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Friday, April 27, 2012

Three Bag Lunch

Friday morning greetings to all,

As I look out the window at the Goldfinches busily working away and the sun shining on them, I have to think, this has to be a good day. Only 47 e-mails and 1 message to deal with... I might have a running chance to break away from the computer today and not feel guilty about leaving work undone.

Speaking of weather for beautiful downtown Fallon, the forecast calls for a high of 67F with no chance of rain and 5 itty-bitty mph of breeze from the North to keep the air from being still. I'll take that!

To answer a question posed to me; yes, I am retired but no, I am not bored without a job to go to. I put in 37 years of working for the government and a few more in civilian jobs. I miss the higher income, but most definitely not the getting up early and getting home late. I especially don't miss working for people that I wouldn't hire to clean toilets, who got where they were via the "Peter Principle".

Including a postmaster who was a substance abuser and a cheat, yet due to his "religious" beliefs prevented me from getting time off to go to Burning Man for 10 years because he felt that it was pagan idolatry and devil worship.

When I had my final papers in and my retirement date set, I purchased my Burning Man tickets and waved them in the postmaster's face. I told the man that I would be joining others in doing unspeakable things like; being kind to each other, helping total strangers, cleaning up the desert, creating unimaginable art and existing peacefully in place without hate or prejudice.

He mumbled the usual words; "naked, sex, drugs", and stepped back from me like a demon would surely grab him soon. I told him, "Well, unlike the parties at your house, if anyone does that it will be of their own free will, and they will be of legal age." He retreated back into his office and didn't come near me much in my remaining few days. Yes, what I said was true, but I'm not going there.

Today's story is not about, "naked, sex, drugs" either, but rather about learning about myself and true friendship. The burner community is overall, a kind and giving group of people. Read and enjoy.

Three Bag Lunch

            When I was a young man I was strong, resilient, agile and boot leather tough. I taught other people how to survive and laughed at their antics and inability to adapt to their environment, even with instructions. I taught military pilots and aircrew to survive in arctic conditions, jungles, mountains and my personal favorite the desert. Ask me any question and I can give you an answer about what to do or not do. I was very good at what I did and had several testimonials from returning aircrewmen who were helped by my training. I was medically discharged from the service in December of 1987 and that was the end of my teaching survival skills, but I know them very well.

    For the next twenty-one years I worked outside in the weather every day, regardless of the conditions which varied over the years from minus 30 to 110 above, from dust-bowl dry to flash flood wet, clinging mud to knee deep snow. I am conditioned to being in weather extremes.

    I am also a combat veteran from many theaters of operation, Army and Navy and somethings beyond what I can describe here, suffice it to say, I have seen most of the rotten conditions you could find.

    So when I finally got the opportunity to go to Burning Man and spend a week or more in the desert I was excited and felt ready to face it all. I did all of the homework I could, reading four books on the BM experience, reading the survival guide published by Burning Man LLC, plus the ones for 2008 and 2007. I spoke to friends constantly who are burners for their advice and recommendations. I prepared for every eventuality, or so I thought.

    I felt ready. My Doctors felt that I was OK to go, even with diabetes and being 56 years old. I was very up for this and confident.

    I was camping with the Mensa Burning Man SIG (special interest group) and had time to help due to my retirement, so I went in early to help set up. The event started on Monday at 00:01 and it was awesome to be able to get inside the gates on the Friday before. No long lines to creep along in and eat dust, no wondering how much gasoline you were going to be left with by the time you got to your camp and parked.

    Part of my research and preparation was my temporary living quarters. I had my folding hexayurt on top of my Jeep and it was ready to deploy with minimum assistance providing the wind didn't blow hard. Ha Ha Ha! My burner friends will understand immediately, the rest will know by the end of this story.

    After a three hour drive I was through the gates and had made contact with my group leader. Expectations were high for getting everything done and beginning the magical experience that I had read up on. I will try to tell as much of the pertinent story as I can but not dwell on every detail or this will turn into a book.

    The first day was all about work to define the real estate of our encampment. I thought we were defining our camp, but it turned out to be for five camps, which meant five times the work. There was no chance to set up my shelter or eat properly, and I didn't drink much due to nonstop work. Slept in my Jeep.

