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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Another Adventure in the Wilds of Churchill County, Nevada

Another Adventure in the Wilds of Churchill County, Nevada

Out of the starting gate our mission for today was to photograph birds, or at the very least, find the elusive Fallon National Wildlife Refuge located about thirty miles northeast of Fallon, NV.

I searched the route on the computer and erroneously thought that it was simple enough that our GPS unit would not be required. That was a mistake as there are no street/road signs once you leave pavement and all of the numerous dirt roads look the same. After making several choices by the "going in the right direction" method (and being lucky) I pulled out my cell phone and called up Google maps to verify that I was indeed on the correct path. "Path" is a better descriptor for what we were driving on as it was more of a cow path or Jeep trail than a roadway.

Just before the worst section of road which I dubbed the "mud hole minefield" because of the large and numerous craters, we spotted a black Subaru Imprezza WRX pulled off of the trail to the east. In my mind a car like that was just out of place where it was. It was a street racer, not a car you would want to take off-road.

There was no one visible in or around the vehicle. We supposed a person could have been sleeping off a hard night of drinking, or might be hiking with friend or dog, etc., and decided to push on to find the FNWR.

We did indeed find the refuge, thanks to the google map. There are no signs, no buildings, no indication that it is a National Wildlife Refuge anywhere. I find that disturbing and intend to ask the folks at our Fallon office why. The pessimistic answer in the back of my mind says it is because if there were any signs they would either be stolen or shot full of holes by idiots who I am convinced, live only to destroy things. It is probably just lack of funds sufficient to reach far enough down the priority list.

On the way back as we came out of the minefield we could see that the car was still there. I was even more suspicious of such a built up ride being so far out a seldom used road, so we slowly drove up behind the car and stopped. The car had a temporary tag which had expired on 1-11-2015, six days ago.  It was our gut feeling and best guess that this was either 1. a stolen car, or 2. a suicide.

Having gotten crossways of a drunk with a gun in my younger days, I had Anna stay in the vehicle and stepped out of my Jeep and listened intently for a bit. Hearing no sounds I cautiously approached the vehicle going wide to the left where I had the best view and wouldn't mess up the footprints and other possible evidence on the ground.

There was no one in the vehicle front or back seats. No keys in the ignition, no evidence of hot-wiring the car. No scratches to indicate the windows were pried or a slim-jim was used. Lack of personal possessions and or trash in the vehicle noted.

There were footprints of a sneaker much larger than my own and a stride a good six inches longer than my own, which lead off into the brush at the two o'clock position relative to the vehicle. Most likely, a male, six feet or so tall and about 250lbs+ (depth of shoe tracks exceeded that of my own lesser weight imprints.)

On the right side of the vehicle there was a spot where a male had urinated recently (holes bored into soft sand, spray pattern, etc., for those who just had to know) facing the road.

On either side of the vehicle there were fresh butts of Camel filter cigarettes (open end facing west but no sand in them. Wind is predominately from the west here.)

Conclusion: One large man had pulled the car off the road into a convenient spot, gotten out, flicked away his cigarette, walked around the car to see if anyone was in sight, urinated while facing the road, and then walked off into the desert.

Obviously pursuing the departed man was outside of my pay grade and would not be helpful to the local constabulary, so I called the Churchill County Sheriff's Office dispatcher to report finding said automobile. As usual the dispatcher answered right away but was very busy so I had to repeat the information multiple times. A 911 call interrupted our conversation so I hung up and headed for town. I did note the mileage so that I could give a reference point for any responding units, should they return my call.

A few miles from town we spotted a CCSO unit on the side of the road and pulled in next to it to speak to the deputy. It was a lucky connection for both of us; I would have been upset not knowing if any action had been taken and would likely have driven back out tomorrow to check the vehicle, and I doubt that law enforcement would have found the vehicle without an air search considering how far out and how many turns you had to make.

The deputy was very happy to see us and called into the duty officer for a message, that message being that the car matched one reported to Fallon Police Department as stolen and we were to wait until one of their units joined us before proceeding. Eventually the PD unit arrived and I lead the parade back to the car in question.

I joked on the way out that it looked like we were leading a low speed (OK, 40 mph) chase and if anyone flying over saw us it would be "film at eleven!"

It would be understandable if the police officers following us began to wonder if I was leading them on a fantasy ride and I said so, but as Anna reminded me, she had taken a photo of the car and we had shown it to the deputy while we waited.

As we pulled up to the car the officers, in an abundance of caution, pulled out their long guns and proceeded as if a shooter might appear at any moment. In my estimation this was the prudent way to approach as we could have been facing a suicidal nut, even though it was more likely just a stolen car. You can't get those seconds back if you guess wrong and your car thief wants to cap you for getting in his way.

After a search of the area following the tracks that I showed the deputy, they determined that possibly two people had walked off into the brush, the large male I had found the tracks of, and either a woman or a small man wearing cowboy boots. I did not want to get in the way and mess up the tracks so I did not see the other tracks myself to be able to read them.

Once happy that the area was reasonably secure, the vin number on the vehicle was checked and it positively identified the car as the stolen vehicle FPD was looking for. As is customary in such events I gave a written statement to the FPD officer who would be handling the case and we departed on our merry way to dinner at Jerry's, which is where we always go after our adventures.


Possible scenario based on the above:

The direction the man walked is the most puzzling thing of all to me. Why take the most difficult path into a desert that could kill you, when there was a road behind you that you could eventually walk out on. Granted, it would take you a good twenty hours of non-stop walking to reach town, but it was doable.

The same distance through the desert would take you three days, and the direction he went, there isn't going to be anything there when/IF he gets there. Without water and considering the exertion, even with mild temperatures he will dehydrate and feed the coyotes. If he tries to drink the seriously alkaline water he will get very sick and feed the coyotes.

