Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Hider

Our second son, Daniel, at about the age of 3 took great delight in hiding, or escaping, from his parents at every opportunity.  We don't remember when this began, but can only assume that one harmless, non-event made some kind of impression upon him as being entertaining.  For a time, we could stop, or find, him by the cackles of merriment as he made his escape, or tried to hide.  But then, he got wise to the weakness in his behavior.

One day, we were in a clothing store.  As I remember it, we were shopping for coats for the boys.  We let-go of Daniel in order to determine the appropriate size for his brother.  Moments later, he was gone.  We heard no warning-giggle, nor any laughter of self-satisfaction...just silence.  We had people watch the door, as we went fixture-by-fixture through all of the displays, searching for the little sneak.  We found him in a circular rack of jackets.  The height of the fixture, and length of the jacket arms, gave him complete heat-to-foot coverage.  And, the open 'middle' of the fixture allowed him a comfortable space.  As usual, he laughed almost uncontrollably upon being caught...we left immediately.

Grocery shopping was another experience altogether.  Sitting in the buggy-seat resulted in loud and prolonged protests from Daniel.  We experimented with our own version of a child-leash.  But that was years before they were commercially available, and we received intense criticism from many onlookers.  So, we held hands...until that critical moment, when it was necessary to release him to get something from a high shelf, freezer box, or other awkward display.  Then, when we turned around to reach for him...he was gone.  His strategy in a grocery store was to run out the front-door as quickly as possible.  It got so bad that one store would announce "Daniel is in the building", as soon as we entered the store.  No joke!  They really did!

Ultimately, he matured enough that we were able to reason with him and have him understand the risks of his entertainment.

The Climber

Almost immediately after Shaun could walk, he started to climb.  We've never formulated a convincing theory as to why he had this fascination.

Our first house had a chain-link (aka cyclone) type fence.  And, we had two large dogs who lived in the yard.  One fine spring day, we had the back-door open and Shaun was free to walk in-or-out of the house as he wished.  He was not yet able to talk, but was pretty independent. 

Our story of events this particular day is based upon a logical reconstruction.  At one point, he apparently decided to climb the fence, which we had never-before seen him do.  As his hands reached the top of the 4ft fence, our male dog decided that he needed to take action, and grabbed Shaun by the seat of his pants.  At this point, Shaun got upset and began yelling.  His mother reached the door just about the time that he released his grip on the top of the fence, and landed, unceremoniously, upon his rump.  He continued yelling, and began swatting at the dog...unhurt, but angry.  To this day, we give those dogs credit for helping to raise our boys.

That same spring, we met for lunch at the Fort Worth Water Gardens.  We recommend visiting the water gardens, as they are quite attractive and unusual.  One feature is repeated use of terracing in the concrete-work...both downward into the pools, and upward into surrounding walls.  As his mother and I were talking, Shaun decided to climb the wall behind us.  He was quick, and soon was almost out-of-reach, but I caught him.  But, it was necessary for me to climb part-way up the wall myself.  To this day, I marvel at how he was able to climb a terrace with steps only about 4-inches wide, with about 16-inches of vertical rise between steps.  Thankfully, we both returned safely to ground-level.

Apparently, climbing was some kind of developmental phase for him, as he soon lost his fascination with heights.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

First Born

Despite our best efforts, we as individuals cannot truly understand what another person experiences.  This is especially true between men and women.  Despite science and study, a man cannot really understand what a women experiences as her body goes through multiple stages.  Frankly, we have no point-of-reference.  That is, we have nothing with which to compare certain processes.  By far the most extreme is pregnancy.  Not just child-birth, but the entire process.

Carol's "cycle" had always been unpredictable.  And, her Gynecologist had suggested that she would probably be unable to have children.  So, it was quite a shock to us to learn that not only was she pregnant, but that she was four month's pregnant!

Always a planner, I was shocked to learn that I had less than 5 months to prepare for an event previously thought impossible.  So, while I was frantically trying to find ways to save money, learn something about what was needed, locate and purchase appropriate accoutrements, attend the hospital's mandatory training, etc, etc, Carol calmly proclaimed "it will be OK".

In truth, I was probably preoccupied with all the related "stuff" because they were things I could understand and deal-with.  Sure, I felt the baby 'kick', but it remained difficult to comprehend an abstract concept to which I could not relate.