    Saturday morning we were back at it before daylight. It would have been the perfect time to set up my yurt, but there was only the two of us and so much work to do. The dust storms started and sometime after noon another member of the group rolled in with his motorhome. I didn't know the guy or what to expect, but it didn't take long to figure out. He was all for him and a player of people, but the others liked him well enough, maybe it is just me.

    I busted my butt until I started getting sick and needing to go to the bathroom badly, so I took off for the outhouse row nearest to our camp, which was about a quarter of a mile away, maybe a half mile, but it wasn't very far. I found a spot and was so happy to be there with a cool breeze blowing through which helped cool my head and ease the distress I felt.

    Coming out of the outhouse I felt pretty good; by twenty steps out I was feeling OK. Twenty more steps and I was turning towards the camp where I knew my dear friends Howard and Chelsea would be. Howard is a doctor and Chelsea is a nurse, and they knew all about my medical history, but mostly they were my best friends and would help me.

    Chelsea appeared, (like always when I need her), seemingly out of thin air. It always seems so to me because I am usually in a fog mentally when I need her most and she shows up. One look at me and she started making me drink fluids, and then more fluids. I was convinced that my sugar was out of whack and that was the culprit. Lots of questions were asked about what I was eating and drinking, or not drinking. I answer truthfully always, but it doesn't mean that anything registers with my brain about what was said.

    Feeling better and more able to deal with the situation I departed for my own camp, over offers of a bed to sleep in. I was embarrassed by my failings and wanted to hide a little. I slept, (and I use that term loosely), in the seat of my Jeep that night and it was a long night. Somewhere around four a.m. I crawled into the back and tried to sleep curled and twisted as best I could. That was an utter failure and by six a.m. I was out of the vehicle and working again like a rented mule.

    It didn't take many hours to totally debilitate me again. I was helping with the shade structure for the camp and had not even touched my own yet, when the sick feeling hit me again. I had to go to the outhouse and was truly concerned that I was not going to make it. It was a nice day and people were working at setting up in every direction, except where we were. The man in the motor home was still too busy with his own business to help.

    I got almost to the end of our camp property, which was 300+ feet in depth, when the world started to spin. I had never felt that way without benefit of some kind of intoxicant before and it was ridiculous. I could not maintain my balance and quickly spun to the ground; where I landed on my back. It actually felt better to lie there in the sand and just not try to do anything. When I could focus I looked around to see if I had embarrassed myself, but even though some looked in my direction, no one made a move towards me, including my camp mate fussing around his motor home and supply trailer. When I could get up, I did, and continued on to the outhouse where I was hoping I would get relief and recover from this strange malady.

    Coming out of the toilet I was only feeling OK, a step down from yesterday which I did take note of. By the time I reached the street, which was Chaos (of course), I knew that I was headed back to Howard and Chelsea's camp. I was doubting my ability to remain at Burning Man with these frequent needs to go to the bathroom and feeling like death would have to feel better.

    I made my way to their camp and got inside the dome there and sat down. My friends at that camp saw that I was in trouble and located Chelsea, and a whole string of people were checking on me. It was determined that I needed to see Howard for sure, but Chelsea had already concluded that I was suffering from the most common burner ailment, especially virgins or first timers, that being dehydration. I was in no condition to argue, even if I had the inclination, which I didn't.

    My favorite doctor, Howard, rode in on his bicycle and checked me over right away and determined that I was indeed suffering from dehydration. We got into his truck and drove to the Remsa Medical tent at Center Camp, where he spoke with the duty crew and they decided to put me on a cot and give me an IV with saline to hydrate me. Howard was convinced that I was behind the power curve and with this hydration boost I would be OK. We had talked on the way over about whether I should just pull out and go home. I didn't want to give up this experience after waiting ten years to get to go. He said, let's try this first.

    Howard stayed until I was parked on a cot and the crew had me under control, with the IV implanted and me not giving them any trouble. He knew that I was very wary of medical personnel that I didn't know and wanted to be sure that I was OK with them before he left. Before he took off he told me that he would send another friend, Nicki, over to check on me. I didn't think a lot about that except that it was a nice thing to do.

