Pat Wahler, Author

Penning stories to savor.

Page 3 of 3

Over the Falls

A young woman is widowed during the American Civil War, and by 1901 she’s still struggling to support herself through the meager pay of a teacher. Upon reaching the age of sixty-two, the odds of a comfortable retirement were slim. So what’s a sweet little old lady to do?

Well, Anna Edson Taylor decided to be the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

She hit upon the idea as a way to make her fortune and become famous in the process. A definite planner, Anna had a large barrel fashioned with padding and straps. It had a rubber tube for air and a weight on the bottom to help the barrel remain upright.

Image from Messy Nessy Cabinet of Chic Cudriosities.

Image from Messy Nessy Cabinet of Chic Curiosities.

Anna did a trial run a few days before the big event. She put a cat in the barrel. When the indignant animal survived with only a few cuts, Anna decided she could make the fearsome trip over the falls. Publicity brought thousands of curious onlookers that were largely expecting to see an explosive end to Anna’s ambitions. It doesn’t appear anyone attempted to stop her.

Even the chief of police didn’t get involved. Once he’d gotten legal advice that he wouldn’t be held responsible for whatever might happen to Anna, he merely shrugged his shoulders and watched the action with the other observers.

On October 24, 1901- Anna’s sixty-third birthday – she strapped herself in. According to the New York Times report, men in rowboats towed the barrel into swift currents, and then let it go. In less than a minute the barrel swept over the falls, disappearing into white waves of water. Afterward, volunteers pulled the bobbing barrel to a rock, slipping and sliding to get it out of the water.

They opened the intact barrel, and helped Anna out. Aside from cuts, bruises, aches, and pains, she had survived the ordeal.

Sadly, although Anna achieved notoriety, she never made the fortune she had hoped to gain. Even the man who managed the event for her absconded with her infamous barrel.

Only a cut streaming blood indicates Anna's ordeal. Image from Messy Nessy.

Only a cut streaming blood indicates Anna’s ordeal. Image from Messy Nessy.

Anna was reduced to selling photos and small replicas of the barrel to make a buck. Her advice to those who asked about the trip over Niagara?

“No one ought ever do that again.”

Anna died in 1921, twenty years after her fateful plunge over the falls. She was eighty-three years old.

Whatever arguments can be made against the wisdom of her decision, we can most definitely agree on one thing. Anna Edson Taylor was the epitome of a gutsy old lady.

Anna Edson Taylor, post-falls. Image from Messy Nessy.

Anna Edson Taylor, post-falls. Image from Messy Nessy.

Her grit is even more admirable when you consider her gender, and the time during which she lived.

I’d like to be a little more like Anna. Though you won’t find me taking a trip over Niagara Falls or jumping out of an airplane, I can certainly attempt other things outside my comfort zone.

Maybe I’ll travel far away all by myself. Or volunteer to stand in front of a large group and give a major presentation. I might even do one of the most frightening things on earth – stand up and sing karaoke.

Without the nerve to take a chance, a lot of opportunities can slip away.

Confess, please. What’s something that makes you sweat when you think about it? Are you willing to try?

Cats or Dogs?

While crawling around on the floor after a stack of papers fell and scattered helter-skelter all over, Bogey took his place next to my sculpture of Mark Twain. Sphynx-like, he watched as I scrambled around picking up my mess.

The bronze bust of Twain is a work that came from a very talented local artist and friend of mine named Don Wiegand, and it has been sitting beside my desk for years.

He who is above mundane activities, and I'm not talking about Mark Twain.

He who is above mundane activities. (I’m not referring to Mark Twain).

I’ve long been an admirer of Twain, and I think most people enjoy reading his works. He created some of the literary world’s most unforgettable characters such as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

What do I like about Mark Twain? For one thing, he’s a born and bred writer from my home state of Missouri. For another, unlike many authors of his era, his talent brought him a great deal of success and fame during his lifetime. That’s much more pleasant than being recognized only after you’re gone. Finally, his words had a distinctive humor, often slyly skewering the people in power who saw themselves as better than the average guy.

With Bogey posing so happily next to the sculpture, I decided to avoid a writing project and search the internet to read a few articles about Mark Twain. I discovered something I didn’t know.

Twain apparently had a lifelong love affair with cats. I’d already heard stories about Ernest Hemingway and his beloved extra-toed kitties, but had no idea Mark Twain also favored felines to the degree that he often had more than a dozen living in his residence at a time.

He respected his cats enough not to give them ordinary names. No “Fluffy” or “Puff” among them. Instead they were given impressive monikers such as Bambino, Sour Mash, Zoraster, Beelzebub, and Blatherkite.

Even when traveling, Twain preferred to keep himself in the company of cats. If he couldn’t bring along one or two kitties of his own, he’d find a nearby farm and rent kittens. I can only imagine the surprise of a nineteenth century farmer upon being asked if he’d rent kittens to Mark Twain for a few days. The farmer must have thought Mr. Twain had extreme phobias over mice.