Night time temperatures in the high desert can be brutal in the summer, but they will suck the heat right out of your body in the winter. I would guess that he does have either a lighter or matches with him (cigarette butts) so could possibly build a fire and stay kind of warm. A formula for a slower death, but still not a good plan overall.

One fly in the ointment; the car was unharmed, the doors were locked, and the keys were gone. What kind of car dumping thief does all that?

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Smiling Snake

The Smiling Snake

The clamor of excited children got my attention as I walked along the edge of the park by the school. Cries of “Snake, Snake!” made me break into a run as much for fear of what the children would do to the reptile as anything else.

A small group of elementary age kids came into sight as I rounded the corner of the fence protecting the swimming pool. That they were running away from me at a good clip didn’t do anything to help my building anxiety.

One of bigger boys started yelling “It’s a COBRA!” which made me run faster. The chance that this was anything but a local species was infinitesimally small. If this were many years later there “might” be a chance, given the number of deadly snakes which escaped during hurricane Andrew in 1992. Prior to that year I would expect to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex before a cobra.

As I caught up with the screaming mob I could see a slender black snake about four to five feet in length coming to bay as the children surrounded it. The stressed out reptile rose up in a defiant posture and turned to face the closest threat.

For a fleeting moment my mind asked, “Are you sure? It behaves like a cobra,” but that thought passed quickly.

I was finally close enough to confirm that this poor harassed beast was a Black Racer, which is a non-venomous slender snake with a tough guy attitude. They do like to rear up and hiss at you and will definitely bite if given the chance. The injury from such a bite is probably the least damaging of any animal bite.

Asking one of the calmer boys to help me, I had him get in front of the snake and at a cue from me, step towards it, staying just out of strike range. While he was distracting the ornery critter I zipped in from behind and grabbed the snake by the tail, lifting it into the air.

As I gently spun the snake this way and that as it tried to climb up its own body, a little girl dressed like Alice (of Wonderland fame) pointed and said, “It’s smiling!” Then another child echoed the claim, and another and another. Snake teeth are far too small to show up in such a way so I was really puzzled as to what they were talking about.

The snake was tired enough that it allowed me to slide my hand forward until I could grip it just behind the head. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw when I turned the slender creature around to face me. It WAS smiling!

Trapped in its stretched open mouth was a very small set of what I could only guess were upper dentures. Even more bizarre was that these miniature false teeth appeared to have orthodontic braces on them. I didn’t even entertain a thought that this was intentional, only that I couldn’t explain it.

When I tried to remove the foreign object from this unhappy creature it resulted in renewed flailing and the release of a very smelly fluid from its rear end which would make a skunk gag. Luckily I found a paper bag up against a fence that was large enough to hold my captive and after a lot of trying, I finally got all of it inside.

There was a veterinarian not too far away that might help me, but it would have to be for free, because I didn’t have any money. I hoped that the weirdness of the problem would catch his interest, if not I would have to come up with a plan “B.”

It was just before quitting time when I walked in the clinic door, but as fate would have it, the car that sped out of the back alley was the doctor racing for his golf date. The lady working at the reception desk wasn’t at all interested in helping a kid. As soon as she got “The doctor has gone for the day” out of her mouth, she turned her back on me.

The mean streak in me flared up and without thinking I opened the bag, pulled out the snake, and plopped it down on her desk where it knocked all of her papers to the floor. I said, “This snake has a problem and I can’t help it.” It was a wasted speech as the woman had jumped up and ran through the door to the back areas of the clinic.

I guess she didn’t like snakes as much as I did. It was a good thing that this particular Black Racer had a mouthful already, because it really wanted to bite someone at that point. The creature vented its frustration by once again releasing foul smelling fluid which got all over the counter top; I didn’t mean for that to happen.

As I was looking around for something to wipe up the stinky mess the door to the back burst open and a lady in her twenties wearing an apron hurried into the room. I expected her to start yelling at me for scaring the receptionist, but she was cool. “What’s up with the Black Racer?” she said while pulling a cloth from the pocket of her apron and tossing it to me and nodding at the mess on the counter.

I stood there for a while with my mouth hanging open, holding onto the writhing serpent and processing not being yelled at. A wisp of golden hair had escaped from the tightly pulled back hairdo and she blew it out of her face as she waited for me to respond. The unhappy snake brought me back to the moment at hand by bashing me with its flailing head.

“Oh, I see” she said as she noticed the odd obstruction in the snake’s mouth and moved forward to also take hold of the creature. Between the two of us we held it still as she looked at what needed to be done. “Come with me to the back and we’ll see if we can fix this problem.” 

As we went through the door to the back she knocked at the bathroom door and said, “Dolores, you can go home now, I’ll close up.” From within the bathroom came a weak and shaky voice asking, “Is that horrible boy with the snake gone?” My new friend waved me on into an exam room with the reptile and closed the door before replying, “Yes Dolores, he’s gone.”

While I waited I tried to calm the nervous snake down by grabbing a white towel off of a stack on a table and covering its head. That seemed to help and I sat down on the rolling stool that the doctor always uses and put my arm (and the snake) on the examination table.

It didn’t take long for me to get bored; doctor’s exam rooms were my least favorite place to be. Even though it was a veterinarian’s habitat, there was nothing special beyond the same dog breeds chart which decorates every one of them. Just once I’d like to see a chart of snake species or even bird species on the wall.

The door opened and the young lady burst into the room with her hands full of instruments and a roll of tape in her teeth. She gestured to me to take the tape and then said, “I am Pat by the way.” I mumbled something that closely resembled my name as I watched her remove the towel which covered the snake.

