Monday, December 18, 2017

The Great and Awful Burden of My Intellect…

The other day, I was telling my redheaded sweetheart about a friend who was taking time off of work to have a medical procedure done.

“What’s wrong with him?’ she inquired.

“He has ‘very close veins,’” I answered back.

She gave me one of those looks that I have become all too familiar with. It’s a kind of blank expression that signals to me that I have broached a subject with her that is beyond her comprehension. I have to keep reminding myself that she graduated high school in only three years, whereas I took my time and managed to make a five and a half year journey through the hallowed halls of Poynette High (Go Indians!). Obviously, I learned a lot more during my extensive academic career than she did during her brief encounter with higher learning.

“What are you talking about?” she asked, confirming my suspicion.

“He’s going to have laser surgery to remove his VERY-CLOSE-VEINS.” I raised my voice slightly and said the words slowly in an effort to facilitate communication. Tami always appreciates it when I do that.

“What are very close veins?”

The tenor of her voice led me to believe that she really had no idea what I was talking about. I thought back over the past (almost) twenty-nine years that we have been married. If I had a nickel for every time that I had to explain something to her, I could buy her a decent set of encyclopedias which she could use to further her education. It would be nice to have an intellectual equal to converse with. It can be lonely being a person of great intellectual prowess, but it does give me a sense of fraternity with some of the early Greek philosophers such as Sucrets and Pluto.

“Very close veins,” I instructed, “is a condition where the veins in your legs push outward and get very close to the surface. That’s why they are called ‘very close veins.’”

She rolled her eyes, shook her head, and gave a big sigh, obviously frustrated with her lack of knowledge. “I think you mean ‘varicose veins.’”

I have noticed something about Tami, and other people for that matter. Oftentimes when they don’t have any useful information to contribute to a conversation, rather than keep silent, they will dig the hole deeper by trying to sound intelligent – even to the point of making up words like ‘varicose veins.’

I think that Tami is often jealous of the fact that I am the writer in the family. Sometimes it gets the better of her and she will make some poor (but adorable) attempt at word-smithing, making up her own words for every-day, common things. She will even make up words and apply them to me, which is what she did next.

She turned to face me, and, with her hands on her hips, she said, “You are a verifiable ignoramus!”

She could have kept it simple and just said that I was brilliant, or a genius, or just a really-really-really smart guy; but she had to embarrass herself by describing my intellectual acumen with some meaningless, made-up word.

I smiled and tried to put my arm around her. “You don’t have to do that, you know. I don’t mind your limited vocabulary. It’s okay with me that we are not intellectual equals.”

She pushed me away; her eyes wide; a lone tear about to spill over the causeway of her rosy cheek. “You and I will NEVER be intellectual equals!”

“Now honey,” I replied, “you shouldn’t talk like that. You know I hate it when you make self-defecating comments.”

She stood with her mouth hanging open and stared at me like I had a third eye or something. “The word is ‘self-deprecating,’ not ‘self-defecating! There is no such word as ‘self-defecating.”

“There most certainly is,” I gently corrected her. “Self-defecation is when you get depressed and you make insulting comments about yourself; basically crapping all over yourself.”

She threw her arms in the air and stormed out of the front door. I saw her heading up the path to the top of the mountain behind our cabin. She likes to take a walk sometimes when she is feeling frustrated and inadequate.

As I watched her heading up the path, arms flailing about, yelling something I couldn’t quite make out, I felt sorry for her and decided that I needed to do something to cheer her up. Christmas is just around the corner. Maybe I’ll buy her those encyclopedias anyways.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Review - "Go West Young Woman" by Nancy Quinn

The story of America is the story of westward expansion. There were the Pilgrims and early colonists who crossed the Atlantic to reach the shores of New England. Braving storms, disease, and uncertainty, they endured harsh and crowded conditions on their ships in order to have a new, better life in the western “New World.” Men like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Simon Kenton felt the call of the west, and helped to pioneer the western expansion across the Appalachians and down the Ohio River valley toward the Mississippi. Spurred on by accounts from Lewis and Clark, and the Corp of Discovery, mountain men like Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, and Hugh Glass crossed the Great Plains to trap beaver in the icy rivers and streams of the Rocky Mountains.

Many adjectives could be used to describe their experiences, but “easy” would never be one of them. It was a difficult way of life, and those answering the call of the west had to face any number of challenges in their efforts to conquer and subdue the land. The blazing summer sun was contrasted by freezing winter snows that could continue for days. Downpours of rain that could cause flash floods were met by drought, dust, and blowing sand. The winds could be so heavy on the plains that they often drove the pioneer women mad. Besides the weather, there were the native inhabitants to deal with as well; Indians, grizzlies, mountain lions, wolves, and a host of others.