February 7th, before the alarm sounded; Carol's "water broke".  Over the next 12 hours or-so, I learned that I was very afraid of the entire birth process.  First, they had to "induce" labor.  The, when she was fully dilated,  The Dr. tried to use forceps to grasp the baby by the head, and pull him out.  Having met several people who had been physically or mentally damaged by forceps delivery, this really scared me.  When that didn't work, I was chased from the delivery-room, and they began preparing for an emergency Caesarean Section.

My mother's heart stopped during a C-Section delivery of my youngest brother.  At the time of my brother's birth, of course, I was completely ignorant of this fact.  And, of course, my mother survived.  However, during the course of life, I had become aware of this close-call.  And frankly, having my wife undergo the same procedure scared me beyond belief.

I don't really know how much time elapsed.  But, I completed several self-guided foot-tours of the hospital before I had worked-off most of the adrenaline.  Some friends dropped-in to visit and see how things were going.  Seeing my nervous state, one offered a cigarette.  I've never been a smoker, but apparently smoking serves to calm their nerves.  Eventually, I was called to meet my son.

Through all of the preparation, worry, nerves, etc, I had been focused on Carol.  To her, the baby was very real and something to which she had bonded, both physically and emotionally.  And, I understood what was happening physiologically.  But the "realness" of the baby was beyond my grasp...until I saw his face.

Shaun was bundled tightly, as is the norm in a hospital.  He was very awake, and his left fist was nestled under his chin.  He had the appearance of someone in a foreign circumstance intently trying to observe and understand everything around him.  He seemed aware and suspicious, yet calm.  I was immediately captivated.  The nurse later told us that she should not have allowed me to keep him as long as she did.  But, she could tell that this was a very important moment for me.

Sometime later, as Carol began to emerge from the anesthesia, I was able to introduce Shaun to her.  In stereotypical fashion, she began counting fingers, and making sure he was "all there".

To any soon-to-be fathers who may read this, I can offer no advice, only this warning: a baby will change your life more than you can begin to imagine.

Hunting Hazards

My Dad was not a hunter.  But around the age of 15, a friend introduced me to this outdoor activity.  And, while any rational person can easily identify the hazards of the business-end of a shot-gun, I found that to be the least of my worries.

Shotgun Swimming

One year a new lake was opened to hunting.  The first thing you need to know about lakes in Texas is that none of them are natural.  Here, the Corps of Engineers, or another agency, builds a dam in a river to create a 'reservoir'.  Old creek-beds, dead trees, etc are left largely untouched as the water level rises to flood pastureland, farmland, etc.

An old hunting-buddy of mine suggested that we checkout a new lake.  He had done some scouting, and had an idea of where to setup.  As the sun arose, we could generally discern where the old creek-bed lay...due to the way the trees were arranged...still standing where they were drowned.  During the morning, we were visited by several pairs of Wood Ducks...but not many other species.  The Wood Duck is a beautiful creature, but due to the way in which waterfowl were managed that year, we were allowed to only harvest one per hunter.  Mine fell on the 'other side' of the flooded creek.  And, no matter what I did, it was not going to float to our side of the creek.

After a couple of hours had passed, and we were certain the ducks were finished flying for the day, I started hiking upstream of the creek to find a place to cross.  Then, worked my way back down the other side of the creek to the fallen duck.  By this time, I was pretty confident that I could judge the channel by the trees.  Then, suddenly, there was no ground beneath my foot.  When walking in waders, through water above the waist, it is REALLY hard to stop, change direction, or otherwise do anything but continue forward.  Realizing the water was too deep, I quickly kicked-out with the one foot remaining on ground.  My objective was to reach a nearby tree...which would allow me time to think of a new plan that did not involve drowning.  Rubber waders are very interesting.  As a result of my kick, I was going toward the desired destination, and had the impression that I was actually floating.  For a brief moment, I thought I might not get wet.  Then floop, the water reached the top of the waders and I began sinking...quickly.  Thankfully, I was able to reach a limb of the dead tree, and grabbed-hold for all I was worth.

So, here I am; one hand clutching my shotgun, the other clinging to my life-saving tree, no ground within reach of my feet.  Time for a plan!  I firmly planted both feet against the life-saving tree, and kicked-off in the last-known direction of firm ground.  I was on the swim-team in high-school, and was a very strong swimmer at the time of this event.  So, using my most determined swim-kick, and paddling with one hand, while holding the shotgun out of the water, I made it to solid ground.  And yes, I actually did recover the duck.

