Thursday, September 9, 2010

Welcome back to the woods

Welcome back to the woods

Summer has a dark side. Don’t misunderstand me, I love summer. I love sitting on the front porch with a steaming cup of coffee in the morning watching the world wake up. I love the smell freshly cut hay and restful green overtaking the ugly gray and brown of winter. The woody smell of smoke from the grill makes your mouth water as you anticipate the unequalled taste of burgers and cold, sweet iced tea. What’s not to love? I know the days are longer and the water warmer, but there is a problem with summer – Chiggers. Bug people tell us that Chiggers are small arachnoids (spiders). My wife has a rule for spiders. They can exist around her as long as they stay hidden. If she ever sees one her pacifism ends, the rules are broken and all bets are off. Her gentle nature is overwhelmed by a rage seen rarely except at bull fights or when white sharks attack. When spiders come out to look around and are seen by my wife they have to suffer the full penalty of breaking her spider rule – death by whatever means available. Ok, so Chiggers are spiders. So what? Well, I am told that more men were put out of action in the civil war battle of Wilson’s Creek by these, little-red-bugs-from-hell, than battle damage. The southern soldiers were very familiar with these little skin eaters and came prepared, but the northern boys were unfamiliar and completely outmaneuvered by the little wood devils. History remembers that the hospitals in Springfield treated more bites and poison ivy rashes than bullet wounds. In mid October Mother Nature hangs out her multicolored fall welcome sign. It says, Ok, the woods are open again. Come back and play. The woods know that men and chiggers can’t play well together. There is the law of impenetrability which says that two objects cannot exist at the same place at the same time. Never is that law more poignant than when chiggers are involved in the equation. I used to think about the questions I would ask God when we get to meet face to face. One deep cosmological thought I have always pondered is why did God put Kansas between Missouri and Colorado? Now I have a second; why did God make chiggers? As far as I can tell they serve no ecological or biological purpose. Their existence is truly an enigma. Where do they exist on the food chain? Is there any positive reason for their existence? About the time I think I have a small corner of God’s design figured out I have to deal with the ever recurring question of the chigger. One thing about hosting a chigger is forever true. After it has eaten it is impossible for boredom to exist. You always have something to do. Ok, the chiggers are leaving and the woods are open for business. Get out there and enjoy. I know they are gone, but I am still going to spray on a little repellant.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Back in the cattle business

Back in the cattle business

I had always planned on getting back into cattle when I retired, but I never expected retirement to burst in on me so suddenly. So after four months it dawned on me now is a good time to get back in the farming game. The problem is that cattle prices are very high. My favorite business strategy is buy high and sell low, so this may work out well. Anyway, I went to the sale barn today to have a presence in the barn for the Lord and the Cowboy Church on Wednesday the sale day. I sat down and a friend of mine named Coy Dan Blakemore came and sat beside me. We talked about Cowboy Church and of his up-coming trip to Alaska and our school reunion. Later we returned to cattle and I mentioned to him I was thinking about buying some old broken mouth cows (Cows with less than perfect teeth) and raising some calves. He said, he was selling exactly what I was looking for and we made a plan to meet at his farm later in the day to look them over. To cut to the chase we agreed upon a price and he delivered 8 cows who are supposed to calve in September. The idea is to get the calves on the ground and when the pasture is gone this winter to sell both calves and cows. Ideally the cows will sell for what I paid and the calves will be profit. If cattle prices fall I can keep both through winter and sell next spring when prices usually rise. The cows are big, black cows who really look good for Sr. Citizens. I will have to take really good care of them and supplement their grass diet when the calves come to keep their body weight up. I remember with great joy our former herd. We loved to see the new born calves romping and playing. We kept the calves for five years and were so blessed that we never lost an animal or even missed a pregnancy. We can only hope and pray that we are as fortunate with this group.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Onions, float trips and cowboys