Pat instructed me to move the racer to the metal equipment tray which she had just cleared off. While I did that she was ripping off strips of tape and sticking them to the edge of the tray. Once she had a bunch of those hanging around the tray she started cutting strips of gauze.

When there was a dozen pieces of gauze she said, “Now, we are going to tape our friend to this tray, putting a piece of gauze between its skin and the tape.” I didn’t say it, but I thought it, “This won’t work the snake will slip out of the tape.”

I did what I was told and put a piece of gauze and then a strip of tape over the serpent six times, sticking the tape to the metal tray. Pat said, “OK, let’s see what we’ve got” and released her grip. Fortunately I grabbed the speedy creature before it made it off the tray and hung on as it thrashed all over the place.

For whatever reason, instinct I guess, I grabbed another towel with my free hand and whipped it over the snake’s head and wrapped it up. “Give me a minute to get him calm again” I said to the now flustered Pat. She didn’t say a word as she stood there balling up the tape strips.

I slowly wrapped the towel around the snake’s body and pulled it down enough to see the head. By tucking the towel wrapped body under my arm I was able to present the uncovered head to Pat and control the movement enough for her to be able to work.

She got an underhand grip on the head and held it to where she could see the poor creature face on. “What the Hell!” was the first thing out of her mouth but the shock passed quickly and she got a hemostat off of the table next to her and tried to grip the false teeth.

The denture material proved difficult to grip so she tried grabbing a wire. That worked briefly but pulled loose before any real progress was made. As she sorted through the instruments she had available I took a closer look at the snake’s mouth. It appeared to me that the denture was hooked behind the curved teeth. If we pushed it backwards it would just hook behind the teeth it now sat upon.

Pat picked up a scary looking tool that made my eyes bug out when I saw it. Seeing my expression she said, “It is a spreader which is used during surgery to separate ribs.” Her intentions were good but I was afraid that the tool would break the snake’s teeth off and told her so. Her answer was to toss the tool back onto the table.

It was then that I spotted the jar of tongue depressors that you normally see it human doctor’s examination rooms. The idea just jumped into my head and I spluttered as I tried to get the entire thought out at the same time.

If we put one tongue depressor above and another below the offending denture we should be able to lift it free of the snake’s real teeth. Pat was good with the idea and she grabbed the flat sticks and we worked together to get them in.

Once she had the depressors in place and put pressure on them, I used the only tool that I had handy; my finger. I got cut a bit by the teeth as I pushed but was able to work the denture free of the jaws. The snake then did a maneuver that only someone who feeds snakes would recognize; it dislocated and reset its jaws.

Pat said, “I don’t have a cage that could hold a snake in the entire building.” I told her that I didn’t see any other problems or injuries on our little buddy and thought that it would be fine to let it go back where I found it. She was completely cool with that.

The merciful woman left the room for a moment and returned with a laundry bag with a drawstring which she helped me stuff the once again vigorous snake into. I said, “I can’t pay you for the bag or the help you gave me, I don’t have any money.”

She just laughed, put her hand on my head, and said “Don’t worry amigo, I haven’t had this much fun since the doc stuck himself with Novocain.”

We both turned at the same time like the idea struck us both out of the blue, and looked at the false teeth on the tray. Pat picked it up and turned it around and around in her hand examining it. Finally she said, “The teeth are small child size, but they are perfect. Why the braces and why false teeth for a child who would only have baby teeth anyway?”

I said, “The top of the whole thing is flat; the roof of your mouth is not. It doesn’t go into a mouth at all.” We both said “Display!” at the same time and high-fived each other.

A glance up at the clock sent me running for the exit saying goodbye and thank you as I contemplated how to talk my way out of trouble for being an hour late getting home. Fortunately for me my route home took me past the same field where the snake chase began.

I took the bag to the far side of the field where some bushes were planted and opened it and turned it upside down. At first the beast braced itself inside the bag and stayed there, but a little vigorous shaking solved that problem. Once it hit the ground it kicked into high gear and left the area without a kiss, a thank you, or even a look back at me!

This event took place on a Friday; the coming home late thing got me restricted to the house for the entire weekend which was miserable. Kids didn’t talk on the telephone in our house and there was no such thing as a personal computer or video game machines then.

Television was also off limits unless someone else wanted to watch it (read, my father) so reading was all that was left. Normally reading was my favorite past time but I had already read everything in the house at least once.

A city map caught my eye and an idea to see how many addresses around my neighborhood that I could identify and picture in my mind took hold of me; it was something to do!

It was while playing this mind game that I realized that there was a dentist office one block over from the school where I caught the black racer. The area was a little overgrown with weeds and had broken sidewalks, but was nice enough for an old neighborhood. The dentist office was in what used to be a private residence.

Monday after school I hurried home and got permission to go to the paddleball courts at the high school. I did go there (just so I didn’t tell a lie) but only stayed long enough to hit one ball against the wall. Honesty upheld, I took off at a trot for the dentist office to see if they knew what the false teeth in my pocket were all about.

When I got within sight of the place I slowed to a walk and watched a field mouse come out of the side door which was propped open with a brick. On a hanging sign over the front steps the board said “Doctor S. Miles Allott, D.D.S.” (Of course that isn’t his real name, I couldn’t use that.)

I walked up the steps and entered the front door which had a sign on it saying “We make your teeth happy” and an annoying bell went off.

The woman at the desk looked older than anyone I knew that was still working and she didn’t hear me come in. I stood in front of her desk for a little while, clearing my throat occasionally (which she didn’t hear) waiting for her to see me. It was a shy southern boy’s politeness nightmare.

I was still standing there not knowing what to do when a pretty Cubano dental tech came out and asked if I had an appointment. It was such a relief to have someone speak to me that I just went with the pretty girl automatically.