    It was lunch time so I didn't expect Nicki right away, but as soon as Howard asked her to, she got on her bicycle and masked up against the sand storm which was now blowing vigorously outside and rode right to the med tent. It was the beginning of an act of loving kindness, the likes of which I had never experienced before. Nicki knew the attending RN from her work at the hospital and she talked to her while checking out my IV, my cot, whether my feet were cold, if I needed a pillow; checking on my comfort in other words. She is not a nurse by the way, but she is one of the most compassionate people I have ever known.

    The first saline bag was finished and it was apparent that it was going to take more to float my skin properly, or hydrate me if you will. I thought Nicki would say bye-bye, check you later, and split, but no such thing, she parked herself next to me and held my hand, talking and joking with me. Bag two finished and bag three was hung, under the watchful eye of my guardian angel Nicki. We did know each other before this event, but I can tell you that we became very good friends from this moment onward. I owe her the world for the love and kindness she infused into me along with the saline that Sunday afternoon.

    Nicki went and got the truck when they were ready to release me, and drove me out onto the playa past the Man and the Temple and to my camp. Howard and Chelsea's dad, Phil, helped put up my hexayurt and I had sanctuary from the heat and sand, in fact it was an awesome shelter.

    Howard was right, my three-bag-lunch was just exactly what I needed and with each passing day of proper water consumption, rest and shade, I grew stronger and more physically capable again. I did as I was instructed and grew stronger from it. I beat the odds. Most people in my condition would have had to leave but I was supposed to be there to learn some valuable lessons. I will tell you a couple of the most important ones.

    What did I learn?

  Friends are more valuable than gold or water.

    That I may have had the knowledge and experience for survival, but I missed one very important fact in my planning. I do NOT have the same body now, that I did when I was teaching desert survival. The difference in age, physical conditioning, general health, plus now being diabetic told its tale on me. I have been awakened to who I am now and what my needs are with the body I have to work with. My next trip to Burning Man will be much improved comfort wise, but I value the lessons learned at my first burn tremendously. Burn On!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Krackle... Pop... Snap!

Of all the silly reasons to write a blog entry today, having 49 existing entries, has to be up there. The uneven number bothers me like it was an incomplete set, or something is missing and I need to fix it. I'm OCD, what can I say. Maybe it is just the number 9 that bothers me... I don't care if there is 51, or 48... the more I think about it, the weirder I get.

It would be helpful if our smartphones had recognition chips/aps so that it could tell you who people are before that awkward moment where you run into old what's his/her name and fumble around trying to act like you know who they are. Phone ap, (talking to you via Bluetooth): At your ten o'clock (relative position) is Mary Nicegirl, you like her and have been friends since Mrs Goodteacher's class (3rd grade)... caution, approaching your two o'clock is Joe Flimflam, he is a con artist and a mooch, we don't like him. Wouldn't that be just peachy!

I have spent all day doing repairs/changes to our sprinkler system to help us conserve more water and still keep our plants and yard alive. It was a good Earth Day project. Water is only going to get more precious as we go forward.

Hopping into Mr Peabody's way-back machine, I have set the dial for 42 years ago and a time of plenty of water and sunshine. A teenage boy and his constant companion, a German Shepherd who outweighed him by 12 pounds come to think about it. Good thing he was my buddy, although he may have had reservations about that after this event.

Yes, I know it should be Snap, Krackle, Pop, but this isn't about cereal. Read and enjoy.


It will become clear to you, just like it did to "Thor the Magnificent," (well, hopefully not JUST like it did to him) what those sounds mean: Krackle...Pop...Snap. It changed the way he looked at things, and for certain it changed the way he did things.

Quail season was upon us in sunny Florida in 1970 and I loved hunting the fast and wily Bobwhite Quail which were plentiful in our area. The birds were very challenging to shoot and they tasted so good it was incredible. It did take more than a couple to make a meal; they weren't very big under those feathers.

