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Friday, May 25, 2012

More Valuable Than Gold

Greetings readers from all countries, may peace and prosperity be with you and may your children never know fear or hate.

We have been running like a man trying to catch the last bus, all week. No, I didn't ever quite catch it... still much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it all. So why am I writing this? Because, I have learned that I have to do something for me at least once week or lose what's left of my sanity. Simple therapy.

The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon, where the fans cheer for both teams in a soccer match and young people hold the door for people they don't know, will be a slightly soggy mess today. Rain has happened and will be sprinkling all day with a chance of afternoon T-storms. Winds 10 to 20 mph out of the North will make the 60 Fahrenheits feel chilly. We will only get enough precipitation from this rain event to mess up a new car wash, but the plants like it.

Having traveled to many places in the world, I have had the good fortune to experience hospitality where I was told to expect hostility, given welcome where I was told to expect hate, shared food with people who had no extra to give (but would not take no for an answer), and laughed with children who were supposed to fear me.

A smile and a laugh are the only things necessary to walk among strangers. Give respect and get respect. Help a stranger and gain a friend. Do not judge others and accept that different may be better and life can be a great road to travel. "Strangers and foreigners" (my neighbors) taught me these lessons as a young boy in Florida and they have served me well as an adult.

The story selection for today is the promised sequel to last week's tale, which tells what happened to the books we rescued from a watery grave. I hope that you enjoy the read and agree that what we did was a better way to handle disposing of treasured books.

More Valuable than Gold

(Sequel to: "I'm Not Throwing Them Away.” I recommend reading that story first to fully understand this one.)

= = = = =

The books we rescued from a watery grave had to be hidden, but there were only so many places that you could hide twelve hundred pounds of books.  There were many, many more books already occupying the racks (beds) and upright lockers of those involved in “Project Literacy,” (so named by a scrawny kid from Brooklyn) which meant that we needed another safe place.

There were places that could handle the volume but were too damp, or worse, vulnerable to spies who would run to the admiral to gain favor. In order to be able to keep the books safe we split them between locations.

We moved the bags of books from the hangar bay in laundry carts (big rolling hampers) which we had to lift over the knee knockers (walls with openings that held the oval shaped water tight hatches) and roll along the passageways. Perversely enough we went by the admiral’s stateroom and collected his laundry right on top of the books. It just seemed so fitting to do that, like he had personally helped.

One of our best sites (six bags there) was in a boatswain’s space which contained hazardous chemicals and was kept locked up. My personal favorite was the linen supply locker for the admiral and captain’s staterooms. The steward who took care of their rooms was a long-suffering and much-abused young man who insisted upon having “Mutiny on the Bounty” in that bag. It made him laugh every day.

After several close calls, we decided to get as many of the books off the ship as possible at the next port of call which was Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Discussion ensued as to how we could get bags of books off the ship without calling attention to ourselves and getting busted. Carrying sea bags (aka duffel bags) wouldn’t work; they would get inspected. The senior staff actually provided the necessary transportation and didn’t know it.

A helicopter was to be dispatched to Colombo to procure fresh fruit for the Captain’s Mess. In other words, they were going grocery shopping. We could use that mission for our own purposes.

For those who don't know about the Captain's Mess, it was the dining room where the ship’s "royalty" dined with guests (by invitation) and alcohol was consumed regularly. It had its own kitchen, special monogrammed china and silverware, personal chef and serving staff and a climate controlled wine storage unit. They suffered no hardships. Enlisted men only got to work there, never dine with them.

The pilots and AC's (air traffic controllers) aboard the America routinely did favors for each other, so hauling bags and a crew to unload them was no big deal. The arrangements were made and four of our strongest young men rode with the bags while the rest of us rode the liberty boats ashore.

Once in Colombo, we needed to find someplace away from the wanderings of the sailors who would recognize the "U.S.S. America" stamp inside the book covers and talk about it aboard the ship. We drank some tea and talked with locals as we worried about having enough money to rent a vehicle to transport the bags of books.

We soon learned that our worry was completely unfounded. The average income of Sri Lanka workers at that time (1984) was equal to $263 U.S. dollars per year. Our meager supply of cash would go a long way. It was a great eye opener to many of our crew about real financial poverty.

For twenty U.S. dollars we rented a Mercedes lorry and driver to take us to an orphanage school in Ratnapura. That village was about fifty (50) miles inland and a place where no other sailors would go. That would be a safe location for our valuable cargo.

According to a Buddhist monk that we spoke with, the orphanage had no books. That monk was so impressed with our mission that he went with us and worked twice as hard as any one of us. His name, (as best we could decipher his English), was Thic, which cracked us all up because he was so THIN!

Thic would only accept food for his part in our project and stayed on in Ratnapura to help at the orphanage for a while. He wore orange robes and carried only his bowl and prayer beads and a shawl. The young man also had a pair of simple leather sandals that were most often in his hands instead of on his feet. His reasoning was that he did not want to wear them out and then be in need of shoes.

Simplicity and minimalism was the custom of the Tibetan monks who were not based at a monastery and were traveling the country trying to help people. The man had an air of goodness about him that put you instantly at ease. He certainly earned our respect.

We were advised (by our military port briefing) not to go into the interior of Sri Lanka because the rebel Tamil Tigers, (or more properly "The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam") roamed the countryside capturing government officials and holding them for ransom.

Sure enough we did encounter them, but after we showed them the books, they gave us an escort to the orphanage and guaranteed our safe passage back out as well! They approved of educating the children and supported the freedom to learn and read.

I believe that part of the reason for our success with the Tamil faction had to be that we had Thic translating for us. No one could talk with that grinning bald headed skinny guy and come away unhappy. He could make a zombie smile.

Upon arriving in Ratnapura the hired driver introduced us to the Orphanage Master and our favorite monk blessed the bags of books as we unloaded them. The schoolmaster was in shock at even seeing so many bags of books. He started crying when we opened the first bag and I don’t think he had stopped weeping when we left.

They had one old Bible and a couple of German magazines. There was one blackboard in a sad state, and no chalk for it. The kids sat on the floor, or an overturned bucket or crate for school, because they had no desks. You don’t even want to know about the bathroom situation.

We had planned to go to Ratnapura, dump off the books and take off again. We would hurry back to Colombo and the bars and sights we could see there. It took all of about five minutes with the children to change that plan.