Once inside the treatment room the tech asked where my records were and what I was having done. I woke up to reality at that point and started talking. Pulling the denture from my pocket I presented it to the young lady and recounted where and how I had obtained it.

I half expected her to toss me out but instead she showed a lot of interest and examined the denture all over. Opening a cabinet she pulled out a headset with a light and several magnifying lenses that flipped out of the way. “Aha!” she said while looking at the back of the top edge, “I thought so!”

“This is an old display model used to show parents what braces could do for their children’s teeth. These haven’t been used for as long as I have been here. The doctor and his wife have been practicing for forty-five years and they used to do orthodontic work, I am sure they would know.”

We went back out to ask the old woman at the desk, who was also the doctor’s wife, but she was not there. The young lady, Isabella according to her name tag, looked at her watch and said, “Oh no, it’s too late, they have both gone home.” To be fair, there were no scheduled appointments and I don’t think that the old woman ever saw me.

I was pretty disappointed and started mumbling stuff like “It’s no big deal, thanks anyway…” etc. Isabella said, “Hey, hermano, no hay problema!” and laughed, which was a really sweet sound. “C’mon my friend, I want to look in the store room” she said and took off.

It took me a couple of seconds to process what had transpired and then I ran after her. She hadn’t gone far, just through two doors and into the side room with the open outer door. The room was very dusty and full of shelves and storage cabinets bulging with stuff apparently no longer in use.

Isabella was poking around on a shelf mumbling about “where would they keep them” when she screamed and jumped backwards. Running down the shelf in the opposite direction were three brown mice doing their best to get away from the screaming human.  My new friend was standing in the doorway, but behind the door, peeking around it like the mice were going to mount a counter-attack any time now.

I said, “You could use a good snake or two in here.” Isabella rolled her eyes at that statement and said, “Madre de Dios.” She said, “Make sure there are no more ratitas before I look again.”

Trying to be nice and yet still slightly the “hero,” I made a show of banging cabinets and shaking shelves and declared the evil creatures vanquished. Of course I knew that mice could hide anywhere and there were probably dozens of them in the room, but Isabella was satisfied.

She cautiously returned to the shelf and soon found what she had been looking for; the bottom half of the tiny denture set! We had proof that what I found in the snake’s mouth had come from that very room. Isabella and I both jumped up and down laughing.

I moved a short step-stool over to the shelf the dentures resided upon so I could look down on it. As I suspected there were rodent dropping everywhere, but what I had hoped to see was there as well; the tell-tale curving line of a snake track.

There were marks in the dust which told me that the snake had struck at a mouse which was in all likelihood either on or in front of the dentures and the impact pushed everything. Isabella was muttering about hiring a cleaning team or exterminators as she went back into the main part of the building.

I was satisfied that we had the answer as to how the black racer got fitted for dentures. The next afternoon I went by the vet clinic and told Pat what I had found. She seemed more impressed that I came back to tell her, than by what I had learned.

When I tried to tell my parents and siblings what had transpired I was met with disbelief and skepticism. I had witnesses to back up my story but I just gave up and let it drop; it wasn’t worth the effort. That smiling snake lived quietly in my memory... until now.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pearl Harbor lesson

Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 and the lesson not learned.

The following offered with much respect to all of my brothers and sisters in arms who have served and those serving now.

An act of war was carried out against the United States on this date and the few survivors remaining and their descendants still mark it with remembrances and tributes. That date has taken on a kind of "holy" day status and to not remember it properly is a sin of some kind. Don't get me wrong; I do believe that it is fitting that the men and women who served their country be recognized.

We were on the receiving end of an attack that targeted military objectives like warships and airfields. It was bad, but it carried with it a military logic that later on made it more understandable in a cold historical way. If it had been carried out by U.S. forces against a Japanese city it would have been called a courageous, brilliant, and well executed plan.

Since the attack was against our territory it was/is viewed as a dishonorable, sneaky, and reprehensible act of an over-reaching aggressive nation. Remember also that the only reason that the attack happened before war was officially declared, was the bumbling incompetency of politicians on both sides.

There was an extremely important lesson in the bombing of Pearl Harbor that has not been learned by our leaders or taught to our children. That lesson is simple: If you randomly kill the citizens of any country, the survivors will hate you for generations, if not forever.

Since Pearl Harbor the United States of America has undertaken an ever expanding policy of bombing opponents into "submission." Can you imagine the hatred and vengeance that would have arisen if schools, hospitals, or downtown Honolulu had been targeted? Don't waste your breath saying that we would never do that, because I have walked through the rubble personally. Talk to any Iraq War veteran about the destruction they saw.

I have heard the first hand stories with my own ears from the mouths of those who lived through the events of World War Two. Their hatred of the Japanese still burns brightly in their hearts. I have experienced the chaos personally from Vietnam to Beirut and heard the dialogue of both sides from Bosnia to Afghanistan.

The truth is still the same: when you rain death on people you do not instill fear or humble them into submission, you make generations of people who will hate you until their dying breath. The only winners are the people who make the weapons and munitions used to kill "other people's children."

We need to learn the lesson of Pearl Harbor and stop making new enemies. Remember how America felt when they heard the news about death reaching their shores: the heartbreak, the frustration, and then anger. Everyone immediately ran to the recruitment office to sign up to fight.

If you want to remember Pearl Harbor, remember how that event wrecked lives and don't allow that to be passed on. Being strong isn't about blowing people up, it is about solving problems.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving past

International Thanksgiving in Alaska 1976
Ft Richardson Army Base, near Anchorage, AK

Being stationed in Alaska from 1975 to 1978 was a great thing for an outdoor type like myself, with a wife, little girl and dog to keep me company. We had each other and our shared hobbies and interests.
For those Air Traffic Controllers who worked for me it was quite different, they were alone. Stanley did bring his wife up and had a house to go to, but their families were far away, just like the others. We needed each other to make our own family group.

