In one photo you will see a Kentucky red agate that I dug in situ with my friend Richard "Dick" Cackling. I found this particular agate almost 40 years ago and over the years following found several hundred Kentucky Red Agates; many wound up in museums such as The Smithsonian and also The Cincinnati Museum Of Natural History. This is the rariest and most valuable agate in the world and considered the most beautiful. This agate was used in my second novel, NEFARIOUS; in that book the nefartious Judge Quinn attempts to bribe Ed Hawkins to come back to Estill County and be his crooked judge with this very agate; as you might be able to see it owns the outline of a drunken buzzard's head. The other photo is that of a stained glass window that I had made almost 40 years by my classmate, Danny Stamper's daughter. This stained glass window is also used in my book NEFARIOUS as it is a giant window located in the cathouse that Ed and his Uncle Moses pay a visit to on his thirteenth birthday. In this scene in the window you will note the famous mountain in Irvine, Kentucky, Sweet Lick Knob that is in the background. In the front you see my wife, Chesteen and my daughter, Nancy emerging from a moonlight night on the Kentucky Rver. And in Chestreen's hand is a Kentucky red agate that I found and had cut and sliced and polished.
"Here is photo I took of three of my Kentucky Red Agated. The large beautiful one is the last one that I ever dug with Dick Cackling. It has a very unusal chevron pattern as you can note. The other agate is uncut and unpolished and came from a different area of Estill County than most of the other red agates that I found on Middle Fork."
This is a story that I dedicate to my old digging friend, Dick Cackling. He was a solid and true friend of mine that can never be replaced. And a stronger and better digger there has never been. Together we found some of the finest Kentucky red agates ever discovered, some going to the Smithsonian and other to various museums. I will be sending you more photos of our digs and some photos of the red agates we unearthed. I will miss him forever..
Sliding by the Hemlock
Stopped at his trailer. His wife hugged me.
She started crying.
It was early. She didn't know I was coming,
"Sorry, I wasn't here sooner."
"It's alright. , I read your letter."
"I'm going digging. He said, now that I've showed you this place you'll sneak back without me. I told him I wouldn't."
"It's OK. You can go, now."
"It's not like I'm going there without him."
"People ask, am I going to move? Why? Why should I move? There's his shoes and coat. I don't touch them."
"If he was here he'd be giving you that good-bye kiss. He loved you. Always talked about you."
"One of his relatives called. One that never came to see us. Asked, uh, what are you going to do with his agate and Indian relics? I'll take care of them, if you want? I told him, they aren't for sale. They'll never be for sale."
"I don't blame you. The memories."
"Oh, I've got memories. More memories than those rocks."
"He was always good to me."
"He loved you like a son. Thought you were so smart."
"He was the smart one. The best digger I ever knew."
"They called from the funeral home. Said they were already on their way. Bringing his ashes. II couldn't take that. I couldn't. I told them to take them back. He had a Will. Wanted me and you to take his ashes and spread them where you all dug at Middle Fork. Will you go with me to do that?"
"Go on and go digging. I'd give you his sifter and shovel only... the law never returned them."
Three hours later, I was on the wooded trail he and I had marked. There was a place where we had stopped at the edge of a cliff and had to slide down the steep hill by an old hemlock. I stood there for such a long time, looking, remembering. I saw us sliding down by that hemlock.
Just a note to all my friends that I lost one of the best friends ever in my life, late yesterday, Richard Cackling. He went up the hill behind his house to shoot a coyote and never returned. Brenda, his wife, told me that she went up looking for him near dark and found him tangled in a bob wire fence, dead. Apparently, he had put his gun on the fence while crossing and it went off, killing him. It was a gun he'd gotten from his father, about the only thing he had from him, one he hadn't gotten out of the closet in five years. Dick had never hunted anything in his life that I knew of.
The memorial services will be this week.
I own a thousand dear stories of Dick and I digging together. We had been close for nearly 40 years. We dug the world's largest red agate together as well as probably five of the possible top ten red agates hat have ever been found. Nobody could touch him in his hey day when it came to agate. He had one room that was completely full of the finest red agate you could imagine. And I should relay, the most beautiful one very found in the world is in his closet. Its never been cut or polished. But the two of us knew what was inside it. I suppose its still there. We owned some of the best times together that two men could have ever had.
Dick was the best digger I was ever with in my life. And always a friend. The man was
incredible at the persistent way he could swing a sledge hammer all day long; John Henry if there ever was such, we actually moved mountains by hand, work nobody could ever believe true. But that's how we were successful. Dick owned a certain brilliance in knowing everything there was to know about agates. He owned a special instinct in finding them that nobody could ever own. He was also brilliant in knowing engines, mechanics, and well, so much. Although he was a true Estill Countiuan in every sense, there was that side of him that was always an outsider. I suppose what I saw, was that certain politeness so rare in the hills. And a certain way of always trying to be a gentleman no matter the environment. His voice and personality was clear and strong and true. For the most part, he was one of the most honest and true men I have ever know.
