ron jumped back and threw his hands into the air. “What the hell, man?” 

 “You jackass! You said no gun!” 

“You stalker!” 

Perry replied, “I’d be dead if you weren’t such a lousy shot.” 

“Crack!” 

Ron picked his flashlight off the ground just as an apple flew past him. 

A figure stepped out from behind the tree.  

A hand reached toward him. A large, fur-covered hand. 

Both men fled. 

Fionnuala the Sasquatch pulled out her camera and photographed the hairless creatures as  they ran.  

She couldn’t wait to show her photo to her no-kill group.

Duck Wars

Enjoying the calm after a thunderstorm with a local duck.

In case it’s not clear, I don’t have a background in biology. I had to take science credits in college. I took the introductory biology course for non-science majors. This was the very course that my school’s science majors mocked – heavily. I studied and I only got a B in the class.

Also in case it’s not clear, I’m not a duck expert. I grew up in a house full of my dad’s duck hunting magazines. I didn’t actually read any of them.

I just wanted to make sure that we all understood this. Now, here’s my story.

We social distanced in the woods for a few days. We rented a house next to a marshy cove on a lake. We watched the wildlife for hours.

We saw mutiple duck families. For instance, Duck Family #1 consisted of a Mama Duck and three tiny baby ducks. Duck Family #2 included a Mama Duck and three larger duckings.

We think that both duck families were mallards. We based this upon my husband Jonathan’s Google search and also upon the illustrations that I saw on the cover of my dad’s duck hunting magazines.

Both Duck Family #1 and Duck Family #2 hung out in the yard behind “our” rented house. Both duck families walked up onto the porch of “our” house several times each day. Both duck families walked right up to me. Both mama ducks seemed chill when their ducklings pecked at my sandals. The ducks seemed to eat insects off of the porch.

We didn’t feed any of the wildlife at this house.

Duck Family #2 also walked over to the yard behind the neighboring house, which was about 100 feet away along the same lakeshore. The vacationers who stayed at the neighboring house DID feed duck family #2.

However, whenever Duck Family #1 attempted to go into the neighbor’s yard, Mama Duck #2 honked up a storm and ran Duck Family #1 out of that yard.

This happened several times in one day.

A few hours later, Duck Family #1 was in the water directly behind “our” house. Mama Duck #2 chased one of the ducklings from Duck Family #1!

The people staying in the neighboring house yelled at Mama Duck #2 for being a bully. So did I!

A few hours passed. Mama Duck #1 showed up again with her little ones. However, she got all worked up about something. She made a bunch of duck noises, and then she flew off, came back, and flew off again.

Mama Duck #2 showed up, and she did the same thing!

We wondered if a predator threatened them. Perhaps a coyote, or another bird? A snake? But why would the mama ducks fly off?

About this time, we watched an eagle fly over our little cove. Were the mama ducks trying to scare off the eagle?

Both mama ducks returned to their ducklings. Both duck families swam back to the reeds in the marsh that lined the cove where we stayed.

Now, I need to mention that Duck Family #2 (the family that included the older ducklings) included one duckling who kept wandering off from the group.

The next morning, Duck Family #2 showed up with Mama Duck #2 and only two ducklings. What happened to Duckling #3? Was this missing duck the one who kept wandering off from the group? Did it get lost? Did a predator pick it off and eat it?

Later that day, a lone mallard showed up by itself and hung around. We saw through the binoculars that its feathers had molted. So, was this lone mallard actually Duckling #3 from Duck Family #2? Had its feathers molted in between the time that we last saw Duck Family #2 with three ducklings and then the time that Duck Family #2 reappeared with only two ducklings?

It’s a mystery.

Oh, we also saw a bunch of wood ducks. We saw two herons. We saw a bunch of deer, cranes, cormorants, lunes, and one woodpecker. We saw the aforementioned eagle and also an osprey.

Now, the rental house where we stayed has a book where occupants can record their adventures. The prior week’s occupants at that house wrote that they watched a snake eat a frog.

Social distancing can be fun.