It was Horace Greeley who, in the mid 19th century, was credited with saying, “Go west young man, and grow up with the country.” With national policies like Manifest Destiny, and legislation such as the Homestead Act, tens of thousands took the advice. Even more poured into the western territories with the discovery of gold and silver in places like California, Colorado, Nevada, and the Black Hills.

Much has changed over the past two hundred years. The ease and speed of modern transportation has made the Conestoga wagon a thing of the past. Amenities provided at nearly every exit off of the Interstate mean that people no longer have to sleep outside under the stars, or hunt for their evening meal. But other things still remain the same as they were for those early pioneers. Although they may be a dying breed, many people still hear the call of the west, and never rest satisfied until they see towering, snow-capped peaks and fill their lungs with cool, clean mountain air.

Go West Young Woman,” by Nancy Quinn, is the story of one such modern pioneer family who answer the westward call, giving up their lives on the beltway in Washington, DC to move to the mountains of western Montana. Although the times have changed, many of the challenges remain the same, including encounters with predators like grizzlies and mountain lions; severe weather; and learning to live peacefully with the native inhabitants (cows, ranchers, loggers, etc.).

Nancy Quinn has an easy to read, almost conversational, anecdotal style of writing that makes it seem as if you are sitting down with her over a cup of coffee, listening to the latest adventures of her family, dogs, horses, or the numerous animal visitors that frequent their mountain property. Written with warmth and humor, you will find yourself moving effortlessly from chapter to chapter as Nancy, her husband, Bill, and their two daughters face one new challenge and adventure after another; and when you are finished, you will wonder, right along with me, how long will it be before the next book comes out!

Nancy has a background in conservation law enforcement, and has spent many hours in wildlife rehabilitation. This gives her a perspective into wildlife that helps to inform her writing. But not only is she a gifted writer, she is an award winning, internationally known wildlife artist. Nancy writes about her artwork:

“I believe art has a purpose other than decorating our walls. I think it can touch our minds and our hearts. When I sit down to create art, I think about how best to give an animal or bird a soul and how to foster an emotion on canvas, paper, or precious metal. If I can have a positive effect in someone's life, then my work has served an important purpose.”

Whether you are reading her book or enjoying her art, you will have made a friend in Nancy Quinn; and you will have experienced what so many of our pioneers and early adventurers have experienced – a love, admiration, and respect of the American west that still lives on today.

Her artwork can be viewed here on her website.

You can check out Nancy’s blog here.

You can connect with Nancy on her Facebook page.


Monday, November 13, 2017

The "Bear" Facts About One of Hollywood's Finest...

Bart and Trainer Doug Seus
Bart the Bear (1977-2000) is arguably one of the best known animal actors of all time, staring in twenty-two motion pictures and television shows. His film credits include The Great Outdoors, with John Candy; The Edge, with Anthony Hopkins; and On Deadly Ground, with Steven Seagal. Bart also starred in several westerns such as Legends of the Fall, Windwalker, White Fang, and Louis L’Amour’s Down the Long Hills.

Bart was born at the Baltimore Zoo and was subsequently adopted by animal trainers, Doug and Lynn Seus. Bart got his first acting job as a cub, appearing in the television series, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, playing the part of Ben – Adams’ companion grizzly – as a cub.

As an adult Alaskan Brown bear, Bart stood nine and a half feet tall and weighed over seventeen hundred pounds. As an actor, Bart reportedly earned $10,000.00 a day. The money was used to start the Vital Ground Foundation, an environmental land trust which works to protect and promote grizzly bear populations through wildlife habitat conservation.

Bart was diagnosed with cancer in October of 1998. He underwent two separate surgeries, but the cancer persisted. He was euthanized in May of 2000 at the age of twenty-three, and is buried on the Seus ranch near Heber City, Utah.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Frankenspider and the Mouse…

I was recently reminded of an incident that occurred several years ago while we were still living in Colorado. One day my redheaded sweetheart, Tami, was putting something away under the kitchen sink. All of a sudden, I heard her scream as she quickly backed away from what she was doing. The mouse trap under the sink had done its job and had caught a mouse. For some reason, Tami has developed an aversion to mice that she never had when we were first married. Of course, I just laughed at her silly fear. I mean mice are so cute and fury, who could be afraid of them?