I set out with my German Shepherd, "Thor" who was my all-around-good-for-everything dog. On that particular morning he was my bird hunting dog. He wasn't better at finding, pointing or retrieving birds than a specialist like a Brittany or a Pointer, but he was the BEST bird dog that I had. OK, he was the only dog that I had. But he was willing to do anything that I wanted him to do, he was just eager to please me.

He caught on to what I wanted really quickly and in no time he was finding birds and would flush them out when I told him to. He would just stand there staring a bush and move when the birds did.  It got to be comical at times because he would concentrate so hard on the birds that he would move with them "automatically." 

His not paying any attention to where he was going frequently caused him to trip over clumps of grass or walk into a fence post. Then he would look around (kind of hanging his head) to see if I saw him do that. He looked like he felt really stupid and embarrassed; he had his pride too you know.

The only drawback to his finding and flushing birds was that I couldn't communicate to him clearly enough that I was only interested in Quail. He would find Meadowlarks, Nighthawks, Dove, Wrens, Crows, stray Chickens, and if they were around, Quail.

I had to identify what was taking flight and make the decision to shoot or not, as they flew. It happened very fast and I was determined not to shoot something that I wasn't going to eat. It wasn't right to just kill things and, I couldn't afford to waste the shotgun shells. I let more than one covey of Quail get away because I wasn't sure and wouldn't shoot.

My shotgun was an old classic; a J.C. Higgins single shot 20 gauge. I had purchased it at a local gun shop for $15.00 and it was a fine gun for me. It really taught me to make every shot count and I became a pretty fair shot with it.

I really didn't feel that it was necessary to try and shoot every bird in a covey. Some of the men who came out to hunt with me tried to do that, blasting away with their pumps and semi-auto shotguns. When the smoke cleared, I had my bird down and they didn't. By having so many shots available they were forgetting the basics of aiming and follow through, and were just filling the air with shot. It was more fun to hunt alone.

"Thor the Wonder Dog" and I were working our way across the fields surrounding our property in Rolling Oaks and having a fair amount of success. We already had three birds in the bag, from three different coveys.

I didn't want to take too many from any one covey, which meant that I had to walk farther, but I was happier about the way that I was doing things. The birds wouldn't be eliminated from any one spot and there would be plenty of breeders to keep the covey going.

We were about two miles from the house and it was getting warmer. I didn't want the birds to spoil in my bag, so we turned around and started to work back towards the house. If we got one more I would be satisfied and call it a good day; if not, it was still a good day.

Regardless of how many I had, when we got in the field next to our house I wouldn't shoot any more birds. I liked having them running around the house chasing bugs and walking along all in a row. They were neat to watch!

I had learned to identify Quail by sound as they took off, which was helpful. It was faster than I could do it by sight and gave me a little edge on getting my "swing" going. I could get on these fast moving birds and get a shot off before they were out of range. That worked great when they were going away from you, or even across you.

Thor was literally jumping back and forth next to a fence and from his actions I knew that he was "dancing" with a snake. I couldn't see what kind of snake it was from where I was. He was keeping just out of range of its repeated strikes and waiting for the chance to jump in and grab it.

I yelled at him to leave the snake alone and get back to the birds. He hesitated to obey me, which was unusual. I started towards him, aggravated that he didn't do what I said, and starting to worry that he was going to get bit, again.

He had never learned to fear anything except sudden loud noises. The big dog would tolerate the gun going off as long as it was just me, because he was always watching me and trusted me. If anyone else fired a gun he would be out of there, headed for home and somewhere to hide.

As I got closer I could see that he had indeed found trouble, and birds. He was dancing with about four feet of ill tempered Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake which had located a bird nest in some bushes and didn't want to give up such an easy meal.

By that point Thor had worked himself into a frenzy and was coming closer and closer to being bitten, trying to get a grab on the snake. I yelled at him to back off and swung the gun around where he could see me pointing it at the snake.

I don't think that my yelling was having any affect on him at that point, but he knew what came out of the business end of that shotgun. He backed out and then ran around in behind me, still trying to get an angle on the big snake.

I hated to do it, but he was too close to the house and Thor would be back out there after him, as soon as I went in the house. So I blasted the snake, and it tore him up from that close range with bird shot.