June installment

I have been preoccupied with spring and have not posted a blog in a while. I thought I would take today (a rainy Tuesday morning) to get back to it. One of the most interesting things I have been involved with lately is a three day float trip down the Buffalo River in Arkansas. The summer Killingsworth float down the Buffalo was trouble and rain free. It was as good as floats can be. The scenery, clean water, nature sounds water of frogs and Whippoorwills and the amazing gourmet food packed by Valerie, Gail and Vickie made the experience a pure joy. Our grandson Jason was on his first float trip and his reluctance to experience things soon turned into a mad dash into the next adventure. He amazed me at his courage, endurance and spirit. His mother insisted he ride with me assuming he would be in the safest canoe, but the only canoe that turned over was mine. I was honored by the confidence Keri placed in me, but Jason would have been safer in any other canoe it turns out. Jeremy loves to tell how Jason was being swept away by the current and cried out for help. Jake swam to him and restored him to safety and insisted that he float down the current again just for fun. It was just a few moments later that Jason said, “Oh, do we have to go – I want to do it again”. His experience changed from panic to pure joy in the same fast water in a matter of minutes. Watching him go from fear to fun made the trip for me. He did things we have agreed to tell his mother about in 5 to 10 years.

Summer is settling in now and the garden is amazing again this year. The rains have come as if on schedule and because of my semi-retirement I have been able to stay ahead of some of the weeds. I have never been able to raise onions of any size. I lamented the fact to an Amish gardener and learned the secret to raising big onions. I expected to hear of odd mixtures of chicken and horse manure or of some secret concoction used only by garden insiders, but she said, ”Plant Vidalia’s and put a lot of Miracle Grow on them. So I bought some Miracle Grow and was she ever right! I have the biggest onions I have ever raised. Now I have to admit I was a little taken aback when I heard her secret. I thought she would be all organic and stuff, but you never know! You never live long enough to learn everything.

Speaking of learning – I have learned something else recently. Simple is best! I am completely amazed at the simple power, growth and strength of the Cowboy Church. I never dreamed it would become what it has. I would have thought in years to come that it might reach a couple of hundred people, but at a recent event over 500 people attended. Each week around 500 people attend one of the three services and this is summer. I expect to see even more in the fall.

This summer I am preaching through the book of Acts and I see many similarities between the early church and the Cowboys. We have nothing and God is powerful among us. We meet in a barn and God shows up. I have challenged the Cowboys to give 50% of our income away, and put it back in the community where people have needs. They have bought in to the challenge and are giving with such abundance we are not being able to keep up with our goals yet. Recently a man who had not been in church in 60 years started attending. His life change is observable and contagious. This man had to have surgery recently and while he was in the hospital some of the cowboys (one of whom had only been attending for 3 weeks) went to his home and installed a new commode for him. The unity, generosity and joy among the Cowboys out-distance everything I have ever witnessed in my ministry. There is something to be said for simplicity and dependence on God. I was ready to give up on the organized church, but the cowboys have salvaged me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A boat

Someone said that a boat is a hole in the water into which men pour money. This is a rather accurate description of a boat. Another wise man commented that the two happiest days in the life of boat ownership is the day you buy the boat and the second is the day you sell it.

I dearly love to build wooden boats. I have built several through the years and have found it very satisfying. One of the first boats I built is on a web site called Uncle Jon’s if you want to see some pictures of my boat builds. I am now building a sneak boat. In reality it is a flat bottomed canoe or pirogue that I dream of using on small streams/creeks and snagging smallmouth bass, blue gill, black perch and goggle eye. I grew up fishing in small creeks and fell in love with them. Later my fishing focus naturally evolved as Stockton Lake became an amazing fishery and it was close to home. Now that I have time to rediscover who I am it occurs to me that I never really did like lake fishing as much as I did the stream experience and plan to return to my first love. Creek fishing engages all of your senses as you sneak into the fish’s kitchen and offer your subtle substitutes. Lake fishing is a communal sport with people all around. Creek fishing is done best in isolation. In isolation one can even think important thoughts and maybe even hear the voice of the Maker. I could go on about creek fishing and probably will in later blogs, but for today I want to talk about wooden boats. So forgive me when I don’t close the blog by saying something like, “I hope to see you on the creek”, because I really hope I don’t see anyone when I am on the creek.

I plan to build this canoe/pirogue as light as I can. I hope to keep it under 50 pounds so I can drag it behind me as I wade and load it easily into the truck. I am building it out of ¼ inch plywood and joining it all together with fiberglass cloth and resin. I plan to paint it camouflage so I can use it as a blind/hide as I fish, hunt and take photographs from it. I am now in the design and construction stage and will blog a picture of it when I get it finished.

