The Habit

“Now I trust you two with this chore,” he said to we two boys.  “Don’t let me down.” 

With that he climbed into the cab of his pick-up and drove off.  He was nothing but a trail of dust before either of us moved.

We looked at each other and then around at the camp with its little line-shack and barn.  We could hardly believe our luck. 

We had jus’ be left in charge of the small spread for the next two weeks.  It was only a few acres, but it felt like the all of Texas to us.

“Yippee!” I cried out as I flung my cowboy hat into the air. 

Uncle had just left me and my cousin to our own devises for the next fourteen days.  It was like summer camp without the adults. 

We knew we had chore to do like feed and exercise the eight mules.  We also knew that we had to muck out the stalls, but that was nothing compared with being left on our own.

“Lets grab our fishing poles,” my cousin called out as he headed for the line-shack. 

After a couple of hours of teasing fish with drowned worms, we set about completing our nightly chores.  Each of us mucked out half of the barn. 

Then we worked together to grain and hay each animal’s stall.  Lastly we threw back the doors to barn and in came the mules all by themselves.

“See, no herding,” my cousin said, adding, “Jus’ open the doors and add the mules — easy.”

This went on for three days.  The routine was quickly becoming monotonous and we started looking for other ways to entertain ourselves.

That’s when my cousin came up with the idea.  He climbed up on the door frame with a pitchfork. 

And as each of the eight mules entered the barn he lightly poked it in the rump.  Both of us boys laughed as the mules scurried after the tines touched them.

The fourth day was more of the same routine — a little fishing, mucking and graining followed by the delight of poking the mules in the rear.  My cousin and I laughed at it over our supper of trout that evening.

By the sixth day my cousin had grown bored with getting on the door frame and lightly touching the stubborn, flop-eared beasts in the buttock.  Then we roared with laughter.

“Did you see that?” I said. 

My cousin was too busy laughing at the sight to answer.  Each mule lowered itself down so that its belly nearly touched the ground.

Each one was avoiding being poked in the backside.  They did this without being prompted.

The same thing happened the next day and the next — much to our delight.

“You know,” my cousin stated, “Dad’s going to beat us to death when he sees this.” 

It was a sobering thought neither one of us had bothered to think of the last couple of days. Then before we knew it, the two-weeks of running the line-camp were up. 

We could see the stream of dust lifting high into the air as the pick-up approached.  It was early in the morning and all eight mules were out in the holding pen being run through their paces as the truck pulled to a stop.

Uncle got out of the truck and greeted us.

“How’s it going?”  he asked. 

“Great,” was the resounding response from us. 

With that he headed for the shack.

Uncle seemed pleasantly surprised at the general upkeep that the two young men had performed.  The loose slat on the outhouse was nailed down and the barbwire fence was re-hung and there was even a mess of fish in the cooler waiting for a nighttime meal.

“You boys done alright by yourselves,” Uncle finally said. 

This made us smiles widely.  We still had yet to tell him about the mules and the doorway. 

We agreed that we would wait until later, when we put the mules in the barn to say anything.  Besides my cousin had already concocted a story for when the time came.

Without any warning Uncle walked over to the barn and threw back both doors.  The mules responded to this by turning and marching single file towards the door. 

That’s when my cousin spoke up, “Dad, there was an old owl in the barn about a week ago…”

His voice trailed off.

His father wasn’t listening anyway.  He was too busy standing near the barn door watching with his mouth agape as each mule belly crawled its way into the barn.

“What in the world did you do to my mules?” Uncle exploded.

“Nothing,” I replied.

My cousin continued with his concoction, “We think it was an old hoot owl that got them spooked and ducking down like that.” 

Meanwhile his father stood there with a very puzzled expression his face, wiping his forehead with a blue bandana. 

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said mostly to himself. 

We jus’ looked at each other.

It was very quiet that evening during supper.  Uncle was busy worrying about how to break the mules of their newfound habit and we two boys were busy worrying that the older man would find out what we had done to cause it.

The Coyote and the Cave

It was the President’s Day weekend and I had all three days off. So I decided to spend it hiking some of the rugged back country west of U.S. 95 and the Veterans Memorial Highway.

My plan was to venture around in a couple of the canyons along the mountainside, taking pictures and doing a little camping. It all started off well, but the weather wasn’t as cooperative as I had hoped it would be.

The second day, massive clouds formed over the mountain top and I decided it would be a good thing to get back to where I had parked my car. I knew my vehicle was several hours away, so it would become a race against the weather.

About two and a half hours into my forced-march back towards the junction of the memorial highway and 95, a snow storm blew in. I decided to continue on.

However it got so bad that I couldn’t see very far ahead of me and even though I had a compass, I was more afraid of finding a steep ledge to step off of or a deep ravine to fall in rather than getting lost. After another hour or so I concluded it would be best if I sheltered in place.

Fortune smiled on me as I started to prepare for a rough night in the canyon, I spotted a small overhang in a group of rocks at the base of the canyon walls. That, I realized, would be the best spot to gain shelter from the wind and blowing snow.

Once at the outcropping, I soon found it was more than jus’ an overhang. It was the entrance to a very small cave.

After a quick exploration inside with flashlight, and learning it wasn’t home to some wild beast, I dragged my backpack inside and rolled out my ground cover. I decided to forego my pup tent, instead opting to jus’ climb in my sleeping bag, atop the blue tarp I used as protection from a moist earth.

Daylight passed into darkness and the snow piled up over the entry to the cave. I cooked a coffee cup full of raisins in some water and ate it, before turning in for the night.

What time it was, I haven’t a clue. I jus’ know I woke up because I felt like I was no longer alone.

Flicking on my flashlight, I shined it around the cave. Laying at the foot of my sleeping bag, I found an animal.

I jumped from fright.

However, the animal appeared more frightened than me and it bolted out of the cave and into the snow storm. I knew immediately what sort of animal it was as it disappeared from sight — a coyote.

I laid back down knowing the coyote was gone and tried to sleep.

It was somewhere near dawn when I awoke. I opened my eyes, looked around the darkness, then realized I had some sort of weight resting on my feet and lower legs.

Slowly I sat up and found my friend, the coyote had returned. He looked up at me and again bolted out of the cave.

I never saw him again after that.

By this time the storm had broken and I was able to hike the remainder of the way to my car and head for home. And though I have been back four more times to the area, I’ve never been able to find that cave again.

However, I will never forget the night a coyote took his comfort by snuggling up to me for warmth.

King of the Mountain

My sister, Deirdre, was in sixth grade and had been released from class for recess late in the afternoon. At that time jus’ past the swings and slide on the playground of Margaret Keating School, was a large tire that the kids used for a game called king-of-the-mountain.

Deirdre writes, “I suddenly found myself king — but it was short-lived as the eighth graders were released. It was like a slow motion dream and I didn’t even see it coming, then wham!”

Mike Triplett knocked Deirdre off the tire, whereupon he became king of the mountain. Deirdre landed hard, her right leg tucked up behind her. 

The fall broke the growth plate of her Fibula; however no one realized it at the time as neither her leg, ankle nor foot swelled up. Because of this she wasn’t taken to the doctor for days.

Mom and Dad went back and forth over the need to see a doctor for several days. Mom eventually won as the pain became nearly too much for Deirdre to tolerate.

Once in Dr. Kasper’s office, Mom and Dad learned that had they delayed the visit another week, Deirdre’s growth plate would have healed in the wrong position, leaving her foot pointed downward, leaving her with a severe limp.

Dr. Kasper recommended Deirdre see a specialist as soon a possible. Because of this, we made a couple of trips to Grants Pass, the closest specialist in the area.

As it remains, Deirdre’s right leg is slightly shorter than her left, which is only noticeable when she really walks fast or runs.

The Improved Order of the Red Man

Grandma’s house sat vacant for nearly two winters after her death.  It had been a house that her husband and father had built many years ago and everyone in the family felt it was a shame to see that house sitting empty and quiet.

Soon it was decided that the house should be repaired and rented out.  To that end the two of us showed up and started hammering and sawing where needed.

The wet weather had caused a leak in the roof which had run down the interior wall.  The wall was made of a dried plaster and had started to flake away, so that’s where my step-dad Delmar and I decided we should begin working.

First we tapped out the beams.  Then we took our hammers and began knocking holes in the white, powdery plaster.

Crash — Delmar’s hammer had struck a glass object.  It had shattered and he immediately stopped working.

I did too.

Both of us attempted to look inside the hole to see what Del had struck.  We couldn’t see anything as it was too dark. 

So Delmar pulled another chunk of plaster out from the wall.  With it came small pieces of broken glass and a large leather pouch.

“Oh my,” exclaimed Delmar as he bent over and picked up the leather pouch.

I was stunned —my brain turned the leather pouch over and over and was thinking of hidden treasure as Del unrolled it.

The pouch was very old and had started to turn to deteriorate in several places as it was unrolled.  But with each unrolling, it revealed more and more.

It held a cache of arrowheads and spear tips as well as old coins.  Delmar immediately recognized these as belonging to a local tribe, as he had spent many days off and vacations hunting for arrowheads in Northern California and Southern Oregon. 

I could tell he was exited by the find.

The coins were old ones; late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The collection included a few silver dollars and a couple of buffalo nickels as well.  We agreed they were probably minted about the time the house was built.

However the most unusual object to my eye in that leather pouch was the handbook.  It was worn yellow-brown with age, had mold growing on its back cover, however its red printing was clearly visible.

The wording inscribed on it read, “Constitution and By-laws, Hupa Tribe, Number 146, of the Improved Order of Red Men of the Hunting Grounds of Eureka, California, 1903.” 

I held the booklet in my hand and read it out loud. 

Delmar was on his knees looking at the arrowheads and spear points, when he looked up and asked, “What did you say?” 

I repeated what I had read.

Del stood up and shook his head and said, “Hupa 1903.” 

He held out his hand and I laid the booklet in it.

“That’s what it says,” I grinned.

Dell thumbed through the small book, “I can’t believe it,” he started, “this was hidden for a reason.”

“Why?” I asked.

Delmar paused, stroking his bearded chin, “Back when your Grandma was youngster it would have been illegal for an Indian to own a business or a home near town.” 

He stopped and looked thoughtfully at the book then quickly leafed through it once more, “I figure she hid the fact that she was Indian,” Delmar concluded. 

Then he handed the book back to me.

Del walked outside to his truck and brought back a cardboard box.  I assisted him in loading all the hidden treasure into it, and then we got back to completing the task at hand.

Later that evening I sat at the dinner table with Mom and my step-dad looking over the items.  Each object was laid out on the white table-cloth. 

The arrowheads and the spear point numbered a dozen as did the coins.  The booklet and pouch sat by themselves.

Mom cleared her throat, “I had always heard that your Great-Grandpa George had married an Indian.”  She paused, “I think he did and then set about covering it up as it probably hurt business.” 

She smiled at me. 

“These seem pretty important,” she continued after a moment as she held up one of the pieces of obsidian.

Delmar was busy looking in one of his many books on the subject of arrowheads and spear points.

“I can’t seem to find anything like them,” he finally said as he raised his head and snapped the book shut.  “Whatever they mean is probably lost to us,” he sighed.

I picked up the little paperback book as this was the true treasure to me.