The idea started out simply as a Thanksgiving meal where everyone could gather and not be by themselves. A good plan, but as we added people to the list it began to show a different color to me. The names that I wrote down on the page were what did it.

There was the Southern boy, with an Ohio wife and a Georgia born daughter in the house already. Add to that a Japanese kid from Hilo, Hawaii, and Polish guy from New Jersey. A German man from New York City with his British imported wife. A Czechoslovakian from Michigan, a French Canadian from Wisconsin, a pair of Nebraska yuppies of mixed Scandinavian ancestry, and a nutball from Guam by way of Puerto Rico.
What we had was a U.N. meeting without the politics. From that realization came the theme of: International Thanksgiving.

I called upon my second-in-command, Stanley, to assist me with finding cultural dishes from each ethnic group represented. This could prove to be a strange conglomeration of dishes, but that would just make it more interesting.
For our Hawaii born Japanese son, Clifford Mitsuo "Mitch," we decided that octopus was a good representative offering. There were none to be found in the commissary, so we headed into town and stopped at the big chain grocery store. The man at the meat counter laughed at me when I asked for a whole octopus. I guessed that was a no to my question as to whether they had any.
As is common in remote parts of the world, everyone listens to everyone else's conversations and Anchorage was no different. An older Chinese gentleman heard our question and was too polite to interrupt the rude grocery man, so he waited until we turned to leave to summon us to his side.
 He was dressed in traditional Chinese clothing and looked to be very ancient, but he spoke better English than the clown we had just dealt with. "Gentlemen," he said, "You may find what you seek at this market" and handed us a card. It sounded like a line from a James Lee Wong story!
We drove to the market and went inside a small building with a huge shop stuffed inside. It truly looked like a black & white movie from the 1930s with all of the stuff hanging in that shop. There were live chickens in crates, canaries in bamboo cages, eels in pots of water and more of the little ancient Chinese guys smoking pipes. The place was a trip!
I couldn't find the cash register, which is where every American shopper goes to find out about anything, so I asked the youngest looking man in the place if he spoke English, and he said, "No, but my grandfather does," pointed at a really old guy and left. What?!

The man in charge came to our rescue and told me that the others were a bunch of jokers and asked if he could help. I explained what I was trying to find and he lead us around and through the maze of shelves to a big deep sink. Covering the sink was a sheet of glass with bungee cords holding it in place.
I thought that was odd until the moment he unhooked the cords. A tentacle pushed under the edge of the glass and kept growing in size until the body of an octopus appeared. Evidently they are supreme escape artists that can and will get out and slip into the most inconvenient places imaginable, and probably some that we couldn't imagine. The shop owner deftly grabbed the creature by the head with his fingers in the eyes and breathing openings. He said will this one do?
“Well, yeah!” we said, thinking how the Hell, and what the Hell do we do with this thing now?
The man had already figured out that we didn't have a clue so he took us farther into his shop to a free-standing butcher block. There he grabbed a wooden club similar to a belaying pin on a sailing vessel, and whacked the life out of the beastie in one stroke. He then took a meat cleaver and had the beak and the internals out of the octopus before we could really focus on what he was doing.
The gentleman gave us instructions on how to wash the creature to properly prepare it. He suggested that we dunk it in boiling water, and then steam cook this meat. Why didn't we remember that they have McDonald's on the Big Island? This was going to be a lot of work. “Hey wait a minute,” we thought, “let's make Mitch do it!” Cool, this was going to work after all.

Stan kept fussing that his German food was next, but at least it wasn't so hard to get. He wanted Bratwurst, Sauerkraut, and German beer. The man was actually a pretty good cook too. I guess it was his bachelor years between wives.
His first wife didn't like him being on the road all the time playing bass for great jazz horn man Chick Corea and had emptied his bank account, filed for divorce in Reno, (Hey!) and driven off in his brand new Cadillac. So Stan had to fend for himself.
When he married Geisla (Geese-La) in London, he didn't realize that he would still have to do the cooking if he wanted to taste anything. Even though she was born in Germany of German parents, she was raised in London by relatives who had made her into a complete Brit. No flavor in her food at all.

Our man Andre was a French-Canadian transplant to Wisconsin. He was born there and was a US Citizen, but all of his family lived in Canada. When he joined the Army, his parents and siblings went back north to live where the rest of the clan was.
His contribution was Canadian duck, a really tasty meal, which used chopped up duck meat, ham, onions, celery, some kind of green peppers, a lot of butter, flour, and all kinds of spices. He fussed around with it in the kitchen all morning singing stuff in French and being just a happy chef. It required a lot of stirring, I do remember that, and it was awesome tasting.

Scott was a unique individual. He was the crudest, rudest person that I have ever known. We couldn’t take the man into a bar with us, because a fight would start within five minutes of his arrival. He was also one of the most brilliant electronics technicians that ever lived.
He could look at any piece of equipment and know what it did and how to deal with it. If textbook fixes weren't possible, he would invent something that worked. I can't tell you how many times he made something out of nothing for me. Of course this was the same guy that lit his hind end on fire lighting flatulence too. Can't have everything I guess.
Scott was only allowed to bring alcohol. No cooking should ever be consumed if he had anything to do with it. He could somehow cause food poisoning in an unopened can of peaches. He brought about 3 gallons (No, I am not kidding) of hard liquor and we called it good.