Being the big, strong he-man protector of my wife and home, I volunteered to dispose of the remains. I picked up the trap, with its contents and headed outside to toss the fury little carcass into the trees and brush behind the propane tank where I had unceremoniously dispatched previous mouse cadavers.

As I opened the door and prepared to step down onto the first of two steps that led to the walkway, I spotted a spider that – and I kid you not – was the size of a Volkswagen Beatle! Frankenspider saw me and JUMPED up the first step right toward me. I screamed, dropped the mouse and slammed the door.

Tami steadfastly refused to go outside because of the dead mouse. I was just as adamant that I wasn’t going outside because of Frankenspider. I rested all of my hopes on the possibility that Frankenspider would satisfy his hunger by eating the mouse, and he would leave us alone.

Eventually, he moved on to terrorize some of the other villagers, which is a good thing, because, if he hadn’t left, I would have been forced to call 911 again, which I am loath to do. Ever since the time I called to tell them about the flying monkeys that were eating all of our crabapples, they don’t seem to take me serious. Can you imagine someone not taking me serious?!?


Monday, August 28, 2017

Home Alone

One night not too long ago, after getting ready for bed, I managed to step on a push-pin that was on the floor as I walked into our bedroom. I managed to push it in to the hilt, which meant that it was almost a half of an inch into the heel of my right foot. There was some gnashing of teeth and a fleeting dalliance with a short list of some colorful expletives.

Tami was not home at the time so I was left up to my own devises with regard to the ministration of first aid. I did not want to pull it out right away because I knew that I would bleed all over the carpet and leave a trail of blood all of the way to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom downstairs. So I managed to hobble carefully downstairs, placing my weight first on my left foot, then judiciously on the toes only of my right foot. In this manner, I made it safely to the bathroom – almost. Crossing the kitchen on my way to the bathroom, I discovered some Goat-head burrs that the dog had brought into the house. They stick to his coat like some type of Satanic Velcro when he lies down in the yard. Unfortunately, I discovered them by stepping on one with my left (my good) foot.

Instinctively, I took the weight off of the foot with the Goat-head imbedded in it, and placed it on the foot with the push-pin imbedded in it. Having literally no leg to stand on, I wound up prostrate on the floor with both feet in the air in some foolish and futile belief that I could drain the pain out of them by lofting them heavenward. Somehow, on the way down, I managed to hit my elbow against the corner of the kitchen counter, thus accomplishing the rare and allusive trifecta of injuries within mere minutes of each other.

I believe that there was more gnashing of the teeth, and I may have developed a more intimate relationship with an expanded list of expletives. I can’t say for sure because I think I blacked out for a while.

In any case, Tami came home shortly thereafter and tended to my wounds and tucked me into bed.

If any of you remember the movie “Home Alone,” I felt like one of the robbers.




Friday, August 25, 2017

The Battle of Summit Springs

“Rescue during the Battle of Summit Springs”
Painting, 1908, by Charles Schreyvogel (1861–1912).
The Battle of Summit Springs occurred on July 11th, 1869, when a regiment of the U.S. 5th Cavalry, under the command of Major Eugene A. Carr, successfully engineered a mid-day attack on a camp of Southern Cheyenne Dog Soldiers led by Chief Tall Bull. The U.S. Army was ordered to attack in retaliation for a series of raids by the Cheyenne in north-central Kansas.

Monument to Susanna Alderdice

Remarkably, only a single trooper was wounded during the engagement, while 52 Indians were killed, including Chief Tall Bull. Seventeen women and children were captured, along with more than 300 horses and mules.

One white woman, who had been captured by the Cheyenne forty-two days earlier, Susanna Alderdice, died of a tomahawk wound to the head during the battle. Susanna's four year old son, Willis, was found the next day with four arrows in his back. Remarkably, he survived his wounds and lived until the age of fifty-five. Another white captive, Maria Weichell, was shot in the back but survived her injuries as well.

About fifty Pawnee, who were scouting for the Army, took part in the battle, as well as at least one white scout, William (Buffalo Bill) Cody.

The "road" leading back to the battle site
The site of the battle field is located about five miles south of Atwood, Colorado. We had to hike about a mile into the prairie off of County Road 43 to find the actual site where there are three monuments and a couple of other markers in place – including one marker on the actual spot where Chief Tall Bull’s tipi stood.

The author's wife, Tami, reading one of the monuments. In the background
are the ravines where some of the Indians made their stand.