“To think Grandma went to her grave guarding this family secret,” I said as I slipped the booklet into a plastic freezer bag.

“I’ll bet you that’s been tucked away in that wall since 1913; the year that house was built,” Del said as he nodded at the items on the table.

Then I chuckled, “Mom, do you remember how Grandma always called me her little cowboy?”

 She smiled again and nodded her head at the memory.

“Well, it turns out Grandma’s little cowboy may have really been a little Indian,” I finished.

Amid the Pages — History

Shortly after Mary’s father passed away, she and her siblings got together for a week and packed up the old man’s home. The four children decided to split most everything like the furniture, pictures and art.

However, a number of books including school texts, compendiums of family history on her mother’s side and a bunch of bibles, where left unclaimed. I told my bride to bring them home with her so I could leaf through them.

I happen to love old books.

In one of the bibles, presented to Gertrude Alberta Blodgett, from Mr. and Mrs. S.M. Blodgett, October 7, 1909, I discovered a note made in pencil, “U.S. President there.” While it caught my attention, I was really drawn to the date of August 24, 1927.

The entry goes on to read, “Be of good cheer — John 16-33.” It finishes with, “The ____ at Hermosa, July 24 1927, President there.”

Since the bride’s family is from the San Diego area, I started my research looking through the records of the City of Hermosa Beach for a reference to a presidential visit in 1927. I found nothing.

Then it occurred to me: My father-in-law was from Rapid City, South Dakota and his middle name was Blodgett. Duh! So I quickly searched for Hermosa, South Dakota and found what I was hoping to learn.

In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge made a trip to South Dakota and stayed in a game Lodge in Hermosa. He also established offices for himself and his staff at the high school in Rapid City.

During his visit, Coolidge dedicated Mount Rushmore and welcomed guests like Charles Lindbergh. The President and First Lady Gracie Coolidge eventually returned to Washington D.C. in mid-September.

While it may or may not have been Gertrude who penciled the notation found in the border of page 697, the Book of St. John, in this 100-plus year old bible, I thank them for the connection to the past and to our American history.

Moving Chairs

There are times when something simple can cause me no-end of concern. Take for example this story…”

For the last two or maybe three weeks I have been fighting a losing battle with a chair from the dinner table that seems to move on its own. It suddenly started doing this after I removed the center leaf from the table.

I had come to believe we had a poltergeist in our home.

Daily, I would move the chair back under the table, next to where the other chairs are and then somehow, someway it would end up next to the couch some 4 or 5 feet away. Then on other days it would be moved only three feet to in front of the kitchen island.

It left me perplexed.

I finally put the leaf back in the table just to make the ghost happy again and so it would leave the chair alone. It seems to have worked.

This morning all four chairs were right where I left them last night. Then my wife says to me as she is heading out the door, “Thanks for putting the leaf back in the table for me. Now I don’t have to move the friggin’ chair around jus’ to read the news paper.”

She really frightens me sometimes.

Thunder Slapped

One of the things I used to dread about going to Margaret Keating School when I was in the eighth grade…our teacher, Mr. Tom Brown. Not only did he scare me, he also tended to scare others in the class.

Case in point was the early afternoon a girl in our class fell asleep. Marisol Azzopardi had been listening to Mr. Brown drone on about one subject or another and she finally became a victim of a trance.

She had her head down, looking at the teacher as her eyes finally failed and went close. Mr. Brown saw her slip into her sleep state almost as soon as it happened.

Without missing a beat, he walked across the class room and slapped the top of her desk as hard as possible with his open hand. The loud pop jolted Marisol awake immediately and it left her bug-eyed with fright.

Most everyone in class laughed, happy it wasn’t they who had made the mistake of falling asleep. And while Marisol appeared to take the event good-naturedly, I was more than shaken, fearful to blink worried he’d think I had dropped off to catch a few Z’s.

Not fun or funny!

Unexpected Justice

Kyle called to tell me he had spoke with 9-1-1 because he believed our neighbors, Mike and Bridget Smith were being robbed. He said he was worried as one of the robbers had looked right at him as he watched the man come and go from the house a couple of times.

I was stuck at work and even had I been able to leave the station, I still would have had a half hour to travel before getting home.

Having taught Kyle from an early age how to use a rifle and handgun, he had gotten out my pistol and loaded it. He set it on the arm of the couch and remained by the window watching the three men ransack the home.

I believe this was a wise move on Kyle’s part.

Unknown to him, the police were also watching the house as it was being burgled. They were hoping catch the thieves not only in the act, but in a place that was a little less congested or populated.

I pulled into the driveway a few minutes after the robbers had driven away.

Sparks Police Sgt. Greta Woyciehowsky and Washoe County Sheriff deputies were already on the scene, securing the house and the evidence left behind. Kyle was still inside our home, waiting for me as I had instructed.

We when over to the Smith’s together, to speak with officers. They took Kyle inside the house and had him fill out a statement, while I return home to call Mike at work, to let him know what was happening.

Eventually all three of the burglars were busted, but not until some gun-play. As the trio sped north on U.S. 395, the driver of the car tossed a pistol out of the vehicle, where it discharged, and fired back into the car, striking the driver in the leg.

Sometimes justice comes in unexpected forms.

Nevada Governor’s Staff Salaries Released

Certain things get caught in my craw and I jus’ can’t seem to cough them up. One is this Nevada news item:

“Nevada lawmakers will be able to workout during the upcoming legislative session thanks to new exercise equipment installed in an empty office on the third floor of the state’s legislature building. The two treadmills, two stairmasters and two elliptical machines come at a cost of $30,000 dollars to taxpayers.”

News item number two:

“Governor Brian Sandoval has released the salaries of some of his staffers. Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert will earn just under $125,000, Dale Erquiaga, Senior Advisor and Communications Director, about $120,000, Press Secretary Mary-Sarah Kinner around $75,000, with the governor making $141,000. The amounts are before factoring a 4.6 percent reduction, the amount state workers lost in 2009 when required to take a day off each month without pay.”

Meanwhile, the base-pay for a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps is only $26,638. Remember, these are the men and women charged with humping around Afghanistan and Iraq, wearing body armor and 80 pounds of equipment in all sorts of weather, day and night, and being shot up on a near-daily basis.

It appears it pays well in Nevada to be a professional politician. No wonder the state has a $3-billion budget shortfall.

Chuck Hartwick, 1959-2011

The Denny’s was fairly empty at the time I entered and sat down for a cup of coffee and a burger. That’s because it was somewhere between morning breakfast and noon-time lunch.

Shortly after I sat down and ordered my meal, in the door came a man I knew only by the name, Red. He had with him, his ever-present dog, which was allowed into the restaurant because it acted as a service-animal, as Red had epilepsy.

As I sat eating, I casually watched Red as he moved towards one of the seats located at the  front counter. Usually, his dog would lay down next to where he sat, but this time the dog jus’ stood there.

Without much notice, Red suddenly stiffened up and fell backwards into the aisle between the counter and a booth. He was having a seizure.

Immediately, I asked one of the waitresses to call an ambulance and I went over and knelt down by Red. There wasn’t very much I could do for him at the time other than speak gently to him.

However his seizure event became progressively worse. As his thrashing about became more violent all I was able to do was protect him from striking his head on either the floor or some nearby object.

Within minutes the Del Norte County Ambulance Service pulled into the parking lot. One of the EMT’s to come through the door was Chuck Hartwick.

Chuck and I had gone to high school together. We also studied martial arts and emergency medicine after school most nights and I considered him to be a renaissance man long before the term became popularized.

It wouldn’t be the last time I would see Chuck as he worked the ambulance. One early morning I was near run over by a woman, who had been broadsided and in a panic, stabbed her foot down on the gas pedal.

Instead of running me over, she slammed into a retaining wall designed to protect a building near Highway 101. The impact snapped her right ankle in such a way that the injury became a jagged, open wound.

It was Chuck who arrived with his partner driving the ambulance. Together, we packaged the woman up for transport to Seaside Hospital, where doctors were able to save her foot.

But the most interesting time I worked with Chuck was when we were Juniors in high school. Someone said that a girl was laying on the floor in the girls bathroom of C-Hall, bleeding.

I went into the bathroom and found she wasn’t jus’ bleeding, she was having a baby.

Chuck arrived soon after. Needless to say I was happy to see him.

The ambulance soon arrived and they loaded the girl up on a gurney and rushed her to the hospital. All this time later, I cannot recall the girl’s name.

Unfortunately, Chuck passed from this life into the greater-life, February 7, 2011. He would have been 52, September 2nd.

Disconnect

University of Nevada Las Vegas president Neal Smatresk says the school is on the brink of financial collapse. He claims Governor Brian Sandoval’s proposal to cut nearly $48 million from the schools’ budget could force it to declare financial exigency, a move compared to declaring bankruptcy.

However, Nevada university regents gave Majestic Realty, the developer behind Staples Center in Los Angeles 150 days for exclusive negotiations on plans for a 40,000-seat football stadium on campus of UNLV. Majestic Realty also own the Silverton casino in Las Vegas.

The deal allows Majestic and UNLV to work out a plan with authorities including Clark County and aviation officials. It also allows time to seek state legislation to make the campus a special district so taxes generated there can be used to support the project.

There is a disconnect somewhere in all of this.

Wedekind City, Nevada: A Brief History

Prior to renaming my weblog the more amiable, “Once Upon a Wednesday,” I had called it, “The Wedekind City Manipulator.” I did so as a take off the “Wabuska Mangler,” a Nevada newspaper that never really existed, but was invented by Sam Post Davis, then editor of the Nevada Appeal to help boost sales of Carson City’s leading newspaper.

This was my first article for, “The Wedekind City Manipulator.”  Somedays I wish I had kept the title.

A former mining town, Wedekind City is about two miles north of Sparks and a mile or so south of Spanish Springs on Nevada State Route 445, commonly referred to as the Pyramid Highway. The area is named for George Wedekind, a German immigrant and Reno piano tuner, who found gold ore in the area around 1896, starting the Reno Star Mine.

The mines name was later changed to Wedekind after a rich ore strike was made. Soon a small town sprang up around the digs and a U.S. Post Office was established July 09, 1902. As the mine went bust, postal service to the town was discontinued March 15, 1905.

Today, Wedekind City is simply a footnote in Nevada’s otherwise colorful history of mining, cowboying and tourism adventures. All that remains of the once bustling town is a mined-out, grass and sage covered hillside.

To Live on the Edge

Uncle shook his head sideways and asked, “Any idea where the hell they could be?”

Then he clucked his tongue and his young gelding moved forward onto the trail. I followed along behind him, saying nothing.

I had long come to realize that Uncle was asking himself more than anyone else a question and the way I figured it, talking aloud and asking questions was one of Uncle’s many ways of thinking.

We had been in the saddle before sunup having passed under the shadow of Irish Mountain of the South Fork Range. It was spring roundup and the hunt for the final few beeves in the redwoods and surrounding hills was on.

It tickled me and made me slightly afraid when Uncle looked directly at me and said “Saddle Cracker up. You’re coming with me.”

We were moving south through Uncles grazing rights. The fine grass showed its tender shoots as we paused to give the horses a breather jus’ beyond Lemonade Springs.

“I got a feeling they cut across the Mad on us,” Uncle commented, “There isn’t a sign to cut anywhere over here.”