Fire Ants

Another Texas peculiarity is Fire Ants.  They are not unique, or native, to Texas, but they have become so pervasive that we accept their existence as an unchangeable fact.  Their bite/sting combination is painful and potentially dangerous to many with allergies.  And, they have proven impossible to eradicate.  Every year or so, a new poison or bait comes-to-market to control the critters...but they are survivors.

One year, we experienced far heavier-than-usual autumn rains.  The lakes went from being well below 'normal' to overflowing.  During the summer months the fire ants had built many nests in the new real estate exposed by the low water.  And, when those nests flooded, we learned something new about fire ants...they float.  They grasp each other and form a floating raft of their own bodies.  Some of the rafts were over a foot across, and over six inches tall, generally conical, and just floating on the waves.

When walking in waders across a shallow inlet long before sunrise, one does not necessarily have the ability to see the floating cones of pain.  And, so it was that I apparently walked into a large floating nest.  It was in November, and I was dressed for cooler weather: thermal-pants, jeans, a light shirt, a sweatshirt, chest waders, and waterproof coat.  My first hint that something was wrong was when I was bit on the neck.  I pinched the critter off my neck, and quickly realized what must have happened.  Then came the onslaught.  It was as if war had been declared, and I was fighting an invisible enemy in the dark.  One I could not see, or find, until after they had given their best shot.  It got so bad that I seriously considered stripping naked to try to wash them off.  Then, God intervened.  I really brief, very cold, storm came without warning.  There I stood, in waist-deep water, with my back to the wind, shivering in the cold, with no place to go and nothing to do, but wait for all of the misery to end, as I continued to pinch-off the ants one.....by.....one.  But something curious happened, as the temperature dropped, the ants stopped biting.  And somehow, a silent truce was called.  I had no idea how many ants were left alive, but they weren't biting me.  And, I had no interest in angering them further.  So, the truce continued as the storm abated, and the sun arose.

Later, as I carefully removed my gear...outdoors, one-piece-at-a-time, I was informed that the back of my sweatshirt was COVERED in ants.  Gingerly, I pulled the shirt over my head, being extra-careful to not disturb them any more than absolutely necessary.  I didn't even attempt to shake the ants off the shirt.  I just left it, and them, in weeds there at the lake.  My waders and coat rode home in the bed of the pickup-truck.  And I was so pumped with adrenaline that I didn't even need the heater for the ride home.  My wife told me there were HUNDREDS of bites across my neck and back.  And given the total lack of treatment (it was over two hours before I even took a Benadryl), I credit that brief, cold, storm with saving my life.

Freezing Blind

Other than lakes and rivers, most property in Texas is privately-owned.  And, ranchers/farmers learned long-ago that hunters are willing to pay cash money for exclusive hunting access to their property.  My wife's grandfather called white-tailed deer "glorified billy goats", due to their tendency to destroy his vegetable garden.  But most landowners now see them as "cash cows".  Of course, the landowners also suffer some impact to their property as a result of this arrangement: hunter camp-sites, deer-feeder 'pens', and semi-permanent hunting-blinds.

When our oldest son was 14 or 15, I had to opportunity to join a deer lease near the town of San Saba.  The Texas Hill Country is known for large populations of relatively small deer, lots of natural beauty, and sometimes extreme temperature changes. 

On Friday, Shaun and I arrived after dark and setup camp for a weekend of hunting.  The temperature was in the 60's, and we expected a pleasant weekend of good company, watching wildlife, and hopefully seeing deer.  We arose before sunrise, to a typical November morning temperature in the 40's.  We dressed appropriately, and hiked to the blind...about a quarter-mile walk from camp.  The blind was was larger-than-usual, made primarily of plywood, and easily accommodating two persons.  Shortly after getting settled, it began to rain.  The blind had a good roof, and rain was not an issue.  As the sun rose, the temperature began to plummet.  Within an hour or so, we began seeing the rain freezing to fence-wire.  It was about this time that I noticed that the entire blind was shaking.  The wind was not too bad, and it took some time to discern the cause of the shake...two shivering hunters inside the structure. 

