Month: April 2017

Talkin’ Turkey

 

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Turkey Hunting with my son Byron and brother Steve

I went turkey hunting over Easter weekend with my son and brother in western Kansas and Nebraska.  (I didn’t intentionally set it for this weekend, but you know how Easter is: it can’t keep track of it’s own birthday.  Evidently, I can’t either.)

It was a guided trip by Mark Beamer; his hunting lodge is located near the state line, which makes a hunt possible in both states.  The trip was a full immersion experience in rural America.

The lonely, huge vistas as Steve and I drove across the high plains on US 36 through north east Colorado were beautiful-and sad.  Beautiful because they were so lonely.  Sad because they were so lonely:  rural America is being hollowed out.  The legions of men, women  and horses that were once required to farm these enormous expanses of land have been replaced by enormous (and enormously expensive) tractors and combines.  And other equipment that I couldn’t even identify.  Farm houses that sheltered a family now feature broken windows under sagging front porches; farmyards overgrown with weeds shelter coyotes and an occasional pheasant.  Towns like Anton, Last Chance, and Joes have dried up and blown away.

We crossed into Kansas and got to Oberlin late in the afternoon.  Its red brick streets, even if noisy, are a charming throwback.

While there, I got a call from my son, Byron, who was already at the hunting lodge-he drove over from Omaha.  He informed us that we needed to make sure that our Kansas hunting licenses were in order.  Mine was; Steve’s wasn’t.

We hustled over to the place where I had first learned about Beamers the summer before on a road trip to Omaha to visit Byron, Dale’s Fish ‘N’ Fun ‘N’ Gun.  We got there just as they were locking up, but they opened the doors for us, got on their computer, and printed off the form Steve needed from the Kansas Department of Wildlife. Real small town hospitality; drop in next time you’re turkey hunting near Oberlin.

We got to the lodge as the sun was going down.  Along with Byron, our two guides, Mark Beamer and his assistant, another Mark (I’ll call him “Jr.” for clarity, as needed), greeted us on the front porch that stretched the full width of the rustic, but comfortable structure.  Stepping inside, two easy chairs and couches were ranged in front of a flat screen TV that, as I soon learned, was always tuned to the Hunting Channel.  Apparently concerned that the TV functioned as a sort of 1984 telescreen and that animals on the shows might be able to see us, all the furniture was decked out in full camo.  The five of us usually had our camo gear on as well.

Dinner was an extension of the full immersion experience.  Our cook, Vanita, laid out a spread of venison burritos, canned green beans swimming in Velveeta sauce, and chopped lettuce surrounded by an array of Kraft bottles.  When offered the salad, Mark Jr. declined, saying, “I don’t eat salad; I eat the animals that eat it.”

Breakfast at 4 on Friday morning was Raisin Bran; it was the only fruit I had during the weekend.  Byron and I were out in the early morning chill with our guide, Mark Jr., by 5.  We were hunting in Kansas today.

It had rained the night before and was still misting. The gumbo roads were greasy as Mark drifted his pickup down roller coaster hills-and up the other side. Gouts of mud flashed through the headlights before thumping on the windshield.  Like Mark, I hadn’t buckled up when we left the lodge; discreetly, I did now.  And hoped that Byron had done likewise behind me.

Just after a barely visible wooded bottom, the road took a 90° turn to the right.  Mark negotiated the corner and switched on the parking lights. “We pull off right up here and walk down to the blind.”

Only discernible because the turn into the pasture on our right was a paler shade of black, Mark parked and put on a headlamp that cast a faint pink glow.  Quietly opening his door, he walked forward to open the barbed wire fence. Coming back, he poked in his head and said, “Here’s where we get out.  Grab your guns and be quiet.”

We did so and, imitating Mark, held up the handle while we closed the door and then gave it a final shove so the lock engaged with a barely audible click.

Between the double bull blind, the folding camp chairs, and the duffle bags crammed with decoys, Mark was loaded up like a pack animal as we followed his head lamp through the gate and down the the gentle, but uneven grade of the meadow.  Without prompting, Byron volunteered to carry both our guns.  Walking on a perfectly smooth sidewalk is difficult for me because of NPH; the dark, hummocky pasture was anything but perfect.   Despite his burden, Mark’s strong right arm was an invaluable assistance.

It was 6:30 by the time Mark got the blind up, set out the decoys 20 yards to our left, and we were all settled in our chairs peering through the slits of the blind.  We put on our camo face masks as the sky turned a paler shade of gray.

From behind us, Mark started talkin’ turkey.  Big time.

We listened intently.  Nothing came back through the gloom.  And didn’t as Mark continued to call with several variations on the same theme for the next forty five minutes.

