Photo Credit

Photo Credit: “Buffalo” by Tami Ritt © 2017 – National Bison
Range, Charlo, Montana.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

My Creative Journey


Erethizon dorsatum - (Porcupine) by Michael R. Ritt, 1977

I believe that everyone has a need to express themselves creatively. For an expansion on this, see my post about “Why I Write Poetry.” I have chosen writing as my creative outlet, and as I often will say in my bios, I write everything – short stories, poems, essays, shopping lists, you name it.


But there was a time, when I was much younger, when I used to enjoy drawing and painting. This was back in my high school days, before cell phones or microwaves. Way back when disco was popular. Almost all of my art work has disappeared over the years, but a while back, I discovered a few that have survived as proof that I can suck at more than one creative pursuit at a time. (A few of these rare works of art appear in this post.)

Farmer by Michael R. Ritt, 1978



Eventually, I stopped drawing and started composing poems and short stories instead. This was partly due to the fact that I have a brother who is an extremely talented artist who actually knew what he was doing, but mostly it was because I enjoyed reading so much that it was a natural segway into writing. I discovered that I could paint pictures with my words.


Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia



There may come a day when I decide to start drawing again. You know, that elusive “someday” when I have more time to do the things that seem to be a luxury now. But I still have a lot to learn about writing, and I have some goals that I would like to reach before I trade in my word processor for a sketch pad.


SDG

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The View From 14,271 Feet Is…SPECTACULAR!



Here I am sitting on the top of Mount Evans
We recently visited our sons in Colorado, and while there, my redheaded sweetheart, Tami, and I were able to cross an item off of our bucket lists. The two of us, along with our sons, Robert, David and Lucas climbed to the top of Mount Evans. At 14,271 feet, Mount Evans is the twelfth highest mountain in Colorado and one of the fifty-eight summits in the Centennial state that rise up over 14,000 feet to tower over the Rocky Mountain range. Known as a “Fourteener” by the locals, Mount Evans dominates the skyline in the Denver area and can be seen as far to the east as 100 miles away.

To say that we “climbed” Mount Evans is a little misleading. We only had to climb the last couple of hundred feet, because there is a road that goes up almost to the summit. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway actually terminates in a parking lot just below the summit at somewhere around 14, 000 feet, making it the highest paved road in North America.

Our son, Lucas, standing near the top of Mount Evans. Summit Lake can be seen in the distance.



Driving the scenic byway itself is not something for the faint of heart. The road is narrow with no guardrails along its path to keep you from falling off as its switchbacks zig-zag up the mountain. In some places along the edge you can witness the asphalt crumbling away to drop thousands of feet down the steep sides.

My redheaded sweetheart, Tami, with some of the local residents - a herd of Bighorn Sheep.



Once you get to the summit, however, you are greeted with views that few people ever get to see in their lifetimes. And if you are as fortunate as we were on the day that we visited, you may get to see some of the local residents – big horn sheep and mountain goats. We also saw a huge herd of elk grazing in a mountain meadow, marmots, picas, birds that we had never seen before and eagles. And the different alpine flowers that were in bloom were so numerous that I couldn’t begin to list them.

It was an awe-inspiring experience and one that will be hard to top (pun intended). Now that I have crossed that one off of my bucket list, I can move on to the next item – playing professional football for the Green Bay packers. That one may be a little more difficult, but you never know. They may have a spot on the roster for a fifty-seven year old, overweight, asthmatic with bad knees.

 

 

 SDG

 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Who's Really Buried In Buffalo Bill's Grave?



The author standing in front of Buffalo Bill's grave
On a recent trip to Colorado, I took the opportunity to visit the grave site of that iconic western figure, William Fredrick Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill. The grave is prominently placed on top of Lookout Mountain outside of Golden, Colorado.

Rising 7,377 feet, Lookout Mountain is part of the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and is located about two miles southwest of Golden, Colorado. Aptly named, from its summit you have an imposing view of a large part of Colorado’s eastern plains, including an impressive view of the city of Denver twelve miles to the east.

Buffalo Bill passed away from kidney failure on January 10th, 1917, while visiting his sister in Denver. The first draft of his will indicated that he wanted to be buried on Cedar Mountain near the town that he founded – Cody, Wyoming. However, in the final draft of his will, Cody had changed his choice of his eternal resting place to Lookout Mountain.