I have not yet attached photo’s to my blog and if I can I will do so to show off some of the boats I have built so far.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The bear

My car is in the shop having a little body work make over to correct a bent bumper and some sheet metal that resulted after a utility pole moved behind me as I backed up. The reason the truck being out of commission is germane to this blog is that my dog Dakota usually rides in the back as we drive to the trail head. Dakota, in typical dog-like fashion, never misses an opportunity to do the dog-thing and roll in the foulest smelling thing she can find. And, yes, she stinks to high heaven. Since the truck is out of commission at the moment the only other option for taking Dakota is riding in the back seat of Gail's car. The smell takes that option off the table. Ok, back to the bear. I decided just to walk to the trail head. This decision put me and Dakota way behind Joe and Lois Grantham on the trail. When we met them after their turn-around they were somewhat shaken because they saw an animal on the trail they did not expect. It was not a dog, nor a hog the long-time natives to the area declared. It was too big to be a ground hog or a coon. After going through a process of elimination they believe it was a cub bear weighing in at 70 to 80 lbs. If Dakota had been in her normal position on the trail they would have never witnessed the rare bear sighting because she would have been far ahead of us and would have dispersed the bear before we would have been aware of its presence. I didn’t see the bear although Joe believes he got a glimpse of it the next day far in the distance. Isn’t it odd how little choices make so much difference in our lives. If I had not backed into the utility pole I would have driven Dakota to the trail, she would have been out in front in full attack mode and we would have never seen the bear. Philosophers and theologians have spilled much ink over such musings in the past. I think I will leave the heavy lifting to them and just look for bears.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A friend suggested I post my musings after a 10 day hospital stay following a horse wreck. Here are a few things I learned after being in the hospital.
Things I have learned while being in the hospital

A knock on the door is not a request to enter; it is a warning

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”, This rule is even more true with broken ribs

No matter how perfectly arranged you have things around your bed the urinal is just out of reach the minute the nurse leaves the room

Calling someone in the hospital a “Patient” is a misnomer. Impatient might be more accurate. In fact I don’t remember meeting a “Patient” during my 10 day stay. If I ever was patient in the past I was able to overcome the distinction while in the hospital

Hospitals are female dominated societies

Modesty is not a high value to medical folks

Hospitals are highly organized but not necessarily around the sick and injured

There is almost no time to rest in a hospital environment

Men and women speak a different language

No matter how often you ask, “Is there anything I can do,” there usually isn’t, and if there was something that needs to be done you probably could not do it

When a Doctor asks you how you are doing he is not being social

Hospital food really looks good

People confined to hospital rooms are very entertaining

Friday, April 9, 2010

Commitment to the Blog

Ok - I did not know retirement was going to be this much fun and the Spring weather so nice. These two unforseen conditions have slowed my blog installments. So, until it gets too hot or I have killed more Turkeys than the law allows I will take a short hiatus. See you in mid July. Hope you have a great spring and early summer. If something catches my interst I will blog it, but I am not going to waste time at the computer I have too much to do outside.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sounds and smells

The questions from the trail this morning dealt with sounds and smells. The sounds are the welcoming peeps of the diminutive frogs called Spring Peepers and the Cardinals and their colleagues with stripes on their wings called Red Wing Black Birds. The peepers make almost a magical chorus of sounds that accompany summer night activities. The frog repertoire is somewhat limited and repetitive as they vocalize their simple “Peep”. From a musician’s point of view the peep starts with an abrupt staccato and phrases through a brief crescendo with an abrupt end at about the dynamic level with which it started. It doesn’t take long to describe it, but it is amazingly beautiful in its simplicity and form. Experiencing the peep show is much more enjoyable than trying to explain or describe it. As we approach their rehearsal rooms tucked in shallow cold swamp areas they begin to go silent one by one until we pass. It does not take long for the rehearsal to begin again as they feel safe by our passing. I wonder what they think we are? It is human nature to imagine scenarios of thought spinning around in their heads, but in God’s critters at this level we are probably only experiencing their hard wired instinct. Most of us have seen too many Bambi movies where animals have anthropomorphic intellect and activity. In reality the peeps probably only mean, “Hey, I am over here! Now where are you?” And, “Hey when it gets a little warmer I may want some company – you interested?”
As morning emerges on the trail in early spring another critter joins the rehearsal. This dynamically clad bird in full red regalia is nature’s first announcement of morning breaking out of the night. The night shift of Whippoorwills begins to clock out as the light rays from ole Sol erase the dark and they go silent. Owls announce the end of their nightly chores and Turkeys from their roosts brag about their plans for the day. Crows rakishly remind everyone with their calls which feel like a cold glass of water poured down your back that the stressless night of quiet is over in the woods. It is then that the judgmental red and fundamentally religious Cardinals begin to accuse us of moral failure. They say, “Cheater – Cheater” until we all feel guilty and remember the times we allowed our eyes to stray to that smart girl’s test paper. There is nothing in winter more stunning than a red Cardinal in a green Cedar tree on snow covered ground. So, we will agree overlook the legalistic tendencies of the Cardinal to feast our eyes on their striking color despite their accusatory call.
I want to include the water music of the Red Wing Black Bird as I conclude today’s installment. Their wet and wonderful gurgle reminds me of cane poles, Blue Gills and worms and bobbers. The Red Wing Blackbird has sung the soundtrack to many a fun day around water as I remember my childhood and fishing with my grand dad and Aunt Wilma on Clarence’s’ pond. So, as the daily trail ritual is nearing completion and we make the final pass by the alligator swamp we are allowed to hear the beautiful water music of the Red Wing Blackbird and it takes our memory back to days in the sun.
I almost forgot that I was going to talk about sounds and smells. Smells, skunks love the early spring too. Nuf said