Twain drew inspiration from cats. Not surprisingly, he wrote about them, too.

Here are a few gems by Mark Twain on the subject.

A pile of Mark Twain kittens.

A furry pile of Mark Twain kittens. (Photo by Elisha M. VanAken, 1887)

“I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one. They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course.”

“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is a cat has only nine lives.”

“When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.”

There are some who suggest that the world is divided in two very distinct camps. There are those who love dogs, and those who love cats. If anyone asked me to pick sides, I’d be like Switzerland, with one foot in each.

I have no doubt at all where Mark Twain would pitch his tent.

How about it? On which side do you stand?

Mark Twain and friend.

Mark Twain and friend.


Thanks to my friend, Sherry, here's the outcome from a full day canning salsa!

Here’s the outcome of a full day’s work.

With a chop-chop here and a chop-chop there, I did something I’ve never done before. Under my friend, Sherry’s, mentoring and supervision, I produced a dozen jars of homemade salsa.

Lesson number one: Salsa requires hours of cutting vegetables with a very sharp knife and it’s really, really important not to get your finger in the way.

Lesson number two: It’s not much more difficult cutting vegetables when your finger is covered with a band-aid and your hand is covered with a rubber glove because it’s bad form to bleed into the salsa.

Sherry knows her stuff, but I’m still a little worried about my execution of her directions. The salsa looks the way it’s supposed to look, and a sample tasted good. But when a jar is opened six months from now, will it be edible? Well, I’ll answer that question in six months, if I live to tell you about it.

The canning session got me to thinking about how our ancestors preserved food to tide them over during the cold shivery months of winter. After all, people still had to eat even when snow and ice covered the garden.

Not surprisingly, I found early practices were related to location.

People who lived in frigid climates froze their food. People living in tropical climates let the sun and wind dry it. Soon there were some “Aha!” moments that cultivated other methods such as the use of salt, brine, and sugar mixtures to keep food edible at a later date.

However, a pesky little problem with botulism still made eating preserved food a bit risky. It was generally assumed that exposure to air was the enemy ruining a safe culinary experience. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century when Louis Pasteur discovered the impact of microorganisms on illness and food preservation, that canning methods started to look more like they do today. Boil, sanitize, and seal became the mantra for safe eating.

I happened to stumble across  a book that looked both interesting and a little bit frightening to an unsure canner like me. It’s called Can It! The Perils and Pleasures of Preserving Foods by Gary Allen, for those who’d like to read more on the subject. The book contains information on ancient methods of food preservation along with more modern ones. It was released in July and looks like it could be an interesting read for foodies or historical buffs.


Well, here’s hoping my salsa contains more pleasures than perils.

By the way, even though this marked my first time canning food, I have successfully used the dehydration method of food preservation. Here is my one and only “drying” recipe.

Exhibit A-Sweet potato slices

Exhibit A-Sweet potato slices

Slice a sweet potato lengthwise into one quarter inch slices. Put parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake  slices in a 250 degree oven for about three hours. Keep an eye on the slices toward the end of baking time. Less time is required for chewier texture, slightly longer for crispy. Remove from oven and cool. Keep slices stored in refrigerator.

Why, you may ask, would anyone ever want to dry sweet potato slices?

For one thing, they’re quite cheap to make, and although I have never personally tasted a dried sweet potato, I have it on good authority that not only are they nutritious, but also quite delicious.

Note my taste tester’s demonstration below.  His rating: two paws up.

Note tiny visible piece of sweet potato slice. The remainder has already been gobbled.

Sadly, tester devoured sample more quickly than I could record the moment of truth.


A Promise is a Promise

Valentine Tapley, in all his hirsute glory.

Valentine Tapley, in all his hirsute glory.

The political season will soon (thankfully) come to an end. Some will be thrilled by the result, and others will be appalled, but I wonder if anyone will have the kind of reaction chosen by Valentine Tapley from Pike County, Missouri.

Mr. Tapley had a passion for the Democrat party. If Republican Abe Lincoln became president, Tapley vowed he would never shave his beard again.

Not one to argue his way out of a promise, when Lincoln won in November, 1860, Tapley threw away his razor for good. And as his beard grew, so did his pride…and his fame.

Tapley cared for his whiskers like a mother would coddle a baby, wrapping them in silk and winding the length of his beard around his body or draping his whiskers around his shoulders so they wouldn’t drag untidily through the dust. For obvious reasons, Tapley never worked around a fire, but there is no record of how he kept food and drink from dirtying them. I have a strong suspicion that Tapley’s long-suffering wife, Caroline, must have often said things like, “Valentine, you’ve got potatoes stuck in your beard again.”

Hey, I’m married to someone who grows facial hair. I know how it works.

Valentine Tapley died in 1910 at the age of eighty. His beard measured over twelve feet long and his pride in it prompted him to set up extra security to keep guard over his grave. He didn’t want any robbers trying to dig up his coffin, cut off those infamous whiskers, and put them on display with a traveling sideshow.