In January of 1917, the road to Lookout Mountain was impassible because of the snow, so the undertaker in Denver kept Cody’s body on ice until June when the roads could clear and the summit to Lookout Mountain could be reached.

There has been some ill-will, and not a little controversy, between Colorado and their neighbor to the north over the burial of Buffalo Bill Cody. There were rumors that some fearless Wyoming patriots stole Cody’s body from the mortuary and replaced it with the body of a vagrant who looked like Buffalo Bill. This is highly unlikely and these rumors were never taken very serious. However, other rumors did have more merit.

In 1948, members of the American Foreign Legion in Cody, Wyoming offered a $10,000.00 reward to anyone who could steal Cody’s body and return it to Wyoming. This prompted the state of Colorado to call out the National Guard to be stationed around the grave site to protect it from being pilfered.

As recently as 2006, Wyoming state legislators were still “joking” about retrieving Cody’s body through covert means.  
The view from Lookout Mountain. The city of Golden is in the foreground and Denver can be seen on the horizon.


Ever the showman and consummate entertainer, I think that Cody would have enjoyed the hullabaloo and the attention that he is still drawing, even 100 years after his death.

SDG

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bring Him Home...

 
( This story of mine was first published in the October 2014 issue of The Warrior Heart magazine)
 
Although he was in excellent shape, thirty five year old Mike Donavan had to stop to catch his breath. It was hot, even for July, and the blinding sun light shimmered off of the waves like tiny mortars exploding across the surf. Mike used his sleeve to wipe the perspiration from his forehead before it ran into his eyes. There was no easy path to this section of the beach; nothing but rocks and driftwood to climb over and navigate around, and the pack on his back containing his metal detector actually seemed to gain weight with each obstacle that he overcame. Mike hoped that he would have at least a couple more hours before the sun went down.
The war had been over for seven years now, but standing on the rocks overlooking this secluded section of Omaha Beach, he could see it as it looked on that day in June, 1944 when he saw it for the first time. He had been Lieutenant Michael Donavan then, responsible for twenty men about to hit the beaches of Normandy as part of the largest seaborne invasion in history. One of those twenty men had been his younger brother, Tim.
Mike had come back many times since that day, but never to this particular part of the beach. He had been combing different sections every weekend since being assigned as an attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Paris three years ago.
It was low tide, so he started at the water line and began sweeping the detector back and forth. Almost immediately the instrument started beeping, indicating the presence of some metal object buried beneath the sand. He took a small garden spade out of his pack and started digging. Only a few inches down he discovered what had triggered the metal detector - a .30 caliber shell casing from an M1 rifle. He tossed it into a cigar box that he carried in his pack and continued his search. Subsequent passes with the instrument turned up more shell casings and bits of shrapnel. He tossed them all into the cigar box. Over the past three years he had dug up a bushel basket full of such items. He only saved them now so that he wouldn’t dig them up again on future weekends. He usually tossed them out when he got home.
On his fifth pass, the detector gave a strong beep. Probably some more junk, he thought, as he started digging. It only took a minute to unearth the treasure. His hands were trembling as he brushed away the sand and took a closer look. Tears welled up in his eyes as he knelt there in the moist sand, and as the sun sank low over the English Channel, Mike Donavan wept…
***
Mary Donavan stood at her kitchen sink finishing her breakfast dishes. She loved the view from the window over the sink. She could look out and watch the cows chewing their cud in the barn yard, or watch the progress of the corn in the field across the road. It was late July and the corn was already over six feet tall. They knew how to grow corn in Iowa, and the Donavan farm was one of the best in the county.
She heard the car coming down the county’s gravel road, and looked out in time to see Paul Bellows slow down and pull into the road leading up to the house. Paul was the mail carrier. He usually stopped at the big mail box at the end of their road. The fact that he was pulling up to the farmhouse meant only one thing; he was delivering a letter from Mike. He always liked to deliver these in person. She hurriedly wiped her hands on her apron and opened the front door as Paul reached the steps leading up to the wide porch that went around all four sides of the old farmhouse.
“Mourning Mary,” he said. “Got a letter for you. All the way from France.” He knew it was from Mike, but feigned ignorance. He handed her the envelope.
“Thanks Paul,” she replied.
He hung around making small talk for a few minutes, obviously curious as to what Mike had to say. The whole county knew he was in Paris and was eager for news, but when it became clear that Mary wanted to read it in private, he wished her well and left to continue his deliveries.
She sat down on the porch swing and tore open the end of the envelope. Inside was a letter and a smaller envelope. She read the letter first.
 