Then, after the light had revealed the tree line that encircled our pasture 100 yards out, Byron’s low voice came over my right shoulder, “They’re coming in from our left.”  My side of the blind.

Three dark, sleek forms, by fits and starts, sauntered towards our decoys. Mark’s now slightly more insistent gobble occasionally came from over our shoulders.  “Be quiet,” he whispered, “and don’t move.” Inserting an assortment of semi-circular bits of plastic and cellophane between his teeth, Mark could produce an amazing variety of gobbles, cackles, purrs, yelps and whines.  The birds were as helpless as Ulysses before the Sirens.

In a tightly packed flock, the turkeys came to rest among our decoys.  My gun was already resting on the slit in the blind to my left; I raised the butt to my shoulder.  The safety came off with a metallic click that, to my ears, seemed to thunder through the blind; the birds still appeared clueless. “Wait until they separate,” whispered Mark into my ear, “you only want to get one.”

Finally, one moved further to my right and, craning his neck up to his full four foot height, presented a target that seemed much taller.  And too big to miss.  Aiming below his head and above the breast, I pulled the trigger.

I didn’t hear anything.  But, in the early morning gloom, a yellow ball of flame erupted that filled my field of vision.  And then-nothing.

Had I missed him?

Then, from behind me, “Good shot!”

Outside, the jake lay crumpled in an awkward heap, his wings and body still spasmodically convulsing.  The two other birds stood where they had been when their comrade was cut down.

“Those other two still don’t even know what happened,” said Mark.  “Watch.  They’ll climb up and start beating on him.”

Sure enough, less than a minute later one of them climbed aboard and started pecking.  But he and his buddy took off when we climbed out of the blind to retrieve the now dead bird.

It was 7:30. I was done hunting in Kansas.

Mark and Byron waited for a while before concluding that they would be more likely to be successful leaving the blind behind and stalking birds in another location.  Mark loaded up the decoys, Byron took both guns, and they headed back to the truck.  I hunkered down in my parka and tried to get comfortable in the camp chair.

Next thing I knew, there was a loud thump on the roof of the blind.   “You awake in there?” sang  out Mark.

“I am now,” I replied, surfacing from a deep and profoundly satisfying nap.  “How did you guys do?”

“Byron got his bird.  Let’s head back and get some lunch.”

On the way, Byron and Mark took turns recounting how they had gone to another tree lined creek bottom, took cover in some bushes behind the decoys, and how two toms had, again, succumbed to the siren call.  Mark captured the final moments on video here.  CAUTION: SOME VIEWERS MAY FIND THESE IMAGES DISTURBING.  OR IRRESISTIBLE.  OR AMUSING. OR ALL OF THE ABOVE.  (Remember, this bird stood a much better chance than the turkey that went through the slaughter house before landing in the frozen meat section for your last Thanksgiving dinner.)

After lunch and another nap, Byron and I drove the 30 miles to Norton, Kansas; I wanted to scout out churches in case I was done hunting in Nebraska by Easter Sunday.  Trinity Episcopal Church, a beautiful little structure just north of downtown, looked like it would admirably fill the bill.

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Easter Sunday on our hunting weekend at Trinity Episcopal Church

That night, the cigar smoke and talk on the front porch got a bit blue for my taste; I went inside to visit with Vanita as she cleaned up after dinner.  With a ready smile on a broad, ruddy face, she told me how still lives in the town where she was born, about 30 miles south of the lodge.

When she was scarcely more than an infant, her father had been thrown from his car in a roll over accident; the Kansas highway department had failed to adequately mark a road construction site.  Her uncle was one of the EMTs that had responded to the wreck. Her dad was moved without being adequately strapped to the stretcher; he wound up a quadriplegic.

“We never sued anyone.  My uncle still feels terrible about that.  My mom, who was only a girl at the time, left; she couldn’t handle it.  But,” she concluded, “my dad was a great guy.”

Her daughter, Jesse, who helped her mom some with the cooking chores over the weekend, ran track at her high school of about 50 kids.  She took first place in the pole vault at the next day’s meet.  I understood where Vanita’s deep suntan had come from.

I just realized that I underestimated how much fruit I had over the weekend; I had raisins again Saturday morning.  But breakfast was every bit as early.  Actually, earlier; it was a longer drive to our set up in Nebraska.

I won’t tell you about the jake I missed that morning at about the same range as the day before-because I can’t.  How do you miss a target like that at that range?  Simple: buck fever. Except, of course, we weren’t hunting bucks.

Nonetheless, I had my second and last bird by late afternoon.