My number three guy, Jerry, was of Polish extraction and had been raised in New Jersey. He right away jumped on the idea of Kielbasa and a surprise, which he wouldn't tell us until he brought it. It turned out to be six large pizzas with anchovies on every one of them.
He was a sick individual. He knew that if he said "anchovies" before hand, only he and Mitch would say yes. This way no matter which pizza he got to, it would have his beloved little dead, sea creatures on it. The Kielbasa was very good though, and it was cooked in some kind of seasoned oil that his grandmother told him to buy.

Alexander was the only boy of six children in his 100% Czechoslovakian family from Upper Michigan. He was never in the kitchen growing up to do anything but eat. He chopped a lot of firewood and did all of traditionally male oriented chores, but didn't have a clue about cooking anything.
We told him that we had lots of food and we just wanted him to join us and enjoy. He finally settled on bringing the staple of every American gathering, potato chips… bags and bags of potato chips. He couldn't decide what kind went with our meal (like who could?) so he bought a big bag of every kind the store had.

Alex was a big, sensitive, quiet guy, who I had to coax into speaking into a microphone when he first arrived, but could now hold his own working traffic at the control tower. You were never quite sure what he was thinking, but the man never missed anything going on around him.
When he arrived back at my house after he dropped off his bags of chips and went to the barracks to get cleaned up, he was again carrying a bag. What the Hell is he doing I thought, not more chips! But it wasn't.
His family practiced a tradition which is largely thought to be Russian, but many cultures in the area pursue it; that tradition being that of carving eggs and painting them as gifts. He had two large eggs for Stan’s and my house, and smaller, chicken egg size ones for everyone else in attendance at that dinner.
They were all ornately carved and painstakingly hand painted with a tiny brush, inside and out. We aren't talking Easter egg dye job painting either. Alex had painted scenes inside of each egg and crosshatch patterns with gold paint on the outside. Think Faberge eggs and you would be close to what they looked like.
OK, they were certainly not that same quality, but every bit as precious to us. He had stayed awake every night after work creating these gifts instead of sleeping, because he wanted to contribute something to our celebration. There were a lot of allergic reactions all through the room as the manly men rubbed their eyes and tried to regain composure. It was a very touching gift you must agree.

The last two members of our group were the newest arrivals to the family of controllers. The female partner was the controller, “Can't Cook Kate,” with her husband Sam, who worked in Personnel. The husband told us her nickname when we first met them at their check in to the Company HQ. He was explaining a scorch mark on her duffel bag, saying that she had dropped a flaming pan of something on it and he had rolled the bag to put it out. We all assumed he was joking. Turns out, he wasn't.
Kate was to bring a big garden salad. The two wives had advised us that no one could screw that up, so we gave that assignment to Kate. She asked if she should bring salad dressing too, and thinking of bottles of stuff you pour on your green salad, we said, sure, why not.

Their car had not arrived in Anchorage yet, so Stan and I drove over to the temporary quarters they were in to pick them up. As we walked in the front door, the smoke was rolling out to meet us and a smoke alarm was playing a melody that we were to hear so often at their house.
Kate was coming out of the kitchen towards the metal trash can outside with a pan of blackened something, which turned out to be French toast… after the Revolution, I'd say. Sam was nonchalantly walking out of the bedroom in his country club tennis attire complete with the sweater tied around his neck. I fully expected him to say, "Oh Buffy, shall we go." But he didn't.
There was still a layer of dark smoke hugging the ceiling as Kate came back from changing into her matching tennis outfit, again complete with a sweater around her neck. We started out to the car and I asked, “Weren’t you bringing a salad?” “Oh yes,” she says and runs back towards the next remodeling job for the housing office on base. She didn't pop right back out, so I went in after her.
She was mixing something back and forth between two mayonnaise jars and looking puzzled. I should have known that was a bad sign, but I was in a hurry and didn't. I picked up the bowl of salad looking stuff and she carried the jar in her own hands.

We had pans of food everywhere there was space to set them down. The octopus was still in the pan of water it was cooked in, the duck was in a big pot on top of the stove, the Kielbasa on a cookie sheet in the oven, as were the bratwurst, with the sauerkraut on the back of the stove, stinking up the place.
The pizza was delivered in a snow storm by a goofy looking guy from a ratty old pickup truck, and Mitch met him at the back door and took delivery. Mitch was funny; he would not allow anyone to walk into our house wearing their shoes. There was quite a pile of boots, shoes, coats, etc., piled up just inside of our back door.  
My daughter Jenny, who was three at the time, decided to help and threw all of it down the basement stairs, and then brushed her hands together and declared, “There, that’s better.” She had done such a good job that later when people were trying to leave, no one remembered her comment and didn’t have a clue what happened to all the gear.
The six pizzas and the big salad occupied the dining room table, so we just grabbed plates and did the buffet line thing and filled up with goodies.
This brings us to the actual meal time and a very touching moment where each person said something in the form of a blessing in the language of their heritage. It was truly a special moment and I had no idea how much we would need those prayers.
As we all started with the salad, being the more or less traditional beginning to American meals, it was predestined that we should all react in the same way at the same time. We put the salad in our mouths at the same time, and we all spit it out at the same time. 
Kate had poured the entire quart jar mixture on the bowl of salad and saturated it really well. It was primarily a whole bottle of vinegar and an unknown type of oil which she had found in the cabinet in the kitchen in a clear bottle. I for one didn’t think that I would ever get it off of my tongue, even though I was licking a kitchen towel.
Moving right along, we tried to stab a piece of octopus and found that one could not stab the pink morsel, you must scoop it up. Mitch grabbed his with his fingers and drug it through the soy sauce and popped it into his mouth. We all did the same thing eventually. Then we chewed, and chewed, and chewed a lot more. If these were pink pencil erasers they wouldn’t have been any harder to chew up and swallow.
The Canadian Duck was excellent, what there was of it. We told Andre not to make a lot of it because we had so much food and he did as instructed. The brats were good, but very greasy, and the Kielbasa was good but spicy as all get out. The sauerkraut still stunk like crazy, but we ate on it.
Jerry was happy as could be eating his anchovy pizzas, and in fact ate so much of it that he had to go outside and unload some it, well, and tequila and beer, before he could start eating more.
By the time the evening was over, we had consumed all of the duck, most of the brats and Kielbasa, all of the alcohol and all of the potato chips. Four large pizzas were gone, and two whole ones were left. There was lots of salad and octopus to be had. Maybe we should have mixed the two together; the oil might have softened the meat to where it could be chewed. We did learn that we had over cooked the octopus a teensy bit. OK, ten times the amount of time we were supposed to do, but who knew?
The only thing we remembered for sure was that we had all been together for the day and evening and we enjoyed each other’s company immensely. No one was alone, or left out, and that was tremendous in a place where being alone can be fatal to your mind and well being.
It was a good day.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My Old Dog