“Dear Mom, Remember what you said to me when Timmy left for basic training? You said, ‘He’s your little brother, Mike. You watch out for him. You take care of him. You bring him home.’ I know that I failed you, Mom. Maybe this will help in some way.”
 
She opened the smaller envelope and emptied the contents into the palm of her hand. She fought to hold back the tears as her eyes moistened over. Rising from the porch swing, she walked down the steps into the yard and started up a low hill where a white picket fence enclosed a small plot beneath a massive old oak.
She looked at the two markers resting in the cool grass in the shade of the ancient tree. The first was a stone marker that belonged to her husband. He had suffered a heart attack while plowing two years ago. The older marker was a simple white cross with the words, “Timothy Donavan - Born September 4, 1925 - Died June 6, 1944.” His body wasn’t there of course. They never found his body. Officially, he was missing in action. But Mary knew he had been killed. She knew the very moment that it happened. She felt it in a way that only a mother feels.
Kneeling down in front of the cross, Mary gently and reverently draped something over one of the cross-arms. She knelt in silence for a few minutes, pulling some weeds that had grown up over the graves.
A few puffs of cloud floated lazily overhead. It was going to be a beautiful, warm, sunny day, but right now it was cool beneath the shade of the old oak. Mary looked up through the gnarled and twisted limbs. The old tree had been a favorite of her boys when they were growing up. She could still see where they had nailed boards to the trunk to make a ladder up the side. They had spent many boyhood hours climbing through its branches. One day the tree would be a mountain to scale. The next day it would become a wilderness outpost to defend against Indian attacks. It seemed fitting to Mary that the tree, that had entertained and nurtured the boys as they were growing up, would now spread its arms over Timmy’s empty grave as though it was calling him home.
I should get back to the dishes, she thought. Wiping a tear from her eye with her apron, she closed the gate behind her and started back down the hill to the house. Looking back, she saw how the sun reflected off of the dog-tags she had draped over the cross. Tags that read “Donavan, Timothy…”

 

THE END

(SDG)

 

 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Clear As Mud - Why I Don't Play Scrabble With My Wife...