Despite it being Easter, I confess to to the sin of smugness when I heard the other guys getting ready to head out at 4 the next morning.  But it didn’t last long; I promptly rolled over and went back to sleep ’til 7.

After my third serving of fruit (more Raisin Bran), I was on my way to Norton in plenty of time for the 10:30 church service.  In fact, I was so early that there was time to stop at the Town and Country Kitchen for a more substantial breakfast of eggs, hash browns, sausage and coffee.  The place was loaded with extra help; from what I could tell during my reconnaissance, all 12 churches in town started their services at 10:30.  Apparently, it was going to be a mob scene when church let out.

As I walked into Trinity, the priest greeted me warmly.  The congregation was small, but the church was snug and beautiful as I took my place in a well worn pew.  As is usual with an Episcopalian service, there was audience participation: plenty of up and down and kneeling.  And, for me, a difficult time keeping track of what was going between the bulletin, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Hymnal.  But it didn’t matter; I was blessed to be in the midst of believers celebrating the risen Lord.

I normally love Episcopalian hymns: they’re theologically and melodically rich.  And the little church was trying, but the accompaniment to our frail singing of the traditional hymns was anything but rich; a man in the back, manipulating a lap top, was putting out a thin gruel of synthetic organ sounds that were slightly off key and tempo.  When we went forward to the alter for the Lord’s supper, I understood why: a small pump organ, looking like it hadn’t been played for years, sat to our right. A thicket of pipes, some the size of drinking straws, gathered dust.

More technology hollowing out rural America.

_________

At the end of a successful hunt where all of us got our limit, I was excited about two things.

First, that my daughter, Lauren, has expressed an interest in joining her husband, Haden, for next year’s trip.  He would make a great firearms instructor for her; he served, with distinction, during two tours in Iraq with the Marines.  I can’t wait.

And, second, that my daughter has become a fan of “TheMeatEater” show.  I found a great looking recipe on the site the other day for Wild Turkey Scallops, Lemon, and Baby Artichokes. My wife and I will never be able to eat even one of these turkeys ourselves.  I am really looking forward to having my daughter’s family and some neighbors in to help us get the job done right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lucky Sperm Club

image1 (5)Until I recently heard it from John Philips, president of the board of the AllHealth Network, I’d never heard that phrase.  And when I did, John’s matter-of-fact way of inserting it into our discussion jolted my prudish sensibilities.  Despite our political differences (he ran a losing campaign as a Democrat for the same state House seat that I ended up winning as a Republican two years after he lost), John’s plain spoken ways also raised him a notch or two in my estimation.  Given that John is an estate planning attorney, he’s probably known more than his fair share of Club members.  And, if he doesn’t, he probably wishes he did.

But it was more than the casual reference to sex that jarred me.  The fact is, I’m a member of the Club-I just didn’t know what it was called.  So, when John threw the line across our breakfast of eggs and hash browns, I had to check to make sure that I hadn’t betrayed myself by snorting up some coffee or orange juice.  Thankfully, I hadn’t.

Which raises the question: why is it just as uncomfortable for me to talk about money as it is about sex?  I’m not completely sure.

But if I’m going to talk about money, it makes sense to me that I do it like pulling an abscessed tooth:  quickly and completely.  Here goes.  (And, don’t worry, no more about sex.)

My dad was a serial entrepreneur and a very successful business man.  I’m not.

By the time he died, he left my siblings and me very well off financially.  But that was a far cry from where he started.  His widowed mother was so impoverished that she had to put my dad in foster care when he was a little boy in the hardscrabble ’20’s of rural Idaho.  By the time he was about 13 years old, he was basically supporting himself.   And he never looked back.

I, on the other hand, and despite having a dramatic head start over my father, have never been very successful financially.  Yes, I’ve always been employed (almost always self-employed), but there’s a big difference between working for your self and making an income adequate to provide anything beyond the bare essentials for a family.  And relying on periodic hand outs from your folks for many of the non-essentials.

When our three kids were young, my wife worked hard as a nurse.  It was her employment that provided us with health insurance.  We couldn’t afford it on my income.

We drove cars until the wheels came off.  Once, we picked up a relatively low milage Camry at a bargain basement price-because it was generously pockmarked with hail damage.  I can imagine my folks cringing when I showed up at their house in that gem.

We missed house payments once in a while.  To catch up, I would have to take money out of an IRA that I had been able to contribute to in early in our marriage-before we started running out of money before we ran out of month.

Want to get discouraged?  Try getting behind on your mortgage-and get hit with a late fee and a threatening demand letter.  Then catch up by taking money out of an IRA.  And, when the next April 15 rolls around, see that the IRS also wants its pound of flesh in the way of a premature withdrawal fee.  The final insult?  See your IRA dramatically smaller than your wife’s due to the power of compound interest over the intervening decades since you took money out of your account.  And your wife didn’t.