My Old Dog

Mikki doesn't know that she is an old dog and really doesn't care from what I can tell. She also doesn't seem to hold my being an old human against me. We just meander through life a little slower than we used to and it's all good.

You can learn a lot from an old dog if you pay attention. She never, ever misses an opportunity to take a nap and is especially fond of movie time. We spend many hours together with Charlie Chan or Nick Charles solving "who-done-its" on the big screen.

She waits until I am settled into my recliner for sure and not going to pull a surprise trip to the bathroom or kitchen, and then plops down on her cushioned doggie bed with a big sigh. Mikki can snore through the longest movie that I own without a problem.

This is not to imply that she is lazy, but just that she has her priorities straight.

If anyone or anything dares to enter her domain she will race to repel all boarders. Her fierce defense of her property is well known to all dogs, cats, birds, leaves and other floatie things (like plastic bags) which might violate the perimeter. Nary an adjoining neighbor may enter their own backyard without being announced by her majesty.

During the years that I produced the Desert Home Companion her militaristic attitudes earned her the title of Colour Sergeant Mikki of the Highland Regiment of Border Collies. Her conduct has never wavered and her behavior has always been exemplary.

Early on in her canine teenage years (1 & 2) she had to deal with a couple of other dogs living at her house and it didn't work out well. They were both rescued German Shepherds with emotional and physical problems and conflict ensued regularly. Both ended up being put down for unsolvable health problems.

Later we tried to provide another same species companion, this time with a Border Collie. Jessie was a hyper active looney-tune from the start. There was a reason that she was the last puppy to be chosen and leave her mother; she was nuts!

Mikki was stressed to the max. At times she would just go outside and bark at nothing to voice her frustration. The younger dog would pick at her and pester her constantly. The puppy was a dedicated chewer and destroyed everything that she came into contact with.

Finally after many months of trying to make it work we contacted a Border Collie rescue specialist and found Jessie a new home. She is now a working sheep herder and as happy as can be. It was constant hard physical activity that she needed and now she gets it.

Mikki slept nearly twenty-four hours straight without moving and was her old happy self again, once the pest was gone. She can tolerate other dogs for a short period of time but they have to be willing to leave her alone when she is done visiting with them.

I can totally relate to that. I can tolerate people for a short period of time and then I want them to leave me alone. Why can't humans get that?

Anna and I travel as often as we can given that we still have responsibilities regarding parental care and the other commitments we have taken on. Mikki is happy to stay home and guard the house.

Early on in our association we tried taking her to a boarding kennel recommended by trusted friends when we had to travel. They described the place as a sort of doggie day-care or camp where their animals got to romp and play with other dogs. For Mikki it was more like doggie Hell.

We tried the place, which was clean and appeared to be well run, twice. Both times Mikki would uncharacteristically attempt to bolt past us when we picked her up, in her haste to get to our car and leave. She was shaking so badly that it took hours for her to calm down.

The third time that we used the facility I went back into the kennel area to collect her and she was huddled against the side away from the other dogs trembling in fear. I never took her back again. What we thought was the best option for her care turned out to be the worst for her.

Since that time we have either had someone stay at the house with her while we are gone (best option), or at least visit her each day to check her food and water and be with her for a few minutes of human contact. There have been no more terrified shaking episodes. Being in her own environment alone was preferable to her to the overwhelming presence of other dogs in a strange place. I do understand.

Mikki's happiest times are when she can physically touch both of her humans at the same time and be the center of attention. She gets jealous if we pay more attention to each other than her and will try to get in the middle.

When other humans come to visit she greets them at the front door by sitting in the middle of the entryway where you can't possibly come in without petting her. She does not jump up on people or behave aggressively in any way but never misses an opportunity to be in the right spot to be touched.

She is especially fond of our grandchildren and will wear herself out trying to herd them into a tight little group where she can touch all of them at the same time. It can be comical to watch. The kids and grandkids quite often look after Mikki when we travel.

Mikki has learned the sound of the mail truck and the UPS truck and will go sit at the front door when they are in front of our house to let me know that we have a delivery. As my hearing began to fail it was a helpful thing to have the extra ears on duty.

The old girl has a pretty good command of human speak and will help us old people find each other when asked to. She does know exactly where both of us are at all times.

It is very nearly impossible to go to the bathroom without her escorting you there. She extends this courtesy service to any human who visits, much to the consternation of some who are more sensitive about being watched.

If I had any complaint about her it would be her need to bring her dry dog food to wherever I am to eat it. She crunches loudly and leaves bits of the food for us to step on. This is a common behavior among pack animals and involves a need to be safe while vulnerable, as in with their head down eating. It doesn't seem to bother her that I don't like it.