Utilizing my best calm and controlled, 'fatherly', voice, I asked Shaun if he would like to go into town for a warm breakfast.  I don't think he responded verbally.  Instead, he launched from his chair, and was well out the door by the time I finished my offer.  Neither of us realized how much warmth the blind had been providing, just by being dry and out of the wind.  We were completely soaked before we had covered half the distance to the camp.  Ice was forming around the already-wet trees, and I became genuinely concerned about our ability to survive the walk.  But, there was no cover, and no alternative but to continue.  I urged Shaun to walk faster in an attempt to generate heat.

At camp, we changed into dry clothes, and packed the car as quickly as possible.  Within a half-hour we were in the car, and headed off the lease.  But, in that little time, ice had completely encased most of the trees.  There had been no snow or sleet, but the trees encased in ice were quite beautiful.  Breakfast was good, the car warmed quickly, and Shaun slept most of the hours back home.  I made a mental note to check weather reports repeatedly, and not trust a long-term forecast.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Winter in Quartzsite - 2011

In mid-January, 2011 my brother Paul and I took a trip to a winter rock hound paradise...Quartzsite Arizona.  Where is that you ask?  Look for where Interstate 10 crosses the border of California and Arizona.  The little-bitty print about 20 miles east of Blythe California is Quartzsite.  For something like 50 years, snowbirds have been flocking to Quartzsite to escape cold weather.  The winter high temperatures can be quite pleasant.  And, over time, quite a number of events have been organized.   These include RV shows, car shows, swap-meets, and rock shows.  The shows have been so well established at this point, that fossil and mineral dealers from around the world setup and offer their products...primarily in the month of January.

Paul joined me for a shopping trip to restock Crystal Moon Gallery after Christmas 2010.  The shows are huge, outdoor, events that are nearly always dusty (practically all merchandise requires cleaning after purchase).  Paul's first comment about the shows were that they are "an amazing collection of sub-cultures"...and he is right.  One may encounter dreadlocks or deacons, tattoos or turtlenecks, piercings or Porsches, wheelchairs or (power) walkers.

One of the most interesting items we saw offered for sale was a Radium Rejuvenator.  This piece of medical history dated from the 1920s, and consisted of a piece of crockery, somehow lined with Radium, and fitted with a tap.  Glazed in blue was the recommendation that one drink four glasses of rejuvenated water daily.  Water was placed in the device at the top, then dispensed into drinking-glasses.  The owner of this item overheard me comment that I had a Geiger-counter, and asked me to check whether the rejuvenator was radioactive.  His tent was pretty crowded with people as we worked our way to the rejuvenator.  And initial check of the outside showed little more than background radiation up to about a foot away from the crockery.  But, even then, it only showed about .1 to .3 mR/hr.  Then, the proprietor lifted the lid, and I poked the business end of the device in the hole...what a noise!  The needle registered something like 9 mR/hr, and I immediately jerked my hand away from the crockery.  After a moment to think about the situation, I looked-up, and found only five people left in the tent: the proprietor and his wife, my brother and I, and one woman who was apparently not paying attention.  It is amusing to me that very few people have actually seen a Geiger counter, but thanks to popular media, we all know what one sounds-like.  I did some research after we got home, and learned that the rejuvenator was a piece of medical fraud that led to many illnesses and deaths.

Paul is very fond of hiking, and discovered a place called "Palm Canyon" in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.  This very narrow canyon is home of (apparently) the only native palms in all of Arizona.  One drives about 20 miles south of Quartzsite, and about 7 miles east of the pavement to a parking-lot.  The canyon network is apparently a collapsed caldera, and is about as rugged as one would expect of an unimproved volcano.  Most people hike as far as the "palms" sign (see first photo above), take photos, and return to their vehicle.  But, the view of the palms is distant:
Those green spots above the shadow are trees!  But, we encountered a group that had hiked to the palms, which inspired us to try it ourselves.  We had great fun following the obvious path up to the palms, scaling rock walls, and enjoying a moderate hike...when we encountered a sheer wall of rock.  The wall likely makes a spectacular waterfall during the rare rains.  But it was completely beyond our ability to climb.  So, we backtracked most of the distance, and found the 'right' route, a narrow slit of a canyon with a floor of loose rocks:
Only those with rather narrow hips can make it through the gaps in the rock!  But, patience and persistence pays off:

Most of the palms show evidence of a significant fire.  I found it curious that the rocks and palms have burn marks, but not the undergrowth.  Which, suggests to me that quite a number of years have passed since the fire:
Many thinks to Paul for including me in this hike.  I highly recommend both the hike and the site...should you ever find yourself in far western Arizona.