Among our little band of book thieves we had many talents and abilities that would serve us well in this situation. While the other looked over the school I went scrounging and scamming with the truck driver (who also was moved to stay and help.)

We quickly “scored” a load of lumber right off of a delivery truck; for which we traded a can of Skol beer. That can of beer was promptly hidden (wrapped in the driver’s shirt) under the seat of the delivery truck (his religion prohibited drinking but not trading.)

There was already some question about which construction site the lumber was destined for (the driver lost his invoice) so no one would know where it went. No wonder things got lost and misdelivered in that part of the world all of the time.

When we told the driver what we were doing with the lumber he got back in his truck and delivered it to the orphanage for us. He also contributed a case of nails to help with the building. The man kept blessing us until it got embarrassing (to me anyway) trying to figure out when we could walk away from him. 

We traded a U.S. Navy issued version of a Boy Scout knife with "USA" engraved on the side for some pipe and roof flashing from a local craftsman. He was undoubtedly able to trade it for many times its value in supplies that he needed. Anything with a USA or America logo or label was worth a fortune in black market trading.

While we were gone a couple of guys repaired the leaking roof and replaced a piece of heavy cardboard that had covered a big hole in a wall. They used a window already in a frame that a neighbor had used as a wall for his chickens. 

To be able do that they first had to repair the chicken coop with a section of wire they found in an empty lot that had sticks in it and had been dragged back up over itself into a snarl, making it basically useless as it was.

My guys straightened it out and removed the debris. That made it serviceable enough to repair the chicken coop, thereby talking the owner out of the piece of a wall and window (likely, it was originally from the same building that was now the school) that he was using to keep his chickens corralled. Some of the shorter boards worked well to finish the window installation and it was ready for painting, if that ever happened.

The neighbors were of different social classes and couldn't touch something from each other's hands, so no interaction was possible. We didn't have to operate under those rules so we could work with both to no harm to the local beliefs. Strange, but it worked out. The locals also had an aversion to saying “no” to the strange Americans, which also worked greatly in our favor.

We used the flashing (gained in the knife trade) to “rat proof” the food storage area. Another piece was shaped into a rain gutter to funnel water into a bucket or barrel to collect fresh water when possible. If there had been a way to solder joints we would have been happier with our efforts.

With the lumber from the truck (beer deal) we were able to build tables and benches for the kids to use in their classroom. One boy told us that the tables were so beautiful that he was going to sleep on them every night. That statement nearly made the carpenters cry.

There was enough plank lumber to build some bookshelves and those actually became a library used by the school and community. In Ratnapura only the very rich residents (the gem stone businessmen and the tea plantation owners) had books written in English. Actually, very few people had books of any kind at all (Americans have no idea how lucky they are.)

We were lucky enough to have a plumber’s son in our crew and using the pipe and a big drum we found he rigged up some running water from the well to the building with a real faucet attached. They still had to hand pump the water up into the drum, but gravity took over from there once it was filled.

We took the tortured blackboard off the wall and discovered that the other side was still as good as new. The next day we sent a big case of chalk out by a truck driver who made that drive daily. We paid him, but he gave the money to the orphanage. Good deeds were contagious it seemed.

It was enlightening, for lack of a better word, to see how people with so little would give up some of what they had to help others. It was a good lesson for those of us who came from a land where so many have so much to be grateful for and don’t even realize it.

That orphanage was a real eye opener for most of the group who had only heard about such places. The repairs that we did only addressed the physical needs of shelter and water in small ways. The questions of food and health care were beyond what we could do in our tiny allotment of time. What the children’s future would hold we could only speculate about.

The place had tremendous impact on one member of our group who was seriously religious. He kept saying over and over, “How can God allow this?” To his credit, he set up a regular donation to that orphanage and has gone back on his own multiple times since that trip to do more work and visit the kids. I know that he made a difference.

The load of books that we delivered to Ratnapura was ten of the twelve bags. We felt that the hundred or so kids of that orphanage would benefit far more from them than the creatures of the deep ocean would have. The other two bags were high-lined across to a supply ship on the condition that they mark out the U.S.S. America stamp and forget where they got them.

Later on we heard via the “grapevine” that the captain of the supply ship followed our example (they knew the story of what we had done.) After his crew had read all of the books they took them ashore in two successive port visits. They spread the books around the places that they could reach, also doing repair work on schools and clinics as they went.

No one ever told the admiral about us not dumping the books or what we did with them, of that I am sure. I did hear about him taking credit for sailors doing volunteer work in port of call communities, which he had nothing to do with.

I was sure then and I am still confident today that my partners in crime were willing to let him strut like the stubby Napoleon that he was. We knew what happened and we were fine with it just like it was. For once ignorance didn’t win.

Project Literacy was the right thing to do and we were proud to have done it. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

I'm Not Throwing Them Away

Frazzling Frantic Friday is underway! For every minute of time we thought that we had to do something, there are at least three things needing done. I would imagine that everyone has days like that.

I am determined to steal a few minutes to get this blog entry done and out there for those loyal readers who are looking for hi-jinks and giggles. I think that we need something to read besides the depressing stuff that fills the media these days.

The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon, where the grandkids of people we know are now in the work force, will be mostly sunny, 70F and a mild breeze from the East. Beware allergy sufferers! The pollen count for Tree pollen is HIGH and Grass pollen is VERY HIGH. You could sneeze your face off!

Our weekly ride in the countryside has had to be postponed due to having to refile paperwork for Mr S. in order to keep his VA pension and medical benefits alive and coming in. It is a bona fide paperwork nightmare, and if an old veteran had to do it on his own, it would be impossible and he would lose his benefits. This is definitely a fly in the ointment. Those who need help the most, are least capable of dealing with the bureaucratic red tape. The battle rages on and we will be victorious... eventually!

Today we shall hop in the way back machine and visit a floating city of more than 5,000. The story is very appropriate for the writer and the readers of these blogs, as it is about books. Read and enjoy!

I’m Not Throwing Them Away
I have always hated wasting things or throwing something out because a newer or replacement version has arrived. I guess I was into recycling and didn't know it. You would probably just say, "Just like a man, pack rats got nothing on you!" But I think you will all agree with me that this time, saving these items was a good thing to do.

It was 1984 and I was in the U.S. Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS America, CV-66. At the time we were in the Indian Ocean and flying like crazy. Spending every moment working helped the time pass, but it was also very hard on the body.

You never really got to relax. You just collapsed when you got a few minutes away from work. Before you knew it someone was rousting you out and it was back to work until the next break.