Edit: Two days after I wrote this entry, we watched a mink run along the lakeshore carrying a snake in its mouth. I really wanted to grab a photo of the mink eating the snake so that I could post it on this blog, but that didn’t work out. I also saw a mink eating an apple under one of the apple trees that sits next to this lake house. So, now we think that the mink was the potential predator that scared the mama ducks.

I Share a Birthday with Lizzie Borden: An American Hauntings Zoom Recap

Today is an anniversary: on August 4, 1892, Andrew Jackson Borden and his second wife, Abby, were murdered in Fall River, Massachusetts. Andrew Borden’s daughter from his first marriage, Lizzie Andrew Borden (NOT Elizabeth), was eventually charged, tried, and acquitted for the murders. Nobody was ever convicted of the murders.

(Fun fact: Andrew Jackson Borden was born in 1822. Andrew Jackson the POTUS won the Battle of New Orleans in 1812 and he was elected as POTUS in 1828.)

I learned just within the past year or so that Lizzie Borden and I share a birthday: July 19. So that’s special. I read Troy Taylor’s book on the subject, One August Morning. I now believe that Lizzie Borden did NOT commit the murders.

I discovered Troy Taylor in 2017. At the time, I was unhappy and stressed out about my job. I had an hour long commute each way, mostly by bus. Podcasts made my commute – and my work life – bearable. In 2017, I went on a search for new podcasts about the paranormal, specifically related to American history. I discovered Season #1 of American Hauntings, hosted by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck.

American Hauntings the podcast didn’t include advertisements for anything except for other American Hauntings products and services. Troy plugged the tickets for his in-person experiences, books that he wrote, and podcast merch.

The “Evening with” dinners that Troy promoted intrigued me. The approximately $50 per person ticket price for these included a catered meal at the Mysterious Mineral Springs Hotel in Alton, Illinois, followed by a live lecture given by Troy on that night’s topic. However, I live outside of Pittsburgh, so I don’t think that I will ever make it to Alton for an in-person “Evening with” dinner.

Then, in March 2020, most of the governors of blue states shut down everything fun. This included the in-person American Hauntings tours, ghost hunts, and in-person “Evening with” dinners. Troy posted Facebook Q&A livestreams on his Troy Taylor Facebook page. He added a virtual tip jar.

Then Troy scheduled several of his most popular “Evening with” dinner talks as Zoom lectures. I could pay $13 to receive a log-on link to a livestream talk over Zoom.

As of today, August, 4, 2020, I have attended four of Troy’s special Zoom livestreams. Here are the topics of these lectures: Bell Witch, American Spiritualism, St. Louis Exorcism, and – Lizzie Borden!

Troy held the Lizzie Borden Zoom lecture last weekend to commemorate the upcoming anniversary of the Borden murders. At this lecture, I drank a Happy Birthday toast to Lizzie.

For each Zoom experience, Troy gave the full length talk that he gave at each in-person “Evening with” dinner in Alton. Troy sat in his spooky-looking American Hauntings office. I saw in the background lighted candles, the books that Troy wrote, and fake (I hope!) skulls. He shared his computer screen, onto which he pulled up photos of the people and places mentioned in his presentation. His partner, Lisa Taylor Horton, handled the requests for technical assistance. Lisa also moderated the Q&A sessions at the end of each Zoom presentation.

The Zoom participants all had the option of shutting off their own computer’s camera or leaving it on. So, when I participated in these talks, I saw some of the other participants. In last weekend’s “Lizzie Borden” presentation, the audience consisted of roughly 60 women and one man.

My husband, Jonathan, did not view the lecture with me. (Jonathan DID listen to the Bell Witch livestream with me!) He teased me when I told him that the attendees included only one man. He said, “Well, are you surprised?”

I’m sorry that Covid-19 happened. I’m happy that I finally get to experience Troy Taylor’s live lectures. I’m glad that he laid out the case for why he believes that Lizzie Borden didn’t kill her family members. I can’t wait for Troy Taylor’s next livestreams this summer and fall.

(By the way, I learned from the American Hauntings podcast that Troy moved his in-person dinners from the Mysterious Mineral Springs Hotel to another venue in Alton due to social distancing requirements. So, I am not missing out on a dinner at this spooky landmark.)