I took the rattles off of his tail and tossed him up into the top of some large bushes where the dog couldn't get at him; those fangs can kill even after the snake is dead. That way the birds could have a good meal off of him.

I figured that was enough excitement for one day and started down the fence line, checking on the dog and looking for the cows that should be in the pasture that we were going to cut through. Those cows were mellow and didn't have a bull in with them right then, so it shouldn't have been a problem at all.

I looked over at Thor and he was at the far corner of the field in the wrong direction, and he was onto some birds. The way that he kept moving and stopping and moving again, I was fairly certain that he had located some quail.

Quail will quite often run instead of taking flight. I thought OK, if he found me some birds the least I could do was to give it a try. As I nonchalantly walked across the field the dog started moving towards me at a pretty fast walk. I had no more shifted my shotgun around to the ready position than the covey broke ground. Due to the pressure from the dog behind them, they were coming right at me!

There wasn't a shot I could take in front of me because the dog was in hot pursuit and I might hit him, that's if I could even line up on one. They kept coming and I squatted down because it looked like they were going to collide with me. It might just have been an illusion, but it was a good one!

Once they had passed me I figured that it was too late, but I swung on one bird and fired anyway and the son-of-a-gun fell out of the sky dead. Talk about your lucky shots, it just plunked down and didn't move. All I would have to do is walk over and pick it up.

It dropped into the cow pasture on the other side of an electric fence, which the rancher had put up because the cows were pushing the fence down reaching for the "greener" grass on the other side.

These cows either weren't very bright, or had quite a high tolerance to electric shock. The rancher had the fence turned up as far as he could get it, and the pulse frequency was so close that it was almost constant.

A couple of the cows that I could see looked like they had singe marks horizontally across their chests. It could have been rub marks from leaning on the fence before, it was hard to say.

The rancher had put up warning signs about the fence along its entire length and had built "stiles" over the fence in several locations for people to cross; he was really a nice guy.

Before I started over the fence I laid my unloaded and opened shotgun down on top of my bird bag and told Thor to stay with the bag. He had no problem with that, his tongue was hanging out from the exertion of the morning.

As I crossed over the stile I could smell electricity and hear the krackle of the voltage running through the wires. I thought that this thing must really be "hot" to be able to smell and hear it.

I found the bird exactly where it went down and upon looking it over found that most of the shot that hit this bird had gone into his right wing. One lone BB had hit him in the head and killed him. If that one hadn't hit his head, we would still be chasing this bird around on the ground. He might have had one bad wing, but he could still run like a track star.

As I examined the bird I walked back to the fence and looked up to see where I was in relation to the stile. I had veered about twenty feet to the right, which was no big deal in itself.

When I looked up I also saw two other things that got my attention; there was a current booster box on the pole just to my right, and straight in front of me was Thor with his leg coming up. The fence was only about ten feet away from me now and I yelled but it was too late.

KRACKLE went the electricity raging through the wire.

POP was the sound when the stream of urine hit that pole and wire.

And the SNAP, was like the sound of a whip popping and probably twice as painful when the blue arc leapt from the wire following the liquid back to its "source."

The electrical jolt was so powerful that it slammed that 120 pound dog backwards and to the ground. All I could do was stand there in "shock" (no pun intended) and watch the event transpire. I could smell burnt hair and hear the scream which came from this mighty beast as he went backwards.

I hurried over the stile and ran to the dog. He was conscious and breathing, with a look of disbelief (or something) in his eyes. This was the first time that something that he peed on had fought back!

I made him roll over onto his side fearing that his male parts had been blown off. "Everything" was still there and only time would tell about the functioning of the parts. There was some singeing of the hair, but no other burns that I could find.

We had to take the long way home because the dog wouldn't cross any of the fences. I couldn't say that I blamed him. The terrified dog low-crawled most of the way home on his belly. He could stand up, he was just afraid to.

It was my opinion that the big dog was probably fearful another "sneak attack" from a monster that he couldn’t see. He wasn't going to let that happen again if he could help it.

Thor recovered fully and "everything" worked all too well. For years after that incident you could put a loop of wire on the ground around the poor guy, and he would lie down, belly to the ground, and not move; no matter what.