There were times when we would work for as many as four days straight without ever stopping. You got no sleep and food was brought to you in the form of box lunches. Bathroom breaks were at a premium and believe me you were very appreciative of those opportunities when they came around.

Those were memorable times, but let's not even think of referring to them as "the good old days." It wasn't fun or exhilarating; it just had to be done. Our job in CATCC (Carrier Air Traffic Control Center) was to get the planes back aboard the ship in one piece, and we tried our best at all times to do just that. Sometimes it didn't happen; that was the way of military aviation.

When those unlikely times happened that we were able to sleep more than a couple of fitful hours, I would read a book to relax and get my mind off of our daily grind. It didn't really matter what it was, and I had read several books more than once.

The ship had a small library, maintained by the chaplain and his staff, where books were available to check out daily. You could keep them long enough to get them read, even with our wacky schedule.

I confess that I started out being a reading snob, only wanting to read certain authors. Then I branched out to just certain kinds of books like, mysteries, adventure, etc. As my choices got fewer, my methods of selection grew broader until I had read everything in the library.

That got me to where I had to start going by how many times my name was already entered on the check-out sheet in each book. I was a voracious reader and was not about to apologize for it. If I had more free time they would probably have had to throw me out of the library so that others could have a chance at the books.

When we got word that a new shipment of books was aboard a supply ship steaming towards us for a rendezvous we yelled (literally) “All right, new books!” But the chaplain didn't seem terribly overjoyed to hear the news and I couldn't figure out why.

As you would expect, the ship's chaplain is privy to more inside information than this lowly enlisted swabby was. What he knew did not make him happy and didn't exactly "blow my skirt up" either, once he let slip what was going on.

Once the shipment of new books was on board, everything in the library with the exception of religious or reference books was to be dumped over the side. The reason given was that it would make room for the new books. The order came from the admiral.

That was inconceivable to me. You just didn't dump BOOKS; you treasured them and took care of them and read them again, or let others borrow them. But never, under any circumstance, would you throw away perfectly good books without so much as a pencil mark in them.

The chaplain was sick from the stress of having to obey this order. He actually had to go to sickbay and have one of the docs give him something for his stomach and his nerves.

He became an ordained minister prior to coming into the Navy and had done missionary work in some of the poorest countries of the world. Places where they had NO books and no way to get them. They taught kids about the power of written words by writing on a wall with a piece of charcoal.

If it weren't for the Bibles that the missionaries carried in on their backs, a lot of those kids would never even have seen a book. With this ignorant directive they wanted him to throw books into the ocean and no discussion about it. He tried protesting and got reminded by the admiral "who was in charge around here."

The ignorance and wastefulness of that planned action made me mad. I told the chaplain, "I don't care who's in charge. I'm NOT throwing them away! I will think of something, don't worry about it and we won't tell you any more than we have to, so you won't be guilty of any disobedience."

I got together with some of my coworker buddies, who were also avid readers, and we set about devising a plan to save the books. But, we had to move fast and could only include those who could keep their mouths shut. The admiral had snitches in every department, mostly to spy on and tattle on the officers, which I thought was a pretty childish way to do things for a guy with two stars.

First things first; we "checked out" as many of the classics as we could carry and hid them in our lockers or wherever we could find a safe, dry space to put them. Once we were filled up, we had to start working on a way to look like we were complying with the order and still not actually dump the books into the drink.

We got in touch with one of our friends in communications and asked if he could get a message to the supply ship. He said, "No problem, I talk with them all the time now. What's the message?"

I gave him the shipping order and crate numbers, and asked him to get the message to a particular deck hand, who just happened to be a cousin of one of our guys. We asked him to make sure that the identified crates (they contained the new books) were the very last to come over to the America.

We really needed that extra time. I asked that he reply with his nickname for our buddy if he could do it. We had the answer back in less than thirty minutes: "Squeeky,” which was the correct name; we were in business.

The next step was to find a way to keep that pesky little busy-body of an admiral, out of the area while we carried out the "disposal" in front of all the witnesses. Let me say this in defense of the rest of the crew, no one else but the admiral thought it necessary to toss the books into the ocean. But, you had to be crazy to cross this guy and disobey an order from him. He did outrank everybody in the entire ocean, which pretty much left it up to crazy old me.

One of the guys wanted to give the admiral rat poison. I told him, "delightful idea, but it would cause a rather large stir, don't you know old boy." But he may have had something there. Memories from my past life in the army came flooding in.

I went to the medical dispensary to check out my idea. One of the corpsmen working there wanted to become an air traffic controller and hung out with us in our work space every chance he got. He said yes definitely, he not only had what we needed, but he had a friend doing duty in the admiral's spaces that could and would help us out.

There was never any love lost between the admiral and anyone who had to be at his beck and call 24 hours a day. The guy was a little tyrant. That step of the plan was set.

In order to make it appear to the staff on the bridge (the steering and command location for underway vessels), who looked right down on the spot where we were to dump the books, that we were complying with the admiral's order we need a couple of things: cooperation from some deck department guys to help in the execution of the plan, and an obstruction so that the actual "dumping" was hidden from view as much as possible.

The deck guys were no problem, I had friends there. The obstruction had to be such, that the bags could be seen going to the edge loaded, and coming back to the cart empty. We had a friend in the handler's office (the guy responsible for moving the aircraft around on the deck, other than flying), and he solved that problem for us. He just parked an F-14 (fighter jet) in the way and adjusted the sweep of the wing until our man standing watch on the bridge said it was right.

We were ready.

The chaplain was notified that we were going to bag up the books to carry out the sentence and he was told where he should stand to witness the “Execution of Literacy.” He was about to break down and cry, until we reminded him, "Remember what we said. Trust us, no matter what you think that you see."

I called my corpsman friend and told him to execute the plan. We had to be careful that we didn't say anything that would give us away if overheard. He had already supplied his friend in the admiral's quarters with some powdered laxative that while it was very strong and fast acting, it wouldn't harm the old goat. It would make him fall in love with the porcelain throne, and never want to leave it again... ever.

Once we had all the books bagged up, I called my deck department buddy and said, "Twelve” and he replied, "OK" and we hung up (nothing there to give anything away.) Twelve was the number of laundry bags full of books that were to go over the side; and they did go over the side.

It may sound like we were overly cautious and paranoid in our communications, to those who have never served on a ship. There was absolutely nowhere in that floating steel city where a human could speak without being heard by at least one other person. You had to act as if the admiral himself were listening at all times.