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Oh, the Irish

Today is St. Patty's day. My favorite Irish joke goes like this. Two old Irish men were talking. One named Mike said, "Pat I am dying of cancer. When I am gone will you pour a bottle of the best Irish whiskey you can find on my grave so my bones will enjoy it forever?" Pat said to Mike, "Sure, but can I run it through me kidney's first?"

I will never forget my first look at the emerald isle. It was in 1967 and the plane I was on successfully crossed the Atlantic and through the clouds I saw the most different shade of green I had ever seen. The captain said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to fly over Ireland." I was a small town boy and had never been anywhere and now I was flying over Ireland. It was almost more than I could take in. The quaint towns with miniaturized houses, scaled down cooking and heating stoves, diminutive refrigerators were like something out of Gulliver's travels. It was different, so different from the way we lived in rural Missouri. We live BIG here! We have lots of room to build big houses, cook with big stoves and have large refrigerators. The scale of the way we live was also driven home when Yumi (our Japanese foreign exchange student) came to live with us. Her first day here we were moving cattle with horses and motor cycles and all the rest of the family positioned at key locations. Yumi had never been in a place before that you could not see houses all around. The openness of the space was a little unnerving for her. I thought we lived in a big place until I traveled through Montana. It really is big sky country. An Indian chief we worked with on a mission trip left the New Mexican desert for a visit to the Ozarks. He was also uncomfortable in our forests. He had never been in a place like this. I am just like our friend the chief. I have never seen a place like the Ozarks either. It is my home and I love living here. So, if you want some good Irish whiskey poured on your grave give me a call and I will be glad to help.

Well I better go to the closet and find something green.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Signs of spring

Why is winter so much longer than spring?

It has been a very long and cold winter and I am ready for sunshine, shorts and tee shirts. The old time rustics raved about sassafras tea as a tonic to thin down the blood from winters thickening and sluggishness. When the first color shows in the sassafras tree it is time to dig up the roots and begin to boil them in water. The tea tastes like root beer and if you put in enough sugar the concoction is quite pleasant. It really smells good in the house too, especially if steeped on a wood stove. I don't know why, but some sassafras makes a green tea and some makes a red tea. I have tried both and can't tell any difference at all.

Those who love to get their hands in the dirt are also ready to drag their winter worn hiney's out of the house into the garden. Gail and I planted two rows of Pontiac potato's (Dan Quayl's spelling - potatoes). These are our favorite variety of spud because they taste amazing creamed with young peas. We have found them to the be the most prolific producer too. And, let's just say it - the red color is pretty!

We also put out a mixed bag of lettuce early. We buy several varieties of lettuce and mix them all together and sow them. When they are ready to eat you have a mixed salad ready made. My favorite lettuce is Red Sails. Make sure you get some of those seeds in your mix.

So, let's summarize: we have red sassafras tea, red potatos and red sails. Maybe the reason winter seems so much longer than spring is the color red. I can't for the life of me see how this could possibly be the reason for the inequity in the seasons, but it seems to be gaining weight in the argument. I guess we will just have to leave some of the mysteries in life unanswered. But I really like the color red.