I just want to say that Michelle is very incredible. Publicly. I don’t know her, I’ve never met her. But she’s had quite a hard year and she deserves a little noticing.

After her parents’ divorce, Michelle’s dad decided to move out of state, she hasn’t heard from him in nine months. He won’t take her calls. Her brother left for college. And her mother got a new full-time job with a long daily commute. Michelle is lonely and having some major confidence issues this year.

Oh, and today is her 14th birthday.

So if you are reading this, Michelle, I want you to stop thinking about crummy stuff for a few minutes. And think about how indubitably awesome you are. I mean it.

Quit reading. Take a few seconds. And think about the Miracle that is You.

Now I realize that we are basically strangers. All I am is text on the screen. And you probably don’t think you’re miraculous. But here’s the thing: you are.

For one thing, you’re reading these pixels, and they are actually making sense to your ridiculously

advanced mammal brain.

You’ve probably never considered what’s involved in the simple act of reading. Truthfully, I never have, either. Not until I wrote this column.

Before I sat down to type the following paragraphs I did some research on the anatomy of the human eyeball. And all I can say is, whoa, it really opened up my aqueous humors.

Here’s what I found out:

While you’re reading these words, the lens of your eyeball is focusing and refocusing like a high-tech camera. It’s filtering lightwaves through your vitreous humor—a clear jelly substance in the back of your eyeball.

THEN, your retina transforms this image into tiny electrical impulses which are carried by the optic nerve to the brain.

But wait. There’s more.

All these alphabetic symbols and pixels that I’m writing have no real meaning. Not…

I am taking my dog for a walk among the thick longleaf pines of the West Floridian woods. I am on a trail that cuts across marshland, swampland, farmland, grassland, and every other kind of land.

Autumn is in its infancy in the Sunshine State. The air is cool. And I just read in the newspaper that there have been 712,000 cases of COVID-19 within our boundaries. Not to mention all the damage from Hurricane Sally.

Oh, it’s been quite a year.

I am here because I needed to see some trees. I needed a pine-scented breeze. I needed this.

The Florida woods are not like other places. You don’t get a sense of how big they are when you’re in them. You can only feel their immense size. It’s disorienting. Your phone loses reception, so you have no GPS to gauge your mileage. And even if you did, who cares?

You don’t come out here to play on phones.

The woods are a cathedral. These trees do something to you. They remind you that

this world isn’t exactly what we think it is.

You leave your house and immediately you’re within the Age of Concrete. You see only what highway engineers want you to see. Overpasses, big box hardware stores, flashing lights, signage, and here comes another strip mall. Goodness knows how much we love our strip malls.

But that’s not the world. That’s not life. It’s only one tiny part.

America is one third forest. There are the boreal forests in Alaska, the tropical forests of Hawaii, the majestic old growths of Appalachia. Maine is 89 percent forest, West Virginia is 78 percent forest. My home state is over 50 percent forest.

I have a friend who once hiked the entire Florida Trail, which cuts 1,000 miles of old forest from Big Cypress National Reserve to Fort Pickens.

I’ve also hiked and camped small parts of the Florida…


My life is coming apart, I’m depressed and I’ve been this way since this dumb pandemic started. I want to be happy, for my son who is 4 and needs me, but I can’t pull myself out of it, I just don’t know. I just had to tell someone and you seem like a nice person.



Right now, the sun is blazing, the air is crisp. I’m listening to the Carter family sing “Keep On the Sunny Side,” circa 1926, on a Zenith turntable. My aunt sent me these old records.

I don’t know if you like old songs on scratchy vinyl, but this is a good tune.

“Keep on the sunny side,
“Always on the sunny side,
“Keep on the sunny side of life…”

It just so happens that there is a lot of science to back up this sunshine business.

Earlier this summer my Aunt Eulah mailed me several Carter family records and a book when she heard I’d been mildly depressed. I was in the

dumps because of something going on in my life which I will, for the purposes of privacy, refer to as an Unprecedented Global Pandemic Involving Every Single Human Being Alive.

My aunt’s old Carter family records were great. The book, not so much.

The book is a glorified science textbook. And I am not a science guy. Actually—and I mean no disrespect to Aunt Eulah—this book was about as fun to read as getting electrocuted by a kitchen appliance.

The book was all about the human brain. One of its main points was that being depressed is not caused by one specific event in life, nor by one specific system in the brain. Depression is caused by a traffic jam of things happening at once.

I don’t want to bore you, but imagine your brain is a map showing each U.S. airport.…

MURRAY, Utah.—John works at a Nissan dealership in the service department. A customer called and said they had a big problem.

John explains, “I took a call from a very distraught lady this morning, stating their new kitten had gotten stuck behind the dash in their car.”

So, drawing upon his years of automotive customer service insight, John suggested that the woman “Bring it in.”

In the garage, three technicians began disassembling her dashboard with tools and flashlights. Which is not an easy job. They removed the stereo, the glovebox, and components of the AC unit. Finally, after a lot of work, one of the guys announced, “We have a tail!”


Technicians shined lights into the deep crevices of the vehicle until one man rolled his sleeves up and said, “Okay. I’m going in.”

And anyone who has ever retrieved a sharp-clawed domesticated creature from a tight space such as, say, a set of box springs at your in-laws’ house, knows what an ordeal it is.