I said nothing while lying stretched out beneath the shade of a madrone tree.

A few later minutes we were back in the saddle, cutting west towards the Mad River.

“Best get set to cross,” Uncle ordered.

We paused long enough to pull off our boots and tie them around our necks using our bandanas. As we continued toward the river I loosened my pistol belt and pulled it off.

I draped it over my neck as well, making certain to double-check the thumb loop.

The rush of the Mad River could be heard long before it could be seen. The creaking of saddle leather and horses hooves in the soft earth mixed with the activity of the mountain stream made my heart race with anticipation.

River crossing had always been a dangerous part of a range hands occupation. No cowboy ever wanted to cross a swollen, fast-moving, deep and cold river.

“Remember to hang on,” Uncle shouted back as he urged his mount into the brisk waters.

Reaching back, I grabbed a handful of Crackers tail hair. The old mare’s ears laid down momentarily as if she realized what she were about to be asked to do.

Uncle had explained once that Oklahoma cowboys always grabbed onto their pony’s tails as they crossed a river. That way if the rider became unseated from the “hurricane deck,” the horse would drag him to the bank. And if the unthinkable happened and the horse should drown, then the cow hand would have a ready-made flotation device because horses never sink directly.

Neither event occurred as we and our mounts climbed the river bank further south than where we started. Uncle stopped to put his boots on and so did I. And if Uncle were cold, he certainly didn’t show it and I knew he best not say anything either though my body shivered involuntarily and violently.

It was a little before noon and the midday sun soon dried us out. We stopped at Cherry Glade Creek to stretch, eat and rest the horses, determined to ride until after sundown if necessary.

The coffee was strong and hot as I lifted it to my lips. It warmed me and gave me energy.

I swallowed the last of the cold biscuits and honey then downed the last bit of coffee.

“We ought to get a move on, Uncle,” I said without realizing.

I felt my heart sink into my stomach because it sounded as if I had just given Uncle a command.

Uncle looked up and smiled then chuckled a little bit. “Okay, buckaroo, let’s get saddled up.”

Uncle laughed aloud once again.

We turned our mounts in a northwesterly direction, riding for half an hour. That’s when Uncle stopped and leaned way over to look at the ground.

I moved closer to have a look, but could see very little, other than where the ground was chewed up.

“At least five of them,” Uncle said. Then he pointed up into the hills, “This way.”

Leaving the banks of the Mad River behind us, we pushed our horses deeper and deeper into the woods. This was dangerous for both man and beast as this is where people tended to live on the edge of civility.

A good saddle horse could easily be mistaken for a mule deer and its rider as a jumper onto a mining claim or trespasser into a marijuana field. For this reason we both pulled out our bright red wild rags and tied them loosely around our necks to make certain they could be seen.

The tracks led deeper and higher into the hills. Many of the trails were dim as my Grandpa was fond of saying. In more than one case, we had to make our own path up a grassy or moss-covered slope.

Uncle leaned over and followed the tracks as we pushed on. The tracks led into a small stand of timber.

There in a clearing stood a man and a woman. They had built a make shift corral and had rounded up seven strays and were working on field dressing one of the steers.

The woman saw us first as we rode into the clearing. The man looked up and stepped straight for his rifle.

She looked frightened as she pointed at the man with a bloodied arm and said, “It was his idea.”

I saw his action and already had my pistol in hand.

The double-click of the hammer caused the man to pause in his reach. Then Uncle rode up and picked the rifle up from the fence post and proceeded to empty the shells from its chamber, flinging the brass cartridges a far away as he could.

“Son of a…” the man said in a barely audible voice.

Then Uncle spoke, “I’d jus’ stand right there, both of ya or my young Ramrod will punch holes in both your souls.”

Neither one moved.

For a moment I was distracted by the term ‘Ramrod.’ That meant ‘Boss’ and that Uncle viewed me as an equal in this ugly affair.

The man looked up at Uncle and stated, “I didn’t think anybody would be up here looking for these cows.”

“Well, you thought wrong,” Uncle replied. Then he said, “Now, ma’am if you’d be kind enough to open that gate and light a shuck under them cattle, I’d much appreciate it.”

She did as she was asked. Then she moved quickly over to a wad of blankets that appeared to be tossed on the ground.

I trained my pistol on her until she pulled out a baby that began to cry.

Uncle raised his right hand to the brim of his hat and said, “Ma’am,” as he nodded his head.

Then he looked at the man then the half butchered cow and the nearly starved cow still tied to the far side of the make shift corral, “Keep the damned thing and that one too. It seems you need it more than me.”

Then taking no chances, he tossed the once loaded rifle into the brush, beyond the corral. Without another word he clicked his tongue and dashed off into the woods the way he had come, with me, his Ramrod, hard behind.

The Apartment Below

After leaving the Marine Corps, I found myself obsessing over why I had lived and why others died. My obsession took the form of writing a few stories in which I was killed. It was my way of coping, until I finally got up enough courage to ask for help.  I eventually learned this was “survivors guilt.”

I know — kind of dark.

The couple in the apartment below was arguing as I lay in bed snuggled up to my girlfriend. This was nothing unusual because this always went on in the apartment below.

But for some reason tonight — it was different.

The voices were more hostile, there was more screaming and yelling. And while the words were muffled, it was easy to tell one voice belonged to a female, the other to a male.

Snuggling closer to my girlfriend, I tried to forget the voices. I was safe and warm, lying next to my girlfriend and I thought this over and over until I faded to sleep.

 Suddenly something jolted me awake. Something didn’t sound right.

Those voices had suddenly become clearer and were jointed by the sound of rushing feet. Then came the crashing of two bodies hurling themselves at one another in a violent struggle.

The struggle was followed by a loud noise — an explosive crack from the apartment below. I felt a chill run up and down my spine, which left me weak, frightened and sick to my stomach.

I forced myself to think over and over again – I’m warm and safe in the bed next to my girlfriend – until I only seemed to fade off into sleep.

My Moon Rock

It was jus’ sitting in the sandy earth as I walked by it. At first, I thought it was a piece of plastic or perhaps colored glass or maybe a bit of ceramic.

I picked it up, discovering it was a rock.

Its layers of color jus’ didn’t look natural, especially the light blue one. I had never seen a rock like it.

Eventually, I showed it to a Paiute elder. He said it fell to earth from the moon.

And until I have a better explanation for not only its colors — but why I couldn’t find another one like it in the area — I’ll take the elder at his word.

Window

After visiting Dad’s grave in the national cemetery, I decided to drive up the road to the row of old barracks. I had been there once before and was looking forward to visiting the grounds again.

Barracks Row as it is locally known was home to the 10th Regiment of Cavalry. They were composed of Black horse soldiers, commonly referred to as “Buffalo Soldiers.”

I pulled up near a building that is known as the hospital barracks.

The sound of my wooden heeled cowboy boots echoed on the rough plank flooring. It brought a sense of nostalgia and a hint of sadness to think any number of soldiers passed their final breath in one of the open-bay wards.

Jus’ like the time before, I felt as if I were entering a crowded facility. While I knew no one other than myself was there, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the thought that I wasn’t actually alone.

Then my thoughts turned to Albert Einstein and his theory of parallel universes. While I’ve never fully understood what it was he was proposing in his mathematic equations, I did understand his notion that the past, present and future are side-by-side in an ever-present time-line.

This caused me to have an even crazier thought: perhaps I might be a ghostly feature to a sick cavalry soldier, who couldn’t focus on me, but detected my presence in the corner of his eye. In short, the present had crossed with the passed for an instant in time.

I laughed at myself as I continued to wonder through the ground floor ward.

There was rope across the stairwell leading to the second floor. Hanging from the rope was sign: do not enter.

Since no one was around I stepped over the barrier and proceeded up the steps. Once on the second floor, I found nothing remarkable about the place, other than it had been vandalized by perhaps some teens using the building as a place to party and make-out.

Back down stairs, I wondered over to one of the two, multi-paned windows that over look the parade ground. The glass was obviously crafted by hand as it made everything wavy and disfigured.

As I started to turn from the window, I saw a line of 16 horses and riders forming in a column of two, trotting out onto the parade field. It was a group of reenactors practicing.

They were only a couple hundred yards away as the squad leader put the unit through their paces. I was familiar with this activity as I had once been a member of the 5th Regiment of Cavalry, Reorganized at Warren AFB, in Wyoming.

Then from my left side came a young African-American man, no older than 20 years, perhaps. He was dressed in a traditional cavalry uniform of dark blue trousers and shirt, cloth suspenders, and boots with the leg of his pants tucked in them.

On his head was what looked to be a very well used forage cap. Obviously he was dressed the part for whatever event was taking place out on the parade grounds.

He looked up at me, smiled and nodded. I returned his smile and nod.

It suddenly occurred to me that I was about to let my chance to talk with one of these reenactors get away. So I rushed out of the build and down the steps.

I looked in the direction he had been walking, but he was nowhere to be seen.

Then it dawned on me that the unit on the parade field was no long there as well. I was busy thinking about the fact that they had been able to withdraw from grassy flat so fast, that I didn’t hear the ranger approach me from behind.

“Sir, we’re about to close for the night,” he said.

I jumped as I turned towards him and I must have had a wild look on my face as I made eye contact with him.

He smiled slightly and asked, “You saw them, didn’t you?”

“I — I’m not sure what I saw,” I answered, still feeling a bit confused.

“Yeah,” the ranger replied, “It happens like that.”

Humanities U.S. 101

I blew into my cupped hands, and then rubbed them together to help shake off the early morning chill.

The fog was hanging low to the ground and it added to my sense of cold as I waited for my VW Bug to warm up. I had a ninety-seven mile trip to make on U.S. 101; the total distance between Crescent City and Eureka.

This was my daily routine as I trekked to my job in the newly created one-hour photo shop I was employed at. The drive did not bother me as I enjoyed driving, especially through the redwood trees.

I pointed my car southward on 101 as I left the city limits and pushed my nearly worn out tape of Ian Tyson in to the player and cranked up “Navajo Rug.”

As I turned the music up I saw the flashing lights in the rear view mirror. It was a California Highway Patrol coming up fast on behind me. Another unit sped past me; this time it was a Del Norte County Sheriff unit.

The VW slowed down as it started up the hill into the trees. It always slowed down as it headed up the steep incline.

“Must be a heck of an accident ahead,” I muttered as noisily slurped at my coffee cup.

I had completed the first left hand curve just passed the scenic view when I came upon the accident and a surge of adrenaline pump itself through my veins.

The Datsun Z-280, or what was left of it, was rammed up underneath the shiny silver tank of a big rig. The big rig had jack knifed while headed north and its tank had crossed sideways into the southbound lane jus’ as the Datsun was making the corner.

“Bad luck,” I thought as I slowed to a stop.

I set the brake and turned off the engine, knowing I wasn’t going anywhere as all lanes were blocked off.

Then reached over the back of the seat and pulled out my first-out bag. My bag contained nearly everything medical that I would need in the event of a serious emergency.

“I’m a paramedic,” I said to the Highway Patrol Officer.

It was the same one who passed me a few minutes ago.

“Great,” he replied, “Go ahead.”

The county sheriff deputy was on the other side of the truck. He was busy flagging traffic to a stop.