We had another accomplice on the bridge that I hadn't counted on. The ship's navigator, (who was traditionally referred to as "Gator") was standing watch. He and I were good friends, which didn't hurt a thing, as he was third in command of the aircraft carrier (behind the Captain and the XO) and he was a reader.

Next we hauled the bags up to the flight deck where we had a guy standing by with a cart to move them all. While we stacked the bags, slowly and carefully, one of our deck department guys secured "D" rings to each bag. Everything had to appear methodical and proper to those who viewed our actions.

Once the loading and securing of the bags was completed, we started our journey across the flight deck. We marched in a solemn escort processional with measured steps for emphasis and to further sell the idea that we were carrying out these awful orders. A New Orleans funeral procession (without the jubilant dancing) would be close to what we did.

Prior to our arrival on the flight deck a crew of deck (department) guys had rigged a ring back under and out of sight of the flight deck. They had run twelve ropes with snap hooks on them through the ring and hooked them on the edge of the flight deck, just where you couldn't see them from the bridge.

As our funeral procession made its way slowly across the deck, I waited for a signal from one of our accomplices that the admiral was indeed, indisposed. We did not want him getting into the middle of things at that stage of the game.

The “unscripted” signal appeared, a guy waving a pair of boxer shorts from a doorway in the side of the superstructure, and they had a brown streak running the length of the middle. My God! Did he steal the admiral's shorts? HA! That was too funny.

With the admiral safely out of the way we could speed up and get the mission done, before we had gathered too much of a crowd. We off-loaded the bags one at a time and made a show of how heavy and full they were, and that was no lie, they weighed over one hundred pounds each.

One at a time we carried them to the edge of the deck and sat them down to get a grip on the bottom. While we were squatted down we hooked a snap hook into the "D" ring on the bag and eased it over the side. The deck hands below would swing the loaded bag through an open hatch and stack it in a corner.

As we stood up we would be holding an empty bag (that we had stashed in the top of the full bag) and shook it out like we were being sure that all the books were out of it. We did that twelve times with the all of the flourish of stage actors. It was hard not to “over sell” the actions.

After the last bag was folded like a flag at a funeral by two of the men, it was presented to the chaplain, who was almost in shock. We had promised that we would save the books and it served our purpose for the chaplain to believe that we dumped the books and react like he did, while the enemy's men were watching.

On the bridge, the Gator had spies present from the Little Dictator (who was getting "lighter" by the moment) trying to snoop and get a better view. He had moved over enough (all the way against the window) to be able to catch the bags swinging under the deck and disappearing, but he wasn't telling; he was one of us!

When the snoops tried to get in that same spot, he threw a pretend "temper tantrum" and ordered everyone except the underway watch off the bridge. The guy actually steering the ship said later that the Gator couldn't quit giggling after his performance. He was very pleased with himself. We were too!

There was one final step for the chaplain to accomplish before we could set his fears to rest. He had to go and report directly to the admiral that the deed was carried out. A requirement mandated by the admiral, the purpose of which was further humiliation and power asserting by the Two-Star-Twerp.

When the chaplain got back to the library I was at work in CATCC. Some of the other guys involved were there and brought the tale back to me. They reported that the chaplain said how awful he felt that the admiral was so indisposed, and how bad he was making it stink up there in big shot land.

We assumed that the chaplain didn't know what we had done… or did he? The guys told the chaplain that what he saw was not really what happened. They couldn't say any more, for his sake, but the books were safe and dry, really!

The last detail that I worried over, and I think that I was lead along by this wily old preacher, was to have all of us who took part in this episode confess to the chaplain. That way he could never tell anything because of the sanctity of confessional.

Before y'all go off into that "you're not even Catholic" place... there are two things that you should keep in mind. Chaplains aboard naval vessels are considered interdenominational, kind of an all-purpose-God-guy, and have volunteers from the individual faiths to help with conducting their particular worship services.

Religion wasn't the admiral's strong suit anyway, so there really wasn't anything that the admiral could do about it. But, we never mentioned anything about the alleged cause of the admiral's sudden malaise, even to the chaplain; it must have been an Act of God... or something.

The books were safe and never came to harm.

P. S.

If y'all are interested, I will tell you what we did with them another time, but I promise you, I didn't throw them away!

P. S. S.

The sequel story is titled “More Valuable than Gold” and is now available for your reading pleasure.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Greetings to those who read my tales of adventure and becoming who I am today. I appreciate you all and I would love it if you shared my blog with others.

The past week has been very busy with the increasingly frantic preparations for the Mensa convention in Reno this July. I am sure that there are those who think that everyone just shows up to conventions and the stuff happens auto-magically. I would guesstimate that there are probably one thousand hours of preparation for every hour of operation for a Mensa Annual Gathering which runs for 5 days and hosts 2,000 people. The AG Committee works for about 5 years to make their event happen. And somehow, it does.

The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon, where people have long memories and kids play ball, will be a fully sun covered sky, with 80+ Fahrenheits and very little wind to speak of. The rain will not be found here.

Fridays have become all day events with Mr S. Lunch, shopping, taking care of broken this or lost that, and then an outing in the surrounding county somewhere. It is the highlight of his week and an exercise in being patient for me. It is the right thing to do.

The story for today is true of course, but when I read the words as I place them here for all to read, it feels like it was another lifetime and odd that I was so young, fit and crazy fearless. It was me, but it seems like someone else at the same time. Memories are like that. Read and enjoy!


During my tour of duty in Alaska (1975-78), I was tasked with many assignments and completed numerous training courses. I mean really, what are you going to do when you have to work every day for the U.S. Army, right? Train and train some more. I did all of my military duties, completed advanced Air Traffic Control courses, ran, hit the weights, martial arts practice, climbing skills training and advanced first aid for combatants. I got certified as; a load master, a forward supply distribution specialist, and aircraft mishap investigator. I competed in the Biathalon (ski/snowshoe/shoot) and won both years I competed. I did everything that I could find to do to keep busy.

I often went as the extra crew member on flights around Alaska. The fixed wing guys liked to have me aboard because I could figure weight and balance for their loads and file their flight plans for them. The helicopter guys knew me well from the airport and I flew with them a lot when they needed a first aid or climbing guy who wasn't afraid to go out on the skid or repel from the bird if needed. I was the resident crazy who knew the frequencies and phone numbers to reduce time in an emergency.