Imagine, several burly auto mechanics who often eat undercooked

red meat for supper and wash it down with Anheuser Busch products, trying to coax a kitty out of hiding. The men used very high-pitched baby voices and said things like, “Come here, cutie wootie. C’mon, you can do it. Come on, cutie wootie.”

Finally, a gray kitten emerged and an entire auto garage cheered. One of the mechanics even held the cat to his face and kissed her, saying, quote:

“She’s such a cutie wootie. Yes she is. Yes she is.”

Afterward, the large men had their pictures taken with the kitten.

John reports, “In my job, you never know what can happen.”

VICTORIA, Au.—Three brothers in Australia won the lottery yesterday. They’ve been playing the same numbers faithfully for 40 years.

It takes a lot of determination to play a game of chance for that long. Especially one that has left you…

I got a letter from a boy named Jason, in Albuquerque, who asked if I think he should adopt a puppy. He’s got his eye on a border collie mix from a shelter. Jason wants to name this dog Teddy. Or possibly Frank.

First off, Jason, thank you for the message. Fuzzy puppies are exactly what I need to be thinking about tonight. I’m grateful you brought up the subject. The world is an ever-loving mess right now, and canines are good medicine.

So to give you the short answer in case you’re pressed for time: Yes. Get the puppy.

Now here’s a longer answer:

A puppy is not a puppy. A puppy is a baby. A real, living, breathing, delicate infant. True, it’s a dog-baby, but it’s still a baby. This baby requires your whole heart. Not just half.

Now before you nod your head and agree with me, I want you to think about this for a second. You’re a 13-year-old kid. Are you ready to raise a real baby?

Having an infant in the house is not easy. Ask any saggy-eyed parent of a newborn. Being a parent is a full-time, round-the-clock, lifetime gig. You do not get time off. There is going to be a lot of pee involved.

Border collies can live 17 years. This means you could be a dog daddy until you are 30 years old. By then you might be married and have a big fat adjustable-rate mortgage.

If you decide you are ready, are you prepared to say goodbye to things like free time, peace and quiet, and regular sleep?

Because your dog will sleep on your bed. Always. End of story. There is nothing you can do to stop a dog from claiming your bed. All night he will constantly be readjusting himself, engaging in acts of personal hygiene, keeping you awake, and nudging you off your mattress. And if…

I am saying grace before supper. And a lot is going through my mind.

Namely because we are eating biscuits tonight. And I love biscuits. When I am done saying this blessing, I will experience one of the best feelings on planet Earth. Which is peeling open one of my wife’s hot, handmade catheads.

Steam will rise from the soft bread to kiss me square on the nose. And I will swear I can almost hear the Vienna Boys Choir singing “Ave Verum Corpus” somewhere in the distance.

I have a long childhood history with biscuits. The day after my father’s funeral I remember awaking to find our kitchen covered in a fine dusting of Gold Medal Flour. There were old coffee cans of lard on counters, and matronly women in beehive hairdos.

The oven had transformed the kitchen into a sauna. The sound of female chatter was like the sound of geese on a pond. I sniffed the air.

Hallelujah. They were making biscuits.

After a funeral you have a lot of

food around. This happens when someone you love dies. Church ladies with solemn faces show up at odd hours to leave hot pans on your porch, or shoeboxes of fried chicken, or Tupperware containers with notecards attached to the lids.

And you receive a lot of biscuits. This is because the American biscuit is not something that merely sits in a bread basket, covered with gingham. A real biscuit is true. It is something real.

Next time you eat a biscuit think of the hands that mixed the flour. Human hands that have seen their share of pain, and loss, and life. See the fingers flex when they knead lard into the ivory dough. Watch the dusty palms use an upside-down cup to stamp each one.

Verily. This is love.

The ironic thing is, after my father’s funeral I didn’t feel like eating. I had no appetite.…

There we were, playing old hymns. We sang the song “In the Garden” to an empty auditorium. And it was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long, LONG time.

It almost felt like being normal again.

The Black Box Theater was virtually vacant. There were two men sitting in the concert hall listening. But these were audio engineers, broadcasting our show. Audio engineers don’t count.

Beside me were my musician friends: Josh, Barb, Todd, and Aaron. We held instruments. And we put on a show for a spindly broadcast microphones that stared back at us.

We sang the lyrics:

“Aaannnnnd he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own….”

Our broadcast had started with “Keep On the Sunny Side,” in the key of D. It was peppy and bright. The fiddle kicked it off and immediately I felt more alive than I’ve felt all year, except for the time when I stockpiled a garden shed full of toilet paper a few months ago.

I’ve forgotten how much

I miss playing old songs with friends. I’ve forgotten too much.

Long ago, before the advent of pandemics, I played music in a band. I was always shuttling sound equipment into wedding receptions, playing for Rotary Club Bingo nights, or lugging amplifiers into dark beer joints that smelled like the varsity basketball laundry bag.

Oh, the things I’ve forgotten during a COVID era.

“And the joy we share, as we tarry there, none other has ever known…”

The fiddle bowed a solo. I felt the pleasant thump of a bass, beating a two-beat country rhythm.

I spoke into the mic to read letters from our longtime listeners. The mailbag messages made me feel warm all over.

There was the heartfelt letter from Randy, in Tennessee. He’s been listening to our show from the early days. A funeral director who got into the business…