But don’t get me wrong.  We were never going to be hungry or homeless.  It was just humiliating and depressing and stressful.

I suppose, by now, you get my drift.  My dad pulled himself a long way up from the bottom of the barrel.  I started a long way from the bottom.  And largely blazed a trail of downward mobility.

Was it because I didn’t try at all?  No.  Or try hard enough?  More likely.  But I know that I never really found my métier.  And that is a real problem.  (Which is a sad commentary in itself and the subject, perhaps, of another post.)

I got a law degree: you’d think you could make some money doing that.   In fact, like my breakfast companion, I also did estate planning.  But it was never more than an anorexic practice.   I always saw the law as a sort of incantation: if you didn’t string together the right combination of words, the magic wouldn’t happen.  And, like the paranormal, the results were highly unpredictable.  Lack of confidence doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in potential clients.  In fact, they can sense it a mile away.  And stay just as far away.

We tried Amway; that was even worse (and, again, the subject, maybe, of another post).

I finally wound up in insurance, but it was only my father’s death that, ultimately, pulled our financial irons out of the fire.

And there you have it: one man’s story of what it’s like to be a member of the Lucky Sperm Club.

 

 

 

Two Tramps in Mud Time

IMG_0118My wife and I baby sat our two young granddaughters at our home recently.  They migrate routinely between their parents’ home and ours; they’re our peripatetic grandchildren.  We’re blessed to have them live so near.

Unfortunately, the event that occasioned the this particular visit was far from ideal; my son-in-law’s parents were badly injured in a car accident, so we were helping out.  Thankfully, both parents are now on their way to recovery.

It was the kind of spring day in Colorado that invited a trip to the backyard: warm in the sun, but chilly enough to require a coat for the kids.  My wife is a great one for picking up little toys to amuse her granddaughters; when we go out to the backyard, they appear as if by magic.  She held up a bubble wand that, when the breeze was right, sent a stream of iridescent globes scurrying across the yard with the older granddaughter, Bridgett, in hot pursuit.  (The younger one, Caroline, isn’t quite walking yet.) A pink vinyl ball that Bridgett is getting pretty handy at throwing around and trying to play catch.  Inevitably, there is plenty of chasing dropped balls and stooping over to pick them up.

One time, I bent over to pick up the ball and felt the warmth of the sun on my back.

That’s when it happened.  Again.

In a flash, a Robert Frost poem that I have thought of many times during my in years in Colorado came to mind.  It had been decades, probably a college English class, since I actually read the poem. But the few lines imprinted on my mind seemed to so perfectly describe a Colorado spring that it has always stuck with me.

My memory of the poem was, to be sure less than perfect, but it had something to do with the sun coming out from behind a cloud and springtime advancing to summer.

And then, when the clouds come back over and the breeze picks up, springtime retreating to winter.

I loved that imagery.  I’m not sure of all the places or times where the jumbled lines have hit me.  But I know they have.  Maybe backpacking over Arapahoe Pass above the 4th of July campground.  Or any of countless other gorgeous places in Colorado.

It took a lot of googling to find the lines from the poem; I never would have found it without the search engine.  (A tip o’ the hat to my son, Byron, who works at Google.)

My memory, however, wasn’t playing tricks on me:

Two Tramps in Mud Time

. . . . .

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”

. . . . .

That’s just the way it was as Bridgett chased bubbles around the backyard.  When the sun was out and the wind was still, we were two months on in May.  And, in the next moment, we were back in March.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Poetry is not my strong suit.  But that image has stood the test of time for me.

And, it’s funny how things work out sometimes.  When the sun warmed my back the other day and conjured up Frost’s words, I had no recollection of the title of his poem.

But, when I looked down at my little granddaughters, the title was also a perfect fit: two tramps in mud time.

 

Wet, whacky and wobbly

Large Luxury House

A large custom built luxury house in a residential neighborhood. This high end home is a very nicely landscaped property.

I first noticed it while going door to door in my fourth and last campaign for House District 37 in 2012.  Because the district was very competitive, every two years I always had to ring thousands of Republican and unaffiliated doorbells between April and election day in early November.

Under the best of circumstances, campaigning in this fashion is always time intensive.  If I got to 100 houses during an 8 hour Saturday, I was doing well.  Fewer on weekdays after work, even if I stayed out ’til is was nearly dark on the long summer days.