The Fall of 1976 was bringing cold winds and chilly nights down at sea level and promising to show me what winter was all about. It was my second winter in Alaska so I had a lot better idea of what to expect and really wasn't afraid of it. I had taken over the Cold Weather Survival Instructor job as an additional duty, everybody had an additional duty, (at least one) and I saw it as a fun job to take on. I got to train aircrews to survive in the winter wonderland and play in the snow, how cool was that!

My day shift was over and I was briefing the oncoming supervisor about the flights and incoming weather system. Over the radio comes a request for me personally from the pilot of a UH-1 helicopter which was cranking up next to the Operations building. I answered the radio and the aircraft commander asked if I was able to "take a ride" with them, I answered in the affirmative and said that I would meet them at the hangar in a few minutes. The reply was, "No time, we will come to you." 

I yelled "Call my wife" to my relief and he replied "Got it!" Down the stairs I went on the run, not having any idea what was so important, but knowing by the voice of the pilot that this wasn't a drill.

The bird was at the end of our access road to the runway by the time I could run there. I was onboard and in the air practically before my legs knew to quit running. As we turned out northbound and started to climb I was briefed about the situation. A climber was stuck on a ledge, or more precisely, just above a ledge, on Mt McKinley. So the situation was: Unknown injuries and the victim not accessible by climbers in time to get the person off the mountain. Complicating matters was the storm cell moving in which threatened to shut down any kind of rescue.

As we flew to the mountain which always seemed to be just right "there" as we looked at it to the north of the base, I was gaining more perspective and awe. We had approximately 160 air miles to our target and that was an hour and a half in the Huey, way better than driving which was five to six hours by road. That mountain just kept getting bigger and higher as we flew towards it.

I conferred with the pilot and suggested that we needed to have a fuel truck dispatched from Fort Greely at Delta Junction to give us some flight time on the mountain. It was going to be windy, nasty cold and if the storm moved in, white out conditions. We couldn't afford the extra flying time to go to the fuel; it needed to come to us. They were all over the assignment at Ft Greely

It was about nine years earlier that seven climbers had died in the same area we were headed to; the deceptive West Buttress. It was deceptive in that it appeared to be an easy climb, a “walk in the park”, but that was only true when the weather was 100% cooperative, which was a really small percentage of the time. While most climbers went in the sensible time of the year for ascent between April and June, it was not unheard of for some to try and gain a reputation by doing a "winter" climb in the fall. It was a bad move and most serious climbers didn't want anything to do with a climber or team that would try a summer climb in the face of winter weather. It was simply the wrong preparation, with the wrong equipment. If you try to fool with Mother Nature, she will slap you silly.

The pilot was in communication with the Alaska State Troopers who were escorting the fuel truck, (the driver's idea) and through the trooper we connected to the Park Ranger from Talkeetna who had driven out to the jump off point where the vehicles were parked. The target climber was between the base of the West Buttress at 11,000ft and Windy Corner at 13,500 ft. That was both good and bad. Good because the lower the altitude, the more oxygen for the climber and myself, as well as less difficulty for the helicopter to operate. And it was bad, because that section was notorious for really screwball winds. You wouldn't think it was possible for the wind to blow every direction at once, but I had heard the stories. Knowing that we were going there and a storm was coming we had to do some serious fuel/operating time calculations and I was on the radio getting a brand new weather update. It said; bad weather by midnight at the latest.

Because of the great response by the fuel truck crew (and their quick thinking to get a Trooper escort), they were way ahead of where we had expected them to be able to reach. They were winding that tanker of theirs up and loving the excitement of it. Their progress westbound allowed us to take a more direct route and we rendezvoused with them right on the highway. After filling the bird up, we had them continue to the park ranger's location so we had more fuel waiting when we got clear of the mountain slopes. This would allow us more operational time to actually get the climber off of the rock face.

I was so very glad to have that stop to make “yellow snow”. I didn't have a chance to go before we left and I had consumed an entire pot of coffee on my shift in the tower. My fellow crew members had great time laughing at me bailing out of the aircraft and running past the fuel truck to go.

We got airborne and back in communication with the trooper; they had an update for us as reported by a small airplane which made several passes by the climber in distress. The climber was in fact, upside down, with a boot hooked to the rope and was conscious and able to wave. Best guess at altitude was just below 12,000 feet. Air is pretty thin there, easy to get exhausted and goofy. The flight crew has oxygen to breathe onboard so they will be fine, but I was the one going out on the line. And the climber had been out there for a long time already. We had no idea about the gear this person had on them.

The Park Ranger was a sharp fellow and had identified the climber by the color of the climbing clothes and pack. He routinely makes detailed notes about those climbing the mountains, but especially so during the “wrong” season. Our climber was an American female, 35 years old from Portland, Maine and was a novice climber with numerous lower altitude mountains to her credit. She was carrying an emergency oxygen cylinder and was a marathon runner, 5'3" and 120lbs. This was all great news to me. I was happy to have a smaller female subject to possibly have to lift and carry, as opposed to her companion climbers who were both over 6' and weighed in at 200lbs and 185lbs. At that time I was 5'8" and 140lbs and while I could fireman's carry the 200lb fellow, I really didn't want to have to dead pull that much weight hanging off the rock face or dangling from a helicopter. The fact that she was fit, experienced and somewhat prepared made me feel a lot better about the outcome.

Now I had a pressing question and spoke before the pilot could say the same thing, "Where the Hell are her climbing partners?" The Ranger said that the plane had reported seeing red climbing ropes and a small tent at 15,000 ft all staked and roped down. That would be the area at the base of the headwall and an OK place to hunker down to ride out a storm, IF you had the supplies and time. Based on what we knew, I made the suggestion that our stranded climber was on her way down the mountain, not up.

So now we knew why we were called in, the report came from a passing aircraft, not a climber and there wasn't a team around to do a conventional climbing rescue, especially before the incoming weather, plus the altitude and the tiny detail that our climber was hanging upside down with unknown injuries.