But hey, even Superman had his Kryptonite

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Blue Flame on the Kenai

Greetings friends and readers from 20 countries now, many hits courtesy of search engines picking up a word in my stories I'm sure. No matter how you get here, I hope that you give this a read while you are here and enjoy the tales I tell.

The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon, where people know each other by first names, is awesome! The Fahrenheits will hit 82 and more, under completely sun covered skies and no chance rain, with a barely noticeable breeze. One thing to note, we have a pollen alert for Trees and Grass. Allergy sufferers are under attack! Prepare yourself before you leave the house and life will be a little bit better.

As it is every Friday, today is our day to take Mr S. to lunch and then shopping for his "necessaries", which is an old term that I haven't thought of for many years. As a child in the 1950's I heard older adults using that word as they came into my grandfather's store. I also know it to be part of the cowboy vernacular along with "possibles." I am very fortunate in that I have known people born in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Isn't that amazing!

Last week we were concerned about Mr S having back pain and being too uncomfortable to go for a long ride. He was insistent that he was fine and wanted to go wherever we could. So we did take him after all. Today will be the same plan; lunch, shopping and sightseeing in the local area. Remember this my friends, no matter what people have or don't have, the greatest gift you can give, is your time.

Today our story will take us to Alaska and a wild and crazy time. People do bizarre things, as you will see.

A Blue Flame on the Kenai 

It was the summer of 1977 and the salmon were running in all the rivers of coastal Alaska.  As strong as this call of nature was for the fish, it was just as strong for the fisherman; you just had to get out there and catch some monsters!

At the control tower we had been taking turns working double shifts to allow everyone the opportunity to take four days off in a row and not have to use any leave time, which was a very cool thing. Everyone cooperated and things went smoothly, no griping or whining about someone getting more time off, or “I had to work an extra day”, etc. The four days off in a row was necessary, because you used up a day traveling each way and that way you could have two full days of fishing and enjoy yourself.

When it was finally my turn to go, I teamed up with three other controllers and two radio technicians who worked on our equipment at the tower. One of these RT's was a character named Scott, who was the second ugliest man that I've ever known and not quite house-broken yet. You really didn't want to take him out into the public's view; it could be very embarrassing to put it mildly.  I'm not talking about his looks, he couldn't help that. Scott was the kind of guy that could and would, belch the entire alphabet. He did just that a funeral we went to once, I kid you not! I wanted to crawl under the casket and hide in the hole until everyone else had gone. I was standing right next to him and all those daggers coming out of people's eyes were hitting me! He was oblivious, as usual.

We were taking two vehicles on our trip, and loaded enough supplies for a week of feeding frenzy. If you are a camping type, you know how you always get hungry and look for something to munch on just about constantly it seems. Finally, we were ready! The other vehicle had enough cases of beer to supply a 7-11 and loads of chips and dip. It was easy to see where their priorities lie!

The group met at the tower and when I went through my checklist (yes, I do that) the other guys were laughing and making wisecracks at my expense. They were until I got to the fishing tackle, then a strange silence came over them and they exchanged looks and said," We'll be right back, don't leave without us." You guessed it! We were about to depart for a four day fishing trip and they forgot to put in their fishing gear. But they had the beer and chips!

We finally got underway at 7:30am, which was irritating as we were supposed to leave no later than 6:00am. Our chosen destination was Jean's Creek Campground on the Kenai Peninsula; a beautiful spot where the Kenai and Russian rivers meet and fish are plentiful.

Jean’s Creek campground was state maintained and even had an outhouse! A beautiful structure made of imported redwood and green corrugated fiberglass panels on a cement slab, with a concrete sidewalk leading up to it. I tell you it was a sight for sore butts! To actually be able to sit down when you had to go was amazing.  The simple pleasures in life are the best!
If you have never been to Alaska, it would be hard to envision the awe inspiring sight of a complete hill of violet colored fireweed in bloom, waving in the breeze like waves on the ocean. Perched on top of a hill you could see the old Russian Orthodox Church of Ninilchik, still ready to welcome visitors. Incredible! It's still there if you want to go see it; just take the road to Homer and you'll drive right by it.