Mikki's second favorite things are dog biscuits, which have become "cookies" in our communications. They were used to train her in basic obedience and then to reward specific activities.

She has graciously allowed us to think that we have control over the whole process while she taught us when to give her what she wanted. Thanks, your Dogness!

In the currently accepted equivalency formula (15 years for the first human year and then 5 for each succeeding year) Mikki at twelve human years of age, is seventy in "dog years."  She is pretty spry and agile for a senior citizen!

It is apparent that she is not done teaching us how to be an equal sentient being yet and strives to communicate each day that we must live in the now and appreciate what we have around us.

She harbors no grudges and lets each night wash away anything negative that may have happened. She treats every person she meets as a friend until they prove otherwise. She doesn't kill everything that she encounters just because she can, preferring to check it out and learn what it is instead.

This old dog greets me at the door with the same enthusiasm and love whether I have been in the garage for sixty seconds, or out of town for weeks.

There is much to be learned from her about accepting life as we find it and enjoying it as we go. I am glad that she hasn't given up on teaching me.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The hardest thing about PTSD

Written by request of dear friends who asked that I share what I have learned. This only my opinion and is not meant to be anything else.

Many of us who served the country in the armed forces have a condition called PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. It is not exclusive to the military; anyone can have it thrust into their lives. Police officers, fire fighters, EMT’s, rescue workers, and others, commonly endure it too.

The hardest thing about PTSD in my opinion is that it is invisible. No one can see it like a missing limb or visible scar, and like a vampire, it doesn’t show up in the mirror. And, like a vampire, it can suck the life out of you. 

It can manifest itself as depression, irrational actions, aggressive behavior, or in other ways. You may have one or all of these problems riding around inside you, not only unseen by others, but it can be unknown to you why you do things or feel angry or sad.

Those of us who have taken human lives and/or had injuries to our physical bodies can at least point to that as a possible reason as we try to rationalize why we behave or think as we do. But it can just be exposure to the sights, sounds, smells, or even knowledge of things so horrific that our minds do not want to accept them as any part of who we are.

The internal battle of trying to either live with, or expel, these memories can change how we think and behave. Passive, gentle people can be a ticking bomb of emotional TNT, exploding for no apparent reason to those around them, even lashing out at those they love.

It is like the learned “automatic” response to catch or block something (like a ball) thrown in your direction. The “ball” in this case is unseen because it is a memory and the automatic response is a form of self-preservation. You lash out either verbally or physically to try and prevent that bad memory from getting into your head again. People around you have a hard time comprehending what is going on, which is understandable, because you may not either.

For many of us, PTSD can manifest itself as depression. Nothing ever seems right in your world any more. Years may pass before it hits you, or you may experience years of suffering from nightmares where you live out the bad experiences over and over again. We are all unique individuals in our body chemistry, as well as mental makeup. You are who and what you are.

There are programs offered by the VA and others to help those who suffer from PTSD and if you are a person who can talk to the social worker or shrink types without getting even angrier or more depressed, then go for it. Some of us get worse instead of better in that scenario.

For me, peace with what I did and lived through is coming from something quite unexpected, at least to me.

Many had suggested going to church and praying, etc., but I found that too hypocritical and full of BS. The chaplains always blessed the missions as we went out to kill other human beings. Really? Organized religion has always seemed to be a scam to me… I mean come on, I have to pay (tithing) to belong to a group that tells me how to think and act according to their own made up set of rules, and I am supposed to not trust and actually dislike anyone who doesn’t agree with those rules? Nope, not buying it; it just makes me angrier.

So finding my way to becoming whole again by following the Buddhist path was a complete surprise to me. Here is a teaching where: you do not pray to a deity or god creature, you don’t pay to belong, the teacher says to question everything including him, and the only thing you have to do is work on making yourself a better person. And we are completely cool with anyone believing what they want around us. It is all good. So why does this work for me?

I have learned through the teachings of Buddha, to look inward and accept what has been done in the past as lessons and experiences. I can work on improving my own thoughts, words and actions each day, to make me a better person. This means that I can let go of the bad things.

So I have found a way to help myself. Will this work for everyone who has PTSD? I have no idea, as like I said, we are all unique individuals. But it works for me and other people I know.

What can you do if you have PTSD or are having depression or anger issues since coming home, and don’t know what to do or where to turn?

Talk to someone you trust in a quiet setting and preferably without alcohol involved. I have nothing against appropriate drinking, but I have seen many discussions go the wrong way when booze made the brain disconnect from common sense. Talk to me if you need to, I’ll listen.

What if someone close to you has diagnosed PTSD, or you think that they may be suffering from it?

See the above advice. Don’t blast them with questions that can be controversial or embarrassing in the middle of a party or family dinner, etc. Don’t fuel the discussion with alcohol to get them to “loosen up.” It may turn ugly in a flash.

Don’t ask “How many people did you kill?” That is rude and unkind.

Do ask leading questions like, “What were the people like there?” or “was the weather really hot and dry, or cold and wet?” etc. Let the memories flow on their time table and energy.

Listening to and reassuring your friends or loved ones that you care about them and know that they did their best is important to healing. I strongly emphasize the listening part; the more that you can get the bad stuff out in a non-judgmental setting, the more the burden lifts.

Be kind, be compassionate, and be understanding. Until you have walked, (to paraphrase this a bit) their miles in their moccasins, you have no idea what kind of load is riding on their shoulders.

Am I a doctor or a counselor licensed and/or credentialed to talk about this subject?

NO. I am a veteran who served from Viet Nam to Beirut and has been there, done that. I understand how hard life can be when the black cloud lives inside your head.

My only goal for writing this is to promote understanding and compassion. Peace to all, brothers and sisters.