A monument to an amazingly brave 15 year old Cheyenne boy


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Revisiting The Golden Age of TV Westerns: The Rifleman

One of my favorite old-time TV westerns is The Rifleman, staring Chuck Connors. The show aired on ABC, and ran for five years from 1958-1963. Connors stood an imposing six-foot, six inches, so before landing his gig on The Rifleman, Connors played professional sports and is one of only a handful of American athletes to have played both Major League Baseball (with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Chicago cubs) and in the National Basketball Association (with the Rochester Royals and the Boston Celtics). Connors was also pursued by the Chicago Bears to play professional football, but a football career never developed.

The uncredited star of the series was arguably the rifle used by Connors, which was a modified 1892 Winchester .44-40 carbine. The rifle was actually a little ahead of its time in the series, which was set in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, which meant that Conner’s character, Lucas McCain, was using a rifle about twelve years before it was even produced.

In the opening scene to the show, McCain is walking down the center of Main Street in North Fork, New Mexico Territory, rapid firing the Winchester at some off-screen foe. Although the .44-40 Winchester carried eleven rounds in its magazine, viewers can watch McCain working the lever action on the rifle to fire off twelve shots. The reason for this is that the blanks being fired were shorter than the actual standard .44-40 Winchester Center Fire cartridges, so they were able to fit twelve rounds in the magazine. If you listen closely, however, you can hear a thirteenth round being fired. This additional round was dubbed into the audio track to sync the firing with the theme music for the show.

What I always got a kick out of was that after emptying his rifle in the opening scene, McCain deems it adequate to remove a single bullet from his shirt pocket in order to reload.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Father Pedro's Prayer

Painting by Arthur William Best.

Father Pedro knelt at the altar of the little chapel in the Mission de Valero. Several times a day for the last sixteen years he had accustomed himself to petition God from the foot of this alter. More times than he could recount, he had beseeched God’s blessing and His mercy upon the people of the mission. Many souls had been touched. Many lives had been changed down through the years. But his prayers today were more urgent than ever, for things were very desperate. He finished his prayer and stood to his feet.

“Father, may I have a word with you?” It was Jose Hernandez, one of his parishioners.

“Of course you may, Jose. What can I do for you?”

Jose stood sheepishly in the center aisle, nervously twisting the brim of his sombrero, which he had removed upon entering the little chapel. “Father, is it true what they say?”

Father Pedro looked lovingly at this faithful member of his flock. Jose was a skilled craftsman in leather. His belts and harness, boots and saddles, were among the finest made. He worked very hard to feed his wife and four daughters, and he never missed a mass. What would happen to his flock now, he thought to himself?

Father Pedro sighed and gave a slow nod. “If you are referring to the rumor that the church is going to close the mission, then I am afraid it is true.”  He took Jose by the arm and said, “Come with me.” The two men walked out into the courtyard alongside the little chapel. The sun hung low over the western horizon, but it was still very hot outside, as it usually was in España Nueva at this time of year.

“Let us walk down by the river,” said Father Pedro. The river was one of Father Pedro’s favorite places to be, especially when the summer sun was unrelenting. Its banks were lined with beautiful, huge cottonwoods which provided a cooling shade under which Father Pedro received the inspiration for many of his sermons. Across the river to the west was the village of Bexar where many of Father Pedro’s flock lived.

The two men stood side by side along the bank of the river. Silently, they listened as a warm breeze rustled through the leaves of the majestic old trees. The leaves seemed almost to be whispering something. There might have been hope in the whisper. There might have been encouragement. Jose strained to hear what the leaves were saying, but he could not understand.

They watched the sun settle over the village of Bexar. Its light played a symphony of color and shadow across the red clay tiled rooftops of the adobe buildings. But Jose could not hear the music. He could not hear the whisper of the leaves. He heard only the buzz of an irritating fly that landed on the back of his hand. He saw only the setting of the sun; the end of the day; the end of the church that he loved.

“But how can they do this? What will happen to us?”

Father Pedro shrugged in resignation as he explained. “It is mostly a matter of policy, Jose. It has always been church policy not to start missions closer than seven miles from each other, yet we have five other missions located within nine miles of this very spot.”

Jose bent down and picked up a leaf. Tossing it into the river, he watched as the current carried it downstream and out of sight. The river was always flowing; always moving; always changing. The water that flowed by one second was gone the next, never to return. It made Jose uncomfortable. He had buried his father this past spring, and his oldest daughter was soon to marry and would be moving out of his home. Too much was changing, and Jose did not handle change very well.