Driving “around” (OK, substantially over) the speed limit we made up lost time and pulled into the campground in plenty of time to set up camp and get everything arranged. There were only two other "camps" (tents grouped together) in the entire area; we practically had the place to ourselves!

Everyone was dog tired after driving and two of the guys had "duty" the night before and had been awake for about 36 hours at that point, so we made an early night of it and agreed upon a time to meet in the morning.

What we couldn't have known, (but found out rather rudely in the middle of the night), was one of the other camps was all “Cheechaco's,” or new guys to Alaska, (and apparently to common sense.)

One of these intellectual giants had cleaned his salmon in his campsite and then dumped the remains down the hole in the outhouse! If you are a stranger to the bush, you probably wouldn't know how far away bears can smell food, or what considerable efforts they will go through to get what they want.

This clown had rung the proverbial dinner bell for an entire family of Brown bears (aka Kodiak bears) and they strolled into the offender's camp sometime after midnight.

Bears have a habit of “sampling” (smelling and tasting) everything that the fish had touched, in search of the real thing. When bears sample, there usually isn't much left in one piece. The guy had even hung the fish on his tent pole for a while, which got plenty of scent on the canvas and the bears tore that to shreds.

Now, don't get me wrong, we weren't all sleeping through this escapade; but you also don't yell, "Shoo!" at a Brown bear that's hungry (Even if you stayed at a “Holiday Inn Express” the night before.) We were all awake, outside of our tents and watching the bears. Our vehicles were unlocked in case we needed to get in them to get away from the bears. At least the guys who caused this ursine visit were smart enough to get out of their camp and let the bears have their way with it, because they were going to anyway!   

There was one fellow who would have been grateful for some assistance. At least a warning or something! He had taken a midnight stroll out the sidewalk to visit the outhouse and was in there with his flashlight and a book, taking a ... “read,” when all hell broke loose in the form of a very large, hungry bear with a good nose.
The now cranky bear had followed the scent across the area from the camp to the outhouse, where the dummy had deposited the fish guts. By the comparative size we guessed that it was the mother of the others and she was getting more vocal as the smell of salmon got stronger. Her patience was wearing out and she was hitting things in her way with a huge paw and reducing things to splinters.

The unfortunate fellow could only get out one way (the door), and that was the side that the bear was standing up pushing on. It was terrifying for the guy inside and a real quandary for those outside.

You knew that it was very scary for the guy inside the outhouse, but at the same time it was so funny! Think about it; the guy sitting on the seat with his pants around his ankles, saying, "Common guys, that's not funny!"

We had to wonder when he would realize that it was really a great big brown bear banging on the door. A brown bear which at this point, might just consider some human snack food if she couldn't get salmon.

The instinct for survival is strong, even in the puny human species. When the trapped fellow got his clothing in place he kicked the back wall out and made good his escape. And like in the movies, just in the nick of time! As he was going out the new back “door,” the bear was tearing down the front.

She was so worked up by this point that she tore the entire outhouse down and pounded on the sections on the ground with both front feet, (kind of bouncing on them) and then she got back to the matter which brought her here in the first place; salmon guts! Yum!

The problem was, the hole was too deep. Even for a great big bear with a very long reach. She couldn't quite get her claws low enough to snag any fish parts. The big bruin grunted and yowled for a long time before giving up finally and moving off into the bush with her mostly grown offspring following her.

We posted a watch for the rest of the night and took turns sleeping and standing guard. There was a real need to be alert for the possible return of these obviously hungry bears to insure everyone's safety. Fortunately for all concerned, they didn't come back.

The question has been posed to me when I tell this story, “Why didn’t you just shoot them, or at least at them, to scare them away?”

My answer was simple; common sense.

I had a .41 Magnum revolver with me and would have used it if we were attacked. I had it in my hand walking towards the outhouse when the man inside it escaped. But otherwise there were only two .22 caliber handguns in our camp. That caliber is less than useless where a bear is concerned.