The last time we were together, we spent the whole day exploring a new cliff overhang and cave up near the Pinnacle. I started to catch a big yellowtail butterfly and take it back to Lance but Dick gave me a hard time about doing something like that, almost scolding me, telling me to leave something that beautiful alone. Yeah, he had a terrible soft side that he kept very secret. He spoke of my father that day and told me that in life you learn that you have to do things you don't want to do, that you have to eat a lot of crow.
He had come to Irvine from a big farm in Illinois where he had been raised, had been a football star in High School and was one of the best athletes I was ever around, period. He was one man you did not want to get in a fight with. It was nothing for him to pack 100 pounds of agates through miles of woods and then up a steep mountain. Well into his 60's he thought nothing of it. I often found myself tested to the brink to keep up with him. But I would never tell him. I think he like wearing me down. We always spoke about what exercise really was when you walked up and down through several mountains and then back out of them by the end of the day.
There was one miserable January 1rst and we were deep up Middle Fork digging at our old agate site--now more of a mine.. It was as bitter cold as you could imagine and we working in two feet of mud, digging in a bank with sledge hammers and iron diggers; the bank in front of us was forty feet straight up. Always trinkling bits of dirt down on us with every slam of our sledges. At any time you knew the bank could cave in. We never spoke of it. If you were scared of dying you had no business doing what we did. He had brought a small propane torch in his pack to "cheat" in building a fire to periodically warm us. I sat down near the torch after he had turned it off and a few minutes later my rear end was on fire, burning through two layers of pants I had on. When I tried to slap the fire out I severely burned my hand, the entire inside palm raising in a large blister. Although it was cold and dreary, so absolute grey, and we were so alone, we had a wonderful time laughing about my ignorance.
When I first took Dick to Granny Richardson's Springs, he fell in love with the large cliff overhang just like a child. Just like I had done fifty years ago. We began digging there and we began to find hundreds of Indian artifacts. Among them, a Cumberland burial; the oldest burial of any human ever discovered in Kentucky. And one of the oldest burials ever found in the USA. It was the skeleton of an old woman, possibly in her eighties, that we left there just as she had been buried. She was several feet deeper than the level of the living floor of the cave, buried in sterile yellow sand. Sejong the drip line towards the east.. With her, was a Cumberland point and a hair ornament fashioned from the base of a deer's rack. It was our secret that we kept secret and spoke of only when we were together. If some archaeologist had discovered her, they would have been famous.
And then I took Dick to Pryse Cave. He was the only person that understood all that I had done in my four years digging there, going 22' deep, finding 18 burials. He began digging out a large trench from the front of the cave going back into it and the work he undertook was immense. All but digging an Erie Canal. Within a few weeks he began to find all sorts of relics. This is the same cave where we jumped two elk that were resting inside one morning. Something impossible to imagine, but true. Something special reserved just for us.
More than once, Brenda had called me at dark, asking me to go up to Middle Fork and hunt for Dick for she was afraid that a cave in had occurred and he was there covered up and dead. Every time I would tell her, Give it another hour, and I will go. And every time an hour later, she would call and tell me that Dick was pulling in the driveway. We would all laugh about it the next week.
Dick loved Brenda in every way. It was good to be with a man that loved his life the way he did. Every time we came back from digging, Brenda would have abig meal cooked and we would spend the next few hours all talking about everything, laughing and enjoying her delicious meals of rhubarb pie, pot roast and recipes she had created. They didn't have much. But what they had in a big way, was each other. It was impossible not to feel it.
On that last day that Dick and I were together I mentioned that I was still writing and he made a little fun of me. Almost the same way that my other close friend, Larry Lynch used to. Both telling me that I was wasting my time and dreaming. But trying to do it in such a way that was friendly. And I confess, I have more than often wondered if they weren't right. That in my heart, I know they were the best of friends.
I've not had many friends that didn't use me or steal from me in some way throughout my life. But Dick was never that kind. Just the opposite. It will be impossible for me to step into the woods without him being with me. I will never hear the word agate without thinking of him. He will remain a force inside me until the day I too die.
That one day with went agate hunting with the old original red agate king of the woods. All day us three hunted. I played a trick on the old man, making gouse tracks in the snow. Making them larger and larger until they got to be two feet long. And that afternoon, the man took his shotgun and blew off his head. Dick and I never could get over that.
What a wonderful soul Dick was--- just for me, teaching me so much, always there for me. I loved him and will forever miss him.