“But what will happen to us? And to you, Father? What will become of you?”

“You will be well taken care of Jose. Father Miguel at the Mission San Jose de Aqyayo will assume responsibility for your souls. As for me…” There was a pause, and then a slight tremor in the Padres' voice as he continued. “I will return to the Franciscan Seminary in Mexico City to be reassigned.” Sixteen years was a long time to invest in the lives of others. 

They stood together in silence now and stared back through the years. Each man sorting through the memories and assigning value, knowing that it was the memories that would remain to provide comfort and stability. How many marriages had there been? How many baptisms and funerals had the little church witnessed down through the years? They turned to walk back to the courtyard of the mission.

“There is a time and a season for everything, Jose. We must have faith and trust that God knows what is best for us.”

Jose felt little comfort in Father Pedro’s words. “I do not like it when things change.”

“Everything changes, Jose. A wise man will see the change, and grow with it. Change is the only way that things get better.”

From where he stood in front of the chapel, Jose could see the little church cemetery where his father was buried. “That is also how things get worse!”

Father Pedro just smiled. “People change. The seasons change. Even the times change, Jose, and you must change with them. Look how much Bexar has changed. How it has grown and prospered with all of the newcomers.”

Jose frowned at the mention of the newcomers. “I must confess, father, I do not care much for the newcomers.”

“But why not, Jose? What do you have against them?”

Jose pointed to the village across the river. “Bexar used to be a quiet, peaceful town; it was a town to raise a family in. It was a town where my ninjas could play in the street. The newcomers want to change everything to suit them. They even want to change the name of the town. Bexar is not good enough for them. They are now calling it “San Antonio.”

Father Pedro stood in front of his parishioner. Smiling, he reached out both arms and placed his hands firmly on Jose’s shoulders. “San Antonio is a good name. It honors a revered and godly saint.”

Father Pedro led Jose to a bench in the courtyard. As the two men took a seat, Father Pedro said, “Jose, do you remember when your oldest daughter, Maria was born?”

Jose’s eyes narrowed as he looked quizzically at the priest. He knew there was a lesson coming. “Of course I remember. Who doesn’t remember the birth of their firstborn?”

“Good!” Father Pedro patted Jose on the leg and continued. “Then you remember how sick she was as a young child. There were several occasions before she was even weaned when we were not sure that she would even make it to her next birthday.”

Jose recalled the constant anxiety that he and his wife felt over the poor health of their daughter when she was little. He recalled the many sleepless nights; the prayers and pleadings with God to spare her life and make her strong and healthy. “Yes, Father. I remember. God answered our prayers.”

“Yes, Jose. God did answer all of our prayers for Maria. He changed her from being a sickly child and he made her to be a strong, healthy, normal little girl. And over the years he has made her to be a beautiful young woman who will soon be married and have children of her own. He caused all of that change to take place, and it was a good thing, was it not?”   

Jose sighed and turned to look back across the river toward town. Lanterns were being lit to illuminate the streets, and the sound of music and laughter from the cantina was carried on the night breeze. Perhaps Father Pedro was right, he thought. Perhaps he could learn to live with the changes that came upon him, whether he wanted them or not. Perhaps they would turn out for the better after all.

The two men sat in silence for a long while. Jose was cataloging all of the changes that were taking place in his life; all of the things that he had no control over, that seemed to want to carry him away like the river had carried away the cottonwood leaf.

Father Pedro sat listening to the clicking sound of cicadas and watching the fireflies dart in and out of the trees down by the river. He felt better after talking to Jose. As was often the case when he counseled one of his flock, he often wound up preaching to himself.

Darkness had settled in and Jose needed to get back home to his family. He said goodbye to the Padre and then started down the path that would take him to the footbridge across the river. After a few steps, however, he turned to face the Padre one last time. He had one more question to ask. “Father, what will become of the church?”

“That is what I was praying about when you entered the chapel, Jose.”

Look at her, thought Father Pedro. Her walls were cracked, and in some places, her roof was falling in. “I do not know what will become of her. Perhaps she has lived the life God intended for her and she will return to the dust. But I was praying that God would not abandon her and that she would yet find some usefulness. That is in God’s hands, and we must have faith, Jose.”

Jose just smiled. “You know, Father, the newcomers even have a new name for our mission?”

“I was not aware of that. What do they call it?”

Jose called back over his shoulder as he started for home again, “They call it after the cottonwoods that grow along the river. They call it the Alamo.”



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.


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.





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.


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…”






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 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?”
“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.


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.