The tanker truck driver yelled to me, “You a Medic?”

I trotted over to him, “Hospital Corpsman –yeah.”

The odor of gasoline was in the air and it was the first moment I had noticed it.

“Are you the driver?” I asked the man.

He nodded his head and answered, “Yeah, but I ain’t hurt.”

“Good,” I responded, and then I asked, “You hauling gasoline?”

“Yeah,” said the driver, “And the tanks leaking.”

Looking over at the Patrol Officer, I shouted, “Get those cars out of here. We’ve got a gasoline leak. And don’t use your radio.”

The patrol man shouted back, “Okay!”

Then he made the three cars he had stopped turn around and head back down the hill. He followed along behind them on foot.

I looked at the truck driver, “I need you to go tell the Deputy on the other side to get traffic back around the curve. Tell him that we have a gasoline leak and to not use his radio until he’s safely around the curve.”

“Yeah, sure,” he responded as he slipped between the embankment and the front end of his cab.

Setting my bag down, I opened it and put on a pair of latex gloves before leaning into the semi-conscious drivers’ window. She moaned lightly and turned her head from side to side.

A quick check revealed she had broken arm her near her upper right shoulder. She also had some sort of rib injury to the same side.

The worst injury though was a deep gash in her right thigh. That’s where the steering wheel had sliced through the skin and muscles down to the bone.

I could see the gleaming whiteness of the bone as I gently assessed her.

The odor of gasoline brought fear to me as well as nausea. The idea of being burned did not appeal to me.

The young woman opened her eyes and looked around. Then she screamed.

“Calm down,” I said as gently as I could to her.

She started flailing her arms. Then she pulled at the steering wheel attempting to free her self, but remained trapped.

However in the struggle she managed to loosen the steering wheels pressure from her thigh. The lack of pressure caused her wound to gush as her heart pumped out her life fluid with each panicked beat.

Climbing into the compressed frame of the sports car through the shattered passenger window, I knew I had to stop the bleeding or else she would die. Once inside I pushed down as hard as I could at the point where her hip bent.

She screamed loudly and struck out at me. So I turned my left shoulder into her and continued to apply all the pressure I could.

Then a face appeared at the drivers’ side window. It was a fire fighter.

“What’s happening?” the person asked.

“She got a partial amp and nasty bleeder,” I said, “And I need some hemostats.”

The fire fighter disappeared.

The gloves I had put on were now useless; filled with blood, inside and out.

The fire fighter returned and said, “I could only find two.”

He handed them to me through the window. Next I lowered my left knee down on the affected leg with the idea to keep the blood flow to a minimum as I clamped the hemostats into place.

I probed inside the gaping wound with my fingertips.

“Aw, man, the femoral is ripped to pieces,” I said complainingly. “No wonder she’s losing so much blood,” I continued thinking.

As I continued to work the hemostats into place the fire rescue crew set to work carefully removing the top of the car. They had to work slowly and cautiously as one spark could cause the tanker truck and the car to become engulfed in flames.

I soon discovered neither hemostat worked.

They were slightly bent and failed to close properly. I softly cursed.

Looking around the car, I tried to find any thing that might be a suitable replacement for the hemostats. That’s when I saw the paper clips that had fallen from the cubbyhole on the dash.

I picked one up.

Pushing my hand back inside open wound in the woman’s thigh, I squeezed the slippery end of the artery between my thumb and fingertip and gently coaxed it out of the muscle that hid it.

“What are you doing?” a voice asked abruptly.

I looked up the fireman and answered, “I’m trying to stop her from bleeding to death!”

As quickly as possible I continued to fold the tattered ends of the artery together and attach the paper clip to it, and then I pinched it down hard. Then I attached the second one beside the first and pinched it down, folding them both over.

Finally I locked the two hemostats into place atop the paper clips. Blood slowly filled the wound, but the artery did not squirt and the paper clips held.

“I need a bunch of four by fours,” I demanded.

Someone handed me a package of the gauze squares as another voice commented, “That’s slick work there, pal.”

I packed the gauze into the wound to help slow what bleeding was occurring. Within minutes the firefighters had her out of the remaining frame of her sports car and on her way to Seaside hospital.

“From there, she’s going to get a Coast Guard ride to Eureka,” one of the firefighters said to another.

I picked up my bag and walked over to the car, where I sat until I was it was okay to leave by the highway patrol.

An hour and a half later I wheeled my way into the parking lot of the photo lab. I got out of my truck and proceeded to tuck my bloodied shirt into my equally blood encrusted pants.

I was nearly forty-five minutes late for work.

Stepping inside the photo shop, everyone looked up at me, and from the expressions on their faces I could tell what was coming. Barbara, the shop’s manager came out of her office and walked up to me.

“You’re fired!” She said in a very brisk tone of voice, adding, “Here’s your check, get out!”

“You’re not even going to ask me what happened?” I asked.

“Get out, I don’t care,” was her response.

I shrugged my shoulders and replied “Okay.”

With that and a sigh I walked out the door, climbed in my VW and pointed it north, towards Crescent City. I was looking forward to a hot shower and clean clothes.

As I pulled out of the driveway, I thought, “There are other jobs out there — besides I don’t want to work for a company that puts money before life.”

Machete’ Verses Entrenching Tool

I heard the call, “Corpsman,” and I came rushing to the aid of the stricken Lance Corporal.

He was shot through the calf of his right leg as he worked to deepen the fighting hole we now found ourselves huddled in. Also in the hole, which was more of a trench, was a Corporal.

The Corporal was busy with his entrenching tool digging out the red earth in order to have more cover in the event of an attack. The Lance Corporal had been standing atop the dirt the two had excised from the ground when he was hit.

The wound was through-and-through. I was jus’ finishing packing the bullet-hole and wrapping a length of gauze around his calf when a shadow quickly passed over my head. Without warning a man with a machete’ was standing over the Corporal hacking at him.

The Corporal immediate started defending himself, using the entrenching tool. He was losing the fight as the attacker swung the sharp sword-like weapon down on the Marine.

Without a word, I grabbed the Lance Corporal’s entrenching tool and swung it like a club at the man’s head. It sliced though the top of his skull and he dropped right where he stood.

I quickly looked the Corporal over for injuries and though his entrenching tool was severely bent and his flak-vest was sliced open, he had no wounds to show for his troubles.

Then together, we lifted the now-dead attacker up and tossed his limp body over the dirt berm of the fighting hole. I returned to the wounded Lance Corporal and the Corporal returned to removing more dirt from the trench.

And though we would occasionally run into each other at chow or at religious services, we neither one ever spoke of that day and the events that occurred in the half-completed fighting hole.

Susie Robison-Morris, 1962-2011

Susie Robinson

Every school day, I rode the bus to Del Norte High School. And nearly everyday for two-years, I watched as Susie Robison got on the bus at the entrance of Mill Creek State Park.

That was the extent of my interaction with Susie. From where I sat, she was painfully shy, with her head slightly cocked to one side in her cute way as if avoiding eye-contact.

I was too afraid to speak to her, not because of shyness, but because I could never think of anything to say.

The one thing I will always remember of Susie is the fact that I rarely ever saw her without a smile. It was always nice to see, especially on days when things weren’t so bright.

She graduated from Del Norte High in 1980. Three years later she married her husband, Allan Morris.

Susie went home to be with our Lord, February 6, 2011 at the age of 49.

 

 

 

 

 

Disappearing Baby

It was a fairly warm springtime afternoon day. That’s why I propped the front door open as I relaxed on the futon couch while watching my infant son, Kyle sleeping on the blanket in the middle of the apartment floor.

I smiled realizing how lucky I was to have such a precious baby boy.

Before long though I felt myself getting sleepy and knew this was not a good thing so I got up and walked the few steps into the kitchen and prepared a pot of coffee. I returned to the futon and watched as Kyle started to wake up from his nap.

Within minutes the coffee was finished brewing and although I didn’t want to get up and go back into the kitchen I said to my son, “I’ll be right back.”

I disappeared into the kitchen and poured a cup of java and returned to the front room.

An instant wave of panic rush through me as I saw Kyle was no longer on the blanket next to the futon. Setting my coffee down, I stepped outside on the landing. I hadn’t heard any one come up or down the steps and I didn’t see anyone now.

Terrified, I raced down the flight of steps and onto the common sidewalk that connected the apartment complex. I saw absolutely nobody around and I puzzled over what I should do next.

Fighting off the sense of panic that tried to overtake me, I jogged towards the parking lot figuring if anyone were carrying a baby that would be the most likely direction they would head. Again, I saw no one.

Now I felt the urge to panic. I took off in a mad dash around the entire building, racing past the laundry room and offices, then up a short set of steps and back around towards the apartment that I had been living in for the past seven years, seeing not one person in the process.

I was on the verge of tears as I concluded the worse had happened; my son Kyle had been kidnapped.

Resigned to the fact that I must now place a call to the police, it was all an awful prospect that I was dreading. But as I trudged up the stairs to the apartment, I heard a sound that brought a sense of relief to my heart.

It was that of a baby crying. I recognized it as Kyle’s cry.

I raced up the remaining steps. Once up stairs and in the apartment the crying stopped.

 I stood still, listening.

Nothing.

Then there was a faint whimper as Kyle started to cry again. I bent down to discover Kyle under the futon couch and against the wall.

I gently pulled him out and cradled him in his arms, where upon Kyle cooed, never realizing how scared I had been.

Later that evening when Kyle’s mother came to pick him up I explained what happened. She laughed and apologized because she had forgotten to tell me that our son had learned how to roll over — but only one direction.

Tura Jurman, 1938-2011

Here was this voluptuous woman with both a commanding and yet feminine mystic to her and I wasn’t sure what to make of her. I was working a loss-prevention for an antiques store at the Reno Hilton and her, a Security Officer for the hotel/casino.

Bold as day, she marched up to me and introduced herself as Tura Jurman. What I didn’t know at that moment was that she had gained cult status for her role in the 1965 movie ‘Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’

1-fasterpussycatkillkic90-g

Hell, I hadn’t even heard of the movie — but the world damned well knew who Tura Santana was.

In ‘Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’ Tura played Varla, the leader of a trio of thrill-seeking go-go dancers who kills a man with her bare hands. The trio then set out to rob a wealthy older man who lives on a desert ranch with his two sons.

Tura’s acting debut was a cameo as Suzette Wong, a Parisian prostitute in the film ‘Irma la Douce,’ starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Her other credits include the television shows ‘Burke’s Law’ and ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’

Born Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi in Hokkaidō, Japan, she moved with her parents to the U.S. before World War II, during which her family was interned at Manzanar Internment camp in Lone Pine, California. She was married John Satana, from which she took her stage name and even dated Elvis Presley for a time.

She was married for 19 years to retired Los Angeles police officer Endel Jurman. They eventually moved to Reno, and she was widowed in 2000.

Tura passed away from heart failure at the age of 72. She’s survived by her two daughters — Kalani Silverman and Jade Fall.

Though it has been years since I’ve seen her, I will miss her.

The Unclutter Plan

For the last month or so I’ve been trying to remove much of the clutter in my life.

One of my uncluttering tactics involves moving much of what I’ve written over the last 41-years from paper to digital material. This involves not only a lot of typing of stories word-for-word, it also involves much editing.