My redheaded sweetheart, Tami, was playing one of her word games on her laptop the other day when I walked into the room. “Honey, I heard someone use a word on the radio and I don’t know what it means.”
She continued with her game without looking up. “What’s the word?”
“Perspicuous,” I answered.
She answered without missing a beat, “The meaning is ‘clear’.”
“Not to me.”
She looked up from her game and stared at me in confusion.
“What?”
“What does the word ‘perspicuous’ mean?” I repeated the question, thinking that maybe I didn't have her full attention the first time that I asked.
I told you, the meaning is ‘clear’.”
“But it’s not clear to me.”
“Yes it is. It is clear to everyone.”
“It’s clear for you?”
“Yes.”
“And it’s clear for me?”
“Of course.”
“Then why don’t I know what it means?”
“I just told you what it means.”
“You haven’t told me anything!” I was starting to get a little frustrated. “If you don’t know the meaning of the word, just say so. I won’t think any less of you.”
My redhead likes to play this game where she sighs and rolls her eyes into the back of her head and pretends like I said something stupid. She did the eye-rolly thing now.
“I don’t have time for games,” I said. “I was just hoping you knew what ‘perspicuous’ meant.”
I could hear her mumbling something under her breath and realized that she was counting to ten. That is something that she does a lot, and has ever since we were married almost twenty-eight years ago. I think that it helps her to refocus. Poor thing loses her concentration so quickly.
I let her finish counting. Then she gave another big sigh and said, “Let me try this again. “If I give you a synonym for ‘perspicuous’, do you think that you could figure out what it means?”
“Yummy!” I said. “That’s a wonderful idea. I could go for some cinnamon toast.” I turned to head toward the kitchen.”
“STOP!!” she shouted. “I didn't say ‘cinnamon’. I said ‘synonym’. You know…a word that means the same as another word?”
“That’s a great idea, sweetie,” is what I said. But what I was thinking was that if she really knew a word that meant the same as ‘perspicuous,’ she should have told me in the first place. But I try to encourage her as much as I can when she is having difficulty communicating and expressing herself. After all, I am the writer in the family. She is not the professional communicator that I am. That’s just the kind of guy that I am. “Can you think of a cinnamon?”
“SYNONYM!” she shouted.
“Whatever. Can you think of one?”
“Yes I can.”
“Well, what is it?” I was getting anxious to put this little mystery to bed.
“It’s ‘obvious'.”
“Awesome! I can’t wait to hear what it is.”
She looked like she was about to cry, so I put my arm around her. “Don’t worry, sweetie. If you can’t think of a word that means the same, maybe you can think of a word that means the opposite. What are those called?”
She sniffed and wiped her eyes. “You mean ‘antonym’?”
I held her close and spoke slowly. “No, sweetie, my Aunt’s name is Elaine.” She had lost focus again and gone down a bunny trail. “Do you need to count to ten?”
She jumped to her feet, her clenched fists at her side, and screamed, “I’m not talking about your Aunt, Elaine. I said ‘ANTONYM.’ It is a word that means the opposite of another word.”
I could tell that she was starting to get frustrated, probably with her lack of communication skills. After twenty-eight years of marriage you start to pick up on the subtle clues. “Alright,” I said, as calmly as I could. “What is the opposite of ‘perspicuous’?”
“That would be ‘confusing’.”
“Well, it couldn't possibly be any more confusing than the rest of this conversation.”
At that point, she threw her arms into the air and declared, “That’s it. I give up. Go Google it.”
“I can’t.” I replied.
“Why not?”
“I don’t know how to spell it.”
“Why don’t you call your Aunt Elaine and ask her.” She wiped her eyes and went back to her word game.
I didn't say it to her face, because she was being overly sensitive at the time, but calling my aunt made more sense than anything she had said in the past ten minutes. I just chalked the whole thing up to hormones. Tami has been going through “the change” for quite some time now, and I know how irrational and edgy she can get. Good thing for her she has such a loving and supportive husband.


SDG

Monday, April 24, 2017

They Grow Up Way Too Fast...

Teaching Lucas to Fish
(This was written back in 2005 or 2006. I was reflecting on how fast our children grow up. One moment they are playing on the swing set in the backyard, and the next thing you know, they are learning to drive, graduating from high school and moving on with their lives; and you sit there and wonder where did all of the years go? Did I do a good job as a parent? Did I equip my child for life? When it comes down to it, you do the best that you can and you trust God to work everything out in the end. I thank God daily for the great privilege and joy of being a parent, even though there have been times (and continue to be times) that I know that I blew it.)
 
 
I made a rather startling discovery the other day. I discovered that some time during the past couple of years, my little boy, Lucas, left home and rented his room to a hulking, surly teenager…also named Lucas. It is hard to say exactly when this might have taken place. I mean I have been pretty busy with work and with all of the television that needs to be watched. I wasn't exactly paying that much attention to what Lucas was doing. I just looked up the other day and saw this guy sticking his head in our refrigerator, asking what there was to eat. He looked vaguely familiar. I knew I had seen him around before. Then I found out that he was living in Lucas’s room, so I put two and two together.
 
It does strike me as rather odd that I did not notice anything sooner than I did. There is a world of difference between “young Lucas” and “new Lucas,” as I have taken to referring to them. For starters, new Lucas is fifteen years old, whereas young Lucas is no more than five or six years old max. I know this for a fact because it was just yesterday that he was running around the yard playing with his stuffed eagle toy, or learning how to ride his bike or how to fish. New Lucas doesn't “play” at anything, unless you count online video games. And I am not really sure that these are games anyway. Not like any games I used to play. He plays online with people from all over the world. These programs are so sophisticated and fast paced that I literally have no idea what he is doing. I half expect to find out that new Lucas is the leader of an international group of computer hackers who have infiltrated the computer network of some European nation, destroying its infrastructure and crippling its economy. I shudder to think of what he will be capable of when he learns to drive!
 