We were crossing the Ranger's location and I wish I could say that I was taking in the breathtaking view, but actually I was busy rigging up in the harness the crew chief brought for me. My own was in my gear bag at home all nicely adjusted and ready for use. Not so with this rig. I was very glad to have the crewman to help as I adjusted each of the straps and put an extra strap which keeps me nice and snug no matter which way I yank on it. I liked to do that so I was secure when upside down. He did have the forethought to grab a climbing bag from one of the fireman at our base who was on duty and kept his in his car. I had a climbing hammer, pitons and carabiners, plus two hundred feet of climbing rope. I had heavy mountain boots and regular fatigues on with an unlined field jacket, fortunately I did have long johns on. I borrowed a pair of nomex flight gloves and gave the crewchief my regular leather gloves with the wool liner. Mine were warmer, but his were more dexterous and I needed the fine motor skills ability.

I must say that my pilot and co-pilot were all business and focused on their job as we spotted our target and began an approach, because the wind was howling and it was a rough location and honestly I wasn't sure that anyone would be able to fly close enough to get to the climber, but they got us close enough to look the situation over and see that we could not land the helo anywhere above the climber. Climbing up to the spot where the woman was hanging, especially without the correct clothes and gear didn't thrill me.

Choice B would be me dangling on a line a doing a “grab” to pick the person off the wall, like we would do from a tree or a rooftop. Problem was; we didn't have much clearance for the rotor blades. Banging a blade against the mountain would mean that nobody survives the rescue and that wouldn't go over well at home.

It was time for some creative thinking and crazy behavior, which is why I was there, right? OK, I could see that she had an arm dangling and wasn't using it. I could guess with some certainty that the leg she was hanging by would have some problem. I was going to need the “Stokes”, which is a metal frame litter which you strap your victim into to transport them. But once again, we couldn't get close enough above to lower the stokes down to where it needed to be.

The crewchief said, "We need Superman to fly over there and pick her off the wall." “That's it!” I said. He and I were joking but the idea was right, I would fasten the climbing rope in the bag to the back of my harness and run the end through a ring on the floor of the helicopter so the crewchief could hold me. The pilot could take me above the climber to last anchor point and I would jump to the rope hanging there, if I missed, the rope on my back would keep me from falling and the crewman could pull me back in. If I made the jump safely I would hook on and then the rope on my back could be secured to the stokes and I could pull it up to the injured climber and secure her into it.

The pilot said, "You really are crazy aren't you." I said no problem, it is a good plan and we have a safety rope, just get me close enough so that I don't really have to fly to reach the rope. We geared up and got above the rope anchor point and I jumped... too bad I missed and fell to my death. Oh, so you ARE reading!

OK, so I made the jump and to tell the truth I wasn't paying any attention to how far up we were, I was really worried about the rotor blades hitting the rocks, because if that happened it was definitely game over. The pilot was awesome! He got us right up to the wall and then rocked the bird so the skid swung closer and I jumped with extra momentum from that swing. It was nearly too much help and I had momentary visions of bouncing off of the wall, but I didn't and I grabbed the rope like the flying monkey that I was and snapped onto it. The unhooking of the carabiner from my back was a bit more fun than I wanted, but I got it and passed the rope through the anchor point and secured the ring again. Once that was done I quickly pulled out another piton and pounded that bad boy in good and solid so we had a bit more anchor support.

I signaled for the stokes to be eased out of the bird and lowered to the end of what the crewman could safely do, and then release it. It swung over to the wall and stopped nicely with hardly much of a jolt at all. Then as we had discussed they backed the helicopter away from the wall to reduce the blast and wind chill it created. It wasn't as if the pilot could just park the bird though, they were getting pounded and pushed by the wind coming off the mountain.

Rigged up and ready, I walked myself down the face like I was going for a stroll and I must admit I was pretty amused at the situation. When I reached the point immediately above the woman, I had to say to her, "Madam, do you come here often?" I was so happy to hear a laugh come from her, which told me both that she was conscious and fairly coherent that I laughed with her. I hammered another piton in and secured to it while I ran the rope for the stokes through it and rigged for a secure transfer.

As I worked I kept up a running conversation with the lady and learned that her right arm was indeed useless and she had a lot of pain in her right leg. The hooks on the laces of her boot had buried into the climbing rope and snagged, causing her to flip during her rappel and she had bashed into the rock face a couple of times and come to a halt upside down. Her weight was actually being supported by her climbing harness and I was able to unhook her boot and rotate her back upright again. She screamed a very small scream when the leg swung down and upon examination, it appeared to be fractured. The right arm problem was pretty obvious to those of us who have had one, she had a dislocated right shoulder. By all rights, she should have been yelling her head off from the pain, but she was one tough lady.

I got the stokes up and secured, and rolled the climber up on her left side and eased the stokes in behind her. I then eased her out from the wall and into the stokes. Once inside the litter, I cut a hole in the bottom of her right jacket pocket and jammed her right hand and arm into the inside of her jacket and then wrapped her with tape around her arm and chest to trap the arm against her. I took the climbing hammer from her belt and taped the head to her boot with the handle going up the leg and wrapped the handle and leg with tape. If it wasn't for the seriously cold temperatures and the ridiculous position we were in I would have checked for other injuries, but honestly It didn't seem to be a priority. I strapped her into the stokes and began her descent down the remaining one thousand feet of elevation. I was very happy to have the already pounded in pitons to hook to on the way down; all I had to do was change anchor points.

While I was busy doing this bundling and wrapping stuff it had gotten a bit darker outside and a lot colder. The pilot had turned on his landing light and was keeping it on us as we descended the wall of the West Buttress. Once I got her down to the base of the wall I was able to come down much more quickly and was really happy to stand on my own legs on the ground again. The pilot was able to do a one skid landing on a slope a short ways down and the crewchief came running and then we were able to pick up the stokes and quickly get it aboard the helicopter and get away from that mountain.

A short flight later we were standing on the highway again, with our trusty fuel truck drivers and the headlights of the Alaska State Troopers to illuminate our refueling.

Our climbing victim told us that she was indeed on her way down and her male partners were going to continue the ascent. She had reconsidered the sanity of the climb with the storm coming in and minimal supplies and decided to drop out of the climb while she could. The accident had happened early that morning and she was spotted about noon and had more than one plane buzz her as she hung from the rope. Knowing that she had been spotted she was reassured that help was on the way so she tried to conserve her energy and be patient.

After refueling, we flew our guest to Anchorage, where she was transferred to an ambulance and taken to Providence Hospital. The good folks at Providence Hospital did give her a good going over and found nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises besides her shoulder and leg. They put her shoulder back in place and put a cast on her leg and she was ready to leave. She got a wheelchair ride to the front door and got up and walked out to her waiting cab. As far as I know she left the next day.