Over the years I have written stories in first-person, third person or even with a fictional character. That’s why there are so many mistakes — especially in the pronoun department.

So as I post these stories to my weblog, and as you read them, you’ll find a sizable number of mistakes. I will eventually find them and correct them, it’ll jus’ take some time.

Meanwhile, all mistakes aside, I plan to continue having fun posting stories to my blog and I hope you’ll have as much fun reading what’s written.

Carbonated Capture

It had seemed unbearably hot in the truck as I drove Highway 299 from the coast to the center of northern California. It was made worse by the fact that the old Chevy had no air conditioning and every few miles there was a halt in traffic for road construction.

What was normally a four and a half hour road trip grew into nearly seven long hours, so I could hardly wait to get over the hill, past Whiskeytown and into Redding. That’s where I would stop to fuel up the truck and get a cool, refreshing soda pop.

As I pulled into the market and got out, I felt a sense of relief that at least half of his trip was finished. I opened the gas tank and pushed the fuel nozzle in and started filling the Chevy. I decided to head inside to use the restroom and to get that drink I had been thinking of for the last seventy miles.

After coming out of the bathroom, I walked over to the large glass doors holding every cold ice drink I could think of. I searched for my favorite and found it.

As I pulled it from the rack, I heard the door buzzer go off. This caused me to look upward at the convex mirror above my head.

To my surprise I saw a man waving what appeared to be a sawed off shot-gun at the cowering store clerk. I stood still hoping the clerk would jus’ hand over the cash in the register and the bandit would leave.

Instead the clerk appeared to be too petrified of the shot-gun and could not move. The bandit waved the weapon around more and more and shouted instructions but without any results. I quickly realized the situation was getting out of hand and I needed to act to keep the clerk from getting killed.

I looked at the soda pop I was holding, and then promptly started shaking it vigorously.

As I quickly moved towards the front of the small store I continued to shake it. I knew I had to judge my position and the bandits position jus’ right or I might end up getting shot defending the woman who was now pleading for her life.

Walking silently along the contour of the store, I came to the aisle the bandit was standing jus’ to the left of and turned. As I stepped out and towards the check out counter I was still shaking the can of soda as hard as I could.

“Where are the cupcakes?” I asked, “Oh, I see them.”

When I spoke, the startled bandit jumped swinging the shot-gun from the clerk towards me. When the robber did this, I stepped slightly to my right and raised the soda pop can, opening it into the face of the very surprised bandit.

As the soda pop finished spraying, I grabbed the arm of the bad guy and his shot-gun. Next I lowered my right shoulder into the bandit’s chest, jerking the man off-balance. The body check sent the bandit crashing into a nearby end-cap of potato chips.

It was over with seconds. The bandit was lying on the ground and the clerk was on the telephone calling the police and I had the sawed-off shot-gun in hand.

Within minutes the city police, the county sheriff’s department and the highway patrol arrived, taking control of the situation. It was the first and only time any of the officers had ever known of a suspect being apprehended by the carbonated blast of a soda pop can.

Cabin on Lake Earl

It took me nearly three hours to get the old claw tub up on the front porch of the cabin by myself. I decided to take a break.

I sat down, dangling my legs off the front edge of the porch, thinking back on the last year.

It was rainy the day I found the old rundown shack on the edge of Lake Earl. It looked like an old-line shake at one time, but most recently, it was home to an assorted number of birds.

It sat in the middle of a clearing on a slight rise in the land. Around it grew aging redwood trees and slender youthful looking alders. It could not be seen from the paved roadway to the east, and I wondered how long it had sat invisible from the duck blinds set up along Lake Earl to the west.

“Hello to the cabin…” I shouted.

No one answered, so I approached it. I was hoping to find some old hermit living there with a brewing cup of coffee close by.

“Hello to the cabin…” I yelled out one more time.

By now I was standing on the first step to the front porch. Again no one answered my call.

I stepped on the first plank and it growled.

That flushed the first of the birds, which exploded like a shotgun shell out the pane-less windows in all directions. I instinctively jerked my 20-gauge shotgun closer to my body.

“Pigeon and quail,” I thought.

The wind picked up as I opened the door to the cabin and stepped inside. I was happy to have found this little place to stay out of the weather.

Duck hunting for me was double misery. I rarely bagged a bird and I usually got soaked for my trouble.

The room was bare save a two-by-two table built into the wall and a flimsy wooden chair. It also had a pot-bellied stove no bigger than a bale of hay.

On the wall above the table was a calendar. Nineteen-sixty-something was the year. The thumb tack that held it was rusted and left a golden halo on the aged browned page between the six and whatever number had been there.

Further down the wall was a window. It had no glass in it.

I could feel the cold blowing through it.

The window next to the door was also without glass, yet there did not seem to be any glass inside the cabin. Except for these things there was nothing that stood out about this hidden little line shack.

Yet I wondered, “Had it been someone’s home, some prospector lured by the whisper of color, or had it been some sort of stop over for an outdoors man?”

I walked to the back of the cabin and discovered a second room.

In the darkness it was invisible. The floorboards creaked as I passed over them and the darkness grew as I touched the narrow doorway of the sectioned off room.

There were no windows in this room and no way to see what lay beyond the door. I peeked inside brief enough.

FWAP!

Out of the darkness of the second room came an explosion. A heavy thumping sound beat past my head as I tripped backwards to get away from the blur that rushed at me.

I dropped my shotgun as the shadow jumped to life and came straight at me. I caught a floor plank with the heel of my left boot and tumbled backward.

I sprawled on the ground flat on his back.

The shotgun discharged like a loud clap of thunder. The shot sent the gun rocketing towards the front of the cabin and scattering lead pellets into the dark room.

I kept rolling, moving away from the shadow, pulling out my long knife as I tumbled head over heel coming to my feet.

By this time I had covered twenty of the thirty-foot floor of the cabin. I stood there with knife in hand facing the shadow of the doorway. My shot-gun behind me; I stepped back and to my left, never taking my eyes off the opening of the door.

My heart pounded in my chest as I gasped for a breath of air. My muscles were tight and ready to defend if I were attacked again.

But nothing happened. So I bent down and picked up my gun. Once I had it in hand, I sheathed my knife.

“Who, who,” came a voice above him.

I jumped sideways to the right and flattened myself against the wall of the cabin.

As I did, I looked up. What I saw brought a foolish kind of smile to my face.

It was jus’ a barn owl. I laughed out loud at my own fright.

The bird looked down at him and repeated, “Who.”

Then it flew out the open front door. I slid down the wall and squatted on his haunches. For the first time I noticed my knees were shaking as were my hands.

*******

I chuckled, “That was only a few months ago and look at this place now.”

Then I stood up and proceeded to lumber the tub into the cabin.

Later that same evening, I stood looking at my new tub. I couldn’t believe anyone would want to throw it away.

Of course, he couldn’t believe I had risked swamping my rowboat on Lake Earl jus’ to get it to the cabin. If anyone saw me, I didn’t know it. I didn’t want anyone to poke fun at me. If they did, it was best that I did not know.

I was proud of my new tub anyway.

Now I could take a bath like a king. Now I didn’t have to use an old discarded feed tub anymore.

“Yeah,” I thought, “I still got to heat the water on the stove, but look how much I can stretch out in it.”

Turning, I and went back to the stove where I had two pails of water heating.

I had the cabin looking neat.

The table that was built into the wall had a lantern on it. The window next to it had glass in each pane.

A blanket hung on the wall served as a curtain. On the opposite side of the cabin I had fashioned a bed.

It was built into the wall, same as the table. The newer two by fours and plywood shined against the grayness of the older wood.

A green and brown shag carpet that had been tossed in the garbage now covered the floor. It was tacked down on the edges to prevent it from rolling up as it had a natural tendency to do.

The county dump was jus’ across from the cabin. It was only a quarter-mile from the lake’s edge.

Several times a week I would go there and rummage around. I could still hear Dad say, “Another man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.”

I would walk the three miles from the feedlots where I worked, to the county dump. If I found something I’d follow the shoreline around, get my rowboat and paddle back across to the dump. Once there, I would load my find into the boat and take it home.

The hard part was taking the things I found down to the water’s edge. And the hardest was the tub.

At first, I didn’t believe I would be able to get it home. It took me two tries just to get it to the lake from the dump as it was heavy!

The third night I got it into the boat, but not without problems. My first attempt tipped the boat on its side filling it up with water.

The second try caused the boat to scamper away from the shore. I was just about to give up when a small wind drove the boat back to shore.

My third and final attempt was successful. I dragged the boat up on the sandy shoreline. Then I lifted the tub with a loud grunt, struggling not to drop it, setting it down in the boat.

I pushed the boat out into the water with the intention of climbing on board.

However, that was met with defeat. The tiny rowboat was nearly overwhelmed by the massive bulk of a tub.

Its hefty weight showed as just the four-inch border of the boat remained above water. But it remained afloat.

I couldn’t row it across, the shortest line between two points. I would have to walk. So I grabbed the tow rope on the bow of the boat and proceeded to walk along the shore of the lake.

It had been a hard day. First I had worked all day work, and then I struggled with the tub until late evening.

The sun had long since dropped below the horizon and I knew I should be asleep by now. But I also knew I had worked too hard to get the tub home to my little cabin and I was not going to go to bed without using it first.

The water was ready. It was a rolling boil. I lifted the first five-gallon bucket and poured it into the tub, the steam clouding my glasses. I hurried back to the second bucket and jus’ as quickly dumped its heated contents into the waiting tub.

I peeled off my work jeans and shirt and climbed in after the water.

“It wasn’t much water,” I thought.

I would have to find a better way of heating water, and more of it, but for now it was enough.

*******

The weather had turned wicked on the lake that fall. It was El Nino. The wind howled across the lake from the Pacific. It thrashed at the trees that stood in defense of the cabin. It brought with it a cold beating rain.

I dreaded walking to work and back again.

My long thermals, flannel shirt and rain slicker were hardly enough to keep me from getting chilled to the bone. Many times the wind would rip the hat from my head and I’d have to spend half an hour chasing it down or retrieving it from the branches of some tree.

There wasn’t much to do in the feedlots either. They were mostly mud now.

The ranchers in the area had stocked away for the winter months so fewer bales of hay needed to be moved or oats sacked. Even the fishermen and loggers had pulled out. The sea was too choppy, and lands too muddy.

This time of year was always the same it seemed to me; everything slowed down or came to a stop. It was worse this year though, with the weather acting up as it was.

The cabin was in great shape; however, it was chinked against the onslaught of the winter wind that buffeted the North coast. The old pot-bellied stove was proving itself to be trustworthy time and again as it warmed the place up. That was good to, as I was certain my feet were going to fall off a number of times from the cold.

I couldn’t understand why I was so cold. It was not nearly as cold as it had been a year ago at Warren AFB in Cheyenne.

It was so cold that I got frostbite during a military funeral. That day I cried like a baby in front of all the other Airmen as the medics held me down, forcing my feet into a pail of warm water.

Many of the Airmen thought I was going to lose all of my toes. I amazed them by getting up and walking around two days later and back marching with them within a week.

*******

That was the one thing that made the trudging around in the rain and wind worth it to me. I would always be able to return to my cabin and the pot-bellied stove with the banked coals. Within minutes it would be so hot that my Wrangler’s would feel like they were on fire.