Tapley was a man of integrity. He  stuck to his promise, no matter how hairy it got.

Oh yeah? Well, I promise not to come down from this cat condo until the political commercials all go away. They're making my ears bleed.

Oh yeah? Well, I promise not to come down from the cat condo until somebody poop-scoops political ads. They make my ears hurt.   


A Political Comment (Sort of)

September 23 marks seventy-two years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a famous speech. Why do I bring up a political speech at a time when most of us want to cover our ears over anything related to politics? Simple. The speech had to do with Fala, FDR’s beloved Scotch Terrier, easily my favorite presidential pet, and almost certainly the most famous dog in American history. Fala traveled everywhere with his master, sniffed heads of state, and received so much fan mail he needed his own secretary.

After a trip to the Aleutian Islands in August, 1944, FDR came under attack by political opponents who started a rumor that Fala had been accidentally left behind after the presidential visit. They claimed FDR dispatched a Navy battleship to bring the pup home at a cost of many millions of dollars to taxpayers.

FDR addressed this fur-flying fib at a dinner hosted by Teamsters. Check out a snippet of his response below. His deadpan delivery is priceless.

Politicians take note. If your speeches were clever as this one, I’d be more inclined to listen.


It’s Official!

Early last fall, Sheree Nielsen, friend and author of Folly Beach Dances, called me about collaborating on a writing project. She had an idea for a picture book about a one-eyed cat named Midnight, based loosely on her own cat by the same name.

I’m a sucker for an animal story, and needed no convincing to jump into the world of children’s book writing.

Sheree and I got together over coffee, tea, and chocolate; spending hours brainstorming, creating and revising.  Finally, like birthing a baby, the time came to push our little manuscript out into the world.

After studying the market and sending our story, we found an editor gracious enough to  give us concrete feedback and suggestions. This meant more coffee, tea, and chocolate; and, of course, more rewriting. The story left our hands again, and several weeks ago we were thrilled when Amphorae Publishing Group, a well-respected local press, offered us a contract.

Doing the happy dance!

Doing the happy dance!







Once all the details had been ironed out and confirmed, a formal announcement came from Amphorae on September 8. The book is scheduled for release in 2017.

We are so excited to see our story, tentatively titled Midnight, the One-Eyed Cat; with its uplifting messages about friendship, courage, and self-confidence, brought to life. Thank you, Amphorae!

You wrote a story about a cat? Pfffft!

You wrote a story about a cat? Pfffft!


It’s Labor Day

Labor Day has arrived again, filled with picnics, barbecues, and parades; marking not only a day of rest and recognition for American workers, but the end of summer. However, things weren’t always so rosy.

In the 19th century and earlier, it was extraordinarily difficult to make a living. Most people worked twelve hour days, seven days a week, and still had trouble making ends meet. During the Industrial Revolution, even children as young as age five or six could be found working around dangerous equipment in unsafe factory conditions.

People were frustrated and angry. They wanted fair treatment.

On September 5, 1882, working men marched in support of American workers. Later, strikes and riots over the issue caused bloodshed. Yet eventually labor unions made headway in helping to improve conditions, and Congress extended an olive branch by officially designating the first Monday in September as a day to recognize the value of American workers.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then, baby.

Labor Day parade 1900-Library of Congress

Labor Day parade 1900-Library of Congress

But even as we celebrate, let’s not forget that some don’t have the luxury of relaxing on Labor Day. So here’s a special shout-out to law enforcement, fire-fighting personnel, military, medical practitioners, retail workers, and all others who give us help when we need it, whether it’s a holiday or not.

We hope you enjoy your day in whatever way makes you happiest!

Winston and Bogey in a rare moment of rest on Labor Day. Just think what I could accomplish if Labor Day came more often.

Winston and Bogey in a rare moment of rest on Labor Day. Just think what I could accomplish if Labor Day came more often.

You Found Us!

I’ve been posting on Critter Alley at Blogspot for years. It’s a familiar format for me, and one that I’ve grown quite comfortable using. So after getting comfortable with Blogspot, why would any sane, normal individual decide to try something new?

That, my friend, is a good question. Here I am now, feeling like I jumped in a time machine while blindfolded to land in a different century where everyone else speaks a foreign language.  Huh?

Please bear with me. I’m doing my best to learn Wordpress. And even though Critter Alley’s location and title have changed, the focus hasn’t. All posts will be similar content to those that appeared on Critter Alley; featuring Winston the Peek-a-poo puppy, Bogey a very cool cat, critter-related topics, books, and writing. Since I don’t know how to migrate years of prior posts, if you’d like to take a look at our history, check out this link:

We love subscribers. If you’d like to know when a post appears, enter the required information in the subscriber link at the bottom of the right hand column. You’ll receive email notification so you won’t miss any news, and I promise not to overload your mailbox.

Comments are most welcome. I’d love to know what you think!

Won’t you please considering visiting us from time to time in this strange new world?

We won't be hiding a thing!

We won’t be hiding a thing!

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