Another difference between the two is their size/mass/bulk. I mean, this really should have been my first clue. Young Lucas was “kid” sized. I would smile down at him and he would smile back up at me. New Lucas is so big that we are going to have to hire an aerial photographer to take his high school graduation picture. He is six feet, one inch tall and two hundred pounds. Now I shudder when I look up at him and he snarls when he looks down at me.
 
Another thing about this new guy…he is not nearly as cuddly and affectionate as young Lucas was. Young Lucas was always running up to me and throwing his arms around me and giving me big hugs and kisses. Young Lucas wanted to be just like his dad. We even had matching clothes. Mine were “daddy” sized and his were “Lukie” sized.  New Lucas has his own style of clothes. This consists mainly of a pair of baggy pants wore half way down his backside with six inches of boxers exposed, and an ever present baseball cap on his head. His mother and I tried to engage him in a family hug the other day and he wanted to know why he was being punished!
 
Young Lucas was really inquisitive. He could ask some great questions because he knew that his dad had all of the answers. Like the time he asked me, “Dad, if I eat nothing but marshmallows, will my poop be fluffy and white?” Sometimes his questions were quite profound. We were driving through town one day when we passed a group of abortion protesters  He asked what “abortion” was, so I explained it to him. He thought for a moment, and then asked, “Why does God give babies to people who don’t want them?”
 
I think that new Lucas has pretty much reached that age where he has learned the answers to all of life’s important questions. Any information or advise that I have to offer him pretty much falls into one or more of the following categories: irrelevant, prehistoric, or boring. There is one exception however…one very focused line of inquiry into which he is never quite satisfied…usually expressed in one of the following ways:  “When is dinner?” “What is for dinner?” “Is there anything to eat?” “Why is there a lock on the refrigerator?”
 
I have to admit though, when I think about it, that it is kind of nice having new Lucas around. He doesn't require the constant attention that young Lucas required. When young Lucas was being potty trained, he would finish his business, then yell out, “Daddy! Come wipe my butt.”  New Lucas appears to be completely potty trained…a detail for which I am eternally thankful. I mentioned this story about potty training to new Lucas once. I pointed out that when I am eighty years old, the roles will be reversed and he will be taking care of me. He just pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me. It was a list of local nursing homes. He delights in taking it out and showing it to me every now and then.
 
It is also nice to have another “guy” around. We can do “guy” things together, like when we go shooting our rifles out at the Pawnee National Grasslands. We can hold disgusting “guy” competitions; each of us proudly showcasing our proficiency in the manly art of belching or flatulence. Women just cannot compete on the same level as men do at these things, and it is nice to finally have someone against whom I can hone my skills.
 
New Lucas is also able (and sometimes even willing) to help out around the house; making repairs to things that need repairing, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, putting away the dishes, walking the dog. I don’t have to worry quite as much, being gone from the house twelve hours every day. I can count on new Lucas to keep an eye on things and hold the fort until I get back. And I know that anyone threatening his mother in my absence would have a formidable adversary to deal with.
 
There is a pride that a father has for his son when he is a small child. There is another special pride that he has when his son becomes a man. There are times when I miss the child that Lucas used to be. But I am looking forward to knowing the man that he is becoming.




SDG

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Mountain Brook



Photo credit: Mountain Brook by Michael R. Ritt - 2017
 
Our cabin rests in a little valley that is a tributary to the Ninemile valley in northwestern Montana. It faces a small field about an acre in size. On the other end of the field is a steep incline where it meets one of the mountains that surround our valley. Right at the base of this mountain is a small brook that drains our valley and runs into Ninemile creek a couple of miles downstream. During the summer months we can usually step right across the brook. But at this time of year, with all of the melting snow, there is too much mountain runoff to attempt it.
It is a very peaceful experience to come home from work at night (usually around midnight). Our valley is typically very quiet and still, except for the deer that dart across the mile long gravel road that leads up to our cabin. I can look up on a clear night and see stars that are so big and bright that it seems I should be able to pluck them right out of the sky.
As I step up on our porch and turn to face the field, although I can’t see it, I can hear the water flowing through our little brook. At this time of year it is an actual roar, but in a few months it will wind its way down to a gentle murmur, accented by the sound of buzzing insects and maybe the screech of an owl.  
I doubt that there is a finer symphony played anywhere in the world than my little mountain brook on a starry night.