Buddy came out to me as I stood ankle-deep in the mud. I was trying to muck out one of the holding pens.

“Let’s knock off early,” Buddy said.

He slapped me on the back. I pushed back my yellow slicker, reaching inside it and pulling out my pocket watch; t was quarter to five, Friday night.

I smiled at Buddy and replied, “Okay.”

That would give me the extra few minutes I needed to get over to Archie’s and pick up the parts I needed for the lawn mower I had found. It didn’t run, but that did not matter to me. I would get it to work, and then he’d make it into a generator, which meant electricity.

I was excited about the possibility of having electrical power in my cabin and the chance to have extra light or maybe a way to heat up water for my tub. I might even have a radio playing in my cabin at night for company.

As things were, I turned the radio on sparingly. Batteries could not be found in the dump and they cost money.

A generator was the answer, and it came in the form of a broken, thrown out lawn mower engine. With a little care and some elbow grease, I was certain that I could get it to work.

Right now though, I needed to get over to Archie’s. He could fix anything and he said he’d help me if he needed it and I was willing to trade it off by painting the inside of Archie’s shop.

“Did you get the valve?” I asked as I stood next to Archie.

Archie had his body part way under a car. The metal casters scratched on the smooth cement as Archie rolled from under the car.

He sat up and said, “Yup, over under the counter,” then he added, “Here, hold this wrench for me.”

I leaned over into the hood of the car and grabbed on to the wrench as Archie rolled back under it. Quickly Archie gave it a twist and then rolled back out and sat up.

“Thanks,” Archie said through his greasy red mustache.

“Thank you,” I responded as I picked up the valve and headed back out into the rain.

*******

The howling wind could torment the tallest of the surrounding redwood trees. It would twist them one direction then, the other. It caused them to groan as the wind swirled and tumbled through them.

The local Indians claimed that the moaning and groaning were the trees spirit. The giant trees protected the Tolowa people from evil. It was the evil that called out to the wind as the wind tried to pry the spirits from the trees.

Occasionally the wind would gather up a spirit when a tree snapped apart. That is why the wind kept returning, it knew it had a chance because the spirit of the tree would sometimes grow old and weak like an old man and need to rest.

A number of times in the last few months, I had come to realize there was something to the Tolowa tales. Sometimes late at night the wind would blow just hard enough to cause a tree to moan.

The noise would give my heart a start because it would sound like a person screaming or shrieking. Some nights the wind would blow gently and the trees would sound like a child crying.

It was strange how my imagination would play tricks on me. I knew the Indian tales were just myths, but still late at night the frightful scream or soft crying would awaken me with a jolt.

*******

I put my head down as I turned in to the wind and rain.

It was only an hour-and-a-half walk home and I was looking forward to it. I wanted to sit in front of the stove and get warm and I wanted to see if the valve would make the engine start.

The wind let up about twenty minutes later and the rain stopped as well. I quickened his pace.

The sky to the west looked lighter. It was not the usual foreboding gray.

The horizon had an orange glow. It was as if the sun had gotten itself caught up on the jagged pentacle of Point Saint George reef and was slowly leaking its color into the line that separated the sky from the water.

Jus’ to the north was a plume of smoke.

“Someone’s started a fire in their chimney, no doubt,” I thought, “It is a good night for a warm fire.”

Again I thought about being in front of the pot-bellied stove. A glow of warm enveloped me as I trudged along the roadway.

In the distance I heard the gentle clanking of a cowbell. I couldn’t see the cow, but the bell was close by.

I wondered, “How many bells have I sold?” adding, “Could that be one of them?”

I chuckled at my thoughts. I knew that I could think of the most peculiar things at the oddest times.

However, my mind went blank as I crossed the cow path for the on hundredth time. What I saw, I couldn’t fully comprehend.

The cow path was well-marked and I used it as a landmark while walking home in the dark. I knew jus’ below the rise where the path crossed was the sheltered wooded area that hid my cabin.

I stood there for a long time.

My hands hung at my side, my mouth partly open, and my eyes unblinking. I was stunned at the sight before me.

My cabin lay in sputtered ruins — burning.

The wind had toppled a giant redwood over and it landed in the middle of the cabin. The pot-bellied stove had fallen over and the embers, banked to keep them from going out, had sparked to life and had set the back half of the cabin ablaze.

It was burned to glowing ashes. All that remained was the long piece of redwood tree that cut a swath of splintered destruction across the ruins of the cabin and the front porch and step themselves.

I walked slowly towards the remnants of the cabin. I was in shock. I climbed up the stairs to the front porch, sat down, dangling my legs off the edge, I thought back over the last year.

Then it began to rain again.

Pritchard Johnson’s Boots

Pritchard Johnson died at the age of ninety-three. He was born before the turn of the century and made a living working as a cowboy and farmer.

He used to say, “I can still make out good horse-flesh even with my old worn out eyes.”

Some folks thought it was just an old man bragging on the days of his youth. But Pritchard Johnson never bragged on himself or anyone else.

This is one thing I knew.

Having set some fence posts for him a while back, I knew if he came out to take a look and didn’t say anything, I was doing the job to Mr. Johnson’s satisfaction. If it were not done the way Mr. Johnson wanted it, he would have been certain to let me know.

Pritchard Johnson didn’t yell or even cuss and he had a way of speaking that made every man stop whatever he was doing and listen. It was a voice that carried itself down a canyon and back again, but had the faintness of cow grass waving in a morning breeze.

I called it, “A whisper that echoed.”

Besides his voice and broad shoulders that carried strong arms and even stronger hands, were the boots Pritchard Johnson wore.  They were nearly sixty years old.

“Never throw out a good pair of cowboy boots, son,” he’d say to me from time to time.

I was in town when I heard the news, chatting with a waitress named Carolyn at Glen’s Bakery and it was Pops McCory who sprang it on me.

“You’re pulling my leg aren’t you?” I asked.

“Nope, saw the coroner myself jus’ this morning” Pop replied as he noisily sipped at his cup of coffee, “They found him yesterday,” Pops commented, “He was laid out in his field kind of like he was resting.”

Carolyn hurried down to the other end of the counter to collect money from a customer. I sat there stirring my cup of coffee and staring into its blackness.

I remember thinking, “I can’t believe it.”

“Yep, know exactly what you mean,” Pops replied, “Never going to be a man like him again.”

About an hour later, I was climbing out of my truck at the Johnson home in Smith River. Before I could step up on the porch, Mrs. Johnson was there with the door wide open.

I could tell she was sad as her eyes were red from crying; yet she had a smile on her face.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Tommy,” she started, “Got so much to do now with Pritch gone.”

She breathed a heavy sad sigh. Then she looked up and smiled again.

“Almost forgot, I have something for you,” she said.

“Jus’ like Mrs. Johnson — always thinking of others before herself,” I thought.

She got up and left the room. Mrs. Johnson came back in less than a minute carrying a large box. She set in on the floor in front of me.

“Open it,” she said.

I lifted the lid and looked inside.

It was Pritchard Johnson’s old cowboy boots. They were beaten up and dusty, but the soles and heels were brand new.

“Hope they fit,” she said.

“I hope they do too,” I replied as a hot tear traced its way down my cheek.

The Cop and the Cupcake

Mom had been busy in the kitchen all morning long. She was like that when it came to Thanksgiving dinner.

Dad lounged in front of the new color television set with Deputy Walt Woodstock as Marcy, Deirdre and Adam ran around outside playing. I sat on the swing set, watched Dad and Walt through the large sliding glass window as they discussed the football game.

Deputy Woodstock had come into our lives by way of the fact that Dad had been a police officer himself and knew the Deputy was separated from his family. It was over 2,000 miles of loneliness Dad saw in the deputies face and so he offered him a warm meal every night and a family to be around.

“Suppertime!” Mom called out the front door.

Abruptly the noise stopped and the sound of padded feet could be heard rushing up the walk way and into the house. I followed suit, right behind Dad and the Deputy.

We all sat down at the table. Grace was offered and the platters of food passed around.

Soon everyone was stuffed with turkey and potatoes with gravy. Each person had eaten more than their portion of stuffing and cranberry sauce and yams.

“That was delicious, ma’am,” the Walt said to Mom.

She responded, “Why thank you,” Then she added, “Does anyone want dessert?”

It was as if nobody had eaten anything all day the way all six people at the table jumped at the idea of pumpkin pie and the other sweets soon to be offered. The excitement was interrupted though by the deputy’s radio.

It suddenly made a hideous tone alerting him that he was needed by the department. He stood up, trying to politely excuse himself from the table.

“Would you like to take a plate with you?” Mom offered.

“Naw,” he said as he picked up his hat, “But I’ll take a couple of those cupcakes.”

He grabbed two and unwrapping one, shoving the entire cake into his mouth. He opened the door and headed towards his cruiser.

We four kids gathered around to watch him leave, hoping to hear the siren and see the lights of the cruiser.

Without warning though he stumbled and fell to his knees. He was there for only a second or two then got up.

But it was long enough for Adam to shout, “Walt’s fallen down!”

Dad raced out to help him up and to make sure he was okay. I was already there.

Walt looked at us and said, “I got to remember not to stuff my face like that.”

He smiled and got in his car and took off.

Dad and I returned to the house to find Mom standing in the middle of the kitchen. She was as white as a sheet.

“What’s wrong?” Dad asked.

She held up one of the cupcakes and produced from it a quarter.

“I put one in each cupcake,” she answered.

Born in a Barn

The 12-man squad spread out along the eastern edge of their pick-up point. They remained low in the foliage, in order to stay out of sight of enemy patrols operating in the area. The squad knew they were more than a day early for their rendezvous with the C-130 Hercules that was scheduled to take them out of the jungle.

Doc pulled his poncho out of his butt-pack and rolled it out so that he could lie down. He stacked the rest of his gear under his head and shoulders, folding his hands behind his neck and closing his eyes.

He knew it would be hot soon and along with the heat heavy humidity. That’s the nickname they had given the rain that fell frequently in the tropical forest. Doc wanted to be ready. Other members of the squad did like wise.

The team was led by a youthful looking first lieutenant, known as the Skipper. He was a graduate of Annapolis and had led three other long-range patrols before this one. His large shoulders belied the gracefulness in which he carried himself as he moved from position to position checking on each teams’ line of fire.

He posted pickets behind their line. These consisted of claymore mines and two fire-teams. Their job was to secure a line of defense in case the enemy happened to find the squads position.

The Claymores were strung out and wired to act as booby-traps if triggered or to be manually fire if needed. Either way the mines would be an early warning system if the teams were approached.

All teams would be rotated every two-hours in order keep the men fresh and alert. It’s the way that it had always been for the last 10 days, so everyone knew what they were doing.

Through the remainder of the day and throughout the night nothing happened. The rain came and went as normal. The Skipper made his routine radio contact and then checked on his men and their fields of fire.

He had two senior NCOs in the field with him as well. He gave them very little direction as they already knew their orders. He allowed them to move within the squad, which had been divided into two teams; each sergeant heading a team and the Skipper becoming their “fire control.”

Doc was the only Hospital Corpsman within the squad. He was positioned near the rear and had little to do as he wasn’t allowed to carry a weapon or pistol. His job was simply to keep wounded men alive so they could get to a field hospital.