Knocking a bear down takes a LOT of stopping power and if you can’t kill it, then you had better not shoot it. It was best not to start a war we couldn’t win.
The members of the camp being destroyed were yelling, banging on pots and pans; doing all of the stuff you hear about doing. But making noise apparently only works on timid black bears. Those brown bears just got pissed off and tore things up worse.

Besides, it was their woods! We humans were the intruders and provoked the incident with our stupidity. Why should the bears die for that?

The rest of the story

The next day we all caught our limit and did so with such great ease, that we were very picky about what we kept and what we released. The fishing was incredible! I've never seen anything like it since.

Even the big feeding frenzies of ocean fish like tuna, where they catch them on bare hooks, can't compare to the acres and acres of Salmon and Arctic Char and various types of trout that seemed to occupy every square inch of these rivers. We were in awe. If we had not taken one fish out of the water, it would have been worth the trip just to see this spectacle with our own eyes!

That night we had to celebrate and talk big "Man Talk" about how we weren't going to take anything (meaning fish) the next day, that didn't weigh at least 60 pounds, etc.

We drank the cold beer which we had chilled in the icy river all day as we grilled salmon steaks on our cook fires and then sat around a very large bonfire eating, talking and relaxing, enjoying the night air and reliving each catch of that day. Life was good!

All was good that is until Scott, (you remember Scott) had consumed enough beer to get completely stupid. Encouraged by the others, he was holding a lighter near his rear end and lighting it at the appropriate time to cause blasts of blue flame to shoot outward.

Laughing like the mental case that he was, he would wait a few moments to "recharge" and then do it again. That was dumb, but it got worse.

Someone (nobody would admit to it later) said, "How big of a flame can you shoot Scott?" in a challenging sort of way.

Now, common sense tends to depart when you add alcohol. We all knew that you really shouldn't challenge a drunk to do anything. They won't say, “No,” no matter how stupid something is.

Scott stood up (rather precariously) and turned around. Then he dropped all clothing from the lower portion of his body and bent over. Reaching back between his legs with his lighter he assumed the “ready” position.

He let go with a tremendous blast of methane which he ignited, and shot a blue flame at least twenty feet. It seemed to light up the entire Kenai Peninsula!

Lacking any barrier between flesh and flame, the fire moved back upwards to his tender parts and seared them royally! It probably was good that Scott was seriously drunk at that point, because that had to hurt!

He apparently didn't feel much of anything. We saw his hair in that region ignite and knocked him down and threw water on him immediately. It's a good thing that we always kept a bucket of water by the fire for emergencies as this definitely qualified! 

Upon quick examination, we determined that he should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible and loaded him into my Scout and hauled, Scott, back to Anchorage to the hospital ER. 

That was a very fast and scary ride as the constant threat of animals on the road made things very tense. You only hit a moose once and survival isn’t likely for either party.

Scott singing to us, on the other hand made me drive even faster. That was for two reasons; I knew that when the alcohol wore off the pain would be bad, and his singing was really, really awful! We arrived in the quiet time before the day shift had taken over from the midnight crew, and got to go right into the ER treatment area.

If there had been such a thing as America's Funniest Home Videos back then, we could have won the money just on the ER visit alone. Don't get me wrong, Scott was swiftly and expertly being taken care of by the nursing staff (of course.)

When the first doctor asked us, "How did this happen?" and we explained the evolution of the injuries, he got a funny, quivering look on his face and took off around the corner. We could hear him cracking up laughing. 

A few minutes later, a different doctor (sent by the first one), came into the waiting room and asked us, in all professional seriousness, "How did this happen?" and we explained again, with much the same results. Only this one didn't quite make it out of the room before he lost it.

And then another doctor, and another one, until we had gone through the entire night staff of the hospital. All of them fairly young; and each new one being sent in to question us without any advanced knowledge of what took place. In other words, they were being set up by their peers.

It's a good thing that nurses really run the hospital and take care of the patients, or you could die from a funny accident!

Scott recovered fully with no bad side effects, and he never "lit up" again with his pants down, you can rest assured of that! You still couldn't take him anywhere that you might encounter polite folks and we did catch lots more fish on those rivers, but I doubt that they will ever see another "Blue Flame on the Kenai" like that night. And they probably don't really want to.