Because she didn't die on the mountain she wasn't even a statistic. Not a word about the other two climbers as to whether they made the summit or not, but they weren't still up there in April so they did something.

The fuel truck drivers got an excellent letter of commendation for their speedy response and quick thinking, I know because I wrote it and the pilot signed it. The Park Ranger had his policy of recording details about climbers made into a rule and his name was mentioned to the Head of the National Park Service in Washington D.C. The pilot, co-pilot and crew chief each got an Army Commendation medal for their part in the rescue. I wasn't even on the aircraft manifest, I wasn't a crew member. So I didn't get any awards or letters, but I didn’t care, I had the most fun of the four of us and we saved a life. It was all good.

Come to think of it, I did get something out of the deal...

I got yelled at for coming home late! No one called my wife to let her know where I was.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hiding from the Rain

Greetings patient readers,

Friday is upon us and it is the one day where I take a few minutes to pursue my favorite hobby of writing. I have other pressing duties knocking at my door, but for a little while, they will just have to wait. Taking time for myself has been a very hard lesson for me to learn. I am not quite there yet, I still feel guilty for doing it.

The weather forecast for beautiful downtown Fallon; where farm equipment still travels down main thoroughfares and strangers are greeted with smiles, will be a sun covered day with a high temperature of 69F, with winds from the west at 17mph. No chance of rain, but I would get whatever you are going to do outside done before mid-afternoon because I suspect that the winds will kick up to 35mph or more by then.

This week has been busy every day with meetings and errands all pertaining to the upcoming Mensa convention in Reno this July. The average attendee for any convention has no idea how many thousands of hours the planners and creators log before the doors open. The small army of volunteers who do this for Mensa, give up a chunk of their lives so that others can have a good time. I wish that would stay foremost in the minds of attendees instead of all the peculiar petty gripes that we spend our time trying to answer and resolve.

Be kind to volunteers, wherever they are and whatever job they are doing, they are helping you for free!

Today is also the day that we take Mr S. to lunch and shopping, and then take him for a ride around the local area. This has become a routine that he looks forward to all week, and no doubt talks about to anyone who will listen.

It is very exhausting to spend time with someone with dementia, because they never really understand what you are telling them, ask the same questions repeatedly, and tell you the same stories over and over again. But they look forward to the outings and contact more than eating or sleeping or anything else you could do for them.

This commodity, "time", is what working parents are missing out on with their children. When you are too busy to spend time with your kids, you both miss out on something that you can't get back later. Buying them bicycles or video games doesn't fix it. I didn't get the time with my parents and I am guilty of not spending time with my own children. We let life run us, instead living our lives. I am happy to say that my children are better family people than I am, they spend time with their children and know how important that is. We should all learn this valuable lesson before our loved ones are out of our lives.

So let us hop into Mr Peabody's way-back machine and journey to about 1967 or 68, a time in my life where I didn't know everything yet, but being a teenager, I had to be close. Fortunately I did have an open mind and respect for other cultures; and still possessed the ability to shut up and learn, when I had to.

Please read and enjoy this short tale of a boy learning simple lessons by just doing what he is told to do.

Hiding from the Rain

As a young teenager I had many adventures not commonly available to most kids. Many of these were because of where I lived, south Florida, but I have to say some of them were just different because of how I looked at life.

If you know about Florida, you will be aware that it rains a lot there. June is usually the wettest month, with ten to twelve inches accumulation being about average. That is also the month that signals the beginning of freedom from school, and the opportunity to escape from the routines of everyday life.

I have written about going to visit my Seminole friends in the Everglades in the story, “The Only White Boy There” where I was privileged to attend the Green Corn Dance/Celebration. I learned valuable lessons about life and myself in those three days and became even more a part of the family of the host tribal clan.

During a visit to Big Cypress (Indian reservation) I had occasion to spend time with a very elderly woman who spoke little English and was thoroughly unimpressed with my command of the Miccosukee language. We did communicate as she felt necessary, but that was not frequent.

 It wasn’t the fact that I was a white kid in a decidedly Indian place, as I was very much accepted as a member of the tribe. Rather it was my age by itself. The old girl only liked babies and people with gray hair, everyone else irritated her. She said we all talked too much and got in her way.

I was at the old woman’s “house” waiting for her niece, her granddaughter Scarlett, and our friend Larry to join me. We were going to celebrate Scarlett’s birthday and my own, neither of which fell on the dates we were there, but was the best we could do.

I use quotations on the word “house” because in the white world it would not be consider as such. The structure was called a
 chic-kee in the Seminole language. The chic-kee was quite functional as a domicile for traditional Seminole people but it did not have walls, doors, electricity, or plumbing. It had a raised platform for a floor and a thatched roof to keep the sun and rain off of you. It had everything that people needed to live their lives in comfort.

Can you imagine white people of today living in an open structure with no electricity or plumbing, no separate rooms for the inhabitants, no television or computer? You would actually have to look at and, talk to, each other.

While we waited for our fellow party guests, the elderly woman known to me only as “grandmother,” was busy cooking on an open fire with multiple pots going at the same time. She seemed to be in a hurry to get things done and sent me to the nearby communal garden plot to pick things like bananas, tomatoes, and some green herbs that I can’t remember the name she used, but just looked like weeds to me. They still do when I see them in grocery stores or on my plate.

When I returned from that errand I was inclined to take a nap in the shade of the
 chic-kee and sleep away the wait, but grandmother had other plans. She told me to go back to the garden plot; but this time go to the back and cut several large banana leaves from the older trees with no fruit and bring them back to her undamaged. I chuckled to myself all the way there about her admonition to not “damage” the leaves. What was so important about banana leaves and why did she assume that I would mess them up? She sounded like my dad.

I was to get only complete, non-split leaves, and as large of ones as was possible. It wasn’t a terrible job and it did allow me to use a big knife on something. I did love swinging a blade at stuff, so I was not unhappy.

While standing in front of the small grove of banana trees trying to decide which leaves to cut I noticed how hot and muggy it was. I removed my shirt and looking down to get it in the right spot, I dropped it on the ground with my coil of string. As I looked back up at the tree in front of me I caught movement and launched forward like the experienced snake chaser that I was.

I grabbed the tree and pulled myself around one side of it as I reached the opposite way with my hand. That technique had worked many times in the capture of fast moving reptiles. On that occasion I found myself up close and personal with a very large and hairy spider. Quick recognition caused me to reverse direction in an instant and not out of any irrational fear of spiders; I knew what I was faced with.