The sun poked up over the eastern jungle ridge just after 6 a.m. The morning had passed without any enemy contact, but the squad refused to allow themselves to relax.

“Three hours,” came the word from the Skipper. It was passed along from man-to-man and position-to-position. Voices were kept low; nothing more than a whisper could be heard.

It felt like a long three hours as the sun started to build in the sky. It was getting hot again. Steam was rising from the leaves, the surrounding grasses and the clothing of the men as they lay in the jungle waiting for the aircraft to fly in and pick them up.

“Doc,” a Lance Corporal whispered, “why aren’t they picking us up in a couple of slicks?”

It was a question that had crossed the Corpsman’s mind as well and he didn’t have a real answer.

“Military wisdom,” Doc quipped.

The minutes dragged on and boredom filled the two teams. Someone had found a can of SPAM and they were tossing the yellow and blue can back and forth between the teams.

The game of catch had lasted only a minute or less when one of the sergeants whispered as powerfully as possible, “Knock it off, Ladies!”

The tin disappeared amid a few snickers.

Those snickers stopped at the droning sound from overhead. Men suddenly looked skyward, trying to catch a glimpse of the aircraft between the leaves of the upper canopy.

The sound grew louder as the Skipper continued to talk low into the radio handset. It wasn’t long before the giant Hercules was making its final approach.

Just as it touched down on the long dirt tract in the clearing, small arms fire could be heard from the east. It was apparent that the squad was not alone and that the enemy was shooting at the aircraft.

A pair of Marines moved their weapons’ sights to there right and trained them on the area in which the shots appeared to be coming. They held their fire until they had a visual on at least the muzzle flash of one of the enemies’ guns.

One quick burst from each rifleman had silenced two enemy shooters. However the shooters now fixed their gun sights on the two-man team. It suddenly became an all out fire-fight.

The C-130 made a hard left turn and rolled to a stop at the short end of the runway. The back ramp popped open and the Loadmaster waved, signaling that he wanted the squad to load immediately.

The Skipper sent the first two men across the open field. It was less than 200 yards, but dangerous to anyone being fired on. When they were half way across the clearing, he ordered a second pair to cross and so on.

Doc knew that he would be one of the last to leave the security of the jungles edge. If anyone were wounded, it would be up to him to retrieve them. He was ready when he was given the high-sign to dash for the aircraft.

A side door had opened up on the Hercules and an airman stood in its frame firing into the surrounding jungle. His weapon jammed after he inserted a second clip and he ducked back into the plane.

None of the squad was hit bad enough to slow them or stop them from completing the crossing. The Skipper, his radioman and Doc sprinted for the aft of the craft. All three made it as the Air Force Loadmaster started closing the ramp.

Doc moved to the door that was open on the side of the plane and leaned out to pull it closed. The C-130 had turned and its engines were revving up, preparing to take off, when Doc saw the curl of smoke.

He knew it was a rocket-propelled grenade. It zipped upward and high over the aircraft, which had started to move down the dirt runway.

Doc saw a second burst, followed by the tell-tale curl of smoke. He leaned out the door and looked at towards the tail section.

It was too late. He saw the near-blinding flash as it struck the tail of the craft, turning it into jagged metal and flaming debris.

The explosion hit with such force that it knocked the Hospital Corpsman out of the door. Instinctively, he rolled over on his back, flying through the air, and landed with a thud on the hard-packed earth.

The landing had knocked the wind out of Doc and he saw stars as he looked straight up into the perfectly blue sky. It felt like minutes, but it was only seconds before he regained his ability to breathe and to realize that there were bullets kicking up particles of dirt as the enemy targeted him.

Without hesitation, Doc rolled over and onto his feet, taking off at a hard run after the plane. He watched as the Loadmaster pulled his weapon from his shoulder holster and dropped it out of the wounded aircraft craft. It bounced several times before stopping.

Doc picked up the pistol, while still on the run. He turned hard to his left, finding a ditch along the field. He dived into it and gasped, trying to fill his burning lungs with air.

He watched as the aircraft pitched to its left and slammed into the ditch that he was standing in. Men tumbled out of the aircraft with their weapons blazing. But Doc wasn’t paying much attention to them as he was the aircraft fuel pour out of the ruptured wing.

Doc fired wildly into the jungle that had suddenly seemed to come alive with enemy soldiers. He raced towards the aircraft and told each man to get out of the ditch because of the gas. Men climbed out of the ditch and disappeared into the jungle.

A few seconds later the fuel had turned to flames and the aircraft was quickly being consumed by the fire. This gave the squad and the Air Force personnel enough cover to set up a firing zone well away from the downed Hercules.

Doc moved from Marine to Marine checking for the wounded. There were some minor bumps and bruises, but nothing more than a scrape or small cut. Most of the Marines waved off the Corpsman’s help, urging him to go find someone who was really hurt.

It was another two hours before the team and five-member flight crew could be extracted from the area. Prior to pick-up, the Skipper called in a danger-close air strike into the jungle less than 500 yards from the firing zone. It effectively wiped out what trace opposition had been waiting for the rescue helicopters to arrive.

For days after their extraction, team members talked among themselves about the fire-fight that cost the Air Force one of its C-130 and questioned why the powers that be didn’t use helicopters instead.

Meanwhile, Doc nursed a sore back and took some ribbing about being “born in a barn,” since he failed to shut the door to the aircraft. He thought about the door and concluded that had the door been closed, men might have died in the ensuing fire.

“Good things do happen during bad situations,” Doc mumbled to himself as he prepared to open sick-bay for the morning onslaught of sick G.I.’s and the civilian population.

A Box Turtle in a Bag

The sun was setting in the Oklahoma sky as we drove towards Tulsa from the smaller town of Muskogee. It had been the first time Kyle had ever been to the town in which his Grandpa Tom had grown up and later died. Now he and I were returning to our hotel room after a full days visit.

“Those are armadillo alongside the road,” Kyle said.

He was talking about the mangled bodies of the hard-shelled animals, now road kill which lay along the highway as we sped by. I knew if an armadillo ran out in front of our car it could cause considerable damage.

I thought, “Cripes, I hope we don’t hit one of those things.”

Just then Kyle yelled, “Look out!”

Jerking the car hard to the right, I attempted to avoid a rock in the path of  our tires. But it was too late, I struck it and it ricocheted off the bottom of the car twice.

Kyle spun around in his seat to look out the back window, “You just ran over a turtle!”

He looked at me, expecting me to stop. The look worked as I stopped and slowly backed the car up to where the object lay in the middle of our travel lane.

I got out and walked over to it only to find out Kyle was right — it was a turtle.

The creature was dead though as all four of its legs hung limp from its shell, as did its head. To make matters worse, the turtles tongue dangled loosely from it slack jaw.

I was met by Kyle as I returned to the car.

“Ah, the poor little guy,” Kyle said, as he held out his hands to hold it, “I can’t believe we killed it.”

He was obviously saddened by the whole affair as he slumped down by the side of the car while I opened the trunk of the car and searched for a plastic bag.

“Yuck, it jus’ crapped on me!” Kyle shouted.

I laughed at him as I took the dead turtle and put it in the empty grocery bag.

And as Kyle was cleaning the turtle dung off his hiking shorts, the deceased reptile was placed in the empty ice chest inside the car’s trunk. We then continued down the road.

The following day, Kyle and I planned to bury the turtle on one of the many little side roads in the area. 

It was Kyle who decided to pop open the trunk and look at the remains of the turtle again. When he did, he was surprised to find the plastic white bag moving around in circles.

He hollered, “Dad, it’s alive!”

“Well I’ll be,” was all I could say.

I was surprise to see the plastic bag as it bumped into the sides and corners of the ice chest.

Gently I reached down and picked it up. The little beast was strong as ever and struggling to get out of the bag.

I held on to the bag as Kyle reached in and pulled the turtle out.

He set the softball-sized reptile on the asphalt near the car and watched it. At first the animal didn’t seem to want to go anywhere, but then it started walking in righthand circles.

I looked at my son and said, “We can’t very well let him go like this.”

Kyle smiled, “Then can I keep him as a pet?”

“Only, if he doesn’t get better before we get home,” was my answer.

We spent the next hour getting the needed supplies such as an aquarium, bedding and worms for our journey back to Nevada. We wanted to make the trip home for  Kyle’s new pet as comfortable as possible.

It took the box turtle two days to stop walking in circles, by that time we were in Cheyenne. That’s where Kyle decided to name his pet turtle ‘Keeble,’ after a cartoon character he liked.

Still, I knew there was something not quite right with the thing. For instance, it refused to retract its head or legs when either Kyle or I came near it.

That seemed unusual. Every turtle I had ever come across had reacted to the presence of a human by retreating into its shell.

‘Keeble’ also had no problem being hand fed, though watching him eat a worm was nasty business. Finally, there was the fact that the turtle followed Kyle everywhere as if Kyle were its family.

That night Kyle asked to talk to his step-mom. He decided to tell her about ‘Keeble.’

Instantly I could tell that the conversation was not going too well when Kyle said, “Hey, it could be worse.” The thirteen year old paused for a second, “We could have run over an armadillo and be bringing that home instead.”

I had to step outside the hotel room so my wife wouldn’t hear me laughing.

Charlie Wind

A warm, rose-pink filed the western sky as the sun set itself deep into the Pacific Ocean.  The color reflected itself in the rippling of the river which Doc found himself greatly guiding the large gray mare alongside. 

The sound of the horse’s hooves echoed with the natural sounds of the inland gulls and flow slipping past the stony bands of the ribbon of water. Doc paused momentarily to allow the horse to drink from the river. 

The young sheriff’s deputy scanned the hills ahead of him and to the east.  He looked at the old Ferndale Bridge and thought about the many times he had ridden this same horse over that aging but sturdy concrete and steel expanse.

Suddenly the horse jerked violently to the right, rearing up and screaming in pain and in terror.  It raised up to high that it sent itself off-balance and slowly rolled backwards and onto its right flank. 

The action caught Doc by surprise and he found it difficult to react.  Before he realized it the large horse had rolled over on top of him, effectively pinning the rider underneath her mass by one leg.  There was blood streaming from a gaping wound in the horse’s neck just above the left fore shoulder.

The young deputy realized at that second that his mount had been shot out from underneath him.  And as if to confirm that thought, Doc heard the report of a rifle a second after he felt the bullet slam into the rib section of the mortally wounded animal.

“Someone’s gunning for me,” he said out loud as he struggled to get free of the now dead horse.

Seconds later his foot slipped out of the boot and he found himself lying with his stomach against the horses back and his bloodied saddle.  He labored to pull his rifle out of its hold which also lay trapped beneath the horse and river rocks. 

Nip! Bang! 

Another round fired at him but this time from a different angle.

“The shooter’s moving for a better shot,” he said to himself.

There was no time to think now. It was time to survive as he had instructed many soldiers in Honduras and Lebanon.  Doc kicked of his remaining cowboy boot and crawled on his belly into the frigid waters of the Eel River.

The fourth shot missed him by inches as he slipped beneath the surface of the river and swam with the current, to safety as quickly as it would carry him.