But after having done so much of it, it wasn’t hard for me to sense that it was taking longer to go from house to house than it had during previous campaigns.  True, it was never a short walk between houses because cutting across lawns was, according to my mentor and master campaigner, David Balmer, strictly verboten:  “It’s ok for the mailman.  But you don’t want to let your constituents see a politician walking across their manicured, suburban grass.”

So, I would take the sidewalk to the drive way, up the drive to where the walk forked off to the front porch, up (usually) a few stairs, and ring the bell.  Then wait to see if someone answered.  If they did, especially on Saturdays, they might want to talk for several minutes.  And then reverse the process to the next house.  Again, under ideal circumstances, slow going.

But try as I might, I couldn’t walk as fast as I had in prior campaigns.  It felt like there was stickum on the bottom of my shoes.  And, just as weird, was the fact that I wasn’t comfortable walking down even a few stairs unless there was a handrail.

“What was going on?  I was an expert alpine skier, wasn’t I?  I could ride my mountain bike on rugged single track trails.  I’d backpacked all over the state on rocky, rutted trails.  Heck, in my youth I had been a technical rock climber.  And now a few stairs were making me nervous?”

It hit me again with equal force when the session got underway the following winter.  Legislators interact with lobbyists routinely; I was no different.  Many of them are very professional looking women who work the marble hallways of the Capital all day (and sometimes late into the night) in stiletto heels; it looks brutally uncomfortable.  But, try as I might, I couldn’t keep pace with these women as we walked the 75 paces from the House chamber to my office.

A woman several inches shorter than I.  In high heels.  And I couldn’t walk as fast as they did.  What’s going on?  Frustration is scarcely adequate to describe my feelings.

I began talking to my doctors.

Maybe the titanium hip that had been put in several years before was going bad.  The orthopedic surgeon who did the implant x-rayed it and tested my blood for some sort of titanium poisoning.

Nothing.

The same result when I talked to my GP at an annual physical.

I see a psychiatrist about once a quarter for my bipolar condition.  I complained to him.  “Can my medication be making me walk like this and not feel secure going down stairs?”

He did a simple battery of physical tests, like balancing on one foot and walking a straight line down the hallway in his office while he watched.

Again, according to him, nothing.  (After we later learned what was really going on, he repeatedly offered a “mea culpa” for his oversight.  He’s a brain doctor after all.)

But after complaining a few more times in subsequent visits, he finally decided I needed to see a neurologist and gave me a referral.

It took a while to get in, but the appointed day finally arrived: my wife and I sat in the waiting room.

It didn’t strike me as odd until later, but the doctor didn’t have his nurse escort us to an exam room for the usual preliminaries.  Instead, he personally met us in the waiting room and watched me get out of my chair and walk across the room.

I’m convinced he knew what I had even before I got across the room.  Of course, some tests had to be run to confirm his impression:  brain imaging followed by a spinal tap.  (Take it from me, you haven’t lived until you have had an evening to think about a spinal tap before it’s done the following morning.)

But sure enough, the initial diagnosis was right:  normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH).   Sometimes referred to as the “wet, whacky and wobbly” syndrome because of the most common symptoms. I’ll simply say that I had the first and the third.  And add that I hope to be able to avoid the second.

The usual treatment was what was prescribed for me:  another hole in my head to implant a shunt to drain excess fluid from my skull to my abdominal cavity where it is reabsorbed.

Has the shunt been a miracle cure?  Not hardly.  In fact, I have sometimes been resentful when I read stories of others in my situation that do seem to experience full recoveries.

But there is no doubt that the shunt has slowed the progression of the condition.

Thankfully, the wet has definitely improved.

Am I whacky?  I suppose some might say so.  But I contend that I’m still cogent.  At least I hope so.  And hope to continue so for a good while beyond what is my 66th year.

Unfortunately, I’m still wobbly, especially going down stairs; I religiously cling to the hand rail when one is available.  But I work out regularly and vigorously, including twice a week with a trainer.  He hounds me mercilessly on my posture, virtual posture Nazi.  And how could this possibly do anything but help?

NPH has made me more observant of the old people around me (I grow old…I grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.).  The stooped posture.  The shuffling, wide gait.  The caution at the curb.

It took the doctors years to figure out what was wrong  with me.  And I am certainly not alone.  The Hydrocephalus Association estimates that of the 700,000 American with NPH, less than 20% receive an appropriate diagnosis.  NPH is commonly misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.  Or simple aging.  But the facts are that it is one of the few causes of dementia that can be treated.

The penultimate take away?  If you, or a loved one, is wet, whacky, and wobbly, don’t rest until you get answers that make all the pieces of the puzzle fit.

And the last take away?  This getting old stuff isn’t for sissies.