Thanks to my experience with animal importing, I was familiar with the spider commonly known as a “Banana Spider.”It was more accurately called the “Brazilian Wandering Spider.” This creature has a very potent poison and had been known to kill humans with its bite. The dock workers at Port Everglades were terrified of them.

Being young and slightly cursed with the “invincibility” of youth, I still pursued the spider, much as I would have done with a rattlesnake or alligator. Luck was on my side and the spider disappeared before I could get my hands on it. I have no idea what I thought I would do with it, it was simply a thrill of the chase kind of thing.

Back to the job at hand, I hacked off the biggest leaves I could find (while still watching for spiders) and laid them carefully on the sandy soil. The very first one that I cut, I stepped on and ruined when I went to put the second one on top of it. I cut a dozen more and then bundled them together with my string and picked up the load to carry it back to grandmother.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Those leaves were as long as I was tall and while not heavy, they were awkward. The bushes and trees between the garden and the compound where the chic-kees stood, was the natural equivalent of an obstacle course. I knew that if the old woman could see me she would be chuckling and shaking her head, which is the Seminole version of “I told you so.”

The Seminole are a wonderfully kind people. They never hit or even openly ridicule, humiliate, or even embarrass their youth. Their elders can convey more with a glance, grunt, or chuckle than most of the lectures I had received in the white world. Grandmother types were the most powerful of all and I have seen them make grown up tough guys wince and cower with a single look.

This was all in my mind as I twisted, turned, lifted and sweated my way through the bushes. I finally put the load on the top of my head like I had seen in so many films of other countries and it worked!

It never occurred to me to question why I was doing this task (such was the power of this grandmother’s will) or what she was going to do with them. I just did what I was told. When I returned with the banana leaves she told me to put them in the
 chic-kee, not on the ground by the fire where everything else was assembled. I thought that was odd but kept my mouth shut; I was learning.

As I watched I noted that she was moving very quickly for an old woman and I couldn’t figure out what the rush was. Seminoles are a very laid back, easy going society and not prone to hurrying. Grandmother started directing me to pick up things and move items into the
 chic-kee, which again was odd.

Meals were eaten either in the open or sitting in a communal dining shelter where logs were burned in a star pattern with the big pot cooking in the middle. That wasn’t happening this time, at least that I knew about. As usual and in proper custom, I just did as she said. But, I was a lot more curious than any Indian boy would have been.

When I could stand it no more, I broke down and asked her, “Grandmother, why are you in such a hurry, what is going on?” She chuckled, pointed up and kept working like it should be completely obvious to me. I looked up and only saw blue skies with white puffy clouds. There were no spaceships, no pterodactyls and no answer to the puzzle.

The look of confusion on my face was so amusing to her that she chuckled and pointed to my ear and said “fah blee chee,” which I did understand; it means wind. Was she saying that I was an airhead? She then pointed at her own ear and made motions of going by her ear with her hand. Wind going by; she wanted me to listen to the wind. Grandmother then pointed to her own nose and said “okee,” which means water. Since her nose was not running, I guessed that she meant that she smelled water.

I finally got it; listen to the wind and smell the water in the air. I looked up again, but with a more educated eye that time; I knew what I was trying to see. Sure enough there were clouds on the horizon and the wind was picking up and you could smell the rain if you tried hard enough.

But how did this old woman, who had probably never seen a weather forecast in her life, know so far in advance that rain was coming? It was Florida and it did rain a lot, especially in June, but it had been sunny and beautiful all morning.

Grandmother had finished the cooking and was moving pots of great smelling food onto the
 chic-kee platform. From there she had me move them to the center of the floor and put them on a pile of green palmetto leaves which acted as a mat to keep the hot pots from scorching or marking the cypress wood.

The wind picked up and the clouds rolled in and I wondered what we were going to do for shelter. I had always lived in the city in a concrete block house and while I had been rained on before, it was not a “planned” thing. I couldn’t imagine grandmother wanting to get wet, although I had witnessed Seminole women washing their hair in the rain, I just didn’t see her doing that right then.

There was only one modern, or “white man,” item in this totally traditional woman’s life. That item being a treadle powered Singer sewing machine, which sat in a corner of the platform. That baby had its own rain cover, which had covered something else in a past life but now provided a waterproof barrier for the machine and its cabinet. Grandmother reached under the cover and pulled out a cushion, which she placed on the platform, and then made sure the cover was closed up tight.

Finally, I found out what the banana leaves were for! Grandmother had me tuck the stem ends of the leaves into the underside of the thatched roof where a vine as been woven in and out around the support pole. I secured the end and then overlapped each leaf by half.

That was repeated with six leaves which made a large curtain of green and didn’t seem to be affected by the wind at all. She had me save the two largest for something else, and directed me to hang the remaining four at a spot which blocked the wind and rain from hitting the pots. That was actually kind of cool, in a “Tarzan” sort of way, and I liked the experience.

Rain hit me in the face while I secured the last banana leaf into place and made me look outside of the
 chic-kee. It was raining hard and moving towards us in sheets of water. I hoped that the banana flavored raincoat would work.

Grandmother had me sit down against the pole in the corner protected by the six leaves and handed me a banana leaf. Then she picked up the other one and plopped down on her cushion, where she sang a little song to herself and fussed with some threads on her skirt.

When the rain blew hard the old woman gestured to me to put the leaf over me. She did the same thing, but she stretched out on the floor with the leaf over her face and started snoring. That sight made me laugh to myself, but quietly.

I first put the leaf over my head like I had hung them from the pole, with the stem side up. That wasn’t comfortable, so I reversed it and put the soft leaf end over my head and tucked the end between my skull and the post. That worked much better and it actually cushioned my head.

With that natural barrier in place I saw the world through a translucent green veil, with occasional drops of water running down the leaf. It was quite beautiful and the air smelled amazingly fresh and clean. I was dry and warm under my leaf, and fairly comfortable, although my bony butt could have used a cushion between it and the cypress pole platform.

That was where I was when the others arrived in their truck. I was found asleep and still hiding from the rain, under a banana leaf like a monkey in the jungle. Of course with it being Florida, the sun was already out again. Grandmother was out bustling around doing her thing like nothing had ever happened. So naturally I got teased by Scarlett for being afraid of a little water.

Things are never dull in a world where wondrous experiences just wait for you to live them. I am happy to have had so many of my own.