*******

A week before, rotor blades washed down on a pair of officers as they secured the last tether of netting to the hook.  The shorter of the two Deputies lifted his right arm and made a fist, than swung it in a tight clockwise circle, signaling the flight engineer that everything was ready for transport.

Within seconds the helicopter’s engine raced to a higher pitch and lifted the netting filled with the green plants from the damp earth through the canopy of dense redwood trees.  It vanished, leaving the forest quiet for the first time in the half hour that the raiders had been on the ground. 

“You know I’ll get you for this,” the cool deep monotone voice of one of the hemp farmers said. 

He was looking at Doc as he spoke.

“I’ve heard that before,” Doc replied, “I also know you’ll be out of jail in a couple of hours and back in business in a week, so don’t sweat it Charlie.”

Charlie looked at him with a glare, than commenced, “When you least expect it, I’ll be gunning for you.”

The other deputy walked over to Charlie and booted him in the ribs,”Shut up or we’ll add assaulting and resisting an officer to the charges of cultivation.”

The kick caught the handcuff prisoner off guard and sent him toppling over face first.

“Hey, knock it off!” Doc shouted at the deputy. 

He stepped over and pulled Charlie upright and seated him back on the old stump he had been sitting on. 

“Screw him,” the deputy said as he walked away.

Charlie growled at Doc,” Don’t think jus’ you helped me now that it changes anything.”  He spit dirt from his mouth than added,”I’m still gonna kill you.” 

“That’s mad talk, Charlie Wind,” Doc said as he continued to gather up the remainder of the clandestine camp that Charlie had been living in for the past two months.

*******

Doc knew from his past experience as a rescue swimmer how far he could push his lungs.  He remained submerged beyond the burning that seized the wall of his chest. 

Still he continued to kick and stroke through the water just under the surface. It wasn’t until he felt his stomach buck with convulsive vibrations did he chanced breaking the surface. 

He gasped, gulping at the chilled air, filling his burning lungs with oxygen.  Doc felt light-headed.

He allowed himself a few seconds to drift.  As he did, he looked around. 

The bridge was gone from sight as were the lights of Fortuna just to the south-east of it.  Doc had no real way of telling how long he had been under water or how far he had traveled downstream.

Cautiously he approached the south side bank of the Eel River.  He laid among the rocks in shallow for a minute before slowly moving out onto the drier rocks.

The sun had disappeared and the land had taken on an eerie feel to it.  Every shadow Doc thought could hold another rifleman and another ambush. 

He felt for the thirty-eight still holstered on his belt. It was there, but would have been entirely useless against a rifle.

As soon as he felt it was safe to move Doc sprinted up the rocky embankment and under the barbed wire fence. 

“I think this is Swenson’s place,” he murmured to himself.

Something moved to his left and he reached down and drew the pistol out of its holster.  He quietly cocked the hammer and breathlessly waited. 

Within a minute the sound be came familiar to him.  It was a cow milling about somewhere around one hundred feet to his right. He let out his breath and slowly released the hammer of his pistol.

The deputy knew he had to move quickly because he could still be a hunted man and with the sun having gone down, hypothermia would set in soon.  He also knew that he was already wet, lacking boots and his hat.

Doc struck a mild trot across the open rangeland.  Soon he found what he had hoped to see — a house with lights.  As he drew closer to the house he also knew that he was right about whose property he had washed up on.

He approached the back door as quietly as possible. 

“I better put this away,” he thought as he stuffed the pistol into his holster.

Suddenly Mr. Swenson’s collie started barking and before Doc could knock on the door, the back porch light came on and Mr. Swenson appeared in the doorway with a shot-gun.

“Mr. Swenson, don’t shoot, its Doc,” the deputy said.  

He stepped forward into the light so the old man could see his face.  He also raised his hands above his head. 

“So it is, “Mr. Swenson said in his Norwegian accent, “Quick get in here lad before you freeze.”

Doc bounded up the steps.

*******

“What is that down there?” the woman said to her husband. 

He was driving the car as they crossed over the Fernbridge, so he couldn’t’ look and therefore didn’t get a chance to see what she was viewing. 

Suddenly she shouted, “Harvey, stop the car, I think that’s an injured horse.”

Harvey pushed down on the gas pedal and raced the old Buick across the bridge.  He pulled into the turn out on the southeast side of the bridge abutment.

“I’m sure it’s nothing, Doris,” he said as he hurried to join her as she rushed down the embankment on the opposite side of the roadway.

*******

“Are you okay, son?” Mr. Swenson asked.  “

“Jus’ scared and cold,” was Doc’s reply.

“Well I need to call your grandpa and let him know you be safe,” he said. 

“What?” Doc asked. 

Mr. Swenson looked at him than replied, “A couple found your horse dead and they’re mounting a posse to search the river for you.”  He paused to pick up the phone than added, “The horse was shot so we thought you’d come to the same end and got caught in the current.”

Mr. Swenson continued to dial the telephone and within half an hour, three sheriff’s vehicles were parked outside the old man’s home.

*******

“I hate the fact that Danger’s dead,” Doc commented to her Grandfather. 

His grandfather nodded, “Yup it’s a shame but it could have been worse you know.”

He knew his grandfather was right.  He could have ended up dead as well.

“I’ll catch the creep,” he said, “and bring him to justice.”

They finished eating breakfast.  Doc had a full day ahead of him he was scheduled to take his mount up to the town of Samoa and ride the outer edge of Humboldt Bay. 

He was assigned to look for poachers and their traps.  Rumor had it that Huron’s had suddenly been disappearing at an alarming rate and the birds feathers being sold at local art shows.

With the trailer loaded and hitched up to the truck, Doc slowly pulled out of the yard.  He drove North on Highways 101 and then turned off at the south end of Arcata, continuing out to Samoa.

It was not yet ten in the morning and the sun felt good against his skin.  He urged the youthful buckskin onward. 

This new horses name was “Goat” because he had no problem with mountain terrain, so he was a little less than thrilled with the sandy water on which he found himself trotting this morning.  Still “Goat” was a solid mount.

The quiet of the morning was broken by the distant wounds of a motorcycle somewhere among the dunes.   Doc had been vaguely aware of the cycle for sometime; only when it stopped did he become aware of his own nervousness.

He scanned the dunes ahead of himself, then turned in the saddle to check behind.  There was nothing, yet he still had that little nagging voice telling him to remain alert.

Twenty minutes later Doc heard the motorcycle cough to life.  It was somewhere in front of him.  He touched “Goat” in the flanks and the horse stepped up his pace along the shoreline.

Within minutes Doc rode up on a crude-looking bird trap.  It was a wire loop baited with a live frog, obviously set with the intent of catching a Huron.

Doc stepped off the horse and let the bait frog go free and then he pulled the wire and the stake holding it out of the muddy silt.  Just as he yanked the long piece of wood out of the edge of the water it exploded.  The deputy dropped to his stomach because he knew he had been fired on once again.

“That was too damned close,” he said to himself as he heard the motorcycle rev up and take off. 

*******

He rolled under Goat and pulled himself onto the saddle spurring the horse ahead after the motorcycle. Doc saw the cycle making for the roadway and he could also see the driver. 

It was Charlie Wind.  He radioed the dispatcher, letting her know what had happened and that he was pursuing him even if it was on horseback.

Soon the radio was alive with chatter from other officers who had entered the pursuit.  Doc slowed the horse to a trot as he knew the other motorized units would catch Charlie Wind soon enough.

Yet somehow Charlie Wind kept managing to evade their massive dragnet which now involved five agencies.  Still Doc trotted Goat towards Arcata where Charlie Wind had last been seen and finally lost.

There were squad cars everywhere inside the town when Doc cautiously entered it.  He immediately rode for the center of the square where the statue of President McKinley stands.

The young deputy figured that the reason the others had lost Charlie Wind is that he was hiding in plain sight.  The square was usually the hangout of students from Humboldt State University.

He slowly walked his horse through the square in an attempt to see all of the people there. Sitting with his face towards the front of the stature was a man with stringy black hair.  He didn’t look out-of-place except for the logging boots he was wearing.

He continued to circulate through the square as every time he tried to get a look at the man’s face he noticed his seating arrangement would change.  That’s when Doc realized that he was looking right at Charlie Wind, noticing the sand in the cracks and laces of the man’s boots, and then the bulge just under the dirty gray sweat shirt.

“Charlie Wind!” the deputy shouted and the man looked up. 

It was the wanted man.

He sprang to his feet and raced across the quad and into the Arcata Hotel.  Doc followed him on horse back.

Bang! Crack! 

Charlie Wind tossed off a shot at the deputy as he pushed his horse through the doorway of the bar.

Bang! Crack! Bang! Bang!

Three more shots fired as Charlie ran up the stairs and Doc followed him still mounted.

They rushed to the third floor.  Charlie Wind turned and fired off and then shot at the deputy and his horse just as they crested the final step. 

Again the shot missed.

Doc spurred the horse forward towards the assailant.  They were now outside on the roof of the hotel and there was no place for either man to go.

The deputy paced his horse back and forth in front of the only exit. 

“There’s no place to go, Charlie!” Doc called out.  

Charlie pointed the pistol at the deputy and squeezed the trigger. Click! Click! Click! 

Doc smiled, “Its empty Charlie, and you got nowhere to go!” 

Charlie Wind turned around and looked over the edge of the building. It was a thirty-foot-plus drop.  He was contemplating jumping, even if he met his death. 

While he was looking away, Doc loosened his throwing rope and shook out a loop.  With a single flick of his wrist, Doc dropped the lasso over the entire body of Charlie Wind.

Without warning he jerked the loop tight and dallied the end to his saddle horn.  Doc turned his horse and walked him towards the door.

Charlie Wind spun around, realizing what was happening and threw the empty pistol at the mounted deputy.  Doc ducked and the gun bounced down the stair well.

“Okay, now I’m angry! “ Doc said as he spurred Goat down the stairs and through the narrow passage of the hotel.

Charlie Wind yelled obscenities all the way down the steps.  And he was still cussing a blue streak when they put the handcuffs on him and loaded him into the nearest squad car.

Doc sat high in the saddle as he gathered up the rope and coiled it back onto his saddle.  He reached down and scratched “Goat” on his left fore shoulder, then urged him forward and back into the Arcata Hotel.

He rode up to the bar a looked at the still stunned bartender and said “A beer for me and a whiskey for my horse.”

The bar erupted into cheers and shouts, followed by laughter.

The Cat in the Crawl Space

It was nearing the end of summer when one evening I saw what I thought was a cat jump over our backyard fence and dash towards the corner of our home. I quickly ran after it only to see it disappear in the crawl space under the house.

So I rushed to our rumpus room where Dad’s tool chest was stored and found a flashlight. Within a minute I was underneath the house looking for the alleged cat.

I found it and unfortunately it wasn’t too happy to see me.

The last thing I remember before nearly gagging to death, followed by violent vomiting, was seeing the animal turn its tail towards me and stamp its feet. Next thing I know, a stream of moisture kicked up the dust between us and I was engulfed in a foul-smelling stench.

Within seconds I realized I had misidentified what kind of cat had found its way under our home. The long-lasting odor chased everyone out of the house for a couple of hours and forced my parents to bathe me in about five-gallons of tomato juice.

It turned out to be more than a regular house cat, but rather a pole-cat – or what is commonly referred to as a skunk.